Tag Italy

Medieval Marginalia

I’m right in the middle of reading the great historical whodunit, medieval mystery, Dominican detective novel The Name of the Rose. In part, it’s a book about books. “Books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told,” says William of Baskerville, a surely Sherlockian character to his Watson, Adso. Curiosity has been killing certain illuminatiors one of whom is guilty of drawing diabolic doodles in the margins of his manuscript.

…I know what torment it is for the scribe, the rubricator, the scholar to spend the long winter hours at his desk, his fingers numb around the stylus (when even in a normal temperature, after six hours of writing, the fingers are seized by the terrible monk’s cramp and the thumb aches as if it had been trodden on). And this explains why we often find in the margins of a manuscript phrases left by the scribe as testimony to his suffering (and his impatience), such as “Thank God it will soon be dark,” or “Oh, if I had a good glass of wine,” or also “Today it is cold, the light is dim, this vellum is hairy, something is wrong.” As an ancient proverb says, three fingers hold the pen, but the whole body works. And aches.

-Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

I was reading another hypertext when I came across another reference to these complaints and doodles. Here is a little article on this very subject from a new issue of Lapham’s Quarterly. It’s worth a look.

A Saturday in Verona

Mary Lee called me at nine on Saturday morning with an idea. Why don’t I come for a visit in Verona for the night? She and Doug visit Italy every year and at Christmas time we had talked about meeting here in Florence, but when it came right down to it it made more sense for me to head north to visit them and stay at the apartment they rent there. I’m glad I did!

As we were walking up a narrow street from their apartment to the Castel San Pietro it stuck me that I was already familiar with the color and mood of the city, I remembered from seeing so many of Doug’s paintings. I saw scraps of them all over. Arches, scrolls, columns, vines, washes of rich color; nothing is hidden but it all exists behind a diffused veil of light that makes it impossible to grab hold of.

Sunday in Bucine

This Sunday a few of us went to a performance in the small Tuscan town Bucine. My friend Casey took us. He knew the guy who was performing and operated the lights. The performance was OK, what I really enjoyed was the countryside. Gene and I played Durak on the train ride there, te stars were out in full force, and the aperitivo in Montevarchi was glorious.

Sunday in Pisa

In bed too late on Sunday morning I thought to myself, “get up now and get on the train otherwise you’ll never do it.” I threw off the covers and threw on my clothes and took myself on a day trip to the Picasso exhibit in Pisa.

After printing a train ticket to Pisa Centrale from one of the big green automatic ticket machines I took a few steps and validated it in the small yellow ticket stamper machine and stepped up into the second class train car. A group of four Gabriel García Márquez reading German girls dressed in Renaissance costumes rode across the aisle from me for the ninety minute journey.

Pisa is charming. I walked north in a straight line out of the train station doors to the river, stopping once to check a map taped-up in a cafe window to be sure I was heading in the right direction. When I turned around to set off again I was standing right in front of a huge and beautiful Keith Herring mural.  I don’t think I have ever seen a piece of his in person. The mural in Pisa is huge, vibrant and delightful, but be careful, it’ll sneak up on you.

There were no celebrity paintings among the prints and pots in the temporary exhibit. Maybe paintings don’t travel as well or they were afraid of being stolen à la Mona, but what they had on display was impressive. I was inspired by the levels of detail and gray-scale in the essential bull lithographs and the curatorial wallop of a long hallway of vivid book illustrations dead-ending with this goat’s head. There were a huge series of beautiful copperplate etchings of minotaurs, bull fighters, Bacchanalias, and loungey women that were overwhelming in their number and variety and gave me the sense his balance of skill and production. It was definitely worth the trip.

By the time I was out of the museum it was getting dark and chilly. I headed right to the train a little ashamed that I’d return without getting a picture kicking the the tipping tower. But I’d let go of that by the time I rolled into Florence, happy at least that I’d gotten my lazy bones up and out.

Video Cartolina

Postcards aren’t what they used to be, but they’re still a lot of fun to make. Thanks to his mom, Bannack and I have traded a few videos like this one in the past few days. It’s such a treat to be able to have a little album  of videos to carry around with me too. It means that if anyone is halfway interested I get to perform my proud uncle ritual of pulling out my iPod and showing off Bannack’s cuteness.