Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shine On

Last night's lunar eclipse coincided with the winter solstice and the longest day of the year to create such an incredible din in my head that I had no choice but to stay up and see it for myself. After all, as everyone on every news show that talked about it reminded me, this is my last chance since another such event will not occur until 2090 and I, if not all of us, will be long gone by then. Anyway, since I could see the whole thing out my dining room window, I didn't even have to go outside in the freezing night. It was quite lovely though. I started checking about 1:00 am when the moon was in full silvery light so bright that it almost seemed like daylight outside. By 2:00 you could see the shadow of the earth starting to move across its face and the light from the moon itself was visibly dimmed, but still bright. By 3:30, the moon seemed to be covered by a coppery scrim that gently glowed around the edges.

I finally went to bed and slept til about 8:00 am which is late for me, but I'm glad I got to see it.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Shore in the Fall

I love the Shore anytime, any season, but it's especially nice in the late Fall. The header picture was taken at the end of Madeline's street looking out to the bay. I think the golden color the marsh grass turns in the Fall is striking. The last photo was the Saturday-night sunset taken from her deck. If I'd known it was going to be so spectacular, I'd have headed down to the bay again, but it caught me by surprise.

We took a walk on the beach, of course. So peaceful and serene. No people but us, just seagulls.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Siena streets exhibit the flags of the contrada or wards, the divisions of the city still in effect from medieval times. Each contrada has its own flag, mascot, animal and these districts are fiercely competitive especially during Palio (horserace) times. The flags make for a colorful street scene.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Now We're Talking!

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It won't be long now...heading to Florence and Tuscany, and the first thing I want to do is have a gelato. So, I'm studying up. I've been learning how to decipher the flavors (I'm going to try cioccolato con peperoncini paired with maybe a caffe or maybe a fior di latte. Yes that sounds just right.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Adorable Italy"

IT was love at first sight. Henry James was 26 when he crossed the border from Switzerland and made his way, on foot, down into Italy — “warm & living & palpable,” as he wrote ecstatically to his sister on Aug. 31, 1869. The romance kindled that day lasted nearly 40 years, and played a significant part in his career; he set some of his greatest works in Italy, including “Daisy Miller,” “The Aspern Papers” and “The Wings of the Dove.”

All three are excellent traveling companions, particularly if you’re en route to Rome and Venice — but a more direct (though of course inescapably Jamesian, and therefore at times convoluted) expression of his contagious passion for what he declared to be the “most beautiful country in the world” can be found in his travel writing.

Henry James as tour guide? He won’t lead you step by step, waving a pennant so you don’t get lost, but he does show the way. His fine, reverberating consciousness sets off a corresponding reverberation in the sympathetic reader, who can’t help but admire the way Italy liberates an appetite for sensual experience in this most cerebral of authors.

If you’re thinking of visiting Umbria and Tuscany, James has even thoughtfully planned out your route: in 1874, when his Italian romance was in its infancy (and the Kingdom of Italy was a newborn nation, having achieved unification only in 1861), James wrote for The Atlantic Monthly a travel essay called “A Chain of Cities,” in which he describes his springtime wanderings in Assisi, Perugia, Cortona and Arezzo, ancient hill towns well stocked with artistic treasures and expansive views — all neatly arranged within easy distance of one another. James, traveling by train, lounges and loafs along the way, examining and judging an artist’s work, or sitting on a sunny bench beneath the ramparts of a ruined fortress, or strolling aimlessly, merely savoring the flavor of “adorable Italy.” A 21st-century traveler whose schedule is fixed by the tyranny of airline reservations may be tempted to pick up the pace (certainly a possibility if you’ve rented a car), but accident and adventure, the kind of chance encounter that loitering invites, are just as important, in the search for the essence of a place, as methodical contemplation.

James’s principal interests are scenery and art, though he occasionally casts his eye — while holding his nose — on the unwashed populace (the Puritan in him was shocked by the Italian peasant’s indifference to soap). All four towns are perched high and blessed with stunning views, but of course the views were even more gorgeous in the 19th century, before the valleys were streaked with highways, dotted with factories and warehouses and veiled by smog.

In Assisi, James looks out over “the teeming softness of the great vale of Umbria,” and watches “the beautiful plain mellow into the tones of twilight.” Today the plain is still “teeming” (though with human activity rather than nature’s bounty), and the mellow haze in the distance looks suspiciously chemical. But if the views are less pristine, the art and the architectural monuments are far more accessible, preserved and curated with care and intelligence. Each of these towns is home to more masterpieces than you can comfortably absorb in one visit; this is an itinerary overflowing with artistic riches.

If James insists on a measured tempo (in Perugia he warns that a visitor’s “first care must be to ignore the very dream of haste, walking everywhere very slowly and very much at random”), at least part of the reason is that in these towns there’s little choice. Most of the streets, especially in Assisi, Perugia and Cortona, are steep, narrow and crooked; haste would soon leave you panting. Arezzo is gentler, but there, too, James is right: even if you’re fit enough to race along, a leisurely stroll is infinitely more rewarding when nearly every building has half a millennium of history attached to it.

In Assisi, James counsels, the visitor’s “first errand” is with the 13th-century basilica dedicated to St. Francis. The church, which houses the saint’s tomb — “one of the very sacred places of Italy” — is a magnet for religious pilgrims. James hits on a suggestive metaphor for the basilica’s astonishing structure: it consists of two churches, one piled on top of the other, and he imagines that they were perhaps intended as “an architectural image of the relation between heart and head.” The lower church, built in the Romanesque style, is somber, cave-like and complex, whereas the upper church, a fine example of Italian Gothic, is bright, spacious, rational. (Though he often favored head over heart, reason over emotion, James was a master at turning the tables.) Both churches are famously decorated with frescoes hugely important to the history of art, most of them traditionally ascribed to Giotto (c. 1267-1337). Studying them closely, James pays tribute to the artist’s expressive power: “Meager, primitive, undeveloped, he is yet immeasurably strong” — a judgment still valid today.
Having trained his eager eye on these masterpieces, James saunters off to explore a palpably ancient town (“very resignedly but very persistently old”) that no longer exists. Assisi in the 21st century is pleasant and pretty, but fixed up and licked clean — after the damage from a 1997 earthquake — and wholly focused on the business of accommodating tourists and pilgrims (which seems mostly to involve selling them ice cream and religious knickknacks). James especially likes the ruined castle perched above the town, which is happily unrenovated. But he came along too soon to have glimpsed the curious monument erected, so to speak, on the steep road up to the fortress: a wire fence lovingly decorated with the discarded chewing gum of countless bored kids on their school trip to Assisi. It resembles a modernist sculpture, an abstract, folk-art Giacometti stretched along the path. I like to think of James pondering the meaning of this bizarre masticated tribute to modern adolescence.
IN Perugia, James admires the extravagant view (“a wondrous mixture of blooming plain and gleaming river and wavily-multitudinous mountain”), and picks a fight with the city’s leading artist, Perugino (1446-1524), whose paintings are graced with serene figures that seem to James just a little too serene and neat — too “mechanically” produced.
Although his report on this “accomplished little city” is lively and evocative, it’s possible that his preoccupation with the artist and the creative process distracted him from his travel writer’s duty to give the reader a distinct taste of a particular spot, and somewhat distorted his judgment. He may have overplayed his delight with the view, saying that he preferred it to “any other visible fruit of position or claimed empire of the eye” (strained phrases that smack of hyperbole). He pits the painter against the prospect, then pronounces his verdict: “I spent a week in the place, and when it was gone, I had had enough of Perugino, but hadn’t had enough of the View.”
The trick, of course, is not to spend an entire week in Perugia. It’s a fascinating place, defined by the contrast between the broad, elegant Corso that runs through the center of the town like a super-wide catwalk, purpose-built for people-watching, and the tortuously cramped streets that roller-coaster around it in an exhausting topographical tangle.
A map is essential here, but you’ll get lost anyway, defeated by the twisting, the turning, the dipping and the climbing. James’s description is peppered with adjectives that paint a grimmer picture than one sees today (he writes of “black houses ... the color of buried things”), but even in this tidied-up era the medieval sections of Perugia retain their “antique queerness.”
Two days in Perugia is plenty, unless you disagree with James about Perugino, in which case a third day might be necessary, if only to visit the church of San Pietro, an oasis of tranquillity just below the city walls where hidden away in the sacristy there are five tiny Peruginos well worth the detour — and to revisit both the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, where Perugino plays a starring role, and the Collegio del Cambio, which he decorated. The latter is the moneychangers’ guildhall, and it can safely be said that no financial institution has ever bequeathed a more pleasing monument to posterity than the room Perugino created with his wonderfully calm and graceful frescoes.
Cortona, which James calls “the most sturdily ancient of Italian towns,” is even more narrowly up-and-down than Perugia. A small town with a comically higgledy-piggledy central piazza, it’s like Assisi these days: in danger of seeming quaint or cute instead of beautiful or picturesque. But it’s calm, quiet and dignified (at least during the off-season), and if you set off for a ramble in any direction, you’ll pass several charming churches before you’ve reached the town’s well-preserved ramparts and registered the welcome shock of yet another panoramic view.
Arriving on a festival day, James saw neither the interior of Cortona’s churches nor its museums. He expresses mild, passing regret (“the smaller and obscurer the town the more I like the museum”), before turning to the serious business of loafing. Had he known what he was missing, he might have extended his stay. The town’s artistic treasures, now stored in the Museo Diocesano, include a handful of muscular and disturbingly odd paintings by a brilliant native son, Luca Signorelli (c. 1445-1523), and a glorious Annunciation by Fra Angelico (c. 1395-1455), one of the most delicately enchanting paintings of the early Italian Renaissance. In the valley below, you’ll see the dome of a perfectly proportioned 15th-century church, Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio.
By the time he reaches Arezzo, James has surrendered entirely to the charm of Tuscany. He mentions the museum, the “stately” duomo, and the “quaint” colonnades on the facade of Santa Maria della Pieve, but only in passing, in an apologetic aside, as if he knew that in the neighborhood there were monuments and artworks of importance to be studied, but, really, he’d rather just lounge around near the ruined castle that sits at the top of the town, just as he did in Assisi and Cortona, and sop up the “cheerful Tuscan mildness.”
No one who has visited Arezzo on a warm day in late spring can blame him — the settled, unforced, somehow inevitable beauty of the place demands unhurried, disinterested appreciation — though some would prefer to while away the hours in the lovely Piazza Grande, a sloping, comfortably enclosed space not unlike Siena’s famous Piazza del Campo, only more intimate.
The spectacle of Henry James morphing into a lazy, contented, “uninvestigating” tourist — especially after his strenuous intellectual engagement with Giotto’s frescoes in Assisi and Perugino’s in Perugia — gives “A Chain of Cities” a very satisfactory narrative arc. But as is so often the case, a pretty shape comes at a price: James leaves out any mention of Arezzo’s most famous work of art, “The Legend of the True Cross,” a cycle of frescoes in the Basilica di San Francesco by Piero della Francesca (c. 1415-1492), which today’s guidebooks insist is the town’s principal attraction.
There’s no evidence that James ever saw “The Legend of the True Cross” or formed an opinion of the artist’s work (Piero’s name doesn’t crop up in James’s oeuvre, or in his correspondence), but having come this far in his company, it seems only appropriate to fill in the blanks — to add another link to the chain — and imagine James’s reaction to this rich pageant.
In Assisi, the result of his communion with Giotto was “a great and even amused charity,” a gentle mood of indiscriminate benevolence. Here, in the hushed choir of San Francesco, he would have recognized a great artist’s bold technical advances (Piero was pioneering in his use of light and perspective), and marveled at the sleepwalker’s trance that gives Piero’s figures an ethereal spirituality even in the heat of battle. He would have envied the scope of the achievement, the variety of the scenes and the harmony of the overall composition. And he would have stumbled out into the handsome streets of placid Arezzo with his own artistic ambitions inflamed.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Terrible Beauty Was Born

Photo from the Guardian.uk.co
Wave rolling up on the shores of the Gulf

You could hardly believe it; it was truly cringe-worthy. Uriah Heep at his best. Just a few minutes into the congressional grilling of BP CEO Tony Hayward, this bozo makes a statement apologizing to BP for the government "shake-down" they were subjected to yesterday by President Obama's demand for the $20B fund to help restore the people and the environment after the Gulf oil spill. Joe Barton (R.Texas-does that tell you anything?) wanted it on the record that he felt sorry for BP and was ashamed that his country would stoop to shaking them down for the money. They should pay, sure, but only after all due processes of law had been completed. Never mind the people who need this money now. Now I'm thinking of Bleak House. Good idea, Joe, let's just let these cases grind through the courts for generations. As a side note, not that it's probably very important, Joe Barton has collected $1,447,880 from political action committees and individuals connected with the oil and gas industry since 1989 (according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics).
Quite excited to be off to the shore for a good long stay with my friend. We hope to get to the beach, Cape May, and visit some friends. I know this post is lame, but I need to get rid of the Lost post. Old news. A couple more things: did you see Rachel Maddow deliver the speech President Obama should have given? I don't want the White House to hire her away from her real job, but they should give her editing duties whenever there's an important speech to be give. You can watch her here: "">

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hopelessly Devoted To Lost

An Inquirer columnist today said Lost fans are either extremely discerning pop-culture junkies or gluttons for punishment. Whatever they are, they are going to sorely miss their usual Tuesday night appointment with the heroes and villains of Lost. It's hard to believe for those of us who never missed a show...no more Jack, no more Locke or Sawyer or Kate. No more Des. It's like saying goodbye to friends. Nothing will fill the void. There will never be a show like this again. It was truly an original. Thanks you all everybody for taking us along.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Found in the Urban Dictionary

Ain't it the truth.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chicken Little Was Right!

Yesterday the sky fell on us. Never in my life do I remember this much snow practically all at once. First we had a huge snowfall over the weekend. I measured 19 inches on the table on my deck. Just as we got dug out of that, yesterday's blizzard hit. This time I measured 18 inches on the same table which I had completely cleared before the new snow started to fall. The weather people are reminding us of another blizzard in the winter of '95-96 that measured 30 inches and I remember that one well. The whole area was in a state of emergency and roads were closed and people ordered to stay home. That was a lot of snow...30 inches. But this was worse. I'm looking at 37 inches piled in drifts 6 feet high. But that isn't the worst part.

Here's a picture of my pergola in happier times.

Here's a picture of it today.

It collapsed under the weight of the snow early yesterday evening. I had been watching it all day; I knew it was going to go. I could see the nails pulling out of the support beams and I figured it was just a matter of time. I was pacing the floor, wringing my hands and gnashing my teeth. I was afraid to even go in the kitchen or dining room because I was afraid it might explode under all that snow and send the beams crashing through my windows. The worst part was how helpless I felt. I was virtually trapped in the house with the snow slamming into everything and all paths out cut off. I finally called poor Amy to say goodbye, in case I didn't make it. She assured me it wasn't going to explode, but that the weight of the snow would drop it straight down. I tried to believe her because that thought had also occurred to me, but I was still very nervous. I was huddled in the bedroom, venturing out every so often to peek at it. Finally, at about 4:30 I looked and it was just gone. Gone. All I could see were the upright posts sticking up. It had dropped just as she said. I never even heard it. It just dropped silently onto the deck itself, partially cushioned I guess by all the snow underneath it. I felt sad, but vastly relieved. It was down and it hadn't smashed into the house.

Nothing much to do now except wait for the spring melt. Poor pergola.