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We’re Approaching the Launch

It’s been an eventful month and we’re approaching the end of the Maureen’s Kitchen project, hand coloring the prints. It has been a lovely team experience. Ricardo, our neighbor from down the hill, has a print shop in Granada. He does wonderful work, including a recent exquisite book on our pueblo. I was concerned about printing the recipes (in English and Spanish) on textured etching paper but Ricardo said, “no problem” and they came out perfect. That text was on the left side of each DIN-A4 sheet (210 × 297 millimeters or 8.27 × 11.69 inches). On the right side of each paper my assistant, María José, and I hand printed the plates on the small etching press in my studio (which was given to me years ago by my dear friend, Mararo, and now use more than the big one). The result looks like a marriage made in heaven. (See Mike’s photos, below.) It only remains to make the portfolios and assemble them and decide on a cover design. I’ll let you know.

You Like Luxury? Try a Family of Little Birds Outside Your Kitchen Window

One of the most delightful things we discovered over the last month was a pair of tiny birds building a nest near the top of a small cypress tree outside our kitchen window. As the Gallinero, where we spend the winter (at 40 meters from our house) is on a steep hillside and the cypress grows on the downside, when we look out the kitchen window we’re looking at the top of the tree, where the birds are working just six or seven meters from the window. Not that we can see them building the nest, as that happens inside the dense branches of the tree. We just see them coming and going. They know what they’re doing.

We still don’t know for sure what class of birds they are. As close as we can get they look like the family of the European Black Caps or American Chicadees, most likely the 11 cm. Willow Warbler but maybe the Chiffchaff (called that because of their call: “chiff-chaff.”) I’ll post some pictures here of what we found on the Web and what their nest probably looks like inside that cypress.

How My Garden Grows

My miniature garden started out early this spring with eight or ten boxes. Suddenly it’s up past twenty. And Mike found a nest of lovely plastic boxes sitting outside a local supermarket last night, waiting for the bin man. So now my garden will soon be bigger. This is what the Spanish call “vicio,” and it takes a lot of different forms. It’s not that we don’t eat something from my garden almost every day. Whether it’s the lovely sweet peas, a few spinach leaves in a salad, some Swiss chard in a stew, or the latest surprise: big, bright red strawberries. What a thrill.

Our Grandson Claudio, Looking Like a Footballer at 14

I Hope This Spring is Being Kind to You

I have a suggestion for at least making it feel kinder. Instead of scheduling youself one long walk daily, try two short ones. It was something Dr. Salvatierra (“Save the Earth”), my arthritis specialist, suggested and it works, both physiologically and psychologically, though I’m not sure why. He recommends starting with 20 minutes each walk. See if it doesn’t work for you.

See you soon. Now I’ve got to go down and illuminate a few prints.

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If this picture looks contrived it’s because it is. That girl in the corner is a correspondent for Andalusian television who came to do an interview, and Mike thought it would be nice to put some of my sculptures in the foreground. The pomegranate tree outside my studio door was bearing beautiful ripe, colorful fruit, so why not include that, too? The Spanish would call a mess like this a menjunje or a batiburrillo. The Spanish have some wonderful words. P.S. “Granada” is Spanish for “pomegranate,” in case you were wondering.

Another Sort of Printing, Which Was Also Important(!)

This one-hour video about the birth of Gutenberg’s printing press is only marginally relevant, but we liked it so much, also for Stephen Fry, that I’m sharing it with you here. Just thinking about the effect that Gutenberg’s press and moveable type had on every aspect of life in the entire world makes one dizzy.

Spring Is in the Air

First come the almond blossoms, then the baby ducks in the river. I no longer have to cover my box plants at night, we use much less firewood. The light coming through the glass-pane doors in my studio is gayer and I essentially don’t have to turn the lights on. The animals (we call them the little people) are more active, almost as if they were coming out of hibernation. They do love to hibernate.

I had the second Covid Injection a few weeks ago, so I’m supposedly immune, but until Mike has his second shot in a couple of weeks, we won’t be out of the woods. We’re looking forward to making a big paella and having some friends over. Like the old days. Remember them?

The animals seem to have played a larger role in our lives over the past year. I suppose it’s because we’re living in closer quarters, with a normal-size bed in our Gallinero cabin. Our animals are well loved. You can tell just how well by how much we let them get away with. Ours–two dogs and three cats–get away with murder. Bundy, our young tom cat takes diabolical delight in pawing things off tables and workbenches. It’s usually not too serious, though. They eventurally turn up under a cupboard or a sofa within a couple of months. Cuca, our 14-year-old shi-tsu/grifon cross, was given to us by a friend when she was 10 months old because she resented him going to work. She is an excellent communicator. To inform him of her discontent she would jump up on his bed and pee on his pillow. He was so happy when we told him we’d take her off his hands.

Our animal history hasn’t always been so joyous. Once we gave a kitten to friends. We were happy to do it because they had two lovely children under the age of eight and we thought it would be good for them. The first thing the family did was to lock the kitten in the garage with sufficient kibble and water and took off for a two-week holiday. When they got back and saw how frantic he was they returned him to us. He was very happy to be home. And that wasn’t the only charming pussycat anecdote. Another friend asked for a cat to keep down the rats in his henhouse. So we gave him a half-grown kitten. A month or so later he wanted another one. So we gave him another one. When he came back for a third I said to him, “What are you doing with all those cats?· “Nothing,” he said nonchalantly, “the foxes eat them.” I won’t mention the names of the people involved. The Spanish say, “Se dice el pecado, no el pecador.” “You name the sin, not the sinner.”

Some of Our Animals Over the Years

The little boy with the big dogs is now a 48-year-old geology professor.

More Recent Photos, Fewer Animals

Remember the Cookery Portfolio?

I’ve decided to call it, Maureen’s Kitchen (in Spanish, La Cocina de Maureen). I’ve been working on the recipes and the plates for the prints. I think I’ve got them all ready, but I want to pull some proofs before I made the final decision. The proofs are so important. They can be printed in so many different ways and the decisions on those proofs can make or break a project. I’ll show you some here when I get something nice.

It Sounds Silly But…

Now that it no longer freezes at night my garden in boxes is growing by leaps and bounds. I’ve added a few more boxes and am looking for more space. Mike suggested under the roof overhang of the Gallinero, but I think it would get too much direct sun in the summertime. We have a strategy for the month of August. That’s our month for late nights (una delicia), early mornings, long siestas (more delight) and long drinks. The hard part is going to bed late and getting up early. But you soon get used to it. The long siesta helps.

The beauty of the box garden is that you can pick them up and put them in the shade when necessary. When I started out I was looking forward to just the fun of having little vegetable plants in boxes, like potted flowers. But it turns out that you can actually eat the crops. There are always some leaves you can snip off to brighten up a salad or a stew, and you can pretend that the tops of the red onions are chives. We’ve just started eating the peas raw. Sooo sweet. If you decide give a box garden a try I have a warning for you: You will get hooked. How do I know? At the place where I go to buy plants I coincide with other people who have box gardens and we swap stories enthusiastically. They’re hooked just like me.

An Homage to Spanish Medicine

I’ve just arrived home from my twice-a-year appointment with my reumatólogo–that’s an arthritis doctor. I’ve been visiting him for 12 or 15 years, so we’re old friends. He turned my life around from the first visit. Thanks to him I can live a virtually painless life doing what normal people do–except pole vaulting. Since we don’t pay doctors or hospitals in Spain, I like to show my appreciation with a little gift, so I take along an etching to my appointments. When we finished the consulta this morning and I was about to leave, he said, “You’re always giving me lovely gifts, Maureen. I’ve got something for you I think you and your husband might like,” and he goes to a cupboard and brings out a box that says, “Consejo Regulador de la Ribera del Duero,” Spain’s most prestigious wine region. Between one thing and another, I love going to the doctor.

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I Love My Sketchbook

But I Too Often Lose Sight of It

Sometimes I go weeks or even months without sketching, and I’m not sure why. Considering it seriously I think it comes down to three factors: distractions, just plain sloth and the Great Pandemic Excuse. I don’t have to tell you how many ways there are these days to be distracted. We are living in the Age of Distraction. That’s what came between the Iron Age and the Age of Extinction. Formerly, to be distracted you had to have a shower, change your clothes, get in the car an,d go out. You saw people and places, movies and shows, the beach, the library, the golf course and the tennis court, the gym, the birds and all the other creatures that creep and run, including your grandchildren. Nowadays there’s very little of that.

Big Communications has seen to it that, for a price, they can provide you with versions of almost all those things you used to do in person, without setting foot outside your house, And it’s a good thing they did. Where would we be during the Covid 19 lockdowns if they weren’t providing us with YouTube and Netflix and all the rest? Nevertheless, they’re still distractions and have to be managed as such. As for sloth, that’s easy. It comes automatically. I discovered a long time ago that the less you do, the less you can do. How do you break that chain? You do something, of course. Then, poco a poco, you do a little more. The handiest, easiest, healthiest and most rewarding thing to start with is walking. Mike used to be so annoying on the subject. He never let up. Finally I started walking with him. Then I started feeling better, with more spring in my step and in everything else. Now I badger him to go walking.

Is Your Essence in Your Sketchbooks?

Having been around art and artists for many years I have seen a lot of sketchbooks. I often find the work you see in them is better than–or at least different from–the stuff they frame and hang on the wall. Fresher, more daring, more fun, more portable… Mike loves my sketchbooks. He thinks I should publish a book of facsimile copies of the best images in them. That sounds like too much work, but I would consider posting some of them here. I wanted to know more about what painters and printmakers do with their sketchpads, so I googled “publishers of artists’ sketchbooks,” and there are a few of them. So, if the spirit moves you…

The site I found most fascinating belongs to a guy called Danny Gregory. He has a long and distinguished history as an advertising art director but some time ago he left advertising in order to dedicate himself to his own art and an online art school site. I found him very engaging. You might, too. Here’s a link to his self publishing site: from there you can find more material that you might find useful. Before I forget, here are some images Mike captured off my latest sketchbook:

How’s the Virus Treating You?

I hope you’re being careful and looking after yourself. The stakes are so high. We had a nice note today from Gina Miller, Ross Miller‘s wife. They live near Melbourne, Australia. She paints and he sculpts. Gina says they’re just coming out of a five-day lockdown but now everything’s OK as cases and deaths are back down to zero. What envy. How is it that some countries have the virus under control or virtually exterminated, and others have become giant mortuaries? The virus, itself, doesn’t play fair, either. It keeps moving the goalposts. Even so, there’s still room for optimism. I had the first Covid virus vaccine shot last Friday and had no unpleasant after effects. We shall see.

Aside from that, it’s business as usual here. Our big galas are every other Monday when we do a supermarket, laundromat, car wash commando raid. (Mike insists on the latter, says it maintains his mental stability. Boys!) María José, my helper, and her lovely daughter, Sylvia, were here today. We worked on the text for my upcoming portfolio of favorite recipes, illustrated with prints. (Before it was a portfolio it was going to be a book, but that started to look complicated. The portfolio has the advantage that you can add more recipes whenever you like.) We all had our best masks on, of course. We looked like bank robbers in a western movie. Mike made lunch. It smelled so good when I walked in the door. In the end it turned out to be a big tin of fabada asturiana, an Asturian bean stew. And there was a lovely green salad with it.

So, may your beans always smell great and your salad always be green. Take much care and I’ll see you next time. I’m looking forward to the time when I can say, “We had a great time last night with a lot of laughs with friends at our favorite fried-fish tapas bar! Come and join us.”

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Staying Sane in Hard Times Requires a Little Fun

The pandemic has been messing with our minds and bodies for almost a year now and, instead of getting better little by little it’s getting worse all of a sudden. What are we supposed to do? I suggest that our first priority be to stay alive, by taking advantage of all the pertinent survival measures. You know what they are. Just apply them rigorously to yourself and your loved ones. Here in Spain we’re entering into the “third phase,” which promises to be the most virulent.

What lauched the virus’s latest improvement at the end of last year was the sentimentalism of the Navidad familiar, the family Christmas. How many grandparents were sacrificed to those joyous holidays. That period of Christmas cheer and deadly danger are even more dangerous here, as the Spanish celebrate 14 days of Christmas, from December 24, when they have their Christmas dinner, till January 6, the Epifany, when the los Reyes Magos, Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar (The Three Wise Men) bring the children’s gifts. All of which doesn’t make much sense since the kids don’t get their presents until the day before they go gack to school. Perhaps this explains the rising popularity of Papá Noel (Santa Klaus, Father Christmas) here. He delivers more than two weeks in advance.

What’s Next Then?

If you’re reading this you have probably gotten through the joyous season alive. What next? As I see it, what’s next depends largely on you. In the case of my husband, Mike and me it revolves around three things: a project (or more than one), a sense of humor and an appreciation of simple pleasures. And I almost forgot the fourth factor: a loving pet, even if it’s your husband. I’m lucky enough to have both, and they’re both capable of making me laugh and cry.

We each have our own projects. He writes and makes photographs, and also cuts firewood. I’m painting a couple of portraits and working on my favorite-recipes portfolio of prints. We share the housework. Mike does the ironing, says it’s like meditation. I’m so glad he feels that way. I’m still cultivatinge flowers and vegetables in boxes. I’ve always had lots of flowers in the garden and loved them, but these little pansies and lettuces, the tomatoes and kale plants, and the tiny little pea plants, are something different. For one thing they’re mostly up on tables and walls, so they’re closer and you don’t have to bend down to tend them–and appreciate them close up. In all it’s a lot of fun. If you don’t have a garden, you can still do it on your porch or window ledges. Just wait till you cut the first frilly leaves of kale to adorn the top of a bean stew. Then you’ll understand.

Necessary Diversions

Before I forget, I want to mention the joy of Internet. It’s getting a lot of bad press lately because of sinister interests taking unfair advantage of its wonders. Even so, I consider it a blessing for mankind, especially during stressful times. It enables us to maintain contact–immediate personal contact–with family and friends regardless of distance. That is so enriching. And, as you probably have some time on your hands, it permits you to renew your contacts with friends from the old days, or even find new friends whom you find charming on the Web. Not to mention Google and Wikipedia, which make everything instantly look-upable. Think about it for a minute. How did we ever live without these two miraculous research resources? They make us so much smarter. And let’s not forget You Tube and its endless music offerings, and its wonderful documentaries.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we also get a lot of fun from cooking. As we go shopping much less frequently we often find ourselves short of ingredients, so we have to improvise, You can substitute apples or kiwis for tomatoes in a salad just fine.That shortage of ingredients also inspires creative cooking. The results aren’t always fully successful but usually they are. We made a delightful discovery lately. The little woodstove in our kitchen has a shallow compartment at the top, under the lid, where we found we can roast squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes and, mmm, apples. The other day we roasted half a chicken with sage and onion stuffing. That wasn’t bad, either. Does all of this good cooking put on weight? Hmm, yes.

The Essential Medications–Walking, Laughing and Helping

We do get a bit of cabin fever. That’s where a sense of humor is essential. If you can still laugh you’re probably going to be OK. We also try to get in an hour’s walk every day. That’s good for everything that might be wrong with you. We’re lucky to have a lovely walking path along the river (Río Genil) that runs below our house, through the village and on to Granada.

Another thing that will brighten your days is helping people out. Everybody has needs these days and there’s always something you can contribute, even if it’s only a sympathetic ear. We’ve got a big lemon tree we planted outside the kitchen window many years ago and now it bears so many lemons during six months a year that there is no way we can use them all, even though I make tons of our grandchildren’s favorite pancake and toast topping: lemon cheese, or do you call it “lemon curd?” Mike picks the extra lemons from time to time, puts them in bags and drops them off at our neighbors’ doors. He also leaves them at the bars and restaurants in our village.

We have a lot of bars for the size of our little town (pop. 1,250) because it’s a popular place during most of the year for people from the city which is just 8 km. (5 miles) down the road. They come out for the cool on summer evenings and the hearty food in winter. This local tourism started a few decades ago when a forward-thinking (or lucky) mayor dropped some ducks in the river where it passes through the town square. Soon the granadinos started bringing their children out to feed them dry bread (the ducks, not the kids.) Once the families got here they discovered a local bar whose owner, Marina, served up a powerful plate of arroz caldoso, the local-style juicy paella. Now we have 8 or 10 bars and restaurants and they all serve something. Today our river is full of big, beautiful white geese.

It’s a Winter Holiday

Did I mention that in wintertime, when I seldom have artists coming, we move into my Gallinero artists’ cabin at the end of our garden? It’s a lot cozier than our old stone house and easier to heat. It’s also quieter and has better views from its little terrace. In a way staying here is like being on holiday. We like it a lot except for the normal-size bed which is a bit too small for Cuca, Diva and Bundy to fit in with us comfortably. It’s a constant battle for space. Never mind, whatever inconvenience they cause, they more they make up for it in laughs, especially the chihuahua, Diva, the 4.5-pound (2.1-kilo) tyrant of the house. All in all, no complaints.

So take the best possible care of yourselves, don’t forget to laugh and, if you like, send me the stories of your own projects and I’ll post them here. And don’t forget that you and I have something in common. We all belong to the ideal world of painters and printmakers, which is a unique space of wonderful people, just for us.

Big Spanish-style hugs and kisses from Maureen.

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Switzerland’s Prestigious TASIS School Exhibits Prints from Their Work in My Studio

Art classes from The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) have been coming to my printmaking studio to learn printmaking with me since 2015 and, over time, have accumulated a body of work. Their art teachers, Martyn Dukes and Frank Long, always anxious to promote their young artists, many of whom go on to university art programs, help them put together a collective show of their work here over the past five years. What follows is a brief article they published recently on the TASIS website.

¡Hasta la vista, baby!

December 1, 2020

Print Exhibition featuring student artworks from TASIS Visual Arts Academic Travel Granada Print Workshop, 2015 – 2020

 Now on view in the Ferit Şahenk Art Center’s Horst Dürrschmitt Gallery on the TASIS campus in Montagnola, a small village overlooking Lugano, is an exhibition of student prints from solar plate etchings and gravures made in the print studio of master printer Maureen Booth in Pinos Genil, Spain, near the city of Granada. The show celebrates the diversity of student work and the wonderful opportunity that a week-long, immersive art-making workshop provided to TASIS students in the Advanced, AP, and IB Visual Arts courses.

 In addition to individual student prints, the exhibition features three collaborative Artists’ books made in February, 2020 and short videos on the gallery screen that show the printmaking process in the studio.

 Students from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2020, and 2021 are represented in the exhibition which features a wide variety of subjects and styles, all encapsulated in the Solar Plate technique. Intaglio etchings in various colors of ink and featuring Chiné-colle applique are seen alongside photogravure and design gravure examples.

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The exhibition will remain on view until January, 2021. View images of exhibit fullsize. (Scroll down to second feature. For another TASIS article with more photos, scroll down more.)

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Is It Possible?

The limitations imposed by the coronavirus crisis have not been too hard on us. We live in the country and enjoy the garden, the sunshine and fresh air, the pets, the night sky, the river walk… What we are lacking is human contact. We hardly see our friends and family and when we do we can’t give them a hug and a kiss, a Spanish custom that we have taken to whole heartedly. The other custom that is one of life’s pillars in this part of Spain–Andalusia, in the south–is the tapas bar, our three-times-weekly multi-purpose feelgood experience.

It’s a magical mix of irresistable food in enticing quantities, much of it eaten with toothpick skewers. In the great tapas bars returning clients are treated like family. Our favorite one, in a nearby village and frequented by townspeople of all stripes, from campesinos to local gentry, whole families including babes in arms and grandparents, horse traders and sleek señoritos with beautiful women. When we arrive I’m welcomed with a kiss from Monica, the lovely Gypsy waitress, usually followed by a conspiratorial tip for insiders: “Today we have torta de quisquillas, crunchy little patties filled with tiny whole shrimp…” Or little plates of paella, or exquisitely fried fish, all wiggly fresh from the wholesale fish market in the port of Motril, less than an hour’s drive down to the Mediterranean coast.

A few little plates of those mini-delicacies washed down with a chilled dry white wine, or icy draught beer make the world an infinitely better place. My husband Mike likes to sit at the bar, where we have the opportunity to meet new people and learn new tricks from great bartenders, like leaving the last finger of wine in the bottom of the bottle so as not to tip the lees into your drink.

What triggers these festive, culinary, fraternal outings? Any pretext works: “I don’t feel like cooking.” “Neither do I.” “We’re out of olive oil.” “It’s Friday!” “I’m bored.” “Me, too.” “I’ve worked enough today.” “Me, too.” We have a big lemon tree that fruits during six months of the year, so we often take a basket of tree-ripened lemons as a gift for the house. That cements relationships, too.

Beans with Everything

So, suddenly deprived of all of this, what do you do? You have to be creative. As I think I’ve already told you in a previous post, I started making sourdough bread and pancakes. It took me about a month to perfect the process, and during the times my dough was rising I had time to dabble in cooking experiments. Our freezer is always full of ingredients for siege cooking–ground beef, pork loins and ribs, vegetables of all sorts, chickens for stews and stocks, frozen cod and prawns and life-saving leftovers, which just need reheating.

The main results of this fiddling with food preparation were two tendencies:

  • Quick, varied, tasty, tapas-like meals. The secret of these is homemade chicken stock, which enriches everything. We make a big vat of it about once a month and freeze it.
  • And hearty pots of stew. Mike calls them “peas porridge hot” as they tend to get reincarnated from day to day. The Spanish call this comida de cuchara, “spoon food,” and it has become our regular fare, frequently with no meat at all (we hardly miss it), but always with at least a couple of varieties of beans. Here’s how that happened: Mike was making his chili con carne one day and discovered we were out of pinto beans. So he used a mixture of red and butter beans. That was great and now he makes his chili with all three. It gains in taste and texture and is even better looking.

The Shock of Confinement

Once I was over the initial shock of the confinamiento it occurred to me that I had the time to work on projects that I had been putting off for years, such as the artist’s book of favorite recipes. María José, my assistant in the studio, reminds me of it from time to time. So a couple of weeks ago I finally got started. It’s going to be bi-lingual English and Spanish, illustrated with a limited edition of solar-plate prints, and include not just my own recipes but some others well loved by our kids and grandkids, including some traditional Spanish and English dishes and some from friends.

We’ve always made jams, chutneys and conserves but now, with more time, we make more. We have a few fruit trees and berry bushes in our garden so we’re not short of fruit.

Quince

One of our favorite bases for both sweet and savory preserves is quince, which looks like a cross between an apple and a pear, and has so much character that you can’t eat it raw. I never saw it in England and Mike says he never knew it in America, but it thrives here mainly for making the traditional quince jelly (carne de membrillo). We cook it sliced in sugar syrup to make a compota and chop it fine, add sugar–and sometimes fruit– for jam. To make chutney you just use less sugar and add chopped onions, vinegar and lots of spices. You might try this at home if you can find any quince.

My mini herb garden began with two tomato plants in a pot last summer, then expanded to more–herbs and vegetables planted in pots, discarded wooden boxes and old drawers–gives me unending satisfation. Right now, as I sit by the fire writing this, I hear autumn’s first rolling thunder and feel the joy of anticipating the rain on my little garden. There’s nothing like real rain, especially in our arid climate. We ate the tomatoes at the end of summer, a total of eight. In early fall I planted more herbs–coriander, basil and two varieties of thyme–and some winter plants–lettuce, radishes and two colors of kale. Now I’m preparing some boxes for early spring planting. The joy of a miniature garden is more concentrated, like the difference between a mastiff and a chihuahua, though we love them both.

I’m still reading a lot and enjoying it immensely. I started with Tolstoy, and War and Peace led me directly to books on military history–Napoleon Bonaparte and Julius Caesar–and also the other great Russian writers: Turgenev, Gogol, Pushkin, Chekhov… I haven’t gotten to Dostoyevski yet but I’m looking forward to him. Never before have I felt so strongly that reading is uplifting. And, inevitably, I’ve come to sorely regret the crass and unfair way Russians have been marginalized by Western society.

The Joy of Going to the Hospital

I went to Granada’s new hospital the other day for a minor operation and was reminded of the excellence and actual loveability of the Spanish health service, which starts just down the hill with our village doctor and nurse. It goes far beyond mere professionalism, though there’s no shortage of that. Everybody’s medical history resides on a network and can be accessed by any hospital, local clinic or pharmacy in Spain. But what makes the big difference from other efficient systems is the levels of kindness, patience and thoughtfulness you experience throughout. I think this has to do with the Spanish character. The surgery that attended me was 100% feminine. In the past couple of decades Spanish medicine has been richly endowed with brilliant women, perhaps, because they’re generally better students. So, I walked in and walked out–new–after just two hours, which included a general anesthetic. The only cost involved was paying the parking lot, which Mike thought was exorbitant at four euros.

While we’re on the subject of economy I want to mention barter. With so little cash around lately, we’re going back to barter whenever we can. The other day, Victor, the lad who supplies us with firewood, stopped by and asked if I could paint a portrait of his four-year-old daughter. I said sure, happy to. He asked how much I would charge him. “As you’ve got firewood and we need some, let’s do a swap.” He was delighted and brought us two splendid loads of almond wood nicely cut to fit in our stoves. I’ve done a lot of barter over the years–for clothes, furniture and rugs, dentistry, home improvements… I love the homespun elegance of it. No money changes hands.

Other Places We No Longer Go, Things We No Longer Do

For years we’ve gone to our spa pool at seven a.m. three times a week. The warm water and the high-pressure massage jets were so revivifying we called it “the fountain of youth.” The spa happened to be in La Zubia, a nearby village with a wonderful old-fashioned coffee shop, la Cafetería Mavi, By “old-fashioned” I mean they rise at 4:00 a.m. to bake the day’s bread. rolls and buns on site, and bring them out still warm at 8:00. We would go there for breakfast on our pool days. Mike says their napolitana de chocolate is the closest he’s ever come to a religious experience. We thought life was impossible without this Monday-Wednesday-Friday morning ritual. As you have already guessed, we don’t go there any more, not to the coffee shop and not to the spa.

Instead we do morning walks along the river path that runs beneath our house. It was widened and de-brushed last year, and extends nine kilometers, all the way to Granada. It’s not quite the spa and the Mavi on a chilly morning, but it’s still great and we take our little Diva, with us.

Nor do we drive down to the beach on summer mornings. We used to do a nice walk with two or three swims included, then return to the beach restaurant for a breakfast of coffee and toast with olive-oil, fresh tomato and mountain ham. We would be back home before noon. We felt so clever leaving home at 8:30 a.m. with no traffic and returning around 11:00–also no traffic.

We don’t go shopping except for groceries. Or to restaurants. And we no longer invite friends and family for paellas or barbecues. That is what hurts most. As for getting on a train or an airplane, or even a bus, forget about it.

Bottom line: Is our life worse? In some ways yes. We miss our family and friends sorely. In other ways it may actually be better, as I’ve tried to explain. What it is, beyond all else, is different. Can we cope with these differences? I read somewhere that learning to live with change keeps you young. The trickiest part is not knowing the duration of the emergency. We may be in for an even-longer haul. I shall do my best and keep you informed. I hope that you too are managing to cope, and that we will soon see the day when we can get together again.

Thanks to my husband Mike for his photographs.

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Note: This is a story I wrote two years ago, durante this exhibition, and forgot to post. I just discovered it today in the files and will post it now–better late than never.

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Maureen and Inma Exhibit in Town Hall During the “Semana Cultural”

The friendship between Maureen and Inma started more than 30 years ago when Maureen was giving outdoor painting lessons to the children of the village. Inma was one of the most promising young artists. She was 14 years old. Fast forward thirty-some years. Inma invites Maureen to exhibit with her in the Pinos Genil town hall during the annual summer “Semana Cultural.” What Maureen discovered during the show was that, in the intervening years, Inma had become an artist and the best-loved person in the village. Maureen said afterwards, “After exhibiting with her I realized it was the most pleasurable show I ever participated in.”

For the occasion the mayor renovated the exhibit hall with fresh paint and swanky new lighting, and commissioned a local designer to produce a nice tryptic. He even laid on the refreshments and sent the village truck round to pick up the framed work, all of which made it a pleasure to show “at home” in Pinos Genil, a village of 1,200 people. The opening-night crowd was a mix of locals and people from Granada and the UK. The Granada artists who came were impressed by the exhibit space and the professional air. They’re now lining up for shows in Pinos Genil, the new cultural Mecca of greater Granada.

The show is on through the month of August. Here are the pictures of the opening night:

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What Now? Just Keep On Keepin’ On

Seven months with three cats, two dogs and a husband, and no place to go, gives you some time to think. That’s one of the luxuries of the coronavirus threat. The first thing that occurs to you is how superfluous a large part of your life has been. You begin to think about what’s important, what keeps you afloat, what’s worthy of  your time, and what will keep your spirits up during this atypical experience.

The first thing I did was to sit down. I found myself stuck between confused and despondent. I just wanted to stay sitting down. I picked up a book and started reading. I started with Tolstoy. After 20 pages of War and Peace I couldn’t believe I hadn’t discovered him sooner. A couple of hundred pages later I realized that he had not only  introduced me to Napoleon, he had lifted me out of the doldrums. I was back. So much to do. So many more books to read, and so much more.

My first new project was sourdough bread. It took me about a month of experimenting to get it under control. But it was never tiresome. It was full of suspense, fascination and the joy of seeing the bubbles come to the top of the brew. Then the bread. After a few inevitable failures I started making proper bread. Then superior bread. And there was a delightful side benefit: sourdough pancakes. Every morning. With different homemade jams. Can life get any richer?

I soon found that I had more time for the house and–gasp–my studio, which is on the hillside just below our house. I made some watercolor sketches around the garden–which always reminds me of Monet, doing some of his most wonderful paintings of the pond in his garden. I began to see things clearly again. Was it Tolstoy or Monet helping me? Or both? In the evenings around sunset Mike and I like to sit overlooking the valley and watch the wild ducks flying upriver to the reservoir where they spend their nights. Occasionally we have a bonus and see a big heron (garza real) flapping sedately by. Yesterday evening we saw a peregrine falcon sail-hunting high over our valley. That is an indelible experience, a true luxury that doesn’t require a limousine or precious jewels. It’s free.

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Reading, Cooking, Nature, A Sense of Humor

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Sketching Is Less Like Work

I don’t know about you, but for me the sketchbook is where most of the magic happens. It’s freer, more spontaneous, less ponderous that putting paint on canvas or etching a plate. It’s actually fun and if you mess it up it doesn’t matter. By the way, the day you least expect it you can turn some of those sketches into paintings.

My latest creation is a little herb garden in that flat pot that had the pansies in it (see photos). It’s only been going for about three weeks and already we’re harvesting minute amounts of fresh coriander (chopped and sprinkled on top of Mike’s chili con carne) and basil (place the delicate little leaves on top of any pasta dish). It makes for a better life. With a few packets of seeds you can make three or four herb gardens to give to your favorite people. I also enjoy seeing the fulfillment Mike gets from working on his blog, Trump and All the Rest. He takes it seriously and has posted 175 essays over the past three years. He says he’s doing his part to help set the United States on the right track.

María José, my old friend (more like a daughter actually) and assistant in the studio, arrived back from her family summer on the beach a few days ago and we sat down in the studio and plotted together. She’s been prodding me for years to do a particular project and we’ve finally decided to get started on it. (Was that due to Tolstoy, Zola or Mark Twain? I’m not sure, but I’m eternally grateful to all of them.) Now I’m also feeling the need to start some big work. Painting with big brushes on big canvases is exciting, especially when you’ve got those sketches as roadmaps.

What Does the Future Hold?

The future holds what it’s always held: work, play, progress, surprises, setbacks, joy, sadness, disappointment and lots more. But the most important thing, whatever lands on your plate, is what the Spanish call “ilusión.” That’s not illusion in the sense of trickery, magic or mystery. It’s more about joyous anticipation. Here comes the future! Bring it on! So, what do you do? You do what you have always done. Trust your serendipity and be creative.

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And They’re Not Over Yet

The past six months have reminded me of my two favorite Spanish sayings:

  • “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” Nothing bad ever happens that doesn’t bring something good along with it.
  • “Todos los días son días de aprender.” Every day is a day to learn something.

It was the end of February and I had just had a group in my studio of 18 art students from The American School in Switzerland (TASIS). I worked with two assistants, María José and Carmen (bottom right in the photo), which permitted us, in addition to teaching, to produce a volume of work, enough to mount a show when the students got back home. It was a print production experience and it worked wonderfully well. Everybody was delighted with their prints and I was ready for a rest.

This TASIS class was the largest group I ever had in my studio. In fact, some of them worked in the Gallinero on the long workbench and outside on the terrace. Martyn Duke, the art teacher (far left, glasses), and Frank Long, the photography teacher (far right, top), two great people to work with, walked the students from the hotel over to my studio every morning. Afterwards a great grandfather sitting on a bench under a big plane tree in the village plaza said it was like the old days when shepherds would herd their sheep and goats through the middle of town on their way upriver to the mountains.

It Was a Long Rest

I didn’t realize then that we were in for a six-month–and counting–rest, as the coronavirus lockdown started shortly afterwards. Life changed radically. No more escapadas to our favorite fried-fish-and-chilled-white-wine bars. No more visits to and from friends and family. No more students. What day is it? What is the meaning of life, anyway? Are we going to get out of this alive?

Essentially I think the most important tool for dealing with dramatically unexpected circumstances is creativity. I’m always saying that creativity is not just about modeling clay or putting paint on canvas. It’s about everything we do in life. It’s our most important resource, especially in tricky times.

How to start? First of all, reading. Mike bought me an ereader for Christmas and downloaded tons of quality books. I started with Tolstoy–what a revelation–Mark Twain, Dickens, biographies of Caesar and Bonaparte, among other greats. (Conclusion: Nothing has changed.) Then cooking, first spending a month nurturing sourdough bread and pancakes (Mike says sourdough is an extraterrestre.) We’ve almost eliminated meat from our diet, replacing it with dozens of variations on different kinds of beans. Then cakes and baked apples. Oh, I almost forgot the big homemade jam selection. Our son has a fruit orchard. That helps. It’s creativity you can spread on pancakes.

As it turned out, we were lucky. We weren’t totally locked down, The regulation had a loophole for people to walk their dogs, so Diva saved our health and sanity. We would take her for walks along the old Sierra Nevada tram line or the river walk almost every day.

Another bright side: They say adapting to change keeps you young. So, when the initial shock began to wear off I decided to go back to painting. Painting was my first love, but I hadn’t had much time for it since the late 70s when I took up printmaking. Now the time was right. I even had oodles of paint and canvases I’d been buying over the years for a future when I could paint again.

Sometimes Mike Would Take a Camera

What’s Next?

Next is to keep on coping. To continue dealing with changes, surprises, alarms, disappointments, simple pleasures, polishing one’s sense of humor. If adapting to change makes you young we’ll be 10 years old before this is over. And that’s a good thing, as President Trump says Covid-19 doesn’t kill anybody… except old people.

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An interview by Bart Sedgebear

Manchester Girl Came Long Way

Maureen is from Manchester, U.K. In her last incarnation there she was a suburban housewife with two small children. That was in 1964 and she was feeling restless again. She had always been restless, at school, in church, in her job as a secretary earning coolie wages in the Manchester textile sector. This time it was bigger. She wanted out of suburbia, out of Little England. She had experienced only two weeks of sunshine in the previous year and yearned to feel the sun. She had painted her children’s bedroom walls with a bullfighter theme. Painting made her happy. She had attended a few night classes with a professor from the Stockport College of Art. “I needed to know how to stretch a canvas,” she says. After a half-dozen lessons the art professor said to her, “You don’t need to come any more. Just go home and draw everything.” She sold her first couple of portraits and thought the life of the artist would be easy.

One day, when her husband arrived home from work as a sales rep, she said to him, “Let’s move to Spain.” They had been on holiday a couple of times on the Costa Brava on Spain’s northern Mediterranean coast and enjoyed it.

In July 1964 she stepped off a plane at the Málaga airport, a thousand kilometers south of the Costa Brava. She was shepherding her two children and struggling with the carry-on luggage. Her husband was waiting there to drive them to their new home, a cobblestone, Roman-tiled fishing village 50 kilometers up the coast. As she stepped out the door of the plane she was buffeted by a wave of heat like nothing she had ever experienced before. She wondered if she had done the right thing.

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Time Flies

Flash forward a half century. She’s sitting midst easels and etching presses, stacks of canvases and exotic papers, worriedly anticipating the return of the wren that built his nest outside her studio window last week–and looking back over a life that took her by surprise.

Q: What happened?

A: We sold our house in England and pooled the money with another English couple to build a restaurant/bar and 12 apartments on a bluff over a Mediterranean beach in southern Spain. We ran the business working alternate weeks for a few years, the wives cooking and the husbands doing the shopping and tending the bar.

A couple of years in I rented the whole top floor of an old house overlooking a big vegetable patch and made it into a wonderful studio. The woman who owned the house was called Conchita Bueno and she was truly buena. I would paint there during the off weeks and any other time I could steal. Sometime during the fourth year, with the business taking off and me selling some paintings, I got restless again. We didn’t speak hardly any Spanish and we had never really integrated with the villagers. What’s more, the town was turning into a tourist trap for wayward Brits and Northern Europeans who formed English-speaking cliques and whose idea of adventure was to go to a “native” bar. It wasn’t an ideal place to raise children. I felt that I needed to get out of there. But how? I badly needed some serendipity.

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It came along in the form of an American lad who wore cut-off jeans in mid-winter and always carried a couple of cameras. He moved into the ugly new block of flats opposite our restaurant and began coming over for breakfast, and we had time for long chats. It turned out he was writing articles for American newspapers and was determined to stay in Europe. He liked fried bread, had never heard of it. One morning he and I made mayonnaise together in the kitchen, him pouring the oil slowly into the bowl and me whipping it into the eggs with a wire whisk. Shortly afterwards we coincided at a party of those boring expats and spent the whole night in a corner reading aloud to each other from a book of Yeats’ poems. We read Beggar to Beggar Cried. That did it.

Q: What happened then?

A. Two weeks later I was back on the plane with my kids, headed to my parents’ house in Manchester. I was there for six months working in my brother’s flower shop while my soon-to-be second husband searched for a “real” Spanish village well off the Mediterranean coast, found one, rented a house there, and helped the owner install a bathroom. We’ve lived in that village ever since. It hasn’t changed much as it’s in a steepish valley that doesn’t have much room for “development.” Here we raised my two kids and one of our own.

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Becoming a Printmaker

Eventually we bought an old house and fixed it up. As we had no money left nor collateral, the village mayor co-signed a loan for us to do the renovation. That is how our pueblo has treated us. Some years later we built the studio and converted the goat shed into an office for Mike and have happily lived and worked here ever since. Much later we built a cabin to accommodate the print artists who came from all over the world to attend my printmaking workshops. Workshops are what you do when a disastrous world economic crisis slows your flow of art sales to a drip. Even in this I was lucky. My husband was a freelance journalist and photographer who had worked in PR in the US, so it didn’t take him long to adapt to being an artist’s online publicist. Try googleing “printmaking courses in Spain”  and see the first results.

This was the etching studio of the Rodríguez-Acosta Foundation in 1979-80

Q: How did you become a printmaker?

A: More serendipity. Louise Waugh, a wonderful English watercolorist friend, stopped by the studio one day with some beautiful etching proofs. I was astounded. How did she do that? She said she had been accepted to study in the etching studio of the Fundación Rodríguez-Acosta in Granada. “You just take a portfolio of your work and leave it with them, and then go back after a week to see if you’ve been accepted.” I did. I was. A whole new world opened up for me. I worked there for two-and-a-half years, under the direction of the magical printmaking maestro, José García Lomas, “Pepe Lomas,” who had been exquisitely formed in Barcelona and Paris. Pepe liked his students to be earnest and I was certainly that, so he spared no effort to see to it that I mastered his traditional techniques. It’s a good thing I did. Everything starts there.

The Creative Life

Q: Let’s talk about the creative life. How do you see it looking back?

A: And forward. That’s something I need to clear up. A writer friend of ours recently turned 40 and expressed concern about being “past her prime.” What nonsense. You’re never past your prime until you stop struggling. I made my first print when I was 37. Consider Georgia O’Keeffe, nearing 98, virtually blind, and still painting.

As for “the creative life,” Mike and I have discussed it a lot. We agree that authentic creativity goes beyond putting paint on canvas or ink on plates. For us an artist’s first mission is to take responsibility for crafting a creative life. That can mean different things for different artists but the essential part is about making a vital and artistic ecosystem for yourself, tailor made for your own needs, tastes, challenges and aspirations. And don’t fail to leave some space for serendipity.

Don’t worry what other people think of your lifeplan. It’s for you, not for them. Do you want to raise chihuahuas or learn Mandarin. You can do that, and more. When I was headed back to Spain in 1969 to start a new life my two brothers, both successful businessmen, expressed their grave concern for me. They thought I was crazy. Forty-some years later they came down individually for visits, and both confided to me, “I wish I had done what you did.”

Q: Do you have any advice for young artists who are starting out, say, where you were in the mid-sixties?

A: I can make some general suggestions, but every artist is a world apart. First and foremost is the importance of actually working, filling sketchbooks, painting, making prints. If you don’t do that conscientiously it’s all pointless. Inevitably, what you are seeking, to live from your art, entails some risk, but it need not be an impediment. There’s a simple formula for taking the stress out of it: Figure out what your wildest dream is and give it a try. The worst that can happen is that you have to go home and get a job.

You’ll have to sell some work, of course. You’ll need to exhibit and participate in art fairs and other cultural events. Whether or not you ever sell much work over Internet, a compelling presence on the Web will be an important element in your success. Your story is just as important as your work and you’ll need to develop it and find interesting ways to divulge it. Right now the media for that are websites and blogs, videos and podcasts and, of course, social media. Later there will be something else but the essential element will still be your story: your humanity, your humor, your best teacher, your hopes, your unexpected successes, the morning light on your nasturtiums, your cat, and your trip to Tasmania or the Grand Canyon. Don’t worry about including any sales pitches. The captivating life and times of a full-time professional artist is sales pitch enough, and your potential clients will appreciate your low-key presentation.

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More Preparation

It would be good to study something, too, regardless of whether you get a degree. You will learn how to learn and this will serve you well when it comes time to build a a website or a sailboat. Don’t laugh. A dear artist friend of ours in Colorado makes lovingly- crafted three-quarter size Indian canoes and people hang them from their ceilings.

Travel all you can. Read all you can. Without it you cannot become a complete artist–or person. Read quality fiction and non-fiction. Everything fits into the artist’s blender.

Q: Do you have more suggestions, something to help artists survive a crisis?

A: I discussed that more extensively in an article I wrote some years ago. Here’s a link to it.

Q: What about working space and conditions? How important are they?

A: Ample workspace is essential for a visual artist, especially considering that you might need to mount courses in there. That studio is your sacred space and you must devote some thought and resources to it. You also need privacy and tranquility. At first you may need a day job, but don’t let it prevent you from spending quality time in your studio. Program that into your life. Set some objectives, make some plans. Write them down. They will help you navigate the hard times to come.

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Think about what kind of work you’re going to do, how commercial you can go without compromising your creativity and your self respect. Who are you going to sell to and how? Resist the temptation to spend time and effort cultivating rich clients. Normal people–teachers, nurses, programmers, office workers, small business people and the like, are better, more loyal and constant. They will think of you when they need wedding presents or portraits. Then, if a rich client comes along, that’s OK, too.

Don’t despise anyone. My best client for paintings (this was before etchings) when I started out in Granada was a young pharmacy employee. He would phone me occassionally and say, “I’ve got some money saved, Maureen. Can I come out and have a look-around?” We’re still friends.

Q: What about the coronavirus pandemic? How do you think that is going to influence the lives of artists?

A: I think that’s impossible to predict at the moment. The first thing that occurs to me is that involuntary lockdown has given artists valuable time to think and observe, time they have never taken before. I hope they take good advantage of it. As for national and world events, they could go from revolutionary social and political changes to just more of the usual muddling through. Only one thing is clear to me: our creativity–in the broadest sense of the word–will be stretched to its limits Artists may have to plant potatoes. In any case, look on the bright side. Creativity is what artists are good at.

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Maureen Booth printroom

(He aquí una selección de mi trabajo y talleres)

“Where can I see a selection of your work?” Right here! I’ve gone into the files and pulled out a representative sample of my work over the years. I’ve done it by categories: acid etchings, solarplate prints, linocuts, oil paintings, etc. Some of the paintings are for sale and most of the editions still have prints available, so if you see anything you think you might like to purchase, just drop me an email (maureenluciabooth(at)gmail.com) and we can discuss it. (Click on the images to enlarge them and open up a slide show.) Here we go:.

Recent Work / Obra Reciente

Bronze Sculptures

 

Movie Making and Lorna

Solarplate Prints / Estampas Solares

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Liquid Metal Prints / Estampas de Metal Líquido

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Acid Etchings / Grabados al Ácido

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Screen Prints / Serigrafías

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Linocuts / Linograbados

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Oil Paintings / Óleos

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Watercolors / Acuarelas

 

 

Alhambra Prints / Estampas con tema Alhambra

Alhambra ghost print

These are the first prints from my series on Granada’s Alhambra palace and fortress. Though it’s located barely five miles down the hill from our house, I’ve avoided the Alhambra as a subject for years because of the danger of doing something trite. It’s been done to deathby artists from around the world over the past 200 years. But I’m encouraged by my experiments with liquid-metal techniques, which have obliged me to work fast and loose, and I’m quite pleased with the results.

One surprise in this experience is that some of the ghost prints turned out more interesting than the first prints pulled off the plates, as you can see in these pictures. Also, learning to print plates with relief on them has been a challenge.

So, please take a look at these new prints and let me know what you think. Or, if you like, come to my studio in Granada and we’ll work on something together!

The first print pulled off the first plate

The second Alhambra print

The ghost print off the second plate


 

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It Can Be Fun, Actually

Due to the countrywide quarantine order we’ve been confined to our home for more than two weeks now but we haven’t managed to get bored yet. Admittedly we’re lucky. We have a garden and some sunny terraces. So I dabble in paint. In normal times I don’t have much time for painting, my first love, since I’ve got so much printmaking stuff to do. Mike works on his blog and in the garden, makes pictures and walks the dogs. That’s the loophole in the lockdown order, you’re permitted to walk your dog. Very civilized, I thought. And just opposite our house, on the other side of the river, we’ve got an old tram line that’s perfect for the purpose.

I want to share with you some of the photographs he has made over the past couple of weeks. Actually, being locked down has its positive side. There are lots of annoying duties that you can’t possibly do, so you get to leave them. That gives you time for stuff you never have time for, sitting on the terrace round sunset watching the ducks and herons flying up the river till it’s too dark to see them; watching films and series and, especially, YouTube documentaries. (Here’s a link to one we loved.) And relaxing deeply, as if you were on holiday or at someone else’s house.

So, here’s some pictures. Be well and come and see us when you can.