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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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.

 

 

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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The Circus!

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Harlequin Fields, mixed media on paper, 2010

Meandering into town you might see new posters up on walls and corners, intensely colorful and often kitschy, announcing the arrival of the circus.  Moira Orfei, bless her soul, has occupied acres of Italian wall space with her huge black beehive of a hair-do, and she is easily the most recognizable  circus personality.  But her grand  show was not typical of the tiny traveling groups of performers who make up the itinerant circuses in Italy.   These aren’t like  the American circus, a huge tent and multi-ringed affair, clangorous and booby-trapped with  wires,  an indecipherable  illuminated spider’s nest.   These are comprised of  one truck, maybe three, with a reticent  and energy-deprived group of workers who wrestle up a dingy tent, put on a couple of shows in an afternoon, and then disappear into the night.

The European Union, in its ineffable wisdom, decided in the 1990’s that small circuses were destined for extinction and therefore worthy of subsidies for their protection as  cultural  treasures.   Some are worthy of the term “treasure,”  others occupy the other end of that spectrum.  The availability of funding, as it always does, tends to generate  proliferating definitions, and so now there are low-hanging resources  for anyone who can scrape together a truck, a tent, and a couple of animals.

Of course to children even a couple of animals  legitimizes the cost of a ticket, and parents will oblige.   Highlights may include a clinically depressed camel,  or a tiger  trapped in a small pen and yearning for the only glimpse of freedom it will ever have:  the weekly cage-cleaning.    There may be  an overfed boa constrictor who will suffer the indignity of being manhandled during each show,  an effort which will inevitably interfere with its digestion.  Bears will suffer with dignity, becoming autistic to protect their delicate souls.   If water is the theme, there will be terrible  sharks on display, usually nurse-sharks, toothless and docile,  to be bothered at intervals by the wet-suited handler who risks his life in the tank.  No amount of splashing water and lighting effects can conjure a life-threatening event out of these sad components.

But there are always clowns.  Clowns are not always the stuff of nightmares, and they can be quite funny and charming when the audience is easily-pleased and mostly younger than ten.   I fondly remember enjoying my  children’s  reactions to the clowning at  these smallest and most humble of circuses.   And the crowd is so small that individual spectator participation is assured:  You won’t leave the show without being wet, spattered with foam, covered with confetti dandruff, or grasping the string of a new balloon.

Sometimes there is an elephant!   Elephants are always grand, in any context, and nothing can beat the mental hiccup caused by coming around the corner and seeing an elephant grazing in the school courtyard.  Traffic will stop and heads will snap sideways for the elephant out of context, while finding it a disappointment once inside the tent.   Other living odds and ends, small ponies and irritated dogs with  dermatitis, human and simian jugglers.  How strange to see a raccoon proudly displayed as a rare and exotic mammal species, paraded around on its diamond leash.   Camels and dromedaries are always interchangeable,  and never are they happy.  It isn’t the greatest show on earth, but it is a show.  The crowd, such as it is, will wander off afterwards, a little perplexed but ready to have another go when the posters go up next time around.

toast                                                               “A Toast to Destiny”,  mixed media on paper

Il Cantastoria (part two)

Every few  months or so I am awoken at dawn by huge booming cannons  and barking dogs which signal that today is special;  a day of  celebration.  There are festivals based on Saints, commemorations,  historical remembrances, and even  strikes.  A day not designated exceptional is a sad day indeed.   When my father visited me he always said, “So today is a holiday?  It must be Tuesday!”

The basic form of celebrations has remained the same, although certain activities seem to have disappeared forever now.  One of these was the “Palo della Cuccagna“* which gave the young bloods of the town a chance to show off their climbing prowess.  A telephone-like pole was erected in the piazza with a bounty of cheeses, prosciutto, salami and such, tied  to a bicycle wheel perched at the top.  As if a smooth, 40-foot  telephone pole might not be insurmountable enough, it was then greased with lard.    Squads of four young men, jockeying impatiently  for the challenge,  armed themselves with a circular  strip of fabric to wrap around themselves and the pole.  They would scale it in sequence, each man on the bottom climbing up and over the next three.  Slipping down the pole and each other,  bruises and bumps and uncontrollable laughter would ensue.   The first squad to reach the top  would triumph and take home the prize.   Hilarity for all was insured.

"Off Her Pedestal"mixed media, 30 x 22 inches
“Off Her Pedestal”
mixed media, 30 x 22 inches

A traditional parade through the town center will take place during the festa.  Fixtures in this parade, in the phalanx of the powerful, are the mayor, the town council, and the clergy.   Having grown up with the Miss American pageants on TV, I always find it amusing when I see them all sporting wide banners from shoulder to hip, even though I know that this was the origin of the regalia  used in those spectacles.  Each V.I.P.  is quite proud to wear his banner, and I expect to eventually see, in these days of hyperbole, more and more of these in each parade.  Will there be a second and third brigade of silk sashes stating “schoolteacher,”  “baker,”  “or “dedicated housewife?”  I imagine a bannered “group of Shame,”  with “pedophile” or “litterer” scrawled on the sashes…

Picture Romeo and Juliet and their famous balcony.   It used to be that there were small musical bands which could be hired by an “innamorato“** to woo his beloved.  (One assumes that  women were not traditionally the protagonists here but one could be wrong!)  If the wedding date had been established, the young man would enlist the help of this band to serenade his future wife from the street below her balcony.  It was a joyous occasion  for the “vicini“*** when they heard a quavering voice in crescendo  out in the street, and I imagine the bride-to-be and her family endured the event with a mix of emotional embarrassment and merriment as he sang his song to her.   Too bad they didn’t have movie cameras to make videos back then; these scenes could have been the highlight of the wedding  film!

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“Waiting on the Cake”
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Every town has its religious processions, pagan and Catholic, quirky or boringly traditional.  These processions are still around, although they happen less often now.   Every few months people will gather for the purpose of escorting some important relic or statue of a local saint, getting it “out for air” and at the same time reminding the people where their loyalties should lie.  I will never forget my first experience with a procession, when, living along the main street, I heard a growing low buzz of human voices murmuring something, (a prayer?)  over and over again, a shuffling swarm of  sedated bees.   People living along the route where the slowly trudging crowd will pass should prepare.  Owners of houses will hang their nicest bed coverings from the railings, or adorn their clotheslines with ornate fabrics to honor the occasion. Some families possess a complicated  banner with the local  saint and symbols embroidered in traditional colors which makes its  appearance often and proudly.   Behold (and beware!)  the balcony which is festooned with a line of grungy underwear instead of a nice bedspread, thus shirking its unwritten civic duty…

*”The Pole of Plenty”

** enamored one

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La Sanita’: A cautionary tale

As I follow  the developments  in  the new  healthcare plans for the U. S.,   I feel it might be time to digress from whimsical cultural observances to things more serious.   I wouldn’t pretend to understand every nuance, but I can tell you all a bit about what the future of   “Doctoring,”  (a more precise term  I believe  than “Healthcare”)   might look like in America.

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I have been living here since 1982, and for much of this time  I have been part of the  churning,  corroded  and unpredictable  machine which is Italian national “healthcare.”   I pay into the program, which is a single-payer one for the most part, and I partake of it (sometimes) as needed.  But what I “get out of  the system”  is   limited, and only partially  indicative of the general breakdown for most Italians.

Probably the most important detail when describing the Italian system is that no one in Italy has health insurance.  Insurance is mostly purchased on automobiles, as required by law, but hardly anyone has insurance on their possessions.   I know of only a few people who have their farm implements insured, and no one whose house is insured.  Not one person I have ever heard of has private health insurance.   But those who have a full-time  job are provided for by their employers, and the sheer size of the payments that are required for legal employees leads to a)  high unemployment, and b)  low profit margins.  As might be expected, there is a huge “under the table” market for workers.    The math is clear.

This said, it would widely follow that the government provides for its citizens who are required to contribute to the system for the good of all.  There is only one glitch in the set-up:  there isn’t ever enough money contributed by an under-employed and aging population, and the smooth functioning of the mechanism is skewed by the propensity of the culture to allow for corruption on all levels.   This is changing, slowly,  but the Italian bureaucracy is an old dog indeed.

When I go to the doctor, my assigned doctor, I make an appearance any morning of the working week and sit down on one of the chairs arranged in the outer office area.   I wait, as appointments are not deemed appropriate.   The clock here  is traditionally interpreted subjectively, and the time can be used to chat with ones’ neighbors as we wait.   There are many “ifs.”   If there are two people ahead of me  it is my lucky day.    If there are fifteen, I can cross my other errands off my list.   If a representative carrying a black briefcase of pharmaceutical samples arrives, he is given precedence over all.  (After all, his time is important!)    If, after a cursory examination and chat, my doctor deems that I need anything other than a quick prescription,  I am referred to the appropriate specialist.  There are given times during the week when the specialists will be on call, some in my town, some elsewhere.   If I can get an appointment with one of them in a reasonable amount of time, and I agree to drive the distance within eighty miles or so of home, I will do so.   If these things cannot be accomplished, I will be advised of  the alternatives.

The alternatives are consultations with  experts in all fields who work in private clinics, and where  appointments are always available  to paying customers.  They may also work in the government system, but they reserve their “special” time for their clinics where they are assured a large fee for their expertise.   Every city has it private clinics where folks who have the means flock for their procedures.  Some facilities are quite chic, others less so.  (I once had an MRI in a converted garage.)    Here you will get  your results quickly, because sometimes waiting two weeks to eight months  is too inconvenient, or even an unbearable prospect.   Health tourism  is thriving in the ex-communist countries to the East, where  procedures  are done on-demand, and competitively priced.

What  wears down the citizenry ultimately is the lack of consistency.  You MAY receive excellent care, as my son did when he broke his leg in two places a few years back.  He was put in a private room, had traction and surgery, wore a cast for two months and is in perfect form today.  All this for a total of less than 100 dollars.  Even though my husband had to sleep on the floor next to his son for a week, it was miraculous!   You may not receive excellent care, however.  My mother-in-law  was the victim of an accelerating downward spiral of errors, a  dire house of cards which ultimately ended in her death.  The only thing which might have saved her would  have been if her relatives were all knowledgeable doctors.   We weren’t.

My brother-in-law  died of cancer due to  many years of managing workers in a  “state-of-the-art” government chemical plant, where every single one of the hundreds of ex-employees and management have died from the same disease.  He started his via crucis in a huge hospital with no air conditioning and eight people to a room,  and progressed inevitably  toward a hospice facility that was a nightmare.  Yet when his family became an insufferable squeaky wheel, he was transferred to a wonderful hospice care facility with a large private room and all the amenities anyone could ask for.  Both of these places were about forty miles from his home, over small, curvy mountain roads.  The commute, for us and for him, was hard.

A close  friend of mine was severely injured in an automobile accident many years ago, and the things I saw and had to do in that hospital still haunt me.  And yet she is hale and healthy today thanks to one excellent emergency surgeon who  happened to be on-call that day.    Thank god she was able to avoid complications caused by infections, heat stroke, and the  wrong  intravenous fluids supplied to her  by bewildered  interns.

A  hospital stay means that family members must camp out, often on folding chairs or on the floor next to the bed.  Nurses are too harried to provide basic care, and toileting, bathing, bed changes and clothing are usually  the responsibility of the family.  And bring your own toilet paper and bottled water!  I have been in Italy long enough to even  begin to  appreciate the constant milling about of other families in the communal rooms.   There is always someone to chat with nearby…And one must never forget that a well-placed wad of Euro notes will probably get you what you need much faster.

But if you need a prescription, the system offers you pretty much anything the doctor orders for very low prices.  Patients must pay a “ticket”   (a token amount according to income level and category, either preventative or curative) for  prescriptions, but generally the cost is  low.   Many will say that it is a positive thing that these medicines are “free.”   Unfortunately the cost can be measured not in Euros saved, but in lack of services.   Garbage not collected for weeks, unpaved roads, schools which are crumbling, antiquities falling to pieces;   the notoriously disintegrating infrastructure of Italy is the price paid by citizens for their “free” healthcare.   We pay, we pay.  And every so often, too often, we lose someone dear to us.

In the end, what the Italian system does is provide a baseline availability of services, in varying forms, for people who don’t have extra funds to spend.  Those who do have money can pay for excellent care and usually receive it. Those who don’t must rely on what is available, and sometimes that means waiting too long for a hospital bed, or suffering the ministrations of incompetent personnel.  Some problems, such as ADHD, are simply deemed “nonexistent.”   Older patients are often overlooked, and their suffering is seen as inevitable and therefore not treatable.  Up until recently pain has been seen as a necessary part of illnesses and childbirth.  (Another post…)    And of course you are on your own for dental needs entirely.

I vowed that I would not give obvious advice in this post, but I can’t resist saying that we would be prudent if we observed places like Italy closely.  If our reason for demanding government-provided healthcare is to render services equally to everyone, then we should proceed with caution.   As with so many things, the distance between our good intentions to the ultimate outcome  is paved with unexpected, and  sometimes appalling, consequences.

Casale in Umbriapastel on paper
Casale in Umbria
pastel on paper

Il Cantastoria (part one)

My husband, who was born just four months before me, grew up in a different century.

Bernalda, or Vernall’  in dialect, in the  late 1960s.   The post-war economic boom is roaring in the north of Italy, and while  this small Lucanian town is seeing the arrival of new technologies,  new products and ideas,  its main participation in the “boom” consists of packing family members off to work in the factories of Torino and Milano, Bergamo  and Verona.  In previous generations families gave up their most intrepid to the Americas.   So while a  trickle of  letters containing  wages earned up north has begun to change the outlook slightly, traditions still  persist, resolutely, and the town is unaware of the changes to come.

The Amazing Flying Millers, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches, 2012

The streets of the town are unpaved, with the notable exception of the main Corso, newly asphalted and a focal point of town pride.  Most secondary streets are covered with embedded round river stones, or gravel, or a muddy mix of these.  Most people get around on foot, for after all the town is not large, with a population of about ten thousand.    An occasional small car can be seen, and bicycles, or  small  carts drawn by a mule or a horse.

My future husband, as a boy,  may have  the pleasure of  drinking something cold,  not from the refrigerator, but thanks to ice which has been purchased  fresh daily for the “ice box.”  ( My own father, in the late twenties,  followed the ice wagon and carried a chunk of ice home in a cloth bag, and so did my husband.)     His mother utilizes  a tin wash bucket filled with rags, and cuddles some bottles and jars around the ice.  There will be  cool wine with lunch, slices of watermelon, or fresh milk to drink for breakfast the next day.  Refrigerators will come later, in the seventies.

Milk arrives on wheels as well.  A bicyclist will pass each day with a couple of tin jugs balanced across the handlebars, and housewives hurry down with glass jars to buy a few ladles of fresh milk to replenish their supply.  No pasteurisation here, and the milk is often still warm when it arrives, as you can be sure the cows are not very far away.

Farmers breaking in a new field, builders excavating for the foundations of a house, will invariably find antiquities.  These are everywhere, and the cause of much consternation, as the authorities “must be informed” and work is immediately halted indefinitely.  Practicality advises one to keep it to oneself.   There are children in Bernalda, today’s adults, who pass their time after school at target practice, lining up small votive cups and vases to be knocked to pieces with slingshots.   Cups and vases from 2500 years ago!

People still live with their precious animals, and some still literally “live with” their mule in the second room, the one which houses the huge bed where often an entire family sleeps.  Chickens will come and go, and cats.  (Even today houses in the older sections of towns have a tiny, low door which served to allow the hens in or out of their nesting area.  I laugh when I think of  urban hipsters in US cities, discovering the pleasure of keeping a few chickens for eggs, and think how these “trendsetters” are  only now beginning to catch up!  Will they soon be keeping their chickens under the bed as well?)   These houses will be restructured in later decades, and the mule in the bedroom will disappear, although many will still keep a mule or horse in a converted stall, a few doors away.  Later still the “stalls”  (ex-family dwellings)  will be used for the family automobile, and organizations will be formed to “save” mules and donkeys typical of the region, once plentiful.

Near my husband’s house, in the town center, one homeowner is the proud keeper of serial pigs.  And as such, every so often he needs to make room for the new “pet.”  (That good sausage and prosciutto doesn’t just magically appear, after all.)  The spectacle of a murder victim screaming and then being dismembered is a recurring neighborhood trauma which the children won’t soon forget.  Salzizz!*

“Chorus Line” oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches, 2002

Most families have washing machines.  But soap is not often purchased at the store.  Another passing truck offers a bartered exchange;   used household oil, such as from frying, or old oil no longer suitable for consumption.  He gives these customers the bars of soap he makes with this oil.  Of course not everyone has old oil to offer, and he makes a good living this way from selling his homemade soap.  (You can still buy soap here which has the same appearance as the old bars, although of course it is industrially-produced.  Many women swear by it.)

Every so often, a visitor will appear in town driving a small truck sporting a collapsible set of panels.  The vehicle chooses a strategic point where  a crowd can gather, and set up shop.  The panels, usually four or six, are mounted on top of the truck so that everyone can see them.  They appear  almost as giant tarot cards, colorful and filled with dynamic figures in various exaggerated poses.  This is  the “cantastoria.”**  When a suitable number of folks have gathered, he starts  to tell a story in song.  Indicating the pertinent panel, he weaves an intricate tale involving (inevitably) love and hope, tragedy and  betrayal.  Cuckoldry and murder are ever-popular subjects, and the helper working the crowd  will  find his basket filling faster in accordance with the passionality of the tale.    All of this sung loudly over about half an hour, acapella.  It is a distillation of  Opera down to its essential elements.  Kids and adults anticipate  the arrival of the cantastoria, and when he arrives it is always a treat.

(end of part one)

“Time Line” oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches, 2009

*salzizz‘,  meaning literally salsicca, or sausage, “known as “sal-cheech” in dialect.  When pronounced “Sal-zeets!”  it can also be used as a snide greeting.  It can be substituted for the acceptable “Salve!” and is invariably muttered under one’s breath.  It is obviously a reference to the  body part it resembles.

** Literally, the “Story-Singer.”