What I Did On My Birthday

From Frida Kahlo’s garden: Our Lady of Guadalupe

If you’re an artist, you work all the time. If you’re a writer, it’s all material. We’re “retired” but seldom take a day off. I need to post my syllabus for a writer’s workshop I’m teaching. Phil has twenty orders for his restored dust jackets. There’s a painting he wants to do, a series of poems I mean to revise. The very thought of taking a day off induces shivers of panic. But when Phil asked what I wanted for my birthday, I had this wild idea: a day off. He developed a plan, we powered down the computers and left the house in the morning, not to return until evening.

First we saw Judy at her swank rehab in Lakewood, took a latte for her, coffee for us, pumpkin bread for us all. It was sunny and mild, a view of hills outside her wide windows. Out there west of town, the land rolls more emphatically, gathering itself to become foothills in a few miles. On her way to a demonstration in support of the ACA, Judy fell and broke both arms. She’s made progress and is also engaged in radicalizing the rehab staff. “Did you know it was International Women’s Day?” She asks the nurses. “You know why we were marching?” You can’t keep a good woman down, even with full casts on both arms. Nevertheless, she persists.

Then back downtown to the Denver Art Museum for the Mi Tierra show, a group of installations by Hispanic-American artists, including tough ones like “Erasure,” Anna Teresa Fernandez’ memorial protest for the 43 disappeared students from Iguala; and fun ones like Justin Favela’s “Fridalandia,” his evocation of Frida Kahlo’s garden in piñata crepe paper. It’s art if it brings sadness and smiles.

The Star Wars costume exhibit is still selling out. For Phil’s sake, we did wander through the Star Wars gift shop, where I said firmly, “we’re not buying that $300 model of a starship.” Jeez. We also saw the architectural exhibit detailing the museum’s iterations to date and those projected in the near future. You thought they were done? There’s a mushroom-shaped welcome center to come.

We had lunch at the museum’s Palettes restaurant. Palate/palette, get it? Winter squash soup. Beet and kale salad with walnuts and goat cheese, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds for me. Phil had pork schnitzel with red cabbage and mashed potatoes. How does this marriage survive?

Then a late afternoon showing of “The Red Turtle,” nominee for the animated film Oscar, stunningly beautiful—Phil says it’s a French style of animation—perhaps a fantasy, but you’re never sure. Not a word is spoken—no dialogue, just natural sounds, music. A guy gets shipwrecked on a deserted island and then… Produced by the brilliant Japanese Studio Ghibli and directed by British-Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit, it took my breath away.

In recent years most movies are multi-national productions, as you realize if you stay for the credits crawl. The gradual merging and mixing that is happening in all lands and walks of life has already happened in the film industry. I like noting the multiple ethnicities of names and locations as the thousands who made the film roll past.

“The Red Turtle” was a counterweight for “I Am Not Your Negro,” the James Baldwin documentary we’d seen a few days before. Baldwin is one of our finest writers, but the film isn’t a bio pic. It’s a portrait of America, of Baldwin’s analysis of America, interwoven with the filmmaker’s judicious selections of archival footage, bits of old movies and TV. An image that seared me was a news clip of a black girl on her way to integrating a high school, surrounded by young white people. Their faces are twisted and ugly, their mouths splitting with insults, eyes oozing hatred. That loathing of those we have sinned against most sorely, is what we must someday confront if we are ever to heal, Baldwin believed. In “Notes of a Native Son” he wrote, “I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”

After “the Red Turtle,” we came home just past dusk. These days we feel smug when we manage to do that, no longer enjoy late nights or driving in the dark. A bowl of soup, a bit of PBS news, pondering the exquisite film we’d just seen. The story isolates a man, a woman, their child, paring down to essentials to reveal the essential cycles of life: how we struggle, grow, love, suffer loss and hurt, recover, watch our children go off on their own as they must, grow old, prepare to die. I remember a wide shot of the separate tracks two people leave as they walk through a field of golden grass rippling in the breeze, tracks that slowly wind toward each other and unite.



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7 Responses to What I Did On My Birthday

  1. Jana says:

    Sounds like a perfect birthday!! Remember when you broke both wrists?

    • dubrava says:

      Jana, my broken wrists, 2010, my last Balarat and just a week before spring break! I have extended extra sympathy to Judy. My breaks were hard enough to bear and hers are considerably worse.

  2. We’ll have to check out “The Red Turtle.” “I am Not Your Negro” was indeed depressing. I’ve noticed that, too, about the internationalism of so many films, as I’ve become one of those people who sit through the credits, to marvel at how many people and skill sets it takes to produce a film…and also because all the music credits are at the end of the credit roll.

    • dubrava says:

      Of course! We often have to watch the roll to the end to identify music. Do see Red Turtle if you can. It’s gone from Sie now.

  3. Barbara Fairchild says:

    I’m glad you took our advice, although I’m sure you didn’t need it. I love that day and the way you describe it. How important the arts are to all of us and yes, how internationally collaborative they are, especially with film. We have been involved with the Vancouver Film Festival for years and always sit through the credits amazed at the number of countries involved with funding alone. I couldn’t sleep last night after hearing a review of the proposed budget with all of the arts funding turning into military funding. The man arguing that feeding children in schools shows no measurable success, knowing full well that he never suffered a hungry day in his life, was especially sickening. Are these people for real?
    Anyway, I say keep enjoying your birthday all year. That’s what I try to do , but I guess I’ll have to give up social media and the news to do it.

    • dubrava says:

      Bravo, Barbara! We’ve been members of the Denver Film Society for years as well, saw the Red Turtle at the film society theatre, and pick 10 or so films almost randomly to go see at the festival every year. On politics: that budget of 45’s ain’t getting out of congress in the same form as it is now, I’d be willing to bet. As for news and social media, I keep looking for the silver linings, and there always are some. Thanks so much for posting!

  4. Sylvia Montero says:

    What no birthday cake! Thanks for sharing your birthday with your friends!

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