Saturday, August 20, 2011

Me And Art 2

  We live a life surrounded by art. We all do. Sometimes it's more obvious than other times, but just take the time to pop into a local museum or gallery every once in a while to remind yourself. The more you expose yourself to art in these types of venues, the more you will notice that art is all around us, all the time.
  Art is, of course, highly subjective. My tastes run the gamut, but I especially respond to color, texture, sound and even humor, in many cases. As long as there is something to respond to, please. I try not to be too critical (if I see one more freaking wave crashing at sunset....), because there should be something for everyone, I guess (did I really just write that?). 
  This being said, here are some more examples of favorites from the '07 & '09 Venice Biennale(s?).      As in my first post about "Me & Art 1", I (cheeks blushing with shame) don't have all the names of the artists. These are just more pieces that made a lasting impression on me.

From 2007  Artist:Leon Ferrari
One of the first things we saw...

   Below are 3 works that I just loved... I think they were ink on paper. Super tiny, detailed images. The one in the middle is a detail of a much larger piece that was an entire little world of bitty people walking, sleeping, sitting... very cool. Plus, I love how they have been folded, and still have the creases.

Cars on the road

Little people living little lives.

Birds flying

 Ok, these sculptures below, by Austrian artist Franz West appeal hugely to the adolescent boy that lives just below the surface of my middle aged lady skin.
  I'll let you figure out why.

I mean, come on, what's not to love?
Plus, these were gigantic.

 This sculpture below was one of several kinetic pieces. The movement in this one allowed the figures to meld into each other, over and over again. There was lovely music playing, too

  German artist, Sigmar Polke, is a favorite of mine. These were really great, and I loved how you could see through to the structure of the stretcher bars that held the painting surface. I have to admit, I really wanted to tap on these to see what they would sound like. The painting surface was like skin on a drum. I resisted. Sigh. So many temptations in the art world.

Two fantastic and giant sized  Sigmar Polke paintings.
I'm pretty sure they were done on some kind of mylar or resin, not canvas. 

  In one of the main pavilions, there was a sort of hall way that you walked through, covered in "blackboard". Artist Dan Perjovschi from Bucharest, Romania did his thing here, in chalk. He is known for covering spaces with his drawings and cultural comments. These photos show a very small portion of the entire piece. The walls and ceiling were covered...

Perfect for the Biennale!

So simple, so true...

  The Italian Pavilion featured Georg Baselitz and the deceased Emilio Vedova in 2007. Below are a couple of the Baselitz paintings that I really liked. When we returned in 2009, we were pleased to see that there is now an entire museum dedicated to Vedova. I especially like the simple black palette and super looseness of the paint.

Georg Baselitz


More Baselitz. Love these.

  Ok, this installation below is by a Polish artist, Monika Sosnowska. It was in the Polish pavilion in 2007.  I think this was about architecture that fails, or is done in an absurd way... It's sort of the frame of a house, smashed into the too small space of the room. I remember walking all through it and loving the idea of it.

Of course, I wanted to climb all over it, but sadly my grown-up self intervened. Damn.

  Also from the Polish pavilion, this bizarre and wonderful installation of bags of cement, slowly leaking out onto the floor. I think the thing that captured me was the stain of the cement on the wall. I just really liked this one. I don't remember what was going on with the videos. I'm sure it was an important element of the piece, but it was the cement bags that got me.


  From the Romanian pavilion, the work below really stuck with me. It's a loomed decorative wall rug. The artist is Cristi Pogacean, and it refers to "The Abduction of the Harem", a popular motif used on Romanian wall hangings. Of course, this image is a rif on a photo from the TV news of Romanian journalists and their Islamic captors. 

  What is not to adore about this lovely little boat on a sea of colored glass shards. It was filled with water, and it rocked slowly back and forth. It was in a small room, all by itself, in the middle of the garden area. There was also beautiful, haunting music. I could have stayed and stared at it all day. It totally mesmerized me.


  Are you still with me? Almost done... 
  The final two images are from artist Aaron Demetz, in the Italian pavilion, 2009. The sculptures are each carved from one piece of hardwood, then dripped with sap, I think. There were several of them,  
and they were at least life-sized. With the low lighting, and the far off stares in their eyes, they mad a big impression...

Kind of scary, mostly serene

Seen in full, these were truly amazing sculptures.

  Well, that was a fun re-visit to the biennale, for me anyway. We don't know if 2011 is in the cards for us, but we'll keep swinging, and who knows?
  The Venice Biennale runs through November 27th, in case you are so lucky to find yourself in the area.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

In Florence

  The first time we went to Florence, we were with my Mom and Dad. We were staying together for several days in a great place they had rented. We had planned to travel some on our own, and then spend  some quality time together before heading back home to the states. 
  We had been in Paris for a week, and took the night train to Florence. It was great. I booked a sleeper, and though it was near impossible to sleep, the experience is one I will never forget. As I dozed at one point in the upper bunk, Johnny whispered from below "are you awake? Look out the window..." I could see we were passing by a lake, with snow capped mountains all around. The moon must have been close to full, because the reflection on the water was magic. All around the lake were the tiny lights of small villages along the shore. We were going through the alps, of course, on our way into Italy.
  After being picked up at the station by M&D(hugs, hugs.... in Italy! Together!), and settling into our new digs with the parents, we just chilled for a day or two, taking short drives to nearby villages for all the best goodies. To this day, 7 years later, Johnny still waxes poetic about the alimentari in Inno... he can still see the classic little nonna bringing out a "fresh from the oven" focaccia, salted and glistening with olive oil. Honestly, he would hop on a plane this instant for that focaccia. Also, the donkey outside.
  We took off on our own for awhile, but came back to Villa Lysis and my folks, to spend the last of our trip with them. That's when we went to Florence the first time. I still can't believe how well my Dad drove around that place. It's intimidating enough for us on the back country roads, but he knew how to get in and out of Florence... and where to park. Fortunately, Florence is a great walking town, and you can easily get to most of the big sights on foot, once you've parked. 
  The day we spent with M&D in Florence, they took us to one of their favorite places, Osteria Bella Donna, on Via Bella Donna not too far from the train station. We had a fabulous lunch together. I remember a raw zucchini salad that just killed. The zucchini had been grated, salted, and tossed in a simple vinegar and oil.. we have tried to recreate this, but no can do. 
  We always go back to Bella Donna, and it is now a fave of ours, too. We had dinner our first night in Florence on this past trip in March, and loved it like always. Sadly, the photos are just horrid. The lighting was way too low for good food shots... next time we'll do lunch instead of dinner, or sit outside. I will be happy to share it then. I did enjoy a wonderful raw artichoke salad. Thin, thin slices of small artichokes, simply tossed with olive oil and lemon, served with slices of pecorino on a bed of arugula. Yum. Tri-colored pasta with porcini, of course. Very tasty. Perfect. Johnny had arugula topped with slices of soft Toma cheese and pine nuts. His pasta was pici with artichokes and a little cream sauce. Shockingly, he ordered a side dish of roasted potatoes. I jest. Johnny is a man who loves his carbs. It was all so good!
  The next night, our very last night in Italy, 2011(so far, that is... it's only August...), we stumbled onto a restaurant that we now know to be really popular. We had spent the day climbing The Dome, shopping for dried porcini and candies to bring home, going to Johnny's favorite art store Zecchi, and hiking over the Arno to see the views from the Piazzale Michelangiolo. We had a great time hoofing it all over town, seeing all we could, stopping for espresso and vino, taking in our final hours of a five week adventure to end all adventures. It was April 1st, the weather was sweet, sweet, and we were just filled up with it all. 
  As the afternoon wore on, we took time to walk back to our hotel to freshen up, and headed back over the Ponte Vecchio and into the Oltrarno district. The other side of the river. I had read about the Piazza Santo Spirito, and wanted to just check it out. On the way, we spotted another tiny piazza, Piazza della Passera. There wasn't much to it but a couple of cafes and a gelateria. We stopped and had a glass of wine at the very tiny, charming Caffe  degli Artigiani. Sitting outside, it was just warm enough and we had fun people watching. 

Small, local, and totally buzzing! Outdoor seating around the side, on the right.

I just love the Italian bar scene! Small, but mighty.

  We finished our wine and moved on to the larger, and quite lovely, Piazza Santo Spirito. It wasn't very far. There were loads of people around, some young folk playing guitars, little kids riding tricycles and kicking balls, the usual bench of Nonne.... it was probably one of the first nice evenings of the season. Everyone was out and about. We liked it. We sat for a long time watching these two "carbinieri" (police), one a young woman, the other a young man. They were having the best time chatting with each other, and everyone who stopped by. It was classic. I imagined they must be talking about food, because of the hands moving this way and that, and all the smiles and laughing. Tough, tough job. Great uniforms, too.
  After yet another glass of wine, we walked around, but I didn't take to any of the trattorias in this piazza... in fact, I think there was a little fight over it. But I just knew I wanted to go back to the tiny piazza we had been to earlier. Back we went, and we were lucky we did. We did not have a reservation, but we still got an outside table at Trattoria 4 Leoni, in Piazza della Passera. We were lucky. It was totally booked, and not too many people wanted to eat outside, as it had cooled down a lot. We were happy, had sweaters, and there were tables. No Problem! The outside quickly filled with other people like us that didn't have reservations.. Who knew? We had found a most popular and well loved gem. Lucky us.

The entry.

  Scoping out the menu, which was only in Italian... very good sign... I found several tempting dishes to try. Johnny was craving pasta with red sauce, simple, no cream, no mushrooms, just plain old red sauce. Other than that, he let me order.  
  A carafe of house white, thank you, and I had a plate of grilled vegetables with house made burrata, still slightly warm. To - Die - For. The veg were grilled perfectly, still a little crunchy, but grill marks of caramelized goodness. I loved that there was raddicchio. All were seasoned just right. Creamy burrata heaven.

I kid you not, I ate every bite on this plate. Hey, we walked MILES that day.

  For Johnny, I ordered an amazing salad- chunks of avocado and caciotta (a mild Italian cheese) served in a beautiful cabbage leaf with spinich and arugula, drizzled with a pesto dressing and topped with pine nuts. Johnny loved it, and I think he even ate the cabbage. The house wine was just great.

Isn't this pretty?

  For my main dish, I had gnudi. Gnudi are kind of like gnocchi, but little or no potato. There are different kinds, too. These were made with ricotta cheese and spinich. Probably an egg to bind them. A little nutmeg in the seasoning. They are very carefully brought to an almost boil, so they don't fall apart while they cook. These were gently tossed in butter and sage. What is not to like? Nothing. I loved my  gnudi!

Let's get gnudi!

  As he asked for, Johhny had a very simple penne pasta with a perfectly made pomodoro sauce. He was as happy as he could be.

Simple, and it looks really good right now. Think I'll be making pasta this weekend....

  Since it was our last night and all, we had to have a little treat. No, not sweet, that would be later. We both spied the "carciofi fritti" on the menu as a side, and could not resist fried artichokes, especially after seeing plates of them going by to other tables. These were dee-vine. I don't know how they did it, but these were really crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside. Not crispy, crunchy. And creamy. Oh, and just a little salty. The triumvirate of food I crave the most. I want a plate of them right here, right now. I'm not kidding. And none of those ridiculous dipping sauces. Just nutty, rich artichoke flavor to enjoy.

Do these look good, or what?

  It was a perfect meal to end a perfect trip, and one we won't forget. As the night went on, the piazza kicked into gear and really came to life. Loads of families were out, kids running around with gelato from the fantastic gelateria across the way. Young people hanging around the bar we had stopped at earlier in the evening, with music playing just loud enough to make you feel really vital. We sat enjoying and soaking in the scene for a little while. We realized there were customers yet to get tables, and asked for "il conto, per favore". 
  After paying, we scooted over to the gelateria ourselves, but the door was now closed. Madonna! What a tease! Oh, wait... the young scooper had just popped over to the bar for a moment, and was soon back behind the counter, with a line quickly forming. We wanted in, so in we joined. The little bitties in line had a heck of a time deciding on which flavors to get, so why not two? It was good fun, all around. And it seemed like a real neighborhood scene, too. I love how families are out at ten, eleven at night, with the kids. Just hangin' in the piazza, with everyone else from the neighborhood. All the parents keeping eyes on all the kids. All the kids running around like bitty demons. 
  As for the sweet treat? If I remember, I had my favorite, hazlenut. Of course it was fantabulous. Johhny loved his pistachio.  Honestly, next time you are in Florence, spend an evening in the Oltrarno, and especially in Piazza della Passera. A little heaven on earth.

Gelateria della Passera. A must. All hand made, seasonal and small batch.
  We didn't want to go back to the hotel, because that would mean our trip was over. So, we walked back over the Arno, through Piazza della Repubblica, all around the Cathedral and Dome. Just squeezing every last moment out of this last night. The lights at night make it all so dreamy and golden. We did come across a wonderful, last night sort of scene at like, midnight.... from the side entrance of the Cathedral, in a long line, were all these black clad and hooded figures, heads downcast, hands clasped together, walking slowly and silently up the steps and into another door across the way. Not scary, just solemn. Who were they? No idea. But it was an excellent way to say good night to one of the world's great cities.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Little Vignettes

   Ok, I'll admit it. I'm just sitting here at the gallery, browsing photos of our garden and outbuildings. Sometimes I forget the little secrets around the garden. Everyone notices the big show: roses, clematis, water features, veg garden, etc.
   Johnny is so good at putting little vignettes together. I'd like to think I am, too. When we first started "nesting", we were constantly going to antique stores, garage sales and local flea markets. It was all about the hunt, as anyone who collects stuff knows. It didn't take long to have too much stuff, but that's an ongoing problem I will eventually deal with. One of these days I will get down to it and see what ebay is all about. I'm going to make someone very happy, too. There is an entire room in our very tiny house that is full of the stuff we need to move along. Granted, there is alot of "junque", but also some cool little diamonds in the rough. It's all for that garage sale I never seem to have. Or ebay, which I never explore. Sigh. Not quite "Hoarders", but let's just say I keep that particular door closed. (How could it get so dusty in there? Just asking...)
  These days we don't bring much into the house. After all, we are always saving for the next trip. Cute set of vintage 40's juice glasses? Yeah.... but really, do we need them? That could be 3 great meals at our favorite tavola calda in Umbria! We already have juice glasses, anyway. We use them for wine. Instead, we watch all the shows that feature other people spending money on vintage finds. It works for us.
  Sooooo, instead of checking out ebay, here I am, sharing some sweet scenes with you all. Thanks to you, I get to feel like I am doing something creative, and while away the time not doing what I should be doing.
  Good thing here at the gallery there are no "shoulds". It's great to be the Queen. Enjoy.....

We have a thing for monkeys. I love the trippy glass globe that turns everything
upside down. It was my Uncle Frank's.

We also collect bird images of all kinds...we named our house "Cento Uccelli",
One Hundred Birds, in Italian

More birds.....

A little spot in the outside studio/garden pavilion/dining room.

An artistic corner in the studio. 
Johnny made this clock, and it worked for a long time. It's still pretty neat.

In my potting shed.  That's a hammer from my Grandpa Dottie's garage. I'm so glad
I have it, and several of his old garden tools.

Another shot from the potting shed. Sadly, it's in dire need of a cleaning right now.  Seeing it like
this really inspires me to do a good brush up.

Monday, August 1, 2011


   There are two activities in life that bring me right back to childhood: riding a bicycle and swimming. As kids, my brothers and I spent countless hours doing both. (Sadly, never at the same time. Oh, well... that would have been a good one.) The local community pool was our #1 hang out all summer long. Not only were we on the swim team, our Mom was a lifeguard and swim teacher. We would all head down to the pool at, like, 7am and not come home until dinner time. At least that's what I remember.
  The day would start with Mom teaching swimming lessons. I would sometimes get to help teach in the baby pool. It was more like baby-sitting in shallow water, but I always felt like a grown up when I got to do this. I was probably 9 or 10 at the time. Little bitty kids are big on pooping in the pool. I guess that's what all the chlorine was for. And the pee, of course. (The baby pool was a scary place.)
  By summers end my brothers and I had hair the color of fresh hay...I miss that. I also miss the wonderful smell of your skin, all chlorine-y and warm with sun.
  At noon, everyone had to get out of the pool for an hour, so the swim team could practice. Lap after lap after lap... backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle. That was our life for the summer. Expectations were high, too. We all wanted the Blue Ribbon, first place. I still have a bunch of my old ribbons in a box somewhere. Lots of blue, red and white.
 After swim team practice, we would have some lunch, sit out for awhile so we would avoid cramps, and dive back in to play for hours. Once the general public was allowed into the pool, it was mayhem. The sound of all those screaming, splashing kids... Mom's whistle blowing "No Running" every 5 minutes... the big kids jumping off the high dive... a beautiful cacophony.
  On nights when there was a swim meet, Mom would fix us the same meal... chipsteak and cottage cheese. The cottage cheese was served with a half of a canned peach, a dollop of mayonnaise and paprika sprinkled on top. We would have to eat early, like 4pm or so. During the swim meet, about halfway through, we were allowed to get some jello from the snack counter. Sometimes Mom would have a chocolate bar that she would snap pieces off of to give us, or she would give us whipped honey by the spoonful. It was all about protein and energy to keep us going into the long night of competition. My favorite part was at the end of your race when Mom or Dad would be at the end of the pool with a towel to wrap you up in. We were always treated like winners, no matter what.
  There were games we played under water. My girlfriends and I would go under water, look at each other and say something. You would try to guess what the other kid was saying. We would crack each other up. We would hide from each other, like hide and seek, only under water. Mostly I enjoyed being on my own, pretending I was a dolphin, zooming in and out, all around, under water... trying not to run into anyone's legs. When you got tired, it was a treat to lay out on the hot cement, the sounds of summer going off all around you. I loved watching the drops of water run off my face onto the cement, real close up, drying almost instantly. And the smell of the warm, wet cement..... those summer smells that are right there, waiting in your memory bank.
   Bad things happened, too. My older brother, David, almost drowned one summer. He and a pal were playing "who can swim the furthest under water on one breath". After being spotted lying at the bottom of the deep end, he was pulled to safety, and the paramedics were called. He ended up in the hospital for a couple of days, and it was very touch and go. We stayed at Grandmas, waiting to hear what was happening, too young to understand how very serious it really was. He was lucky, and we all live with that scary memory.
  One summer, I had a job cleaning the pool at night, after everyone went home. I must have been 14 or 15. I would have the whole place to myself, and even got to go into the boys showers. It was fun, and scary, too. I could totally creep myself out... all those mirrors and lockers. I enjoyed being able to go "night swimming" all by myself, with the lights turned off. That was when I really could be a dolphin. That gig all ended one night when a bunch of older boys showed up. They ruined everything. I was ok, but from the small hill above, they threw big rocks and bottles at me, and into the pool, glass breaking everywhere. I had to call the police. Looking back, it was the end of childhood, in a way, for me. I haven't thought about that night in a very long time, and don't remember what happened afterwards.
  I still love to play in the water, but don't get the chance very often. I tried doing the adult swimming thing at the local college and sports clubs. Talk about taking the fun out of it... I just can't get into swimming laps anymore. I guess it's all those years of doing it as a kid. The last time I got into the water for some good, clean fun, was in 2008, at the cabin. A short, sweet little splash around in the creek. Before that, it was 2006, in Vernazza, Italy.
  We had enjoyed a raucous evening with some locals. What a party... food, wine, some crazy homemade grappa, big old bon fire, hours of incomprehensible Italian...Big Fun. The next morning, before the sun came up, we were still buzzing from the experience. Vernazza is located on the Ligurian coast, the Mediterranean Sea right there. We headed down to the water's edge before sunrise, Johnny worried he may have to save me, God forbid, and me all excited to swim before the sun came up. It was awesome. I thank my dear friend Tasha for this once in a lifetime experience. She had done something similar, and her story stuck in my mind.
  While Johnny watched from a safe distance (he does not swim), I stripped down to my undies and dove off a big rock. The water was cold, dark, and wonderful on my skin.... all of my years as a dolphin came rushing back to me and I felt that freedom you only get to feel when you are 10 years old and it is summertime.