Today is this blog’s 15th birthday!
Yesterday I finished mending the awning for our terrace pergola. It was not an enjoyable task but the awning is fundamental as I spend much of the morning (or at least would like to) at my terrace work table and need protection from the sun.
The awning is made of heavy fabric once used for balcony curtains meant for privacy as much as for décor. Having been out in the sun for so long, the fabric deteriorated. So once repurposed as awning, all it took was a gust of strong wind to rip it. I was forced to buy new fabric but still wanted to maintain the old—you know, sustainabilty and sentiment. But also because of the fabric’s orange stripes that filters the sun and gives everything a warm glow. Somewhat like a fabric stained glass window.
After patching the rips and attaching the old fabric with the new, the awning is now repaired boro style. Honor has been given to the old fabric that for so long acted as faithful curtains for our balcony protecting us from the sun and my neighbor’s curiosity.
I want to make my life photogenic. And a needle and thread helps a lot.
for the next few weeks I will be focusing my posts on this blog:
We are busy trimming our bougainvillea so that its energy will move forward and, with time, wrap itself around our terrace.
I have created a little window so that I can watch as my neighbor’s apricot tree makes its fruit that she will then transform into delicious jams.
Pruning is about getting rid of the past to make room for the present.
Frederic Leighton was an English artist who followed his own shadow looking for a direction to go in. Maybe it was because he was still very young but I had a feeling it was because he was ambiguous within. In fact, one evening while a group of us were drinking wine at Il Pincio, Leighton spoke of “that other strange second man” living inside of him. And maybe to keep from exposing his doppelgänger, Leighton sought shelter in the penumbra.
Our Wednesday Morning Reading Club routinely visited the studios of other artists out of solidarity but also out of curiosity. That’s why one morning we showed up at Leighton’s studio on via della Purificazione. He was busy painting his model, Nanna Risi, a cobbler’s wife from Trastevere. Nanna was dressed all in white with peacock feathers stuck in her hair. Leighton generally dressed his models in period costumes as he used them for mythical or historical figures. But not Nanna. Her looks were so intense that she easily became her own subject matter.
Because of her haunting beauty, many artists of the expat group used Nanna as a model. Then in 1860, she posed for Anselm Feuerbach and all the equilibriums were disrupted. Feuerbach became obsessed with her and fell in love with this obsession.
He convinced Nanna to leave her husband and child to run off with him. For a few years the couple lived as lovers but the thrill eventually wore off. Feuerbach saw her mainly as a model (he painted her over 20 times). But Nanna didn’t live in a painting. She was a woman in the real world and wanted to feel like it. So when a rich Brit courted her, she dumped the painter only to be dumped herself a few months later. Nanna tried going back to Feuerbach but his wounded ego was done with her. Aged and rejected, artists now rarely asked her to model. So, in great economic difficulty, she took to begging in the streets.
One afternoon a few years later, I was walking down via del Corso when, from a distance, I could see Nanna panhandling. She was shaking her cup when Feuerbach walked by. Instead of stopping to say hello, he simply waved and walked on. The expression on Nanna’s face broke my heart as she obviously felt humiliated. Well, I’m a firm believer in female synergy and solidarity. So, with studied nonchalance, I bumped into her and, acting really surprised, said “Oh Nanna, what a pleasure to see you again!” then invited her to my house for a coffee. Once home, I filled her with all the food I could find in the kitchen along with some wine and waited for the in vino veritas to take effect.
There was something about Nanna that really touched my soul. I asked her if, for money of course, she’d let me sketch her. So while she talked, I drew.
If I could give a name to Nanna’s story, it would be “The Burden of Beauty”. Beautiful women tend to be objectified by men who are attracted to surface and rarely make the effort to comprehend substance.
Poor Nanna. She was a shipwrecked beauty without family, without money. Being an object of desire had been, for her, a terminal experience. Since you can only desire that which you don’t have, a desire is just a void waiting to be filled. And once the void is filled, the desire disappears. In other words, once Nanna succumbed to a man, she immediately became obsolete.
A few hours later after much wine and many sketches, Nanna left and I never saw or heard from her again.
(excerpt from The Roman Diary of Luz Corazzini ©)
p.S. the Italian model (modèle italienne) in the academic tradition… the archeologist and later conservator of the Louvre Museum of Antiques, Leon de Laborde, was enthusiastic about Italian models and encouraged using them. In the 1850s, many Italians moved to Paris during the Second Empire. Because of their physical characteristics (as noted in Renaissance paintings), Italians became very trendy as models.
Anselm Feuerbach was friends with Johannes Brahms who composed la Naenia to commemorate his death.
Feuerbach was part of the group of German artists living in Rome known as Deutschrömer.
“Theology is anthropology.” Anselm Feuerbach
Nothing can be more overwhelming for self-image and self-esteem than a lousy love life—something I quickly learned after an abrupt break up. Unhappiness is very destructive and I began developing a series of quirks and tics For example, I draped my mirrors with tulle so that my reflection was just a series of perforations. Or, if I saw couples kissing, my left eye would begin to blink uncontrollable then tear.
At the time, I was in Vienna visiting distant relatives. Very distant. They told me about a doctor in vogue who seemed gifted in curing young women with emotional problems and arranged an appointment for me. That’s how I met Doctor Freud.
Conjecturing had led me to believe that, to unclutter the mind, an uncluttered environment was fundamental. So I was really surprised by the doctor’s studio. Books and figurines were juxtaposed everywhere. For example, on his desk was a row of small goddess statues. And behind his desk was a glass case full of antiquities. My friend, Mona, had once warned me about men with collections. She said that collecting is symptomatic of someone who needs to stay in control. So, instead of looking at his collection with interest, I started to feel a bit uncomfortable especially after he told me to lay down on his couch. My instincts told me to get out of there. And since instincts don’t lie, I invented an excuse and left.
Lou Andreas-Salomè, who hung out with Freud, wrote in her diary about a cat that, from a window, would climb into the doctor’s study. The cat would closely inspect Freud’s antique objects then purr. Amazed that he would have something in common with a cat, Freud began giving him milk. But the cat was not impressed by this display of generosity and would completely ignore the doctor. That’s how Freud understood he and the cat had more in common than an interest in little statues—they were both narcissistic.
Female narcissism is not the same as the male’s. Our narcissism is more a form of coquetry. Not having the same power in society as men, we’ve had to invent alternative arms. In a misogynist world, flirtation and innuendo can get us much more than can straight forward communication.
And I wonder, was it narcissism that led Freud to collect phallic amulets? His housekeeper use to comment on how the doctor had a small Baboon of Thoth statue with prominent genitals that he liked to stroke. Lou Andreas-Salomè also had a kind of phallic collection only hers was not made of stone. More than a narcissist, she was a seductress. Instead of looking into the mirror, she was a mirror looking out.
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was the kind of guy every woman looks at twice then wished she hadn’t. Not owning a mirror, he really didn’t know what a hunk he was. Then one day, while walking by a lake, he decided to drink some water. That’s how he saw his reflection and immediately fell in love with himself. Really, he couldn’t take his eyes of his reflection and just stayed there until he finally decomposed, turned into compost, then was born again as a flower.
Narcissism makes your world smaller. And when there’s only you, life is lonely.
But back to novelist, seductress, and psychoanalyst, Lou Andreas-Salomè.
The writer Malwida von Meysenbug, who’d been living in Rome for years, invited us to one of her soirées. We happily accepted as she knew the most exciting people. It was there I met Lou and, even though she’d been very charming, I knew we could never be friends simply because I couldn’t take the competition. Her sex appeal was such that all a man had to do was look at her and see mattresses. In fact, all the men there were lined up trying to get her attention. In line was Paul Rée, Nietzsche’s best friend and fellow philosopher. Soon afterwards, Lou, Rée, and Nietzsche embarked upon an “intellectual” ménage à trois (and you can imagine the gossip that caused!) But it didn’t take long for the rooster fights to begin. Nietzsche wanted Lou all for himself and asked her to marry him. When she said no, Nietzsche was crushed, said all women were bad, then locked himself up in his room at Piazza Barberini (a delightful little room with a view of Bernini’s Fontana del Tritone) and began writing Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
Ahh, men can’t understand how fatiguing it is to be a femme fatale who’s desired not for who she is but for what she represents—an object of desire. And since you can only desire that which you don’t have, a desire is just a void yearning to be filled. Maybe because she was tired of being objectified, Lou married a linguistics professor. A celibate marriage, Lou was often restless thus took long walks. And on one such walk in Munich, she met Rainer Maria Rilke. Even though Lou was 15 years older, the young poet fell crazy in love with her. With schoolboy charm, Rilke wrote Lou poems such as: “my love is like a coat wrapped around you to protect and warm you up” and “all the roses in the world bloom for you and by means of you”. Really, it got to be too much and when Lou felt Rilke was getting too clinging, the affair lost its poetry.
Poor Rilke, he started acted stranger and stranger. He hadn’t been just a toy boy for Lou. She worried about his mental health and looked towards psychoanalysis as a solution. But Rilke wasn’t interested and told Lou “Don’t take my devils away, because my angels may flee, too.”
By this time Lou was fascinated by psychoanalysis and moved to Vienna for more. Here she met Freud and learned that all narcissists have mirrors but not all mirrors have the same reflection.
A man lives in a man’s world thus is constantly surrounded by his own reflection. The male mirror has room only for himself whereas the woman, living in a man’s world as well as a world of her own, sees herself and others.
Moral of the story: women have bigger mirrors than men.
(from The Diary of Luz Corazzini, Cynthia Korzekwa ©)
My mother had a knack for collecting unusual acquaintances. One such acquaintances was an English Lord who’d fallen madly in love with her while in Texas buying mustangs for his stables. Bertie, as she called him, insisted that we visit him in London. And my mother, born for adventure, agreed. So we loaded our trunks with woolen underwear and silk blouses then departed.
Bertie lived in the lovely area of Bloomsbury giving me the chance to go to Bedford Square every day to sketch. Sometimes I had difficulty concentrating on drawing because I was too busy looking at all the peculiar people. One woman in particular caught my attention. Tall and haggard dressed in Typical Tweed, she had an intensity to her that wasn’t easy to ignore. We saw one another every day in the square and soon began nodding our heads in recognition. Then one cloudy afternoon I saw her sitting on a bench crying. I didn’t know what to do as the Brits are known to be so formal and stuffy. But empathy took over and I went to her and, using the most discreet voice I had, asked if she needed help. Initially she gave me a glare but then burst into tears. She indicated the space next to her on the bench so I sat down as she wailed about how desperately sad she was. Her name was Virginia and she was a writer and part of an artistic group called Bloomsbury. Once she’d relaxed, just to liven the atmosphere, I showed her the sketches I’d been making. Virginia said they were delightful and invited me to her house for tea.
Virginia lived in a charming house on Gordon street that was always full of people. The day I went for tea there was T.S. Elliot, a most unpleasant man, the economist John Maynard Keynes, the writer with a view, E. M. Forester and Leonard, Virginia’s husband. Virginia seemed rather intimidated by another guest, Katherine Mansfield. I heard her gossiping with Elliot about Katherine. Virginia had called her ‘a civet cat that had taken to street-walking’. Quite rude of her, no? But later I was to learn that Virginia and Katherine had become the best of friends and regularly discussed their work and other writers while drinking tea and smoking cigarettes. Katherine said that the pleasure of reading is doubled when you can share books with someone else.
Virginia was a bit jealous of Katherine and I could easily see why. Even though both used interior monologues, they didn’t speak to themselves in the same way. The sea had already started to roar inside Virginia’s head whereas Katherine was coughing up blood. One retreated while the other expanded.
Katherine’s relationship with Beatrice Hastings, caustic critic of literature and just about everything else, also put stones in Virginia’s shoes. More than a literary competition, the jealousy stemmed from the intimate relationship Katherine had had with Beatrice before the latter moved in with Modigliani. I remember seeing one of Modigliani’s portraits of Beatrice and thinking, okay, another woman with a long neck and a pinched up little mouth.
Years later I would better understand both Katherine and Virginia after reading their diaries (is it okay for husbands to publish their dead wives’ diaries?) and how writing simultaneously regenerated and exhausted them. One day sinking, the next day swimming, they both struggled to make the inside come out.
Katherine died of TB in 1923. Haunted by her death, Virginia became quite needy and often invited me for tea. On one occasion, Arthur Waley was there. Arthur was an expert in Japonism, the study of Japanese aesthetics. I, too, was an enthusiast due to my studies on Degas and his collection of Hokusai prints.
Arthur was shy but had the greatest range of friends of anyone I’d ever known…not just the artsy Bloomers but other writers such as Ronald Firbank, as well as politicians, spiritualists and Eskimo stuntmen. He was known for his translations of Asian literature including that of The Pillow Book.
When I think of pillows I certainly don’t think of books. I think of sleep, of course, but also of magic rituals such as filling the pillow with herbs or, as taught to me by a curandera in Texas, sleeping with scissors and a photograph of someone you want to forget under your pillow. It makes forgetting easier. Believe me, I know.
But in classical Japanese literature, Waley told me, a pillow book is a kind of diary and the most famous one is that of Sei Shonagon (966-1017). Sei was a lady-in-waiting for Empress Consort Teishi in the Heian court.
Sei’s pillow book described her life at court, interesting events and her personal observations. She was exceptional fixated with making lists. She made lists like “Things that arouse a fond memory of the past”, “Things that cannot be compared”, “Things that should be large”, “Things that give a clean feeling”, “Things that are distant though near”, and” Deeply irritating things”. My favorite is “Things that make one’s heart beat faster” that includes:
Sparrows feeding their young. To pass a place where babies are playing. To sleep in a room where some fine incense has been burnt. To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy. To wash one’s hair, make one’s toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure. Plus, it is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of raindrops, which the wind blows against the shutters.
When Tesishi’s gig as an empress was up, Sei was forced to leave the court. It’s not certain what happened to her but speculation is that she either became a Buddhist nun or died alone in poverty.
Umberto Eco also loved lists and often included them in his novels. If he were to be stranded on a desert island, Eco once said, he would want to have a telephone book so he could use the list of names to make stories. A narrative can be conceived as a list of events. Furthermore, said Eco, a list is the origin of culture because, to make infinity comprehensible, lists help create order. Cultural history is full of lists such as lists of saints, armies and medicinal plants, or of treasures and book titles.
Not just history, but people as well like lists. In his book, Eco included Roland Barthes lists of likes and dislikes thus we know that Barthes, among other things, liked cinnamon, the smell of freshly cut hay, flat pillows, writing pens, Médoc wine, and wearing sandals while walking on paths in southwestern France. But Barthes disliked, among other things, white Pomeranian dogs, women in slacks, geraniums, TV cartoons, Mirò, and spending evenings with people he didn’t know.
It must have been around 1995. I was teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milano and taking advantage of the city’s cultural events. One evening at the Feltrinelli near Brera, Eco was presenting one of his many books. After his talk, Eco was surrounded by adoring book groupies and, from the expression on his face, I could telling he felt bliss. Then his wife showed up pointing at her wrist watch saying “Umberto, Umberto, dobbiamo andare!” and his mouth went down like a landslide. It reminded me of Nora, James Joyce’s wife, who asked her husband why he didn’t write books that people could understand. There’s nothing like a wife to keep an ego in place.
It was 2002. I was in Paris visiting Chloe and we were having lunch at a bistro near Quai des Grands Augustins. Sitting next to us was a jaded looking woman oblivious to the world so intensely involved she was in writing. Chloe was, as usual, taking photos. After the mandatory selfies, she stepped away from our table to take pictures. Knowing that, like the Mayans, I fear photographs can steal a part of the soul and imprison it forever, Chloe carefully avoided me as subject matter.
The Croque Monsieur was busting inside of me and I felt the need to get up and move. As we were walking away, Chloe in a whisper asked if I had recognized the woman who’d been sitting next to us. No, I said, who was she? Susan Sontag, she replied. Well that in itself was curious but later in the day, Chloe downloaded the photos she’d taken. We were amazed that, unintentionally, Chloe had not only captured Sontag writing but had photographed the notebook she was writing in as well. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was very curious to read what Sontag had written and asked Chloe to enlarge the writing. Chloe was aghast that I could so blatantly invade someone’s privacy but, curious herself, she finally agreed. What we saw seemed little more than lists in all their variations which was, I learned years later, basically how Sontag kept journals. A journal, she said, was like a confidante who is deaf, dumb, and illiterate. It gives you the possibility to express yourself but, more importantly, to create yourself as well.
From Sontag’s many lists we learn that she liked fires, tequila, silent films, coarse salt, large rooms, maple sugar candy, taking taxis, and Wagon-lits. But she didn’t like cold weather, being photographed, wearing a wrist watch, taking showers, TV, baked beans, Ezra Pound, and freckles.
I, too, make lists. You know, the Things to Do kind. Makings lists can be exciting because, without doing anything at all, just making a list already gives you a feeling of accomplishment even though, as in my case, you rarely bring intention towards a conclusion.
Inspired by the lists of others, I’ve tried giving a new twist to my own Things to Do ones. Instead of writing things like: pick up the laundry, buy milk, pay the light bill, and mend the sheets, I’m going to experiment with a new kind of Things to Do such as:
- Take a walk around the block and count the trees
- Pick the dustiest unread book on the shelf and read it
- Recycle a postcard by sending it back to the original sender
- Write a haiku every day for a week
- Memorize the words of a song then sing it out loud every morning before breakfast
(from The Diary of Luz Corazzini, Cynthia Korzekwa ©)