Yearly Archives: 2014

MAY WE ALL BE LIT FROM WITHIN

December 19, 2014

A brilliant day. From the moment we awoke to the force of sunlight pushing though white fog; a strange experience of illuminated blindness. By mid-morning the fog had evaporated leaving the spotlight to the winter sun, which accompanied us until its last breathtaking moment.

During these short daylight hours, as we spin ourselves stupid toward the solstice and the ridiculousness we call Christmas, I feel the energy that gratitude blesses us with when we know that we are right where we want to be. On a day like this one can’t do enough; the possibilities are endless. From salving the sad, tired spirit of Joel, whose skin cancer removals 10 days ago, have left him with open wounds, the pain and tension of them robbing him of his usual cheery self. Why men are loathe to have a good cry I’ll never know.

And so the day made itself known as one that would have us going in different directions: Joel to his desk and me to whatever came next. Even a rotten crossword puzzle with breakfast couldn’t dampen me. Certainly not, there was weeding and raking and sweeping to be done; the earth dirty with itself and the rot of all things fallen. And then to the village for ribbon for the curtain rings to hang from; for plump chicken breasts from butcher the senior, who melts me every time he calls my name. And on to the Erboristoria to consult with Alessandra, a good witch, as to what magic potion to bring home to Joel.

Only in Italy would you be able to buy Colostro (colostrum); the breast ambrosia that arrives before the mother’s milk comes in. A thin, limited supply of everything a baby needs to nourish it into a healthy life. The Colostro Alessandra gave me contains all the ingredients found in this maternal juice…and I must say, my baby’s looking better already.

And on. To the toy shop where I found the golden lights I had envisioned placing around the bottom of our lemon tree which is bravely wintering in the library. Next stop, Cerca Trova, basically a five and dime, but translates literally into: “You look, you find.”  More success…candles. And then to Tutta Frutta, the grocers, for a bag of succulent dates and a dozen clementines.

In each of these shops, I stopped and chatted with proprietors and customers, each of us remarking on a particular sadness that can be felt this season, in our little village. We all agreed that several years of bad economy has dampened spirits; the continual hope that next year or the next would be better worn down to disappointment bordering on depression.

I was grateful to have enough Italian to be able to share my thoughts about this. It seems to me that the consumerism that has come to represent a Merry Christmas puts a pressure on us that many are unable to fulfill. I said that the real sadness is to see a culture like this begin to forget itself; that Christmas originally stood for love and compassion and an equality that allowed both kings and shepherds to welcome a child into the world. All of these qualities are inherently and deeply Tuscan, yet are nonetheless on the perilous edge of disappearing, leaving us in a world of fog unlit by the sun.

Mind you, I did have my own moment of imminent failure to provide when, on entering Bar Moderno expressly to purchase their coffee ice cream, I saw that the gelato counter was closed for the season! Oh, no! How could I possibly break the news to my dear friend Sharon who, with her husband Paul, is coming for Christmas? Sharon needs her daily dose of café gelato the way a flower needs the sun. But Tuscany to the rescue!! After several calls to surrounding villages, the Artisanal Gelato man in Montalcino said he would make a kilo just for me and that it would be ready tomorrow! That’s the spirit.

Revived, I prepped the ingredients for our dinner, and laid the fire, deciding to drive back to town to ask the tailor to affix the ribbons on the curtains. I walked out the door of our house and literally gasped. The light was so intense that the garden looked lit for a film set. It was nearly 4 o’clock and as I drove our country lane I started to weep. To be amidst such beauty was to be vividly alive in the moment. It was as if the sun had entered the earth and come back up through the roots. Every branch and leaf and blade was bursting with color of an intensity bordering on terrifying; as if the blood of nature was lit from within.

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I had planned on running another errand after the tailor, but knew I would miss the sunset if I did and so I headed for the hills and home. Home to our valley, the curl of smoke from our chimney rising as the sun fell.

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Fireplace

BELIEVE WHAT YOU WILL

December 15 2014

n.b. sorry for the delay in posting this…we just got internet connection back today, after an absence of 5 days!

A week ago today I spent contemplating the alignment of my teeth and mortality…the teeth may leave sooner than the rest of me! However the gift of the day was being interviewed for a documentary on mortality.

During the interview I discovered that I wrote my recent novel not only because mortality is daily with me, and so if not now, when, but also because I wanted to provoke readers into questioning their own beliefs; where do they come from, what purpose do they serve?

I told the filmmaker that I thought we humans have a need to come up with a belief in order to make life bearable and that we make up a story in order to make death less terrifying. The belief I hold is that the power of goodness is greater than the power of evil. By that I mean that compared to the enormous crap pile of negativity currently at large in our world, goodness is relatively small, yet so far the practice of kindness, honesty, humility, generosity and compassion by so few is nonetheless enough to keep our planet on its axis. I said that I believe this energy creates a positive circle around the planet, a circle of energy that we can both contribute to and partake of as necessary. This belief keeps me going on dark days when the overwhelming news of wars, famine, disease and greed are enough to bring me to my knees.

The story that I’ve come up with to make death less terrifying is that I will become part of that spirit world encircling the globe; an invisible energy capable of comforting those yet to be born. Much like the angels in Wim Wenders film “Wings of Desire” were privy to the sorrows of mankind, descending here and there to pat a shoulder or stroke a brow.

I’m not actually afraid of dying, although I’d rather not. But like all human beings my ego has a real hard time accepting that I will, sooner or later, cease to be. So I’ve decided that the electrical energy of which I am composed will continue to exist much as energy continues to exist when you turn off the switch to your overhead lamp; the light goes out but the energy remains.

I am sitting now in my fireside cantuccio (nook) back in Tuscany, watching the light of day disappear. In the foreground, the garden gate and steps descending to the front arbor are in shadow, whereas in the distance, the sky is illuminated in peach and aqua. This is our first December in the house, and already we have discovered that the play of winter light penetrates the interior, illuminating the mystery within the ordinary; the reflection of a coat hook hovering on the wall like a ghostly spaceship; the rays of winter’s sun low enough to dazzle golden our studio floor; the gleam of sunbeam on the kitchen shelves licking the dishes with a glare of polished silver.

Yesterday afternoon we placed a bench against the stone wall of the house and, bathed in sunlight, listened to the silence. Of course, it wasn’t silent…it only seemed so after 3 weeks of living in New York where the constant cacophony of helicopters, horns and sirens sullied every moment. We held hands, speechless, yet aware of being on the same wavelength, and listened to the sleepy buzz of a late season bumble- bee.

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FLYING SOLO

December 3, 2014

Whoa! New York City! A helluva town!

We’ve gone from profound culture shock, to urban frenzy, to “hey we can do this and isn’t it great to see the kids?” to “Let’s cram a whole bunch more stuff onto the calendar,” to looking at each other and seeing the boy in Home Alone, only with way more wrinkles, to, “When do we go back to Tuscany?” We have run the gamut of emoticons and are gearing up for primal scream.

New Yuck City, here we are…and grateful for every minute of it. The only regret is that we have disappointed most of our NY friends for not spending time with them. It’s uncomfortably impossible: there are only 2 of us, and 30 of them. We tried it when we were here in January, scheduling 23 separate lunches and dinners in 30 days and learned the hard truth: it is impossible to be all things to all people. And so, as with much else as we age, we learn to make the difficult decisions in order to prioritize in a way that doesn’t jeopardize our physical and/or mental health. Our priority this time was family, and family showed up for us.

We’ve also learned a lot on this trip. Perhaps the biggest lesson being that we’re still capable of pulling the wool over our eyes. Every time we return to NY – even in the old, summer-on-Cape Cod days – we always say the same thing: “This time it will be different. This time we’ll play in the city and soak up all its cultural goodies.”  But we never do. The tug of Joel’s studio gets him every time and every time I watch him get sucked into the vortex while I stand on the rim fearing for his safety.

It’s hard to gauge how much to blame on the city energy, which surely is relentless and can be felt clawing at every edifice to gain entry; as opposed to accepting that Joel’s life as a photographer has created a many-tentacled beast that he feels compelled to feed and train. It is not for me to hack at the tentacles until they free him.

So, in the future we’ve decided we will try coming here separately; Joel for work and family and me for family and culture. He for 2 weeks, me for 1. Why growing up is so hard to do I don’t know. Well, that’s not true…of course I know. All of us keep some spirit of the child in us; the spirit that is boundless in the belief that we can do and have everything. None of us want the ice cream cone to end.

For me, another lesson learned in the past week, which I could only have learned  by finally having accepted who I am and what I have, turned out to be a real gift.

Joel and I had been invited to collaborate, as equals we thought, in someone else’s creative project, a project that really interested us. Then I got an email the day after Thanksgiving, informing me that I would be cast in the role of supportive wife. I let a few expletives rip through the interior of the car. Then I felt disappointed, as this is someone I much admire both as an artist and a human.

But the interesting discovery was that I didn’t feel rejected or diminished…which I certainly would have until a couple of weeks ago. It was as though the universe was testing me to see how well my recent self-acceptance would hold up in such a situation.

To make it brief, I respectfully declined the offer to participate. I felt immediate relief. I felt the freedom of choosing not to scratch at crumbs and not to hope that, via Joel, I might gain recognition.  And bravo to the artist, who had the courage not to be defensive, but instead took the opportunity to learn her own lesson with grace and humility. In so doing, she created the space for me to participate in the project, in my own right: a mere human being who knows a bit about the creative process and mortality.

So, dear ones, I leave you with these words from Lewis Lapham, with the hope that any of you who might be questioning the meaning of success will take the time to redefine it in a way which reflects the true worth of who you are.

Failure is its own reward. It is in the effort to close the distance between the work imagined and the work achieved wherein it is to be found that the ceaseless labor is the freedom of play, that what’s at stake isn’t a reflection in the mirror of fame, but the escape from the prison of the self.

 

Joel Studio Table

Photo by Maggie

 

 

PART 2: AND THE ANSWER IS….

November 24, 2014

Ever since I received that first rejection of my novel a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been asking myself: “How can I come to peace with what I am and what I have?”

A simple question, asked daily… sometimes hourly… over the last two weeks. A question that seemed so simple that surely there must be a simple answer. And there was, but arriving at it was not so simple. In fact, there were times that the dark abyss of no answer was frightening. Had I really come all this way, survived so much, only to be unable to see the woods for the trees?

When I worked as a therapist I tried to impart the conundrum of self-evolution: the conundrum being that only we, the individual, can do the work, but that it is impossible to do the work without help. So I would like to say a thank you to my helpers during the last 2 weeks.

First is my Joel who, apart from being a great photographer, is one of the most optimistic, trauma/drama-free humans I’ve ever met. A man who, while never having experienced the despondency and depression that many of us have been visited by, nevertheless knows how to rock me when I weep. My friend Sharon, who said “Maybe we need to look more at our lives and less at our selves.” Vivian, who gives the best hugs both in person and via the phone. And our dear friend Gianni who wrote from Tuscany: “You and I have not yet been kissed by the success we have longed for, but your #1 success will always be Isabel (my daughter) and #2, meeting Joel”.  And Adam, the healer who lives next door. All of this love, along with that from my daughter and my stepdaughter and her family, has kept me going while I kept asking that question.

The answer came 2 nights ago when I was writing to all of you. For the last 3 ½ years I have been putting pen to paper in order to explore the ups and downs, ins and outs, joys and sorrows, births and deaths, aches, pains and rotting gums, food and flood, love and laughter, and the sheer miraculous absurdity of life. I’ve actually been doing this for 47 years, but only 3 ½ years ago did I find the courage and generosity to share it with all of you.

While I was writing the last post, it was as though you all gathered around me and roared a mighty “yes”. And suddenly it all fell into place: the understanding that what I “have” is such a privilege. The energy that goes from me to you and back again reaches out to more people than we can ever know. The exquisite shift of energy that occurs in the private yet open communion between writer and reader alters the molecular world, as does every sneeze and sob and snowflake.

When we are at peace with who we are and what we have, the universe expands and opportunity arises as easily as breath itself.

Oh, I thought, who cares whether the novel is published or not? Next year I will self-publish a collection of essays culled from the blog posts; a book published just for you. And why not a podcast of the blog, too, for those who cannot read or don’t have time?

I shared this revelation with my stepson, Sasha, who wrote back with such love and wisdom, encouraging me to keep blogging and furthermore, to claim it for myself because, he said, the blog is really yours anyway. A profound thank you to him for his exquisite timing.

For all of you who might shiver and gasp at the firing of my dear Joel, let me assure you that I will still include photos of his from time to time….what, are you crazy? You think I’d look that gift-horse in the mouth?

The title of the blog will remain the same except that now the ‘our’ will include us all. For at our best that is what we are all doing: feeling our way around.

So to all of you, dear readers, thank you for being a part of what I have and may we all give thanks tomorrow for the gift of life which, while not always beautifully wrapped, and sometimes having less than desirable content, is bestowed with unconditional love and offers us daily the opportunity to practice gracious acceptance.

 

PART ONE: RIDE THE PONY

November 20  2014

Grief. The last word of the last post. The last word in feelings. The last word in a world of loss.

I never did like Novembers. A bittersweet month it always seemed to me. And this one has been no exception. I hit a low spot…a swale of sadness linked to regret and rejection; the latest being from an agent in London who said “no” to my novel.

Someone asked me today “When will I stop feeling like a sad 2 year-old?” and I wished I could tell her. What I did tell her is that the place where we were psychically wounded in our childhoods is the place we will continue to emotionally react from as adults. It is an American dream that we can make history disappear. Personal and universal history, are part of our DNA. I’d like to say that the way I’ve been feeling the last couple of weeks will pass, and it most likely will. But I can’t say that I’ll never feel this way again.

What I do know is that there is more work to be done in order to come to terms with who I am and always have been as opposed to who I wish I were. This takes courage and courage takes will and energy…two assets that seem to diminish with age. In my case, a quarter century of daily physical pain along with a lifetime of alternating between rejection and recovery have certainly taken their toll. And, ashamedly, knowing that I am far better off than any woman born into a third world really doesn’t make me feel any better today. In the end, there is only one’s self to reckon with and the mirror I’m being reflected in these days is filled with flaws, its backing partially removed. But reflection doesn’t serve me well at the moment. It’s a warp of vision that’s nearer than it appears. And really, I’m tired of reaching for the brass ring instead of just riding the pony. So I’m on it.

The happiest moment of my life was the one in which I stood on a rickety bridge on the Cornish cliffs watching a moorland stream cascade on one side, before disappearing underfoot, never to be distinguished again as it rushed to the sea.

A moment without interpretation. A moment devoid of meaning. A moment absent of metaphor, absent of past or future, absent of desire, hope and expectation.

As said the rose:  “Thrive where you must; stand tall in your essential self.”

To be continued…

THE LAUNDRESS AND THE ROSE

October 31 2014        THE LAUNDRESS AND THE ROSE

Some days the need to write comes not from having something urgent to say but rather from the urgent need to locate the answer to an unformed question. Or, as the essayist Lewis H. Lapham wrote :“The essay proceeds from the question ‘What do I know’ and doesn’t stay for an answer until the author finds out what  he/she means to say by setting it up in a sentence, maybe catching it in a metaphor.”

It is this alchemy inherent in language for which I search today, and as when confronting a tangled ball of string, I reach for the end nearest at hand, the end which beckons to one’s sleight of hand, or in this case, mind. It is the word ‘metaphor’, the caboose of Lapham’s sentence above, which seduces me now; metaphor itself having a tendency to superficial art. And what cheekier metaphor exists than  “a rose is a rose is a rose”? Thank you, Gertrude Stein.

I started my day with a thigh cramp. Have you even had one? I’ve had cramps since childhood, just about everywhere from fingers to toes, most often in the calf. None of them fun. But a piece of cake compared to a thigh cramp. In place of a metaphor let me use a simile: a thigh cramp is like back labor without the reward of giving birth. To awaken into consciousness only to immediately wish to die, seems incomparably cruel.

However, if the difference between a metaphor and a simile is the word “like” as in “my love is like a red, red rose,” (Thank you, Robert Burns) as opposed to “All the world is a stage,” a metaphor courtesy of Shakespeare, then the pain of a thigh cramp would be a metaphor because it ain’t like anything, it just bloody is !

I was already heading toward despondency this week, having heard nothing from the agent to whom my novel was submitted weeks ago. Add to this the now 6 weeks-long attempt at gaining residency here in Italy and one has the perfect atmosphere of failure to thrive. Put a thigh cramp in there and you are truly f—ked.

The only options when in such a stifling state are either to pick up my pen or the laundry.  I’ve taken to cheating a little lately, now that the season makes line-drying bed linens an iffy business. So we drove into the village to run some errands one of which was to pick up the freshly laundered sheets. And I do mean fresh. The laundry/dry cleaner’s sits in the old wall of the village and is run by a woman perhaps in her 50’s whose harrowed brow no iron could ever smooth. On either side of the shop, behind the counter, are racks of exquisitely dry-cleaned vestments and stacks of neatly packaged laundry. Through the rear window of the shop, dozens of sheets can be seen, as varied as wildflowers, blowing in the breeze of the courtyard.

I’m embarrassed to say I have not yet asked her name, although I have told her that her work is superior to any of its kind I have found in any city. I sense that worry is innate to her, as is patience, the latter of which she exhibits with her 3 year-old granddaughter whom she is invariable tending along with the laundry. Perhaps it is this combination of worry and patience that presses into the linens, the immaculate state of which elicits a gasp of surprise and joy every time I open the package; the surprise being that these really are my sheets, and the joy coming not only from the fact that I didn’t have to do the work, but that such work emanates a quiet dignity and genuine respect.

I was already humbled as we drove away and perhaps only when humbled can we recognize the dignity inherent in all things humble.

We stopped at the intersection to make our right turn, an intersection we’re 19 years acquainted with and never before remarked upon. On the far left corner, a consortium; on the far right a house, its iron fence less than 2 feet from the traffic. And there like a sentinel by the front door stood a sturdy evergreen shrub, quite proud of its substantial self, it seemed, while in front of it, on a single cane, one pale pink rose nodded at every passing car.

I knew I was looking at a metaphor, but couldn’t break the code. All day the image of the mighty shrub and the delicate rose kept appearing in my mind’s eye. I’m pretty sure I saw the rose first, but just as I was about to surrender to its marvel I saw that damned evergreen. It’s self-importance annoyed me, as does my own. Standing there at the portal as if its pride of place made it relevant. But it was the rose that took my breath away; a metaphor of existence on that shabby corner. A singular thing of courageous beauty. Un-cowed by a season of inhaling exhaust fumes, it seemed to say, “Thrive where you must; stand tall in your essential self.”

Soon its petals will fall and who can know if it or we will see another spring? The owner of our bar café in the village died on Thursday, an aneurism. 57. Sitting at his desk. Pen in hand. Our dear Vincenzo, the farmer, had emergency surgery this week for appendicitis. Evergreen, or rose, laundress or writer, barman or farmer; we each have our time on earth. Life is not the simile that Forrest Gump cloyed us with. It is not like a box of chocolates. Nor is it the metaphoric bowl of cherries. It just is. It has no absolute meaning.

The beauty of the metaphor, as opposed to the simile, which merely substitutes one word for another, is that metaphor is pure, personal meaning. The laundress and the rose validated what is meaningful for me: to inhabit one’s self in a way that is of service to others in those moments when the meaninglessness of life fills us with grief.

A WEB OF OUR OWN      

October 21 2014

Something about the angle of the sun at this time of the year; its low hovering, as if the nearness of its rays might compensate for the diminishment of its heat. And so it does, bringing us an elongated Indian summer, all the more of a gift for there not having been much of summer here. And in this low pale light are revealed thousands of gossamer threads linking trees to posts, fences to stalks, gates to antenna and if one sits long enough one will attach itself to a sweater or finger, sewing one into the landscape. The threads, fine as they are, are strong in attachment, akin to crazy glue or the gum of a Bandaid which when rolled in an attempt at riddance just keeps transferring from one surface to the next.

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Fall light

I assume they’re the work of spiders, pre-web. An industrious attempt at wide-world connection with perhaps less negative impact than the internet. Although, much like the internet, they are constantly in your face. These pale strands, invisible without sunlight are as mysterious to me as strands of thought and I have about as much luck following either!

Why I have picked this strand of thought to day I have no idea, anymore than why I have held on to the sound Vincenzo’s tractor coming home late from the fields and hills this past Saturday. I never knew that a tractor could sound so tired. Or how about the lemon tree, which we must soon bring indoors for the winter? The daily surprise of its constant flowering and the counting of 25 new lemons, the appearance of which give me hope that a gal from England can have such success with a Mediterranean tree.

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Antonello and Luca, the stonemasons, finished their work here yesterday. 5 days a week for the last month they arrived at 8 each morning, choosing, chipping and cementing stone to create steps and a wall, collars for the olive trees and a sun patio. How strange we were to each other at first; the two of them so deeply Tuscan we could barely understand a word of their dialect. And we to them? Stranieri , looked at askance from a distance. But as they laid the stones I spun my gossamer and each day we became more connected. Each day they ate their lunch at our outdoor table, boots off, socked feet twiddling like schoolboys. And each day when they finished eating I brought them cake and coffee, asked them to speak slowly and was told I spoiled them like a grandmother. Each day brought ever closer by the common threads of decency and respect. Greeting each other with joy every morning.

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And so it was that one day we found ourselves talking about Westerns, childhood, The Flintstones, the naming and loving of the animals raised for food, waitressing and dancing and the pleasure of reading. One day I cooked soup for them. Another day Luca stopped what he was doing to help me dig in some plants. During one lunch I brought them Joel’s retrospective book and we watched the two of them move closer to each other on the bench, slowly turning the pages, the pages revealing people and places far, far from their lives.

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A week ago, with reticence, they helped me choose the right spot for the pomegranate tree. I remarked on the shame of it bearing no fruit in this, its season, and was reassured by them that now it was in the ground it would most certainly produce. The next morning I went out to look at it and saw that it actually did have one pomegranate dangling from a branch and, wondering why I hadn’t seen it the day before assumed it must have been the slant of the sun and turning to exclaim saw Luca giggling, his prank a great success.

Joel was in Paris on Monday when the guys came to clean up their tools and tarps and cement mixer, loading them into the truck along with their wheelbarrows. We hugged and kissed goodbye and I felt bereft as they drove away. And hour later, I heard the click of the garden gate and looking up saw them coming down the steps. They had forgotten some small thing and joked that they couldn’t live without me.

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It isn’t the Internet that connects us on this level, although it is possible to connect on this level via the Internet; our ancient strands of gossamer spinning toward each other, often in frail attempt, sometimes snagged on a thorn, and yet on we go to spin another, constantly reaching for each other across great divides in the pale low light of time.

October 6, 2014 ET AL

I’m big on lists. The ‘to do’ kind. Love the organization of them, the goals and visions they encompass: write a novel, make a home, move to Italy; and the mundane: do the laundry, shop for groceries, go to the Post Office. And then there is the joy of crossing the accomplishments off the list and moving the remains over to tomorrow.  But it strikes me now, as I collapse on the couch, that ‘to do’ lists are by nature always about wants and needs and nearly always, in the compiling of them, bring an element of chore-dom to one’s life, as opposed say, to making a gratitude list.

When I sit down to write something for our blog I sometimes have something particular in mind. More often than not I have no idea what I will write about. And sometimes, where there is much to write about, I feel slightly overwhelmed; the way I do when there is much to be done…hence the ‘to do’ list. So I thought it might be interesting to write a ‘done’ list.

1.  Sunday 21st: packed up the entire kitchen in preparation for the new sink being installed in our absence.

2. Monday, flew to Dusseldorf for the opening of Joel’s retrospective exhibition.

NRW Forum

3. Invented a drink (a strange thing for an alcoholic to do) at the invitation of the Intercontinental Hotel, which is one of the sponsors of the exhibition…and a mighty fine hotel it is.

Retro Drink

4. The drink: champagne, pomegranate and lemongrass accompanied by a side garnish of crystalized ginger. The drink (which works well substituting fizzy water for champagne) was named “Retro” in honor of Joel.

5.  Visited NRW Forum to see the final touches of the installation of J’s show which includes 260 photographs, his Elements video, his film “Pop”, and a documentary about Joel which Ralph Goertz, the curator of the show, made over a period of 3 years.

Install NRW L1008542

6. This list must include kudos and gratitude to Ralph who has that rare combination of skill, passion, vision and humility. He did a world-class job and I urge anyone who is going to be near Dusseldorf in the next 3 months to go see it.

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7.  Went to a morning dress rehearsal of a Strauss opera, the name of which I completely forget. Apart from the amazing staging and costumes, the most interesting thing about this rehearsal was the fact that 3 of the divas were not singing full voice, choosing to save the shattering of windows for Saturday’s premiere. For sure it ain’t over when the fat lady don’t sing. But you haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed 3 sopranos singing in a whisper while the veins in their necks bulge with the effort of constraint.

Opera

8.  Bought 2 sweaters and a pair of boots.

9.  Had dinner cooked for us by Ralph and his wonderful wife, Vera, in their home; an intimate evening of being taken care of while supping on fine food accompanied by much laughter.

10. Sat in a recording studio on my own and worked the board while reading 2 chapters of my novel, followed by recording a Skype interview with Julie Burstein in New York. This was a try-out for what will be a series of Podcasts called “A Question of Belief”. Julie then edited the recordings and we sent the link to Sarah, my editor in UK, who included it in the package along with the manuscript of the novel…all of which was then delivered to the first agent. Also in the package was a link to this blog, along with many of your comments. Thank you so much.

https://soundcloud.com/you-know-what-1/a-question-of-belief-with/s-ni6r2

https://soundcloud.com/you-know-what-1/chapters-1-and-2-read-by-maggie-barrett/s-m5y0p

11.  Found out the blog didn’t seem to include a comment box (instructions can be found at the end of this post).

12. Suffered a mini-collapse the day of the opening and was kindly seen by a healer Joel had serendipitously met an hour earlier. This lovely man treated me with acupuncture, Chinese medicine and pulsing crystals, after having diagnosed me as suffering from exhaustion and weak kidney energy which is linked to fear (more about that, maybe, later). After half an hour, I bounced off his table, dashed to the hotel for a change of clothing (including one of those new sweaters) and went off to the opening where for three hours I worked the rooms along with my rock star husband. About 5 hundred people attended. And how strange, unlike in NY, to see people actually looking at the work and not at each other!

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NRW Opening 2014

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13.  Took a hot bath and fell into bed at midnight.

14.  Took the train to Berlin for the opening of J’s show in what we hope will be his new European gallery; The Springer Gallery.

Springer Galerie

15.  The train, was due to arrive in Berlin at 3pm., giving us time to dash to the hotel and change before getting to the gallery at 4 when J was scheduled to give a talk. Oh, trouble on the tracks, two-hour delay. Aargh, no taxis on arrival, 20 minute wait. Ew, it’s the Berlin Marathon weekend….detours. Oh no, the taxi driver can’t find the gallery!!

16. Finally arrive, 2 hours late, to find the gallery packed to capacity with people flowing out onto the street, all of them waiting patiently. All of them rapt, as Joel, in his generous and poetic way, told them about his journey as a photographer, and what the evolution of the medium means to him.

17. Dinner and another bath before bed.

18.  We awake to a sunny Sunday in Berlin and are taken by dear Robert and Heide, the owners of the gallery, to a beautiful house on the edge of lake where Christiane, a world class violin player, and her husband Tillman who, as well as playing, makes and repairs violas, performed a private concert for us. To sit in their practice room, the sun dancing on the water behind them, their music filling us beyond reason, their loving glances at each other as they played…I really don’t have words.

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19. Flew back to Florence and then were driven home through our beloved land, so happy to see the cows and the sheep again.

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20.  Came in the garden gate and walked down our new stone steps, which had been built while we were gone.  Came in the house and cried when we saw the new stone sink.

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21. Also cried when we had to roll up the sleeves and unpack the kitchen!

22. Bed, sleep, oh beautiful sleep.

Of course, we’re not done! Meno male, as they say here, which basically means thank God. We won’t be done until we’re done and we’ll be done one day whether or not the fat lady sings.

There is much not included on this list. Like the visions we had from the train window of WWII soldiers fleeing through the forests. Like the generosity and warmth from everyone we encountered. Like not having to speak Italian or German (meno male) for a week. Like the strangeness of being in a country that is filled with order, cleanliness and high efficiency, unlike our lovely old crumbly Italy; like the slightly manic energy we experienced the minute we enter any city. Like the dinner with Alma and Stephan, two photography aficionados with infectious energy…not to mention the fact that, like me, Alma is both a dancer and a gardener and turned me on to Beth Chatto, the English gardener, known for mastering the art of growing plants that love stony, dry ground. And, like the fact that under these supreme Tuscan skies, amidst the beauty and peace and the twice daily chorus of the sheep, we found the energy this week to oversee stonemasonry, landscaping, laundry, the running of a 1000 errands, the making of beds for arriving guests and yes, the hanging of more curtains!

And the list goes on…the “done” ticked-off with gratitude, the “to do” a thread of facts and dreams that spins out as far as the eye can see. What a to do, indeed.

NB. Our apologies to those of you who wanted to leave comments but could find no place to do so. From now on, if you wish to comment, click on the title of the current post (e.g., this one you would click on ET AL) and it will reload with a Comments box at the bottom of the post. Enter your comment there and hit Post. This being said, we are still finessing this aspect as it still seems to be somewhat hit or miss. Please bear with us, as it is important to us to get your feedback. With thanks, as always. M & J.

September 19 2014             WAITING IT OUT

Two Mondays ago we went to our favorite island for a few days respite between finishing the revision of my novel and the arrival of Sarah, my UK editor. We had envisioned draping our crêpe on various sunbaked boulders with occasional dips in the sea. But the weather had a different plan. By the time the ferry docked an enormous wind had risen, whipping the chiffon scarf from my neck and taking it to some unknown destination. The waves in the port were impressive to say the least and we wondered if the water taxi would make it to the remote inn where we stay.

To say we experienced a joy ride would be putting it mildly. Clinging to each other and our luggage we kept our focus on the pilot’s bum-crack rather than the waves and some 10 minutes later were deposited safely in the cove where the 300 hundred stone steps awaited our wobbly sea legs.

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The wind was so ferocious that the innkeepers had brought the terrace furniture inside and after lunch, rather than risk an untimely death from falling trees, we snuggled in bed for the afternoon, thinking to watch a movie on Joel’s computer. But we were disillusioned once again when the damn thing crashed and refused all attempts at resuscitation. Fortunately we had downloaded a bunch of new books onto our Kindles.

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Two of our 4 days on the island were windblown and on 1 of the remaining 2 I was laid low with a stomach bug…of course, on the sunniest, calmest day of all. So the final layer of tan that I had hope would tide me over into October was not to be.

And so it goes. Two sayings come to mind: ‘You can plan but you can’t plan the outcome’ and “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I can’t but help wonder, as I write the second one if George W’s God was in a humorous mood when he told Him he planned to invade Iraq. Certainly he and Cheney would have done well to heed the first saying.

But it is I, now, who must heed the first of these sayings because my novel is now out of my hands.  Sarah and I spent 4 days side by side going through the entire manuscript, making last draft adjustments and polishing that baby to a high gloss. We were encouraged by the fact that in spite of our having read the novel countless times we were still able to have a good laugh at some of the irreverent scenes. And, when we came to the end of our revision, Sarah suggested I read the last chapter out loud to her and Joel. The 3 of us were sitting upstairs in the studio and when the last words left me we all broke down crying.

What an amazing journey this had been. From its origin as a short story which I wrote in the late 90’s, to my first attempt at turning it into a millennium novel, in the early 2000’s; the subsequent 12 years that it lay buried in a drawer 3 chapters in; to last year when I opened the drawer and took it and myself seriously, the entire manuscript flying out of me in 5 months. Then followed weeks of sending it out to readers, the gathering of their feedback and then to Sarah.  A gift from my dear writer friend, Susan, Sarah came into my life and into the text with grace and goodwill and extraordinary editing skills. She wielded her scalpel in light incisions until the best of what I had written lay naked on the page. I accepted at least 90% of her comments and track changes, even when it meant letting go of some of my “little darlings” – an invaluable lesson in seeing how ego gets in the way of truth.

We had worked via email for 4 months, sight unseen, until 11 September when she came in the garden gate. And then the fun began. Not only in the dotting of i’s and the crossing of t’s, but the mounting excitement we felt as we brainstormed on how to package it and me.

When the car came to take Sarah to the airport, she took my hand and held it as we walked to the gate, the way a sister or an angel would do such a thing. As if to say, I’m with you all the way.

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In a few days, she will send it off to agents and who knows what will happen. We all feel extremely positive about its chances, but…its manifestation as a good read out in the world depends on much that is beyond my control. Yet I’d like to believe another of my angels, Julie, who yesterday said, “It feels inevitable.”  But for now I must wait on the schedules, whims, judgments and needs of the publishing world. I’m not good at waiting. Yet, patience is something the universe seems to be offering me plenty of opportunity to practice.

In the meantime I am grateful for all that I have today. And then there is this: the work of an artist is never-ending. The day after Sarah left I began reading and revising a novel I wrote some years ago, which we think might make for a 2 book deal.

So one goes forward, in spite of the waves and the wind, because it really is about the journey and not the destination. There is, after all, only one destination for all of us, the ultimate unknown destination. Who knows, maybe my chiffon scarf is already there, waiting for me.

NB. Dear readers, I would like to ask for your help. As part of my PR package we would like to include quotes from followers of the blog. Perhaps some of you would like to share what it means to you, why and for how long you have been following it. Anything from a sentence to a paragraph would be gratefully received. You can either email me or post a comment on the blog’s website. The comment box is located at the end of each post. Our deadline is 29 September. With gratitude, as always, Maggie.

 

August 27 2014                      ABOVE IT ALL

I finished the latest round of revision of my novel on Sunday, a nearly 4 month, highly focused, intense process of work with a British editor who made me re-consider many aspects of the craft of fiction writing; a process which included killing off several interior passages that I was quite fond of in a wow-look-what-I-wrote kind of way. Nine times out of ten she was spot on and about halfway through the revision I began to see/understand how her edits and comments revealed both the narrative and its psychology in a more telling, as opposed to showing, way and quickened its pace to the kind of immediacy necessary for a can’t-put-it-down read.

When I finished I wept. I wept for the characters and I wept from the endeavor. And then I scooped a generous amount of vanilla gelato into a mug, lightly sprinkled it with salt and topped it off with locally made crumbled chocolate. How nice, I thought, that tomorrow is Monday and I can just laze around. Wrong.

Monday turned out to be the first of a few days of weaning 20 lambs from their mothers and the first day of milking the ewes. The agonizing sound of separated lambs and ewes had the effect that listening to an orchestra tune up for 8 hours non-stop might have, in that their sonorous bleating was completely devoid of harmony, not to mention suffused with anguish.

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We were rescued, as is so often the case, by our dear friend Gianni, who offered to take us on one of his adventures the next day. Joy of joys. We left the house about 9:30 and decided to head up into the mountains toward Amiata, about an hour south of here.

Of the many things we love about Tuscany, one is the enormous range of terrain, from rolling hills and valleys (our terrain) to vineyards and the ubiquitous fields of sunflowers, to rocky foothills somewhat reminiscent of Provence and on up into chestnut tree country and tiny, tourist-free villages. And on, up, up into the forested mountains, the air as fresh as crisp autumn, the light darting and flitting through the firs and pines. Enormous moss-covered boulders (oh, how I wish I could have some of those for the garden!) guarded the mouths of caves and grottos. A scattering of swiss-chalet style vacations homes, already closed up for the season and iron poles, painted in stripes, lined the winding road; an indication of the winter snows to come.

By the time we reached the peak we had our jackets on and Gianni not speaking English, we were fully immersed in Italian; enough to understand that he was looking for a very special woodsman. And so it was that we suddenly pulled off the road and, following Gianni’s pointed finger, saw 3 beasts of burden loaded with recently felled logs; the beasts standing next to a huge pile of wood, standing in the dappled light waiting for their master. A whistle and a yodel and here comes the woodsman. We watched as he gently coaxed the animals to place their forelegs on the logs at the base of the pile and then with one tug on a rope, the logs fell from each side of the saddle, the animal deftly stepping back to avoid injury to its hooves and ankles.

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So, the animals: bred from male mules and female horses; a gender specific combination of brawn and brain.

The man: 42, a basso profondo operatic voice; a medium-height, compact body.

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A curved knife worn like a tail, and a combination of intelligence and spirituality, the evidence of which – in this digitally described, consumer driven world – replenished all hope.

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This man had made a conscious decision to find a way to earn from nature without being beholden to anyone. He and his beasts can reach into the highest part of the mountain’s forest where no machine can go. His relationship to the land and his animals is profound and at the end of the day he puts the money in his pocket. I tell you, I’d like to spend a day with him.

When he finished telling us his story we watched as he roped the animals together and then man and beasts as one, disappeared into the mystery.

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What on earth can you do to follow that? Well, it helps if you’re with Gianni because you might find yourself within 8 minutes in what appeared to be a ghost village, walking in the door of a non-descript building and into one of the finest restaurants we’ve yet experienced. It being Monday and lunchtime, the place was deserted but for the maître d’ and the chef who appeared to have been waiting for we 3 musketeers.

We’re talking serious kitchen here. Right up there with the finest in Manhattan. Gianni asked the chef to make us a light lunch from whatever he wanted. We could have stopped with the oil and bread plate, it was that superior. But we soldiered on through the melt-in-the-mouth raviolini, the steamed veggies and a soft-boiled egg cooked to within a second of perfection, all nestling inside a cestina of cheese-laced pastry. It may sound mundane to follow that with a mille-foglie and 2 little chocolate tortes accompanied by frutta di bosca, but really we 3 were rendered speechless. A perfect mange-au-trois.

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To say we came home the back way is insufficient. Our friend knows every white road in Tuscany and took one after another through the summer-bleached hills, an adagio of a journey reminiscent of Ravel’s Bolero, which came, at one point, to a sudden halt. Gianni, whose ability to see what others can’t is equal to Joel’s, told us to roll-up our windows and then, putting the truck in reverse, backed up some 15 feet to a small metal sign swarming, if you’ll pardon the pun, with bees, evidently having mistake the rectangular sign for a hive.

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And how best to end such a day than to visit Sanantana, the monastery whose interior was chosen to make one of the most rapturous scenes in film: The English Patient; Juliette Binoche, hoisted with candlelight, swinging from fresco to fresco.

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A day of beauty, of enlightenment, of rapture and laughter. A day of love. What finer reward for months of revision at the desk. And is it any wonder that it was followed by a night of dreaming in Italian.