To the Sound of Horns at Crescendo

I discovered a song with my name in it while watching Us Dead Talk Love by Ed Atkins. Walking into the room, I was first attracted to the sweet voice of the speaking cadaver and a recurring slightly curved black line, cutting midway through the images like the first stroke of calligraphy writing, the focal point and the leitmotif to a love story. The slash rendered as eyelash took on the dimensions of an objet petit a. Two wide screens were alternating images of the cadaver’s severed head complete with high definition zits (the head kept making me want to leave but I stayed for the voice) and the iconography of romantic and erotic symbolism depicting falling apples and reclining marble statues.

Later, as the rambling narrative mentioned an eyelash and foreskin along with the meandering stream of words evoking fossilized time, the understanding of “I,” the metaphysics of representation, and the human body in biological terms, there it was, the obvious confession by the cadaver “as in, I love you.” As the images flashed binding the eyelash to a dream world and the melody of the voice feeling like love’s own caresses, the instrumental sampling from the musical Todd Sweeney comprised of horns and percussion rose to a climactic crescendo as I was lulled into my own reverie of eyelashes and eyebrows.

Ed Atkins Us Dead Talk Love, 2012

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A Love Affair with Myself

A Palermo lady upgraded my room to one with a view of Teatro Massimo. Teenage kids party, socialize, dance, drink wine, and make out all around it. I fed a homeless cat a hot dog in front of a cafe on one of its side streets.

Inside the theater, there is a room originally only for nobles called Pompeian Hall or the Echo Room with frescos from Pompeii circling it. If you stand in the center of the room and speak, your voice echoes and everyone can here you. But if you stand anywhere else, your conversations will be drowned out by other conversations, keeping all conversations private.

When this lady found out I would be spending two nights in Messina, she grimaced and said, “Messina is not worth the trouble. Just sleep there.”

I told another Milanese lady I’d be going to Messina and her eyes went wide and asked, “Why?”

Then in a long-winded fashion I tried to explain, “I saw these paintings in the Risorgimento museum in Turin and…” and before I could finish she said, “You’re going because of Garibaldi ?!” and then she laughed for a good 2 minutes.

I blame the tempera paintings of Carlo Bossoli found in the National Museum of the Italian Risorgimento Turin. I saw Messina and decided to go. His little room of paintings showed the Piedmontese conquering and yet also admiring the view.

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Attack on Messina by Carlo Bossoli

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I blame Filippo Juvarra for being born there and Caravaggio for being on the run. But it wasn’t as ugly as everyone said it would be. Although everything was destroyed in an earthquake, the so-called ugliest city in Sicily still had its charms. I saw the Strait of Messina and its like the width of the Rhine in Cologne. In the distance, you can see the white buildings of Reggio Calabria. I had a Bronte pistachio gelato twice. I saw a boat called “Tourist & Carton” and found my little poseur dog from the Boudin painting I loved so much. He is a little bigger in real life.

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The Beach at Trouville, 1865. E. Boudin
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“Tourist & Carton” ship off in the distance and the Boudin dog

So I asked this Palermo lady the places she liked the best in Sicily and she said, “Agrigento in the south. It has 5 Greek temples and Erice with over 100 churches. And the most beautiful in the sunset, the salt dunes in Marsala.”

“Marsala, like the wine?”

“Yes, they also make salt.”

I thought damn, my love story did not take me there.

Noto In the Cold November Rain

 

In Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard,” the nephew Trancredi arrives unexpectedly one cold November evening to the Salina family home in Donnafugata soaking wet from a thunderstorm. Trancredi exclaims, “Careful, Nuncle; don’t touch me, I’m a sponge!”

It happens quickly, becoming a sponge. When I walked out of the train station in Noto, the pavement was dry but within 10 minutes, about halfway up to the city center, which gradually climbed uphill, small streams of water were diverging at the tip of my shoes with each step I took and I had to leap over larger puddles created in-between worn tracks in the road. The raindrops came down holding hands, hitting my glasses together in a splash. I cursed myself and got stares of curious pity from the drivers.

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After the rainstorm drenched everything, within another ten minutes, I was climbing up the stairs of this church soaking wet. I’ve never seen one placed so high. Then, walking down the main street in front of Noto Cathedral, an image familiar and strange appeared, Andy Warhol in a black turtleneck against a yellow background in a show entitled “Warhol è Noto.” The poster hung like a banner down every lamppost and he was dressed in style even though that image must have been taken at least 30 years ago. But the exhibition had closed, I was too late. Walking back in the other direction, I saw the moon, not above the cathedral but below.

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And then, as I was walking back toward the train station, this gigantic, perfectly in bloom red rose with tiny raindrops all over it peered down at me from above a fence.

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Of Lovers and Diet Pepsi

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The range of reactions from the audience to Anne Imhof’s Angst II exhibition as durational opera during Berlin Art Week this year ranged from “Turner Prize” to “You could be one of the performers” [the equivalent of “I could have done this”]. The first reaction I heard came from two German girls standing behind me at the entrance waiting to get into the general public opening night, “Der Nebel! Ich liebe Nebel!” [Fog! I love fog!] I thought, has fog become the new sunset. Throughout the evening I heard comments like “This is lasting forever [when there was still 3 more hours to go],” “Berghain in a museum [Berghain several times],” “Just your average night in Berlin [Americans bragging to out-of-towners],” and “hahaha lets go.” The crowd was also a mixed, broad and diverse sampling of Berliners and visitors. I saw middle-aged and older museum goers, start-up CEOs, tourists, cool kids dressed in black and PR party girl types. This wasn’t an emotional piece but it made me think about it for quite awhile.

The smoke machines filling the main hall of the Hamburger Bahnhof offered a thrilling aspect for me as a lover of smoke/ fog. I spent about three hours walking back and forth taking photos and almost running into one of the main non-beings. The humans in the piece were not performing as humans but as the equivalent of objects. The gestures slowly performed by the non-beings were like tableaux vivants or living pictures with ready-made objects. The living pictures showed the postures and movements the bodies made with a mobile phone or a cigarette or shaving cream but blankly. Without the objects, their gestures were at times highly stylized and mannered, sometimes recognizable and other times not. Often the gestures mimicked exhaustion, death, boredom, fatigue or the audience. And the vacant looks of the non-beings were well-executed by this cast. They did however at times acknowledge each other. Almost immediately, I realized how gendered and almost Quattrocento my own postures and gestures were compared to these non-beings whose gestures were androgynous, desexualized, and highly anti-social.

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It’s difficult to be moved by the musical sound of a soda can going “pop” or for shaving cream to be used not for the non-beings, whose bodies no longer had any hair but so that the shaving cream could perform and the razors could have its moment. The roles were interestingly reversed but whether equality was achieved, that is harder to tell.

Although the piece had no narrative and the audience was told this, I still couldn’t help but try to follow a conventional narrative structure, convinced that if I stayed till the end, something might happen. I didn’t make it to the end but it was interesting to know that I kept on thinking it would. Even though the humans were non-beings, the regular humans still followed them around and gave them more importance than the objects because that was also an old habit to break. In fact, most of the drama was actually created by the drones, the falcons, the smoke machine, the shaving cream, the razors, the Coca-Cola/ Diet Pepsi cans and mobile phones. Once the falcons left the stage, it was fairly uneventful.

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That non-being had less of a role than a soda can

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My Neapolitan Novel Moment

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Wedding photos at Torregaveta beach

In Elena Ferrante’s second Neapolitan novel “The Story of a New Name,” Torregaveta makes an appearance when one of the characters tells her husband she wants to go to the beach with her small son, and her husband, who no longer loves her, tells her to take a bus to Torregaveta.

The bus ride starts from a Naples train station one stop removed from the main train station; the dead end last stop with rows of worn graffitied regional trains parked side by side almost in the dark. The seats in these regional trains are metal and miniature like cable car seats making them hood on the outside but dainty and refined on the inside. Once you leave Naples, the Naples-Torregaveta bus ride is almost entirely along the coast, like the Almalfi Coast route but less winding and less steep. This bus ride requires almost no attention from the bus driver, who frequently had his eyes off the road.

While I was stranded there for 20 minutes, I saw three different wedding groups having their photos taken and as the novel relates, it was not a Capri crowd. From a distance, I saw a little girl in a white dress constantly fluffing a bride’s gown. It was the best image I took in Naples, during my last few hours there. At the time, the only reference I had was to the book cover of the first novel, which I had not yet read, and so I had no idea the location would also signify something in the novel. What’s even more weird is that I had entertained the idea of being a mother with a child on this bus and wondered what it would be like.

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The Man who Lost his Wife at Caffè Al Bicerin

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Google image search

I could almost trace the place it was when Alexandre Dumas (the father), Nietzsche and Giacomo Puccini sipped a Bicerin there. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to walk in looking like another Chinese tourist unable to speak Italian and just shout out “Bicerin” (a coffee, cream, chocolate drink invented in this cafe and something you’re told you must drink before leaving Turin) but I did and I felt sorry for the historical cafe for doing it.

Who knew that red velvet bench seats, marble tables, little wooden chairs, and a mirrored and wooden wall paneling would not photograph well together. A materially rich environment was suddenly made cheap by its image. I had the whole place to myself for a good 15 minutes just sipping on a Bicerin, perfect conditions for some iPhone photography. I tried again and again but nothing, not even a cropped, Instagram filter could make it look interesting. The shadow was too illusive. (the photographs you see below required a second visit from another trip except for the first image)

As I sat there, I watched the other tourists stumbling in and one was a real Chinese tourist, a man with his family, a wife and a child I never got to see. He did something similar to me. He said the word “Bicerin” and then held up three fingers and then pointed outside. However a few moments later, he realized that the real experience of the cafe was inside and so he sat down and waited for his drink. His wife never joined him. I imagined it went something like this. She having never seen the inside wanted to stay out in the good weather or simply didn’t care for historical experiences and he felt differently.

Once his drink arrived, he slowly sipped his Bicerin while looking at his phone and I did the same. For awhile, it was just the two of us and a local Italian lady defiantly ignoring us as she read the newspaper, had an espresso and chatted with the proprietress.

Then a waitress went to the Chinese man and said that his wife had already paid for his drink. He didn’t seem alarmed by this in the beginning but then once he got up and found his wife was no longer there, the speed of his movements changed.

I also left around the same time and saw him later across the street, looking erratically around him, frantically texting, and speed walking to a place he didn’t know.

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