Notes From Italy, Vol. 4: Naked In Church

Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_AdamVol. 4 in my Notes From Italy series.

If I had to list the most ubiquitous things in Italy, that list would certainly include two items I’ve mentioned in previous Notes From Italy posts, Tiny Vehicles & Food.

Also competing for a top slot on that list:

All Things Catholicism

Perhaps it’s stating the obvious, with Italy being the birthplace of the Catholic Church, but however much I knew what I was getting into, I was still amazed and occasionally overwhelmed by the dominant place the religion holds in the country.

Harboring my share of criticisms of the Church, but nonetheless able to admire the expressions of devotion manifest in the empirically beautiful art and architecture that abound in Italy, my family and I visited quite a few churches, chapels, cathedrals, basilicas, etc., and having done so encountered, up close and personal, a rather interesting cognitive dissonance:

Despite the fact that the Catholic Church is a bastion of conservatism, and Italy the center of the Catholic universe …

… there are a LOT of naked people, basically everywhere!

No experience brought this seeming contradiction to mind more than our visit to the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.

Let’s suppose there was a person who knew nothing about Catholicism or Christianity, and had no idea what a chapel is, but at the same time was someone who has had some exposure to even the mildest form of pornography. Well, I truly believe that if this supposed person walked into the Sistine Chapel, at first glance, they might just get the wrong idea.

In other words, there is a LOT of skin, and buttocks, and breasts, and nipples, and the occasional penis … in just about every direction you look!

last judgment

At the same time, every few minutes or so, the guards yell out to the crowd to stop talking and stop taking photos, because, they say, it is a very holy place.

Go figure!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 5: Miscellaneous One Liners

Notes From Italy, Vol. 1: Italians & Leisure As Art

Leisure Italia
My lovely wife and I, attempting to emulate Italian leisure.

On our very first day in Florence, the first destination of our 2-week visit to Italy, the very first thing that dramatically stood out to me was:

Italians make hanging out, leisurely, look so utterly, authentically, natural, in a way that Americans only wish we could.

Put another way, it makes perfect sense that the same people who, for hundreds and hundreds of years, produced legendary artistic achievements — seen and heard around just about every corner, in the legendary art and architecture, in the very way, for instance, that Florence was sited on the banks of the Arno River, with it’s lovely string of bridges leading from the city center across the river to the Oltrarno District, where one can naturally start heading uphill to enjoy the perfect sunset view of the birthplace of the Renaissance from Piazzale Michelangelo — have made leisure an art form.

As you stroll through the narrow, cobblestone streets, it seems that every other doorway is a café, bar, or restaurant with outdoor seating, even the tiniest hole-in-the-wall establishments have a handful of stools in the doorway or out on the narrow sidewalk, and Italians sit there with their espresso or glasses of wine in their hands, seemingly not a care in the world, fully relaxed, entertained by just being there.

Back home in the U.S., most people seem to always be thinking about and concerned with where they aren’t or where they need to be next, constantly interacting with their mobile phones, even in the company of others, while in Florence there was hardly a phone in sight, and even then a brief glance and back into a pocket or purse it goes.

Of course, this does not in any way mean that Italians don’t work hard. They very much do, more times than not in less than desirable jobs, thanks to a weak economy.

It’s just that when they aren’t working, they REALLY know how to NOT work.

There was one glaring exception to this characterization of Italians as Zen-like artists of leisure, but you’ll have to wait for Vol. 2 of Notes From Italy for that!

Ciao!

Comes A Time. Not THAT Comes A Time. So Beautiful It Aches.

Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
Says, “Don’t you see?
Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe
Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup
That only love can fill, only love can fill”

Been walkin’ all mornin’, went walkin’ all night
I can’t see much difference between the dark and light
And I feel the wind and I taste the rain
Never in my mind to cause so much pain

Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
Says, “Don’t you see?
Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe
Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup
Only love can fill, only love can fill”

From day to day just letting it ride
You get so far away from how it feels inside
You can’t let go ’cause you’re afraid to fall
But the day may come when you can’t feel at all

Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
Says, “Don’t you see?
Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe
Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup
That only love can fill, only love can fill, only love can fill”

–Robert Hunter, Grateful Dead, “Comes A Time”

Take A Swim In These!

Out Of Office: My Muse Is Otherwise Occupied Edition

outIt’s been a longstanding tradition of mine, here at Fish & Bicycles, to announce when I will be unable to post for a while.

This series of Out of Office posts has spanned the last five years, they usually marked occasions when I was traveling, but sometimes I just knew I’d be too busy to blog during the winter holidays or other life events.

THIS, is not one of those occasions.

Though I actually am leaving tomorrow for Kaua’i, and will not be home until March 1st, the real catalyst for this post is the fact that my muse, who has been by my side as a writer for many years, with just one disappearing act from June 2013 to November 2014, has been completely and utterly occupied by a different creative pursuit of mine…

…music!

My muse isn’t very good at multitasking, and as my latest music project started to get serious, right around the beginning of this year, very little inspiration for writing has come my way.

The only place I’ve consistently found my muse lately has been here:

studio

I’m super fortunate to be playing with a group of musicians of the highest caliber, in a studio like this, making the most complex music I’ve ever attempted to play.

One of the founding principles of this band was that we are all treating it as an opportunity to learn and grow as musicians; no small task when you consider that, except for our 20-something keyboard player, we’re all over the age of 50, hence lots of new tricks for old dogs.

But, considering that there is growing scientific evidence that making music can help stave off dementia, this is probably the very best thing that I can be doing for myself right now.

A friend of mine who shares with me a love for the music of the Grateful Dead, just tonight sent me a link to a YouTube clip featuring Jerry Garcia telling a story about a time when he had to play a concert after he had accidentally been dosed with LSD. Jerry explains that he got very paranoid before he had to go on stage, thinking there were mafia gangsters in the crowd who might want to kill him, especially if he went out there and couldn’t play because he was tripping on acid.

And so, in order to get through the situation, Jerry said to himself, “I’ll play for my life.” It worked, and it became a kind of mantra for other times in his life when he felt, musically, in a tight spot.

I relate to that, in numerous ways. Making music feels to me as if I AM playing for my life, not thinking that someone will kill me if I don’t play well, but because making music gives me life, sustains me, makes life worth living, makes life MUCH more fun.

SO … I’m not really sure when my muse will steer me back to writing, but Fish & Bicycles means much too much to me to give it up.

Most likely, after I have focused on music for a while, once the band has fully gelled, once we’ve been through the learning curve for the 30-40 songs we’re working on, maybe then some of my brain capacity will be freed up, and my muse will sense this available creative resource, and the inspiration to put words together in hopefully compelling ways will return.

Until then, thanks so much to any and all of my readers out there. If you’re subscribed, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, etc., you’ll see me again when you see me.

Cheers!

R.I.P., David Bowie: A Delayed Reaction

david-bowieOk, folks. This post really IS about the death of David Bowie, but I hope you’ll indulge my taking a scenic, time machine route to his obituary.

On a hot Los Angeles, California summer night, July 10, 1989, having just read the New York Times obituary for the famous voice of Bugs Bunny and other Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, I emerged from my room in the 3-bedroom apartment I shared with my two longest-standing friends from back in New Jersey, slowly walked down the hallway, through the living room, and into the dining area, where my friends Mike & Keith were seated, and the following, two-line exchange happened:

Me: I can’t believe Mel Blanc is gone.

Keith: I can’t believe he was here.

Ever since, for over 25 years, whenever someone dies who inspired, influenced, entertained, or was otherwise meaningful to us, either by email or text one of us sends the first line of that dialogue, and it’s a race to see who will first respond with the second line.

And while it may seem strange to crack a joke upon the loss of someone meaningful to us, it was never a reflection of a lack of caring. We’re from New Jersey. It’s how we deal with loss.

So, what does this have to do David Bowie?

Well, of all the people we have eulogized in this manner, Bowie comes the closest to someone who I really can’t believe was ever here, hence my delayed reaction.

Employing another anecdote, recently a Facebook friend posted this:

OK, been a while since I’ve done one of my random musical questions. This time I want to hear something that you think of as just utterly unique and off the beaten track … stuff where you hear it and just think, “What just happened?”

To me, THAT was David Bowie.

I had that reaction the first time I heard Space Oddity, Fame, or Heroes, or the entire The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars album, and if it wasn’t the entire song, it was specific lyrics:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

A small Jean Genie snuck off to the city
Strung out on lasers and slash-back blazers
Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters
Talking ’bout Monroe and walking on Snow White
New York’s a go-go, and everything tastes right

You’ve torn your dress, your face is a mess
You can’t get enough, but enough ain’t the test
You’ve got your transmission and your live wire
You got your cue line and a handful of ludes
You wanna be there when they count up the dudes

… or it was his constantly shifting appearance:

Bowie-gif

So yeah, to paraphrase my friend, What the fuck just happened?! This doesn’t sound or look like anything I’ve heard, read, or seen before!

David Bowie was the ultimate artist-musician. I might not have liked everything he did, but I never doubted that he was constantly evolving and striking out for new ground, and his massive success and critical acclaim speak for themselves.

That Bowie accomplished all that while boldly and unapologetically challenging deeply embedded, narrow, and rigid gender identities is nothing short of heroic. He made millions of people feel less alone for not fitting neatly into one of two prevailing and accepted gender stereotypes. An incredible gift.

So, thank you David Bowie, for all of the music and courage. Rest in peace.

 

 

 

Admiring vs. Inhabiting Modern Minimalism

I credit Apple, Inc., for turning me on to minimalist design, an aesthetic that I became enamored of and nearly obsessed with …

… that is, until I inhabited it.

But, let’s start from the beginning, with the iMac G4, a mindblowing — to me anyway — reinvention of the personal computer:

imac-g4

Yes, previous Apple products had been rather minimalist, but this is the one that got me.

Now, let’s be clear, Apple did not, in any way, invent Minimalism, which, as a modern art form, dates all the way back to the early 1900s, AND has ancient roots in the Japanese Zen aesthetic principle of wabi-sabi.

But my eyes were opened, and eventually I would find myself attracted to minimalist art, architecture, and interior design.

I found the images and objects soothing in their simplicity. They seemed a welcome, refreshing contrast to the chaos, clutter, and decay in the world, and in some ways it all felt therapeutic to me, like meditation.

Then, about four years ago, my wife, son, and I moved out of the 100-year old Craftsman home we’d been living in for 20 years, and moved into a brand new, VERY modern house, which we decked out with modern furniture and decor, surrounded with minimalist landscaping, and then, slowly but surely …

… we found that inhabiting minimalism changed EVERYTHING.

What had been soothing and tidy from a distance became sterile and cold when it surrounded us day in, day out.

Rather than serving as a peaceful contrast to the disorder of the outside world, our house came to symbolize, to me, humanity’s ancient, foolhardy pursuit of permanence in an impermanent world.

Nature is, by nature, very messy, and yet we erect meticulously clean structures and adorn them with manicured lawns and landscaping that require near constant weeding and mowing and edging and pruning. Given the massive financial investment a house represents, some maintenance is, of course, necessary and wise, but bending nature to our will, to make it look the way we want it to, to allow it to exist only where we want it to exist, seems rather like hubris.

Additionally, modern minimalist homes and furniture do not age gracefully, as opposed to old Craftsman or farmhouse style homes, on which wear and tear adds a charming patina.

Starting with the very first scratch on our dark bamboo laminate flooring, one ding or scratch after another proved unavoidable, standing out like open wounds, and even a healthy scar left by a decent repair made things that had originally been designed to be pristine appear shabby.

Of course, this is all very subjective. I’m sure that many modern home dwellers are quite content, and I regret if anything said above comes across as judgment. For some, I suppose, the efforts to keep a clean, minimalist home clean and minimalist could be a meditative experience, and maintaining beauty and order a spiritual practice.

There clearly is no right or wrong here.

For us, the search is now on for our next home. It’ll be back to an older-style structure with older materials, where we can be our naturally cluttered and worn selves, where we’ll be made comforted and cozy by nature in all it’s messy glory.

nature-reclaiming-abandoned-places-5