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!

L-313

1-93

2-44 Basento, November


L-14

L-168

L-349

L-91

L-348

L-347

L-294

L-213

L-214

L-257 L-258

L-102

L-164

L-216

O-5

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The Circus!

aaa

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 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.”

Bits of useless information

Cultural differences, aside from creating consternation, can be amusing,  Thank goodness.

A wedding!   People on wedding days seem to be filled with excitement and pleasure, jockeying in their cars, honking loudly up and down the main street, dressed to the nines, smiling and laughing…  Of course!    But did you know that these people prepared themselves mentally for this day thinking, “Oh god, another expensive gift to buy,  another day lost in an excruciating marathon of  eating,  seven hours or more at a huge table with people who are mostly strangers,  milling around aimlessly in the parking lot…How many minutes until we can leave?”   It is the dark side of Italian weddings.  The day the invitation arrives is when the dread begins.

There is a chain of supermarkets which are called “Conad.”

Italians eat healthy, slow  food!  But there are entire stores dedicated to huge bins of  frozen things, where you can buy bargain amounts of  things like frozen pasta and breaded anonymous fish products, industrial crepes, frozen chopped onion, eggrolls, and  kebab filling.

A guarantee for a new hot water heater, loudly proclaimed on a huge orange sticker,  offers service during the warranty period.  It is called the “Pass Gas.”

An instant cappuccino-type coffee drink which used to be available  in most markets in the U.S. was called “Cappio.”   This is the Italian word for a  hangman’s noose.  No wonder it failed!

When you stop for a fill-up, you might find yourself in the cryptic  “Self Area.”  Sometimes you may even end up in the the “Hyper Self Area,”  a mysterious zone which conjures images of  egotistical types milling about, frenetically  gesticulating  while mumbling  their existential motives for using gasoline…

Shopping in a department store  in the U.S. with my husband, at the escalator we discuss where to go next.  People look askance at us hearing the words “die” and “jew” over and over.  “Dai, andiamo giu’!”  (C’mon, let’s go down!”)

Why do people have little dangling red pepper clusters on their rear view mirrors, I wonder…  Do peppers bring good luck?  No, these are supposed to be horns of the bull, red I suppose is a masculine color… and they represent protection from generic evil forces, not membership in a mysterious vegetable sect.

My sister, who doesn’t speak Italian, often laughs at our conversations.   She hears the words “fart”  and “fat” over and over, and wonders what on earth we are talking about!  (“Farti,” to make you something, or make you do something, and “fatto” which is the past tense of the same verb “to make or do.”)

Once a year here in Metaponto,  the folks who consider themselves religious follow a strange ceremony.  They send a saint out to sea and back.   But a standing saint could never balance on a choppy sea, which is the reason, I assume, that they send out half a saint, the upper half, and wave him off, gently bobbing toward the horizon.  After a short time  he returns safely  to shore after a bargain cruise of half an hour.  The seashore is once again a safe and blessed place.

It took years for my relatives to relax around my family here.  They were convinced that we were fighting almost constantly, and would huddle in corners waiting for the storm to subside.  They have since realized that no,  loud vocals and gesticulation are simply what constitutes  normal conversation.

A new addition to the traffic flow:  roundabouts!  Unfortunately, however, the rule is that one always gives way to the car coming from the right, so folks here cannot grasp that in the roundabout they must yield to the car coming on the left.  Beware a roundabout in Italy!

There are dumpsters all over for garbage, as there is no residential garbage collection.  So why, if you have placed your precious garbage in a nice tidy sack, tied and compact,  do people carry it in their car for a few blocks and throw it out the window?  Did it suddenly become an unbearable burden, a concept so overwhelmingly unacceptable, that a few more yards became impossible  to bear?

A famous maker of automatic gates and doors is called “Faak.”  Given that the soft “A” has a phonetic sound similar to the sound in the word “luck,”   this commercial where the gate squeaks the product’s name over and over has given me many solid moments of hilarity.  Say it!

If you live outside of town, your electricity and phone service arrives via lines on wooden poles.  Your service will be  regularly interrupted however, due to two causes:  1) The roving groups of Romanian opportunists have taken all the copper wire again during the night or 2) some farmer has burned his wheat stubble, and also the bottom halves of the poles.  It is a common sight, a line sagging to the ground with a foot or two of wooden pole hanging at intervals from it, like a necklace of blackened toothpicks.

“Wheat Field on Fire”  oil on canvas

Keep an eye on teenage parties.  There is always beer, and there often are plenty of hard alcoholic products.  That is simply how it is done here.  You can fight but you can’t win.

Everybody loves gelato!  It is good.  My husband makes gelato in his beach establishment.   And it is excellent.  But I know that the “fresh” ingredients of the stuff come in big white bags and industrial steel canisters.  The milk does arrive fresh daily, however.

Why do women, so exceptionally stylish and  composed, the height of world-famous fashion sense in the winter, dress like hinterland  prostitutes in the summer?

It is not a good place to be a snake, any kind of snake.  Snake equals bad.  Hide!

You will have to study hard and pass the exams to get yourself a gun.  It will have to be kept in a locked, dedicated safe in your home.  Once bought it can be kept with no problems, as long as you don’t use it.  But if you buy any bullets, each one will have to be accounted for, and the authorities will come down hard on you if they discover that one of them is missing.

“Bernalda,” an unfortunate name.  Every time we have business dealings with other parts of Italy we have to explain:  “No, not BernaRda, BernaLda, with an “L.”   You can almost hear the smirk over the phone line.  You see, “Bernarda” is the slang name for the female genitalia.

“Benevolent Dysfunction,”   mixed media on paper

Maria’s story

Maria   (as I will call her here )   is one of my oldest acquaintances and one of my dearest friends.  She has been coming to help me clean my floors, keep things dust-free and tidy, and save me hours of housework  for as long as I have  been here.  She saw my children born and watched them grow up as we all matured together.  She struck me from the start  with her easy and genuine smile, her positive outlook and caring demeanor.   This is a rare commodity in these hill towns where diffidence,  legitimately-earned  owing to centuries  of foreign invasions, is the rule.  She is scrupulously honest with her friends, and can be diabolical with her enemies.   If there is anything you want to know, any information about anyone that isn’t official, she will know about it.  Her version may turn out to be larger than the truth, but I can count on getting any gossipy tidbits from her, before they  go to press.  She often says that she would love to be alone, free from constant scrutiny, and yet she could never live without her small town.  She is an integral part of it.  I am very fond of her.

“Family  Landscape”   mixed media

Maria’s life has not been an easy one.  She lives in community housing with her mother and father, an although she would like to have a place of her own, she is aware that her parents depend on her for support, both economic and emotional.   Ours is a small town, and modest  unsavory deeds  shine brightly in  this overcast atmosphere of shared knowledge.  Families provide one’s identity, and if one member has committed a sin, all will be tainted by association.  Once committed to communal memory, an unfortunate incident is rarely, if ever,  forgotten.

Her parents are an interesting couple, her mother an intelligent  foul-mouthed  and  iron-fisted  busybody who still applies heavy make-up and peroxide at sixty-five.  She is one of those women who understands that her control of the situation depends upon her playing her cards close to her chest.  I like her!   Her father is mouse-like, a reserved and hesitant cultivator of a small plot of land, an ex-drinker.  Maria confided to me that as a child, after each episode of  drunkenness and predictably despicable behavior, her father would wake them all up to require that they  eat the compensatory ice cream he brought home to them.    She told me that recently she tried, yet again,  to eat some ice cream. She was not surprised to be overwhelmed by nausea, just like the times before.

She was one of five siblings, now four.  One beloved brother was lost to a drug overdose.   Working in Germany, trying to make some money to send home, he died  in isolation and was discovered  after many days.  They brought him back for his funeral service, where the presiding priest chose to lecture the congregation on the evils of drug use.  This  provided Maria with her final reason to cut herself loose from the overweening and proprietarial hypocrisy of the local church.  Judgments given  so easily require the addition of a smidgen of empathy before they are applied to a family, one already reeling under the weight of  tragedy.

Her oldest  brother is known as one of those people who cannot be trusted, and many a finger has been wagged in his direction when something of value disappears.  He is an opportunist, someone who is up and about in the wee hours.  He is  a gatherer of available merchandise, some of it already the property of others.  He supplies firewood, and therefore he  is a wood-chopper, a cross-cultural category which implies unsavory traits.  Opportunities  present themselves in special ways for him.   He sued a friend of mine who ran a small gas station, because his teenage daughter (walking along looking at her phone) stepped into the open manhole where my friend was refilling his tanks.   She was only slightly injured, but thanks to her father’s adept legal  maneuvers, her sore ankle supplied the family with extra funds for a year. My friend, who had four small children, was given only the opportunity to worry.

Maria’s sister has many children, a hard-working husband with serious heart trouble, and a house which  she imagines is running hard in an  imaginary “Joneses”  derby.    Her character  does not shine for its altruism.   If given a gift, it will be immediately rated  according to brand and selling  value.  Home-made gifts or donations of time and effort are rarely appreciated.  She often begs for  free babysitting from her sister when Maria has time off from her work.  She always has a favorite child, chosen serially on her good days,  and the others jockey for position as her “pet” in order to profit from the associated perks.

Another brother is a collector of metal scrap, and he possesses an honest heart, even if he may be persuaded to behave to  the contrary on occasion.  He has a garage  in the Centro Storico which is stacked to the ceiling with interesting antiques,  and a wife from Naples who has just given birth to their first son.  They live over their small store which stocks  a few paper flower arrangements, souvenir postcards,  lightbulbs and assorted sundries.  They do a brisk business at Christmas in artificial trees and figurines for  presepi.* 

 Maria is tainted by a reputation which is not of her own making.   It doesn’t matter really what she does, as she is part of a clan which is known for its less-than-exemplary behavior.  This, I imagine, has been her lifelong motivation to behave as she does;  she is scrupulously honest, excellent at her job,  and demonstrates a punctuality which is almost scandalous in this part of the world.   She has had to deal with people who would not pay her for her work, a recurring theme which , each time it occurs, causes me to cringe.  Humanity, empathy, recognition of   merit;  all seem to be lacking in regard to those who aren’t high in the pecking order.    Money, for many, occupies the highest rung on the motivational ladder,  just  above  familial love  and the Pope.

She is  assumed to be an “easy” woman, an ignorant woman, a person of little moral integrity.  All these things are not true, and yet  these things will define her as long as she remains in the same small town where her family is known.   I believe that Maria is an uncomfortable presence for many, a kind of moral thermometer which measures the extent of their  mediocrity.  Most people prefer to stand next to someone who doesn’t illuminate their flaws so clearly.  And yet she shines on brightly,  and it is clear for all to see.

I wish her a long and happy life;  she deserves it.

“Morning”  pencil on paper

*presepi:  traditional  Christmas creches

An architectural interlude

My sister has been  trying to find one of those fly-blocker door screens made of long plastic ropes, so far with no results.  It has brought my mind around to some of the subtle and strange differences  regarding doors and windows in our houses.

When we built our house, my joy at having small balconies on every upstairs room from which to admire the countryside was vexed by the fact that a glass door, or porta-finestra, cannot be had with any type of closure from the outside.  In other words, if you step out on the balcony you cannot close the door behind you!  If it should be closed by someone on the inside, you will remain there indefinitely, lacking a rope,   because there are no door handles on the outside.  After many years I managed to procure one  balcony door which actually locks with a key on both the inside and outside, but still with only an interior handle.   God forbid I should ever forget to have that key in hand when outside.  It is not my plan to be closed out on a balcony  in the  country,  with no hope of escape other than a very loud yell.

This represents to me an interesting insight into the differences in psychology between the cultures.   Maybe Italians don’t enjoy spending time on the balcony?   Yet clearly they do.  Hanging and gathering the laundry is carried out daily, and rooms are expensive to heat.   On a day with a chilly wind,  leaving the door wide open must seem counter intuitive.  Maybe Italians do not care about flying insects coming inside?   The plastic rope fly screens would belie that theory.  Or maybe the concept of having another door handle with a necessary locking device would just complicate things in the dolce vita…  What I can say is that I have devised all manner of ways to keep the darn door almost, but not fully, closed when I am out on the balcony.  Bricks, rope cords, elastic bungee cords and wooden wedges; trying to keep the door shut never fails to frustrate me.

Windows, constructed in similar fashion with interior-only handles, can never be  blocked in such a way that they don’t slam shut in the wind.  I use American rubber doorstops (another item that simply does not exist in Italy) to keep them open.  The panes  invariably open into the room and create a hazard to the heads of shorter people and children.  Oh to have some sliding windows which don’t have to be propped open!  Screens are a new addition to windows, and thank goodness.  Ours are mounted on rollers, and at the end of the summer are the dwelling place of wasps and tiny adorable bats.  We have to be careful when pulling them down not to squish them in the roller mechanism.

On the positive side, I can’t say enough about the wonderful rolling shades which serve to black out any room, any time, all or partially.  These are on the outside of the glass windows in any house.   There can be nothing more relaxing than to take a siesta, drifting off on a warm afternoon with the shades closed only enough to leave small spaces between the interlocking strips, small checkerboard snippets of light and a nice breeze blowing through the room.  When I am in the US I find that having only a curtain between my rooms and the street never lets me completely relax at night.  I feel exposed.   In Italy my rooms become  essentially windowless with the shades down, a silent and private space.  They are also marvelous when jet lag sets in, and a totally black night-during-the-day room is required.

As children we  all marveled at bank vaults, their cylinders aligning to form a solid unbreakable wall of steel between ourselves and the shiny stuff.  In Italy, every house has a front door which is a porta blindata, which means it locks with a series of steel cylinders just like the bank vault.   A large key can be rolled over and over in the lock to insert the cylinders ever more deeply into the receiving end of the iron door frame.  The doors themselves are also made of reinforced steel, with a thin veneer of wood.  But as any workman will tell you, it is fine to have one of these doors, but anyone with a hammer can knock a hole in the masonry walls of any house faster than you can remember that maybe a big dog would have been a better idea.   I have known people who will leave a little dish of money on the kitchen table to discourage burglars from doing gratuitous damage to the house, after they have taken everything else of value.

When I suggested that we should fence our plot of land, my husband dismissed the idea by explaining that we might antagonize our neighbors by creating a physical, and therefore psychological, barrier between us.   In going with the flow I did not insist.  However each small yard in the suburbs is clearly delineated by a  fence, and each driveway boasts a large and imposing automatic gate, which opens with a remote control device.  Even the humblest houses have these gates, and it would seem everyone has a need, even if they won’t admit it, to keep “me” from “you.”  So now, out in the country, everyone is in the process of fencing their property, if they can afford to.  If it is true that good fences make good neighbors, we can hope that this trend will make for fewer skirmishes among property owners.  But I worry about the goats, who depend on their  free-roaming grazing each day in order to supply that good milk for our cacciocavallo and  ricotta.

Of course it is true that architectural peculiarities can determine the feel of a neighborhood.  I think of air-conditioning and how it has caused the total demise of porch-sitting and interacting with neighbors in Texas.  Air-conditioning in Bernalda is beginning to cause the disappearance of those folks who, in order to keep cool, sit outside their doors in the afternoon and chat with passersby.  I don’t know if I would choose sociability over superior comfort, myself.  However I can recommend a plastic fly screen, those lines of hanging spirals which hang in the doorways of houses and bars during the summer. They do work, and are the best hands-free method for creating a barrier I have seen.   People are welcome, flies not so much.

“Openings”  oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches

 

An Easter recipe

It has been a while since I wrote anything about cooking, so I thought I would honor my wonderful mother-in-law by relating one of her favorites.  Her repertoire was not huge, but the things she made were invariably excellent.  This dish is a crowd-pleaser, and it really makes a splash as it is presented because it is so eye-catching.

I will call it the Alianelli Meat and Frittata Roll.

Bernalda View, oil on canvas

Using very thinly sliced beef or pork, lay out the slices on a large piece of plastic wrap and pound them into one very large and flat slice.  A meat tenderizing mallet will work well for this.  Make sure that your flat shape, when rolled up, will fit in one of your large pans.    You can make two short ones instead of one  big one, and they will fit better.  Keep in mind that the slices should not have a diameter wider than two to three inches, or they will fall apart as you cut them.  Salt and pepper the meat, and dot it generously with butter.  Set aside.

Create a number of quickly-made thin frittate, which are beaten egg mixed with a generous addition of freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano, or Grana Padano.   “Generous” means about one part cheese to two parts egg.   Make enough to entirely cover the meat.  Be careful  because these are very thin, they are easily torn, but they will be rolled up in the meat so it really isn’t so important that they be perfect.

At this point you can add very thinly-sliced prosciutto cotto or crudo, depending on your taste, laying it on top of the frittata.  Again, cover the entire large “slice” of meat.

Now carefully roll the whole thing up very tightly, using the plastic wrap to help you, and hey, don’t roll the plastic up in the meat roll!   Fold in the ends.  Get out your cooking twine to bind it together so that during cooking it will behave.  Using twine is another chapter, but I trust you will be able to handle it!   Fry the roll in generous olive oil in which you have briefly added a couple of garlic cloves, removed before they brown.  When the roll is thoroughly browned, and you are fairly sure it will have cooked through inside, add a cup or so of white wine to the pan to create a tasty reduction to spoon over the slices.

Remove the roll, let it cool down, and carefully remove the twine.  With your sharpest knife begin slicing it into half-inch slices.  They are almost psychedelic in their swirling bright yellow and dark brown spirals!  Lay them out on a platter and spoon the sauce over.  These can be zapped in the microwave right before serving to reheat them, or held in a warm oven.

Buon appetito, and Buona Pasqua!

"Food Bandits" mixed media on paper