Today I spent the day with bamboo. I was invited down to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana to help train their docents to tour their new exhibition of contemporary Japanese bamboo baskets, which I believe are some of the most beautiful artworks created anywhere in the world. The Japanese have over 600 species of bamboo growing on their islands and they have transformed this strong, malleable grass into many items for use in their daily life, from homes and bridges to musical instruments, umbrellas and even food. For thousands of years, they have been weaving bamboo into baskets to catch fish, collect and dry tea leaves and transport fruits and vegetables. They have also woven flower baskets out of the material and it is from this tradition that today’s artist basket makers have emerged. Only about 100 of these basket makers are working in Japan today, and what they are weaving out of strips of bamboo is truly breathtaking. One of the stars of the Modern Twist exhibition at the Bowers Museum is a scultpure entitled Sound of Wind by Uematsu Chikuyu:
Apparently the word “spork” was coined in the late 19th century in the United States to refer to a spoon that has three or four tines cut into its round section so that it can be used as either a fork or a spoon. This multi-use form of cutlery is commonly used by the military, in prisons, schools and in fast-food restaurants, institutions that attempt to feed many people as efficiently as possible. At my son Theo’s school, the kids who eat the “cafeteria” food, are given plastic sporks to eat with, so in their lives, the spork is as common as a spoon or a fork. These plastic ones are, of course, meant to be disposed of after a single use, but his school’s recycling program – the Green Dragons – makes sure they are cleaned and saved for exciting recycled art projects, like the model of a dragon the principal’s daughter made last year. One of the high points of my week is to go in and help the kids recycle their lunchtime waste. Once a week, I head over to the school at noon and check in at the front office with Carmin and Karina (see April 14), the school administrators who are the interface between the parents and the teaching staff.
Carmin has worked at our school for five years now, exactly the same amount of time that our family has been part of the school’s community, and over the years, we have enjoyed many friendly chats at lunchtime when I’m passing through or whenever I’ve had to fill out a sick-day form for Theo or bring by some homework or jacket he has forgotten in the morning. Carmin makes dealing with the issue much more pleasant. She always looks bright, cheerful and glamorous, no matter what she has been going through – and she has been through a lot in the time that I’ve known her. Most memorably, her close co-worker, who was also young and vivacious became seriously ill and passed away a couple of years ago. It was a shock to the school, but Carmin, with her positive attitude and warm spirit, helped us all deal with her loss.
This afternoon, I stopped by the office – not to help with trash or to ask Carmin to give something to Theo. This time I wanted to give something to her. She’s a hard worker and I know she often works at her desk, so I decided to give her a spork, so she will always have a utensil to eat her lunch with. Not a white plastic spork from school lunch, but a cute little bamboo spork, probably hand crafted somewhere in Asia. When I handed her this tiny little gift, she reacted with delight, saying that it’s perfect as she always forgets her utensils. This may be the case, but such a warm, enthusiastic response is so typical of this lovely woman who we’ve been so lucky to have helping us all at the front line of our son’s school.