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.

 

 

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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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.

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**  lamenters, (in local dialect)

***cemetery

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!

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Bather”  pastel on paper,  5 x 5 inches

Momo the dog

“Momo”   oil on canvas,  12 x 12 inches

Mamma ha fatto la pasta al forno!*

All hail the leftover!   Especially that huge pan of Pasta Al Forno lurking in the fridge.   An anecdote which exemplifies its temptations:           Four friends, youngsters on a road trip, depart Bernalda with a lovingly-prepared (Grazie Mamma!)  mega-pan, ( at least eighteen inches diameter) container of pasta al forno for lunch.  They leave at at five in the morning, and after ten minutes the  foil was already being peeled off.  Hunks were being scooped out by hand  by the time they had reached the main road,  and by Ferrandina all that was left was a greasy pan.

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                                                    Casetta A.N.A.S.,  Matera                                                       Oil on canvas, 30 x 24 inches, 2013

Its summer,  its hot, and who wants to cook?   But you have to eat, and the best way to get around spending regular hours in the kitchen is to create a dish that will carry a family through a number of meals.     Here is a summertime standby which, though it is a little time-consuming to create, will feed folks for a few days at home or at the beach.   It is good cold or heated, and it only gets better with time!   This is my recipe, tweaked over many summers.

Ingredients for about six hungry people:

4-6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and roughly chopped, (not diced)

Thinly-sliced hot Calabrian salame, or equivalent:  the best is a genuine sopressata piccante.  If you can’t find it, then get the reddest and hottest dry salame you can find.   You will need about a half pound.  Slice each thin slice into half-inch strips.

One can of drained pitted black olives, nothing fancy, just the good-old California kind.

Fresh mozzarella, at least  three cups chopped and tightly-packed.  Lacking the real thing, use some chopped American “mozzarella” which is actually more like Scamorza, as it is low-moisture.    Use the whole pound block, why not?

One cup plus one cup of freshly grated Grana Padano, or Parmigiano,

A freshly-made tomato sauce, about three cups.   This can be made using ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced, cooked in a half cup of  extra virgin olive oil over a lively flame, until broken down.  Add about 4 cloves of chopped garlic to the simmering tomatoes.  Add about a teaspoon of salt, and no,  I repeat, NO,   spices!   ( Here I am making the ancient sign against evil pointing my index and little finger  at the ground.)   Why would you take a perfectly good tomato sauce and add some dusty old shelf-scrapings to it?

One 500 gram (call it a pound)  bag of rigatoni pasta, or other medium pasta, cooked al dente in generously-salted water, and drained.  Don’t skimp on the salt!  (See previous post about pasta.)   Rinse and leave in cool water to  keep it from sticking.

Get yourself a great bowl and dump the mozzarella, salame, eggs, olives, and sauce  together with the drained cool pasta.   Mix in one cup of the grated Grana Padano cheese.   Make sure the sauce isn’t boiling hot or it will cause the mozzarella to melt and become stringy and incorrigible.  Mix everything well, and pour into whatever baking dish is large enough to hold the mixture.  Make sure to oil the pan (or pans) well before hand, or everything will stick.    Cover the top with the remaining Grana Padano.

Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake at about 350 degrees  until it is bubbling and begins to brown on top.  Place the pan where the bottom will not burn, in the oven center usually.   About an hour should do it.   ( Be careful not to allow the aluminum foil to touch the tomato sauce, or you will be adding some unwanted elements to your diet when the acid melts the foil!)

Cool a little, or not, or reheat in the microwave tomorrow,  and serve.

Enjoy!

* Mamma made pasta casserole!

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Summer sweet and sour     Oil, 6 x 6 inches

Letter from the orphanage

It has been a while, a long while for me, since I have written anything here.  I hope you will forgive my inconsistency.  I haven’t felt like writing, or painting, occupied with coming to grips with the changing horizons of my life.

In a way, the construct I have been inhabiting for so long has come down around me, crumbling into itself as the new one goes up simultaneously.  Everything is a little different, a little skewed, but in many ways there is more elbow room.   I can’t really touch the walls yet, as I reach out and twiddle my fingertips, and it is scary, but full of intriguing  possibilities.   I will grow into it and learn to inhabit the space, even make a cup of tea here eventually, snuggling up with my own autobiography.  I hope it is a satisfying read.

I am an orphan, as is my sister.  I am now “the old folks.”   I am the oldest  generation in the family, having reluctantly clambered to the highest rung on the responsibility ladder.  I have lost both of my parents in a whirlwind few months, both to cancer.  My mother succumbed to a quick and relatively painless but inescapable pancreatic beast, and my father lost  the last skirmish in a long war with skin cancer,  an insistent mass of flesh termites which  niggled away at him until he couldn’t hold it off any longer.

People say, “We understand how devastating it is to lose both your parents together like this.”  And it is, but it is also a blessing.  Better to choke down the poison in a concentrated draught, all in a gulp, and avoid having to savor it.   My sister and I are still spitting often, but  preparing to enjoy some  light and fruity wine as well.  After.

My mother always said, “Oh Lord, I feel sorry for you all having to deal with all my stuff!”   She did have hundreds of  books, closets full  of clothes, empty flower vases, and endless  tablecloths.   But the biggest job, one that we possibly will never finish, is looking through the papers, personal notes and letters, many of which  she inherited from her parents and grandparents.  My father, too, had boxes of memorabilia,  scraps of the 1920’s and 30’s, and clippings from magazines.  He saved the newspaper front pages for major events from Pearl Harbor to Nixon’s resignation!   It is a sparkling treasure trove of knowledge, invaluable and irreplaceable.    At the same time its presence is enormously annoying,  hulking sullenly in closets, boxes perched accusingly on shelves, food for the silverfish.   And what of my own offspring, and theirs;  will the family be so hindered by its written history that it will eventually disappear, suffocated  in a papery pit?   Would the touchdown of a tornado be a blessing in disguise?  And yet…and yet I wish that they had written more, told us more.  The things we might never hear about are now official:  we will never know.

My father left quite a library of information and scholarly studies behind, in the physical sense as well as metaphorically.  He was so much more productive than I ever realized, and the recognition of his colleagues continues unabated.  I am  mourning  the loss of contact with all things paleontological, the dusty-shelved and boney  foundation of my life-view.  It is still there, but muted.  I know instinctively to grasp it gently, as too strong a grip on  it will weaken its hold on me.   It is science to scientists, but alchemy and poetry to me.  I am ignorant of  the study of dinosaurs,  but eternally captivated by the smell of them.

My mother was considerate about her legacy, and she left us a handwritten biography which speaks for itself.  It was a full-circle  life, and it was a good one.  Every woman dreads becoming too much like her mother, doesn’t she?   I am used to moments of revelation, realizing that I am so much like my mother, becoming more like her, like it or not!     These moments  are sweeter now;  I am pleased that this is so.   I am not apt to become so much like my father, but I am made of bits and pieces of him, and they pop and fizzle  and glow at the oddest moments.   I am myself thanks to my parents;  the most earthshaking banality anyone ever came up with.   They live on, I live on, and my kids will live on, taking the crowd of yammering DNA with us through time.

And so I know now, after the funerals, the memorials, the thoughtful notes in the mail, that my parents were even more appreciated in the community than I thought.   They were well-loved, they were complicated, they were the most intelligent, exasperating, considerate  and  responsible  people, and they are gone.    I never imagined that I would miss them so fiercely.

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Mama and me, 1957  (family photo)