(More than…) Two Years in Torino

"Le cose belle sono lente." –Pane e Tulipani

Month: March, 2012

Istanbul was Constantinople

If you like this video, go to this page where there are about four others.  One shows craftsmen in from Fez, Morocco building an intricately carved courtyard in the museum.

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I’ve been reading Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Medieval World.  So far as I can tell, it doesn’t even cover the high medieval era, but it does a bang-up job of the 600-700s.  If you thought not much happened during those years (a.k.a., the Dark Ages), you’d be mistaken.  Among other things, an Abassid dinar made its way to the kingdom of Mercia, in now-Christian southern England, where the king’s silversmith admired the pretty pattern of the Arabic writing and unwittingly copied “There is no God But Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet” on the back of the kingdom’s new coins–upside down!

That’s not all, of course.  Lots of people got beheaded and poisoned, especially if they were aspirants to a throne, and the book explains the origins of what are now many small states in Eastern Europe and Western Asia.  If you tried to memorize all this stuff, you’d never finish the book, but it’s good for the sweep of history.

Meanwhile, Bob is in New York City.  Actually, he’s been in the US for almost three weeks, and he keeps sending me iPhone photos of familiar places in the city, which makes me slightly wistful.  He may also go to Turkey soon.

Maybe because of Bob’s travels, maybe because of my reading, or maybe because Sarie is reading The Song of Roland, a medieval epic which probably couldn’t possibly misunderstand the Islamic world more than it does, I wound up on the Metropolitan Museum website this afternoon, looking at two exhibits, Byzantiun and Islam, Age of Transition, and the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia (a ponderous name if there ever was one).  I love the Metropolitan Museum’s website, and especially the timelines, because you can enlarge so many works of art to incredible detail, and there’s all sorts of background information.  It’s a great learning resource.

We moved to Italy the month before the Islamic galleries at the Metropolitan Museum opened again after a ten-year closing.  In fact, every time we thought we might move and didn’t, I thought, “Surely now I’ll get to see the Islamic galleries reopen.”  But we didn’t.  So it’s definitely on my to see list if we get to come back in August, as we are currently considering.

Anyway, though we don’t live in the same city with the Metropolitan Museum anymore, I recently enjoyed the collection of Islamic glassware and ceramics at the Palazzo Madama here in Torino.  So I’ll leave you with some photos I took when I was there.  I think these are all from what is now Iran. I’m no scholar of Islamic art, but I do like ceramics, and these hopefully speak for themselves.

Early spring evening

I am on my kitchen balcony this afternoon watering my new herbs in bare feet.  It’s 75 degrees and the concrete feels warm on my feet.  As I walk back inside the kitchen a bird sings with variety and enthusiasm.  Later, sitting at the desk, a blackbird lands on the railing outside the open door.  That’s a first.  Is it the same bird?  I don’t know.  I go about my tasks with a sense of well-being.

At six o’-clock, as the sun sets and Sarie starts her online class in the US (one hour earlier this week), she calls, “Come look at the clouds!”  So I go out on the living room balcony and see bright orange pink strips of clouds streaming across the sky to the west, between the buildings.  The back balconies face into a sort of open courtyard, because one building was partly torn down. (Wartime bombs, maybe?) I can imagine how this sunset must look in the mountains just west the city.  And I can see Sarie on the next balcony, with her laptop, watching the sky turn pinker as about six bats dance around. (The class is discussing Boethius, who was Roman.)  I can still hear varied and complex bird songs.

Down below, a man comes home on his motorcycle, which he has on low gear to quiet it, and parks it in a garage, then walks into the building with his helmet under his hand.  There is a faint smell of cigarette smoke, but this is to be expected in Italy.  I can also see people packing up to go home in the office opposite and below. One person has a glass desk with a modern chair, but two rooms away is a large desk made of dark wood.  In the office between, I can see black feet and hose as someone stands to chat before they leave.  Heads pop out and shut balcony doors here and there as the sunset fades. People gather up laundry from clotheslines.  Now and then I hear the sweet sing-song voice of a child.

A few minutes later, I am in the kitchen again, cooking kale, cabbage, and beans for dinner.  My doors are all still open.  I can hear pots and pans rattling in other kitchens, and a few people talking.  A block or two away I hear the European siren sound, which is very prone to the Doppler effect, so different from its NYC equivalent (Bonk!  BOOONK!) and reminds me of old movies.  I stop to consider that I know two worlds intimately.  No, three!  And suddenly the bells start to peal.  First one set, a few blocks away, starts its special Lenten seven-o’clock song, a tune made from only three tones, but jaunty.  Then the set one block away starts, very slightly off key in relation to the other set, but repeating only one note.  We’ve noticed that they always peal the longest at seven p.m., perhaps for mass.

As the bells fade, I notice it’s completely dark.  There aren’t any lights on the other balconies, just one in the courtyard that leads to our back stair, and one in the driveway of the building across the way, and some in various kitchens and stairwells.  Soon the stars will be out.  I hear a plane descend.  The scene is like a piece of music that is resolving and fading as it should.  For the first time since this morning, the breeze coming in the open door seems a little cool.  I am happy with things as they are.

Performance clothes

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We’re always on the lookout for performance clothes for Sarie, because we have a hard time finding anything for her age but “prom” dresses.  Italian dress clothes are often nicer than what you find at US department stores, but they’re also more expensive.  So I was very pleased the other day when I went into a dress store near the conservatory and found a whole rack of deeply discounted dresses upstairs.  I even saw one that might work.

The store is run by three sisters who design and, if I understood correctly, also produce their own clothes.  There are some really imaginative clothes in this store, some combining inspiration from historical costume with modern feel.  I saw reinterpreted medieval outfits, a Greek chiton as a ball gown (my favorite thing in the store) and a reinterpreted shawl and hat circa 1910, like something a postmodern Mary Poppins might wear.

We went back yesterday.  And the dress was just right.  A gold silk underdress with a sheer, wine-red layer on top.  A pair of deeply discounted shoes to match.  And then we remembered a gold shawl I found on sale in Georgia after Christmas, thinking it might come in handy to dress up some skirt and blouse.

I’m not much of a shopper, but I love it when this happens.  All done, with a high-quality dress for a fraction of the original price.  Actually, it’s never happened before, and that’s why the post!

Sarie has a studio recital this afternoon, and a chamber performance on March 23.  She’ll be playing Beethoven’s Spring Sonata.

Thought of the day

“The Thinker” by Thomas Reis

I used to paint portraits, and sometimes as I think about whether, when Sarie is completely grown, I should return to that or do something else.  Anyway, in that spirit of reverie, I found this site today.  It’s no small feat to paint like this guy does, with not only skill, but grace and insight.  So I offer it to you as my thought of the day.

I hope Mr. Reis won’t mind my nabbing his photo to illustrate my point and direct you to his site.