For a tourist, Italy can seem as overexposed as a sunset; every view recognized in postcard after postcard. Writing seems as redundant as any visual document. Others have described these narrow streets, these views, the moods, the weather, as well or better. The Brownings lived here amongst others, but perhaps more familiar to me is E.M. Forster’s Room with a View. I feel sympathetic to Lucy Honeychurch, who, on seeing the Cockney Signora, the pensione dining room full of her countrymen and the painting of the Queen hung next to the schedule for the English church, wonders if she has, in fact, left England? Continue reading
Postcard from Venice
I had meant to write. I have a whole stack of postcards – even a pack I bought at a church that had obviously been taken in the early 1950’s – full of strong jawed gondoliers assertively clutching their oars and gazing over the Grand Canal like the early explorers must have looked out over the Grand Canyon. But, alas, here I am back in NYC and the postcards are still blank.
A week goes quickly. And if one vacations with David there seems to be an endless number of churches – especially in Venice, where there are an endless number of churches. Out early, we would walk all day and into the night, with momentary pauses on benches, in cafes, in churches, museums and trattorias. Not surprising, a lot of time was spent circuitously navigating between benches, cafes, churches, trattorias… One is never exactly lost, but is often unable to achieve the desired destination with any kind of speed or accuracy. In the pauses I had – generally sitting on a pew in one or another of the churches, I would jot down thoughts geared towards a single portrait of the city – but I find the jottings as diverse as the routes we took each day. So uncollated they will remain. Many other impressions are too vague even to jot down and I suppose they will stay or disappear in the random logic of remembrance since I cannot give them form on the page.
A lot of Venice is O’ so scenic and packed with tourists – but like other parts of Italy the tourists seem to stay on the same 3 streets – leaving the rest basically empty. One knows and one gets the feeling even without knowing the fact that not many people actually live in Venice anymore. It is cleaned up. I realized looking at the Prendergast in Italy exhibition at the Guggenheim that something of the essence is no longer. There was a dirtiness of the sort depicted in the Naturalism of 19th century novels that the Carnevale was in opposition to and also celebrated, the economic and class systems which it could briefly supplant. Masks… Lanterns…Lace…Glass… an incandescence which needed night and faded with the day. A Venice like the paintings of Vanity where an shriveled and painted old woman gazes at her young self in the mirror. Present day Venice has had a bit or work done, her skin stretched into something more artificial, less true to either maid or the mask. Continue reading
Water echoes like a bell in languages I do not understand, I stand on the dock at San Michele while full Vaporettos pass one after the other.
“She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,
Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr’d;
And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,
Dissolv’d, or brighter shone, or interwreathed
Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries.”
Thought I would drop one last line before my long hiatus has passed. My paints and materials have already begun their return journey, in no time I will be back at home.
The day is cool and autumnal and suggests the ending of things. The mosquitoes have had their fill of me – today especially as the air is so still. And as I am writing they sit unnoticed on my knee until their skin becomes translucent with a growing bauble of red. Not that they will get very far with their bounty of mine, for no sooner noticed then bauble and bug are imbedded slap into the fabric of my trousers.
I have seen innumerable deer – white tail and mule, two turkeys, a pair of red tailed hawks – western variety with wings tipped in black, vultures, shooting stars, a family of loons, one mink, one eagle, no skunks (thankfully) though some skunk smelt, innumerable songbirds, a dozen or so mice, voles and similar furries – some running about and some curtailed by Greykitty, many insects, many butterflies and an onslaught of grasshoppers (even a few hopping across the kitchen floor) which is soon to be quelled by the evil looking bag of grasshopper meal in the garage. When I see them walking on the house or splashing out of grass in front of my feet – I say ‘Run away! Run away grasshoppery! Don’t eat anything that doesn’t look like grass!’ But they either flee from me or stare back mutely with their hard opaque eyes. Continue reading
Jentel Foundation, Banner WY
Today breakfast in Sheridan at the Silver Spur. I saw a man at the counter eating a half dozen or so scrambled eggs smothered in thick white gravy. It was reminiscent of the Big Horns with a fresh coat of snow. Reminded me also of shit on a shingle – as my grandfather called it – which evidently one has to eat a lot of in the army. The Spurs’ claim to fame is that their sweet bun is about as big as a rather large middle aged one – bun that is. The pancakes are the size of Frisbees. A short stack takes about a week to sleep off – anything else should be nicknamed the Rip Van Winkle stack.
I am now the proud owner of a coyote – or coyot’ as they call them in these here parts – only the furry part not the internals. To most of you this should come as no surprise. I was really hoping for a fox but I guess no one has shot one lately. No I don’t really have a plan for it yet but I will let you know.
We had Jentel presents the other evening, so went to town to hang out with the locals. Ravi Shankar (no relation) spoke about his poetry writing education as a mandatory delving into the subconscious in search of the true inner voice. I could not help but think this art practice was comparable to bobbing for apples. Hands behind the back, dunking into a bucket of the primordial goo kept in the brain’s back room. What one wrenches forth -impaled on sharpened teeth – could emerge a shining apple, or oil-slick with a sinister distortion of rot. I think my pictures have a bit of both, wouldn’t want anyone to feel left out. Continue reading
I am no longer waking at 5 am – I do wake for the windstorm, the meows signaling freshly caught mouse, the sprinklers outside my door that do little but dampen the mulch – but 9 am now and the hills’ brow still shades it’s chin though the sun is already high.
Yesterday I wavered – and abandoned an ongoing painting to hop into Nina’s rentacar for adventure. Andres too – sitting silently in the back. Nina, not so silently, driving. She had an inkling for conversation and us quiet folks were not holding forth. She had a play by play going on every bug we hit (the hood resembles a Pollock painting), every sign we passed as well as random thoughts and general musings on motorcycle drivers and hog vernacular (the Sturges roundup yearly motorcycle convention is coming or going so
endless rumbling strings pass us on the highway) in an attempt to woo us into verbosity.
After monosyllabically responding for a while I began to stare off at the landscape passing and so she adapted by directing comments to specific people, signaling initially who was the desired responder: “Andres: blablablabla….” “Jen: blablablabla….” This brought her much conversational success from her less conversant companions.
It is a quiet walk up to the Medicine Wheel, a mile or so of slow incline. Frequented it seems an odd place, cleansed it could be without so much human offering – but the surrounding mountaintop is less traversed. The way people come and look at a lauded picture in a museum crowding round, but the next picture, the next room are quite empty. 9000 feet and the air is thin – funny to look down on the backs of eagles. Continue reading
Burnt or chafed – the orb of my left shoulder. Indeed it is scratched – mapping red my morning pursuits. The surface suffers here.
I have on my hands a day of unlimited hours – but nothing solid nor soft in my grasp. Parched air and dry earth. I take long hot showers to quench, but the water runs off the skin like oil. The water here is slick as soap, makes all things slippery. I think of Lady Macbeth rinsing and rinsing. Andres calls it final unction – a baptism onto death, not meant to wash away – but to cling into the rebirth, indelible as one’s sins.
I laid in the water – the drops that slipped into my ear burnt cold like melted lead. Was it not hamlet’s father killed by poison drops in the ear while he lay sleeping?
I laid in the tall grass and the spiders made paths over me as the mint crushed under – an exhaled resuscitation, painting the air green.
Today there is a ban on painting – a ban on the crutch of the studio. I must walk on new legs, find new thoughts. For what am I here for if not to grind preconception into the dust and find an intimacy with this desert?
First – to lie down with the earth. Later, night thoughts – the space of a room illuminated by the cold light of an open refrigerator.
Tomorrow I am engaged to go to the medicine wheel with the rest of the gang, but it is with glee that I contemplate the acre and the afternoon free from human obstacles.
Some nights here there are as many bugs on the screen as stars in the sky – and there are a lot of stars – like dust blown over black granite.
Corgi dog says she thinks I’m a sucker for a stick and throwitagain throwitagain youknowyouwannathrowthestick throwit … I am now using doggie telekinesis to move your arm into throwing position throwthrowthrow…
The cats say I look like a girl who needs a sandwich and so keep bringing me late night offerings – so far I have chosen not to partake – they say suit yourself and crunchcrunch on my doorstep.
No snake sightings for a few days – my last rattler was on the way to the mailbox – hence the paucity of postcards. I wrote a poem while I waited for it to go on its way – but it rhymes, so I am too embarrassed to share it. I know you will think…”gosh I never thought Jen the rhyming sort, who would have known? How very awkward…” I ought to up the ante and call it ‘Ode to a Rattlesnake’ or ‘For R—‘ (as in ‘Rattlesnake’ – implying a sort of intimacy with her snakeness…)
Fellow residents all very nice but sometimes nice people can be a bit…well…nice. Funny how people whose intentions are intrinsically harmless can do damage – the way a blunt table edge will catch you in the same bruised spot day after day. Like one one person asked me if I was painting mimes. Some days it’s like rock-paper-scissors only I feel like I am always coming up scissors and they are mostly rocks.
This give me lots of time to donate blood to a new generation of mosquitoes or delve into studio work. Having a bothersome ‘what next?’ feeling.. How come more stuffed fingers and mouths why not something new? What new? Where new? What if Morandi had stopped painting his dusty bottles and painted his cat – or his sister? Would have been a bit sad for posterity. But are these my bottles? Maybe his sister was dusty too and we missed out?
So in the meantime it is Marie Antoinette versus the serpent in the garden at dawn…
A note from the Jentel Residency…
Today I went for a nice tromp around the ‘thousand acres’ – which is the grazing land at the ranch, with very tall hills, big rocks, sage brush and grassy bits. The blooms of flowers and the seed heads at then end of amber colored grasses dipped slightly in the light breeze and gave the hills a sort of glowing undulating aura. I saw pretty flowers in many colors, floatee butterflies, skipping grasshoppers, buzzing flies and bees and la and la. All was a fascinating percussion of chirrups, whirrs and the gattling retreats of the grasshoppery sort as I gallumphed along through the hills.
It is unfortunate that the details of the lala time were addled from my basket when in the midst of my idyllic and gallumphing return to the homestead I encountered my first verifiable Rattle Snake! Continue reading