On September 19, we flew to Rome for 3 days
September 23, we took the train to Padua to visit Elena
September 26, a train south to Pesaro to visit Joanne, a friend of Dawn's from college
October 1, train to Bologna. Massimo's Loft
October 3, train to Parma and the Verdi Festival. This was a little detour to match our schedule with Pieter's.
October 8, a train to Varese in the Lake District in Italy to see Pieter
On October 12, we flew from Milan to Bordeaux and spent a night to prepare to go to Plum Village.
We meditated for a week (October 13 to October 20) at Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village
, New Hamlet.
October 20, we came by train to Paris to reconnect with friends there. Our Apartment was in a small house in the 20th, a beautiful apartment.
November 8, after 19 days in Paris, we flew home to Boston
First A Word from Dawn About Home
We have had a great five months at home and I don't want to leave on our next trip without a few comments.
We have been home in Boston for almost five months now. It has been a summer of connection with many old and new friends and family, in spite of the political turmoil and daily “I can’t believe it” moments coming out of our nation’s capitol. We had lots of visitors here, meals on the deck, a couple of overnight guests, a French friend of a friend whom we introduced to Boston during her very first visit to the USA. We also attended a neighborhood RISE party (Roslindale Is For Everyone), the fabulous REACH performance, a couple of benefits, "a peace, love, and inclusion rally" after Charlottesville, and frequent drinks or dinners with friends in Rozzie’s lovely courtyard and beyond.
Lunch on the deck as we sing "Happy Birthday" into the video camera for Susan
Being here in Roslindale also means going to my gym, anywhere from four to six days a week. (Okay, I will give a little plug for Healthworks in Chestnut Hill.) I used to go to the least expensive neighborhood gyms I could find (with all those "meatheads" as my son would say.) Now I do Zumba, Yoga, weight training, stretch, cardio, whirlpool, steam or sauna, and shower at a really well-maintained women’s facility. Not only that, I get into interesting conversations with a variety of smart women and get to practice French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian with native speakers. I do miss this routine when I am away, but I also enjoy the change and do lots of walking and home yoga when traveling.
Two highlights for me were performing in From the Horse’s Mouth
at the Dance Complex and my fiftieth college reunion (gulp!). I had not performed live since spring, 2013. Although I taught improvisation for years at MassArt (On the Spot
, a course in moving, sounding, and speaking), I rarely perform improvisationally. It was a wonderful, liberating experience, and I felt a real connection with the audience and with the diverse, intergenerational group that performed with me.
Although I graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1967, having transferred there for the great dance/theater program under Bessie Schönberg, I spent my first two college years at Wellesley. I didn’t seem to know anyone going back for the Sarah Lawrence reunion, and some Wellesley alums had recently reached out to me, so I went to Wellesley’s which also happens to be local. I was impressed by the accomplishments and advanced degrees of the women there (everything from doctors to lawyers to researchers, scientists, professors, public servants, artists, musicians, writers, a ballet school director, public health workers, international relations experts, and on and on.) Beyond all the “achievements,” I was deeply moved by the compassion and generosity these women had.
I was fortunate to be able to offer a short video presentation to a small group, trying to “represent” 45 years of choreography in 20 minutes. Since many alums were not able to see it, they asked if we could put it online. (“We” of course means Stephen without whom I could not have possibly put this material together.) So we did, and we made a voiceover based on the live commentary that I made at the College while the video was running.
Obviously, we could not excerpt every piece I made from 1973-2017, but the compilation gives you an idea of the phases my work has gone through.
A small disclaimer: Because Wellesley is a women’s school, I chose to make a four-minute edit of Mercy, the most feminist piece in my repertory. The piece was made in the 90’s in response to increasing reports of domestic violence. There is partial nudity and women’s underwear used as a metaphor for the restrictions and violence that women in these situations must face. So use your own discretion re. children’s viewing. Unfortunately, we had to give up the haunting music of Hildegard of Bingen in the last section because of copyright issues for Internet use.
Some of you may remember my ruminations about home. What is it? Where is it? What does it mean? Several of you responded with beautiful, thoughtful writings on the concept of home. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.
So my geographical home here in Boston has been a base for many positive connections this summer. I also want to share something that the wonderful Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, says about home:
Now onto Italy
I slept really well on the plane and Dawn almost as well. Passport control went well also with the long line kept moving almost at a run by fifteen or twenty agents checking us through. It took us a while to find the right baggage claim area, but when we did, there was Dawn's bag sliding into view. Now we have said that we are going "carry-on" but here we are talking about baggage claim. What we did was check Dawn's carry on bag because she couldn't make the 8 kg. limit that Alitalia sets these day, but it is still the small bag which makes it easy to get on and off trains. As I write, we are on the first of seven train trips , most with transfers, and I wanted to make those trips up and down the stairs leading to the train platforms as easy as possible. I am using my kelty redwing backpack that I bought a while back to do our inn to inn hike in France.
After getting the bag, we walked for a while finding at first an ATM and then the bus platform which had a bus so ready to go that the ticket office was closed and they sold us the tickets as we boarded. The tickets were only six euros a piece. From the terminal, we walked to Paolo's B&B in twenty or so minutes, the so being a navigational error on my part that added to the trip.
We enjoyed staying at this two bedroom B and B. Our room was large, very clean and full of light. The elevator to the fifth floor was much appreciated. We shared the bathroom with the other guest room which worked out fine. Paola and Louis were very outgoing and the apartment had a lot of good energy from their family from an adjacent apartment coming and going. You can speak English and Italian with Louis or Italian and French with Paola, or some combination. It is an easy place to practice your italian. There were plenty of hanging spaces and drawers for our clothes. We loved the location as we are drawn to the parts of cities where there are more children than tourists. Around the corner there are a couple of good, inexpensive restaurants and a sports bar. We walked with our bags from Termini to stretch our legs after the transatlantic flight but there are plenty of buses or cabs that can be taken. It is an easy ten minute walk to the Borghese Galeria, (you need to have reservations, easy to do online). Their dog Romero is very cute and friendly, and he barks a lot whenever you enter the apartment. We learned to turn the key slowly and tiptoe in to avoid getting him excited! So, come to Rome and stay with Paola and Louis.
We stayed and saw art that was in the outskirts of Rome with one excursion into the center of tourist land. What a difference. Out here we visit Rome as it exists, where in the center, we visit the Rome that tourists have created. Both have their enjoyments, but we like the lighter touch being in the outskirts. As we say about the 14th arrondissement of Paris, more children than tourists.
On our first full day in Rome the main attraction was the MAXXI museum. MAXXI stands for the museum of the twenty-first century. It is a wonderful antidote to the classical and baroque art of Rome. This time we saw the work of
, an artist, architect and urban planner. He was also a proponent of improvisation as with the work on the left call "Scribble".
On the right, is a window looking out of the top gallery. When we were walking up the ramp that makes up part of the gallery, we thought they were flat screens. Even as we got closer, we still weren't sure, and it wasn't until we were looking down on the restaurant where we had had a cup of coffee were we sure that we were looking out a window. What was in this gallery was the multifacetted work of Zaha Hadid, the architect who had designed the museum and who had died unexpectedly a year earlier. She designed everything from buildings to salt shakers. Up here we saw the same couches that were in the lobby where Dawn sat waiting for me, except up here you couldn't sit on them. Beautiful stuff.
The Borghese Museum works strictly on a reservation system, but not only do they set the time of your entrance, your exit is also controlled. So at 9:00 AM they let a group in and near 11 AM they are asked to leave so the next group can enter. We got two hours to spend with the Berninis, Carravagios and many unknown to us artists at the Borghese gallery.
The flying hair and clothes of the Berninis were astonishing along with their composition and the detail of four fingures pressing into another's flesh. Their is so much air and lightness in these pieces. One could imagine that after the museum closes, they might come alive and finish whatever action that they had been caught in by Bernini. (Dawn: I hope they don't complete the actions because two of them are attempted rapes of women, Proserpina in one, Daphne in the other. Still, I became teary at how human and flesh-like these figures felt...the artist so able to make hard, cold marble feel like it can breathe.)
After our visit to the museum, we took a long walk with the people of Rome in the Borghese park, grabbing a coffee, gathering in view points, admiring architecture and finally arriving at the Piazza Navona, looking very beautiful in the afternoon sun. When you want to find a gelato to go, all you need to do is pick one of the people enjoying one as they walk through the piazza and say "mi scuzzi, dove?" and point to their gelato and they will in turn will point you in the right direction. Our gelatos were very delicious. I had lost my map and my phone was dead so we had to by a bus map to find our way home. On our way to the bus stop we passed a huge gelateria and a tenor singing acapella in the middle of a small piazza with his audience all around him but pressed back against the walls, leaving him alone in the middle of the square.
We are pretty experienced travelers by now, but hardly perfect. We have lost a bunch things. For example:
Day 2 - a little toe separator that helps my funny feet walk more comfortably.
Day 3 - Stephen's wallet was pickpocketed on a bus at rush hour. Having experienced the same technique in the Paris métro, when Stephen caught the hand groping in his pocket, we should have known that the young girl who stopped still in front of him was in cahoots with the girl who pushed her way in front of me to get her hand in his side pocket, probably having seen him put his wallet there at the bus stop. So we are down fifty Euros and the use of one credit and one debit card. As my friend Stan said years ago, "material loss is spiritual gain." I am trying to look at the experience that way and stop beating on myself for being so stupid as not to see it.
Day 3 - Prescription sunglasses; on the train from Rome to Padua, I got in a nice conversation with a Korean woman who wanted to see some of our videos. I took everything out of my purse to get to my business cards and must have failed to get my RayBans back into my purse. So now I am without sunglasses!
Day 4 - Our friend Elena. She kindly got us tickets to the Venice Biennale. It was a cold, rainy Sunday, and somehow our agreed upon meeting place did not work, and our cell phones stopped sending texts. So we each waited about an hour in the cold before we finally found each other. A bowl of hot soup at about 3:00p.m. cheered us up considerably.
On the bright side:
No one was hurt.
We are having a lovely time!
We feel lucky to be alive.
Weather was perfect in Rome.
AND we got to see those amazing Bernini statues (the third time for me since I was fourteen), visit the modern MAXXI Museum again, meet interesting people and have some good food and drink.
I found an Italian website about inexpensive restaurants in Rome. I liked the way he wrote so I took down the information. I was heartened by the fact that one was so close that it took longer to get down the elevator than it took to walk to the restaurant. We didn't go there right away because we had to look at the place that our host recommended first. It looked nice, but there was no one there yet, so we walked down the street and walked into the place, a kind of sports bar place, and got a table outside. We were there five minutes before we realized we were at the bar next door to the Disco Volante, the restaurant we were aiming at. Since the waitress spoke some English, I went inside and made our apologies. As we tentatively approached the restaurant, a handsome waiter swept us inside, got us a table and took care of us for the rest of our meal. Dawn ordered the fish which he said he would debone it for her, but before he did so he showed it to her and then took it away and filleted it. We found out later that this is done so the customer can look at the eyes of the fish to make sure it was fresh. After going to the other place our second night (eating with twenty adorable but noisy teenagers at the next long table) we returned for dinner on our final night. Our waiter was kind of intimidating, wanting us to order when he wanted us to. Our waiter from the first night came over and rescued us, explaining to us that this the guy was his brother. After I ate what I first ordered, I added some grilled calamari and began to get a clue what cooking could be in Italy. I cook things til they are done, they cook them until they are perfect.
We have never been to a Biennale before. It is absolutely huge and spread out. In the time that we were there, we were able to see less than half of it. "See" is not the same as "Experience" when it comes to art. So much contemporary work is conceptual so each artwork takes time to be with it, read about it, ponder it. We could only do that in some instances. One piece that stood out was the New Zealand entry,
In Pursuit of Venus [infected]
,a panoramic video by Lisa Reihana, at least 100 feet wide, using five projectors, but visually seamless. It was a series of vignettes, loosely based on the travels of Captain Cook, that scrolled slowly, right to left, across the projection screen in a large space in the Arsenale. From ships landing on the shore, to British soldiers standing guard, to native dancers, to various role reversals of aborigine and colonialist, it was a fascinating take on the history and politics of European expansionism. The sound was also brilliantly executed, with the conversation of the scene directly in front of the viewer at any point highlighted by the speaker placement. It was the kind of work that commented on history and politics, relevant to our own time, but also occasionally humorous, and needed no explanation. When work can engage and provoke at the same time as well as being technically brilliant, it really gets my attention.
All of the photos below at the Venice Bieniele were taken by Elena.
The Lee Mingwei was the first piece we saw, and it was the one we wanted to see the most. We had participated in his Living Room piece at the Gardner Museum in Boston last fall and really enjoyed the interactive nature of that work. In this piece, the viewers can bring in an article that needs mending, and the artist or his surrogate will mend the piece while conversing with the owner. What you see in the photo are colorful spools of thread attached to the corner walls that frame the long table with articles of clothing, thread, scissors, etc. laying on it. When we were there, he was telling a chilling story about the nine eleven attacks on the twin towers.
(For the Living Room Project, Dawn brought in her Norwegian painted furniture, a picture of her grandmother who had painted one of the pieces. A week later, I brought in my Mexican rug and a sculpture with a long story behind it about my mother and my bithday.
There were several artists and media represented in the Chinese Pavilion. Water was a theme in videos as well as in these stunning 2-D paintings that looked as if they were made on a surface of polished metal. This series on the wall was one of the most traditional in form, but one of the most beautiful. Stephen watched a video that seemed to be about a drowning bird and a crashing airplane. The airplane was a model but the bird seemed to be real. Distressing.
They looked like solidified molten pieces. They were beautifully lit. This was one of the rooms where Elena waited because it had cell service. The scale of art is a major component of Art. How big should I make the work? Sometimes it seems the bigger the better, until it isn't and some small piece takes your breath away.
||Arches outside the New Zealand Pavilion, the oldest building in the complex that is still extant. The architecture of the Arsenale was a large attraction of the show.
This pair of sneakers was one of about twenty pairs arranged on glass shelves as if in a store window. The artist's intent was to comment on man-made consumer items being re-taken by Nature. We wondered if the staff was supposed to water the plants in each sneaker because they were kind of droopy and some were dead, so it wasn't clear that Nature was winning here.
||Man with an Axe...a tiny toy figure of a man with axe who wreaks destruction in ever larger ways, covering more and more area...metaphorical, especially for our times? This was the scond time this piece has been shown at the biennale.
|The tent invited people in to play drums, relax, sing, hang out. The first time I went by there was a person inside who could really play the drums that were left in there. The second time, a couple of kids were pounding away, changing the dynamic.
||These cushions were a huge installation that seemed to invite us to relax on the brightly colored pillows, especially after hours of walking through the Arsenale on cold, hard floors. However there was a "Non toccare/Don't touch" sign posted.
|This piece was in the Slovenian Pavillon. It was a large piece, maybe twenty feet tall, in a black box. We think it was made from reflective tape lit with a black light. By this time it was getting late so we didn't get the id of the artist. Not seen in the photo was a moment when a shooting star seems to appear and disappear. I think a revolving cover with a slit revealing momentarily the tape may be the technique.
||The Problem of the Horse in the Argentine Pavilion was a large-scale installation that commented on the domestication and exploitation of these animals. The resr of the horse is there and as always there were a couple of people taking pictures of his butt.
Elena is a wonderful host. Her home is beautiful. When I think of Italian design, I think of sleek, modern lines. She has furnished her home that way, along with well placed family heirlooms. The day of our arrival, we had a nice lunch on one of her four terraces and then wandered around the old city of Padova, including a visit to the great cathedral of San Antonio. Since we had consumed most of a bottle of nice wine with lunch, we did not stop for the classic Aperol aperitivo, but we enjoyed an unusual white wine@ with dinner at a restaurant near her home. Sunday was the Biennale which we have discussed at length!
Monday, Stephen caught up on writing and organizing photos. I did some yoga on the terrace in the sun, and Elena and I picked up a few things for dinner. I also managed to find a decent pair of inexpensive, non-prescription sunglasses to replace those lost on the train. That evening, her parents came over for dinner. We had not seen them in twenty years, since our first visit to Padova. In their early eighties, they look great. Because I greeted them in Italian and managed to pull off a few sentences at dinner, Elena's mom was convinced that I really knew the language. So Elena needed to translate some of our conversations. Every so often, the energy of the conversarion had Elena translating into English for her folks and into Italian for us! I think her dad's English is quite good, but as Elena said later, "Dawn was the only one really trying to speak a foreign language!" Anyway, it was a lovely, multi-course dinner with Elena' s delicious risotto con funghi, zucchini, with appetizers, meat and dessert brought by her mother. Four hours later, her parents left, and we tumbled into bed after midnight.
It is really sweet to have maintained this relationship with Elena over time. She first stayed with us in Boston in 1993 when she was doing a post-grad year at MIT. Since then, we have seen her three times in Italy, and I think she has been back to Boston three times as well. She has been through some big life changes, as have we. It is heart-warming that time and distance have not intervened with a long-term friendship.
Not Pesaro, but Fratte Rosa, a hill top town some miles inland and south of Pesaro, with views of other hilltop towns, each with their own distinctive castle. We met Joanne and her husband on the train platform and were whisked to their house. We had missed lunch because of midday travelling so we had lunch at their house and I was put to work immediately afterwards helping to press the grapes from their harvest. Last summer they had a lot of sun and no rain so the harvest was early, about ten days ago.
The press itself is an old hand powered one with an ingeniuos method of screwing down the top to press the juice into the waiting bucket. As the bar is cranked back and forth two cams are working, one is advancing to top while the other is being lifted up and over to the next hole. I will look for a picture. Gabiele said that it must have been invented by a farmer and this is why Leornardo da Vinci was Italian. I was surprised by this because I think of Leonardo as a kind of world genius while the Italians feel that he is an expression of Italian ingenuity. I got a little Sangiovese on my hiking pants and I am considering not washing them again so when somebody asks me "what's that", I can reply, "Oh that's some sangiovese I spilt when I was pressing grapes in le Marche in Italy."
Gabriele is a big handsome man, as you will see in the photos further along, with a big, beautiful, wide personality. He encompasses all of what it means to be Italian, from following the path of the scientist/engineers like Ampere, Volta and Leonarda to honoring the traditional ways of his
grandfather growing up in Bologna, and then stirring it altogether with a sly sense of humor that never interferes with his straightforward honesty. lt was a real pleasure to get to know him
Fratte Rosa is a small, beautiful hill town, about a 15-minute walk from their house to the center. There are so many gorgeous hill towns throughout Europe, yet it is always a delight to discover a new one. It seemed like there were very few people around, yet we chatted with a young man in a small storefront who apparently has a successful family business with truffle and wine-tasting.
It was a sweet pleasure to re-connect with Joanne, a college dorm-mate whom I had not seen in fifty-two years! She has led a fascinating international life. Having majored in Italian as an undergrad, she taught ESL and got a graduate degree at UCLA and advised students on international programs, etc. I will leave it to the readers’s imagination as to how she met her lovely Italian husband in Iran! The two of them were so welcoming, we felt immediately at home, although I practically had to wrench the dish sponge out of Joanne’s hands in order to take an occasional turn at dishwashing. Having lived in the urban chic of Elena’s place in Padua, we then moved to the beautifully renovated, yet relaxed atmosphere of Joanne and Gabriele’s farmhouse. Views all around were amazing, olive trees and vineyards, tile roofs and distant hills. Yoga was done either in the sun drenched study or out on the lawn. We hope they will visit us sometime in Boston on their way to see children and grandchildren in San Diego.
Mondavio is yet another fortress hilltown celebrating war. There were huge catapults and war macines inside the walls. We visited the museum inside with slightly tacky mannequins of people “in everyday life.”
The interesting thing was that the museum was inside the walls, so we were travelling through the communication tunnels to see where the powder was lifted to the parapets where the cannons were. The cannons were small, not much larger than the fifty caliber machine guns that are mounted on jeeps. We also saw kitchens and torture chambers. War is terrible, the people who know it the clearesr are all dead, their families bereft. The survivors march in parades and claim the glory. Despite all this, the machines of war are beautiful, from the sleek jet fighters to the super fast naval destroyers to the Medieval catapults, all belieing their evil intent.
We grabbed a couple of pictures before buying bread and heading home. The church was closed, as it always seems to be, but its tower was beautiful. There were a group of men sitting outside in loud discussion. Gabriele said they arguing politics, each quoting a different, favored newspaper. We both thought that scene was repeated every day and nothing ever changed.
Urbino is a beautiful city and the jewel of our tours with Joanne and Gabriele. Our visit included the Oratorio of John the Baptist, a nice lunch, walking amongst an acting class working on some projects outside the museum and finally the museum itself, both the basement where there were installations of contemporary art and then the Ducal palace itself with its religious art, including a Raphal portrait reminiscent of the Mona Lisa and a breakthrough painting in perspective by Andrea del Sarto that probably every Art100 student has studied.
Joanne cooked great food and Gabriele makes great wine to fortify us as we see a part of Italy that we have never seen before. It is already drawing us back. Tomorrow we go to Bologna and will share the city with the Pope who is helicoptering in to pray, to meet with the immigrants and to say mass. It should be quite a day.
Not only only did we see the Pope, but he saw us, and we got a blessing also and walked away a little teary eyed. We are not practicing Catholics, but this was a big event for us. Part of it was the way it happened. Once we got settled in the apartment, I saw that the route he would take to the stadium where he would say Mass passed through town right at the end of our street, and it seemed to be scheduled for NOW.
So we hurried out of the apartment and down the street to join a bunch of people lined up along the crowd gates. We waited a few minutes and then the escort began to pass, and then the applause began and there he was in a small white popemobile protecting him front, top and back but open at the sides. He was turning side to side, blessing us and smiling. For us an important moment, because, as Dawn said, he is on the same moral page as the Dalai Lama. Try explaining that in a bar in Italian. Actually later,Dawn did get it across. The guy we were talking to said at noon in the main square he had been one meter from the Pope after we had bragged that we had been three meters away.
We moved on and followed the crowd to the main piazza where the Mass in the stadium that had already started was being shown on the screen. We really didn't understand the Italian, so we wandered on, in search of a restaurant that Massimo recommended. It was closed, but we found an outside table at a bar that had heaters which warmed us both, but Dawn beautifully. We bought some veggies and wine from a store on our street and Dawn made a nice simple pasta meal. We can't eat out every meal. The next day we had lunch at the restaurant that Massimo had recommended.
We visited the cathdral in Bologna, the day after Papa Francesco was there. It is huge, well not quite as mammoth as the Vatican, but probably the largest church we have ever visited outside of St. Peter’s. Musicians and singers were rehearsing for next evening’s concert of Monteverdi and Girolamo Gierobbia. Unfortunately we were scheduled to leave for Parma the next day so could not return for the concert. Nevertheles, having spent years in the rehearsal process for dance and music, we appreciate the form itself. The maestro was moving his musicians around, trying to decide on the best placement for acoustics in this highly resonant space. They rehearsed the same section repeatedly (we are familiar with that also!), but later completed a beautiful harmonic section of the music that we enjoyed hearing. Meanwhile, a custodial person was pushing a somewhat noisy floor cleaner around the space. Even cathedrals don’t clean themselves.
Here we also discovered a new, old artist: Benedetto Antelemi, who sculpted this “Descent” in the early 1100’s. At first it caught my eye because I thought it was modern, with its simple lines and repeated rhythms of leaning bodies. Somehow he captured the physicality of the mourners’ grief without over the top facial expressions that populate so much religious art. Later in Parma, we entered the Baptistry and found that Antelemi had designed and sculpted the whole thing! A few days later, in Parma’s National Gallery, there were three capitals scuplted by him, again telling those early myths and stories in a clear and moving visual way. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the amount of religious art that the Catholic Church has spawned, some of it brilliant and some of it ordinary. I grew up in a Protestant church where decoration was minimal and am now more Buddhist than anything else. I keep reminding myself that people could not read in those early days so they relied on art to tell the Bible’s stories. Of course, after the invention of the printing press and on through the Renaissance, reading was more widespread, but wealthy families still commissioned artists to illustrate Biblical themes...and lucky for us that they did or we might have no Michelangelos, Raphaels, Leonardos, etc.
The best of the stories on the capitals was David being told of the death of his son Absalm. Even though Absalom was in revolt against his father and had been killed by his father's soldiers, his anguish is evident. Henry VIII wrote a beautiful madrigal on he subject.
Review for Massimo's place on AirBnB:
Massimo's apartment is an easy fifteen minute walk from the train station. We contacted him as we were walking and he met us just before we got there. The place is spacious for two people, elegant, super clean and very comfortable to be in, with plenty of space for your clothes. He is a photo-journalist and we loved his and other's work that was on the walls. We liked the location, in a residential area with an an easy walk to the center. Going left from the apartment building door, you will find a place for an apero or coffee before the corner and then continuing around the corner, a nice restaurant, Console. If we get back to Bologna, we will stay for more than two days and certainly stay at Massimo's place.
And we won't come on a Monday when many restaurants are closed. The Console was very nice, we were sent the by the bartender that made us our spritz's. We just shared a pizza and some wine, but it was a full service restaurant. We watched two very thin older people sitting across the room eat about four, some shared, some not. They shared some pasta and the waiter prepared it for them at a rolling side table by pre#rolling it into two bird's nest, divding it evening, doing it quietly while the diners carried on a conversation.
Review for Flavia's place on AirBnB:
Flavia and Paolo are lovely hosts. Between their attempts at English and my attempts at Italian, we communicated very well. Our room was very clean and comfy, although a bit tight. Still, I was able to use my yoga mat and get some yoga done in the hallway! The double sink bathroom is quite luxurious. Breakfaxts are copious and delicious. Paolo makes incredible tarts, either from fresh peaches they grow in Liguria or chocolate with home-made bitter orange marmalade. The top floor breakfast room has great rooftop views of the city. I only wish that we could have heard Paolo play the piano and organ that share the top floor with the breakfast tables. He was a professor of music.
Upon arrival, the hosts greet guests with maps and highlighted lists of attractions in Parma. Paolo even made a few phone calls about ticket availability for an opera we had wanted to see and gave us advice and. train schedulle to Busetto, Verdi’s actual birthplace, where he thought we might be able to score a oouple of last minute or returned tickets. Alas, I have finally succumbed to a nasty chest cold so didnt have the energy to try the Bosetto trip, but we certainly appreciated his efforts. The B and B is in a great location for exploring the old city. Nothing is very far away.
| Dawn kept asking me to take pictures of ceilings of the beautiful spaces we were in. This one with the chandelier is where we heard a children's choir in this gorgeous room. They sang Russian folk songs in Russian in the first part and Verdi in the second because we had arrived quite by accident during the annual Verdi festival. Back in the summer, I had seen the ads for this concert and I put it in our calendar. It was free and the audience was full of what looked like grandparents of the kids. The choir went from five to eighteen years years. The older kids carried the brunt of the show. We especially remember a soprano solo that wasn't perfectly on pitch, had a bravery and vulnerability that was very touching.
|| The other music that we heard is seen in the program. When we arrived with our ticket printed from the internet in August, the man at the door directed us to the ticket table where we were handed the envelope. It put a big smile on our faces to have our tickets have such a human end to their long digital trip across the ocean.
| The singers were great. It is rare to hear a concert of two men and great for them to sing a couple of duets. We were not in Farnese theater as I expected, but in a semi-cavernous room below it. Between the music, we got great long explanations in Italianthat Dawn understood a little, but I none. Still, the breaks between the music were refreshing. And the complimentary snacks with prosecco at the end were refreshing also. I was surprised that the audience was very stingy with its “Bravos”.
We ran into Renata and Pietro, a couple of approximately our age, in the park of the Citadel, or rather they ran into us. We were taking a stroll, minding our own business, when Renata overheard us speaking English and wanted to know if we were from London. We said no, we were Americans from Boston. Her husband moved on and was waiting for her to continue their walk, but Renata wanted to talk. The main part of her conversation started off by explaining her English as a result of having an English boyfriend, but then going on to say that it hadn't worked out. He left her and she returned to Italy and married her Italian husband. Dawn said something supportive like it has worked out for the best, but Renata refuted that saying that her London beau would have made a much better husband and the one she had now was terrible. “He doesn't do anything”, she said. She went on to say that Americans made the best husbands, and we did admit that we shared the tasks of our daily lives.
I actually put my arm around Stephen and said that we both do everything around the house. By now her husband was part of the conversation, and I am not sure he felt so good about it. Somehow the subject of immigrants came up. Renata said that they are “nice people” but the problem is that there are already so many young, unemployed Italians. Whenever this issue arises, I try to explain that I am embarrassed that our country does not take more immigrants since the USA is so large, and that we are a country built on the strength of immigrants.
In the courtyard of the big Pilota complex is a nightly sound and light show called Brilliant Waltz, in English. The poster said that it goes on at random times. We entered the courtyard after dark and hung around for awhile, hoping to see something. A few more people came in, and then it started. It was quite effective, with its high rack of 96 moving lights on and five sets of scaffolding below which lit up by the end of the show.. It was a misty evening so that beautiful effect that normally requires a fog machine was created naturally: Each of those high white lights projected a visible beam that fanned out across the courtyard. Finally the scaffolding lit up, blue, then red. I thought the piece cried out for some Dance Collective Pipe Dream dancers!
The installation was part of the festival and it succeeded for me partly because of its scale. It wasn't really innovative but it did what it did simply and effectively. Also, it just starts, goes and stops. No fuss, no muss.
The next day we went into the Pilota itself to see the art there. It is a rambling museum with a lot of sculptures. Off in a section by itself, They have a Leonardo that is stunning. The room is dark, a bench is provided and you get some time by yourself to appreciate how wonderful the work is.
Luckily, our last couple of days in Parma were spent in Shira’s apartment. Shira is Pieter’s wife, a beautiful woman, inside and out. She works for the EC’s food safety authority in Parma so she spends three to four days per week in town and heads up to Varese for long weekends with Pieter and their two lovely daughters. Their oldest, a son, is at the University in London. The chest cold that had been brewing since Padova finally caught up with me in Parma, so I was extremely grateful to have the loan of Shira’s apartment so I could nap and have a little salad for dinner and not need to get up and go out again in the evenings.
Shira is a knockout. Her smile is warm and dazzling at the same time and her dancing eyes lit up the hallway after she opened the apartment door to greet us. It all comes from her generous soul and joyful heart. I keep meeting people on this trip who are teaching me how to emerge from the protective shell that I sometimes create for myself. I have learned quite a bit about engagement but I have a ways to go before I truly embrace it. First Gabriele and now Shira are both examples, each in their own way, of big, energetic personalities.
We enjoyed two places that she recommended. The Petit Cafe where Dawn and I shared a salad and I had a couple of beers before our rendevous with Renata and Pietro. Artaj was another great place. We expected to hear jazz, but instead feasted on a number of orders of mussels and drank a local white wine along with them. It was very inexpensive which drew out a young student like crowd. The jazz got switched to Wednesday for that week so we missed it, the mussels were fun and we got home early which was good for Dawn.
We have arrived in Casciago, a small town near Varese which is up the road from Milan. The three trains meshed nicely and we arrived exactly on time. We took a short walk with Lucky, their dog, before dinner and met their daughters as they came back to the house after their activities after school. They are both as beautiful as their parents and I managed to grab a picture at breakfast on our last day.
The next day, Pieter took us on a hike that brought us to a wonderful restaurant for lunch. Because we had done about a thousand feet of elevation we were pretty hungry. The walk up had been on a narrow woodsy path, but the walk down was more like a procession being on a wide cobbled stond pedestestrian road with fourteen evenly spaced “chapel” containing more than life sized statuary tableaus depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. I put chapel in quotes because the scenes took up the whole space so we could just kneel ourside to look in. Since there were bars for security, the whole experience seemed like a combination of church and the zoo. The statues were made in the seventeen century out of painted terrcotta. They were all wild with emotion, with the exception of the annunciation with just the two figures in a plain bedroom having a quiet moment. The weather was beautiful with a little haze.
We will write more after next week about our beautiful experiences here in the lake country. The girls were interested in how Pieter and I knew each other. Thirty years ago, he designed and built sets for some of my most ambitious pieces of choreography, Foreign Fling, One False Move, and After Ever. We had a strong artistic bond, and our paths have gone in many different directions since that time. We have seen each other a couple of times since then, once sailing in Boston Harbor with Stephen, but this time we were able to talk about the changes and growth in our lives. It was good to catch up and to appreciate the flexibility and depth of the human spirit.
Back to our time in Northern Italy. Pieter graciously drove us to a train starion convenient to getting to Lago Maggiore. We spent the day getting from one beautiful place to another on little ferries. Isola Bella has a stunning chateau owned by the Borromeo family. Tons and tons of artworks. The way paintings are hung almost from floor to ceiling makes Isabella Stewart Gardner’s museum in Boston look downright spare! The last hall has huge tapestries of various animals, sometimes engaging in rather “animalistic” behavior, all allegorical as well. The gardens are lovely, a pleasing combination of plantings and sculptures and levels and scale with views over the lake. The weather was spectacular, only adding to our enjoyment of the day.
On our last day, Pieter drove us to the Villa Panza in Varese. The owner of this villa had a particular interest in 20th century land art and light artists. Several artists had been in residence there, mostly in the 70’s, and had the privilege of responding to certain spaces and adapting them with their own art works. James Turrell, Robet Irwin, and Dan Flavin all left their marks. This is the largest installation of Flavin’s neon works that we have ever encountered, including a long corridor and several rooms off to the sides. We were bathed in different colors from the neon lights in various spaces. The long corridor in green neon with a mirror at one end had us delightfully confused as to what was reflection and what was passage. Robert Wilson had a longstanding but temporary video exhibit in several rooms of the villa. His work, especially with Lady Gaga, was astounding. He reinterpreted some iconic old paintings such as The Death of Marat
by David. We witness Lady Gaga in the same pose in the bathrub, although with bare breasts of course, and she looks so still and dead, until we see her blink or occasionally open her eyes. These videos make the slowness of my silent video/movement poems look like fast forward! The technology is also amazing. Walking up close to the video screen, I detect no pixillation. What kind of camera is this man using?
After our visit to the villa, we walked to a nice café under a huge old tree to have a couple of aperol spritzes and meet up with Pieter who gave us a quick tour of old Varese. It is a town worth returning to, for sure. Pieter had been treating us to some of his fabulous cooking, so at least I was allowed to treat the family to their favorite pizzas on our last evening there. We did not get to meet their oldest son who is at the University in London, but Stella, in her last year of high school, and Anoushka, just starting high school next year, were both very warm and open to us. They were curious about their dad’s life before he met their mom! Pieter is still a maker of things with his hands. We will share a photo of a beautiful hanging bird that he made from recycled carboard scraps - a symbol of a kind of psychological freedom and openness. He has also learned Italian and is taking a class in Italian to become certified as a kind of community theater teacher/facilitator. It warmed my heart to see him and his family thriving and to witness his wish to give back to the community.
Lucky is the family dog. Lucy is the cat!
Staying at Plum Village for a week was an amazing experience for both of us, but trying to describe it turns out to be very difficult. It looks like will will try using photos, short pieces of memory and longer, hopefully cogent, paragraphs. This page is published, but it is NOT finished.
On Friday, we took the train to Sainte Foy la Grande and were picked up by Juliette and driven to the New Hamlet at Plum Village along with a woman from near Paris. We read an article on how to prepare for a retreat and it said, “Don't”, so we really didn't know what was going to happen. The first part was confusing because they couldn't know who was with whom and since Dawn is bilingual it took time to get the guide with the right language with the right people. We were walked to our house and showed our room and told that dinner would be at 5:30. That gave us a couple of hours to rest, unpack and wander around.
Somewhere in that left bed is Dawn. There is one more table just like the one you see, otherwise that's all the furniture.
The view out the bedroom window.
The clear, open radiant smile of Juliette, the aspirant who greeted us at the train station to drive us to Plum Village...and the smiles of all the sisters, working or walking, driving or talking.
“Lazy day,” a day with no obligations, walking to a “late” breakfast at 8:00, up with the sunrise instead of moon and stars, my body felt its familiar rhythm.
Not exactly a lazy day. we chose to walk an hour and a half to the nearest town for lunch.
Normal day, I cannot believe how much we do before breakfast! Meditation, chanting, prostrations from 5:30-6:45, exercise til 7:45, then breakfast, followed by optional Qigong led by a sister, but I do my own yoga practice instead.
Walking meditation outdoors, slow, the sun glinting on dew, leaves turning to fall colors, French farmland and rural order, then returning to a true, uncorrupted communist haven where work, food, thoughts and feelings are equally shared.
Washing and chopping vegetables for two hours for the meal on the Day of Mindfulness, hosted by our hamlet. Amazing how the sisters organize the spaces, enlist our help, cook for maybe three hundred people, then get everything back to normal in a couple of hours...always smiling, of course.
Our last morning, after late meditation and breakfast, I was stopped dead in my tracks while dishwashing by a spectacular “rosy-fingered dawn”
Here we are in the heart of wine country, between Bordeaux and Bergerac, but we are drinking no wine. Oddly enough, I did not miss wine or other alooholic beverages, meat or dairy. The only thing I really missed was a good cup of coffee in the morning.
So many young women from all over the world, spending time here to search deep in themselves, to take a new look at society’s values, to question consumption in all its forms; how moved they were that Stephen and I were there as an older couple. In our little hamlet, they came from England, France, Spain, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan, Norway, Sweden, USA, Germany, Australia, New Zealand.
In the evening, while we sat in the garden at dusk, a young woman, out of our sight, rings the temple bell and chants beautifully for twenty minutes.
Walking meditation, at sunrise, feeling each step, then stopping to see a small fog bank hide the other end of a row of vines.
Sitting, facing the wall, listening to a quiet, large room with sixty people in it become absolutely silent after the gong rings, absorbing all sounds to leave me only with the quiet ringing of my own ears.
The slimmest of moons with its points up, hanging back over our shoulders as we walk to meditation three hours before sunrise.
Thinking that Plum Village is really a “Resort for the Soul”
Walking back from our lazy day lunch we passed a field of gold.
Finding out that although I feel a lot of nice things about people, I rarely say them.
Here form is also content. As we follow the schedule, my life takes on a quiet rhythm and my mind follows without a word being spoken.
Sometimes we looked like a convention of sanitation workers. We were required to wear safety vest when we were walking on the road.
Once the activity bell is rung everyone started to gather. Basically you follow the people who have been there before, you make a little bow toward the food, hit your hands with a pump of anti-bacterial lotion and serve yourself like any other cafeteria except it is all done in noble silence. Once you start eating, the rule is thirty bites a mouthful, being mindful of your breath, the taste of the food, or the ingredients like the sun, earth, water and the farmer's work. This sounds like it would be incredibly boring and it would be except that even though the diet is vegan it is INCREDIBLY DELICIOUS. The cooks are from the three regions of Vietnam and maybe they are trying to show off their own region. When I selected my food, I took a little bit of everything so I was getting blasted by all these different flavors and spend real time with each one until my mouth was completely empty. Just wow.
The Start of a Day
I have to say that getting up at 5:00 a.m. is not easy. My system does not feel ready. Go to the toilet, wash the face, swipe the teeth with a toothbrush and get some clothes on; forget my usual five minutes of makeup time; no coffee; try to remember what we need to bring for the morning’s activities, put on my dayglo safety vest, grab a flashlight, and walk the quarter mile or so to the meditation hall in the dark, under a lovely crescent moon and stars this week. At the hall, take off my shoes and stagger in to start sitting by 5:30 a.m. Oddly enough, it seems like we don't do that much sitting meditation. Today we read and reviewed the fourteen precepts and did prostrations about as many times. Actually the prostration position is almost like child pose in yoga and much more comfortable than sitting up straight either cross-legged or in a chair at that stiff hour of the morning. But we dont stay in that pose for long-up and down, up and down.
Just after writing that we do not do much sitting meditation as such, we had a long session last evening, then again this morning. Thirty minutes of silent sitting, and then long, repeated Vietidse chants. A beautiful, melodic, inscrutable language to my ear. Then walking meditation in the Buddha Hall, the chant was short enough that I learned it. Singing along with the sisters while walking was the perfect combination of body, voice, and spirit. 'Twas a moment of deep and moving connection.
Day of Mindfulness
Sunday, everyone from New Hamlet went in vans to Lower Hamlet to meet with the rest of the monastic community, monastic apprentices and lay people like us who are staying for a week or two or more, and also families visiting for the day. The formal lunch consisted of long lines to serve yourself the amazingly delicious vegan, Vietidse food, and long lines for washing your dishes later. Imagine this: Three hundred or so people sitting in the meditation hall, monastics and aspirants served first, us later, but everyone waiting until the last person entered the space with her food before saying the five precepts about eating, bowing to each other, to our food, and then three hundred people eating in total silence, appreciating every bite mindfully.
Before the meal, we listened to a dharma talk. She spoke lightly, clearly, sitting in a lotus position and later she got up and walked over to a white board to give me and I am sure others an introduction to Buddhist psychology. Oh it was so reminiscent of Thay their beloved teacher. How must they miss him. After the meal, we gathered in groups for dharma sharing. This is the part that Dawn and I have had some problems with in the past. It seems a lot like group therapy. I have begun to understand it a little bit. It is a practice session for speaking what you mean and listening with compassion. Only one person speaks at a time while the rest listen. The training is to listen only, not composing some response. There can be great silences between the speaking. You are asked to speak from your heart, so there are some tears shed, and I must admit, some were mine.
There Can Be Confusion
I also seem to end up picking the wrong language for the chant sheets. Although I can handle the French, most sessions have been done in English, but so quietly, I cannot always hear. Today I picked up the Vietidse cheat sheet which didn't help much. All the monastics here commit to learning French, English, and Vietidse. Since Thay himself is a Vietidse Zen Buddhist, many of the sisters and brothers here are also Vietidse. Let us just say that they are beautiful people. The energy of kindness, mindfulness, discipline, and compassion pervades the community.
Near the end of our stay, when our hamlet (one of the three) hosted another Day of Mindfulness, we were doing another round of dharma sharing, when one of the sisters one of the oldest and the one that taught me the most burst into the room after it had started. She went first in the sharing to admit that she was in the wrong session. She should have been with the rest of the English speaking monastics. She apologized and said, “Oh, it's all the same”.
Let’s talk about dishwashing. After eating each meal in noble silence, we each do the five-basin routine: scrape any scraps into the compost bin, one = rinse, two and three = scrub with hot water, sponge, and soap, four and five = two more rinses, then put your dishes into a rack that goes into the sterilizer. I think the sanitizer is required by French law . Hundreds, if not thousands of people come through Plum Vilage every year.. It is a good idea. The sisters also remind us of other ways to keep our germs to ourselves. After dishes are done, we may speak with each other again. Once the evening meditation starts, we observe noble silence until after our breakfast dishes are done the next morning.
The Nutcracker Suite
In the courtyard near the kitchen was a large tarp with a huge pile of hazelnuts. Anywhere from two to five people would squat on low stools around the pile, cracking nuts with a small rock on a larger rock surface: nutcracking meditation. Although the result was a copious supply of hazelnuts available at all meals, the pile of uncracked nuts never seemed to get any smaller. Were the sisters quietly adding more nuts to the pile every night? Since this activity happened outside of noble silence time, there was always a lively converstion, whether in English, French, German, Chinese, or Vietidse, depending on who was taking turns in the suite.
Writing an E-mail
I am trying to decide what to write to the group of women with whom I shared the week at Plum Village. So, here is a list of many of the things that I learned and relearned. I feel that the e-mail should be short and probably only contain one idea.
The first thing I was told: You have arrived, you are home.
This statement seemed to release me from all my fears of not being able to do the right thing.
During meditation when I return to my breath after some discursive thinking I should smile, because this is the practice, to return again and again to the breath so that this action becomes second nature to me.
Water the flowers: When I have a good thought about someone, I should tell them. In fact, I should be discovering good things about people continously. Even just writing that sentence made me smile.
I have a choice at every moment of my life, to be joyful or otherwise.
I have to be kind to myself, if I can't do that, I can't be kind to others.
I don't think Midfulness is about control or trying to “fix” myself. It is just being aware of the present moment. I learn a lot, about who I am and what is happening around. Change happens automatically.
We have arrived. It was a long travel day because we missed our high speed train to Paris. There was an accident in front of our bus that pulled electrical wires down across the road so that we couldn't pass. Finally, it became clear to the driver that nothing was going to happen, and he got permission on the phone to skip the next stop which allowed him to do a u-turn to take us on a wonderful detour up into the forests of the Dordogne,
wheeling his big bus through impossibly small roads. When we got back to the main road, he announced to his passengers that it had been a good route, “Touristique.” But our train back to Bordeuax was missed, so the five of us that were trying to get to Paris began the negotiation with the SNCF to find us seats. To cut to the chase, after talking to three different people in two different train staions, a handsome young man behind the information counter in Bordeaux who may have been charmed by our good vibes after a week at Plum Village, returned from a back room with five first class tickets for us. Good things come to those who wait. So we were whizzed to Paris on a train that is steadier and quieter than our living room on Cummins Hwy when the trucks are passing outside. Once in Paris, we found the 86 bus which lumbered through the city, which now looked like another planet to us and deposited us a short ten minute walk to our apartment.
It is quite a culture shock to come to Paris after Plum Village. One of the five mindfulness trainings is about consumption, encouraging us to consume everything only in moderation and with respect for ourselves and the planet and not consuming toxins which include everything from alcohol to Internet porn. The minute we got out of the Gare Montparnasse, everything was telling us to buy and consume: alcohol, food, clothes, phones, movies, gadgets, apps, etc.
A Dress Rehearsal
In the late 50’s, my parents used to take me to see New York City Ballet at the City Center. I was pretty young then but remember seeing the Four Temperments
and the Prodigal Son
by Balanchine. Not sure if I saw Agon
then, choreographed in 1957, but what a treat to see it now. It was so radical in its day, being abstract and using all kinds of turned-in and parallel leg postions in addition to classical turned-out positions. He added flexed feet, forced arches and inventive lifts, all costumed in simple black leotards for women and black tights with white tee shirts for men. The virtuosic technique of the young opera ballet dancers is superb, so clear. At the same time, I wonder how much their dancing resembles the original from the fifties as dancers’ flexibility and extensions have expanded over time.
A penché arabesque used to have a lovely clasical line, now it has at least a 180-degree leg angle...not sure if that is what the choreographer had in mind, but maybe. Plus everything changes so if a choreographer wishes his/her legacy to continue, he or she or their heirs will just have to accept the variations each generation brings.
Did I mention Stravinsky? He and Balanchine collaborated for decades, and the music was as radical as the choreography at that time. Pina Bausch choreographed Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring
on the Paris Opera Ballet in 1974. What a powerful piece! Thirty-six dancers moving on a huge floor covered withh turf. As the piece goes on, they are more and more covered with the dirt that sticks to their sweaty bodies as they fall and roll on the turf surface. The ensemble work is brilliant, using the power of the circle form in myriad ways. Stravinsky’s score, so intense that people left the theater at its premiere, is powerful as ever, and what a treat to have a full orchestra playing all this music live instead of a recording coming out of a couple of overly loud speakers.
The Dock Bar
I like to write about where I am writing. This time is it the Dock Bar, around the corner from the Opera Garnier, the old one of mythical fame, where now they present mostly dance, where Dawn and Isabelle at the moment are attending a dress rehearsal with a packed house of invited guests. Dawn has given us the details above. I will go back to pick her up at the end of the show. At the Dock it is Monday, so it is sixties American rock and roll night.
A bunch of perhaps Americans just walked in and went upstairs. As they passed the bar, the barman said in English, “Service is at the bar”. They didn't seem to understand. The bartender and I shared a mutual shrug. Who knows, maybe they were French. No, they are not French, they are from Israel and have yet to try a word of French when they came back to order and pay. A friend of the bartender came in, and when he ordered sausage got a bucket of baguettes and a whole sausage and a knife. Oh, I like this city and this country.
The bartender and his friends are snorting flamed cocktails now, some liqueur shook in two cocktail glasses then lit and inhaled with a straw.. The group is now three plus the bartender. He just poured me a Jack (Daniels) and I am clicking glasses with the three.youngsters next to me.
I have to leave. I ask the bartender who is now outside, where he is from. He says Paris. Of course, I have no answer and am embarrassed by my question in this age. He goes back inside,and I talk to one of the young women who was at the bar. I explained to her in some combination of French and English that I am waiting for my wife who is at the Opera seeing a show and she says to me that she has never seen a man talk about a woman with such love. She continues, “Your eyes sparkle in a beautiful way”. I know this, but I was surprised that she knew it. I left in a daze. Am I so transparent?
A day later, we are in Bruno's painting studio, having some champagne and he says pretty much the same thing now to both of us. We find this very strange. There is nothing here to take credit for and I think that the week at Plum Village has allowed me to have a more open face. It might have been some small flattery on Bruno's part because we are thinking about buying one of his paintings. To fill in the background, he is a friend of Pascal's whom we met while renting our first AirBnB apartment in Paris three years ago and we have seen his paintings in his studio a couple of times.
A Concert of Music
I am not sure thar I am ever going to hear J. S. Bach played as fast and as lovingly as I heard last Saturday. A music website listed nineteen or so, mostly free concerts for the day. I picked one in the Armenian Catholic church in the Marais. A young Japanese woman played Chopin and Debussy, and then the Bach Partita. Dawn and I had felt that the piano was too bright for the first two pieces but when she launched into the Bach what had been wrong was now right. And she flew. The right hand then the left hand taking the melody, then some mysterious middle hand seemed to take a turn. As we age, these moments seem to take on a greater significance, the centuries old Bach rising from the dead to communicate to us his love of music through the body and hands of an impossibly young Japanese woman .
Dawn was hesitant to thank the woman in Japanese, so she asked first if she was Japanese. It is astonishing to me the joy that I see on peoples faces when they hear their native language. I think most of the musicians we hear in Paris have come here to get certificates of some kind. They are far from home and Dawn comforts them every time she does this. The woman didn't smile through her many bows until finally she did after playing an encore, but she smiled big time for Dawn. (Don't we all, an astondingly beatiful woman with an astondingly big heart.) I wish the young pianist fame and fortune, but not too much of either. I remember that sometimes, between pieces, she would take pauses, looking up, exposing her cheek bones to the light, exposing the age old problem of how to have a artistic career along side a life of family and love. I have no answer.
We are in the Belleville section of Paris this time, vey ethnic, dense and lively, kind of like Roslindale on steroids. Also somewhat like San Francisco as there is a large Asian population here. Within three days we have already been to the piano concert, two museums with Isabelle and Jean, and the ballet at the Garnier last night. Stephen took the photo of me sitting in the little garden on the one day this week when it was warm and sunny enough to have lunch outside, but it turned out to be the only opportunity.
When we told Amy where we were staying, she responded, "Very cool address ! :)". We had no idea. Mostly, we were looking for a place not too high up if it didn't have an elevator, no pets, a view or a garden, enough light and modest cost. Our place on Rue Julien Lacroix hits on all these spots. In fact, it is a little two-story house where we live side by side with the owner, Josiane. The living room and kitchen are on the first floor and the bedroom and bathroom on the second. It is amazingly quiet for being in a busy neighborhood. It reminds me of the East Village of New York in the seventies.
Gerard and Kelly
I had never heard of them, but we decided to go just to visit the Mona Bismarck Center of American Culture in Paris. On the way home we took this picture of the Eiffel Tower. As we were getting on the bus it went into its once an hour sparkling light show.
(The crescent moon was more stunning than the photo can show.-DK)
I found the evening interesting because they talked about their ideas, almost their causes, and then talked about how they transformed those ideas into work. I have spent a lot of time as a teacher looking at dances in class and then hearing what they were about, and finding the connection between the two gossamer thin. Here I felt that their ideas created a piece. They were queer Marxists and that seemed to give them a lot of energy to create their work.
Art and Isabelle
We met Isabelle at two other shows. One was Sophie Calle at the museum of hunting and nature; the other was a huge show of works by Derain, Balthus, and Giacometti that explored the trajectory of their work, lives, and friendship over many decades. It was particularly fascinating to see the evolution of Giacometti’s work from more traditional figurative representation into the powerful attenuated figures of his later sculpture.
We have followed Calle’s work for awhile. She is a fascinating storyteller who uses much autobiographical material along with some fiction. This show was partly a moving homage to her father who died in 2015, (in photo to the right), but on another floor it was about bizarre and often humorous encounters. Although she has presented some works in English, such as at Boston’s ICA, the writing here was all French. She does some video and photos herself but works with another artist in the fabrication of objects. The latest thing here in Paris seems to be inviting a contemporary artist to respond to the pre-existing collection in a museum (such as Anselm Keifer at the Rodin Museum). It was bizarre to see Sophie Calle’s work entwined with the taxidermy animals of this odd museum. She had three cats, and there was a stuffed cat draped over a chair near one of her stories. She wrote of a lover who tired of sharing her bed with her cat. He said, “Either you sleep with the cat or with me!” She chose the cat.
We returned today to the Voyageur to see Moammed. He was happy to see us and we exchanged our normal hugs. We came in during the middle of a complicated task of making an over the bar fluorescent bulb work. He finally got it going after testing various lamps and various ballasts, He was very patient. He said the neighborhood is changing. Less traffic, less customers, but he seems to be surviving. Since the last time we were there, he has added new booths and some blue neon lighting.
I thought he said the neighborhood was going more upscale, real estate prices having quadrupled in the last 11-12 years. My sense was that he spruced up the place to appeal more to the upscaling neighborhood. Still, while we were there, between lunch and aperitif times, the only clientele were Arabic speaking men of several generations.
We returned a few days later on our way to Isabelle's for tea and to show her some of our videos. A few doors down from the Voyageur there is a Patisserie where we had gotten something the last time we went to tea. She really liked their pastries so we got some there again. I was really glad we saw “Momo” again because we had a real and meaningful conversation about how music and dance have no borders in the world. He said that he would have loved to play the oud but never had the opportunity to study music. I assume his family did not have a lot of means, and he still works night and day seven days a week with only the month of August for a holiday. I felt that I had to say something about how difficult it is to be an American right now and how, of course, we did not vote for the current administration.
The Truck Parked Outside Our Door
For a few days, this truck was parked right outside of our door. One day when leaving our place, the owner was right there, about to get into his truck. I said how cool it was and did it work? He said yes it works, but in the last twenty years, he kept getting the paint washed off, and people kept repainting it, but with no tags to identify the graffiti artists. The last one who painted it left a note saying “Désolé” (sorry) ! When we returned to our place later, the truck was gone.
Dinner at Isabelle's
We bought flowers first. The shop in our neighborhood was closed so we went back to the place in the fifth next to the Petit Cardinal. We arrived again exactly on time and Maggie and Ghislain came in a half hour later. I love coming to these dinners although it does challenge my ability to understand French.
An Easy Day
Some days we hardly do anything. Today was going to be a walk in the Parc Butte de Chapeau Rouge. But the metro escalator was being serviced so we couldn't go that way. We walked instead to the next stop, but missed it somehow, and ended up at the Place des Fêtes where there was a bustling outdoor food and clothes market. We bought some olives, cheese and bread with clementines for dessert and had a picnic in the middle of our walk in the park. From there a tram ride took us along the northeast boundary of Paris and from the end of that, a bus ride brought us to a favorite bar/restaurant along the canal St. Martin. Soon, a waitress placed this rosé and beer in front of us, and we gathered in the rest of the late autumn sun's heat as we sat on the terrace. A walk down the canal and two more buses brought us home or rather to the bar next to our house where we organized some our writing. We saw that there was to be an open mic on Thusday evening. I wonder if we have the courage to do something. (We did not). We shared making dinner and watched an old Will Smith movie before turning in. It is a skill that we are still learning, to do little, to use city buses as tour buses in order to see the out of the way parts of the city and perhaps notice out of the way parts of ourselves.
The Mésange (Chickadee) is a about a ten minute walk from our apartment. This view of the city appears when I am about half way there. Today is sunny but not so clear so the photo is just okay. The days are turning crisp, reminding us that our trip is coming to a close. We have a week left. Dinner with the Leducs, Sophie's opening, a visit to Johanna's to see my azalea, lunch with Véronique, some tech visits to le Regard du Cygne to organize the showing of our videos, a concert this afternoon, contacting Bruno about buying a painting from him and plenty of visits to bars for an afternoon drinks which brings me to my present subject, the bar/restaurant Mésange.
We discovered it a couple of days ago while walking in the neighborhood. We were attracted by its little square with its tree in the middle of a small rotary. We sat outside in the cold and smoke from surrounding patrons, but as we left I noticed a nice looking restaurant inside. Without checking it on trip advisor or Google reviews, I decided to come back for dinner based solely on the way the place looked. It turned out to be a good choice, the food was good, I had the duck and Dawn had the shrimp dish, and in honor of our time in Guadeloupe I had two Ti punches. Our waitress was a beautiful woman who looked like a model in one of the old masters we had been looking at over the past weeks. She was beautiful without being glamorous or exotic.
After they showed us our table, we both sat on the bench against the wall so we could see the room. The small table was just big enough for our drinks. When we said we wanted to have dinner sitting the same way, she carried another small table, placing it in front of me so we would both have room for our plates. A small thing, but really, a big thing.
Return to the Lutheran Church
We found another concert on the internet, now using the Officiel de Spectacle app on the ipad. This time we recognized the ids and place from a concert we had been to a couple of years ago. We checked the travelogue to see if we liked them or not. We could find nothing specific, so off we went.
They had some trouble with the harpsichord so they started late. I thought she had some trouble with the first song but after that she sang amazingly. She had a beautiful clear voice and sang some slow trills in a way that I had never heard before. When Dawn spoke to her after the performance she found out that she was recovering from a cold. That and the fact that the room was really cold probably accounted for her slow start.
Afterwards, The temperature was dropping so we grabbed a metro to "La Favorite" a bar/restaurant in the Marais where we had spent so time with Jim And Lee and ordered some "Vins Chauds". Warmed wine with Cinnamon is a great warmer upper.
Visiting the Hippocrène
No one has heard of this place and they seem to like it that way. We found out about it from a smart note in the corner of a paper that Isabelle had given us with information about dance performances. We went because they were showing some work by Liliana Porter who had made our favorite piece at the biennial in Venice. We were the only people there and the young woman caretaker gave us atour of parts of the show. Dawn: The young woman was actually an art history student at the Sorbonne and seemed happy to have us there so she could share her knowledge about this work, all of which had political connotations.
A Dynamic Meeting Place
Since 2001, the former agency of architect Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945), founder of the Union of Modern Artists (1929), has served as the Foundation's headquarters. This prime example of modern architecture offers an ideal setting for the promotion of different forms of artistic expression. The Foundation brings life to this venue by organising “Propos d'Europe” exhibitions every year, in addition to an annual classical music concert. It also hosts occasional meetings between artists, writers, researchers and project sponsdynamicors all united by a common desire to transcend national boundaries. In 2000, the Hippocrène Foundation purchased the former agency of Robert Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945), an influential figure in architecture between the two World Wars, located at No. 12 of the street of the same id. This prestigious venue with its rich history has become the Foundation's headquarters and its exhibition space. Considered the masterpiece of Robert Mallet-Stevens, the five private buildings on Rue Mallet-Stevens were built from 1926 to 1927. They include the townhouse and workshop of Mallet-Stevens himself at No. 12, the home and studio of sculptors Joël and Jan Martel at No. 10. The stained-glass windows flooding the stairwells with light were created by Louis Barillet, while the ironwork doors were designed by Jean Prouvé.
Sophie's Open House
Sophie is Jean and Isabelle's daughter. She has a studio on Allée Arthur Honegger near the Parc Villette and her opening was scheduled for 6 PM on a Friday. It is our lives in the theater which does not allow for us to be fashionably late, so we were there right at six. We made ourselves useful by helping with some small lighting adjustments. At the end of the evening, I told that next time, if I am in Paris, she should have me come in the the evening before to work on lighting.
The work in very strong. She works in metal, ceramics, painting, drawing and glass. The pieces draw you in. There was a lot of it, maybe a little too much, but I know nothing of the economics of showing art.
People began to show up and the room filled up. Isabelle and Jean came in with the food. Wine was opened and soon the opening was in full swing.
A day or two later, after we gave Isabelle and Jean a private showing of our videos, he suggested that we do a video with Sophie’s work. We are interested in doing this but feel that we need to see what Sophie has in mind, if anything, and there is no more time on this trip. On verra!
I am wondering if we can interlace Dawn walking from the center of Paris to the studio with clips of Sophie making her pieces. Lots of opportunity for shots in and out of the kiln and working with her hands. But, a lot of things would have to fall into place before something like this could happen.
Prep Video Showing in Paris
We have just gotten back from the studio where we met with Flore, the tech director, and have figured out when and where we are going to show our videos. Although I was thinking of a flat screen, what they have is a projector.
We are going to use their media player because it will work with sound easier. In order to make it all function, I had to take my sdcard up to the office to edit it so that their player would organize the files correctly.
What we are preparing is a lobby show, the videos will be shown before and perhaps after the shows onstage. It seems like next Tuesday will be long for us, because the show is sold out and they want us to entertain the audience that come to the show but can't get in before, during and after the onstage show. Of course, we leave the next day so we have no idea what will happen then. It is a lively lobby and it should be a good venue.
We took advantage of the free museum day on the first Sunday of the month in Paris by going to the Musée d’Orsay. They were exhibiting a semi-recent donation of a group of paintings by Vuillard and Bonnard of the Nabis group. We had a run-in at the coffee bar where they had run out of milk and seemed easy about not telling us and the other people standing in line for ten or so minutes. With no coffee to sustain us, we headed for the fifth floor to visit the Impressionists Gallery. I have loved these paintings, but this time because of our coffeelessness and large crowd armed with cellphone cameras I didn't have the same positive feeling. Also, I think they have got the lighting wrong. It is expertly done, well focused with all the stray light shuttered off the walls, but the whole room looks like an advertisement for bubble gum. The majority of the works were painted outdoors and then exhibited in natural light and now they are being brightly lit. The colors are exaggerated and they look as if they are being lit from behind. Perhaps I have a limit to how much art I can look at in a condensed amount of time.
A Meeting with Bruno
The day was not over. We had a date with Bruno at Le Petit Cardinal to talk about not buying one of his paintings. The difficulty of the day was brought on by my notion that we should buy one of his paintings, partly because we liked them, but also because of the romantic idea of buying a painting from an artist in Paris. Most of the work we have at home is bought from the artist or from Dawn's mother. But reality set in. We will have a hard time getting it home without damaging it. We already have too much stuff and the world seems to be always presenting us with more causes that need our support. So I had been pressing the accelerator and now it was time for Dawn to hit the brakes, in French. She did a beautiful job, and he was gracious.
A Bump in the Road and Video Showing
We had a nice, rather pricey dinner at Le Petit Pontoise in the fifth with our friends, Claude and Chantal, who owned the vineyard where we had made our videos in 2012. It was great to see them again. They were visiting Parisian friends who picked the restaurant. They have sold the vineyard but still live in that beautiful old stone house. They are the inlaws of our young friend Rebecca from our Newton days, she lived actoss the street, and Amber sometimes babysat for her. Now she is married to their son Bastien, has two children, and they manage an organic vineyard in Paso Robles, CA. After dinner, while their friends bicycled off to their home, The four of us walked across the Seine and the Isle Saint Louis to the Rue de Rivoli where we took the Metro 1 in opposite directions. The walk gave us time to catch up on family matters and such.
We got back late to our place, and around midnight. As I plopped myself down on the sofa, forgetting that one side of the sofa is under the stairway, I whacked my head on the stairway stringer rather loudly and dramatically. I lay down on the couch, burst into tears and declared myself a fraud...that everything was work for me this time in Paris; listening, speaking and translating French, walking on pavement up and down countless métro steps, all over the city, my legs and knees aching, organizing/writing lots of stuff in French for our video showing.
“Put THAT in the travelogue!!!” I said to Stephen.
Well, I just did. Everything does indeed change, and inspite of the egg on my skull, I felt much better the next morning. The moral of the story is that traveling is just like life, with all its ups and downs. Sometimes I think our travelogue writing makes it sound like everything is always wonderful.
Speaking of which, our much anticipated video showing didn't work out as well as I hoped. It was the opening night of the studio’s performance season, and a very popular live show was premiering. Seven “old” male dancers, ages 55-65 (doesn’t sound old to me anymore) reunited for a personal, funny, touching and well crafted performannce. Before the show, the audience was mostly interested in chatting and drinking, rather than watching a small projection of our videos with the sound almost inaudible. I really don’t blame them. When I saw a few folks glancing at the screen, I introduced myself and gave them the paper that listed the videos so they had some idea of what was going on. A little girl of five or six watched some and pointed me out to her parents as being the person in the videos. After the live performance, a man said that I looked like Kristin Scott Thomas, “the same cheekbones” as a couple of other French people have told me in the past. So I guess a couple of people watched some of the videos. In any case, the team at the studio was very gracious and did the best they could, but I think if anyone really wants fo see our video work, going to my website and viewing them on the Internet is likely more satisfying.
The inaudible nature of the sound was my fault. I made a bad choice about how loud it should be. We were thinking they we would stay in the lobby if there was overflow of audience that couldn't get in, but that wasn't the case so I encouraged Dawn to take the tickets that were being offered us to see the show. This would perhaps salvage the evening and it did, because the show was good. It was fun to see a bunch of over-the-hill guys take over the stage. One of the things they could really do well was dance as a group. Their "Flocking" was great.
Johanna et Pierrick
They are two interesting and talented people. We shared a bottle of 2003 Medoc that was a gift from our landlady and part of a bottle of Mead made from a recipe from the Vikings. We talked about Art, History, Writing, Books that they were publishing and Videos that Johanna was making. Johannas website with videos
It was dark by the time we got there so we didn't get to see the azalea that I contributed to the courtyard garden of the building. I am now reminding myself that I need to email Pierrick to send links about his work.
Lunch with Véronique
Our Belgian friend, Véronique, was in Paris for only two days, mostly to attend a reading by a dear friend of Malek's. He was in poor health, and she wanted to make sure she reconnected with him. She also had dinner plans with her son, whom she rarely sees, the same evening as our video showing. So we managed to squeeze in lunch at our place. To remind our readers, we have spent time at Veronique's place in le Paradou, Provence, formerly with both her and Malek, and after his leaving this world, the three of us. She brought me a copy of a new publication in homage to Malek which includes his and others' writings. I have begun reading it and am reminded how much I still need my French dictionary when reading intellectual literary works! Veronique looks great, and is on the cusp of deciding what to do next after the building that houses her boutique on the Belgian seacoast is sold. Although we don't get to see each other often, we both treasure the bond that we have, recognizing that it is only through Malek that we have become friends.
Review of Our Apartment
We are two Americans in our early seventies and we spent almost three weeks in Josiane's apartment end of October/beginning of November. What a great place. This is our sixth short term rental apartment in Paris and by far it had the best "feel".
It was decorated beautifully with prints on the walls and interesting small pieces on the shelves. The arrangement of the living room and kitchen downstairs with the bedroom and bathroom upstairs was optimal. I could write downstairs while Dawn had enough room upstairs to practice yoga.
Waking up in a bedroom with its high ceilings and view out onto the garden was very enjoyable.
We managed to have only one lunch on the patio, but the presence of greenery in our lives was appreciated. The place just has a quiet, unassuming elegance. It has a coat closet as you come which absorbed our hats and coats, shoes and scarves.
We waited eighteen days for the rose outside our window to bloom and finally it did, in November.
This was an unusual trip for us since we traveled to so many places. We usually like to spend a couple of weeks to a month, if not months, in a foreign place, to really get the feel of living there. Still this time, we had to see so many friends who had extended such kind invitations that we moved around more. I am very happy that we did so. I am also really glad that we spent time in Plum Village. We both have the idea that one of us may return there individually when the other leaves this world.
I am reminded that I like to have a creative project to work on while traveling. That is one reason we do this writing; it gives some creative shape to our experiences. I came up with what I thought was a really good idea for a video/performance. Unfortunately I thought of it too late as it required shooting something in every location we visited. Oh well, I guess it will have to exist as conceptual art!
In spite of the endless mail, laundry and administrative catch-up, it was good to get back to Boston. We spent a wonderful Saturday with granddaughters Tess, Sydney, and Chloe. The two oldest and Teddy, the dog, took a nice walk in the woods with us. The girls were hopping on logs, walking across cold streams on downed trees and bringing home a little icy twig for their dad. Hot cocoa and good conversation warmed us up afterwards. I sat with Chloe as she practiced piano. She has a good steady sense of rhythm, not speeding up when she knows a particular part well. I also had the pleasure of an hour with Adam at his office in Technology Square, Cambridge. I had not been there before and enjoyed meeting several of his co-workers and chatting with Tess's best friend's father and an interesting Spanish gentleman from Barcelona.
Soon we are off to San Francisco to see Amber and family. We will be happy to celebrate Thanksgiving with them and re-connect with the West Coast grand children. Life is short. We are very thankful to have these opportunities to make connections around the world. Wishing all a happy and thankful Thanksgiving.
Thanks everyone for reading our words. This is the last edit of Paris and we will sign off until January when we will make our third trip to Guadeloupe. I had a great time on the trip, really enjoying the sense almost everyday that I had no idea what was going to happen.