Monday, April 30, 2007

A Gilded Dream

Venice is a gilded dream, an exotic floating city attracting vessels from every port across the globe. People arrive in droves to experience it’s spellbinding magic. There are no cars, and over 400 foot bridges crossing 100 canals. The Grand Canal is the main thoroughfare, and has been called the most amazing street in the world. It’s waters bustle with gondola’s, small water taxi’s and Vaporetto’s which are big public transport boats that hold up to 150 people. Grand homes and palaces from the past line both sides, reflecting many centuries of architectural styles.
Echoes of Venice’s aristocratic past are everywhere, like the peeling of the church bells that sound all over the city. Once ruling by might, even as a powerful Republic, now it finds itself a wizened ambassador, settled, and welcoming the world with stately charms.
I am inevitably quite happy in Venice. My Venetian friends always make my stay special: I visit homes, go to parties, share meals, visit friend's store's, walk together and have good companionship.
My apartment is near the famous Rialto Bridge, which crosses the Grand Canal, so I am in the thick of things. From my flat window, I can see a human river drifting in both directions among shops lining the narrow passage below. Once on the street, to go in any direction is adventure.
It is all so heady, that I think maybe I am dreaming.

Monday, April 23, 2007

An Old Olive Grove

It is impossible to imagine Italy without olive trees. The two have woven inextricably together over the centuries. Orchards are scattered everywhere over the countryside and trees are carefully preserved from one generation of landowner to the next.
A friend and I went out looking for a scene to paint. Driving toward our destination, we missed our exit and turned around. At that moment, I saw in the distance a dazzling landscape and insisted that we go explore. An old olive grove stood adorned with a carpet of blazing red poppies. It was as if a cache of rubies had been strewn over the land. The trees were old, some 500 years or more, with huge gnarled trunks. The limbs and branches produced lots of little silver-green leaves.
While we painted in the afternoon light, a caretaker arrived. We were a bit nervous about intruding, but he said he was happy we had chosen this place to paint. The olives and poppies had called us, and this gentle man appreciated that we honored the beauty.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Flux Of The Street

Polignano, Italy
He appeared with two friends and stood nearby, watching me paint. His friends interest soon waned and they caroused off, but he stayed close by. I continued at my easel, painting a tall narrow house, rising from the foot of a small public square, with a few trees in the foreground. The afternoon light illumined the surroundings under a cloudless sky. He watched in silence only a couple feet away, studying my every move from over my shoulder. After awhile, I felt something unusual was occurring. Breaking the silence, I asked him a couple questions, and learned he was eighteen, liked skateboarding, did a little artwork and originally came from Romania, where he began school late, at eight years old. His handsome look was of the sensitive type. I painted, and noticed feeling slightly uncomfortable at moments, being that my activity was so closely observed without falter and in silence. Other friends arrived, watching, then leaving to play soccer in the streets. The lad’s mother strolled along, spoke in English then disappeared. He did not leave my side, standing motionless for what seemed like an endless sojourn. I felt him become an extension of my being, and was embarrassed if I made a mistake and had to correct myself. Late in the afternoon, he said, “I have to go now.” We smiled, said “ciao,” then he vanished.

I remember him, and I am sure he too remembers me—and our chance encounter in the flux of the street.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Random Act Of Kindness

Sometimes while I am outdoors painting, my activity arouses people’s curiosity. In the old quarter of Rutigliano, in a neighborhood of stone streets so small cars cannot enter, I set up my easel and painted. A dozen or so curious people at various times arrived at my side to look. Youngsters especially were unafraid to approach. An old, slow moving, toothless fellow came along and took a pleasurable interest. He spoke but I could not understand, so I said in Italian, “I am an American artist, and can speak a little Italian, but not very well.” Turning to go, he halted and speaking in Italian, asked if I wanted a cigarette. After he was gone, I returned to my painting, and a few moments later he re-appeared and asked if I would like it if he brought some coffee. I said, “yes,” then he disappeared around the corner and five minutes later brought me espresso. For his random act of kindness, I thanked him profusely. He vanished again and I painted in earnest because the sun was moving across the afternoon sky causing the light and shadows to rapidly change so that my subject looked different with each passing moment. Twenty minutes later the fellow came again and strolled up, holding a plastic bag in his wrinkled hand. He opened and held it out, and I saw a pair of used, but nice, Italian leather shoes. Momentarily confused, I wondered what he was doing. The shoes looked about my size, and he pointed to my feet and then put the bag in my hand. Looking up into my face with a smile, he said something. I leaned over and kissed his whiskered cheek, then he shuffled away.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Artist Eyes

This morning before dawn a rooster crowed, setting off a cacophony of barks, howls, chirps and more crowing. Usually I fall back asleep, but this morning I dressed and walked out into the dawning day to watch the sunrise over the sea. The old woman next door was already sweeping the street in front of her house, and a rooster crowed loud and hearty from behind her backyard fence. A dazzling red orb hung over the sea horizon as I arrived, and in the opposite direction, Mt. Etna’s snow covered peaks were turning pink; awash in supernal rose-color hues of dawn light. A few men were already fishing out on the black lava flow, waves crashing in white foam at their feet.

In the afternoon I walked around the old quarter of Acireale. It must be strange for local people to see me in their streets looking so intently at everything. I stop and take pictures of sights that they are accustomed to and barely notice anymore. Like the centuries old, graffiti marked, crumbling, cracking walls. To my artist eyes, the aging walls, color and textures are fascinating and like a big abstract expressionist canvas. Nothing man-made in the United States has this kind of age to it.

Friday, April 06, 2007

An Old Vine

This morning I walked along the sea wall to the coffee bar by the tiny harbor. Cappucino is served in a little ceramic cup with a froth of white milk on top. Standing at the counter, I finished it in five minutes. Working men came to the bar, usually ordering espresso’s that are served in even smaller cups. A drink of water is offered first, to wet the mouth, then the espresso goes down in two satisfying sips.

Arriving back at the apartment, the produce man was sitting in his truck out front. I picked out a zuccini squash, but did not need anything more. As I began to pay, he put the squash in my hand, spread his feet, faced me squarely and touched both my shoulders. Then, with a look that said, “ this grand acquisition of your's is not going to make me rich,” he waved me off, touching his fingers to his lips and kissing off, as if to say, “ it is yours, and bon apetito.” It was a bit of a joke for both of us, and I laughed, saying grazie as he climbed back in his truck.
Yesterday I went to Messina in search of the Museo Regionale where a couple of Caravaggio paintings are on exhibit. The drive took 45 minutes to the city limit, then, I had to squirm in traffic snarl. Arriving at the museum, it was chiuso, closed for the day. I thought, this is part of the 15% chaos to be expected along the way. Nonetheless, I did not like having come so far to be denied. Furthermore, the sky was cloudy and occasionally spitting raindrops. Traffic was bad, the streets noisy and not particularly interesting, and I felt I was not accomplishing anything. Frustration grew, and then, serendipitously, I felt a spirit touch me. In the next moment, fresh air flowed into my lungs and with each drink of breath I felt more relaxed and rejuvenated. Grace had come. Standing near a busy market, with the wet, rubbish-strewn street at my feet, an old vine tied to a fence caught my eye. A wisteria was blooming, with pale purple flowers in delicate masses spreading along the railing. The moment I leaned forward to look more closely, I found an incredible fragrance permeated the air. Just the contrast of circumstances was wonderful in itself. In the midst of feeling denied, a reminder of renewal and beautiful life. Grace works without effort.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Struck With Awe

At unexpected times, I am struck with awe by the sublime beauty of people. At the Villa Del Casale, several times I was swept into a crush of ebullient teenagers, a high school group on an educational outing. Packed together in the narrow passages, I observed their facial expressions, conversation, dress, manners, etc., but most of all, the incredible uniqueness which made each individual special to the group. The miracle of this!
The other day Giuseppe was in Rome, so he arranged for his younger brother, Mario, to meet me at a park in central Acireale, then take me to their apartment where I could connect my computer to the Internet. As I sat in the car, he arrived on his scooter, and hopping off, he came to my window with a warm, open smile. “Hello, I am Mario, brother of Giuseppe. I take you to our apartment. Follow me.” All in a moment, I could see something quite beautiful and suddenly felt touched by the youthful vigor of the youngster arriving in the midst of the crowded streets, handsome face grinning from under his helmet as he pressed forward to greet me. Without effort, the lightness of being, √©lan, and beauty infused my consciousness. Silently, I was dumbstruck that an ordinary scene could impress me as so special, and that nobody else noticed.