Sunday, December 09, 2018

Artnotes: Iconic

     Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newspaper 23 x 17″   63 x 41cm   125.00  

making cookies

Today we were invited into the Stimigliano communal kitchen.  It is a marvelous red enamel affair with several ovens, with glass windows; rather tall wood covered tables, and refrigerators.  It smelled divine as the ladies of the town were baking cookies.  They are wonderful, aproned ladies who you wish would hug you.    Did I mention these were wood fired ovens?  It was unworldly; iconic Italian.  I almost cried tears of joy from the fabulous smell, and shoulder-to-shoulder comraderie.  They want us to hang a picture for their 29 December event. We likely will.

We’ve been immersed in Stimigliano culture this week.  We are having a show at the local bar.  It’s not been great, but we’ve met many people.   One man, many years younger than us, is so happy someone wants to create a lively culture in our little town, outside of Rome.  He’s a magician and would like to be involved in other events with us.  I tell him about how the future is going to be in little towns, outside of cities.  This is where the real essence of Italy is.  Cities are for the tourists and protesters.

Just look at Paris, our wonderful, original European home.  It’s a mess – our old neighborhood boarded up against looting and violence; museums closed, people urged to remain indoors if they can’t get out of town.  Crazy.   And the problem is not so clearly identified:  general frustration seems to be the issue, the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer as the planet burns.  People from the countryside are angry Paris gets all the funds. Holy cow.

Meanwhile, I am painting Madonnas.  I think about Mother Earth and her children (us).  I eliminate plastic from my life.  I wish my car weren’t a diesel model.  I talk to people in idiotic, broken Italian about how this country has sun, wind, and the sea, and we should be using these renewable energies.  Even the most simple person replies, “but who will make the money?”  This week, I will switch to Mary Magdalene.

A neighbor asked us to her house for pizza lunch on Saturday.   She has a wood-burning oven, which she started while we were there.  A half an hour later, when the temperature reached 400F, she popped in the pizzas.  We drank homemade wine, and ate four and a half pizzas along with 4 chicory-filled fallone, considered a salad equivalent.  These football shaped pizza crusts, filled with greens, are a local delicacy.  I needed a serious nap afterward.

Our entire neighborhood is adorned with lights and Baba Natale figures, made by the women of the town.  A very modern wooden Nativity scene sits in the piazza in front of our house.    We’re getting ready for our show in Rome this coming week, and look forward to snow in Rocca Malatina for the holiday.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Old Habits Die Hard

The Yellow Tree Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas   11 x 14"  27 x 35cm 

 The Same Yellow Tree  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  11 x 14"  27 x 35cm 

 Fishing from the Pier   Blair Pessemier  Acrylc/canvas  16 x 20"   40 x 50cm

Nets over the Adriatic  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  12 x 20"  30 x 50cm

Yellow Trees Later  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  12 x 20"  30 x 50cm 

One of the best features of this time of year is seeing the sun rise.  This morning in Rocca Malatina, we were on the last round of our walk with Harika when the sun peaked above the hill.  It was immediately obscured by trees, coyly hiding its brilliant face.  But as I moved along, averting my eyes, it rose in all its glory:  yellow, pink, white.   

I know, I was cutting back on Artnotes, but old habits die hard.    I found three or four pictures we painted a couple of weeks ago, and mistakenly left behind.  I added one this week, in the same spirit of brilliant yellow – although the trees have barely a  dozen leaves on them.  I tried to capture that silvery yellow light of the winter sky: haze.  (they’re still burning wood here)

This was one of those good news, bad news trips.  The good news is after 7 months of waiting, we got a new permesso di soggiorno (residency card).  The bad news is it is only good until August, 2020.  We had hoped for a permit lasting five years or more.  The rate things are going here, we’ll have to have a blood test to insure we are “Europeans” next time around.  The case against immigrants is heartbreaking.  

There are times I question residing in Italy, but I believe it is “the times” we’re living in, not the place that makes certain things so unpleasant.   I could go on for days with complaints, but as my Dad used to say, “what’s the use of complaining?  It only depresses others”. 

We came to Rocca Malatina to get our residency cards and to pick up more paintings for our Rome show, the 13 – 16 December.  We’re bringing a surplus of work to outfit our studio/gallery/library as well.

I’m bringing my super-warm coat and hat, to stand out on the via Margutta in the Christmas cold.  Cheers!

Sunday, November 25, 2018


Our Thanksgiving this year was a day of gratitude and thanks.  We thanked many people who made our lives what they are this year.    And I thank you, all my Artnotes friends, for your support, emotional and financial, throughout 2018.  

With Mario, the person who thankfully eased our way into the Stimigliano scene, we made a trip to Amelia.  Amelia is a typical Italian hill town, in Umbria, less than an hour away.  But we went to there not to see the Duomo and luxurious Palazzos, but to see the STONES, which were set around the city in the 4th century BCE.  This is the oldest Umbrian city.  

There is an arch of colossal dimensions made at this time by this civilization (sorry, Romans, an early Etruscan(?) work).  Of course, we did go to assorted and sundry sites, not the least of which where they were tuning the organ!  How rare to hear (Avanti…Next, whenever the tuner would get that note just right).

This was a week of breakthrough for me.  As my arm froze into position while painting in the fog on Monday (think Turner), I realized: I am not going to do this anymore.  As I paint outside in the wet and cold my fingers stiffen around my brush to the point of not being able to let go.

As if by magic, on the way home, I had a vision of painting indoors:  Marys.  I know, it sounds crazy, but my first undertaking has been a Madonna and Child to sit over our front door.  The entry to via Dante, 7,  opens to a long barrel vault, dimly lit.  Above the door leading to our apartment is an arched wall 4 x 5’, which probably had a Maria in it at one time, likely during the 1600s.  Blair’s photograph of a Mary shrine, not far from via Margutta, in Rome, was my inspiration.  Since then, I have painted another Madonna image from Farfa, on paper.  

The idea of the Madonna, is not exclusively Christian (and I am certainly not religious).  Ancient Egyptian women, adorned in gold, sit in museums; they are shown with their children on the walls of tombs.  The Hellenic/Greeks had their own phenomenal goddesses, like Nike;  Mary, as Mariam, is the only woman who appears by name in the Koran.  Female Buddhas appear in Asian lore.   Into the future, Mary Cassatt painted numerous “mother and child” scenes.   It is a theme as old as art itself, and as new as now.  Likewise Mary Magdalen, reformed prostitute, close friend of Jesus Christ, will be part of the series.  I look at her as the alter ego of Mary, the Mother – I picture them leaving after Jesus’ death, with St. Sarah (the patron saint of the gypsies) to arrive at Sts. Maries de la Mer,  on the shore of the Camargue, in France.   There is enough material for a book.  Which brings me to another revelation.

After 20 years (yes, 1998, my first letter), I am going to make Artnotes less frequent and focus on bigger projects of the same type.  That is, after painting a month of Marys, for example, I will make an e-zine of images, painted and photographed, as well as written information, from a historical and personal point of view.  Years ago we did this with a baseball theme, and similarly with places, like Venice   We will continue to paint and post our work and thoughts, just less regularly.

I am really looking forward to studying my subjects in greater depth.  And certainly, come springtime, we will paint outdoors once again.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Spoonful of Stuffing

 Porto Antico at Poggio Mierteto  Laurie Fox Pessemier   Acrylic/canvas  16 x 24"  40 x 60cm \

Meyer Lemons   Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  12 x 12"  30 x 30cm

 Tiber at Poggio Mirteto  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvaspanel  14 x 20"  35 x 50cm  

 Wedding Blair Pessemier (commission)  10 x 14"  25 x 35cm 

Young Turk  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newspaper 23 x 17″   63 x 41cm  

Preparing Wednesday’s lunch (pasta with radicchio, walnuts and oranges), I heard the most unusual sound outside of our window.  It was the shepherd, playing his “pipes”.  He was all bundled up, as shepherds often are, ready to recline in the field with his flock, his floppy black felt hat sporting a red ribbon.  He was playing house to house; “aspetta! (wait)” I told him, as Blair found a euro to drop in his basket.  If we don’t support this sort of thing, it will disappear altogether. 

We try to buy from our (sometimes overpriced) local merchants, as well, because if we don’t spend a euro more on those vegetables, we may have to drive five miles in the future to support a big store.  My family always had that philosophy, and we used to buy from the local markets in Winsted, which one-by-one went out of business anyway, but hopefully later than originally thought, because we supported them.

Our lemons have ripened, 10 altogether.  They are that brilliant meyer lemon yellow, and are fabulously delicious.  I used one with a spicy pork and rice dish:  yum.  I am cooking all the time here – frankly, one can only eat so much Italian food and it is what most of the restaurants offer.   Exotic restaurants of the Chinese and Indians, French and Russians are the realm of the Anglo-Saxons, in England or the USA.   There are a few in our big cities – we hope to eat Indian in Rome on Thursday, but I am not holding my breath.

Thursday this week we went to Rome for a meeting of the American Business Group at the Savoy hotel.  It’s a fun thing, with Americans and other English speakers, and the food can be just ok, but they have a great guest speaker every time.  This week we had a Turkey Dinner!  An early Thanksgiving for all of us, and our only Thanksgiving with others this year.  It was a real turkey, on the bone. There was no stuffing however, and the gravy contained what the Italians think of as cranberries; in fact, they are “red blueberries” and to my palate, it had a serious blueberry flavor.   It was still all delicious, and I drank lots of wine and chatted with many.

The speaker, Riccardo Bruscagli, was truly great.  He talked about Dante.  But before you think, “oh, how long-hair”, in fact, he brought Dante Alighieri down to an everyday, useful level.  He believed Dante could be a way of life:  from dismay, to self-examination, to redemption and happiness.   His delivery on this topic was so passionate, I came home and took Dante’s Divine Comedy down from the shelf and am reading it (translated into English, of course).    And he’s not the only one who believes in Dante. Riccardo is currently collaborating with historical film maker Ric Burns on a documentary regarding Dante and the Divine comedy for a US television network.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and raise a spoon of stuffing to us.  Salute!!!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Artnotes: Acknowledgement

On Monday, we mailed a package from the Vatican Post Office in Rome.  I got out of the car this time, and was distressed to see the marvelous piazza of St Peters chock full of chairs and barriers.  It is one of those incredible spaces that depends on its pavement to be open or peopled, not looking like cattle pens.  I have a book with an etching by Piranesi (1700s) of this very site, and he has people scattered throughout, and it is just right.

We went back on Saturday to have lunch with Artnotes friends from Cleveland.   We walked across the plaza this time, and it bothered me less.  In fact, the avocado wood barriers didn’t bother me much at all, but those black chairs (I would estimate 750 or so) were still a distraction.  This time I could see other things.  I could see the triple rows of columns, with the light bouncing off, filtering through, casting shadows.

Three nuns in mouse grey and cream habits were perched on a column base, eating a “to go” lunch.  One, maybe a little older than me (or was it just the wire-rimmed glasses?), was hanging out over the sidewalk, try to avoid a drip on her wimple.  There was a certain charm to it.  This day, I saw many nuns and priests, the latter wearing their “Roman” collars, many quite young with earnest expressions.

We were early for meeting our friends, so we wandered around the Vatican neighborhood.  There is almost a visible line where the souvenir shops end (12 rosaries for 10 euros), and neighborhoods begin.  We stopped at an antique store at the very cusp and bought an item I’ve been seeking for some time-  it will be a Christmas present.

We found our restaurant, which was in the souvenir district, and it was quite nice.  It was small, the owner was a young-ish woman.  She recommended I try the beef, which was prepared in a modern way.  Everyone else had pasta, which they all seemed happy with.  The restaurant had a back room, where people with children sat and ate while the kids tried to catch their fingers in the sliding door.  It was marvelously normal, and we got to know and really like the friends who treated us. 
Our friends took pictures of the food, and of us altogether.   We hugged and hoped to meet again.
Walking away, Blair and I passed a bench with three refugees sitting on it.  One was sneezing madly, to the point I finally exclaimed, “Salute!”  The three, formerly invisible, looked up and smiled wildly at the acknowledgement. 

Ps.  painting side-by-side at Santa Severa

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Artnotes: Cacio e Pepe

We extinguished the furnace in Rocca Malatina and moved our winter headquarters to Stimigliano. We brought our more tropical plants, yucca, begonia, jade, that we can leave outdoors at least for the time being. 

On Friday, we drove to Rome where we were actually able to leave off a ballot at the US Embassy.  We continued on to via Margutta, where we are going to be in our first ROME show in December.  I was bursting with excitement with no one to go out and tell.  When we got back to Stimi, we shared our news with some locals.  One, Gianfranco at the bar, is going to show our work at this place, too.
On the way back we stopped at an out of the way restaurant, La Cuccagna, for lunch.  It turned out to be one of those experiences where you felt like you were meant to meet this person all of your life.  It was a restaurant that catered to those escaping Roman summers for fresh air and cool breezes.  It could easily serve 200 people, but today it was just us and two other tables.  The fire was lit, and the little girls who lived there were making selfie-music-videos.  The owner took our order, and came out later to discuss the food.  The “stringozzi cacio e pepe” was truly the best I ever had; the ravioli pumpkin very good.  We shared an “abbaccio” of lamb for a second course, from sheep grazed nearby.  I talked about how much I liked cooking, but was a painter.  He wanted to know what we did in our lives to have made a living.  He graduated from Berkeley music school in Boston in the 1970s, but returned to Italy to run the family business, which he was doing with his sister.   A drum set and a big stage were vestiges of this past, and perhaps hints of the future.

The painting atmosphere around Stimgliano is considerably different from Roccamalatina  – unfortunately we left the two paintings of fall color in the Apennines at the other house.  The colors down here seem a bit faded, in shades of gold, pink and green:  appliance colors from the 1960s.  It has not stopped us from painting through our windows. 

As you probably know, Italy has been devastated by bad weather triggered by the Sirocco.  There is dust everywhere, and cleaning the house up North required two vacuum cleaner bags.  The rain is likewise overwhelming and Harika’s exercise is minimal.

Tomorrow we are headed to Rome again, this time to mail a package from the Vatican, a service only available on Monday. It’s a lighter tourist day around there and I hope to see St. Peters.  Although I am not religious, I feel good about people worshipping a supreme being other than the bank.   We’ll hopefully drive to the sea afterward, weather permitting, and paint the sand.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Artnotes: News

Blue Melograni Laurie Fox Pessemier Acrylic/newsprint  17 x 23″   41 x 63cm 110.00

Imagine waking up on Saturday morning in Italy and being able to watch the baseball world series: top of the 18th as we speak, 2 to 2.   One of the things I most miss about the USA is baseball, and this is a rare treat, no matter who wins. (I am routing for the Red Sox, however)

To me, this is news – the longest game in World Series history, and it’s barely mentioned outside of the Boston and LA newspaper.  I felt the same way yesterday after a 6.8 earthquake hit the Greek coast, and the only place I read about it was in the Italian newspaper.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m not down on the press, it’s just that there are many things that could bear reporting besides politics.    Although it is noteworthy that Blair and I have been unable to vote in this election (the first time in 25 years of living abroad), because of barriers put into place since 2016.

Fall in Marara sul Panaro  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas 23.5 x 15.5"  60 x 40cm  325.00

I got a new daily journal this week, where I keep my own news:  important stuff, like “saw a man dressed in camouflage walking his brindle-coated dog near Castelfranco” or “praying mantis walks across via Carlo Marx, narrowly escapes death by BMW.”     Wee chickens are setting beneath our 2016 Christmas tree this week – I think it might be bad for the tree, but they are so darn cute, I hate to chase them away.

Chicken away  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newsprint   23 x 17″   63 x 41cm  110.00

We are trying to wrap up life here in Rocca Malatina and move down to the Rome region for the winter (Christmas excepted).  It’s not really cold here yet, in fact the sun is shining between raindrops in 65 degree weather.  Last 2 November we had a foot of snow, and we had stupidly delayed our 1 November departure.

We are awaiting the status of tomorrow’s Castagna Festival, dependent on the weather.  It is a typically Italian philosophy:  we’re all in or nobody’s in.  There’s no standing in the rain by oneself, something I am likely to do.  Never mind dying of exposure, the show must go on.  That’s an American attitude, and I am dyed in the wool.  Just ask the four painters who painted with us last March:  rain gear, umbrellas, and rubber boots, we were all six outside, painting.   I suspect it is why America had a reputation of winning wars:  war, like the show, goes on.

Three Generations
Blair got a commission during last Sunday’s Chestnut event.  It is always hard to know whether selling expensive things like paintings at a local venue featuring apples and chestnuts is worthwhile, but we only have to sell one item.   This time a triple portrait from an old photo.

Blair’s “artnotes-tshirts” site is up and running.  Rocca Malatina is a local hit, but Venezia is showing the most sales.  Last week’s Famous Chef will make it to apron fame; I hope I get one.  We printed up order forms for this week’s Castagna festival.  They may have to wait until Christmas.

Pomegranate on Yellow  Laurie Fox Pessemier Acrylic/newsprint  17 x 23″   41 x 63cm 110.00

`The thing that is holding up this year’s departure for the South is our “Permisso di Soggiorno”, our visa for Italy.  We made our appointments five months ago, had all the right ingredients, got the nod, but are awaiting the printing.  “We’ll notify you by SMS,” the uniformed official says.  Now THAT will be news.

Laurie and Blair PESSEMIER

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Artnotes: The Dog and Pony Show

Red Vines   Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas   8 x 20″  20 x 50cm

Across the Panaro   Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  15 x 12″  38 x 30cm

Golden Shadows  Laurie Fox Pessemier   Acrylic/canvas  14 x 10.5″    35 x 25cm

Panaro winding through Fall  Laurie Fox Pessemier   Acrylic/canvas  10.5 x 14″  25 x 35cm

Landscape near Villa Bianca  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas panel 13 x 16″  33 x 41cm

Famous Chef   Blair Pessemier   Acrylic/newsprint   23 x 17″   63 x 41cm

Tomorrow we’re bringing our dog and ponies over to the Piazza in Rocca Malatina for the Castagna Festival.  Our stand will be under our orange umbrella, right next to our friend Piero, who is selling his honey.  Of course, we’re not selling ponies, but our artwork of the Modena/Bologna area.  

We dropped our last guest of the fall season off at the train station in Modena on Monday.  We had to go to the Questura to get our visa:  the jury is still out, but we’re looking good.  We needed to get a “denunciation” from the police next door because we lost our original receipt.  It’s the place one goes to cancel a credit card or report a theft or loss.  We were number five in that line, and were able to get through this phase of the experience in just 4 hours.
Our guest had a wonderful time, amazed at Italy and how many people interacted with each other.  The prior guest had a similar impression.   Although we have our fair share of “devices” here, Italians still prefer to speak belly-to-belly.
When I did marketing for our company, Pessemier’s Commercial Interior Design, in Seattle, last century, it was critical to talk to the decision maker, and meet them face to face, five times, in order to get the job.  I wonder how that works now?
We are part of the conversant fabric of our towns:  we visit with everyone.  People stop us and say, “was that you painting at the side of the road?”  Of course, we are the only people here who are painting at the side of the road.  “Let’s have a coffee.”
Color has been limited this fall – or maybe it’s just late shading the landscape.  The temperatures haven’t been cold enough:  no frost so far.  So the yellow have gone instead to rusty green.  The reds are getting stronger in the grape vines.
Truffles have been wormy this year, and the pasta store across the street has decided to forgo their usual super delicious truffle crespelli.  “Vermicelli,” he tells Blair, which in fact, is what the thin spaghetti was named for.  
We did get porcini mushroom crespelli at the Acqua Solferosa:  they were terrific.  It is a rather shockingly local restaurant where we bring visitors seeking a true Italian experience, a la Woody Allen.  Reactions range from enthusiasm to discomfort.  Wild game is served, caught by local hunters.  Tables with families of 20 line the walls; kids holler, men sing, women sit at the other end of the table.  The family, who lives upstairs waits on you.  There are just three small tables for us orphans.  It always costs 25 euros each for 5 courses and wine.
We had coffee at V + T’s house this week.  They are a couple slightly older than us, and we feed their dog treats every morning on our walk.  The give us tomatoes they grow.  The tomatoes are so sweet, it’s incredible.  We talk about the news, about the dogs, about the ever so minor changes around town.
It’s the time the benches are removed from the sidewalks for the winter.   Harika likes to sit by one up on the corner and keep her eye peeled for an arch enemy.  We sit there and someone stops by:  “who runs this show, anyway, the dog?”  We nod.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Artnotes: A New Idea

San Marco  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas 10 x 20″  25 x 50cm

The Flock   Blair Pessemier   Acrylic/canvas  10.5 x 15″   27 x 41cm

Venetian Lantern  Blair Pessemier  24 x 12″  60 x 30cm  Acrylic/canvas

Fall by the River   Laurie Fox Pessemier   Acrylic/canvas  10 x 20″  30 x 50cm

The sky went from sunny and blue to sunny and pouring in a matter of minutes.  Blair was headed to the Vatican to mail a package.  We have had our ups and downs with the Italian post (and Italian UPS, as well) so we’re trying the Vatican mail.  So far, so good, with attractive stamps and pleasant service – we’ll see when the package arrives.  Blair, drenched to the skin, raced back to the car (manned by me in a no-park zone). 

We made a day of it in Rome, following up with a presentation our painting workshop to a group. This pitch turned out to be a strike-out; the group wanted the workshop for free. But at least it got me to think about what the painting workshop is.

Our painting workshops are not just for those who want to improve their painting.  Of course, we love painters, and there is nothing more gratifying than to uncover a hidden talent.  Other painters inspire us, and hopefully we do the same for them.   But it can also be for people who want to learn how to see like an artist.  Painting unlocks the door to seeing color, to understanding form and composition, to hone one’s focus.   A museum will never be the same, once you know just an inkling of how painting works.

It made me think about a music workshop.  I have a tin ear, and a voice to match, but I love the idea of learning a little bit about the simplest instrument, or tempo, or how sound works.  I am surprised I rarely see a “music workshop”; and certainly never one for a peacock voice like mine.  Just because you are not naturally good at something, doesn’t me you can’t try it, or appreciate some aspect of it.
This week, we took a guest to see Venice for the first time.  Venice is magical -- I love to just ride around on the Vaporetto and sigh.  And it’s always nice to see a guest’s reaction to the city, which is inevitably positive.  We walked through San Marco square, but otherwise wandered the circuitous byways, lesser populated by tourists.  We took the traghetto across the canal, a 2 euro taste of a gondola ride.

Blair wore his “Venice” t-shirt, with his painted image of the city on it; one can be yours for 17.50, plus a little shipping (printed in the country of purchase).   We have an idea to create one for Rocca Malatina, and sell them at the Castagna (chestnut) Festival the next 2 weekends.  We’re always keen on a new idea.