Art on Vacation

When we were in Napa Valley recently, the concierge at Bardessono recommended a local artist for a private in-room art workshop. Karen Lynn Ingalls was an extraordinary instructor with a very engaging teaching style.  Her specialty is mixed media in vibrantly charged colors.


This delightful painter introduced acrylic painting techniques combined with stenciling and collage, and used a simple paper plate to illustrate the effects from a variety of acrylic media.   These different techniques can be quite confusing, but Karen made them fun for experimentation with different papers and stencils.  We painted with all the rich, happy colors:  yellows and oranges, warm blues and greens, vivid purples and red that glow in an exuberant way, nearly flying off the canvas and paper!  Karen calls her preference for the super-saturated colors “a kind of visual Vitamin C.” And this palate of color would revive the health of even the most anemic composition!



If you are in the Napa Valley area, try some art in between all the hiking, dining, wine tasting and galleries.  It may not be the first activity to come to mind but art can be so much fun. And I recommend the Bardessono, an eco-friendly LEEDS certified hotel, which nurtures not only its guests but the local artist community in Yountville and the surrounding Napa Valley. The Bardessono art collection in and of itself is breathtaking and I have shared one of my favorite pieces here.


“House of Cards”–Season 2: The Main Course

House of Cards–season 2

I just binged on the second season of  the Emmy-award winning “House of Cards,” the Netflix-produced political saga starring Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood and Robin Wright as his wife Claire as it continues its narratively complex drama– even better than 2013’s!  (See my February 2013 review of the first season, “House of Cards”–A Bulimic Buffet for Couch Potatoes?)

In this riveting thriller of political ambition, power, and hubris of Shakespearian proportions, we see the Underwoods cement their lethal relationship as the über power couple on the Beltway, energized by each other’s ruthlessness. Determined to leave no enemy unharmed, the two share everything:  strategy, tactical maneuvers, and annihilation without mercy. But both Claire and Frank have backstories, hinting at the damage that has been done to them.  Their wounds remain unhealed.

Claire and Frank Underwood pursue power without any internalized sense of obligation, morality, or responsibility resulting in the viewer’s fascination and fear of the Underwoods’  impending path of destruction. Frank is unmoved by barbecue vendor Freddy’s refusal to patronize a new butcher who tortuously slow-bleeds the hogs.  Slow-bleeding hogs do not even register on Frank’s radar, a  Vice President who wants policies made his way, and only his way.

In episode after episode of this alarming drama, this pair of frightening anti-heroes–nonetheless earn our reluctant admiration for their brilliant understanding of human psychology.  They can visualize motivations and blind spots even their foes are not fully aware of. Consequently, the Underwoods seem to have no worthy adversary except each other.

In the season finale, Frank is alone in the Oval Office –or rather, talking to us, the viewers on camera.  He taps twice with his ring, a lesson his father had taught him: knock once to toughen your knuckles for a fight and once for good luck.

Prepared, with bare-knuckle fighting almost certainly in his future, Frank knocks twice on the desk in the Oval Office.  But will Claire be the one he has to fight, the blind spot for him? The one he can’t overcome?  We’ll have to wait until February 2015 to see how this immorality play unravels, and how the toy soldiers Frank loves to create symbolize a challenge to his game.

“Shake Hands with the Devil”–The Backstory to “Hotel Rwanda”

Shake Hands 2005

A Sundance award-winning documentary, this film  takes the viewer to the  hell experienced by General Romeo Dallaire, who was assigned to lead UN peace-keeping forces in Rwanda in the spring of 1994. In 100 days approximately  800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered, most of them Tutsis at the hands of the Hutus.  The images of heaps of dead bodies, and rooms filled with  skulls, are more harrowing than anything I’ve seen in cinema.

General Dallaire returns to Rwanda ten years after the massacres in  2004, with his wife protectively guiding him through the landscape of his traumatic past like treacherous land mines waiting to explode. Told through this remarkable Canadian general’s eyes in a series of horrific flashbacks and post-traumatic memories, we witness his powerlessness and frustration, and his terrible remorse. Interviews with some of his UN colleagues and BBC reporters support Dallaire accounts: his horror, profound regret, and his shaken belief in human values.   Despite the general’s repeated alerts to the impending bloodbath, UN officials in New York—with European and American disinterest— did nothing. While Dallaire was promised 5,000 soldiers for a scheduled election of a new president,  the soldiers were never supplied, leaving his peacekeeping mission impotent. Refusing to leave the country during the reign of terror, this unsung warrior tried to save as many lives as possible.  And all hell broke out.

Both heroic and philosophical, this Canadian commander remembers “the most evil imaginable” with a heartbreaking vulnerability that is only a thin membrane away from what seems uncomfortably close to  a nervous breakdown.  The anniversary trip was likely  a necessary step in his recovery from post-traumatic stress, in the healing of horrific psychic wounds, which left him depressed and suicidal after his return to Canada.  Some semblance of order and stability returned to Rwanda by the time of his visit in retirement and he is given a hero’s welcome.  Participating in the commemorative ceremonies of the 2004 bloodbath, Dallaire delivers a quiet but searing and devastating speech.

Many reasons are given for the West’s indifference, most conspicuously, there was nothing anybody wanted from Rwanda.   It was convenient to dismiss the civil war as African tribal feuding, with an implied racism.   “Shake Hands with the Devil” is a reminder of the cost of indifference.

[Available on Netflix;  Note–Not to be confused with the low-quality drama by the same name, produced in 2007, the documentary “Shake Hands with the Devil” is dated 2005 .]

Shake Hands with the Devil
Shake Hands with the Devil