Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Italian Language

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

I live with an Italian couple who has a few more years than I. Doria and Luca held a dinner party tonight with a total of eight people, including me. My Italian language skills are improving with the help of many friends, despite my horrible habit of daydreaming A LOT.

Still I just spent five hours at a dinner in which multiple people were speaking at once, each with subtly different styles, although Doria told me after they left that I had been hearing the Tuscan dialect. I told my hosts that at some point I tried desperately to learn the language as a child would, meaning that I stopped trying to translate words in my head. Instead, I tried to listen and piece together a few new words from the context of what I understood already.

Later, we were looking back at the newspaper to clarify times for the free events for tomorrow night’s Capodanno celebrations around the central part of Florence. And I read the phrase c’era (there was). “Oh, so that is what that means, Luca! I heard cera a lot during the night and wondered why everyone was speaking about WAX so often!” And he spoke the words so that I could hear the difference in the sounds. Still, I find this difficult for me and I wish that I had true musician’s ears.

Tonight I wanted to share with you a few images of Florence, Italy, decorated for Christmas: from the famous windows of dolci at Gilli’s and other window displays to illegal immigrants keeping an eye on the cops while they try to sell you their fake Gucci wares.

Enjoy – and please buy a raffle ticket from the Menu For Hope V fundraiser to help feed communities in Africa this year and for years to come (through education). You could win great prizes offered from European bloggers, including yours truly. (My Prize code of Giclée Images of Italy is EU25). But I do not care if you make a donation and try for another prize on the list. The cause is worthy and the deadline is 31 December.
Instructions below with a link to my own offered prize . . .

Buon Capodanno!

Donation Instructions:

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at or Chez Pim

2. Go to the donation site at and make a donation.

3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code.
For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02 Kelly’s Prize code is EU25

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

6. Bids on prizes will be accepted from December 15-24th. The last day to bid on a prize is December 24th.

7. Check back on Chez Pim on January 12, when Pim will announce the result of the entire raffle. Sara Rosso will also announce the winners of European prizes here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Street Painting in Florence, Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Buone Feste! as we say here in bella Italia. I have been sculpting, painting, and visiting friends during the past week. I stopped to say hello to some of my fellow madonnari (street painters) in Florence and include two of their holiday drawings on Via Calimala. Here are Giovanni and Tomo with their interpretation of a Christmas card and the Florentine skyline.

I liked how they added real ribbon and bows for the cornice (frame).

Then for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Tomo created a Christian depiction of the meaning of Natale. The weather has been cold and while I wondered if I would come out to help them, I realized that I wanted my few hours of sunlight for my own projects. I applaud their tenacity – it has really been cold out!

The only way that my fellow street painters have been able to work since 1 December has been under the rules of holding a manifestazione to protest the Comune di Firenze. The Comune (City Hall) decided not to renew the permits for madonnari anymore because they want to have a concorso (competition).

This competition does not allow us the flexibility in scheduling that we have previously enjoyed and limits greatly the amount of time per day that we can draw – six hours is not enough time to create a substantial drawing of a large size.

I do not know what will happen to the street painters of Florence. I am happy that I have tried this work, but for now, I wait. And I work on my own art.

Menu For Hope V

This benefit raffle with great prizes from Europe has been extended to 31 December!!!!

Here are the rules again – please help us fight world hunger, one community at a time.

Donation Instructions:

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at or Chez Pim

2. Go to the donation site at and make a donation.

3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code.
For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

6. Bids on prizes will be accepted from December 15-24th. The last day to bid on a prize is December 24th.

7. Check back on Chez Pim on January 12, when Pim will announce the result of the entire raffle. Sara Rosso will also announce the winners of European prizes here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Menu For Hope

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

We have only a couple of days left in the Menu for Hope V raffle. The prizes are incredibly tempting and wonderful. Won’t you please indulge? We participating bloggers who offer the prizes have not yet reached our goal to surpass last years’ donations of over $90,000.

While I am offering 6 giclée prints of some of my images of Italy, I will not at all be offended if you make a donation and try to win other prizes. The important thing is to help those less fortunate get a chance to help themselves through education, sustainable farming, and other choices.

Give the gift of a voucher

Donation Instructions:

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at or Chez Pim

2. Go to the donation site at and make a donation.

3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code.
For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

6. Bids on prizes will be accepted from December 15-24th. The last day to bid on a prize is December 24th.

7. Check back on Chez Pim on January 12, when Pim will announce the result of the entire raffle. Sara Rosso will also announce the winners of European prizes here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Understand What You Need

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Happy Winter Solstice! I have been “dumpster diving” since at least college. I cannot believe the scores one can find in the trash -- often of brand new items! And I am changing my Italian landlady Doria’s mind about finding things in the rifiuti as well.

A few weeks back I brought home the four-wheeled square base of a chair that I found in the trash on Via dei Mezzo, here in Florence, Italy. I cleaned it up, loaded it on my bike, and am now using it as a sculpture stand. Doria teased me when she saw this addition to my room, “Kelly, where will you sleep?” I responded, “Maddaiiiiiiii . . .” with appropriate hand gestures, of course.

But on the 12th, I was riding home with some of my drawings tied on the rack over my back tire and I saw a REAL Christmas tree leaning against a trash bin along the Lungarno. It was still wrapped up for transport. Incredibile! Fearing for my drawings, I left the tree there.

At home Doria was dubious, assuming I saw a plastic tree (or maybe that it was not truly in the trash). I did not have time to go retrieve it myself since I was meeting a friend at the Odeon Cinema soon. But I rode along the Lungarno again on my way back to the central part of Florence, and sent her a message that the tree was there and smelled fantastico.

When Luca arrived home, they took the car and had their first successful adventure in dumpster diving. I am a “proud parent”! And at least they know I did not steal it! They love the tree, decorating it the next day and remarking on how large it is and how unbelievable that someone just left it in the garbage.

All this to preface that while moving through town, I always keep my eye on the trash bins. I rode past this TV set (pictured here) by a bin one morning on Borgo Santa Croce. I turned back though because of the message someone had written on the screen. This is one of my favorite photos I have taken.

The profound in the simply stated: “Understand What You Need” has become a mantra of sorts for me. (And no, I did not want the Teh-Voo, as it is called in Italian.)

So, in the spirit of Christmas and knowing that most of us have more than we need (and even want), please think of buying a raffle ticket in the Menu for Hope V project. Prizes are being awarded by various bloggers (including yours truly).

What I like best about this particular fund-raiser is that the money goes not only to buy food for children, but also to help people to help themselves so they will have a more secure future. This type of giving is empowering! And everyone benefits.

Click here for prize list and donation information.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Towers in Florence Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Not only do I love exploring Florence, Italy, at night, but also I cherish her during the winter holiday season. The colored lights enhance the buildings and we have had so much rain lately that everything seems to glow.

I include some recent snapshots I took while riding Hafiza’s bike along the Lungarno (the roads that parallel the Arno River) after midnight. These two towers are situated between the Ponte (bridge) alle Grazie and the Ponte San Niccolò.

In this first image, the fuzzy white almost-circular shape on the right is the rising moon. Beside some of the still-remaining fall foliage, you may be able to make out some of the raging waters of the Arno, roaring over the dam.

This second photo is my favorite of the bunch. I love the patterns of the reflected colors created in the top and relatively calm portion of the dam. Some of them look like people to me.

And this third focuses on one of my most photographed landmarks in Florence. I love this tower and have seen how the light changes it. I hope you enjoy these images.

Please do not forget to look at the many prizes offered by the Menu for Hope program. Make a donation and possibly make out with a gift for you or your loved ones.

Click here for prize list

or here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Menu For Hope - Stop World Hunger

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

I met fellow blogger Sara Rosso in Florence, Italy, in April 2008. Her blog is called “Ms. Adventures in Italy” and she writes beautifully about food and shares great images too. Sara is currently the “Host for Europe” for a special program to fight hunger around the world. It is called Menu for Hope.

This is a fund-raiser in the form of a raffle, with bloggers worldwide offering prizes for your enjoyment. I just found out about this project and decided to jump onboard.

My Prize for you (Code: EU25):
Art Images of Italy: 6 giclées of Florence and Venice
Printed on thick quality (Arches Infinity textured) watercolor paper using UV pigmented inks for longevity.
The long dimension of each image is 10 inches (about 25 cm).
Valued at over $200.
Plus, I will ship worldwide from Florence, Italy.

Details on how to bid are listed below . . . but hurry, bidding ends 24 December 2008!

The Programme

In the interest of time, I want to quote Sara:
This year’s beneficiary of Menu for Hope is the
UN World Food Programme. WFP is the world’s largest food aid agency, working with over 1,000 other organizations in over 75 countries. In addition to providing food, the World Food Program helps hungry people to become self-reliant so that they escape hunger for good.
With the success of last year’s campaign to support the school lunch program in Lesotho, we are going to continue our support to the same program. During the duration of Menu for Hope V, we will be posting updates from the kids and the farmers we supported this past year.
If you weren’t around last year for Menu for Hope 4, let me explain a bit about why we are supporting this particular program. We chose to support the school lunch program because providing food for the children not only keeps them alive, but keeps them in school so that they learn the skills to feed themselves in the future. We chose to support the program in Lesotho because it is a model program in local procurement - buying food locally to support local farmers and the local economy. Instead of shipping surplus corn across the ocean, the WFP is buying directly from local subsistent farmers who practice conservation farming methods in Lesotho to feed the children there.

Who Collects the Money?

NOT the bloggers! We use a very good online fundraising company called Firstgiving, who has worked with us since the first Menu for Hope years ago.

Donors can make an online donation with a credit card. Firstgiving collects and processes the payments and, at the end of the campaign, transfers the donations in one lump sum to the WFP. This is a win-win situation for all parties involved. The bloggers never touch the money. The WFP don’t waste overheads on processing mini-donations, the majority of which were between $10-$50, that’s a whole lot of tenners to make up $90K. Firstgiving does all the work and collects a small fee, which include the credit card processing charges.

Last year, Firstgiving gave back 1% of the total amount raised in lieu of a discount on their processing fee. Thank you Firstgiving, we appreciated it very much!

Donation Instructions:

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at or
Chez Pim
2. Go to the donation site at
and make a donation.
3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize
of your choice. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal
Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation.
You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize
For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets
for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02
4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box
and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact
you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with
6. Bids on prizes will be accepted from December 15-24th. The last day to bid on a prize is December 24th.
7. Check back on Chez Pim on January 12, when Pim will announce the result of the entire raffle. Sara Rosso will also announce the winners of European prizes here.

Portrait of a Banker - Donatello

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

The sculpture that always makes me stop and admire him in Florence’s Bargello Museum is “Niccolò da Uzzano” by Donatello. This portrait is a painted terra-cotta sculpture and he is simply arresting. He is regal in pose and execution. Niccolò was the banker of the Medici family, made famous during the time of the Renaissance for their incredible support of artists.

When I got the opportunity to create a charcoal drawing of a white gesso (plaster) copy of this artwork, I jumped at it. I referred to my drawing in an earlier blog entry before I left for Texas this summer, and am so happy that after returning to Italy, I can say he is finished and available for your viewing pleasure.

The type of drawing I am currently doing here in Florence, Italy, is very detailed and time-consuming. I have been working for many months on ‘Niccolò’, spending an average of twelve hours a week on him. I am using the sight-size method of drawing, which means that I am pacing the floor a lot as I view the work from about 3 meters away before advancing to make a mark on the paper.

This drawing is actually done on a light grey Roma-brand paper. I use Nitram charcoals for my darks and white Rembrandt pastels for anything lighter than the paper itself. The idea is that the white and the black will never need to mix. This makes for a more difficult tonal study since I cannot just smudge my tones around.

“Donatello's Portrait of Niccolò da Uzzano” is just over 64 x 46 cm. He is available for only $2600 (US). And I would be happy to ship him anywhere in the world for you. Simply contact me with a shipping address and I can get you a quote for everything.

Thank you for your interest in my work and thank you for telling others about it. And if you know any bankers who might like this original drawing for their offices . . .

Click here to see other original drawings in charcoal.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Warped Art

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

I have been trying to finish some long-term projects, but I discovered long ago that I need rewards in order to do so. It is not that I do not like what I am doing enough to finish it, it is that my brain keeps moving and I find it difficult to celebrate an ending of sorts without some promise of a future.

Often the act of finishing details in my art is a tranquil type of activity, whether it is polishing a stone, altering edges in a drawing or painting, or photographing the work. While the tasks are by no means mindless, my thoughts tend to drift to what I will create next. Life is a sine wave and this visually slower time is necessary in order to have the energy and ideas to reach for something greater later.

So, I have been spending part of my days going through my images, drawings, and notes. And I found an image that I wanted to share with you today. I went to Bremen, Germany, in late September 2006 to see an exhibit of my favorite painter, the late Eugène Carrière. This artwork is not his, but I am afraid that my notes on the art and the exhibit are not close at hand at the moment.

I remember that during an otherwise relatively representational show, I was drawn into these abstracted squiggles on a table. I had heard a few things about how various works of art were created with specific viewing situations in mind (often discovered once the art is moved from its original location), but this was extreme.

In this painting, one must not look at the painting itself to see the “sensical” image, but at a mirrored column set in the middle of the swirling colors. The curving perpendicular surface of the mirror alters the seemingly random waves of color into a scene of Jesus on the cross, surrounded by various figures and framed with a grey and white curtain.

At the time I remember that my main impression was that “Nothing is truly new.” This painting was created in 1800 something, if I remember correctly. Part of my problem is that I know very little about art history. What appears new to me in contemporary art is very often a continuation of a past exploration. But the first artist to try something like this may have been inspired by reflections in a river or some other natural phenomenon. So, I was hardly disappointed.

Happy Birthday, Cindy. And happy belated birthday to Paul and Lexie.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Zubin Mehta

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Tonight, Florence, Italy, was treated to a free concert in the Nelson Mandela Forum, a huge stadium type of hall in the Campo di Marte area of the city. Eight of my friends and I went to see this event and we heard Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Nona Sinfonia”. The direttore was Zubin Mehta.

Now, I must admit that although I like music, and even classical music, I rarely know titles or names. However, my friend Sarah kept raving about Zubin Mehta, saying that she has many of his CDs. And before the concert started, my friend Maria exclaimed, “There he is! Kelly, let’s go get a foto!” I am known around these parts for always having some sort of camera on my person and for sharing images.

He was standing near the back of the stage, but quite visible. Since I knew that Sarah was also a fan, I called out to her to join us and we ran after Maria from our seats in the side bleachers. And she just walked right up and asked for a photo with him for her grandmother. Both she and her nonna are fans of his and of classical music. I quickly handed my camera to a man nearby and this is how I came to be photographed with the famous Zubin Mehta with my friends Sarah and Maria.

Although Sarah, Maria, and Doria complained a little about the acoustics, I was actually surprised that it sounded pretty good in that space, although quiet. But then I no longer have a practiced ear and I love harmonies. The chorus was interesting, the soloist singers good, and of course, I loved the strings, flutes, and French horns and bassoons. And my favorite sound came from something like a timpani in a good mood.

All in all a fun night and I got to see something new a firenze.
a dopo . . .

Monday, November 24, 2008

The End of Madonnari in Florence Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

There may soon be no more madonnari (street painters) in Florence, Italy. The Comune (city council) wants to have a concorso (competition) in December and eliminate about half of the current street painters in Florence. They do not want an organization of artists running the show, they prefer to issue the winners of this competition individual yearly permits to draw with rules that they have set.

My tired body can accept a rule such as “One artist cannot work more than 3 days per week,” while my artistic self cannot accept the proposed regulation that “One artist cannot work more than 6 hours per day.” It is difficult enough to make a well-done street painting in chalk or pastel in one day, but to do it in six hours is ridiculous, unless it is a very simple drawing. I am not sure whether this condition is a compliment to our talents or if it is some misplaced concern for the health of artists. I have a feeling it is option number 3 (a more political reason).

As an organization, we can be more flexible to the needs and abilities of our member artists, thus serving the public better. Sure, we have a few bugs to work out, such as some artists getting to work more than others, and encouraging artists to find a replacement if one cannot work on one’s scheduled day for reasons other than weather. Government red tape could not easily aid this situation.

But one of the major questions of the madonnari is “what criteria will be used to judge this competition?” Will the Comune choose artists based on someone’s idea of art quality, how much money an artist earns, experience, fiorentini or stranieri (Florentine artist or a foreigner), or some other quality? (Currently, the street painters of Florence are a healthy mixture of many nationalities, including Italian.)

The leaders of i madonnari have said that street painters are very different from other artists who sell their work in the streets. Street painting is more like performance art than it is fine art. They want the Comune to acknowledge our different purpose and function. For example, a fine artist does not train in the streets. But most street painters, including myself, did. We help each other learn the process of creating a large drawing on a rough flat surface, as well as the psychology behind connecting with our audience of passersby.

Allora, Florence’s organization of street painters has decided to send our list of questions and comments about specific ideas presented by the Comune regarding the future of our work and this proposed competition. In order to be heard we have to buy a special francobollo (stamp) and pay some other fees. So this weekend, i madonnari worked on a large collective drawing – a copy of a Botticelli (that I have never seen before) – to earn money to pay these fees.

Thus far we are refusing to participate in the Comune di Firenze’s competition. If nothing happens after we submit our responses, then there will be no more street painters in Florence, Italy. We cannot afford to fight the Comune more than we have.

So this Thursday (which happens to be the American holiday of Thanksgiving) may be my last opportunity to work as a madonnara. Let us hope that it warms up and does not rain!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Street Painting for Anthony Melita

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

My friend Geovane, a madonnaro here in Florence, Italy, but from Brazil, likes to joke with me that every day that I create a street painting, it rains. Geovane is remembering last spring and since he paints on the same day that I normally do, he has reason to chide me.

This past Thursday was no exception. At first it was a beautiful day, so I decided to go ahead and try to paint instead of working in the studio. I chose to paint a copy of “Madonna In Prayer” by Italian artist Sassoferrato in 1640.

Shortly after I got a decent face sketched-in and had a good start on hands in prayer, I was joined by Luca from Bologna. This adorable young man really wanted his mark in the street, so I invited him to color in the Madonna’s veil. I put his photo online here with his mother’s permission. I find this kind of interaction with “my public” one of the perks of being a madonnari.

But, as Geovane predicted, rain followed shortly after Luca and his mother left. The light changed as clouds moved overhead in the Renaissance City and the day came to a close. At first it was only drizzle. By 6 p.m., there was a fairly consistent misty rain and it was impossible to continue work.

However, before I started work yesterday, I had decided to dedicate my drawing to my friend Anthony Melita. Those who receive my art newsletter (subscribe via my Web site) recently learned of the death of this young artist, author, and model. As night moved in, I lit candles and placed them in the corners of my composition. The wind kept blowing them out. I kept relighting them. But during the heaviest rain, they finally stayed lit and I took it as a sign I should keep on going.

Normally rain drives viewers away and one cannot add chalk to a wet street. But I really wanted a photo of this day’s work for Anthony’s family. I waited in a vacant shop window behind my space until the rain subsided. Then I took newspaper and dried the parts of the street that I had not already chalked. This is a common street painting trick, and works well enough if you do not touch the wet chalk drawing.

I was really tired and cold by about 10 p.m., and I did not have the energy to wait for the entire original drawing to dry completely. It looks cool when wet, but the lights disappear and so the new dry drawings looks much brighter than the wet parts. I wanted to add a border, but when I removed my tape edge, water was underneath.

As I finish this writing online at the High Bar in Florence, I received an e-mail that Anthony’s funeral was today in Connecticut. I do not doubt he lived a full life, even if it was too short.

TSOS Exhibit at “The Crossings” - IMPORTANT Time Change Notice!
The time of The Crossing's Saturday, November 22, 2008, reception has changed to 2 p.m. through 6 p.m. They are providing food, so no covered dishes or appetizers are necessary. Please tell everyone you know to tell everyone they know to please come.
“The Crossings” is hosting our TSOS [Texas Society of Sculptors] Sculpture show on the grounds and in their spa and retreat center. Thirty TSOS sculptors' work will be represented with over 100 pieces of art on exhibit. This juried show will run from October 1st through December 14, 2008. You won’t want to miss this reception and you will want to encourage all your friends to attend, as the atmosphere on the grounds of The Crossings is awesome. [Austin Visual Arts Association] AVAA President, Bill Keese will be the awards juror and several nice prizes will be awarded.
The address of the Crossings is 13500 FM 2769 in Austin. For more information contact show coordinator Michael Epps at 512-970-0642. For map and driving directions see

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Olive Oil Tuscany Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

The new olive oil is here in Tuscany now and it is delicious! My padrona Doria shared some with me last week when her nephew was visiting from north Italia. Honestly, before I lived in Italia, I had no idea that olive oil was green! I had only seen the yellow variety in the States. Ah, but that is “old” oil. And the oil Doria bought from a Tuscan-living Italian friend is so good I was licking it off of my plate – not behavior my mother taught me!

This past weekend in Piazza Santa Croce here in Florence, Italy, there was a festival celebrating Tuscana’s organic olive oils and wines. There were also hand-made salsas and soaps in this “XXXVI Rassegna dell’Olio Extravergine di Oliva di Reggello” that celebrates “Oro verde” (green gold).

While everything was good that I freely tasted, I sometimes wondered if the vendors were making poor choices in the breads for dipping in the oils. There is not much Italian bread that I am fond of and I worried that their qualities might influence the flavor of the oils. No one else seemed to mind though. I wrote down prices and information for this blog, but now cannot seem to locate it. My room is chaos!

Anyway, in a bottle that is similar to a gallon (probably 5 liters), olive oil could be bought for around 50 euros. (What is that now - $70 US?) I must admit I was not able to purchase anything, but dreaming and tasting was fun. An interesting side note for me was that one of my friends from Algeria said that they do not celebrate the new olive oils as they do here in Italy. They actually prefer the older oils, like a good wine, I suppose.

Buon appetito!

If you like what you read, please consider supporting this blog a little bit . . .

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Baglioni Hotel Florence Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

La mia zia (my aunt) Carole just left Florence, Italy, for Venice this morning. She is traveling around Italy with a group, getting a taste of life here. Unfortunately, she was only here in Florence for two days and we were only able to spend dinner time together. It was so generous of her to treat me to some great meals.

She stayed at the Astoria Hotel, which looked lovely to me. We ate there on Sunday night. The next night, Aunt Carole had invited my friend Skye and me to join a few of her friends for la cena. We ate dinner in the elegant restaurant on top of the Baglioni Hotel and later took a short walk up to the rooftop terraza for a brisk night view of Florence.

The fotos I include here are from the Baglioni Hotel. Both are near the train station (Santa Maria Novella). My stuffed pear (thin flaky) pasta with gorgonzola cheese and . . . rosemarino (I think it was rosemary anyway) was delicious, although the one of my plate looked a lot like a sea turtle to me!

Thank you Aunt Carole – from both Skye and me.

Tonight, I finished my portrait drawing of Skye. I am playing with materials, trying to see what kind of range of tone I can get and to what effect. This portrait of my charming Australian friend was done with white pastel on black paper. After looking at my snapshot tonight, I think I will reduce the brightness of the strands of hair in the lower right corner before I spray fixative over this art to protect her.

This portrait is available. Please contact me via this blog, my site, or e-mail if interested. Skye has a beautiful face and a rather distinctive profile, not to mention a dramatic personality, which I tried to play up in this black and white portrait drawing.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Flights Over Florence

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

I was riding my bike home around noon today and when I got to the Ponte alle Grazie in Florence, Italy, I saw unusual crowds gathered on the bridge. Naturally curious, I pulled over to see what the big deal was. And there were men falling from the sky and landing in the Arno River. Not actually in the river (which is good since the river is disgusting). They were parachuting onto a platform. All four skydivers that I saw landed on the same spot in front of Florence’s famouse Ponte Vecchio.

The last diver let go a stream of colored smoke – red, white, and green, the colors of Italia. This next picture was taken one bridge upstream from the Ponte alle Grazie (ponte is the Italian word for ‘bridge’) shortly after a helicopter flew too close to my head for my taste. It is the Ponte San Niccolò and I ride my bike over this bridge almost once a day.

I apologize for the horrible spots on these images. My Sony digital snapshot has dirt inside the lens and I was told this summer that I would have to send the camera to Sony and pay about $200 to have it cleaned. Since this is not my favorite camera (it has suffered from artifacting ever since I flew to Paris 2 years ago) and new digitals are not much more expensive, I decided to keep this for a party camera until it dies a natural death before I invest in another one. I have it with me almost all the time now.

Ok, now I am out the door to try to find my Aunt Carole, who is visiting Florence for the first time with a group of tourists. Let me see what she thinks of the David and Michelangelo’s unfinished slaves!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Street Painting in the Rain

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

OK, so I paid to be a street painter every Thursday in November. Today it rained less than last Thursday, but it was still a wash. The skies started to clear up again (like they were in the morning) and I might have been able to tough it out, using newspaper to dry what had not been protected by plastic sheets. However, I locked myself out of the house this morning. I had put a few coins in my pocket to pay for printing today’s reference image, but later, I thought the coins were my keys and did not realize my error until I tried to put on the serious lock on the front door.

I usually work until midnight, knowing that there is a lull of pedestrian traffic here in Florence, Italy, from the hours of eight to ten p.m. as most folks are enjoying the Italian dinner hours at nearby restaurants. But I had sent my padrona a text message that I hoped to arrive home before she went to bed so that I could get into the house. Mezzanotte just would not do.

I tried to paint in the street (Via Calimala) a copy of “Le Crab” by William Bouguereau. I like this painting, in part because it uses the same red-headed girl for the model as “The Elder Sister.” The latter is a painting by the same artist owned (I believe) by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (Texas, USA). I love that painting since it reminds me of my two baby sisters, especially the red hair.

Bouguereau is a difficult artist for me to copy because of his subtlety in tones. His work is gorgeous and I understand he was prolific, another of my challenges. I was not happy with my painting today, the proportion or the tones (too contrasty, as is my way). Maybe it was a good thing to be rained out. Besides, perhaps I can get to sleep a bit earlier this evening.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Halloween in Italy

Halloween in Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

OK, so here are a couple images from my Halloween. There are more on Facebook. Basically, it rained so my teased hair fell more quickly than it should have: Kinda takes any terror out of Spider Woman.

And the high heels that I was wearing to keep the dress from dragging in the street came apart in the rain – and on Florence’s famous Ponte Vecchio. No doubt the walk that I was doing to try to keep my balance as I tried to flip the soles back underneath the shoe on each step was what brought my little group to the attention of some of our other friends.

My friends Linda (from Latvia) and Hafiza (a fiorentina) helped me by using masking tape (called ‘scotch’ here in Italy) around my feet. But that did not even hold up to the Palazzo Pitti! Anyway, this gal can make an entrance!

This was Hafiza’s first Halloween (an American holiday, you know) and she loved seeing our friends in costume. I think her favorite was Kieran, the pigeon. Like many tourist-ridden cities, Florence hosts a lot of pigeons. Another friend of mine even told me about a ristorante in which one may eat a pigeon.

Hafiza stayed with me that night and accompanied me as I walked home without coat or shoes. It took about 45 minutes since I no longer live in the central part of Florence. I was amused that at around 3 am along the Arno River, one guy who passed us by actually warned me about catching a raffreddore (relax, that is only a cold).

So, enjoy the fotos. It is interesting to realize just HOW MANY people in other countries pay CLOSE attention to US politics. I only hope that votes are cast wisely.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Portraits of an Artist

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Lots of my artist friends and I get together on Monday and Tuesday evenings and sit for one another to make portrait studies. It was recently my turn to pose. Because of my spine injury many years ago, I chose to stand. Sitting makes my legs go numb. I must say that I prefer to be the artist and not the model.

My friend Skye Campbell took this photo of me during the pose the first day. All in all, I posed for 8 hours over several days.

Posted here, with permission, are sketches done from these sessions. I will post more as I get images and permissions. These first two are: Pencil Drawing by Skye MacArthur Campbell and I believe a charcoal by Ami Badami. Enjoy.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Art Exhibits in Italy

I am in a hurry, but if in Italy, you may find this info. about art exhibits useful (listed by city):

Arts guide: exhibits in Italy

FERMO - Palazzo dei Priori: leading Marche Renaissance painter Vincenzo Pagani and influences including Raphael, Carlo Crivelli; until November 9.


- Galleria Palatina: Flemish Artists in Florence, 1430-1530; the likes of van Eyck, Memling and Leida compared to contemporaries Raphael, Botticelli, Castagno and Ghirlandaio; until October 26.

- Palazzo Pitti: The Medicis And Science; large collection of scientific writings and tools; until January 11.

ISOLA BELLA (LAKE GARDA) - Borromeo Collection of 130 Renaissance and later masters, reopened after renovation; permanent.

ROME - Palatine Hill: Augustus's House on view for first time in 25 years.

- Shenker Culture Club: 28 large religious works by Mario Schifano inspired by ancient Italian divinity Mater Matuta; marks 10th anniversary of artist's death; until October 15.

SIENA - Piazza del Duomo and other city sites: Mario Ceroli, Forms In Movement; giant works by avant-garde sculptor; until November 7.

STRA - Villa Pisani: 70 paintings and monumental works by sculptor Mimmo Paladino, hand-picked and arranged by the artist in the historic villa's magnificent grounds; until November 2.

TIVOLI - Villa Adriana: Between Light and Darkness; Ancient Roman funerary beds including bone-decorated bed from Aquinum and one found on Rome's Esquiline Hill; until November 2.

TRENTO - Castello del Buonconsiglio; first major show on relatively unknown Renaissance sculptor Andrea Briosco aka Il Riccio; until November 2.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Changing Money in Florence, Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

If I had not been wasting so much time, I might be only amused by the “efficiencies” of Italian banking -- or at least my current experiences with them.
My rent was due last Wednesday. I have been working very hard as a madonnara (street painter) here in Florence, Italy, because, as I suspect most everyone knows, the US dollar is very weak compared to the euro. While I still have to pay off my credit card debts in US dollars, every euro I can earn for spending here saves me heaps in money conversion rates.

Allora, street painters are mostly paid in spicciolo (coins), although I have received many 5 € bills (the smallest bill available) and the other day I was tipped a 20 € bill by an American architect. Sweet! Anyway, I counted out 700 euros in spiccoli. No way I was going to hand that to Doria and Luca, the older couple that I live with!

Last week, Luca went to the Post Office with me. He said they offer a lot of the same services that banks do. But they would not accept my coins unless they were in rolls and they had no rolls to give me. We went to the bank next door. No rolls. Try a café. Well, the café was overwhelmed at the idea of so much change and would not speak with us. Luca told me that he would buy some tubi for me so I could roll the coins and I went on into the studio to work.

That night he told me that I must visit Buffetti, an office supply store across town. I rode my bike there the next morning only to be told, “Prova una banca.” So, I tried a nearby bank. They gave me a few rolls, not nearly enough. Because I am not a client, they refused to help me more.

But the clear plastic tubi were enough to help minimize how much change I ended up handing over for my rent payment. I asked Doria if her bank would give her some tubi since she is a client of theirs. She returned with some plastic ones and also some paper ones, color-coded.

I rolled a lot of spiccioli this weekend and this Monday morning, I entered a bank near my home. I took a number from the machine, but after waiting and watching for a long time, I asked another potential client if this appearance of inactivity was normal in Italy. He responded that the computer was broken. After another minute, I asked a teller if it was possible to do a straight trade of my coins for paper. No, the computer is broken. “Prova una altra banca.”

So, I went to another bank, only to be told they do not accept spiccioli. I started to lose patience, “Scusimi, ma questa è una banca, si?”

“Si, ma prova una altra banca.”

Maddai . . . I thought to myself with the typical accompanying hand gestures.

I crossed the street, happy to find the banks so close. As I exited the revolving security door into the bank, a young teller actually acknowledged me with a “un momento.” Wow. In America I am used to the courtesy of a customer service representative noticing the presence of other waiting customers in this way. But in Italy, it seems they have a different type of politeness: The full attention is put on the current client. Everyone else does not exist. This is different, but if you happen to be the one being served, it feels good to know that the salesman is going to help you without the distraction of other clients.

Anyway, when it was my turn, the teller first asked me what it is that I do to receive so many coins. Then he told me that he could only accept the clear tubi, not the paper ones, because he could not see into those. Fantastico! (a little sarcasm, you see . . . ) I argued that it was a bank that gave them to me, but to no avail.
However, the exchange we did make lightened my load significantly and he actually talked me into seeing him in the morning to discuss my opening an account with the bank. Let me see how this goes . . .

If you like what you read and would like to save me from Italian banks, please consider supporting this blog a little bit . . .

Friday, October 17, 2008

Street Painting Michelangelo Florence, Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

It may sound strange, but I paint in the street. In Florence, Italy, we street painters are called madonnari. Yesterday, I chose to draw Michelangelo’s Libyan Sibyl from the Cappella Sistina in Vatican City, Italy. I was fortunate enough to be assisted by this charming little gal from Canada. And thanks to her mother who took this image of us on my camera for me.

I try to save all of my “wet wipes” for when the kids come to help me. It seems a bit rude for me to invite people’s children to paint in the street and then send them on their way as a dirty mess. In truth, I enjoy watching how each child takes to the cleaning part of the job. Some are really cute in their methods, some thorough, some not at all interested in washing their hands.

I have to admit, I am as fascinated by the process of creating a drawing as much as the next guy, maybe moreso. Hence the following image -- I like how the street is visible as I pick and choose which parts I want to develop first.

Normally, I am not much of an orange person -- the color is just too happy for me. But there are exceptions, usually when I see orange in Nature. However, this particular work of Michelangelo’s moves me greatly and any other color than orange might change the effect in a less impressive way. I also love drapery.

Here you see the work just before I called it a night. The distortion from the camera angle and lens is much better on this side. I took another shot standing at the head, and . . . oh, my . . .

Not being much of a morning person, I started this pastel drawing around mezzogiorno (noon). I think I washed up around midnight, but in truth, the reason that I did not finish the art is because I have more friends now than before. For example, my ex-roommates Dragana and Elena brought aperitivo to me in this evening since I was unable to leave my work and I took a bit of a break around dinnertime. We rarely get to see each other now that we live in different homes.

My last image for this post is of the destruction of my work. Granted the patterns in the stone street determine most of the movement of the water, I still find the apparent randomness intriguing. I was really happy with this drawing (except for the feet) and felt sad that I had not done it on paper the way many madonnari work on occasion. But what could I do? I must scrub the street painting away so that the next day, another artist may begin.