31 July 2012

Raindance Maggie

After the success of the trip we organized around a Joe Satriani concert last summer, my daughter and I couldn't resist heading north to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) play earlier this month. Although the first few years of my daughter's life were spent mainly in the company of classical music, gradually she's been drawn toward the same music I listened to as a teenager—bands that I still love. She took up the guitar last year, and then, fulfilling a long-held dream of both her mother (and her mother before her), began drum lessons this past January. I love how her first 'band' is composed of three guitarists, though she gets to be the drummer whenever a drum set is available.

Plans for this latest concert trip began to take shape when my daughter surprised me with the latest RHCP CD, I'm With You, last Christmas. The first single to be released, 'The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie', had caught my attention on the radio—I loved its funky, all-over-the-place energy, with the cowbells lending a little extra flavor. 'Maggie' has been followed by one great single after another, for a total of four so far (five if you count an additional song released only in Brazil). The band's first incarnation dates back to 1983, though there's been a lot of flux over the decades; only the lead singer and the bass player remain from those early days. Flea must be the most talented bass guitarist on today's music scene...his base is like an extension of him (or maybe it's the other way around?). Chad, versatile and always-smiling sets the beat. As the lead singer and primary song-writer, Anthony gives the band its energetic voice, both literally and figuratively. And then there's Josh, the likeable, down-to-earth lead guitarist, who officially became a member in 2010. At thirty-two, he's nearly two decades younger than the others (and the youngest musician to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame).

RHCP was the headliner band on the first day of the Heineken Jammin' Festival, a three-day music event held in Rho, just outside Milan. Beginning with a two-hour wait under the midday sun, amid an impatient wall-to-wall throng, our period of 'freedom' was brief once the gates finally opened. We didn't explore much before claiming a spot a few rows (in the loosest sense of the word) behind the barrier that separated the posto unico ticket holders from The Pit (the privileged area closest to the stage). Unlike the concerts I've been to in the US, for which you were typically given a seat number in a stadium or other venue with sloped seating (allowing a view of the stage regardless of your stature or position), the concerts I've been to in Italy don't have assigned seats—and the audience congregates on a level stretch of ground. This means that everyone crowds as close to the stage as possible, in one hot, sticky, constantly moving, often wild, and very intimate, mass. There was no reprieve from the sun, and it didn't take long to realize just how unprepared we were for what lay ahead of us...

People-watching was our main pastime that afternoon. We noticed people had brought all sorts of interesting things—many of which we wished we'd thought of. As the day wore on, a list of items to bring to our next outdoor summer concert began to emerge:
  • a cooler, to stand on as well as to store:
  • bags of frozen vegetables (which people used to keep drinks, and themselves, cool)
  • a camping mat/beach towel, to sit on between bands
  • an umbrella
  • a hat
  • sunscreen (our cursory application at the hotel didn't help much)
  • shoes capable of protecting toes from enthusiastic dancers
  • water, water, and more water

Pointe shoes would have been useful, to gain a little extra height (I spent a lot of time on my tiptoes—the next generation is getting so tall!).

At one point I joked that we might be developing a nicotine addition. And, being at the extremes of the predominant age-range, my daughter and I may have been the only two people there who weren't chasing an endless chain of cigarettes with a constant stream of beer. In fact, other than bottle after bottle of water, our intake during the twelve hours we were at the festival consisted of one large slice of watermelon each for lunch, followed by a Magnum bar mid-afternoon, and another Magnum bar for 'dinner'. ("With nuts," my daughter said as she handed me the chocolate-encased ice cream bar to me, "for protein.")

Part of the reason for our unusual 'meals' was because, as the crowd grew thicker, the risk of one's spot getting swallowed up by the crowd grew greater. My daughter volunteered to do the food/water runs, but since the bottle caps are confiscated upon purchasing drinks, she was somewhat limited in what she could carry back through the crowds of people. In any case, anything more would have been too much...with the exception of water. Every once in a while, the bouncers from The Pit would squirt water bottles into our section—everyone in the vicinity behaved like nest-bound baby birds greeting their returning mother.

The RHCP were the final act of a lineup that doesn't bear mentioning, except for Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds...the former Oasis member and his new band played a really impressive show. At 10pm, the RHCP finally took the stage, and the exhaustion of the day melted away for the next ninety minutes.

After hearing about the experience, most of my friends—and even my 'little' brother, who only just turned forty—admitted that they didn't think they could have done it. Truth be told, those long hours amid such chaos caused me to consider that I may be getting a little old for such events. But perhaps that's not a valid excuse; after all, three of the RHCPs will have reached their fifties by the end of the year. Besides, it's not often that most adults have the chance to dance and sing with abandon, unjudged, in public. My conclusion: As long as my daughter is happy to stand next to me at a rock concert, I'll be there...

I took a quick succession of test photos of the stage before the RHCP came on, but they all came out badlyI still haven't figured out how to take nighttime photos, plus it was hard to get a shot between people's shoulders and heads. Holding the camera steady amid all of the dancing and bouncing would have been near impossible, so I think it was best tucked safely in my bag during the concert anyway. The memories will just have to live on in our minds...

* * *

We stayed in a hotel that has been converted from a former cotton mill, in the little town of Rho, about 15 kilometers northwest of Milano. The main square lies at the heart of a gently bustling pedestrian area. I really enjoyed our two mornings wandering around bar hopping (in Italy 'bar' is the usual term for café, where you drink both your morning caffè and your evening aperitivo). Think progressive breakfast: freshly squeezed orange juice at one bar, cappuccino while sitting at an outdoor table of another, a pastry eaten on the bench in front of a bakery. It was a fun way to experience the piazza and the morning activity.

A colorful wall in Rho, which beautifully takes advantage of the underlying texture...

Waiting for the train at the Rho station...

Church steps in Rho's main square (Piazza San Vittore)...

The church of San Vittore...

A brick & stone wall... 

Two of the bustling bars in Piazza San Vittore...

I had booked an evening train so we could spend our last afternoon in Milano. The plan was to take my daughter up to the roof of the Cathedral and then wander around the city for a little while, as I had done on a past trip. But we found that the last thing we felt like doing was sightseeing! We were able to catch an earlier train, and a mere two hours later Florence's Cupola came into view as the train approached the station.

* * *

A couple of final images...the morning after the concert, I photographed the crumpled bottles of water we had consumed during the festival. Except for a cursory pass to adjust contrast, sharpen & resize, I don't normally Photoshop my images, but a pile of empty bottles lying on a hotel bathroom floor seemed to merit a little extra attention. Their contents were, after all, our salvation that day...

So, another busy month comes to an end. Between visitors, travels and activities, I find it can be difficult to follow a thread in the summer. I'm still trying to squeeze in periods in the studio; eventually, new things will make it into this space (and my shop) again. Here's hoping you are enjoying the season, whether it's summer or winter in your corner of the world...

21 July 2012

Finding yellow

Once again, a monthly challenge proposed by two US-based artists, Jennifer Coyne Qudeen and Julie Booth, has inspired me to gather a selection of photos: July's color is 'YELLOW'.

I've seen acres and acres of sunflowers this month—a subject at once seasonally & geographically fitting for the YELLOW theme—but I wasn't able to photograph them. Instead, I returned to my stash of Venice photos. In fact, one of the two-page spreads in an artist's book I made earlier this year features dashes of yellow, and its images served as my starting point. From the vaporetto stops (and their reflections in the lagoon) to the yellow buildings, masks and boats—plus all of the gold that attracts and reflects the sun, on both water, glass and metal—Venice is rich in golden shades.

* * *

Life seems to be moving too quickly to keep up with writing about it these days! After a fun trip up north with my daughter, I had a solitary creative retreat of sorts while she went to visit her Dad. I always miss her good company & youthful energy when she's away, but it was a perfect chance to catch up/recalibrate in the studio. There are several blog entries in the works but, true to the original premise of 'Arzigogolare', they keep growing. I hope to share more soon...

{Please see the guidelines here if you'd like to participate in the color-themed photo challenge in future. August's color will be 'GREEN'.}

04 July 2012

Entering the second half...

July! How did we arrive here so quickly? Those of us in Florence have been sweltering; even Montepulicano, the cooler hilltop town where we retreated to visit my parents last week, was uncomfortable. Few of our plants are still alive, and simply the act of breathing makes me feel as though I've just run the 100-meter dash in record time, over and over, all day long.

We adjust our daily rhythms to the temperature. Only those with no choice venture out in the most intense heat of the day, and I imagine the concept of the pausa begins to make sense even to visitors who are used to cities being open 24/7. The enormous Piazza Pitti that stretches in front of our apartment is typically full of picnickers & sunbathers (which is why we call it Pitti "Beach"), but these days the the vast sloped square remains virtually empty until night falls, when small groups of people gather under the stars.

Our fan whirs day and night, and in anticipation of another 37-degree Celsius day, I finally gave in and closed the shutters over the weekend. While I understand the logic behind this Italian habit that does indeed keep the house much cooler, it's one tradition I can rarely bring myself to observe. All winter I wait for these days when the apartment is full of light, and I hate to spend even one day in half-darkness.

* * *

Backtracking a little . . . June was unusual. The official school year ended and my daughter completed her last year of middle school. But instead of the party the students deserve for reaching this milestone, in Italy they then go on to face an intense exam period that concludes with an oral exam covering all of the materie (subjects) they have studied over the past three years. Perhaps one day I will write more about this final chapter of our experience with the educational system, but for now I will say that I am, all in all, very impressed with the education my daughter has received in this country. At times, the bureaucracy, the scioperi (strikes), and the seemingly utter lack of organization have caused me to wonder how the students manage to actually learn anything, but there is no denying that, somehow, it has worked. Looking back, I wish I could have started alongside my daughter when she entered first grade here. Her knowledge of Italian was limited to gelato flavors, colors, and animals when she first stepped into a classroom of Italian children who had known each other since they were in diapers, but it didn't take long before her Italian surpassed mine. Eight years later, as I continue to stumble along, her Italian is indistinguishable from that of any other fiorentina.

Because of the long exam period (which was also stressful for the parents) I'd say "limbo" best describes the state of our lives last month. But now, despite the heat, I am feeling re-energized; my word for July is riprendersi. (Sometimes a single Italian word best captures the essence of what I mean; riprendersi encompasses everything from gathering oneself to collecting oneself, reviving oneself, and recovering.) Yet another major furniture-rearranging session has essentially doubled the size of my studio, which I have desperately needed. In fact, my work space is rarely orderly, which I don't usually mind. I tend to associate creativity with the presence of some degree of chaos, so I was amused when (after witnessing the after-effects of trying to squeeze in a few projects while hosting several visitors over the past month, which always entails rearranging rooms and furniture) my father commented that he had "never seen such an unproductive space." But now, one day at a time, the studio is coming together—and so are the many projects that haven't had much attention lately.

One of these is my first alphabet for A Letter a Week, a creative challenge I have been participating in this year. The aim is to create one letter each week, for a total of two complete alphabets by year's end. O
ver the past six months, I filled twenty-six squares of a forty-nine-square grid (with the idea of leaving some breathing space among the letters).

Much like the ever-changing slant of sunlight streaming through the window, the project has served to mark time's passageNow that the summer solstice has passed, and as I begin my second alphabet, the sun is once again reaching farther back into the studio. Happily, July and August still stretch luxuriously ahead . . .

{Click on the images below to see larger views of the final piece; my post on the ALaW blog is here.}

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