Monday, December 31, 2012

CONNECTING CULTURES: Mobile Museum Brings the World to Kids

On a recent visit to my neighborhood middle school (Palms Middle School, Los Angeles, CA) I walked into the library and was amazed to discover that it had been temporarily converted to a multi-cultural museum.  Instead of books, the long tables were filled with bowls, drums, bells, masks, puppets, clothing, musical instruments, and hundreds of other objects from all over the world, each with a label describing its use and where it came from.  Vertical panels displayed more items. I love to go to museums, and here was a mini-museum right in my neighborhood. What a perfect way for students to learn about the diverse world we live in!

Valerie Lezin, Director, Connecting Cultures Mobile Museum
Connecting Cultures Mobile Museum (CCMM) offers students a unique hands-on experience with a comprehensive collection of more than 2,000 artifacts from more than 70 countries...right in their own schools. Students need only walk down the hall to a museum-quality exhibition representing every human endeavor across ancient and modern times. No buses. No lost days of instruction. With three discrete, thematic exhibitions and presentations, CCMM encourages students to become familiar with both the historic and current customs of their own families, their classmates, and those of the world.

Because no picture in a textbook can substitute for the experience of handling an object or viewing it in three dimensions, CCMM gives students an opportunity to hold a piece of history and world culture in their hands, serving to personalize and vivify what they have read in their textbooks.

In the 2011-2012 school year, the CCMM visited fourteen schools in the LAUSD.  In 2012-2013, it is expanding its program to reach even more schools.  Kids love it.  Teachers love it. For everyone, a visit to the CCMM is a virtual trip around the world.  For a wonderful article about CCMM's visit to a school in Ventura in the fall of 2012, click here.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Folk Art from the Czech Republic: A Christmas Creche

Paper Cut-Out Creche from the Czech Republic
Note:  This piece was originally posted in December 2010 on my Art and Books blog.  I thought I would share it again as our family celebrates Christmas and gets out our creches, which remind us of the many places around the world that they come from and which embody the joy of the season.

It’s Christmas season and time to get out our creche collection. We just added a new one, a paper cut out creche from the Czech Republic. A week ago we got back from a trip to Prague and Berlin, where we spent Thanksgiving. Christmas lights were up, street stands and shops were filled with traditional Christmas foods (stollen, lebkuchen, mulled wine) and whole stores specialized in hand made decorations, including various forms of creches. I have always been fond of folk art and the simple forms, bright colors have been an influence on my own art. I look forward to cutting out the new creche with my grandchildren when we get together for Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Melbourne Zoo and Healesville Animal Sanctuary, Melbourne, Australia

Echidnas at the Melbourne Zoo
(Here is one of my diary entries from our three-month stay in Melbourne in 1999.)

Last week I made my first visit to the Melbourne zoo.  It has recently been renovated so that most of the animals are now in natural enclosures.  I am particularly interested in the native species and enjoyed watching a group of echidnas (creatures that look a bit like porcupines with long noses) scurry around their enclosure.  Apparently, when they are alarmed, they curl up into spiny balls, an effective defense against most predators.  Echidnas (also known as spiny anteaters) are the only other egg laying mammal besides the platypus.

Echidna foot, designed for digging
One of the echidna keepers was chatting with patrons.  Somebody asked him a question which he interpreted as needing a closer look, so he simply went over to one of the echidnas and grabbed it and brought it over.  He said that after you've done it once you get used to it and never use gloves again.  He had just fed the echidnas their dinner--not ants, but a gloppy mixture of protein chow and other stuff--and it was neat to see the animals stick out their long, pink tongues and reel in the food.

Wombat, Melbourne Zoo
The zoo also has a nice wombat exhibit where you can see the wombats (animals that resemble a cross between a dog and a bear) both in their underground warrens and above ground.  There are many good exhibits at the zoo including an incredible butterfly house where the air is filled with hundreds of colorful butterflies that will actually land on your finger or hair if you stand quietly. The Melbourne Zoo has a bobcat, but somehow it seems out of place in the southern hemisphere!  They also have a fishing cat (from Asia I think) with four lively kittens who like to bat things around in the small pool in their enclosure. Of course, except for the dingo, there are no native non-marsupial predators in Australia. The zoo also has  an enormous aviary where you can see birds up close, but we have actually seen many of the same birds in the wild.  Last weekend we had our first sighting of wild kookaburras and heard their eerie, loud, laughing call.

Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Dingo taking a walk, Healesville Animal Sanctuary
We saw the kookaburras on the way to the Healesville Animal Sactuary which is about 45 minutes east of Melbourne in the beautiful Yarra Valley.  The Yarra Valley is a fruit and wine growing region that is very similar in its appearance to Sonoma and Napa counties in Northern California.  We stopped for lunch along the way at a place called The Dairy, which is an actual working dairy that has a small restaurant where one can sample their cheeses and look out across the landscape.  We arrived at Healesville toward the end of the afternoon which turned out to be clever planning because we found a great many of the animals active and busily moving around in their enclosures.  Healesville only has native Australian animals, and most of these are nocturnal so it is usually difficult to find them awake.  We were surprised to find even the koalas climbing around in their branches.

Monday, December 10, 2012

CHABOT SPACE and SCIENCE CENTER: Oakland, California

Explore the Solar System at the Chabot Space and Science Center
Have you ever wanted to try on an Apollo mission space suit, crawl through a “black hole”, or learn what it is like to be weightless in space?

You can "try on" this Apollo Space Suit
The Chabot Space and Science Center, located in the Oakland Hills above San Francisco Bay, is full of hands-on exhibits related to space and climate.  We recently spent the day there with our 6-year old granddaughter viewing and interacting with the exhibits, watching the Secrets of a Cardboard Rocket (an imaginary tour of the solar system) in the Ask Jeeves Planetarium, learning about climate in Bill Nye’s Climate Lab, and having lunch in the Skyline Bistro. 

The main lobby features large models of the planets and shortly after we arrived, one of the many helpful volunteers showed us the exact spot (or close to it) where the Mars rover had landed.  We then proceeded to Destination Universe, which introduced us to the cosmos through stunning space images of stars, galaxies, nebulae and more. By turning the wheel of a giant kaleidoscope we converted images of various nebulae into an amazing colorful video display.  We made a short video.

Make your own electricity in this exhibit
Upstairs on the second level, we learned about the Apollo space mission and saw models of the Galaxy space capsule.  On the third level, we explored Bill Nye’s Climate Lab, learning about all the different ways we can contribute to saving energy.  On the way in, we had received our "Climate Scout I.D.'s" which allowed us to "vote" or express our opinion at each display.

On clear nights you can view the stars through the telescopes
The Chabot is also home to a number of large, research-quality telescopes open to the public.  The day of our visit was overcast, so the ordinarily spectacular view of the Bay was hidden and the sun-watching scopes were not on. But inside the dome  computers displayed live satellite images of the sun’s surface, where we could see sunspots, prominences and the flares of surface explosions.  Nighttime viewing of the moon and stars is also available at scheduled times.

Monday, December 3, 2012

LA COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART: Levitated Mass, The 2000 Sculpture and More, Los Angeles, CA

Levitated Mass by Michael Heizer, LACMA, Los Angeles, California
On a recent Sunday, I decided it was time to go see Levitated Mass, the giant suspended rock recently installed on the north lawn of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) by artist Michael Heizer. The mid-afternoon sun cast a long shadow along the open tunnel walkway under the rock and illuminated the west face with a golden light.  As we arrived, a mother was coaching her son to hold up his arms Atlas-like so she could take a photo making it appear that he was holding up the rock.  All along the walkway, people were posing for photos.  A large part of the impact is the sheer size of the rock compared to human scale.  Our favorite photo op was the rock reflected in the glass doorway of the nearby Resnick Pavilion. For a review of the rock in the LA Times, click here.

Levitated Mass Reflected
Viewing the rock is free to anyone walking through the park, but to see the inside of the museum you have to buy tickets, which we did.  Our first stop was the Broad Contemporary Museum where we took the room-sized glass elevator to the third floor.  I was impressed by the number of families waiting for the elevator only to discover that the kids were in it just for the ride!  When we got to the top they all raced outside to the red-painted deck (which has an impressive view of the mid-town LA and the Hollywood Hills) and ran down the stairs to the bottom.

Standard by Ed Ruscha
In the gallery to the right of the elevator is the Michael Heizer exhibit, Actual Size, giant photos of rocks taken in the 1970's.  Each one depicts a boulder “actual size” with a person holding a sign giving the exact dimensions.  In the other gallery on the third floor is the Ed Ruscha exhibit, Standard, a retrospective of his prints and paintings, including his iconic prints of the Hollywood sign from the 1960's and of a Standard gas station, with its multiple layers of meanings.

The 2000 Sculpture by Walter De Maria
Our last stop was on the first floor of the Resnick Pavilion to see the retrospective exhibit of Ken Price sculptures, colorful abstract blobs, some looking like oversized children’s jacks, others like giant hands or paws, as well as imaginative ceramic cups and dinner sets, also very colorful.  The other exhibit on the first floor is Walter De Maria’s The 2000 Sculpture, an assemblage of 2000 white bars in precise rows.
One close-up view of the 2000 Sculpture
The remarkable effect of the exhibit is how it changes with your position.  My husband Art was particularly impressed by the piece and took a series of photos showing the sculpture from different views. His thoughts inspired by the sculpture:  Life is an endless set of new perspectives. If you think you know the drill, then you will discover a different drill. It is within your power to find a new perspective from a reordering of old viewpoints. This will surprise you and others. Your insight and creativity will be praised. 

Streetlamps at Entrance to LACMA
When we moved to Los Angeles more than thirty years ago, the County Art Museum was basically one building.  Gradually, more buildings and more galleries have been added so that now it is a whole complex.  At the entrance on Wilshire Boulevard one walks through a forest of vintage street lamps, collected by artist Chris Burden. On this trip we limited ourselves to viewing just a few exhibits.  Luckily, the museum is not far from where we live so we can go often.

For information about planning a visit to LACMA, go to their website.  The Ed Ruscha, Ken Price and Michael Heizer Actual Size exhibits will be up until January 2013.  The 2000 Sculpture by Walter De Maria will be up until April 1, 2013.

Monday, November 26, 2012

THE DUKE LEMUR CENTER, Durham, North Carolina

Duke Lemur Center, "Tonga Soa" means "Welcome" in Malagasy

A year ago, in November, when we were in North Carolina for Thanksgiving, we did a family outing to the Duke Lemur Center located near Duke University in Durham, NC where a very knowledgeable docent gave us a tour of the facilities and told us more about lemurs than we ever knew before. 
Ring-tailed Lemurs
More than 200 lemurs live at the Duke Lemur Center.  It is the largest group of lemurs outside of Madagascar and is a place where scientists learn about lemurs close-up and study them in ways that would be impossible in nature. 

Prosimians include lemurs, bush babies, and lorises
Lemurs are prosimians that live on the island of Madagascar and the nearby Comora Islands. (The first prosimians lived 55 million years ago.)  Lemurs once lived in every part of the island but now, due to habitat destruction, are found only around the edges.  Wild lemurs often live high in the trees and in remote places and many are active only at night. It is hard to study lemurs where they live in the wild.  The DLC provides the opportunity for scientists to learn more about these unusual and endangered animals.

Sifakas in their Outdoor Enclosure
Most of the lemurs at the DLC live in family groups in buildings with access to both inside and outside facilities.  Each lemur has its own room with a door to an outside cage.  Openings between cages allow the animals to be together or stay alone.  We enjoyed watching the lemurs in their outdoor cages, where they scampered about, seeming to enjoy the bright, sunny day as much as we were.

Map of Madagascar
Many lemurs are nocturnal (which explains why they often have such large eyes.)  At the DLC, the nocturnal animals occupy rooms that are dark during the day with the only light coming from low, red lamps, which has the effect of starlight or moonlight.  Because it is dark, the lemurs move around as they would in the night, which allows scientists to observe their behavior without having to work in the wee hours of the night.  At night, bright lights are turned on in the nocturnal room and the lemurs go to sleep.  When we visited, it took a while for our eyes to adjust to the dark before we could see the animals.

In the warm months (April to October) some of the lemurs are allowed to live in the forest that surrounds the Research Center.  There they explore, climb trees, and hunt for food just as wild lemurs do in Madagascar.  A fence around the 14.3 acre forest allows them plenty of room to roam.  In the forest, scientists observe the lemurs as they move about and interact with one another.  Since we were there in November, all the animals were inside, but if you visit during the summer, there is an option of an outdoor tour.

Tours:  To find out about tours of the Duke Lemur Center and how to make reservations, click here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

PIE on I-5: Food for the Hungry Traveler in California's Central Valley

Apricot Pie from The Apricot Tree
Apple pie, blackberry pie, peach pie--just like mother used to make! Does traveling make you hungry?  Are you always on the lookout for a good place to stop and get a bite to eat?  I frequently travel by car between my home in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.  Over the years I’ve developed a list of my preferred places to stop for gas, restrooms, and food. Typically I take a picnic lunch, but occasionally I take a break and stop for a piece of pie and a cup of coffee along the way.  More often, though, I prefer to buy a whole pie to take with me, which I then enjoy and share after I arrive at my destination.
     The shortest and fastest route from Los Angeles to northern California is on the I-5 (connecting to the Bay Area via the 580.)  After leaving LA, crossing the mountain range north of the city, and descending the Grapevine into California’s huge Central Valley, most of the trip is through  rich farmland, changing from grazing land, vineyards, vegetables, and cotton in the south, to vast orchards of almonds, citrus, and stone fruit further north. (When the orchards bloom in spring, they are like a sea of pink clouds flanking the freeway.)  The I-5 highway bypasses most towns in the valley so the main choices for stopping for food or gas are at rest stops along the highway.  Here are three of my favorite places to stop for pie.

Traveling from south to north, the first pie stop is at the Willow Ranch restaurant, at the Buttonwillow Exit west of Bakersfield.  This family style restaurant, a favorite with local ranchers, serves hearty meals (you can buy bottles of their famous barbecue sauce at the counter) and offers a variety of fruit pies.  The blackberry pie is especially delicious.

The next opportunity to buy a whole pie is at Harris Ranch, at the approximate half-way point between LA and San Francisco.  It is a large complex with a restaurant, coffee shop, gas, and hotel, but the pies are in the Country Store, where you can also buy gifts and top quality beef, a product of the Harris Ranch cattle.  Most recently, I bought an apple pie here and it was very tasty.

The third pie stop is at the Apricot Tree, located at the Pacheco Road exit about 30 minutes beyond Harris Ranch.  Not surprisingly, they are most famous for their apricot pie, one of my all-time favorites.  The restaurant, which serves family style meals, is decorated with the owner's collection of 1950s children’s school lunchboxes and thermoses, which are mounted along the walls and on the beams over the tables. Update, 3/19/21: Note that the Apricot Tree is no longer in business.

Vintage lunchboxes on display at The Apricot Tree
Whether you want to buy a pie to take to your Thanksgiving dinner, or to enjoy at home, or to celebrate Pi Day (March 14th), all of these places have homemade tasting delicious pies, just like mother used to make.

Monday, November 12, 2012

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA: Botanical Garden and Veterans Memorial

Flowers in the Royal Botanic Garden, Melbourne, Australia
In honor of Veterans Day, here is an excerpt from my diary of our three-month stay in Melbourne, Australia in 1999.

On Saturday we drove to the Royal Botanic Garden which is on the other side of the city center.  This huge park has extensive walking paths and all sorts of  native and exotic trees and flowers.  We saw several new birds and we are told that this is the place to go to see the fruit bats.  These huge bats, which have wingspans of four feet, apparently love to eat the fruit on all the carefully planted specimen trees and are a bit of a problem.  We were told that you can’t see the bats during the day, so we’ll have to go back sometime at dusk. 

Veterans’ Memorial
Shrine of Remembrance
At one end of the park is a large memorial to the 20,000 soldiers of Victoria who died in World War I.  When you realize that the population of Australia was quite small back then, you can see what an impact this had on the society.  The memorial building is approached on all sides by banks of steep steps, reminiscent of a Mayan temple.  At the top one goes inside to a room where a memorial plaque is embedded in the center of the floor.  The amazing aspect of the building is that it has a small hole in the roof placed exactly so that each year, on November 11, at 11:00 am, a ray of sunlight moves across the plaque, highlighting the word “love.”  During the rest of the year they simulate the light ray once an hour to demonstrate to visitors how it works.  It definitely has a powerful, almost mystical effect.

Floral Clock and Art Museum

Floral Clock, Melbourne Botanical Garden
We then walked to the other end of the park, passing numerous wedding parties having their photos taken, and took our picture in front of the huge floral clock at the park entrance.  Then we crossed the street to visit the Victorian art museum where we did a quick tour of the Australian collection.  The pictures from the 19th century are a fascinating peek into the hardship of pioneer life in Australia as well as a view of the vast, forbidding, but also beautiful, landscape they encountered.  (Note: There is now a new art museum at two sites, one in Southbank and the other at Federation Square.)

Back to the Botanic Garden and the Flying Foxes

Grey-headed Flying Fox (a kind of fruit bat)
A week later we finally got to see the fruit bats in the Botanic Gardens.  There are hundreds of them and you can’t miss them because they make such a racket.  We went late Sunday afternoon and found them hanging from the branches of tall trees in a place called Fern Gully.  It was a hot day so they were fanning themselves with their huge wings and even flying about a bit.  Last week, when the park ranger told me that you couldn’t see the bats until dark, I think that my mistake was asking about bats--I should have asked to see the flying foxes, which is what people call the large fruit bats here.  Those that live in the park are grey-headed flying foxes and have pointed snouts that make them look a little bit like foxes.  The term bats is used here for the little insect eating bats, and those don’t come out until dark.  We found a group that lives in a tree near our apartment and watched them one evening as they emerged from a hole in the trunk and flew off to catch bugs on the golf course.

Monday, November 5, 2012

WATER JOUSTING , Sete, France: Guest Post by Gwen Dandridge

Water Jousting Tournament, Sete, France

My friend Gwen Dandridge sent me this post about the amazing jousting matches in the canals of Sete, France, that she and her husband went to see when they were living in France for several months in 2005.  I had never heard of Sete, and now I want to visit!  Gwen has many talents ranging from fantasy writing to gardening to Morris dancing.  You can find out more about her at her blog.

Gwen's Post:
When my husband and I lived in Montpelier, France, we set out to see all the small events that make France unique. We heard of a contest nearby in Sete that had been running since medieval times and knew that we had to attend.  Sete is a small city on the coast of the Mediterranean. It is an island city in the manner of Venice, but with cars. Waterways divide the city and small 
shops line the canals. But where Venice feels tight with millions of little 
alleyways, Sete feels open and expansive. Each year between late spring and early fall they host a series of water jousting contests.

We traveled to Sete by train, a simple twenty minute ride from Montpelier. The sky was startlingly
 blue and the colors of the town were picture perfect--red and blue and white.
 At a patisserie with gorgeous pastries, we each bought one to try. We found the 
festival with almost no trouble and got a seat on the bleachers to watch the 
show. They have been having this festival for hundreds of years. On the program
 they listed the winners of the joust for each year and the dates went back to 
the 1600’s.

The contest is the following:
 There are two teams, blue and red. Each has a boat with ten rowers and two 
musicians, an oboeist, and a drummer. The dress code is a fisherman-type long 
sleeved tee shirt with stripes, red for the red boat and blue stripes for the 
blue boat. Over that is a white shirt with short sleeves. White pants and white
 shoes complete the outfit.

There is a long ramp at the end of each boat with ladder-like steps. At each of the four 
rungs two men usually sit waiting for their turn to joust. At the top is a
 platform, just big enough for one man to stand braced with feet apart. This lone jouster holds a wooden shield and a long lance with three metal prongs on the end.

The boats turn to face each other.  Then the rowers row as fast as they can toward the
 opponent boat with one guy on each boat standing with his lance. As the boats approach, the jousters 
level their lances at one another (just like in the horseback riding version) and attempt to knock the other into the water. Sometimes they both stay standing, sometimes they both end up in the water, but typically one is knocked off by the other. The guys on the ramps below duck to avoid flailing 
lances and falling jousters. Quickly, another smaller boat (with a motor) 
spins out to drag the waterlogged loser out of the water. The jousting boats return to their respective ends of the canal, circle about, and start over.

Each jouster gets three tries to knock his opponent into the water. 
If he is victorious and doesn’t land in the water, he goes down the ladder and the next person moves up 
to his position. As the people on the rungs finish their contest, a boat putters in and brings in more contestants to sit waiting for their turn “at
 bat” as it were.

It looks sort of “la de da” jolly, until you realize how much momentum is behind each lance. Usually they strike, someone gets knocked off 
balance, shields and lances flailing around, and then maybe one person ends up in the
 water. Once though, the jousters both struck completely straight and true, and 
one guy just flew backwards, fully airborne, before crashing into the water 
below. That day, the guy on Bateau bleu was the one to go flying. Meanwhile a larger band played between the actual jousts.

Josh loved it and would have enjoyed trying it himself, but the training for this starts early in the year and beyond his reach. While I’m sure it would have been cool to see his name on the roster, I was ultimately relieved not to have my husband smacked in the chest with that much force. Perhaps another year.

Monday, October 29, 2012

THE MURALS OF MAXO VANKA, Millvale, Pennsylvania. Guest Post by Lester Scheaffer

St. Nicholas Church, Millvale, PA with murals by Maxo Vanka
Seventy-five years ago, Croatian artist Maximilian Vanka completed the murals inside St. Nicholas Church in Millvale, Pennsylvania, a remarkable work of art of both religious and social and political commentary.  My parents, Les and Kay Scheaffer, who were graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh at the time, made regular visits to watch Maxo Vanka work.  In his retirement, my father wrote about their experience.  His story is below.  You can see details of some of the murals and learn about them at

    A small bearded man knelt on a scaffold assessing his depiction of an angel. With a paint brush in one hand and hanging onto a rope with the other, he leaned back to get some perspective in the waning afternoon light. Apparently satisfied, he straightened up, put the brush into a number ten can and edged carefully to the end of the scaffold. He climbed down, leaving a void in the ceiling where his silhouette had been a few minutes before. When he reached the floor, he walked over to where we were standing and joined us in surveying his work. For a minute or so, no one said anything, though we were full of questions.
    The artist broke the silence after looking closely at each of us.
    "Are you brother and sister? You look alike."
    "No. We're husband and wife, Les and Kay."
    At that point a door opened at the right of the altar and a priest came down the aisle. He reminded the artist that supper was ready. As we started to leave, the artist introduced us as "young married students from the university."  He pointed to the priest, saying,
    "This is my friend, Father Joseph."
    The priest smiled and replied, "And my good friend, Maxo Vanka."
    Each had emigrated to America in 1929.  Father Joseph had been given a Croatian church in the town of Millvale, near Pittsburgh, and Mr. Vanka had settled in New York City.  In 1937, at the request of Father Joseph, Maxo Vanka had agreed to paint the sanctuary of the church with murals. They would depict stories of the Bible, life in Croatia, and life in America.

    On the following Saturday we returned to Millvale, entering the church in mid-afternoon. The western sun formed its own scaffold of rays, lighting up the paintings and particularly the Virgin Mary. She was looking at us no matter where we stood or sat in the sanctuary. She was above the altar, not dressed in 16th century Italian finery, but in a brilliant red Croatian wedding dress. The high neck gown was decorated with yellow, green, and red braid, from her collar down to her dark blue slippers. There were only three of us in the church--Kay and I and Mr. Vanka, or four if you count Mary.
    We turned to the south wall depicting the Croats in America: A family around a kitchen table, a group of men at work in a steel mill, and a Sunday picnic at the river park. Kay pointed to a pretty little girl, nine or ten years old, who appeared in the family mural scenes.
    "Who is the little girl?"
    Mr. Vanka could not have been more pleased that she had noticed  the pretty little blonde girl with two braids over her shoulders. "That's Peggy, my ten year old daughter. She's an American girl, home with her mother while I'm working here. I miss her and her mother very much."
    Then we asked about the little bird that appeared in so many of the paintings.
    "That's Pepralitsa, the bird who flew into my studio one day, very frightened until I talked to her and told her about my garden in Zagreb. I gave her part of my sandwich and she never left. That is, I left the window open a little bit so she could come and go as she wished and she kept coming back. I would carry bread crumbs and millet seeds in the breast pocket of my smock. I showed her the way, and she would spend a lot of time in my pocket--her nest."
    "Let me tell you a funny story about Pepralitsa.   One day I was invited to a dinner party preceding the opening of a show in my honor. Mrs. Vanka was invited too, and assumed that I would wear a tuxedo, it being a formal occasion. I did put on all the formal wear except the tuxedo jacket. I thought it would be fun, and what people might expect of an artist, if I wore my painting smock instead of the black tuxedo jacket. Mrs.Vanka thought this was rather bizarre but reluctantly gave in to my arguments. I didn't tell her that Pepralitsa had been sleeping in my pocket for several nights and would also be going along to the dinner party. Well, things went along fine through the reception, and, as I had speculated, the ladies in particular seemed to like the idea of an eccentric artist in their midst wearing a clean but paint smudged smock to a formal dinner. Perhaps they assumed that the bulging breast pocket contained a paint cloth or some tubes of paint. But then at dinner it happened--Pepralitsa got hot or curious, popped out of my pocket onto my shoulder, then flew across the table to light on the head of an older lady who had spent the evening trying to impress me with her knowledge of art. With Pepralitsa dancing in her hair she let out a scream that even frightened my little bird. Pepralitsa came back to my shoulder and after a gentle scolding I gave her some crumbs and told her to stay in my pocket. The lady calmed down, but Mrs. Vanka wasn't too pleased with her eccentric husband."
    After his story, Mr. Vanka excused himself and climbed back onto his scaffold.
    We came back many times, getting better acquainted with Mr. Vanka and also with Father Joseph.

    It was Father Joseph who, over tea one evening, told us about the early days of the Millvale church when Father Albert was the priest:
    "Father Albert came to America in 1914 soon after the Sarajevo incident and the outbreak of war in Europe. He was sent to Pennsylvania and given a mission church in our smoky little city on the river. Millvale already had a number of Croatian immigrants, and more were coming all the time. They soon outgrew the little Catholic church and it was Father Albert's job to plan and raise money for a larger one. Some money came from the diocese but much of the money was wheedled out of his parishioners.”
    “Some people thought that he demanded too much from his church members who had large families to support and worked for low wages in the steel mill. They didn't dare complain to the priest but somehow gossip got back to him and he didn't like what he heard. Some people said his sermons were too long, and that he was always scolding the congregation. Perhaps much of this was pure gossip, but it was clear that Father Albert was not much loved by his flock, and he knew it.”
    “This went on for fifteen years, and then the worst thing happened--the Bishop came to him, before he was even seventy years old, and suggested that it was time for him to retire. So with much bitterness, Father Albert left the church.”
    “Soon after Father Albert retired, he passed away. Some people say he died of a broken heart. I came to America after he was gone and buried, and therefore never met him. Mrs. Velazic swears that he came to one of my evening services, but she was the only one who saw him. She said he floated down the aisle waving his arms and shaking his fist at me. She even thinks he tasted the communion wine and then vanished through the west wall. Of course, Mrs. Velazic was an old lady, in her eighties, and never did see too well."
    We asked Father Joseph, "Did you ever tell that story to Mr. Vanka?"
    "No, no! There are enough mysteries in life without adding any more." And then with a little nervous laugh, he said, "Maxo does a lot of painting at night. He has to keep his mind on his work to meet our Easter deadline."

    It had been eleven years since Father Albert had seen his church, eleven years of purgatorial expiation, free-floating around Millvale. However, time and mortality were no longer factors with Father Albert. Tonight he would visit the church just to alleviate his loneliness and to make sure that things hadn't changed too much. It was 11:30 when he went in. He knew there would be an altar light, but he didn't expect to see a spotlight focused on the ceiling, nor a scaffold, nor a man on the scaffold painting pictures-spoiling his church. Father Albert thought, No one consulted me about this, painting my church with all these pictures. I'll talk to the Bishop about it.  He glided down the center aisle, studied the murals, and shook his fist at Mr. Vanka.
    Maxo heard nothing but sensed that someone was in the church. He looked down and saw the priest. He saw him face the scaffold and shake his fist. He saw him taste the communion wine--and then disappear through a closed window. Maxo was shaken by what he saw. He went back to work, but left the church early.
    After the same thing happened four nights in a row, Maxo told Father Joseph about it and then heard the story of Mrs. Velazic's vision. Father Joseph suggested that Maxo take a few days' rest, that he go home to see his family and then come back to finish the murals.

    It was three weeks before we were able to get back to Millvale. Mr. Vanka was not on the scaffold. We decided to go see Father Joseph. As we sipped coffee, Father Joseph answered our question:
    "Mr. Vanka has been working too hard, too many late nights, he needed a rest. It seems that Father Albert has been visiting the church at night, bothering Mr. Vanka. Maxo went home but he'll be back."
    At that point the housekeeper came in--"Father, The Bishop is on the phone."
    "Excuse me, friends, while I take this call. The Bishop has been worried about a call he got a few days ago, some `crank' impersonating Father Albert--after all these years!"

    Mr. Vanka came back in a few days, and from then on painted only in the daytime. He completed the work by the middle of March. On Easter morning, 1942, the murals were blessed by the Bishop.