Tales of a wandering lesbian

The art of giving

Usually, I wake up in the morning, make a cappu (or have one made for me by one of the wonderful women I live with). I catch a ride with Deb into Barga and spend the day writing, walking, eating and repeating.

This morning, when we reached the studio, I changed my plans. The studio, which is full of beautiful, passionate art, is an unqualified mess. The studio consists of four rooms. The front is a great cavern of color and shape, the place where tourists and locals can wander in and view the paintings and photographs that Sandra and Deb have on display. Through a curtain to the right is the back room where the artists work: studying figures, editing photographs, consulting with clients. Bright overhead fluorescent lights and photographic equipment dominate.

Behind the workroom is an alcove that has been walled off with drywall – something completely strange in this ancient space. The alcove houses a workbench, paint, mats, shelves of paper, drawers of miscellaneous hardware, and a collection of years of partial drawings, sketches and paintings.

A small ground-level window opens onto a lovely garden, but is obscured almost completely by a side-table crammed with more papers and mats.
The fourth room is a bathroom, hidden behind a plywood door, and completely unexpected.

Along with the toilet and sink, this room houses boxes of plates, forgotten frames hanging from the pipes, a baker’s rack full of baby-food-sized jars of paint, and the cups liberated from cafes and restaurants in the town.
I remember the first time I walked into the studio. I was blown away with the power and beauty of the images in the space. The passion of the women who own the studio washed over me as I sat on the small sofa against one wall. I was excited to think that these women could make a living with their art – that they had carved a little space in the world where beauty and passion were primary and sufficient.

Things are rarely that simple, but this studio gives me hope.

So, today I changed my plans. “Will you let me clean up the studio today?” “Assalutamente, si,” came the response – almost before I had finished asking.
I spent the first hour just walking from room to room, assessing the situation; snapping pictures, sweeping, taking stock of the stacks. After that, I started rearranging. Sandra is prolific. I was totally amazed at the variety of subject-matter, style, and materials. One moment I was sorting through canvases, then wood panels, then round wooden boxes, then pottery, and even a piece of marble. There are probably 100 pieces in the 20×20 studio, hanging from the walls, stacked in the corners, leaning against furniture.

My marketing background kicked in, and I started by rearranging the intimidating entrance from one flanked by huge bins of prints, to one that beckons to passers-by to come in and look at the beautiful postcards that feature the works of Deb and Sandra. On the little table in the middle of the room, I arranged information about their wedding photography business.

The studio began to open up. I really enjoy arranging spaces, whether it’s furniture or artwork, it’s therapeutic for me. While I’m often unable to do this for my own space, I’m able to help clear the physical surroundings of others. I’ve found that when I’m arranging a space, it will talk to me, letting me know what color or shape should go where. The gallery talked to me today, but it also fought me a couple of times: once when I tried to hang a painting of a flower too high, and then when I moved from paintings to begin hanging photographs. That’s when the studio kicked me in the gut.

The workspace houses some of the most striking works, in my opinion. A bold, large painting of a nude hangs high in one corner, while the opposite wall is covered in photos of partially nude figures portrayed as angels. Among these photographs is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I don’t say that lightly and it’s not meant as flattery. It’s simply the truth. I was so stuck by it last time I was here, I wasn’t able to look at it for very long.
This photograph was propped against the wall where almost nobody saw it. So I made a space, found a chain, and hung the beautiful figure high on one wall where it could be enjoyed by all.

Yes, I know the walls in the gallery are old. Yes, I know large photographs with glass are heavy. Yes, I know. However, it wasn’t that heavy, and the chain hung on three nails – for about a minute. It was quite beautiful for that one minute. Fortunately, I had cleared the area below so that when it came crashing down to break on the marble-tiled floors, the other beautiful photographs were out of the way.

Evidently, the gallery wasn’t ready for the photo to hang there just yet. As the glass shattered and scratched the beautiful image, I wanted to scream. This great tribute to my friends. My contribution to the display of their passion – broken and scratched. (Okay, I know it’s really dramatic, but it sucked – big time.) I seriously wanted to hide and cry. Instead, I got the broom and Deb found a box for the glass. There are people who make you feel horrible when you break their junk. And there are people cheer you up when you break their art. I really do prefer the second kind of people. Whether she knew it or not, Deb made an effort to cheer me up over the next hour.

Yes, we’ll get the picture reprinted. Yes, I’ll finish cleaning the gallery. Yes, these things happen. I’m not so sure I’d have been as generous and kind, but I’ll remember to try next time.

When we got home, we found Sandra in the kitchen cooking dinner. Vegetables. And soup. I’m pretty sure that before I got here, there was a good deal more meat eaten in the house. But Sandra worries every night whether I will have enough to eat and cooks accordingly. Tonight we had a fabulous mixture of baked fennel, potatoes, carrots, peppers and onions, prepared lovingly by Sandra. Her mother made the soup (fabulous as well). Her mother, it turns out, also took care of my clothes. She brought them in from the yard where they were drying and folded and ironed them – even my underwear. For real.

Then, as we sat down for dinner, I saw something out-of-place at my setting.

Kiwi wand

Tommy, who knows I like Harry Potter, spent the day carving a legitimate kiwi-wood wand for me. Evidently, he’s not very handy, but he did a great job with this thing, even carving my initials in the handle.  Wow.

After dinner we all sat down for a game of Italian Pictionary ®. We use this as my vocab lesson, me guessing in English and Sandra, Deb and Tommy guessing in Italian, explain the words as we go.

It was a very full day. More than usual I am struck by how giving the people I am staying with are. They have a person they met for one day six months ago sleeping on their floor and sharing their table. It’s amazing how well it has worked for the last 10 days. We all give what we can and it works.  What more can you ask, really?

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November 3, 2009   2 Comments

Portland is cool

Portland’s cool.  It really is.  Sometimes I forget, and I am reminded forcefully by my friends who take it as a personal insult – defending the awesomeness of Portland like it’s a family member.

Today, walking back from an excellent breakfast at the waffle cart (cool), I noticed that one of the homeowners along the way had converted their little garage into an artist’s studio in the Mississippi arts district (super cool).


When I walked over to snap a picture, I noticed a bike bell – hanging from the mirror of a van parked in front of the studio (the coolest).


It pretty much broke my cool meter.

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July 8, 2009   4 Comments