Garbage (this grass is not greener)



Bella l’Italia!   Shiny square pavement stones in antique piazzas, ornate iron balconies, yellow plastic buckets; street market with colorful produce, green plastic buckets, brown plastic buckets, yellow plastic buckets; strollers out for the passeggiata, cool evening breeze, blue plastic buckets, green plastic buckets, gray plastic buckets; shop windows glowing (yellow plastic bucket, gray plastic bucket, blue plastic bucket) with interesting merchandise;  people at the cafe drinking (blue plastic, yellow plastic, green plastic, gray plastic) Campari and having appetizers; narrow (gray plastic bucket)streets  (yellow plastic bucket) lined  (blue plastic bucket) with….yellow plastic buckets, blue plastic buckets, gray plastic buckets, brown plastic buckets…what is that horrible smell?.. green plastic buckets, another row of  plastic buckets and more plastic buckets after those.  A conga line of plastic  covering every few feet of sidewalk;  a colorful and crowded PVC parking lot.


Hoorah, we have solved the garbage problem!   Here in Bernalda the local movers and shakers have decided, thanks to some obscure European directive and an excess of optimistic organizing zeal, (and remember that Hell itself has Italians as the organizers, while its  chefs are all British)  that modern society’s embarrassing effluvium must be sorted.   Ah!  What green thoughts!   Let us by all means sort.   Let us follow the Progressive operational thought pattern  which places all emphasis on hopes,  dreams, and injudicious optimism, and none on final outcome.   It is the thought that counts!

We have been issued buckets.   Each household will have a green one, a yellow one, a blue one, a gray one, a brown one.   One for glass and metal which must be clean (washing out the dogfood cans is one of my favorite tasks, and do not forget to remove the paper label!) or it will never be picked up.   One for clean plastic.   (I said clean, so get out the soapy water again to wash out that juice bottle!)   If the plastic is deemed unclean, it will never be picked up.  One for paper, and yes, dare I say it must be clean paper, no used paper here.  No oil spots, no soap residue, no pizza stains.   The bucket will be shaken, and if the music isn’t right it will not be emptied.  It will be opened for inspection, and if failed, it will not be collected.   One for organic detritus, which accounts for the smell factor.   And lastly, one for “indifferentiated” items.  This describes all other refuse which is either stained, greasy, of mixed materials, or otherwise not identified items (I will let your immagination run wild here, but remember babies don’t wear diapers for fashion).

We have all been hired for a new job!   It takes a chunk out of the day, sorting through the garbage in order to place it in the appropriate cannisters.   And here is the most diabolically clever  part of the plan:  Each cannister is to be picked up on a different day!   So if, like us, you live at the end of a long country road, there is the obligation to carry UP the correct bucket for that day, and carry BACK  yesterday’s color to fill again.   Of course, while the wait ensues for the “waste managers” to arrive you will need yet another bucket as a temporary receptacle.  This system is particularly noxious when the summer temperatures are high and the organic refuse becomes a petri dish producing alarming odors. *   Where there are wild dogs and hogs and cats…some extra clean-up will also be required by the homeowner.

Need I add that the “waste managers” are not punctual?

If we understand our own human natures,  might the outcome  (in a country where garbage collection has been problematical even back when it involved tossing a full plastic bag into a dumpster) be predictable?   Yes.   The roads, the back streets, the countryside is filling with garbage.   People are lazy, people do  not have the time, some people are jerks, people have lives which don’t allow for hours a week to sort through malodorous collections of  s**t.   The irony is that while a brand new dump (it helps if there is a sign which declares dumping illegal) can generate spontaneously  in a flash, the New System does not allow the “Waste Managers” to pick up any garbage that is not pre-sorted!  It is a Goal! for the rats.

If a bag or cannister is deemed unworthy because of an ominous tinkling on “Paper Day” then imagine what a new roadside amalgamation’s destiny will be?   Yes.   To grow, to decay, to spontaneously (or not) combust,   to join hands eventually with another pile and create a hellish landscape for the enjoyment of locals and tourists alike.   La Bella Vita indeed.   So far I have seen general amnesia on the part of manufacturers, who continue to package otherwise insignificant items in multiple wrappings; aluminum packets around tin cans in “economical” bundles enclosed in cardboard…which somehow (since we have convinced ourselves that “Now we can just recycle it!”)  have multiplied and diversified.   I remember when bottles were reused and a big bag of aluminum or steel could be traded for cash.  This arrangement also magically contributed to roadside cleanliness and the development of a work ethic in youngsters.  But I digress into logic…


Italy is a country that thrives on its tourism.   Of course I have thought this through, as have others,  and we have our ideas, any of which would be superior to this new  “solution.”  I am amazed, disillusioned, and embarrassed.   I try not to think about the first impression that streets lined with ugly plastic bins and piles of garbage in between has on tourism.  Or it could be that tourists here, having heard about Naples and its garbage debacle for years, just take it in stride.   Do they expect things to be this way?   This is more depressing than imagining their reactions as shocked and appalled!

I could go on, but I have some toothpaste tubes to dismantle and my cannellini cans should have been soaking long enough now to remove the labels before I wash them out with soap…and I forgot to burn the pizza boxes in our fireplace.  And today is “green.”**


*Of course, living in the country with dogs, chickens, and a compost pile, this isn’t our particular problem. But most live in apartments and houses in town.

**By “green” I mean the color of the bucket.



Tempus Fugit

I have been away from writing for  a while, some might say I had been “busy,” and I have been, but mostly I have been distracted by the daily to-and-fro-ing of life.  My life especially, half here, half where?    And there is too much entry-level information swarming around;  in two languages it is very distracting.

Has anyone else practically given up reading books as I have?   We should all shed a tear for what we are missing, even with our Kindles and our  constant connection to the cacophony of Nothing-really-important-but-all-very-interesting-indeed!”   The equation “more info=less knowledge” is terrifying.

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There are a lot of people in Italy who don’t read much, if at all.  It is not coincidental that the most extensive initial market saturation of cell phones was in Italy, or am I drawing an unscientific conclusion?  In the area where I live, finding a reader is rare, and even these few have lamented that their electronic connections have all but extinguished the activity  of reading for them, too.  You can leave your spare books on the curb, but nobody will take them.

N-111 Gadget 1

I titled this collection of small paintings the “Fugue” series, because the scientific definition of the word seems to describe our current predicament poetically.  Not in the musical sense, but in psychiatry, it means “a period during which a person suffers from loss of memory, often begins a new life, and, upon recovery, remembers nothing of the preceding amnesia.”  Or “a dreamlike altered state of consciousness, lasting from a few hours to several days, during which a person loses his or her memory for his or her previous life and often wanders away from home.”   

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How will we know what we are missing?  Is what we know inevitably less important than what we don’t know?  The Italian verb for “to escape” is fuggire.   Tempus fugit!   And since it does, why do we suddenly feel that our lives are as full or fuller than they have ever been, simply for the presence of exponentially-increasing electronic pleasantries?  And Italians are feeling the effects more acutely, I imagine, as their entire incredible history evaporates before their eyes, a  mirage of fading greatness which, like water, is leveling out into a flat, expansive, colorless sea of…nothing much.  It is finding its lowest point, for sure.
N-112 Gadget 2
I had intended to write about archaeology, and the dig which shaped my early years here.  But in remembering the thrill of digging down through history, I began to wonder if people in the future will repeat it, as the famous saying goes?   If we are too distracted to read through a written account, a book, a few pages, one article…how will we arm ourselves in order to avoid repeating our blunders?   What will we miss?
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Will the harpies come and carry us off because we wandered away from home, not caring anymore about what was happening outside of our tiny  corn-fed cosmos?

Another great show opening!

Thanks to everyone who came to the opening, and especially to Sam Yeates whose work is half of the event, and quite wonderful.  The show at Davis Gallery will be up until about mid-November, so we hope you all can make it!  Meanwhile, below are some of the pieces of my work that are in the show.

The Davis Gallery is located at  837 West 12th Street, in Austin, Texas.

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L-315 (2)


L-317 (2)
















N-59 (7)

N-59 (8)





N-99 HH Clitoris

N-105 Lady Parts

N-106 Feeding

N-107 Package


N-110 Gadget 4

N-111 Gadget 1

N-112 Gadget 2

N-113 Gadget 5

N-114 Gadget 3

N-115 Gadget 7

N-116 Gadget 8





L-248 River Slice 2








A death here, a death there…(part one)

We shift our eyes away  and sidle toward  another subject if we can. But I believe most of us are curious about our inevitable demise, (of course we are curious about our own, but who can we ask?)  and it is particularly enlightening to observe how other cultures deal with IT, when the time comes. Our customs, naturally,  say a lot about us.

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“Rusty Gate”  oil on canvas, 40 x 38 inches

My mother passed away recently, and my father followed her by only a few months. We lost my husband’s parents, my brother-in-law, a couple of friends, all  in the past few years.   So I have had occasion to experience the contrasts in how we treat our dead, those mysterious  and terrifying leftovers of the people we once loved.

My mother was efficient in her passing, not one to needlessly draw out her time in the spotlight.  After all, she wasn’t discussing politics.  We called the “funeral home,”  that most uncomfortable term,  and a soulful duo appeared, he tall and she short, demure and helpful ravens in swooping black coats.  Disguised in a black zippered bag, she was rolled away, negotiating the doorways on her last exit from her home.     Since my mother’s specific request was not to have any viewings, a practice she considered crass and an  indulgence of base human curiosities, we never saw her again.   Our dealings with the funeral folks were short and sweet, just a subdued shuffle around the casket car lot, the exchange of documents and signing of checks, and off she went on her final flight to her  resting place in Oklahoma.  She  told me that the term “at rest” would soon mean much more to us as we put on years.  She was tired.    As to the preparations carried out in the facility, the less known the better.  I think we all understand that the ultimate, “prepared” version of our deceased relatives is nothing if not husk-like.   When my father followed her, the mechanics were the same, although his hospital death  allowed for even less family participation, making the “undertakings”  even more obscure.  He would have appreciated the pun.

Here in Basilicata things are different.   There is no “funeral home.”  Among the first  to know will be the local printers shop, who will prepare the black and white  manifesti*  which will go up around town before the deceased begins his or her preparations for departure.   Provisions for the body’s burial are entirely the responsibility of the closest relatives, and  home is where the funeral starts.   Those preparations usually involve  washing and dressing, maybe shaving, combing the hair and placing the hands upon some treasured item.  There is no embalming.   The household where the deceased lived prepares for visitors by placing the body in a central position, usually on the dining room table, and chairs are circled around the periphery of the room  in anticipation of a day of visitations by friends and relatives.  We arrive, are greeted, a hug or  a nod, a few words, and we find a chair and sit down.   Sometimes a daughter, a brother will be carrying on a long conversation with the deceased, softly  murmuring, chuckling, or more rarely, tearfully grasping at  clothing or swaying from side to side.     There is hushed conversation between visitors, mostly remembrances of episodes in the life of the  departed, but sometimes wholly unrelated to the matter at hand.  “Remember when he fell out of that tree stealing figs?”   “What did you buy to cook for lunch today?”  “Did you hear about Pinuccio who is still in jail?”    Each visitor is free to stay as long as he needs to, or wants to, or, in my case, as long as I can stand it.  It is distressing for a “sanitized” American to participate somehow.   I admire the customs immensely, but intellectually.  I am uncomfortable.  Until recently, there were  places where a family could hire one or more women, the “prefiche,” who would carry on  lamentations for a fee.  These “chiangenn”**  have often made their appearance  in  literature, understandably: they are  equally fascinating and horrifying.

In a small municipality, the funeral procession is on foot from the home to the camposanto.***    Visitors to Italy may note that the most attractive area of a little town is often the cemetery, clipped and polished and centrally-planned.   Family chapels are complete, and the larger areas of communal use are tastefully decorated  with flowers on saints days and birthdays.    What a contrast to the rusty  rebar and cement which  festoon the town’s buildings, adding subtle anguish to  our streets, unpainted stucco revealing that a dwelling for the living  is of secondary importance after all.    Larger cities often have towering cement cell blocks of tombs, accessible from indoors, the crusty concrete bleeding white lime deposits, fading  pictures of loved ones.  Anemic electric candles flicker in the gloom.   These are not peaceful places for contemplation, and I am reminded of our “self storage” lockers for our overflows of junk…  “Self-storage” indeed!

We are used to saying our final goodbyes and leaving our loved ones to their final rest, in peace.   Things are different in Italy, but more on that in part two.


**  lamenters, (in local dialect)


The Rush of Time

Putting yourself out there isn’t always gratifying

Una mostra d’arte!   A show in Italy, in a beautiful little hill town in a charming antique house, what could be better?  I would love to be positive, but  waxing poetic won’t put much of a shine on this experience, I am afraid.

I have a couple of dear friends, who are also women who paint.  This being so, we like to get together every so often and show what we have been doing, exhibiting our new work with a relaxing meet-and-greet.   I anticipate these occasions with warm feelings of camaraderie, and I wasn’t disappointed with our hours together this time; chit-chat on the couch, tarallini and some decent prosecco. Pisticci is a magical little white fairy town, an aggregation of cubic ticky-tacky dwellings, aligned as if to shout down the Italian tendency toward disorderly conduct, on top of a steeply-eroding hill. Words don’t do justice to the spectacularity of its appearance, day or night. It is the perfect ambiance in which to display one’s paintings.

Or so I thought, until our numerous visitors began to shun anything which didn’t depict either a familiar house, a favorite corner, or a relative or friend. I have always intended that my landscapes would proselytize Lucania, showing its singular charms as I see them.  I am out for the “feel” of the place, and my subjects are often invented, changed-up, amalgamations of places.    They are not immediately recognizable places which  can be classified as “my uncle!” or “my uncles house!”   I underestimated our visitors’ predilection  for familiarity with the subject!   So each evening progressed, our lovely, tiny little gallery having an invisible divider at half-room.   It was as if a provincial deus-ex-machina had plugged in  one of those ultrasound machines for mice, keeping out onlookers who might venture beyond the confines of their tiny known world. I can only imagine what reaction, or lack thereof, an abstract or conceptual piece might have instigated.  I am sure that if a conceptual piece included local white houses and relatives it would have been a resounding hit!

Not all our visitors were affected by the force field, and there was an occasional  request about prices…Oh mortification!   Why even offer for sale in an ambiance in which potential buyers expect to get two for the price of one?   I had three requests and each  simply stared blankly and turned to leave after I supplied a price. To add insult to my own injury, I even misquoted a price to one gentleman, multiplied by three, and I cannot blame him for asking me, (bless him) “Isn’t that a little high?” Yes, I said, and I truly meant it.  Please forgive me.   I never expected to sell in this little venue, and having to quote American gallery prices, even reduced by half, is one of the things I detest most.  This is where the gallery should take over, the smoothest of middlemen, to relieve the artists of being subjected  to undue suffering, making them barkers at their own humble sideshow act. The bearded lady shouldn’t have to sell discounted tickets to the same people who will come to snicker and throw popcorn at her in the half-light, after all.

I packed up my wares and dashed away as quickly as possible on the last evening, with the knowledge that my best-laid plans again had gone askew.  When selling is not the target, what we artists have to give our viewers is a glimpse of what we love, what we see, what we wish to say in our particular language. I don’t believe there are any artists who, having dedicated  themselves to learning their craft, producing the work, putting together and publicizing a show, expect that practically no one will even look at the pieces there!  It had never happened to me, up to now that is.   A word of advice to the wonderful people who come to see a show, and are precious:  If the artist is present, please have a look around at all four walls; it is small payment for artists who work very hard to share their work with you.

And so I am left with the impression that in some way I have given the best of myself for nothing.  “First world problems, mom!” my son says, and he is right.  Of course it is an exaggeration, a small tempest which has made the tea in my pot bitter.   With this in mind, here are a few of my paintings of Basilicata.  I hope  (and I absolutely trust you will!!) that you will look at them, and they will brighten your day. Will I show again under these circumstances? Of course I will, mothers never remember the birth, after all.    And there will be more work, new work, and I simply cannot resist sharing with anyone who is willing to come and see them.  Thank you all for allowing me to show them to you!



2-44 Basento, November










L-257 L-258





My country tis of thee

I heard a song on the radio tonight, a woman singing about “America,”  lamenting its propensity to become ever more unsatisfactory.   I cannot disagree with her criticism, yet maybe she is just too close to be able to appreciate its positive nuances.  Or maybe there is another song which sings the praises, I don’t know.   It made me think about what it means to love a country, an abstract ideal of a place contained within corporeal geographical boundaries.

You might think that I, having abandoned my country, would be less than patriotic.  It seemed almost effortless to go elsewhere.  Actually I was born in Canada but was thoroughly absorbed into the United States by the age of about eight, whether by indoctrination or simple distraction I don’t know.   I do know that when I was born my mother was gnashing her teeth at the snow and darkness, waiting for the day when she could return to a place as close to Oklahoma as her husband’s professional life would allow.    I know this necessity was  critical   because we lived in a motel in Austin for a couple of months until my father could maneuver his way into a job at the University.  He arrived confident that he would be indispensable  here, and his wife’s urgent need for her “America”, as soon as possible, lit a fire under him.

I think it killed my mother’s soul that I decamped as I did, allowing myself to be absorbed in the form of  duffel bags and boxes into the Italian miasma.  Surely at first she couldn’t foresee the months stretching into years and decades.   She and I had never liked Italy, briefly visited twice in my childhood.  There was nothing of value I could see here;  just shabby truckloads of tiresome paintings and architecture,  broken statuary and annoying men who stared for too long.   She was forever a rural Oklahoma girl, who, in her own time, could not wait to get as far away from home as possible.   She was always much too  diplomatic  to tell me how my choices had hurt her.   I wonder how her mother, in her time, had thought of her daughter’s own wanderlust and rejection of life on the farm.  I am betting that she  understood.



“Home Sweet Home,”  mixed media on paper

It is a terrible thing to try and express  provincial metaphors which no one shares.  Or crack a lame joke which is met with blank stares.  Or endeavor to recount a wonderful experience which becomes tedious in the telling, as every nuance must be explained in plodding precision,  patiently tolerated by the listeners as long as  it does not go on too long.   A shared culture is a wonderful thing, do not underestimate its charms!

Imagine telling a story without being allowed to use certain ideographical  expressions,  or word forms such as pronouns or adjectives.  Who was this Jackie Gleason fellow?  What do you mean, the  five second rule?  Why would a person be a potato  on a sofa?  Why do you insist on using those bucket-sized drinking glasses?    A friend once provoked me by saying that I could never really understand a certain Italian singer/songwriter because I lacked the baggage, the cultural knowledge,  the historical background.  So right he was.   Intellectually I can understand the meaning, certainly the musical sounds, but what I hear is unavoidably different, somehow skewed and hollower than the artist intended.

I think that living in a different place, a culture where much cannot be taken for granted until it is internalized, creates a unique appreciation of  provenance.   Imagine a woman who finds the presence of children irritating  up until the day she finds herself unable to contemplate life without her own.  Suddenly she understands that her offspring have given her a stable and sustaining anchor, and she is able to love all those other children as well.  She knows what they are, is able to empathise with them. Being away from my home has allowed me, as I came to absorb the Italian culture, to appreciate my American-ness.   My country has become so much more important to me in its absence because I have been able to distill my ideas of it through a foreign filter.   It is almost intoxicating.

So this is how  I have come to be a fiercely patriotic person, and while I am forever attached to Italy with many roots, it is the United States of America that I love.  Can one really love a country?  No, probably not, but I carry around inside me a solid and comforting load of  shapes, smells, stories, and conventions that are uniquely my own and are dearer to me than most things.  My hope is that my children will also absorb this love and weave a truly wonderful tapestry out of  their double load of culture.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic if they married members of yet other cultures?  I am prepared to travel.

252 The Choice

“The Choice”  pencil on paper,  28 x 40 inches

Some new paintings

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this is my longest post to date.

A lot of Basilicata, a little bit of Texas, and Momo the dog.


“Strada Rosa”  5 x 5 inches,  oil on board


“Mattina Soleggiata”   oil on board,  5 x 5 inches


“Canale per Irrigazione”  oil on board,  6 x 6 inches


“After the Drought”, oil on canvas, 11 x 41 inches


“Autunno in Umbria”  oil on board,  5 x 5 inches


“Ohio Barn at Sunset”  oil on board, 5 x 5 inches


“Sotto Pomarico”  oil on board, 5 x 5 inches


“Senza Tetto”  oil on board,  5 x 5 inches


“Home on the Range”  oil on board,  5 x 5 inches


“Orange Trees with Thunderhead”  oil on board,  7 x 5 inches


“Oliveto Lucano”  oil on board,  5 x 7 inches


“Tra Pisticci e Bernalda”  oil on canvas,  15 x 60 inches


“Tramonto, Contrada Scorzone”  pasel on paper,  8 x 8 inches


“Mandorle in Fiore”  pastel on paper,  12 x 8 inches


“Dopo il Temporale”  pastel on paper,  5 x 5 inches


“Bather”  pastel on paper,  5 x 5 inches

Momo the dog

“Momo”   oil on canvas,  12 x 12 inches