The Devil Is in the Detail, or Is the Detail in the Devil?

Handsome devil, Italywise

Tintoretto chose to portray a “handsome devil” in The Temptation of Christ (detail)

How many times have we heard someone described as a “handsome devil”? I never gave it much thought, until I stumbled across a handsome devil, literally, while reading the captivating novel, Lucifer’s Shadow, by David Hewson, which is set in Venice. A central character, Signor Sacchi is showing young Englishman Daniel Forster Tintoretto’s The Temptation of Christ, at the Scuola Grande’s Sala Superior, and pointing out how Tintoretto broke with the majority of the portrayals of a horrific Lucifer, and painted him as a devilishly beguiling young man. I guess it makes the temptation even more tempting. What starving person could say no to such a beautiful face?

Tintoretto, Italywise

The Temptation of Christ – Tintoretto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was so intrigued by this snippet in the plot that I rushed to my computer, and my buddy Google, and saw for myself. Now, I’m determined to make the hike down to Venice and experience this in person. My love of art history once again has been ignited, and with a concentration on the jackpot of artistic treasures in Venice, I’m going to be busy for a long time. Since my recollections of Tintoretto are too vague to be of use, I want to focus and learn everything I can about this acclaimed artist.

This painting certainly has piqued my curiosity, especially in regards to man’s endless quest to make sense of good and evil, or light and dark. This is evidenced in the stories and myths man has created and expressed in art and literature, with Satan often being a headliner.

I’m a big fan, and follower of the work of Carl Jung. In fact, I’m due for a re-reading of his book, Man and His Symbols. I believe Jung “nailed” the prevailing cause of man’s neurosis and lack of mental and emotional wholeness: Man’s attempt to split off and purge his own darkness. The devil became a representation of this attempt to jettison the unsavory parts of one’s nature which lurk in shadow side of the psyche. Jung believed a wholesale rejection of man’s shadow side leads to an individual’s unending battle with himself.

Having grown up with many heavy-handed and fearful teachings of a Southern Baptist culture, I know I’ve spent years in a war with myself. Consequently, I’ve been a prisoner of perfectionism. However, try as I may to exorcise the devil, and run from my shadow, I’ve come to realize the wisdom of bringing light, and acceptance, to all parts of my being.

I realize I’m probably getting WAY too philosophical, and usually I endeavor to avoid discussing religion or sounding “preachy” in any regard, since I believe the path to wholeness and truth isn’t a one-size-fits all. That said, I do love the following quote from Carl Jung about working with the shadow. I call it making peace with the devil – whether
“he” is handsome or horrific.

May we all find peace and integration, and may we continue to enjoy and utilize the vast myths and stories that represent our search for meaning.

Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. – Carl Jung, “The Philosophical Tree” (1945)

And the Winner is…”Haughty in Houndstooth”

Italian street life, Italywise

I had the best time reading every submission in this caption contest, for a photo I took of a street scene recently. Its working title was Wall on By, but that easily was surpassed with the variety and creativity of entries. Creativity is far from an exact science, yet I had to make a choice, and Haughty in Houndstooth, by Susan, took the top spot. Brava Susan!

What I like about having this kind of creative contest is how art evokes stories. When I had my first solo exhibition of watercolors many years ago, I resisted talking too much about the intent behind each of the paintings. On one hand, I wanted to respect the curiosity of the gallery patrons as to what made me choose a specific subject. However, I would endeavor to turn the tables and inquire first as to what each person saw in the image, so as not to influence them with my creative process.

Each one of us is always looking at the world through our individual filters and conditioning. We may not realize it, but we’re constantly scanning the world around us, and creating stories about what we see. The human imagination can take just a few elements of a scene and quickly construct possible story lines. What I love about art is that it is both about what the artist wanted to capture or express AND what stories and emotions it evokes in the viewer.

Who really knows the truth of this particular scene, and as your entries demonstrate, many interpretations are possible.

As an artist and photography I’m constantly in scanning and observation mode. Italian street life is ripe with vignettes unfolding. I can’t help but attach my personal narratives, but I’m learning to do so lightly and with humor, and remembering I can never know the truth of an entire situation.

Thank you all for bringing your creativity into this photo caption contest. Stay tuned, I may make this a regular thing!

Talking Trash, Italian-Style

Talking Trash Italian-Style, Italywise

The systems for managing trash in Italy can vary significantly from region to region and town to town.

Sorry to disappoint if the title of this email implied juicy gossip, or pointers on cussing in Italy. Nope, this is about the very important topic of managing your trash in Italy. While this part of everyday life in Italy might not seem like a major issue, nonetheless, if you plan on staying in Italy for any extended time (i.e. setting up a household), you don’t want to be caught unawares. It’s a significant yearly expense, so I recommend you factor that into your budget.

That pesky thing called the Rifuti tax…

I loathe getting my rifuti (trash) tax bill from the local comune in Umbria. I pay several hundred dollars (payable in two installments). What irks me is that I have no trash pickup at the house. There is a container on the street leading down the mountain. When cleaning up after having guests over for dinner it’s not a fun walk, which is partially in the dark. Cinghiale (wild boar) sightings are common, and I’d hate to have an encounter with these dangerous animals simply while taking out the trash. So, I have to haul my trash a good distance from the house. And, this container is supposed to be only for non-recyclables. Down in the village, containers for sorting glass, plastics and metals, paper, non-recyclables, used batteries and old medications are available. It’s a bit of a hassle, but I’ve gotten used to making the journey. Still, I pay a hefty annual tax. If you slough off paying this tax, be prepared for a notice from the Agenzia Entrate. When a letter arrives from this agency it’s usually not good news, and many Italians clutch their chests when they first see such a letter. This is a governmental agency that gets involved for taxes not paid, and you could have personal belongs seized and accounts frozen. So, even if you feel the tax is unfairly high given your circumstances, pay it.

Trash service varies significantly depending on where you are in Italy.

In some communities trash sorting and collection is a free-for-all, with very little structure and compliance. I’ve heard of one area in which residents are obliged to sort their trash according to what can be recycled and what can’t be recycled. Containers are provided to ensure compliance. However, word is that once the trash is picked up, it ends up being all dumped together. For me this sounds like a scenario where the agency responsible for rifuti is training residents to “get with the program” while the agency itself hasn’t yet caught up with the backend process. Yeah, a bit of a head scratcher. Then there are places, like Rome, where they have systems in place, but the city just can’t seem to catch up with debris that often litters the beautiful historical sites. Okay…let’s visit the other end of the spectrum. Even though we still maintain our home in Umbria, we’re now living mostly in Treviso, which is a lovely, historical town just 20 minutes north of Venice. Man, this town has its trash act together. So much, in fact, Simone and I live in fear of not following trash protocol properly and being “busted” and fined by the trash police (okay, I don’t think there is such a thing, but our trash IS monitored and checked for compliance). Fines can be stiff. When we first arrived in Treviso we dutifully picked up our four containers, each barcoded for tracking. One container for “umido” (biodegrable), one for “carta” (paper), one labeled “vetro” (which means glass, but is also for plastics, and metal), and one for “secco” which is most stuff that doesn’t fit into the other categories. We were given a calendar showing what is picked up and on which dates. – and we are obliged to use the trash bags (provided for free) from the Comune. We pay an annual fee and then each time we put out the “secco” container for pickup, we’re billed 16 euros. The upshot of this is that Treviso is a poster child for Italian cleanliness. You can tell residents take pride in their city and it’s nice to be in a historical Italian city that isn’t marred by unsightly trash. Other city services are run with similar precision which makes living here quite attractive. So, that’s the extent of my trash talk in this post, other than recommending that you learn the do’s and don’ts of your future Italian community. Be prepared, manage your expectations, and all will be well!

At Rest – New Photo by Jed

At Rest, Italywise

At Rest is a recent photo by Jed Smith

I am drawn to, in my art and photography, scenes of simplicity and calm. For me these are meditations and reminders of the importance of stepping out of the torrent of “doing” and allowing my soul, and mind, to breathe.

I’ve always had a fascination with physics, especially the paradoxes of quantum physics. For an artist? Yeah, go figure. I guess my dad’s nuclear engineer genes haven’t been crowded out by my mom’s art genes.

What continually does a number on my head is that the world/universe actually is 99.99% empty space, yet we’re convinced by the swirling activity of infinitesimal particles of energy that what we see is solid and real. I know that I all too often forget about this ocean of empty space which holds everything, and where anything can happen. Like me, unless you’re an Einstein or David Bohm, your brain will shut down if it tries to assimilate this into anything but an intellectual concept.

In light of a brain that can’t conceive of the inconceivable, I “feel” my way towards truth with my art. The above scene brings me calm. In contemplating such a setting, perhaps my mind, like the waters, becomes still, and the realization of the depth and richness of the unseen space that connects everything returns to my awareness. The neurotic need to do, to figure it all out, abates. And, the insanity of the world’s current events temporarily loosen their grip on my attention. For me, this in incredible gift.

In closing, I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite actors…

Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen – that stillness becomes a radiance. – Morgan Freeman

To see other photos be sure to visit my online gallery.

Well-Heeled in Italy

Italian fashion, Italywise

Well-Heeled in Italy is a recent photo by Jed.

I’m taking liberties by including the phrase “well-heeled” in the name of this recent photo. This two-word adjective most often has been used describing someone who is well off financially – as reflected in the quality of their shoes. However, its origins come from cock fights (check out this link at http://www.saidwhat.co.uk) – yes, cock fights. You see, spurs would be added to help them fight. Hence “well-heeled”.

As I study the prevalent sense of fashion here in Italy, I see much of it begins with the shoes. Most self-respecting Italians wouldn’t dream of being out and about with boring or crappy shoes – as evidenced by the two well-heeled women in this photo. You can’t see their faces, but I assure you they are well into their fifties. Fashion isn’t reserved for the youngsters and I love how these woman boldly and comfortably opt for sexy dresses and shoes that show off their legs (which often are kept in fine form by being part of a culture that embraces walking vs. opting for hopping in a car).

My favorite Italian fashion scenario to happen upon is an Italian wedding. I love snooping around to see the decked out crowd – men and women alike. It’s not unusual to see attendees standing outside (taking a break from the wedding in progress) to have a cigarette and/or check their cell phones. For me this is one of the best “cat walks” for checking out the latest Italian fashions. Hint, stay tuned for a future post about Italian fashion using Italian weddings as a backdrop.

In closing, I pay tribute to the Italians’ seemingly uncanny ability to effortlessly express fashion sense. I can’t articulate the exact “how” or “why”, but I sense it is hard-coded into the DNA of the culture. It doesn’t mean that fashion tragedies can’t be witnessed on the streets here – I just find it’s a pretty rare occurrence.

To see other photos, be sure to visit my online photo gallery.

Learning the Ropes of Buying a Home in Italy

Buying a home in Italy, Italywise

Buying a home in Italy is easy, as long as you know the ropes.

When I bought my home in Italy I was surprised as just how easy it was. In fact, in was far easier than buying a car (which, unlike buying a house, requires being an Italian resident). I’ve written about purchasing a home in a prior post, but I feel compelled to call out the parts of the process that may throw you off balance if you aren’t forewarned.

When you are buying a home in Italy, you are buying the structure of the house, and not most of the fixtures in the house.

Unless you negotiate with the seller, don’t be surprised, when buying a house or apartment, to find every light fixture removed from the walls and ceilings, and much (if not all) of the kitchen removed. If you’re coming from the States, don’t be surprised by this different, but common, practice. Aside from lighting, bathroom fixtures come with the house (unless it is new construction and still you may have to add mirrors, shower enclosures, sinks and vanities).

Just don’t assume anything is “standard”. As long as you are working with a reputable agent (get references), he or she will help you with these important “ropes”. Anything is negotiable, and some sellers are amenable to selling some of the furnishings and fixtures in the house.

When you view potential properties, you may ask yourself how and why would the owner would remove the entire kitchen, since kitchens aren’t a one-size fit’s all. In reality, most owners don’t want to dismantle an entire kitchen, so be prepared to negotiate an additional cost to keep the existing kitchen (that is, if you like it).

Whatever you decide, make sure all is specified clearly in the compromesso di compravendita (the sales agreement).

A house inspection, as a condition of the sale of the house, isn’t a common practice in Italy.

You certainly can pay a geometra (the general work manager, or choreographer of engineers, builders and architects) to inspect a house and give you their take on the state of the house including any potential issues, and potential improvements (expansions, additional windows, etc.). But, you’ll have to do this before negotiating and signing the compromesso. Once you’ve signed the compromesso, you will have paid a sizeable deposit, which you will not get back if you decide to back out. And, if you do back out, still you may find yourself in legal proceedings.

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The Visual Poetry of Italian Body Language

Italian body language, Italywise

Italian body language is endlessly fascinating.

As an artist and photographer, I find people watching here in Italy to be a source of great inspiration, and education. This recent photo, captured on the streets of Cefalù, Sicily, shows one of countless snippets of the dance of Italian body language.

For most of my life I’ve thought I reveal much about myself through speaking with my hands and my body language. Now, in contrast to the effusive and rich vocabulary of Italian body language, I realize just how restrained I am. I ask myself, just how much energy is locked up in my more Americanized style of expression, and ponder whether the incredibly natural flow of energy in Italian expression (verbal and body language) is more freeing, and thereby healthier.

As I watched this particular Italian gentlemen go about his morning, I watched him have a lively encounter with a friend and shop owner. The moment captured in this photo is just seconds after his friendly exchange, and demonstrates how the dance of expression continues and flows.

Perhaps, one day, I will attempt a photographic journal, or concise visual dictionary, of Italian body language. I would only do this through the guidance and tutelage of my Italian partner who, constantly and justifiably, warns me of the dangers of foreigners thinking such forms Italian “speech” are easy to understand and emulate. Italian expression contains many important subtleties which, if missed or not understood, can be dangerous in inexperienced hands.

In closing, I have included a YouTube video, posted by nadasitlay.com, which demonstrates some of the most often used Italian hand gestures. I can’t help but smile when I watch these native Italians sharing their rich skills in speaking with their hands.

To see other photos, be sure to check out my online gallery.

 

Hitting the Jackpot for Venetian Cicchetti (Small Bites)

Cicchetti, Italywise

Cicchetti with baccalà

I can be a control freak, which at times can be at odds with spontaneity and seizing the moment. When I do quit trying to orchestrate life’s opportunities, some pretty great experiences have shown up in my life. Hence, this post…

We’ve recently relocated to the Veneto, and are living within a half-hour of Venice. We’ll still be maintaining the house in Umbria, but the Veneto is now our “home base”. So, just days ago, and after yet another day of unpacking and trying to settle into our new abode, friends called and invited us to meet them in Venice for drinks and cicchetti, which are Venetian “small bites”. We drove to Venice Mestre and took the train shuttle into Venice. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Frankly, I had to keep reminding myself that I’m one lucky fellow now to be able to do this kind of thing.

Having drinks and cicchetti is like breathing for Venetians. I’ve quickly became a devotee of the practice, after visiting some of the best establishments for these addictive “small bites”.

Cicchetti, Italywise

Perfectly hidden in an alley that seems to go nowhere, protecting the goldmine of cicchetti and ambiance

A good friend, who hails from an old Venetian family, urged us to visit Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso. It is so close to the Rialto bridge you might think it would be a major tourist trap. Thankfully it’s hidden from view of most tourists, several turns down a narrow alley which seems to be a dead-end. As we arrived this past Thursday night, a barren alleyway suddenly yielded a lively crowd spilling out the door of Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso, with drinks and small plates in hand. Inside, locals were queueing up to order the beautifully displayed cicchetti. The variety was immense, and at least half of the selection was seafood “themed”. Baccalà, or codfish, is the star of much cicchetti in Venice, and comes in many yummy variations. There were vegetarian options (e.g. mini eggplant Parmigiano), meat options (e.g. skewers with sausages and vegetables), and several cheese options (e.g. fried mozzarella with anchovies). I could have closed my eyes, and pointed blindly at the vast array of choices without being disappointed with any single dish. I ordered the skewers of grilled seafood, several polpette (meatballs) of tuna and ricotta, polpette with meat, and a couple of mini eggplant Parmagiano.

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Poste Italiane, Italywise

Waiting in line, and practicing patience!

“Scusate, chi è l’ultimo?” which means “Who is the last one?” is a phrase you’d best remember when you prepare to stand in line at the post office, the doctor’s waiting room, the questura (immigration police), almost any utility company, and a host of other government or public service offices.

I don’t mean to imply that Italy is the poster child for long queues, or that life in the States is devoid of having to stand in line. But, in my experience waiting in line is a far more common experience in Italy. My dear friend Elizabeth gently coached me on practicing the three P’s – patience, persistence, and politeness. She also urged me to always have a good book (or, in my case, my Ipad), and be prepared to settle in for a bit of unpredictability. Knowing this early on has helped me to breathe, and release my American-conditioned need to “move things along”. In other words, I’ve had to check my “Chop, chop, get ‘er done attitude.”

The feature photo for this post is the classic Poste Italiane sign (sadly soon to be defunct and currently being replaced by a new snazzy design). I’ve done my share of complaining about waiting in line, and very long queues with the good ole’ USPS. The experience varies by location here in Italy, but in most larger Italian post offices, the experiences make me feel a bit guilty for complaining back in the states.

I’m talking about the Poste Italiane as an example of how waiting in line functions in other venues. Learn the ropes and the rules of behavior, and all will be good.

At our local Poste Italiane in Rome they have a machine you approach when you enter, and based on the type of transaction you hope to make, you choose the appropriate button, and the machine dutifully spits out an alpha-numeric slip. Then you stand or sit, and wait for your number to pop up above a specific window. I’ve seen people enter and push all the different buttons and hold onto three different slips, banking on being able to plead ignorance if they’re summoned and they are attempting a transaction at odds with the function of this particular window. No surprise, most of the people who do this are stranieri (foreigners).

The experience varies at our local Poste Italiane in Umbria. No numbering system exists to help provide sanity to the queueing up process. There is a manual machine where you can go to pull off a paper number, but it always is empty. So, the “organic” system of queueing up goes into play, and I return to how this post began,”Scusate, chi è l’ultimo?”

Rarely do you see a discernible line in such a situation. Unless you have followed someone into the venue and you know for certain they are the last person, be sure to ask (in Italian) “Who is the last person?” Then, you will know when it is your turn. Also, be prepared to answer the question for the next person who enters.

Follow the above practice religiously, or you risk inadvertently stepping ahead of someone else, and the “mob” can get pretty irrate.

At my doctor’s office the organic queueing is always in play. At my farmacia, the numbering system helps keeps things under control.

The most challenging office for me is the questura, when I am going for my annual permesso di soggiorno renewal interview. Even though I have an appointment, I’m lumped together in a waiting room with people waiting for a variety of reasons, some with appointments and some without. And, every time an official opens the door to call in a person, there’s a bit of a mob scene, with people trying to get in ahead of others. Yes, foreigners. Italians, as a general rule, would enact the system described above, and then patiently wait their turn.

In closing, I must stress that the system of waiting in line will vary, often to your frustration. I’m a person who desires much greater predictability in “taking care of business”. So, I’ve had to learn and adopt a very different attitude. If you’re planning a long stay in Italy, or if you’re planning on making a more permanent move, I urge you to prepare yourself for this “fact of life”, and manage your expectations accordingly. If you’re like me, you can employ techniques to make waiting fun. If you’re open to it, rather than getting worked up when things don’t move along briskly, play the people-watching game, and use it as an opportunity to listen and train your ear to what is being said in Italian!

 

 

 

A Special Insider’s View of the Food and Wines of Umbria

 

Umbria cuisine, ItalyWise

Recently I had the very good fortune to sit down with Elizabeth Wholey, who is a local expert in the foods and wines of Umbria. She is also a dear friend. Elizabeth has lived in Umbria for many years, and she carefully and painstakingly has done her detective work in understanding the history and craft of Umbrian food and wine. She has built important, long-lasting relationships with local food and wine producers – many who are gems hidden to the eyes of many people who visit Umbria. Elizabeth recently wrote Sustenance: Food Traditions in Italy’s Heartland

A Guide to Farms, Markets, and Fairs in the Upper Tiber Valley in Sustenance, Elizabeth Wholey explores the Upper Tiber Valley and the ways in which its peasants fed and sustained themselves throughout history. Their ancient food traditions are still alive today, often with a modern twist, and are accessible to visitors as well as to the local populace. – available at Amazon.com

Elizabeth graciously agreed to do this interview for Italywise.com. I hope this will whet you appetite to learn even more!

You’re very passionate about the food and wines of Umbria, particularly of the Upper Tiber Valley. What, in your opinion, makes them so special?

Most people were poor in this part of the world until fairly recently. They subsisted on what they could grow, hunt, forage or barter, the growing season was short, and much of the terrain was mountainous. However, they made the most of what was available, and cooks took pride in what they created. These dishes are beloved, and are still found on local restaurant menus, often with a modern twist. People here are careful about what they eat and who they buy from. If a food product is not of high quality, a seller won’t survive. In other places local, seasonal, and sustainable are concepts that you fight for; here they are taken for granted, though vigilance has become necessary. People don’t want pesticides and herbicides in their soil.  

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