Color story #14: Spring, Spring the Flower Thing

This being a fashion town, yesterday’s Corriere della Sera had a lovely article about the Spring colors this year, and the “it” color for 2014. Turns out that this Spring, as for many, the in colors are principally based on flowers. I’ve scattered them throughout the post. But the winning flower (and its related color) are the orchid. “Radiant Orchid,” to be exact, according to Pantone—a rather astonishing cross between fuchsia and violet that I see often in France, but less here (below, right).

COLLAGE 5

The article was accompanied by a beautiful graph showing how the season’s colors crawl around a chart of cool and warm colors, mostly related to plants and flowers. I couldn’t reproduce it well enough, here, but I found that images I’d been collecting to share with you (both fashion and flowers) were sort of doing the trick anyway. So I’ve used them instead.

COLLAGE 1SWATCH 1

The overall effect is  a “feeling” that I’m happy to say is infiltrating my own cloudy mood after a very long, very gray, very wet winter (sorry to repeat the theme of the last post, but it’s impossible not too).

COLLAGE 2SWATCH 2

Pinks are popping, for sure, but there’s also a lovely current of deep, sort of “off” colors, more pronounced than what Spring is sometimes about. If only these had been around when I was picking out Easter outfits as a kid…I remember one Easter wearing a pale dress (light blue, I think) with smocking and a sash, and an easter hat (yes, a straw brimmed hat)…Playing tag with my brother before church, I fell and skinned my knee. Think Pantone True Red 19-1664 TCX (at bottom of post).

FLOWERHEAD

And in the center of it all, a “Flowerhead” (above) by Olaf Hajek, featured on the cover of the section of the paper that addressed this issue. I love this illustration, and I have learned that there are many others where this came from. Oh to see the world in flowers!

COLLAGE 3SWATCH 3

COLLAGE 4SWATCH 4

Posted in AROUND US, COLOR, ITALY | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Color story #13: The blue of blue

(Yes, Linda! Spring, blessedly, is coming!)
The other day, my daughter asked me what my favorite color was, and I irritated her the way I sometimes do by answering this question with one of my own: “To look at, or to wear?” Because it does make a difference, or it should in theory…even though after the bothersome question had slipped my lips, I realized that in that precise moment it made no difference at all. The color was one and the same. “Blue.”

IMG_7471IMG_7497

Often my answer is some shade of green. Sometimes it’s a specific shade of gray—”mouse.” Yesterday it was joyfully and unequivocally, blue. After the winter we and so many others have had, I could have added “And by the way: any blue will do. Even the smallest, weeniest littlest, palest-faced patch.” But I didn’t need to qualify it, because as we were playing this little game, the sky outside was shouting a very decisive answer of its own.

IMG_7479IMG_7472

Electric blue! Clean blue! That precise blue that gave birth to the very concept of the color! That oscillates spectacularly—at lightening speed—between being a frigidly cold color and a flaming hot one. The blue of a cold wet winter giving way to what will, if we hold our breath, become another summer that children’s dreams are made of. Nordic and tropical all at the same time. Polar and equatorial. Shallow, deep. Frivolous, dead serious. Cruel, profoundly benevolent. That blue that seduces people out of their homes, underdressed, just to catch a ray of light even though the temperatures are anything but worthy. The blue of all blues. There’s no way I could have answered her question otherwise.

IMG_7482 IMG_7477IMG_7490

Posted in AROUND US, COLOR, FRANCE | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Italy still cracks me up

I’ve been here—OK, we figured it out a couple posts ago—seventeen years. And in all that time, there are still things about this country that make me laugh out loud. Particularly when I compare them to their American equivalent. No, it’s not at all that I find the American equivalent superior. It’s simply the sheer difference that’s entertaining in and of itself.

FARMACIA 3

Take pharmacies (one of my favorite things to take into consideration here in Italy as they can be almost museum-quality beautiful compared to their American counterparts.) It seems to me, that in the U.S. along with many other business, pharmacies are there when you need them, 24/7. All bright lights and row-upon-row of “whatever you need” whenever you need it.

Here, things are still clinging, to the best of their ability, to the old way. Though not always the case, pharmacies generally observe the half-day chiusura settimanale and are often opened on Saturday in the mornings only, closing at 12:30. Sunday? Forget it. Except—there are always exceptions (and this one is very useful if you are traveling here)—for the

FARMACIE DI TURNO

or, the pharmacies which have been designated to remain open over any given weekend so that people in need can actually get what they need. 

I’ve wandered off task. I wanted to talk about something which makes me laugh, and pharmacies being there when I need them doesn’t make me laugh at all. In fact, as you all know, it’s quite a relief on occasion. No. What I wanted to show you, was our neighborhood pharmacy when it’s its turn to be di turno. You’d think perhaps the door would be thrown open in a welcoming fashion with a sign inviting you in even on a Sunday, but no. It’s not like that at all. It’s like this:

IMG_2372 IMG_2371

You see that little hand-made hole in the night grill? That’s where you go, after you ring the bell, as instructed by the handmade sign pointing to the right. The pharmacist appears at the hole (he has to bend down as he’s rather tall), asks you what you want, and several seconds later comes back with your parcel. You pay (through the hole), and that’s the end of that. No muss, no fuss, no risk of the pharmacy being robbed, no having to actually—God forbid—cross the threshold and go inside. Nope. If you want that luxury you’ll have to wait for Monday.

I think that’s funny.

[If you enjoyed this rather silly post, you might also enjoy “Postcard #2: Farmacia Milanese.”]

Posted in AROUND US, ITALY | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

A late Valentine, Italian-style

Heart-day was an infinite five days ago, but still it’s on my mind. Rummaging through my file today, I discovered some pictures I’d been saving to post on the occasion, but had somehow neglected to follow-through on. Must have been too busy eating all those chocolates I received and breathing in deeply the heady perfume of long-stemmed roses. As if… Oh well. My Italian stallion is forgiven. He was far, far away working hard for a living. There’s always next year.

BRAZZI 1Perhaps you know him, perhaps you don’t, but this year’s Valentine’s post features Italian heart-throb of days gone by, Rossano Brazzi. I’ve seen him in one and only film, Summertime (1955), with Katherine Hepburn, and was inspired enough to do a bit of digging. These are the findings that amused me the most.

BRAZZI 2BRAZZI 3brazzi 4BRAZZI 5

[If you enjoyed this post, you might also like: Abbracci e baci]

Posted in ITALY, SO NOTED | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Reposting: Bells du jour

Sorry Everyone, I was having technical difficulties with the video. Have run it through YouTube and it seems to be working now.

When I first moved to Italy seventeen (God, was it that many?) years ago, I noticed church bells all the time. They sounded exotic to me. Haunting. Indisputably beautiful. I never found them offensive or “polluting” or any of the adjectives that were ascribed to them by people who debated (and continue to debate) their presence. They were part of Italy. Part of the past. Part of a culture that was opening its arms to me. A soundtrack to a new life on foreign soil.

In our second apartment together, we heard them particularly loudly and clearly. Our building faced onto a beautiful park which was situated between two basilicas, Sant’Eustorgio and San Lorenzo. We had a labrador, Luna, who sang whenever the bells rang. (Or was that lamenting? Or was it something more desperate?) We never figured out if the pealing of the bells hurt her ears or tugged at her heart, but we think the latter. She would throw back her head, lay her ears flat and relaxed down the back of her skull and form her doggy lips—try to picture this—into an O-shape. Ah-Oooooooooooooo, she sang with more and more dog-emotion each time the tolling repeated.

Now, for some reason I cannot explain, I haven’t heard bells in a long, long time. I don’t know if the sound-pollution camp are winning their war, or if I’ve simply, with time, grown inured to the heart-rending, clanging plea. But yesterday, as if being awaked from a 100-year dream, I heard them! I was in the middle of Piazza dei Volontari, and the sound surrounded me completely, bouncing from wall to wall to wall, finally fading fading fading into the low-vibrational, constant thrum of the city.

Posted in AROUND US, ITALY | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Bells du jour


When I first moved to Italy seventeen (God, was it that many?) years ago, I noticed church bells all the time. They sounded exotic to me. Haunting. Indisputably beautiful. I never found them offensive or “polluting” or any of the adjectives that were ascribed to them by people who debated (and continue to debate) their presence. They were part of Italy. Part of the past. Part of a culture that was opening its arms to me. A soundtrack to a new life on foreign soil.

In our second apartment together, we heard them particularly loudly and clearly. Our building faced onto a beautiful park which was situated between two basilicas, Sant’Eustorgio and San Lorenzo. We had a labrador, Luna, who sang whenever the bells rang. (Or was that lamenting? Or was it something more desperate?) We never figured out if the pealing of the bells hurt her ears or tugged at her heart, but we think the latter. She would throw back her head, lay her ears flat and relaxed down the back of her skull and form her doggy lips—try to picture this—into an O-shape. Ah-Oooooooooooooo, she sang with more and more dog-emotion each time the tolling repeated.

Now, for some reason I cannot explain, I haven’t heard bells in a long, long time. I don’t know if the sound-pollution camp are winning their war, or if I’ve simply, with time, grown inured to the heart-rending, clanging plea. But yesterday, as if being awaked from a 100-year dream, I heard them! I was in the middle of Piazza dei Volontari, and the sound surrounded me completely, bouncing from wall to wall to wall, finally fading fading fading into the low-vibrational, constant thrum of the city.

Posted in AROUND US, ITALY | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Thoughts made by hand

THOUGHTS 1 RAINY DAYbootsTHOUGHTS  2 RAINY DAY

[You might enjoy other posts about hand-writing: “By hand, by heart” and “Sign on the dotted line.”]

| 8 Comments

Lunch with the farm girls

When I graduated from high school, my Mom’s “gift” to me was to take me and my brother on a trip to South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. She was conducting academic research on Laura Ingalls Wilder. She had some contacts who could put her in touch with people who’d known Laura and her daughter Rose, and they would be our starting points, or stopping points, as it were, along our drive.

INVITATION

In few words, it was a trip that changed my life. I fell in love with the prairie and the people, and decided that I would do a 180 on my choice of university. (I was slated to go to the University of Virginia, but was not very enthusiastic about it. I’d wanted to go North.) But now, No. I would go to South Dakota State in Brookings and follow their program of Environmental Studies. My father thought I was insane and basically threatened to disown me. “No daughter of mine is going to school in South Dakota.”

STARTER SMALL

This was the worst exchange I’d ever had with my father. (It would, in fact, be the worst exchange I would ever have with him). I knew he loved me; I knew he could not see my point of view. I knew that “learning” to him meant certain things. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Had degrees from William & Mary, Harvard and University of Virginia. I knew that he thought I had great potential. I’d been an excellent high school student. Almost too good. He was used to that level of performance. I was sick of it (as time would tell!)

He did not picture me on the prairie, raising livestock and tow-headed babies. He did not. He didn’t know that people have myths inside them, and that my steady girlhood diet of the Little House on the Prairie books and the beautiful writings of Willa Cather had written a myth inside me about open spaces. He forgot that my mother (his ex-wife for God’s sake!) was raised on a chicken farm, that her uncle was a dairy farmer, that her other uncle was an accountant for the (then) booming Curles Neck Dairy outside Richmond, Virginia. He didn’t know (how could he have forgotten?) that Mother’s “people” had entertained us with hayrides and boiled sweet corn yanked right of the high-as-an-elephant’s-eye stalk. He’d overlooked the fact that some residue might still be in my blood. He didn’t know about my myth.

GNOCCHI SMALL

I gave in to him. I let him be right. I was a hard-headed girl, but I didn’t want a family torn asunder over a summer adventure. Besides, deep inside, I knew it was a risky choice, and maybe it was easier to avoid the conflict and the risk at the same time. So, I went to U.Va. and resisted the learning that was spread out in front of me, until reading and literature gave me some peace. I discovered William Carlos Williams, thanks to a brilliant professor named Anne Fisher, and my sense of being an American began to express itself to me in new and exciting ways. She made us keep a journal. She uncovered my myth; in fact, it was she who called it that, and made me realize that it would give me power.

By the time I finished college, I didn’t want to go back to the Plains. Hell, I didn’t know what I wanted. Didn’t really know where to go from where I was, at all. (That happens a lot when you’re young, doesn’t it?) But I’d seen the grasses that looked like an ocean, and chatted with friendly cows from the road, and breathed in deep the smell of hogs (and liked it!), and visited farm families that fried up 2 dozen eggs at a time for breakfast (those boys had to eat!) and I knew that I would always love the idea of that place. That I’d always go there in my head.  I wanted to know America in all its nooks and crannies. My friends were trotting off to Europe to find themselves; I had no interest in that.

Of course, I live in Italy. Life is funny that way. I have no regrets. I have been filled up with wonder over and over and over again.

CINGHIALE SMALL

Now, my dream is not to let plants die on my urban balcony. Now my dream is to get to our little house in France, every chance I get so that I can gaze upon the wheat fields that rise up behind us even if they don’t belong to us, and dirty my hands in the little plot that does. I content myself with my flower beds and my herb garden, which I try to whip into shape, if only seasonally. It’s funny how life doesn’t give you exactly what you wanted once-upon-a-time, but it does address the needs. It hears your heart. In wild circling motions it takes you far afield of what you had in mind, but gives you, I think, more.

This is partly, just partly, why I love reading two farm blogs in particular—The Kitchens Garden and Life on a Colorado Farm. I would read more (I love them), but two is what I have time for, and I’ve grown attached to their stories, their animals, their surroundings and the women who write them. They live my Road Not Taken. That’s why I’m inviting them (as guests of honor) and all of you to lunch today.

DESSERT SMALL

Every choice we make is a process of elimination. For a woman who decides to put roots down right where she is, she’s making a choice not to globe-trot, but to go deeper. A man who leaves his native land far behind, is choosing, consciously, to let many things go so that he may encounter many things. If we live in the city, we give up the country. If we live in the country, it’s obvious what we don’t have. And there are probably many people, like me, who started out with one myth, only to have it layered over with many others. This building-up of hopes, dreams and selves creates our personal internal wealth, but it also causes pain sometimes.

The blogosphere helps soothe the discomfort of thinking about the Road(s) Not Taken or the Roads Traveled Long Ago. Many people dream of Italy. Many people come, but can’t stay. I didn’t dream of it, yet here I am. It had something else I dreamed of: Love. And when that myth starts becoming a reality, you perk up and pay attention and go where it leads. So today, the Italian lunch is on me. Put on the clothes that make you the happiest, and pull up a seat. We’ll talk of our many lives, and we’ll celebrate where we are right this minute.

I’m taking you to La Rimessa in Mariano Comense between Milan and Como. And since all our lives have been experimental journeys and every great meal is an experimental journey too, we’re having their innovative menu which I had the pleasure of “testing” two weekend’s ago. Everything about it surprised and humbled me:

• Calamari alla griglia ripieni di buseca con crema di patate allo zenzero (Grilled calamari stuffed with tripe, served over a cream of potato and ginger)

• Gnocchi di barbabietola crema all’erborinato di capra e scaglie di cioccolato al 99% (Beet gnocchi with gorgonzola of goat’s milk and shavings of 99% dark chocolate)

• Mondeghili di cinghiale con purea di patate e verza cappuccio viola (Meatballs of wild boar with puré of potato and violet savoy cabbage)

• Ice cream made from the milk of alpine cows and toasted sesame.

| 17 Comments

A story for a winter day

Adam Dant, London illustrator from Supposed Histories on Vimeo, and his story of the Island of Elba and some very special birds. Just what I needed to hear this morning in wintery Milan. True or not true? Who cares…it takes the mind away to a warmer place and time.

Below: My own memories of Elba. Ahhhh. So nice.

IMG_1572

| 2 Comments

Of walking, webs, halos and sticks

Dear You and You and You and You and You…

Today has been a day full of the oddest, end-of-the-year joy. Just happiness like that: Boom. As if a massive house-cleaning took place and suddenly it all feels sort of new even though it isn’t. I was sick for Christmas, as I often was when I was young, so it was with a great primitive, animal joy that I energetically walked out into the world yesterday feeling like a new person just in time for a new year. And the good feeling stuck…

IMG_7042IMG_7028

I walked and walked, just for the sheer joy of feeling my legs do that pendulum thing legs do. Ticking and tocking down the country road, early enough in the morning for the light to be low and the fog to be creeping around like a magic, flying blanket, covering things in softness and a photoshoppy haze.

The brambles that are cut short between the road and the railroad tracks are completely leafless now, but at that hour of the day every one was jeweled with dew. And every yard or so, was a beautiful perfect spider web. I am fascinated by spiders and their webs, and have always felt that these animals had a sort of symbolic power for me. But I have never seen any webs like these. Not this perfect. Not this tiny (not one was bigger than a hand-span.) And not this perfectly lit.

IMG_7047IMG_7034

I don’t know what kind of spider wove these. And even as I snapped away, I never saw the creators sitting in the midst of their homes/traps. It seemed as if they’d all been abandoned. Maybe the spiders have moved to warmer vacation webs in slightly more southerly locations. Who knows. And I saw no insects trapped in these webs. Only I was trapped. Couldn’t stop looking, marveling, gasping with delight.

IMG_7046IMG_7047

At the end of the road I turned toward the canal and circled back around between the canal and the fields on the far side. Beginning this leg on a rise, I was surprised to look down and see my own shadow (with my fur bomber hat) spreading like a giant, alien (or angel) shape across the baby plants hanging on in the dewy cold. I felt bigger than life for a moment. Lit, even, by a halo around my head. Even as I walked and my shadow shortened, the halo persisted, following me and glowing like mad.

IMG_7059IMG_7064

PUZZLE

Does anyone know why that happens? I’ve just read today’s post on thekitchensgarden and I notice that in the first picture there’s a halo around Celi’s head too. What is the explanation for this? Can anyone tell me?

IMG_7089IMG_7092

Enjoying my undeserved halo and my beautiful natural surroundings, I took a last look at the two trees, standing tall and alone in the middle of the field, one playing hide-and-seek behind the other, and turned back. There on the ground was a big stick, clearly washed along by the canal…its bark had been peeled away and it had the smooth story-telling skin of driftwood that I can never resist. I picked it up and brought it home with me.

Every girl needs a good stick, don’t you think?

IMG_7104IMG_7056

Posted in AROUND US, FRANCE | 12 Comments