8th January, 2017
When Joel and I made the commitment to living here year round, nearly 3 years ago, it happened very quickly and we had to make a lot of fast decisions and choices in order to turn the place from a well renovated but spare barn into a home. Some of these choices we made in the 2 weeks left between being summer residents here and the 3 winter months we were about to spend in Provence. During those 2 weeks we designed a fireplace, chose a bathtub and ordered 2 couches and a sofa bed. Once in Provence we hunted for antiques to truck back to Tuscany in the spring, along with a cheap, portable digital piano. I considered the piano and the couches to be placeholders.
The great thing about placeholders is you don’t expect much of them; you know they will be in your life for a limited time, until you can make a better choice. This is how I now choose to think of the Donald: as a placeholder. Something you look at from time to time and wish you had something more pleasing, more comfortable, more serviceable. Something you can’t wait to replace with the ‘real’ thing. We consider ourselves very fortunate that, unlike the 4-year presidential term, we are able, after only 3 years, to replace the 2 couches and the piano.
A couple of years ago, while wandering the back streets of Florence, we discovered an amazing shop filled with fabrics and custom-made couches so comfortable we wanted to stay overnight. We promised ourselves that one day we would return there with our own design, which we did the week before Christmas.
I would have to say that Italy is a country of extremes, which perhaps is why I feel so at home here, being a bit of an extremist myself. When it comes to doing business here you either get a shoddy, unprofessional experience, or absolute top of the line. Our couch guy, Luca, is in the latter category. After sitting on various couches in his shop, which has been in the family for 500 years, we made some preliminary decisions and showed him Joel’s drawing of what we wanted. “Oh,” he said, “but I’ll come down the day after Christmas and look at your home to make sure we have it right.”
And so he did…and hour and half drive each way. He made some important refinements to our design and, taking in our aesthetic, said he would return this week with fabric samples, at which time he would also take the smaller of the 2 couches back to Florence where he will make it more comfortable as well as reupholstering it to match the new one.
There are some things however, for which there are no placeholders and our Gianni is one of them.
We missed him sorely last year while he hunkered down in order to finish his house by Christmas, which he did. It took him 8 years to build. There was the odd dinner here and there, during 2016, but no adventures with him. And La Rimessa, the studio that the three of us has found a year and half ago, remained empty as we waited first for the installation of electricity (9 months) then for Gianni to finish his house, and finally for me to recover from my injuries. During those 18 months the building itself represented a placeholder, the place where the 3 of us wanted to play and create and collaborate.
On New Year’s Eve we began to inhabit it: Joel setting up his still life area, Gianni filling part of the space with his found objects and me beginning to paint a large canvas. I could have stopped where I ended that day: I can make a pretty painting or sentence quite easily.
But pretty is not what I consider art, in any genre. So when I stood back and looked at the canvas I knew that it, too, was just a place-holder and that in order to deeply enter it and go beyond the limit of my vision meant being prepared to fuck it up. Which I did the next day.
Two days later my new Yamaha digital piano arrived, a serious piece of business that made the previous keyboard feel like a toy piano.
The Yamaha has a rich, round, resonant tone and the keyboard action is similar to some grand pianos I’ve played. It is a challenging, magical instrument which from the moment I first sat at it, made me realize that I had places to go and that I’m finally willing to go there. I have held myself in place creatively, in many ways, for too long. Now, fully aware of being at the short end of the stick of my life, I feel unfettered to the point where I refuse to feel regret at how long it took to get to this place.
The beginning of a New Year is a universal time when many of us feel the need to make new resolutions usually based on “should’s.” Maybe it would be more profitable to take some meditative time to look at the landscapes of our lives; to be willing to acknowledge the place-holders we have kept and for how long. Because in the end it’s all an illusion. We cannot hold place, it holds us…until it doesn’t.