Nicarao in Gotham

Liberty raises her torch in New York.
The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus, 1883 

So came the exiles, looking for a better life.  Exiles like my husband's great-grandfather who crossed the Atlantic alone in 1913 at the tender age of 11, or like painter Franck de Las Mercedes who at 13 years old traveled by land from Nicaragua in 1985 to escape war and be reunited with his mother.
Trinity Church, the Financial District.  New York City.
In the shadow of the buildings I meet Franck for the first time.  He gives us a tour of the city as he sees it, and the journey and conversation make us wander through all corners of the island, even braving a storm! I have heard so much about him but no tales will compare to hearing first hand of the richness of his experience, the pain of his memories, his instinct for survival.
First Baptist Church, Upper West Side.  New York City.

Franck de Las Mercedes was born in Masaya, Nicaragua, cradle of Culture and Art, ancient dominion of the wise "Cacique" and philosopher (chief) Nicarao, and home of the magnificent Volcán Masaya.  Masaya to this day is the guardian of Nicaraguan traditions, her streets alive with the sound of Marimbas and the joy of dance:
Baile de Los Diablitos (the dance of the Little Demons).  Masaya, Nicaragua.

Regardless of distance or time, Franck carries within him the essence of his native land: the colors, the fire, the seismic energy, and the satire so characteristic of his city:

Franck poses with his portrait series, and wears a traditional dance mask.
This joie de vivre is also mixed with pain, and in a dark lounge in  Hell's Kitchen Franck remembers the bombs that obliterated entire city blocks, the bodies scattered on the street, and the day his mother (an outspoken teacher) fled the country to save her life.

All this horror manifests itself in the colors that flow, like blood, in works such as "Passion and Warfare", and in "Wounded Soul", where the glorious bi color of the water slowly stains with kindred blood:

"Wounded Soul".  Mixed media.  24 in x 30 in.

"Passion and Warfare".  Acrylic on Canvas.  50 in x 68 in.

and in the chaotic explosions of paint (part bomb, part pyroclastic blast) that shake his canvas:

"Explosif" Acrylic on Canvas.  50 in x 60 in.
Wounded as he may be, Franck's spirit is not broken.  In the rebellious and satiric tradition of Masaya, Franck dons "La Máscara" (the mask) which in Colonial times granted freedom of speech and protected the wearer from punishment at the hand of the Conquistador.  His portrait series is an homage to poets, artists, musicians, and friends unafraid to speak their mind, many times contrary to their establishment and their government:

"Egoretrato".  Portrait of Ego (self-portrait)
Poets of Nicaragua.  Rubén Darío (left) and Pablo Antonio Cuadra (right)
Franz Kafka (left) and John Lennon (right)

Franck tells me of his first years in New York, the culture shock he experienced in the big city, coming to terms with being an "other".  He also talks about the life and the energy of the city, and I sense that the Mother of Exiles has been for him a source of healing, hope, order, and peace:

"Empire King" Acrylic on Canvas.  52 in x 62 in.  Franck's abstract tribute to New York.  Notice the silhouette of the Empire State Building.
New York has also given Franck a purpose: to turn his "Childhood Ashes" (as one of his paintings is titled) into a message of Peace:

"Priority Boxes" project.
Franck is best known for his "Priority Boxes Project", which seeks to initiate an international dialog, to challenge people in reconsidering their ability to influence change, and to question the fragility, value, and priority given to concepts like Peace.  Free of charge and to every corner of the globe, Franck sends painted US Postal Service Priority Mail boxes, empty of material content, but full of sentiment.  The response to such a simple idea, has been overwhelming; Franck has sent over 10,000 boxes since the project started in 2006, and continues to do so as people request on behalf of friends, colleagues, and institutions who may need a message of Peace, Healing, or Hope:

The night wore on and it was time to leave, time to leave Franck and leave New York.  I'll cherish my encounter with this intriguing person.  Even though my artistic sensibilities lie elsewhere, we understood each as artists, but more importantly we understood each other as progeny of the same feathered-serpent god and pale faces, scarred by the same wars, and healed by the same exile.

Empire King.  The Empire State Building.  New York City.
To view more of Franck de las Mercedes's work, or to learn about the "Priority Box Project" visit his website.

Many thanks to my dear friend Eva Calderón for introducing me to Franck de Las Mercedes. 
All images of New York and Nicaragua by NPL. 
All images of Artwork are the property of Franck de Las Mercedes and reproduced here with his permission.

Houston Living: HAWC goes back to School

School Supplies
The Houston Area Women's Center's mission is to help "individuals affected by domestic and sexual violence in their efforts to move their lives forward".   They "provide shelter, counseling, and advocacy to support them in building lives free from the effects of violence"; and "seek social change to end domestic and sexual violence through community awareness and education". The services are confidential and available to everyone.

HAWC's mission resonates with me.  Nicaragua, where I grew up, is a patriarchal society, where women are still fighting for equality and respect, where strolling down the street will warrant uninvited advances (verbal and physical) from men, and where our preservation instincts and actions will guarantee even more abuse because the "men are men" and women are supposed to be submissive, obedient objects.  Living in the US I have learned that this problem is not unique to Nicaragua, and that ignorance and abuse exists regardless of geographical location, language, religion, or race.  This is why, when many years ago my dear friend Laura Vazquez invited me, nay informed me that she was "volunteering me" to help HAWC, I couldn't refuse. At the time Laura was an advocate at HAWC's Shelter, which is a facility that provides refuge to people whose lives are in danger.  Laura is a brilliant, kind, beautiful woman; she is strong, and she is fierce in her convictions.  A person does not say "no" to Laura, so I went, and I have been going back ever since.  I am grateful to Laura for introducing me to such a noble cause.

The Houston Area Women's Center

In addition to shelter, counseling, and advocacy services, "HAWC"(as those in the know call it) organizes many events throughout the year designed to lift the financial and emotional burdens of their clients: Halloween, Holiday parties, fundraisers, and drives.  Laura's first invitation was to participate in the Halloween party: a face painter was needed for the children.  This event was for me exciting and heartbreaking at the same time.  Exciting because I wanted to help a cause in which I believe deeply; heartbreaking because it gave me a close up look to bruises and scars that are not only physical, but psychological.

Many years have passed since that Halloween party, and I have now graduated to member of a few planning committees (thanks again to Laura's invitation).  For the past couple of years I have been involved in The Back to School Project, which seeks to fulfill the school supply list of about 1300 children.

School Supplies waiting to be distributed

Supplies are acquired through fundraisers, drives, and individual donations.  The children receive all of the basic needs outlined by the Houston Public School System (HISD) plus some other special objects like personal hygiene items, clothing, and "prices".  This year the girls received little purses and the boys t-shirts; all children chose one price which ranged from colorful notebooks to lunchboxes, toothbrushes were distributed to each child, and everyone (including the toddlers) got a backpack.

The backpack is the centerpiece of the Project, not only because it is the most expensive single item HAWC has to acquire, but because it is the most special thing each child gets to choose; and here lies the key to the event:  The concept of choice, of being able to pick whatever one wants, no hand-me-downs (all items are new), no pressure, no imposition.  HAWC puts a great deal of effort in acquiring a startling variety of school bags, which are then arranged according to age, style, color, or cartoon character! 

Volunteers sort the backpacks
Planning for the Project starts early in the year and requires much coordination.  Invitations are made and sent out to companies and individuals who are encouraged to donate supplies and funds.  Resource packets for parents (which include information about health, education, and family entertainment) are prepared; and when all donations and drives have finished, the supplies are counted and allocated; the staff and volunteers then shop for any missing items.

Volunteers sort the supplies.
Volunteers receive instructions from Pam Hobbs, manager of Children's Court Services.

The week leading up to the event is the busiest.  All items need to be sorted and packaged according to age, and they need to be arranged for distribution along a predetermined (and well organized) route.  Then the distribution days arrive and the families pour in waves, waves of extroverted, shy, curious, withdrawn, but equally excited children:

The families arrive.
The families register with the staff and pick up vouchers where each child is listed according to grade and gender.  They then meet a volunteer who, aided by the voucher, will help them with their "shopping" and accompany them through the distribution route.  Along the way they receive hygiene products for the whole family, pick their prices, their purses, their t-shirts, until finally they get to choose a backpack!

A child walks the distribution route.

Even the littlest ones get a bag (which contains a toy instead of supplies), that way no one goes home empty handed:

Little brother gets a backpack!
And this is when you hear it:  "You mean I get to pick my own backpack!?" "really!? really!?", "Whatever backpack I want!?"  And you realize that you've had a good life and things that you take for granted are cherished by others; and the ability to choose for yourself (which goes beyond a simple backpack) is a gift that not everybody has.

A boy packs away his school supplies
After they pick their backpack, a volunteer takes the families to one final stop where they receive all their school supplies neatly wrapped and labeled with their respective school grade.  Then the children and their families leave.  Many of them will return for next year's Back to School Project, because sadly the circle of violence is not easy to break.

High school age kids leave with their school supplies.
Many thanks to The Houston Area Women's Center for letting me write about this important event.  For more information visit their website, or follow them on facebook or twitter.

All images courtesy of The Houston Area Women's Center


Heights Living: Whiteout!

White Linen Night in the Heights 2011

On August 6th, 2011 an estimated 50,000 poured themselves into the quaint streets of The Heights (a historic neighborhood just north of downtown Houston).  They came to celebrate "White Linen Night in the Heights".  This now annual and wildly popular event started only 5 years ago at the initiative of certain business owners who, after the tragic events of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, found themselves displaced and relocated to Houston.  The event has now grown into a neighborhood-wide celebration of culture, art, music, dance, fashion, and food, attracting thousands of visitors from other Houston neighborhoods to experience the urbanity, the life, and the brilliance of our community.  In the tradition of New Orleans White Linen Night, the revelers are encouraged to wear white clothing to combat the sultry heat of Houston's summer nights.
The Heights Theater on 19th Street.

Breezy white linen on White Oak Drive.

White Out on 19th Street.
The event started at 6:00pm on White Oak Drive with a parade of bike riders and a float:

A member of Harleys Angels decorated her bike with wings.  Before the Parade on White Oak Drive.
White Oak Drive was renamed, for that night only, "Pink Street" in honor of Breast Cancer survivors and fighters.  Pink tents were erected in the middle of the street, and the vendors dressed in cheery pink clothes, forgoing the traditional white, in solidarity with the plight of so many women.  The highlight of "Pink Street" was a short performance of "Time Out of Line" by Houston's best contemporary ballet company The Dominic Walsh Dance Theater:

The beautifully talented and award winning Domenico Luciano.

"Time out of Line".  Dancers from The Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre.
The ballet deals with the passage of time and our perception of it, with repetition, continuity, and the idea of time working against us.  It is a gorgeous piece which I've had the pleasure of seeing it performed by the whole company at Zilkha Hall.  On august 6th we stood in the setting sun watching time run away from us through the fluid movement and genius of Dominic Walsh.

After the performance we moved onto 11th street where Karen Derr was serving the most delicious white chocolate martinis among the delicate beauty of Buchanan's orchids:

Karen Derr, who knew she made martinis!?
Catching the shade.  Buchanan's Native Plants.
Besides the martinis, Buchanan's also provided aperitifs in the green house and was host to Good Dog Hot Dogs, one of Houston's famous food trucks:

Good Dog Hot Dogs draws a crowd at Buchanan's Native Plants.
The Decorations at Buchanan's Native Plants.

Then it was time for the fashion show.  The businesses of 19th street had set up a catwalk at the main intersection, where we saw everything from current fashions to vintage evening dresses and folkloric attire (the latter provided by Casa Ramirez Folk Art Gallery).

Vintage fashion on 19th Street.
Trying to catch a glimpse of the fashion show from Langford Market.

The fashion parade continued not only on the catwalk, but also below in the streets where people found stylish, creative, and interesting ways to comply with the dress code:

The beautiful salesperson at Langford Market
The ones who really made an effort; even his shoes are white!
 And the more interesting...
19th street was also the location of, for lack of a better term, the "street surfing".  Several teenagers had set up an inflatable runway with a ramp on one end, and filled it with water; then proceed to surf on it:

Street surfers on 19th street.
Night fell and it was time for one last stop and one last highlight.  We made our way back to 11th street to David, Etc. where local painter Wendy Berthiaume was being toasted.  The party was in full swing, but Ms. Berthiaume was very gracious and she gave us a tour of her work:
"Congregation".  5ft by 5ft, Oil on Canvas.
Wendy calls her work "a stream of consciousness".  The paintings are abstract, and rather than being a representation of ideas, they represent Wendy's feelings and emotions in the moment of their conception.  Paint, light, and color lead Wendy through the artistic process, in which shapes and structures form seemingly of their own accord into, geometric shapes, endless black tunnels or liquid fire:
"Marrow". 4ft by 5ft, Oil on Canvas.  Image courtesy of Wendy Berthiaume.
I think Wendy's most intriguing work is her recent incursion into black and white.  Wendy created three paintings of varying shades of white, grey, and black; one of which is so dark that it may at first disturb the viewer:

"Wet Suit Legal".  Oil on Canvas.
My initial feeling upon gazing at this canvas was one of drowning.  The deep grey, almost black, tunnels formed by swirls are eerily reminiscent of seaweeds.  The darkness is oppressive and yet on second look one notices the transparency and luminosity of the (shall we call them?) seaweeds, and realizes that light filters through these deep waters.  I told Wendy of my impression and asked her about her inspiration.  She in turn told me about her first open water swim (Wendy is also a triathlete): she had been training diligently in the safety of a pool, but the morning of the race she found herself face to face with the reality of having to swim in a cold lake, where your body becomes a tangle of limbs washed in the waves.  "Wet Suit Legal" depicts the vision she had right before the dive, and to me it also represents her anxiety and her fear, but at the same time victory and hope, seen in the light playing on the surface.  We are familiar with these sentiments, all of us experience fear and doubt, and we cling to hope to swim across our oceans.
Wendy Berthiaume exhibiting her work.
We said our good byes to Wendy and the guests of David, Etc. and tried to go home, but the festive spirit continued in the streets even though the barricades had already been removed; so we settled for a while on the terrace at Zelko Bistro, and after some savory bites we finally went back to our cottage.  For many others however, the revelry continued well into the early morning.

Night falls on 19th street.  Until next year!

To see more pictures of the event visit us on facebook.

All images by NPL unless otherwise noted.


The Pink Carrot

This post falls under the category of "beautiful things", I have written it with unapologetic frivolity and a hint of the social pages.  Reader, you are warned...

I have been a fan of "The Pink Carrot" for years, there is something special, bold, and thoughtful about the jewelry she makes that keeps me coming back.  I wear The Pink Carrot almost every day (I have so many of her beautiful pieces!); I also take it with me when I travel, and it seems to have crossed all aspects of my life, personal, professional, and even my "stage persona".  When Cuadro La Tempestad needed jewelry for a promotional photo session, The Pink Carrot graciously sent us trays of Middle Eastern inspired accessories:
Joyce "La Joya" Wilkenfeld, Nadia Palacios Lauterbach, and Eya Tkachenko for
Cuadro La Tempestad.
Captured by Userofreality Photography at Marbella.
Houston, 2009.
The gold filigree earrings she loaned me were so lovely that I ultimately purchased them, and they have since become a constant of my flamenco wardrobe, beautiful enough to be admired, sturdy enough to survive life on stage:

Cuadro La Tempestad performs "Corazón Gitano".
Marisol Monasterio, Guillermo Serpas, Nadia Palacios Lauterbach, Gabriella "La Tempestad", and Eya Tkachenko. 
Captured by Alejandro Almanza at 14 Pews Theatre on March, 2011.

Nadia Palacios Lauterbach for Cuadro La Tempestad's performance of "Corazón Gitano".
Captured by Alejandro Almanza at 14 Pews Theatre on March, 2011.

The Pink Carrot was founded by Amanda Carrasco (nee Pinkston) and her sister and partner Krystyna Carter (nee Pinkston).  The name of the label is a play on words that pays homage to the Pinkston family, the Carrasco family (in particular Amanda's two beautiful daughters), Amanda's favorite color which is pink, and the weight of gold; and it seems that the sisters' dreams in many karats of gold and shades of pink are finally coming true as they have gathered a following of loyal clients and tenure at one of Houston's chicest Home and Lifestyle Boutiques:  The Laura U Collection.

The Laura U Collection is an extension of (University of Texas alumna) Laura Umansky's design studio.  The boutique is full of beautiful furniture, paintings, chandeliers, linens, porcelain, and decorative objects.  The place breathes with a fresh air of femininity and at times whimsy:

Lazy Susan Gold Dot Wire Hanging Lamp.
Roost Co. Butterfly Mobile.
A wire bird's nest decorates an oak table.

The Pink Carrot fits perfectly in this whimsical and creative world of Laura U's.  Amanda's pieces are appealing not just because of their beauty, but because of the  diversity in design and inspirational sources: Amanda, a born and raised Houstonian, has in her a healthy dose of Cherokee ancestry.  She is married to Mexican-American architect Rogelio Carrasco (of Curtis and Windham fame, and whose design for a Regency Style pool pavilion can be seen in the July 2007 issue of Architectural Digest), with whom she has two daughters.  Amanda's designs parallel her little ones, heirs to a rich cultural past; and she often creates her pieces with Siena and Viviana in mind, infusing the jewelry with a bold sense of tribalism:

Copper cuff, patinated and etched.

Turquoise necklace.

Turquoise ring.

Patinated copper necklace, hammered and etched.

The Pink Carrot is a gorgeous girl with innate taste for decoration and fabulously glamorous.  I suspect she inherited her sense of style from her grandmother, who she often quotes, and who bequeathed Amanda much of the antique furniture and jewels with which she adorns her house and herself.  This love of the antique is another facet of The Pink Carrot's unique style; it accounts for the romance, the delicacy, and the fancy seen in many of the pieces; it also accounts for the many early mornings Amanda spends combing through estate sales, where she finds forgotten brooches, earrings, loose beads, and broken necklaces, which she then transforms into something fresh and new! 

Amanda has a love affair with the '20s and this influence extends to the asymmetric stone and crystal necklaces that one would, at first, be inclined to categorized under the tribally inspired jewelry; she mixes this love with her other ones: Victorian and Edwardian pieces combined with 50's glamour and a few skulls left over from her "rebel years".

Influences come together in this quartz necklace.
Amanda Carrasco, co-owner and designer of The Pink Carrot,
wearing her own 20's inspired design, which includes two converted antique brooches.
Filigree beaded necklace.
Etched copper and turquoise earrings.
A couple of weeks ago The Laura U Collection hosted a party to celebrate their recent expansion, and I was delighted to have been invited.  I was even more delighted to see that Amanda was there to promote her label and that all the ladies who work in the studio and the boutique (including Laura Umansky!) were wearing Pink Carrot pieces (I had worn one of my own, as it has come to be expected).  It was lovely to see how complimentary the pieces were to each woman's style, look, age, and personality:
The very talented Laura Umansky wearing her own bespoke Pink Carrot charm necklace.

A detail of Laura Umansly's bespoke charm necklace.

Party guests admire the collection. 
The Pink Carrot sampling at The Laura U Collection.
The much toasted "Victorian Black Lace" necklace.
"Zodiac" necklace.
The absolutely elegant Alyssa Myer-Chavarria, who accented her bold piece with equally bold coral lips!
The Laura U ladies all wearing The Pink Carrot.
The party started at dusk and continued late into the night.  It was great fun and very well attended by people of diverse backgrounds and interests like sculptor Navid Ghedami, fashion boutique owner Aries Milan, and Austin based artist Erin Hood.  When the bubbles stopped flowing, guests were encouraged to go outside where we were greeted with a surprise:  A truck that served the most splendid and delicious ice creams and sorbets!
Amanda with husband Rogelio Carrasco. 
Amanda wears her own design and her grandmother's gold and jet ring.
Amanda and I share a glass of Prosecco, both wearing Pink Carrot necklaces. 
The friendly Ice Cream server from Sweet Ride Food Truck.
Amanda enjoys her coconut sorbet, I have my share of raspberry chocolate ice cream.  Coquette Boutique owner, the casually stylish Aries Milan, is in the background.

Seeing Amanda's designs worn with such joy and elegance by all the ladies at the Laura U Collection confirmed me even more firmly in what I already knew, a Pink Carrot design really is the perfect accessory!

The Pink Carrot also takes commissions, and can be contacted on Facebook for a complete portfolio: 

The Laura U Collection is located in the Montrose area at 1840 Westheimer Road ~ Houston, Texas 77098

To see more pictures visit Dear Polia's Facebook page:

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