Friday, December 14, 2012

Me And Music 2

  Back in August 2011, I touched on the subject of me and music. As I said then, it's a mighty big subject.
  That particular post was all about a boy. It was a boy that brought music to the forefront of my preteen brain. What continues here is also a story about a boy...but this boy happened to be my big brother, David.

  It must have been in 1971 or so, I guess... I had gotten my first record player a few years before for Christmas...the one that I could close up and carry with me, if I wanted. All I needed were a few batteries, and I could take it into the hills, detach the speakers, and have myself a little outdoor party with tunes. It didn't have the greatest sound, and dust would scratch up the vinyl, but I still have fond memories of that first "stereo".

  Big brother David had a real stereo. He was even more passionate about music than I was, and I could hear his records playing through the bedroom walls. Led Zepplin's "Whole Lotta Love" scared me, with it's creepy noises in that long bridge part, but I liked Chicago. Good hooks and some tasty horns, too.
  David leaned more towards jazz, or the FM bands of the day that featured horns or interesting arrangements. He was in the high school jazz band and marching band, so I think that was an influence. That, and the awesome jazz my Dad turned us all onto, when we would just take a minute to listen. Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan...good roots, certainly.
  I loved listening to music on David's stereo, especially with those gigantor headphones (which have really made a comeback, btw). He shared a bedroom with our brother Richie, so there were twin beds. David and I would lie back and just chill out to the stereo sounds, taking turns listening through the headphones. Summer days gone by. I guess Richie was out playing with the younger kids, not into music yet and no way interested in hanging out with us. We did tend to torture the poor kid, so I don't much blame him. His own musical adventures were on the not-so-far horizon...

  As soon as David was old enough to drive, it's a whole new world. He and his buddies get into the routine of driving down to Berkeley, where there is an awesome used record store, just off Telegraph. Leopolds, if I remember correctly. They let me tag along, thankfully. I could take my $6.00 that I earned each month from my paper route and buy not one, but two LPs. Sweet. We would spend hours in front of those boxes stacked front to back with albums, flipping through the alphabet. Plus, being Berkeley, the people watching was the best. Magic for me, all of 12 or 13 at the time. I was entranced, to be sure.
  This was all good, and of course there was junk food involved...the drive-thru kind, most times, which was just another huge treat. I got along fine with David's pals, had crushes on one or two of them, and he had a crush or two on my pals, no doubt.. we all had a blast together. It really was good, clean fun, and I feel like those kinds of days are gone now, or maybe I just don't get out enough....anyway. Here I go, getting all teary eyed.

  As the months went by, it became increasingly apparent that I was in dire need of a "real stereo".  My LP collection was becoming larger and something to be proud of, and I felt that David was tired of me bogart-ing his stereo every time he left his room. Let's be honest. I didn't have a stereo. I had a record player.
  It was time time to step it up. I began saving every dollar I made, found, or received from relatives. When I had collected enough cold hard cash, and was beside myself with anticipation, David and his friend Tommy took me down to the used stereo place on Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley. They were crucial in helping me pick out each component: turntable, receiver, and the ever important set of big speakers. These were the days when your stereo was stacked up. Big. The speakers were furniture, you know?

  I need to admit something here and now.
  I still have one of these stereo set-ups. Really. I haven't gotten around to the iPod thingy yet. With the little "dock" and all. I know, it's almost 2013. Geez. I'm secretly waiting for those stereo systems to become the rage again. Right.....

  I had the most awesome stereo of any 13 year old ever. At least that's how it felt. And I loved it. It was used, but that's what made it so damn cool...that was how you bought your stereo back then. Really nice, top quality equipment that a normal person could afford.  Thank god for the used record and stereo stores.
  I finally had my own headphones, too. Hours spent lying on top of the bed, listening to every bloody note of every song on every album. Over and over and over. The way the music would zoom back and forth in the headphones sometimes. I could hear Neil Young's fingers moving on the guitar strings, or the breaths that James Taylor would take between lines in a song. And Keith Moon's drums. LOUD, thank you. That one-note guitar solo in "Cinnamon Girl" still slays me every time.
  Music is a magic world, and when you are at that age...that scary, amazing, overwhelming, hormone crazed age. Well. You know what I'm going on about. Music is not only a magic is the world.
It becomes your best escape, for sure. It defines who you are, and you don't have to say a word. Really.        I remember having a crush on this much older kid in the neighborhood, and I would just crank up my music and hang around outside, playing basketball or whatever. Bedroom windows wide open, speakers facing out... just on the slight chance he might hear the music and, you know, think I was the ultimate in cool and then fall in love with me. This never happened, but was the best and only way I knew how to express myself. My acned, chubby, braces on the teeth, tomboy, little fragile 13 year old self.
  Tough and together on the outside, a complete fucking mess on the inside. Still. To this day.

  Having music in common with big brother David was a glue that bound us together for years. Even though I had my own stereo, and my own tastes in music, we would still listen to stuff together, and turn each other on to something new. He remained true to his jazz, while I found myself firmly ensconced in the 70's folk/jangle rock scene, with an occasional dip into the "art rock" pool of the day.... Jethro Tull, Yes, Bowie... all so good through headphones, and even better after I started smoking pot, often with David.
  Oh, those wacky 70's. Sigh. Only to be out done by those most frightening 80's, but that is another story...

  My big brother was my best of friends back then. It was because of that music connection. My first ever live concert was James Taylor at Berkeley Community Theatre. David drove us. "Fire and Rain".  Another very special memory was our evening featuring dress up clothes (David in suit & tie, me in a long Lanz dress from my recent 8th grade graduation), dinner at Trader Vic's, and a Boz Scaggs concert at the Paramount in Oakland. Boz was touring "Moments", a favorite album of mine at the time, and this show featured a full orchestra in black tie.  It was a real big deal. There were other concerts with David through the years, but that one will always be my favorite. My big brother and I. On a "date". Pretty righteous.

  When we were a few years older, and David had gone away to college, he was introduced to The Grateful Dead. This would become a lifestyle for at least a decade for both myself and my two brothers.  But... what I hold close in my memory bank is the first time I heard them.
  David was home from school for the summer, and house sitting this amazing property down the coast. I hitch-hiked a ride down to spend an afternoon listening to music and smoking dope. It was a stunner day, and he had all the french doors open to the ocean side. The stereo was pleasantly blasting the Dead's "Jack Straw" from the album Europe '72. Was it the pot? The jaw dropping location? The perfect summer day? Whatever it was, I was a goner. Hook, line, and sinker. It was the start of a new chapter, and one that I am glad to have in this book of life, for sure.
  In just a year or two, Richie, my younger brother would become my music partner in crime, and I can't wait to delve into those time.

  I wish I had pictures to share some of these memories. In the early 70's, we didn't have our cameras at hand 24/7,  like we do now.
  So, what I picture is this:
  A brother and sister learning about life and it's myriad relationships, via their mutual love of music, and each other. It's a picture I'll be content to have close at hand to revisit on occasion, forever.



Sunday, November 18, 2012

Veggie Garden In Umbria

  Against all odds, I am trying a veg garden at home again this year. I like the fall vegetables, the carrots, beets, onions, chard, lettuces of all's a mild climate here, so we can go for it. 
  Against all odds, because every couple of years I try, and every time I am bummed when the raccoons, or birds or cats mess it all up. 
  Oh, and those f-ing earwigs try my last nerve. 
  We have gorgeous produce everywhere, but I still like the idea of going into my own little garden to pick a few things for the dinner table. What can I say... I grew up next to both sets of grandparents, and both grandpas were into it big time. 
  So I try again.
  Things were going really well, too...we made an awesome "cage" thingy to fit over the main raised bed, I put in loads of my good compost, and the gentle rains have been fabulous. We go out every day to see the beauty of the seedlings raising up out of the soil, so trim and happy. I like making rows, so the geometry speaks to my sense of order, as well. Then...wahhhh.
  I think it's the sweet neighborhood cat, Grace-Eva, that did the main damage. She must have jumped up onto the netting and busted through the top of the cage. So of course the lovely birds had their way with the seedlings. They just pluck them out like candy.
  What can I say, I'm a masochist, I guess. Every freaking time. I'll get over it, and Johnny is putting wire where the netting was, which we should have known to do from the start. Sigh. It may be too cold to start fresh, but there are still some survivors, so.....

  Anyhoo, it got me to thinking about my little veg garden at Villa Adriana this past spring. It was sure nice to have, since the place came with the garden already well on it's way, and I could add whatever I wanted. Sweet. One of the first things I did was to get some seeds to plant with Loreen, our pal that came to stay early in the trip. She is a wonderful gardener, so I thought it would be fun.

Entry path to the veggie garden, just past the grape arbor and plum tree!

An early shot, with the arugula bed in front, nothing coming up yet.
There are peas, lava beans, chard, potatoes and artichokes, too.

  It was great watching as everything thrived in the sun and rain, growing super fast. In just a few short weeks we were enjoying chard in soups, or with roasted potatoes, and we had arugula salads all the time....

Peas on left, fave on right, arugula and chard in the fore ground. 

This patch of arugula was the gift that just kept giving....

Simple salad with our favorite onion/sage "pizza" from the Panicle bakery.


A small section of the massive potato patch.

 It's a trip that I never saw any critters or bugs going after these delicacies...I know that the gardener wasn't spraying or setting nastiness around...he was mostly interested in the olive grove, anyway. I think he liked that I was doing my own thing, even weeding and watering, when needed. It was a lovely way to relax, and with that view, I mean why not?

Picking leaves from a rouge chard plant that kept coming up in the "lawn".
If I waited too long, it would get mowed by dear Renato, the gardener.

  As time went by, we were excited to realize that we would be able to enjoy the fava and peas, if not the stone fruits. The peas were heaven on a plate just warmed in a pan with a little olive oil and salt...

Oh, man.

So pretty with the sun behind them...

We even had a couple of these lovely artichokes, which we art raw, like the locals do.
The leaves are tender enough, just dip in good olive oil, sprinkle with a bit of salt.

  I've mentioned a few times here in the blog about the tradition of eating fresh, young fava beans with fresh pecorino. We stuffed ourselves, really. Our favorite place for pecorino, Fontemanna, is already in our dreams for the next trip, especially since we know we will be there again in the perfect season.

Pretty, pretty.

There were red poppies coming along all through the garden,
along with other beautiful "weeds".

The lunch we dream about.

  I don't know if we will ever be in Panicale during stone fruit season, but if we are, I know it will be an outrageously tasty time. There were several cherry, apricot, peach and plum trees on this property...all just getting ready to explode. At least we were able to see them all in full, glorious bloom...

Cherry tree from heaven...

Apricots, I do believe....

  I'm going to just keep on trying to get things going in my garden, I don't care what trys to stop me. After writing this, I'm very determined to see it through. And you'll see photos of my beets and carrots,  roasted and glistening...I really can not wait.
  Sometimes it takes a little reminding to my own self just how special it is to even have a garden...

A "last day of the trip" shot of the garden. I hope whoever came next enjoyed it as
much as we did. I think they did. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Little Variegation In The Morning

  This morning it was just so lovely in the garden...the fall light is too beautiful. Most of the garden is heading south for the winter, but the variegated plants I love so much are still rocking' right along. 
  Johnny had asked me to take some pictures of a couple of new paintings over in his studio, but I was severely sidetracked by the pretty day...with just a few minutes to go before heading off to work, I managed to get some tasty little snapshots of a few of my favorites... the theme is most definitely variegation!

New to the garden, I picked up two of these ferns in Santa Cruz. Sadly, I don't know their names..Anyone?

Another recent addition, Carex "Sparkler". I just had to get three.... I'm underplaying with
a variegated plectranthus, of course.

Starting to die back for the season, this is a fantastic "hardy geranium" that tolerates shade. I just
got it for the foliage, but it has sweet magenta colored flowers.

Another one that is dying back for winter, this is a favorite of mine, variegated Fallopia.
It has gorgeous pink-tinged new growth in spring, too.

  Since I'm a notoriously frugal, I love having plants that I can take cuttings from, and spread all over the garden. These beauties below are three of my current faves to tuck in here and there. They work well in most of the garden, and play well with each other, too.

My good buddy Tasha passed along a cutting of this ivy geranium to me, and it has just thrived everywhere.
I don't care if it blooms or not, but when it does, it's bubblegum pink.

I've written about this plectranthus before in the blog, and for good reason.
This fellow is awesome, and doesn't seem to mind shade. A real workhorse. 

I usually keep this one in pots, because it does better with regular watering. I love it.
Arrhenatherum, or Tuber Oat has little bulblettes, so easy to propagate!

Another new addition, found in 4" pots (yes!), this is a variegated Pteris fern.
Had to get a couple of these, and am waiting for some growth....

  I love the plants I can easily propagate, but have had no luck with this Coprosma "Marble Queen", below. It really chaps my hide, because I want it everywhere in the garden. Must try harder, I suppose....Anyway, below you will see a nice shot of the normal coloration, and then a weird freakish mutation. A large chunk of one of my shrubs is showing this mutation, so I'll just let it go, and see what happens. I like to think I have my own zombie plant going on here....


Zombie's that pesky plectranthus again. But I love it here among the fallen leaves of my Cersis 'Forest Pansy".

Just a regular old garden geranium, but I like it. I don't care for it's flowers, though.
Lipstick red...(shudder). Seems to be fine in partial shade, which adds points.

  As we here on the central coast of California are becoming only too aware of, water is getting very tight. We are always on restrictions, and I'm totally down with that. It's one reason why when I find a real garden trooper, I take cuttings and spread it all over the place. 
  I'm going back to my gardening youth these days, it seems, as I am adding more and more succulents to my once thirsty garden. They have made a major fashion come-back over the past several years, so why not join in the fun? Plus, as we all know, you can start with one, and like little bunnies, you'll have dozens before you know it. Speaks volumes to the cheapskate in me!

Of course, I favor the variegated types, but have many varieties through out my garden.
 Thankfully, we rarely have frost this close to the ocean...

  These final shots are of a geranium "Phaeum", not certain which. I had just about given up on it but decided to dig it out of the garden bed and baby it a little. I took the best of what was left of the original, and now very sad plant and just cut it way back. There were about 6 or 7 pieces I could see that might come back, and just look! I put the little viable root pieces in some good, fresh soil with compost and they are really thriving. I'll probable keep them in containers for awhile, until I figure out where to put them. They like water, it seems, so maybe they will stay in pots until they need to be split again.
  Can't you just see these underplanted with that plectrantus? Hmmm...or interplanted with the variegated grass from up the page aways...Hmmm...This one does have the most beautifully delicate little flower, sort of a light magenta color. Yum.

  I just had a most profound thought..well, maybe not profound... but at least sort of interesting. I I am getting older, and I can't do as much in the garden physically, and my eye site is beginning to truly suck, maybe it's this. Maybe I love my variegated plants because I have to just get right on top of them to see and really appreciate them, and they take no real care, for the most least the ones I have don't. They give back so much real pleasure just being there. 
  I can get so overwhelmed by my garden, and all the work it needs and takes...but these little fellows just sit there, being all variegated. So simple. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

More Trouble With Gnomes...

  About a week after we got back home from Umbria this year, I noticed a little fellow hanging out in the front garden. Sure, he was tucked away in a corner, keeping all to himself (and his bunny), and I was stunned into gleeful, albeit momentary, silence. A big smile spread across my face as I yelled to Johnny....
  "Baaaaby! You have got to see this!"

Really, he and his furry side kick are now living in the back garden.
Thanks C&L....!
(one is just enough, all you readers...seriously.)

  A gnome had followed us home.
  After posting about the gnomes around Umbria last year, I guess it shouldn't have surprised me. It was only a matter of time. 
  It only took a minute or two to figure out just who would actually go that extra mile and tuck one into the front yard. Yes, you know who you are, dear friends..... 

 What can I say? It started as a fun game to play while idly driving around the countryside, looking for places for Johnny to paint. I would spy them here and there, guarding front gates and gardens. Doing their little gnome-y jobs. This soon became my obsession du jour, with poor Johnny putting up with my constant yelping "stop the car!"
  Anyway, this year I tried, I really just let it go when I saw them. But I couldn't. There were too many great shots. 
  For the blog, of course. Of course! Once I had argued it all out in my little pea brain, I let go of all pretense and just had more fun with gnomes. I mean, come on...they're all around, and so damn fun to search out. 

We spotted this cool gardener gnome in Piegaro one day.

While walking around Castiglione del Lago, I saw this cheery dude with his pup in a garden..
The guy in the background didn't notice me, thankfully.

  Sometimes we'll be driving, and need to quickly pull the car over, or at least slow down. But we also spot them just taking walks around the area.  These below were all in one little spot near town. We were out on a long morning walk when we came across them. Good find.

Your eyes have to really be sharp to know what to look for. See the little white beard way up there?

Yep. And he's got pals. Bingo.

He's got lots of pals, it appears. Very odd scene, but I love it.

This one cracked us up. We were just walking around Castiglione del Lago, and there he was.
With his gal pal. And mushroom.

  Here are some of the gatekeepers, those rough and tough types that keep your property safe from harm.

Well, I just wonder what he's got in that wheel barrow. I think he's had enough, whatever it is.

It's all good.

And on the other side, the fellow who spills water all over.

This little light keeper lives in a garden in Monticchiello.

  This window display below we must have driven past bunches of times, before I noticed the group hanging out here. It was the colorful petunias that drew my eye, then we had to pull over to get the shot.

A real treat.

My hands-down favorite of this particular bunch. He's just so goofy.
Well, it is Dopey.

Another light keeper, just hanging out on the front porch. Waving "Ciao" to everyone.

 Ok. We went for this wonderful drive up over the ridge to Citta di Castello one day. On the way back home, we stopped at the mountain top bar/cafe for a sunset glass of wine. The views were amazing, the lake looked gorgeous way below, and it was just so pleasant. I swear, the last thing on my mind were gnomes. Honest, I wasn't even trying....
  But then...

From the front....

...and from the back.

  This year I really tried to get more shots of the whole gang, Snow White & The Rest Of Them. Known in Italy as Biancaneve e i sette nani. I think I had seen them all maybe only once, and felt lucky at that. We wandered a little further afield this year, for sure. But I had a mission, and I was stickin' to it. 
  Oh, if I'd only stopped while I was ahead..... before the trouble.

Nice and bright group here. Very, um, citrus-y. Near the fishing museum in San Feliciano.

Though the woman of the house is missing, I feel the lovely espalier rose fills in nicely.
We were at the farmer's market in Magione, going back to the car.

Johnny scoped out this total score all on his own. Very bright bunch.
Castiglione del Lago.

Spied this lovely group in front of a trattoria in Cortona.
 I've always loved Dopey.

  I just want to say that I love this scene below. There is something just so bizarre about the Mother Mary shrine, with the little party going on below. This was a really sweet garden, too.  We were out near Pietrafitta that day. Just taking a drive...

A drive-by shot that isn't great, but...I still had to have it.

One day, while driving around the area, we stopped into the very beautiful village, Monte del Lago. It's a great place to spend a little time while you are visiting Lago Trasimeno. The town sits above the lake and has spectacular views.
  We were walking around just relaxing, doing some serious "hand-holding", when I saw this group across a bit of lawn. I just think it has a certain poignancy. I know, it's silly, but it seems a little sad. And beautiful...
  Have I gone over the Sette Nani edge? Uh-oh...

A little something extra in this group. Wistful, maybe.

A cheerier bunch closer to home. These we found in Panicarola.

 Well, if you have made it this far with me, I have a story of woe to share, here at the end.
  I went too far. Got too comfortable in my role as "photographer abroad". I forgot my place, and pushed it beyond social acceptance.
  Do I have to explain? You know what I did, right? No? Well, let me tell you. I got in trouble with the gnomes. The shot below...the last photo? It most likely is the last photo I ever take of my friends, the sette nani.

  It started out like any other day trip, just cruising around, doing a whole lot of nothing. We had gone shopping for groceries at the coop, and were just driving around aimlessly, if I remember correctly. And, oh, I do remember correctly. I still get all red with blushing, and an uncomfortable warm feeling of embarrassment every time I think about this. We were just killing time, waiting until GMB opened, so we could stop for a glass of vino before heading home. It was a nice afternoon.
  That's when I saw them.
  Yes, this big, happy party going on under a great big fir or pine tree. Whatever. I had to stop. Had to have Johnny pull the car over. I'll admit, he'd been warning me...I was taking too long for the perfect picture the last few times we'd stopped. I needed to be quick, snap it and be done. Ideally, not even get out of the car.
  But no, I was getting all pro-photo-girl with it. Taking it way too seriously. In this I was sooo wrong. I didn't realize that I was playing a game I didn't know the rules to. It was bound to happen eventually. And it did.

  It was a tough picture to get, hard to get the whole gang into one great shot. So I was getting closer, moving in, trying different angles, when the screen door opened and a large, angry looking man started asking me what I was doing. In Italian, of course. I tried to explain, in Italian, (ha ha) that I was taking photos of his wonderful collection. "I love the sette nani!", I was saying, big smile on my face. This had worked every time before. No problem. Hey, I'm lovable! I'm a harmless tourist! I have a blog!
  Yeah, tell that to the polizia.
  It was awful. It was so awful. He was really peeved.... and of course he didn't understand. All he knew was that there was some crazy American lady on his property taking photographs, while a car idled nearby, ready to zoom off at any moment. I'm an idiot. What did I expect? Oh, man.
  As I apologized over and over, backing away towards the car, he followed, angry and confused. He was yelling, and it was not good.
 And Johnny was mad, too. For every good reason. Really, I'm an idiot. Ay-yi-yi. (right now, I'm getting all embarrassed again, just thinking about this)

  This was a good lesson learned, my traveling friends. I do know better, that's what bothers me the most. 99% of folks are lovely, and don't mind. Hell, this man may have been fine, if I could have explained and apologized more. Mister Man, I'm really sorry I scared you and upset your lunch and afternoon....really.
  Totally my bad, on this one. And no, there were no polizia, thank god.

  So. Enjoy this picture, and remember to listen to your inner, smarter self, when out and about in the world.....We all have our boundaries.

Was it worth the price? Lesson learned. Big time.