Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: Embellished Errors – (Pax Texana)

Pax Texana - copyright 2012 Bonnie McClellan all rights reserved

The inside cover of my Cultural Atlas is covered with Italian shelf-paper. I used it because when I tore up the front cover, I thought that the inside should be stabilized (another embellished error). This paper is still made in this country; a lovely, heavy, egg-cream ground with black, red, dark blue, or green patterns. When I had first moved to Italy, I lived in a rural valley outside Florence; I was trading work for a place to stay with an American-Italian couple. One of the first things Adele asked me to do was strip off the old paper from her kitchen shelves and re-cover them with new paper. It marked one of my first trips into the treasure-palace that is the Italian ‘whatnot’ store. While I was living there I was in the process of a separation that turned into a divorce and a cultural shift that involved re-evaluating the (then) 38 years of my life in Texas.

The poetry/story of this can be found in my Orphan Poetry series; however, later, I also made, from the empty tissue paper ‘books’ that remain after one has used up the thin sheets of gold leaf, a series of impressions of my left hand made with white marble-dust and gum arabic. In these two ‘books’ there is one page and one hand-print for each year of my life with the year written in pencil on the bottom-left and my age on the top-right. They overlap and stick, they are messy (as my life has been) and made of the dust of rocks that were once marine fossils, our common calcite frame.

PAX TEXANA - detail (copyright 2012 Bonnie McClellan, all rights reserved)

This attempt to make peace between my Texas past and my Italian present is included in the collage on the first page of the Cultural Atlas. The envelope from the gold leaf (delivered from Italy to Texas and then repatriated when I moved here) holds the book. Above the envelope is the word PAX – which speaks to the common Roman/Latin cultural roots between the two places – from the instructions for an IKEA shelving unit – representing a more recent, consumer empire that uses those common roots to try and make clients feel ‘at home’.

By bonniemcclellan

Mother, poet, american ex-pat from Texas living in Northern Italy.


  1. I found this intriguing, and it sent me to read some of your earlier Orphan Poetry pieces. They seem to be as beautiful, layered and fragile as the Italian paper itself.

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