Friday, July 13, 2012

Inside Giotto’s Campanile, bell tower

Flying insects aside, sleeping next to a ten foot tall window with shutters open wide to the world is liberating. Our bedroom window opens into a room size air shaft shared by the four levels of apartments on the front side of the building. Barbra and I have seen the movie To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, but we don’t speak aloud of rooftop cat burglars for fear that paranoia will force us to close the windows and put an end to hearing the church bells and napping in the Tuscan air. Her twin bed is located under the window so she feels the breeze first, in its full rush. My bed hugs the wall across the room. I get a double whoosh, like a camera flash racing over me from one direction, then bouncing off the wall and sliding back over me from another. With the top end of the air shaft covered by a screen and my Marcello sleeping in the apartment directly above us, we feel safe.

After a restful night we wake early because today is a big day. I crane my neck out our front window on Via Ricasoli. Two blocks away I can see the Campanile, the bell tower, standing tall and strong. Today we’ll climb it and I’m excited because in July of 1958, I climbed to the top of the Duomo, its neighboring cathedral, and looked across to this very bell tower. I can’t help but wonder if the day was July 7, like today. 

Three main buildings sit together forming the architectural religious core of Florence. The Baptistery of St. John, from the 11th Century, is the oldest building. Next came The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, known as the Duomo, started in the 13th Century. On the same property, in 1334 Giotto di Bondone at age 67, designed and began building The Campanile. The project was taken over in 1343 by Andrea Pisano, known for the South Doors of the Baptistery, and then by Francesco Talenti who finished the structure in 1359. The square tower makes a bold statement at 278 feet tall with hundreds of embedded pieces of art and decorative architectural features. At the base, the four sides are each 48 feet wide and increase in width at as the tower rises to make it appear proportionate from the perspective of the viewer on the street.

There are several reasons to be the first in line to climb the Campanile. 1) The early morning light is magnificent; 2) The morning heat is bearable; 3) There are no crowds. Also, when you’re the first group, you can easily find a mutually acceptable climbing pace, plus, you urge each other on and are primed to experience a shared moment of victory following the enclosed 414 step climb… before the 414 step descent.
“Just a few more steps,” Jennifer, juggling a camera with a huge lens, calls down the stairs to Marilyn.
“We’re almost there,” relays Marilyn to me between deep breaths.

“I can see the daylight,” I pass on to Emily and Michael, as I round another turn that breaks out into a wide landing with seating, fresh air and large open viewing windows built into the walls. It’s designed as if the architect anticipated the climbers' need to recuperate before the next leg.

There are four stages in the journey to reach the top. Each has a circular staircase of cut stone that opens out into a viewing area. If you make it to just the first, you are rewarded with gazing down to watch the city brush sleep from its eyes and welcome the new day as street artist’s set-up shop and townspeople walk purposefully to their jobs. After the second leg, an unexpected view of the rooftops shows another candid view of city life. After the third, a truly spectacular view of the city stretches past the city center. And from the top, a breathtaking panorama of the Florentine countryside.

Way up in the sky, I find it curious that these architectural wonders look eye-to-eye, like man and woman, one a tall sturdy angular monument covered with geometric designs in white Carrera marble, green marble from Prato, and red marble from Sienna; the other larger architectural masterpiece, a cathedral with a massive dome covered in red brick, wearing a headpiece (“cupola”) topped with a copper globe with an unadorned cross reaching up to the heavens. I look across at the tourists standing on at the railing of the cupola and search the crowd for a ghost-like remnant of me as a child in 1958.

The ascending walk up the Campanile speaks to the body of trudging, one foot in front of the other, until muscles instinctively know the next move. With brief refrains to enjoy the sights, the legs take you upward until there is no further height to gain. The view is unexpected and you feel both the isolation and joy experienced by the bell-ringer (“campanaro”) who climbed the steps each day to ring the bells to call the townspeople to worship and watch over the countryside, signaling when danger approached. Looking out over the landscape fosters a sense of ownership as the entire kingdom is reduced to tabletop pieces of a giant board game. The descending walk is cautious, requiring slightly less physical effort, but more mental effort in navigating the narrow steps and dodging upcoming pilgrims. The bonus – your promised victorious photo in front of the monument before you move on to the local gelato shop and then to museums with more stairs.

At day’s end as the darkness walks us home, it has been a long and sticky 12 hours of sightseeing, street photography and dining al fresco. Our clothes are indistinguishable from our skin as they half hang and half cling to our bodies. I don’t have to see my reflection in a window to know I resemble a wet sheepdog. Near our apartment, we pass Marcello and Sophia walking down the street. Marcello wears his typical bright colored linen pants and white linen shirt with rolled up sleeves, but I am so tired I can barely capture his manly image in my mind. Sophia appears fresh in a floral cotton dress with straps tied over her bronze shoulders. I assume they have dined out and consumed wine because his wife acts unusually jovial and sings a repetitive verse. Marcello’s eyes sparkle, as always, and he tips his head in our direction as if to say hello, but my exhaustion from the day has already left my body so flushed, there is no blood left for blush. “Cantare, cantare,”she says tugging on his arm, urging him to join her in singing.

After the 800+ step Campanile trek, and a dawn to dark photo shoot, it takes longer than usual for us to make it up the final 53 stairs to our apartment. We are happy to be home where a cookie, sip of wine and shower await. In less than an hour, we turn out the lights and our freshly washed bodies drop into bed anticipating boldly painted dreams with cool strokes of Tuscan breeze. Barbra will probably dream about shutter speed and Pecorino Toscano, her favorite Italian cheese. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a second chance at fantasy in a dream-induced rerun… me tossing my freshly washed long blonde hair over my shoulder, strolling effortlessly along Via Ricasoli singing solo “Funiculì, funiculà, funiculì, funiculà,” my fingers, gently wrapped around Marcello’s muscular forearm, then me forming a compelling wet-lipped smile, coaxing him into a chorus duet, “Joy is everywhere, funiculì, funiculà!”

Saturday, June 2, 2012

London Calling… Intn'l Photo Fest

A teeter totter finds its balancing point, a ripple on the water smoothes to a calm surface, and a photographer discovers his or her eye. "Don't worry about what to photograph – go on – start taking photos," said our instructor Barbra Riley.

“Easier said than done,” I thought, looking at the others who already had camera-holding experience under their belts.

On day one, I didn't know the band of 20 by name, but we would spend Five Weeks in Florence taking a photography class at the Santa Reparata International School of Art. By day 35, I knew their intimate passions through their choice of photographic subject matter, food selections and the depth of their desire to experience Italy.
To say I was nervous on our first photo trek through Florence is an understatement. Our group was comprised of an art history instructor, her daughter, the  photography instructor aka my graduate school cohort, 12 art students from a Texas university, a couple of poli-sci majors, Jennifer’s husband Joe/Jose (who I affectionately came to call by both names), and me. I was the oddity, outranking most of the students in age by many years and coming from California. I had always wanted to "live" in Europe, had just purchased a digital camera, and was ready for an adventure.

In the same way I choose a steering wheel cover, wine glasses, chef knives and paint brushes, after selecting the brand, I make the buying decision by how the item feels in my hand. OK, I admit it – much of my life is orchestrated around the "touch" sensation or how I "feel" about something. Case-in-point, I don't like the feeling/touch of suede, but I did like the imprinted thumb rest on the body of the Cannon SX30IS. That particular camera was not too big, not too small and fit my hands perfectly.

It was midmorning on a Tuesday and the city wore haze of what "felt" like floating molecules of translucent parchment. The photography students were prompt on this first day of shooting and stood huddled on steps of the Baptistery, all wearing fresh clothing imbedded with unusual creases from being packed tightly in their suitcases for the cross-Atlantic flight.

Our inaugural itinerary covered only four square blocks, so if there was a day to get blisters or forget your bottle of water, sunscreen or hat, this was the day.

Some students already knew each other and the rest learned at least one new name or formed a quick opinion about another student that inevitably would change in the coming weeks. I studied their faces, wondering who would become my confidant, my exploration partner. I noted their different styles of clothing, and their hair, and the personality-reflecting accessories they wore. Those clad in bold colors gravitated to the right side of the steps while the earth tones assembled at the left. Tempted by the surroundings, the experienced travelers wandered with abandon off the steps. 

"Our” group was a mix of teens, seniors, male, female, tall, short, large and petite. In common, they all had an official looking camera either in hand or lassoed around their neck. Jennifer, the tiniest of the bunch, had the largest camera with the longest zoom lens. If her body was segmented, I would guess that her equipment was equal in weight to her two arms (hands attached) and one shoeless foot.

The light and air on that particular morning had buoyancy you could almost float on. Anxious to capture my first sight of a man sweeping a restaurant doorway, I held the viewfinder of my new camera to my eye and in doing so, was self-conscious about not using the display screen. Much to my surprise, on this, my first real day of photographing, I saw only black. I had slipped the camera instructions into my carry-on bag to read on the plane, but got sidetracked watching art movies and foreign films. Now I was stuck. This was not like a computer keyboard where I could keep banging on the keys until something happened. "Battery," I thought. Yes, I had charged the battery, but maybe I put it in wrong.

I remembered seeing real photographers blow on camera parts, so I slid open the battery cover, popped the battery out, wiped it with the clean 100% cotton white cowboy bandana tied to my camera strap, blew on it and reinserted it. With confidence, I made the same wiping-blowing motions with the memory card.

In our clump of jet-lagged travelers, I assumed everyone was as self-absorbed as I. Again I lifted my perfectly-hand-fitting Canon to my eye, but hesitated to take it down as I criticized myself for not testing the camera in the U.S., then I remembered bringing a pocket sized Canon that used AA batteries so I rationalized I would not spend the entire trip without a functioning camera. The overall shameful "feeling" of getting caught as an imposter photography student generated the same anguish as being caught faking my ability to read hieroglyphics as  my eyes moved from left to right or bragging of my cooking skills then being nervous about not changing the direction I stirred while cooking the tiramisu custard on the stove.

The second vision of blackness through the viewfinder found me doubly embarrassed and frozen in time. I could neither think nor move when an external chill slid over my body as a shadow grew on my shoulder. “What now,” I thought. I was already anxious at starting off my journey as the underdog. The expanding shadow was caused by a tall camera-savvy girl with dark hair that almost reached her waist.

Without passing judgment and speaking in a normal tone, Kristin said matter-of-factly, "Your lens cap is on."

After that I was no longer the underdog, but the welcome recipient of tips and tricks from the other students.

In the end, we would all be courted by our personal fascinations. My natural calling was recording the overlooked or unexpected moments of everyday life and I learned that this focus actually has a name – Street Photography. As defined by the London Festival of Photography organization it is “candid photography which captures, explores or questions contemporary society and the relationships between individuals and their surroundings."
If you'll be in London during the month of June and you like photography - you're in for a treat as the works of more than 2,400 international photographers are on display in the city-wide London Festival of Photography. The 2012 theme is Inside Out: Reflections on the Public and the Private. The festival features street, documentary and conceptual photography in 18 exhibitions and 30 satellite events as well as workshops, talks and screenings. There are digital shows and print shows throughout the city including exhibits in the Museum of London, British Library, British Museum, and Tate Modern. All of the photographers will have a photo projected in rotation on a big screen so if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, you might see one of my photos. For more information, visit the London Festival of Photography website 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Madonna & Child & Dutch Apple Pie

“What are your top three favorite Madonna and Child artworks?” asked Dr. Carey Rote of the art history students after several days of exploring  museums. "Or, do you have just one?"  
Although I was officially a photography student, I heard the question and couldn’t erase it from my mind.  Would it be a sculpture, a painting, a tapestry, a fresco, a lithograph, an etching?  The more I thought about it, the broader the question became and the more unattainable the answer.  I decided I needed boundaries in order to review the choices and make a decision.  I looked to my photographs for guidance in hopes to see something that truly defined the magic of the mother/child relationship.
Top of mind are a young boy and his mother sitting peacefully on a bench, high on a hill overlooking Florence.  They’re caught up in their own thoughts, but comfortably share the same physical space as if held together in time by an invisible picture frame.  In Fiesole, I'm fascinated by two women who seem to wander aimlessly, their destination random and their path uncharted.  There is probably nothing out of the ordinary as they walk across the town square, in fact it is possibly a near carbon copy of yesterday’s walk.  The obvious happiness of this mother and daughter is not stifled by repetition, but kept fresh by the shared experience of the gelato flavor of the day.

At any age, a common means of communication between mother and child seems to be food: nutrition as a baby, and gelato as one grows older.  My first memory of gelato was in Pisa when I was ten years old.  It was a sticky day and Pop promised we would be treated to the chilled dessert on our way to the beach, only after Mom bought a swimsuit.  Like his interest in vacation "walking" photos, Pop asked fellow tourists to take photos of our family in bodies of water.  Our "Wearing swimsuits in the Mediterranean" did not make it onto the Christmas card, but was to be seen by all who had the pleasure of watching the musically choreogaphed slideshow of our 1958 European trip.  

First we climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa and then walked to a nearby department store to make the purchase.  I mention this outing because of its overall curiosity to me as an impressionable child.  Mom didn’t swim; her Navy blue Italian swimsuit was the only bathing suit I ever knew her to own and you could count on one hand the number of times it got wet.  On family vacations when we made an overnight stop at a motel with a pool, she preferred to wear her white shorts and a sleeveless top as she sat on the edge of the pool, dangling her legs in the water.  My father, who was once picked up by the shore patrol as he illegally swam across San Francisco Bay, was the one who believed she should own a swim suit.  Her Italian one-piece was immortalized in a souvenir photo taken in Hawaii in 1960 - one of the few photos ever taken of Mom and me.

My mom died in 1994, just weeks before a huge party celebrating her 90th birthday.  She had been the volunteer wedding coordinator at her church for 35 years - she would not have cancelled the party... so the party went on, with Mom there in spirit.  Invitees sent photos, messages, and recipes which were compiled into a book and given to the guests.  My childhood friend Sheila wrote a touching note.  Here is an excerpt.
 "I remember having tea with your mother at a lace-covered Formica table in her kitchen. We'd talk about school, or gossip about a teacher, or what to wear to choir practice. There was a black & white photo of you on your bedroom wall that my mother had taken in her photography class. I remember being surprised that my mother "connected" with my friends.

You and I both enjoyed the luxury of attending a college away from home where we discovered art (with a capital "A") and people with ideas that seemed good for our souls. We had been raised to be wives, but the early 70's demanded we become Women. We fulfilled our mothers' expectations and became ourselves.

All of this comes to mind when I make your mother's "Dutch Apple Pie!" It has been enjoyed by my extended family in France as well as my new friends in Half Moon Bay. Love, Sheila”

In looking through photos, I have found my answer to the mother and child question prompted by Dr. Rote.  My favorite "mother and child" artwork is a photo of my dear friend Sheila and her daughter Elise taken by Jean-Claude (husband/father/artist).  The message is unmistakable.  It has nothing to do with the art form in which the moment was captured, or the color, or the size. The magic bonded connection between mother and child is revealed in the honesty of their interaction.  Happy Mother’s Day ~ enjoy Mom’s Dutch Apple Pie.

Mom’s Dutch Apple Pie

  8"x8" baking pan, greased with butter.
         Peel and core 3-4 tart apples - cut into 16ths.
         Sift 1 ½ cups flour, ½ tsp salt, & 1 tsp. sugar  
                into the pan.  
         Combine ½ cup oil with 2 TBL milk.  Whip.
         Pour all over flour mixture.  Mix with a fork.
         Pat over bottom & sides of pan.
         Arrange apples in pan.
          Make streusel mixture of ¾ cup sugar, 2 TBL flour  
                 and ½ tsp. salt.
          Cut in 2 TBL butter (or a little more)
          Sprinkle over top of apples (add a little cinnamon if
                  you wish)
Bake 425 Degrees for 40 – 45 minutes

Sunday, April 29, 2012

EPIPHANY in PORTOFINO (family vacation photos)

The rain fell in short light bursts on the dock in Portofino. It was like any other drippy day in a quaint town on the Italian Riviera. And for that matter, I can’t even say for sure if being in Portofino had anything to do with my epiphany, or if it was just mere coincidence that what I heard and what I saw changed forever the way I looked at holiday cards boasting family vacation photos.  

We traveled a lot when I grew up and my Pop always asked strangers to take our family vacation photo, which often became the annual Christmas card. To complicate matters, he liked us to be walking in the photos. Asking a stranger to snap a photo of what would live in the family album to mark that specific year is one thing. Asking a stranger to snap a photo of your family walking is a far more complicated request.

One of my favorite Christmas card vacation photos was taken on a trip after my brother and I were off in college. It is a walking photo of my folks in Greece. I love the juxtaposition of the elements in this photo and always wondered what the stranger/photographer thought about Mom in high heels and Pop with a briefcase walking amid the ancient ruins. “Yes, they're from United States, Cali-fornia,” I imagine the stranger/photographer/Greek tour guide thinking, “Elena and I must buy business suits to wear when we go to visit Cousin Adelfo in Santa Cruz."

Tourists milled around the dock waiting for the next ferry. “Let’s stand over here against the wall,” says the father of four to his wife. I watch as he approaches a man explaining camera settings to his son. “Hello,” he says holding his arm out, red digital camera dangling from a tie dye strap around his wrist. “Will you take our picture?” He says opening his mouth wide to form perfect English words and adding eye motions and pleading face gestures as he hands the camera to the stranger. He holds the index finger and thumb of his left hand in front of his face as if grabbing a king size bar of ivory soap as his right index finger moves up and down as if pushing the trigger button on the camera. The stranger nods. He understands from the pantomime that he is being asked to take a photo.

The American father flaps his arms to position his clan against the wall and turns to the stranger. The stranger examines the camera. As expected, the stranger does not speak the same language. From the glare off the water, the stranger cannot see the image on the screen and the camera appears to have no viewfinder. He aims the camera in the general direction of the posed family and snaps a photo, then another. He extends his hand as if to return the red camera indicating he is done. The family is already posed so I snap a similar photo they will never see. My photo ignores their faces and captures their body language, the defining moment caught as the two smallest children strike moonwalk poses.

“No please, please, a few more,” the mother says in rapid voice, unaffected by the fact that the stranger does not speak her language. The stranger tries to hand the camera back to the husband a second time, but the husband makes the trigger finger motion again, this time more rapidly. “Tell him to leave extra room at the top or bottom so we’ll have space to write Happy Holidays from the Jasper Family, Portofino 2011.”

The husband acknowledges her, full well knowing he will not try to use hand signals to interpret his wife’s holiday inscription as she will surely change it several times before the card is printed. “Another day in paradise” it might read if it weren’t raining, or “Celebrating our 20th with the kids in Portofino where we honeymooned. WooHoo!” Whatever the message, there is no need to attempt a verbatim translation. In sign language, the father has no idea how to say leave more space at the top or bottom. He instinctively reaches above his head as if picking apples from a tree, then makes a back and forth waving motion, next with both hands at waist level he pushes his hands downward in a motion that’s a cross between air sit-ups and rinsing a bed sheet in a stream. He repeats the motions indicating to leave room at the top or bottom, but his movements are misinterpreted by the on-looking crowd.

Apple picking, window washing, sheet rinsing, trigger finger, >repeat<, apple picking, window washing, sheet rinsing, trigger finger – the gestures take on a rhythm that are accompanied by a local teenage boy slapping his open palms against the sides of a tin garbage can. First to step out of the staged photo is the oldest son, then the daughter joins in, next a buzz-cut tourist in shorts and his tattooed girlfriend, then the ticket taker by the gang plank – soon everyone on the dock is in syncopated motion: fingers high - reach the sky, fingers spread proud – wipe the cloud, hands down - push the ground, wiggle the tip - snap the pic, and with that, the new vacation photo Macarena hits the cobbles of Portofino like American Bandstand come home to roost. The crowd is in motion, young and old moving, twisting and gyrating in unison as if under a spell. When the ferry boat horn sounds, the crowd, just having participated in an Italian style unrehearsed flash mob, stops as quickly as it started and cues up for the voyage to the next port of call.

On many occasions I push myself on traveling families if I recognize a setting that will serve as a good keepsake image. I do the finger trigger pantomime and reach for their camera. It makes tourists smile and I feel good knowing they will have at least one happy snapshot to share on their holiday card…  like the 1958 Christmas card memory I hold dear of my beret-clad family snapped by a stranger with my Pop’s camera on a Paris tarmac in August of 1958.
     So, as I said in the beginning, while waiting on the dock in Portofino, I had an epiphany and adopted the role of stranger/photographer taking my own curious photographs of tourists posing for their family photos – those all-telling potentially incomplete photos snapped in an instant by a stranger that, back home, might make you think… that’s not exactly how I remembered itAs for these taken-by-a-stranger vacation photos, maybe I saw something interesting in their pose that would be better enlarged and displayed on an art gallery wall than short lived on a holiday card. My faux vacation photos were never intended to be used as holiday cards… unless you are from California where the norm is abstractly translated or you happen to be a stranger who photographed my family on vacation or you plan to bring a briefcase when you visit relatives at the beach in Santa Cruz.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The New Last Supper

My parents encouraged education through experience and took my brother, age 14, and me, age 10, for a European vacation in 1958, a time when traveling overseas was not commonplace as it is today. Pop ordered a coral colored Volkswagen which we picked up from the factory in Germany, drove around Europe, and had shipped back to the United States at the end of our summer adventure. It was the first coral Volkswagen in our county and Mom drove it until she passed away at age 89. Niece Christine is now its caretaker.

We visited landmarks and cathedrals, but the experiences that made the biggest impression on my young mind came from seeing massive paintings in heavy ornate frames and statues of people balanced on pedestals. Second to the museums, I adored the fountains and public art, a concept that was new to me having been raised in California where few things were older than a hundred years. I already adored the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and became equally fascinated with the Eiffel Tower and Leaning Tower of Pisa. There is no doubt in my mind that our travels influenced my interest in art, architecture and color.
On Thursday night last week I drove beneath thunderous Northern California clouds to an event in a neighboring city. The clouds resembled those painted by the masters, the reflective quality of their colors and purposeful brushstrokes clashing waves of orange on the sky. For the thunderous appearance overhead, it was unusually calm, neither warm nor cold. There was no rain when I left my car and walked toward the door leading to the upper room. It was quiet inside the little Methodist Church. Rows of people represented a mixture of ages and races, large and small, young and old. From the choir loft, a baritone voice spoke and one-by-one, 13 costumed men rose from their positions scattered throughout the congregation, walked to the apse, and took their position at a long table covered with a white cloth. The church lights dimmed and for the next 30 minutes, each of the 12 Apostles rose and, in the spotlight, told their story.

Although my mother was a founder of the Presbyterian Church in my hometown and I attended church until I went away to college, my limited understanding of religion is not based on sermons or scriptures, but primarily on experiences, movies, festivals, and art. Every Easter season after all the church activities, mom and I watched the silver screen spectacles on television, one-after-another. Most years they were scheduled chronologically, ensuring that the parting of the waters came before the burning bush. My first one-on-one interface with art and religion came when mom’s church commissioned an artist to create a wood carving to serve as the focal point in the church. Mom signed me up for art classes and on Saturday mornings we made the pilgrimage to his studio. We children sat around a work table, our little hands positioning colorful tiles on Masonite creating mosaic pictures, while our parents spoke to the artist about the personalities of the 13 life size figures he meticulously chiseled from a monstrously large block of wood. Before leaving the studio, adults and kids alike collected bits of wood shavings from the floor as if gathering mementos from a shrine.
In Florence when told there were four “Last Suppers” within a few blocks of Santa Reparata International School of Art, my face must have expressed astonishment. “Really,” I said to Dr. Carey Rote, the art history professor. The look on her face indicated that she thought I certainly must be kidding. How I made it through art history class in college many years ago is a mystery because until her comment, I subconsciously considered the Leonardo DaVinci painting to be “the only” Last Supper. In the little Methodist church that stormy night, I faced another realization. I always imagined the 13 gesturing figures at the dinner table as two-dimensional and never thought of them as people sitting right next to me, who got up and walked to the table as these 13 did. When the dramatization was complete, the disciples helped pass the communion trays and then returned to sit in the pews to participate in the closing hymn and prayer, just like ordinary people. 

The other perplexed art history related facial expression was Barbra’s at my response to the question she posed after we visited five or six Florentine art collections, “So, how do you like the paintings?”

“I’m really impressed with the techniques and the color and the size,” I replied with excitement, “but I’m getting sort of tired of the religious theme.”   

I can just imagine her thinking, “What did she expect? Artists were commissioned to paint Bible stories.”

Fortunately, neither of these art experts scolded me for my ignorance of history, that without religion, art would not have flourished.

This past Sunday morning, I woke early and drove to the neighborhood lake where “Digger,” the local undertaker, and his family have presided over the nondenominational Easter Sunrise Service for more than 35 years. Dressed for the chill and holding steaming mugs of coffee and cocoa, a different group of young and old sat quietly in lawn chairs. We listened with interest as Digger spoke and sang, and we watched the sun glide upward from the other side of the lake, illuminating the mountains with a blush of tangerine.

Later at home, I recognized an uncanny resemblance between the sunrise photos I had just taken and a photo I snapped at dusk of the Ponte Vecchio spanning the Arno River thousands of miles away. Both shared a translucent orange quality I find irresistible – the colors I tested with 24”x24” paint samples on my house until I was satisfied one was as close to an ethereal and unearthly tone as my eye could imagine.

The same fleeting orange haze that claims the beginning and the end, the tumult and the calm, provides a delicate nourishing balance… its glow embracing us with a soft farewell at sunset and a warm hello at sunrise. In reflection, I see orange as a significant color repeated throughout my childhood, the primer color for the canvas of my life, the color that keeps me safe and hopeful. Even on my home it serves as a promising backdrop for renewal – last week’s Primitivo bud break predicts a grand season of growth leading to a fruitful 2012 harvest.