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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Metamorphoses of the Mountain
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duccio From: duccio Date: August 30th, 2010 05:03 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I've always dreamed of living in Italy. Rome is outstanding, because I like cities, but I would also like living in some more remote place too. I was in Siena and wandered the whole town and stumbled upon a cabinetmaker who was working out in the narrow street. He opened up a big door in front of his house and brought his long handmade woodworker's bench out front. Most of the "streets" there are occasionally broken up by stairways since Siena is a large hill town, so cars are a rarity within the city. We had a sort of stilted conversation (my Italiano being what it was) and I drew pictures for him of the furniture that I was making in SF. He was a small shop just like me and we very much identified with each other. He told me that the word for a plane (the woodworking smoothing tool) in Italian is "pialla". I have forgotten much of my Italian, but I always remember that word.

Siena is where I first saw work by Duccio in the cathedral museum - his magnum opus: "Maesta", and I had one of those always hoped for emotional responses to the art. I don't know why, since then as now I am a confirmed non believer with even an aggressive stance against the mouthy faithful; I think it was that I saw what an amazing colorist and story teller Duccio was, qualities that don't translate into photographs. Later, when I got home, somebody asked what I would do if I knew I would die from radiation poisoning in one month, and I unhesitatingly said I would lock all the doors and commence work on a double sided copy of Duccio's "Maesta" in order to discover and master all of his secrets. (I had a big enough shop in SF to do it too.) That's how impressed I was.

Later, walking around in Siena, I saw a tall narrow window like a doorway and inside was a butcher with a big round butcher block table on three legs - it was more like a section of tree stump on peg legs. (I made some stools like it when I got home. I used a chunk of Muni Metro construction wood that I found out on Market St and brought home on my hand cart.) I indicated to the man working inside the glass that I was going to take a picture and he stood up with his cleaver and looked good. Around the corner came three big Italian women and started pointing at me and laughing. Of course I sort of "Aw shucks" and started laughing too. I waved thanks to the butcher and went on my way laughing with the three women at the straniero pazzo.

Another time I was wandering around Florence at night, and I saw these lights coming from under a building near the big San Lorenzo church. I investigated and found a clothing store; sort of like a surplus store. I had seen the workers in the cathedrals and museums all had on these long denim "lab coats" and thought that I would look good in one of them too (like in Metropolis when Freder takes over the job of the exhausted worker and dons his work clothes. Well, the people in the store just couldn't get over the idea that I wanted a worker coat, started discussing it. They could see I was an American, so how come I wanted a worker's smock? I had to sputter out that I had to work too, and that we didn't have coats like that in America. They warmed up to me and I spent about a half hour trying on denim coats before picking one out that fit large so I could shrink it and stuff. I bought a work apron too.

Anyway, maybe someday we'll live in Europe. I'd thrive there I am sure. Being a foreigner would be great. You must seem refreshing to everyone because you don't follow or even know the conventional ways and so you can be like fresh air to everyone you befriend. And, we'd have accents.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 30th, 2010 05:17 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
What a great travelogue! My sole experience of Italy was a very short trip there en route to a conference in Austria. Because it was not long after September 11th, 2001, though, and I flew into and out of Venice, I had a very rich -- and unsettling -- time there. I have been meaning to write about the whole trip. If I ever find the opportunity, I will.

Part of the longer story, including the Austria portion of the trip, is an amusing incident in which an Austrian leather craftsman, who was selling hand-tooled mobile phone cases and the like, got very mad at me for taking a photograph of his handiwork. I apologized and walked away. But then I started to get retroactively annoyed at his rudeness, so I headed back to confront him.

"You know," I said in German, "I was only taking a photo to show my wife and daughter how beautiful your work is. And I was thinking of buying them each a little something. It's not like I know you or live around here. I'm only in Europe for a few days and was hoping to look around a bit when I wasn't at my conference. I wish I'd spent my valuable minutes somewhere else."

The man was obviously startled.

"You are a tourist? Where from?" His Austrian accent was thick.

I couldn't figure out why he would be surprised to have a tourist looking over his work, but figured business must have been slow since 9/11.

"The United States," I answered.

"You are not German?"

I was secretly delighted that he had taken me for a native speaker, albeit one with a very different accent than his own.

"No, no. I'm from Arizona."

At this point, the man began to apologize for his initial lack of hospitality and went on to explain that he had assumed I was a German "spy" working for his competitor in the next town over, photographing his latest designs so that they could be copied.

I laughed and wished him well. Only when it was too late to turn back did I realize that I should have bought something to commemorate the odd exchange.
duccio From: duccio Date: August 30th, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I came across those unfriendly bores too, of course. Fortunately, experiences with that type are usually short and soon expunged from my memory. I must say though, that I see lots of people in this country who treat foreign visitors with rudeness and even contempt, and that's the white ones. The brown foreigners probably think we are the most rude people on earth. Maybe we are: ground zero mosque and all that.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 30th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It's not a good time in American history. In my experience, though, the biggest problem vis-a-vis our treatment of foreigners is the ignorance of other cultures that so many of us demonstrate, rather than outright rudeness.
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