Tag Archives: patti smith


15th September, 2017

For Brenda Bufalino, with love.


Waiting for Patti Smith…and this was before the crowds arrived!

We have been in New York City for 13 days. Just being able to write that sentence feels like a major achievement! Really, how do you city people do it? Hey, how did I do it, for 22 years? Even my dear Joel who is New York born and bred and lived here for 75 years – until I whisked him away to Tuscany – woke up the other morning and said, “What the fuck are we doing here?”

Well there are three good reasons why we’re here. First and foremost, always, is to see our children and grandchildren. We “see” them weekly on Skype or Facetime when we are back in Tuscany and for sure it is one of the gifts of the Internet (although there seem to be more cons than pros these days when it comes to the World Wide Web). I’m so ancient that I remember when you had to reserve a time slot with the phone company in order to make an overseas call! And then, if you were lucky enough to get through, you could almost visualize those transatlantic cables running under the sea as the voices of loved ones disappeared only to surface moments later sounding like they had swallowed vast quantities of salt water. So, yes, to be able to touch/click an icon on a screen and not only see the face of your child, or the gap in your grandchild’s teeth, but also be able to hang out, talking, laughing, sometimes crying, even sharing a meal – lunch in New York simultaneous with dinner in Tuscany – is a miracle of technology that allows for meaningful connection in real time.

But really, there is nothing like the feel of hugging your child, or the ecstatic leap of a grandchild into your arms, or watching and hearing another grandchild play classical piano before we all sit down at the same table in the same time zone and share a potluck dinner. Nothing will ever make-up for physical presence. My daughter and I shared one of those mother/daughter days last week, the kind we do so well. Bopping around Soho and Little Italy, trying on make-up and boots, admiring each other in a new pair of jeans, linking arms under an umbrella and talking about everything over lunch.

What joy to have Joel’s son stop by this morning so we could give him a birthday hug; to see the love between these two beautiful men.

We are a combined family to which the terms ‘in-laws’ and ‘step’ are no longer attached. We all belong to each other and to be in the same space at the same time is a blessing beyond words. For this alone we brave the horrors of the long haul flights, the physical depletion of days of jet-lag, the noise and filth and fear and aggression of the city, and hope we have the stamina to do so for the rest of our waning years.

The second reason for being here was the opening last week of Joel’s stunning show at the Howard Greenberg Gallery, much of it never-before-seen work, including a room of Joel’s latest photography. If you are in New York please go see it. It will inspire and revive you. www.howardgreenberg.com

And last, but never least, we came for our friend Brenda Bufalino’s 80th birthday celebration (do Google her, although, ahem, like most artists her site is a bit out of date, there are also some good YouTube videos to be found). What to say? Where to begin? For me personally, it began in 1973, when, shortly after the birth of my daughter, I began taking modern and jazz dance classes with Brenda and within a few months became a proud member of her first dance company.

It was Brenda who let my creative genie out of its tightly corked bottle. And it was Brenda who a few years later, seeing me headed toward the world of addiction, wrote me a letter saying she was concerned that I wasn’t building my “inner temple.” I remember reading those words and being pierced by their truth. I remember knowing then that those words would haunt me until I either paid heed or died. It would be another 13 years before I began breaking ground for the foundation of that inner temple and while it may have a few leaks here and there it is nonetheless erect, intact and a place of ever-evolving inner peace, morality and compassion. So yes, Brenda saved my soul, too.

But this really shouldn’t be all about me. This is about Brenda. So let me try to describe her to you. She is a force of nature. She is the most courageous woman I know. She is a true artist who never gave up, who created through a failed marriage, motherhood, in the face of poverty, uncertainty, critical judgment, sexism, ignorance, fierce competition, the inanity of celebrity parading as art, and yes, through illness and the aches and pains of aging. Brenda just kept going. Creating companies, choreography, music, books, ceramics and even at one point. her own line of dance clothing. As a young woman determined to overcome her fears she bought a horse – the creature she was most afraid of – and broke it herself. And she’s a generous artist; teaching, inspiring and encouraging generations of dancers. She’s a harsh mistress, demanding the very best of all of us who are lucky enough to be invited in. She teaches not just the highest level of technique but encourages us to develop our own vision. She has always been ahead of the times creatively, while being right on time rhythmically. She’s beautiful, absurd, magical, sexy, witty, indomitable and inimitable. She is a visionary who continues to perform and teach Master Classes around the globe.

The celebration was hosted by friends on the grounds of their country home. The weather was grey and damp, but the spirit was sunny and warm. A huge tent housed a jazz band and dance floor and as some 100 or so family, friends, dancers, musicians and patrons gathered around, Brenda took to the floor. She named just about all of us, slotting us into the different eras of her life and honouring our contribution to it. And we kept looking around at each other and feeling the ongoing river of which we are a part; the overlap, the passing of the torch, the incredible DNA of the Brenda Bufalino Tribe. And the ghosts were there, too; early deaths, suicides, the missing.

When we were all accounted for Brenda turned to the band and with a-one and a-two and a-there she goes, singing that jazz, baby. The voice like aged cognac; deep and round and full of spirit. Then the mike is put to rest and those feet pick up where the voice left off, the feet a voice of their own; the footwork precise and innovative, the taps made to whisper and rattle and snap and trill; the accents coming where you least expect them and yet so right. Her feet are speaking, singing, drumming; the vocabulary is multilingual and there is just no way Brenda is 80!

If you go back to my post of 23rd April this year, entitled The Gift of a Lifetime, you will remember that Brenda is one of my seven “sisters” whom I took to St. Ives, Cornwall, for 5 days. Half of the sisters live in Europe and were unable to make it. But here is the other half.

Scout, Vivian, Brenda and me.

So, yeah, to hell with the city. To hell with politics and greed and sheer stupidity. It doesn’t matter where we are as long as we have each other, as long as we honor the truth of history, both personal and universal. As long as we show a little kindness everyday, especially in cities because they are harsh; the lack of space, of peace, of nature, it’s not really how we’re meant to live.

Joel and I will be happy to return to our Tuscan farm, to bathe in the goodness of the land, the light, the simple pace of life lived without the desperate need for fame and fortune. But we sure will be sad to leave the physical comfort and abundant love of family and friends.

P.S. I’ve been hearing from a number of you that you are missing hearing from me more often. I miss you, too! I will try to get back to a more regular routine once I get home. But know that I have, for the last few months, been completely engaged in the writing of a new novel. It’s an intense ride which leaves me physically shaking every day. So please bear with me. And please, it goes both ways…I’d love to hear from you, too!

with love to you all, Maggie



28th October, 2015

dawn cloth

Part 1: My love has left; sliding through the dawn toward Florence and on to New York. I return to bed and finish reading Patti Smith’s M Train. I clutch it to my chest and breath in courage and poetry and pray for a renewed belief in magic. “Life,” she writes, “is at the bottom of things and belief at the top, while the creative impulse, dwelling in the center, informs all.” I go upstairs for my journal and bring it back to bed, calling to my creative impulse; to feel the center of it in the center of me. For as my love slides through the dawn toward Florence and on to New York, I know that it could be the last goodbye and I want to walk out of Patti Smith’s dream with the contagion of her belief that I am “my own lucky hand of solitaire.”

 October 30, 2015

Part 2: Last week we spent 3 days in Bologna celebrating the opening of Joel’s Morandi show and the launch of his book “Morandi’s Objects,” published by Damiani and for which I had the honor of writing the introductory essay. As is often the case when I accompany Joel to one of his events, I walk the streets of strange cities, solitary and anonymous. I rarely take a photo, preferring to let the shutter of my mind’s eye capture images too fleeting for words. I used to paint this way, storing images throughout the day and then, at night, in my studio, I’d wait until an image insisted it be the one translated via paint. Perhaps it is that visual, painterly eye that drew me to the words of Vincent Van Gogh, written on the wall of this fish store.


“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storms terrible, but they don’t consider these dangers reason enough to stay on the land.” Vincent Van Gogh

Gianni joined us for a day of play. Brothers now, I watch them play on the streets.

J&GBologna 1

Sometimes I urge them to be ridiculous.


Who knows when Bologna poisoned me and with what? An exotic dish of raw autumn mushrooms, their orange skin jealous of the clementines I ate for dessert? Or was it the raw peanuts? Or perhaps a medieval ghost, cloaked in a hush of velvet, emptied his poison ring into my glass. Whatever, by our return to the farm I was covered neck to toe, front to back in a rash that took off like wild fire, raging over my skin like boysenberry flame. A cortisone shot had zero effect. Now, nearly a week later, the itching has subsided, but the skin is slow to fade and no small amount of confusion and fear remains: what to eat? What to do? Who to see?

On Wednesday, when my Joel slid through the dawn to Florence and onto New York, we grieved for lack of comfort. I sang a frail lament and turned to the beauty of my home and garden. The light, after another night of rain, was so vibrant it pierced my heart with joy and called me out into the center of it; vibrant, almost lethal color rushing up from the clover and every petal and leaf a-shimmer.



As I stood there, bathing in the light, a gentle rain began, as if the sun was weeping, and I went in search of the rainbow.

vibrant clover

Days of rain finally came to a halt the day before we left for Bologna, just in time for the last planting of the season. The nurseryman, accompanied by the excavator, arrived at dawn portaging 4 big olive trees and enough plants and earth to add 2 more Mediterranean gardens. The day was warm and breezy, the earth softened by rain. In my element I donned rubber boots and worked side by side with the men.

working with men

It’s hard here. Hard ground. Hard work. The excavator’s metal bucket striking rock, sparks flying. Rock, sparks, mud, sun; a tray of coffee and chocolate and back to work we go. I watch the nurseryman climb one of the newly dug-in olive trees. Aloft, he seems to walk on water. He said he had had to cut the roots in order to release the tree from where it had stood for so many years. He needed to prune the branches to find that alchemical balance between root and branch, earth and sky; the balance un-measurable except by instinct.

man in tree

This I love; the return to instinct, to a simplicity that can only be had via the complexity of nature. Isn’t it the same with us? By opening to our wordless instinct we discover anew that our own complex nature is best served by a simple life. How sad that so many of us spend so much of our lives wanting more, only to, hopefully, rediscover that less is the proverbial more.

The Tuscans lament the end of Tuscany and how could they not? For their history was based on instinct and communion since the Etruscan era. Now the elders see it slipping away. They watch in sorrow as the young ones try to balance between texting and driving; watch as the young go in search of drugs and sex and ‘likes’ and tweets. The elders lean on their canes, carved from chestnut or oak, their gnarled, hard-worked hands at one with the wood. When I hear their lament I count myself fortunate to be an outsider, because from where I stand, here, rooting slowly, deeply, arms outstretched to the sky, I see that there is enough simple goodness left in this land to make me want to stay forever. And so I retrace my steps, back to the beginning of this post:

October 28th, 2015                  

Part 3: At breakfast I clutched Patti Smith to my chest, her book my morning talisman. I breathed in the alchemy, aching for the return of myself. At dinner I fetch John Berger to keep me company. When I open my worn copy of Photocopies, he gifts me a talisman: a small cap of cloth binding, stitched with a red hem. It is my infancy and my death. I stitch it onto a necklace and wear it on my chest.


The rain has become light once more and I walk in it to the lemon tree, hearing the lemon that has called to me for days, “Take me,” it whispers, and I do, snipping it swiftly from its branch. The roses by the ingress are fruited with rain. I make my evening cup of ginger root tea, squeeze a piece of lemon into it, stir in a small wooden spoonful of local honey. I live between the covers of my book, cradled by the books of Patti and John. In this way the healing begins, even as it takes me further.