Sunday, June 28, 2015

If You're (Black And) Blue

Back in 1927, racism was right out in the open. Black Harlem's Cotton Club was a whites-only nightclub with a plantation theme, where blacks could serve and entertain, but never relax. Irving Berlin's original lyrics to "Puttin' on the Ritz" mocks the black community members who were "aping their betters" by dressing up and strolling down Lenox Avenue in the evenings.

Spangled gowns upon the bevy of high browns from down the levee, all misfits, puttin' on the Ritz! That's where each and every Lulubelle goes, every Thursday evening with her swell beaux, rubbin' elbows. Come with me and we'll attend their jubilee and see them spend their last two bits, puttin' on the Ritz!

Today in 2015 racism is being expressed in many overt and covert ways, none of which I'm really qualified to speak about, since I am in the privileged position of being white and female; all I am doing is reading about the perspectives and the problems, and doing my best to not add to the latter. But I just don't understand why we have not yet moved beyond blackface and Stepin Fetchit and are still circling back to Lee Atwater's messaging strategies mixed with Reagan's outright labeling of black Americans as nothing more than "strapping young bucks" and "welfare queens" who are living large and lazy while honest white folks work their fingers to the bone. In my random internet searching it seems that in general white Americans receive at least as much public assistance as black Americans, but the rates of incarceration and unemployment are both much higher for blacks in a trend and pattern that many people have correctly linked to racism. More and more of these incidents are being broadcast and discussed openly, but it's still so easy to ignore in much of our sprawling country, a land where physical space makes mental and emotional separation easy. As I make my way back to oh-so-white Portland, Oregon, I feel as if I'm going back to a widely tolerant community where that tolerance is assumed because it's so rarely challenged. Or maybe I just don't see the struggle, since I'm not personally involved in it. And maybe I should get involved, and work towards becoming an active ally instead of a passive one.

In New York City, diversity is one of the many things that is, as they say, in your face. Skin tones and facial features, clothing and hairstyles, the fragrances of spices from a hundred countries and the colors of imported fruits and vegetables that paint the sidewalks. People cluster together, there's no doubt about that, but also mix more freely. The more differences you're surrounded by, the harder it is to see those differences after a while. I keep hoping that the old ways and the people who promote them will die off soon, but as recent events have shown, the sickness is still present and the contamination easy to spread. Maybe we'll find some way to immunize newborn children so that they can't catch the racism virus from the adults around them.

Anyway, New York City, and another walk that I took from the Upper East Side down to Grand Central Station, just to walk and see what is there to see. Tall buildings, mostly, and lots of cars, all the way down Park Avenue from 87th to 42nd Street.

Have you seen the well-to-do
Up and down Park Avenue
On that famous thoroughfare
With their noses in the air?
High hats and Arrow collars
White spats and lots of dollars
Spending every dime
For a wonderful time.
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek —
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

If you're blue and you don't know where to go to
Why don't you go where fashion sits,
Puttin' on the Ritz.
Different types who wear a daycoat, pants with stripes
And cut away coat, perfect fits,
Puttin' on the Ritz.
Dressed up like a million dollar trouper
Trying hard to look like Gary Cooper (super duper).

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean —
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today — O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home —
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay —
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again —
The land that never has been yet —
And yet must be — the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine — the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME —
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose —
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath —
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.

Come let's mix where Rockefellers walk with sticks
Or umbrellas in their mitts
Puttin' on the Ritz.


- revised version of "Puttin' On The Ritz" by Irving Berlin (1946)

The mountains and the endless plain —
All, all the stretch of these great green states —
And make America again.

- excerpts from "Let America be America Again" by Langston Hughes (1935)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

New York City: East River Greenway

The East River Greenway starts (if you're doing it in a north-to-south fashion) in East Harlem at 125th Street, and is part of the larger Manhattan Waterfront Greenway biking/walking route that curves around both sides of the peninsula between the East and Hudson Rivers where approximately 4 million people can be found on any given work day. With that crush of humanity milling around through the dense dark canyons between the skyscrapers, the roar of construction above, the blare of traffic below, the smother of concrete and congestion that becomes even heavier in the breathless humid summertime, it's no wonder that the breezy borders along the water are popular places to walk, picnic, and relax. I started my walk one morning at Carl Schurz Park off 86th Street, in a section of the riverfront that has been a park area since the late 19th century.

Much of the Greenway is not very green, though the city has put in several small "pocket parks" along the way. It would have been a hot walk in the sun, even at that early hour, if not for the breeze coming off the water. The tide was in, and the waves were choppy with the conflict between the river and the sea.

The route is being repaired and expanded and in several places I had to go in to the city streets in order to keep making my way south. On one of these side trips, at about 56th Street, the sign for the Ideal Cheese Shop caught my eye, as did the notice for an apartment for rent above the cheese shop (which would indeed be ideal in many ways, except for the frustration of being so near delicious dairy products yet unable to indulge in them; the rent would probably be outrageously high as well). It was barely 9am and I was already wilting in the heat, so I popped into the shop to take advantage of their air conditioning and to marvel at the NYC-level price tags on the imported European products filling the shelves across from the cheese case.

Most of their cheeses are European as well, with just a few American products like Rogue Creamery's Smokey Blue and Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog. The friendly cheesemonger told me that most of what they stock is for the people who work at the United Nations headquarters a few blocks away, giving them a taste of home. I noticed that there were several raw-milk soft cheeses for sale, ones that obviously were not aged the required 60 days, and asked why the Canadian and Swiss cheeses made it past the borders when the French ones were still banned. There is a list, he told me, and it's mostly French cheeses on the list.

On the other hand, you don't see many American cheeses in France, either. Most of the French people I talked to are convinced that there are no cheeses worth eating in the United States, and that food in the USA is generally pretty horrible. Part of that is, I think, because most French travelers are going to tourist spots like Disney World or playing restaurant roulette in New York City, and part is that the French palate is still in the process of expanding to include non-French food using a wider range of spices and flavors. And then part of it is of course that "American" food is honestly pretty horrible in many cases, when the melting pot has produced a muddy mélange of meat and potatoes and reheated frozen vegetables, factory produced and cooked to death, washed down with instant coffee or sugary soda or watery beer. (To be perfectly honest, there were places in France where that's what was served as well, except for the coffee part.)

I spent more money than I should have in New York City, eating Chinese sausage-fried rice, Tibetan noodle soup, Japanese rice balls, Vietnamese red curry, Thai spring rolls, Korean grilled pork, Ethiopian spiced lamb, and Turkish hummous. I did walk off a good few of those calories on this 8- or 9-mile hike along the river, but only my bank balance has gotten thinner.

International visitors as well as employees were constantly arriving at the United Nations headquarters at 42nd Street, and English was suddenly the minority language. Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter. Maybe someday we'll actually follow it.

We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, and for these ends, to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples, have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.

There are a lot of places in New York City that I could have visited, with more time and more energy and more money. I didn't get to the top of the Empire State Building, and I didn't go to any museums. I didn't visit historic Harlem or prowl the bullish streets of the financial district. I didn't find the John Lennon memorial in Central Park, and I didn't explore the funky neighborhoods of the Village (East or West) or go across the bridge to Brooklyn - a place I have already visited several times in my mind thanks to author Betty Smith - or out to Coney Island or in to the heart of Times Square. And that's not even getting into all of the nooks and crannies of neighborhoods like the Chinatown district that form the ethnic patchwork quilt that blankets the five boroughs. But as I repeatedly said when leaving equally interesting places across Europe, that's just a reason to go back for another visit.

I didn't see any rats running around, but there were a lot of pigeons and many squirrels, plus sparrows everywhere, and the occasional cockroach. Sparrows and cockroaches will inherit the world; pigeons may be larger but they don't seem to have the cocky intelligence of your average sparrow. I saw no evidence of fish in the river, though did see a dozen rods parked up against the railing in various spots along the way, their owners relaxing on the benches in the sun.

There were a handful of tall mulberry trees bordering one of the pocket parks, easily identifiable by the spatter of black on the walkway beneath, and the birds fluttering in the branches above. The first tree I came to didn't have any ripe mulberries within reach, but the second hadn't been stripped by pigeons or passers-by. A woman was balanced on the park bench under the lowest branches, plucking and eating the soft ripe berries, and I joined her where another branch hung low. She said that she planned to come back with a ground cloth and a plastic bag - the mulberries were so ripe they were falling off their stems, and just shaking the branches would harvest them. I picked a few more to fuel me for the remainder of the walk, and kept going towards the Williamsburg Bridge.

The Brooklyn Bridge is the oldest of the bridges crossing the East River, and opened in 1883. There used to be a train line taking commuters back and forth, but now it's just cars and pedestrians and intrepid bikers. The Williamsburg Bridge (1903) also connects Brooklyn and Manhattan; when it was built, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Rail traffic still rolls over this bridge, though not the trolleys that Francie Nolan admired.

Mr. Tomony who owned the pawnshop came home in a hansom cab from his spendthrift evening in New York . . . He was supposed to frequent such legendary places as Reisenweber's and the Waldorf. Francie decided to see these places some day. Some day she would go across Williamsburg Bridge, which was only a few blocks away, and find her way uptown in New York to where these fine places were and take a good look at the outside.

- Betty Smith, "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" (1943)

So to get across the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan you can take the Williamsburg Bridge or the Brooklyn Bridge, and you can also take the Manhattan Bridge, a modestly ornate span that opened in 1909 just upstream of the Brooklyn Bridge. The East River Greenway starts to get less pleasant at that point; there's lots of construction, roaring traffic to one side, more graffiti and trash and general gritty-city-ness as the path goes under the bridges and starts worming its way into the port district, past the old site of the Fulton Fish Market, where for almost 200 years the boats and ships would come in with their loads of lobster and shrimp, crab and cod, skipjack and salmon and fluke and tuna and pollock and perch to be sliced and iced and sold in what was once the biggest wholesale fish market in the United States. Tsukiji Market in Tokyo started three centuries earlier and is the largest in the world, and in Seattle they fling the flounder for the delight of the tourists, but - from what I hear at least, since I didn't go there - the post-2005 New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx appears to still be doing well.

The East River Greenway ends where the East River does, at the southern tip of Manhattan and the South Ferry Terminal with its multiplicity of docks for harbor cruise ships and water taxis and the Staten Island Ferry. The waterfront pathway continues through Battery Park and up the Hudson River towards the Nelson A. Rockefeller Park, passing yacht ports and well-dressed Wall Street workers enjoying their probably no longer three-martini lunches, though you never know, given the financial shenanigans that take place behind the scenes. Or maybe it's that martinis are so 20th century, and the Manhattanites have moved well past the Manhattan, drinking things like The Up & Up Bar's Dreadlock Holiday which combines rum, gin, chartreuse, bitters, and lime juice into a $14 concoction that frankly sounds like a headache in a glass. Well, it's an interesting mixture, anyway, like New York itself - a little odd, a bit overpowering, a mix of old and new, and really expensive.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Coming Out Of The Mist

Central Park, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, June 15th

The first two weeks of June have not been so good. Forced to leave the wonders of Europe by completely unnecessary visa regulations I find myself wandering the expensive streets of New York City and the even more expensive streets of Washington DC unable to continue avoiding the fact that my rapidly dwindling bank account is not going to be sufficiently bolstered by freelance writing, and that therefore I need to find work immediately or sooner. Having received no response to the first set of cover letters I sent out for jobs I'm quite qualified for I have also come to the conclusion that I'm not all that, though with luck someone will recognize my stellar talents, such as they are, in the next few weeks.

My work computer appears to be almost completely borked (battery dead, network driver acting weird so I can't access most websites, unable to install updates or even figure out which updates need to be done) and this French computer doesn't have the memory to support the software I need (plus its battery is almost as bad as the other one's) and the AZERTY keyboard is not optimal for doing a lot of writing, though I'm getting used to it. So I have decided to finish up the last two articles in the first series of articles I was hired to write - the one I spent my days in Serbia slogging over - and tell my client that the next two sets are just going to have to wait. If he wants to hire another writer, I think I am fine with that. But until my computer situation improves, it will be less easy to earn money by writing. And I can't get a new computer without money. And I can't get money without a job.

Therefore, I am putting all of my energy into two things: applying for jobs, and enjoying the next three weeks with family and friends here on the East Coast and in the Midwest instead of stressing out about writing projects and what-comes-next anxieties. I'll catch up on my travel blog too, though since Blogger is one of the sites I can't get to on the main computer (where all the pictures are downloaded) it will involve a little more work, moving photos back and forth, but then that will be done, and it might cheer me up, looking at reminders of how much fun I had traveling with Mom and John, and visiting friends in France before I left, and playing tourist in America in cities I've never been to before. It won't help my bank balance now, but it will certainly help my mental state. I don't want to get lost in the mist again.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Age In Perspective

Younger than the tumbled stones of the ruins of Glanum, older than the poppies blooming around them.

La Vieillesse

Nous verrons le temps qui nous presse
Semer les rides sur nos fronts;
Quoi qu’il nous reste de jeunesse,
Oui, mes amis, nous vieillirons.
Mais à chaque pas voir renaître
Plus de fleurs qu’on n’en peut cueillir;
Faire un doux emploi de son être;
Mes amis, ce n’est pas vieillir.

En vain nous égayons la vie
Par le champagne et les chansons;
À table, où le coeur nous convie,
On nous dit que nous vieillissons.
Mais jusqu’à sa dernière aurore
En buvant frais s’épanouir;
Même en tremblant chanter encore;
Mes amis, ce n’est pas vieillir.

Brûlons-nous pour une coquette
Un encens d’abord accueilli,
Bientôt peut-être elle répète
Que nous n’avons que trop vieilli.
Mais vivre en tout d’économie,
Moins prodiguer et mieux jouir;
D’une amante faire une amie;
Mes amis, ce n’est pas vieillir.

Si longtemps que l’on entretienne
Le cours heureux des passions,
Puisqu’il faut qu’enfin l’âge vienne,
Qu’ensemble au moins nous vieillissions.
Chasser du coin qui nous rassemble,
Les maux prêts à nous assaillir;
Arriver au but tous ensemble;
Mes amis, ce n’est pas vieillir.
Old Age

We'll feel the increased pressure of Time,
See the wrinkles that it sows across our foreheads;
Though we may still have a few years of youth remaining,
Yes, my friends, we'll get old.
But to see at every step of the way more
New-blossomed flowers than we'd ever be able to pick;
To treat ourselves gently;
My friends, that's not growing old.

Though we'll try to cheer ourselves up
With champagne and songs; sitting at the table
Where we've always felt at home,
Someone's bound to remark that we're growing old.
Yet greeting that final dawn
While enjoying cool fresh drinks;
Singing even though the voice quavers;
My friends, that's not growing old.

Though we might burn for a lovely flirt
Who first welcomes us with extravagant compliments,
Soon she might be hinting, repeatedly,
That we've gotten too old for all of this.
Yet to live simply,
With less extravagance and more enjoyment;
Making friends out of former lovers;
My friends, that's not growing old.

As long as we can keep going down
Life's happy and passion-filled road,
Though age must eventually catch up to us,
At least we'll be growing old together.
Though no longer found at our old hangouts
Though ill health threatens us at every step;
Arriving at the end still together;
My friends, that's not growing old.

- Pierre-Jean de Béranger, French poet/singer/songwriter (1780 - 1857)
(to be sung to the tune of "The Pipe [full] of Tobacco")

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Waking Dream

Poppies ... poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep. Sleeeeep. Near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, May 18, 2015.

The scent of jasmine and the birdsong wakes me up in the morning, and the days are filled with new sights and drives along narrow roads (this morning, to Avignon to pick up a new rental car, after I ran into a curb yesterday and popped the left front tire [I'm not going to be driving any more]); then as we're relaxing in the cool blueness of a Provençal evening and uploading the pictures from the day I remember that I have a travel blog that those photos need to go on, eventually, but my brain is too crammed full of memories of the past twelve hours to sort through them and arrange them in a logical or even coherent order, and the next morning I wake up and it starts over again. I am very happy to be here in France again, and even happier to be traveling with Mom and John; on Saturday we'll go to the other side of the country and I'll see the Bergeras family again, which will also make me very happy, and then I'll finish up my time in France visiting Sébastien in Tours where I first arrived in France almost three years ago.

Which is to say that this blog probably won't be updated for a while, especially since I'm already a week behind myself as far as posting goes, and I'm focused on what we're going to do today instead of what we did yesterday and the day before. I've even put work on hold for the most part, which is wonderful in that I can fully appreciate and experience this part of my ongoing adventures as a vacation traveling and visiting with people I love. And not so wonderful when it comes to the end of the month and I've nothing to invoice - but that's a worry for another day. I will get back to work in June, and when I need a break I'll have all of these photos to sift through and use for posts that will bring me back here again, even though I'll be on the other side of the ocean. Like Dorothy, I'll wake up one day soon and this will all seem like a dream; familiar faces and life in muted tones will replace the crowds of strangers-turned-friends and bright colors I've been surrounded with. Sometimes I look through my posts from the last few years and simply can't believe I was so lucky as to see and do the things I've seen and done. Two weeks left in Europe, and I'm going to make the most of them.

Sensation

Par les soirs bleus d’été, j’irai dans les sentiers,
Picoté par les blés, fouler l’herbe menue :
Rêveur, j’en sentirai la fraîcheur à mes pieds.
Je laisserai le vent baigner ma tête nue.
Je ne parlerai pas, je ne penserai rien :
Mais l’amour infini me montera dans l’âme,
Et j’irai loin, bien loin, comme un bohémien,
Par la Nature, - heureux comme avec une femme.
Feeling

In the blue summer evenings, I'll walk along the paths,
Pricked by the stalks of wheat, trampling the low-growing grasses :
My head in the clouds, I'll feel their coolness at my feet.
I'll let the wind caress my bare head.
I won't speak, I'll think of nothing :
But infinite love will well up in my soul,
And I'll travel far, very far, like a nomad,
Into Nature itself, - as happy as if I were with a lover.

- Arthur Rimbaud, Poésies (1870)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Il Beato Angelico

Saint Peter of Verona was a Dominican friar and evangelist who traveled throughout Italy in the first half of the 13th century, denouncing heresy and railing against people who professed to be Catholics but who did not live up to their faith in their daily lives. He was killed by an assassin who split his head in two with a large sharp object (an ax or a sword; pictorial representations differ) but St. Peter had enough time to write out "Credo in unum Deum" with the blood streaming from his wound before he went to his final reward. He was canonized less than a year later, in 1253.

Almost two hundred years afterwards, the Dominican monks from nearby Fiesole came down from the hills and took over the 12th-century monastery now known as the Museo di San Marco, where they stayed and prayed (Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipoténtem, factorem caeli et terræ, visibílium ómnium et invisibílium) and worked until the 19th century. Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici, the first Grand Duke of the Medici rule of Florence, refurbished the convent for the monks, including a cell where he would go on regular personal retreats (as they say at Breitenbush). He was also a patron of the arts, and sponsored the architect Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi, who did much of the reconstruction of the monastery of San Marco; the engineer Filippo Brunelleschi, who designed the tall dome of the Duomo that can be seen from nearly every part of Florence; Donatello, some of whose work we saw at the Bargello Museum; Fra Filippo Lippi, for whom I have voted in the Infinite Art Tournament; and Guido di Pietro, the Blessed Angelic One, better known as Fra Angelico, who lived at the monastery between 1436 and 1445, and whose paintings decorate Cosimo's cell and those of the other monks, on the upper floor of the building.

On the lower floor there are frescoes in the courtyard to look at, and rooms to wander through where the monks ate and studied, and a long hallway full of bits of marble and carved stone that was excavated from the area around San Marco, remnants from the city's long history. The buildings have been restored and renovated over the years, but there are still signs of the earlier construction, like this painted wooden ceiling in one of the rooms.

In the lower rooms and around the public courtyard there are frescoes on many of the walls. In the large receiving room, which now holds a small bookshop with souvenirs, there's a full-scale rendering of the Last Supper done by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the late 15th century. Eleven of the disciples (looking bored, interested, argumentative, and even falling asleep) have halos and are on the far side of the table with Jesus, and Judas - sans halo - is on the near side, his back to the viewer. Behind him there's a large grey cat whose expression has been lost to time and flaking plaster. Apparently cats were evil, back in the Renaissance.

The frescoes in the courtyard were painted by Bernardino Poccetti in the early 17th century, and depict the life of Saint Antoninus of Florence, who was the archbishop there when the monastery was first established. Antonius was focused on inequality of wealth, and lived an austere life himself, while encouraging the government to care for the poor. He also said that ethics needs to be an integral part of commerce and capitalism. Perhaps today's politicians should be sent some of St. Antoninus' writings on the subject, which include support for a living wage, not forcing a person to accept jobs at low wages simply "because [he] is poor and has to settle for much less than would be needed to provide for [his] family."

One of the miracles of St. Antoninus' life seems to be connected to finding a key inside a fish, but what the key was to (his cell at San Marco?) I never asked. And I can't find any clarifying documentation on line, though Google says some of the search results aren't being displayed due to European data privacy issues. If you know the answer, drop me a line and I'll update this post (I'm looking at you, Michael5000). "[Ovinto] the time reported by his cook [havendola] found in the bowels of a fish donated to the saint," or so the online translation machine renders the not-very-explanatory text below the fresco.

There are paintings in part of the building as well, some by Fra Angelico, others by artists I'd never heard of, like Giovanni Sogliani and Francesco Morandini and Francesco Curradi and Fra Bartolomeo and Jacopo da Empoli. I didn't make a note of whoever it was who painted the scary cherubs but they appeared in several different works, including some of Fra Angelico's frescoes upstairs, just heads with wings, either two or four.

I pittori non guastano mai: quando non possono fare un angelo, fanno un diavolo.
- Italian proverb

Sogliani (1492 - 1544) painted "St. Elizabeth of Hungary," who I have been pleased to also find in Saumur and Paris and Budapest, of course.

Elisabetta!
La furibonda Elisabetta! io volli
Per la pietà del sesso mio salvarla.
Tu non sai; l’empia mi spregiò; negommi
Il titol di regina, e orrende cose
Mi profetò. L’abbandonai.
- Silvio Pellico, "Tommaso Moro" Act I, Scene II (1834)

A few of the paintings were just underpaintings, the sketches in sepia and black that show how the artist was thinking about lines and forms, and I liked those a lot. There was an exhibit at the Portland Art Museum a few years ago that featured works from the Crocker Art Museum, the "master drawings" from Michelangelo and many others showing the bones of future painted works and the ideas taking shape in the artists' heads and hands. At about this time I was starting to stop paying attention to artists' names, especially since I didn't recognize most of the names anyway, and the mostly-religious themes were starting to blur together. However, once we went up the stairs to the former living quarters of the monks, I woke up again.

Because that's where I saw this lovely work, the famous "Annunciation" of Fra Angelico, covering the wall space right at the top of the staircase. It was truly amazing to be standing there in person in front of this image, and I kept coming back to it. I could have stayed there longer, but there were other people in line, and more frescoes to see in the individual monks' cells, all painted by Fra Angelico, Il Beato Angelico, the Blessed Angelic One. Cosimo I commissioned him to paint these and other frescoes scattered around the monastery and church buildings, which took him five years to complete (1438 to 1443). The cells are small, dominated on one wall each by a window-shaped fresco giving that particular monk something to contemplate during his prayers.

In mense autem sexto, missus est Angelus Gabriel a Deo in civitatem Galilaeae, cui nomen Nazareth, ad Virginem desponsatam viro, cui nomen erat Ioseph, de domo David, et nomen virginis Maria. Et ingressus Angelus ad eam dixit: Ave gratia plena: Dominus tecum: Benedicta tu in mulieribus. Quæ cum audisset, turbata est in sermone eius, et cogitabat qualis esset ista salutatio. Et ait Angelus ei: Ne timeas Maria, invenisti enim gratiam apud Deum.
- Luke 1:26-30

I recognized another work of Fra Angelico's that I didn't vote for in the Infinite Art Tournament (he lost to Albrecht Altdorfer, at least in my opinion) but I was happy to see "jazz hands" Jesus in one cell, and an even jazzy-handier fresco in another cell that I had never seen before.

After looking at and commenting on the frescoes along two walls, we walked into the restored scriptorium and library that once held hundreds of huge leather-bound parchment-paged books, and the benches and desks and tools with all of the equipment to do the lettering and ornamentation in those illuminated manuscripts. The exhibit at the end of the long room shows some of those tools, including glue made from fish and rabbit skins, and bowls with piles of ground powder in bright colors: cinnabar, azurite, lapis lazuli, malachite, white lead, manganese, charcoal, saffron. All of the manuscripts on exhibit show not only words and illustrations, but also musical notations for psalms and antiphons and graduals and other liturgical chants.

Quam dilecta tabernacula tua, Domine virtutum! Concupiscit, et deficit anima mea in atria Domini; cor meum et caro mea exsultaverunt in Deum vivum. Etenim passer invenit sibi domum, et turtur nidum sibi, ubi ponat pullos suos: altaria tua, Domine virtutum, rex meus, et Deus meus. Beati qui habitant in domo tua, Domine; in saecula saeculorum laudabunt te. Beatus vir cujus est auxilium abs te: ascensiones in corde suo disposuit, in valle lacrimarum, in loco quem posuit. Etenim benedictionem dabit legislator; ibunt de virtute in virtutem: videbitur Deus deorum in Sion. Domine Deus virtutum, exaudi orationem meam; auribus percipe, Deus Jacob. Protector noster, aspice, Deus, et respice in faciem christi tui. Quia melior est dies una in atriis tuis super millia; elegi abjectus esse in domo Dei mei magis quam habitare in tabernaculis peccatorum. Quia misericordiam et veritatem diligit Deus: gratiam et gloriam dabit Dominus. Non privabit bonis eos qui ambulant in innocentia: Domine virtutum, beatus homo qui sperat in te.
- Psalm 83

If you go to Florence, be sure to visit the Museo di San Marco (Piazza San Marco, 3, 50121 Florence), and take your time. There's a lot to see, and it's all beautiful, inside and out.