Another article about southern Italy

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My sister sent me another article, a travel piece, in the New York Times: another visitor  comes to the south of Italy for a genuine adventure.

I am disgruntled, strangely annoyed at the tone and the usual observations it makes about the place.

It mentions that Molise is the second least-populated region of Italy   The least-populated is Basilicata, where I live.  Basilicata and Molise have a lot in common on many levels; the lack of tourism, (a blessing in my eyes, but then I don’t have to try to make my living from tourism),  the lack of economic vibrancy, the difficult terrain with not much infrastructure.    These are a few of the obvious similarities: both regions “suffer” from being little-known by the casual visitor.

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Reading this article, as another about Matera which recently came out,  (see below)          gives me the impression that I am being schooled about the goings-on of a population in a petri dish;  it reminds me of the notes jotted down by travelers from centuries past of indigenous populations and their quaint customs.   Blessed in their ignorance, with interest primarily in the simple pleasures of the gastronomic palette and strolling on Sunday, the local traditions rarely changing due to outside influences.  How lucky for the world traveler, how charming that this area of the world has been preserved thanks to ignorance and lack of imagination, weighed down by the ball and chain of tradition for so long, preserved for the sightseer’s pleasure.    Shucking and jiving in a dream world of homemade pasta and sausages, religious celebrations and traveling circuses.   Happy  negroes indeed.

OK, maybe I am being a bit drastic.

At the same time that my gut reaction to these articles is negative, I also have been known to wax poetic with this blog, so there is that, too.  I agree wholeheartedly with the mayor of Matera, who voices what so many of the locals here think about the influx of tourists.  It is only logical that if you have a limpid pool of pure water, the arrival of thousands of frogs at once will extinguish its appeal forever.

Sometimes it seems as if there is a turf war among people who travel, each person who spends more than a week in some far place  expounding on how they have been allowed an inclusive picture that OTHER visitors are not privy to.  “I discovered it!”  Indeed, just tell the inhabitants…One need only read through the comments on this type of article to see that there is a clamoring status war to “discover” some new part of the world;  first.   I read books sometimes,  about Americans or British who move to Italy,  and they are inevitably filled with incorrect translations or blatantly inaccurate observations.  One in particular, something having to do with renovating a property as I recall, was laughable in its lack of understanding.  However, I have been here near Bernalda, with the indigenous population (HA!) for almost 40 years.  I know a thing or two.

There are other visitors who have stayed here, I know some, and I am happy they have found their little niche as I have.  But without exception, these people seem not  to comprehend what is going on around them to any extent.  I am envious of them because they can still see the wonderful town square with its quaint benches and old men whittling away their time, accept with graciousness the tidbits offered, and enjoy prolonging their initial impression of travelogue  Italy indefinitely.   How lovely!

And it is lovely.

But do they know that among those men there are some who have been castigated and shunned by their wives and neighbors for being different, or for daring to tell the truth about  someone important?   Among them is  the one who engages in pedophilia with various unlucky schoolboys while their parents turn a blind eye because of the compensation offered.   Also the one who pretends to be civil when later he will refuse to pay the rent, again,  to his landlord who has no recourse.  There might be the guy who carted off an entire farm full of animals because his private loan’s exorbitant interest was too much for the family.   I know where the Nazis executed partisans in that doorway, and where the partisans lynched a Nazi sympathizer.    I know that once there were tall trees that were ripped out to make room for grass which could never survive, because traditionally trees and sod are planted but the Socialist hierarchy assures that watering will be nobody’s job.   I know that later this year there will be, yet again, protests here because people are held hostage by European Union regulations that threaten to strangle local businesses.  I know how some immigrants are mistreated, and how others behave abominably, and I know that most locals would prefer that they don’t come at all.  I know that the cancer rate here is unnaturally high, and no one knows why, although the region has been used as a toxic waste dumping ground for generations.  I know that since recycling has eliminated the dumpsters, there is no hope of finding that litter of puppies that someone has–again–thrown away.  I know that the corner market stall with all that beautiful produce could very well be selling you vegetables and fruit that is so impregnated with toxins that you would do better to not consume it.  I know that the farmers who grew the produce will die early because they refused to take any precautions when dealing with pesticides and herbicides which are sold and consumed like water in big unlabeled plastic bottles.  I know that the same person who exchanges a warm greeting  may later tell her neighbor a devastating untruth about her friend for no reason other than malice that in a small town such as this can be a communal pastime.  I know that every kindness, every generous gesture or helpful offer will go down in “the book” for posterity, and close tabs will be kept.  Debts will be payed back, one way or another, eventually.   I know these things because I am part of it, I understand the dialect perfectly, as well as Italian.  I have been absorbed into the fabric,  and therein lies the difference.

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I can go weeks and weeks without speaking English to anyone, although the web has upended any illusions of isolation, one of the factors that made this place so fascinating at first.

So don’t tell me how “it is in Italy,”   because I know, at least in this tiny part of it.   Perhaps most importantly, do tourists here know that even in this little paese  of 12,000 souls, the population is well-supplied with world travelers, people who are off at least twice a year or more to Japan, to Los Angeles or Boston, to South America, to Russia, to China, on cruises, to do research at prestigious universities, to study  foreign languages?

I remember how it used to be for me here, immersed in archaeological work and planning my next escapade in order to stay a little longer.  But I have lost that shiny mirage, the impression of simplicity that was my pleasure for many years in coming back over here, feeling that this world was indeed a miracle of visible riches, and the substance under that surface was all good.  I suppose I didn’t care so much about the substrate reality because of the richness of the light and landscape.  It IS a fantastic landscape, and it still has much to offer, but for me it must be absorbed with all the unfortunate  history, and reality,  that comes with it.  Ask me if you really want to know…or better yet, ask my husband and kids: they were all born here!  And in all probability, I still don’t know what is really going on…

 

 

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Opening a gallery in Lampasas, Texas!

Langston Gallery, Lampasas!    We had a wonderful opening night on June 14, it exceeded my expectations, and was such a great opportunity to meet and greet people from Lampasas and surrounding areas, as well as my best fans from Austin (you know who you are!).   I can’t thank Lampasas enough for their warm and continuing welcome.  You all are fantastic!

We hope to be open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from about 4 PM until dark.  Other times can be arranged by appointment.  When I am able, I plan to hang out and work on paintings or clay at the gallery, and I hope to meet more of you as time goes forward.  Please stop by!

Langston Gallery, 515 East 3rd, on the square in Lampasas,  next to Gillen’s Mercantile and Eve’s German restaurant.  More businesses will be joining us soon…and alcohol is legal now.   Woo-Hoo!!

 

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Recent Work, (in progress)

What was I doing all year?  Who can recall?   But I have my ideas…

Here are some new pieces from recent months:

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“Texas Stock Tank”

 

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“Sandhill Cranes, New Mexico”

 

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“Central Texas, September”

 

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“Ombre lunghe, Il Tevere”

 

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“Flash Flood”

 

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“Shade”

 

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“River Slant”

 

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“Maybe Today”

 

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“Black’s Fort, November”

 

 

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“Near Garberville”

 

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“Soul Laundry 2”

 

 

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“Steerage”

 

 

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“Desert Rumble”

 

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“Cereal”

 

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“Almost Full”

 

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“Battle of the Sexes”

 

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“Inevitable”

 

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“Black’s Fort, October”  (A)

 

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“Black’s Fort, October”  (B)

 

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“Black’s Fort, October”  (C)

 

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“North San Gabriel”

 

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“Bend In The Road”

 

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“High Pressure”

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“Grano, luglio”

 

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“Cliff Dwellers”

 

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“Royalty”

 

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“Paradise Closed”

 

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“Fast Dry Day”

 

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“Straight Path”

 

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“Canal near Spineto”

 

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“Package”

 

 

 

 

 

 

New work, Summer 2017

Some Italy, some Texas, some Ohio.  Some of my favorite places, small oils on board and some large ones on canvas.

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Ode to the eucalyptus

It is summer again; a particularly rough one this year.  No rain, and then no rain, and heat that is epic and relentless.  Poplars, plane trees, loquats and willows and  almonds;   all are losing their leaves to the wind and scorching sun, and the smoke from the fires that are never far away adds a red filter to the landscape.  But trees are intelligent, and by throwing their leaves to the ground  they conserve their diminishing reserves by transpiring less moisture to the air, and at the same time create their own mulch as dropped leaves carpet their personal patch of soil.  It is sad to see, and their humans can be seen on watering days dragging rubber hoses around like ships’ anchors, sweating and swearing in consternation at the lack of moderation that nature sometimes exhibits.

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And yet there is a tree here in Italy (where it was introduced and thrived just as it has in any  temperate climate where ships and currents  have brought its seeds the world over) which seems to luxuriate in this weather.   Not drought, not floods, not cold (not too cold!) not even fire or the ax can deter them from occupying their position as conquering barbarian horticultural horde.  They persist, gritting their woody teeth and snickering at their vegetable cousins’  frail designer foliage.

With this in mind, I would like to post my favorite description of Eucalyptus trees, written by a fabulous author who traveled in this area over a hundred years ago.  He was a character, and I highly recommend my favorite book by him, “Old Calabria.”   His name was Norman Douglas and he was an undisciplined, embibing  Scottish wanderer with pedophile tendencies, a world traveler with no fear, and a tough old coot who could really write.

From “Old Calabria,” *  the author describes his distaste for these trees as he makes his way from the station of Policoro up toward Rossano Calabro, localities which are about fifteen miles from our house:

“You walk…from the station along an avenue of eucalypti planted some forty years ago.”  (circa 1875)  “Detesting, as I do, the whole tribe of gum trees, I never lose an opportunity of saying exactly what I think about this particularly odious representative of the brood, this eyesore, this grey-haired scarecrow, this reptile of a growth with which a pack of misguided enthusiasts have disfigured the entire Mediterranean basin. They have now realized that it is useless as a protection against malaria.  Soon enough they will learn that instead of preventing the disease,  it actually fosters it, by harboring clouds of mosquitoes under its scraggy so-called foliage.  These abominations may look better on their native heath:  I sincerely hope they do.  Judging by the “Dead Heart of Australia”–a book which gave me a nightmare from which I shall never recover– I should say that a varnished hop-pole would be an artistic godsend out there.

But from here the intruder should be expelled without mercy.  A single eucalyptus will ruin the fairest landscape.  No plant on earth rustles in such a horribly metallic fashion when the wind blows through those everlastingly withered branches; the noise chills one to the marrow; it is like the sibilant chattering of ghosts.  Its oil is called “medicinal” only because it happens to smell rather nasty; it is worthless as timber, objectionable in form and hue–objectionable, above all things, in its perverse, anti-human habits.  What other tree would have the effrontery to turn the sharp edges of its leaves–as if these were not narrow enough already!–towards the sun, so as to be sure of giving at all hours of the day the minimum of shade and maximum of discomfort to mankind?

But I confess that this avenue of Policoro  almost reconciled me to the existence of the anaemic Antipodeans.  Almost; since for some reason or other (perhaps on account of the insufferably foul nature of the soil)  their foliage is here thickly tufted; it glows like burnished bronze in the sunshine, like enameled scales of green and gold.  These eucalypti are unique in Italy.  Gazing upon them, my heart softened and I almost forgave the gums their manifold iniquities, their diabolical thirst, their demoralizing aspect of precocious senility and vice, their peeling bark suggestive of unmentionable skin diseases, and that system of radication which is nothing short of a scandal on this side of the globe…”eucalyptus summer 2017

 

  •  Norman Douglas.  Old Calabria, forward by Jon Manchip White, 1993 edition, The Marlboro Press, original publication 1915.  page 95-96

Garbage (this grass is not greener)

 

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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…

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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.”**

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*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.

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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.
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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?