Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday October 28th—Rome

Thursday 28th
We go to the Columbarium near us here on Tuesday morning. It is a crematorium of sorts, a burial ground in Doria Pamphili Park, where many of the Fellows jog. We turn a corner and they check all our passports—this is a state site—and we cross and enter a fenced in yard. Downstairs, steep ones, we see niches for burial urns and ashes. All the decorative plaster has been stolen—lime for fertilizer one of the scholars suggests —and the urns too are missing. What is left are holes---like a bee cage with a few incised epigraphs on marble. The letters are beautiful: fine, sure, handmade. One of the fellows in book design photographs them all over the city. These are especially lovely. Then the prize—we go to a columbarium still in the park but one discovered in 1984. Thus it is intact!

We go down, very similar but the plaster is still up and the tiles on the floor: it is from a collegio—a community of freed greek slaves from 2000 years ago. The paintings are nearly folk art, with images of life—fruit, birds, a mirror, a garden and then a long series of figures –that work around the smallish room 15 ft high perhaps 15x 10 feet long and wide—to tell the story of court and justice done: the defendant is found guilty, his hand is put in fire (the man becomes a lefty). The floor tiles are marvelous, three different designs in a small space, with the threshold marked---un patterned largely, fragmented, looking like modern post world-war 2 paintings. Very full of feeling and delicacy. This in the Pamphili backyard, a grand villa with formal gardens and a fantastic 6x6’ vase (I will include photo) and lovely shy marble woman. Touching, emotional.

Wednesday is another walk, this time to artist studios downtown, the first few in the neighborhood where our lab is (take the 75 to Colosseum and get out). The galleries are small with quite good work: in the first using men’s shirts and cloth to make landscape paintings, heels to make decayed orchids (?); in the second full of pattern and print, strong graphics and a large variety of materials and processes that are held together to excite the room (this man had just shown in NY). Then we go to Gagosian in Rome—other side of town, large white space with Alexander Calder exhibit. The Calders are glorious—delicate and not, mobile and stabile, humorous and very human. There was also a series of drawings that were beautiful—Miro influenced and reminding me of Picasso’s notebooks from Barcelona—starry starry nights. The opening is tonight. They were nice enough to show us the day before; the director quite generous and walking about on 6inch heeled purple suede boots! I remain amazed by Rome’s women and their foot capabilities.

Later this morning I thought about that white space and how cut off from life it was, how unlike Rome it was. The artificiality of the museum and gallery, the division between the real and aesthetics, the sacral in art. Feeling uncomfortable with these conclusions. Remembering my 10 year old self, un-theorized, sensing that sculpture was more in life than painting sitting in frames on walls. Of course, I love painting but that child perception was not wrong. It is still an issue. How are things seen? How are they sold?

Today, third walk in a week. Almost too much but always interesting. This time down to the papal palace along the via garibaldi. I had just been down this way but without knowing things that made it so much richer. Richard, one of the scholars (and our Byron) led the talk with many interesting facts about our locale, both inside and outside the gates---how this was the site of the French incursion and finally defeat of Garibaldi in 1849. Seeing the arch and the way the path into the pamphili park is a direct route—on which the French army made its way. Learning that our Galileo building was taller and the key building that could see over the wall. Once the French breached its walls, the fight was lost for the Italian army. Walking down the via, the busts are of Garibaldi’s officers and men and were paid for by the families of the revolutionary warriors. Then finally to Anita Garibaldi statue created by the fascists in the 20th c.: she is riding sidesaddle with a pistol raised and a baby at her breast! The style is l9th c. and purposefully; the emotions are meant to raise fascist hopes.

On to St. Peters, not inside but checking out the walls and an early hospital—one for 500 years and then Bernini’s columns---how they form an irregular ellipse to correct the weirdness of st. peter’s façade---built as popes' tore down each others' prior work. On up another set of newly discovered stairs to a well-earned lunch.

This weekend many celebrations: drinks after Friday dinner to celebrate one of the academy’s funders—nice (very wealthy) guy from Cambridge; Saturday Halloween with kids and our adult party—what will I be? And Sunday a dinner at Lo Scarpone. Yes.

In between —work and more work. I must finish the China film! Get more film from Kodak, Italy and present films to Cornell architecture students on Tuesday. buona notte

Monday, October 26, 2009

October 26th, 2009

Monday October 26th

I believe I left off with Thursday’s concert and my illness. Things looked up from then on.

Saturday I had lunch with the Coen Brothers and Frances McDormand. They were here for the Rome film festival and their distributor Focus Features knows the academy's cook Mona —ahhh the way to everything must be through food (at least in Rome). So there they were and Marty so nicely and unexpectedly invited me to sit at the table.

I am telling Ethan about the film I am shooting with my 20 year old Beaulieu and he keeps asking are the Fellows actors? Frances is getting in baby time, picking up the gorgeous 4 month old Caroline who starred in my film as MS’s new daughter while Joel talks about his mother being a professor at u of Minnesota in art history and his dad at the same university in economics. I comment that the two sons followed in a way; he demurred, saying— in such a different field. True enough. For the record their mom joined a feminist class action suit in the 70s, won and spent her winnings redecorating the living room! We had a laugh about that. They live and work pre and post production out of NYC and Joel commented that Rome of all of European cities feels the most NY to him.

To me, Rome also feels like San Francisco with the hills and secret staircases I keep discovering. I traveled up and down on some of them Friday when I had to go to a notary. The office was Kafkaesque—notaries here are like lawyers —with bad art on the wall, on his desk a bronze statue of a young girl (14?) jumping rope, her sheer (bronze) top with nipples and budding breasts quite prominent. The guy himself a politely dressed bureaucrat, he sees me for a minute and then the secretary comes in and out and charges 50 euro (that’s $75 us dollars for a signature and pressure seal!) They wanted to see my passport too. So much for Italian bureaucracy. I got off easy. Next week I go to be fingerprinted for my permesso di soggiorno—permission to stay the year. I’m looking forward to seeing the inside of the police station.

Sat night I have my first motorino ride ! with my friend Lauren Sunstein who gives me wine and dinner at her house. Turns out her mom wrote a book on Mary Wollstonecraft and another on Mary Shelley. Am reading the first while LS tries to get the other back from a friend. A fun night in a Roman apartment. Looking forward to going to the movies with L and attending one of her parties, and shocked again at the charmed interrelations that keep happening here.

Sunday was quiet, yoga, walk to the bio market on via giula, naps to cure my cold and great communal cooking in the evening. I did al dente green beans with a light tomato sauce (fresh of course).

And today see/saw the 11 rolls we shot last week: they are gorgeous. I am going to have to edit them some before moving on to more large scale shooting. They are so gorgeous I fear them: how to interrupt the gorgeousness? Sound will be part of it? And the text…..Its a nice challenge.

Even as we plan a trip to Jerusalem, Cairo and the pyramids for February when its cold and rainy here. I am pinching myself again. 71F in the day all week here.Wish you were here?
which leads to: Hey folks--is anybody reading this? please comment if you are. for now

Friday, October 23, 2009

Wed October 21
First day of shoot without MB. Went really well. Shot at Martin’s, first days of film’s characters when Shelley shows up and chats with William Godwin. We are lucky and the SUN appears! after many days of cold cold freddo cold! People here previously say this is as cold as it gets, but I don’t quite believe them. Even so, the government refuses to allow people to put on heat until November 1st so my studio—40 feet high—has been colder than outside. I need space heaters, maybe two. Many people are getting ill. Not I yet, but I am fighting with garlic and water and ginger and honey.

Some other (more) lovely coincidences: met up with friend from 20 years ago at Monday music concert at the Villa Aurelia, a splendid chandeliered room with 5/6 musicians playing modern music from Feldman and Glass through contemporary Italian composers—even one woman—Irma Ravinale. Who is she? Must look her up. I liked it. Too crowded but meeting my friend was fortuitous—my question: are you an American? She lives in Trastevere nearby, has for 15 years and we are headed for an English movie on Friday night. It will be a large change after the dearth of movie-going in face of last month’s constant movie-making.

Yesterday we visited the gallery at the Villa Borghese. You need an appointment. It was fantastic: a glorious bedecked villa (winding turret-like staircase like the villa Aurelia—no elevators in these ‘country homes’), filled with Caravaggio and Bacon show, plus their ‘regular’ Raphaels and Bernini. Truly glorious—the Caravaggios are dark darkest Vermeers—his concern with light, his ability to mold it, paint cloth as white streak, his humanity in gesture flesh emotion unparalleled. I see in my mind’s eye Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes, the surprise in her mouth, the strength of her arm, a honeyed light against the dark; the Magdalane so beautiful and wistful, solitary with a great swath of canvas above in two colors: ochre/grey ; the whited Jesus taken down from the cross in Caravaggio’s last months—so strange it seemed the painting had been too cleaned, but no the Raphael of the same subject matter (in another room)—layered with a mob of folks in green and red and black also surround a whited Christ figure, blood drained. Magnificent!

Too the Bernini-we have been seeing them all over Rome but here you get the chronology, the sweep of his ambition and precociousness. Elena the young art historian was with us and gave us the backstory and pointers. Here an awkward Shepard with sheep from when B was still a teenager. Then an Aeneas fleeing Troy—more large scale, still Hellenistic: a figure carrying another. Still mannerist. Then, 2 years later he does the Rape of Persephone and it is glorious sculpture. In marble, he shows the flesh bending underneath the hand; he shows the fold in the drapery where the fabric was folded, as if just bought— before it is washed —how fabric retains the fold from being on the shelf! It is intense and impossible. You do not believe it is marble. You want to touch it and I am not even talking about the balance and amazement of the figures in action. Three years later he does Apollo and Daphne, where Dapne is becoming a laurel tree. Bernini here lets the process show—where the toes are clinging to the tree becoming simply stone. He takes us from rough marble through bark through flesh through flesh returning to roots (of marble). Then a David where marble is made into a rope and here the face, not of the gods, is human, determined modern. Inexpressible the power of these works. The shock and skill and passion. Bernini is showing off but his talent is nearly inhuman; Caravaggio on the other hand is all human; the Raphael ideal. Such a stretch of elegant immense and deep and true feelings. One is dazzled walking above the ground

Then as we walk out Queen Noor is visiting (wife of Hussein, Jordan’s king). Lots of paparazzi. Light is late afternoon, long shadows, rich with oncoming sunset. We wander through the park, discover the lake where I hope to shoot, alight with ducks and rowboats (perfect for Shelley and his women) and walk on home.

Today we went to the French institute—beautiful villa unpainted so its bones showed. Lovely Versaille-like formal garden and view, its back to the Borghese gardens, its front to the city with a long promenade. I thought of Incognito, the novel which gail scott gave me this summer and wondered if it were still like that—difficult cold, bad food et al. but we didn’t get a chance to really meet anyone. They wanted to lecture us and we left walking back through the city---stopping at a store S had seen and buying yes buying finally a pair of shoes! Very cheered at dinner.

More to come: tonight Marty performs for us. The first piece was interesting for its structure. It was for a program in which Beethoven proceeded and Messian followed, so Marty took that as a structure—moving his piece from one to the other. I thought what an interesting type of bridge ( I wrote bride). The second piece put a poet to music, long vowels beautiful.

To end: I am sick. Late last night my body capitulated. So broad all day and garlic and sleep now.
sogni dell'ora. (version of sweet dreams; literally "dreams of gold")

Thursday, October 15, 2009

let me try to get these photos in the text. not sure how to do this and ....okay got it. more to come:
now for sperlonga photos so all of us can remember summer, just 5 days ago!

view out window

October 14th, 2009 Rome

Wed October 14th—
Lisa B. sang for us before dinner. Her resonant soprano rang out with Monteverdi, then Purcell, then Monteverdi again —amazing. In front of a tapestry from the l6th century that covers the wall behind the grand piano---a soaring powerful diva voice.
Startling on its own and in that room with resonant sound, fabulous.
Followed by a great meal of goat cheese on toast, surrounded by radicchio and walnuts, then individual vegetable soufflés sitting on steamed leeks; followed by granita of pear and grapes —picked from behind the academy!

Its been quite a week —we have shot for two days, introducing Byron to Jane Godwin/Claire Clairmont; introducing our audience to Jane/Claire altogether; Shelley and cohorts playing chess. The weather has been splendid. From portraits by the pomegranate tree (looking like a Cranach painting) to playing badminton in the garden, to dinner at Byron’s replete with grand piano and candlelabra (room courtesy of Don Byron and candles from Mona-the chef). Okay its gothic but gorgeous!

The week began with a call from the lab that there was a color balance problem. Tuesday morning we cancelled a shoot to run over to the lab and lo and behold, the footage looked amazing. The 30 year experienced timer, Aldo, loved it and Ed—our American mediator there—kept saying, is that hand-held? Which it is. Very satisfying to know we can do this and make it look great with almost nothing: no crew, a 30 year old l6mm 100 foot load camera and two lens.
I may change my tune after seeing Campion’s Keats but for now we are very happy.

Sunday we went to Sperlonga—almost on a dare. It had rained the day before and I was afraid it would again-predicted to, but it also said the weather would be 77 and then on Monday and following days— down to 60s. I knew this was the last chance. We woke up lazily at 11am and took a taxi to Termini to take local train 12:49 to Fondi (closest train station) 70 minutes away. Got there and there was no bus to Sperlonga—usually only 10 minutes, so paid for another taxi and got delivered by 2:15pm to the Mediterranean. Water was wonderful, miraculous temp. and we swam twice and lay in the sun and went for a gelato and later wine as we climbed the city which is built into the cliff face. Amazing. The pictures are too so am trying to attach. Ooops it doesn’t work. Will try again. It being off season it was particularly quiet, two islands off the coast, a grotto with Roman statues that you can swim to. We didn’t do this being there only for the day and more interested in swimming and sunning, but it was truly romantic, a honeymoon town, particularly in off season. In the summer I could imagine it a sweet provincetown bustling with tourists---

We are off to the Palatine hill tomorrow on a guided tour and probably shooting a bit Friday morning.
Back from our tour today. IT was wonderful, beginning in the jewish ghetto and its large imposing synagogue guarded with gates and soldiers. In 2000 or bit earlier, someone opened fire on the worshippers as they left and 40 were wounded, one killed.
A summary of papal edicts closing in the Jews beginning in the middle ages, limiting their work to the rag trade—one of the churches dedicated to tailors has a fresco/painting of God fitting Adam with a fur coat! Also limiting their (the jews) lending practices but as far as I know Jews cannot charge usury (?) so perhaps Jews were lending at better rates than Christians? Anyone know for sure what led up to the edicts? An increase in population? Competition on the economic scene? Particular personalities?

Then onto the round temple di Vesta, but actually di Hercules. Beautiful Grecian marble even as repairs are ongoing. What was most amazing about this walk was the foregrounding of a synthetic layered montage that is Rome. It’s not just that history is layered, buildings on top of buildings that are buried 27 feet or less or more underneath, but that there is this mishmash of materials, spoilae=meaning materials stolen from one building and used in another (from spoils of war). Up in the air on a cross arch among the tufa and brick are two two-feet marble columns laid sideways—perhaps medieval repairs? Or rebuilding from fallen/broken materials? A church in which there is an 8’x8’ cut out for another roman temple 1000 years older on the portico. A wall of the church of Nicolas Encarcere (or is it Giorgio Encarcere? =bound) with Roman columns filled in to form the church wall.

Rome is a pastiche. Indeed what we think of as classical is a layered dense historical semiotic mass. No wonder it is an architect (Robert Venturi) who coins the term “post-modern’. Indeed the classical is post modern in spirit and structure, and not that sere white quiet. More is more.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thursday October 8th—Rome

Thursday October 8th—
Shot this week, two days in one of the composer/administrator’s house from the 1600s: beautiful windows that open with wood shutters looking out to palm trees and lemon/orange/grapefruit groves. All the fruit currently green…it will ripen in the winter. We have covered three scenes so far (out of currently 105!) Thus, we have begun the film. Ran through or stumbled really into many technical difficulties and survived surpassed—well we have not seen the rushes on l6mm yet in truth—but moving forward. So many lovely concatenations. We are double shooting in video and l6mm film—that has given us both backups and confirmed hope. Our Percy and Mary are splendid, and the ‘home movie’ or realism of the so-called un-acting, being actually, is staging undercurrents that should enrich the characters as they develop. That is my hope. We find an old iron lamp in one of the rooms, originally candles with hanging tools to cut the wick---in the hot sun the shadows move and marry wondrously silhouetted in camera.
Mary has been studying and writing, she just gave birth to her first child and is finding happiness with Shelley for the moment (!).

Meanwhile in the back garden of the Academy the persimmons are ripening. Ready for some single-frame magic—large orange globular—. Our Rome lab is in an old monastery nearby the Coliseum plus I have 5 willing interns with difficult schedules.

I find my self drawing closer and closer to Mary Shelley, she of the ambiguous Heroine—no wonder woman here—but a complex unmothered soul caught in web of her time whom even her sister, however jealous of Shelley’s love, describes as having a ‘noble intellect.’ Problematic and strange and of course Frankenstein’s’ creation will be added to the mix. Many ideas proliferating in this high ceiling spectacular studio. (I will learn how to add pictures so you can see)

Early in the week we heard a lecture from a Harvard prof about a lost Shakespeare play. Most interesting to me was when he commissioned a bunch of international theatre groups to perform it and they each took it into cultural particulars: the Japanese setting it as a bike boy play ala early Wooster group, motoring out a rear garage door; the Spanish version a confrontational attack on the ‘genre’ romantic comedic convention altogether —going to the heart of its inherently sexist center; the Zagreb group sticking with an eastern Europe wannabe capitalist west wish (did I hear death wish?).

Reading Henry James on Rome and the coast, Spezia specifically where Shelley died—he talks of the Italians as enjoying life of beauty without guilt. This wondrous luxury of sun and sweet smells, little blue flowers clambering over everything with startling flat-topped Mediterranean pines in the scenic distance combined with fat palm trees and a sparkle surprise flowering yucca behind a wall. The iron swallows that decorate and hold up rain gutters, the ancient knockers on the studded door to the house we filmed in today, the patterned black and white and grey floor. Yes the catholic church is corrupt but the detail craftsmanship, attention to beauty— the sense of salvaging and valuing the past because it has density history is soothing somehow. Even the dirty Tiber has a silver sheen at twilight crossing back on Ponte Sisto with its graffito of she wolves and mototrinos speeding by, a colored flash in our digital records.
Memorable spicy pasta, overpriced used clothing stores (where we searched for costumes and failing that helped ourselves to gelato), great shafts of light and air coming in our window in the mornings after the light has climbed the wall —a lazy inexorable lizard. Up against the parking garage the walls are covered with vines vertical green shaky and reminding me of Chinese letters in their linear insistence—so glossy with in themselves they nearly defeat the polluting motors.
We are flooded with sun and great weather.

This weekend we need some events—out of the city we hope—as we have worked so hard to get this far. Will keep you posted.
Baci a mis amici

Monday, October 5, 2009

Friday October 2, 2009 Rome

This week we finished our three weeks of Italian lessons, so now…— we get our mornings back (!) but miss Valeria, our teacher, and must try to consolidate what we have learned on our own. Moreover, the more we learned it seemed the less we knew; I realized I learn language from writing and reading. Then again, the Italians speak faster than I read: total run-on and hearing the words even when I was reading the text was difficult. For our final effort we sang pop songs ‘”tutta mia la citta” where the guy is crying for his love who is with “lui” –the other man. Now-to see if studying on my own will help abbastanza (enough).
For complex shopping I admit I am still using Babel fish—quite handy.

One of the painters bought 2500E (that’s $3500 US!) worth of linen canvases and when all were delivered, another fellow asked if he had performance anxiety. His answer:
“My life is performance anxiety.” And then…that he felt “a genius growing, the hubris of ambition.” I think here we are all in that state.

Two nights ago, Adele gave a lecture about the place and though perhaps we originally brought a skepticism, by the end we were amazed—how to follow in the steps of Cy Twombly, Frank Stella, Aaron Copeland, Ralph Ellison et al? Of course I notice there is not a single famous woman from the past. I am ready for a different future…

This week I finished casting—a not so difficult segue. A tremendous set of faces. I think there will be good resonances between the cast, even as the more I read about Shelley’s radical community the more I come to think of him as a cad, not even the “ineffectual angel” in Matthew Arnold’s judgment (then again I never read Matthew Arnold). Although to s’s defense, he is thrown out of college for writing a text on Atheism and in Queen Mab (his long poem) sided with the working class. I would like to emphasize that end of his radicalism, though the melodrama and romance of his love affairs and Mary’s strange tolerance of it all—a homage to her mother perhaps?—complicates making of her the feminist heroine. I will have to go back to 80 AD and Queen Boudicca, an English queen who waged guerilla warfare against the Roman invasion under Claudius. That will be my next feature, with historical costumes out of Xenia, Warrior Queen! Always wanted a bit of the kitsch of Wonder Woman in my films!

We walked last Sunday across the entire town, encountering walls popping out of houses (or rather houses popping out of walls), all the way to the Villa Borghese Gardens where we stopped for iced tea and a rest, and found the edges littered with condoms---clearly a gay meeting place in the eternal city. We walked back as the light sank in the sky. We had stopped along the way at the Church of Minerva, with an incredible Fra Lippi set of frescos---very magnificent late 1400 painting with softness and sweetness of its era. A full figure Michelangelo that is not so exceptional and has a weird almost iron looking cloth round his loins. Turns out my eyes were accurate and this bronze drapery was added at a later date. The photos show how odd it is. Then a magnificent secular bust by Bernini which is sharp and alive.

Later in the week in between casting we went to the pantheon—amazing space. I have to go when it rains — the rain falls direct into its marble interior. Built in 25BC burned and rebuilt in 75 AD, it remained until recently the largest dome shaped building expanse. Once covered in bronze (I think) plates that have been removed. We got permission to go inside the back and see a beautiful rough Madonna and child on wood from Constantinople and see the back buildings which were originally baths. The interior seems so baroque to me and indeed it has been a church for hundreds of years but one realized that the so-called classic buildings were covered with polychrome— either marble or frescos and perhaps not the sere classical buildings we think of. We also went below the plaza navona—I talked about this place earlier: the stadium---here we were among the bleachers so to speak---a magnificent setting for a play I thought since everywhere you looked were half walls that people could come in and out of appearing and disappearing. Playwrights this is for you! We also climbed the Marcus Aurelius Tower (similar to hadrian) with a great view --not particularly claustrophobic to climb but dizzying as it circled up 80 feet. At the top we were told not to take pictures to the east which was Berlasconi's palace! funny to think he told the tourists not to peek! We have an 87 year old visiting scholar who made it up to the top and followed all of us for the afternoon. She is amazing--truly an inspiration. She is a costume designer and work a place mat on her head but it was cool; later she bought a table runner from the old jewish quarter and sewed it together to be a blouse. playful and energized!

Weve been up to the roof single-framing skies and moons and clouds, including one day this weekend when there was a protest so the helicopters kept circling---annoying. usually we just see the green parrots that have escaped and made home in the park pamphilli next to us.

We’ve been doing yoga regularly and tasting gelato and eating well and cooking communally Sunday. Just to give you a taste or rather a sense of mouth-watering amazement; I cooked stuffed squash blossoms zucco di flori or maybe flori di zucco?; someone else did veal chops rare, another a piquant chicken; another a pasta with basil and fresh parmigiano reggiano. Someone else made half tomatoes with blue cheese on them and sauted sage leaves on top of that. Yummy. You should all try it!

For now—the dinner bell calls!