Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Gulf Story Continues

Paradise Lost — Body and Aerial Art for a Cause; Waiting for The Prince of Tides to Stop the Oil

May 18

Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier Special to Down to Earth NW

I’m thinking about Pat Conroy, his South, his mental depression, the fluidity of his world, characters, and words, reimagining those moments in the Prince of Tides when it was clear to me some people have to fight the blasphemy of industry that goes about the land like a mad cutter tearing up the skin of our earth.

I went back to two of his books and wanted some epigraphs to satisfy what I was thinking Marc Gauthier might be feeling at the back of his throat or trapped in the ions in his sinuses. Something of that memory, all those Southern folk who wrote, sang, defended, and emancipated:

“…Then another porpoise broke the water and rolled toward us. A third and fourth porpoise neared. The visitation was something so rare and perfect that we knew by instinct not to speak—and then as quickly as they had come, the porpoises moved away from us… .Each of us would remember that all during our lives. It was the purest moment of freedom and headlong exhilaration that I had ever felt. A wordless covenant was set, and I would go back in my imagination, and return to where happiness seemed so easy to touch.” — Pat Conroy (Beach Music)

While I was waiting for Marc to say goodbye to the fellows who let him jump on their sport fishing rig, I knew the transformation had set in. His, that is:

“The safe places could only be visited; they could only grant a momentary intuition of sanctuary. The moment always came when we had to return to our real life to face the wounds and grief indigenous to our home by the river.” ---Pat Conroy (The Prince of Tides)

“What you looking at?” one of the official-looking men asks Marc, who’s got the tripod-mounted film camera pointed at the horizon. He’s got the M.A.S.H. jungle hat on, a Save the Puget Sound t-shirt and a smile on his face.

“Just watching for wildlife, something to film. I’m here trying to make sense of the oil spill.”

“You don’t see any, do you?” one of the guys asks Marc.

“It’s like an oil change in your car. They’re all over blowing it. This is no big deal.”

“You don’t see any oil, do you?”

Marc says there’s a shit-storm about to happen, and the officials are in a defensive posture. He went out on a fishing boat with some real generous guys, and Marc is literally taken aback by the Southern hospitality: he’s been fed, given beer, had a 5-bedroom place offered him to work from, and some fellows who did tank cleaning on the Deepwater Horizon rig willing to go on camera next week. They lost a friend to the explosion.

“No one is standoffish,” Marc keeps insisting. “These are kind, friendly people. Sure, we’d probably disagree on the big picture worldview, lots of topics, but they’ve all been nice.”

So, part of the weirdness of the millions of gallons bleeding toxic fears is the Big Brother attitude of the BP teams and the desire for locals to shout out something. John Quigley, who tree-sat or lived in a centuries-old oak in California for 71 days before a judge ordered him down, to save it from razing, was in town, called in to help with the aerial art he does around the world. “Never Again, Paradise Lost, and WTF BP” were the phrases Marc was helping with as 45 locals contorted themselves and linked up on the beach to let the message burn into Quigley’s viewfinder.

For the campaign aerial art projects around the world, check out:

The artist was high on a rented crane shooting the various anti-oil spill phrases while fishermen, tour guides, shrimpers, and other people whose jobs are now seriously at risk helped form the words in the sand with their bodies.

“My biggest challenge is getting to the oil. They don’t want people to see. Boats are guarding the booms, and there’s a 300 yard no-enter zone around the booms,” Marc said. That means no one but BP-approved folk can get to the other side of islands. No one is getting to see what kind of wildlife might be in trouble.

Marc’s been kayaking in some of those tidal marshes Conroy writes about, and he’s seeing red fish and crabs and all sorts of life just under the surface. He snuck in on his sea kayak to film.

But Marc is clearly frustrated: Bird experts end up in long mindless meetings in tents that BP demands be conducted — done, a way, Marc says, to keep the experts from helping with wildlife, frustrating them, really. A giant earthen berm is being bulldozed and packed down by the US Army Reserves, to keep the oil at bay. It’s becoming like a disaster relief zone.

Marc is syncopating with the Southern beat, and the magic of these people and their tenacity are alluring, to be sure. Plenty of good footage shot. Plenty of good sounds, too, as Marc ended up at a barbeque with all sorts of people from the area, set up by John Quigley.

“These two guys started to pull out guitars and began singing. Man, these hillbillies are incredible musicians,” Marc said. Beach fire, the stars, the ancient tides of the Gulf Coast beating back the oil slick for the time being — Marc was in a little bit of heaven as the outsider coming inside the culture of people who’ve fought off Katrina, the ineptitude of that recovery, and now this, an environmental holocaust of sorts, and all the passing of the buck of blame. While nothing is getting done.

Quigley knows the power of community, as he told Marc; he comes in and lets each community dictate what it wants to say.

They’re all hoping the “Paradise Lost” body-beach art goes viral quickly.

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