Tempus Fugit

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

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

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

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

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