Wednesday, August 16, 2006

For the Love of Art

from James

I got my arts fix this past week.

The traveling Grippandos had time for one more family trip before the kids go back to school, so we spent it in the Berkshires. (Many thanks to my friend Carlos Sires, who turned 50 on Aug. 11, and to his wife Margaret, who turned—uh-hem—29 on August 10 for hosting us in their beautiful new summer home) The last time Tiffany and I visited the Berkshires was in the fall of 1992, and we were not yet married. A little different this time with our son sleeping in the bed between us, but that’s another blog. We were talking about the arts. And summer in the Berkshires is heaven on earth for a lover of the arts.

We did some-thing every night—theater (a top-flight perform-ance of “The Night of the Iguana”), dance (Shen Wei, very modern Chinese performance that I’m still contemplating), and of course Tanglewood. The highlight was definitely Tanglewood. We happened to hit it on “Film Night,” which is an annual event that I highly recommend. Thousands of people out on the lawn beneath a blanket of stars, drinking wine while listening to the Boston Pops and Yo Yo Ma perform the many musical scores that John Williams composed for films such as Star Wars, Schindler’s List, Memoirs of a Geisha, and many more. (Williams has received an astounding 43 Academy Award nominations). The best part is that John Williams is actually there conducting the orchestra. Steven Spielberg was even in the audience.

But art takes many forms, and that came clear to me just as soon as we returned to Miami. Just landing at the airport reminded me why I love this place—particularly as a writer. The flight from Boston was continuing on to Lima, Peru (that tells you something about Miami right away). Walking through the concourse I spotted Jamaicans in dreadlocks, Haitians speaking Creole, Orthodox Jews reading the Holy Book, Cuban Americans drinking expresso so caffeinated that it could double as jet fuel (mind you, it’s midnight), and on and on.

And before we even reached the baggage claim we happened upon a true artistic masterpiece. It’s the floor. The bronze and terrazzo floor in Miami International Airport is a work of public art by Michele Oka Doner. The domestic terminal is white and silver, and the international terminal is black and gold. The international terminal is so magnificent that it inspired me to write this scene in my next novel, as Jack Swyteck (my serial lead character) is saying goodbye to his girlfriend at the airport:

"They were walking side-by-side across what was arguably Miami’s greatest work of public art—the striking black terrazzo floor at the airport’s international terminal. Michele Oka Doner’s “A Walk on the Beach” was exactly what the name implied. Thousands of inlaid bronze sculptures reminiscent of the ocean and the artist’s native Miami Beach dotted the mile-long concourse. Jack’s gaze shifted from two-dimensional brain coral to driftwood to starfish, his thoughts churning . . ."

There was also something very “Miami” about watching my ten-year-old daughter skate across this masterpiece in her Heelies (that’s tennis shoes with wheels for those of you above the age of 10).

Occasionally I get e mails from irate readers who tell me that they are offended when a novel mentions the ethnicity or religion of a character. They say those things don’t matter and that I should leave them out. I say I love Miami and its many forms of art. I love writing about it. And I love coming home to it . . . even if it is the heart of hurricane season.

P.S. Michelle Oka Doner's website has some fabulous pictures of her work at Miami International Airport.


  1. Jim, great shot of you and Tiffany, and the trip sounds great. (You're a couple of culture mavens).

    There are many things I miss about Miami, but the airport ISN'T one of them, the artwork notwithstanding.

    But yes, it's a damn interesting place. More so, say, than the Scranton/Wilkes Barre airport.

  2. The readers who object to your mentioning nationality or religion obviously don't understand much about writing. Those things are part of character; not the whole thing, mind you, but an essential part of it.

    I may be the least tolerant person you'll ever run across when it comes to bigotry. But when nationality, race, culture, or religion, are mentioned as a part of life, and part of the portrait of a character, I feel no discomfort whatsoever. In fact, to my mind, insisting on some bland uniformity where diverse influences "don't matter" is a form of bigotry in its own way. It is an attempt to wipe out those very things we should be accepting instead.

  3. Wandering author: glad you agree. Stripping characters of their heritage seems like an Orwellian extension of the McDonald-ization of America. . . . . And Paul: You don't miss the Airport? Okay. Maybe I took it a little too far there. But do check out Michele Oka Doner's website.