Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Lesson Learned

Reflections on the Tiber  (2018)  Laurie Fox Pessemier  13 x 18"  33 x 46cm  Acrylic/canvas  275.00  
The light here has been more beautiful than ever: cold, crystal clear days.  Rosy-fingered dawns and deep purple dusks announce the ever so slightly longer daylight hours.  I would be painting outdoors were it not so cold and were we not subject to the demands of hospitality.

 We drove to Greccio last week.  Greccio is close to the city of Rieti, which is about as far as we can go and still be in our province (Rieti, in fact).  St Francis visited Greccio and founded a sanctuary there in 1209; it was the site of the first reenactment of the Nativity in 1223.  It is a climb up a rocky hill, with steps and caves. Harika joined us, rather than her usual sleeping out in the car; I think she smelled St. Francis.   When we made it to the top, over 2100 feet, it began to snow.

Stimigliano in Snow 2018     Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  18 x 15"  45 x 38 cm   295.00

Winter is a time of reflection, and I have figured out oodles of things over the past few weeks.

Today, 12 January,  my Mom’s birthday (were she still with us), I learned that it sometimes takes a long time to see another point of view.  I always had a hard time with my mother – I never thought she loved me.  But now I realize when I was born, I was not priority number 1: that was my Dad, who had been ill; I was not priority 2: that was her work, that kept us all afloat because my Dad wasn’t always working; I checked in at number 3.  And when I was 8 months old, our town and home were washed away in the flood:  all she worked for was lost.  Why didn’t I understand all this before now?  Sorry, Mom.

Not Me and Shorty (Mom) Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newspaper  25 x 17"  63 x 43cm   135.00

We saw the cave where Francis slept.  A stream passed through the monastery, likely the source of fresh water for the place in the 13th century.  A bird was trapped in a window, and Blair freed him to fly again.  Francis, for those who don’t know, was a rich man who spurned material possessions to get back to the basics in life:  Nature, Animals, Helping the Poor.  He founded the Franciscan order of priests, who ran the school I went to for the first 9 years of my education.

This is also the birthday of our friend Reza, who taught me one of my most valuable tenets.  When he had to live temporarily at the YMCA, I said, “Gosh, Reza those are some really awful people living there.”  He replied, no, they weren’t bad, that they were just down on their luck, like he was.  Since then, I don’t judge.

European Kingfisher Fledgling 2018  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newspaper   17 x 25"  43 x 63cm  135.00

After a number of fish dinners this holiday season, all served at restaurants without red wine, I realized that in Italy, the restaurant guides you down their own culinary path.  I believe they do it because they like you and don’t want you making a mistake.  Our latest fish restaurant had no red wine; at the New Year’s Eve fish dinner they “ran out” of red wine; at the 1 star restaurant of my birthday, red wine did not even figure into the wine list.  I thought it was kind of nice.  Unfortunately, guests never seem to go along with this.

I learned that there are things I will never be able to do.  The fact is I just can’t live with other people, even the good guest.  I apologize to them.   I’m ok for the short term stay – I’m happy with the 3 to 4 day guest, even a week.  It’s the month long boiling-bones-on-the-kitchen-stove-stay that bugs me.   

Bug 2018   Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newspaper   17 x 25"  43 x 63cm   135.00

Once you learn something, and you acknowledge it, you can move on with life.  It doesn’t mean you might not make the same mistake again, or should never venture near that path, but at least you are aware of what can happen.  A lesson learned need not be repeated.

Sheep (2018) Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newspaper  25 x 17"  63 x 43cm   135.00

Laurie and Blair Pessemier

 ps. That said, many of this week's paintings are "repeats".  We'll be back on the job this week.  The Mary book started in December is in its final stages.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Artnotes: Ready to Launch

When we got back to Stimigliano the day after Christmas, there was a sparkly pine cone sitting on the kitchen table.  It wasn’t a complete surprise because I’d left a small, unopened pine cone, with a smattering of glitter, on the table when I left.  While I was away for 10 days, it had burst open to become a much larger, brilliant sparkly decoration.

Christmas in Italy is a different animal: there are no holds barred when it comes to having fun.  Today our town had the Sagra dei Dolci di Stimigliano – a cookie festival, in the piazza.  Blair and I were chosen to be judges for the main competition.  The cookie to bake was the pangiallo:  an ancient Roman sweet, made round like the sun (in a bowl), with a golden cast.  This was to commemorate the sun coming around again in the Winter Solstice.  Think a little bit of a cross between a “chunkie” (for those who remember that candy) and a mince pie.  Some were more chocolaty, others more nutty;  my personal favorite had less chocolate and more batter – it came in third. I was astounded by the other judges:  a 10 for one with Frangipangi?  I think the one I liked best would have one but it was first, and I was discouraged from using my 10 point paddle right away (Blair).  Did I mention there were 17 entries?  17 chocolate/candied fruit/nut cookies – if I see a nut this week I will burst!!!  

There was bubble water to help it all down, or homemade wine if one were so inclined.
We had a small show of our paintings there, as well, and Blair bought me a hat, to support a local knitter.   One of the more enthusiastic cookie bakers suggested we give a Blair’s painting of the band, to the band, so we did.  They are playing again tonight at 7, in the church. 

The Cream Puff crested 200,000 kilometers this week, as we drove from here to there:  Nonatola, looking for Madonas, and Guiglia for the living Nativity.    We saw the ancient Roman ruins of  Ostia Antica on my birthday, which made me feel young.

On Wednesday, we drove to Farfa Tevere nature preserve and saw thousands of birds murmuring.  You have likely seen them: starlings who fly in a seemingly arbitrary formation, but creating clouds of darkness.  It makes me think of a toy I once had with a magnet and steel shavings that I could arrange on a field (a man’s face, in fact).  I could hear the beat of their wings as they created patterns in the sky.  There’s a dangerously slippery wooden walkway which winds through the swamp.  Families of wild boar and badgers roam there at night.  Here’s a dusk to dawn video clip: .   

The preserve is right on the Tevere, and Blair and I think of paddling and painting there sometime were we ever get our Monet painting boat underway.  Somehow I think one day I’ll come home and find it finished, and ready to launch.
Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Artnotes: For Christmas

Star in the East   Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newspaper   23 x 17″   63 x 41cm   

Blair painted this portrait in Rome

Oh, Christmas Tree   Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newspaper   23 x 17″   63 x 41cm  

The Tree in the Library at Rocca
Mary Magdalene with Easter Egg   Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newspaper   23 x 17″   63 x 41cm   


For Christmas

For a Christmas present this year, Blair and I treated ourselves to a long weekend in Rome. It wasn’t entirely indulgent: we took a room near the via Margutta, where we participated in the famous Rome show of “100 Pittori” (painters). We had our own stand, sandwiched between a Surrealist and a Wild African Animal painter. It made me realize I really need to improve my Italian. This will be my New Year’s Resolution: to speak Italian intelligibly by next year’s Christmas show.

I do make New Year’s resolutions, and they have changed my life. My favorites have been: to live my life so I don’t have to take a vacation; and to feel at home wherever Blair and I are. Those philosophical goals are usually the best.

We drove up to Rocca Malatina on Tuesday (Monday it snowed), where we will likely have a white Christmas. R&B Christmas carols played in our car all the way here: Give Love for Christmas; Santa’s Messin’ with the Kids; Whadda Ya Doin’ New Years Eve. Thus inspired, we put our outdoor lights up that day, and by Wednesday night we had our fresh tree decorated. On Thursday we made a wreath. Our friend Isabel is with us, and we’ll have a table of seven on Christmas Eve.

I’ve been trying to fit some painting and writing artnotes into the schedule, which seems to be packed every day. The house is, of course, freezing. It encourages movement – as long as I am sweeping, or dusting or cooking, I am warm. Other times I wear my fur coat. Our 13 foot ceilings make the house impossible to heat. I think of putting a Mongolian yurt inside the living room, where we can go to get warm. Harika’s hair has exploded.

I am always amazed Christmas comes around again, and I am energized for 2019. Hip hip hooray and BUONE FESTE!!!

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.