Over the decades…a Chill.
I met Lisa Lamontanaro as she greeted us at the Laurel Diner in Long Beach, she was their hostess. There was a short wait and we had to put our names on her list but that gave us a chance to chat with her.
I asked Lisa about the challenges of hosting, seating people in the proper order and so forth. She said it was a challenge but she liked it. As Lisa spoke I could see that her affable presence was an asset to her and her employer, she had a natural laughter. It tended to put a smile on the listener.
I asked if she ever had mistakenly given a seat to one person ahead of another on her list. She laughed and said she had. One customer wanted to be served by a particular waiter, the wait service didn’t matter to the next on the list. When two seatings opened up at the same time, she gave the second customer the seating with his preferred waiter, the first customer, the other seating. That customer complained, didn’t like the seating, was going to complain to the owner.
Lisa mentioned she’s both a photographer and artist. I was intrigued. Cheryl, my grandson Conor, and I were about to be seated, but Lisa agreed to meet with me for coffee so I could learn and report more about her.
So there we sat one recent morning by the window in the sun at Starbucks in Long Beach.
About the mistake in seating, Lisa summed it up when she said, “People get hungry.” She added, “The owners were very good about it. Now, I’m very particular. Nothing like that has happened in a while.” Lisa said, “My cousin says ‘your personality works with this job.'”
Lisa said, “I never realized how much I like to chit-chat with people. I try to remember everyone’s names.” I noted how busy the Laurel usually is. Lisa agreed and said, “Not only is the food good, but it’s also fast. They give people such huge amounts of food and they walk out with leftovers for a week,” she laughed. She told me the diner staff are good at what they do and often joke with each other. It’s a positive atmosphere for customers.
Lisa’s dad worked a post-retirement job at the Laurel diner as a delivery guy. Then she started working there in 2012. She loved Long Beach but she lived in Lynbrook. She recalled, “This summer I saw adults riding their bikes. There was a couple in their twenties who would ride barefoot on their bikes with their surfboards and they’d come in. I’d tease them, I said, ‘I would like to change lives with you.'”
She recalled telling her boss, “‘Everyone is smiling here, everyone is happy, everyone I see, happy all the time.’ “I told my manager, ‘I want to ride a bike with those people, I want to ride a bike barefoot'”.
Two months ago Lisa moved to Long Beach.
Lisa is a member of the stalwart legion of artists who engage in other work while staying true to their passion…year after year.
Lisa started out in photography, originally intending to be a commercial photographer. She took many and varied courses in different schools.
At CW Post college Lisa worked with a full spectrum of cameras including full frame. She worked with chemicals to develop her own film. Lisa said, “In the 90’s a photo professor at C W Post said ‘you can’t fail at what you love to do.’” Lisa, telling me that said, “Oh I’m getting a chill, I feel like I’m going to cry.”
I could see the emotion welling in Lisa’s eyes. I asked if I could take her photo, she agreed. I told her that it was a tribute to that professor in that his words carried to this day at a Starbucks in Long Beach.
To utter something that causes a chill to run through the recipient decades later under the sun of a different time is sublime. Yet, so many of us think so little of our words that we leave them unsaid. Perhaps to the loss of so many.
Marriage and children changed Lisa’s course in life. She is no longer married but has three grown children of whom she is very proud. Her three sons, 18, 19 and 23, encourage her, she said. Her oldest is a classical guitarist, her middle son writes, her youngest paints. Lisa said of the youngest “He’s a better artist than I am.” He differs.
In her thirties, Lisa tried painting for the first time. It took.
Lisa Lamontanaro is among an army who started relatively late in life, among them: Monet, Van Gogh, Hopper, Cezanne: https://blog.redbubble.com/2014/05/6-artists-who-started-very-late-in-life/
She considers photography to be her first marriage, painting her second.
Before she took her first painting course Lisa didn’t think she was much of an artist. But when she compared her work to the other students, she thought “I am pretty good.”
Among Lisa’s descriptions of her work was that it was, at times, feminist. Also, “My painting is more symbolic, metaphoric, it’s more like a life experience or memory I have. It’s deep, not everyone will understand it.” Lisa said, “In 2009, my first experience in trying to sell my work, my paintings, someone said, ‘Your work is too personal.'” But Lisa said, “That’s what art is, it’s not trying to appeal to someone. It’s from my soul.”
Lisa shows her work in Manhattan and the Hamptons. She tries to do so in those venues at least once a year. She has considered the local Long Beach Arts in the Plaza but wants to keep her work in the former locales.
Over the summer she had her work shown in Leo house, a historic religious hotel in Chelsea. The Leo House Gateway to the Arts show featured many well-known names, among them, Salvador Dali. Vanessa Williams, a jurist of the show, was one of many well-known celebs. Proceeds from the sales were for the charitable works of Leo House.
Lisa said that in High School a guidance counselor upon learning of her love for photography said, “What are you going to do after you take your first photo?” She felt he wasn’t encouraging her, she felt he could have guided her to schools of photography, he could have said something supportive. Lisa felt he spoke negatively about her passion. Maybe he was just trying to ensure that Lisa had a backup plan. But his lack of support for her passion stayed with her.
Perhaps unsupportive words, when encouragement is needed, are better left unspoken. They tend to quench the career fires of youth and they too tend to…echo through the decades.
Lisa said, “Art isn’t encouraged by family or others, everyone wants to make money.”
Lisa said her favorite painting is Heart of Gold. It’s possible for it to be an exhibit at the next Leo House show in November, “The Passion”:https://leohousenyc.com/2018/10/22/charlotte-lichtblau-art-featured-the-passion/
Lisa would hate to really part with the original she said, but it is available on her site as a print. I can see why it is important to her.
Lisa’s effervescence, her smile, her laughter, tells me she’s right where she needs to be. She’s happy. She doesn’t have a bike yet but she does have her passion, she does have three sons who love and encourage her. So in a way, it’s as if she’s already biking through life…barefoot.