21 February 2012


I thought I'd post a few photos of the confetti (called coriandoli in Italian) that the wind has been swirling around the city for the past several weeks. The tiny circles of colorful paper appear every year during the carnevale period, which follows the Christmas holidays and lasts until Shrove Tuesday (today).

Florence doesn't do Carnival like Venice or the nearby Viareggio. In keeping with the typical Florentine sense of restraint, the celebrating is low-key, with small gestures showing up around the city: masks and curly-q streamers decorating shop windows...baskets of powdered sugar-dusted cenci piled high in the bakeries...dashes of color from the coriandoli brightening up the stone paving. Dressed in princess outfits, animal costumes, funny hats and wigs, children dash through the streets and gather in the piazzas to toss confetti, spray silly string and attack each other with the messy (but oh-so-fun-when-you're-eight) spray foam. There's also an internationally-themed parade on the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday, which ensures that we will continue to find coriandoli for weeks to come!

And so the months fly past, marked by strings of holidays and celebrations. We've gone from Christmas to New Year's to Epiphany, then moved through the Carnival period and now into Lent, in what feels like the blink of an eye. It's hard to believe that spring is due to arrive next month, when the confetti will be replaced by little green seed pods floating down from the trees. There's always something new to look forward to...
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{Please click here & here to read some of my past Arzigogolare entries about the carnevale period.}

20 February 2012

The Seeds You Plant

My main studio table early in the process of creating The Seeds You Plant.

I'd like to introduce my latest artist's book, The Seeds You Plant. This is the piece I had mentioned in my 'Emerge' post (which takes the form of a sestina). I love playing with words, and poetry has always intrigued me. It is a luxuryand, sometimes, a misfortune!to be able to use as many words as one wishes, so I really admire how poets manage to condense complex thoughts/concepts into so few words.

By its very nature, a sestina is actually a rather convoluted type of poem, but the natural structure created by the six repeating words appeals to me. My first thought was to choose words that I associate with Florencewater/river, bridge/link, piazza/square, etc.but somehow (I'm not ever sure exactly how this 'evolutionary' part of the process occurs, though it always does) I ended up building a sestina around a favorite quote by R. L. Stevenson. It may have been the quote's everyday presence in my studio for the past seven+ yearsor maybe it was the desire to use a wooden spice box to house the poem; the box's six compartments seem like a good place to store seeds, which are evocative of growth.

Initially, I played around with small green 'pillow' boxes to hold mini-booklets with each of the poem's six stanzas. I also experimented with seed packet enclosures that contained cards printed with the stanzas, as well as hexagons and accordions that could be arranged into six-pointed stars. Then, as I was sifting through my collection of papers, I came across a marbled paper in shades of green, brown and black; not only did it contrast well with the box, it also made me think of the earth and things growing. I wasn't sure if I would use it to line the compartments or as the covers or endpapers for miniature books, but I knew that it would play a role in the finished piece.

Meanwhile, as I worked on the poem, I realized that Stevenson's quote could serve as the envol (a three-line stanza that concludes the sestina, in which the six chosen words also repeated in a certain order, this time with two per line). This meant the word order for the preceding six stanzas was now determined. Arranged as the envol, the quote, "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant" became:

Don't judge each day
by the harvest you reap,
but by the seeds you plant.

'Judge', 'day', 'harvest', 'reap', 'seeds' & 'plant' were therefore designated as the end-words that would alternate through the course of the six main stanzas.

At first, I didn't really care for the word 'judge'it seemed harsh and out of place with the meditative gardening metaphor that I was using to describe my thoughts about the creative processbut then I found myself thinking about how important it is to trust yourself when it comes to such things. So, running through the poem is a thread of how only you can be the judge of what you wish to reap from the 'seeds' (dreams/ideas) you plantnot the voices of your childhood, not your neighbors, not society. I love to see how something that at first seems like an obstacle can instead become an integral element of a project.

To house the stanzas I finally settled on hard-covered accordions decorated with the marbled paper. But then I came across some cherished scraps of washi paper that my mother gave me years ago: one is black with tiny gold dots, and the other has little gold flowers scattered thickly across a mottled orange background. As the lines of the sestina began to take shape and the growth metaphor became more central to the poem, I decided to use the dotted paper to cover the first book, which represents the 'seed'. The flowered washi paper worked for the fifth book, which represents the 'flower', the marbled paper seemed appropriate to express 'roots', and I carved little stamps to create papers for the 'stem'- and 'leaf'-themed books. The sixth one, which alludes to the 'fruit', or the reward (and allows the cycle to repeat), has a pattern of foliage, flowers and fruits. Each phase in the growth cycle also repeats on the back of the accordion, taking the form of relevant words/phrases and simple images on a hand-colored background.

Since the sestina is very structured (and was actually quite a challenge to write!), I am hoping to spend some time simply exploring the fun of words in their purest form, to see where it leads. Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge's Poemcrazy, which is shown on the left of my studio table in the top image, is one catalyst in this quest. I have found a lot of inspiration in her short stories/meditations about words and poetry, and am looking forward to experimenting with her ideas one of these days soon...

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Please click here for more details & photos for The Seeds You Plant.

The Seeds You Plant ( my latest artist's book)

16 February 2012


My daughter and I decided to retreat to my parents' little house in Montepulciano last weekend. Since the recent predictions for snow have resulted in little more than flurries in Florence, we were completely unprepared for what we found as the bus ventured deeper into Tuscany. I've seen picturesque photos of Tuscany blanketed with snow, but this is the first time I have witnessed the landscape in classic winter mode. I have always been struck by the beauty of the underlying structure that reveals itself in winter, when the fields and vineyards are bare, but this was something else altogether. I would have loved to photograph this rare variation of a journey I have repeated dozens of times over the years, but the bus windows were shockingly filthy, so I settled for trying to absorb the new atmosphere: quiet, muted...white.

With its highest point at 605 meters above sea level, the little hilltop town of Montepulciano had already gotten a fair share of fluffy white snow, and it was snowing again upon our late-afternoon arrival. Not properly outfitted for the conditions, and laden with our six different bits & pieces of 'luggage' (including my daughter's guitar), we were counting on being able to take the little shuttle up the steep hill to the house. But we learned that the snow and ice had put it out of commission for the next few days, so we faced the steep Corso, which winds it way slowly up the hill, on foot. Everything was closed, and we met only a handful of people along the way. It felt like a cross between a winter wonderland and ghost town as we drew closer to the house, where we found the water in the toilet had frozen, the olive oil had solidified and the warmest room was five degrees Celsius!

But how magical to spend the weekend surrounded by snow in a thousand shades of white.

Favorite things: a fire blazing in the wood-burning stove + vegetable soup simmering in the kitchen + mugs of hot chocolate + reading late into the night

With the snow we made: snowcream (with snow/milk/cream/sugar - remarkably similar to ice cream)
+ coffee granite (snow/espresso/milk/sugar topped with a thick layer of fresh cream)
+ snow angels + a snowgirl

It continued to snow for the next twenty-four+ hours, but Sunday dawned bright and blue-skied, casting purple shadows on expanses of sparkly snow. Many of the images from this snowy weekend will remain forever confined to my mind, but a lovely sunshiny walk finally gave me the chance to record some scenes of the town and the valley. Below is a small selection...

The line between the snowy rooftops and the white sky was nearly indistinguishable for the first two days (you can just make it out running horizontally in the middle of the left image). When the sun came out the sky and the multiple levels of snow-covered roofs were broken into distinct swathes of blue & white (right image).

The striking web of branches of this tree was still cradling the snow a couple of days later, and had managed to keep the wind from blowing it away.

The alternating rows of bricks & stone on the Cathedral's still-unfinished fa├žade create little 'shelves', which are delineated by the snow resting on them.

The colors of the valley below Montepulciano change with the seasons, but white is unusual (except when a thick sea of fog envelops it).

I loved how the snow sparkled in the sun. It has been such a long time since I've seen so much snow, and had a chance to observe how it changes over the course of a day, and from one day to the next. I had forgotten how many shades of snow there are...


The landscape took on a very different character under the blanket of snow, which created a stark contrast compared to the usual palette of verdant greens and rich golds & browns.

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{To read a past Arzigogolare entry about the journey to Montepulciano, please follow this link.}

07 February 2012


Last week's dusting of snow settled on the rooftops for a while before melting

As I begin this entry, snowflakes are chasing each other with the energy and enthusiasm of children playing tag. The amusing thing is that their motion seems innocently misguided―more upward than down―which I suppose explains why there's been no accumulation. In winters past, I don't remember seeing as much flurrying as we've had in Florence over the last week, and it still feels quite magical every time I notice snowflakes floating past the window.

Only three of my daughter's classmates showed up for school when the forecast promised twenty centimeters of snow one day last week―but neither the blanket of snow they were expecting nor the officially-sanctioned snow day they were wishing for actually materialized. The following day, the professoressa apparently went through the entire roster, asking each student's excuse for the previous day's absence. One student after the other cheekily answered, "snow," which prompted her to comment dryly, "And yet, there wasn't any snow on the ground yesterday." But I think the memory of the half-frozen state in which our kids arrived after walking six kilometers home in a blizzard last winter (when the buses stopped running and there were several hours-worth of gridlock outside the center) made many of us parents wary of a repeat.

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So, Happy February! I had hoped to begin the month by finally outlining my big project for 2012, but have instead been working toward (and recovering from) a deadline for a new artist's book―The Seeds You Plant, the sestina-inspired piece that I mentioned in the last Arzigogolare entry. I had resigned myself to waiting to finish it for a future call for submissions by another gallery later in the spring but, as this earlier deadline drew closer, I just couldn't resist trying to get it ready in time. I'll post the link to photos and details once I've had a chance to put together a new page on my website.

When it comes to my various creative projects, I struggle a lot with making choices/focusing. I want to do everything (at once), and I want to execute each idea at least five different ways...sometimes it feels like a miracle that I manage to produce anything at all, since a lack of focus has the potential to be paralyzing. Unfortunately, because of this inclination to work on many things at once, I do experience the uncomfortable, ever-present sensation of being 'behind'. For example, once I made the decision to commit to finishing The Seeds You Plant, I couldn't help but consider how much else would be delayed (and not just in the studio) while I focused all my energy on the book. But, ultimately, this means that the other projects gain extra time to percolate at the back of my mind, and I find this is always a good thing.

While I am still not quite at the point of formally introducing my new project, I will share that it's called {twelve-by-twelve}. I love the concept of a dozen in terms of a collection or grouping. In fact, before evolving into an online shop offering a variety of paper-centric items, PaperSynthesis was to have been called 'twelve-by-twelve', based on the premise of offering twelve new collages each month. But, just as the word 'arzigogolare' waited patiently until the time was right, so has 'twelve-by-twelve'.

One element of {twelve-by-twelve} is a word for each month. January's was 'begin'. For this month, I have been considering everything from the imperative 'commit' or 'focus' to looser words like 'gather', 'evolve' or 'shape', which I am more familiar/comfortable with. This morning I finally awoke, after another restless night of projects tumbling around in my head, with the word 'embrace'. Instead of fighting the way I naturally work, I will try to simply embrace the chaos of my a-little-here/a-little-there/everything-at-once method and trust that things will continue to come together in their own time. It's amazing how much energy can be lost in comparing ourselves to others and trying to 'stay ahead' (or even just 'keep up'). Some people appear to thrive in a competitive mode and at a competitive pace, but I do not. I am learning to trust that this is okay.

If you have a word that inspires/guides/drives you, feel free to share it in the thoughts/notes/follow-ups (below)...

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