Saturday, April 28, 2012

World Class Procrastinator

 my favorite milan park

There should be awards for this.  Though I have been getting a lot of other things done today, even if my paper is not written.  After watching 2 clips of Family Ties on youtube, I realized I should at least go and enjoy the day.  There is a smartly-placed gelato stand between the park and the church piazza in my neighborhood.  I favor the park because, at this point, it feels like an old friend.  Now I know that the looking orange building is not abandoned but a library.  The park was filled with teens in the grass, daughters strolling with their mothers, and me.  I have been reading Primo Levy's If This Is a Man  angry that I had not read it earlier, that I had not heard of it, and I wonder if I would've understood it earlier.  The horror of it is not in the dramatic retelling of atrocities but of the lack of drama.

In other procrastinations, after Italian class the other night I went to the cafe near school with the lovely garden seating and had a glass of wine and drew.  While I did, the waiter stood at the bar and drew my table from his perspective.  One day I will have many drawing to share with you.

cloister at Santa Maria della Grazie

And for my last short story, I am preparing to leave Milan, physically and mentally.  I like it here but I am ready to be moving.  It is a lot to think about and the other day the thoughts came too fast so I returned the the cloister at Santa Maria della Grazie to see the frog fountain.  Thanks, guys.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Brief History Lesson

 the barracks at Fossoli

The danger of travelling as a tourist is to visit a place to say you have been there without having an intention for your experience.  It is just as foolish to travel and deny that you are merely a visitor.  I have been lucky in my both of my stays in Italy that I have had professors, American and Italian, who want us to understand what we are seeing, who give historical and social context to what we see.  We have readings and discussions about our subjects in a classroom, but they are preparation for the incredible field studies we experience. 

Equally important is having an enthusiastic tour guide.

A few days before the National Celebration for the Day of Liberation in Italy, my history class visited the town of Carpi, a museum and monument to the plight of Jews during the Holocaust and to the concentration camp at Fossoli.   A student from another class asked me, “Italy had concentration camps?”  Our knowledge of history is often diluted to the basic facts of winner and loser, good and bad.  Italy had been Fascist.  But what happened after Mussolini had been unclear to me.  But there were camps in Italy, prison camps and centers for the collection and transporting of Jews from 1943-45.  From these camps in northern Italy, they went to Auschwitz.  

Over and over, our tour guide, Maria, showed us how we can remember things in certain ways as to remove blame.  Americans learn about the awfulness of Nazis and to fear Stalin’s communism, but we rarely and briefly talk about the internment camps in the U.S. for Japanese Americans.   Maria told us that Italians also “forget” about the camps in Italy, and blame the Germans.  But she says they must remember, must accept responsibility, or the same thing can happen again.  

The camp at Fossoli was established first by Italians for British prisoners of war and then for the interment of Jews.  In March 1944 it was taken over by the Germans, but until then it was under the control of Italian Fascists.  Now the camp is a place for people to come and learn about what happened here.  Maria tells us about its history, and daily life.  It was difficult, but not as bad as the camps in Germany and Poland.  She says that here, in Fossoli, there was still hope, still a chance to talk with family outside, to receive food.  She told us that the food here was prepared by others being held in the camp and so it was made with care.  Prisoners remember the food being good, but it was not from ingredients or seasonings but because here, people still could take care of each other.   Jews and political prisoners were held here, in separate barracks.  She spoke about Odorao Focherini, who helped provide false identity cards for Italian Jews so they might escape to Switzerland.  He was captured and sent to Fossoli in 1944, eventually dying of a leg wound in Hesbruek.  Only after telling his story did she tell us that he was her grandfather.  

names of victims of the Holocaust
at a Synagogue in Prague
a similar monument exists for Italians
at the museum in Carpi

  The museum in the center of Carpi is a solemn building made mostly of symbols.  The architect was a survivor of a concentration camp.  Though many believe there is little you can do to relay the experience there, there are objects and words to invoke how one might have felt, and to understand the process through which the Nazis dehumanized the Jews, removing their individual identities and creating an efficient method for dealing with thousands of people by turning them into one faceless mass.  There are words carved into the walls from Jews who were captured, some who survived, and from many who were killed in camps.  

 looking out from the camp

Throughout this our guide remained energetic, posing questions to us to have us consider the psychological methods of the Nazis, their reasoning and the disturbingly efficient system they created.  More than a demonstration of right and wrong, Maria’s talk offered us ways to understand why and how this happened.  So that maybe we would be able to prevent this from ever happening again.  By considering process and not simply labeling Nazis as evil monsters, the story becomes more complicated but also closer to us. 

At the end of the day, a student asked our guide how she remained positive.  She seems to have such love and joy, and energy, even though the stories she tells of the camp are terrible and sad.  She says that she sees the good that people tried to do to help others, like her grandfather did, that there can still be good things done even against the worst imaginable.  That is what she wants us to remember. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Milan Fights Back

Studio windows

 People knock Milan for a lot of reasons.  Yes, it smells like urine. In the wintertime.  And it is dirty.  And it doesn't like to share its secrets.  And Berlin is cheaper and more hip.  Maybe Milan seems shallow.  And the food is better everywhere outside Milan.  Milan is not the most charming Italian town.  But things happen here. Luckily my art history teacher, a Milan native, wants to share these things with us.

glass and metal
 Today he brought us to the studio of Milanese sculptor Giancarlo Marchese, whose large scale glass and metal works are installed in outdoor public places and offer us a different lens with which to look at an environment.  Mr. Marchese answered many questions from us, let us look around his shop, and  talked to a few of us individually with our limited Italian (I finally formed a polite sentence!) He let me take these photos of his works-in-progress and even a glimpse of him through some of his glass.

Giancarlo Marchese

Two weeks ago, some acquaintances from different places in space and time arrived in Milan to work on a large scale installation.  I hadn't seen Monica Canilao in years, maybe since a kitchen show in Berkley I
 played with the Skorts and the Insurgent, but I have been following her work.  Last week the show opened at the Patricar Armocida Galley with her work, Swoon and Dennis McNett.  I missed out on helping with the installation but I was glad I made it to the opening night.  The installations were magical  and Harrison, who I met sometime ago in New Orleans, played a set of music in the largest room, lit only by the installations.

in the corner of the main room

 Afterwards, they invited me to the apartment upstairs for a post-show dinner in a beautiful room with a terrace, filled with art books, items of nostalgia and Milanese artists and printers who were so kind.  I regretted having to go home before the last train.  The show is up until July 20th when they will return to Milan to recapture the materials and bring them to Rome for a show there.  Good work, friends! 

inside a nest of prints, images and fabric

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rainy Days

secret fountain

 Lots of rainy day walks.  I don't even mind that it has been a little chilly.  I mark all the places where I have walked on my map of Milan and yet I still get lost in the center of town.  Sometimes, I can see a landmark or two and still cannot figure where to go.  The other day I was trying to get back to class when I found this over grown garden behind a gate.  I love peeking in doorways.  Just like in New Orleans, there are secrets back there.

There are also a lot of secrets on the outside--altars and balconies and this statue somewhere between my school and the duomo in my new favorite neighborhood for walking.

While in north-east Milan, I spotted this--a backyard.  There are not a lot of houses in Milan, mostly apartments.   I was on the edge of town, off my map, when I found this.


In that same part of Milan, there are a lot of new, industrial type buildings, and this skyscraper with a twisted exterior. Even in this part of town, I could see this building as I thought I got more and more lost.  And then I found what I was looking for.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Funday

my new desk 

Why didn't I think of this sooner? Today, I stole the ironing board out of our hallway to make a desk for myself where I don't have to lean over so much. I can use a real chair! We don't have an iron anyway so no one will miss it. You'd think with this exciting new development, I would sit and do my homework. Nope. Too nice outside. I went on a hunt for Milanese public art.
Maurizio Cattelan L.O.V.E. 

 And here it is. In front of the Milan stock exchange for the past 18 months is this 11 foot tall marble middle finger. Notice how the other fingers are broken off. And how the stock exchange is flipping us off. Thanks, free market.
Strawbita, Keep Writing #40 

 I have finally posted Keep Writing number 40 if, for some reason, you want to see a photo of it but are not interested in receiving cards. It is seven pm and still soooo sunny and clear, and not hot. In three weeks, I can travel at my leisure. Until then, a little more book learning.
from the Krewe of Rice and Beans, New Orleans, via Andy G.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Design Week Milan

Not only are classes nearly over, but it is Design Week in Milan with hundreds of events showcasing designers of all sorts, panels, art shows, and of course, appertivi. Also it has been raining like a fairy tale. The only event I have made it to so far was well worth the long subway ride and confusing directions. When I reached the Spazio MIL, there was a temporary workshop of letterpress workers organized by Milan's own Nove Punti, a group of eight designers and an architect. They have workshops, bring artists to Milan and show this city what type can do.
I met John from Flowers and Fleurons Press in Brighton UK who was printing these black and white graphics. The theme of the workshop was printing without electricity, a post-apocalyptic print world.
While everyone was busy printing, John went outside to start a different kind of type setting--carving letters into marble. I don't have any photos of that but I do intend to return Saturday and see what progress they have made. I got to try chiseling a line into the marble. The display and set up was lovely, people were friendly and having a good time. It was mentioned that we are lucky in the US, to have so much space that people hold onto presses instead of scrapping them, even when they don't know what they are for. I would add, I know see many more lady printers in the US than I saw today, though I was only there for a little bit and there was at least one women working on the presses. More photos Saturday!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rain Sweet Rain

So maybe you are thinking this is nice, Hope, hearing you list and describe the places you've been and whether or not it rained but don't you have work to do? Maybe you think that I here, at Gutwrench Press should be pressing something. Or at least drawing. I have been doing lots. Not as much as when I had a desk in the print dungeon at LSU but here in my little but bright shared apartment in Milan, I have been busy. I will take you on a tour.
First is my tiny desk/nightstand. I like postcards. It not just a crazy money-making scheme I've developed. I have a small but growing collection over my desk here.
I use the Gocco printer at the kitchen table. I have to wait until everyone is asleep or out of town. I take over our kitchen/living room. Yesterday I busted out 2 layers for May and June's cards, as I will be on the road starting mid-May. I am slowly getting the hang of Gocco printing, the last layer even looked good.
I want to use these stamps on everything. If you got a letter from me lately, or are about to, it will probably include these stamps of Don Luigi Sturzo, an anti-fascist Catholic priest with Socialist leanings. And a great peachy and brown color scheme. I buy them from the tobacco shop near school four at a time, much to to chagrin of the cashier. Somedays I also buy a piece of chocolate. And this is why I cannot complain about my life.
After printing all morning, I took a break for a tomato and cheese on arugula lunch. I ate the same thing today with 2 scrambled eggs. I did not eat it on top of the postcards. I just wanted to show off a little of the new cards without giving anything away. Thanks for visiting my temporary studio. In a few weeks, it will be packed up, shipped or stored to be reunited with the rest of my things in New Orleans. And then...oh you will just have to wait. Until then, many travels over here.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Again, the places I expect the least from always impress. I went to Padua to visit the Scrovegni Chapel because I somehow missed it two years ago. I allowed myself a few hours in town before catching a speeding train back to Milan to return to school. The Chapel is well worth the trouble of a reservation, arriving early, sitting in a pre-visit chamber all to stand for fifteen minutes in the middle of a chapel covered entirely by frescoes completed seven hundred years ago. I don't have any photos because 1)you can find photos online and 2) the photos always look too small. It was amazing.
The chapel is in the middle of the former Roman Forum, ye olde center of town, which is now a public garden. Padua is built on layers and layers of time. They even seem to stack up the plants. Spring is very kind here when it is not raining.
There is also a sculpture garden, which, echoing the theme of the city, piles old and new all together in haphazard harmony. I don't know why it works. But the 1960's style office buildings and old venetian style houses stacked up together made for a nice afternoon of walking the wrong way over and over.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fair Verona

I arrived in another haze of cold grey, and for a minute I thought maybe I should've stayed on Lago di Garda a few stops earlier where mountains and water and sun awaited. Also, the Verona train station is not very inviting. Also, I did not bring my coat since it is April and warm in the sun. If there is sun.
So first I found a place to eat, an enoteca with cheap glasses of wine and a bar of snack foods. I had a few tiny sandwiches, drew a few pictures, listened to the group of men who had moved inside talk to each table. Sure, the bartender wore a shirt that said YOU SUCK but since it was directed towards everyone, I appreciated his egalitarian hostility. He was actually very nice.
I braved the cold grey and was rewarded with a slowly sunny day. Verona is very beautiful, even in grey, and yet I didn't manage to capture that in any photos. But the trees were showing off fat green leaves, there were balconies all around, and though there were plenty of tourists at certain spots, I eventually wandered from church to church, enjoying the river view, and avoiding the crowds. I did not go to "Juliette's house" but I wandered along the river, climbed inside the amphitheater and ate dinner in the Piazza Bra. On my way back to the hostel I could not find a place to get a drink. It was Easter Monday and the streets were quiet and dark. Sometimes I felt a little like this guy:
eyes bugged out and a little overwhelmed but mostly, Verona is beautiful, great for walking slow and watching people.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

It's Not Your Fault

Oh Prague, it snowed upon my arrival. I walked under the astronomical clock wondering why didn't I go to the beach like everyone else for Spring Break. But I didn't. I walked and walked, got overcharged by the mystery man at the lunch place, under-impressed a stranger, found the cozier bar for reading but then reunited with two men from my plane which lead to too much Becherovka, and for my last night, a party in my hostel as I slept.
All that, and the greyness aside, the skies cleared one afternoon. It was warm enough to explore and I discovered side streets and public art. A giant heart made of candle wax that looks like a wall you can enter from the side. I sat in cafes and drew pretty chandeliers and ate cake. I found the park that seemed to follow the sun, and ate dinner at the same wonderful vegetarian place two nights in a row.
If only my trip wasn't bookended with grey. But grey days are a good excuse to stay inside a museum, like the Museum of Communism, which, among other things featured a 30 minute video about the student protests from 1969-89, during the invasion of the Soviet Union and later, the fall of communism. My hostel was on the same square where the tanks rolled in, where a student burned himself in protest, where the police beat the crap out of peaceful protestors, where night after night thousands of people gathered calling for the resignation of their government. But that didn't stop the party where I stayed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

More Walking

Few words tonight. A rare occasion. So enjoy these weird things I saw on my Easter evening walk in Milan.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

In the Neighborhood

Easter. Without any Easter candy. And it is colder outside than I thought. But I have been inside all day writing a paper about an anti-fascist women's group in Italy during the Nazi Occupation. I needed a walk. Somehow in the two months I have lived in this neighborhood, I have never been to the huge park down the street. So off I went, with my camera and my head full of Easter snot.
Something I like about Milan, is that it is only fancy on the surface. A German I met in Prague said Milan smelled like urine and is covered in graffiti. True. And there are tiny dogs and dog poo everywhere. Except, for some reason, in the dog area of the park. Instead there are these lonely benches. I like Milan for its scruffiness for its we're not downtown who cares about cutting the grass. Families walked through the park, a little girl spoke to her dad on a walkie talkie (I can't believe they still make those things).
There is a pedestrian bridge over the busy 4 lane road you have to cross. Later I realized the road is the same Kerry and I used when taking a taxi from the train station. From the top of the bridge, you can see the Alps and downtown. I made it home, now I'm gonna snuggle in and draw all night.


Returning to my story in reverse, before Brno, I spent three nights in Vienna, known in all else of Europe as Wein. Which suddenly makes linguistic sense of Weiner dogs and Weiner Schnitzel. It was bigger than I thought and I walked and walked around the old town my first night until I found a tiny vegetarian restaurant. The waiter was sweet and reassured me "there is time" when I seemed flustered. Along with Czech, I speak no German. And confusingly, I sometimes revert to Italian when I get flustered. It was warmer in Wein so after dinner I walked around the Rathaus, the city hall.
There was so much to see and it was too nice out to spend all day inside museums, so I chose a few. Mostly, I went to see Egon Schiele and other Viennese artists of the early 20th century. When I tired of these artists issues with women,(fear, madonna/whore, faceless or my "favorite" redemption of bad mothers), I went for a walk in a park. I was staying near the Schonbrunn Palace so I took the tram there one evening, after the palace was closed.
I didn't want a tour of the fancy insides but the palace grounds have been open to the public, even when the Hapsburgs were ruling. The palace is on a hill, above Vienna (it was their summer palace, and the hill continues up to a giant monument and a wonderful view of Vienna and the sunset.
Back in town, the city has a bike loan program that is easier than any other I've seen. I borrowed a bike my first morning and rode entirely around the old town, plus a few detours where the wonderful bike path seemed to end. I seem to have a magic touch for turning a bike path to a cobblestone dead end. I borrowed a bike a few times to get between sights and to explore. I stopped at a few cafes for expensive coffee and cake, though it was usually worth it just to sit and draw for an hour or two. Yes, on vacation I mostly ride my bike, drink coffee and draw. The closer I can get my regular life to that, the better it will be. Maybe in the summer, you can add swimming.