Saturday, November 5, 2011


For 4 days over fall break, I went to Spain with a group of my friends.

The journey there was an experience.  From a van driver who would never pass a driver's test in America with the way he sped and rounded corners, to a cold hour outside waiting for the airport to open at 4 am, we were already tired and the day hadn't even started.  When we finally boarded the Ryan Air plane, I was ready to sleep the whole way there.

We stayed in a hostel in Spain that had all sorts of amenities and events.  We went on a tapas bar tour, saw a Flamenco show, talked to the friendly people who worked the desk, made use of the kitchen, and I had an excellent all you could eat breakfast of cereal with milk every day.

One of the things that most impressed me about Spain was the high quality of the buskers and performance artists.  They are better in Spain than they are in Rome.  If I film them, I always give them some money for their performance.  I gave away a lot of change in Spain.  These performers deserved it.

We visited Toledo on World Protest Day, and stumbled upon the protest in Toledo.  It was a relatively peaceful protest.  People marching stuck large pieces of paper on banks and ads that said "culpables" which is like saying "It's this bank's fault".  They had a large circle in the plaza where anyone who wanted to talk could talk into the microphone.

My favorite part of being in Spain was being able to use my Spanish knowledge.  I could speak so much easier, and ask so many more questions, and do so much more with knowing the language better.  It makes such a huge difference to be able to speak the language better. A final highlight of the trip was going to the Prado for free because we were students.

We experienced many things in Spain:  an all you could eat buffet in which we behaved like true starving college students, meeting other people who were traveling through Spain, wandering through gardens and parks, seeing strange birds with blue feathers, seeing a couple scuffles on the street, taking the metro, playing in play grounds, eating Spanish food and treats, going to a markets of collectible items, and walking around the city in the day and at night.


Over Fall Break,  my friend Luca and I went to a small mountain town inside the Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo, Lazio, e Molise ( a National Park in Italy) called Pescasseroli.  We went there to spend a weekend outside of the city.

This is the website for the Park:  If anyone gets a chance to go there, I highly suggest it.  The park has some small mountain towns inside it that have been there since before the Romans conquered the area.  So the towns remain, but there are rules about keeping livestock, fishing, and hunting in the park.

The national park is home to all sorts of wildlife (though we didn't see anything large).  The park has Marsican Bears, Alpine Wolves, mountain goats, deer, foxes, porcupines, squirrels, elk, lynx, and birds.  We were concerned about the bears because they are very common in this park and the area we were in, but Marsican bears are very shy and not as large as grizzlies.

We got to Pescasseroli by bus, and were staying in a refuge (a hostel in the mountains) called The Red Fox.  We had called the hostel the previous day, and talked with the owner.  It was immediately apparent that this man was a character.  He joked about our Italian skills, and then made sure we knew how to reach the town. He told us to call him when we got there.

When we called, he told us that he would come and pick us up.  I had the impression that we were the only people staying in this hostel, and I was correct.  The owner named Gerardo picked us up in his car.  Gerardo is a short, 70 years old Italian dressed in winter gear.  He had a short white beard, and he laughed a lot.  He especially liked to laugh at us, but in a good hearted way.  He said that he would improve out Italian while we stayed with him.  he called us "ragazzi" which means "young people".  We were the first people to have stayed in the hostel since the summer.  Most people go to Pescasseroli in the winter for the skiing and snowboarding, but I think more people should go in the fall.  That is when the leaves are changing colors, and the mountain landscape is not as hostile as it is in the winter.

Gerardo invited us to the common room to see the fire and kitchen.  He offered us some wine and cookies.  He explained that he had already drunk a little too much wine because he thought we weren't coming (our bus was a bit late); but now that we were there, he said he was happy.  He then said that he was just going to go out to feed the chickens and would return.  He came back with cheese and bread, saying he went to the store to buy it because he thought we were hungry and weren't prepared to not have food at the hostel.  We tried to explain that we knew we would have to buy food in town, but Gerardo didn't seem to understand.  He showed us how to cook the cheese (which was a local kind of smoked mozzarella) over the fire to make a cheese sandwiches, which were amazing.

We did some hiking that first day to see the ruins of a castle that had been there since the middle ages.  From the hill, you could look down and see the whole town.

The is the view from the hostel we stayed at.

That night, we cooked a dinner of pasta with peppers and zucchini.   

The next day, we went on a trail suggested to us by Gerardo.  We went a little farther than he expected though.  We climbed up a mountain, walked along the ridge-line to another mountain, and then walked down. We made it out of the woods before it got dark.

The forests were bright yellow, orange, and red.  They were also quiet.  We seemed to be the only humans around for miles and miles.  We never came across another person that day.

The mountains are high.  Some are treacherous.  The peaks reach far over the tree line, and are littered with large boulders and rock cliffs.  The mountains are cold and windy.

As we walked along the ridge-line, humid air from the valley below was being pushed by the mountains by the wind.  As the air rose, it condensed to form clouds right below the edge where we were walking.  So as we walked south, we were walking in a perpetual cloud that was being created right there.  The huge grey mass was ominous and disorienting as we approached it, and then walking through it was a struggle.  The clouds tumbled over the ridge into the valley below.  Visibility was low.  We came upon a herd of horses in this cloud, but we heard them before we saw them.  Why they decided to graze from the sparse plants on this mountain top was beyond me.

When we started our decent out of the clouds, we were in a grassland area.  We found another heard of horses on the trail.

"The mountains belong to everyone.  Everyone can put their animals in the mountains", Gerardo said later to us, when we told him about all the livestock we saw.  The townspeople will leave small herds of horses, cows, and sheep in the mountains to graze.  The horses stay there by themselves all year long.  Sheepdogs guard the herds of cows in the mountains.  I assume the owners feed the dogs.  The animals wander wherever they want.  We saw this herd in the valley before we started our trek.

That evening, we had dinner with two Italian families who came to stay in the hostel that night.  They were very insistent that we join them.  We had good time trying to communicate with them, and they had lots of questions for us.

On the last day, we hiked to an area called Pratto Rosso which means Red Field.  The field was dotted with tufts of red grasses and bushes.  The hillside overlooked Mount Marsicano.  The Marsicano people were the people who lived in the area before the Romans took over.

To reach the field, we walked through this area called The Mozzone Grottoes.  There were trees here covered in thick moss.


Before we left, Gerardo drove us to town and bought us a coffee at the local bar.  We met his friend there, who has unsuccessfully run for left-wing mayor of the town for many consecutive years.  Gerardo explained the history of Pescasseroli.  At one time, most of the people living there were shepherds.  He said there were 50,000 sheep in the surrounding mountains.  They stayed there in the warm months, and then were herded to a warmer town in the winter.  When the park was made, sheep were no longer allowed to be transported across a border because of the fear that they could spread diseases.  This meant that the people could no longer keep many sheep in Pescasseroli because they would have to be housed indoors in the winter.  Instead of herding sheep, the people now make most of their money from tourists and people who come to ski in the winter.  Gerardo told us to encourage our friends to travel to Pescasseroli and stay in his hostel.  He dropped us off at the bus stop and said goodbye.  I will miss him, and miss Pescasseroli, and miss the landscape.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Last Friday,  my friend Juliana and I went to Assisi, the hometown of Saint Francis.

We took the train in the morning, and just stayed there for the day.  When we arrived, the hill town was in such thick fog, we could barely see anything.  The fog burned off by 2:00 pm.  Until then, we were inside a cloud.

Assisi is a quiet town.  Many pilgrims go there to see the tomb of St. Francis, and other sites such as the remains of his childhood home.  Franciscan monks are everywhere, and nuns are also frequently seen.  Some of the monks still live the exact way that St. Francis promoted.  They wear burlap clothes and beg for alms as their income.

There is another saint from Assisi named St. Clair.  She is also a very popular local saint.  She was a close follower of Saint Francis.

Photos were not allowed in the Church where St. Francis is buried.  There are amazing frescoes by Giotto in the upper part of the church.  St. Francis is in a tomb deep under the church, in a catacomb where his close friends and fellow monks are also buried.  That church and tomb area was the busiest place in all of Assisi.

It was a relaxing day.  We walked around, explored back streets and alleys, went to various churches, saw where St. Francis lived and where he is buried, took many photos, and ate gelato.

Many churches had statues of Mary with lights around the halo.  In the dark churches, these glowed in a theatrical way that made the statues seem alive.

Here, Juliana enjoys a delightful pastry.  We also got bread called "The Bread of St. Francis" which is a local kind of bread.  It had raisins and rosemary in it.

The baptismal font on the left is where Saint Francis was baptized.

The hill town of Assisi now makes most of its money from tourism.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Unconventional Material - Figure Sculpture

In Figure Modeling, we had to make a sculpture using unconventional material.  Some choices included leaves, hot glue, and objects coated in plaster.

Someone left a pile of white party balloons in the painting studio from last year.  I grabbed a handful of them the first day of class.  I decided to try to use them for my Sculpture.

I constructed an armature out of wire, and built up a wire form that would give the figure mass.  I liked the line of the wire, and the black electrical tape contrasted well with the white balloons.  It also kept the elastic texture the same throughout the piece.  I had intended to wrap the balloons around my sculpture in some way, but it was my professor, Roberto Mannino, who started playing with the balloons as I worked with the wire, and suggested I cut them to stretch them over the frame.  The results from this process mimicked muscles very well.  There is such a spring and tension and pull to the balloons, that it really gives the figure some life.  Roberto described my figure as one who could get up and dance.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pope and Pancakes

On Wednesday, my friend Juliana provided tickets for eleven of us to attend an "Audience with the Pope". He does these audiences every Wednesday. The tickets can be gotten through any parish. From the sound of it, it sounded like maybe 300 people would be in a room, and the Pope would speak at a podium about a topic (this week's was about the upcoming Peace conference in Assisi). It turned out to be very different.

Firstly, it seemed like there were 20,000 people there. Everyone was in St. Peter's Square, waiting in lines (which in Italy are not lines, they are masses of people pushing each other in a large clump). Because of the light rain, the Pope was not going to speak outside where he normally does, he was going to speak inside an auditorium. Unfortunately, the auditorium doesn't fit as many people are the usual outdoor seating. After a few minutes of waiting in the mass, the auditorium was full and we didn't make it inside. The Pope was going to speak a little bit in the Basilica so that the people who didn't get inside the auditorium could see him there even for just a moment. We joined the masses in the "line" to get inside the basilica, which must first go through the security line of metal detectors and X-ray machines. This bottleneck really slowed things down. I managed to get to the Basilica with enough time to see the Pope for a minute from across the Basilica. He then left to go to the auditorium.

I was amazed at the number of people there from all over the world. All sorts of people of all ages. The country with the most people there by far was Germany. Pope Benedict is very popular with the Germans. When we were waiting, announcers on the loudspeakers listed the countries where pilgrims were coming from in the native language, and then listed the parishes or organizations that were attending the Audience. The list of pilgrims from Germany was the largest by far.

Large television screens displayed live streaming footage from inside the auditorium to the people outside in the Square. I liked the music best of all.

Afterwards, me and my friends Abe and Allison made "Post-Pope-Pancakes". They had chocolate shavings in them, and way more butter and sugar than your average pancake. We also made a cinnamon syrup to go with them, and listened to Disco music as we ate them. It was excellent.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Figure Sculpture and Advanced Drawing

This past week was Midterms.  This drawing is from my drawing midterm.  It's about 6 feet tall by 7 feet wide.

It uses the ink and line-work I've been working with this semester, except I used charcoal instead of a carbon pencil.  The lines are rougher.

I've also made work in my Figure Sculpture class that has turned out well.  I'm no Bernini, but the figure sculpture has been something I've been enjoying.

Lately we've been working with plasticine, which is like an oil based clay.  The standing figure is built around an armature made of wire, tape, and newspaper.  This created the form that the plasticine could attach to and be supported by.  I'd say it's about 2 feet tall.

The hand is about life size.  It is made of plasticine as well, but without an armature.  It is based of of my own hand, but changed a little.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


For my Baroque Art History Class, we went to Napoli (Naples) for two days.

Only since 1861 has Italy existed as a unified country.  Before that, what we know as Italy was a collection of small city-states ruled by different people.  They were like different countries.  During the Baroque, Naples was ruled by a Spanish viceroy.  The art scene was cut-throat.

One such commission was the chapel of San Gennaro in the Cathedral of Naples.  San Gennaro is the patron Saint of Naples (though the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize him as a saint there isn't enough proof that he existed).  The Neapolitans firmly believe in their patron saint. San Gennaro was born in 250 AD.  He was martyred just outside of Naples.  First, he was thrown into an arena with lions and bears, but the animals did not attack him.  Then he was thrown into a wood burning oven, but he walked out of the oven unharmed.  Finnally, San Gennaro was decapitated.  His head and two viles of blood were taken to the Cathedral in Naples, where they are kept in the treasury as the prized relics of Naples.

The viles of blood had dried solid shortly after San Gennaro's death.  When they reached the Cathedral though, the blood liquefied again.  This miracle happens three times a year.  On the day the relics arrived (the first Saturday in May), Sept 19th (the anniversary of the execution), and Dec 6th (the day San Gennaro flew across the sky with an outstretched arm to stop the threatened eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1631),  the relics are taken out of the treasury behind the alter and shaken for the crowds to see.  The superstition is that if the solid material in the viles does not liquefy, the city will have a year of bad luck.  Neapolitans will shout and spit on the viles until the material inside turns to liquid.  Of course, the priests shake the viles until the material liquefies.

Recently, scientists from the rival city of Milan created an experiment where they demonstrated how certain minerals from the soil of Naples could settle with water in the viles in such a way that would turn from a solid to a liquid with agitation.  The material in the viles has the color of chocolate milk.  The Neapolitans are very against having the relics tested by scientists in any way.  The belief in San Gennaro is such a part of their local culture.  San Gennaro helps people win the lottery, protects from the constant threat of Mount Vesuvius, and the miracle of the liquefaction of the blood is a symbol of the doomed city that always rises again.  Many Neapolitans name their sons Gennaro.

In the Baroque, the Cathedral was decorating the chapel of San Gennaro with the best art they could get.  Many foreign artists went to Napoli for the competition.  Dominicino was one such artist.  He was rivals with the local Neapolitan artist Ribera, who was part of a gang of local artists.  When Dominicino first arrived in Naples in the Baroque, his assistant was murdered, and Dominicino fled for his life.  He returned some years after to work on the altarpieces for the chapel of San Gennaro.  He didn't finish two of the oil paintings because he was poisoned in 1641; he was probably poisoned by the local Neapolitan artist gang.  Ribera then got the opportunity to paint that last altarpiece, which in this video is the final painting I filmed, showing San Gennaro walking out of the furnace.  It's strange to think that this religious painting was completed by the artist due to a murder that artist had a hand in.  The treasury depicted in this video is one of the richest church treasuries in the world.  All the busts of saints you see are made of pure silver and each hold a relic of the saint they depict.

Naples is a rough city.  Under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, the city lives in constant threat of doom.  The streets are more narrow and crowded than Rome.  The city has an unemployment rate of 40%.  The majority of these unemployed live with their parents, but many live on the streets.  There are stray dogs everywhere, and many homeless walk around the city with a personal pack of dogs that follow them and sleep with them.  Theft is a large problem in Naples because of this high unemployment rate.  The local mafia doesn't help matters with their shoot-outs in back alleys.  Many Neapolitan churches gave their famous paintings by such artists as Caravaggio to museums, to protect the paintings from theft.

While Naples has poor living conditions, it does have amazing food.  Legend has it that pizza was invented in Naples, and they take their pizza seriously.  The highest quality mozzarella cheese is made from the milk of water buffaloes, and must be eaten on the day it's made for the best flavor and texture.  The local seafood is also fresh and rich.  There is no way I could possibly explain how good the food tasted here in this blog.  Playing cards / Tarot cards originated in Naples during the Renaissance.  Naples is known for it's folk music and songs.  Local symbols include the red horn of fertility which also protects from the evil eye of envy, and Pulcinella.

Pulcinella represents the spirit of Naples.  He is a clown dressed in white with a black mask.  Pulcinella is a rascal and a trickster.  He is clever and manipulative, but also melancholic and philosophical.  Pulcinella lives a tough life, but he gets by with his wit.  He also has a sense of humor.  "He will eat lunch with a friend, but get his friend excited and talking so that Pulcinella can sneakily eat his friend's pasta".  Pulcinella symbolizes the city, and warns that you always have to be careful and aware of what's happening around you.

I did not take this image.  I found it through Google.  I didn't take my digital camera to Naples
 but I did take my film camera and the small video camera.  I had nothing stolen from me.

This is a video of what it was like to walk around the streets of Naples with my class.

I found this Race for the Cure event.  Instead of biking through the city, the participants are "spinning" and being coached onward by some very fit Italians.  

Naples has a very different feel from Rome.  It is not a tourist city like Rome is.  Naples was exciting for sure.  I only touched on a small part of the trip.  There was so much more and so many experiences, I wouldn't be able to write about them all.