24 April 2013


We really loved the art nouveau houses in Vittoria. The smallish one above seemed just about the right size for a pied-à-terre. But I also really liked the infill shop below, very attentive to detail, proportion, and context, yet thoroughly modern classical. It fit right in on the main shopping street of Vittoria.

After I got home, I was talking to another village planning board member about houses in the village and the sprawl that inhabits the hills around the village. Just think if we could fill in some of the vacant spots as intelligently as this building. No, I don't know what was in this spot before so leave me with my fantasy that no historic building was taken down.

More pictures of Vittoria:

18 April 2013


Susan Morehouse, English professor at Alfred University, talked to us about "Why I liked Brave: a memoir of motherhood and the movies" at today's Bergren Forum. I'm never seen any of the Disney princess movies but her talk was intriguing in many ways. Morehouse, a self-described "second wave feminist," talked about dead mothers, absent (absent-minded) fathers, overbearing and bearishness, Disney princess hair (wild hair and wild women), and vulnerability. The thing that may stick with me is her description of the mother in Brave who doesn't eat. We're not talking eating disorder but that the role of mother/woman is starving her. The relationship of physical and mental wellbeing is so close.

And then as I was eating lunch after the talk, I was reading Holland Cotter's review of the Claes Oldenburg show just opening at MoMA in New York City. The second-floor atrium has the Mouse Museum and the Ray Gun Wing. The sixth floor has "The street and the store," showing his works from the late 1950s and into the 1960s, back when I fell in love with his work. I was in the same space during grad school when we Case Westerners went to Oberlin to see the dedication of a large plug in the yard of the Allen Memorial Art Museum. Cotter's review ends:

"Certainly little of the city's constituent material escaped [Oldenburg's] devouring but inventively discriminating hunger. The evidence is there in the mini-museums, but also in the work upstairs. Most of the 1950s and '60s sculpture is relic fragile now; maybe it always was. But it still does at least a couple things Pop Art was meant to do. Like advertising it makes the everyday world look larger -- grander, grosser -- than life. And it confirms that art, with all of its deceptions, contradictions and empty ethical calories, is a form of nourishment we can't seem to get our fill of."

Food's great. The mixed fresh catch of the day pictured above was easily consumed in Palermo in early March. But as wonderful as food can be, it's still the mix of physical, mental, and visual food that sustains me.

12 April 2013

Bosch in a shop window

When we saw this shop window in Palermo with little Bosch figurines, I scoffed. Now, I wish I'd gone back when the shop was open to buy a tchotchke to put on the dashboard of my car Hieronymus.

I also wish that I'd bought another O Chive pocket watch or maybe two more.

06 April 2013

To the Sicilians: stone fences

We were intrigued as we drove around by the stone fences. The fences were sometimes hard to distinguish from outcroppings. They were mostly dry wall, that is, no mortar. The enclosures varied in size and we didn't often see occupied enclosures but did see cows in an enclosure near this scene along the road between Vittoria and Modica, down in southeastern Sicily.

I just got out of the closing VRA plenary lecture by Alex MacLean whose aerial photographs document land use and settlement, city edges, topography, and, intriguingly, the fourth dimension of time. His words on how motion and time are manifest in a photograph were compelling: light (time of day), climate (mistiness rising off a river), human intervention (dust trail behind a car), abandoned buildings. He also talked a bit about how field size may be determined by how many stones are available and how far you'd be willing or able to move them.

As an aside: MacLean mentioned studying at Harvard with John Brinckerhoff Jackson, the great landscape historian and writer. Thinking about Jackson always reminds me of Nancy Wynne, long-time librarian at the Amon Carter Museum, who had a lovely watercolor by J.B. Jackson hanging in her home. Nancy was Milan Hughston's predecessor as head librarian at the Carter and, at the same time, my predecessor as cataloger.

02 April 2013

To the Sicilians and Cambridge: Brute, brutta, Calogero

One of the reasons, the main reason, that I came out to Boston a day early on my way to VRA in Providence was to see the "Brute" show at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard. The Carpenter is the only building by Le Corbusier in the U.S. and it's a marvel of Brutalist architecture, a style I fell in love with in college as Davis Brody's Wooster Science Building was being built at New Paltz State. I hadn't read more than announcements about the show and was expecting a retrospective of the building. No. There WAS a large model of the building on the first floor and photos on other floors. The  gallery space on the third floor, however, was devoted to an installation of chairs with a dozen archival photographs. On the podium were six or eight Le Corbusier chairs and facing the podium were about 40 chairs of a wide variety, from little plastic chair to vintage rocking chair. Lots of thoughts: people come in all shapes and sizes; Le Corbusier was an inspiration to many and preached theory; singularity and diversity; furniture can be lonely without people, or not.

In Italian, at least in Sicily, "brutta" can be used for ugly. When we checked into the B&B Giucalem in Piazza Armerina, it was a nice country retreat, a bit of a respite after the rainy check-in into the B&B Proserpina in Enna. That was brutal: scary circular stairs, rain, reception area under construction, water shutoff for construction (they DID fix it in 10 minutes, after we called when we got back from supper). From the B&B Giucalem, the red house on the hilltop was afire in the late afternoon sun. I was amused. Giuseppe and his son Calogero, hosts at the Giucalem, thought the house was brutta.

Breakfast brought some very yummy plum jam made by Nonna (grandmother) from the trees on the property. The slogan for the B&B is "La casa negli orti" or the house in the orchards. We'd have bought some of the jam to bring you if they'd been selling it.

It wasn't the only time we ran into a Calogero. Our host in Capo d'Orlando at B&B Le Terrazze was Calogero Nici. He grew up in the Nebrodi mountains in the town of Ucria. His brother is an officer of the Nebrodi park. Signore Nici enthused in the evening (another after-dark arrival) about his love of the musician André Rieu. I said I loved classical music and Rieu sounded vaguely familiar. In the morning, he took us on a tour of a video of a recent Rieu concert at Radio City Music Hall. It isn't really my style of classical music; Christie described it as "schlocky" but appreciated Signore Nici's total lack of sarcasm or irony in looking at the musical presentation. I really appreciated his sharing his enthusiasm too.

The last morning we were in Sciacca, I went out for a walk up to the high part of town above the Via G. Licata near our B&B, the Conte Luna. And, there, I found the Porta San Calogero and, through the gate, the general market. Love the morning activity: people setting up their market booths; deliveries being made; streets being swept; coffee. And it doesn't hurt that morning sunlight is glorious, just like the evening sunlight on the brutta house on the hill above the Giucalem.

To the Sicilians: Valerio at Morgantina

When we arrived at the Morgantina site, there was this old codger directing you into the parking lot, looking a little suspicious. He came over with a stack of books and stuff. He had the “best” guide and his own hand-drawn map of the site. It was clear as he talked that he loved Morgantina and one just must have his hand-drawn guide. Christie used to work at the University of Virginia and UVa has been one of the sponsors of the excavations. Christie asked the old guy if he knew Malcolm Bell, her art history professor and erstwhile director of the digs. Well, they settled into a lot of Mack Bell stories. The old guy brought us a bottle of his home-made wine, partly made from Nero d’Avola grapes. When we got back to the parking lot, I asked him his name: Valerio. He wouldn’t give me his surname, not secretive really because he’d been in the American papers and they all knew him. Christie did find him with a “valerio morgantina” search. And, now, as I write, I’m drinking some of the Vino Rustico di Valerio (which is quite green, i.e., not aged). Christie is calling it “grape juice.” I will sleep well tonight. Wine with lunch in Caltagirone. Two Campari/sodas after we got settled in the hotel. Now, a couple glasses of Vino Rustico di Valerio.
Oh. The picture. It’s the great kiln at Morgantina. Clicking here will get you to more pictures of Morgantina in my Flickr photostream.