View from my apartment balcony
This evening, as the light fades, I am blue. Rain sprinkles and strong cold winds discouraged me from a walk. It was too nasty outdoors even to sit under an umbrella at the corner caffè.
So I took the trash out, and enjoyed a quick walk around the piazza until the rain began to fall with more seriousness. It has been threatening all day. In this neighborhood I have nearly everything I could wish for—though the caffè is in the late afternoon sun, and sitting outdoors on the busy corner of a round about piazza isn’t exactly my idea of a nice little neighborhood caffè. The traffic is too noisy. Though the people watching is good–and there is a view of the bus stop.
In my new neighborhood there is a Bancomat (ATM) that likes my cards and gives me Euro when I ask nicely. There is a fresh veggie and fruit truck farmer who comes to the piazza every weekday. I saw him in the piazza on Saturday, too. There is a nice art supply store around the corner—for drawing and watercolor supplies. This morning I found large sheets of Thai Unryu paper in warm white and a soft carmel color. Of course I had to buy some. I browsed the supplies and yearned for more Italian gouache in larger tubes than I can find in the USA.
A large new COOP is in the piazza too—a modern grocery store that even sells wine. I think there are some nice little restaurants around, I just haven’t found them yet. I did see one bar on a dead end street, with a little sidewalk sitting area under umbrellas. That looked like a quieter spot. It might have some views for sitting and sketching.
Just around the corner from my apartment I am very pleased to find four kinds of trash containers—recycle containers for glass, plastic, metal and cardboard and paper. And a container for refuse that is only organic—compost material. How advanced the Italians seem compared to Alabama. The recycling containers make me happy. They remind me of my apartment in Perugia, where I lived and studied for a year. On my way to the city center or to university every day I could drop my trash and recycling in the appropriate containers. It made me very happy.
This is one of the little studies I created while in Florence. I walked up a long hill to get to the Orti del Parnaso Giardino dell’Orticoltura (horticultural garden) with a panoramic view of the city of Florence in the distance. I was about half way between the city center of Florence and Fiesole.
This old Etruscan lion was part of a pair guarding the stone steps that led down to the next level of the garden. I sat in the shade, on a stone wall, sketching, listening to the wind, the rhythmic splashing of the big fountain, and the birds. Gradually as I fell into drawing I got quieter inside and out. Later I added some shading to the lion with espresso left over from my morning caffè.
I took an early walk, not sure how long it would take me to find the church. The air was cool and fresh, and I enjoyed the walk and looked with interest at everything around me. I like this new neighborhood. It is quiet and nearly empty of people early on Sunday morning. All the shops are closed. I found some more beautiful della Robbia ceramic figures. I love the manganese blue backgrounds with the porcelain white figures modeled in bias relief.
For some reason I am attracted to these—I am not sure if it is the beauty of the sculptures or the blue or the combination of both. Their are fruits modeled realistically, piled into wreaths and borders framing the figures. So whenever I can get a good photo, I stop and pull out my little digital camera and take photos. These were from Via della Scala and Via della Rucellia.
Nearly next door to St. James was a beautiful little convent with a little church for Santa Teresa. The front of the church had a glorious della Robbia depicting a mother pelican feeding her chicks with droplets of blood. A legend says that the pelican plucks at its own breast until drops of blood fall to feed its young. This is an early symbol of Christ caring for his church. This is a large and particularly beautiful version from that story.
This church is part of a religious complex and convent owned by the Teresian Carmelite Institute (founded by the Blessed Teresa Maria Manetti, 1846-1910), built in 1900-1901 with a contribution from the Marchesi Antinori on the site of the monastery gardens of Sant’Anna al Prato. The architecture by Giovanni Paciarelli is in the 15th century Florentine classical manner. It now houses the Generalate and Noviciate. The nuns run a nursery school, and an association of Guards of Honour to watch over the Blessed Sacrament Exposed in their chapel.
Later. I walk back in the cool of the evening, enjoying the fresh breezes in this part of Florence. I decide I want to see the churches again, and this particular street, in the evening light. The streets are very quiet. As I approach St. Teresa’s church, I notice that the windows are open in the little nursery school classroom next door. I see the nuns gathered there, an one of them sees me, walking slowly by the church. Then the nuns begin singing Compline. I stand just out of sight, leaning against the iron fence that surrounds St. James Episcopal Church, listening. Their acapella voices are clear and feminine, singing sweetly, their music carrying into the quiet street. Closing my eyes, I breathe deeply–and sink into their songs. I am at peace.
Gold Leaf Halo studies from my illuminated journal
Galleria degli Uffizi, Bagliori Dorati (The Golden Glow)
pen and ink highlighted with red wine
Yesterday at the Uffizi I discover Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting in a gallery with three Caravaggio’s. It is amazing to see the power and raw energy in that painting—to see the woman’s grim determination to have that man’s head off his neck. The blood spray is beautifully painted, though perhaps the woman is still too pristinely clean. There are only a few drops of blood on her dress, and no blood on her hands. Maybe her knife isn’t quite sharp enough, though with the jugular cut, the general cannot possibly survive. It’s a war painting—filled with the animosity of the war between men and women—and the war between the Jews and the gentiles. Like her male counterparts, Gentileschi uses the story of Judith of Holfernes to create her subject. Yet there is far more going on in this painting.
The encounter with this painting was a pleasant surprise after the sad eyed passive looking Madonna, seated with the baby Jesus in her lap. Each Madonna looks as though she is waiting for something, as though she is not about to take action for any reason. Some are painted more naturalistically, and look a bit like real mothers with toddlers who are pestering them. They patiently put up with the inquiring hands patting them or grabbing them, and the adoring gaze of the baby Jesus.
At least I got another answer to one of those little mysteries—I noticed that the baby Jesus is holding tightly onto a little songbird in several paintings. I began noticing this in the MOMA a couple of years ago. In one of the placards with these paintings there is a casual mention that the gold finch clutched in the baby Christ’s hand is an early symbol of the Christian church. I’ll have to look for this particular gold finch in my bird books—Italian gold finches have red and gold on them, along with black markings. American gold finches are brilliant lemony yellow with black markings—only two colors.
I like The Annunciation paintings too—they depict the Holy Spirit coming upon Mary in different ways—illustrating the story just as the angel comes to tell her she is going to have a baby, the Lord Jesus Christ. One painting shows a dove flying straight as an arrow for Mary, as though it will pierce her breast, fly between her ribs, and embed itself into her heart. Some artists use gold leaf to enhance the dove of the Holy Spirit, adding a halo to the bird’s head, or adding golden rays to the dove’s flight path. In all these paintings they show Mary with an illuminated book in her lap, presumably she is interrupted in her pious prayers when she is startled by her heavenly visitor, her pretty little book falling into her lap. Each version of this story is treated a bit differently by each artist. The Uffizi exhibit helps the viewer to compare and contrast the different paintings, at the same time allowing us to see how an artist interprets the same event.
I read a bit of history about Fra Angelico—even as I admire his beautiful paintings. It seems that Fra Angelico began every painting with a time of prayer and meditation, to be sure that he would be an instrument of God through his paintings, illuminated manuscripts, and frescoes. I admire his depiction of Mary’s soft blushes, with her color heightened realistically.
Perhaps it is a mark of the progression of my spirituality that I find myself adoring these Madonna paintings. I love to look at the symbolism, the formal compositions. There are always stories behind these paintings—and that symbolism gives the work another layer of meaning.
pen and ink with watercolor and calligraphy
July 9, 2012
Last night I did as I said I would—on this, my first day in Florence. I got settled in my pensione, hung up my clothes, did some hand washing, took a nap. I wanted a riposa, to let the heat of the day pass off and to catch up on short sleep from the long, uncomfortable night on the airplane.
About six I got up, wide awake, and freshened up. Then I went downstairs to turn in the heavy brass key with the rubber bumper. In Italy one does not carry the hotel key around. It is too large and too heavy. This key is larger than my hand, and weighs about a pound.
A young man was on the reception desk. Philippe introduced himself and I began trying out my rusty Italian. His eyes widened. “You speak Italian,” he said. “A little,” I answered, “and it is important that I continue to learn Italian. I am rusty, I must practice.” He speaks some English, though with a heavy accent. So in a combination of Italian and English, we talked about why I am here and what I am doing. Eventually I showed him my journal.
He was pleased with the little bits in the journal—and admired the new handmade book. I apologized for the journal, saying that it was new and I hadn’t had much time to live in it and with it yet. I always feel apologetic when my journals are new and someone asks to see it. There is much that I long to draw and sketch, and so much writing—and living—that goes into my journals. It is always hard for me to give up the old journal, and when it is finally full I carry it around like a security blanket, and hunt through it for odd spaces to continue filling. Sometimes I turn the journal over and begin again, working backwards through it. The drawings and writings are roughly chronological, yet they are often out of order when it fills, and I begin hunting for new places to fit more writing or sketching into. The drawings are rarely related to the writings—I do not really illustrate my writings. Finally I give up and turn to a new journal, pristine with blank pages. It is hard to begin—again. Though once I am started, there is no turning back.
After a pleasant half hour with Philippe and a promise to talk more with him the next evening that he works, I head down the stairs and out into the street. My feet find the way, even as I soak up the atmosphere of Florence. I find my favorite trattoria is open again. I walk slowly across the Arno River on the old bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, admiring all the glittering gold jewelry. I like the gold coins mounted to wear as pendants, the heavy chains with intricate workmanship. I admire the gold and coral jewelry, too. And I think of CarolAnn.
I am pleased to see that the beautiful glove shop is still there, with a window worthy of any museum exhibit, filled with gloriously colored leather gloves. In this shop one can order custom gloves to fit, in any color of the rainbow. I think that I could be very happy wearing such beautiful gloves, though I wouldn’t be able to decide on which color to purchase.
The shops are already showing the fall fashions, even though it is far too hot to try on a heavy new sweater. The shoes are as colorful and stylish as ever, though there are more sandals that would be comfortable to walk in, perhaps less of the six-inch stiletto heels I always associate with Italian women.
Finally I arrive at Santa Felicità, the little church tucked into a small piazza, really just a wide cross street on the other side of the Ponte Vecchio, on the other side of the Fiume Arno (Arno River). I look up the narrow street that appears to be an alley. There are more restaurante than I remember. I walk up the little street, looking for my favorite wine bar. And I am crushed—it is not where I remember it to be! I shake my head, look again—too many restaurante—and just as I am about to give up—I spot it! There is a restaurante next to it, surrounded by clear glass walls, and instead of little caffè umbrellas at each table, there is one larger permanent white tent covering the raised platform. It nearly masks the sign—Le Volpe e l’Uva (The Fox and Grapes).
I am disappointed to see that all the outdoor tables are full, and two of the larger tables that seat four are reserved. So I enter the bar, and find a seat where I can observe the action. At first I am feeling shy, and a bit confused. It is always this way with me when I enter a new place—I am overwhelmed and not sure of my place in the new space. Too much noise, too many colors, too much movement. It is disorienting.
Two women are baristas now, and I do not know them. I look at the wine menu on the blackboard behind the bar, and order a glass of Vernacci di San Gimignano and a bottle of aqua frissante. The young Taiwanese woman is cheerful and pleasant.
I settle in, take out my journal, and try a little writing, to fill in the gaps I leave next to the drawings. I have to make up for the time spent drawing and not writing. The Italian customers and the two baristas chatter in Italian, joking with one another, ribbing one another. A catch snatches of their conversation, following it absentmindedly as I write. Then suddenly they sing out in unison, “Uno, due, tre—ciao Emilio!” They are so pleased with their performance that they repeat it—“Uno, due, tre—ciao Emilio!” Emilio enters the shop, an embarrassed grin on his face. I look at him carefully when he comes behind the bar. Is it the Emilio I remember sketching many years ago?
A young couple comes to sit next to me, and they order the Italian cheese plate with their wine. Emilio prepares it, and then explains the different cheeses to them.
When he is back behind the bar, I say, “Good evening, Emilio! Don’t you remember me? It’s Jauneth, back to Florence again.” He looks at me carefully, and when our eyes meet, recognition dawns. He is happy to see me—and proudly shows off the watercolor drawing I created—still framed and hanging behind the bar. After a bit, I ask to move outside at a free table, and order the cheese plate and another glass of wine. The little Taiwanese woman helps me move my things out to the table. She is nearly as pleased as Emilio to meet the artist who created the drawing.
Emilio comes to talk to me when he brings the cheeses. I am back in Florence, after nearly twelve years absence. I tell Emilio that my life has changed a lot in the last twelve years. That I cannot believe it has been that long since I lived in Florence. “Nothing has changed here,” Emilio says with that weary resignation of the Italian man. He wants to see my new journal, and I show him the new binding that I made.
He admires my sketches and calligraphy.
I am so happy to be sitting here, outdoors, in my favorite caffè, sipping cool white Tuscan wine. Emilio brings me special cheeses—I am amazed when he tells me that one is a pecorino with tobacco leaves. I ask him, is it true? The Italians grow tobacco too? He says they do, and this is an aromatic cheese. The other pecorino has tartuffa nero (black truffles). I love both of these pecorino cheeses. Later when Emilio comes by my table I tell him they are like flowers that bloom in my mouth.
I nibble these exquisite cheeses with chunks of fresh homemade bread, and sip my wine and water. I am filled with joy and happiness. It is good to be in Florence again.
Along the Arno River
pen and ink
July 8, 2012
Writing. I’ve been writing longhand in my journal. I’ve been carrying the new Ely design journal around for a couple of days now. I decided to bring it with me as I traveled… to work roughly in a chronological sequence.
Instead of morning pages, I decide that the best rhythm would be to work in my cooler room, seated in bed, propped up on pillows, beneath the ceiling fan, during the riposa. It’s too hot to wander around Florence in the afternoon.
The morning pages can be written in my journal long hand, sitting in a caffè, after downing the first wonderful real Italian espresso. So this morning, after terrible instant coffee British style, and pre-packaged cornetto (I skipped it), and a truly horrible version of Italian punch instead of real juice, I leave the pensione. I miss Luciano’s good fresh bakery croissants, real juices, and real cappuccino. The new owner skimps on breakfast. No wonder the other Americans I encountered at the reception desk last evening did not wish to eat breakfast here.
And these new owners are not as friendly as Luciano and Susan and their sons.
Craving a real Italian espresso, I walk along the Fume Arno and find a nice little caffè with a glorious panoramic view of the Ponte Santa Trinità—the most beautiful bridge in Florence—and a line of apartments and church towers on the other side of the river. Caffè Due Ponte has a lovely covered area to sit and watch the comings and going along the street. There is always a breeze off the river, too. I sit and sketch a bit of the scene, after writing for a time to catch up the journal—matching some thoughts to the sketches. Now I feel like the journal is well on its way.
Along the Arno River, detail
A pair of espresso cups, a substitute for a memory.
May 29, 2012
The first day of the workweek begins today. Memorial Day weekend is a memory now. I am drinking un secundo espresso con zucchero, my second espresso, laced with brown organic sugar. I decide to draw my collection of coffee cups. I begin with a pretty pair of espresso cups.
Everything has meaning. The cup I drink from this morning was purchased in an upscale Minnesota department store in Bemidji. I bought a matched pair, hand painted in Thailand with stripes and flourishes and dots in cobalt blue and swimming pool turquoise green. They are porcelain, designed by Marianne Vinich (© 1999). They are the first espresso cups I owned. I purchased them after my return from a third artist’s residency in Umbria, after living in Italy for six months. It was the first Christmas after 9-11. I was always cold, the long dark days were depressing and I missed Italy.
The cup I drink from this morning is a poor substitute for the set of handmade Deruta espresso cups I saw in a little sundries shop in Corciano eleven years ago. Every time I walked by the store I wanted to purchase the matched pair of little espresso cups and saucers I saw displayed in the window. I longed for those cups to drink my morning espresso in. Why do I insist on a special coffee cup? It’s part of the morning wake up ritual.
It was an Italian story. Every day I walked by and looked at those cups, imagining them in my kitchen, on my little table. I pictured myself in the kitchen, drinking my morning espresso from those cups. I pictured other Italian self pouring espresso for a guest, the pair of cups put to good use and admired by both of us. I wondered about the dark, mysterious store filled with sundries, these cups part of a jumble of objects in the little front window. The store was never open when I went by. Then one day when I caught it open, I had no money. After weeks of coveting these special cups suddenly the door to the store was opened and the lights were on. And I had no money–not a single lire with me.
And somehow I just knew that even if I ran back up the cobblestone street to my apartment, and ran up the four flights of stairs to ultimo piano, and dug out my lire, counting it three times to make sure I had enough, by the time I returned to the shop it would be as though I dreamed it open, and it would be mysteriously dark again, with the door tightly closed and locked, chiuso hanging in the window.
I try to take pleasure in the pair of espresso cups I have. Some mornings I appreciate them. They really are pretty. Yet they are forever linked in my mind to the handmade pair of Deruta espresso cups that got away. It was an unrequited love affair.
How do objects become charged with meaning, and carry a memory more than a decade later? I still remember those espresso cups, a little story of regret and longing, a little Italian story of opportunity missed.
Note–inscription on the underside of the cups:
Hand Painted in Thailand
Herman Dodge & Son Inc
In the car, doing errands, I practice Italian with the tapes I bought many years ago. They remain the best learning system I’ve used. I can still count forwards and backwards and add and subtract and multiply easily in Italian. Phrases and snippets of conversation return to me. On one section of the tape I repeat the verbs, noting their meaning. I love learning new words! ancoro imparo paroli nuove! I am still learning new words!
I remember babysitting for the Brooks family when I was about ten. Our fathers were both Majors in the USAF, and they were stationed in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Brooks family lived across the street and Mamma and Mrs. Brooks were pretty good friends. She had been divorced with three children and got married a second time to Major Brooks and they had two children. The two youngest needed my attention the most. The oldest was a boy my age, and he had a sister my sister’s age. I was never sure why he didn’t babysit for Mrs. Brooks, though I didn’t argue with the 75¢ an hour I earned. I babysat while Mrs. Brooks was out. Perhaps she was shopping, or getting her hair done. I’m not sure where she was when I babysat.
I remember carrying the youngest around—Kendra was two. She was learning to talk, and I pointed to things and called out their names. I carried her on my hip and we moved around the house. She loved the attention. We spent a lot of time playing with words, while she learned to talk. Kendra pointed to something new and said “Uh…?” And I’d respond, telling her “couch”, “TV”, or “picture”. She clapped her hands and repeated the words after me, naming things. Mamma called her a little mocking bird.
Studying Italian I get the same joyful feeling of knowing new words, of learning to name things. The delight of hearing musical sounds and knowing the meaning of a word fills me with joy.
From this memory another arrives–studying French when I was in high school. It was good to be able to walk around my home, naming things in French. I practiced speaking and writing, and tried my hand at translating poems into French. I long to study languages and immerse myself in them. To be able to communicate well and accurately is important to me. I love learning new words and the subtle shifts of meaning. The beautiful sounds of Italian fill my head and ears with the flavors of this romantic country.
ancoro imparo paroli nuove! I am still learning new words!
The finished front cover of the new Timothy C. Ely journal form
I am in love with the Ely journal form. I finally finished the cover last weekend. The perfect Japanese paper presented itself—and I had just enough to finish the covers, using the deep ultramarine blue deckle edge to good effect. It is hand block printed Japanese paper that I bought at Aiko’s in Chicago probably twenty plus years ago, when I was an ungrad at Indiana University. I had this paper stashed in my flat file for the just right project. This beautiful paper finished the Ely journal covers perfectly. It’s tailored and neat. The book makes me happy whenever I look at it.
Working in the new journal is taking some time. I’m always a bit uncomfortable with a new journal—all those blank pages are intimidating. At the workshop I tried Ely’s suggestion of entry points into the new book—though they are not my usual sort of entry points. I may do that with the new journals I am getting ready to bind—create drawings and then mix up the pages before I sew the binding to see where they end up. I have four new books stacked up on my drafting table in my studio, book blocks torn down and folded, covers made, ready to be sewn.
The first page of watercolor swatches, Illustrated Journal, Volume 25
For now, I carry the new journal around and admire it, opening it and appreciating the possibilities of the blank page. I caress the lush grey BFK pages, turning them over slowly.
This morning I was dreaming over the new Daniel Smith sale catalogue, a Wish Book for artists, studying the watercolor charts, looking at the sales on new paints and papers. I reached for my new journal, to refer to the watercolor paint swatches I glued into it. They are now archived where I can find them, and refer to them for my creative research. Dreamily I turned over the pages of watercolor swatches in my journal, filling in the blanks.
I am drawn to the handmade Daniel Smith watercolors with names like Italian Burnt Sienna, Naples Yellow, Italian Venetian Red, and Pompeii Red. Of course I have to have these new colors to round out my palette, to carry with me to the artist residency at Palazzo Rinaldi in Noepoli, Basilicata. My return to Italy begins in Florence, and on this trip I am determined to identify the pigment for Rosa Firentino, Florence Pink, the color of so many of the old stucco buildings in Florence.