Saturday, June 23, 2007

Julia Riley Joyner

June 22, 2007
10:52 pm
6 lbs, 2 oz
19" of perfect beauty

and I was there for it all.

Kathryn Elizabeth Riley
June 22, 2006
Enjoying her first birthday cake.

And I was there for all of it.

Because her party was today, June 23.

It's my party and I'll cry if I want to.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mama Mia - Still No Baby

magic awaits youWe're still on baby watch here, so in the meantime I'll share an Italy memory of every child's dream. We were in Florence, strolling through the city in between the rain showers. We turned a corner into a square and magic appeared before my eyes - a full size, grandiose carousel in all her glory. I could barely believe my eyes. Photo ops like this just don't happen at home. It was like being in the movie, Big Fish - was it real or fantasy? Is my story true, or am I making it up for your entertainment?a delight for the eyes and heart

It set my heart all aflutter and my camera all a snappin. I grew up with a local carousel at Glen Echo Park - one that I have blogged about before. But this one was so captivating, located on a city square like it was, set against such a magnificant backdrop.majestic backdrop
It was open for business but there was no one there to ride - because of the rain perhaps? But in that spot the sun seemed to be perpetually shining, a glow I know that was coming from the carousel itself.

The carousel was not the only magic moment that day. I found another down the street from the Ponte Vecchio. Sunday in Florence, rainy and coolthe calm before the storm - the city had seemed deserted, but no! there they were - they were ALL on the Ponte Vecchio. It looked lovely and inviting from the river, but by the time we got to the bridge I did not even want to venture on it. The crowds were swarming. There was no charm in that for me, so we turned the to the left and walked the other way, which was still mightly crowded. T-Shirt shops, leather, silk ties, street vendors with knock-offs, and people, people, people. I was one of them of course, if you go to Florence you must see the Ponte Vecchio. Deserted, I am sure it is lovely, but I can get mass shopping experiences at home and this was not what I came to Italy for.

not everyone sees what I seeThen I looked up. Another reminder of why I was here ~ another magical moment ~ party dresses all in a row, a ray of beauty among the crowds. A few people looked up to see what it was I was so enthralled with, then quickly turned their eyes downward, seeing nothing of interest. It's all in how you look at life. Beauty really is everywhere, if you are looking for it. That day, I found mine high above the crowds and on deserted squares.pretty maids all in a row

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, June 16, 2007

One Special Lady...and a Few Men

Llewellyn travelled from California to Italy to take my class. Rumour has it she is 90. I cannot begin to tell you the places she has gone, the classes she has taken. She is a fine bookbinder but said she learned more in this class than she ever has. I don't think she meant art though. It was her first mixed media class. Her first class where serendipity and creating were the goal. I know that she taught all of us something with the stories and years of experience she shared. A few of us commented that that's how we want to be when we grow up - still going strong, still learning, travelling and having fun.

Llewellyn travelled with her son Brian, who thought she was "too old" to travel alone. But he is not pictured here with the other men of Italy. Three brave husbands shared meals and side travels with us and added another perspective to the week. They also kept a few of us from spending too many Euros (darn). The one in the middle is mine, Buddy. He is flanked on the left by Larry (Corinne's) and Adrian (Glenda's) the printer saviour and official photographer - see all those cameras around his neck.

So there you have it, the classroom side of my Italy story. I still have more of Italy to share but I am expecting a call any day/minute from my daughter who is ready to deliver baby girl Julia. If I disappear from the blog for a few days, that's why.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Women of Art & Soul Italy

Linda, Becky & MereteHere we are - the women of Pienza. Thursday afternoon was spent doing Show & Tell. It was the most entertaining and interesting one I have ever done, because everyone was full of such interesting stories and spoke with such passion about Glenny, Lane & Juliewhat they had done to create their book. Their journal was a place to record not only meals, wines sampled and duomos seen, but a chance to record memories in color, texture and transferred photographs. There in the top row Lori, Joan & Judyare sisters Linda & Becky. Becky says she's never done this before, but you could have fooled me. While sister #3 was at Surtex promoting their company, Fabric Art in a Bag, Linda & Becky were soaking in the beauty of Italy. They owe her big-time!Robin, Kat & Glenda

Merete came all the way from Norway to take the class. Well perhaps Norway isn't all that far from Italy compared to the US. Merete came with a vision and a desire to learn transfers. She created beautiful work in rich, Marcia, Ann, Yvonne & Evedark colors, reminiscent of the long dark winters of her homeland.

Row 2 brings us Queen of Art & Soul, Glenny. She managed to relax long enough to actually make something! When you run any event like Art & Soul, big or small, US or Italy, it drains you. I am so glad she could enjoy herself this time around. Next to her is her good friend Lane and Lane's daughter-in-law, Julie. This was Julie's first time too. I'd love to do something like this with my daughter-in-law someday!

Lori, Joan and Judy were wise and entertaining women. Joan & Lori travelled together from California, Judy from Scotland. Their work was lovely and I hope our paths cross again. In Row 4 we have Robin, Kat and Glenda. Robin & Kat had already spent a week or so touring Italy, and entertained us with stories about hiking in Cinque Terre, where Robin picked up the flu. Imagine! Being on vacation and not able to get out of bed. She eventually joined us on Day 2, and sat very still all day. She said it was nice to have something like the journal to focus on and a relaxing atmosphere in which to create and heal.

Glenda, lovely, sharing Glenda, was the first person I met when I arrived on Sunday and then kept bumping into her in Montepulicano. She and her husband, Adrian, drove to Italy from England. Of course there was a ferry involved. Glenda runs a scrapbooking and stamp business Artylicious and very generously shared her line of stamps and printed papers with the class. Adrian turned out to be a lifesaver in the photo printing department. Using an adapter, I plugged my mini HP portable printer in and still blew the cord - voltage overload. With his background in computers, he was eager to try and get us up and running again, even driving to Montepulciano to 2 computer stores to see if he could get a new cord. He came back with his own new little HP portable printer and we were back in business, so that everyone could do their own water transfers with their own photos. A lifesaver if there ever was one. (Thank you again, Adrian.)

Bottom row - Marcia charmed us with her cheerful smile and Texas drawl. Ann, another Texan was ever so quiet and industrious all week, creating a beautiful book. And the 2 Yvonne's - how rare is that! Yvonne #1 joined us from Great Britain and "Eve" Yvonne from NY. Yvonne #1 shared some wonderful UK stencils and stamps with everyone. You know how we always like something new, new new.

There's still one special woman left. You'll have to come back tomorrow to meet her.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Italian Class

posing for our group photoThis is not a post about learning the language, but about the class I taught in Italy. Although it did not feel like teaching ~ more like a big art party. The beauty of it was having a full week to create a work of beauty, surrounded by all the beauty that is Italy. The classroom was huge and a cool respite from the afternoon sun. I thought I would have some defectors in the afternoon (who would want to stay in a basement all day when Italy what stories lie within these beautiful covers?was calling?) but everyone was so eager to work on their book each day, and some into the night. It certainly paid off. Look at these beauties.

The format was flexible, a book that could grow with the trip, a place to store and add postcards, mementos, impressions and photos. A little fabric here for the cover, some paint on the pages, collage, stamp, emboss, share,Italian beauties trade and swap...we did it all. Here are Lori's and Merete's books. Both a work in progress, because the right things to complete them were miles away at home. And here is the beginning of our show & tell session ~ so much to show, so much to tell. Because we had spent the week together we were old friends, laughing at the same jokes and sharing the same stories,Liz (TX), Annette (AU) and Corinne (CA) but though different eyes. Annette there in the middle, a gentle soft spoken woman of talent, is travelling all summer and thought spending a week creating would be a nice break. I envy her courage to take off alone to places unknown. Liz on the left here, signed up for this while at Art & Soul in Dallas. She sorta, kinda missed her kids. Corinne, an Art & Soul regular and sometimes teacher, kept us all excited and energetic with her unbounding enthusiasm. You can see Italy though her eyes here.

When next we meet, I'll introduce to more travelers.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Fabric Lust in Italy

I finally found a fabric store in Italy and it was CLOSED. So frustrat-
ing. There it was, chanced upon Sunday afternoon during our rainy day stroll through Florence. But I imagine that was a very good thing: a) because I saved a lot of Euros, and b) fabric is so very heavy and it would have cost even more to take it home in overweight luggage. So I did the next best thing, I took a picture of the interior with all of those bolts just lying there, taunting the poor fabricaholic that could not get in.

Up until that point I was extremely happy though, because I had scored a most beautiful piece of vintage fabric at the market in Siena, and truth be told, it is much more precious being my only piece of Italian fabric. I wasn't planning on spending much time in the markets and having already made my small purchase of 2 meters of ribbon (having a husband in tow does dampen the shopping urge), but this trained eye of mine did spy this gorgeous yardage as I was leaving the market. The old man said, "Bella, si?" and I said, "Si, bella!" - no language barrier there. I was able to bargain him down a few Euros even though I am sure he could tell I would have easily paid his asking price. There was almost 2 yards, enough for me to cut into and share a piece with all 20 students the following day. Of course when we were back in class the following day and I saw what they had scored at the market, I thought perhaps I should have stayed longer, shopped harder. But no, I was happy. One beautiful piece of fabric is an excellent market memento in my book.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Low Road, continued

as seen along a country roadRemember how I said I knew I was meant to be on the low road, let me tell you why. There are quintessential photos of Tuscany - ones you see in every calendar: the white chapel, a stand of cypress, a rolling landscape with hay bales. Various photographers have captured them and to me, they are as sacred as any fresco or duomo. After leaving the country chapel I continued my walk along the dusty dirt road, still looking for the cemetery. I passed a wooded area and suddenly came upon an open field, my own field of dreams. I still do not know why I reacted as I did, but I spread my arms open wide, looked up to the heavens and my eyes filled with tears. It was truly a sacred experience, the kind that Phil Cousineau writes aboutfield of dreams in his fine, fine book, The Art of Pilgrim-
. This was where I was supposed to be, this is what I was meant to see.

When people ask me what the most memorable part of my trip was, this is what comes to mind, but I cannot yet explain it. It had something to do with order, with natural beauty. Something to do with being able to step from reality into a storybook, a scene only dreamed about heretofore.

It was an artist's field ~ pattern, color, repetition, texture ~ solitude and serenity, what the 17th century Japanese poet Basho calls "a glimpse of the underglimmer," something deeply real. Cousineau says that "every traveler can transform any journey into pilgrimage with a commitment to finding something personally sacred along the road." (I am just now reading his book, yet I unknowingly traveled as if I already had taken every word to heart.) He says that one of our deepest longings is the need for sacred beauty. I had found my sacred beauty.

Yesterday I rode the METRO down to Dupont Circle in DC to meet a friend for lunch. I grew up in this city, traveled its streets many times. But yesterday as I came up out of the subway tunnel, I saw the city as if new. I noticed details I had glazed over before. I was there with new eyes. Joseph Brodsky says, "beauty is a by-product of ordinary things." You can be a traveler anywhere, on your own street, in your own town. Sacred beauty is waiting for you, sometimes along a low road less traveled.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Aroma Therapy

doorway to a secret garden of scentsMy sister has noticed that I begin each Italy entry with a door or entrance of sorts. I hadn't even noticed. I think that says something deep and meaningful about my blogging or writing process, but I cannot summon up any deep meaning behind it at the moment. Beginnings? Openings? The wonderland that Alice found behind a door? Dream interpretation says it means new opportunities. Yes, that seems to fit. I'll agree with that.

This is the unprepossessing entrance to the L'officina Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, flanked by motorcycles and an awning to protect sidewalk diners in the restaurant next door. That's something I did not like about Florence. All of its grandeur was practically obscured by modern life - construction, trash, traffic, street vendors. It was quite a letdown after the preserved beauty of the smaller towns we visited, ones that I will get to later. If you've noticed, I havn't been going in chronological order here, just following the whim of the day as to what I write about. Italy is like that, very laid back. When it happens, it happens, if not, no big deal~ sometimes a hard lesson for impatient Americans.

Back to the perfumery This is a glimpse of the grandeur that greets you on the inside. If only I could find some way for you to experience the smell. No, not smell, fragrance. A fragrance created by centuries of perfume molecules, drifting, then soaking into the walls, the woodwork. I am always frustrated by our sense of smell. One can only catch fleeting moments of sweet smells. You cannot wrap them around you, nor swish them around in your mouth prolonging their taste. You cannot feast your eyes, nor listen to your hearts content. Exposed to a smell too long and you no longer notice it. So sad.

Beyond the arched doorway there is a ceiling as magnificant as any duomo can boast. One of my favorite song comes to mind- A Case of You sung by Caroline Lavelle - and the line "I could drink a case of you darling, and I would still be on my feet." (Actually, I just discovered that the song was written by Joni Mitchell. But it was Caroline's voice I heard.) It was quiet, formal, very, very elegant and refined, yet I felt welcome there, not at all like I feel when I walk through Saks Fifth Avenue, underdressed and obviously lacking the necessary credentials to shop there. "May I take photos?" She nodded yes. Perhaps I was not the first scent-struck tourist with a camera they had seen. It was a museum yes, but also still a working pharmacy. Tourists welcome, shopping suggested.

There were three rooms, all in varying stages of restoration and decay. Peeling walls revealed centuries of ornate wallpapers. Chairs along the wall awaited Florence's royalty, perhaps even Catherine de Medici herself. Product and price lists were printed on large sheets of heavy cardstock, in several languages. Soaps, perfumes, herbal tinctures, oils and bubble-baths fit for a queen. I was enthralled with the cabinets full of antique bottles and jars, creams and lotions. Shopping was secondary to me, but I did manage to leave with a few scented soaps - lemon verbena and a bar of their vellutina creme soap in their signature box. A most sensual and memorable beginning to our afternoon exploration of Florence.cabinet of curiositiesbottles filled with the elusive memory of scent
treasures or trinkets?

centuries of peeling wallpaperceiling detail

Florence: Arrival

We arrived in Florence at the Santa Maria Novella (S.M.N. for short) train station on Sunday (wow, really just a week ago?) in a pouring rain. Soaking. Steady. We had 3 suitcases, 2 carry-ons and no free hands for an umbrella. I knew our hotel was just a block or so away from the station, but no one could tell us exactly how to get there...they tried, but we could not understand. The S.M.N. Train station has an underground maze of tunnels and shops. It is a handy underpass for Santa Maria Novella Square. It was also a crowded refuge from the rain. After a series of false starts in and out of the rain, my husband finally took the plunge and went to find our hotel while I waited in the tunnel, people watching, sketching graffiti and staying dry. A soggy 1/2 hour later (he was still too cheap, or was it macho, to buy one of the 3 Euro umbrellas that every Giacomo, Paolo & Antonio was out there selling). He finally returned and reported that it was just 1/2 block away. By then, the rain had slowed to a drizzle so we rolled our bags with difficulty over the uneven stone streets and sidewalks to Bellevue House our 4th floor "oasis, a peaceful time-warp" according to Rick Steve's Italy. He was right.

Bellevue House resides on the top of an antique palace called "Palazzo Riblet". In the 16th century it was originally a convent. Hauling my teaching suitcase up all those stairs was no fun (for Buddy), but the place was warm and welcoming and made the effort worthwhile. (When you make plans months earlier to stay on the 4th floor of a romantic Italian palace, you tend not to think suitcases will be a problem. But at the end of a wet and weary morning, well...) Throughout the towns of Tuscany, we had always wondered what lay behind all those ornate doors. Now we knew. We were rewarded for our climb with the vision of a beautiful frescoed ceiling.

By the time we got our bags upstairs, checked in and dried off, the rain had slowed to a spit, so we set out to explore the city. One of my must sees in Florence was the Official Perfumery di Santa Maria Novella. Rick Steves said it was "thick with the lingering aroma of centuries of spritzes." I had read A Scented Palace and was quite taken with the history and chemistry of perfume. Because so many things are closed on Sundays or Mondays, and because our time was short, I planned for easily obtainable tourist attractions. The Perfumery was right across the street from our hotel. The guide book said it was closed Sunday, but someone stepped out, so we stepped in. Good thing, because it turned out to be closed Monday, which is when I had planned to go. Tomorrow, I'll take you inside.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Sacri Baptismatis

entrance to unnamed chapelThomas Whately wrote in 1770, "A monument of antiquity is never seen with indifference." I am not one to seek out the famous, the grand duomos and palaces of Italy. I take pleasure in seeing them. I am in awe of their beauty and marvel at their sense of history. Knowing that someone great and powerful, Michelangelo, perhaps, or Galileo, stood in the very same place I now stand, provides me with a personal connection to history. It's something I can feel, really feel deep inside. But I found that the more humble a place was, the more deserted it was, the more I was drawn to it. Alone, and in silence I could so strongly feel the presence of the past. I was alone, yet not alone.

sunlight streaming through the windowMy husband went on morning walks the days I was teaching. One day he ambled down a small country road that ran behind Pienza, the small town we stayed in. Along the walk, he discovered a tiny chapel, a yard of very large chickens and a small cemetery. The following day, after class, I took off alone to follow the road he said ran parallel to the town's main road. Well, he took the high road and I took the low road. I didn't realize it though, because I also came to a chapel and my road also turned from paved to dirt as his did. But I never did find the chickens or the cemetery. I was so disappointed that I was not finding the cemetery, but there was a reason for my taking the road less traveled. I found what I was meant to find and I knew it when I saw it. But first, let me tell you about the chapel.

simple stone altar viewd through wooden benchesThe door was open, the chapel empty. Light poured through the west window as the sun was beginning to fall. This chapel had no frescoes, no ornate altar or fixtures. It was a place for prayer, for forgiveness, for contemplation. The locals knew what it was. Tourists were most likely welcome but not expected. There was no sign, no identification.doorway detail The carving over the door looked pre-renaissance, Etruscan perhaps. I think this was a pieve, a baptismal church, because over on the right wall I discovered the only text in the church ~ a most ornate fixture, carved in marble. I recognized only the word 'baptism' which was actually a necessary clue, as the ordinary, worn wooden box under the sign certainly did not look like any baptismal font I have ever seen. words carved in marbleBefore and after visiting this humble house of God, I had seen so many grand and ornate duomos, basilicas and chapels. Their sheer size, soaring ceilings and necessary hands-off policies has the effect of making you feel like a visitor, just another tourist.
It was hard to connect to my ownsimple wooden baptismal font sense of spirituality in those magnificent shrines to faith. Here I felt genuine sacredness. Those that worshipped here in the past, or even now, knew that the path to the sacred does not require golden treasures, finery or extravagance. It's something that can be found anywhere, even along a country road.

I felt so safe. If you have been reading my blog you may remember the entry when I wrote about not feeling safe walking in the woods near my home. Yet here I was alone in a foreign country, along a deserted country road, feeling like I was in the middle of nowhere, yet at the same time, exactly where I was supposed to be. I felt more at home and at peace than I had in a long while. The peacefulness of the place had settled within me.

Stepping Back in Time

Unlike my trip to New Zealand and Australia, I seldom knew where I was in Italy. Looking back on my photos, I cannot tell whether a church was in Montepulciano or Pienza, a window was captured in Castellina or San Gimignano. I knew which town I was in while I was in it, but what churches (so many), steep stone streets or breathtaking vistas I recorded with my camera ~ I cannot tell. But this...this I remember.

It was the day after we arrived, our first full day in Italy. Let the sight-seeing begin! We were meandering through San Gimignano, (husband Buddy, sister Katie & her husband, Joe). I was in awe at every turn and was a follower, often a lallygagger, pausing to take photo after photo, drink in the view, pinch myself. So there I was, following them up the steps to this walled garden, leaves on the olive trees glistening before my eyes. As I crossed the threshold, there was music, harp music, filling the air. Just like in the movies...naive small-town girl goes to foreign country and is astounded by it's beauty and majesty, cue in music as she steps into the secret garden, etc. etc. etc. Well, it brought tears to my eyes. Yes it did. It all finally sunk in ~ I was in Italy, and it was a very zen moment, be here now. I was really here.

The garden was actually an ancient fort, complete with the small openings in the wall where soldiers of yore stood watch for approaching enemy. An artist was painting at his easel. The harpist was nestled behind him, under a tree. I must confess that the spell was broken when I saw her. Her eyebrows were drawn on too high, giving her a caricature-like appearance. Reality had cast a cliched nerdy, yet passionate high-school music teacher, not the young angelic beauty a Hollywood director would choose. It got me to thinking ~ what is beauty? How do we define beauty? How much does modern society/advertising/culture influence our perceptions. I felt small and shallow that I had let her eyebrows ruin the moment for me, especially when I know better than that. She had gifted me with a powerful moment that lifted and opened my heart and I was being critical of her appearance. It was at that moment that I let go. I left the rest of the world behind and became a tabula rasa, a blank slate, ready for my own renaissance, my rebirth.

I have always identified with the concept of renais-
sance man/
woman, "a man who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in areas of both the arts and the sciences." I have juggled my interests and passions over these 50-some years. Medical school was a goal at one point, and art of course. I can program computers, write a thesis and turn fabric and thread into a work of art. That afternoon in the garden, under the Tuscan sun, in the land of the Renaissance, my eyes and heart were opened once again. I thought they were wide with wonder before. A heart can never fill. It just keeps expanding, making room for more.