Archive | autumn

Quiet Andiparos…

I am visiting Andiparos for part of our fall break from the Aegean Center.  I have been sleeping in and staying up late reading and watching movies.  Today I drove around for a while and photographed some of the stone wall formations that wind their way across the rugged landscape.  I am disheartened by some of the building I see going on–large luxury estates high up on the sides of the mountains, along the steeply sloping terrain, ruining the views of the sea.  Still, with my Mamiya c330 I can extract the beautiful lines of stone from the uglier new constructions, taking them out of context by cropping out the obvious greed and ego of modern man.   Such is my fantasy.

Throughout the day I have had the song “Wichita Lineman”, written by Jimmy Webb and made famous by Glen Campbell, stuck in my head.   I have always loved the melodic loneliness and deep heart of this song.  A friend, mentor and colleague reminded me recently that country music is just as much ‘soul music’ as the famous hits of Aretha Franklin.   This song is a good example for it is in that broad expansive landscape that one hears the lonely soul of America, forever distanced from its European and Asian roots, forever isolated from the rest of the world.  Webb wrote,

I am a lineman for the county

and I drive the main road
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload

I hear you singin’ in the wire,

I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman

is still on the line

I know I need a small vacation

but it don’t look like rain
And if it snows that stretch down south

won’t ever stand the strain

And I need you more than want you,

and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

Campbell has many religious and political views that I do not share but one enduring legacy that I admire him for, however, has been his musical work, his labor.  As a member of the “Wrecking Crew” he was one of the most sought out session players from the 50s through the 60s.  He wasn’t a mainstream star until later.  Last year he announced publicly that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  He is currently on tour with his family, a tour which will be his last.  When I read Webb’s lyrics again, hearing Campbell’s voice, I cannot help but cry.

County Line Road, between Washington and Marshall Counties, Kansas.
Photo courtesy of Robert Crowe, photographer, St. Louis, Missouri.

For more of Robert Crowe’s photography and prose, please go here.

JDCM

 

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Some Emerson from an autumnal island…

The weather here on Paros has been a blessing.  It has felt like summer in early October and although the students at the Aegean Center are working hard and discovering the rhythms of the school, they have also enjoyed the sun, swimming and island life.  The heat, however, has forced those of us in the darkroom to take measures for chilling our chemistry.  This is not a problem, but it does require an extra step or two if one wishes to develop film properly.  We will begin printing next week and by that time the ambient temperature should have cooled and our lives will be less complex.  The breeze moving down the streets and alleys this evening is more crisp and there was a heavy dew this morning.  We are supposed to have some rain next week which will slowly turn the amber and silver-grey hills around the bay light green.  I enjoy the change of seasons and this time of year I am reminded that Paros, and all of Greece, has distinct times of year beyond the sun-drenched blue and white stereotype of tourist advertising.

red tomatoes in a blue bowl

I realized the other day that I left my collected Emerson paperback in Italy, perhaps in some hotel.  I imagine it slipped from my backpack and under the bed, forgotten in my eagerness to return to Greece.  I hope it ends up on some shelf to be read by a passing traveler.  I do have my  ‘A Year with Emerson”, which will quote for today, October 10.  He wrote about his ideal scenario regarding readers and how he would like to be perceived: “I would have my book read as I have read my favorite books, not with explosion & amazement, a marvel and a rocket, but a friendly & agreeable influence stealing like the scent of a flower or the sight of a new landscape on a traveler.  I neither wish to be hated & defied by such as I startled, nor to be kissed and hugged by the young whose thoughts I stimulate.”

He also wrote,

“Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide
upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There
are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are
right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some
of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it
takes brave men and women to win them.”

Both of these concepts–the idea of the more quiet path, modesty being the philosophy and the understanding that one must always be true to oneself and not falter regardless of outside influences–inspire me to be a better person.  The given fact is, of course, that I am human and will sometimes stumble, sometimes reach for glory or even react in a self-deprecating manner.  Imperfection makes the best and most lofty ideals attainable.

(Tomatoes have nothing to do with this post.  I just liked the picture. Think of it as an interlude.  It is also 4 years old and from New York.  Nothing to do with Greece, Emerson or anything at all, really.)

JDCM

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The hustle and bustle of an island evening…

At last, I am back on Paros.  Italy was lovely, inspiring and worth every second, but as the Aegean flight arced around to land in Athens I breathed a sigh of joy–back in Greece at last!

I have spent the last two days assisting the staff in opening up the school.  I have been sweeping, vacuuming and mopping the darkroom, washing out trays and I have made a fresh batch of Fix.  I will wait to make the other chemistry until Sunday or even Monday.  I have printed out a fresh batch of darkroom schedule sheets and straightened out the desk area for ease of use.  The restroom is well-supplied and I have made sure the window is light-tight.  Kala!  Polikala!

The rest of the students arrive tomorrow from their 3-day visit to Athens and from what I have heard they have had a wonderful time in that ancient and complex city, so different from Rome, Florence and Pistoia.  They will be excited to see the island, I am sure.  I know that I was, and still am, to be honest.  There is nothing like the adventure of sea travel and being able to say, “land ho!”, if only in you heart.

It was a huge relief to unpack my bags and put away my belongings.  I was growing tired of living out of my suitcase, so to speak.  As much as I adore travel, there is nothing quite so satisfying as coming home.  I guess I cannot say much more than that.  The weather is lovely and when I haven’t been working at the school, doing laundry or putting away my travel gear I have spent some time at the beach and swimming.  The water is perfect and the weather has been hot but not the unbearable oven that was August.  I have no food in my flat so I still have to go shopping but that lack of food at home has been a good excuse for eating out.   I have missed Greek food.  Yes, the Italians have some good grub, known the world over, but they seem to have missed out on something that Greece excels at.  I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, but there is a soul-fulfilling aspect to Greek food.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe it’s my soul.  Maybe I have been here before.  Maybe I have never left.

Tonight the neighborhood around Mikro Cafe is bustling with early evening energy.  Families out for a stroll, conversations on the doorsteps, and fundraising bazaars full of eager shoppers.   What a place I have found!  Not that this path hasn’t been walked before, but it feels right to me.

JDCM

 

 

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Ghosts in the Eternal City…

Rome.  As one friend called it, a palimpsest.  Echoes upon shades of history, currently covered with a veneer, like a carapace, of the modern age.  Here I am and I am not sure what I am doing.  I laid in bed last night, tossing and turning, the rusty wheels in my head grinding their chipped cogs, trying to make sense of it all.  I am surprised no one else heard the clanking din.  I finally slept around 04:30.

I exist in a grey area.  I have been here at the Aegean Center for over two years and this is my fifth session.  I have been designated a ‘working intern’.  I am not sure what this means but I know how it feels.  I fall somewhere in-between the students, who are much younger than I, and the faculty, of which I am not.  I wander this middle path feeling at times like a ghost, a shade in the midst of the group.  A good friend reminded me that perhaps I am inside an egg, dark and muffled.  If so, let’s get this hatching over with, please.

To thine own self be true”  can be applied to my current state.  I can keep my own counsel, play my cards close to my chest but when push comes to shove I have to be able to find the right people to speak to about my thinking.  This I will do.  Last spring I was honest about my feelings and for that I have lost a dear friend forever.  If I could change the past I would (who wouldn’t, really?) but the fact remains that I opened up my heart and welcomed vulnerability.  I am paying the price for this.  I wish I could just blow it off, be less sensitive, think of these things in a more superficial way.  I guess it is to my credit that I have depth and feelings but I envy those who can just shrug off life’s little tragedies like so many random raindrops.

There are few who I could go to and receive the direction I need.  Thankfully I have some friends here in Rome who can help me out in ways that most people around me will never understand.  I will see them tonight. We will laugh at our pains as we discard our phantasmagoric vestments for a time.  Ghosts no more, our temporal selves will reveal the human frailties and shortcomings normal for our kind.  As we disperse, we will blend back in to the mix, walking the middle grey again, another layer, more echoes, a faint outline resembling…

JDCM

white, middle grey (18%), and black

 

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Something caught my eye and holds it still…

Standing outside having coffee on this autumn afternoon I am reminded of the passage of time.  Looking south from here, across the valley of Pistoia and over the hills, I see a landscape that Gentile Da Fabriano could have used for his painting ‘Rest during the flight into Egypt’, the small panel beneath his much more elaborate and ground-breaking altar piece ‘Adoration of the Magi.’  Some art historians consider this small piece, the second of three, to be the first example of a painted landscape.  The rolling hills contain cast shadows, much like those my eyes trace here on the distant foothills of the Apennines.  There are strips of clouds, adding depth to not only Da Fabriano’s pigmented tempera but my own 21st century view.  Far away from Mary and Joseph, a small city sits on a hill, the gravely road winding its way towards their safe haven from Herod’s swords.  I can see a city from where I stand: Pistoia’s duomo and campanile rise up from the more modern town.  Olive groves and fruit trees are illuminated in this clear, crisp sunlight, the wind blowing their leaves, and I imagine the circumstances must have been cold and fraught with peril for the small family, colder still for the elderly Joseph leading them and the small baby held in the arms of a young mother.   The two servants walk behind them, perhaps gathering fruit from the apple trees at the bottom of the hill.  The landscape opens up on each side.  Such perspective and such drama for such a tiny piece of wood and paint.

This piece fills me with such love for humanity.  Every time I see it I am struck by the depth of the color and the size of the panel.  At only 32 x110 cm Da Fabriano has told an entire story.  It portrays such a human condition and the cast of players seem so common: an old man, his young wife, their baby, two assistants and a donkey.  Would we have paid any attention had it not been the Son of God?

JDCM

 

‘Rest during the flight into Egypt’, Gentile Da Fabriano

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Florence, Pisa and lunch…

The fall session of the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts is going swimmingly.  The students are a lively and engaged group of 26, myself included.  So far we have made a couple of day trips to Florence and our adopted hometown of Pistoia and have just returned from a long day in Pisa.  In the past week have seen some of the most influential art and architecture in the past 2000 years and all of our minds are full of inspired ideas to take back to Paros in a few weeks.  For those of us who have already experienced the work environment of Greece, we are champing at the bit to get to work and let loose some of this pent-up energy.  The downside is that we still have almost three weeks left here in Italy. The upside is, of course, that we still have almost three weeks left here Italy.  In a couple of days we head to Venice for a two-night excursion and then back again.  Following that we still have trips to Siena, Florence and Rome.  Interspersed are days spent at the Villa Rospigliosi in classes (drawing, watercolor painting, vocal training, writing, and photography discussions), one-on-one conversations with mentors and, of course, the deep fellowship that comes with an enriching experience such as this.  What I am saying is that for all that we have seen and experienced, there is still a great deal ahead.

The food here at the Villa is very good, filling and the kind of food that brings us all joy and comfort when our tired bones rest for dinner after trekking about all day long.  It is not haute cuisine but rather the kind of food one’s grandmother (not mine, by the way…she could barely boil water) might prepare.  The other night some students and I were discussing “Italian food” and I noted that here we are in Italy, eating dinner.  Therefore we were having ‘Italian food”.  As someone who has been in the food business in a professional capacity and still retains most of what he learned, I have to admit that even back then, 12 years ago or so, I had become disenchanted by all the ‘specialness’ and ‘preciousness’ of the so-called cuisines that  popped up every time a new celebrity chef graced the television or newspapers.  What I most desired was simple food, food that I have already written about here and food that exists in the sense memories of many people I know.  We remember a warm house on a cold day, the aroma of fresh cookies wafting over us as we shake the snow from our boots; the primal experience of grilling over an open fire as the sun sets on a summer’s day; the joy of family and friends as we all gather for a holiday feast.  Regardless of season, these memories flood my thinking, driving away the cold efficiency of Nouvelle-this or Pan-American-that…Where was I?

Ah, yes…food. Florence, Pisa and lunch.

Yesterday I found a lovely little spot off the tourist track, yet in the middle of Florence.  Tired with the usual panini routine, I emptied my mind and wandered about.  I turned a couple of corners and happened upon ‘Pizzacheria Antonio Porrati’, in the Piazza Pier di Maggiore.  The area was tiny, with three tables inside, a glass case with myriad foods prepared that day, dried pasta on the shelves and a large cabinet of wine. The fellow behind the counter greeted me with a joyful ‘buongiorno!’  Out of the many choices I ordered some roast chicken and  fresh green beans chock full of garlic and olive oil.  Dee-lish!  I ate my lunch, chatted with the owners and then went to join the rest of the school for our tour of the Uffizi Museum.  Once again, home-cooking has struck again, with its simple, nourishing and friendly tastes.  Today was a similar experience.  Pisa began with a tour of the large Pisan Romanesque church, its famously skewed campanile, and the ornate baptistry, followed by a break.  Lunchtime beckoned and once again I wandered back streets, away from the madding crowd.  What initially drew me to ‘Trattoria della Faggiola’ was the sign tacked to the door that read ‘NO PIZZA’.  What a relief!  The menu included carpaccio di salmone so I sat in the nearly empty place and enjoyed a plate of thinly sliced raw salmon on a bed of baby arrugala and a mixed green salad.  The simplest food filled the most demanding hunger.   A few minutes later I was touring the Camposanto, a structure in a state of almost constant restoration since the bombing of Pisa in the 1940s by the Allies.  There has been a great deal of progress on the enormous frescoes even since last year and they look lovely.  Thank you Deane Keller

Today we have classes here at the villa.  Lunch will be salads and leftovers from dinner last night.  Simple, nourishing food for hungry, working students and their teachers.  And tomorrow?  On to Venezia!  Andiamo!

JDCM

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Emerson at the Villa Rospigliosi…

I arrived in Pistoia Friday afternoon after a leisurely train ride through the Apennine Mountains from Faenza.  The day began with pouring rain in Ravenna which slowed and ended as I pulled into the Faenza station.  The remainder of the journey was shot with bright sun arcing through the kind of blue-grey clouds one only sees in high altitude geographies.  As we passed through Ronta, Borgo di San Lorenzo, Vaglia,  La Luna and other small towns I was struck how these mountain communities all have something in common.  Even Leadville, Colorado has a similar feel.  I hypothesize that it is the separateness of these communities from the larger populations.  Like islands, they exist on the trade routes of other city’s fortunes, whistle-stops along the way from one place to another.

As the iron rails wound downhill the landscape smoothed from sharp, stony teeth and spiked conifers to a rolling ruggedness covered with magnolias, plane trees and umbrella pines.  As I arrived in Firenze Santa Maria di Novella Stazione, I was struck by a memory from the early 1990s, the first time I pulled into this place, after an overnight ride from Luxembourg City.  The station hasn’t changed all that much and still ranks as one of my favorite train hubs. I can go anywhere from Florence, anywhere the compass points.

In his essay ‘Fate’, Emerson discusses education, the ability to teach and how at times we seem to be bound in a cycle of superstition.  He affirms his cynicism, with which I identify.  He writes,

“We are incompetent to solve the times.  Our geometry cannot span the huge orbits of the prevailing ideas, behold their return, and    reconcile their opposition.  We can only obey our own polarity. ‘Tis fine for us to speculate and elect our course, if we must accept an irresistible dictation.”

If Emerson sounds cynical, then perhaps he is.  Despite the open-minded nature and the spiritual axioms of the transcendentalists, I have found through my readings that Emerson was a realist and when, let us say, confronted by an unmovable obstacle, he would accept this as fact and walk away.  He talks of this reality in the above-quoted text.  People can learn only when they are willing to learn and only what they want.  If I remain open to all of the sights and sounds around me then I can learn more from the whole of the map than I would if I were to concentrate on one small area.  If, for example, I had disembarked at Borgo di San Lorenzo last Friday instead of taking the whole journey to Firenze, then my Weltanschauung would have consisted of less than what I am currently willing to entertain. As beautiful as the scenery is in that small town, it is not the entire world, nor my entire experience.  I have to be willing to be taught, to stay on the train if need be.  That is not to say that cannot jump off and get on as my heart demands.  I just have to remind myself that there is more to see down the line.

And so Emerson arrives at the Villa Rospigliosi, hands behind his back, ruminating in his clear New England voice.  I imagine he would have liked this place, with its running fountain, olive groves, and roses.  He would have enjoyed meeting the students and faculty of the Aegean Center.  Like him we are here on a small island of thought, day-tripping to other stops along the line.  I must not forget the larger map, the grander cartography, for even if I cannot see it at times it is there, as big as life.

JDCM

The Villa Rospigliosi

The Villa Rospigliosi, September home of the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts

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Charmed by Serifos…

Some would say that Serifos is a desolate place, barren and dry with few amenities.  I have found the opposite to be true.  It has just the right amount of  mod-cons for me.  It has one bank, one petrol station, wonderful and accessible beaches, excellent hiking, beautiful vistas, local grocery stores (no franchises) and a very friendly and hospitable local population eager to help an intrepid traveler from across the sea.  There are many restaurants, most of which fall into the middle-of-the-road category, a few that are trying to impress and at least one where I wish I had been eating all along.  First, the bad news…

I ate at ‘Aloni’ last night.  This place is situated on the hillside just below the Chora, overlooking the harbor. It is a lovely view and the restaurant itself is relatively new having opened in 2007.  I was pointed in its direction by a local business owner and I must admit it has many qualities I found enjoyable.  I sat outside and ordered simply: saganaki and a half-kilo of lamb chops with fried potatoes. The sagankai was perfect-crispy on the outside and gooey and hot inside.  I didn’t need to ask for lemon as it was served with a large chunk on the side, same with the lamb.  This, for those who don’t know, is something I have had to ask for on both Ios and Milos.  It is traditional.  The lamb chops were alright, a bit overdone, but the fat was crunchy and the meat still tasty if a bit dry.  The potatoes were decent.  Now, the downside.  I chose to sit next to two Greek men about my own age who were loud and boisterous, always on their mobiles and every third word out of their mouths seemed to be ‘malaka’.  I know it has multiple meanings and was probably being used in an affectionate and friendly manner, but I don’t need to hear it all through my meal at such a high volume.  Plus, how do I know it was being used affectionately?   In any case, back to the meal.  After finishing my entree I sat for at least 35 minutes with no sign of the waitress (not uncommon, and normal, so no big deal) but when I called her over she disappeared into the restaurant and returned with my check, which I had not yet asked for.  I guess I wasn’t having dessert.  I paid the bill and left, feeling as if I had been given the ‘bum’s rush.’  I was let down, to say the least.

Tonight, however, I found a secret restaurant, hiding in plain sight.  Next door to my hotel is the Hotel Cyclades.  The Hotel Cyclades is located away from the main cluster of the port restaurants and not in Chora, so they seem to be a little in the background of the hustle and bustle that is downtown Serifos.  I was overjoyed at being able to have a starter of melitzanosalata (acidic and rich) then a mixed dish of gigantes, imam and roast pork in lemon sauce.  I even ate the bread, which I usually try to avoid.  It was the best I have had here, chewy and flavorful.  The dessert was a traditional sweet cake and they brought me an excellent double espresso to wash it down.  Really superb and my kind of Greek food.  No pretense, no flash and no trying to ‘out-restaurant’ anyone else.  Just good Greek home cooking.  I cannot speak of their rooms but I imagine that they are as basic, clean and neat as these kind of family establishments tend to be.  Next time I visit Serifos, I will try to eat there more often.

As I sit outside at the Serifos Yacht Club, listening to a mix of world groove and enthusiastic action from the European Football League playoffs on the big screen I am washed in a balmy breeze from across the small harbor.  The parade of life that is Serifos on a Friday night wander past, off to dinner, cafes or coming home from one of the same.  I have yet to pack my bags for my short boat ride to Sifnos tomorrow at noon.  I have to return my trusty Suzuki Vitara in the morning and pay my hotel bill.  Yes, I will say ‘ephcharisto para poli’ and ‘yassou!’ to Serifos but only for a short time. I am looking forward to returning, perhaps in the fall when the crowds have thinned out and Serifos is once again the Serifians.  I will hope to find some sun in the gradually shrinking days of autumn, dine at the Hotel Cyclades and find a less aggressive light in the whitewashed streets of the Chora to photograph.  I will bathe in the sea, still warm from the summer heat and count my lucky stars that I have been able to experience this place, this small island of Serifos.

JDCM

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Watching the sea from a quiet place…

I am sitting here on Paros, in a small cafe called ‘Pebbles’.  The sun is out and sky is full of big, puffy white clouds.  It is chilly and windy so the large picture windows frame the blue Aegean, the scattering of small islands and the tip of the peninsula across the bay.  Near the tip, where the rocks meet the sea is a small church.  The blue dome is darker than the pale blue sky above it.  It is the Church of Agios Fokas whose name day is September 22.  I am not sure what he is the saint of, or why he was martyred, if at all, or what miracle he performed.

I have only a small amount of work to finish in the darkroom.  Two more re-prints tonight and then I can begin the selenium process. After that I can matte the 13 pieces that will go into the flip file at the student show on December 9th and choose the one piece to hang.  I am pleased with the results and believe they show great skill, craft and an elevation of the commonplace to a higher status.

My digital work seems to be at a standstill with six finished pieces of the twelve I wish to complete.  Truthfully I am waiting to hear what the Director’s decision will be on nude figure studies among the students.  I still feel as if I have been discriminated against either due to my age, gender or sexual orientation (which is indeterminate-love is love and should follow no gender.)  To be honest, I have no desire to photograph anyone nude anymore and my current work does not contain any examples of this milieu.  A few days ago another student shot a nude figure study with a female student and for all I know this has been sanctioned by the head office.  I applaud his work for I feel that this an art school and this kind of work should exist and continue to be a part of the process.  It is not a cloistered convent or monastery.  I feel sad about the turn of events for I feel that my future here on Paros hinges on the decision to come.  If the answer is that some can and some cannot, then I will not return in the spring and, indeed, may even leave before the student show in less than two weeks.  I am willing to admit that in the past I have made horrible and devastating moral and ethical choices.  I am also ready to stand up for the fact that in the past 10 years I have not made these kinds of choices due to radical changes in my life and lifestyle. Instead I have tried to stand firmly on a rock of honesty, willing to admit when I have been wrong and trying my best to not condemn others for their own human failings.  All of this takes a great deal of work.

So this quiet cafe overlooking the ever-changing sea is good for me today.  Keith Jarrett is on the stereo and his meditative piano blends well with the sound of the wind outside, the wash of waves on the rocks and the gradual sinking of the sun to the western horizon.  I have turned over my problems to those who can help me the most and hope that the worst is merely a figment of my imagination and that this has been just a misunderstanding.

JDCM

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Much needed rain and fall in the Aegean…

It is raining outside and has been since yesterday.  We do need the rain here on Paros.  The island had become so dry in the past few weeks.  The wind from the north has been blowing at Force 7,8 and 9 on the Beaufort scale but today it has seemed to have quieted somewhat.  This will end tonight, but the winds will continue to whip the water back into the sky for the next few days even though the sun will be out.  Autumn in the Aegean is very different than in the Northeastern area of the US.  The fall colors fade from the burned gold and silver of summer into a rich caramel amber and finally as the rains come in, more green, crocuses and smaller blooms accompanying the cooler air.  In the local gardens there is spinach, broccoli and cauliflower.  This morning I received a treat of fresh oranges, right off the trees.  Anyone who says there are no seasons here in the Kyklades have obviously never stayed here for long.

We have 26 days until the student show and 31 until I arrive back in New York.  My two portfolios are filling up as I slowly create more prints in the darkroom and digital lab.  If one were to look at them right now they would seem to lack cohesiveness, but really this is an academic regiment and not relevant to the Aegean Center, its philosophy or even my own thinking.  Relevance and structure are all around me and integral in my thinking.  At the very least the fact that I am making these pieces is a glue that holds them together.  That the silver pieces are all, with few exceptions, all of Italy in September and the digital are all 4×5 scans of Paros are also two values that assign a consistency to these two projects.

Upstairs students are drawing in the figure study class.  Still others are meeting with Liz Carson in the darkroom (I just came from there myself) and planning the week’s work.  John Pack is readying himself for another day of digital printing and wrangling the kinds of wild horses that only the director of a small arts center on an island in Greece can possibly ride.  Thanksgiving is just around the corner and we will celebrate here on Paros in grand style.  I am supplying the glazed carrots.

JDCM

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