Friday, October 31, 2008

The Vatican

Storm gathering behind us

Well, they wouldn't let me see the Pope, can you imagine the nerve? I left him a note so will wait to hear back. The Vatican museum is laden with art and we spent several hours winding our way to the Sistine Chapel, which by the time you get there, is just the grandest of a very grand art collection owned by the Catholic church. I found it very interesting that a church that is so Catholic, which is the perfect word, could have such a challenging, varied and interesting art collection much of which has religious themes depicted as questioning to put it mildly. Much of the art work in the modern collection is profane or "profano" or something like that in Italian. Truly, the hierarchy of the church get the good end of the deal in my opinion as they get to enjoy the intellectual side of Catholicism which includes Salvador Dali and Francis Bacon (in addition to never turning down wine at weddings as my mom always pointed out when I was a kid) while parishioners have the doctrine spoon fed. No offense, I'm just sayin. It's good to be the Pope.

Rafael rooms fresco leading to the Sistine Chapel

There is a huge conference being held at the Vatican honoring the 50th anniversary of the election of Good Pope John. Papa Buono. Thousands of priests and nuns and pilgrims from his italian hometown were in attendance yesterday during several masses at St. Peter's. We saw the beginning of a mass at St. Peter's and returned to our hotel an hour later to find it being broadcast live on television. Pretty weird to know it was happening not a mile away.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

The sun sets pretty early now so we entered St. Peter's amidst a great thunderstorm gathering in daylight and emerged an hour later at dusk to a washed St. Peter's piazza. St. Peter's gets its point across, whatever it is. It can be thought to honor God and the welcoming arms of the church with its wide arms surrounding the center, or it can be a tribute to the power of Man who can erect such a masterpiece of architecture. I'm enthralled with all gee gaws, Catholic. Crucifixes, medals, prayer cards, rosaries especially. I want to be a Catholic. Chip says no.

Storm has passed, dusk settles on the Vatican

Another fresco, very old but very modern in its content

Within the Catholic tradition, I now confess my sin that while standing inside the Sistine Chapel with my family unwittingly shielding me, I did a bad thing. I tilted my camera up and snapped away. I wasn't trying to get The Creation of Man but I did a little. It will be a shock to them that they were accomplices as they had no knowledge until now. What can I say, when you tell me not to do something, I instantly want to do it.

Needs no explanation

Hallway painted ceiling leading to Sistine Chapel

Hundreds of seminarians awaiting mass inside

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ancient Rome as felt by my ankles

The gladiators


Trevi Fountain

He better be wishing to come back with me

There's almost too much good stuff to photograph. It is amazing that the city with a million vespas, honking horns, chic fashionistas and the latest in cell phones can have a two thousand year old history. The exoskeleton of the city shows the wear and tear, as evidenced mostly by the sidewalks along the river, if you don't count the obvious sites. The sidewalks appear to have been patched thousands of times and there is just no fixing them anymore. There's graffiti everywhere but after awhile, it sort of blends in with the rest of the gritty scenery. Lots of graffiti in ancient times as well, from what I've read. Given the bloody past of the ancient Romans, a little graffiti seems pretty tame. Anyway, just a short post this morning because I have an audience with the Pope. I plan to let him know my thoughts on the merits of birth control.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Florence to Rome

Breakfast gelato implemented 10am

We spent our last day seeing David's "junk" and the Uffizi, although no pictures allowed at either place. The outdoor sculpture museum beside the Uffizi was impressive though so snapped a few last pics. It's outdoors but they do expect you to behave as if you were in a museum so there are guards out there to tell you not to climb on the sculptures, act a fool, set up your trinkets on a blanket to sell, etc. We did think it was funny that there is quite an extensive list of forbidden items, pictorially represented for the many languages spoken of course, and with a big red circle with a slash through it was a guitar. Yep, no hippies allowed up there strumming Bad Bad, Leroy Brown or I Gave my Love a Cherry. Well done, Florence. The guards are pretty grouchy at all the art museums, presumably because tourists are such idiots. They seem to especially delight in singling out and literally screaming at tourists who dare to sneak a photo of David. A guard in the Galleria actually yelled for everyone to be quiet because we were just getting too loud. This was in the entrance way where coats and umbrellas are kept. Tough crowd.

One more gelato before the train

We arrived in Rome after dark to Biblical Armageddon-y lightning, thunder and torrential rain that actually prevented us from going further than across the street to an Osteria, known to Lonely Planet as it turns out, and owned by a rugby player. It was a price fixe menu and giant rugby player waiters bring the food efficiently and with brute force, balancing multiple plates up their massive forearms. I didn't get a sense that they would take any crap from anybody and one should just sit and eat one's food, no matter what they brought. I can't imagine anyone ever complaining about their food at this particular restaurant--you would have to be very foolish. Olivia didn't finish her meatball, and the waiter looked at her, and gestured to the meatball, then turned to the kitchen and said, "Chef. Chef." So being that he was a playful chap and it was still raining a ridiculous amount, when he returned to the table, Allison and I asked in Italian for "la barca"--a boat. He really laughed, corrected us that we needed a "kayak" and said to Chip, pointing at me, "Spirito." Ahh, the power of the flirt. Two minutes later, Lambrusca and homemade biscotti showed up to our table, and he poured some for the girls and taught them how to dip the biscotti in the Lambrusca before eating. It was such a jolly meal. We waded home, stuffed our sneakers full of tissues and fell quickly asleep.

The byproduct of eating at 10pm is that every night in my dreams, I get to visit with everyone I've ever known or met in my life. There has been a rotating cast of thousands fueled by rigatoni, rolled beef, gelato and vino rosso. It's nice to see everyone but leaves me a little drained in the morning.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Stroll for gelato at night

Ponte Vecchio (no gelato here)

Duomo (no gelato here)

Gelato No. 4 10pm (found it!)

A walk after dinner for one more gelato. No grappa tonight, but limoncella made famous by Danny DeVito who drank it all night with George Clooney and went on The View. If I had to meet Elizabeth Hasselbeck, I would drink a bottle of limoncella as well. It's quite tasty but Chip says he's back to the grappa tomorrow.

Goodnight Florence. Tomorrow, the Uffizi and David, then train to Rome.

High on gelato in Florence

The Duomo

Santa Croce

"Hey Dante, lighten up."

I'm going to post before the grappa today so as to not embarrass myself on the internet. A highlight today was touring my favorite church, Sante Croce to see the tombs of some major cultural heavyweights--Dante, Macchiavelli, Michelangelo and Galileo. Our pensione/hotel here in Florence has a beautiful terrace that overlooks the Boboli Garden behind the Pitti Palace. The real beauty of Florence is that every body's hotel overlooks something impressive because Florence is so densely packed.

Today, we enjoyed a day of shopping (new leather coat for Julie!) including perusing the "tat" as they call it in England. Florence is the home of Michelangelo's David which we'll hopefully see tomorrow. But today, we were prepped for that visit at every corner. There are hundreds of trinkets (aprons, magnets, statues, potholders, t-shirts, etc) emblazoned with David's "junk" as the kids call it. Olivia and Allison (and I confess, me, too) are bemused by it.

Gelato 3

A strange behavior has taken hold of Allison since arriving. She's giddy. She has literally been, at times, overtaken by a need to dance. At first, I worried it was the vino de casa she sampled yesterday. However, Chip pointed out it was probably the sugar surge of the gelato consumed first at 10am and then again at 4pm. But the sullen teen is conspicuously absent since our arrival and we are well pleased. I have possibly uncovered the cure to sullenness. We are instituting a new health regimen at home, breakfast gelato.

Needs a cig

As I sipped my espresso today, I cried out, "I wish I smoked." Luckily, my family already thinks I'm nuts so I can just say what's on my mind but the complete picture at an outdoor cafe in Italy with one's espresso really is a cigarette. Oh, well, better not.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Why is italy awesome?

The Arno, Pisa

Pitti Palace, Florence

Gelato 1, 10:30am in Pisa

Bambina and Mama

Traditional pose, Pisa

Gelato 2, 4pm in Florence
In a word: grappa.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

London to Pisa

New friends and guinea pigs

Stroll through the parks

Spent an incredibly fun Friday night and Saturday with our friends in London enjoying their excellent hospitality. Great company and great food and drink on a beautiful autumn weekend. Today, a fantastic leisurely breakfast in a sunny kitchen followed by an afternoon walk around Wimbledon followed by a pub stop then more good food and a generous lift to Gatwick. Easy flight to Pisa and tomorrow morning we'll wake up and go find us a leaning tower. One more thing...

Happy Birthday Bobby D.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Leanne

Oxford houseboat kitty

Daisy running with her stick

Ally and Daisy wish you a happy birthday!

It's fun and easy to make this birthday wish come true. Happy Birthday to one of our favorite people in the whole world.
Love from The Hunters

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Musings on a day trip to London

Tate Modern

London school girls at the public installation, TH.2058 by Dominique Gonzales-Foerster

St Paul's, late afternoon

Parliament across the Thames

Ode to moms and dads trapped by little kids. A day in London alone. Your day is coming. I am your future and it is good. Latte and pain au chocolate in hand, you board a bright and quiet train full of grown-ups dressed in suits, grab a seat by the window and sit down to read the paper at high speed as you whiz through green fields full of animals and small towns that turn bigger as you approach London. You gaze out the window, review your guide book, critique the foundation makeup of the woman in the seat ahead (tan plaster of Paris is closest description) and even engage in political conversation with your EU seat mate who sees your guidebook. He's surprised and interested that you have already voted and ask "Do you think he'll win?"

You arrive on the banks of the Thames admiring how busy and working the river seems, eventually arriving abruptly on a tree grove doorstep that initially blocks the giant facade of an old gigantic factory that is now the Tate Modern Art Museum. Once inside, you spend a few hours reacquainting with that former self that had intelligent, original and most importantly, sequential thoughts. An art museum is like a giant cocktail party. You look for familiar friends first, maybe Magritte, Gris, Monet and Matisse, Calder and Oldenburg, to catch up, reminisce and laugh about the old days. Strengthened by familiarity, you move to challenge yourself and do the adult thing by meeting some new people, like Kleita, a West African photographer whose bedspread-back dropped black and white portraits of West Africans make his subjects look like kings and queens and Mark Ofili, a contemporary artist of the last ten years, whose No Woman, No Cry collage grabs you when you walk into the room.

The depressed and/or suicidal guys, Rothko and Bacon, are the cool guys but not great for the chit chat, likewise Lichtenstein and Warhol... always so cool but everybody always hanging around them...ugh, forget it. You'll never get close, keep moving. Munch surprises with a touchingly heartbreaking painting of a sick child that is also, for a breath of fresh air, not The Scream and you think maybe you have always avoided him at parties unnecessarily. You wander, alighting here and there, acclimating to the hip scene that always welcomes you back. Inevitably, as at any party, you briefly get trapped by some seriously dreadful, scary people like the Vienna Actionists from the 1960s, and American artist, Paul McCarthy. Their video work is literally nauseating and you're pretty confident that it isn't art just because they say so-you head directly for the wine.


What you will not want to do at the end of the long day, is attempt to move out of the bike lane to turn in the dark on your bike. Do not do that. Although it is kind of cool to know double deckers can swerve, it cannot be counted upon. God bless the bus drivers.

Unrelated but needing mention, I must recommend two movies that I saw today. Brad Pitt is HILARIOUS in Burn After Reading and Zac Efron truly brings it in HSM 3. Two thumbs up on both movies. If the Oxford audience is any indication of popularity, HSM 3 is going to make a trillion billion dollars. I haven't seen the likes of this kind of participation since everyone cheered when E.T. flew off on the bicycle. It's an evening full of dancing, singing and cheering... and that's just the audience. Badum bum.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Finally caught in the rain

Woo hoo! FINALLY caught in the rain today. The funny thing is I thought that would have happened about a hundred times by now and I would be so bitter and hate the rain and the English weather, etc. But the weather has been really nice since we got here. England apparently had a miserable summer with lots of rain and flooding in July and when we arrived, the English were so bitter and angry about the weather, which we thought was funny. Since we've been here, however, it's really been ok although if you talk to people who lived here through July, they'll still tell you it's been non-stop raining since July.

Today, however, a stereotypical blustery, rainy English day. I left this morning on my bike destined for Borders to find a book about Pompeii. It was cloudy and dreary, but still dry. Borders completely sucked, both in selection and at the help desk where they've strangely employed a very bored, sort of listless American young woman. She asked where I was from and then had no follow up question or comment once I told her. Weird, right? Don't ask, if you aren't going to follow up with some good American banter. I recognized her accent and didn't bug her about where she was from. Yuck. Get rid of her! A boring, unfriendly American is really irksome to another American when not in America. So, I left but then decided to try Blackwells, which is well known in Oxford and back in the eighties was the only bookstore in town. Still should be, after my Borders experience. It is a great bookstore. They have got it just right. I think I have been brainwashed by the Borders/Barnes and Noble franchises and their uniform approach to display and predictable groupings of books with enticing covers. Every store looks the same. Blackwells has four or five floors in a narrow but not claustrophobic building. There are cozy low ceilings, gentle lighting, carpeting, and lots of places to find a chair and peruse the book you might buy. I got lost for 90 minutes in the ancient history section (no, that has never happened before and likely not to happen again) but did find an excellent book in the end. I also read two other books about Pompeii so feeling very prepared to delight myself and irritate my children with fun facts on the train to Pompeii. They'll be screaming at me to shut up even before we leave Rome. It'll be awesome. Anyway, I paid and stepped out onto the sidewalk to real English RAIN! Still had to get to the market, so off I went on my bike in the downpour to Sainsburys. Did my shopping and as usual, bought a little too much...almost too much to safely cycle, but I like a challenge. When I came out of Sainsburys, it was really raining but all I had to do was get the groceries home, so I put what I could in the basket and heaved the rest over my shoulder and hopped on the bike for a very wet and windy ride home. It was exhilirating and the laptop is drying my trousers as I type. Almost time for tea.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Myth of the Tortured Artist

Our culture holds onto a myth that artists need to be filled with grief, stress and turmoil in order to create great work. That work that's made about depressing topics is “better” or more serious than work made by happy, well-adjusted artists.
pinched from Daniel Sroka Open Studio web site

Olivia's sketchbook for her art class

We can't get dark and serious for too long in our house. We're perky people. I add as proof that I've actually been confronted about my perkiness as baffling and inappropriate for an adult. That was from a friend so God only knows what clerks and waitresses and Chip's co-workers and bus drivers think-- we try not to dwell. The next part of the story therefore should not surprise. Two months ago, homesick, gut-punched by the loss of her grandfather and isolated by an ocean from family and friends, Ally announced with clarity and purpose, "I'm lonely. I'm going to knit a friend." Sylvia, thankfully, but a declaration of pain, Ally-style. So she knit herself a unicorn. Not a scary, twisted, black blob of a stuffed animal....a purple and yellow unicorn. Olivia followed suit with a pink alien.

The Jolie-Pitt Family

We've all made human friends by now (although imaginary, mine seem to drink all the wine) but the comfort from that creative nesting two months ago resonates with us still as we continue to create art in all forms as a soothing outlet in our daily life here. At home in Madison, I think we suppress a lot of our stress without actually dealing with it. We drink our General Foods French Vanilla International Coffee (no, not really, but the simplicity of that little can of flavored whey being the classy and easy fix for stress circa 1976 just cracks me up) and "relax" in front of the television, IPod or computer, but maybe it's just smoothing the day's edges and distraction from working through the feelings. But with only 10 channels, spotty Internet access, few phone calls or friends dropping in and minimal comforts of home available here, it has forced us to turn to our hands, imaginations and artful collaborations with one another for diversion and comfort.

Cherwell School girl does ukiyo-e Japanese printing with potatoes instead of wood

Ally arranged a trip to town today specifically to buy art supplies for her art class project on printing. OK, well, yes, we did also stop at TopShop, Zara, Claire's, Gap, Primark, Boots and Waterstones. She's very seriously putting so much positive energy into this project, as Olivia is putting into hers, far more than I've seen in most school work at home. In addition to the knitted sibling army, they've also knit a baby blanket jointly, knit scarves for themselves, and done huge loads of sketching, journaling, coloring and decorating their rooms with found objects. They're fiber artists, painters, sketch artists, collage artists, authors and designers. It's hard to squeeze in an art class in high school without taking away from schedules overpowered with academics. I don't think in the end it will be a calculator they'll whip out when they feel sad, lonely or bored as adults, so I am glad for this time when Art class is king. In the future when needed, they'll hopefully flick that artful flint like they have here and spark a little pile of pine needles into a roaring fire, fed by their resilience and innate desire to express their feelings positively and creatively. With admiration and thanks, I write this post for them. Quite unexpectedly, their artful pursuits have been powerfully gratifying, unifying, nurturing and healing for our whole family.

Screen printing by Ally Warhol

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The votes are in

We voted today. You would have thought we never went to college. We read and re-read the directions about forty times before finally sealing the envelope. Chip has voted overseas before but he was a young lad and foolishly sent his ballot without fear or afterthought of fraud or miscount. We were acting like the fussy old people we are sure to become. "Did you sign that form?" "Do you think we should include that form?" "Do you think this pen is ok?" "How are you folding yours?" I have never voted absentee before. It was thrilling and felt a little naughty to vote before everybody else. I enjoy that feeling. Chip stood in the post office line behind a guy sending his ballot to Massachusetts and when he saw Chip was voting in Wisconsin, he told Chip he was jealous because his vote mattered. I guess swing states are exciting if you are from Massachusetts.

Now let me discuss my non-liberal regard for our resident Abingdon Road drunken bums/tramps. A local contingent of daytime drinkers who troll the main road between pubs and convenience stores that sell booze. We have pet names for many of them and that's probably wrong, but "The Wizard" and "Paw Paw" are just great names for old tramps with beards. Now I get all the reasons why they're out there, poverty, abuse, drugs, alcoholism, yeah yeah. Whatever. Well, here's what I think, Mr. Tramp, sir. I think if you are going to buy your 64 oz. of malt liquor at 8am while I am getting my newspaper, between my first and second cups of coffee, and you tip your imaginary hat to me, open the door for me and call me "love", then you should NOT turn on me at 3pm, slurrily yelling "Yaaazzaaaaz sholozza" while stepping toward me menacingly because you're really mad at your other drunken tramp friend who's bleeding on the phone in the phone booth. Don't you remember me from this morning? No. That's the point of the drinking all day...

Restored myself with a cup of tea and two darling young ladies.

Cafe Loco, Oxford
Hat made by me!