Tag Archives: friendship

2017/2018

31ST DECEMBER 2017

 

I woke up this morning to a sweet grey day, interrupted here and there with a burst of sunshine. We lit the fire and made our usual Sunday English breakfast, accompanied by Vivaldi’s cello concertos. Then I moved to the couch with the Sunday crossword and a cappuccino. Really, it doesn’t get better than that and I know it. So why did I feel the mist of sadness creeping in?

Some of it, I’m sure, is because Joel came down with a cold and bronchitis on Christmas Eve effectively cancelling our plans and the plans of friends who were to have come down from London to see the New Year in with us. Although I did a good job of looking after my man and literally keeping the home-fire burning, I didn’t always do it with good grace. The childlike part of me that still gets excited about Christmas, turned into childish disappointment when it got cancelled. And isn’t that one of the problems with all these rituals we insist upon? The need for bliss so easily turns to disappointment.

All that rushing around for days and weeks; buying too many presents and too much food as if to prove ourselves capable of generosity. We live in the Val D’Arbia, more than half of which has been stricken with influenza and bronchitis for the holidays, while the neighboring Val’D’Elsa struck a note of independence opting for a severe stomach virus. If it weren’t so wretched it would be hilarious, listening to stories of tables laden with food while whole families raced to their bathrooms.

And so, with Christmas over and done with we turn our thoughts to the New Year and once again idealism begins to take over, perhaps this year more than most, because don’t we all so desperately want to leave much of 2017 behind us? Don’t we all long for some unimaginable event to come along and set to rights all the evil doings of this past year, all the terrible suffering. This, I think, is really what was making me sad this morning; the sheer exhaustion of the political, added to the personal; in my case, having been ill for most of the year.

As I sat on the couch I could feel pessimism take the place of sadness; a feeling of why bother, the world’s a mess with no change in sight. Stinking thinking it’s called in AA, and the only way to change it is to take action…not to change the world, but one’s attitude: take away a ‘t’ and start with a ‘gr’ and you have gratitude. And how grateful I was to go out into the garden, to sit with my face to the sun. To pay homage to two roses which have had the courage to survive 3 weeks of hard frosts. One of them finally opened yesterday during a moment of warmth. I looked at it in wonder. A Cubana rose that in summer is a lush blossom changing hue from coral to pink to palest orange, this one was half the normal size, sparsely petaled and pale yellow. I felt humble by its willingness to survive, to live a brief life in diminished glory.

The other surviving rose is nestled among the remaining leaves of a Mme. Alfred Carrière climber. This little bud has held on for 4 weeks through drenching rains and violet winds. Never to open, it will one day fall to the ground; an infant rose that will be infinitely etched into my memory as a symbol of sweet tenacity. And this I would like to summon in myself for 2018: sweet tenacity and the humility of living life to the fullest even when diminished.

I received, like many of us, gifts I didn’t need and some I didn’t like, but three of them are treasures because of what they symbolize. One, a gift from Gianni and Luana, is of two antique votive hearts joined together by a tattered red ribbon. When I look at them I think of Joel and me: two separate beings joined by a river of love. The second treasure is a little broom given to me by Paul and Sharon, to be used to sweep away negativity. And the third, from my dear Joel, is a tiny leather purse, measuring perhaps an inch square. Inside lies a miniscule Jesus, arms eternally outstretched. I’m not religious, but when I opened it I wept. It was everything that Christmas, indeed life, should be, empty of money and filled with love.

 

1ST JANUARY 2018

We danced the New Year in. Six friends from four countries; all of us eternally youthful and hopeful. Paul roasted lamb on the fire, the meat tender and sweet and fresh from our farm. I made a lentil soup, lentils being a traditional New Year’s Eve dish here in Italy, symbolizing money. Humble money. Enough to feed the family and the animals and perhaps a new pair of shoes for the children. Sharon roasted whole garlics and shallots which we sucked out of their skins between mouthfuls of lamb and Luana’s roast potatoes. A salad of field greens from our farm, felt like a green remedy. Brunello wine was savored by the men while we women drank Kombucha. Between courses we got up and moved around in an effort to make room for the chocolate almond cake served with amarena cherries and coffee gelato. Perhaps it was this repast which fortified Joel, who, after a week of being shut in the house was able to rally for the evening.

Then we caravanned through the moonlit land to La Rimessa. A hare zig-zagged in our headlights before disappearing into the woods, on the edge of which a deer made a brief appearance. La Rimessa is Gianni and Joel’s and my studio.

A huge, ancient stone building originally used to house farm equipment at the end of a day’s work, it now houses our creative energy. We lit dozens of candles, cleared my art table of brushes and paints and, dividing into teams of women-v-men, began the panforte fling. A traditional game that we discovered two years ago in nearby Pienza, the game requires only a long table and panforte, a large disc of dense traditional fruitcake.

 

Standing back 6 feet from one end of the table, one flings it much like a Frisbee and whomever gets it closest to the far edge of the table is the winner. Last night’s victor was Sharon…

…who landed it not once but twice at the very edge, with Luana a close second. A win for the women and I couldn’t but help feel a good omen for the evolving power of women the world over. And so 2018 arrived in fine form, for surely laughter is full of open, spontaneous, joyous energy.

 

Over the last few weeks Gianni and I had been collecting old bells and ended up with a collection of 10 with which we began ringing in the New Year, first circling the studio before going outside into the tiny hamlet of Bibbiano. Good tidings we brought. The bells, which once would have rung daily from the necks of sheep and cows, in schoolyards, churches and doorways, each with its own tone from tinkle to clang, now filled the air. Released from their long silence they told/tolled of their past and rang joyously of rebirth. In the distance, through the mist, a spray of fireworks answered back and lest reality might near perfection, a local man appeared and fired his pistol in the air as if to signal the start of a race. And off we go.

Back inside La Rimessa, the prosecco was popped and Al Green and Aretha Franklin urged us to dance, moving into each others arms and then spinning out into space, candlelight illuminating our souls. And what would the start of a new year be without meditation? The six of us sitting in silence for 10 minutes before mindfully blowing out each candle, and with each exhalation, a prayer for the world.

To all of you I wish fulfillment. May we all grow kinder, share sadness and laugh longer. My gratitude to all of you for your loyalty and loving energy.

As always,

With love,

Maggie

 

 

SLIP STREAM

 

 

6th February 2016

elephant eye

Yesterday we returned to Tuscany after 2 weeks in London and I was surprised by the sadness I felt to leave my “hometown.” Perhaps it’s because it was the first time in many years that it actually felt like my hometown and not like a mutant offshoot of New York. It would seem to be another example of how important it is not to cement anything or anyone or anyplace into a once-and-for-all judgment or ideal.

London is the place I ran to when I ran away from home at 16. I had no idea then that I was about to spend 3 years living in the place in the world. London in the 60’s was equivalent to Paris in the 20’s; revolutionary, wildly creative, ‘mod,’ avant garde; A thrillingly reckless time in a once staid city of bowler hats. In truth, it was also overwhelming in that it still carried, along with its anything-goes new image, a deeply rooted class distinction and prejudice, the hierarchy of which deigned that those of us on the lower rungs would never gain acceptance into the loftier realms, nor enjoy the freedom and privilege such status bequeathed to its heirs. So, on the one hand, I might go to bed with anyone, irrespective of class, but breakfasting together could well be out of the question.

chalcott

Now, 50 years later, I launched my new novel there, a homecoming I could once have only dreamed of. What a thrill, to sit in the beautiful lounge of a friend’s house, the fire gently burning and read from a narrative that takes place before another fire in another lounge. How apt that the novel’s central theme is the nature of personal belief, why we have them, and how they affect one’s life and the lives of strangers and loved ones. I, who would never have believed that one day I should hold sway in such a home, never mind provoke discussion.

light transport

The gathering was a mix of family, friends and strangers from different backgrounds, yet in modern day London we all have the right to freely express ourselves. To the 6 beliefs in the novel 6 more were added in the discussion that followed my reading: altruism, empathy, dreaming, individuality, family and responsibility. I only wish we had discussed them at greater length. But what I am most grateful for is that this little book has the ability to make people think.

pip novel

The other reading was to standing room only audience of 130 + at the Photographers Gallery Bookshop. Not a place where one would normally expect to read fiction. At the director’s request, I was able to find a way to tie the novel in to photography as well as to the essay I wrote for Joel’s new book: Morandi’s Objects. And I must thank both Morandi and Meyerowitz whose coattails I gladly held in order to gain entry.

london reading

After reading the essay, Joel gave a beautiful talk and power-point presentation describing how he has journeyed from street photography to the still life. Then I sprung back up before anyone had a chance to sneak out, inviting all to strike the downward facing dog pose, or let out a primal scream in order to energize the reading which I cleverly (I thought) presented as a series of portraits, choosing to read a short childhood flashback into each of the 6 characters lives. And joy of joys, no-one left and many bought books!

I was 19 when I left London with a cheap blue suitcase and 2 pairs of shoes, to begin what I thought at the time would be my around-the-world-in-2-years trip. I never did make it back home as I had assumed I would, to live out the rest of my life. Over the intervening half-century I have visited England many times, experiencing varying degrees of belonging, outsider-ness, familiarity and sometimes, unrecognizable traits of stupidity in a nation once known for its common sense. This time it felt as though the city and its populace had settled back into the best of itself, taking those values along in a manner both positive and creative. There is an air of tolerance in the city, which nicely goes hand-in-hand with an acceptance that anything could befall us at any time.

And what joy to speak my native tongue…English, not American or Italian. Only by living in other cultures amid other languages can we fully understand how much we are formed and influenced by the place in which we grew up. These familiar pieces of ourselves we pack away in order to take on the new. Some of them, mothballed as they may be, stay intact and like a pop-up sponge soaked in water, can be revived and put to good use.

Maybe because Joel and I have now lived in Tuscany for 2 years, a life uninhabited by a lot of friends or ease of language, it allows us to slip easily into the city current; to be surrounded by friend and make new ones, to pop off to the theatre or cinema on a whim, to say yes to dinners and museums or dash off to Portobello with Pip.

portobello

Talking of dinners and museums, on our last day we did both and each beautifully underscored the importance of diversity and the acceptance what we have different needs at different times. We fell in love with each other all over again as well as falling in love with London. It was about people really. We felt as though we had been reminded of a part of ourselves that had been up in the attic for a while and we both wanted to bring our intact selves home to the farm. So we made a dinner party for 14 in the little rental flat and wrapped ourselves in laughter and friendship.

new friends

old friends

Earlier in the day we had visited the Royal Academy to see the glorious exhibition: The Modern Garden; From Monet to Matisse. For 2 hours we were inside nature and light as we entered the artists’ gardens. Even then, a hundred years ago, they were speaking of the need for nature as the antidote to the brutality of industrialization and city life. Not to mention war. A whole room was give to paintings Monet made while surrounded by WWI, the wall text, and I paraphrase, quoting Monet’s statement that if the savages wanted to come, then let them kill him in front of his life’s work. A modern garden indeed.

virulent

And now we have returned to ours. The sun, low but not yet setting, rakes the hillsides startling the winter crop into virulent green; the olive groves a shimmer of silver in the still air. In the garden, the rose plants are sprouting their first new leaves and there is much weeding to be done in the Mediterranean beds. Rain is forecast for the next three days; a wonderful excuse to lay low by the fire, to read, to paint, to write. By Tuesday the earth will be softened, making those weeds easy to pull. London will be a memory and the river will rush onward to the sea.

waterbottle blues

NB.  A gentle reminder that my novel : From Dusk to Dawn is available as hardcover or e-book from:  Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound. Tell your friends!

Cover and Maggie

OVERLAPPING RIPPLES

18th July 2015

vienna wall

We were in Vienna for three days this week for the opening of Joel’s retrospective, which is traveling Europe. During the days, while he was busy with interviews and press conferences, I wandered the streets in search of a city I’d wanted to see for decades. I had missed it in my teens when, running out of money while hitching around the continent, I settled for Saltzburg, a summer down bed in a pen pal’s home and hot chocolate and a pastry which, while flaky and tasty was, I was sure, inferior to those made in Vienna.

Fifty years later, I find myself sitting in a taxi on my way to what I assume will be the Vienna of my dreams. To the right, the Stadtpark, voluptuous in summer greens and cool shadows. To my left, a poster for a dance performance; the date, 16th July, leaps off the poster and sets my insides aquiver; an unexpected, close to uncontrollable, reaction; a fluttering that starts in my belly and threatens to engulf the rest of me.

Numbers and letters when arranged in a particular gathering can, for all of us, strike a central nerve of memory. 16th July, 1971 was the due date of my firstborn. And as the autopsy would later reveal, was the day she died, my body holding onto her for another 2 days before induced labor expelled her into another realm.

The light turns green, the taxi moves on, and I calm my grieving body. Yet in some eerie sense Vienna echoes that experience; another expectation come to naught. A city strangely devoid of people and pastries.

But I must here tip my cap to the entire staff of the Kunsthaus Museum, https://www.kunsthauswien.com/en/museum comprised mainly of women who were kindness and generosity itself, not only to Joel but also to me. How heartening it is to find women in positions traditionally owned by men; women who have managed to retain their compassion and humor and sisterly respect while tapping into the more masculine drive of ambition and assertiveness, holding their own without aggression. To Bettina, Verena, Eva, Sabine and Sophie my admiration and thanks.

The museum itself, originally a chair factory, was bought and transformed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an Austrian artist and free spirit who knew a thing or two about the snatch of death having lost some 60 plus family members in the Holocaust. www.hundertwasser.com/ He believed that a straight line was ungodly and immoral and certainly his life was anything but a straight line. His paintings reflect the color the glory, the madness and the joy of life’s spiraling, unfathomable mystery. He gave political speeches in the nude, travelled the world, married twice and birthed a daughter. He also built many buildings and a boat he named The Rainy Day in which he travelled to New Zealand over the course of 3 years and where he now lies, as was his wish, buried naked below a Tulip tree.

His rendering of the building which houses his art as well as Photography exhibitions, literally keeps you on your toes and in the moment; the floors and stairs undulating beneath one’s feet so that one must continually take stock of where one is and rebalance accordingly. What a great metaphor for life, for aren’t we all, in spite of our efforts to control, always at sea?

I didn’t find my Vienna and after hours of searching would return to our hotel room where I found pleasure in light and shadow and slivers of reality susceptible to abstraction.

hotel room

 

floating space

 

hotel interior

Yet, Vienna was rich with people. 800 of them attended Joel’s opening and stayed until midnight. And many people travelled great distance, among them Ralph Goertz, the curator of Joel’s show at the NRW Forum in Dusseldorf; Joshua, a young friend who travelled 12 hours by bus from Heidelburg where he is working in a factory this summer in order to fund his 2nd year at Studio Marangoni in Florence. And another man, Fate Velaj, who drove 15 hours from Albania.

IMG_1477

IMG_1494

IMG_1529

This kind of energy and spirit, much like Hundertwasser’s is an inspiration. The instinct to say, “yes” to adventure and serendipity, to follow the winding road and avoid the straight-of-way. Even if it means sometimes being trapped in a metal tube, winging its way from Vienna to Florence and in which we are surrounded by Austrian toddlers with man-sized voices, their plump, gleeful faces playing peek-a-boo with us between the seats; a near euphoric experience until one of them dumps a load of Teutonic shit in its diaper, a powerful aroma that brought tears to my eyes. So yes, shit happens, there are no straight lines, and there a not guarantees of finding one’s Vienna.

But what joy to come in the garden gate, to unpack, to make a light dinner and sit under the shade of the trees.

J outback

 

And into the ever-widening circles of life, pebbles of possibility are continually tossed, so that the next ripple arrives before the last disappears. This morning, the date of Amy’s arrival into and departure from this earthly plane, a text arrives telling us that my nephew, Simon, and Sarah, his lady-love, have delivered a baby boy into this world. An overlapping ripple that from now on will grace this sorrowful date with joy.

 

 

VISITING DAY

February 4 2015

We’ve come back to Provence, to the little village in the Luberon where we started our “year” in Europe, 2 years and a month ago. It’s a little bit like meeting a lover with whom one had had a brief but serious fling; the kind of affair that takes one by surprise, having until that moment of seduction, been perfectly content with one’s spouse…the spouse in this case being Tuscany. And so you meet the ex-lover for coffee and although all the qualities that once intoxicated you are still present, your heart no longer bangs against your ribs; you are no longer torn. There is no decision to be made. We belong to Tuscany.

Joel_1341

We are staying up the top of the village in the studio apartment across the hall from our dear friends, Sharon and Paul, which is really why we’re here; friendship proving itself deeper than romance. The apartment is a jewel of simple restoration, a meditative nest across from the crest with a view of our favorite lavender field…you remember, the one with 7 cherry trees.

Snow_1350

Snow fell yesterday and continued through the night, cocooning us in extra permission to relax, to breakfast in bed, to make soup, read in front of the fire, or pop across the hall to lunch with our friends by their fire, visiting and revisiting each other into the evening.

Fplc_1336

And in the visiting, revisiting stories; stories one thought never to tell again and in the telling discovering another element to the plot. Stories. We all tell them, cobbling together remnants of our past in yet another attempt to make whole cloth of our lives. As if to revisit the past we will rediscover something of ourselves that seems to have gone missing.

The piece I rediscovered yesterday was hidden in the back pocket of my journal. This pocket is where I put bits and pieces of interest to me; a newspaper clipping, the last rosebud of summer, a note from my stepson and an odd collection of photos that migrate from journal to journal: photos of our children, of younger versions of Joel and me, one of my hair salon from 80’s and so on. But the photos that spoke to me yesterday were of some paintings I had made in the early 90’s…before I became a “serious” writer.

What surprised me while revisiting these images was the recognition that I had been a “serious” painter for 15 years prior to breaking my neck. They were the last of a series I was working on shortly after the accident and they told a story, which, like all stories had transmuted from one thing to another while keeping the central idea, or spine if you will, intact.

In November of 1990, shortly after leaving the hospital and wearing the halo vest that would be my inescapable companion for 2 months, my dear Joel drove me one night, to the scene of the accident. The country road seemed to me a metaphor of my spine. It, like me, had been repaired. Its patches spoke to my vertebrae and the road itself became my spine.

The next day I began the series of drawings; pastels of the road rubbed dark into the paper, the road held in place by the body of the night. Several months later, released from the steel rods and metal vest, I moved to Provincetown where the breakwater became the metaphor of spine. Its vertebrae of boulders, herniated here and there, thrust through the saltwater inlet out to the spit of sand that marked the separation between land and sea and sky.

Images

As I looked at these images last night, I felt released from the relentless pursuit of the written word. I felt joyous with possibility. For there are many ways to tell a story and perhaps the stories we can trust the most are those that speak to us silently, encapsulating everything there is to know through visceral communication; the sudden feeling of familiarity illuminated in a heartbeat. Like the unembroidered truth of a visitation.

All photos by Maggie