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Kellin at the Certosa Monastery (with a light and tonality that reminds me of a Giotto fresco)

I’m back from Italy, and the intoxicating colors of that landscape are still projected on the back wall of my mind. That palette has been commented on ad infinitum, ad nauseam, but for good reason. No one can do those colors the way Tuscany does them—the warm golds and ochres, the rainbow of hunter greens, the terra cottas, the sunny warm reds. Even in the angled light of December when many of the days are overcast and rainy, those colors are a saturated underpainting for every vista.

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View of the Tuscan landscape from San Miniato

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Persimmon trees, everywhere

Florence in December has some unique attractions. The persimmon trees drop their leaves but hold their fruit, suggesting Christmas ornaments. Strings of lights hang from nearly every street, giving a tasteful and festive nod to Natale. The gaggles of tourists choking every piazza in the warmer months are gratefully not there.

And there are no lines outside the Uffizi. Once inside I can stand for hours undisturbed in the two rooms that hold three of my favorite paintings: Cimabue’s Madonna Enthroned with Angels, Giotto’s Madonna and Child Enthroned, and Simone Martini’s The Annunciation and Two Saints.

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Cimabue, Madonna Enthroned with Angels

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Giotto, Madonna and Child Enthroned

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Simone Martini, The Annunciation and Two Saints

Having now lived in Florence for two years, Kellin has cracked many of that city’s secrets and is willing to share her spoils with us. Who else knows that you have to ask to gain entry to the sacristy at Brunelleschi’s San Spirito in order to view a spellbinding crucifix attributed to Michelangelo? Who else could get the church warden’s keys to go right inside Brunelleschi’s Capponi Chapel at Santa Felicit√† and see the Pontormo frescoes up close and personal? Who else knows their way to the Chiostro dello Scalzo where Andrea del Sarto’s gray and brown grisaille frescoes can still be seen? Who else would know the way to the exquisite Certosa Monastery outside Florence to see the Pontormo frescoes that have now been moved inside for safe keeping? She’s the best art resource I’ve ever had.

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Crucifix at San Spirito, attributed to early Michelangelo

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Andrea del Sarto at Chiostro dello Scalzo

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Pontormo fresco at Certosa Monastery

In a city whose many stories include rampant abuse of power, ruthless self interest and a repetitive proclivity to war, there is also the undeniable evidence of those moments when the political and the artistic come together like a perfect storm to create a culture of extraordinary brilliance. Isn’t that a little like us? We’ve all had seasons when our lives come together miraculously, bringing an unexpected harmony and confluence of good. We also have those seasons when the familiar soundtrack of our lives suddenly goes atonal, when we are off balance and not operating from our best selves.

Florence holds remnants of her many former lives, and being there in that multi-dimensional palimpsest reminds me of my own ups and downs. So this was a fitting locale from which to begin my 30th year of marriage. I never would have guessed that I would begin this year of my partnership with David feeling more connected, intimate and satisfied than at any other time in our life together. Rather than dissipating with the entropy of time, we are in a perfect storm confluence that is taking us in the other direction. All I can say is, wow.

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Outside Kellin’s school in Florence

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Kellin at Galgano

I will be off line (off blog?) for a week. We are in Italy celebrating our daughter Kellin’s completion of her Master’s Degree in Art History. On Friday she’ll put down her umbrella and will shoehorn all that wild passion into presenting her paper at a Symposium, The Speaking Hand: Gesture in Italian Art. Her paper is titled, “The Gesture of Finger Counting: Depicting Disputation in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.” Having read several drafts, I can assure you (without bias of course) that it is a work of sheer brilliance!

So we’re delivering our parental high fives in person, a serious perk for having procreated such a remarkable person. And we’ll be joined for a few days by Lesli, as close to a godmother to Kellin as you can get and still be Jewish. We are planning a few side trips as well, particularly to beautiful Volterra to see the Rosso Deposition.

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Rosso’s Deposition, Volterra

And while we are there feasting on all things Tuscan, David and I will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary. I feel like I am barely 22, so there must be some miscalculation somewhere. Ah, time. It feels like it can bend and go rogue, something the watchmaker didn’t take into consideration.

I’ll be back and posting on December 18th.

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View of Volterra

Maybe you are like me. Maybe you too get easily seduced by the pace and pitch of another culture. Whenever I return from being and breathing with fellow humans who don’t speak my language and are refreshingly free of the troubles that plague anyone who lives in this country right now, reentry is a slow drying out. Of course I missed my beloveds, both friends and family, but what a much needed break from an invasive, oversaturated, misaligned cultural context that feels oppressive to me. It feels like the jackhammer out your bedroom window, the one that starts at 6am and doesn’t let up all day. The one that no one asked if you minded.

I spent the last week with my daughter Kellin in Florence. She is working on her masters in art history and is currently the most single minded person of my acquaintance. Her life has been streamlined free of the time-draining distractions that certainly eat up hours of my days, like feeling obligated to read the New York Times, to answer every email and to know the standings in both baseball leagues. Climbing into her canopied life was like coming face to face with the underside of a mushroom–an intricate, fragrant, fragile complexity. It is no wonder that she hopes to spend many more years living there.


Kellin portraying Mary in a Mannerist style

Her passions are infectious, and her latest is Mannerist art. So in addition to my usual pilgrimages to see everything by Giotto and Simone Martini in both Sienna and Florence, I was given a thorough list of where to find the Pontormos, the Rossos, the Bronzinos and the Del Sartos. I’m an easy convert, but I am convinced she could win anyone over to the pleasures of these amazing artists.

We’ll be back in December when she presents the results of her research. That is just six months away, but it is a point in the future to measure my own success at simplifying, singleminding, purifying my intentions.


Via Neri, Kellin’s street


Intrepid observer, in the Pantheon


Rome on a Saturday

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