Artist in Yemen

I will be in Sana'a, Yemen, May 27-July 10 2006. I'll be working on my Arabic language skills and painting every day, walking around asking questions about food and gardens and perfume and incense. I'll be studying and living at the Center for Arabic Language and Eastern Studies(CALES)in the Old City of Sana'a. Although I usually paint in reverse on glass, in Sana'a I'll be working in watercolor and mixed media on paper.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


I arrived last night in the deep middle of the night, and Muhammed from CALES was waiting for me at the airport. I like arriving in a new place in the night and seeing it asleep, and then waking up there and discovering it first through sound, through my closed eyelids, and then slowly discovering the views out the windows, and that first walk out into the street.
I woke at the crack of dawn to the call to prayer amplfied all around me.
I am so lucky to have gotten the room I have. Let me describe it: I am in an old tower house in the old part of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I have the mafraj, the topmost room in the house, on the fifth floor, 73 big steps up up up. (I'm glad I did all that Tumamoc Hill walking with Paulus before I left Tucson!). It's a beautiful room, as big as my kitchen-living-dining room at home (plenty of space for yoga). It has big windows on all four walls, and each window has a half-round stained glass window above it. The open windows pick up cross breezes and voices driifting up from the street, and each window has a vew of the surroundng city of old tower houses, minarets, and the mountains on all horizons. It's by far the prettiest, dreamiest room I've ever occupied. The walls are stark white, and wherever there isn't a window there is a shelf made of lacy plaster that looks weightless. The whole effect is of light and air and space, like a room suspended in the sky. I look forward to painting in it.
I'm still a little disoriented. I scratched together a little food: almonds, dates, and some sweet perfumed apricots the size of marbles. There is a shared kitchen downstairs. I met another student there, a Czech woman researching traditional Yemeni medicine. Her room is full of ziploc bags with leaves and sticks and powdered plants in them, fascinating.
Tomorrow my class starts, two hours a day of private instructon. I met my teacher today for a placement exam. Her name is Sina, I feel really lucky to get a woman teacher! I have a million questions for her. Later on there will be an optional cooking class that of course I will take.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don't go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don't go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep. -Jelaluddin Rumi