Tuesday, February 22, 2011

News Flash: Celebrating Mabel Dodge Luhan's birthday on February 26th

Invitation to a special event
at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House Classroom
Saturday, February 26th from 6 to 8 p.m.

Actress and playwright Leslie Dillen as Mabel
The Mabel Dodge Luhan House invites the public to the first salon celebrating Mabel’s birthday, Saturday, February 26th 6-8 p.m. at the Classroom. The evening event begins with a twenty-minute dialog between “Mabel”, played by Leslie Dillen (who wrote and performed “The Passions of Mabel Dodge Luhan”) and Lois Palken Rudnick, Mabel’s biographer (author of Utopian Vistas: The Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the American Counterculture and most recently Cady Wells and Southwestern Modernism). The audience will then be invited to participate in discussion around questions raised in the dialog.

Afterwards, everyone is invited to a booksigning of the newly published Mabel Dodge Luhan in Her Own Words and to partake of refreshments.

Proceeds from the book sale go towards preservation of the Mabel Dodge Luhan House (on both the National and State Register of Historic Places).

Call 575-751-9686 for further information.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Heat is Back On: Coping at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House during the natural gas outage

You may have heard about the recent crisis in the Taos area caused by the natural gas outage. Residents first learned of the situation on Thursday morning, February 3rd. The first communication I received came when Town of Taos Public Relations Officer, Cathy Connelly, sent out word informing the citizens of Questa, Red River and Taos of the shutoff of natural gas forecast to last for a prolonged period of time. She and local radio hosts went into state-of-emergency media coverage until the situation was resolved. That evening an arctic cold front dropped temperatures to 25 below zero, and it stayed frigid for days.

This past Saturday when I drove to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House to learn how the staff survived the days without heat, Judi Jordan greeted me with “I think it will be days before I warm up.” Being cold and without heat both at work and at home left her drained. Judi told me that other people she talked to were exhausted by the cold.

Jessica and the hot plates that blew the fuses
Like other staff, Jessica Van Houten came prepared to work in the cold, wearing two pairs of long underwear under her snowboarding outfit. She arrived at the Mabel Dodge Friday at 4:30 a.m. to allow time for hot plates to warm up. With stoves and hot water heaters out of commission, electricity provided the remaining heat source. While the hot plates heated, Jessica began started the coffee machines and the microwave. This overloaded the circuit and blew all the fuses. No hot plates, no hot water. Ever resourceful, Jessica served intrepid guests yoghurt, cereal, applesauce, a fruit plate—and managed to provide them with hot coffee.
Staffer Diane de Fremery wrote up an event that took place later that day:

In spite of the cold, on Friday, February 4th we had the most superb Mabel moment. Approximately 20 people ventured out to come to a SOMOS reading by George Wallace, the 2011 Walt Whitman Birthplace writer-in-resident. We put the chairs around the fireplace in living room. There was no heat in the classroom, plus we had [only a handful of guests] due to the crisis situation with no heat or hot water in the big house.
            It was intimate and reminiscent of days gone by when Mabel had her salons. There was also live music provided by Juilliard graduate Abbie Conant between the readings. It was a special evening.

Judy Barber, a writer from Sausalito, CA, told me about her experience. She arrived on Saturday, February 5th, two days in advance of the start of Natalie Goldberg’s scheduled workshop. The rooms were so chilly that the staff offered to move the couch in front of the fireplace to keep her warm at night. Judy commended the Mabel Dodge’s caretaker, Jamison Nicolazzo and his girlfriend Dionne, who checked on the house every three hours during the night and brought in more firewood for her use. That evening electricity went out, and Judy spent most of the night in the dark. She felt an obligation to keep the fire burning, and awoke every two hours to feed the fire.

On Saturday I spoke with Judi Jordan, on duty over the weekend, and asked her if she would comment on her experience. She had been without heat and hot water both at work and at home. She thought of the bitter winter cold pioneer women must have endured, how they probably never got really warm. Judi wrote in her journal: “When it’s this cold, all you're trying to do is put your head down and endure.” While persevering, Judi thought of a passage from Natalie Goldberg’s Long Quiet Highway, words appropriate to her situation and that of thousands of other Taosenos:

The next morning had been very cold. There was frost on the bell. We hadn’t expected it to get that cold that early in the year. After all, we slept and sat in tents. After the two periods beginning at 5 a.m., I was signed up to be the breakfast server. Servers never wore socks or gloves. I have to bow, barefoot, with my big pot of steaming rice in front of each student, then kneel on the ground and serve them—they were all sitting on the floor on cushions—then lug up the pot and go to the next person. I was cold. Roshi was the last person to be served. I couldn’t wait to get it over with, to run out of the tent and put on my socks and gloves. As I knelt in front of Roshi, about to scoop a ladle of rice into his bowl, he sharply, clearly said to me, “Eat the cold.” I took a deep breath, slowed down, and tried  to open to the weather. This man wasn’t kidding around. Don’t run away, even from the cold—digest it, he was saying. And he meant this for all my life, not just the moment I was there.*

“It’s really hard to eat the cold when the cold lasts this long,” Judi said. She added her thoughts on how this experience would teach us to be more compassionate and caring of others. It also highlighted how dependent our society has become on large corporations, and how this might teach us to become more self-reliant.

Four days later, on Monday February 8th, Taosenos finally fought back. The relighting process conducted by the gas companies had gone much too slowly, people and businesses had suffered enough. The local media got out the word that if people would call qualified plumbers, they could have the relighting work done themselves. A plumber relit the gas at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House just hours before Natalie’s group of 26 showed up for a five-day workshop. When the gas came on, Chef Jane Garrett immediately began cooking. The kitchen heated up and became the warmest, most appealing place in the house.

Wood fire warmth

Under these circumstances, it seemed appropriate to close with Mabel’s description of her kitchen:
That’s the nicest room in the house from eight to ten in the morning. All the woodwork is painted blue and the walls are whitewashed. There is a long table in the center with a blue oilcloth on it, and a big blue stove burning cedar wood.
            A long row of windows facing east, lets in plenty of sunshine across the geraniums, and there is a breakfast table under the windows on the west side of the room. There is always a lovely smell of oranges and coffee, bacon and eggs and toast out there at that hour, and the men love to eat breakfast there, close to the Source, with the cheerful hum and bustle of cooking going on, the eggs sizzling on the plate, the butter melting on the crisp toast.**
 I leave you with Mabel’s kitchen portrait as we continue to recover and warm up aqui en Taos (here in Taos).

Adios for now, let Valentine’s Day warm your heart,


*The quote from Long Quiet Highway appears on page 194, Bantam Books 1994 edition.
**Quote taken from Winter in Taos, Palomas de Taos 1996 edition, page 23.