I left Chicago on Sunday after attending church, at the Basilica of Saint Hyacynth’s. There was no other way to get inside. To see for myself. The church that brought Pope John II several times before he reached popedom. That is not significant or meaningful to me, except that it must be a place of grandeur and beauty if you like that sort of baroque pomposity. I also go because mass will help settle me and seat me, outside of my car and outside of my head that has more of a Jean-Michel Basquiat- MoseT-Andrew Wyeth-Artists in Contemporary American Art mind set. The baroque thing generally throws me over the top, a place I don’t like to go. So much to attend to all at once, curves and curlicues and porticoes and retablos and oculuses. Even baroque terms have twirls and spins and extra ornamental hoo-hah. Give me a wattle and daub and send me on my way. But at church, baroque might be the saving grace for many. As soon as you need to shut down the sermon, or more so, the sins of your own world you can travel around the cornices and visit the ignudis and cherubs and settle your soul for the next coming of urges and temptations and send out a prayer or two for the taking, and the giving.
I like the routine of mass, the tradition, the reliability and predictability. I am on a journey. I am on a pilgrimage of sorts. I am religio-curious. I would have to say all of the above. But dear gentle readers, religion and spiritualism and universal pulls greet us all in one serendipitous way or another. Take what you wish from my journey, glaze over any references if you must, sit back and enjoy the ride. There will not be a double collection today. Nor a single plate or basket passed. I do however, find it a little disconcerting that many have outrageous and discomforting reactions to the mention of God or religion but words such as poverty and rape and war do not stir nary a sigh. Artwork is the language of all things. And I am paying close attention on this journey.
On my way out of town I was planning on visiting two other churches to photograph and explore. The structure, and the ornate, towering reminder, of God, of community of service and selflessness. The mass I attended speaks of laboring and lamenting, of possession and obsession. There aren’t many issues to cover in a Catholic Mass. You know, the seven deadly. Seven isn’t such a large number and several of those I have no fear of, or interest in. Well maybe 3 but we don’t have to get technical or sooooo personal here.
Maybe part of my pilgrimage and journey is to stop worrying about when and what if and Oh, God please if you, then I’ll…deals, negotiations, promises, broken, forgiven, so on and so forth. It is time to lighten my load on this wagon train headed west, and shame, and guilt, lamenting and laboring, must be dropped off somewhere before winter settles in and there is no other human around…is cannibalism a deadly sin? I can’t recall.
Maybe the trip to Saint Hyacinth’s was unnecessary, but boy was it beautiful! And just for the record and snide commentary….it is a little peculiar for the priest to be discussing possession and obsession in a basilica painted in gold with baroque flourishes on the baroque flourishes. I head out of Chicago and decide to stop at Niles Polish Deli. Because when in Rome, or Warzsawa for that matter… do as the Romans, or the Poles, for this matter. I think maybe, just maybe there will be pottery, those beautiful, dancing daisy adorned dishes. Plates I would like to possess! I enter and cannot believe the wall of snacks and candies and cakes. Oh I like it here already. I see the wall of pickled…. everything….no…look…what?....patty pan squash? I have to have those. I might easily become obsessed with patty pan squash. What’s not to love here?
I will slow down my journey to stop and tell this tale. One summer early in my new life in the Hudson Valley when my children were young and still had that sweet smell of childhood, you know before that smell of teen age rebellion moved in and then the labor intensive scent of adulthood and near grimness…anyway they were young and sweet smelling and we played and worked in the community garden at Bard College in Annandale-on-the-Hudson, and later joined a CSA and picked up our vegetables at the local health store because we had time and the goddess Ceres to guide us…There were patty pan squashes. They made me happy in there golden yellow, robust and round little crown shapes. They look like the little garden fairies came around and pinched the little dough crust into a perfect beaded crown. How on earth does a vegetable grow like that?! And the name!
Another story comes to mind, join me, it will connect…When I was six or seven, The Charlie Brown Christmas Story was playing at Radio City Music Hall, but when we got there, all excited and wiggly, we learned it was sold out. My mother, and my aunt knew we had our hearts set on a movie, so they improvised quick on their toes and maybe afraid of the anarchy that could rise. Four small children that may or may not have smelled sweet would have all started crying or waling or kicking and hollering, maybe just pouting and grim faced, we would have been an unpleasant mob just the same. We ended up at some strange and bizarre Beatrix Potter film. It was the late sixties or very early seventies, and I was little, but this movie was one drug trip away from promoting LSD for toddler consumption. The animals were talking and acting and Peter Rabbit and Jeremy-whoja-call-it was looking rather dapper. But I have been a fan of Beatrix Potter little cute books since the beginning of time. These little bitty books are like finger sandwiches for literary aficionados. And the titles? The Story of the Fierce Bad Rabbit. I love that!! I think I might be a fierce bad rabbit, I am sure I know others! Ginger Pickles! C’mon who doesn’t like that? The Pie and the …..yup……Patty Pan!!!! Bingo! So I am in this polish shop and I can’t leave without buying pickled patty pans and yes my name is Ginger and it just all gets me in the right frame of mind as I head onto Wisconsin. Me, Ginger Pickle with The Tale of the Pie and the Patty Pan guiding my way toward lightness and more Heartland.
I am thinking of just keeping this jar as a trophy on my shelf in my kitchen. And I am a little smug at my newest possession. But somewhere just across the border a memory comes to mind. I start laughing, that loud crazy kind of laugh that just comes up from the toes and I am again happy to be in my car and not around anyone that would look at me with consternation and hold their own smelly children tighter in my presence because I am still that happy and presently laughing near hysteria.
Good thing I have a firm grip on the wheel. A while back, out with friends, somehow or other we started talking about baby teeth or children or both. We were maybe talking about cleaning our homes, and when can you start letting go of all those things you save that belong to the children? Or are connected somehow? When I moved a few years ago and brought those big overflowing boxes of each child’s childhoods, papers and drawings and what not. My now mostly grown children laughed right at me, when we pulled out the once fruit-loop glued masterpiece to find it was ravaged by a hungry varmint. What did you think would happen? One child implored. Stunned, I responded, buh, whah, huh???….It was their artwork…how could I throw it away? A friend has kept the baby teeth on their way to the tooth fairy via a bedroom closet. I start laughing at this. My patty pan squash look a bit like some organs in a jar. The baby’s tonsils? We keep these momentos of our children’s lives like historians preserving the past, holding that smell of innocence and perfection. But when my friend tells of these baby teeth, I envision them all falling out of the closet getting stuck in floorboards, or rolling into corners awaiting some house guest or another. Well I don’t take it that far…but the idea of these teeth and the patty pan make me laugh at what we preserve and what we cast away and why fruit-loop art cannot be saved in a big old box.
Wisconsin has only begun and again I am laughing and happy. I am excited about making this trip a journey into heartfelt and handmade. The first stop on my outsider art tour is rather silly. I uploaded an app that takes me to those quirky little homes and gardens where some crazed, discontented spouse toils away fifty years making a mini replica of the Battle of Gettysburg with matchsticks or hairballs or rewrites the bible on grains of rice or in the case of my first stop, takes all their broken dishes and sticks it onto a birdhouse and a garage. Were they broken in passion filled fights of love and desire? Were they broken because the owner needed glasses and missed the shelf each time she attempted to tidy? Impressive, but not worth the detour. It does get me deep into The Little Switzerland of the USA, New Glarius. And I am transformed to, a small movie set? It just doesn’t feel like the Swiss Alps, although it is trying. I could have had my choice of faux lederhosen inspired t-shirts or embroidered stiff-waisted aprons. I pass on each. I don’t pass on the bakery stop and love the handmade, heart felt cheesecake. I tried to ask the local, native, probably not even of Swiss-descent shop keep for a recommendation and she can’t give one. I wanted her to say the names of the apple, lemon or ginger pastries in her Swiss tongue. But it wasn’t even Swiss, her tongue, so I get the cheesecake because it looks fabulous, and it absolutely was, and I yodel along my way. Belly-filled, and content.
Suddenly, I realize I am off the path I was going to be on in the internet and wireless neutral zone of Little Switzerland and I’m not sure which way to head. I have been getting reliant on Siri, even if she isn’t the most personable passenger. But now she’s sulking and ignoring my requests and won’t even mutter, What can I help you with in that flat, affective tone of hers. I have to pull out and plug in Simon. The Tom-Tom travel companion that once seemed so sexy. Now I feel I have to bang out each letter and wait lifetimes for him to string together Sioux Falls, or Praire du Chien. At least Siri knows what I’m thinking and gets some passive pleasure in telling me before I finish. Simon Tom Tom, that wily Australian keeps taking me into some public works parking lot and expects me to drive through the corrugated steel building. Maybe this is the inner sanctum of heaven and my willfulness and frustration just blew the chance of a lifetime. I decide to override Simon and do what I like. Hmmm, could use a sermon for that issue, but I’m not sure if there’s enough baroque in Rome to help me out of willfulness and frustration, in between toothy hysterical grins.
And then I barely catch on the side of the road the sign that says blah blah Engelbert. Drive on, whistle, hum, hope for internet zone soon….WHAT? HOW THE HECK? Engelbert as in Nick Engelbert???? Screech, turn, gravel kicked up to the Universe in an offering of love and great, grinding gratitude. Grandview!!! I am in Grandview!!! Nick Engelbert did not simply stick broken dishes on the side of his garage, although he did do that too. Nick Engelbert built a shrine to America, and pride, and the gratitude of an immigrant at home in the Heartland. “If a man can’t be happy on a little farm in Wisconsin, he hasn’t the makings of happiness in his soul.” Said he. Is that not perfect? I want to pick Simon up and twirl him and kiss his whole…oh, yeah, I know, he’s just a little GPS mechanism. Smiles, joy, happiness. And I am not sure, but are those baby teeth in the concrete sculpture of the stork holding the baby? Nah…..well, maybe. Look and see for yourself.