30 April 2013

Dancing in the street

April nearly slipped away without the chance to post a monthly pattern from Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language. I had chosen a pattern & taken some photos for it, but there hasn't been time to do the writing part...so I decided instead to focus on No. 63: DANCING IN THE STREET. I like the idea of this pattern, but have wondered a few times how I might work it in. Considering the warmer weather/change of season, as well as what's happening in Florence tonight (more details on this below), it seems quite appropriate for this last day of April. 

'Dancing in the Street' is of course fairly self-explanatory, but I will describe where Alexander goes with the concept. He begins by asking, "Why is it that people don't dance in the streets today?" As he points out, many cultures have managed to stay in touch with what he believe is a basic need, but outdoor dancing is quite absent in 'modern' societies. The pattern suggests a resolution that includes some type of covered structure with a raised platform & space for refreshment stalls, which is surrounded by a paved area. Realizing that the mere existence of a simple built form is not enough in and of itself, he suggests building them in places where there are a number of local musicians who might otherwise not have a place to share their music. Citing the controversy over regulating street musicians in the San Francisco Bay area (in progress at the time the book was being written), he says, "It is in this atmosphere that we propose the pattern. Where there is feeling for the importance of the activity re-emerging, then the right setting can actualize it and give it roots."

For me, this seems to be the key to the pattern: as opposed to the common wisdom that form should follow function, sometimes the form (i.e. structure) is what invites/permits an activity to occur in the first place. Time and time again, I have found that creating a new space—or reworking an existing one—can influence/encourage/stimulate an activity that may not otherwise be possible. On a small, personal scale, this has certainly been true for the homes I've lived in. It brings to mind something I read once about how much easier it traditionally was for 'housewives' to be writers than painters. I recall that one writer used her ironing board as a desk—talk about efficient! On the other hand, painting large canvases can require a considerable amount of space. Sometimes I dream about having enough room for multiple easels and all of my canvases, but as it is, when I want to oil paint I need to do some furniture-rearranging first (and it therefore doesn't happen as naturally or often as I would like).

Getting back to the pattern at hand, while the 'architecture' that Alexander describes to facilitate it doesn't seem to have evolved anywhere in Florence, this doesn't mean there's no dancing in the streets. One place you might see people dancing is Ponte Vecchio, Florence's oldest & most famous bridge. From when spring first begins to warm up the city, and lasting until it's too chilly to strum a guitar outdoors, music wafts from the bridge as Claudio Spadi plays his guitar while singing Italian, English, Spanish & Portuguese songs in the evenings (often accompanied by his guitar- and violin-playing friend). Sometimes it's a young couple dancing, perhaps on their honeymoon, and intoxicated by the setting sun, a familiar, favorite song and the romance of walking across a bridge that's stretched across the Arno for nearly seven-hundred years. (One time, after a couple had finished swaying to a ballad, the man got down on his knee and proposed!) Or it may be a pair of four- or five-year-olds twirling, fascinated by their skirt-flaring potential. Other times it's a local care-giver who does enough clapping & dancing for both herself and the wheelchair-bound woman she brings to the bridge.

Another example was one night last summer, when the little sandwich shop in the narrow street that runs below our apartment stayed open late to host a birthday party. As those so-familiar strains of tango music started up, many people were drawn to their windows to witness the dramatic tango-esque strutting happening down in the street. I love how some of the passersby would pause to join in for a few minutes of impromptu dancing...

And I can't help but think of the final scene in the movie Pane e Tulipani (Bread & Tulips): there's a merry little music-filled gathering at the edge of a Venetian canal, with the main character dancing happily with her recently-found soul mate.


As I mentioned in my last post, celebration has definitely been in the air as the earth wakes up again. (And my, is it full of good smells these days!) Liberation Day was last Thursday, which meant a pontea 'bridge', i.e. long weekendfor most people...and tomorrow we are heading into a mid-week break for Labor Day. Plenty of reasons to dance. But
'Dancing in the Street' is especially relevant tonight, which is a notte bianca ('white night'). For the past several years, Florence has sponsored at least one of these long evenings of art & music. Performances are organized in piazzas all over the city, and many shops, restaurants & museums will stay open as late as 3 or 4am. A program for this year's notte bianca, with the theme 'volare' (to fly), can be found here.

As my daughter & I walked along the river at dusk tonight, we came upon the first sign of the special night ahead: yellow LEDs spelling 'BE HAPPY' along Ponte Vecchio. Here's one last gesture of celebratory yellow for the month—and a little reminder to 'be happy'...


And this seems like a fitting way to end the post ~


{Past entries & more information about Christopher Alexander's patterns can be found here.}

24 April 2013

A time to celebrate

{And now for 'Yellow: Part Three'...}

Architect Louis Kahn said, "The sun never knew how wonderful it was until it fell on the wall of a building." As it soaks up the last of the day's sunshine, Palazzo Pitti's stone façade beautifully illustrates Kahn's observation. Perhaps an even better example is the effect of the buildings reflected on the Arno at sunset, when the weathered yellow & (off-)white buildings turn golden.

The photos in this post show some of my favorite shades of yellow...

Photos above ~ Bold yellow text announces the latest special exhibitions taking place in Palazzo Pitti's numerous museums, adding a shot of color to the monochromatic façade.

Photos below, taken out & about in Florence: Pink-tinged yellow rose & orange-spotted yellow iris at Florence's Rose Garden; balcony perched off of one of Ponte Vecchio's supporting piers, with yellow building catching the morning light in the background; various Arno reflections; street lamp shadow falling on the wall of a yellow building; golden light in a shop full of sparkling chandeliers.



As I've gathered photos for the ROY G BIV challenge this month, I can't help but think that yellow seems so apt for April. It's such a celebratory color, and 'celebrate' definitely feels like the right word to characterize this month. With the streets and piazzas filled with people enjoying themselves, the trees leafing, the birds chattering & singing and the sun shining, there is so much to celebrate.


I'll leave you with a couple of photos showing Florence at its most golden
(left: Building reflected on the Arno & right: detail of Palazzo Pitti) ~

20 April 2013

Lemony-yellow goodness

And now for the second 'installation' of YELLOW that I promised in Thursday's post—lemon cupcakes! I wish I could offer one to each of you who enjoy such things. Since photographing a trio of beautiful lemons, leaves still intact, I have been wanting to create a lemon cupcake recipe. I came across a really good one a couple of years ago, but don't seem to have made a note of it anywhereI am, however very happy with how light and lemon-y these came out. Inspired by those used at the local bakeries, I made 'liners' from squares of parchment paper, but a phone call I got while filling them resulted in a rather haphazard distribution of batter (which I happen to not mind). I love the effect of the parchment paper 'wings' cradling the cupcakes.

A note on the recipe: Using the zest of four lemons total (between the batter & the frosting) will add extra lemon-y goodness, but you will likely have leftover juice...perfect for lemonade, lemon curd, etc.

If only the scent of those blossoms from Florence's rose garden (shown in the first set of images above) could be transported through cyberspace. I must admit that there've been times when, guiltily, I have pinched a lemon blossom to bring home with me because I couldn't get enough of the fragrance.

Speaking of lemons/the rose garden, I thought I'd share a handful of photos of the limonaia, which, at least this past winter, was used to store orange trees rather than lemons. I have always thought the long, narrow structure, with a rear wall of sun-lit stone and its length of rose-bordered windows, would made a wonderful studio.

The limonaia in spring

The limonaia in autumn

The limonaia in winter

The limonaia also permanently houses two of artist Jean-Michel Folon's studies for sculptures whose full-sized versions are in sitù elsewhere. They are just two from the collection that Folon's wife donated to the city of Florence (at the artist's request) upon his death in 2005. The other nine full-scale pieces were installed throughout the grounds of the rose garden in the autumn of 2011, giving even more meaning to one of my favorite spots in Florence. (You may have noticed photos of some of these sculptures in my past entries about the rose garden.) I would love to share my research & writings about Folon, but am still trying to figure out the best way to give shape to all that the artist has inspired. Perhaps, little by little, it will emerge on my blog, though I hope to create something more 'formal'/tangible one day.

It seems fitting that some of Folon's work has come to be in Florence's rose garden; he felt a deep affinity with this city. In fact, the "exhibition of my lifetime" (as he called it) took place in multiple venues in Florence and its surroundings during the summer/early autumn of 2005, closing just weeks before he passed away on 20 October. In a video created especially for the exhibition, as he's shown looking around his studio prior to the exhibition, Folon comments that he will feel like an orphan in the absence of the 300+ works headed for Florence. I love how he then adds how delighted he is that the pieces will have the chance to "go on vacation to one of the most beautiful places on earth." I have to wonder if they made it back before his death, as the exhibition was extended into early October...

I am sure he would be thrilled to see his work engaged in an ongoing 'dialogue' with this city he loved so much.

Folon's studies for Pluie & Quelqu'un, accompanied by poster-sized photos showing the full-sized pieces in sitù.


So, from lemons to lemon cupcakes to the limonaia & Folon. I try to stay focused, but it doesn't come naturally. (More thoughts on this and how it relates to being an artist another time...)

For now, I'll leave you with some drops of wisdom I have gleaned from Folon ~

If you don’t know quite where to begin, it can help to keep in mind that "life decides"—Folon believed that our job is to simply watch and to listen, then transmit what we witness.

If you feel overwhelmed by ideas, take comfort in knowing that, for every ten ideas, Folon was able to execute only one.

And if you fear you may never accomplish your goals, consider how Folon’s resolution to simply "create every day" multiplied into a vast collection of work.

Then there’s the cherished pearl of wisdom that Folon received during his memorable encounter with film director Federico Fellini: Give life to your childhood dreams. Folon clearly lived by those words.


{P.S. More yellow to come in the next post.}

18 April 2013

Nancy-Drew Yellow

In Italian, a mystery/thriller is called a giallo—'yellow'—something I only just remembered as I was giving this post a title. (The name references a well-known series of mysteries with yellow covers that originated in 1929.) I am not really a fan of mysteries (or at least not the grown up page-turners filled with intrigue that cause spines to chill & blood to curdle), but I do have a fondness for the Nancy Drew Mysteries of my childhood. When my family was back in the US on home leave from Brazil (where we lived between 1974 & 1979), my sister and I would always invest some of our Christmas money in continuing to build our library of Nancy Drew books. Somehow they have traveled with me this far, and now my daughter is rereading them one last time before we retire them to a cupboard or box (or buy a new bookcase)...at least until her little cousins learns how to read.

How fortuitous that they are still scattered around the house though. My 'YELLOW' post has grown rather unwieldy as I've gathered yellow-themed photos for April's ROY G BIV photo challenge(*), so this will simply be my first installation of yellow things. I must admit that 'Nancy-Drew Yellow' is not my favorite shade of this sunny color. Golden yellows, often coming about courtesy of the sun—like that of Palazzo Pitti's stone in the last of the afternoon light, or the ocher-colored buildings reflected on the Arno—are more my style. But one way for me to learn to appreciate something is to study it through the camera lens, and I will say that I enjoyed the rhythm & repetition of the yellow spines. Below are a few of the shots.

And now I can return The Moonstone Castle Mystery to my daughter so she can finish it in peace...

* The ROY G BIV photo challenge was started by artists Jennifer Coyne Qudeen & Julie Booth last year. Each month is devoted to a different color of the rainbow—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo & violet. This is the second year, and all are welcome to join in; guidelines are here. And in the sidebar, under 'Inspiring places to visit', you will see an extraordinary amount of yellow from those who have participated this month (at least until their next post).

So, more 'YELLOW' in the next couple of days, but in the meanwhile here's a little hint of what's to come. This is on my top-five list of favorite U2 songs. I've linked to a 'video' with only the music/lyrics (I find the videos often distract me from the melody & lyrics!).

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