Category Archives: Instructors

Ageless

NJ

She was sitting on a bench looking at the water. In fact, she was in my favorite spot at the Center Street Beach in Beach Haven, New Jersey where we had a beach house when our children were young.

It was early morning, around 7:15, and my ritual during the week while my husband was back home in Middletown was to ride my bike to the beach and sip an orange juice while gazing at the water, taking in the light and color changes on the waves. Between the wonderful light and the calm horizon I found the name of the beach to be completely suited to my mood. I centered myself at Center Street Beach.

This day, however, my solo excursion was interrupted by another person. I nodded in her direction and placed myself at the remaining edge of the only bench. In my brief glance at her face, I was surprised to see a woman older than I supposed from her posture. My first guess would have placed her in her forties; now I found it hard to assess her age.

woman on bench

I was distracted by her presence, though she sat motionless and took up only her own space. My eyes wandered away from the horizon and focused on her hands. Yes, she was definitely older. They were lined and leathery and strong; older hands. As I watched, her fingers seemed to move, keeping time to some inner tune; a slow, drumming tempo that started to have an affect on me. Without realizing it my breathing and heartbeat fell into the rhythm of her beating fingers.

While I watched her fingers, she slowly moved her top hand away and turned her bottom hand palm upwards. Inside her hand I saw a shell. It seemed extraordinary and different from New Jersey shells, which I had memorized from living by the beach for many years.

When had she extended the shell to me? And when had I taken it into my own palm? I couldn’t say, but there it was inside my hand.

shell in hand

In a mellifluous voice of a born story-teller, she recounted the life of that shell. She told of the formation of the sea creatures, then the first deposit of the hard white calcium that would organically develop, over ages, into that family of shell. She described the light and dark periods; ice and floods, animals and plants, and finally man and woman. She said the shell was living history to the creation of her and myself; both sitting on this bench.

I tried to hand the shell back to her, but she gently pushed my hand away. “It’s yours,” she said.

I walked my bike back home; feeling too weak to ride it. I held that shell tightly in my hand. At home I considered adding it to the pile of sea treasures I had gathered from beaches all over the world from years of travel. But this shell was different. It spoke in a different tongue. And it was a gift.

I placed the shell on the kitchen windowsill where the last rays of the setting sun would touch and caress it with the final glow of the day. Each time I glanced at it with grateful eyes, knowing that it was ageless in the continuum of time.

Geraldine Velasquez , OLLI Member, Writers Group, OLLI Instructor

 

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Ruminations at 35,000 Feet

Grand Canyon

 My eye takes in the landscape as we fly over the Grand Canyon at thirty-five thousand feet. It is the second time this year that I have viewed it. The first time was from the perspective of standing on the rim, this time from high above. I notice patterns that form, repeat, shift and change as we glide through the scenery. Everything curves, swirls and leads the eye around and away and back again, like the oxbow rivers. I laugh out loud at a detail on the bottom of mountains that remind me of the pleated skirts on my grandmother’s slipcovers. The only straight lines are occasional highways in this vast canvas of nature’s painting.

An insight comes to me; I have never been fond of fixed point geometric perspective in Renaissance painting. As an artist, professor of design and a student of Art History, that is my least favorite period.  Now I know why. It is not the way most people view the world: through an absolutely static lens as the viewer is fixed to one point in space. In reality, we move our eyes, we shift our view, we see the sides and fronts and sides of things again.

We modern people move through life. Every place I have travelled to has its own rhythm. Italy during the Renaissance did too and I don’t think the art we see reflects that. Renaissance art has more permanence; it’s closer to Egyptian sculpture. It never lets you get ahead of yourself. You must walk a straight line until you reach the horizon, or take a sharp angle to turn left or right.

Impressionism freed us from the tyranny of fixed shapes. We had to collaborate with the artist to find the cathedral in the landscape. Expressionism brought us to the moment of conception of a painting, when the paint hit the canvas and left a contrail.

marbel class and science objects-11 GV

As an art student, creating designs came naturally to me. Applied art has a purpose and the decoration of surface was an extension of the principles of art I learned in undergraduate and graduate programs. My own artwork used dyes to create marbling on paper or fabric and resulted in textile designs for the apparel industry. Seeing them now I am aware how closely they resemble the aerial landscape of the Grand Canyon. It would be hard to find a rigid straight line in any of my drawings or paintings. Adding a digital element to more recent work I scan portions of my hand-made fabrics and then manipulate them using artist software programs to break and bend and twirl the shapes even further. I am surprised to see the patterns mirroring the view from thirty-five thousand feet above Arizona and Colorado.

JV Gallery

Dr. Geraldine  Khaner Velasquez is a member of the Ollie Writers Group. She is Professor Emerita of Art and Design and will be teaching the fall 2018 lecture “Vincent Van Gogh: His Loves, His Letters, His Art.”

 

 

My Love Affair with Tennis

We’re keeping that tennis theme going since I don’t have a piece about football!

Doubles

My Love Affair with Tennis……..

It’s all right, my wife knows and tolerates this addiction.  You might think that someone who spends hours on court almost every day would be a terrific player.  In my case, you would be wrong.  My fellow players agree that I’m slow, but I’m also clumsy.  My main strengths come from my size.  I’m 6’3” and my wide wingspan of nearly 7 feet helps me cover the net. Serving in tennis involves leverage on the ball, and tall players have more leverage.  My role model, John Isner, is the classic example of a tall man with a killer serve. In addition to being a famous tennis star, John is from Greensboro and graduated from my alma mater, UGA!

Exercise

So, what do I get from tennis? Sunshine, a mixed blessing – vitamin D is good, skin cancer isn’t.  Wear sunscreen and a hat, and remember to avoid the heat of the day (11:00 am – 3:00 pm).  Night play is a cooler option, especially during Raleigh’s extended summer.  Another benefit of being outside is fresher air – indoor air may be filtered but, usually, it’s more polluted than the great outdoors. Exercise – any time spent on your feet is good for your heart and other muscles.  Much of the time between points involves walking from side to side, bending over to pick up balls, and those steps can add up – I walk at least 2 miles for each hour on court. During points, we run and whack balls (great stress relievers), yell and laugh at ourselves.

Monster

Tennis is a great way to meet fun people and enjoy their company – this is especially true of the senior tennis group at the Raleigh Tennis Center (Millbrook Exchange Park) and other facilities throughout the Triangle.  Tennis is a lifetime sport – just ask the kindergartners and their great grandmothers and grandfathers

 

Dad and Son

Most tennis centers have coaches who will help you learn to play and improve your game.  I found that coaching helped my game, as long as I listened to the coach and practiced doing what they told me.  A key part of coaching is found in the phrase: “keep your eye on the ball.” The US Tennis Association (USTA) has a “Try Tennis” program to give beginners of any age a chance to see if tennis fits their lifestyle. Students receive a Wilson racket, six weeks of professional instruction and a “Try Tennis” T-shirt for $40.

Coaching K

Lessons learned on the court often apply to life, for example: 1) don’t think too much; 2) you may lose today, but tomorrow brings another chance for redemption; 3) there are always players better and worse than you, so do your best and enjoy the game; 4) doubles is easier on senior bodies than singles; and finally, 5) the Hopman Rule: stick your racket out and something good might happen.   See you on court!

 

Mark Long (OLLI Member and Volunteer Instructor)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Kind of Culture: a Spring Garden!

Birdbox

“Pleasure, talk, a garden, and the spring time. That is all I need.”

14th century Persian poet Hafez.

   For some of us, this is the most exciting time of year when every morning, gray or shine, we head into the outdoors to see what has bloomed last night, what has grown, what has re-appeared we had forgotten about.

Those few minutes spent in the quiet, revering in total awe of what Mother Nature is showing for our appreciative pleasure. For a brief moment, forget about the world’s woes and commune with our amniotic environment.

According to a number of holy books, the garden (of Eden, of God) was the original paradise (from the Persian word for a walled in garden/small orchard) one that, unfortunately, was lost but not for all of us!

To this day, a garden connotes shared produce with our friends and neighbors, plants and cuttings from far away, signs of friendship that now blossom forever, the smell of fresh dirt just dug up or recently blessed by a morning rain. In my case, this is the place where neighborhood kids would play hide and seek among bamboos and banana plants they would nickname “the jungle”. While all have grown but left behind great memories, more recently our neighbors’ grandchildren fill up their cheeks, chipmunk-like, with sun warmed cherry tomatoes and smile knowing this is a very special in their young life, a freedom unequalled anywhere else.

What better place to appreciate the change of seasons?

Right now, the first days of spring, every morning is a discovery of bulbs buried last fall showing (if they have survived the squirrels) their fantastic colors: wild tulips from far away Turkey, daffodils hated by deer but loved by poets “When all at once I saw a crowd, -A host, of golden daffodils;-Beside the lake, beneath the trees,-Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” (WILLIAM WORDSWORTH). Soon they’ll be followed by self-seeded larkspurs, poppies, corn flowers and perennials lilies, daisies, cone flowers.

Flower with bees

For most, summer is the best time to appreciate because of harvest such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, fresh corn, beans, crunchy cucumbers and, above all, that still warm from the sun tomato that does not make it to the house, savored right there where it grew. Sunflowers are among my favorites for their wild colors, shapes and sizes (no longer your grandma’s monochromatic yellow) followed by tens of gold finches eager to snack on those seeds. It is also a time for butterflies but, to my chagrin, their numbers have shrunk even in a garden like mine geared for their survival.

Butterfly

Fall is the time for all small fruit like figs and grapes, the time when you call on your jam-making friends to give you a hand before the garden slowly goes to sleep under the first frost while the gardener starts dreaming about next year’s growth, with new varieties to grow and some favorites to repeat. We gardeners are dreamers, always living six months or more ahead of our own time, always planning for what is to come.

For those who do not have their own piece of land to appreciate, you can always do like my friend Anne and paint someone else’s:

Watercolor

Roland Menestres (OLLI Member and Instructor)

For those who would like to see more pictures: https://thisweekinthegarden-roland.blogspot.com

 

Betsy The Car

Chevy Sign

In 1953 my father bought our first car. It was a 1935 Chevrolet with large metal spoke rims and a hint of a running board on each side. The tires were what were known as white walls.  The car was royal blue.

My mother was leery of cars and in particular the one my father bought to surprise her, since we lived in New York City and took public transportation everywhere. In 1953 there were few private cars on the road and almost none on our block.  No other neighbors in our building owned a car.

It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. My sister and I just stood and gawked at the sleek, movie-star vehicle. It was like the getaway car in an Edwin G. Robinson movie. Elegant, not at all like the long, super finned modern cars in 1953.

White Wall Tire

“You would not believe the deal I got,” Dad said to us. Mom had a skeptical look on her face and kept glancing between Dad and the car. “It belonged to a school teacher who only drove it on weekends.  My boss lives next door to her and he told me she was selling this car and I went over to look at it and, wow!   I drove it around the block and it is perfect.  I paid her cash and picked it up today.”

Now truly, in 1953 even I had seen signs in some autos that claimed to be driven only on weekends.  It was almost believable living in the city because people went picnicking and to the beaches only on the weekends in the spring and summer.  Besides, my Dad was no fool; he would know a good deal.

“You know how to drive?” my sister and I shouted almost in unison.  When, how, we never saw you drive a car?”

My mother looked at my Dad and a smile grew across her lips. “He drove a two-seater with a rumble seat in back to pick me up for our first date. The car belonged to his older brother Eddy. Your dad is quite the catch.”  Dad was beaming.

He pointed to our new prized possession, “Her name is Betsy.”

Jones Beach

And Betsy it was. She took us to beaches and on country drives and to Westchester for picnics and out to Long Island to Jones Beach. Betsy opened a world to us, or at least the world within a thirty-five mile radius of New York City. And even though we lost her a few times in the humongous overcrowded parking lot of Orchard Beach or at Coney Island, we always found our distinctive car. All we had to do was Dad hoisted me onto his shoulders to look around and point to the blue car that stood taller than any other car in the lot; our Betsy.

Geraldine Khaner Velasquez (OLLI Member, Instructor and Writer’s Group)

Outcome of Hurricane Sandy

 

Butler

First the back-story of how I met my cook/butler. It was early days after Hurricane Sandy; only the village center in our town of Lincroft, NJ had electricity. Dunkin Donuts had hot coffee and it was the most popular spot around. The parking lot was loaded with trucks bearing logos of every tree service for miles around. Lots and lots of trees were down, including those on my front lawn. Power lines were hanging from branches and on the ground. People had survival on their minds, as most homes nearby were still without heat and lights, to say nothing of TV, the Internet and land phone lines. I set out to get some coffee and sweets to cheer us up, driving the half mile very carefully.

Downed Trees

This improbable story started with a smile, a nod and a question. This slightly worn-looking man was next to me at the counter of Dunkin Donuts. He said “Hello.”  I met his eyes and said “Hi” back. The stranger, emboldened by my smile asked a question.  “Is there anything you would like done? “

Whatever he might have meant, an answer just popped out of my mouth, “I would like a personal chef.”  I hadn’t even realized I had that thought in my head. The man’s face lit up and he replied, “I am a personal chef, and a butler.”

You’ve just got to love it! You put the most insane things out there and the universe answers in its own dandy way. Afterwards, when we got to laugh about it, I found out his question was referring to tree removal. Did I want tree work done?  Later he revealed his background, formerly working for an English lady in NYC for twenty years as her butler and chef. He was unemployed since she died, living on a family farm in Monmouth County.

For my part, this longing for a personal chef was not a whim. I had been thinking about this, imagining food cooked at home by a professional.  Wholesome, non-fattening tasty food; probably cheaper than the meals we ate out most nights of the week. Food placed on my table without my shopping or cooking when I came home tired from work. Wouldn’t my husband love it too?  I imagined pounds melting off both of us while we experienced eye-popping luscious-tasting platters on our table.

Something primal and spontaneous within me blurted out at that moment:  What do I want? Why, of course, it was a personal chef!  Anyone could chop down my tree. I wanted a chef.

Dinner

So after he cut down my trees the next day we made a date for him to prepare dinner in my home for my husband’s birthday three weeks later. It was marvelous. He set the table with flowers and candles, though the lights were back on. He cooked a gourmet meal in my kitchen and served us as if we were a Duke and Duchess. He cleaned up everything while we had brandy afterwards in the living room. It was only that once, but it was all I imagined.

Dr. Geraldine Velasquez is a member of the Ollie Writers Group. She is Professor Emerita of Art and Design and recently presented “Look at me” an art appreciation lecture at Olli.

OLLI Instructor – Renee Michelle Ragin

 

Renee Cropped

Renee Michelle Ragin may be unique among this year’s OLLI instructors. For one thing, she could pass for a teenager. For another, as a U.S. Foreign Service officer she had many run-ins with the feared religious police in Saudi Arabia. This was in spite of the fact that she spoke Arabic and wore the customary long abaya (Saudi women are expected to cover their bodies in a long black cloak when in public).  During the worst confrontation, she was with a U.S. Marine who was out of uniform.  Since she’s African American and he has Latin American roots, those police — and some civil police who suddenly joined them — decided both were from the Middle East and treated them accordingly. Renee argued with them for nearly an hour as crowds gathered at the restaurant complex she’d been leaving. “They were demanding that I come with them to headquarters,” she said, “but a passer-by who happened to be a Saudi diplomat finally intervened on my behalf.”

In spite of that experience, Renee said being a woman in Jeddah — Saudi’s commercial capital and arguably its most progressive city — wasn’t a problem. “Unfortunately, I think Saudi’s reputation for hostility to women — especially per U.S. cultural norms — outstrips the reality. The vast majority of my two years there were quite pleasant.  Although I’m sure this had to do with my status as a representative of the U.S. government, and the rather elite circles to which I had access, I was treated quite well by everyone I worked with.” And being a woman, she said, gave her access to circles that her male peers didn’t have.

Renee explained that “Foreign Service Officers specialize in a particular field, but we wear many hats.” For a year she issued visas and helped U.S. citizens with routine and emergency problems. She spent her second year in media relations: “I wrote speeches for senior members of our Embassy community, as well as talking points and press releases. I also conducted interviews and hosted events designed to strengthen our relationships with Saudi youth.”

Prior to her assignment in Saudi Arabia, she worked in Washington, D.C. at the State Department headquarters as a “desk officer” for several African countries. This meant being the point person on every issue in a country, and connecting with her counterparts at other federal agencies and departments. “We’re the connective tissue between the Embassy in the field and the Washington agencies and departments to whom they’re responsible,” she said. She also pinch-hit for colleagues with other portfolios, and briefly supported a task force on the conflict in Libya.

Today Renee’s life is far more tranquil as a doctoral candidate at Duke, teaching (next year she’ll teach Hannah Arendt’s “The Banality of Evil”) and researching her dissertation on the impact of Lebanon’s civil war on its national identity. And this semester she’s teaching an OLLI course: “Middle Eastern Art: Is Everything Political?” Its visual vocabulary is wide-ranging: film, artistic social media, and participation on Skype with Middle Eastern artists.  In class discussions Renee reveals high energy, a vivacious personality, and a great sense of humor.

She was born and raised in Manhattan. Her mother is a psychology professor and her father, now retired, worked in finance and philanthropy, but he’s a serious history buff. A cousin was a United Nations diplomat in Vienna. Renee attended demanding New York schools: the United Nations International School and the Bronx High School of Science. She went on to Harvard, where she studied post-colonial Latin American and Caribbean history and literature of the post-colonial era. Her senior thesis was on the role of Haitian- and Dominican-American literature on a 30-year dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. “I also dabbled in contemporary Middle Eastern literature,” she said. She was unusual in going straight from Harvard to the State Department and was the youngest Foreign Service Officer in her entering class of 100. “I’d planned to stay in the Foreign Service: I was promoted to mid-rank,” she said, “but now I’m thinking of an academic career.” A visit to Duke “felt right,” and the faculty impressed her as supportive. On top of this, she said, “I like North Carolina!”

Barbara Haddad Ryan