Saturday, November 19, 2011

Global Power Drives Train of Thought

“Just take photos of anything,” echo Barbra’s words of assignment from our first day of photography class. How many times do I over-think that statement and question how one goes about taking photos of anything? A photo of a building speaks of architecture, a photo of sunset shows a glow of a painted sky, and a photo of dancers documents grace in motion. But what do the rest of these “photos of anything” say and more importantly – why do I take them? A hedge, empty chairs, a police man (well, a cute policeman), feet, shadows… what does this all mean? Am I subconsciously selecting details from the real world to create my own make-believe world? Today’s mission started innocently enough with me wandering through my photos in search of similarities and answers to the mystery. I pulled some seemingly unrelated shots to explore their relationships in an effort to learn more about what drives my eye to capture one moment in time and not another. Sincere as my intention was, I got sidetracked. The result is a train of thought experience… follow along with the story as I connect the dots or just look at the photos and see if you recognize the connections.

The globe is a powerful shape in that its rounded form suggests movement even when it's still. The trigger photo is of basketball size white globes with a red umbilical cord, a contemporary art installation in a white-walled gallery in the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. The long narrow gallery with door openings on each end, encourages, requires, or merely tempts you to walk into and through the installation. Step over the cord, over the globe, walk against the wall – no matter how you do it, it’s a personalized art experience. That umbilical cord and starkness reminded me of the elongated black globes hanging from a mega-yacht in Portofino. Rather than tempting people to come close, these shapes repel and serve as a cushioned barrier to keep the ship safe from being bumped by another.  The sea water reminded me of seeing piles upon piles of fishing gear all lined up in a row at the dock where we boarded earlier in the day bound for Portofino. One particular pile had red misshapen globe-like shapes that resembled squat heirloom tomatoes with wrinkled skin.  

Of course the red of the tomato floats hanging on the fishing ropes made me think of nature and full plump round red fruit hanging from a tree. And fruit hanging from a tree that grew from the earth made me think of the sky. After the fruit is picked, it is often dried by the sun and sold in the marketplace. On one particular day in the marketplace, dried red cherry tomatoes (yes, the tomato is the fruit of the tomato plant) were displayed in a circular bin – certainly the cousin-shape to the globe. The green lining in the bin against the deep red of the tomatoes mimics the just picked fruit in the fresh produce aisle.    

The colors of growth and the warmth of the sun and thinking of tomatoes takes my mind to salt, an earthly mineral, and the neatly arranged salt shakers with their shiny circular silver lids at a café in Greve in Chianti where you can sit outside and watch the townsfolk ride by. Of course, that made me think of the shiny circular rims on the bikes lined up on the street and one with a red frame standing out in the crowd. And, the street of stone beneath the bikes led me to remember the circular shape of the hewn stone amphitheater in Fiesole, which also wears an accent patch of red carpet on the stage. 

In the blink of any eye, my mind has wandered from the initial visual attraction of the white gallery globes, to shapes extracted from the globe, to an ordinary piece of red carpet in a circular setting. The photos serve as visual examples for this story, but with the exception of the art installation, they are of ordinary fleeting scenes and common objects found most any day in Italy. Although I find the photos interesting, there is really nothing spectacular (oops, the mega-yacht WAS spectacular) about any of the individual topics. The images are no less or no more important than before they caught my attention, but I realized that the “photos of anything” topics are unknowingly elevated to a level permanence by simply having been captured through the lens of my camera... so yes, I am creating my own make-believe world.

It seems only fitting that after dragging you through all this train of thought thinking from things that are round, things connected with cords, things with red, things by water, things that grow, things that are dried, things that shine, and things that are made out of stone… that I stop short of a whirling dervish at today’s final photo selection. As Rod Serling, might have said, “Take note. All is not what it seems to be in this world beneath the waves. Is it real or a freak accident of nature? Look closely at the golden lures linked together, falling over satin river rocks where discarded jewel encrusted starfish pose proudly in the dimension of imagination.” He pauses, tips his head forward, cocks an eyebrow, and knowingly says, “Next stop, The Twilight Zone.”  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Boar from Sant’ Ambrogio Framed in Northern California, Tina’s Italian Dining Tips & Ingrid’s Tapenade

It wasn’t a jealous lover that started this dialogue about being framed, but rather a boar – jealous from being upstaged by a story about some oranges on a doorstep. Remember Sidewalk Still Life, the photo of oranges and bicycles that jurors selected for a gallery show in Auburn, CA? Well the boar, actually a framed photo of a boar’s head, was also selected for the same show and is on display through Tuesday, November 15th. ( But the real reason the Boar from Mercato Sant’ Ambrogio takes the headline position here is because a holiday feast is soon approaching and a food story seemed appropriate. Here’s a photo from a different perspective of the boar in the outdoor marketplace. He's huge! The chef carved off a slice from the boar’s midsection and, let me tell you, it was moist and filled with the full-bodied flavors of Tuscany – it was the real deal!

Shopping is the start to all good meals and the Italians are fortunate to have huge indoor/outdoor farmers markets like the Mercato Centrale and Mercato Sant’ Ambrogio in Florence, as well as neighborhood grocers with fresh produce spilling out onto the street to tempt the casual passer-by. The produce displays seem to match the personality of the shopkeepers. Some arrange the fruits and vegetables by shape and size, some by colors, and others mound unlikely combinations as if creating a sculpture. The abundance of readily available and beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables makes cooking a joy. 

When a group of artists visited the home of Santa Reparata International School of Art founder Dennis Olsen (printmaker) and his wife Meredith Dean (painter), Meredith allowed me into her kitchen for a look behind-the-scenes. She cut ripe selections of fruit into chunks for a favorite home style Italian dessert called “Macedonia di Frutta.” Lemon juice and sugar are added to the fruit and sometimes it’s laced with liqueur like lemoncello or grappa. The dessert is served in a bowl or cup, often with a dollop of whipped cream or zabaglione, the classic Italian custard flavored with liqueur or wine – a tasty refreshing treat at the end of a meal.

Her kitchen was a hive of food prep activity. For appetizers, she took a long slender loaf of bread called a baguette and sliced “crostini” (literally translated in Italian to mean small bread slices.) The slices were toasted or grilled and ready to use as the bed for a topping. “Bruschetta” is the term for the toasted bread (rubbed with garlic and coated with olive oil) topped with a variety of combinations of finely chopped ingredients including tomatoes, olives, cheese, meats, beans, basil and other herbs. Just about anything tastes good atop those little grilled toasts. Meredith plated the appetizers like color fields on a palette. Seeing these reminded me of the appetizers on little rounds of bread that mom served to guests when I was young. There’s something really satisfying and home-spun about a crunchy piece of bread loaded with a tapenade, a chopped mixture with an olive and caper base. Tapenade originated in the Provence region of France, but anywhere you find olives – you’ll find a local version.

My “Whatever’s-in-the-Fridge Tapenade” is always a winner. It’s quick (about ten minutes to prepare). You can make it thick and pile it high, or loose and let the juices soak into the crostini, and you can change the color by changing the ingredients. Spice it up or down to suit your current attitude. Chop and mix the ingredients, or toss them in the food processor and press pulse. How much? A handful, a dash, a dab – there’s no right or wrong way to measure for this tapenade. Don’t be afraid – just keep mixing the ingredients a little at a time until you find your favorite flavor of the day. Then chill an hour to let the flavors merge. When you’re ready to serve, spoon the mixture into a pretty bowl and set by the crostini (yes, if you’re short on time it’s ok to use store bought crostini) so your guests can fix their own appetizer or make up a colorful party platter.

Ingrid’s Whatever’s-in-the-Fridge Tapenade
·        Olives (I like the color of big green martini olives with pimento)
·        Capers (drained)
·        Minced garlic (optional)
·        Lemon juice
·        Olive oil
·        Tang-it-up with red wine vinegar
·        Sweeten-it-up with a dab of honey
·        Flavor-it-up with a splash of brandy
·        Bulk-it-up with grated parmesan

Tina’s Italian Dining Tips: Planning a trip to Italy during the holidays and expect to be invited to a private home?  The dinner table is the center of Italian family life and a great deal of time is invested in selecting the ingredients and preparing the meal. Enjoy the food, enjoy the company, and enjoy the lively conversation. Tina Fallani (cooking instructor, Italian film expert, and great hostess) has a long list of tips for dining with Italians – here are a few.    

·        Nobody eats until everyone is seated, unless the person who is serving insists.
·        Different courses are served on different plates not on the same plate.
·        Italians don’t drink milk with meals.
·        You don’t put grated cheese on a pasta dish with seafood.
·        There is usually fruit and or cheese at the end of the meal.
·        There is almost always red wine at the lunch and dinner table.
Remember to allow plenty of time to enjoy the feast in an Italian home. It’s guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience. “Salute!” (good health)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Two-by-Two, Italian Style

Remember “Where's Waldo” - the visual game where Waldo, a cartoon character in a striped hat, is hidden in a crowd of people and you have to find him? This photo at the piazza in Fiesole is the inspiration for “Two-by-Two, Italian Style.” Do you see two benches, two statues of horses, two cars, and five sets of two people? The photo was taken because I was amused by the two gentlemen in their daily routine of watching the world pass by. I imagined them in their youth with white patches of flour in their slick dark hair, and muscular forearms bulging as they balanced long paddles and pulled hot leaves of bread with golden crusts from the wood burning oven. Their youthful laughter caused the happy creases along the sides of their mouths and their eyes sparkle today, remembering the beauty of the olive skinned women before them.

The retired waitresses, from the local café, parade by with confidence knowing that their womanly allure smolders beneath their once-taught skin. They feign disinterest, but glance in their admirers’ direction to confirm they are still being watched by the older men who, through the ladies eyes, are the same virile teenage boys from the neighborhood bakery. During the early evening, this Italian ritual of strolling two-by-two through the piazza, rekindles fond memories of youth and maybe even minor indiscretions. After the sun sets and darkness fills the sky, the townsfolk return home to a night of hopeful dreams, then a new day, and another lazy stroll.

In airports, train stations and bus terminals, it’s easy to entertain yourself by watching the people waiting patiently in the boarding area. I make up stories about the passengers - who they are, where they’re going, and why. I don’t ever presume to be right nor do I care about being right as my concocted stories are probably far more interesting than the real truth. Imagine the story of two people sitting silently by the train track. My version … Siblings abandon American roots to raise water buffalo for mozzarella in Naples … has much greater intrigue than the possible reality of Sally and Ben take a day-long train trip.

Evidence of trust between parent and child are most telling in the often unrecorded scenes where the younger and the older interact without drama. On a park bench, mom looks one direction, lost in thought, as her like-minded son gazes in another. Both are content with the view in their site lines; neither relies on the other for approval; neither questions what the other is seeing. These are the sacred parent/child bonding moments you can never quite recall with clarity, but which leave an indelible mark on your soul. Just as calmly, a man and boy sit on a door step engrossed in the images on an electronic devise. The ease with which their bodies mingle suggests they are related. They’re looking at a photo a young girl with a red nose, perhaps it’s the boy’s sister or a classmate who missed the afternoon outing due to a cold. Even at his young age, the boy patterns himself after his father, wearing the same style sandal.  

It is not unusual to see siblings and friends in pairs with one involved in an activity and the other looking on. I always wonder if the on-looker will have the same opportunity to take the forefront or if close relationships are confined to active and passive roles developed early-on in the relationships. I wonder if there is an unspoken time period when the cross-over transformation, from active to passive, occurs. And I wonder if it’s an equally satisfactory experience for both parties. I wonder a lot about relationships. What makes some good and long lasting, and how easy it is to watch the dynamics change when life changes. This wondering causes me to cherish the candid moments of others, such as friends sitting on benches and children at the water fountain, because these simple meaningful times often fly below the radar of their own lives. 

Lovers have a special personal language: their touching can be hard or soft, just as facial expressions can be honest and clear, or harsh and confronting. There is a stroller nearby – is it the stress of parenthood that provokes the aggressive body language or is the caring husband teaching the new mom some martial arts moves to protect their newborn child? The softness of the placement of another woman’s outstretched fingers on her man’s arm is also expressed in the warmth of their smiles and the relaxation of their bodies as they lightly brush. Theirs is a gentle love.  

For two people newly in love, it’s a time for experimentation, a time when actions and attitudes are tested. It’s a time of discovery that builds into a bond which speaks a private language known only to the lovers whose world is a world comprised of two. The power of two takes many forms. Universally, it is indicated by pairs of shoes, double scoops of gelato, a set of book ends, or couples walking hand-in-hand. In Italy when people are outdoors and involved in everyday activities, you can actually see an underlying truth that one plus one does not equal two; they may start by interacting as two, but with the blessing of the fresh air, each duet blossoms into a new and undeniable super power of one.