You know the expression; ‘I went to see a man about a dog.‘ Well on this day, we did. Gianni’s sheep dog had a litter of 10 and one of them was promised to a man who was for many years the man behind the Armani brand, now retired to a grand country estate nearby. As you can see from this dovecote, if a birdhouse can look this good imagine the rest.
He’s a kind and generous man who walked us all around his place with evident pride and pleasure. We went through woodland and pasture and vineyards and rolling hills and then through an amazing house. There was so much to see that I wanted to come back with my view camera and make some pictures that the place deserves. But for the moment these few notes are just the tip of the many places I responded to while with him.
But the mud/boot room takes the cake. What a holy ‘chamber,’ and for boots!
Libera, a 70 year old contadina (farm woman of the old school variety from the time of serfs and padrones) is still working the land by hand. We stop by every few days to pick up tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, onions, and whatever else is ready at that moment, not to mention oil and wine when necessary. It is a great pleasure to see her smiling face and experience her generosity, both so easily given.
Here, I was driving past on my way home and stopped to chat for a moment, and just the simplicity of her presence, her earthy stance, the old wall behind her, the ordinariness of it all made me reach for the camera. These simple moments are precious, no attitude, no becoming something she is not. She’s just there, rooted to the earth, part of the spirit of the place.
Gianni had arrived while Maggie was watering her roses. It was a blistering hot day and Maggie, spontaneous as always, turned the hose on him as he was walking away, and Gianni, open as always to whatever the next thing is, responded with such a moment of joyous abandon that I turned around and saw his exaltation and the rainbow all in the same millisecond. It pays to have the camera wherever you are, even around the house.
I had seen Maggie doing a homey piece of handwork – sewing weights into the bottom of a fly curtain over the front door – and was moved to see such a simple task being done with so much pleasure. She is a real contadini in that way. She loves old methods and the life people led in the past.
When I stepped outside a whole other image presented itself, one a bit more comical, and probably one I might have made on any street, anywhere in the world. That kind of disembodied image that gives off a tremor of surprise that is accompanied by pleasure.
This is the old barn we live in Tuscany. I saw it every day during that first year and no matter what angle, or what time of day it was, the place kept on surprising me. It’s so interesting how many aspects any place can have. All you have to do is keep looking and the seeing of it quickens the blood.
This Quercia, or what the Italians call an Oak, seems fairly nondescript by day, but that evening it sang to me under the moon.
There are moments and places that speak to me out of their simplest, most elemental nature. It could be the light – as it often is for me – or their form; mysterious, pure, layered, intricate, organic, ancient… This sunny space between two dark buildings announced itself, as places often do, by making me gasp when I turned into the lane, and when I gasp I know I am in the right place, or the right moment. I trust that gasp to be something from my source speaking without words. Words come later, but in the moment there is only the intake of breath that means, Now!
These simple forms; the house fronts in the light, the pair of quintessential Tuscan trees, the cypress and the pine, the face full of ivy on the building on the left, that flawless blue sky, the blush of pale color on the sunlit facade, all of these ordinary facts combined to make something ineffable, yet felt with the precision and economy of a Haiku.
What We Know
The stairs up to the studio were almost always in a shadowed space, but in the spring of the year, for only a few weeks at most, a lozenge of light, or some days a tentacle, or a band, or fan, or spray, depending on the cloud cover or angle, slides down the wall and describes a new space in what is a familiar but often overlooked passage.
It points out how we can still be surprised by what we think we know.