In celebration of International Poetry Month, the following poem was submitted by:
There are small pieces of joy which flutter
through your fingers and
drift about your eyelashes
like windborn cinders, still warm
from the blaze they were born in
yet unable to ignite
even the smallest whisper of a flame
And you forget they are there
because the blizzard is pelting your cheeks,
the wind burns your eyes
your fingers are numb and stinging from the cold
at the same time
even though this cannot be
So, you have forgotten joy,
but the small particles (little bastards)
just the same
poem copyright 2009 Georgianna Krieger (all rights reserved to the author)
Normally my blogs are a little more like essays…this one is lighter and more gossipy but I have to tell you: I had a really great birthday! Spent the morning being lazy around the house and then we all got into the car and went to Varese to run errands which we didn’t quite finish before noon (when almost everything in Italy closes for lunch). I decided on the spur of the moment that we should try the new steak house up the road. It’s funny, Italians don’t age their beef as a rule, so the meat may have a good flavour but the texture is, well, bleah! Besides that, they’re so good with everything pork and seafood that it’s rare for us to eat beef (oooh, bad pun…sorry!).
Anyway, lunch was a big whopping rare t-bone with a salad and a few french fries that I snuck off of Matthew and Robin’s plates. They brought little Robin balloons and she had the most fun moving peanuts from one little bucket to another although she did manage to eat three chicken fingers and five fries (which she kept calling ‘pies’). Thanks you mama, steve and G.G. for buying us such a delicious lunch! I had the chance to talk to them for a few minutes when they called while we were on our to Laveno.
It was a gorgeous day! Laveno is by the lake and with the sun out the alps were a postcard…covered in snow on the top shading into deep violet/blue of the valley’s. We went down to the ferry landing to let Robin feed the ducks, had some hot coco at the nearby pastry shop/bar, bought white flowers for our sculpture and came home, kind of.
Our little girl had had a bad cough for a week so I decided we should run up to the pediatrician’s office for a quick visit (in Italy it’s FREE! and the doctor is just open so we could walk in, that is so cool!) Good thing we went because he thought she had a little bronchitis and wanted her to have a mild antibiotic. Matthew ran up the street and to get the rest of the ingredients that he needed to make me a cake and then down to the pharmacy by the station to get the baby’s medicine. Living in the mountains is a leg toning experience!
We gave Robin her medicine, a little something to eat, and a bottle of milk and it took her about 2 seconds to fall sound asleep. I sat in the kitchen, sipped a glass of wine and watched Matthew making cake. He’d been hinting for a month that he’d found the perfect present and I was wondering what it could be. I knew that he’d bought me another 6 place settings of silver plate flatware to match my grandmother’s pattern that would come with his family in February; but, he’d said there was something else even better…what could it be?
Matthew had been text messaging all day so finally I asked if it had something to do with the film (he’s going to start building sets for a film in about 3 weeks). He looked up and smiled and said, ‘It’s your present. I’m having it delivered.” Now I was curious, was it a pizza or a piano? His phone kept buzzing and he kept texting, then after a while he said, “It’s here, maybe you should go look downstairs.”
We live on the third floor of an old palazzo built in 1908. Outside our door is a wide stone stair case with a wrought iron rail that descends around a square foyer. When I leaned over the balustrade I could see fabric cases with zippers…big square ones. Had he hired a masseuse? I saw the top of a blond woman’s head but didn’t see her face…voices, more cases. I started down the stairs. When I reached the bottom I saw my friend Lee with her little girl Dahlia and then her husband Marco carrying in a case for a stand up bass…Music! The square cases were for a big vibraphone belonging to Francesco who often plays with Marco. Matthew was giving me a private jazz concert for my birthday…but just for us, it seemed extravagant.
We shoved the furniture to the side so that Marco and Francesco could set up in our living room. The 16ft. ceilings and thick stone walls combined with the wood floor made a perfect room for the sound. I heard Matthew telling Marco that after they set up we’d all eat dinner…dinner, I’d thought we’d be eating left over risotto from the night before. Right about then the door bell rang. It was Annarita and Manuella with two big casseroles of Pasta al Forno. Then came Marco Chierichetti with flowers and a book of poetry by Fernando Pessoa, two of our neighbors, Graciella, Amy with a tray full of Turkish sweets that she’d baked and much later Rick…A surprise party. I was so deeply touched that more than once I almost cried. That and homemade lunchlady chocolate cake…Wow!
After awhile, Robin woke up. At first she was sure that the music was somehow coming from inside one of my birthday packages. As she helped me unwrap them she peered anxiously inside saying, “music? i-pod? music in package?” I finally convinced her that the music was coming from the two men playing instruments and she was more than a little nervous. Looking at the stand up bass she said, “Very, very awful violin, VERY toooo big.” Later, during a break she was excited when Francesco gave her two of his long mallets and encouraged her to bang away on the bars of the vibraphone. It was so fun for me to watch her respond to something completely new.
Music may seem like a small thing, a ubiquitous thing; but as anyone who is the parent of a young child can tell you, leaving the house to see a movie or to have dinner is already difficult, staying out late enough to see a concert or go to a night club is almost impossible. A live jazz concert during mid-winter in provincial Italy, forget about it. Walking through our house, the air in every room humid with sound classic compositions by Parker, Davis, and Coletrain along with new compositions by Francesco and Marco I was in heaven. It was the perfect gift: thoughtful, intimate, a surprise. The gift of an experience together with our friends which contains within it the future pleasure of recollection.
P.S. I wish I had made a video of ‘my’ concert but I did find the above video clip of the vibes player on youtube…
This is the garden of the ‘White Prince’, the name given by Matthew’s younger brother Frank to our friend Philippe Bredael perhaps because he likes everything around him to be as beautiful and harmonious as his garden. Full of palm trees and sunset light it’s hard to believe that I took this photo in late December. Philippe is the second person that Matthew met in Italy when he was on his vagabond’s tour of Europe in 1990 and one of the reasons that that tour stopped here; their friendship spans 19 years. It was in the palace of the White Prince that little Robin spent her first Christmas and slept through her first new year’s.
In December of 2007 we had been living in Torano for seven months (for more about Torano/Carrara see my post:Carrara: adventures in quarryland) and in this short time had made only a few friends. I never imagined how difficult holidays would be with no social structure to hold us up, no friends or family to visit, no one to attend a Christmas Eve dinner or a New Year’s Eve party if we planned them. Here we were face to face with a clean slate on which to write out our new family traditions, a nine month old baby and a toaster oven that was not big enough to roast a goose…it was time to ask for help.
Philippe and his large oven came to our rescue and so we decided to spend the week of Christmas and New Years a little closer to the North Pole. Many of Matthew’s ‘amici del cuore’ live near Lago Maggiore, he calls them ‘La Tribu’, The Tribe. Matthew has a slew of wonderful stories about Philippe and The Tribe, carnivals spent in Venice as wandering face painters, fantastic parties, summer afternoons by the lake diving from Sasso Galletto. These adventure stories are best heard straight from the horse’s mouth in our kitchen with a good glass of Refosco in hand. I mention them briefly in this context to try and sketch with a few light strokes the backdrop of Robin’s first Christmas.
With our friend Chemda and I illegally riding in the cargo compartment of Matthew’s van and the baby on the passenger side nested safely and legally in her car seat, we embarked from the relative warmth of the Tuscan seaside towards the cold grey north…Lombardy. I have to say that I felt a bit as if I were in the middle of a movie about an immigrant circus family on holiday. After a few hours on the road we arrived in Milan and stopped to visit with our friend Michelangelo and his friend Barbara. They gave Robin her first Christmas present, a ‘Piglet’ from Winnie-the-Pooh that burst into song when his tummy was squeezed. Robin’s fourth word after “Mama”, “Papa” and “Banana” was “Pag-lat”. I’m not much for electronic toys but I am deeply grateful to this magic singing Piglet and to Chemda’s mothering experience for getting Robin through the last hour in the van from Milan to Varese.
There was supper on the table, there were people smiling and happy to see us. Philippe is a consummate host and I immediately felt a sense of ‘home’ despite the fact that he was the only person at the table that I knew. We ate well, we slept well, we woke up and began the first of a series of dilatory days involving eating, visiting, and sightseeing. The landscape was stunning, the white snow capped Alps in the distance, the placid surface of the lake, a profusion of evergreen palm, pine, laurel and magnolia trees interlaced with the black and white bareness of elm and beech. During the day the sun shone with a force equal to the cold, as it went down the air bit.
On the 24th we went to get a fresh goose for Christmas day dinner from a local farm. On Christmas morning while Robin opened her second package (with a lot of help from Mama) and enjoyed looking at her new book about farm animals, the grown up’s started discussions about cooking.
Matthew went down to the van where we’d left our lovely goose overnight to discover that she was now frozen…we let her warm up on the kitchen counter while working on dressing and pie. Little Robin pulled herself up for the first time on the ladder back chairs in Uncle Pippo’s kitchen. Matthew had given me a copy of The Gnostic Gospels and I read the first story which was The Pearl, a sweet coincidence since he often calls me ‘Pearl’. Matthew cooked. The goose was perfect, even vegetarians were tempted to taste a bit of the stuffing. The house was full of people (with the exception of ourselves) who had been to India so exotic travel stories were exchanged as plates and glasses were refilled.
Between Christmas and New Year’s eve we went to visit the Monastery of Santa Caterina and a Buddhist meditation center across the lake above a town called Bee. We took walks in the national forest at Campo dei Fiore, went ice skating at a tiny rink in the Lakeside town of Laveno, and had dinner at the homes of some of Matthew’s other friends. There was an exhibition at a local museum with work by some artists Matthew knew from Milan. After seeing the show we went for drinks at a little bar in Caldana where some people were vigorously playing oom-pa-pa music on accordion, trumpet and tuba to the vast delight of our daughter who squealed and clapped when she wasn’t cheerfully jamming potato chips into her mouth. Despite the social whirlwind, or perhaps because of it, I often felt terribly lonely and exhausted. I was surrounded by people who all had an shared history with one another, a involved story that was communicated in a language that I was just beginning to speak among men and women who were not yet my friends.
My sombre mood probably had as much to do with homesickness as to my eternally cold feet and the lack of sleep. Little Robin was on the third week of her first cold and so she (and I and Matthew) woke up often durring the night. Durring the day she was her normal easygoing self, happy to see new people or to fall asleep in the car seat. Everyone was completely in love with her…it’s hard not to be. New Year’s eve was great fun, Matthew and I dressed up, he in his best suit and a red tie, I in a strappy red dress and heels (red is the New Years colour in Italy). We danced, we snacked, we drank good wine and bad. Robin fell asleep early and we tucked her safely into her travel bed moved to the relative quiet of Philippe’s bedroom and then obsessivly checked every 10 min. to make sure she was alright…the new parents’ waltz.
At midnight we kissed, first each other and then, in a secular version of exchanging the peace, everyone else…hugs, kisses on both cheeks, the tapping of glasses filled with prosecco; “Buon Anno, Aguri, Aguroni, Buona 2008”. Finally everyone settled into the ancient ritual of eating lentils for good luck and the contemporary ritual of frantically transmitting one’s best wishes for the new year via text message to jammed satellites that would then deliver them at inopportune early hours to groggy friends not present. Guests began to shift towards home; we moved Robin’s little bed back into the room where we were sleeping and where a fire remained burning in the fireplace. She woke up and watched the fire, still sleepy and hypnotized by the warmth and movement.
The next day there was snow…a walk was proposed by the guests who had remained for the night but for once I said no. I loaned my hiking boots to a photographer who’d arrived for the weekend from Milan in suede flats and started the hot water running in the bath tub. The bundled crowd went out to walk in the falling flakes and I wrapped my little girl inside my coat and carried her out on the balcony to see the white filtering through the palm trees.
Kings Day, La Befana, Epiphany, the last day of Christmas. Right now I am looking out at the snow sifting down steadily from the white blankness of the sky that brooks no horizon. Mountains, tree tops, and atmosphere all are one. In Italian I might say ‘sfondo sfondata’…a background with the bottom broken out. This is the whitest Christmas I have ever known. It has been a beautiful season for us, the first one we have spent at home, as a family.
My first Christmas in Italy I was a little more than 4 months pregnant with little Robin. Matthew and I were living in a small apartment under a converted mill where our friends Sandro and Adele live in the hills outside of Pontassieve just south-east of Florence. It was our first Christmas together and for me one of only a handful that I had not spent at the home of my maternal grandparents. Matthew suggested that we spend the holiday in Florence at a bed and breakfast called Il Giglio Bianco (the white lilly). It was owned some friends of his and was officially closed so we were the only guests and had our run of the well equipped kitchen and the occasional company of one of the owners, Eduardo.
I will not speak for Matthew other than to say that I think we were both feeling lost. Having walked away from the traditions we had known with our former spouses we were reaching for a sense of how to form a mutual tradition, something new and whole that we could offer our daughter when she was born. Tradition is, of course, a function of time so we talked about what little Robin’s coming Christmases might be like. the things that when she was our age she would remember; “at Christmas we always…”. I think that it was this idea of how to create a family together that helped us through what was, despite being together and in one of the most beautiful cities I know, a lonely and wistful Christmas.
On Christmas eve we went to midnight mass. We’d chosen the church at random, one on a side street and not too long of a walk. Santa Trinita is relatively small and unfamous if such a thing is possible in a city like Florence, we did not know who had painted the paintings but we liked them. I remember being tired, the weight of my belly, the umbral darkness of the church and the snatches of the liturgy in Italian that I was able to understand. I also remember the sharing of the peace, strangers turning to shake my hand or kiss me on both cheeks and I, returning the gesture and echoing their words: “pace, pace, pace”.
When we got back to Il Giglio Bianco and were getting in Bed I felt Robin rolling and kicking and called Matthew and he felt her moving for the first time. I still remember the look on his face though for the life of me I am without words to describe it to you, perhaps it is sufficient to say that it was a moment of grace.
The next morning (late) we began cooking: roasted goose with chestnut stuffing, giblet gravy, apple pie. We served ourselves in the empty but still cozy dining room with a view over the top of a wall into a garden. Later we walked to the centre of the ponte Santa Trinita and looked down at the Arno and then crossed over into the old city centre. We walked through the streets lined with luxury shop windows and strung with white lights, full of people but not Disneyland packed like it is in the spring and summer. The piazza del Duomo was her own beautiful self, the facade of the cathedral always gives me the impression of whiteness when I see it despite the multi-colored stone decorations and iconic black stripes.
The following day on the advice of Eduardo, we went to see an exhibition at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi of a first century Roman Bronze that had been discovered off the coast of Croatia and sent to Florence for restoration. I remember that it was the end of the day and the museum was only open for one more hour. The blindingly white room where the statue was exhibited was empty except for the two of us and an occasional other visitor who passed through. Matthew and I spent 45 minutes just looking, something that now seems like an incredible luxury for the parents of a 21 month old girl who gets faster on her feet every day.
My first Christmas in Italy had it’s whitness, even without snow. The ‘White Lilly’ the clean sheets on the bed, the lights hanging over the streets, the white stripes on the Duomo and the labratory white of the exhibition space. It is this white background this sfondo bianco, that I thought of this morning looking out at the snow. An horizionless space out of time where an infinitely old and etrnally young athlete is still scraping the oil and sweat from his bronze forearm, where the only point of refrence is what is present to the eyes and what is present internally. The white of snow would come the next Christmas, Robin’s first in the outside world…
Here are the pictures and the story of the fountain that Matthew carved for the piazza across the lake at Cannobio. We both agree that it looks somewhat like a Baroque Bidet but it matches the Church perfectly! The story below coincides with that which we heard from the Vescovo of the church who kindly allowed us to approach the altar and view the original painting and invited us for the festival in January. The fountain that Matthew made replaces one from the 18th century that was stolen while it was dismounted for a repaving of the piazza that was done in 2004. A photo of the original fountain is below.
The marble that the ‘new’ fountain was carved from is the pink ‘Candoglio’ which is reserved exclusively for the big cathedral in Milan…but, you know, Italian style, somebody knew somebody who could get a piece donated for this church. Matthew said that it was a pleasure to work with this stone that he would otherwise never have carved. I should have asked him for a scrap of it for the rock garden on the dashboard of my van. It is really lovely to think that he made something that, even if it’s small, should still be there in 100 years, probably more. It certainly makes us feel invested in the community.
The story of the Church of the S.S. Pietà in Cannobio and of it’s miraculous relic is as follows:
The Sanctuary of the Most Holy Pietà
The Sanctuary of The Most Holy Pietà, that stands behind the beautiful promenade of Cannobio, was commissioned by San Carlo Borromeo in about 1578 and was built on the site of a pre-existing modest Church.
It was precisely here between the 8th of January and the 27th of February 1522 that a miraculous event took place: in a humble inn, a small painting that depicted the deposition of Christ from the Cross between the Madonna and St. John the Evangelist had “come to life”, blood and tears were coming out of the painting and a fragment of human rib was sticking out from the chest.
Today, the small painting and some blood-soaked clothes belonging to those who witnessed the events, are preserved in a niche in the high altar of the Sanctuary, whereas the Holy Rib is preserved in a reliquary in the Church of San Vittore.
The building has a single nave, with a rectangular apse and an elegant dome, which was the work of the architect Pietro Beretta. The rich internal decorations date back to the 17th and 18th centuries: there are paintings, stucco and polychrome marbles.
The most valuable work is undoubtedly the altarpiece of the high altar. This is an oil on wood, which depicts the Climb to Calvary and was executed around 1540 by the renowned artist Gaudenzio Ferrari. Beneath the presbytery there is a crypt that since 1947 has been the resting place of the deserving Don Silvio Gallotti from Cannobio.
Each year, on the evening of the 8th of January (and in a less evocative manner, also on the Monday of Pentecost), there is a traditional religious ceremony, which brings the “Holy Rib” from the Parish Church of San Vittore to the Sanctuary of the Most Holy Pietà. The holy rib is brought in a procession that is lit up by hundreds of lights placed in the windows of the houses.
Le cose grandi, la vista larga, sono generiche. La costa mediterranea c’è piena di lavanda e gli altri arbusti, essiccati sotto il sole d’estate, che emanano il profumo di curry e timo. L’occhio e la bocca prèndono il sapore di qualcosa stringata ed ocra nel mezzo di questa verde bruciata. Che lascia un sapore metallico sulla punta della lingua, nel bacino della retina, nichel-cadmio, un centesimo leccato.
C’è anche il mare stesso che diffonde tutto. I piccoli sassi stanno nel fondale marino mormorando: “Zita…zita…zita…” alle onde felici e turbolente. Le onde si occupano di ridisegnare il litorale; scavano sempre più sassi per consigliare il silenzio. Alla riva, qualche sassi hanno preso il colore del rame ossidato che emerge dal caos generale di grigio striato con bianco.
Le cose chi sono particolare sono contemporaneamente universale dai terrazzi delle apertamente in affitto per l’estate: la banalità di bougainvillea e cedro; il cemento e le piastrelle; la tavola bianca, il parasole della spiega, le sedie pieghevole; i zaini stipato di teli da mare. A terra, tra i formici, sono briccole e i giocattoli di plastica. Sopra la tavola è l’ombrellone e l’ombra della farfalla circumvolante la su.
Dove è qui, esattamente? FRAMURA, frazione ANZO sopra COSTA e la stazione ferroviaria. Le sedie pieghevoli sono i tipi vecchi, fatto in legna con i meccanismi in metallo un po’ arrugginito. Una volta sono stati verniciati di bianco ma, forse l’anno scorso, qualcuno ha riverniciato un colore che il colorificio potrebbe chiamare “Cotê d’Azure”. L’ombrellone sopra la tavola è coperto in una tela rossa-ciliegia distesa sul sei stecche di legno. Un fruttuoso ramo di cedro ha invaso il spazio sotto il bordo dal ombrellone più lontano da me. Tutti i faci degli fogli chi stanno guardando sopra prendano la luce riflessa e fanno la sfumatura cromatica: rosso-rossiccio-marone-nero. Il contrasto tra il verde sotto e la superficie rossoscuro degli fogli fa ogni margine di transizione nitido come una lettera d’araba incisa in argento.
On the 15th of April 2007, I woke up at six a.m. I was, at the time, 8 months pregnant with my first (and so far only) child. Even lying very still on my side I could feel a trickle of water on the inside of my leg along with an achy squeezing sensation across the lower half of my stretched, egg-shaped belly. I thought, “Okay, this must be it.” She was a month early and also small for her gestational age but my daughter was going to be born, she had to be, like a little Moses she’d parted the water.
We live in Italy and at that time were staying in an apartment in the basement of an old mill in a valley outside of Florence. Picturesque and romantic, a wood stove for heat and a camp stove for cooking; cold running water and our friends Sandro and Adele upstairs with a working bath. I spent my mornings lumbering along the paths near the stream gathering kindling or sitting next to the stove reading. We had already rented a new apartment in Carrara and had made appointments at the hospital there to go in and get the final tests and find out what we needed to know about what to do for the birth. I remember when we visited the hospital there, as I stood outside the maternity ward, I heard a woman in labour screaming and thought, “Can it really be that bad? Maybe she didn’t prepare well? I certainly won’t be that hysterical.”
Now all of those plans and appointments were off. Matthew helped me out to the car and we started the bumpy ride up the stone paved road that led out of the valley. About half way to the nearest hospital the contractions were five minutes apart and for every other one we had to stop so that I could open the car door and throw up…it was about then that I started wondering how many more hours of this I had to go. I was excited, we would finally see her! I was worried, why was she coming early, was there something wrong? I don’t remember if I was scared.
The one comforting thought was that it would end, I tried the slow breathing, tried imagining the contraction as a squeezing wave and tried relaxing into it. All of that worked, well, sort of worked on the alternate contractions when I wasn’t having the uncontrollable, stomach-emptying, nausea. Still, there was the space in between to gather my wits and try to get my brain around the idea that the baby was finally coming.
It took us twenty minutes to reach the emergency room at Ospedale S, Maria Annunziata at Ponte a Niccari just outside of Florence. In a very brief time I had a bed in a room with about a dozen other women, some in labour, some there for tests, some there because they had a scheduled birth. They may have done a sonogram, they may have done a quick cervical check…I don’t remember. I will say now that despite having read descriptions of labour, listened to friends describe their childbirth experience, and seen preparatory films, none of it truly prepared me for the experience. I suppose that would be impossible, each labour and birth is as unique as the child that comes forth from it and the woman who experiences it.
It is true that I don’t remember the pain, per se. I remember it like I might remember a photograph, in describing it, it’s as if I were watching an almost silent film of myself. I remember more than any other sound, the sound of the monitor that kept track of the baby’s heartbeat. I remember Matthew asking the nurses and obstetricians questions, or at least I remember the sound of his voice. I remember hearing sounds come out of my mouth, and not really caring what they were, being surprised to hear myself saying in Italian, “Dio Santo, aiutami.” But mostly the beeping of the monitor and the red numbers that went up and down.
The Pocket Gallery, a contemporary artspace, has reopened with an exhibition by the Italian artist Marzia Gallinaro. This gallery, situated within the two drawers of a renovated screw-tip box, offers contemporary artists an alternative to a traditional, fixed location gallery and the complete ephemera of an internet exhibition.
Marzia’s opening was held at the popular Paduan summer night-spot, Il Chiosco (The Kiosk) on Wednesday evening. The event was well attended, and not only by the friends of the artist and gallery owner and curator, Matthew Broussard. With a sly nod to the idea of a ‘peep show’ small groups of 4 to 6 people filed in to an intimate viewing room to see the more than 100 erotic drawings that Marzia had created for the lower drawer of the gallery while many others hovered around the door craning their necks to try and see over the hunched shoulders of the chosen viewers. In the upper drawer of the gallery the ‘floor’ had been replaced with a magnifying glass marked with centimeters (never ask a carpenter how long 15 cm is). Within the span of a few hours well over 60 people had viewed the works. Four of the drawings were purchased for private collections the night of the opening.
The exhibit will be available for viewing throughout July and August both by appointment within Italy and on the Pocket Gallery website (available July 28th) which can be accessed by clicking on the link located above and to your right. Click below to watch my video of the exhibition opening…
“Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you glad to see me?” With a one-liner Sophie Tucker turns the most intimate of situations into a worldwide cultural icon. Contemporary art often plays with the tension between private and public,exhibiting as “product” the most intimate emotions: a (sometimes) refined variation on the most common marketing ploy of all. Marzia Gallinaro acknowledges this specific aspect of the Pocket Gallery and makes it her own: an art gallery is a public viewing space; but when it’s hidden…?…down there, in your pocket…? It becomes a symmetrical mirror of the tendency of contemporary are to trumpet private sentiment in public. She pokes fun at those who become voyeurs under cover of culture, and who slip into small private places (art galleries?) like pre-teens to peek at dirty pictures. Her nervous line drawing which smacks of graffiti (another public venue for private eroticism) creates a tension well suited to the paranoia (of lots of guys) at having to use a magnifying glass or a ruler… the gallery isn’t the only place where size matters.”
-Matthew Broussard owner and curator of the Pocket Gallery
The poet, Eugino Montale says, “The ancients always said that poetry / is a stairway to God”. Montale doesn’t specify if that stairway is for the reader or for the poet…he only maintains his sense of self-irony, “perhaps not if you read mine.” The thing that I take from the poem is that Montale has found (or rediscovered) that stairway through an act of intense observation, of which the writing is only a record.
Everyone has to find their own ‘why’ in their own way for how they’ve chosen to spend their life. I wonder if it isn’t even more difficult for people who have chosen to spend their lives working a 9-5 office job? I spent a lot of time trying to answer that question myself and here are the best of the many ideas I came up with.
I think that in the contemporary world acts of intense observation and consideration are few. Our world is scanned and channel surfed, flickered but not ‘seen’ in any real sense. My idea of what the artist’s job is, is to catch people’s eye for long enough that they see below the surface flood of sound and colour and scent. Even if it is only 30 seconds instead of 15 to say to themselves, “look at how intense that red is!” at least they’ve finally seen red for a half a minute instead of it not registering at all…and I, if I’m the artist, have had the pleasure of figuring out something about red in the process.
Maybe this is a stupidly simple idea of things on my part and of course has nothing to do with the practical aspects of making a life as an artist. Perhaps also hopelessly broad as it implies that anything done with attention is art (although I have to admit that I find that idea very attractive). It reminds me of the time I visited Hawaii (Kauai); there were two kinds of flower necklaces…the ones made of orchids that smelled of nothing but looked beautiful for days and the ones made of fragipani which were fabulously fragrant but brown and falling apart by the end of the day though they still smelled like heaven…two completely different ways that I experienced what flowers are, that made me ask myself questions about the nature of permanence/impermanence and beauty. What fun to ask these questions and without worrying about how many different answers there might be.
Nature has something of the same drive as artists :
“The force that through the green fuse drives the flower / Drives my green age;” (- Dylan Thomas).
The world creates and destroys in profusion and some people find a need to transform that frantic transience through observation. Our perceived world won’t hold still so artist’s give us talismans, little (or big) anchors to hold on to…others use these moments/observations a way back to or out of themselves, or to god, as they choose.
Aristotle says, “All Art is concerned with coming into being.” though I have not read enough Aristotle to say if that coming into being is the art or the artist or why either should be important…but it sure sounds nice.
Martha Graham, an early icon in modern dance said something more direct:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”
What informs our vision of past cultures of the history of the human race? Art, architecture, literature, historic chronicles, music, clothes, jewelry…all acts of observation in some sense, interior or exterior, profound or frivolous. My own experience of art is that it is more of a bridge than a stairway, and the bridge is one that is in time: from the past to me the work of other artists known and unknown speaks to me through architecture, through poetry, and yes, even through a brooch made of glass cherries…someone sat and drew, designed, that brooch in austria in the 30’s?…maybe that person is even still around? but this little piece of them has made its way into my life…it holds my shirt closed, it makes my daughter smile, it tells me something about a time when ‘beautiful’ meant something different from what i see now. Not better or more beautiful, just different. It makes me smile, it makes me think.
Obviously translating into one’s mother tongue is easier (and hopefully more accurate) than translating into a language that you’ve studied in adulthood. My daughter will be truly bi-lingual, growing up with the two languages simultaneously. I will never be, even learning Italian from the ground up with the aid of her children’s books. But I have to ask, what’s a ‘serious’ translation? Signs, labels, menus, operating instructions for military equipment, legal documents? One you’re getting paid for?
Poetry is pretty serious business language wise; a distillation of the heart of a language that stretches sense and usage to its limits, layers multiple meanings, half-meanings, wry jokes, and rhythms into the briefest possible space sometimes into a single word. For this reason poetry is almost untranslatable; a poetic translation of the work is often a re-composing in a different language that strives to maintain the tone of the original, a literal translation can easily miss the nuances of individual words (see Robert Pinsky’s translation of ‘The Divine Comedy’ vs. the classic scholastic text of Mandlebaum). Translating instructions, menus, and traffic signs is comparatively straightforward (it is perhaps because of this that overconfidence or laziness causes so many charming and laughable errors).
The wonderful thing about translating is that it opens a door between two cultures. Grazie to all those who studied Russian so that I could read “The Idiot” and “Crime and Punishment”. Despite the challenges, as a poet and a translator I take the work seriously and have had wonderful moments when my American friends read (and are interested in and excited by) the work of an Italian (or French) poet they might never have otherwise encountered and when my Italian friends start asking me who William Carlos Williams is.
I do have to extend my sympathy to Google Translate, at least they offer (along with the unintended comedy) the option of suggesting a better translation.
My desktop widget translator is worse. If I translate from English to Italian “I’m a big fan of Mike!” (even with the proper name capitalized) it becomes: “Sono un ventilatore grande del microfono!” I have now become a large exhaust fan for a microphone…pazienza