On veterans 

It is a family tradition in my southeast Virginia hometown to place flowers and mementos on the graves of loved ones on each holiday.  When visiting, my aunt would keep me in the family loop by sharing whose grave she flowered–usually my father, William C Stancil, Sr., or my grandmother, Nancy Wilson, her mother-in-law.

If my father had been interred at a veterans cemetery his grave would be dutifully remembered with a small flag, like the row upon row of others who earned this resting place because they served.

At my now-annual solstice party for friends, a group of 5 male friends, partners to my own friends of the heart, sat together to share their Vietnam era war experiences. It was a “guy love” afternoon, enjoying each other’s company, cold beer, and a varied menu of grilled seafood and custom desserts crafted by my daughter and me. I frankly had no idea that two longtime friends had served. As young men during the era, I am afraid they learned to hide their war experience from an anti-war society, including war era protestors like me. My home front experience of Vietnam was a cousin and his entire community cohort, drafted only to return in coffins, or as shells of the optimistic young men they had once been.

A group of veteran artists at Combat Paper at the New Jersey Printmaking Center helped me to remember and honor my father and his service. At rare sessions for family members and friends, they examined his medals to decipher my fathers service during World War II and the Korean conflict, helped me turn one of dad’s old uniforms into paper, and guided me to create a silkscreen print from his 1943 Navy training class. Together we realized that my dad was only 17 years old when he proudly stood with his class.

As we celebrate our nation’s birthday this July 4, 2017, I remember the wars fought by young men and women. We don’t always acknowledge you, but your noble contributions have made my life and this country blessed.

A print of William C Stancil, Class of 1943.

Living by RULE culture today

Mr. Lenwood Sloan, formerly of New Orleans but now entrenched in Pennsylvania cultures and communities, identifies himself as an African American Victorian  gentleman. He sings traditional Irish songs beautifully, and gains easy access to Polish cultural events by showing his polka style.

A week before St. Patrick’s day, I exchange divorce war stories and debate how skin shows age with the only other female at the tavern bar. She says her Irish skin adds an embarrassing number of years. She envies my African skin.   Many generations and continents away from Ireland and Africa we agree to meet, dance to celebrate our marital freedom and strut to some funky beats in a nearby gay friendly town.

To stave off the trauma of living in cultural isolation, I committed to living my own true self, of Native and African heritage in a suburban rural area where associations with people of color happened only when I searched them out and sometimes had to pay a fee of association.

I don’t think  my child and her friends notice difference. She says they love and support each other’s uniqueness and individuality. While I know each by name and her particular passion (reading, anime, animals, fashion, gear head, Japan, drawing, cosplay, etc.), they have been to me puppies, kittens, lambs, ponies when I needed to coral them for some common purpose. Just kids, now young adults, finding their way.

Are we all there yet?  A society where we celebrate and sample our distinctiveness or cultures? Where we are not threatened by difference, inclusion, respect and love for someone who is not the mirror image of ourselves?

Living by RULE and trust

Our reading assignment has us reading a treatise on the importance of trust and being trustworthy in all things.

Our township manager wants guidance…release a check to the company contracted to clear deadwood and debris from Owls Nest Park then start an 18 month maintenance agreement for another amount.  Do we take the job as complete when they have left piles of debris and blocked paths and left stumps that some visitors seem to be using to watch mature?

Supervisors weigh in. They really have not fulfilled their contract. That’s what the company does grind up stumps and remove debris not bank it elsewhere in the park where it damages other healthy trees or perhaps healthy visiting people!

We don’t need a new contract to maintain this travesty of fulfillment. Did the company think this small township with a federal grant was easy pickings? That no one would look? Three of 5 supervisors have visited to walk to jog perhaps. They see the park as their yards. It is collectively ours. We deserve accountability whether or not we are spending local tax dollars or tax dollars coming back to our township from federal sources. 

We know now not to trust companies with contracts. Anyone will try to pull a fast one to get a government check. Which is really a personal check from me and my neighbors.

Meeting the workings of supervisors for the first time I can trust that some are looking at more than just the bottom line and will demand accountability as they expect it of themselves.

Living by RULE observing local leaders

March 8,2016. The Stars have aligned a bit.  I forgo a bee keepers meeting to visit the Plumbstead board of supervisors March meeting.  I am one of 4 audience members. One seems to be a reporter committed to the end. An elderly gentleman seems to have something at stake but does not comment during all the opportunities presented. A young fellow perhaps traveled by bike takes notes after arriving late but also has no comments.

So this is the place to come when desiring to know more about policies that pretend to take the environment in mind but not really.  Our zoning inspector wants clarity on how to permit run off from decks.  Once upon a time decks were modest attachments to homes no roofs just big enough toseatacouple of hairs. Once upon a time yards in our rural township were two acres or more.

In present days decks are 500 square feet or more. In the fashion of home improvement tv shows everyone wants yards designed for outdoor living with zones. Patios of fake wood or concrete surface these zones and prevent runoff or not said the ability of the earth to absorb rainwater runoff from all the covered surfaces. In present days yards in subdivisions are 1/3 acre or less.  Decking defines outdoor rooms and full size in ground swimming pools.

These are sites all asking for variances that will permit increasing numbers of homeowners to literally pave paradise to install their version of parking lots.

Our leaders don’t want to be perceived as the no township. Why not a standard variance that ups current run off limits now at 25 percent to be 50 or 75 percent? Then we won’t have to take time to make all those inspection visits designed to manage how we raped the environment?   

Until  rains inundate us and has nowhere to go but  into the homes and extended yards we so thoughtlessly constructed as if thelandbelow was not a part of a living breathing system. Visions of Noah will remind us of the folly and tragedy that come from forgetting we humans are a part of the system and not its masters.

Sweet Spot

Over weeks of walking and traveling by train around the region,  there has been no lack of fairy tale vistas,  world heritage palazzos and dramatic seaside villages.

Just on the outskirts of Genoa is Nervi, a 1.60 euro 15 minute train ride from Principio, the main station down the block from my hotel.

Vistas, check!

A sea wall carved from the mountains and paved with brick.

A world away from the world away, check!

A woman-owned bistro, check!

Home made focaccia hot from the oven.  Gratis wine, because I look like Ineed a glass.

Elegant desserts in two sizes, all decorated with the bisro’s signature wafer.  And salads!  After weeks of pasta first courses, it will be a while before I consume a once-favorite food.  I was ready to commit a crime for a salad. I choose one featuring local anchovies. And corn!

My last day will be spent with the ladies, sitting, sewing, and enjoying this sweet spot.

Travel lessons

Dogs go everywhere in Italy…on local trains and busses, stores, vacation hotels of course. Should have anticipated this when crying babies vied with small barking dogs for attention on the trans Atlantic flight!

I could easily travel with less than the 20 pounds Rick Steves recommends. Not a big deal to wash a few things every few days with large bathroom sinks and courtesy liquid soaps hotels provide. Really, who needs more than 3 bras at home or away?

I am well past the age for youth hostels and “Europe on $20 a day!” It’s a bargain at any price to sit and enjoy a bruschetta or a plate of local seafood with a bottle of local wine, just to gather thoughts and process impressions for an hour or two before the next venture.  

Dinner in Italy is a four course meal at 8 or 9 or 10pm.  At that hour there will be families, young poets and others not the least impressed by this dining hour or two. It is still quite possible to eat at typical “American” dining times. Small ethnic eateries with Greek, Chinese and North African specialties are always open. And very affordable.

Those travel bags that roll in all directions are a godsend and work well as a sturdy prop for walking and resting.

You can buy a water or espresso to get access to a bathroom on the go, or find a village town hall for free facilities.

I always thought it would be the height of elegance to take a break from wandering a fine art museum to enjoy an overpriced snack or drink in the museum cafe. It is!

The people I have met who understand and speak little English have been so apologetic. Apologies go both ways for travelers with such hubris to expect the world revolves only in English. Thank goodness the Italian I studied in college does resurface with constant reminders of grammar, syntax and vocabulary.

My college history professor deserves my gratitude.  Years ago I wrote letters of appreciation to professors of Anthropology, German and Italian.  I loathed the Austrian history professor who made me read Benvenuto Cellini’s diary about Renaissance art and insisted we learn all the family battles that passed for political history.  I get it now!

People around the world love Natalie Cole. And Michael Jackson!

The sea has many personalities. At Monterosso –calm, expansive, infinite.  From Genova’s bay–industrious, calm but busy and bustling with all those uses coming together in one place.  Working fishing boats, huge mega ocean liners, antique galleons and yachts from around the Mediterranean. At Riomaggiore an angry sea crashes over the sea wall and is very threatening!  My host at Rio Bistrot says it’s not usually so crushingly angry. A toe in the water would be just the thing to drag me out to sea! I better understand why all those old maps depict angry Neptune and scary  sea creatures.

In all the places I have had seafood from Genova to Florence and the villages of Cinque Terre…shrimp is served unpeeled.  Just saying.  I am glad of my own background growing up on the Chesapeake Bay, learning to peel and scale all types of sea creatures with ease. I still have my father’s fish gutting/scaling knife.  Sorry Kenny! You got the rods and reels.

 Thank goodness for skills one never forgets, like scaling fish and venturing far from home to find kindred spirits regardless of  differences in language and upbringing.

All images are from my day and night at Riomaggiore.


The simple things

While waiting for the WC at Ufizzi Gallery in Florence, the Medici family home now considered to be the Louvre of Italy, an insight about things not to take for granted.

Ufizzi was a family castle/home first built to display the wealth, patronage and love of all types of art.  The art acquired and commissioned by Medicis from Boticelli’s Venus to Stratavarius violins must be housed in distinguished settings.

My second call of the day and I realize I could rusticate for a while in absolute comfort in this and most WCs I’ve had the pleasure to meet on this journey. I think to quickly snap a photo of the surroundings when I am caught by the fashionable (aren’t all Italian women?) signora waiting ahead of me.

With conspiratorial laughter she says, “Yes, even the bathrooms are fabulous!”

I spent two years lusting after washroom luxuries before settling for the best that Lowes and Home Depot had to offer my budget. Thankfully, with negotiated designs made on the spot to the consternation of a talented Albanian craftsman, my modest bath is all I wanted it to be.

These Italian Mediterranean travels confirm that an elegant bath is one of life’s lovely pleasures however one spends time there. Ufizzi’s feature lengths of marble sinks and floors.  Separate walled stalls are the norm. The doors are another  thoughtful design choice. The WC at the Ferragamo museum has giant bottles of rich cologne. Even a modest WC tucked into a far corner of a small pizzeria has elegant drum shaped sinks.

Have I spent more time describing baths than food or art? They are all a part of the cultural riches, after all. I certainly appreciate my domestic version of a Roman bath even more.

The thing about artists …

At the academy in Florence  with David and 5 of Michelangelo’ s unfinished pieces.  He must have seen the writing on the wall. So much public hoopla attended the completion of David. Too grand an achievement for a private space, it warrants a spot outside the Florence town hall.  All the politicos of the signora or public council  can imagine themselves basking in David’s greatness as they pass in and out to do Firenze ‘s business.

Knowing that his greatness as an artist is well evident, how does Michelangelo look at the end of life?  These unfinished pieces were to grace a pope’s tomb.  Absent these masterworks, that pope is certainly anonymous to posterity. A Michelangelo marker would have made all of the difference.

To be like Michelangelo…Happy for what we accomplished; satisfied with what we attempted; ready for the final judgment regardless of what is yet undone or incomplete.

Where art matters

Finished reading Sarah Dunant’s Birth of Venus in time to appreciate her views of 15th century Florence through the eyes of a young woman steeped in the philosophy, religious upheavals and art making when Florence was the world’s culture center.  I have been inside her family palazzo paid by her fathers wealthy textile import and dying business.  Like the reigning Medicis and others wealthy from banking, business and the church before Martin Luther, the Vecchi family hires a young monastery trained artist to paint frescoes in the family’s private worship gallery.  The likenesses of mother father 2 sons and 2 daughters are captured for posterity, featured in various religious allegories al fresco.

 An evening walk through the heart of Florence is to revisit Dunant’s family homes, cathedrals and markets will get me oriented before scheduled tours. Without entering a building, Renaissance architectural wonders abound.  The Duomo at town center occupies a Times Square sized piece of real estate.  Approaching it from one of many radiating side streets takes my breath away.  Walking around with thousands of other tourists who are insignificant ants, in awe like me.

The streets team with youth and families.  The guide book says if a college has a European/Italian campus, it will be in Florence, the most visited city on the planet.

The beauty, elegance and age are too great to be dimished by mere mortals subject to inconsequential  timelines. 

Culture, Genoa style

What happened to the ability to be up and out by 0730?  Finally a vacation that leaves my old schedule behind.

One item on Sunday’s agenda…Opera! 

A brisk walk via the street of Palaces to  the main downtown plaza and teatro  Carlo Felice for La Boheme.  Gorgeous singing so effortlessly performed.  Like so much in a place where this particular cultural form was born.

In the well lit night I wander the wide avenues in a part of Genoa with few tourists and none of those groups of aimless young men so plentiful elsewhere. They are not the market for  Gucci shops, Uggs with bling,  and palace gardens illuminated for best views.

I encounter a non-tourist restaurant where each item is hand made requiring time to  convene the ingredients and appreciate the effort.  The Signora  keeps my wine glass filled as we exchange in halting Italian and halting English the fine points of daily hand making pasta, local fish stew and a mighty fine apple dessert that recalls my own grandmother’s.

At my age I am liberated to wander the city streets at night.