Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Distant Dream Revisited

"Maybe I'll just move back to Buenos Aires" I told my Dad last night as we discussed my various life options.
"No!" he said, "It's too far." It does feel far- too far. Far enough that if I could I'd catch a flight to my Southern Paris just to make sure that it's still there. Last night while in bed I thought about this piece I wrote in January. It still feels appropriate and I figured I'd share it here. Besos!

I remember my second to last night in Buenos Aires and it's like watching a film play across the inner workings of my mind.The glow of the kitchen is pleasant. There are four of us at the kitchen table- my Buenos Aires self in my brown harem pants and tee, Eduardo and Claudia, of course, and one of their American friends- an intense woman with a tiny knowledge of Spanish and a much larger one of tango. She makes me feel as though I am cheating when I say something in English. It's not like I never speak English with my friends or on Skype but I never speak it in an audible voice in the kitchen- at least not in the presence of my Argentine padres. To speak it now feels strange. I'm self-conscious. The words come too easy- the accent is my accent. My vowels are long and flat with a Canadian lilt. I switch back to Spanish quickly- it is suddenly my security blanket. It covers my tongue like a thick caramel and wraps around it safely. The visitor doesn't seem to mind and we all try and make her speak Spanish as we cut through our lomo with steak knives and hefty appetites.
Claudia remarks on how my Spanish has started to retain a decidedly Argentine influence. I agree and we both mimic the most Buenos Aires-esque attitude possible. Eduardo and Claudia laugh at whatever it is I say in my vain attempt at being clever in Spanish.We continue talking of Buenos Aires and reviewing what I have learned together. Claudia thoughtfully assesses my progress like a mother viewing her young child's report card approvingly. She is proud of the way I've learned to navigate the subte and buses elbowing my way through like a true Porteña and how I have begun to tango with a slight but certain sort of confidence. She notes how I've completed my courses with satisfactory grades - a true accomplishment considering I barely knew a thing about Argentine history five months previous."You know so much now", she says. She has tears in her eyes.
The movie pauses. I don't remember what I said. I must have said that I'd never forget. I must have meant it too. Eduardo cuts into my post Buenos Aires self's reflection.
"Soon it will all feel like a distant dream," he says with the wise authority of one who knows. He always challenges my most naive and idealistic leanings in politics, religion and life.
"No!" I say as if saying the word with effort will prevent the inevitable from happening.
Deep down I know he is right. It's exhausting to maintain a forced nostalgia no matter how well loved the people and place are. I knew it was going to feel distant because Buenos Aires is so far away but I never wanted it to feel like a dream that is cloudy and blurred- as if it never happened.Now the experience is not a reality but a film that plays out various scenes over once a while in my crowded out head. It's no longer my present but something finished and fading.
Another scene comes- my last day in the Paris of the South. I'm still wearing those harem pants as I stand over the kitchen table arranging my laptop and camera in my backpack and crying. I can’t control myself. It was strange because I knew all too well that I'd sit contentedly at kitchen table in the family farm house in the North Country within 24 hours. That is not to say that I felt no sorrow in the transition but enough of me was relieved that the move was softened considerably. I thought it might- I took Edu seriously. But the weeks following many of my other trips were often filled with acute longing so I couldn't help but wonder if that would happen this time. When I look back on those other trips now- my memories are more or less snapshots and no longer hold the fluidity of film- and see the teen angst that much of the reorientation home produced I'm embarrassed and think it all a bit ridiculous.
But I really valued the friendships I made and I hated that tearing feeling that came with leaving them. They could no longer be organic once forced to continue through email and the occasional visit. Maybe when you come from a place like I do you don't take such things for granted- it's a fact there are few people here. Our population is one of villages- it is rural and frontier. Either way, the leaving and the mourning that was sure to follow each of my adventures made me feel at the very least human. It was good to care so much and love and miss with so much passion. Now I just feel stagnant. I do not have much feeling at all - perhaps it's because I'm drained from last semester and the work that remains to finish up my college education. I am not unhappy nor happy to be here or to be there. I just am...I cried on occasion once back from Argentina. I cried quietly and seriously but always alone and always at night. I had learned how to be nocturnal under the equator. And then I went back to Gordon. I cried there too. But that was it. It was like when it happened at the kitchen table in Caballitos. I couldn't control it. I couldn't stop it. I let it out and that was that. I didn't sit and yearn for things I couldn't have. I just was...But not even that- it's not like my existence is steady or settled. It's not like I've stopped tossing around questions and pursuing solace in my memories. But I am apprehensive.
Shouldn't I know where I am already?
Or who I am?
I promised Claudia to make a half-decent attempt at continuing tango. I so honestly wanted to and yet as I drive out across snow covered back roads and look out onto collapsing barns and over-grown hay fields my mind starts to wondering about other things in this world. I don't know that dance could heal it even if I could find a place to continue learning how to.
Maybe when I wish to dance a sad tango I could just buy some malbec wine and put a tango on my itunes or listen to my Bajofondo station on Pandora radio in my bedroom just like I did those nights I stayed in back in Caballitos. I wouldn't tango but I'd write and write as the hours slipped by.
Truth is, I don't know that I even feel up to that. I still have that paper to finish. I still have that application to fill out. I have to be up for work. I need to stop and think. Maybe I don't need to miss Buenos Aires so desperately and play it all over in my mind like a favorite movie one watches again and again. It might be better to keep moving. It'd be nice to know that it all matters and not have to trust that it does.
But the trusting part comes more easily now- maybe that's what is softening my many transitions into adulthood and new places. Maybe I'm not really apathetic as much as I am ready. Ready to be filled. Ready to be directed. Ready to be still. Maybe I can have both movement and stillness and both reflection and direction.Maybe I don't have to be scared that I don't feel more and that I don't know more and that I am not more. I suppose it is when we are empty that we have the opportunity to be filled. Maybe now is my chance to be filled with what really matters. It's when we are transparent and translucent that we can either fade into oblivion or let light shine through. That is something real to rest upon.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Massimo Cruciani: Going to photograph the photographer’s paintings

Just towards the original gate of the medieval city of Assisi is a small studio that overlooks that overlooks the green Umbrian hills below. It’s raining and cloudy out but there is a warm glow coming from the Massimo Cruciani’s gallery. I am accompanying Elise D. on an interview as photographer. As soon as I enter I am taken with a large painting of an Italian poppy field. The red is instantly striking but as I look closer I am equally struck by the way the drops of gold in the center of the poppies glow and the way that the dark azure sky swirls onward towards its glass horizon.
As we wait for Massimo, Elise and I wander around the gallery. There are several other works of the countryside, villages with houses stacked up on each other and sunflowers. There are also several booklets with photos of his collections that include paintings of cities such as Hong Kong and San Diego. Among these books I notice a book of photography, The Long Road East, in both Italian and English with the face of a serious little boy on the cover.
His daughter, who works in the gallery, informs us that the book is a collection of the photos Massimo took on a road trip he took from Turkey to India when he was 22. The black and white photos portray a strange sort of journey. It’s the sixties and the two young men in the photographs are skinny with shaggy hair cuts. There are images of their Volkswagen beetle and a few of them posing proudly or making silly faces. There are both urban and rural landscapes but what stands out are the portraits- elderly men and women, women holding their babies, children playing, men working. I shut the book with the impression that its author is trying to say something through his photography that is both joyful and serious. It is a statement on life.
Massimo, like his painting of the poppies, is larger than life. He is tall and thin and wears a knit cap that covers his salt and pepper curls. He is a youthful sixtyish. He waltzes over to us and suggests that we go to the café next door for the interview as he is famished. He insists that we order, at the very least, something to drink and worries that we’re going hungry though we assure him we’ve just had a large lunch.
Elise begins her questions and I move around shooting some video footage and snapping photos. When he moves towards the camera waving with a smile and asking which way he should look I can’t help but laugh. The interview resumes when I tell him not to worry about it and to try to ignore the camera.
Massimo was born in Rome where he started out as a set photographer. Although we’ve met with him to talk about his glass paintings, he admits that his true love is photography. He worked as a set photographer and on assignment for magazines and newspapers in Rome during his early twenties. When his equipment was stolen at the age of 28, another artist offered to help him out by teaching him how to paint. By combining different techniques of the artists he worked with, he began to paint directly onto glass with acrylic paint and found his own style. He moved to Assisi in 1981 and enjoys the culture as well as its low-key atmosphere. He seems clueless in regards to his success as a painter perhaps because he never intended to be one. The way he tells it, it seems one day someone just happened to buy several paintings and then his style just happened to catch on. Before he knew it, he was shaking hands with the pope, heading to exhibitions all over the world and, of course, selling paintings.
When Elise finishes up her questions and closes the interview, Massimo takes this as his cue to interview us in turn and we talk about where we are from, what we are studying and discovering in Assisi. But I am anxious to ask him about his photography. He does not take many pictures these days, “Yeah but stupid photos you know like of my kids, my lovers, myself. I’m not too much into it anymore.”
He published The Long Road East a few years ago and is happy that the trip he set out on as a young man is now a beautiful collection of his early work. Although Massimo is honest about preferring photography over painting, he is remarkably positive about the direction his life took and rightly so. He appears much more the happy-go-lucky type then tortured artist. He does, however, confess he misses his dark room and seems a bit mournful regarding today’s digital revolution and the disappearance of film. This turns the conversation towards the instantaneous nature of today’s newer technology and I find myself explaining the way blogs work to Massimo who is wondering if he should add one to his website.
“I’d rather have a publisher. I’d rather write a book” I say as we explain how difficult it is to garner enough interest in a blog in order to make a living off it.
“That is some crazy idea. Start putting yourself naked or something like that” he remarks with a twinkle in his eye.
“Something shocking?” I ask as I wonder if he’s actually making a serious suggestion.
“No” he says, “But something that makes people say, ‘Oh let’s go there.”
His cell goes off and we continue talking for a while. Once finished, Massimo pays for his sandwich and our drinks (I offer to pay for mine but he shrugs it off, “It’s only two euros”) and we head back into the gallery to take a few photos of him with his paintings. He smiles mischievously, “So, should I take off my clothes?”
Thankfully, Massimo has already garnered enough interest in his artistry without having to resort to such blatant exhibitionism. No doubt his generous spirit has helped him along the way. He suggests Elise and I each pick out a print of his paintings. When I say I can not decide between the village scene or poppy field he tells me he’ll give me both of them and Elise should pick two as well. He tells us we’re both smart girls so one day we will be able to afford one of his glass paintings.
“Come back and say goodbye before you leave Assisi” he tells us as we head out onto the stone street. I promise I will. I already know what book I am bringing home as a souvenir.

UPDATE: I wrote this while still in Assisi. When I returned to buy the book, Massimo sold it to me for less than half-price and I couldn't be happier with my souvenir. In fact, he gave all of us in the class wonderful deals on the book and prints. Grazie mille Massimo! It was lovely to meet you!
Elise's much more official and well-written article on the artist is up on the IJSA blog. It's under "Assisi" and is called "Artist's Town." Read it!