I spent New Year's Eve of this year with extraordinary people at Libre. One of the people there was an architect named John. John had recently finished reading Michael Ondaatje's latest book, Divisadero. It was special to him because he knew Ondaatje well. In fact, John had designed an artist's retreat or residency center in northern California where Ondaatje wrote the majority of this book. As John expounded on the incredible artistry that is Divisadero, he explained the unique joy he feels in creating a place for artists that then surfaces in their art. He could see the influence of his architecture and of the place in the setting of the novel and felt accomplice to it. This conversation profoundly affected me, especially at Libre on the dawn on a new year.
Here is an excerpt from the novel; it doesn't necessarily speak to John's architecture, but to the terrific quandry of art-making.
What night gave Rafael was a formlessness in which everything had a purpose. As if darkness had a hidden musical language. There were nights when he did not bother to even light the oil lamp that hung in the doorway of his trailer. He reached for the guitar and stepped down the three laddered steps into the field, carrying a chair in his hand. 'I don't work, I appear' -- he remembered the line of Django Reinhardt's and imagined the great man slipping out from the shadows grandly and disappearing efficiently into his craft. The alternative was to arrive, as most musicians did, like an eighteenth-century king entering a city, preceded by great fires on the hills that signaled he had crossed the border, and then by the ringing of bells. But Rafael was not even appearing. Dissolving perhaps, aware of night bugs, the river on the edge of his hearing. His open palm brushed a chord that was response, just response. He had not yet stepped forward. This was the late summer of his life, the year he met Anna, and he had no idea whether he would ever be able to return to the corralling work that art was, to have whatever he needed to make even a simple song. Dissolving into darkness was enough, for now. Or playing from memory an old song by a master, something his mother had loved or his father had whistled, when he accompanied his father on a walk, for there was one specific song his father always muttered or whistled. In the past Rafael had traveled from village to village, argued a salary, invented melodies, stolen chords, slashed the legs off an old song to use just the torso -- but he had come to love now most of all the playing of music with no one there. Could you waste your life on a gift? If you did not use your gift, was it a betrayal?