le bucaneve – the snowdrops

March 13, 2011 diario/journal, reflections

Spring2011-008If I had remembered the death-march that is this third month, I would have suggested to Tom that we go to New Orleans in March. But I guess the mind forgets our misery and pain otherwise mothers would never have a second child.

Today was the switch to daylight-savings-time and I went out and shot the snowdrops at 7:00 PM. (My grandmother used to tell us that the actions we performed on New Year would repeat throughout the coming months. I want the old saying to apply now when I’m immobile with winter. I want the wish and action of shooting in early evening to repeat over the next many months.)

The snowdrops have been coming up in the side-bed for the last 20 years. And they are a welcome in the over-cast days that fill the month. There are many things that I like about Pittsburgh, but the fact that we have only 59 sunny days a year is not one. Outside March was dreary and winter-gray.

In Italian snowdrops are le bucaneve literally, make-a-hole-through-the-snow. And there have been many years when the flower-bed was covered in white and they poked through the March snows. This year they lifted through the litter of rotting leaves and twisted twigs. Not the spectacular contract of green on winter-white, but still welcomed. I’ve tried to fill the bed with snowdrop bulbs, but the same cluster comes up year-after-year.

here’s looking at you kid

March 30, 2011 diario/journal, reflections

March2011 005

This post may have the appearance of narcissism, but it’s more about discovery – finding an image, a suggestion in a photograph that I didn’t see at first glance.

Background – For some reason I decided to shoot some reflections, mainly because I wanted to photograph a red-and-black letterman jacket. (The images with the jacket didn’t work.) One of the best places to shoot reflection is in my bathroom mirrors. The photograph on the right is one of the reflection images.

I read the original as a picture of an old man with a striped white shirt and a green-brown tie. He’s holding a nikon that has a black camera-strap. There is a white towel in the background and the light source is coming over the left shoulder creating a reflection on the forehead. The camera and the hands hide half the face.

My first thought was to use this new image to replace the pic on my facebook page. So I began to make adjustments to get the best resolution and the correct size. I uploaded what I thought was a workable picture. But the webpage displayed only the top portion of the picture. I liked this truncated image, so I decided to go back to the original and create the partial that facebook had generated.

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The New – The severe cropping changes the perspective. The vertical references – tie, torso, strap and towel – are gone. The new image is about someone looking out from behind a set of hands. (The camera, the big black spot in the middle, is balanced and neutralized.) The left hand has a wedding band. The reflection on the forehead is gone. The person is wearing glasses. The nose-bridge is silver, so is the left temple, so is the hair. The single eye is the focus.

Also, the hands seem separate from the face behind them. Are there two people in the photograph? Do the hands belong to the old man? If not, who’s the other person? In this rendition, the eye is at the center. All of a sudden it’s about looking out, looking at.

I never understood authors who said they didn’t know how their new book would end. I wanted to yell, “What do you mean you don’t know how it’ll end, who the hell is writing it?”

Well, I finally have my own example of an ending that wrote itself; an end-image that I didn’t plan. When I started, I had no idea what the finished photograph would look like.

Here’s looking at you kid.

lilies and figs

May 12, 2011 diario/journal, reflections

lilyofvalley 002

Two of my favorite plants have shown up in my back-yard. The lily-of-the-valley rhizomes that I planted years ago and to which I’ve diligently adding to, have become a bed of green with white bells perfuming the west corner.

Yes, they are mid-spring flowers that disappear and never return until next May, but I love the scented whites and I cut the bells and bring them inside to my desk. They were one of the few spring flowers we would find in the woods of Northern Ontario. The broad leaves grew near the evergreens and finding the fragrant, white bells was proof of winter’s demise.

It took me a while to find a place for them in the back-yard, but when I added the raised beds on the north-west side, I needed something that would grow in the shade in the corner. And I remembered the lily-of-the-valley of those long ago forages into the Cambrian Shield.

My second favorite plant will produce fruit I’m ravenous for.

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My fig plants are shrub-like with four or five stems. (They never make it into trees, because they can’t survive the Pennsylvania winters.) The cuttings came from my cousins in St. Catharines who smuggled the original cuttings into Canada from their family farm in Calabria. I brought them to Pittsburgh. Rose and Derrick have cuttings in suburban Detroit, Rick and Sarah have cuttings in nearby Wilkinsburg.

My plants are white figs. They are the early figs – the more rare and prized figs. Harvest will be late June, early July. (Rick/Sarah, Rose/Derrick have cuttings of the black figs my cousins brought over from Calabria. These are the more common and familiar figs and harvest in the fall.)

Some Fig Stories
-In Narragansett, my friend Tom was in charge of getting old Brother Leo from his greenhouse to Vespers. Tom remembers being told by our director ‘to make sure we don’t find Brother Leo facedown in a potted plant.’
Brother Leo had a huge fig tree that reached the roof of the greenhouse. He was very proud of it and I remember him showing it off to me. But he never offered me any figs.
Tom likes to remind me that Brother Leo offered him figs all the time. All I can say is that Tom never shared.
-In Calabria, Derrick has no shame about going into people’s gardens and picking the figs especially the ones that overhang into the road. Rose complains at him and I walk farther away. But once we round the corner, Rose and I demand that he share the figs he gathered.
-In Pittsburgh, Paul goes on and on about the alien looking plants that take up most of the side-yard, but never produce any figs. This year, the plants are loaded and I’m not sharing.

lookin out my back door

June 17, 2011 diario/journal, reflections

Tonight is the Mattress Factory’s annual Urban Garden Party. This year’s theme is Hollywood. It’s Hollywood on the Mon.

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It is the event of the summer season and it’s always scheduled the last Friday of the Three Rivers Arts Festival. All the glitterati, a who’s who of western-pennsylvania’s art community, come out in clusters. And party through the night. The back alley becomes the River Styx separating the domestic from the imports. It’s closed to regular traffic, but open to the rolls, mercedes, and jags that ferry the blue-bloods to the Northshore.

Charon’s fee is variable – green-backs, euros, pounds, glamor, beauty natural or manufactured, celebrity, youth, gender-bending. The young man in the white polo moors the boat while the four drag-queens – pink, leopard, white/blue/red, and black – help the passengers off.

And the little old Italian with his fancy camera and telephoto lens stands on his porch and snaps the show.

early summer blues

June 28, 2011 diario/journal, reflections

blueberries 052a

The blueberry patch is speckled with berries. It seems to be a good year for figs, berries and grapes. All three are abundant and ripening. (The berries are first, next will be the figs, but the grapes won’t be ripe until fall.)

There are eight bushes in all, four of which are over twenty years old. They were some of the first plants I put into the garden that are still there. I build the bed they are in specifically for the blueberry plants. Also, the plant is beautiful in the fall. Its leave turn a yellow orange.


I took out the micro lens and rooted in among the blueberries. I always like shooting with this lens, it can make the tiny fruit look like giant hot-air balloons. The lens allows me to almost touch the fruit. And I generally shoot flowers with it, but this time I turned it on the blueberries.

The dogs love the blueberries. The female insists on going out every hour so that she can beeline right to the berries and rip and swallow as many as she can before I get there and push her away from her prize. She started back in March with the blossoms. And now that the fruit is ripe, she has made it her mission to eat as many as she can sneak.

the new back-yard

July 31, 2011 diario/journal, reflections

new-yard 005It’s taken me almost three years to come up with a new design for the back-yard.

The only maintenance I did was get someone to clean the weeds between the bricks, but didn’t seem to care that things were all over the place and that there was no unifying design. If I had to spend time outside, I just went up on the porch and avoided the back-yard. I knew I wanted to get rid of the last remnant of the bonsai shelves, but I took no initiative to dismantle it.

The shift came, because I’m on vacation and my plans got changed so I have a couple of days without having to run off to catch a plane or drive to northern Ontario. Yesterday, I took the hammer to the shelving and used the chainsaw to get rid of the posts. (I left one set of posts as a decorative piece of architecture.)

Next, I moved the large terra-cotta pots with the lantana and the ginger-jar pot with the geraniums into the area where the shelving had been and created a planting area. I also cleaned up the area where I’ve always kept the herbs pots. Moved them down so that all the pots are now in one area. I really liked the shelving posts and ended up putting two of the vertical bonsai pots on the posts. The verticals have vogue in them. I put the shelving on the ground creating a floor and arranged the pots up on the wood decking. To cover up the rough ends, I added some of the large rocks along the perimeter of the decking.

My last task was to re-distribute the wall pieces.

first hints of fall

September 18, 2011 diario/journal, reflections

Sept11 063The last three days began the fall into autumn. Leaves litter the backyard; it’s dark at 7:00 in the morning; and the sun sets by 7:30. September always has a cold week and then we settle into the cool of autumn. This year the cold week came early.

It takes me a while to work through the many features on my fancy cameras. This summer I moved totally away from the auto setting and began to shoot with aperture preference. I wanted the depth of the le Marche landscapes, and therefore I had to abandon the flat renderings auto setting even if ease of use had to also be abandoned. I also had to make adjustments for my indoor shots and that too put me into a more manual approach. Each step I take away from the auto setting I get more control over my shots. But I always take a while getting to where I can influence the technology. (I’ve spent more time in the post-shooting phase and have learned Photoshop better.)

My most recent venture has been into Picture Control. I wanted to shoot the flowers in my back-yard in ‘vibrant’ mode, mainly to get used to the setting. I’m going to leave it on this setting for the next couple of months while I shoot various landscapes. The vibrant setting will capture more primary colors.

canadian thanksgiving

October 11, 2011 diario/journal, reflections

For many years we’ve been collecting at Mary and Dom’s for Canadian Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite family holiday. And this year we got to christen the new kitchen and dining room.

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left to right: Rose, Dom, Daniel, Ciccio, Dave, Mafalda, Christian, Seane, Alyssa, Derrick, Milio, Gina, Christine, Dana
(Mary and Mario are missing. I’m taking the picture; I don’t know where Mary is.)

I head out Friday night and drive 2 hours to Fredonia, NY; stay overnight at a B&B and in the morning head out for Toronto. Saturday, I saw Dave and Christian before they went off to play golf. Also saw Isabelle before she went to church services.

Seane, Ciccio, Mafalda and I had lunch on the cedar deck with its cathedral roof framing the autumn trees. We then headed out to Mary and Dom’s. (The QEW and the 401 on a weekend – an LA experience in Canada.)

The eating and drinking begin as soon as we get there. The wine comes out, we start laughing and messing with each other. This year the messing was about my hair. Gina kept telling me it made me look old. My answer, I am old. The rebuttal, But you don’t want to look it. Me, I don’t care. Next, Mafalda threatened to cut it. At one point she came up behind me with scissors. I looked to Alyssa for support, because at a younger time she had cut her hair while playing with her dolls and we all mess with her about that. I was hoping she would be on my side, BUT she would never go against zizi Mafalda. She likes zizi Mafalda way more than she likes me.

Christine and her daughter Dana joined us this year for the afternoon bantering and the mixed-up dinner. (Dinner begins with Gina’s lasagna, this is followed by turkey, my American stuffing, mashed potatoes, Italian rapini and Canadian desserts.) Christine has become family. And she can mess with the best of us.

Christine reads the journal and then reports to Mary on my whereabouts or reflections. (She has been secretly wishing for a mention. Honey, this is your debut – a pic and two paragraphs.) I have to be careful what I write, Christine is good at reading things in the entries that I think are hidden or not there. She can recognize nuance and interpret it.

Around 10:00, Dave, Christian, Seane the parents and I headed back to Oakville. I usually leave to come home Sunday morning at the crack of dawn. (Anything to avoid the QEW jams.) This year I had made arrangements to visit with Frank and Norma, so I was there Sunday morning to spend time with Seane and the parents.

At noon and headed back into town to visit with Frank and Norma. (Francino and I first met back in 1964, the summer before 8th grade. Two Calabrese kids living in the Soo. He’s from San Giovanni in Fiore and I’m from Aprigliano. The hill-towns are 45 minutes apart. We have been in each other’s lives through schooling, college, weddings, births and deaths.)

I missed visiting with Norma. She was out with her cousin. I enjoyed my time with Francino, but then I always do.

white roofs of morning

October 22, 2011 diario/journal, reflections

Woke up this morning to the chills of autumn, one of favorite seasons.

The white roofs on the houses in the alley, remind me of September mornings in Sault Ste Marie when I’d walk to St. Veronica’s Elementary. The chill made the air clean and raw. The roofs painted with thin white frost were fingers pointing to December snows. But at 13 who cared that those cold fingers scratched at the memories of a warm Calabria my parents and grandparents treasured. Winter was coming, we could play street-hockey, go tobogganing, unwrap presents. Calabria was a faraway place, lost in memory. It didn’t belong to me. I was running to assimilation.

dew 001

Forty-seven years later, I still like the white roofs, the raw chill of fall. However, this time ’round, it’s me who clings to the memories of a warm Calabria; to remembrances found and finally understood. And I’ve discovered that assimilation is only one lane of the track; it’s only one of the markers at the cross-road.

I can run on both the inside and outside lane. I can read the signs regardless of language. And winter has lost its appeal. Like my parents and grandparents before me, it has become a season of memories.

yellow leaf

December 11, 2011 diario/journal, reflections

Spent the weekend visiting in Toronto. No snow and no miserable winter weather.

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Today was sunny and balmy, so I decided to head down to the small watershed park behind the Thorman’s. Looking up at the house its clean lines were lost in the brown of dry leaves and the bare of winter branches. But the sun caught the back of a dead leaf and for a shutter second gave it life, painting it summer-yellow.

The misty house in the background, the leaves and the branches in the foreground create a New England landscape in suburban Toronto.

Yesterday, had dinner at Frank-and-Norma’s. The before dinner treats included roasted chestnuts. (David, their oldest, and I polished them off.) The main course was roasted goat, oven-roasted potatoes, green beans and salad. (The goat-and-rosemary was a recipe from Frank’s mom.) Dessert was prickly pears and poppy-seed cake.

Daniel and his girlfriend joined us for dinner. He’s working on a documentary for his final project in his journalism program.

the winter is forbidden till december

January 10, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

Rosemary  001aOn December 26, I left the Soo and headed home. The day was sunny so I drove through doing the 10 hour trip in one sitting. And the weather has continued to be bright and mild. Last weekend it was warm enough to put my rosemary plant out in the sun. The plant had buds, and I wanted to expose these white nubs to the warm winter sun.

I positioned the rosemary in front of my big-blue-marble and shot it in Vibrant mode. (Note: not a good setting in winter light.) I looked down the side flower-bed and noticed that the snowdrops were out. These harbingers of spring have never poked their heads out this early. (My friend Tom, who lives in the rarefied city of fog and mild climate that is San Francisco, tells me about playing golf and seeding new plants in the middle of January.) I like my seasons here in the North East with their distinct experiences, their punishing temperatures, their frozen earth, their dead greens, and their soft springs.

But things seem to be changing, so I have to ask; has the solar orbit gone a whack; has Washington lied about the blue haze of carbon emissions; has Michelle Obama inaugurated a new Camelot? Is there a legal limit to the snow here? Is winter now forbidden . . . all together?

parsley’s pungent flavor

January 16, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

Rosemary  024A winter that had been truant for a month made a striking comeback.

But the parsley seems immune to winter’s frigid breath. Yes, it sprawls lifeless on the bricks when the temperatures mingle with the teens, making me think that it has lost its battle and given up its green to winter’s white. But today, it ducked the January winds, raised its stems and invited me to pluck its green, flat leaves and add them to the potato salad.

I was thinking they would be void of flavor and serve only to color the Yukon Golds flat faces. I was wrong; the pungent taste survived winter’s freeze. The chopping released the oils; the green flecks spotted the golden wedges and reminded all the dinner guests that we had not lost the battle to the Arctic winds.

we now anticipate a dawn

January 24, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

Snow12 008I’ve been listening to the song Where is Henry Ford by Micah Schraft and Eduardo Machado and it brings back memories of a bucolic Upper Peninsula and an industrial Northern Ontario. In that time, our eyes were all on Detroit, the powerhouse of the Midwest. It called many Southern Italians to this snow-bound land; its tentacles reached into Canada and it gave me the opportunity to work in the steel-mill and make enough money to pay college tuition and board.

But in my rush to liberation, to long hair I left behind the winter landscapes, the nights of conformity, the generation that had sacrificed to educate me. It was the 60’s, the time of the hippies and navel gazing.

We left behind the mills, the assembly lines, the unions, the suburbs and the sacrifices. I didn’t carry a lunch pail; I worked in mid-town Manhattan; I lived in Park Slope; I subscribed to conspicuous consumption. Michigan and Northern Ontario belonged to my parents. To the generation that had not gone to college, that had not found nirvana, that knew nothing of Timothy Leary, Mick, John and Ringo. We were going to remake the world. It was a new dawn.

We are children of decay
Living in a land that’s built on diesel fuel and clay.
We fight to see the Stars and live another day.
Fifty percent of us can’t read
Too many vacancies and hungry mouths to feed.
The country watches as our Motor City bleeds –
Empty houses under water, broken spouses, sons and daughters.
Question now is; where is Henry Ford?

We now anticipate a dawn
Born from the ashes of this destructive porn.
We’ll build a future and accept the past is gone.

So, why are our sons and daughters identifying themselves as children of decay? Didn’t we give them everything the new world had to offer? What do they mean when they claim to build a new future and accept the past as gone? Am I their past?

good friday

April 9, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

I spent the Easter week-end at Rose-and-Derrick’s. The sky glimmered azure blue, the wild-almond swayed feathery white, yellow-green leaves sprouted from winter-wood and the subdivision residents sprawled on their concrete driveways.

Derrick decided to go kayaking and I went with him to take some pics. The lake was a mirrored-blue glass. After getting into the yellow kayak he skated on the frigid waves. I headed back deciding to walk through the subdivision and take pics of the spring bloom. I first came on a group of kids shooting hoops and normally I would have asked if I could shoot them playing, but for some reason I didn’t feel comfortable doing that, and I walked on. (Should I have interpreted that feeling was a premonition?) Next, I came on a second group shooting hoops; these guys were in their own driveway. Down the street from them was another young man, he was laying bricks. He belonged to a construction company working on a neighbor’s front yard. It was Good Friday. The contrast was amazing – the young priveleged and the young indentured. My next stop was the most jarring.

I came upon a house overly decorated for Easter. The yew bushes were dripping with plastic, pastel eggs, the front door was ringed in Easter bunting and the mail-box was a kaleidoscope of sixties colors. I began shooting. Immediately a gentleman in his 50’s, balding came out demanding to know what I was doing, who I was, if I was from the area, … He took my picture with his cell. I haven’t met anyone this aggressive in years. I answered all his questions and at the end I apologized for giving him any wrong impressions. He left saying that he felt better after talking to me.

So, what am I supposed to make of all this? He obviously thought I was dangerous. He must have thought the fancy cameras were a disguise and that my real purpose was to case-the-joint. What must be the world view of a person living in a gated community, in south-eastern Michigan who on a sunny day, seeing an old man shooting pictures of his over decorated house interprets the scene as dangerous? Does the fact that the largest Muslim community in the US lives 20 minutes south on I75 have anything to do with his reaction? Does he belong to one of the new political factions that want their country back?

twelve-thirty boundaries

May 28, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

    I used to live in New York City; everything there was dark and dirty. Outside my window was a steeple with a clock that always said twelve-thirty.

Outside my window, here in Pittsburgh, are the corporate towers of the Golden Triangle. At one time this city was the gateway to the west. It was at the confluence of the Monongahela and the Allegheny that Lewis and Clark began their great adventure. Later the city became the industrial heartland of a continent preparing for war. In the 50’s and 60’s it took its place among the corporate elite and later still it re-invented itself into the Paris of Appalachia, the City of Bridges. Its new colors are sustainable-green and finished-steel blue.

Outside my back-porch is the beautiful Japanese Lilac of the above picture . For a week, every spring, it blooms in glorious clean-white. The new Pittsburgh moves through its seasons, its hours in monastic rhythms. Its sports teams announce the seasons; its church bells the hours. And the hollows and rivers celebrate its neighborhoods.

Young girls are coming to the canyon and in the morning I can see them walking. I can no longer keep my blinds drawn.

In New York City, I could never figure out my geographical boundaries. I don’t know if it was the immensity, the canyons that hid the sun, the silence, the traffic chaos, the windows that would not open, but I always felt at loose ends – where did I belong? If I walked too far east on Flatbush would I still safe? Where did Park Slope end and Bed-Sty begin? I never figured out how to use 8th Avenue, Grand Army Plaza and Prospect Park to define my neighborhood. In Pittsburgh, I know where I belong – the Mexican War Streets, the North Side. I know the boundaries. Friends remind me that it’s the topography that gives me the boundaries I like. I think it’s my reptilian brain remembering the hills and mountains of Calabria.

fourth of july

July 4, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

Pgh712  011Years ago I lived in Highland Park, in the highrise on the horizon, and the walk around the reservoir was a discovery – a jewel in Pittsburgh’s East End. The walk around the upper two reservoirs is a three-quarter mile trek and an experience unlike anything available in any other American city. (The walkway reminds me most of the paths on Le Mura di Ferrara – the old walls around the city of Ferrara.)

now in the fading light of day

July 9, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

I’m sitting on the back-porch above the rooftops, my D700 on the bench beside me and I look up at the sky, at the last light of day. On Samsonia, the setting sun is crawling the peaks of the row-houses as it struggles to stay awake. (In Aprigliano the day is asleep, settled into its cradle, breathing softly on its back and dreaming of tomorrow’s dawn.)

But on the North Side, in the northern latitudes, summer’s rays still color the twilight and yesterday’s clouds streak the indigo sky. Broadcasting tower and electrical wires write on the night-blue canvas. This is a city-scape. And here romanticism must undergo the over-paint of urban operatives; and here nostalgia is bleached of its sepia melancholy.

But espresso and Sambuca can soften these ragged edges and let the mind’s eye play in the dying light.

acorns and autumn

October 4, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

Walking home takes me through Point Park, over the Fort Duquesne Bridge and then through West Park. I began noticing the oak trees the rigid verticals that canopy these two urban gardens. And today I decided to collect the acorns and the caps that littered the grass under the great trees. (Compared to the oak trees – le querce – in Italy these are truly great trees. It’s a wonder what rainfall does to trees. The oak trees in Western Pennsylvania are giants compared to those in Italy.) The image is of acorns I collected from under a moderate sized tree. I gathered these and took them home. This year they are the indicators of autumn.

I began paying attention to le querce, because there have been recurring references the last couple of years to these interesting trees. It all began back in Calabria, in Conflenti when I went looking for the Santuario della Madonna della Quercia. (Never got there, but that didn’t stop learning all about the sanctuary from my uncle whose family lived in the valley. Also, my office manager had gone down to Conflenti to the Santuario and she brought back a brochure that she asked me to translate.) I had to teach myself the correct word for oak tree, all I knew was the Calabrian word I had learned growing up and phonetically it was the Italian word pronounced using French phonetic rules. (The q-sounds became French k-sounds.)

The next references came in Norcia, the city of the cinghiale – the wild boar. (We ate our way through the many shops that sold cinghiale salamis and other cured meats. In a small park, down from the main piazza, we ate paninis, stuffed with cinghiale prosciutto.) Acorns are a staple in the diet of the wild boar. We now look for wild boar options whenever we eat at a restaurant.

Most recently the word came up in the name of the house we stay at, in Le Marche. Earle-and-Suzanne’s house is sheltered by a cluster of oak trees. The soft, rolling fields surrounding the house are perimetered by oak trees, but these are half the size of the majestic oaks here in Pittsburgh.

a dark illumination

October 19, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

The title is from Dylan’s new album – Tempest. I don’t know if the entry will have anything to do with the title, because I’m going to write about olives, One Young World and probably anything else that comes to mind.

This year, the olives came from a produce distributor on Penn Avenue in the Strip. He charged a fortune, but then when you’re the only vendor in town you can do that. Unlike other years when the olives came directly from the growers in California, this year the distributor bought 500 pounds and re-packaged them into 10 lbs. boxes and sold them for $30.00 a box. They are Sevillano olives and it was a mixture of olives at different stages of maturity – baby greens, young maroons and mature blacks. I’m hoping that this will add flavors to cured, finished product. (The other olive story is from 3 years ago – the customs official in Buffalo took the California olives that I had bought in Toronto and threw them into the garbage can next to his booth. A nasty man.) The image on the left is a sample of the olives, the stems on a porcelain plate on top of a pallet of bricks.

It was nice sitting in the back deck, cutting the olives. For the second year, we cut them. In the past we cracked them. I told the story of back in Calabria my parents giving me and my friends the job of cracking the olives. In my head there’s a picture of me, Franco-e-Crocca and Corrado cracking olives on the cement in front of our house. When we got bored we’d throw the olives at each other, but stopped when my mother, realizing that laughter meant no-work and mischievousness, came out and yelled at us.

Welch joined us. She wanted to see how we cured the olives.

One Young World
The One Young World conference was in Pittsburgh this year. First year it was in London, last year it was in Zurich and this year Pittsburgh. (And naturally everyone is surprised. Will I live long enough to have Pittsburghers realized what they have here? To realize that the rest of the world understands what we have better than the locals do?) The keynote at the conference was President Bill Clinton.

The conference featured an educational component and they invited three local groups who represent educational reform to speak to the delegates. City High hosted the session. There I was on a Saturday afternoon hosting a bunch of “children” from all over the world who had come to my school to see what we are doing. (Propel Schools and the Pittsburgh Public Schools were also invited and I hosted it.) The person from Propel and the person from Pittsburgh Public Schools were examples of groups that adopted many initiatives and procedures we’ve been doing at City High for 10 years. So when it was my turn it was fun to break the mold – the old man as a young thinker – and to realize we at City High are the trailblazers. There I was, one of the grandfathers of school reform in Pittsburgh. It was a dark illumination.

october silhouette

October 25, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

Today on my way home I had the D700 with an old, used 70-210, f/4.5 lens. (A great piece of glass.) I’m having to learn this lens, because there is no manual. So every chance I get I shoot with it.

Also, I’m shooting Manual, but that is somewhat misleading given that the lens a fixed f/4.5. The image on the right is really a slice of a larger shoot. I was trying to capture that fading sun, but in the larger image the surroundings just got blacked out. And in the center of the black was this soft silhouette. (The only thing I did in Photoshop was crop it to its current size.)

I was on the Fort Duquesne Bridge going home to the North Side and I looked across and saw the sun coloring the tops of the buildings over in Allegheny West. (The buildings are on the horizon.) The steeple is Calvary United Methodist a Tiffany decorated church. (It looks like a European landscape.)

in a time of politics

October 26, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

In a time of politics, an old Italian is putting up an image of old glory.Let’s hold the snickering down to a whisper. It was an artistic decision. The reason the pic is here is because I like the composition. I’m working with an old lens – 70-210, f/4.5 – and am amazed what I can get from it. (Yes, I took many shots to get one that worked.)

I’m in Point State Park, walking home and annoyed that I missed the sun again. (I’ve been trying to get to the blazing trees, and have now missed two days of shooting.) But over Mount Washington the sky is dramatic and I’m shooting at it repeatedly, hoping to capture the rays of the setting sun. So when I got a pic with the rays, who cares that the flag ended up in the composition. (Sarcastic and utilitarian to the end.)

The presidential election is 10 days away; is America going to stumble because she afraid to be inclusive? Is she going to lean backwards believing that going back is the way to move forward?

New York Times – Opinion
The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent
Published: October 13, 2012


In the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages.
Venice’s elites were the chief beneficiaries. Like all open economies, theirs was turbulent. Today, we think of social mobility as a good thing. But if you are on top, mobility also means competition. In 1315, when the Venetian city-state was at the height of its economic powers, the upper class acted to lock in its privileges, putting a formal stop to social mobility with the publication of the Libro d’Oro, or Book of Gold, an official register of the nobility. If you weren’t on it, you couldn’t join the ruling oligarchy.
The political shift, which had begun nearly two decades earlier, was so striking a change that the Venetians gave it a name: La Serrata, or the closure. It wasn’t long before the political Serrata became an economic one, too. Under the control of the oligarchs, Venice gradually cut off commercial opportunities for new entrants. Eventually, the colleganza was banned. The reigning elites were acting in their immediate self-interest, but in the longer term, La Serrata was the beginning of the end for them, and for Venetian prosperity more generally. By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink.
The story of Venice’s rise and fall is told by the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” as an illustration of their thesis that what separates successful states from failed ones is whether their governing institutions are inclusive or extractive. Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.
The history of the United States can be read as one such virtuous circle. But as the story of Venice shows, virtuous circles can be broken. Elites that have prospered from inclusive systems can be tempted to pull up the ladder they climbed to the top. Eventually, their societies become extractive and their economies languish.
That was the future predicted by Karl Marx, who wrote that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. And it is the danger America faces today, as the 1 percent pulls away from everyone else and pursues an economic, political and social agenda that will increase that gap even further — ultimately destroying the open system that made America rich and allowed its 1 percent to thrive in the first place.

The entire article can be found at: The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent

leaving on a jet plane

October 28, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

This is the third image using the 70-210, f/4.5 lens. (Now I have to figure out why I’m using the jet plane title.) Think I want to continue the political harangue of the previous post. And inside the aggressive ramblings is the fantasy of leaving and taking the same road Stein and Toklas took to Paris; the road that led them back to the old world; the road that led them to being expats.

America is a different place than when I first come south in the early seventies. The feelings of joint enterprise, of being in it together are gone. We are a nation of I’s with our iPhone and iPads and iTunes, and iBooks and iCars and iHouses. The media is littered with programs where the celebrity’s name is the cache – the drawing card. We seem to not care about anything except things that entertainment us. (It’s not a presidential race, it’s an entertainment event where the gaffes and missteps are reported not the substance. We know we’ve made it if we live in a suburb and our living rooms are frilled with dust-catchers from Pottery Barn and Crate&Barrel; and our double-garage stores a Lexus in one bay and an Audi in the other; and our home-offices are equipped with fiber, iMacs, flat-screens, TiVo, tablets and game consoles.)

I don’t believe that Europeans are any less self-centered, rather it’s not a culture or economy built on anti-intellectualism, conspicuous consumption, frozen foods or home entertainment centers. It’s been around long enough to remember its writers and artists, to remember the horrors of greed, to understand the pleasure of sitting in an outdoor cafe in a piazza. It’s been around long enough to remember its adolescence – the 1900’s.

the dark and empty skies

October 30, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

This far inland Hurricane Sandy proved a whimper.I took the pic last week and by now behind the storm-soaked clouds there’s a full moon.

I’m continuing with the set of images using the 70-210, f/4.5 lens. I’m looking up at the ramps for Interstate 376-South. I like the progression from the yellowish haze of the setting sun, to the pewter sky holding an almost full-moon, to the dark and empty gray.

Today is Connie’s b-day. She’s 57. The image below is from high school.

It’s funny to remember back to when she was born. The memories are scattered – I remember going upstairs to my parents’ bedroom and finding my mother in bed holding the new baby. The baby was all wrapped up in swaddling and looked very contained and quiet. I don’t remember if I was allowed to hold the new baby. I guess at 6 it wasn’t an option.

I also remember being allowed to use the outside stairs to go up to visit my mom and the new baby. I remember pushing the big door and it opened. At one time our house must have been two separate apartments and the outside steps, to the second floor, remained. We never used them, but the midwife la levatrice had used them when she came to the house. I remember telling my friends, for days afterwards, that if la levatrice came to your house she brought you a new baby.

My friends and I ran up and down these outside steps; we played cards on the narrow ledges; we played castles and knights on the landings; and from the very top steps, we spied on the neighbors. But the door to my parents’ bedroom was always locked except now that la levatrice was visiting. The only other time the door was open was at Christmas. My dad would get us a small pine tree from La Sila and put it up in this upstairs bedroom on top of his dresser. Friends and relatives would bring oranges with stems, torrone in cellophane and chocolates tied with ribbon to hang on the tree. For these holiday visits, the big second-floor door would be open. (On Christmas day I was allowed to eat all the tree decorations.)

a picture of taking a picture

November 10, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

Grenadier Pond is in the south-west quadrant of High Park and also forms the Park’s south-west boundary. Frank and I walked the trail from the baseball diamonds and hockey rink down to The Queensway. (Naturally I went on about the British nomenclature that still lingers in Canada. Grenadier Pond, how much more British can you get? Oh, I forgot The Queensway, the QEW Expressway, The Kingsway.) The Pond was a pleasant surprise. The woman in the picture is taking a picture of the ducks with her cell.

On the opposite shore and up the embankment sat a line of upscale homes – the houses of Grenadier Heights. This neighborhood, south of Bloor is one of the fancy west-end enclaves. High Park is surrounded by quiet, upscale neighborhoods. Also a surprise was the supposed safety of the park. (In America many urban parks are bordered by unsafe neighborhoods. And the parks are scary along these boundaries.) The people we saw on the trails all seemed, like us, out on an afternoon walk. (Toronto is such a diverse city. I really enjoy the mix.)

My grandparents lived north-west of the Park on Jane Street. (In those days, Italians did not live in this part of Toronto. My grandparents were the only Italian immigrants in this German, English section of town. In recent years, Czechoslovakian immigrants have taken over many of the stores along Bloor.) I remember my mother and I walking from Jane, down Bloor to the Park. (My grandparents were very proud of their proximity to High Park.)

st. joseph’s hospital

November 10, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

and the years are rolling by me … i am older than i once was, younger than i’ll be

I started traveling to Toronto on my own, back in the late 60’s when I was in high-school. (There’s a picture of me, a very young man, at the Sault Ste Marie airport with my tennis-racket heading out to Toronto. Frank and Ron are there to see me off. It’s dated June 24, 1967.) In those days, I was going back and forth getting my paperwork ready to enter the monastery. One of the trips was to take a psychological.

I always stayed with my grandparents when I went down. Brother Lucien would come get me at my grandparents and take me to the Christian Brothers’ Motherhouse in Scarborough for the various interviews and form filings. (Back then Scarborough was farms.) My grandparents lived in Toronto’s west-end and the Motherhouse was in the eastern reaches. To get there we would drive the Gardiner Expressway and pass St. Joseph’s Hospital. The hospital became one of the mile-marker I used to teach myself where I was on the Gardiner. Another marker was the TipTop billboard and a third was the Canadian National Exhibition gate.

Those were my Simon & Garfunkel and Dylan years, when Sound of Silence, Scarborough Fair, The Boxer and Blowing in the Wind gave words to my thoughts. And I assumed that once I left for the monastery, I would never see Toronto or Canada again. I would live my life in America. Not true. I left the Brothers after 6 years but I’m in Toronto on a regular basis. And now, when I’m alone and driving the western leg of the Gardiner, it’s not unusual to turn on the old music and remember another time when – I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

This afternoon, Frank and I went walking through High Park and we ended up down on the Queensway – the road in the picture. And there in front of me was St. Joseph’s Hospital – the same grey-brown facade, the same squat structure. I never knew where to situate it, because it was something I only saw from the Expressway. Now I knew where it fit. Actually I came away from the weekend feeling like I understood Toronto’s west-end. I have a picture of it in my head; I know where buildings stand; where streets and avenues intersect; where the indoor tennis-courts sit.

after changes upon changes we are more or less the same

za peppina

November 11, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

I spent the weekend in Toronto and visited with Za Nuziata and her family. In Aprigliano, Za Nuziata lived next to us in la vinella – the small alley-way that was our street. Nuziata’s grandmother and my grandfather were brothers-and-sisters. This is another branch of the Perri family.
When I visit Za Nuziata, I am Marru or Marruzu Mio – an endearment of long ago; an endearment that puts me back in la vinella playing hide-and-seek in the doorways, running up and down the stairs, aiming my slingshot at the swallows’ nests.

Nuziata is the youngest of 5 children whose mother died when Nuziata was 22 months. And her father’s sister – Za Peppina made a decision not to marry and instead raise her brother’s children. The image is Za Peppina in front of her house. The door – il portone – led into their house. The small opening in the low wall, at the end of her house was the stairs down to our house. There was a second, smaller door into Za Peppina’s on the stairway that led down to our house. I have memories of going in and out of that side-door.

Za Nuziata’s nephew – Gabriele – was one of my best friends. Gabriele, Franco-e-Crocca, Corrado and I were the group-of-four. (In our Calabrese dialect, Gabriele got its r-consonant switched and became Grabiele.) Franco and Gabriele lived next to each other. Our days were spent going back-and-forth between one end of la vinella – my house – and the other end of la vinella the road that led to Corte, to Santo Stefano, to Guarno.

Gabe, as he’s now called, owns a large construction company. I co-founded a charter school that runs a 10 million dollar budget. Franco-e-Crocca is a partner in and accounting firm. (Three of the group-of-four made it into partnerships, company founders or presidents. Corrado is the only one didn’t aspire to corporate heights.) Gabe lives in Toronto; Franco-e-Crocca and Corrado live in Cosenza; I live in Pittsburgh.

zu grabiele e za peppina

November 13, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

A Brother and A Sister – Gabriele Vigna and Giuseppina Vigna

The Old Names

Gabriel is the messenger, the angel of the Lord. Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

In old Apriglianese, Gabriele became GRABIELE. It took me years to drop the R-sound at the beginning, but if I’m talking with my parents and we mention the Vigna family – Za Peppina or Zu Grabiele – the R goes right back.
Zu Grabiele’s first grandson was named after him. And we still refer to him using the old dialect. Just as I’m Marruzu, he’s Grabiele.

Giuseppina means the Lord adds.

My youngest sister was supposedly named Giuseppina because she was born on March 19 the feast of St. Joseph. My mother also told me that she was happy to name her youngest child Giuseppina because it was the name of her best friend’s daughter, who also happened to be Zu Grabiele’s grand-daughter. But our Giuseppina allowed only her mother to call her Giuseppi, the rest of us called her Jo’. Would she have become Peppina in her old age?

Coincidence1 – Zu Grabiele’s wife was a Giuseppina. (Her name got reduced to Petrina.) She died leaving 5 small children. Zu Grabiele’s sister was also a Giuseppina. And she took on the task of raising her 3 nieces and 2 nephews. (Her name got abbreviated to Peppinella. And by the time I came along she had matured into Za Peppina.)

Zu Grabiele’s younger son Cristinu – Christian – married my mother’s best friend Giovanna. Cristinu e Giovanna had two children – Grabiele and Giuseppina. (Who were they immortalizing in naming their daughter Giuseppina, her grandmother Petrina or her aunt Peppinella?)

Coincidence2 – Giuseppina Zinga and Dave Thorman named their first child Christian – Cristinu.

Zu Grabiele was born on January 2, 1887 and died October 14, 1971. He was 84.
Za Peppina was born May 5, 1905 and died March 12, 2008. She made it to 103.

the grandchildren – the nephew and niece

November 15, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

The image on the left is Za Peppina, Zu Grabiele and young Grabiele. It’s the same gate as in the picture below.

I saw young Grabiele years ago when he first came to Canada. We met in the Toronto subway. I remember us sitting in the train. I also remember him telling me he was studying to be an architect.
(In Canada he goes by Gabe.)

The image on the right is Zu Grabiele, Za Peppina and young Giuseppina. At this age, Giuseppina looks like her mother. (This is my favorite picture of Za Peppina.) What is the plant in the plastic pot on the whicker seat of the old kitchen chair?

My mom was asking me if I was at Giuseppina’s wedding. I have no memory of seeing Giuseppina in Canada. And I don’t remember her when we were kids growing up in Aprigliano. I think I was gone from Calabria by the time Giuseppina was born.

birds like leaves on winter wood

December 29, 2012 diario/journal, reflections

Dec29 009I missed both recent storms.
Today the snow started coming down early and by the afternoon had left very pretty images. (I’ve been waiting a long time to get a picture of birds in a leafless tree and today I got it.)

Throughout the trip to Sault Ste Marie and then home, snow-covered landscapes made for beautiful scenes. Going up the snow-laden evergreens south of Gaylord were amazing. There were places where I was driving through tunnels of snow-covered trees. On the home trip, the fields of north-western Ohio were blanketed in wisps of snow. All remnants of the first two winter storms. And yet how is something so pretty, so difficult to live in? I hate shoveling driveways; I hate cleaning the car of snow and scraping the windows of ice; I hate the parking on city streets clogged with snow; and I hate the cold. (And yet, I remember a time when winter was about playing hockey on school-rinks and snow-covered streets, going tobogganing down Garson’s Hill, going cross-country skiing at Hiawatha Park. Now, I count the days until I leave for Kaua’i.)


January 1, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

Jan1 032
Capodanno is New Year, literally – beginning of the year.
Decided to take a walk – North Side to Downtown and back. The skies are gray, not a hint of sun. (Don’t think this is much different than up north in Sault Ste Marie, but it all feels less claustrophobic. I have not been able to figure out why it all feels so close up north. It must be psychological and experienced emotionally.) Took a bunch of pics and kept having to use a large open aperture to compensate for the gray.

I found the New Year’s hat in the snow on Federal Street across from PNC Park. The brim on the right was ripped off and on the sidewalk. New Years festivities are such a constrast to Christmas. Christmas is family and presents. New Years is strangers and indulgence. There is a great expression in Italian – Natale con i tuoi, Capodanno con chi vuoi. Christmas with your family, New Years with whom you want.

la befana

January 6, 2013 diario/journal, reflections


La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
e vestita alla romana
viva, viva la Befana!

The rhyme tells of an old woman who comes by night, riding a broom and delivering presents. Her shoes are all ripped and she is dressed like the beggars of ancient Rome. And yet, she is cheered. (The image on the left is a sanitized rendering of the old hag.) La Befana was the character that brought us gifts during the Christmas season. There was no Santa in post-war Italy. The late 40’s belonged to the old hag. American culture was still contained in The Lower 48. La Befana came on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. The feast commemorates the occasion when the Christ child received his gifts from the Magi.

Before going to bed, on the eve of the Epiphany, I would hang my dad’s sock on the fireplace mantle (His was the largest sock I could find.) and pray that La Befana didn’t bring me coal. Good children got candy, money and small gifts; bad children got lumps of coal. I remember one time when at the bottom of my sock were lumps of coal. My parents laughed and laughed at my reaction, I was outraged. How could the good child get lumps of coal? My mom says that I threw the sock against the wall and cried and cried, insisting that I had been a good boy.

I recently saw a video of a mom and child talking all about La Befana. The best part was the last exchange. Mom asks about Santa and what they had left for him on Christmas Eve. The child answers, “Cookies and milk.” Next, mom asks what they are going to leave for La Befana and the child answers, “A glass of red wine.” My people…

st. valentine’s day

February 14, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

valentine2013The cards and gifts of Valentine’s Day.
You’re looking at my desk, shelving, printer table and floor overwhelmed with stuff.

The highlights:
– over 50 cards
– a candy-box in velvet
– a Text-me pillow
– a hedgehog teddy-bear
– a white ceramic box
– heart decorated coasters
– heart bubble wands
– paper-airplane kits
– heart streamers
– heart-shaped ornaments
– three candy dishes
– huge butterfly glass dish
– a primrose plant and
– a Justin Bieber card – It’s all in the attitude. And the eyes. Definetely the eyes.

St. Valentine was martyred north of Rome on the Via Flaminia. In our time, on a daily basis, we drive the SP3 following Gaius Flaminius’ ancient route through Le Marche.

snowdrops in cambridge

March 4, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

It took me going to Cambridge, Mass. to realize that in the big dig, I had lost the snowdrops; to realize that I used these early harbingers, questi bucaneve, to remind me that winter was waning and the spring sun was coming back.

March2013 086

Saturday morning, coming out of the Guesthouse, I saw these things pushing out from the wet, black earth at the bottom of the steps. Didn’t pay any more notice. Later in the day, the Brother talked about making connections and later still, while writing in the journal, it hit me that the things pushing out were snowdrops. And that in Pittsburgh, on the North Side, in the War Streets, I had lost the galanthus that for years had filled the flower-beds in mid-February.

cross-country skiing

March 6, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

In Northern Ontario, in high school, during a mad March snowstorm we would rummage through the ski gear for the LF10/Yellow hoping for one last run. March snows are wet, heavy and short-lived. But with enough Yellow wax we could pretend to glide the tracks like we did in January. It never worked. One kilometer into the run and we were hitting roots; two kilometers in and our feet were soaked. Winter was done; the skis needed to be put away.


Today madness came to Pittsburgh and schools were closed, but by one o’clock the ground was snow free.
The image is of the Allegheny River, Point State Park, Fort Pitt Bridge and Mount Washington taken from the Fort Duquesne Bridge.

the soothsayer’s warning

March 15, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

March has to be one of the most contrarian months of the year with hope and dread vying for attention. (Even the soothsayer gave warning.) Half-way through and we’ve had 600 and 200 weather all in the span of a week. During the 600 lull, and before the warning, I walked downtown and stopped at PNC Park and shot the 1949 brick-marker.
March-13 031

The marker is personal after all I was born at the beginning of that year. And, I’ve want to do a journal entry around it. So, I decided to do a critical events list of 1949 with the day-of-the-week as the lead. Now to find the contradictions…

Saturday, January 1 (new year’s day); Saturday, July 2 (film – fountainhead – released); Sunday, December 25 (christmas); Monday, January 3 (mario born); Monday, March 28 (ciccio’s b-day); Monday, April 4 (NATO treaty signed); Tuesday, March 15 (beware the ides of march); Wednesday, March 2 (mafalda’s b-day); Wednesday, June 8 (orwell’s 1984 published); Thursday, October 27 (francesco’s b-day);
Friday, January 21 (rainer’s b-day); Friday, July 1 (membership in a communist party meant excommunication).

silver white winters

March 25, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

D70_6057silver white winters

I woke to a winter wonderland, to a silver-white morning. The streets were lost under shimmering blankets; the trees were full of new snow; and a sweet breeze ran through the branches flicking wet-snow on my nose and eyelashes. Walking through this white, camera in hand, was surreal. Warm woolen mittens covered my cold fingers between shots. Hadn’t the Druids danced at Stonehenge on Wednesday? Why is winter lingering? Who is giving it license?

The image is taken in Point State Park looking south to Mount Washington. The red parallel lines are the tracks of the Duquesne Incline.

april come she will

March 26, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

I know the giddiness of the first snows of winter; when big, soft flakes land on your tongue and stir the tastes of Christmas. And I know the relief when the last snow falls; when a winter-weary soul leans into the whirls of spring.


Today, Jadis-of-Narnia looked out her bedroom window and spied the orange branches of the blueberry bushes.
She cried her reign. April is coming and her winter-white is lost to memories of sleigh-bells and Turkish Delight.
april come she will, when streams are ripe and swelled with rain; may she will stay, resting in my arms again.

the train to SSM

March 31, 2013 2013, diario/journal, reflections

1st entry – apriglianesi
To read this series in chronological order,
click on the category title – apriglianesi.

I was in Sault Ste Marie the last week-end of March and went driving down old Highway 17. There is now a by-pass north of Garden River and Echo Bay and the old highway had become the local road through the small hamlets and reservations along the St. Mary’s River. I always drive the old highway, because it’s the road I remember from when I lived there. It’s also the road with the declaration – THIS IS INDIAN LAND – scrawled on the rusting train trestle over the Garden River.

Parallel to the old highway are the CPR train tracks and for the first time, I realized that those were the tracks we rode on the last leg of the journey that brought us from Aprigliano to Sault Ste Marie.
Soo-Mar13 037

We had begun the journey in Aprigliano. As my childhood friend said, the walk from our home to the town square where we got into a friend’s car was like a death march. He and I held hands as we walked in silence. Two little boys not knowing what the future would bring.

We got onto a train in Cosenza and the next stop was Naples where we boarded the boat that brought us to Halifax. And from there we were put onto trains to make our way to Northern Ontario and my grandparents’ house.

memories and desire

April 5, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

Soo-Mar13 117

April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.

Eliot’s quote has me thinking of last year and the early spring that banished winter in February; of forsythia, wild almonds, snowdrops and crocus coloring a March landscape. But this year, my wishing for spring started months ago in the middle of a miserable winter full of arctic air, frigid rains and sunless skies.

Bur as the equinox approached and I began to believe winter was leaving, I headed north where snow-banks still towered over my head, sidewalks still hid under soot covered snow, rooftops creaked under the spring melt, and the old still believed spring would stir their dull roots.

The image on the left is the creek bank and the trees above it. These bare branches make up the bush of memory, the shortcut that Frank and I would walk to get to school when we had lollygadded our lunch time away. (I’m standing on the wall that lines the culvert that steers the creek as it goes under Douglas Street.)

lilies of the valley

April 22, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

DSC_1300fair is the lily-of-the-valley

Coming back East and finding blue skies and cool temperatures was a welcome. The seasonal boundaries are markers just as are the snowdrops and lilies-of-the-valley. They are markers I understand and know how to calculate from. (Once the snowdrops appear then winter is on its way out; once the lilies-of-the-valley sprout then sharp fragrances, green leaves and May flowers will fill the void.)

In my family there’s an expression – cal’a pasta, literally drop the pasta in the boiling water.  (The old Calabrese is so much more elegant with its internal rhyme and brevity than the translation.) It let us know that the guests had arrived and that supper was imminent. The snowdrops and the lilies-of-the-valley let me track time; they let me know how to think about March and April, about winter ending and spring beginning. This method of tracking is old. It’s from a time of church-bells announcing the Angelus at noon, of fave announcing spring, of hill-top towns using sun-dials. It’s a medieval system that lingered in post-war Calabria. It’s my circadian rhythm in a digital time.

the mists

April 26, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

Fri-26 045the mists of avalon

This morning downtown Pittsburgh was shrouded in fog.

And the haze jarred a memory from when I was a child in Aprigliano. It’s late October, and I am walking/hiding in the morning fog, lingering in the heaviest banks, while making my way to Za Rachela’s. I’m late, so I run down the alleys, weaving through the mists, shrugging off my long red coat and wearing only the hood I flap it like a cape, creating swirls around me. I make Merlin magic.

red-coatThe memory always reminds me of the 1973 Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland film Don’t Look Now with its impressionistic imagery, often presaging events with familiar objects, patterns and colors. (The thumbnail is from the film.)

The city doesn’t have the canals or claustrophobia that gird Venice, but this morning the cold waters of the Allegheny are flat and they feed the mists that I walk through in hidden delight. They lift slowly revealing a spring landscape of blue water and green hillsides, a tugboat pushing loaded coal-barges and a golden bowstring bridge spanning the horizon. The red coat has been replaced by an 800 and the magic is now digital.


DSC_1413requiem aeternam

Alarm-bells were ringing
To hold back the swelling tide
Friends and lovers clinging
To each other side by side
In the dark illumination
He remembered bygone years
He read the Book of Revelation
And he filled his cup with tears
When the Reaper’s task had ended
Sixteen hundred had gone to rest
The good, the bad, the rich, the poor
The loveliest and the best

Tempest – Bob Dylan

The long-needled Japanese pines woke from their dark sleep.
And in the spring night, their tall brown stamens flickered
yellow-green, burning for winter’s passing.

nesting dove

DSC_1429mourning doves are back

After almost three years, the doves have again built a nest in the Japanese lilac. (Wonder if it’s the same mating pair?) The hiatus was caused by an ambitious raccoon that had traveled up from the park, crawled up the tree, discovered the nest and ate the eggs. But the murderer has been absent these last years and his crime forgotten by the cooing pair.

I can’t tell if there are any eggs or squabs in the mess that is the nest. Doves are terrible nest-builders. It’s more a bunch of twigs and sticks at the fork of trunk and branch. It’s such a haphazard collection, with no mud and in constant need of new twigs and sticks. (The bricks under the tree are littered with sticks and grasses that have fallen from the badly built nest.) Over the weekend, when no bird is roosting, I’ll check for eggs or squabs. (One squab has already fallen out and Gurl almost made a meal of the dead baby.)

erratic systems

June 2, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

DSC_1667With the erratic weather systems controlling all our lives, the spring flowering cycle is totally off-kilter. And roses that should have been the harbingers of summer are now blooming in mid-May. Their role as precursors has been usurped. The only good part is that there are roses everywhere. Bushes that lay dormant for seasons are now full of flowers. The ever-blooming hybrids are heavy with buds; the heirloom stalks are dripping with petals; and the climbers have invaded the fences.

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to shoot flowers. The micro lens is in its cloth bag and the tripods are collecting dust in the corner. But the 800e compensates, collecting 36.3 mp of data. I’m learning to shoot with the 800e, experimenting, getting comfortable with aperture priority. (I’ve even ventured into using the flash for effect rather than for need. It’s how I got the black background on the pic.) The image on the left was a surprise, but I still manipulated it. The pink middle was exaggerated with Photoshop, and the contrasting black and green were the results of the flash.

yellow-orange flag

June 5, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

May2013 084aMy neighbors – Joe and Rose – used to have peonies, iris and bleeding hearts, but a new fence hides the old flowers. As a tribute to these two gentle people, (They have moved to an assisted living complex.) I’ve planted many of the old flowers on my side of the fence. I put the iris in a huge plastic pot and am hoping they will fill it with their creeping rhizomes. My flower-bed that shared the wrought iron fence with the neighbor’s, was removed in the big dig. (I lost the snow-drops in the removal and didn’t realize it until I was in Cambridge at the monastery and spied a cluster jutting from the frozen earth. In the seeing, I realized the loss.) The new side-yard design eliminated the flower-bed and I’m using large pots, on the cement ground, to bring greens and yellows into this sterile surface. The iris on the left is from one of these large, plastic pots. There were buds on the plants that I selected at the nursery, hence instant flag. (It’s only in Pittsburgh that I’ve ever heard people call iris flags. Yahoo! Answers says that the German Iris are often referred to as flags. Well, western Pennsylvania is full of families from old Germany.) I don’t if the rhizomes will bloom next year, but if they don’t I’ll still have the rigid green leaves. In the image, the blurred background, at the top, is the new wooden fence.

I’m continuing to work with the 800e. For the image in this post, I shot with an 18-300 millimeter lens and used Photoshop to adjust for brightness and contrast – the yellow ruffles, the deep orange beard are beautiful.


June 10, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

May2013 106white and black figs – in pittsburgh

My two, white-fig trees are full of fruit that should ripen by the end of the month. White-fig is a literal translation of the Calabrese name for the plant. On the outside the fruit gets yellow-green, on the inside when ripe it’s yellow-white. The trees are from cuttings from my cousin’s land in Aprigliano. Sam was the Johnny Appleseed of his generation. (My grandfather and Sam’s mother were brother and sister.) He supplied fig-tree cuttings to any and all family members who were willing to try to grow them. In Coraopolis, Bryan has a cutting rooting in an old dry-wall mud pot. In Wilkinsburg, the Wertheimers have a black-fig tree that came from Sam’s stock. They’ve become honorary family members.

Back in the 70’s, on one of his trips to Aprigliano, Sam decided to bring back to St. Catherines, cuttings from the fig-trees that littered the hill-sides of the family farm. He smuggled back two small cuttings – a white-fig and a black-fig. And from these two cuttings he grew a grove of fig-trees in his garden, in southern Ontario.

Muto 372The white-figs with the yellow-white centers, ripen in early summer. The tree is not as bountiful as the black and therefore its green, round fruit is considered a delicacy, a rarity. The black-figs are really a maroon color with an elongated, oval shape. These trees produce ten times the number of figs and the dark brownish-red fruit ripens in early fall.

Every year in October, at Canadian Thanksgiving, we would all trek down from Toronto to St. Catherines to gorge on the transplants, the black beauties from Calabria. (The picture on the left is of Sam and my uncle Milio stuffing figs.) There were so many figs that we would eat and eat and eat and worry only about not eating enough.

These black beauties would be gone with the first frost and stories of Calabria and figs on the dinner table would be silent for another year. By Thanksgiving Monday, many of us would also be gone heading north, west and south into the pallid isolation of a coming winter.

windmills and eggplants

June 16, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

When I was up in Maine with Mac, we went into this art gallery in Kennebunkport. It had these great windmills and I really wanted one. But the cost was also great, so I had to be satisfied with window-shopping. Today, on my last trip to the greenhouse to finish off the backyard I saw someone looking at these double windmills. (The place was empty, so I got to see inventory that has been hidden behind the mobs buying plants for their summer beds.) I went over and saw that they were interesting and that the price was reasonable, I bought one.

June2013 009(Right now it’s in the middle of the backyard, but don’t know if this will be its final placement.) The entire back corner is new. (Originally the bonsai racks were here, but a couple of years ago I ripped out the racks and started putting pots on the ground.) I’ve had to replace most of the terra cotta pots, because they did not make it through the winter. And given that I was also redoing the side-yard, I decided to get new pots that I could leave out all year.

In the mix are two pots of Rosemary, four posts with eggplant and a ficus tree bonsai. The rest are all flowers. (I made the change the summer of 2011. I was in town for an extra week, because Paul had had surgery and while sitting out, I decided to rip out the bonsai racks and began to redesign the area.) Two years later, I’ve been able to create a setting that from year to year I can fill with my favorite annuals – Lantana, small Petunias, and Begonias. The perimeter rocks I pulled from under the Cypress and Pine where they had become lost under the ground-cover.

a ginger jar

June 17, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

June2013 016For the rehabbed backyard, I bought two types of pots – plastic-composites and ceramics. The image on the left are the two glazed ceramics, both have ever-green shrubs in them. The thing sticking out of the ginger jar is a copper dragonfly on a long, thick wire.

The third item is a hollow, blue, ceramic sphere that I bought in Oakville, in 2001 after the funeral. I bought it in memory of Jo’ who had died the previous Saturday and was buried Tuesday, July 3. It’s my monument, my grave-marker for my baby sister.

The new side-yard looks nothing like the old. The flower-bed is gone and in its place is a new wooden fence, a new brick platform in front of the back-door and eventually new cement down the alley. The new plastic-composites replace the flower-bed. (I’ve decided to plant the replacement snowdrops in among the blueberry. They are the only things I miss from the old flower-bed.) The new is very formal, very linear and very minimal. Characteristics that I highly value. And except for the lost snowdrops, a welcome change.

bonsai pots

June 18, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

June2013 021Shooting with the 800e has been a very different experience. It has no Auto option, and so I’m working in a semi-manual format – aperture priority. And with each shoot I learn something. I’m doing a lot of experimenting, using the flash in daylight, closing the aperture to get a darker image, reading the RGB histograms to determine vibrancy. (I really like the results.) I have to get better at predicting what the various settings produce so that the knowledge is intuitive. Instead of muscle-memory, I need settings-memory. Now I just take multiple images deleting anything that doesn’t work. (I don’t know how people learned when film was the only option. I remember shooting, sending the film away and not seeing the pictures for a couple of weeks. No way could I remember how I shot an image.)

In the above image, the Mandevilla Sanderi, commonly known as Red Riding Hood, sit in two old bonsai pots. (The green stake in front of the brown pot, is from the eggplant. For some reason, I can’t hammer it into the ground.) Looking over the various pots, one would think that I have a thing for the color red. Six of the ten flowering plants are red, two are yellow and two are mixed with some red in them.

the holy of holies

June 20, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

Town-June2013 008Perpendicular to, and under the land-bridge that connects the Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne is another bridge, over a reflecting pool, that leads into Point State Park. The pool floor is decorated with a rock mosaic and flooded with fluoridated water. The entrance tunnel is divided into three vaults, and each arc is lit from a base fixture. The image on the left – the Holy of Holies as a Euclidean dream – is the middle arc with its reflecting pool, lighting fixture, back-drop and the seam-line.

Point State Park has undergone a huge renovation – the fountain at the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers was retrofitted, the grasslands in the park were re-sodded and the plantings were weeded and re-stocked all in time for the 2013 Three Rivers Art Festival. Also, the under the land-bridge entrance was rehabbed – plastered, painted and power-washed.

During the Art Festival this middle arc served as a niche for a giant transparent inflatable Buddha – Floating Echo. (The sculpture is the creation of Chang-Jin Lee a Korean-born visual artist who lives in New York City.) The Holy of Holies was desecrated. A rule-religion’s sacred site was violated by a nature-religion’s inflatable god. Floating Echo was worshiped, for 10 days, in this Euclidean sanctuary.

make-believe town

June 21, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

DSC_1839Oh, make-believe town,
Oh make-believe town is a mess.
It’s a mess because all the animals talk;
It’s a mess because they all draw with chalk;
It’s a mess because all the hunting hounds
go no more a-hunting, a-hunting, a-hunting.

The neighborhood children spent the hot humid hours, drawing on all the sidewalks on this side of the street. (The tableau included many other items, but nothing as distinct as this drawing.) And I had just purchased Make-Believe Town from the Peter Paul and Mommy album, so I went out and shot the side-walk art. As the adult/spectator, I want to know: why is the left leg and the space in between pink; is he wearing a hat; is that a dollar sigh on his shirt; why does he have only six fingers, but two thumbs? And why can’t I draw with big fat chalk on the sidewalk? Because I would pick yellow and blue chalk for my figures. But I may have answered my own questions with that initial identifier.

in my reader

June 25, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

DSC_1831In my grammar-school basal reader, the story about the Canadian prairies had a drawing of a mother quail, followed by her brood, walking through wheat fields. For whatever reason, that image has stayed with me all these years. I have no idea what the story was about, but the picture is vivid in my memory. I think I tried to read the story, but the memory impression is that it was boring and a disappointment compared to the vibrancy of the picture. The earth tones, the brown-orange plumage the golden wheat were all beautiful – a romantic impression of the far away prairies. (I think the image referenced some seminal memory of wheat fields, full of poppies, in Calabria.)

Last Friday, a number of creatures made their way into our backyard. There was the outside cat that decided to curl up under the hose-box. A family of quail that took over my neighbor’s back-yard. There were two adults and four large chicks. Two of them decided to fly up onto the top of the fence. (I wonder if the cat was really stalking dinner hoping the immature cheepers would jump down into my yard.)


June 27, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

June2013 053I’ve always loved hollyhocks, and yet have never been able to grow them. In Sault Ste Marie, down on Wallace Terrace and Korah Road lived an old Italian lady and the perimeter of her double lot was planted with hollyhocks. These solitary, fuzzy, tall plants marked the borders of her property. I could never get up close, there was a wide ditch between the sidewalk and her fence. And the hollyhocks were on her side of the wooden slats.

I don’t like the modern incarnations – the double hollyhocks. Just try and find the old plants. The nurseries assume that if someone is going to plant hollyhocks, they would want the doubles, the full bloom variety. They are no longer the simple farm flowers of old. To me they’re addicts nursed on the chemical tit of modern agri-business. (The hollyhock is native to the far East. In Japan it’s incorporated into the official seal of the Tokugawa shogunate.)

I like the buds as much as I like the paper-thin flowers. The buds remind me of hazelnut pods. (Another of those instances where an item pulls out the primal memories of childhood. But these memories are all mixed up; they are in pieces jigged together to form new pictures. There are image-pieces from growing up in Aprigliano and collecting hazelnut husks; there are image-memories of drying the hazelnuts at Christmas in order to play with them. We would roll them down a ramp. You kept rolling them and rolling them hoping one would hit. If one hit, you got to collect and keep all the nuts on the floor.)

severed limbs

July 25, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

In the back-yard, on the left side of the path, are three trees – the white fig, the cedar and the pine. The fig is from Calabria, the cedar and the pine began as bonsai. The pine still has its small decorative pot. The white fig produced a bumper crop this year, the cedar stands sentinel and the pine leans right, trying for wind-swept.

DSC_6621I left the writing long enough to go out back and hack off a huge limb that interfered with the wind-swept alignment. And it’s put-out-garbage night so I hid the sap-seeping branches in a steel-strong bag and threw it into the dispose pile. No one will know I ripped a limb from its trunk, chopped it into small pieces and stuffed the severed branches into plastic bags.

The heavy snow-falls, of the last two winters, have required that I put some kind of support under the wind-swept arm. Back in November I put a piece of wolmanized under the reaching branch. It totally destroyed the feng shui of the back-yard. (Controlled nature and pressurized lumber don’t mix.) So, I’ve been looking for alternatives and opportunities to replace the green-glowing two-by-four. I’ve been keeping a saw in the car thinking that if I find myself in an isolated area and see a tree-trunk with sling-shot like branches I would cut it down. In 9 months, nothing has come my way.

A couple of weeks ago, I began to clean up the fig trees getting rid of any new growth that would not make it through the winter or would sap the tree’s ability to build robust limbs. The oldest of the two trees needed radical pruning. In the trimming, I ended up with a trunk that leaned too far into the middle. I started cutting all the small branches hoping to salvage the thick trunk, but got lost in the removing and ended up with a naked trunk. No problem, I could use it to support the pine tree.

Last night I cut the naked trunk and drove it into the ground under the wind-swept branch. (In the image, it’s the thin trunk on the right, in the foreground, under the green foliage.) As I was digging the hole it occurred to me that the trunk could sprout. Figs are a weed and will grow anywhere from any cutting. Next summer, will the supporting trunk be full of fig leaves? Calabrian fig leaves and wind-swept pine needles – harmony.


July 28, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

DSC_6638the fig-trees have taken over

The shot is from the porch on the second floor. On the right is the edge of the new fence and my neighbor’s garage wall that I hang all the reliefs and ornaments on. In front of the wall is the base of the Frank Lloyd Wright Sprite statue. The left of the image is the older fig-tree.

Back in January, the back-yard was a mound of frozen mud – the big dig4 – covered in a blue plastic tarp. Today, it’s totally green and overgrown with fig-trees, Japanese lilac, Cedar, Wind-swept Pine and pots and pots of flowers. Let’s not forget the four pots of eggplant. And let’s not forget the fact that for the last four weeks I’ve been trimming and pruning. The fig-trees got the most branches removed, followed by the Cedar. With the Cedar, I keep removing the lower branches so that all you see, at back-yard level, is the straight red trunk.

I think what surprises me most is the canopy. I’ve been nursing the two fig-trees for years and this summer not only did I get a bumper crop, but the two trees have taken over creating an amazing leaf-cover. No one looking at the image would think it’s an urban garden, on Pittsburgh’s North Side or that the canopy is from a cutting from a fig-tree in Calabria.


September 15, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

fava, anguria and aubergine

Sept2013  007bI’m trying to identify a vegetable that would indicate fall is coming and I think the eggplant may qualify. (I’m Calabrese, so jack-o’-lanterns don’t work.) My spring harbinger is the fava, watermelons tell me that summer is here and now the shiny aubergine announces fall. (Background – when we came to Canada, fave were disparaged and downgraded to horse-beans. Who in their right mind would want to eat something that suggested a food fed to horses; certainly no one who wanted to camouflage their immigrant origins? Anguria is the Italian word for watermelon. In my family, the Italian and the English got remixed and all of a sudden we began to refer to watermelon as melone. The Zingas have always been practical – take the second word of the English compound and make it Italian; all you need is a vowel. I had to re-learn anguria, because melone is cantaloupe, a different fruit entirely. In Spoleto, I remember ordering melone and expecting red fleshy sweet watermelon, only to be disappointed when they brought out cantaloupe. And finally, aubergine – what can I say, the French is so much more elegant than the English.)

The four plants that I put into pots have all done well producing 3 to 4 eggplants each. Tonight for supper I cut the last remaining ones and stuffed and baked them. To supplement the garden eggplants, I got a couple from the grocery store. The filling is made from the pulp and I always like to have a lot of pulp when I mix it with bread-crumbs, cheese and eggs. The dish had a great eggplant taste. This is unusual, because when I make it from only store-bought eggplants, the cheese and herb stuffing dominate. The freshly cut eggplants added a dimension that I had totally forgotten about. (I remember my mother preparing the dish using eggplants she had just cut from the garden and after assembling the dish taking it to the communal oven. It was a dish made on bread-baking day. The casseroles were baked on the embers after the bread was done.)


September 21, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

in the dark, dark windows

L-Highlands 040Last week, I was in the Laurel Highlands and driving the wooded mountain roads, I passed many houses that could be second homes – cottages away from the urban hum. All these retreats were under tall pine trees in shaded glen and groves; some were perched on small rises with rolling meadows off their front porches. This bucolic landscape made me sad, made me want to drive back into town and away from its cloying disposition. I kept trying to understand the feelings, but no reasonable explanation came. My internal monologue went like this – I like the isolation of the Italian countryside, why am I reacting so negatively to this isolation? I love the browns and earth-tones of the fields that surround Earle-and-Suzanne’s, why are the greens of the Laurel Highlands depressing? The far horizons of church steeples and Medieval towers open the world to me, why do the enclosures created by the pine trees make me feel like I’m suffocating? Why did I never buy a cottage in the woods of Northern Ontario? (These houses, tucked into the shadows of the Laurel Highlands, look most like the camps one finds in Sault Ste Marie.) I obviously like the distance away from the madding crowd. Walking into the closed, dark house at Earle-and-Suzanne’s was always a relief. The dark was settling, refreshing. Then why is the dark that surrounds these Laurel homes oppressive?

The above image seems to capture all these feelings. It’s an empty house, surrounded by tall hemlocks, on a huge track of land.


September 23, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

benedictus qui venit in nomine domini

DSC_7552The culture of the Roman Church permeates my psyche. And until I was 26, I lived in communities – my family, the Christian Brothers, the extended family in Toronto – that followed the rhythms of Catholicism. Today, I have nothing to do with Holy Mother Church, but its tendrils are deep in me.

I shoot churches all over Italy. I love going into the country chapels, monasteries, cloisters and shooting the statues, the ceilings, the crucifixes, the tabernacles, the frescoes, the votives. These items have intrinsic meaning, they are recognizable, they are hard-wired into my synapses. And the Latin has this liquid flow that blots the need for translation.

BTW, I never go anywhere near the churches if there are people and priests in them. But the empty sanctuaries are private museums, shelters from the summer heat, time capsules of a by-gone era – a time when the Church ruled, a time of visual learning and fiery oratory, the time of Botticelli and Savonarola.

I wanted to shoot the reflecting pool and entrance into Point State Park in morning light. The above image is the light fixture, pool and ceiling. An earlier shot of this location had me referring to it as the Holy of Holies. To me, the environment looks like a tabernacle, a place of worship and therefore the titles. In the Catholic Mass, the Sanctus ends the first half of the Liturgy – the Preface. Also, part of the Sanctus is adapted from the book of Isaiah and the prophet’s vision of the throne of God surrounded by ministering seraphims – Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.  Catholicism aside, I love the geometry of the image, its lines of symmetry, its mushroom cloud.


September 28, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

in splendor robed

Golf 004Mornings at this time of year can be full of ominous colors. Gone are the turquoises of spring and the indigos of August. Instead the sun is blinding in the eastern sky, its light a burnt-orange. And yet its rise across the heavens is rushed – its stamina waning.

I’m in North East, Pennsylvania a state-line community on Lake Erie. Vineyards cover the rolling fields, Concord grapes perfume the air and harvesters roam the side-roads. The morning light is grey and the skies overcast and yet the horizon is on fire. But in months this phoenix, born in the dark days of 2012, will expire.

The title is from the 93rd Psalm. I went looking at the Psalm selections for Matins and Lauds hoping to find something about the rising son. Instead found hymns to a glorious God, so I truncated the lines and used the words I liked.

rubber duck

October 6, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

the goddess

DSC_7617AWe are in the middle of a Festival of Firsts, and one of the events is Dutch artist Florentijn Hoffman’s giant Rubber Duck docked off Point State Park. It comes to Pittsburgh, its first US appearance, from a world-wind tour that includes Amsterdam, Osaka, Sydney, Sao Paulo and Hong Kong.

The yellow monster has proved extremely popular and families, from all over the region, are coming into downtown for the first time in years. The kids love the duck. I walk home through Point State Park and all week it’s been teeming with ordinary people and screaming children clutching their rubber duckie toys. (In old times, pilgrims brought their rosaries to the Vatican to be blessed. Are modern children bringing their miniature ducks to the Great Mother?) The downtown merchants are giddy with profits. Also, the 2013 Carnegie International opened this weekend, bringing into town the glitterati, but it’s the rubber duckie that’s attracting the crowds.

It’s such and odd sight on the Allegheny side of the Point. There’s nothing unique about it, except for its 40 foot stature. And I don’t understand how making a 40 foot version of a toy is art. (Maybe it’s performance art.) But Pittsburgh is the perfect harbor for this hyper sized duck, after all just blocks north of the floating goddess are the original god’s paintings of the Campbell Soup Cans.

The profile is the duck floating on the Allegheny with the West End Bridge and Mount Washington in the background.


October 21, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

marroni chestnuts

Chestnuts 013Last year at this time I collected acorns down in West Park, brought them home, put them in a saucer and photographed them on my dining room table. (I left them on the saucer for a few days, and when I came back, a small white worm had eaten its way out of an acorn and died on the table cloth leaving a white stain that I have not been able to remove.)

This year, I went with Marroni chestnuts as the autumn indicators. I found the term Marroni in a rhyme on a Calabrian Facebook page; discovered that it was a variety of chestnut that grows all over Calabria. I also found a farm in California that has started growing Marronis and that October was harvest season. I ordered 4 pounds. They’re in the refrigerator and every day I’ve been eating a handful. I like them best raw, but this weekend I’ll roast some. The storage directions suggest keeping them in a cold place until ready to eat them. This will prevent them drying out. When I told my dad this he laughed. They never keep them in the frig.(I can just hear him going on about i ciuti americani putting chestnuts in the frig – crazy americans …)

The Marroni were mentioned in writings of Homer and Pliny and cultivated throughout the mountains of Calabria. In the early 1900’s, the economy of Aprigliano was based on the Marroni chestnut. Hog farmers from Cosenza would bring up the animals to Aprigliano and let them graze on the fallen chestnuts. They would pay the Apriglianesi land owners a grazing fee for each hog in the drove.

morning sky

November 12, 2013 diario/journal, reflections

daylight savings time

Nov-13 026It’s that in between time when the morning sun wakes late and falls back below the horizon by 5:00 in the afternoon. Soon, both my morning walk to work and my trek home will be in the dark; soon the reds and yellows will be gone and bare trees will line the mountain side; soon the fountain at Point State Park will be turned off; soon December will clock the season and end the interim. And spring will be a longing a hunger consuming my winter nights.

The above image was taken early in the morning on my way into work. I am on the foot-bridge that connects the Northside to Point State Park. It’s such a common shot that I concentrated on altering the image rather than reporting what the camera saw. The picture is heavily Photoshopped – the apartment building that cascades down Mount Washington is clone-stamped out as are the entrance to the Fort Pitt Tunnels, the highway signs on the bridge and the light on the fountain pumping station. (When the electricity runs out and the new dark ages come, will some archeologist find this image on a working server and spend all his time trying to figure out why the bridge leads into the mountain side?)

new year’s

January 1, 2014 diario/journal, reflections


……………………………………………………………………..2014 is a milestone year for me – I get to retire in July.

Dec26 044The image on the left was taken almost a week ago as Seane and I walked the creek next to old St. Veronica’s school. It was the day after Christmas and the sun made the winter sky blue and the snow bright. White covered everything and glistened in the sharp daylight. The image was my homage to the ice covered wonderland in Southern Ontario.

An Italian saying associated with New Year – Natale con i tuoi e Capodanno con chi vuoi. – Christmas with your family, New Year with whom you want. The other saying I think about is what my maternal grandmother – Maria Perri – would tell us: Whatever you do on Capodanno, you will repeat throughout the year. I’ve always spend New Year’s Eve with friends and I’m always conscious of what I do on New Year’s Day, believing that I will repeat those routines throughout the coming year.

Last night, like every other December 31 for the last 30 years, we spent with Jerry-and-Diane and their kids. John and Joanne joined the group a while back so, we are now up to eight for dinner. The meal has two of my favorite dishes – a chicken livers pâté, and Eastern European meatballs. For the longest time it was an all-meat dinner, but the last couple of years a green-beans casserole and a cubed-potatoes and bacon casserole were added to the all-meat menu.


January 21, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

and they shall beat their swords into plowsharesIsaiah 2:4

InterN 035“. . . string-and-percussion music rises from the room below. The source is an array of eight mechanized sculptures by the Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, made from pistols, assault rifles, machine guns and grenade cases that the Mexican government confiscated from drug cartels.” (Peter Schjeldahl – The New Yorker, October 21, 2013)

The 2013 Carnegie International has two pieces that I really like – Pedro Reyes’ gun-sculptures (The sunburst on the right is made of gun barrels.) and Taryn Simon’s photographs of all the weapons, vehicles and most of the actresses from the James Bond movies. My favorite image was that of Honor Blackman whose character in Goldfinger is forever hardwired into every 1960’s boy’s brain. The photographs of the Bond women were recently taken and Ms. Blackman now looks like an elegant grandmother. But in my mind she will always be Pussy Galore.

There are two outside pieces, one by British sculptor Phyllida Barlow and one by the Swiss designer Yvan Pestalozzi. The Barlow piece is an immense jungle of boards wrapped with wire mesh, slathered with cement and gray paint and festooned with strips of colored cloth. It covers the space in front of the main entrance and leans against the miserable Richard Serra steel plates. The Pestalozzi piece is playground equipment – a huge, colorful, snaking tunnel with kid-size openings.

It’s not a large show, but many of the pieces are fun and that is not something you can say about most museum surveys.


January 22, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

nation shall not lift up sword against nationIsaiah 2:4

green-poleI’m continuing the quotes from Isaiah, but I don’t think there a Pussy Galore like contradiction out there this time.

Well, I’m just going to abandon the idea of opposites and make the post about new words being added to the language. Ian Flemming gave us permission to use pussy in polite company and the weather-people are bringing unique words like vortex into everyday parlance. My questions is, can Old Testament Isaiah teach us to not learn war anymore?

There’s a new, unauthorized bio of Roger Eugene Ailes and the book suggests that at Fox News, Ailes made a conscious effort to speak to those people left behind by the pot-smoking hippies – Nixon’s silent majority. And for the last 30 years Ailes and the conservative right have controlled the national dialogue. And they have added to the American lexicon giving us terms like Moral Majority, Right-to-life and Religious Right. I’m wondering if we’ve finally hit a time when the Right will again be eclipsed; when a new progressive movement will push back; when the young will abandon the old guys dream of war.

Took the image on the left at the end of the day. The sun was soft on the rooftops, but I couldn’t capture its hues. Instead I got this vertical contrast between the green porch-post and the red wall. The weather is again frigid and the polar vortex has again descended on the lower 48.


January 24, 2014 diario/journal, italy, reflections

moore, barlow, serra, scaife and cathedralprologue-2 – italy 2014

InterN 004A(moore) Reclining Figure, (barlow) Tip, (serra) Carnegie, (left) Scaife Wing, (right) Cathedral of Learning – University of Pittsburgh.

Weather talk is always so cliché, but this has been an incredibly cold month. Frigid temperatures and snowfall have interrupted 25% of our school-days and it looks line next week will get chewed up again by the descent of the Polar Vortex below the 49th parallel.

I used the image on the left more because inside of it is a sense of spring. Barlow’s sculpture suggests growing things. This morning I was thinking about all the snowdrops that I planted in the blueberry beds in the back of the yard. I’m hoping to see some evidence of green in the next 3 or 4 weeks.

The other topic to keep me hopeful through this miserable January is the trip to Italy. This year I’ll be there 3 weeks and for the first time ever, I am not traveling in early August. Three of us are going and we’ll begin in Sicily the first week, travel through Calabria, Basilicata and Campania the second week and then onto Rome for our third week. This will be my first time in Sicily. (I’m not counting the one-day trip to the Aeolian Island of Panarea in 2009.)


January 26, 2014 diario/journal, italy, reflections

copper dragonfly covered in january snowprologue-3 – italy 2014

DSC_7884After my experience with doing a bank transfer for a down-payment on the apartment we are renting in Siracusa, I’ve decided to chronicle the planning of the trip to Italy.

The bank transfer done, means that I can concentrate on housing for the other two weeks. (The third leg of the trip is Rome and because we’re there for a week, lodging will be easier.) I’m now trying to figure out the middle week and how to divide the time. Rick-and-Sarah want to go to Aprigliano, so we’ll be in southern Calabria for at least 3 days.

The first week, we’re staying in south-eastern Sicily on the peninsula of Ortigia – the ancient city-center of Siracusa. Cicero claimed Siracusa was one of the most important and most beautiful cities of the Greek world. Its grandeur rivaled Athens.

winter sky

January 29, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

i came walking with the wind

Jan 024AI shot the image from a bridge over old East Ohio Street. (And I decided to Photoshop all communication towers and light-poles off the horizon.) This is 279 North the modern highway into the North Hills. (The highways in this part of the commonwealth were built into valleys and entrances and exits follow the contours of the rounded Alleghenies. Therefore none have of the supra-structures that one sees in California or Southern Ontario. 279 North is the exception.) The buildings on the horizon are the towers of downtown.

I’ve been watching the new HBO series – True Detectives – and have been fascinated by the opening music. Found it online; it’s the song Far From Any Road by the Handsome Family. (Randall Roberts the Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic calls the song a death dirge.) The title is a line from the song.

We’ve just endured the second Polar Vortex in one month and where the bright blue sky is a great backdrop for an image, in winter a clear sky always means frigid temperatures. Today, the near zero degrees were accompanied by blue skies and cold winds. (The wind on the truncated hilltops that house the big-box-superstores cuts through any insulated poly-mix that is my winter coat.)


February 2, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

the groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters

This calendar date has many names. I grew up going to church on February 2nd and having the priest, using two X-crossed candles tied with a ribbon, bless my throat. (My mother always insisted that we get our throats blessed to prevent winter coughs and colds.) It was the feat of St. Blaise. However, this tradition seemed to go away with Vatican II and the feast got re-branded as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. When I moved to Pittsburgh it became Groundhog Day using a German legend about winter predictions. Candlemas is more of an Anglican term for the feast-day, but its history also points to predicting the end of winter.

iceIf Candlemas Day is clear and bright,
winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
winter is gone and will not come again.




  • James Joyce was born on February 2, 1882.
  • Phillip Seymour Hoffman died today
    of a heroin overdose.
  • It’s exactly halfway between the Winter Solstice
    and the Spring Equinox.
  • In Italy, today is considered the last cold day of winter.
  • February 2, is 40 days after Christmas.
  • Today is the feast of The Purification – Mary’s
    ritual purification according to Mosaic Law.
  • Today is the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
    and Simeon’s famous canticle – Luke 2:29-32.

Now Lord you may dismiss your servant
in peace according to your word;
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have set before all the nations,
As a light of revelation to the Gentiles
and the glory of your people Israel.
                              from Common Compline






Traditionally the Western term Candlemas – Candle Mass – referred to the practice whereby a priest blessed beeswax candles for use throughout the year, some of which were distributed to the faithful for use in the home.


February 12, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

but now they only block the sun

tree-A Something’s lost, but something’s gained in living every day.

I was looking to hear Dave Van Ronk songs and found a video of him singing “Both Sides Now” and that led to listening to Joni Mitchell’s most recent version. I had forgotten that “Both Sides Now” was written by Mitchell. (In my mind it’s associated with Judy Collins.) The old Canadian drops it an octave and makes it a reflection, a lament; gone is the virginal voice; gone is the angel hair, the ice-cream castles, the feathered canyons. The fairy tales have been put to sleep and the grand-children don’t dream of moons or Junes or ferris wheels.

By phrasing “Both Sides Now” with hesitation, as though it were an ongoing thought process, the song is completely divested of its singsongy trappings. Its conclusions – I really don’t know love at all and I really don’t know life at all – becomes devastating confessions of ignorance and failure offered is a weary tone of defeat.

I’m discovering that many of the songs-tracks that I like were not done by the original artists. I had been listening to the commercial singers who had re-recorded these landmarks at the urgings of their handlers and made them into billboard hits, cash cows. For example, I knew “Heard It Through the Grapevine” as a Creedence Clearwater song and then Frank pointed out that it was Marvin Gaye’s anthem. I no longer listen to the pop version, but to Marvin’s voice.

Van Ronk sang his version of “Both Sides Now” 45 years ago. “I may have been the first New Yorker to fall in love with her. She was still living in Detroit when we met. Clouds – Joni didn’t like my tampering with her title for this one. She insisted, justifiably, that the original title – Both Sides Now – be included. Still, though, she did entitle her next album Clouds.” (Dave Van Ronk)  Live at Jabberwocky Club – Syracuse, NY – February 1969

st. valentine

February 14, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

from win and lose and still somehow it’s life’s illusions i recall

Nothing is reliably known of St. Valentine except his name and the fact that he died on February 14
on the Via Flaminia in the north of Rome. In Le Marche on our way in and out of Fossombrone,
we travel the state highway – Strada Provinciale 3, SP3 – that parallels the old Roman road.

Feb2014 034

This year the Valentine gifts were reduced, intentionally. And yet, I came down this morning and my office space was all dark except for this red glow. A string of chirtmas-tree-like-lights, with heart shape illuminations, was strung across my desk. And a French porcelain bowl sat next to my keyboard. There were other hear-shaped objects scattered on my desk.

I am more interested in the fact that February 14 marks the beginning of the last leg of winter.
I’m counting the days until the spring equinox.


February 25, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

a canadian voice and italian sensibilities

        Haviland08 004        Sat-Aug10 055

I’ve been listening to a group of Canadian artists – Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot – and I’m surprised by the recurring language, themes, ideas. All talk about nature as landscape, nature as character. Mitchell talks about a river to skate away on; Cohen talks about hair on a pillow like a sleepy golden storm; Lightfoot sings about pussy-willows, cat-tails, soft winds and roses.

My own writing is full of winters, of big skies, of autumn landscapes, of sunsets and early mornings. My references are about the rhythms of rain, the winds of November, the closings of a December snowfall. I was born in Calabria, but I found the voice that I write in in Northern Ontario.

My sensibilities on the other hand are strictly Italian. (The image I wanted to use for the right was one in which the title – Partito dei Communisti Italiani – was pasted above a self-reflection in an announcement window.) I am an iconoclast and I always attribute that to my Italian ancestry.


March 5, 2014 2014, diario/journal, reflections

the apriglianesi in sault ste marie2nd entry – apriglianesi

tree ringsLately, I’ve been thinking about the group that I grew up in when living in Northern Ontario. For me, the Apriglianese Group of my youth can be best represented by a series of concentric circles. At the core were the Zingas, the Perris and the Mutos. These are my family, my grandparents, my uncle and aunt. In the next ring were the Belsitos, the Sanguinettis and the Mussos. These three families were from Aprigliano and friends of my parents. These are the people in the old black-and-white pictures, the people at the birthday celebrations, the people from the Christmas holidays. (Christmas gifts for me and my siblings came from my parents, my grandparents and my aunt-and-uncle. But the adults of the extended-family also exchanged gifts among themselves. There was a lot of effort to make certain the gifts the adults exchanged were of equal value, of equal prestige. I remember my mom opening up the gifts from her friends before Christmas. Jo’ and I were shocked by this save-face behavior.)

In the cump’armunte journal post, I wrote about Armante Sanguinetti, and that with his death only his wife and my parents remain in that group of friends from Aprigliano. The generation that left Calabria is fading, but they leave behind their children.

There were 14 children in the extended-family. (They are listed vertically – oldest to youngest.)
Three have died.

Zinga Family Muto Family Sanguinetti Family Musso Family Belsito Family
Mario Rose Marisa Lena Angie
Connie Mary Joseph *Renato Mimmo
*Jo’ Frank Gianni

* My sister Jo’ died June 30, 2001; Renato died September 6, 1994; and Antonino died January 22, 1994.

Connie, Marisa, Lena, Frank, Angie and Mimmo still live in Sault Ste Marie. I’m in Pittsburgh; Rose is in Oxford, Michigan; Mary is in Pickering; Joe is in Mississauga; and Gianni is in Michigan’s UP. Surprisingly, I still interact with many of these next generation off-springs. (The only ones I do not see are Lena Musso, but then she was a bit older than the rest of us and once she married Bernardo Fragomeni, we began to travel in very different circles. And I haven’t seen Gianni Belsito in years.)


March 15, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

if i had wings like noah’s dove, i’d fly the river

I went out into the backyard and there on the horizontal post were the mourning doves. They had come back.
But their nest in the Mulberry tree was long gone. The winter winds scattered the loose twigs.

March 018

Mourning doves mate for life. Is the one on the right the female? And is she ready to nest?

This morning I went looking for the snowdrops, but found no evidence of spring. In the side-yard, the early Galanthus would poke their heads above the snow-cover and remind me that long winter was waning. This evening the mourning doves soothed my disappointment. In the soft setting sun, their coos announced the fledgling season.

The dove posting from last year is dated May 9 and here they are back two months early.

I was in a monastery garden in Cambridge Mass when I spotted a regiment of snowdrops rigid against the basement wall. Seeing them reminded me that I had lost my bulbs in the dig for the new sewer. The heralds of spring were silenced when the flower-bed on the side of the house was demoed in order to dig down to replace the terracotta pipes that drained the sink, the toilets, the bath. So last October, I replanted fifty bulbs hoping to regrow my heralds. I planted them among the blueberry bushes and while I was at it, I buried tens of crocus bulbs in the same bed.

It never occurred to me that the mourning doves would announce the new spring.


March 20, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

day for night – the vernal equinox

Today, the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away nor towards the sun. And the sun rose exactly in the east
and it will set exactly in the west. The word equinox is derived from the Latin words meaning equal night.Trees-budahA

horizontal 2by4s, vertical fence planks, angular fig-trees, straight redwood, gnarly pine trunk and 6by6 wolmanizeds

The above image is so complex that I had to use it. I’m shooting manual, because it was the only way to get the Buddha in focus and produce a deep perspective. The flowerbed in the back and on the right holds the bulbs I planted last fall: they stir in the cold earth: but the fleur de lis, under the Buddha, wont wake for another month. Yesterday I saw the first sprouts, I think they’re crocus. The snowdrops take a year to become established so, I may not have any flowers this year.

The post-title is from Truffaut’s La nuit américaine and I’m using it to suggest an equal length of day and night. (The French expression nuit américaine – American night – refers to a technical process where scenes filmed outdoors in daylight are shot using artificial light or infrared film-stock and then underexposed or dimmed during post production to appear as if the scenes are taking place at night. In the English-speaking world the film is known as Day for Night, which is the English expression for the process.)


March 30, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

long before the white-man and long before the wheel

Frank and I went to Palm House, a Victorian conservatory in Allen Gardens in old Toronto. Outside the conservatory a mural surrounded a construction site. The first time I saw this type of art – images of native people and native themes in bold cartoon-like colors – was in the late 60’s. It looks like pop art – modern American art styles applied to Canadian history. And fifty years later, government agencies across the Commonwealth sponsor this art format in schools, in libraries, in community centers, on subway platforms, on construction murals.Toronto3-14 102A

What amazed me most on this trip, was the scale of the buildings in old Toronto and at the University of Toronto. (The modern city is littered with glass supra-structures whose panels still fog in the bitter temperatures.) Palm House and the various colleges that make up U of T are from a different time, from a different sensibility. The old buildings fit in their surroundings. They are of a human scale and walking through the common grounds is such a non-Canadian experience. (Modern Toronto and modern Canada are void of people-friendly environments. The city and country are designed for cars, for suburban landscapes. Southern Ontario is the Los Angeles of Canada.)


April 5, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

and suddenly, the season so tentative before – becomes immediate

Last weekend, the compost layer on the back-yard flowerbed was brown and wet and I resigned myself to not seeing any flowers this spring. Then yesterday, after two days of rain, cold and grey, the crocus and snowdrops sprouted. (I’ve been looking at the crocus in other people’s yards with envy. And I so want snowdrops back in my garden.)DSC_3458

By Sunday morning, the closed buds in the above image, opened and revealed white petals. (There’s an image of the open flowers in the slide show.) I had forgotten that I had planted white crocus bulbs. I kept expecting purple flowers. Am glad for the surprise. The purple crocus in the slide show are from Diane’s garden. Then last night on our way home, I noticed, around the base of a Sycamore up the street from the Halperns, a cluster of crocus . I went back this morning and, in the early light, shot the flowers.

The grape hyacinths and the pink cyclamens are from the greenhouse in Allen Gardens in old Toronto.


April 25, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

an iris, some buildings, a park and a hunky

April-24 049I’m walking the concrete paths through Gateway Center and come upon a group of planters filled with purple iris. Now, it’s way too early for this rhizome, but then the new local restaurant wants to attract customers so why not decorate with these giant flags.

During World War II, city officials created plans to redevelop the dense and blighted forks of the Ohio River into both Point State Park and a gateway of office buildings. It was announced as fully financed on September 21, 1949 when the Equitable Insurance Co. of New York agreed to underwrite the project after securing lease agreements from Westinghouse, Mellon Financial and other major corporations. Eggers & Higgins, architects on the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, were the architects for the first three buildings, One, Two and Three Gateway Center.

Today Gateway Center is one of Pittsburgh premier office complexes and an amazing example of human-friendly urban design. The office complex has an 87% occupancy rate.

Point State Park is located at the confluence of three rivers – the Monongahela, the Allegheny and the Ohio. The park commemorates and preserves the strategic and historic heritage of the area during the French and Indian War. April-24 026 Once a busy industrial zone, the area had deteriorated into a commercial slum by the 1940s. The development of a state park was authorized in 1945 and the first parcel of the 36-acre property was purchased the next year. The park was completed and dedicated in 1974. The fountain at the confluence-point is one of it’s most spectacular feature. Also in the park are a granite tracery of the original French fort, the Portal – a great archway and entrance to the park under the I376 highway, the Fort Pitt Museum and the Fort Pitt Blockhouse. The Blockhouse is the only remaining structure from the colonial fort. It also served as the western headquarters of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

In June, Gateway Center and the Point Park are filled with suburbanites, out-of-towners and Pittsburghers as the Three Rivers Arts Festival uses the plazas, walk-ways and lawns to showcase a contingency international and local artists. And many of the best working crafts-people come from across the country and Canada to display their work at the annual event. The 1990 Three Rivers Festival was full of controversy.


a little bit of sunshine, a little bit of soul

Me3-LauraAs an adult, I’ve never had a professional do a self-portrait until today. Laura Sheldon my friend and professional photographer did a great job, so much so that I’m willing to post it. She told me how to sit, how to pose and where to look; and I followed her directions. I guess if you want to look good it pays to listen to the professional.

It’s 10:20 am; I am in our office, sitting on the table that we all sit at for meetings. The windows behind me look onto Gateway Center Park. I’m wearing a City High sweater; and my kids, the 12th graders, told me that the Fran Lloyd Wright tie was, so Zinga-esque. (Yes, the bright ones know how to add e s q u e to a noun to make an adjective.) BTW, it was Laura’s idea to cross my arms.

Part of the reason I’m willing to post the image is that I like it. As I tell my kids, I’m only going to sign off on images that I look good in. And, I can just hear all my adult friends saying, that’s so Italian. It is, and I have no shame owning that.

I titled this post selfie and Wikipedia describes a selfie as a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone. Forget the self indulgence, low res of a cell phone, I had a professional take this selfie. The Italian expression is fare una bella figura. And I adhere to that maxim of always presenting oneself in a good light. I’m 65, why not look good; why not make a bella figura.


May 18, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

a buddha and his fleur de lis

fleur-de-lis 024The Lilies of the Valley are among my favorite late-spring flowers and this year they filled the corner flower-bed. (It’s too bad that the flowers came out just as I was in the middle of an allergy episode. Getting near the flowers or bringing some into the house was not possible unless I wanted to have an even more severe reaction.)

The Buddha has been in its spot the last 15 years; he sits on a slate slab; and the rhizomes have filled the corner bed sprouting green leaves and white bell-shaped flowers to surround him. (For the longest time, I could not get anything to grow in this corner bed and then I planted the fleur de lis.)


May 18, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

the fig trees are gone

Where last spring I was counting the number of figs on the trees and anticipating a feast of flavors, this year, I am cutting the 20 year old trunks and branches down.fig-tree 014A The winter was so severe that the roots were destroyed. And a cutting that had found its way from Calabria, to St. Catherine’s, to Western Pennsylvania is done. (I’m thinking of bringing back two small cuttings – a white fig and a black fig – from Aprigliano when we’re there in September.)

Other years, the branches froze, but never the roots and I’d begin the process of re-growing the trees. In the last years, the trees had grown to a diameter of over six inches and I was certain they would weather the winter; I was certain that I had passed the threshold and trees full of white-figs were in my future. But the winter of 2013/2014 was so severe that the ground froze to such a deep level that the freeze destroyed the root systems of the two white-fig trees.

I kept waiting and hoping that something would sprout from the base of the trees, but nothing. So, I finally gave up and cut the two trees down. In the pic on the left, I am cutting the smaller of the two trees. Each tree was over 15 feet tall and provided an amazing canopy.


day of remembrance

may25 042AAfter a dinner of spaghetti with clam sauce, a group of us went walking. The fading sunlight was supple and golden and I caught it in at least one image. (left to right – Civil-War house, parish-house, steeple of Calvary Methodist, roof of Emmanuel Episcopal, gate-house and entrance into parish-house.)

Memorial Day has become the official day of remembrance for those Americans who died in combat. At cemeteries across the country, the grave-markers of fallen soldiers are decorated with small flags. And families visit these grave-sites on this last Monday of May. Washington DC is full of veterans remembering their fellow soldiers who did not make it out alive. (I’ve added this post to the in memorium category.)

November 11 with its commemoration of The Great War is a European memorial; it never took root here in the western hemisphere. Modern America has enough of its own war casualties to remember and commemorate; we do not need to go back to the events of the early 20th century to remember our young men and women who died for their country.

I believe there are many similarities between 2014 America and the twilight of empires of 1914 Europe.


June 8, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

mountain laurel – kalmia latifolia, sarah

side-yardToday, I began the process of replacing the two shrubs burned by the winter freeze, and planting the annuals, herbs and eggplant in the pots, in the rock-garden.

All the pics in the slideshow are flowers from the backyard. I took out the micro lens and mounted the D800e on the Manfrotto and shot the flowers.

On the side of the house – pic on the right – in the glazed pot, I planted a Kalmia Latifolia; in the tall, beige, clay-finish pot is Verbena; (Behind the tall pot and protruding through the slats are Iris and peony leaves.) in the ginger-jar is a second Kalmia; and in the black, plastic pots are Hosta and a Japanese Iris. I bought two Kalmias, because the flowers look like salt-water anemones found on a corral reef. (It’s the Kalmia blossoms in the second-to-last pic in the slideshow.) Also, I’m hoping that the laurel will make it through next winter. I raised the glazed pot and the ginger-jar onto iron stands and now these pots look huge. (They are huge, but resting on the bricks and the cement and looking down on them, they lost their bigness. Elevated on wrought-iron tripods, they’ve become large garden fixtures.)

The big, blue marble next to the glazed pot is a ceramic sphere that I bought on June 30, 2001 in Oakville as a remembrance. Jo’ had died that morning – Saturday, June 30 – and that afternoon I drove over to the greenhouse, up the street from their Arkendo house, and bought the ornament as a marker to always remind me of the day.


June 21, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

speech to the graduating class of 2014

Zinga-1Today – Saturday, June 21 – we graduated our 9th class. And this was my cohort of kids; I began with them in 9th grade back in 2010 and even timed my retirement so that I would be there to see them walk across the stage. I was their grade-level principal.

Now, I hate to speak in front of a large crowd mainly because I believe that talking to a crowd should be about logistics and movement. Inspirational rhetoric is not something I understand, believe in or am willing to attempt. But it’s a tradition at City High that the grade-level principal gives the keynote, and I was on deck. I spent a couple of weeks thinking about what I wanted to say and how to organize the speech. (On my walks home from work, I would make lists in my head of topics or items that I wanted to cover.) It wasn’t until last week that I decided to acknowledge my reluctance to speak and my fear of crying in front of my kids. And once I did that I found the path into the delivery of the speech. Once I realized that I could admit to these two anxieties, then delivering the speech was not so scary.

I did the speech and afterwards was glad to have done it. The entire graduation ceremony is recorded and I liked the video of my speech enough to put it up on YouTube. Speech to Graduation Class of 2014


June 21, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

     summer solstice – sunrise at 6:51

june21 073The back-yard is finally planted. This year I bought the large, blue pot that the hanging, red begonia is in. Last year I disguised the cinder block with a cascading petunia, but petunias never seem to keep their fullness as the summer gets dryer and hotter.

This year, I was able to plant 3 varieties of eggplants – classic, white and the longer and more cylindrical variety.

Difficult Children
I’ve always wondered what responsible parents do with a difficult child. At this point in my life, I believe difficult children come that way. And that the bonding that began at birth gets altered as parents learn to live with and integrate the difficult child into the family.

I’ve seen several families where the first-child is easy; he/she fits into the family dynamics; he/she gets along well with both parents; he/she gets along well with other adults. And then the second child comes along and behaves and does things very differently. Setting a bed-time is always a fight; getting dressed is a major hassle; eating nutritiously is a battle – the preference is for candy and french-fries. There is reckless talking to family members; reckless behavior with peer group. The parents begin to modify their behaviors and expectations; they begin to back-off on some of the rules and procedures; they let the second child win some of the battles. Parenting the difficult child becomes a compromise.

And now, I find myself doing the same thing – compromising with the difficult child. But I am anxious that the first-child will think that I like the difficult child better; that my leniency and compromise are interpreted as favoritism.


June 26, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

dead maple

dead-treeAThe Pittsburgh Tree Maintenance group is coming tomorrow to cut down the dead maple. There are 3 dead trees on my side of the street that they are probably going to cut down. New trees will be planted either in the fall or next spring.

The maple was here when we first moved to the North Side. The early urban-pioneers to the Mexican War Streets settled for the upright maples or balloon-like Lindens. (I believe the one in front of the house was an Armstrong Red Maple – a fast growing, columnar tree.) The Linden next door – left corner of the pic – hosts millions of aphids and parking under it leaves the car slithered with aphid droppings. The droppings are syrupy and sticky and hard to clean off. The maple in front of my house was planted shallow, but it seemed to be doing OK. However, when we put in the new sidewalk, the contractor trimmed the root-ball and since then the tree started having problems. First a fungus developed on the bark and the next year there were dead branches. The fungus kept moving up the trunk and the branches without leaves increased. By spring 2014, the tree was dead.

no-treeIn the last 10 years, all replacement and new trees have been Sugar Maples. The word on the street is that the new trees are better suited to an urban environment. In the above image, the tree on the right in front of my neighbor’s is a Sugar Maple.

Last night, I shot the dead maple in front of the house and the image has the vans and cars parked there. With the no parking signs, the street in front of the house was car free. This is very unusual.

Today is Saturday. I came home from work to find the dead maple gone. Interestingly, they cut the tree to ground level, leaving the base and roots. The Tree Maintenance group will replant a new tree in the fall. I wonder what they do about the old trunk and root-ball?

A side note, this post was written over a three day period. The top image was taken after sun down on Thursday, and the bottom pic was shot today in early afternoon, in the blazing sun. (Hate to admit it, but I like the house without the tree in front of it.)


June 28, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

    pierre-auguste renoir at ppg plaza

june28 022AIt took three days, a 50-ton lift and a 70-foot flatbed to install Seward Johnson’s statue “A Turn of the Century,” at PPG Plaza. The statue, which has been displayed in other cities, is based on an 1883 life-sized painting by impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Dance at Bougival.” Renoir used two of his close friends as models for the piece, which evokes the scene at open-air cafes in the Paris suburb of Bougival. (The full article can be read at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

I walked into PPG Plaza looking to shoot the installation, but the children running in the fountain and the water-spouts were way more interesting. I came into the plaza from the south-side and started to find the best position to shoot the giant statue. Slowly, I walked around to its north quadrant and there were my renoir figures. I don’t know which I like best, the little boy in the bottom right corner with his ballet-like pose or the dad in all his corpulence. (Auguste would have liked the dad’s massive earthiness.)

The Plaza is one of the great open spaces in downtown Pittsburgh. Designed by architect Philip Johnson and his partner John Burgee back in the early 80’s, the Plaza has finally come into its own. With its compliment – Market Square – the area is Pittsburgh’s new hub littered with glitterati and working people in the day and Millennials after hours.


July 4, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

the right-side of the back-yard

It began with me shooting the new pebbles at the bottom of the Japanese lilac. Used the D800e for the initial shoot, but didn’t like any of the images. Decided to try the 12-24mm lens and see what I could get – the whole right side.b-yard

L2R – begonia, mint, calla, vase with marbles and copper-butterfly, herbs, eggplants, annuals, sunflowers, sprite and lilac trunk

It’s taken almost a month to get it all done. The expense this year was the plants, everything else I had. No wait, it cost me $25 to get a hole drilled in the bottom of the glass tube and although I had a bunch of marbles at my office, I did have to buy two more packages to fill the vase. The mint, calla lily and sunflowers are new this year; and because the sunflowers went into the ground, I didn’t need any new pots.

While planting the sunflowers, I found all the dead fig-tree roots and the old cement floor that’s under the white stone. I realized that the fig-tree roots were all above the cement which explained why the roots froze. Rose-and-Derrick’s trees froze but new shoots came up; so also Rick-and-Sarah’s tree got new shoots. I suspect that because the roots of my fig-trees never made their way below the cement pad and away from the bitter winter cold they had no protection from the extended freeze.


July 4, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

 aleatico e girasoli at four-sixteen

aleaticoBYesterday, I went and picked up the wine-order Tom sent from San Francisco. It included 6 bottles of Aleatico and two Calabrese wines. The Aleatico is from the Terracruda Winery in Fratterosa. Last summer, our last day at Earle-and-Suzanne’s we went up to the Ferragosto festival in Fratte Rosa – the hilltop town across the valley. While waiting for the restaurants to open, we got in line for a wine tasting. There were only five of us – 3 Americans and 2 Australians – and the young man organizing the tasting, led us down into a brick-walled, vaulted basement. He explained that we were standing in his grandmother’s cantina. (The link is to the post from last summer.) The white wines were OK, but the reds – Lubaco, Ortaia, Vettina – were amazing.

The young man explained about the Aleatico – a dark-skinned grapes with muscat-like aromas. (The Muscat family is touted as the oldest common grape vine on the planet.) He also told us about the new winery – Terracruda – his family had started that uses this ancient grape. They were re-introducing this old vine back into Le Marche, back into the Fratte Rosa region where it had been grown by the men and women who worked the land. Fratte Rosa is becoming the center of an artigianale movement to re-discover the lost fruits and vegetables of Le Marche. The fruits and vegetables that the contadini grew, harvested and made into wonderful foods and drink.

Got home and began searching for a distributor of Terracruda wines in the U.S. And a year later, I have have six bottles, two each of Ortaia, Vettina and Lubaco. I knew I was going to shoot the bottles for a post and while at the grocery store I saw the sunflowers. I had a new composition. We’re not going to Le Marche this summer and I’ll miss the sunflower fields, but I can include the yellow petals in the pic and remember.

Aleatico e Girasoli are kindred spirits sharing root-systems beneath the rolling hills of Fratte Rosa.


born: june 20, 2003 – died: july 09, 2014

In the last two months, Bilby had lost 25% of his weight; he was skin and bones. We took him in to see the vet and she diagnosed severe diabetes to the point where he was toxic and days, if not hours, away from being very sick. After going through the options – flushing out his system and then beginning an insulin regiment. The flush would require a hospital stay and the insulin would be twice a day. Neither of the options would guarantee that he would live either pain-free or diabetes stable and we were also looking at frequent vet consultations and visits. Given these options and outcomes, we decided that the best thing to do was put him down before he became severely ill.

bilby-BI wasn’t willing to watch him die, so the vet took him from the examination room and we waited until she came back and told us he was gone. (Si ne iutu.) Of the five schnauzers, he had the best disposition. He was friendly and very social.

We got Bilby from a breeder who lived in Columbus, Ohio. The woman who grooms the dogs told me about a breeder she knew that was looking to place two females. (The females were done with their breeding and needed to be placed out of the house.) The dogs would be free. I called the breeder and made arrangements for her to come up to Pittsburgh and show us the females. We also called two friends – Margie and her sister – who were also looking for a dog. The breeder knew she was coming up and had the potential to place both animals.

When she came into the house, she brought one of the females and this 6 month old male puppy. The puppy had this great disposition and I decided that I’d rather have the puppy than a grown dog. Our friends took the female. The breeder placed one her females and made a sale, not a bad trip. (None of us saw the second female.)

Bibly came to live with us on Sunday, December 21, 2003.


July 17, 2014 diario/journal, italy, reflections

    my uncle in romeprologue-8 – italy 2014

Zinga 127My Zinga grandparents came over from Aprigliano in the early 50’s and settled in Toronto. My grandfather Annunziato married his brother’s widow – Concetta Capisciolto – my dad’s mom. Concetta died three years later and my grandfather remarried. He married Raffaella De Francesca and they had five natural children and one from my grandfather’s first marriage. (Annunziato was his formal name; in dialect, everyone called him Nunziatu.)

I got to know my grandparents in high-school; my dad had a car and we would make the trip south for weddings – my aunts, uncles and cousins were all young. Also, in senior year, I traveled back and forth to Toronto as part of the application process into the Brothers. Later in college, because I had to go through Toronto on my way home to Sault Ste Marie, I always planned the trips with an over-night visit with my grandparents.

The guest-room, was next to my grandparents’ bedroom and every night before they got ready for bed, they would pray the rosary and remember Mario in their prayers. Mario was their oldest child and they had left him behind in an institution in Rome. He is mentally disabled. (The above image is Mario back in the early 50’s.)

Back in the 1950’s, Canadian Immigration would not let children with disabilities into the country. And rather than risk being denied entry, my grandparents left Mario behind in an institution. He is still alive and still institutionalized. I’m hoping to visit with him when I’m in Rome in September.

Zinga 097AI believe that on the Zinga side of the family there is a genetic abnormality that has resulted in number of children with disabilities. My grandfather Nunziatu and my uncle Luigi, his older brother, both had mentally retarded children. My uncle Luigi’s son made it through immigration. He grew up in Canada; was never able to live on his own, but he was an active member of the family attending all Zinga family events. I don’t know enough about my uncle Mario to know how severe his disability is. However, it’s also true that other Zinga parents had very bright children; both ends of the spectrum are represented in the extended family.

Today, I met a family that has two boys – the older boy is very bright and the younger is borderline MR. The younger child was visiting the school; he is a perspective 9th grader. What prompted this post is a wonderful exchange with the young man. He is in our office waiting for a tour and he begins asking all these questions and in one exchange he says, “I heard this school was founded by teachers.” One of the admins in the office – Mrs. Welch – points to me. I raised my hand to acknowledging both the question and the pointing. The young man says, “Wow! and you’re still alive.” It made my day. There’s obviously nothing wrong with his sequencing patterns.


July 23, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

what to make glamorous

Modern American society stands on two pillars – celebrity-worship and consumerism. Two pillars that compliment each other; two pillars that live in TV land. And high schools don’t know how to fit into this twenty-first century world.

The idea of glamoring aspects of schooling is important if we want young people to engage with us about their learning. They live in a world that communicates through TV, computers and hand-helds and as educators we need to participate in this media. If we want students to pay attention to schooling then we have to glamorize learning. If we want students to eat healthy, then we need to make healthy food look glamorous.

Few people in education understand the idea of glamoring aspects of learning. Most educators think that schools and learning should be separate from the cultural milieu that obsesses on celebrity and consumerism. This viewpoint will just mean that education will continue to exist in a limbo outside of the modern world. And this existence will continue until some corporation and some politician come along and change the rules. The politician will create the guidelines for private take-over, the corporation, through commercials, will glamorize learning and collect the billions that are now going to school districts. Will students learn anything in this new paradigm, who cares? Leaning will not be a goal, making money will be the goal. Students and parents are the consumers, and provided admissions and tuitions keep coming in, the shareholders wont care if anyone learns anything.

Fruit-COne of the things I’ve always worked for here at City High is to figure out how to make learning glamorous. From the beginning we advertised the new school in cinemas, on billboards and with direct-mail. We glamorize students who got into good colleges – graduation posters in the main hallway; students who had great Internships – website; students who worked for the Tech team – pictures on the first floor; students who worked at the school-store – brochures; students who were in the drama club – flyers. All PR materials featured students engaged in the learning process. (No where are there sports trophies, no where are there pictures of kids at the prom; at the fall dance.

In the last 3 years, we have put in place a breakfast and lunch program that offers students nutritious options. All our food is prepared and cooked on site by a certified chef, a sous-chef and support staff. We buy local products, watch portion sizes, control sugar quantity and monitor for salt content. The food is kid-friendly and nutritious. In our cafeteria we promote good eating and we have been wanting to glamorize good and nutritious foods. We just installed 9 amazing images of nutritious foods. Huge 4 X 4 images printed on plexiglass and showcasing fruits, vegetables and grains, all foods that we serve on a regular basis.
(The above image was taken by Laura Sheldon.)


August 3, 2014 reflections

begonia, basil, rosemary, eggplant, sweet-potato, marbles, a brass butterfly, and red caladium

garden4I went out this morning hoping to get some images of plants dripping with dew, but the light wasn’t right and instead I shot down into the flower-bed and surprise surprise some decent images emerged. (I was standing on a stool aiming at the ground. And the spots on the Caladium leaves are rain drops.) The eggplant listed in the title is the darker green leaf in the top far right. The lighter green is the sweet-potato vine.

The website columns got re-sized. I like the huge images in the slide-show; I’ll have to see what it looks like on my laptop screen. And I’ll get to do that later in the week when I am in Canada working on it instead of the 27″ HD screen. The images in the slide-show are flowers from the urban garden on Sherman Avenue. The industrious Northsiders or should I say War-Streeters have turned the empty lots into garden plots; not too many vegetables, but lots and lots of flowers. (I’ve learned to avoid using images of flowers in the red spectrum. The reds just blend in with the header and I lose the distinct contrasts.)

This is the first Sunday where I’m reminding myself that tomorrow I do not have to get up and go to my office. (I never minding going to work, it just meant that for the next 5 days my schedule was not my own.)


September 30, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

yardsummertime is falling down and winter is closing in

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is October 1st.

When I came back from Italy, I cleaned up the back-yard; got rid of the sunflowers and the begonias that had wilted replacing them with autumn mums, yellow dahlias and a huge pumpkin. Also, the basil had gone to seed so I cut it. And after six months, I managed to get rid of the fig-tree stumps. It took blunting the teeth of my chain-saw, but after a lot of work, I was able to pull out both sets of stumps.
(The stumps of the original plant took three days of digging and cutting before I got them out.)

I’m having a hard time identifying the transition point into the season. Don’t know if it’s that I was away most of September and therefore didn’t have the time to watch fall slipping in. Many of the trees have turned, but those too seem to just be there; I never got to see the gradual change that is Indian Summer. The forecast is for colder weather later this week, that may be the tipping point.

So far the only indicator of a changing season is the light. Gone is the harsh light of August and the back-yard is ofter bathed in shadows; the sun’s rays are diffused; Apollo’s chariot is no longer over-head.


October 24, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

king’s college – u of t

universityYesterday morning, I took the GO-Train into town and walked from Union Station up to the University. It was a beautiful morning and I like that part of town.

In the above image, the buildings are King’s College – the founding college that grew into the University of Toronto. They line a circle in this old section of the University. The University is divided into 7 colleges much like the British university system. (When in high-school, my goal was to go to St. Mike’s, the Catholic college at U-of-T. And because I went to a Basilian high-school, and because I had good grades, I was guaranteed a spot at St. Mike’s. My life took me to another Basilian college – Assumption – at the University of Windsor. I lasted one year and then left Canada for the US.)

The above image is emblematic of the Anglophile legacy in Toronto. (As late as the 1940’s, Toronto’s population was largely Protestant – 72 per cent in 1941 – and fundamentally British – 78 per cent, but mainly Canadian-born.) When I was in college, all my relatives who lived in Toronto went to Montreal for the weekend, because even as late as the 70’s Toronto was a very proper and extremely conservative place. This most British of Canadian cities still had Blues Laws on the books, laws closing all pubs and bars early and on weekends. But all things change and the waves upon waves of immigrants have made Toronto one of the most diverse cities in North America. And provided you avoid the old people, its British up-tightness can be largely ignored.


October 27, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

   a fellow anglo-hater

Thanksgiving14 018Last week in Toronto was wonderful. The sun was out and the fall colors were brilliant. The trees is Oakville were red and orange. The image on the left is way east in Durham/Pickering. I went walking the Rouge Park and shot a shadow image. In the preview, I saw the leaf and set up the image so that the yellow maple was in the bottom left.

I spent most of Thursday with my old childhood friend and we had a great time. My favorite catch-up story was him telling about having beaten a bunch of anglo-crazed Torontonians who showed up at a property abatement hearing where my friend the architect was proposing street-name changes. He was proposing changing the anglicized names to more modern neutral names. The haughty Torontonians insisted that the name changes would rip the fabric of the community. My buddy showed up with lawyers and with briefs. The anglo-crazies showed up with their attitude toward the ingrate, dark-skinned Calabrese. He beat them; the judge ruled to let him change the street-names. (Nothing like finding a fellow anglo-hater.)

The second great discovery was that my second cousin lives in this beautiful arts-and-crafts house and that she is continuing the Zinga family tradition of portrait painting. Gina has done some beautiful work. My favorite is the face of an old woman she photographed while in Calabria and then made into a portrait. She also has two paintings from our uncle Dimitri; one is a landscape and the other is a portrait of her grandfather, my great-grandfather.


October 30, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

walking through the park on a fall day

west-parkDown here in western Pennsylvania, we seem to be about 10 days behind the seasonal shifts that I saw in Toronto last week. In West Park, the trees still have their red, yellow, green and brown leaves. (The Ginkgos, above the rail tracks, seem ready to shed their golden leaves.)

Today was a banner day – I got to walk into town and hit the farmers market in Market Square where I bought my favorite organic Rosemary flavored bread. It’s great for toast. And I was able to book my trip to Puglia for next summer using 60,000 air-miles. I’ve never paid less than 90,000 air-miles for any trip. The only glitch is that I have to drive to Toronto, but the itinerary from Pittsburgh had me staying overnight in NYC. (The Pittsburgh option was also 60,000 air-miles.) As the Delta representative said, “The early bird gets the worm.” My strategy has always been to get a free ticket every other year and so far that has worked. (It takes me two years to accumulate enough air-miles for a free ticket. This means that my plane fare to Italy has cost me between $500 and $600 a year.)


November 13, 2014 diario/journal, reflections

          landing in a waterless pond

landingThe picture on the left is from the walking-through-the-park set of images. The ducks don’t seem to know that the pretend-lake in West Park has been drained and wont be filled again until spring.

park-meThe other thing that happened while walking through the Park was I got my picture taken by Guy Wathen a photographer for the Tribune Review. There I was in my sweats, quilted jacket and hat on backwards minding my own business, shooting with my d800e. This young man comes up to me and says, “I’ve been waiting for someone to come along and take a picture of the red tree. I’m Guy Wathen with the Tribune Review and I took a picture of you taking a picture. Can I use it in our newspaper?” What was I going to say? (The thumbnail is a link to the large image.)

News – there’s a new puppy in the house. I drove out to Findlay, Ohio to get him. He comes from a very famous breeder. She runs a high-end kennel, her animals win top prizes and her animals are well behaved. (I walked into her house and there were at least a half dozen terriers running around, but there was no barking or yapping.) Of the 3 for sale, I took the friendliest and he’s got a great personality and has bonded very nicely. He’s six months old. The puppy behavior will last for another couple of months.


January 7, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

the fires of septembersunrise (pgh) – 7:43

verticalsI shot the image on the left yesterday and it reminded me of Rick’s comment when we were in Belmonte. His directional references were useless in a country that was constructed and operated in a vertical dimension. (I wonder if that’s why I have no built-in sense of left and right, but I intuitively understand up and down. I grew up in a world where all directions were up or down. We went up to Aprigliano to visit my grandmother; we went up to Porto-Salvo to the chapel of La Madonna; we went down to Corte; we went down to Cosenza.)

The image is full of verticals – the tripod, the blue marble, the pedestal, the Ianelli sprite, the fence post, the blue-and-white tiles – so I had to use it. But never mind, that was warm September in Italy.

The weather is miserably cold, but the dogs don’t seem to care. There’s snow out there and they insist on going out and eating it. I already wrote Rose about Kaua’i. I am so ready to be out of the cold and March can’t come soon enough. (I should start a post-it countdown – there are 56 days until I leave for Kaua’i.) And we’re not even a month into the winter season.


January 12, 2015 diario/journal, reflections


March Against Terrorism         Sunday, January 11, 2015
panels from eyes of Stéphane Charbonnier, the slain editor of Charlie Hebdo, on Boulevard Voltaire in Paris

Images, New York Times – Monday, January 12, 2015


January 15, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

more verticalssunrise (pgh) – 7:40

Jan-15 019-AFinally a day with sun. (Monday was so gloomy that it seemed the sun never showed its face.) I went to the Mattress Factory and asked if I could go up the staircase and shoot. The young man at the desk was very nice and gave the green light. In the image on the left, I am facing north and Jacksonia. Again, I love the vertical lines and I was surprised to find the shadow in the bottom left.

Sunrise has shifted; it’s no longer coming later, rather it’s starting to come earlier – by three minutes since January 6.

The writing is coming along. The hardest part is understanding the correct punctuation when it comes to dialogue, so I bought a book recommended on a grammar blog I read. I’m also becoming aware of how often I use certain words. The awareness is forcing me to structure sentences differently. In the latest short, I decided that I would tell the same story from two different perspectives. And even though I’ve realized that beginning chapters need a lot more revision than later ones, having two different characters tell the same story also requires a very strict adherence to time sequence. I wrote the one character’s experience and then I added the second lens. I’m doing a lot of changes in the first character’s narrative so that the two pieces fit.

While in Sault Ste Marie, I took long drives and talked-out the ideas I was exploring and the character’s motivations and actions. This third piece hasn’t needed as much talk-out, because it lives inside the world I already created. But it is fun when I discover a new tangent. I added a nephew who gets a girl, he has no deep feeling for, pregnant and who then decides to raise the child while interning with his uncle on an organic farm.


January 18, 2015 diario/journal, reflections


Hooray-poem-A Hooray-for-Pittsburgh-by-Duane-MichalsA

mckeesport native duane michalsAn Artist Gives Back – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sunday, January 18, 2015



January 21, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

from the balcony of the mattress factorysunrise – 7:38     sunset – 5:24
winter countdown – day 32 of 90

Jan-15 022There are two images taken from the balconies of the Mattress Factory tower. One is the Pittsburgh skyline in the slide-show and the other is the one on the left – my backyard. The brick wall with all the wrought-iron is my neighbor’s garage; the evergreen is the White Pine bonsai. (I photoshopped out the wires.)

Sunrise today was 2 minutes earlier than it was a week ago. I’m also trying to figure out first-light and sunrise, because first-light is even earlier than the sunrise time, but it’s not tracked and therefore can’t get any official information.

Also, Winter 2014/2015 is 90 days long. And with Dec. 21, 2014 as the official start date, we are now on day 32 of the winter season – not even half-way through. Mid-January is the turning-point and what lies ahead is real winter. Mid-January forces us to acknowledge that White Christmases aren’t winter and that the real season is just beginning its slow descent into freezing weather. We seem capable of deluding ourselves into liking winter when it’s related to the holidays. (I hate I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. Only someone living in California could romanticize winter. All of us who live in winter climates think about survival during these difficult three months.) Well the holidays are now all done and we facing the season’s true temperature drops.


January 26, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

winter weather advisory – freezing fogsunrise – 7:34     sunset – 5:30
winter countdown – day 37 of 90

rain-dropsYesterday was one of those scary-weather days. All the Barbies on cable-news were hyperventilating about the incoming storm; the mayor of New York City was out there scaring everyone into staying indoors; and the meteorologists were warning of the storm of the century. In between the prediction of impeding doom the cable stations ran segments on Sara Palin, Rick Santorum and Chris Cristie. The faux candidates were in Iowa at some super-conservative convention where global warming was derided and family values were extolled. And when those became redundant, the Barbies talked about deflated balls. Welcome to 21st century America.

I am doing research on my maternal great-grandmother – Rafaela Savaia. I found an Adriano Savaia on Facebook; he lives in Aprigliano. I sent him a note asking if his family has any connection to my great-grandmother’s family.

The snow did come and it made everything pretty. (The image on the left is the White Pine, before the snows.)


January 28, 2015 diario/journal, kitchens, reflections

pine boughs, tea-pot, toaster-ovensunrise – 7:33     sunset – 5:33
winter countdown – day 39 of 90

pine-boughsThe snow was so heavy on Monday that I needed to get it off the White Pine or risk it snapping the over-hanging bough. Using a broom, I hit most of the snow off the umbrella-like tree.pine-tree That got rid of the snow, but also broke off some of the small branches. Some info about the White Pine – it originally was a bonsai, and then one one day I put the pot on the ground to keep the soil moist and by the time I got to is again, the tree roots had started to grow into the ground. I’ve left it and now I have a huge tree growing out of a bonsai pot. Each year I sand off a small section of the main trunk in an attempt at creating a curve that begins at the pot-level and continues into the cascading green needles. The branch holding up the cascading branch is from the old fig tree. (The last time we had a major winter-storm, the snow toppled the tree out of its pot.)

At first, I left the broken boughs in the snow, but then decided that they could look interesting in a vase in the kitchen. It was well after midnight when I started shooting the images and loved the soft colors the non-flash setting produced. I particularly liked the retro toaster-over that the tea-pot and vase are sitting on. The wall, I stripped of plaster while Ronald Regan was down the street visiting a community employment program, the tea-pot is from an English dish set that I like and the vase is old carnival glass. (The vases were prizes at Kennywood at the various gaming booths.)


February 5, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

espresso-pot and rosessunrise – 7:26     sunset – 5:43
winter countdown – day 47 of 90

rosesThe coffee-pot my mother brought with her when we came from Aprigliano in 1957. She packed it, six espresso cups with saucers in a trunk. I inherited the set a couple years ago. Fifty-eight years has not worn the gold plating on the handle and spout, but it has worn the black ink design on the body of the pot. (It’s a very common design and you can still find the coffee set all over Italy.)

The roses come from a vendor outside of Penn Mac. He was trying to sell off what he had, because the cold was keeping people home and the roses were beginning to suffer. I got two bunches for $3.00. (He was so busy reminding me that in two weeks the same bunch would go for $20.00 that neither he or I realized I had picked out a small and a large bunch. When I was putting them in the water, I noticed that the yellow roses were much bigger than the red ones.)

I paired the roses with a series of 6 other objects.

Top Row
creamer – salt and pepper shakers – copper pitcher
Bottom Row
candle – water pitcher – perfume jar

To see the images follow this link.


creamer salt-pepper copper
candle pitcher jar


February 11, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

our lady of the immaculate conceptionsunrise – 7:19     sunset – 5:50
winter countdown – day 53 of 90

lourdes1Today is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. In our family this date and feast-day has a long history. Before we immigrated to Canada, my dad and a number of people including Totonno Zinga had left Aprigliano and through an agent ended up on a short-term contract in south-western France.

FranceTotonno was my dad’s first cousin and best-friend. They grew up together. (My dad is far-left, Totonno is in the middle.) Totonno’s two children still live in Aprigliano. The postcard is of the cathedral in Lourdes.

The narrative in our family is that my dad had wanted to move to the family to south-western France. He liked the area at the foothills of the Pyrenees and he had made enough contacts to secure work. But my mother wanted to join her family in Northern Ontario and she prevailed at a time when American was the land of streets paved with gold.

All through my preteens and the 1950’s, Lourdes and the feast of the Immaculate Conception were central themes. South-western France was a place my dad had fond memories of and lost to the wilds and winters of Northern Ontario. (I remember many time wondering what life would have been like had we taken that option.) And Holy Mother Church was on a campaign to establish both the doctrine and the feast of Mary’s immaculate conception. Holy cards, statues, rosaries, Lourdes water, crutches all kids of artifacts were distributed to the faithful to promote the new doctrine. (There are Lourdes grottoes throughout the Catholic world. When Mac and I were in Maine, we found one outside of Kennebunkport. In Italy Lourdes grottoes are as common as Mary statues. And pilgrimages to Lourdes are advertised the same way we advertise package trips to Disneyland.)


February 20, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

visions of sunflowers dance in my headsunrise – 7:07     sunset – 6:01
winter countdown – day 62 of 90

sunflowersWe are in midst of an Arctic air surge. Overnight the temperature went into the negative. And, it’s an absolute luxury to stay home during this miserable weather.

Yesterday, I went out for milk and oranges and the flower-shop at the grocery store had these beautiful cut sunflowers and I brought two bunches. (For me, sunflowers are girasoli and associated with Le Marche. So I am certainly not dreaming of sugarplums or of California, but of Puglia and trulli in September.) I knew I wanted to shoot them in the kitchen, but I didn’t want to do the same thing that I did with the roses, so I moved the vase in front of the windows. (The dogs were all disoriented, because the kitchen furniture was moved. Bibly chose to sit by the door the whole time. As far away from the tripod and the rearranged furniture as he could get.)

The image on the left is one of my favorites from the still-life shoot. I love the stained glass, the cruciform mullions and the hint of silhouette. Glenn Greene created the stained glass. (You know, I love the church-look. Who says I can’t pretend religion?)

The shoot has a set of images using the natural light from the stained glass window and a second set where I used a camera flash. The flash gave everything a great orangey hue. (Decided to do a second shoot with the flowers in front of the other window. In this window, Glenn added some glass pieces that had burnt-orange striations in them. And in this shoot, I took the camera off the tripod and shot free-hand. The first image in the second row was shot without a tripod.) Also, the two sunflower images in the slide-show are from the flash set. Click here to see 6 other images from the shoot.


March 4, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

meteorological springsunrise – 6:50     sunset – 6:15
winter countdown – day 74 of 90

march2Meteorologists like to talk about meteorological seasons. There’s meteorological winter – climatologically, the coldest three calendar months of the year: December, January and February, meteorological summer – the three hottest: June, July and August, and the transitions between them: Spring is March, April, May and Fall is September, October, November.

Astronomical spring begins this year on Friday, March 20, at the Vernal Equinox, the time when the sun is directly over the equator on its way northward. But we think about seasons more in terms of the weather that’s associated with them than the placement of the sun and that’s where the concept of meteorological seasons comes from.

If you divide the year up into four roughly equal periods based on the coldest (winter), warmest (summer), and transitional (spring and fall) times of the year, then Sunday, February 28 was the last day of winter, the last day of the coldest 91-day period of the year.

My countdown is based on astronomical spring.

In the image on the left, I am experimenting with the built-in White Balance settings – in this instance the Cloudy setting. I’ve finally taken the step to using the built-in light meter and to shooting in Manual. It’s taken me 7 years to get here. (If you look carefully, there’s a rain drop on the Sprite’s chin.)

Coming back to the weather, this is the first time where Spring in Pittsburgh reminds me most of Spring in Sault Ste Marie. Given that we’ve had a lot of snow there are snow-banks everywhere and with the rain, much of the ground is ice-covered. And as rain keeps coming, the back-yard and the streets are full of cold, winter-water puddles. (The difference is that by the time astronomical spring arrives, the ice and puddles will be gone and we should have two or three months of Spring. In Sault Ste Marie, by the time the snow-mounds, the ice and the puddles were gone it was the end of May.)


March 5, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

winter’s last hurrahsunrise – 6:48     sunset – 6:16
winter countdown – day 75 of 90

more-marchWinter will not go gentle into that good night and to prove its might, it dumped 3 inches of snow onto the region. The only thing I like is that the new snow covered the melting, filthy ice. (Sault Ste Marie looses its worn and tattered look when blanketed with new snow. At those times it can look postcard beautiful.)

In the background is the flowerbed full of snow-drops, but the snow-mound has kept them hidden and unable to poke through. (In other years, when the snow cover was minimal, they would have poked their green leaves and lantern buds through the white blanket to announce the coming sun.) I like the compression the lens is recording – don’t the branch and green needles look like they are part of the tree trunk? Well the trunk is the red-wood, the branch and needles belong to the pine tree – two different plants. Also, the small branches in the background are blueberry bushes. (The Cloudy White Balance does a really good job picking up the grain of the fence planks.)

The weathermen are all claiming that this is the last storm of the season. All I can say it that am glad it came this week, because next Thursday, at this time, I’m supposed to be on a plane heading west, looking for the sun.

What I’m enjoying most about using the Manual settings is that I can work with the built-in light meter. (My first SLR camera had a light meter slider on the display, but the next set of cameras have it on the light meter seen through the view-finder and it’s taken me a while to look at it and to use it. Now, I have to start to making decisions about what I want in terms of the reading the meter gives. I was making the adjustments already using the histogram, now I have to transfer those decisions to the light meter info.)


March 5, 2015 diario/journal, reflections


bitter coldsunrise – 6:48     sunset – 6:16
winter countdown – day 75 of 90

I walked into town to buy €-euros (The exchange rate is really good.) and brought along the camera. The weather is strange – yesterday the ice was melting, but by last night the rain turned to snow and there’s now well over 3″ on the ground. (March is certainly coming in as a lion.) The landscape too is strange. With the sun it’s this beautiful winter-wonderland; with the overcast it’s grey and depressing. The two alternated all day.

The above image is during a cloud sweep, leaving the entire mountain-side dingy and dark. And all I did was remove the brown from the building on the far right; the scene was as dark and gloomy as is represented by the photograph.

The walk to town was easy, but by the time I was walking home, the temperature was dropping and it wasn’t fun walking in the bitter cold. It was the first time I’d been out with sweats and not dressed for winter in a while. (Guess I’m just so ready for this mess to be over.)


March 7, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

the end is nearsunrise – 6:45     sunset – 6:18
winter countdown – day 77 of 90

Tonight we move the clocks forward and even though I hated this shift when I was working, because it took the week for my body to adjust, I now welcome it. It’s an official marker indicating winter is done. Even if we are threatened with another storm, we know it’s the end. (What amazes me is how quickly the daylight gets added. In three days, 8 minutes of daylight have been added. And if I go back to late December, today there is an hour more of sunlight.)

march5Today is the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma. (Kevin McCarthy is the only Republican attending and he had to be embarrassed into going. What has happened to the Grand Old Party? Yes it has figured out how to win in segregated, gerrymandered districts, but this strategy has put it so far from the mainstream that it will never win the presidency. Its national candidates can’t talk rationally, can’t help explain the modern world, can’t stop hating on the President, can’t stop pushing for a holy-war.)

Let’s not forget that the Supreme Court of modern Alabama is telling all state judges to ignore the Federal ruling to allow same-sex marriages to go forward. Alabama again represents the inequality that has the potential of destroying this country.

Thomas Piketty, the French economist, claims that the inequality that pervades the American economy will change our status as the world economic power; that we are on our way to becoming an oligarchy with a ruling-class based on inheritance rather than talent. He also claims that economically, Europe is more equal than we are. And that that new status is a result of the two World Wars. And Piketty lists war, inflation and taxation as agencies that change economic inequality.

The image on the left is my first use of a fixed-lens with a UV filter. (And I want to reiterate that my experience with all technology has been to skirt the technical details and concentrate on what I want the finished product to look like. Learning the details has made me more comfortable with changing them, but I still have no interest in learning about the number of f-stops between one f/30 and f/64. But I do like knowing the Ansel Adams and his group were known as the f/64 group.)


March 9, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

mounds of melting, filthy icesunrise – 6:42 (7:42)
winter countdown – day 79 of 90


ice2015The daylight-savings-times are in parenthesis. I’m using the non-daylight-savings to keep the ongoing record in the same time-frame. (On December 9, sunrise was at 7:32. We had 9.5 hours of daylight. Three months, we got 12 hours and 20 minutes of daylight.)

A couple of weeks ago when the ground had at least 4 inches of snow, it rained and turned the entire snow-cover into ice. And after the rain, it snowed. The ice was covered with another 3 inches of new snow. So, the melt has been slow. There are puddles everywhere. (I associate spring melt and puddles with Sault Ste Marie. On one side there was the relief of spring and then the puddles and the sand making the streets miserable.)

I’ve been trying to clear the back-yard so the dogs aren’t walking on the filthy, melting ice or walking into the freezing puddles. I use a heavy-duty scrapper with a shovel handle to break up the ice into chunks and then move them to clear as much of the back-yard as possible.

The large image on the left shows the ice chunks on the bricks below Wright’s Sprite. The flat, terracotta pieces at the base of the Sprite are brick-facing from my neighbor’s garage. As they fall, I collect them and use them as shims to balance pots and other garden ornaments.

The shards remind me of the rocks on Gertrude Steins’ and Alice B. Toklas’ grave marker in Père Lachaise Cemetery. gertrudeIt was the first time I had seen the rocks on a Jewish grave. One explanation is that flowers, though beautiful, will eventually die. A stone will not die, and can symbolize the permanence of memory and legacy. (The kids and I have painted rocks and left them on Jo’s grave-marker.)

Yesterday the weather was warm enough to break up a lot of the ice-cover. I shoveled all the ice chunks from the path leading to the back-gate out into the alley – Sampsonia Way. Paul accused me of being an old Italian, moving my snow and ice out onto the city street. Well, by this morning all the snow and ice I moved had been crushed by the passing cars and it was all melted. Left in my back-yard it would still be there creating puddles.


March 22, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

spring comes and
we remember our innocence

crocusThe crocus are out. (I know that’s the wrong form of the word, but I refuse to use its plural form.) I went looking for snow-drops, but they’re not there, don’t know if they’ll sprout or if the winter burned the bulbs. In 2013, I filled the bed with crocus and snow-dops; last year got some snow-drops; this year got almost double the amount of crocus.

With the backyard cleared of all snow and debris, I want to start fixing things or plant. I want someone to come in and level the whole thing, maybe replace the 6X6 or dig them and re-position them and replace the metal band along the walkway. Once I have some time, I’ll go down to the gardening place on Babcock Boulevard and see if I can get them to come look at the back-yard and give me a bid on the work I want done.

Also, some time soon, I’m going to have to make the trip to Northern Ontario. Last year I went the middle of April and found cold and snow. I promised to not visit so early ever again. (Spring is an ugly season in Northern Ontario, because you see all the debris from the winter season and the snow-melt makes sidewalks and park-land impassible.) But Easter is two weeks earlier and my schedule in early May is full. The trip will have to be the week after Easter – early April.

The only consolation to the gray and dreary days is that winter is over and even if there is snow, it’ll not linger. (March, even with a week away, is still a long miserable month.)

The title is an adapted quote from Yoko Ono.


March 31, 2015 diario/journal, kaua'i, reflections

epilogue-1 – kaua’i 2015

winter’s last blastrose-snow

and a free breakfastFri-13 025

Rose sent me the image of her Michigan backyard covered in spring snow and I took the pic of her and Daniel eating the free breakfast-donuts at the Ka ‘Eo Kai condo complex. The breakfast image was taken two weeks ago.

Yes, we traveled to Kaua’i a month earlier than other years and we found cold weather in the garden island. (Why Daniel is all covered up and why I went out and bought a long-sleeve T and a left-over-hippie, VISSLA hoodie.) Finding cold weather when we got back state-side was not a surprise, but three inches of SNOW!

I’m adding to this post on April 1. The date officially puts March 2015 away. Don’t know why, but with March done, winter also feels done.



April 3, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

we are the warp, angels the weft

image2Last Sunday, I spent time at Allegheny Cemetery shooting images for my photography class. We were each given an assignment card and mine was to find abstract designs inside an image. I thought that I could shoot some of the scroll work on the various grave-markers and see if that would look abstract. The problem with the granite scrolls was contrast; there just wasn’t enough of it. Also, I think it’s harder to make curves look abstract. So, I headed up the hill to the Porter grave with its massive oxidized-copper angel. The green patina should give me the contrast I was looking for.

Porter Monument

 Porter Monument

I wanted to work with the 50 mm lens, so I climbed onto the steps of the massive Porter Angle monument and started shooting. The above image is the tip of the angel’s wing and the granite cross behind it. (I’m standing behind the angel, shooting up at its left wing.) The pic was shot in portrait, but I wanted to see if it would look even more abstract if flipped. In landscape all clues are confused and without some references it’s hard to identify each elements. I also cropped the bottom eliminating any clue of the massive granite cross. I also debated cropping the image so that that wing-tip would be at the right edge, but having the extra blue seems to suggest that the wing-top is reaching. (I sent the instructor the portrait image, but am thinking of also sending this version too.)

For some strange reason, the above image makes me think of Ortigia with its undulating coastline and the wing-tip a finger of a Colossal pointing east – back to its home in Greece.


stroll around the grounds until you feel at home 


Sitting on a sofa
on a Sunday afternoon.
Going to the candidates’ debate.
Laugh about it, shout about it
when you’ve got to choose
every way you look at this
you lose.
Where have you gone,
Joe DiMaggio,
our nation turns
its lonely eyes to you.
What’s that you say,
Mrs. Robinson
Jolting Joe has left
and gone away.

Easter Sunday is one of my least favorite holidays. I guess once you let go of religion, the myths go too. Christmas is more accessible, more human in its narrative. Easter requires belief in the myth of resurrection. And where its an amazing human construct, belief removes it from a sense-of-wonder and makes it an article of faith; belief removes it from its historical context and makes it a litmus test for Church membership.

For the first time ever, I am sitting on the deck with an unplugged laptop, working on this post, drinking Grey Goose and Anisette and listening to music. It’s hard to go back to mythology when modernity puts magic at my fingertips.

I downloaded Mrs. Robinson when I got back from Kaua’i, to remind me of the woman who hit on our Daniel. It was Sunday, March 15 and the employees’ families were using the pool. One of the woman tried to get Daniel into a conversation; he was polite, but gave no openings and she soon went back to her tattooed family.

     iTunes has moved on to Mick who is warning, “Don’t play with me cause you’re you’re playing with fire.”
     now, Peter Sarstedt is asking, “Where do you go to my lovely, when you’re alone in your bed?
     . . .
     Remember the back streets of Naples, two children begging in rags, both touched with a burning ambition …”

The neighborhood is full of night-light – the Mattress Factory seems to have captures two moons in its windows, the street lights on Sampsonia Way are covered in wild-grape and above it all, the beanstalk Tower looms its red, blinking lights punctuating the dark.

epilogue-2 – kaua’i 2015



April 8, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

easter sunday

easter-15 032Sunday was the first day of sun and warmth. Brought out the deck-chairs and sat outside after dinner. The fading sky was spring-blue and it was fun to shoot in the backyard. The image on the left is the Japanese Lilac. Last fall I cut a large branch that was at right-angle to the curving trunk. You can see the scar, the folding bark near the top. It’s healing, but I learned to trim branches differently after that tear. I took the hand-saw to the branch without making a first-cut at the bottom. The first-cut would have prevented the heavy branch from ripping off the trunk once I got deep enough. Instead of ripping it would have collapsed on the first-cut and ripped from the top, the part that I had cut with the hand-saw.

I like the shadow of the trunk. It captures the curve more than precisely than the trunk itself.

Kaua’i has always been a time to get ready for summer. I pack and try out any new camera accessories, so that by the time I’m packing for Italy I’ve have a test run. I learned that it wasn’t a good idea to bring only high-end cameras, because if I want someone to take our pic, I can’t give them a difficult camera to use. (Never mind the woman at the Queen’s Bath who was shooting with a Canon but had no clue when I handed her my camera with a fixed lens. She was looking for the zoom. And the pictures she took were useless. The woman who took our picture at Waimea Canyon did a great job and she knew about a fixed lens.) Other years, I got sandals – indoor Crocs and outdoor Keens. This year, I discovered that my runners weren’t the best for walking or trekking the jungle paths. They were too flexible for walking and not flexing enough when walking the lava boulders. I’ve finally figured out that the New Balance products work well for me. (The Merrells look great, but they were terrible for walking around. The summer before last – 2013 – we were walking in Rome and my feet were sweaty, hot and sore. I also had a pair of their original Encore slipons and I had to throw away, because at that time they had no breathing vents and my feet just sweated.) Last summer, we did more walking than I’ve ever done in Italy and not once were my feet sweaty or sore in the New Balance runners. So, when I got home, preparing for Puglia and future trips to Kaua’i, I ordered New Balance walkers and today I got New Balance trekkers. I find I can use the shoes right out of the box with very little breaking-in time. And both the walkers and trekkers have discreet N logos. (I ordered trekkers, because the walking shoes don’t have enough solidity or rigidity for the off-road walking to get to the waterfall at McConnell’s Mill. And I’d like to keep the walkers free of mud and grime, because I want to use them as an everyday shoe.)


April 18, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

putzing around – getting ready for spring-planting

new-potsThe terra-cotta pots did not last the winter. I’ve been using these large left-over containers for eggplant. (My dad mentioned that eggplants won’t fruit if planted where the ground gets cold at night. And that in this environment, unlike Italy, they need to be in pots if I want to improve the probability of getting fruit.) So yesterday, I went to Home Depot and bought 3 large plastic pots. These will hold my eggplants. (Getting rid of the terra-cotta also means getting rid of heavy pots that make re-landscaping tough work.)

I put the 3 new pots in the back and that meant rearranging everything else. This year the new addition is a bird-bath – top left-hand corner. (It was a solution to getting rid of a large glass dish from the dining room table.) I found the stand at the local grocery store and decided to use the large bowl that had been on my table full of winter hats, gloves and scarves. I incorporated the ceramic marble into the area and moved the tall glass cylinder full of real marbles to the front.

Was talking to my cousin who just bought a town-house in Mississauga and I asked him if he liked to putz around in the dirt. He answered that he hated it. I told him the cultural-police were going to revoke his Italian ancestry. I also asked Rose what she and Derrick are going to do about gardening when they are living 6 months in Kaua’i and 6 months in an apartment state-side. Haven’t received an answer yet.


April 28, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

marbles in a glass cylinder

marblesYears ago at some yard sale, I picked up a tall, cylindrical glass-vase. I took it to the Pittsburgh Glass Center and had them drill a hole in the bottom. I filled it with marbles, because I love marbles. It doesn’t look bad.

I ended up putting the cylinder in among the lilies-of-the-valley. I also stuck the copper ornaments – dragon fly, butterfly, bee and sunflower – into the glass vase. (There are friends who are accusing me of making the back-yard look like Bloomfield. The negative comment references the Italian-American’s sense of decor that is on display in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh. A lower middle-class neighborhood with 3rd and 4th generation Italian-Americas.)

The rest of the planting is going slowly mainly because the weather has turned cold and at night it gets below 40. I’m trying something new this year – planted ornamental sunflowers under the white marble stones and zucchini in a pot. Let’s see what comes of this effort. And for the first time, I bought a huge fern and put it into the ceramic pot that last year held a hanging begonia. The green is a great contrast with the white stones.

And I’m finally going to get the back-yard redone. It’s been almost 20 years since the pavers were put down and the sand foundation has fluctuated to the point where nothing is flat. As a matter of fact, when it rains there are puddles all through the back.


mcdonalds is in avignon

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of my favorite movies is Ridley Scott’s A Good Year. And screen-writer Marc Klein wrote some of my favorite dialogue.
  You’ll come to see that a man learns nothing from winning.
  McDonalds is in Avignon, fish-and-chips in Marseille.
  No Max, it’s your life that does not suit this place.
  In California, they don’t make wine.
    They make Hawaiian Punch.
  We don’t say “shabby,” Max. We say
    “filled with the patina of a bygone era.”
  You know what Proust said,
    “Leave pretty women to men without imagination.”
  And remember you’re in France:
    the customer is always wrong!

The film is better than the Peter Mayle book of the same title. The convoluted relationships in the book are reduced, the cinematography of the Luberon is spectacular, the underlying theme of solace-in-a-world-obsessed-with-money is more obvious and Albert Finney, even at the end of his life, is someone you can’t take your eyes off. (He may not be the gorgeous hunk of Tom Jones or Two for the Road, but the voice stayed true to the end.)

“I don’t yearn for how I used to look,” Finney bristles. “I don’t think I’m particularly handsome. I think maybe I’m attractive. I remember with Tom Jones being very concerned to tell people that I was not just another pretty face, and that’s why I took all those character roles. Why I played Luther on Broadway, for instance. All those character roles were perhaps an overreaction to being treated like some kind of sex symbol.”

In the film, in the restaurant is the ubiquitous van Gogh poster – Country Road in Provence by Night. I wanted a less recognizable van Gogh, but one that showed the Provencal rural countryside. And though van Gogh’s blues are not something I like, the purples in the Farmhouse in Provence are very different. They make the blue gate, the blue trees, the blue shutters, the blue mountains palatable.


we’re off to see the wizard

skylineI went walking along the North Shore down by PNC Park. The city looks amazing from the north shore of the Allegheny. And with Phillip Johnson’s fairytale skyscraper on the left and the drill-bit building on the right, how can you think of anything other than Oz.

This is the d800e, 36 megapixels and hues of blue. (My favorite part of the image is the white cloud in the top right. The contrast with the blue spires and the blue sky makes the cloud marshmallow soft.)

It was also game-day and Pirate fans were all over the place. I love being in an urban setting and having people all around – people strolling in the riverside park, people eating and drinking in the restaurant and bars, people dancing and running on the pedestrian-only bridge. A spots venue in the middle of nowhere is desirable only for commuters; a sports venue in the middle of town is dynamic, rich; a sports venue in the middle of town is a celebration of urban living. It’s our twenty-first century version of the Medieval festival. In Pittsburgh, our knights are dressed in black and gold and today they were jousting with the red knights of Cincinnati.

I fear that here in Western Pennsylvania we are slowly adopting the European model of city-living – the city is for the rich and the suburbs are for the poor. Pittsburgh’s downtown, its Southside and its North Shore have been taken over by the next generation. The areas are full of young working people who eat out, who live in apartments, who drive small cars, who take public transportation. The poor, the old and the car obsessed are being priced out of the urban core and forced to go live in the outer-rings. As the city becomes more gentrified, more resident-friendly, suburban Pittsburgh is becoming more poor, more remote, more detached, old. I saw that in Manhattan; the island is no longer affordable by middle and lower-middle class families and certainly not affordable by low-income retirees. I don’t know enough about Baltimore, but with DC as the center of the metropolitan region could it be that it’s where the poor and the old are retreating?


May 12, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

arturo’s graduation from becker

arturo 036Over the weekend, Sarah, Rick and I traveled to Worcester to attend Arturo’s graduation from Becker College. Over 300 kids graduated and they were able to keep the ceremony down to 2 hours. The ceremony was not very interesting, the head of Aetna gave the commencement address and she was very poor. (It was hard to believe that this person ran a multi-million dollar corporation.)

The night before, we had attended the Honors Convocation at Becker’s Leicester Campus. Arturo graduated Cum Laude. Arturo came to Becker from San Diego State and he had a great college experience. (The food at the reception was excellent.)

It was interesting to be back in New England for a college graduation ceremony. No one misbehaved, no one screamed, no graduate danced across the stage. It was all so correct. And that was good, because Arturo is someone who would have frowned on bad behavior. (The Boston area has the same frenetic energy as New York City. And when I’m sitting in the plane getting ready to take off, I’m glad to leave the intensity behind.)

The image on the left – Ryan Oliver, Mario Zinga, Arturo Nieto, Rick Wertheimer – the principals from City High. (Ryan is Arturo’s uncle and the main support behind his Gates Millennium Scholarship and his guide when he transferred from San Diego State to Becker College.)


May 26, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

japanese lilac

lilacThe Japanese lilac is full of blossoms. The plant is part of the olive family and the blossoms are bisexual, with fertile stamens and stigma in each flower.

Bitter winters produce the most blossoms. The plant is threatened and produces more flowers ensuring more seeds. (In early spring, the city streets are filled with blooming wild almond. In late May, the old streets of the Central Northside are filled with blooming Japanese Lilacs.) And as the small flowers fall, the back-yard will be covered in white. One of the side-effects is that I’m popping antihistamines because of the over-abundance of pollen falling from the blossoms.

I’ve written about the Japanese Lilacs before – the smell reminds me of my time in Rome in the spring of 71. The white flowers are everywhere in the ancient city and the perfume infused the spring air.

Last year I began replacing the terracotta pots, because they were cracking and crumbling. They may look good, but they are made for a warm Mediterranean climate. Also, last year was the first year with the new surface on the side-yard. This year, I finished replacing all the old pots and filled in the holes. (I ended up buying 6 new plastic or ceramic pots.) I’m assuming that going forward, I will not need to buy replacements.

This year, I’m trying to grow some added vegetables – peppers and zucchini – and some new flowers – hollyhocks and sunflowers. Don’t know if I’ll have any luck with these. The zucchini is the biggest gamble, I have enough room for the runners, I just don’t know if the plant will like living in a huge pot. The hollyhocks will end up against the back fence, but the sunflowers are in serious danger of being eaten by the dogs. Bilby has discovered them and apparently the leaves must taste good, because he has eaten all but two plants. (Jack doesn’t seem interested, but Bilby has started to also eat the green blueberries. All the dogs have eaten the blueberry flowers, the green berries and the ripe berries.)


fourteen years ago

          Jo’ died Saturday, June 30, 2001 at 9:30 am.

Jo'My trip to Toronto this year was awkward. I’ve avoided heading up at this time of year, but I had forgotten why. And because of my busy schedule this spring, late June was my only option to go up and visit with Frank-and-Norma, Joe, Mary-Domenic-and-the-kids, Renato-and-Gina. But it wasn’t until I crossed I-80 that I realized why it felt so awkward. Fourteen years ago – Friday, June 29, 2001, I drove up and found my sister at the end of her life. By 9:30 the next morning she was dead. Dave was helping her out of bed and she died in his arms. (The grave marker doesn’t have the Saturday, June 30th date.)

So there I was driving up on June 29 just like I did fourteen years ago. And on the 30th, I visited the cemetery. The image on the left is from that visit. (I’ll have to tell my mother that I went up. I’ll make sure to explain that the time was a coincidence and not because it was the 14th anniversary of Jo’ death. I have to make that clear otherwise, she’ll think I planned it and I hadn’t.)

Fourteen years ago we all went to Mary-and-Domenic’s and Dave lit fireworks over the suburban houses. Mafalda, being the Calabrian that she’ll always be, was incensed – his wife, her daughter, had died the day before, and he was shooting off firecrackers. Needless to say the picnic was a very subdued affair. (I had driven back to Pittsburgh on the 30th to get my Armani and driven back to Toronto the next day. Remember, I left Toronto after the coroner had signed off on the death-notice and we had gotten the funeral arrangements set up so my mind wasn’t too balanced. I-80 was how I knew I was near home.)

Fourteen years later and both of the kids were absent from the Canada Day celebration. Dave is re-married and at the celebration, at his new house, no one mentioned the life-altering event that we all went through all those years ago. Everyone at the 2015 Canada Day picnic, except for Isabel and Clay, were present 14 years ago. (Why didn’t I make reference to Jo’s death? I probably couldn’t pull it off without tears.)


July 21, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

The images below are of paint-buckets hanging from the Japanese Lilac in the back-yard. And the lyrics are from Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

high in a tower, like yours but higher  
a beauty asleep  
all ’round the tower, a thicket of briar  
a hundred feet deep  
agony, no frustration more keen  
when the one thing you want  
is a thing that you’ve not even seen  
  i found a casket, entirely of glass
  no, it’s unbreakable
  inside, don’t ask it, a maiden alas
  just as unawakable
what unmistakable
agony, is the way always barred
  she has skin white as snow
did you learn her name  
  no, there’s a dwarf standing guard
agony, such that princes must weep
always in thrall ‘most to anything almost
or something asleep
if it were not for the thicket  
  a thicket’s no trick, is it thick
it’s the thickest  
  the quickest is pick it apart with a stick
yes, but even one prick, it’s my thing about blood  
  well it’s sick
it’s no sicker than your thing with dwarfs  
  dwarfs are very upsetting
not forgetting
the tasks unachievable, mountains unscalable
if it’s conceivable but unavailable
ah     ah     ah     ah     ah     ah
agony, misery, woe, not to know what you miss
while they lie there for years  
  and you cry on their biers
what unbearable bliss

Sondheim’s Into the Woods   Agony – Part 1

Sondheim’s Into the Woods   Agony – Reprise


August 4, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

    the old abitibi – st. mary’s paper

Tues-Aug-4 008When I lived in Sault Ste Marie, all those years ago, one the major industries was the paper-mill. And several of the new immigrants worked at the Abitibi. (This was the old name, before it was St. Mary’s Paper. The old name with all its vowels was way easier for the Italian immigrants to remember.) Michele Coccimiglio worked at the Abitibi and whenever we all went to Point des Chiens for Dominion Day, Michele would bring a roll of newsprint that was rolled on the many picnic tables that our families had commandeered. (Rose remembers cumma Maria – Michele’s wife boiling water for the pasta over an open-pit fire on the low bluffs above the cold waters of Lake Superior. The kids were all down on the beach pretending the water wasn’t miserably cold.)

The paper-mill went bankrupt a few years back, but the buildings are on the Historical Register and they are being gradually restored. The old admin building has been rented by Algoma University and is their music conservancy. (The University is expanding its campus into the downtown area. The old red-rock buildings will look great on their promotion materials.) The first of the mill buildings has been converted into an events space. The image is of this renovated space. Connie is on the small stage looking out onto the locks and the International Bridge.


August 7, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

salisbury and north taylor

bluestonesOn Monday, Connie and I went up to the cottage, because I wanted to collect some rocks to bring home. Once I noticed the blue-stones, I decided that I wanted only them. At the water’s edge, being washed over by the waves, I found this beautiful, huge, flat stone (bet it must weigh hundreds of pounds) and if I had five or six people helping me, I would have dug it up and load it into my car. (I can picture it in my back-yard, a blue amoeba floating among the white marble-chips.) After a good hour and Connie going into the water to dig out some bigger rocks, we loaded all the blue-stones we had collected into boxes in the back of her SUV. When I got to my parents’ I asked my Dad if he had some old balsa-wood bushel-baskets I could take. He directed me to his greenhouse where I found hundreds of bushel-baskets. (My Dad is a pack-rat; you should see his tool-room in the back of the garage. Over the last couple of years, I’ve taken to borrowing things from this treasure stove. This visit, I borrowed two old extensions and a cutting-board.) I filled two bushels with the blue-rocks from Connie’s car.

What is U.S. Customs going to say when they see two bushel-baskets full of rocks in the back of my car?

I needed to find out what kind of rocks we had collected and the search brought up basalt – images of basalt rocks. I then started to think about the Bluestones at Stonehenge. The giant stones outside of Salisbury are also a type of volcanic basalt. It’s amazing to think that the blue-stones on the shores of Lake Superior and the monoliths in southern England share a geological profile.


August 14, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

just remembering you’ve had an and

ppgI’ve been listening to Into the Woods for the last couple of weeks. (Ever since the buckets posting) The following is another of my favorite Sondheim creations. And the title is a line from this word-play.

Must it all be either less or more
Either plain or grand

Is it always “or”
Is it never “and”

This is my first effort at taking pictures at night. I’m on the South Side, at Station Square, and the image is of the main tower at PPG Place.

And up to now, I’ve relied on the built-in light-meter and my judgement to shoot, but with night photography, I have to deal much more with the technology of the camera. Last night, after getting the aperture and and shutter speed I wanted, I began to experiment with White Balance settings and discovered that it can add a sheen to the overall image. However, didn’t like what the various adjustments produced, so I’m gonna stay with an auto setting for the White Balance.

And until I have a better sense of how to set up a pic at night, I’m going to have to work from a set of steps that I write down.


August 20, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

and you think of all of the things you’ve seen
and you wish that you could live in between

mt-washingtonDon’t know where I’ll end up with this post, because I’m combining two unrelated things – lyrics from Giants In the Sky, and a night-shot of a church up on Mount Washington. I can talk about the imagery – the double-light at the far left, the gate, the dark is the woods, the lights a path in the night and the steeples at the far right, a false destination. And in between, the houses of those afraid of the dark and the Druid’s vicarage.

The above image is a sliver of the larger photograph, but I liked the light-necklace best, so I cropped more that 80% of the original.


August 26, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

lifting the old bricks – repaving1

repaving1The work on re-paving the backyard has begun. My neighbor from down the street is taking the old brick pavers. That means less stuff for the landfill and less time needed to complete the job. (They don’t have to haul the old brick away; one of the guys is stacking them in my neighbor’s garage.)

The old brick has been there some 20 years. All the dry-mortar between the pavers has been gone for a while and I’ve had to lift, clean and re-set the bricks in order to remove the moss and the weeds that want to grow in the empty spaces where the dry-mortar was. The wolmanized walls between the main patio and the upper section of the yard were bowed at almost 70o. The retaining walls had a layer of brick between the two wolmanized 6X6’s. The bricks gave the walls a unique old look and act as drains for the upper levels. The walls just bowed. (I’m hoping that the new walls will stay perpendicular. After all the upper levels have had years to settle.)

Also, over the years I made some changes to the five platforms that make up the backyard. (There was a long flowerbed on the side and a wrought iron fence between our house and Joe-and-Rose’s. When the sewer needed fixing – the big dig – the whole side of the yard got rebuilt. The flower-bed and the fence went. Also new cement was poured cleaning up the whole side-yard.) The dig, the new fence and the new cement flooring radically changed the platforms closest to the back-door. And new wolmanized borders had to be added to perimeter the lower platforms and un-weathered pieces and miss-matched bricks got added to the mix. (I compensated by adding pots to corners with the most miss-matched elements.)

The new pavers and walls should bring back a more uniform look.


August 27, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

lifting the old wolmanized- repaving2

repaving2I have no memory of the first time the backyard was paved and landscaped. It was done by a greenhouse-group from Blawnox. I had gotten to know the old man who ran the greenhouse; he was a great source of information. I had asked him about landscaping my backyard and he said his grandson ran that part of the operation. The grandson came down, gave me a bid and I gave him the work.

Because I was working, I was not here to see them dig up the place and create the four platforms. What I remember most is my design of the curved upper platform and the left-over pavers. I had so many, that I decided to lay them down on top of the cement on the side of the house all the way down the alley to the gate. (There was almost an entire pallet of extra bricks.)

Watching the guys take everything up and getting the ground ready for a new foundation and new pavers makes me think back to when someone else did all this work to put the retaining walls, the cement-sand and the bricks in place.

The image is the retaining wall between the platform in front of the back-door and the large patio above it. All the wolmanized was anchored into the ground with seven-foot rebar. The drain cover was designed by the blacksmith at Gilgamesh Forge who also did the alley gates, and the flowerpot-holders on the outside of the deck. I love the text accompanying the images of the old and new drain covers. A previous client requested something interesting to replace a rusted drain lid in the courtyard of his Mexican War Street rowhouse. We went with a Celtic weave pattern, to create this interesting option for an otherwise ordinary utilitarian object. Lid is 12” in diameter.


August 28, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

the old is gone – repaving3

The above image was taken at first-light. I’m shooting from the side of the house and got to include the kitchen windows. I so wanted to brush out the telephone box, but decided that I’m recording what is currently there and therefore the box had to stay.
repaving 025repaving 029AThe pic on the left was taken around 9:30; the one on the right after the workers started. They are digging the trenches for the new retaining walls. The block is what they’ll use for the new walls. (The one surprise is how small the two sections with the white marble chips are.)

It’s a good crew, the guys are Puerto Rican. When I asked the older guy how he had ended up here, he said there was work and family here. We agreed the Latino community in Pittsburgh is small.


August 31, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

repaving4repaving5Tim has finished the base for the first retaining wall – foreground left image. He said that by the end of the day, he will have a second one done and half of the large wall that separates the patio from the upper section of the backyard.

They actually did the three main retaining walls. The image on the right is the base of the longest wall. All that’s left is the small wall that is the step to the top platform.

The goal is to have the majority of the work done by Friday.

new walls – repaving4


September 1, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

      night light

Night2 002My second night shoot was about keeping the shutter open when there is little to no light and the shutter indicator suggests bulb. The shot on the left is down the side-yard. All the items are here, because the rest of the back-yard is torn up and being repaved.

I set up the tripod and did my calculations. The timer on this image was a minute-and-a-half. And the entire side-yard was practically pitch black. There are three light-sources – the kitchen light streaming through the windows; the office light seeping through the window in the center of the image and the night-sky peaking through the alley. The kitchen light is harsh in contrast with the dark also there are no shades on the kitchen windows. And even though they are stained glass, it’s not a colored glass. Because night-shoots in the bulb range and really a trial-and-error experience, I’m gonna shoot again tonight to see how I can minimize the kitchen light. I’m thinking of turning off the over-head and leaving only the light over the stove and the light in the alcove. Anyway, it’ll be a chance to experiment. (I also chucked my 60-Minutes stopwatch for the one on my phone. First of all, the one on the phone can be seen in the dark and the numbers are big.)

Tomorrow the dining-room/office is being replaced. The new window will not have a storm in front of it. I’m wondering what that will do to the light?

There are two aspects of the image on the left that I like: (a) the sliver of blue sky and (b) the soft light from the window. The blue sky between the two houses was a complete surprise. I could see blue above the street-light, but was surprised when I caught it in the image. The soft light is from the overhead light in my dining-room/office. It too was a surprise given how harsh the light from through the kitchen windows turned out to be.


September 3, 2015 diario/journal, reflections


almost finished – repaving5

The slag has been laid and packed, the retaining walls have been built and leveled. Today comes the sand and the pavers.

The images were shot early in the morning. The one on the left has the soft glow of the outdoor flood lights. For the one on the left, I turned the lights off.

One of the renters on Sampsonia has been particularly difficult. He’s moved the orange cones forcing the guys to constantly move the truck; he’s complained about the dust; he’s complained about the noise. Who is this fool? If he wants no interaction with workers, if he wants to not be inconvenienced by the density of urban living he should move to the suburbs.

They are currently laying down the sand-base for the upper section. The goal is to finish tomorrow.


October 10, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

autumn morning

Tree-StonesIt’s two-and-a-half weeks since I got back from Puglia and the rhythms of the new season are everywhere; the morning light is bright but diffused; the heat sporadic sometimes tee-shirt warm and sometimes sweat-shirt cold. Summer has slipped into memory.

Puglia, like Naples and Pellaro, is not a place I would go back to. The Valle d’Itria, with its other-worldly trulli, its white cities, its cucina povera, is too far off the beaten track and not interesting enough for a return trip.

The image on the left is the shift from Puglia-travel to being back home. The two trees were originally in plastic bonsai pots. I often kept the pots on the ground to prevent the soil from drying out. With these two pots, the plants started growing into the soil and I let them. I now have a 60 foot red-wood and an umbrella shaped long-needled pine. I removed the pot from the red-wood years ago – its footprint is like a giant’s 40 inch hand with fingers 6 to 8 inches in diameter. But I had kept the pot on the long-needled pine. I liked pointing out that the huge umbrella shaped pine had started in a bonsai pot, but the pot was no longer flat on the ground, rather it tilted with the lean of the umbrella branches. And for someone who likes symmetry, order and harmony the lean upset the feng shui of the garden.

The other day, I decided to cut the pot and surround the root-ball with the blue stones from Connie’s cottage. The stone necklace corrected the lean and cleaning the root-ball of its soil shows all its gnarly tentacles. The long-needled pine now looks to grow out of the white marble chips. The visual harmony has been restored


October 12, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

it’s a still-life water-color            of a now late afternoon

ShadowsThe autumn sun moves so quickly. I shot the image from the upstairs deck and by the time I got downstairs, the area with the shadows was half what you see. I am trying to capture images that aren’t the typical fall items – turning trees and mounds of brown leaves.

Two Discoveries
1. Hearing the va’ pensiero chorus from Nabucco live and in context. It’s the lamentation of a people in exile.
o mia patria si bella e perduta
o membranza si cara e fatal

Verdi may have put the words of longing into the mouths of the Hebrews slaves, but every Italian knows them as the anthem of The Risorgimento – the struggle for unification and the fight for freedom from foreign rule.
2. Hearing a live recording of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1976 Carnegie Hall concert. It’s two voices and Simon’s guitar.
go home outsider
Mississippi’s gonna be your buryin’ place

A young Paul and Artie give a patina of innocence and naiveté to the words of revolution and introspection. And the lead into A Dangling Conversation sets up the recurring theme of isolation. Also, the album has a spontaneity and a bootleg quality to it.

Canadian Thanksgiving is being celebrated today, but this year like last, I didn’t go up. Rather, I’m heading up to Harrow in a week-and-a-half to play golf with the boys. Will grain and corn stalks still cover the concessions of Essex County or will the land have been stripped bare?


October 16, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

 and the leaves that are green


and they wither with the wind
and they crumble in your hand
hello, hello
good-bye, good-bye

The last growth spurt is producing some amazing colors. All summer long, I kept pinching the coleus to prevent it from getting long and leggy, but it was the October chill that forced it to fill out and bloom in rusts and yellows. (The plant in the foreground is the coleus.)

It’s been wonderful coming home to a new landscape in my backyard. The renovation was completed the day before I left for Puglia, so I never got to enjoy the new platforms, the short steps, the uniformity of the new pavers, the low stone walls that tier this small space.

I like doing second renovations, because I’ve lived in the space, I’ve lived with the limitations and now know what needs to change. In the first rev, you make the best decisions, but they are not based on experience with the environment, no, they’re based on abstract ideas. In the second iteration the ideas stay, but now there are materials and protocols that better match the abstract designs in my head.   — the before and after —

In the new renovation, the emphasis was on digging deeper footers for the walls, creating a solid foundation for the pavers and sealing the the surface to minimize weeds. (The first renovation was done by a group of amateurs who put down a layer of sand to rest the bricks on and who drilled rebar into the wolmanized 6X6 ties to anchor them into the ground.)

How long before I have to say good-bye to all these rich early fall colors?


October 24, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

ready to harvest

Harrow2015 035On the drive to Harrow, I passed all these corn fields and I assumed the corn had been harvested and that what I was looking at were the dry stocks minus the ears of corn. Not true. According to Rainer, the corn is still on the stock drying. (The less water content in each kernel, the more valued the crop.) Weather permitting, farmers leave the corn on the stocks to dry as long as possible. This morning, Rainer called the farmer down the road to see if he was harvesting, because he wanted me to see the combine. The harvester is a gigantic machine. It cuts the corns stocks about six inches off the ground and then separates the corn from the stock.

Frank is in the middle of the dry corn stocks.

The other farm-thing we did was pick apples and eat them. Another of Rainer’s neighbors, grows a variety of apples and many were still on the dwarf trees. (The farmer explained how all his neighbors looked askance when he planted the dwarf trees.) What was surprising was how soft the apple skin was and easy to eat. Most times, I’m peeling the skin from store-bought apples. But when the apple is freshly picked, the skin is still full of juice. Also, the commercial apples at the grocery story are covered in wax to make them look shinny and appealing.

We spent Friday afternoon on an indoor court hitting tennis balls back and forth. I laughed when Ron and Frank had to wrap their knees in various contraptions and naturally I did a lot of trash talk. Here were the two premier athletes of the group having to don their bionic garments in order to hit some tennis balls. I continued the trash talking, because after the first 10 minutes I ended up playing against the two of them, because they needed breaks. Me, the one who had refused to play any organized sports, against the two who played organized baseball, basketball, hockey and tennis. During dinner, I asked after their various injuries and realized that young athletes come into old and middle age with a lot of aches and pains. Ron and Frank had suffered various injuries while playing sports when they were young and foolish. Their conclusion is that it had been worth it.


October 24, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

the making of a pride

Harrow2015 044There’s always a cat story when we visit Rainer and Lynn. This year, they had 4 kittens they were raising, because the mother, a week after giving birth, left and never came back. (Lynn suspects she was killed by the coyote or foxes that hunt the wild cats.) Lynn took over and the kittens are now eating solid food. They do not domesticate the cats on their property, but supplement their diets to make them healthier.

The two in the image on the left are part of a trio – Ursula, Cruella and Maleficent. The missing kitten is shy and nowhere as rambunctious as her two other sisters. While I was shooting, the shy one watched from her bed-box. The litter had 4 kittens – the three females and an all white male. The kittens spend the day outside in and around the milk-shed, but are brought in for the night. Eventually, they will spend their whole time outside. There are also seven grown cats in addition to the kittens. Five of the seven are males and when the females come in heat in late February, one male will emerge as the alpha and he will drive out all the other male cats. Lynn said that over the years, they have lost many many cats. The pride can only have one alpha and all the other males are driven off. (Lynn said that she saw one of their males at a nearby farm. He had apparently become the alpha in the pride that lived there. But that was the only time she ever saw one of the male cats that had been driven off from their property.)

In the morning, I stepped out to shoot the rising sun and the grown cats swarmed around me. Rainer feeds them in the morning and me coming out the door signaled food. They followed me around, but soon figured I had no bowls and sat down and waited for the one who did.


November 7, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

greeting the morning sun

Kingston2015 051I’m in Kingston, Ontario and Seane and I are walking the Queen’s campus. It’s a chilly November morning and even this far north, there are crazies who wade into the frigid waters.

I had never been this far east (Kingston is three hours east of Toronto.) and all the Canadian cities I’m familiar with are the industrial towns of southern and north-central Ontario – Toronto, Hamilton, Windsor, Sudbury, Espanola, Sault Ste Marie. Kingston was a great surprise. It is free of heavy industry – mills, mines – and full of British colonial homes and structures. Kingston was the capital of Upper Canada – the British colony in Canada. The city is at the end of Lake Ontario and at the mouth of the St. Lawrence. It has always been a militarily strategic port. It is home to the Royal Military College of Canada. Modern Kingston has maintained its colonial infrastructure. Many of the old houses have been renovated and re-purposed. And there are no smoke stacks or mine shafts belching into the clean air. (The first and third images in the slide-show are of Kingston.)

Queen’s University – named after Queen Victoria – is one of Canada’s premier schools. (Professor Emeritus Arthur McDonald was the co-winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics.) The campus is beautiful and its old Victorian Romanesque buildings preserved and all still in use. (Some different names – the school’s head is called the principal and in Canada they do not use the terms freshman, sophomore … rather 1st years, 2nd years …)

Seane is living in an old turn of the century house. The houses in the old town remind me of the houses in England. They are very small. I couldn’t get over the fact that London was filled with these small houses. Outside the royal and government structures, the housing was low and narrow. And the old house in Kingston are low and narrow. (There are few tutor style houses, which became the rage throughout the industrial cities of Toronto, Hamilton and Windsor, instead the housing stock is older and much more classical in form.)


November 7, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

queen’s university

Kingston2015 043School legend has it that a group of engineering students, probably drunk engineering students, decided to leave their mark by changing the face of the clock on Grant Hall. They redesigned the Roman numerals and changed the IV to IIII. (The legend is questionable given that it wasn’t unusual to represent the number 4 using the four IIII.)

The Victorian Romanesque style is everywhere on campus as well as in the large, rich houses in the old town.

The university is relatively small by modern standards – 25,000 students. Its campus is well defined and not at all cramped. In the last few years, new construction has been for dorms and other student amenities. Classrooms and research centers are housed in the old, retrofitted buildings. (The new library, keeps many of the Romanesque lines; they’re just in concrete rather than stone.)

When I was living in Canada, Queen’s was not a school anyone I knew, went to. All the kids from northern Ontario went south to the University of Toronto, the University of Windsor or the schools in the London, Kitchener, Guelph area. We gravitated to the urban centers and to the Math/Science schools. Also we were not drawn to anything that looked or smacked of Englishness. And Kingston has always had an air of Englishness about it. Also, the Kingston of the 1960’s was famous for it federal prisons more than it tony university.

The term English in the Canada of the 1960’s represented colonial privileged and colonial entitlement. It was the pejorative that we called the non-Italians. The next generation changed the slur to mangia-cake. A reference to the fact that these non-Italians seem to eat a lot of soft desserts; foods devoid of flavor, but loaded with sugar. The sub-text of the insult was that the diet made these non-Italians stupid. We were the generation that wanted nothing to do with Canada’s British legacy. Because, we were constantly reminded that we were not English, that we were less than. And proof of that diminished status was our olive skin.

In modern Canada, Italian immigrants and their Canadian born children have become mainstream and my niece, nephew and cousins look at Queen’s as a feather in their academic career cap. How things change. Seane was whining about her bland surname. “Why can’t my last name be Zinga? Seane Zinga would be such a cool name.” How things change. I bet her mother would be shocked to hear that in one generation, an Italian surname was more desirable than the English one she left her children.

I just liked seeing a Canadian city without steel mills and mines; a Canadian city that hadn’t bulldozed its old housing stock in favor of the ubiquitous suburban track-house. Mind you, there is plenty of suburban housing in norther Kingston. You know, the ugly garage-houses with their cookie-cutter sameness, their shoddy construction and million dollar price-tags.


November 8, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

     upper canada steeples

Kingston2015 025Kingston is full of church steeples. But unlike New England, the ones here in the capital of Upper Canada are made of white limestone. (They have the look and feel of the colonial steeples of New England, but are much much taller. Guess you could do that when you’re not using lumber. Also this is not a heavily forested area.) Geologically, the Kingston area connects the Algonquin Dome in north-central Ontario with the Adirondack Dome in New York state. The Queen’s University buildings, The Royal Military College, the Martello Towers, the old mansions are all made from the limestone found in the area.

Besides steeples, the area is full of commemorations to Sir John A. Macdonald a Scottish-born Canadian politician and the Father of Confederation. He was the first Prime Minister of Canada (1867–1873, 1878–1891). (Macdonald was the leading figure in the discussions and conferences which resulted in the British North America Act and the birth of Canada as a nation on July 1, 1867. A hundred years later, in Sault Ste Marie, the city build the centennial library to commemorate the founding of Canada.) Macdonald’s greatest achievements were building and guiding a successful national government, forging a strong Conservative Party, promoting protective tariffs and building the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway.

I promised Seane I would visit again, because I want to take the 1000 Islands boat tour and the old city bus tour. I know enough about the area and the city that the tours could be a way of stringing all the random information together.


November 21, 2015 diario/journal, reflections

  fayette county, pennsylvania

DSC_2894Renato, Gina and I are on the summit at Kentuck Knob the other Frank Lloyd Wright house in south-western Pennsylvania. (We started off the day at Fallingwater.) My great-grandparents’ three oldest children were Salvatore, Francesco and Michele. Francesco was my grandfather and Michele was Renato’s father.

Kentuck Knob is a one-story house on Chestnut Ridge, the western-most ridge of the Allegheny Mountains. The home is recessed into the southern side of the 2,050 foot peak. And the summit offers a sweeping view of the Youghiogheny River gorge.

Wright never set foot on the site before designing the house. He made a short visit during the construction phase and one of the local engineers pointed out that the cantilevered porch-roof did not have enough supports. Wright supposedly went back to Taliesin and had one of his minions make the necessary corrections. This would be one of the last homes Wright completed.

It’s always a great surprise to my Canadian relatives when I drive them into the mountains and we show up at places like Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. There are no comparable houses in Canada.

Renato and Gina visited for four days and we spent Saturday in the Ohiopyle area. It was fun taking them around; I haven’t had visitors for a while and it was great to go back to Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. (They texted once they crossed over into Canada and the subject was snow. Yuck!)


January 8, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

a new camera – d7100sunrise – 7:43, sunset – 5:10
9 hours and 27 minutes of daylight

buckets9It was time to upgrade to a camera with more mega-pixels and replace the d90. And like an old fashion immigrant, I started putting money aside. (Tell me that isn’t anti-modern, anti-consumer.) The d7100 is an entry level camera, but I need one of those. There are enough times when I hand someone a camera to take a pic of the group of us and it has to be something a stranger can just point-and-shoot. I also like the no-flash feature.

The Christmas anxiety and hype seem to have disappeared. It’s as if the season never existed.

The weather has been unusual; today it’s 53o and the sun is out. In the image, I like the glow it casts onto the buckets and the nylon strings. But January always has this confusing period when we pretend that winter will stay away or stay north and not reach down into south-western Pennsylvania. And we are always disillusioned when the frigid temperatures grip the land and we start the count-down to March 21.

Don’t know if I have too much info in the header. Between the sunrise/sunset, the hours of daylight and the countdown to March 21 it looks a bit crowded. So I removed the countdown.


January 11, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

porch gridsunrise – 7:43, sunset – 5:13
9 hours and 30 minutes of daylight

porch-latticeI only write about weather in winter. Within two days – Saturday to Monday, we went from 59o to this morning’s low of 19o. And since the last post, there are 3 additional minutes of daylight. (For some reason that was a difficult sentence to create. Daylight is an odd noun to structure a sentence around.)

The 2X4 grid, in the image, is the roof structure on my back porch.

I’ve decided to not watch any of the 24-hour cable-news except for Rachel Maddow. She’s the only host who doesn’t traffic in innuendos, gossip, fear-mongering or personal opinion. (Chris Hays will chase any story that has an African-American angle. And then contort it so that he can layer his version of liberal tolerance on top of it. Lawrence O’Donnell can’t disguise his dislike of Hillary Clinton and obsession with politicians from New England. He practically orgasms over Elizabeth Warren.) But it’s because of Rachel Maddow that anyone if paying attention to the horrors happening in Flint, Michigan.

The three main networks – CNN, MSNBC, Fox – run Trump all day. And with the three channels chasing ratings, the Presidential primaries have become reality TV. Every word, gesture, pause is analyzed and great pronouncements made.
Is the Vice-President endorsing Bernie?
Is President Clinton going to stay on message?
Is Donald Trump going to go after Ted Cruz?
Did you see Hillary’s face when the announcer mentioned Jeb?
Did you see Rubio’s new shoes?

Is this what 17 century Versailles was like?
The King’s toilette was exceptionally fragrant this morning. Were you there?
Of course. I had a front-row seat next to the Cardinal.


January 12, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

inverno – winter in apriglianosunrise – 7:42, sunset – 5:14
9 hours and 32 minutes of daylight

aprigliano-winterI stole the image from Maria Callari’s FB photos. It all started with me commenting to Vincenzo Martire that he should add names to the various people pics he posts on the Sei di Aprigliano FB page. And naturally that resulted in a barrage of follow-up comments. My favorite was from Cinzia Fuoco who claimed that Vincenzo Martire just wants everyone to guess who people are. Maria Callari followed that with how can we know everyone. A sincere question, but one that triggered sarcasm and laughter. The conversation wasn’t mean-spirited just edgy. After all we’re Apriglianesi and nice isn’t in our gene structure. We’re not mean, but we’re certainly not nice. (My family members accuse Seane and I of being cut from the same cloth. Apparently the two of us are anything but nice. Seane and I delight in that assessment.)

I have to say, it’s great fun to comment back-and-forth in Italian. (You really do get to a point where writing and talking in Italian stops being torturous. I’ve stopped hesitating, stopped worrying that the spelling is wrong, that the verb tense is screwed up. And Google Translate is there to make sure I don’t misspell anything, because that would be very embarrassing even though Italian is no longer my primary language.)

Over the years, I’ve collected many images of winter in Aprigliano. I like snow on the medieval structures in desert-like Calabria. It’s a contrast that appeals to my sense of absurdity.


January 22, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

memoriessunrise – 7:38, sunset – 5:26
9 hours and 48 minutes of daylight

Found the FB page – Calabria ieri – and these three amazing images. I downloaded the one on the left, because my parents had that same picture of the Holy Family in their bedroom in Aprigliano. Today it’s in Jo’s old bedroom. I’ve been meaning to take it, maybe next time I’m up. The image in the middle is the best. I couldn’t pass up. I love his head against the wall and his looking down. And that has to be his sister keeping guard, right? Mi piace troppo. The image on the right is there, because of the brazier. I remember us having one and my playing on the wooden stand holding the copper dish with the coals. Also, I love the two women; there’s a wonderful sense of camaraderie and ease; and those shoes, and those big feet – OMG.
57 days till spring


January 24, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

first storm of the seasonsunrise – 7:37, sunset – 5:28
9 hours and 51 minutes of daylight

first-snow5The shot is from the porch and so the weird perspective.

The snow started Friday evening and lasted all the way through mid-day Saturday. I went out with the broom to clear the area in front of the back-door, but it was fruitless; within the hour the swept area was covered in snow. Total accumulation was between 6 and 10 inches. We were on the northern edge of the storm.

I kept thinking of all the farmhouses we passed going up to my parents in Northern Ontario and how isolated they all seemed; how scary it felt picturing myself in those farmhouses; and yet the snow-storm here left many isolated. (I have a pic that Jo’ gave me of a barn in winter in the middle of a field. It’s all gray and blurry with falling snow. It’s one of the most desolate, depressing photographs I have ever seen.) Is the difference one of duration? By the middle of the next week, the snow will be gone, but in Northern Ontario and the Upper Peninsula winter and snow will last into April.

And it’s on days like this that I go looking for summer rental in Italy. (I’m already counting down to Kaua’i.) In Calabria, the rental situation is very different than in other parts. Even Puglia, which is similar economically, had several viable rental properties. Most of the online rentals in Calabria are in resort areas and most are new construction. Forget refurbished medieval housing with modern amenities. The albergo diffuso in Belmonte was truly a find.

55 days till spring


January 25, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

centennial – WWIsunrise – 7:36, sunset – 5:29
9 hours and 53 minutes of daylight

warThroughout Italy every town has a piazza with a WWI memorial. And I try and shoot all the various monuments, walls, commemorations. In Aprigliano, the WWI monument is how I remember Piazza Guarno; it’s how I identify the town. For me, it’s as iconic as The Eiffel, Lady Liberty, The Vatican, Cinderella’s Castle, The Pantheon, The Brandenburg.

Over the last couple of years, a number of WWI memorial images have emerged. And given the Italians penchant for pretty and romanticism, the new posters present a sanitized event; a memory wrapped in sharp whites, greens and reds. Nothing like remembering the drab khaki landscapes, the shell-blasted sludge, the blood-baths, the trench warfare with modern, digital pretty.

And talking about pretty, there’s an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee where Jerry is talking with Fred Armisen in Portland about good coffee:
Fred: Have you been to Italy?
Jerry: It’s amazing that it only functions on this level of charm.
Fred: Yeah
Jerry: Without that, it’s like a young pretty girl that never ages. That’s Italy.
Fred: Absolutely
Jerry: She never gets older; never looses her allure; and you can’t get enough of it.
Fred: Yeah
Jerry: And it survives, but all other beauty on earth fades,
Fred: Yeah
Jerry: Except Italy.
Fred: Why is that?
Jerry: I don’t know.
Fred: That is perfect, what a perfect description.

54 days till spring


January 28, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

more memoriessunrise – 7:34, sunset – 5:33
9 hours and 59 minutes of daylight

For these three images, I’m gonna quote the Italian comments posted with each on the FB page Calabria Ieri e Oggi. I see no need to translate the words when the images evoke sentiment and meaning.

Left Image: Emigranti si preparava la valigia di Cartone e un vecchio Partiva a quei tempi in cerca di fortuna per il Nord per le Americhe e per l’Australia. Ma al giorno d’oggi troppi nostri calabresi lasciano la loro Terra a causa della disoccupazione e per andare avanti si cerca fortuna altrove. Ma la Calabria rimarrà per sempre nel loro ❤.
My mother still has the cardboard suitcase and the trunk. I remember the shoes with the metal clips. It was a way of extending the life of the shoes.

Middle Image: Peppino e Ntonuzza furono i miei primi fotomodelli, amici e vicini dei miei nonni si prestarono ai miei primi scatti con una vecchia Koroll Bencini, sono passati 41 anni da allora ma il ricordo è vivo, loro non ci sono più, di loro conservo la loro straordinaria bontà e semplicità antica, a loro la dedico. (Mario Greco)
Imagine, they are not husband and wife, but friends and neighbors.

Right Image: Ricordi di un tempo non avevamo il PC e lo Smartphone ma in compenso avevamo il giradischi dove ascoltavano Modugno, Morandi e Celentano.
The guy on the right could easily be me. I had that haircut and I have that nose.

51 days till spring


January 30, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

bagnara calabra and the strait of messinasunrise – 7:32, sunset – 5:35
10 hours and 03 minutes of daylight

reggioWhen I borrow someone else’s photograph, I usually write down all the attributing info so that I can add it to the post. But, I can’t remember which site or from whose FB page I downloaded this image.

The image is taken from the small town of Bagnara Calabra. The town sits north of Reggio on the coast looking across the Strait of Messina. And there looms Etna in all its winter beauty. (My favorite part of our week in Pellaro – August 2009 – was having dinner on the roof-terrace and seeing the volcano on the horizon. Then in 2014, when we drove right by it on the Autostrada, the immensity was something I had never considered. When you see it from far away, there is no sense of scale. Etna is enormous. Being below it and realizing that there is a whole city at its base was disconcerting. I don’t understand how you live at the base of an active volcano.)

Wanted to compare sunrise and sunset between Pittsburgh, Aprigliano and Sault Ste Marie.
Pittsburgh – 10 hours and 03 minutes (7:32 – 5:35)
Aprigliano – 10 hours and 10 minutes (7:03 – 5:12)
Sault Ste Marie – 9 hours and 30 minutes (8:02 – 5:37)

49 days till spring


February 1, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

cosenza – spring 1959sunrise – 7:30, sunset – 5:38
10 hours and 08 minutes of daylight

cosenzaWhen I see these old images, I think about where I was at the time. In 1959, my family had been in Canada two years; we were still living at my grandparents; my aunt had been married a year-and-a-half – November 30, 1957 – and living upstairs; and I was in 3rd grade at St. Theresa’s. Nineteen-fifty-nine was also the year there was a construction fire down the hall from my classroom, in the new extension. The smoke damage was enough that all students were bused to other schools until the damage was cleaned up. My 3rd class was sent to Sacred Heart Elementary on the edge of downtown. And for the next three months, we had class in the basement gym of Sacred Heart School. There were at least two other classes in the space and portable blackboards were used as dividers between the groups. Imagine 100 kids sharing a large open space and keeping quiet. (I could look under the blackboard and see the shoes of the kids in the other grade.) But lessons went on and we did our work. And because we couldn’t go home for lunch, they fed us. It was my first experience with school lunches. It was all very exotic.

Meanwhile, in Cosenza it was spring and they were walking around in suits; in Sault Ste Marie, I went to school in my winter coat, got on a school-bus and went cross-town to a basement gym. And for lunch, I ate Canadian cafeteria food. Bet my fellow Cosentini had never had Wonder Bread. (I remember being on the train from Montreal to Sault Ste Marie and my dad disgusted with the mushy white-bread they gave us for lunch.) The thought that my fellow Cosentini were eating good Calabrian bread while we gummed the bleached, nutrient-free wonder-food of modern Canada makes me believe in the power of advertising. We left Calabria because of the poverty and because we were told that the streets of America were paved with gold.

47 days till spring


February 2, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

nimoy matisse and stewsunrise – 7:29, sunset – 5:39
10 hours and 10 minutes of daylight


photography is by Leonard Nimoy
inspiration by Henri Matisse
and lyrics by Mark Stewart

Naked girls at breakfast tables
Talking Hegel and Camus
While men dressed up in Gauloises smoke
Quote Marx right back at you

46 days till spring


February 9, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

my first time back in 34 yearssunrise – 7:22, sunset – 5:47
10 hours and 25 minutes of daylight


It’s 2006, I’d found an interesting stone. The B&W1 image is from 1955. Both were taken at the beach at Gioia Tauro.

My family left Calabria in 1957. I went back in 1972 and spent a couple of weeks in Aprigliano at my uncle-and-aunt’s and then went up to Perugia for school. The next time I was in Italy was 1999. Rick, Sarah, Shana, Mim and I went. (British Airways was winding down its Pittsburgh/London route and they offered a $99 seat sale. Imagine $99 to go from Pittsburgh to London.) We stayed in Verona and did day-trips to Venice.

In 2006, Rose, Derrick and I went to Italy and we stayed in Calabria. We flew into Lamezia and drove down the coast to Gioia Tauro where Rose had found us a very nice apartment.

39 days till spring1 FB – Calabria Ieri e Oggi


February 11, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

leni riefenstahl, cable-news and social-mediasunrise – 7:19, sunset – 5:50
10 hours and 31 minutes of daylight

Leni Riefenstahl with Himmler in Nuremberg 19341  Yesterday was the first time I heard a cable-news/social-media personality admit that Donal Trump was a scary presidential prospect. The occasion was Trump’s retweeting of a white-supremacist’s tweet. Ezra Klein of Vox Media finally admitted that Trump has been very good for cable-news and social media; that the ratings and number-of-clicks have skyrocketed when they run all-things-Trump. But Mr. Klein went on to admit that what cable-news and social-media are dismissing as entertainment is really scary political policy. DUH!

And what about the fact that cable-news/social-media has advanced the Trump political agenda, because he serves their all-consuming need for viewers and eyeballs. Cable-news/social-media is doing for Donald Trump what Leni Riefenstahl and Joseph Goebbels did for Adolf Hitler in the Weimar Republic. Riefenstahl was the epitome of the young and talented generation that overlooked Hitler’s dark side. The generation that presented Nazism as the new religion. Cable-news/social-media is the young and talented phenomena of the current age and they have enshrined Trump on every TV, computer and phone screen.

To me, the current political climate is similar to the 1928 presidential election. The progressives/Democrats were for decent, common goals – repealing prohibition, religious tolerance; the conservatives/Republicans were for tougher enforcement of Prohibition and stricter immigration restriction. The Klan and the Protestant churches were potent forces against all things democratic and Herbert Hoover, who had no electoral experience, was swept into office by a landslide beating out Roman Catholic and Democratic New Yorker Al Smith.

37 days till spring1 Leni Riefenstahl stands near Heinrich Himmler while instructing her camera crew at Nuremberg, 1934.
In Nazi Germany, a version of the undercut – long on top but shaved at the back and sides –
was popular among the young men of the Wehrmacht – armed forces.



February 13, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

quadro della sacra famigliasunrise – 7:17, sunset – 5:52
10 hours and 35 minutes of daylight


chi di voi lo possiede?     nelle famiglie del sud quasi tutti lo avevano 1

The B&W image on the left shows a Calabrian family in all its poverty, but there on the wall is the iconic painting of the Holy Family.
The comments below are from the FB page – Calabria Ieri – where the image of the painting was first posted.
The comments are a response to the above question – who has one? and to the comment that all families in southern Italy had this painting.

Antonella Dominici – Si ce lo e credo che sfiora i 50anni il mio quadro trovato in una casa vecchia abbandonata e rotta entrai ed era appeso al muro pieno di terra lo preso e lo portato via adesso e come nuovo

Mario Zinga – i miei genitori hanno portato il quadro dalla Calabria – Aprigliano – a Sault Ste Marie, Ontario Canada

Francesca Liguori – Lo abbiamo anche noi sulla testiera del letto dei miei genitori eredità dei nonni

Antonio La Rosa – io ce lo odintico con la stessa cornice e lo vendo

Giovanna Trichilo – vero.. io ce l’ho.. in camera da letto appeso sulla parete del letto matrimoniale dei miei genitori.. anche se non ci sono piu

My favorite comment is from il signore La Rosa who has no shame using the comment-string to pitch a sale,
because after all, he has the same image in the same faux-wood frame.

35 days till spring1 FB – Calabria Ieri


February 17, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

a glimpse of the strait 1sunrise – 7:12, sunset – 5:57
10 hours and 45 minutes of daylight


1 Uno sguardo sullo stretto – mario greco

The image was taken from Bagnara Calabra a small town on the western coast of Calabria just north of the mouth of the Strait of Messina. On the left and around the bend are the cities of Scilla, Villa San Giovanni and Reggio. On the right is the northeastern tip of Sicily. The image was taken by Mario Greco. Il signore Greco has posted some amazing images. I cropped his original image to fit into the post. (Follow the link attached to the footnote to get to the image Mario Greco posted.)

The rant today is about the garbage all over southern Italy. (It was not as pervasive in Le Marche and in Puglia it was restricted to the sites where the garbage bins are located.) How did I get to garbage? I wanted to see what the northeastern tip of Sicily looked like, so I went and looked at images of Torre Faro, the town at the tip. In almost all the images there were empty plastic bottles and cardboard and paper lining the streets. And among the litter were the Italians walking around as if they were strolling down some grand boulevard with not a care in the world.

One excuse is that garbage collecting is a government task and in a country where government is suspect, why would I be surprised that there’s garbage all over the place. You could also say that garbage collection is controlled by crime syndicates and there’s no oversight that anyone can bring to the problem. I reject both excuses. I think it’s about conspicuous consumption. Southern Italy grew rich after The War and the garbage is evidence that il mezzogiono it’s no longer poor, that it’s people are no longer peasants; that it’s stores are chuck-full of the products and conveniences of the north. What’s a little garbage next to that brag? And what’s the problem with old refrigerators lining the side-of-the-road? The American tourists are getting more and more like the Germans. Stop looking down and look at the azure sky. Where else do you see a sky this color?

O mia Patria sì bella e perduta

31 days till spring1 FB – Calabria Fotografia


February 20, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

seanse’s 20th birthdaysunrise – 7:08, sunset – 6:01
10 hours and 53 minutes of daylight

Feb-2016 040Today is Seane’s 20th birthday. (left-to-right – Mary, Alyssa, Cathy and Seane blowing out the candles.)

I drove up yesterday and the New York Thruway was hazardous. There were very high winds coming from the south and where there were no trees to on my right, the winds dumped all the snow from the open fields/the vineyards onto the highway creating white-outs and a slippery road-bed. There were several accidents; at one point traffic was down to one lane, because paramedics and police were untangling two cars that had somehow wrapped around each other. Also, there were many cars in the median. The winds were so strong that I was gripping the steering wheels trying to stabilize the car in order to minimize the sway from side-to-side. But once I was beyond the vineyards, the winds were also behind me. (It was strange to have the south lanes be so hazardous while the north lanes going west were free of drifts and raging winds.)

Because there was a full-house at Dave’s, I booked a room at the Holiday Inn. When I got there, the lobby was swarming with young kids all girls. They were chasing each other through the lobby playing tag and the screams were bouncing off the metal ceiling amplifying the volume. The parents were all Millennials and they were totally ignoring their children’s bad behavior. (They were in line waiting to check-in and until the kids started to come up to them, I thought that they like me, had nothing to do with the screamers. But no, they were the parents and totally oblivious to the disruption. OMG!! There they were with the iPhones, and their Coach bags, and their skinny jeans, and helmet hair, and their put-upon attitudes waiting on the overwhelmed clerks who didn’t seem to know who they were dealing with. We were in WASP Oakville and they were the better people. So what that the nannies weren’t there to take care of the out-of-control kids that shouldn’t reflect badly on the aging thirty-somethings in line.) I asked the receptionists what was going on and she told me it was a girls hockey tournament. What? Yap, seven and eight year-old girls playing hockey.

28 days till spring


February 22, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

sunrise – 7:02, sunset – 6:05
11 hours and 03 minutes of daylight

Feb-2016 078A

a walk in the woods

On the drive back from Kingston, we stopped in to see Connie’s friend Jody in Castleton. Jody and his partner bought 55 acres in this small farming community an hour-and-a-half east of Toronto. The location is beautiful and after coffee and muffins we went walking in the back-thirty. Jody has cleared an entire trail system in the woods behind their log-house.

Jody and his partner went from urban Vancouver to bucolic South-eastern Ontario.
24 days till spring



February 25, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

a french ticklersunrise – 7:00, sunset – 6:06
11 hours and 06 minutes of daylight

The area below the railroad tracks and above Lakeshore Road and between Trafalgar Road and Ford Drive is the most desirable section of Oakville. The area is chuck-full of millennials and their elders.

The area north of the tracks is full of cookie-cutter homes; the strip south of Lakeshore is reserved for the one-percents; and west of Trafalgar is full of older homes and families who have lived in the community for generations.


Trending in the AAA enclave is french-provincial – the mcmansion on the right. Realtors and their surrogates are buying up existing homes, tearing them down and putting up monstrosities sheathed in Loire-Valley ribbing. And the millennials are scarfing them up. So what, they have a $5,000,000 price-tag and you can touch your neighbors’ side-wall; the area is free of undesirables. At Whole Foods on Cornwall Road, I overheard the following comment: “It’s people like us.” The speaker was referring to her neighbors.

The building on the left is Canadian vernacular. And along the Trafalgar dividing line there are many examples of simple homes. They are unpretentious and hark back to a time of modest means and hard work.

The faux mcmansions won’t make it to the next tend. After-all, the price tag is based on the absence of the undesirables not the quality of the construction or the beauty of the architecture. And soon the arched windows and the mansard roofs with be passé.
23 days till spring


February 27, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

awakeningsunrise – 6:58, sunset – 6:09
11 hours and 11 minutes of daylight

spring13I went rummaging in the flower-bed looking for sprouts and I found them. (I noticed the green shoots the other day, but the weather was miserable and gray, too ugly to shoot. Today, the late afternoon sun was on them and I simply removed the dry leaves to expose the green.) I wish I knew if they are crocus or snow-drops. I so want them to be snow-drops. Everything I’ve read says that it takes the bulbs a couple of seasons to naturalize and bloom. And I’m so hoping to have them bloom this year. I really like the pendulous, bell-shaped white flower.

Last year I got no snow-drops. Very disappointing. They had been a staple in the side-bed for years and when I removed the flower-bed, I just assumed I could replace them. NOT. The bulbs in the side-bed had been there a good twenty years and they came up every February. (Most flower in winter, before the vernal equinox.) I don’t know when I started using them as indicators of spring, but it must have been years after I had planted the bulbs, because I had no idea that they didn’t bloom the first or second year after planting. Back then, I was putting anything in without reading the packages. And the only reason I read up on snow-drops was because I missed them the spring the side-bed was gone.
21 days till spring


March 4, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

last gaspsunrise – 6:48, sunset – 6:15
11 hours and 27 minutes of daylight

It has been a topsy-turvy week. Sunday through Tuesday the temperature hit 670, but by Wednesday it had dropped 20 degrees and by Thursday it plummeted to 190. And to add to the misery, last night it started to snow. It’s the wet-snow of late spring and it won’t last long, but man winter needs to be over.

In the image, east and sunrise are on the right. On the bricks, you begin to see the morning sun creeping down Sampsonia and lighting the row-houses. (I thought of re-shooting, but it’ll be well after noon before the sun hits the backyard.)

I never understand March, its weird weather patterns feel like a torture regiment. I’m terribly impatient with the yo-yo mercury. And even though this has been a mild winter, certainly compared to last year, I want it done. And to think there was a time in my life when wet, March snow just meant using the red ski wax.
15 days till spring


March 6, 2016 diario/journal, reflections



There are two photographers – Gianfranco Mancini and Walter Meregalli – that I am friends with on FB, whose work I really like.
Gianfranco wrote the following about his image – Esci di casa di buon’ora e agli occhi appare questa bellissima immagine della natura –
Da viale Gramsci il paese dove abito Montegranaro.
Nella foto si vede avvolto dalla nebbia Monte San Giusto paese confinante della Provincia di Macerata.

Walter’s image is of the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany.


sunrise – 6:45, sunset – 6:18
11 hours and 33 minutes of daylight

13 days till spring


March 24, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

come on vogue

balcony5AMarco Passaro posted the image on the italian-street-photography FB page. The image was shot in Rome near the Pantheon. Here, in Western Pennsylvania, the mornings are still too dim and too chilly to sit outside and have breakfast. (One of the things I like best about Kaua’i in March, is having breakfast on the lanai and watching the eastern sky turn blue with the sunrise.)

And even though we’ve had a mild winter and I have put the rose-bush and the rosemary outside, the weather is still variable. Denver had a mild spring day on Tuesday and a severe, blinding snow-storm yesterday. Patterns here show that March 17 seems to be dividing line between winter and spring weather.

I’ve always wanted to go to Italy in late-spring/early-summer mainly to see the country-side in bloom and to sit on a balcony and drink my espresso and eat my Nutella filled cornetto as the sun warms the sky.


March 24, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

new flooring in downstairs large-room

flooring2After many years, I’m replacing the abused carpet in the downstairs large-room with a laminate wood-floor.

Spent yesterday emptying out the bookshelves, the side-board, the coat-closets and this morning moving the TV/cable table and the computer/printer table into the hall. And where I liked the color of the carpet that was down, it had been terribly abused by the 8 dogs we’ve had over the years. And given its light color, it did not do well in this high-trafficked room.

This morning, I had to figure out how to lay the flooring-planks and I decided to have them run north/south – the direction of the room. I also figured that it would make the room seem longer if the eye went north/south when looking down at the flooring. An Amish family from north-east Ohio is doing the installation. The young man in the image on the left is bringing in the planks and laying them down as they will be installed. The planks are floated on top of a padding. No nails or mastic are used to secure the new flooring onto the old joists.


April 2, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

smock, collar and bow

studentIn 1950’s Calabria, elementary-school students wore black smocks, white collars and colored bows. The color indicated the grade-level. (In modern times, the smocks have become light-blue. U G L Y!)

There’s actually a picture of my 3rd class in Aprigliano, me in my smock and collar and bow.; I just can’t find it. (I sent my friend from back then – Franco Ciaccio – a FB message asking if he has a copy of the pic.)
School-DoorThe school was on the second floor of a local house just around the corner from where we lived. There were only two classes and they were across the hall from each other. Back then, like in so many other small towns in Calabria, there were enough kids to warrant having these small, two-room schools. It was also after the war, and new construction, new schools weren’t affordable. (I remember the teacher showing us a film-clip imploring its audience to not go near anything that looked like a grenade or bomb. The Germans had left many live land-mines throughout rural Italy and the government wanted kids to stay away from such dangerous war relics.)

Withing ten years, Calabria would be empty, its people leaving, in droves, for Canada, Argentina and Australia. The one and two room school-houses would be consolidated into regional schools.

The picture on the right is me in August of 2006 in front of the school-house door. The B&W image is from the FB page Calabria Ieri e Oggi.


April 9, 2016 diario/journal, reflections


nebbia – morning fog

Franco Middonno took the above image. And it’s described on his FB page as: Nebbia sul Golfo di Sibari, visto da Albidona. (I sent Franco a message asking if I could use his image in a blog post and he very generously gave me permission.)

The modern name for Golfo di Sibari is Golfo di Corigliano and it it part of the huge Gulf of Taranto – the body of water between the spur of Puglia and the eastern coast of northern Calabria. Franco shot the image from the hill-town of Albidona. Under the dense clouds are the golf waters.

What I like best about the image are the telephone/electrical poles and wires at the edge of the green. The poles and wires put a human dimension into a surreal landscape.

The motivation for the post is the experience of mixing cold and hot. In north-eastern Calabria, the mixture produced a cloud-blanket over the warm waters. In south-western Pennsylvania the contradiction left us freezing and full of fear that winter hadn’t lost its bite. Last week it was so warm I took the pots of roses and rosemary out into the garden to soak in the sun. But withing 3 days I had to haul them back in, because snow and freezing cold had vanquished the warmth. (I know it’s a last hurrah, but MAN is it depressing.)


April 24, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

morning sky

morning-skyIt will take some time to get the back-yard all planted and re-organized. I bought a Red Haven peach tree and will plant it tomorrow along the garage wall on the eastern side of the yard. The research said it was the best variety for this region. It will be nice to go out and pick a peach off a tree.

The other great development is the wisteria – there are blooms all over the long trellis. That is a shock and I’m being accused of reacting to the prospect of a flowering wisteria like an old immigrant. BTW, I am an old immigrant.


April 29, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

blossoms – blueberry, scots-pine, wisteria, lily-of-the-valley

Span-Spring2Two years ago, I cut the blueberries down to ground level and this year there will be a bumper crop. (The cutting came about, because the plants were producing little to no fruit. And after some research found that the remedy was to cut them down and let them re-grow.) The candles on the conifer are always beautiful. The wisteria is a total surprise. I thought that it would take years before the plant was ready to shoot out flowers. Clapping for genetically modified intervention. The lilies-of-the-valley take up a whole corner of the back-yard and I love the smell these tiny bells give off.

Today is my parents’ 68th wedding anniversary. April 1948 was an unusual time in Calabria. The aftermath of World War II hung over this rugged, poor land. My grandfather would tell the story of the American soldiers marching down Strada Statale – the main thoroughfare through Aprigliano.


May 11, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

peach-tree and cucumbers – the before

planter1Had thought that after buying the 3 large, plastic pots, I was finished with buying new containers and that I could look forward to growing vegetables along with the flowers. But the large pots were the worst. They didn’t drain, even though I had filled the bottoms with shards of the terra-cotta. One was so bad that the whole pot became water logged. I had to break the bottom tray to get the water to seep out and even then drainage was so poor that the soil stayed wet throughout the whole growing season. Well at least I now know why the vegetables did so badly last year. My plan was to re-fill the plastic pots with new soil and to replace the shards with stone. When I did that, I discovered that they were all cracked. After some consideration, I decided to replace the pots with a planter. The planter would also give me added room to grow a few more vegetables.

This year, I’m growing cucumbers. (The green leaves in the wolmanized planter against the wall.) The hybrid plants will produce fruit throughout the season and I love cucumbers from the vine. A very different vegetable than the wax covered, tasteless things one buys at the grocery store. I’m also adding chives this year. These I will use too. The other big step was to not grow basil. I never used enough of it and once the stalks turned wooden, the leaves would be bitter.

The narrow trunk in the foreground is the new Redhaven peach tree. This purchase started, because I wanted a white dogwood to plant in front of the brick-wall. I had pictures in my head of white blossoms against the red bricks. But a Calabrian immigrant can’t plant for ornamentation; it’s against our DNA. So, I did some research on the best fruit-trees for this region and came up with a dwarf Redhaven peach. It will put out blossoms and give me tree-ripened peaches.

The contraption behind the peach tree is my old kitchen door in two saw-horses. It’s a great work area, minimizing bending and lifting. At the edge is a rusted, old lantern that I want to restore and repaint.


May 13, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

  fast cars and femmes fatales

Frick-carYesterday, Sarah and I went to the Frick to see the photographs of Jacques Henri Lartigue – The privileged, younger son in a wealthy, glamorous French family, Jacques-Henri Lartigue (1894–1986) was a first-hand witness to the amusements and pleasures of life in the Belle-Époque and early-20th century France. The title of the show is Fast Cars and Femmes Fatales. (Isn’t the alliteration great – the f’s, the a’s and the t’s?)

It’s always both amazing and a surprise to see how the one-percenters of early-20th century Europe lived. The women in yards and yards of silk and satin, their exaggerated hats and their frou-frou dogs; the men in their Spats, fur-lined over-coats, their fedoras, their cigarettes.

Frick-car2Afterwards we went to see the new space that houses the Frick’s collection of antique cars. The image on the left is our reflection in the hub-cap of a 1939 Bantam Roadster; and the image on the right is the car. The coupe was built in Butler by the American Bantam Company. With the coming of WWII, the car was adapted for use as a reconnaissance vehicle, making it the first jeep prototype.

The first image in the above slide-show, is the hood-ornament on the Bantam Roadster.


May 13, 2016 diario/journal, reflections


then and now

left – on board the Dahu II. Renée Bolloré, Denise Grey and Bibi. Royan, France. July 1926
right – on the porch at Earle-and-Suzanne’s. Empty-chair, Derrick, Rose. Isola di Fano, Italy. August 2012

Rose claims that in the Lartigue photo, I’m the old man snoring, she’s the one shelling the Romano beans and Derrick is the person on the floor. My contribution was to add the Empty-chair character and to note that the two women shelling both have erratic hair.


finding blossoms in maysunrise – 5:59, sunset – 9:12
15 hours and 11 minutes of daylight
canada 2016 – may(1)
click to read the canada 2016 posts

blossomsI am up in Northern Ontario and on the 19th of May, I found apple-blossoms that are getting ready to open – AMAZING. Earlier today, in Oakville, I was surprised to find that the dandelions had all gone to seed and here I am some 250 miles north of Oakville and the dandelions are just in bloom. Where Oakville is two-and-a-half weeks behind Pittsburgh, Sault Ste Marie is easily three-and-a-half weeks behind us in Western Pennsylvania.

The blossoms are on my dad’s trees in his back-yard.

This is my first time flying up in at least 20 years. And I think it’s going to continue. Combining the Toronto trip and the Sault Ste Marie trip was an inspiration. Last night, I visited with my cousins, when I go back I’m visiting with Frank-and-Norma, helping Joe plant his back-yard and going to dinner with Dave-and-Seane. In the past I would have done two separate trips. It’s nice to drive only to Toronto and then fly up to visit with my parents. (The two day car trip from Pittsburgh to Sault Ste Marie is now a thing of the past.)
14.5 hours of sunlight in Pittsburgh


ready to opensunrise – 5:58, sunset – 9:11
15 hours and 13 minutes of daylight
canada 2016 – may(2)
click to read the canada 2016 posts

lilacsI took a walk to my aunt-and-uncle’s and along the way, shot every spring flower I found. I’m here at a great time – all the blossoms are on the cusp, the lawns are yellow with dandelions. A sense of hope and new-life is everywhere. (I’ve always wanted to be in Italy for spring. I want to shoot poppies in the wheat fields; eat fresh fava with old priscuitto.) In industrial Sault Ste Marie, spring disguises the dirt, the deteriorating housing stock, a west-end neighborhood full of old people.

The walk took me through streets full of memories – the recurring one is of the old sub-basement church that was St. Gregory’s. I remember walking there in the winter; we were still living at my grandparents’ and I would walk over on Saturday night to go to confession. (Talk about a long time ago and a ritual that no longer exists.)

My dad’s garden is the opposite of my uncle’s. Where Ciccio is ambiguous with his environment, Milio is exact and methodical. My father’s garden has randomness built into it; my uncle’s garden is laid out in precise, even rows. The roof of my father’s greenhouse is covered in moss; shiny glass panels front and roof my uncle’s greenhouse. (My uncle is able to grow primrose; he has several beautiful clusters that come back year-after-year. I’ve had no luck with spring primrose.)

Lunch today is gnocchi, deep-fried chicken from some fast-food place, and rapini. I complained to my mother that the chicken is full of salt, but the warning went in one ear and out the other. (I can’t figure out if buying deep-fried chicken is a convenience or a gesture to the idea that they are not hide-bound to old immigrant traditions.)
14 hours 36 minutes of sunlight in Pittsburgh


the vernacularsunrise – 5:57, sunset – 9:12
15 hours and 13 minutes of daylight
canada 2016 – may(3)
click to read the canada 2016 posts

The title – vernacular – is a favorite word of mine. However, it’s always been difficult to apply it to anything other than the switching of the Catholic Mass from the universal Latin to the local language. This mental block comes specifically because I was raised Catholic and can remember Vatican II and the switch – the altar moved so that the priest faced the congregation and the old Latin became English. But my non-Catholic friends have always used the term to refer to the architectural designs common in an area. And I like applying the term to housing design. The house in the image is a typical 1920’s/1930’s frame structure here in Northern Ontario. It resembles in form, what we in the US, would call Cape Cod style. (I remember seeing similar house in the beach communities around Narragansett. John’s family summer cottage looked a lot like the house in the picture, just smaller and with no basement.) The alterations, to the typical New England cottage design, are mainly in the steeper roof pitch – understandable given the northern climate and the snow-bound winters and in the addition of a basement lifting it off the ground, off a ground that can stays frozen 5 months of the year.

Without a car, I’ve been walking everywhere and this morning I headed west and into the subdivisions on the other side of Goulais Avenue. I had never walked in this area before and it was wonderful to discover a neighborhood full of old houses that have been maintained, upgraded, but not fractured. (The house in the image does not have its front steps, but the pylons are there to support them once they are installed. Let’s hope that they don’t use wolmanized or pre-fab materials.)


marsh-marigoldssunrise – 5:56, sunset – 9:13
15 hours and 15 minutes of daylight
canada 2016 – may(4)
click to read the canada 2016 posts

marsh-mThe last two times I was up here in the spring, I shot these beautiful yellow flowers that lined the ditches and covered the bogs in and around Connie-and-Ron’s cottage. Connie has transplanted a bunch of the plants from the boggy back-lot across the street to the banks of the drainage-ditch on the north-side of the property. The plant is also know as Caltha cowslip and kingscup.

Naming this plant turned out to be easier than I had expected. I went to Google-Images and once I found something that looked like the plant, I was able to trace it back to a name and a genus. (This is not a plant I remember from when I was living here, but then looking at spring flowers or shooting them weren’t things I was doing or interested in. Never mind the fact that I went no where near bogs or ditches. These wet-areas were reminders of winter, reminders that we were living in a non-urban landscape and therefore undesirable. And let’s not forget, that the ditches, the stagnant waters were mosquito breeding-tanks.)

The long Victoria Day weekend is the traditional time to go out and open the cottages that line the shorelines of this norther community. The weather is cool; the land has lost its winter moisture; and the trees are full of blossoms and sap. It’s a great time to be out in the woods. The evergreens on Connie-and-Ron’s property are now mature and provide a wonderful canopy. Connie was putting in annuals and trying to rake-up all the twigs and dead branches winter left behind.


May 26, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

bumblebee and ant in the wisteriasunrise – 5:55, sunset – 8:40
14 hours and 35 minutes of daylight

wisteriaThe wisteria is planted in the worst soil, in the most inhospitable spot and yet in its second year it bloomed. There are more than a dozen flower-clusters and the bumblebees love them. They climb right into the flower, almost disappearing into its cup-shaped petals.

I spent some time tying the new growth down so that it didn’t look like wild green hair sprouting from the top of the fence post. I want to grow the vine all the way down the lateral beam keeping it long rather than thick. And I suspect it was that pruning and shaping that I did last year that produced the flowers; that and the genetically modified plant the company shipped. (Years ago when we planted a wisteria at Rick-and-Sarah’s the literature all said that it would take 7 years before the plant produced flowers. Research also pointed out that the plant produced blooms when it determined that it was in danger – poor soil, bad environment. I remember thinking that I could plant it in the concrete, in the corner near the alley between my house and the neighbor’s.)

The genetically altered plant ended up in the north-east corner, because the grape-vine I had there needed extra care to produce grapes. (I wasn’t willing to introduce the insecticides needed to keep the grapes from falling off the cluster.) It took almost 3 years to get rid of the grape-vine. When I planted the wisteria, I was expecting a vine that would cover the long two-by-four that straddles the top of the fence. By the end of last year’s growing season, the vine was half-way across the back-yard. It gave the top of the fence an added dimension. I liked it.

I’ve been recording the daylight in Sault Ste Marie, because I finally figured out why my dad and his fellow immigrants are able to grow vegetables in such a short growing season. The answer is the amount of daylight. Down here we have the temperatures, up there the cold lingers, but once the daylight comes it stays. They get almost an hour more of daylight than we do down here in Western Pennsylvania.
15 hours 26 minutes of sunlight in Sault Ste Marie


May 29, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

mandevilla, redstar-spike, ianelli sprite and fernsunrise – 5:53, sunset – 8:42
14 hours and 39 minutes of daylight

tall-potFor the last two years, I’ve been working on creating a number of set-pieces that would only require annuals to fill the various pots. Last year I purchased what I thought would be the last set of pots – 3 large, plastic things that I imagined would last and in which I would plant vegetables. They were a disaster – drainage was so bad that for most of the growing season they were filled with water. My only option was to break the trays at the bottom and even then the soil never got dry. This year, I replaced the cheap pots with a planter I built out of wolmanized. OK, that wasn’t too bad, I now had a decent sized vegetable-bed. But then I discovered I needed another pot to fill the space where the bird-bath was. (Birds never came to take a bath. And, it was either block/fill the space or have the dogs sneak in behind the pots and rocks.)

This morning, I set out for Lowe’s, Home Depot and the various North Hills greenhouses looking to find something that would block/fill the space. I found this amazingly tall pot at Brenckle’s Greenhouses and there sitting on the concrete next to it was a large Mandevilla. I checked that the plant fit into the tall pot and it did. I walked out and headed home. No need to do any more shopping.

The title refers to the items in the back-row – red Mandevilla in the tall bronze pot, a Cordyline Red Star Spike, an Alfonso Ianelli garden sprite and a large fern. The twisty vine above the fern is the wisteria coming up from its bed in the corner.
15 hours 31 minutes of sunlight in Sault Ste Marie


June 30, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

pittsburgh – latitude 40.4 o Nsunrise – 5:53, sunset – 8:54 (15 hours and 01 minute of daylight)

harrow – latitude 42.0 o Nsunrise – 6:00, sunset – 9:11 (15 hours and 11 minute of daylight)

sault ste marie – latitude 46.5 o Nsunrise – 5:48, sunset – 9:34 (15 hours and 46 minute of daylight)

blueberriesI keep reminding myself that temperature is not the most important variable in determining agrarian yield. In Harrow it’s its geographical location. The severe weather goes around the Southwestern Ontario peninsula; winter weather skirts the area and dumps its snows on London and Cleveland. In Sault Ste Marie it’s its latitude. Toady, the Sault had 45 more minutes of daylight than Pittsburgh. In Northern Ontario, daylight is the critical variable during a short growing season.

This is the first post in the domain.



July 11, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

a new domainfirst post in domain –


With the many available new domains, I bought and Dan moved the entire website over.
The image is by Fernando Lucianetti; it was taken around the town of Lucania in Basilicata. It is absolutely one of my favorite landscapes.


August 1, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

 coneflower – echinacea purpurea

Aug-1 016I had to move the Midway Gardens Sprite, because the contractors are sealing the seam between the house-bricks and the cement pad on the side of the house. At first, I moved it into the corner with all the annuals. (I left a post from the old bonsai shelf and put the Sprite up on top of it. It’s way too tall for that location.)

When looking for a new place for the Sprite, Leger suggested that I put it on the ground next to the Japanese lilac. I wasn’t sure about this, but I tried it. It didn’t work on the right side of the trunk, but man it looked great on the left. To balance it, Leger suggested a Wright-like pot for the opposite side. Today, I found a great Wright-like pot at Home Depot. The Coneflower is a great match for the blue-stones and the patio-bricks. (I have to keep the dogs away from the plant; they like eating the leaves. They touch no other plant, but the Coneflower.)

It’s a surprise how well the Sprite, the pot and the Coneflower fit the space.

The National Gardening Association has the following info about the plant on their website – Coneflower is a native North American perennial sporting daisylike flowers with raised centers. The flower, plant, and root of some types are used in herbal remedies. Widely renowned as a medicinal plant, coneflowers are a long-flowering perennial for borders, wildflower meadows, and prairie gardens. Blooming midsummer to fall, the plants are relatively drought-tolerant and rarely bothered by pests. The flowers are a magnet for butterflies, and the seeds in the dried flower heads attract songbirds. Flower colors include rose, purple, pink, and white, plus a new orange variety. Plants grow 2 to 4 feet tall, depending on variety.


August 3, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

rounded, curvilinear  . . .

nakoma-AWright created the Nakoma sculpture as a tribute to the Winnebago Indian Nation. The female Nakoma and the male Nakomis were to stand in large circular shallow water basins at the entrance to the Wright designed Nakoma Country Club in Madison. Neither the statues nor the clubhouse were ever built in Wisconsin. But, a group of developers purchased the clubhouse plans from Wright’s Taliesin architects and built the stunning structure on the brow of a hill in the Mohawk Valley of Plumas County, California.

There are three figures in the sculpture – the mother, the daughter at her side and the papoose on her back. (I noticed the papoose today for the fist time. I was thinking that the ball shape behind her head was her hair in a bun. And because of that oversight, I cut the papoose out in the large image in the slide-show. In the photo on the left, the small ball shape shows itself to be a face – amazing.) Originally the sculpture was meant to stand 16 feet high with water spilling from the round bowl. The flow was to be the water source for the basin. In 1929 Wright had small models of the female and male figures produced in terracotta. The reproduction I have is from the statue at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

I saw the sculpture back in November when I was at Fallingwater with my cousins and I was temped to buy it, but didn’t. Then when I made the decision to get rid of the Alfonso Ianelli garden sprite, the Wright sculpture came back into play.
(Leger referred to the Ianelli as the breast-examination statue.)

Last Wednesday, I called the gift-shop at Fallingwater and the gentleman that answered – Keith – said they had a second Nakoma sculpture in their store-room. I drove up on Sunday and picked it up. And I spent today rearranging the plants around the new piece.


August 5, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

a new planter

Aug-5 059Last year at this time, the back-yard got all new pavers. The back-planter had to wait, because I was leaving for Puglia. When I got back, I decided to wait until next summer because by then, the blueberries would be all harvested. The guys come yesterday and ripped out the old wolmanized 6X6 and built a new planter out of rock-slabs.

The plants in the front got severely disrupted. Two of the oldest blueberry bushes got dislodged. When the old 6X6s were removed, the bushes just fell out into the trough the guys were digging for the foundation. The fact that the plants weren’t yanked out, should mean that the root-ball is intact. I wrapped the root-ball and its surrounding soil in a plastic bag to keep it moist and prevent further damage. I replanted them today.

In the smaller section on the left, I did an experiment – I cut all the lily-of-the-valley down to soil-level and then covered the entire bed with Peat Moss. Am hoping that since the lily is a rhizome, the Peat Moss should protect the disrupted underground stems and next spring the bed should be full of lilies. (I did the same thing a couple of years ago with the blueberries and within two years I had a bumper crop.)

The small bed has the fencing, because the dogs just want to climb into it. The attraction is the blueberries in the other section. (Jack hasn’t figured out that the berries are all done. He still goes up to the plants looking for berries. Jack has a great personality, but he is not the smartest dog we’ve had.)


August 24, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

now the sun’s sinking down, spilling gold on the ground


got a tattoo of a snake
and a ski-mask on my face
but i woke up in a ditch
behind the stop’n go

lying in the weeds
with a bullet in my gut
watching dollar bills
fly away in the dust

Handsome Family, (2016). Unseen. Gold

In the image on the right, I’m experimenting with Photoshop Adjustments. I tried to wash out most of the colors except for the green and the red of the leaves and trumpet-flowers. A contrast to the image on the left with its setting sun hues and gleaming gecko.

Sitting here watching Rachel Maddow interviewing Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s new campaign manager, and it’s amazing to see Conway squirm as she tries to explain the Republican candidate.


September 3, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

stolen flowers

Along Sampsonia Way, my neighbor, whose back-fence is not up against the alley, planted a couple zucchini plants in the small, raised flower-bed outside her back-fence. The plants are now well over 10 feet in length. And because some of my other neighbors planted annuals along my back-fence, I am out in the alley watering; and because I need to keep the wisteria contained, I am out in the alley, with my little step ladder, trimming all the off-shoots sprouting from the wisteria vines; I’ve been keeping an eye on the zucchini plants. And my neighbor seems to have no idea that the golden male flowers are edible. And after watching many of these golden delicacies shrivel and wither, I decided it was time to pick them and make fritters.

Zucchini, like all squash, has its ancestry in the Americas. However, the green, cylindrical squash harvested immature and typically called zucchini was developed in northern Italy. A description of this new squash, under the name zucchini, occurs in a work published in Milan in 1901. Zucca is the Italian word for pumpkin/squash and zucchino (zucca + ino = little) is the diminutive form, becoming zucchini in the plural.

I went out with my colander and filled it with both opened and unopened flowers. (Paul went on and on about my having stolen from my neighbor.) I cleaned the flowers removing the stems and green petals. The shriveled flowers need to be opened, because ants and cucumber beetles tend to get caught in them. Next, made the batter – equal parts flour and cheese, two eggs, parsley and salt to taste – threw the flowers in and fried them. (At my parents’ zucchini flower fritters are a summer staple. My dad picks the flowers every morning and my mom makes and fries the fritters for lunch and a late afternoon snack.) The above image has the fritters – some golden brown and some still in the skillet.


September 6, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

crawling the walls

The majority of the wall-plaques have no color and then, I found 3 painted-aluminum salamanders from Mexico. The one on the left is the biggest. I like the hints of the other things in the pic; on the left are the green leave of the sweet potato vine as well as their shadows; the black-green rope holds one the buckets hanging from the Japanese Lilac; in the middle is the hint of another one of the ropes; and on the right is the outer arc of a circular iron ornament.

My favorite image from this shoot is the first one in the slideshow – the tiny, blue oregano flowers, the rocks, the sweet-potato vine and the negative black spaces. Whenever I’m hiking and see a hole in the rock or a deep black tunnel on the side of a cliff, I fantasize that some creature lives in it. The black spaces in the above image bring back those wild ideas.

This miserable election has me turning off all cable news. People who live with it 24-7 must be living anxious lives. Everything is an occasion for anxiety; everything Trump does is widely reported; nothing Clinton says is reported at all. By November, on Fox, there will be real-time Trump fart-alerts and a death-watch for Clinton. Will this election finally put the nail in broadcast TV’s coffin? Will this election finally marginalize all the old people who have been living with the boob-tube in every room of their house? Will this be the last election to play out on TV? Please let it be the last election to use broadcast TV with its headline porn, because the next generation has no loyalty to the manipulative, greedy bastards running the networks. At least the head of CBS admitted that Trump is the ruin of the country, but a ratings super-star.


September 7, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

new shutters

The new shutters give me the option of opening some louvers to let in daylight. The thin blinds that were there could be set to either opened or closed. And because the front windows are right on the sidewalk, the blinds were always closed. The shutters have an upper and lower section and I can open the upper louvers and not sacrifice privacy. This should mean that I don’t have to automatically put on the electric lights in order to see. I also like looking through the upper louvers and seeing the tree in front of the house and the rooftops of the alley-houses in the back. (It’s a surprise to realize that this is the first time in 30 years that I can sit and my desk, in the big downstairs room and see the outside.)

The real surprise is that from the outside, the shutters look plywood like. On first impression, the yellow-pine finish makes it look like the window is boarded up, but the well between the shutters and the glass, and the yellow paint on the sides of the well correct that first impression. The other thing that corrects this first impression is having the louvers point up. This allows interior light to come through.

This is the second image I’ve posted that has a number of items in it that I like. Going from left-to-right – the angels, the Amish dining-room table, the overhead light, the fancy frame on the window and the blue radiator. The contractor is Rick from Blind Doctors.

John, who is the owner of the company and an amateur wine maker, promised me a bottle of his wine. When he came to take measurements, he saw the Terra Cruda/Aliatico wine bottles on the side-board and that got us talking.


September 14, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

i stole again

I again went out onto Sampsonia Way and picked zucchini flowers from the plant growing in my neighbor’s alley flower-bed.

The last time I made the pittuli, I added no additional salt thinking that what was in the cheese would be enough. It wasn’t. This time I added a bit too much. (I have an excuse to make another batch.) I also separated the zucchini flower from its base and made the batter more liquidy; both alterations made it easier to fold the flowers into the batter. The only change from my mother’s recipe is that I add parsley. (In the image on the left, the black specks are parsley.) I take my mother’s frozen parsley and shave it into the batter. My mother gives me the parsley frozen in a tube-shape wrapped in cellophane. BTW, the frozen parsley looks like a bag of weed.

This is an eat-standing meal, because I eat the fritters as soon as they come out of the pan. Yes, they are very hot and you have to delicately rip them into small steaming chunks or risk burning your mouth. In the Zinga family, there are two foods – zucchini pittuli and fried potato wedges – that you eat out of the frying pan or immediately after you take the item out. I love eating the crispy fritters hot out of the frying pan; my dad loves eating the potato wedges as they brown.

The black prongs and the coin-shaped gas-burner lid add interesting elements to the image. Also, I like the rigid circles of the frying pan and the coin shaped gas-lid as well as the amorphous circular shapes of the pittuli.


September 16, 2016 diario/journal, reflections


removing the deadwood – le frasce

sometimes an image surprises
and then it’s worth the time
to expose that kernel of wonder

the pruner’s pose
is classical in its reach
baroque in its setting
american in its clothing
ethereal in its glide
and generous
in its offering

Today, the tree-service guys came to prune the lowest branches of the Redwood. And Jason – the pruner in the pic – used a cherry-picker for the job. He parked the humongous bucket-truck in the alley, and because there were parked cars, he only dropped two safety feet. He did an amazingly job setting the right foot a millimeter away from the parked Acura tire. (In another life, he was a surgeon.) He then telescoped the bucket, using the 60 foot hydraulic lift, over all the wires and brought it into my back-yard and into the Redwood. After cutting the six bottom limbs, he climbed into the tree and removed all the deadwood. My father would have used all these dead branches – frasce; the large ones as stakes in his garden and the small one for kindling .


September 22, 2016 8th grade, diario/journal, reflections

summer’s end

lanternIt’s official, we have moved into fall.

The rusted lantern sits on top of the fence between my back-yard and Carl’s; the Rose-of-Sharon is in his yard, a legacy of Joe and Rose Ferrara the previous owners.

Try to remember the kind of September when you were a tender and callow fellow

  • I was in elementary school and living in Northern Ontario. It was early September and I remember trying to fall asleep the night before the first day of school. It was terribly muggy and we had no AC. We were living at my grandparents’ and my bedroom was a nook off the living-room.
  • It was a Saturday morning in mid-September and Ron, Frank, Rainer and I met up at the basketball court at our elementary school for a game. Mike Bonder, one of the Goulais Avenue kids and a fellow 8th grader also showed up. We let him play. In the distance, the hills were covered in fog, because the weather was turning. And even though the sky was super blue, a chill wrapped around us as we ran up and down the court.
  • September was also wild mushroom time. It had rained the night before but Saturday morning the sky broke blue and my dad and I went mushroom picking somewhere off Highway 17 North. I remember the meadow grass; it had turned gold and brittle and rattled in the breeze.
  • In Norther Ontario, in September, you could wear a heavy sweater in the morning. It was a great day when you walked out the door and the cars were covered in a light frost.


October 5, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

47 years is a long time

korah-roadThe last time I was here, at this time of year, was October of 1969. (Writing that date makes is seem so long ago.) I was a freshman at the University of Windsor and I drove up with a fellow student. He was older and could rent a car and in exchange, I invited him to my parents’ for Canadian Thanksgiving. He was an American from Cincinnati.

It’s a nice time of year, the weather is mild, but everywhere there are indicators of winter. Every yard, has hockey nets and hockey sticks – the kids are anticipating upcoming season; the gardens are all harvested; and the lawns have had their final cut.

The image on the left is of the corner of Korah Road and Douglas Street. The house is both a residence and a music school. When we came from Italy in 1957, the area was full of stores. My parents ran a tab at Tagliabracci Groceries; their first chesterfield they bought at Spatone Furniture; and in between the two was the pharmacy where I bought my DC and Marvel comics. A couple of doors was the infamous Roosevelt Hotel Bar. No self-respecting Italian immigrant, of my parents’ age, went anywhere near the place, but the previous generation of immigrants, the ones well on their way to assimilation, the ones who had traded in their home-made wine for Carling Black Label; the ones who could speak English without an accent; the ones who drove new cars not used junkers; they flocked to the Roosevelt.


October 5, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

blooming alone

One of the surprises is the flowers in my parents’ front yard. These are the genetically modified flowers – geraniums, begonias, dahlias, impatience, roses, petunias – we all plant. They are on their last bloom. Soon the morning frost will wither them and the hurried winds will rip their petals apart.

In order to snap the pic, I had to hold the stem, because the wind was whipping everything.

It’s interesting to have been here in May when all the fruit-trees were in bloom and my dad and my uncle were planting their gardens. Fast forward four months and the gardens are empty. My uncle still has plants in the ground in his greenhouse. But my dad has pulled all the vegetable plants and turned them into the soil. The only plants left in the garden are escarole. The plant is hardy enough to last well into early winter. And as long as the snowfall is minimal, my parents will eat garden-fresh escarole salads and my mother will make pasta-e-scarola well into December.

The summer days of endless light have given way to cloudy skies and early sunsets. This is the In-between. By late October, there will be snow flurries. (Languid Indian Summer is for the domains south and east of the 49th parallel.)


October 6, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

harvesting pears

It was time to harvest the winter pear tree, so my dad and I got the ladders out and my mom brought out the bushel and the crook. When I asked for a pair of pruning shears my 90 year old parents laughed. “Just rip them down.” Guess using pruning shears was too hoity-toity.

My dad is one of those people who just wants to get the job done, whether it’s done well or done correctly is less important. So while I was on the ladder cutting the fruit off the branches and placing each pear into a bucket so not to bruise it, he was on the ground with a long stick whacking the fruit off. So much for gathering unbruised fruit. My cousin Joe tells the story that his dad and his son-in-law couldn’t work together, because his dad was similar to mine – get the job done and style and accuracy be damned. His son-in-law would measure twice before cutting a piece of wood; Cump’ Armunte would cut and use whatever came out, making it fit by hook-or-by-crook. Ciccio Zinga is the same way. Guess growing up in Aprigliano in the 20s and 30s must have ingrained similar sensibilities.

For me the obsession for accuracy and correctness come in the writing. I can spend days going over a couple of paragraphs. It would drive Rick crazy. He would write a memo, give it to me to proof and then hate the process of revision.

Many of the pears were on the ground and you could tell the ones I cut from the ones that had fallen to my dad’s whacking stick. He explained that because they’re not eating pears, it’s less important that they not banged up. After-all, the fruit is gonna be cut up and made into jam.

The pic is my mother, holding one of bushels with the pears, in the downstairs kitchen.


October 15, 2016 diario/journal, reflections


Excerpt from Toni Morrison’s Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature (December 7, 1993)
The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

Excerpts from George Orwell’s 1984
the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival.

The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion, and the film and the radio carried the process further. With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end.

They were born, they grew up in the gutters, they went to work at twelve, they passed through a brief blossoming period of beauty and sexual desire, they married at twenty, they were middle-aged at thirty, they died, for the most part, at sixty. Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer, and, above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds.

Often she was ready to accept the official mythology, simply because the difference between truth and falsehood did not seem important to her.


October 23, 2016 2016, diario/journal, reflections

calabrian diaspora

Calabrians expatriates number almost two million – 1, 872, 500 to be exact.
Calabrians also form the largest Italian community abroad.
• 226,500 live in Europe
• 590,000 live in North and Central America
• 896,000 South America
• 160,000 in Australia and Oceania

A breakdown by country, shows the following distribution of Calabrian immigrants:
• Argentina – 580,000
• United States – 360,000
• Brazil – 270,000
• Canada – 230,000
• Australia – 160,000
• Germany – 73,000
• Switzerland – 54,000
• Venezuela – 15,000
• Chile/Uruguay – 18,000
• Belgium – 13,000
• Great Britain – 12,000
• Sweden – 6,000
• Luxembourg – 1,500.

Both the image and the data came from the FB page – Calabria Ieri e Oggi.


December 10, 2016 diario/journal, reflections

and what’ll you do now, my darling young one



In the online edition of The New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich wrote a schmaltzy, but wonderful piece about Patti Smith’s performance at the 2016 Nobel Prize ceremony. My favorite paragraph …

Smith was accompanied by the Philharmonic performing a spare and gentle arrangement of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” orchestrated by Hans Ek, a Swedish conductor. She looked so striking: elegant and calm in a navy blazer and a white collared shirt, her long, silver hair hanging in loose waves, hugging her cheekbones. I started crying almost immediately. She forgot the words to the second verse—or at least became too overwhelmed to voice them—and asked to begin the section again. I cried more. “I’m sorry, I’m so nervous,” Smith admitted. The orchestra obliged. The entire performance felt like a fierce and instantaneous corrective to “times like these”—a reiteration of the deep, overwhelming, and practical utility of art to combat pain. In that moment, the mission of the Nobel transcended any of its individual recipients.2

Smith is priestess, chanting an anthem, to a generation that lost its soul on November 8. She is troubadour and in the last verse, she rejects the alt-right’s silencing of democracy; and with fists clenched, she insists, she will – tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it. Her Druid voice makes Dylan’s words a clarion call.
1  A defiant and nervous Patti Smith performing  A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall  at the Nobel ceremony. (The above image is a still from the video.)
2  Amanda Petrusich writing in The New Yorker –  A Transcendent Patti Smith Accepts Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize


February 11, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

pilgrimage as economy

To those of us from certain parts of Calabria, today is a major holy-day – the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Even today, throughout southern Italy there are shrines to Our Lady of Lourdes. In many small towns, in Calabria, in Basilicata, in Puglia you can still see posters advertising pilgrimages to Lourdes. Devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes is still wide-spread. Many of my relatives in Aprigliano have made the pilgrimage to Lourdes, some more than once.

This date and this holy-day were important religious events of my early life. When we came to Canada, I had all sorts of memorabilia for Our Lady of Lourdes. My dad, who did a 3-month work-stint in south-western France, went to Lourdes and brought back most of the paraphernalia we had in Sault Ste Marie.

But age and some ability to connect dots previously isolated by cultural myths, allows me to look at the past through a different lens. What I’m finally realizing is the economic and PR machinery that promoted the pilgrimage to south-western France. An industry that got poor peasants from Italy’s poorest regions to travel to south-western France. A 2,000 kilometers or 1200 miles bus ride. And imagine all the people and businesses, along the 1200-mile route, that made money off the pilgrims. And imagine all the restaurants, all the hotels, all the souvenir shops in Lourdes that profited from the pilgrims from southern Italy.

When we were in San Giovanni Rotondo, in Puglia, it was clear that the town was totally dependent on its Santuario Padre Pio for its economic livelihood. (Padre Pio is southern Italy’s own saint and his burial place in San Giovanni Rotondo is a huge pilgrimage site.) Assisi is the prototype Italian pilgrimage town. The whole town is a religious tourist destination. The old medieval town has been cleaned up and refurbished; all the buildings are pointed with new grout, all the walls – houses, palaces, churches – are clean; there are beautiful medieval street lamps throughout; and all the hotels, the restaurants cater to the religious tourists.

Thinking about the economy of pilgrimages, led me to realize that my dad and his friends didn’t end up working in south-western France by accident. I’ll bet that the same people who organized the bus-trips from Aprigliano to Lourdes, over the years, got to know the small business owners – in this case the forestland-owners – in south-western France and when those business owners needed migrant workers to prune and cut trees, the pilgrimage organizers recruited in Aprigliano. How different can recruiting to fill a bus or a small hotel be from recruiting workers who can chop down trees? In post-war Calabria men transitioning from a farm economy to an urban economy were a dime a dozen. Transportation and lodgings options were already in place, so what that the people going over were going to work rather than pray.

What gets revealed in this new awareness is the religious veneer – the patina that covers the economic engine of moving people from one location to another.

The above image is an old postcard of the grotto at the shrine in Lourdes. Note the hundreds of crutches hanging on the wall and from the ceiling in the cave.



February 21, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

thursday, february 16

Thursday morning, fat flurries were dropping delicately, nothing massive or blinding enough to make me want to cancel the road-trip. What I had forgotten though was that wet-snow and wet-roads make for lots of windshield fluid and salt-spray gunking up my car. 79 North was a mess. Outside of Erie, it was a winter-wonderland and I started to worry, however, as soon as I turned east onto 90, the winter weather stayed behind me and I drove into sun and dry roads.

In Hamilton, I took the 407 East, rather than stay on the non-toll, super-congested QEW, 427 and 16-lane horror known as the 401. Driving the 407 Express-Toll-Road (ETR) is like driving a Pittsburgh highway – limited traffic and pleasant surroundings. Got to Mary-and-Dom’s, in Pickering, around 4:00.

Friday morning, Rose and I took Sadie out for a walk in the sub-division. The above image is of one of the older houses in the neighborhood. This particular section of eastern metropolitan Toronto began development in the 1970s and the bungalow was the premier house design. The house in the above image was a high-end version of the common bungalow. The large property and the sheltered front door were not typical design elements of the affordable suburban ranch. Today, many of these older homes are being demolished and replaced with faux mini-mansions.

In the afternoon, I went into town to High Park to Frank-and-Norma’s for dinner. We always have a nice time, even if we talk about the crazy-man in DC.

On my way home, because I was staying in Pickering, I had to get on the Gardiner going east. I’d never done that before and I wasn’t familiar with the downtown entrance ramps. I vaguely remembered that they were short and had no merging lane. And sure enough when I found one I immediately ended up on the side of the highway with cars zooming by. I managed to get on even if the car behind me sat on his horn until I achieved cruising speed. It reminded me of driving in Calabria, specifically in Reggio where most entrances onto the highway were up short ramps with a stop sign at the top. Talk about nail-biting. But then, there’s nothing like going from 0 to 60 to get the adrenaline running. Guess those experiences in Reggio prepared me for the Gardiner at night.

saturday, february 18

Everyone at the Melchiorre’s kept referring to my Saturday schedule as Driving Miss Daisy. (I was driving down to Oakville, picking up Connie, coming back east to The Danforth for lunch, taking Connie back to Oakville and then eventually driving back to Pickering.) It was a beautiful day and the various drives didn’t bother me. I got to Oakville by way of the 401, the 427 and the QEW. (The 401 is really a miserable highway.)

Connie and I were going out to lunch with her friend Jim and his partner Dan. Jimmy is an old friend from Sault Ste Marie. (The last time she had seen him, my sister Jo’ was still alive. Back then, Jimmy had come down to Oakville visited with Jo’ and then he and Connie went for coffee.) At Christmas, Connie asked me to contact Jimmy through his FB account. He was very glad to hear from her and to meet me and suggested we all get together the next time we were in Toronto.

Over the last couple of months Jimmy’s FB comments and messages have popped up on my account. When Connie and I knew we were heading to Toronto for late February, we all exchanged phone numbers and made arrangements to visit. Jimmy suggested that we go to his place, off The Don Valley, on The Danforth for lunch.

The valley gets its name from the small creek – the Don – that flows through the park. The valley separates the sprawling, Blade Runnerish downtown from the more human scaled Danforth/Greek-Town neighborhood. The area has none of the glass skyscrapers that litter downtown and most of its original housing stock is still in place. As a matter of fact, the first time I was in the area, all I could think of was the Toronto I knew from my high-school days. A small Canadian city of two-story structures and wide commercial streets with lots of food markets. My grandfather and I would walk down to Bloor Street and within a three/four block radius he could do all his grocery shopping. The Danforth has that feel – the businesses are all on the street floor of the two-story structures and the avenue is wide and teeming with people. BTW, Danforth is the name Bloor Street takes on east of the Don Valley.

Jim and Dan live on the edge of The Danforth facing the valley. The above image is taken from their balcony. And the bridge in the lower-right is the span that connects Bloor Street on the west to Danforth Avenue on the east.

sunday, february 19

The day before Rose and Mary had gone walking down by the lake and Rose kept commenting about the wonderful walk and how much I would like it and what a great place it was for pictures. So Mary decided that for our Sunday morning walk, we should go back down to the lake-front park. The area is the Rouge River National Park and the Waterfront Trail. The above image is shooting into the silt-ponds at the mouth of the Rouge before it empties into Lake Ontario. I love the haggard cat-tails – left-overs from a distant fall.

There are three estuaries that originate in the moraine north of the city and flow through modern metro Toronto to Lake Ontario. Roughly, the Humber comes into town along the western edge of High Park; the Don is the middle river separating the city into west and east; and the Rouge is the third watercourse marking the eastern edge of the metro region.

We got home from our walk along the north-eastern shore of Lake Ontario, Mary went to all the downstairs windows and lifted them open. Holy shit, it’s February in Canada and she’s opening windows as if it were spring.

Early afternoon we drove down to Oakville for my niece’s birthday party. (It was so warm in the car, I ended up putting on the AC rather than keeping the windows open and letting in the road-noise.) I took the super-clogged highways going down, but on our way home, I took the Gardiner and the Don Valley to the soul-draining 401. Mary was surprised by my facility with getting around and to knowing more than one way to get home that she asked if I had ever lived in Toronto. I just said that I had been coming to town all my life and once I started driving, I had a car to explore with.

I have to say that this was the first time when I didn’t think-about or worry-about driving. Took me long enough to get to the point of seeing Toronto highways as familiar and ordinary.


February 26, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

february’s spring

It’s taken two years for the snow-drops to come up and bloom. I say that, because in the old, side-yard flower-bed, these early bulbs never missed a season. But that’s really not accurate, because I have no idea how long it took them to take root, because I have no idea when I first planted them. Back then, I didn’t know one bulb from another. (In an area with limited sun, I planted tulips, and other long-stem flowering bulbs.) It took me a while to understand that I have limited sun in my urban back-yard and that tall plants, because they follow the sun, tend to fall over when reaching excessively for the afternoon light that just touches the fenced in back-yard.

I didn’t missed the snow-drops, in the side-yard, until I was in Cambridge in March of 2013 and they were all through the monastery courtyard. (I had removed the side flower-bed the previous summer and had totally forgotten about my harbingers of spring.)

The ones in the above image are not from my back-yard; mine are just coming up and when they first bloom, they’re singles – one plant per bulb; it takes a few years for the bulbs to multiply and clusters. Also, the above flowers are a giant version – genetically modified for sure – of the original plant. (The modified bulbs produce large white flowers the first couple of years, but then the modification appears only in the leaves; the flowers revert to a more standard size.)

What is most strange about spring 2017, is that on February 23, the temperature reached 76o. (The last time there were temperatures this warm was 1906.) There is no snow and the galanthus are one of many early flowering bulbs. For this year, they have lost their uniqueness as the first flowers of spring and instead are competing with lush crocus, iris retuculata, dwarf daffodils, bushy forsythia and fragile magnolia.


March 2, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

armored scale – chionaspis pinifoliae

The pine needle scale, Chionaspis pinifoliae, is probably the most common armored scale found on conifers in the United States and Canada. The white, oystershell-shaped scales can completely cover needles, causing plant discoloration to needle and branch death. Heavy infestations of pine needle scales remove considerable amounts of plant juices resulting in yellowed needles. From a distance, trees appear frosted or silvery.

The scales appeared last year and by the time I noticed them, it was too late to treat for them. (I also didn’t want to start spraying insecticide all over the back-yard.) This year, the tree’s spring growth was greatly reduced; gone were the green plumes and candles of scale-free years. I made the decision to cut the tree down and to replace it with a hardy fruit-tree. (Last spring, I planted a peach suitable for this climate and this zone and it did very well.) I went back to the same growers and looked for a hardy apricot and when I found one, it made replacing the Scotch pine easier to stomach. The image is the west-corner minus the cascading pine tree.

Both the now defunct pine and the gigantic red-wood – the trunk on the left of the image – began life as bonsai. I wintered them on the west-side of the yard, the most protected side, and in the spring discovered the roots had started growing into the ground. I left the trees there and watched, year after year, as they grew from their miniature pots to fill up my back yard. Of the two, the pine tree took up most of the usable space, because it was low and cascading. (The red-wood shot straight up and with yearly pruning of the lower branches all that was at eye-level was the beautiful trunk. The last pruning brought the green growth almost 30 feet above the ground; proving more light and space in the back-yard.)


March 8, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

blades in shadow

Today, the sun was back in full-force and the images it created with the bare branches, with the windmill-blades, with the shadows are amazing. The pic on the left is of the back flower-bed and it’s full of lines – verticals, horizontals, diagonals, perpendiculars, ellipticals, parabolics. (Whoa, how often do you get to use all those great words in a post about a sunny day in spring?) My favorites are the candy-striped verticals created by the gaps in the fence slots and the red bricks, of the houses across the alley.

The branches are blueberry bushes, fat and bursting with buds. The green stake is a support for the tall blueberry plants and the black steel shaft is the base-pole of the windmill. I just noticed the circle shadow of the yellow tomato-cage that will hold up the lanky, hybrid cornflowers. The ground-cover is pine-needles from the red-wood, the purples and yellows are crocus and the white are snow-drops.

It’s that time of year when we can briefly forget the disgrace of urination in a Moscow hotel-room; it’s that time of year when we can briefly forget the disgrace of Kellyanne Conway of Jeff Sessions; and it’s that time of year when we can briefly forget the disgrace of November 8.

It’s that time of year when we dream of slim waists; it’s that time of year when cancer briefly loses its grip; and it’s that time of year when old-age dreams of midsummer nights.

It’s that time of year when new-life sneaks among the winter bareness; it’s that time of year when daylight lingers among the evening chill; and it’s that time of year when warm temperatures play among the March winds.

The image is the antithesis of simplicity, of minimalism; representations and expressions I obsess over. It’s also not a cool image; it’s full of reds, vermilions, purples, yellows, browns, tans, sepias.


March 12, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

daylight saving time – sommerzeit

In our family, daylight saving time is a horror. (Paul claims that if Trump had promised to end daylight saving time, he would have voted for him.) The first day of the time-switch is always disorienting – you’re waking up an hour earlier than usual and then there’s no way of determining what time it is throughout the day. You look at the clock and are amazed that’s it’s 7:30. What! What the fuck happened to late afternoon and why is it still light out?
a brief history
William Sword Frost, mayor of Orillia, Ontario, introduced daylight saving time in the municipality during his tenure from 1911 to 1912.

Starting on April 30, 1916, the German Empire and its World War I ally Austria-Hungary were the first to use daylight saving time – sommerzeit – as a way to conserve coal during wartime. Britain, most of its allies, and many European neutrals soon followed suit. Russia and a few other countries waited until the next year, and the United States adopted it in 1918.

Broadly speaking, daylight saving time was abandoned in the years after the war with some notable exceptions including Canada, the UK, France, and Ireland. However, it became widely adopted, particularly in North America and Europe, starting in the 1970s as a result of the 1970s energy crisis.

The above image is of the setting sun lighting the east corner of the back-yard.


March 15, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

on the ides of march – winter’s last gasp

The back-yard is totally covered in snow and it’s still coming down. (I shot the pic from the alley-window in the downstairs big-room. It’s the side-yard and east-side of the back-yard. The burlap covered pots hold hosta. I covered them to stop the vagrant squirrel from digging in them, but it just ripped the burlap. What’s next, chain-mail?) Somewhere under all that white covering are crocus, snowdrops and other early bulbs. Will they be dead when the snow finally melts? My Japanese lilac, in the back there, is full of green buds; the peach tree is also ready to bloom; hope the tender leaves don’t freeze. And the newly planted apricot is also a great worry. My only consolation is that the storm wont freeze the thawing ground and therefore the roots should be OK.

It’s hard to believe that only days ago, I shot the pics of the spring bulbs in the slide-show. And how long will it be before all this new snow melts? The forecast for the next couple of days is not for warm weather.

Yesterday, I cancelled my travel plans, because I didn’t want to travel the New York Throughway and the snow-belt that is Buffalo. Snow totals for the area were in the 8 to 10 inches with hazardous driving conditions. On the Canadian side, the strip between Niagara and Hamilton got dumped on, but Toronto missed it. And because Toronto was storm-free, Porter was able to fly and I did not get a full refund on my cancellation. The damage was $67 between the cancellation and the rebook.

I had opted to travel to Sault Ste Marie in March, thinking that there would be less chance of winter weather and winter driving, man did that probability prove wrong.

Also, today I got rid of a 70s hold-over – a platform bed. Taking the platform apart was an awakening especially considering what Ikea has been able to do with pre-fab furniture. The platform was primitive by Ikea standards.


March 19, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

feast-day and father’s day

part one
March 19 is the feast-day of Saint Joseph. The holiday’s roots date back to the middle ages, when Sicily underwent a major drought that threatened a massive famine. The locals prayed to their patron saint to bring them relief in the form of rain. In exchange, they promised to honor St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, with a proper banquet. Sure enough, he answered their prayers. In return, they feasted on local foods such as fava beans, which thrived after the rain, as well as many sweets. Since the feast occurs in the middle of Lent, it is a meatless celebration.

The Father’s Day angle is a more modern emphasis. As Catholicism shrinks to a tradition, rather than an active religion, the day is more about fathers than the Saint. (Most notices on social media have holy-card pictures of St. Joseph, but text over the images wishing congratulations.)

There are two things I associate with this date:

  •   – the tradition of naming children born on March 19 after St. Joseph. My sister was born on March 19, 1963 and was named Josephine. This naming tradition also applied if the child was born either the day before or the day after the 19th. My cousin Joe who was born on the 18th of March.
  •   – eating fave. These early spring beans were planted back in the fall and wintered in the cold ground, but with the spring rain, the plants would shoot up and produce their log green bean-pods. Eating the fave when they are fresh and tender minimizes the bitter taste. (Up in Sault Ste Marie, the fave will be ready in June. Talk about a radically different harvest time-frame.)

There was little fanfare in Aprigliano around St. Joseph, because none of the churches had statues of him and therefore there were no processions. Interesting enough all my relatives from Aprigliano are posting congratulations to fathers and little about the feast-day on their Facebook pages. Even the dessert most associated with this feast-day – zeppole, a dough fritters covered in sugar – are not common in the Apriglianese sweets repertoire.

The old, 1955 postcard is from Pizzo Calabro, a small sea-side town on the Tyrrhenian Sea in south-western Calabria. The photograph on the right (photographer Osvaldo Spizzirri) is from the procession in Cosenza earlier today. (By American standards, Aprigliano is like a suburb of Cosenza, most Apriglianesi work, shop and socialize in Cosenza.) Both pics were posted on the Facebook page Calabria Ieri e Oggi.

Oh my, how things have changed in 62 years!

the saint

March 20, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

  the saint, the bishop and the politician

part two – click to go to part one
This photograph was in the collection of images that Osvaldo Spizzirri posted on Facebook yesterday after the procession for St. Joseph in Cosenza. I had to use it. The man in the red-pink cassock and white-gold stole is some bishop or other; the man in the suit and sash is the mayor of Cosenza, Mario Occhiuto.

It’s common knowledge that the Pope gets his largest audiences in Puglia, Campania, Basilicata, and Calabria. They are regions where Catholicism still holds a firm grip. And they are also some of the least developed, most rural areas of Italy.

  •     – Lecce, in Puglia, was a showcase of Baroque Catholicism run amuck.There amid the olive groves and the poverty, Mother Church built palaces and churches fit for a fake New York billionaire turned president.
  •     – Naples, with its dark, sadistic streak of Catholicism was a wonder. It’s Spanish legacy of S&M Catholicism – reliquaries full of blood, guts, severed body-parts – was everywhere to see.
  •     – A couple of summers ago, our short foray into Basilicata left me amazed at how many priests, in full regalia, were walking the streets. Matera is where Mel Gibson filmed the blood-fest better know as The Passion of the Christ.
  •     – And Calabria, my native land, is full of small and still operational churches. In Aprigliano, a town of 2,890, there are 9 churches – San Leonardo, San Nicola, Santo Stefano, Portosalvo, San Rocco, San Dimitri, La Madonna Delle Timpe, L’Immacolata and L’Assunta. And many of the town leaders are actively involved in keeping these small chapels functioning.

So, it’s no wonder that the St. Joseph celebration in Cosenza shows the affinity between church and state. An affinity that has not served the people of the Mezzogiorno, or southern Italy well. Mother Church has just been another controlling factor in the lives of the Italian contadini.

I remember my utter depression when at Monte Cassino I realized that in 1944 while Calabria emptied, because its people were starving, Mother Church rebuilt the Benedictine monastery, bombed by the Allies, in 6 months. Tell me Mother Church was about the poor, the hungry, the forgotten, the victims of Italian and German fascism. Go ahead, tell me.

It’s no different now; the church where the statue of San Giuseppe was housed is well maintained, its outside walls freshly plastered and painted, but the historic center of Cosenza, where the church is located, still looks like a slum. (Calabrians don’t seem to gravitate to gentrification or restoring their Medieval heritage. The cry seems to be, “Let’s move out and into new construction.”)


April 8, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

bracketing the wisteria

I needed to solve two problems – replacing the weathered 2X4 cap on the wolmanized back fence; and creating guide-rails to hold the ever-growing wisteria vine. Where the fence posts and pickets have held up exceptionally well, the 2X4s across the top had deteriorated. Also, I had started weaving the wisteria around the old caps and as the vines thickened they were swallowing the old 2X4s. It was time to replace the fence caps and to design a workable solution that would allow the vine to grow and spread.

This will be the third season for the wisteria and it’s easily some 30 feet long. (Wisteria has a very rapid growth rate – up to 10 feet a year.) It’s a genetically altered plant and it already bloomed last spring. (In the old days, before genetically modified plants took over, the rule-of-thumb was that wisteria didn’t bloom its first 7 years.) Also, you can trick the plant into blooming by planting it in dire soil conditions – a nutrient starved soil can triggers the plant’s survival mechanism forcing it to bloom and seed. I planted the vine in the most inhospitable corner of my back-yard. I still remember walking the Upper East Side and seeing wisteria growing among the cement cracks of the front pads and seeing the vines, full of flowers, snaking up the fronts of the brownstones.

Years ago, we planted a wisteria at Rick-and-Sarah’s, but it has never produced flowers. It was probably not a genetically modified variety and we planted it in very rich, well-watered soil. Every year the plant covers their back deck in a luscious, green canopy, but it doesn’t bloom. It doesn’t need to; it’s living in the mar-a-lago section of a Wilkinsburg back-yard.)

The contractors at DNL Home Improvement came up with these Japanese looking brackets that got screwed on the sides of the new caps across the back-and-side fence. (In the slide-show, the second image is of the wisteria twisted around the old weathered 2X4 and the third image is the wisteria inside the new brackets.)


April 14, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

getting the ground ready

My 91 year-old father plowed the entire back-yard, (The image shows only half of the garden.) cut down a 20-foot tall plum tree and is now growing tomato seeds in the small sun-room. And his latest medical issue – giant cell arteritis – hasn’t slowed him down any.

The trip up was easy – guess Good Friday means the airports are not too busy. The flight from Pittsburgh had some 30 passengers, but the flight to the Sault was full.

This was a trip I was supposed to have done back in March – driving to Toronto and then flying up to the Sault, but the unexpected snow-storm put off driving the New York Throughway. It took three phone-calls to Porter before I got an agent who was able to figure out a new itinerary that wouldn’t cost me a fortune. He kept parts of the original Toronto/Sault ticket and just added a new return date and a Pittsburgh/Toronto leg to the reservation. The whole change-package cost me $100 more than the drive-and-fly trip I had originally planned.

This is not my favorite time to come up north; the region can still be in the grips of cold weather, the left-over snow-piles can look like mountains of filth and the sand that was used on the ice-covered roads can swirl into eyes and ears and noses. But the weather isn’t extreme; the dirt speckled snow-piles are almost melted; and the sand has been cleared away. (They’ve had a lot of rainfall and this helped clean the streets of sand-powder and blackened ice-chunks.)


April 15, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

a glooming peace

If I was prone to Catholic imagery, I would have used this pic with yesterday’s post (Good Friday). It was great stripping what little color was left from the image and have it look almost B&W.

After driving my mother to visit her friends, I headed for the neighborhood below old St. Mary’s College – the Catholic boys’ high school I attended – to scout it for a photo trip. OMG, the area between the railroad tracks and the slope of hill is a wreck. After the James Street area, it’s the second oldest part of town and it’s showing wear. Even when I lived here, it was known as a low-income area full of Protestants. And the economic migration for this non-ethnic group was to go from this central section to the east-end.

There’s no Catholic church in that central part of town, but it’s full of old Methodists, Lutheran and Anglican churches. For my grandparents’ generation it was a desirable neighborhood, because it meant you could move out of the tenements in James Street and into one of the many small, newly-built houses. Both of my grandparents were buried from a funeral home in this Protestant section of town and my parents have made similar arrangements. (The march to assimilation continues across generations.)

The original town was laid out between the St. Mary’s River and The Hill. The plain had room for the steel-mill, the tube-mill, the rail-yards, the highways and the workers’ houses. Along the riverbanks, long cargo ships unloaded coal and other raw materials needed to make steel. Through the locks, connecting Superior to the rest of the Great Lakes, ships brought out raw materials and finished steel. Modern Sault Ste Marie has moved away from the industrial yards that gave it life; it has moved to the top of The Hill. And modern Sault Ste Marie has followed the hilltop west, abandoning the once-desirable east-end. (The eastern part of town, and the portion of The Hill that borders it, is Indian land and not available for development.) Locally, The Hill has no identifying name, instead it’s named and added into conversation based on the street that climbs it – Second Line Hill, Bruce Street Hill, Pim Street Hill.


April 16, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

where is the risen sun

Talk about a glooming hanging over the land. It’s day two of cold, wet and gray. Bet there were no sun-rise services anywhere in Northern Ontario.

And given that gray is the color, there’s a need to find something other. Can these qualify – the green moss, the blue plastics, the yellow globes, the white towel, the clay pot, the arctic-blue fencing? Can they lighten a dreary morning?

The branches are off the plum tree my dad cut down. He will finish removing the rest of the trunk and the lower branches once he gets the chain-saw serviced. It’s amazing that a 91 year-old is taking down 20-foot trees.

Easter lunch was pleasant and low-keyed. It was a Sunday meal with a few extras – Connie and Ron, Uncle and Aunt, Rose and Derrick, my parents and I. Here in Canada, Easter and Catholicism don’t have the same cultural pervasiveness that they do back in Calabria.

In contrast, my relatives in Cosenza have been uploading hundreds of pictures showing Palm Sunday processions, passion plays complete with chubby Jesuses and fake blood, Good Friday stations led by arch-bishops and Holy Saturday services with huge vigil fires and giant Pascal candles. The rituals of the week have brought the people of the Calabrian hill-towns into the streets to celebrate both spring and their shared cultural heritage.


April 17, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

               on moffly hill

The following is an excerpt from Brian Kelly’s March 22, 2010 article in the Sault Star.

The 12-tonne cross was erected by the St. Mary’s College Men’s Club on May 14, 1960. It’s believed to be in the same area where a cedar cross was raised on June 14, 1671 as part of a French celebration that drew thousands of aboriginals.

A monster bingo, the largest ever in the city at the time, was held at the Memorial Gardens in 1958 to help pay for the cross’s construction.

The cross, which can be seen for about 30 kilometres, is lit by 15 bulbs.

Bill Taylor, Mike Perepelytz and Mike Lukenda spearheaded the cross’s creation.

An acre of land is leased for a dollar a year from Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board.

The following are excepts from Mike Verdone’s November 13, 2014 article in the Sault Star.

The cross that stands on Moffly Hill near St. Georges Avenue East, is one of the largest in North America.

It was erected in 1960 as a reminder of a wooden cross that was erected on a hill in the area — more than 340 years ago — overlooking the St. Mary’s River after the French proclaimed sovereignty over a vast portion of the New World.

In 1671 the wooden cross was the centre piece of ceremony dedicating the area to God.

The ceremony was reportedly attended by aboriginal people that represented 17 nations, Jesuit priests and traders, trappers and French army officers.

In September of 1964, when Frank and I started at St. Mary’s, the giant cross was already a city landmark. What I remember most about the 27,000 pounds behemoth was the long steel rope that hung from the horizontal. It acted like a bell-clapper hitting the vertical – black steel banging against black steel. I never thought about what was causing the clanging; it was just one of the sounds of high school. Don’t think I ever considered that a cross, standing on a promontory, could be susceptible to winds rushing across the flats and spiking up the slope. Way too scientific for the addled teenage brain.

As teenagers, we hated the spring winds. The cold weather may have broken, but the miserable winds would flap the tennis-court nets and jar the ball enough to screw up your swing. (And you didn’t dare blame a bad lobby on the wind.) It would be late June before the winds died down enough to not interfere.

Note: The above image has been heavily Photoshopped. The last image, in the slide-show, is a more accurate representation of the area.


April 18, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

the italian ghetto

When my grandparents first came to Canada, to Sault Ste Marie, the Italian immigrants lived west of downtown, in an area butting up against the steel-mill. The neighborhood was called James Street after the main commercial street in the area. The stores on James Street were all owned and operated by Italian families – Tagliabracci, Scarfone, Bumbacco, Greco, Spadoni, Boniferro.

By the time we arrived in the late 50s, many of the Italians had moved to the north-side of the west-end. The north-side was separated from the official west-end by rail-yards and the Tube-mill. My grandparents were part of the first wave to leave the west-end and head north to the other side and that’s where we first lived when got to Canada. But they still went back to James Street to shop; and we all went back to the west-end for Midnight Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel – the Italian church.

Biagini Studios, which all the Italians used for births, first-communions, engagements and weddings, was the premier photography studio in town and it was in the west-end. My aunt-and-uncle’s wedding pictures were all take at the studio. (End of November 1957, and little May-ree-oh, in his Sunday-best that Mafalda brought from Calabria, is standing sideways at the end of the family line in his little suit-jacket and looking like a little old man with a pot belly.) I remember this huge camera and the photographer getting under a dark-cloth and the noise and burst of the flash-powder.

My sister Jo’s first-communion pictures were taken at Biagini’s. And she has the famous 1970s big-hair; we’re talking a serious bouffant, big enough to put a crown around it. (At least she wasn’t on a kneeler looking off at a superimposed Jesus surrounded by heavenly clouds.)

I bought my very first pair of hockey-skates, used, at a shoe-store next to the James Street Hardware. I can still picture the wooden display-box, up on 2X4s, and full of worn skates. The leather was all scuffed, the blades covered in dust and my friend told me that they would need sharpening. They were so narrow and so uncomfortable, but buying a new pair that actually fit was beyond the means of a struggling immigrant family. A new pair of skates was more expensive than dress-shoes. Oh yeah, my parents were gonna buy me skate; skates and hockey-sticks were frivolous things; things for English people. (I used my Christmas money to buy that first pair; I think they were $6.00.)

The Sanguinettis lived in the James Street area when they first came from Calabria. (Joe was born while they were still living in the Italian section, and I babysat him in that second floor walk-up.) From there they moved eastward to Bush Street and then finally to the new subdivision at the northern corner of the expanded west-end, to Digby Crescent. I remember when they moved into the new house; my dad was helping and took me along; I carried in a coffee-table with a glass top. (What strange details the mind keeps and brings forward.)


April 19, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

the ladies who lunch

left to right – Zita, Mafalda, Elda, Angie, Nunzia (sitting Francesco)

Mafalda’s birthday was March 2, but this was the first free date that her friends – Zita, Elda and Nunzia – could get together to celebrate. They came by around 11:00, dropped off a cake, picked up my mom and headed out to lunch. Afterwards, they came back here for coffee, cake and happy-birthday singing. (They pulled in as Angie was heading home and convinced her to turn around and join them for cake.)

Mafalda told me, before the ladies came, that they wanted me to be ready to take pics. OK, I can do that.

Once they had the coffee made and the cups and plates on the table, my dad and I were called upstairs.

The cake was from the Calabrese bakery up the street and it was really good – thick layers of cream surrounded by moist cake.


April 30, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

global warming = april garden

The common wisdom, in this part of the country, is to wait until Mother’s Day to plant annuals. Well, I’m two-and-a-half weeks before the guaranteed frost-free date.

The flowering plants seems to be relegated to the left corner and only white and yellow are being featured this year. Yes, that’s a fig tree in the foreground. It’s a Chicago Fig touted as able to survive our Zone 6 winters. I’ll let you know how that goes. And it’s a dark fig not the desirable, uppity white variety I had from Aprigliano. Also, returning for a new season are the oregano and the chives planted last year.

Confession time – I did something I’ve never done before – throw plants away. I wanted to cram the vegetable planter with seedlings and so I bought 2 cherry-tomatoes, 6 basil, 4 zucchini and 4 cucumber plants. Even though I hated the taste of the cucumbers and the vine had become totally infested by the striped beetle, I put 4 of the plants in my cart. (Come on, they were big and bushy. And I pretended that this year, the cubes would taste better.) Then on Saturday, I went to another nursery and they had a Burpee variety that I knew and immediately decided to replace what I had. This would mean pulling out and throwing away what I had planted only days ago. The next trow-away was for aesthetics. It appears that Dragon-wing Begonias, my favorites, only come in red and that’s not a desirable color this year. (Need I remind you who perpetually wears an overly long red tie to cover his bulging fatness?) So today, I bit the bullet and replaced the beautiful Dragon-wings with a hybrid Wax Begonia, in white.


April 30, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

                        nothing is in primary colors

Acupuncture, an imaginative light sculpture by German artist Hans Peter Kuhn, will appear to “pierce” the roof and south-facing side of the building. The installation will include components of what Kuhn calls “light sticks.” Attached to metal scaffolding, the “sticks” will appear to cut through the top floor of the building, coming out of the roof, and then cutting back through the staircase tower. The installation’s size and configuration will make the piece visible from all angles, throughout the neighborhood and the city.

From the Mattress Factory website


For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Twilight is about getting older and relationships – not about a murder mystery.
It’s about love when you reach a certain age; nothing is in primary colors.
Robert Benton

If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more,
we shall speak again together and
you shall sing to me a deeper song.
And if our hands should meet in another dream
we shall build another tower in the sky.
Khalil Gibran

It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.
Hubert H. Humphrey

We’re living through the twilight of American economic dominance.
Shia LaBeouf

Truth, like light, blinds.
Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.
Albert Camus

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such a twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of darkness.
William O. Douglas

The image is taken from my back-yard.
Quotes are from the website – BrainyQuote


a bird house – not!

The shots are down the side-alley and the focus is the white concrete structure with the vertical thingy on top. In the left image, I purposely opened the louvers to add to the horizontals – bricks, mortar-lines, louvers, window-sashes. In the right image, because I wanted to show the copper insects and because I wanted a background for the birdhouse, I shut the lower louvers.

The blurb on the card, attached to the birdhouse, read:

A quartet of birdhouses sits perched atop the Darwin D. Martin House conservatory roof – one at each of its four corners. Frank Lloyd Wright designed these solid limestone structures for the Martin House Complex as homes to attract the purple martin – North America’s largest species of swallow. It is also believed that Wright intended these birdhouses to serve as a whimsical, yet metaphorical, nod to his clients – the Darwin D. Martin Family. It is not fully known whether purple martins ever nested there; regardless, the birdhouses with their distinctive Pagoda-like shape are an architectural element unique to and in complete harmony with the overall composition of the site.

I can tell you that no self-respecting swallow took up residence in Mr. Wright’s stone dwelling. Man, his houses look great, but live in one, NEVER! We all know humans, with their little brains and giant egos, can be talked into almost anything. Think stiletto heels, neckties, skinny jeans. But I assume purple martins don’t have a style obsession or a better-than gene and therefore flew by the whatchamacallits on the roof of the fancy-house and down to the homey birdhouses built by the little kid and his parent on the next block. (The Martin House is surrounded by regular, 1940’s, Buffalo houses – two-and-a-half story, wood construction, clapboard siding, peaked roof.)

One last thing – the birdhouse weighs nearly 140 pounds. Good thing it’s in pieces – the finial, the roof-slab and the 3-floor residence. It was delivered wrapped in cellophane and situated on a huge pallet. The delivery person left it on the sidewalk and I had to take the wooden crate apart to get to the birdhouse.

Also, the 32″ high pedestal that it sits on, weighs close to 300 pounds. It’s the concrete base of a fountain, but because it’s cracked, the guy at the greenhouse was willing to sell it separately. I got it for $50. It took 3 big guys to load it into my Forester. And I drove around with this monster in the back, for almost a week. (Yes, weight impacts gas consumption; filled the tank twice in one week.) Finally, last night, my neighbors – Marcus and his dad – helped me lift the pedestal out of the back of the car and onto a hauler dolly.


we plow the fields and scatter
the good seed on the land
but it is fed and watered
by god’s almighty hand

he sends the snow in winter
the warmth to swell the grain
the breezes and the sunshine
and the soft refreshing rain

all good gifts

we thank thee then
for all things bright and good
the seedtime and the harvest
our life, our health, our food

no gifts have we to offer
for all thy love imparts
but that which you desire
our humble thankful hearts1

nu cocci e granu 2

1  All Good Gifts – Godspell (modified lyrics – I tried to de-god them, but had to leave in one reference.)
In the play, the song and the scene portray the ultimate hippie stereotypes – the cast holds hands and dances around the actor singing the simple song; and as they get to the end-chorus, they lift the singer up and out of their closed circle.

2  The title is in dialect. My parents would often talk about the post-war years in Calabria as a time when, ud aviamu mancu nu coccio e granu – we didn’t even have a grain of wheat. Standard Italian flattens the phrase to – non avevamo nemmeno un seme di grano – removing all the emphatic guttural sounds of the dialect. Sorry, the old Calabrese, using a double negative, drives home the dire straits of a people on the verge of starvation. The old Calabrese captures the desperation of a people mired in feudalism and then abandoned by the same patroni – landowners – who had subjugated them.

The Winnabago Indian woman, holding the pannier and carrying her two children, is the Frank Lloyd Wright Nakoma statue in my backyard. (I shot the image from my second floor porch and the yellow haze, in the top right corner, is an out of focus white lilac blossom.)

The sculpture represents both the sentiment of the song and the tragedy of nurturing children during periods of deprivation.



where are you going
can you take me with you
for my hand is cold
and needs warmth
where are you going

far beyond where the horizon lies
and the land sinks into mellow blueness

oh please, take me with you
let me skip the road with you
i can dare myself

i’ll put a pebble in my shoe
and watch me walk
i can walk, i can walk

i shall call the pebble dare
we will talk, we will talk together
we will talk about walking

dare shall be carried
and when we both have had enough
i will take him from my shoe, singing
meet your new road

then i’ll take your hand
finally glad
that you are here
by my side1

nu garofalu russu 2

1  By My Side – Godspell (modified lyrics) In the play, the haunting lyrics are sung by the Magdalene watching the man, who has just forgiven her, go off to be arrested and crucified.
2  The title is again in dialect. My mom and dad and others of their generation would say, è nu garofalu russu – it’s a red carnation. Standard Italian sanitizes it to è un garofano rosso. Sorry, the old Calabrese is less fussy, less flat; the dialect is robust, guttural.

In western society, carnations are common at funerals and cemeteries; the image, with its deep reds, compliments the sentiment of the lyrics. (In Italy, chrysanthemum are the flowers of the dead.)

I garofali russi are in my backyard, and I shot the image with a 40mm micro lens.



the bees have found the wisteria


The honey bees, and I’m talking big fat ones, are all over the wisteria flowers. Last year, a few visited, but this spring it seems like an entire hive has found the the purple clusters on Sampsonia Way.

Wisteria facts

Wisteria is deciduous vine that belongs to the pea family.

Lounging languorously over a fence or pergola – the charms of wisteria are almost impossible to resist. Marco Polo was an early conquest. He brought seeds back from China.

The world’s largest known wisteria is in Sierra Madre, California, covering more than 1 acre and weighing close to 500,000 pounds. It was planted in 1894 and it’s a Chinese lavender variety.

In modern times, botanists are making new plants from layering or grafting; these methods have produced plants that bloom quickly and abundantly.

Chinese and American wisteria twine in a clockwise direction; Japanese wisteria twines in a counter-clockwise direction.

Bees and hummingbirds are the main pollinators of wisteria.


Image – the pink blur is the bricks of the alley-houses; the white blur is a car; and the black blur is the top of the backyard fence.


     ascension thursday – 40 th day of easter

This post began life last week when Lucy Gagliardi, a FB-friend from Aprigliano, posted about the Feast of the Ascension on Thursday, May 25. She explained the old Apriglianese tradition of collecting a furtunella – a good luck plant – on your way home from Ascension Thursday Mass. As a kid, I remember collecting the plant and bringing it home for my mom to hang on a nail on a wall in our kitchen.

I spent most of the week trying to identify the plant known in dialect as a furtunella. Lucy sent me a picture she took with her phone, and Maria Lucia Le Pera posted the image on the left.

The references I found on were under the title l’erba dell’ascensione – grass of the Ascension. And that made sense – generalizing the legend and linking it specifically with the Feast Day. The research placed the legend of a plant, collected on the Feast of the Ascension, and bringing good luck, to the towns and villages of central Calabria; and identified the plant was a succulent belonging to the sedum group. Google images along with Lucy’s and Maria’s pictures helped me narrow down the varieties in the group to sedum stellatum.

The most surprising finding was that the plant was a succulent. That had never crossed my mind, but once I thought about it, it made perfect sense. Calabria is dry and desert-like; succulents would be common wild flowers in that environment.

According To My Cousin Annarita Femia

The legend

A furtunella, è una pianta inodore con dei fiorellini rosa tenui.

A furtunella is a plant with soft pink odorless flowers.

Si racconta che nella festa dell’ascensione viene raccolta e appesa al muro a mazzolino,

It’s said that if on the feast of the Ascension, you pick a bouquet of it and hang it on a wall,

nel corso dei giorni essa fiorisce e i suoi rametti vanno verso su,

and if during the following days it blooms and branches up,

se succede questo porta fortuna.

then good luck and good fortune will come to that home and that family.

grazie – Lucy, Maria Lucia, Annarita




the founding of the republic


The Festa della Repubblica is the Italian national holiday celebrated on June 2nd. It commemorates the institutional referendum of 1946 when by universal suffrage, the Italian population was called to decide what form of government – monarchy or republic – to give to the country after the Second World War and the fall of Fascism. With 12,717,923 votes for a republic and 10,719,284 votes against, Italy became a Republic; and the monarchs of the House of Savoy were deposed and exiled.

The referendum swept away the feudalism that both the monarchy and the church used to subjugate the people of the peninsula. And let’s not pretend that it won by a great majority; it won by 5%. Does this mean that only after horrendous experiences will people consider advancing systems that push for expanded human rights?
The pic was taken by Osvaldo Spizzirri during the holiday celebration in Cosenza. (Notice the graffiti on the wall behind the flag.)


the martin house

This was my first time in a Frank Lloyd Wright prairie-house. The Darwin D. Martin house in Buffalo was a wonderful surprise. It actually works as a house – unlike Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. The kitchen in the Martin house is functional, spacious and beautiful. (I kept thinking of the octagonal, claustrophobic kitchen in Kentuck Knob. This was nothing like it.)

I could actually see myself sitting in any of the first-floor rooms of the Martin House. I can never picture myself in any of the overwhelming spaces of Fallingwater or Kentuck Knob. Do I want to sit on the step going down to the stream at Fallingwater? Absolutely! Do I wanna have dinner at Fallingwater? Absolutely not! Would I like to sit in the library at the Martin House? Absolutely!

The Martin House has been greatly restored – much of the original complex was left to the elements or torn down and only through the efforts of the Martin House Restoration Corporation have the property and the structures been brought back to life. The corporation used photos taken in 1907 as their blueprints for the extensive restoration. For example in the space between the main house and the carriage house, Wright designed an amazing pergola – breeze-way – to connect the two buildings. After Mrs. Martin abandoned the house, because she could no longer maintain it, the space between the main-house and the carriage-house was sold to developers who took down Wright’s pergola and put two five-story apartment building in the space.

The above photo is of the pergola.

This is the first entry for the June trip to Toronto and Sault Ste Marie.


oaklands – gothic revival in toronto


I spent the day with my friend Booby walking the area around De La Salle College in the Summerhill neighborhood of Toronto. Bobby is the head of the Board of Trustees for De La Salle College and he was in town for a meeting.

The various Christian Brothers districts throughout Ontario and the U.S. have consolidated and Bobby, an American Christian Brother from New York City, now works with the Brothers’ schools in Canada. It’s the first time that I met one of the guys I was in Novitiate with here in Canada.

The above image is the Brothers’ House on the campus of De La Salle College. The elaborate mansion was built in the 1860s by John McDonald, a successful dry goods merchant. The sprawling house – Oaklands, because of the many oak trees on the property – was completed with a tower observatory that provided Mr. McDonald with a clear view of Lake Ontario some 5 kilometers to the south. The Oaklands mansion has been designated as a historical building by the City of Toronto, as an example of local Gothic Revival architecture.

The Christian Brothers have run a school on the property since 1931. The school is named after the founder Jean-Baptiste de La Salle.


at connie-and-ron’s

My goal today was to figure out how to get from Oakville to the Toronto City Airport using public transportation. (The last couple of times I did this, I used a cab and that was an $80 tab going and a $100 tab coming back.)

At 7:00 am, Seane drove me to the Oakville GO-Train station; the ticket to Union Station – downtown Toronto – was $9.00. I got on an express and was downtown in 30 minutes. (The QEW/Gardner at that time of morning was crawling with commuter traffic.) From Union Station, I walked the block to the Royal York Hotel and got on the courtesy shuttle to the airport.

Connie picked me up in Sault Ste Marie and we headed to my parents where we joined Dom, Marcella, their grandson Dawson and my parents for lunch. The garden is full of plants whose seeds wintered in the frozen ground. Fava, swiss-chard, garlic, carrots and spinach color the brown earth in my dad’s garden. My mom made fritters, a salad and a soup from the fresh spinach.

In the evening, I went over to Connie-and-Ron’s to visit and take pictures. It’s early spring here in the north country and the fields are covered with wild-flowers. (At this time of year, they have almost 45 minutes more daylight than we do in Pittsburgh. It was 9:33 and it was not even twilight.) The above image is from Connie-and-Ron’s property on Allen Side Road in the south-western section of Prince Township.


a soft, lilac-scented breeze

The last time I was in the Sault, in early June was 1968; and I had forgotten about the extended daylight, the dark-green lawns and the ubiquitous lilacs – their thicket fill the yards. So this morning on my walk to my aunt-and-uncle’s all these markers of spring in the north-country were everywhere.

The west-end – from Goulais Avenue to Korah Road – is filled with lilac trees. This older section was full of Polish, Ukrainian and other Eastern European families. (Interestingly, lilacs are native to the Balkans. Did the early immigrants bring seeds with them?) Every house seems to have several lilac trees in their yard. And it was amazing to see that many lilac trees in full bloom. But as soon as I crossed Korah Road, the trees disappeared.

The area north and east of Korah Road is the newer section of the west-end. Houses in this area are from the 1960s and the 1970s; there are even newer subdivisions in the quadrant. Guess these immigrants, people like my grandparents, saw themselves as different, as younger than the Slovaks that filled the streets closest to the mill. And these immigrants were from Western Europe and they planted fava, rapini, and tomatoes. No one planted cabbage or root-vegetables; those winter-hardy crops belonged to the Polacks over there in the old section of the west-end.

The first time I visited Rome was in June of 1972 and the streets were lined with blossoming Japanese Lilacs. Their scent filled the city. I still associate Rome with that scent. And it was such a strong and lingering memory that when I bought a house, the first tree I planted was a Japanese Lilac. (It’s my very own reminder of 1970’s Rome.) My parents’ neighborhood in Sault Ste Marie is purple-blue with thickets of lilacs and their scent fills the streets of the old west-end.


minnehaha falls

After dinner, Connie and I drove up to Minnehaha Falls. The last time I saw the falls my grandparents were alive; mid-1960s. And back then, it was known locally as Hiawatha Falls; and back then, there were stairs from the bottom of the valley up to the cascade.

What I don’t remember are the mosquitoes. Holy shit! As soon as we got out of the car, we were assailed by swarms of stinging, miserable insects. As the locals like to remind me, “June is mosquitoes only month, but July, well the black-flies wake and join the swarms.” And people wanna live here, WHY?

The section of Hiawatha Park with the Falls, is run by the Kiwanis Club of Sault Ste Marie and the organization maintains a paved road down into the valley. From the parking lot, we walked up the ravine, on foot-paths beside the falls. (Connie mentioned that when she was much younger, she and her friend Jodi jumped from one of the outcrops and into the ice-cold pool at the bottom of the falls.)

Tomorrow, I get to see the area again from an airplane. Two things surprised me on this trip – the profusion of lilacs in the west-end and the various shades of green as spring fills the trees with leaves. Coming up, I saw the variant greens from the air, but wasn’t sure why I was seeing this spectrum of green. Then, I saw the variants again when Connie and I went to her cottage and realized I was looking at different trees coming-into-leaf at different points in their development towards a full crown of leaves.


June 10, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

a birthday . . . depends how you count

Canadian Confederation, through the British North America Act, was the process by which the British colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick were united into one Dominion of Canada. (The Act received royal assent on March 29, 1867, and set July 1, 1867, as the date for union.) Upon Confederation, the old province of Canada was divided into Ontario (Canada West) and Quebec (Canada East); along with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the new federation was thus composed of four provinces. Over the years since Confederation, Canada has seen numerous territorial changes and expansions, resulting in the current union of ten provinces and three territories.

But it wasn’t until 1931, that Canada achieved near-total independence from the United Kingdom with the Statute of Westminster. Near independence meant that the British Parliament could amend Canada’s constitution, on request from the Canadian Parliament. Total independence had to wait another fifty years; and with the Constitution Act 1982, Canada finally took control of its constitution, removing the last legal dependence on the United Kingdom. The Constitution Act of 1982 gave Canada full sovereignty – a mari usque ad mare – from sea to sea.

I was living in Canada in 1967 when the country celebrated its 100th birthday. But wait, in 1867 Canada wasn’t a self-governing country; it was still a colony of Great Britain. And yet in 1967, all Canadians celebrated the country’s birthday. In Sault Ste Marie a brand new, state-of-the-art library was build to commemorate the centenary. My 1967 yearbook had, on the inside front-cover, a sweeping picture of the Montreal World’s Fair honoring the birthday. Isn’t the Constitution Act 1982, the real date marking Canada as a sovereign nation? But then I’m probably being too detail focused and too contrary.

Well this July 1, using the date of Confederation as its beginning, Canada celebrates its 150th birthday. (Lets note that in 1867, when John A. McDonald and the rest of the Fathers of Confederation were in London compiling the resolutions that became the British North America Act, my house in Pittsburgh was 50 years old.)

This is the last entry for the June trip to Toronto and Sault Ste Marie.


June 16, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

torrential rains in june

This post is about several things: the rains we’ve had all week, the image on the left, a liqueur made with grappa & camomile and fat blueberries.

the rains

I could go on about climate disruption, but I don’t know enough about the science and I don’t want to come across as another blabber-mouth. It’s just that since Tuesday, we’ve had between 8 and 10 inches of rain. That’s more a July weather pattern, but then everything these days is topsy-turvy.

I may not have to water, but the excess moisture is wrecking havoc with the roses.

the image

The rains have been crazy – one minute there’s a torrential downfall, the next the sun is out. I wanted to get an image with raindrops and went out to shoot the hosta flower-stalk. Looking through the view-finder I realized that if I shot with the kitchen window in the background, I was gonna get some strange colors on the stained-glass. What I got was the beautiful gold-brown at the top right of the image. The color comes from the overhead light in my kitchen.

And I used the gold-brown in the border around the image.


Visiting my cousins Renato and Gina is always a wonderful time. This visit, the highlights were Gina’s sister and brother-in-law and Marolo’s Milla liqueur. The label describes it as a liquore alla camomilla con grappa.

First we went on about gagumilla, camomile in Calabrese dialect. How at any sniffle, cough, ache, suggested melancholy our mothers boiled water and made a cup of gagumilla which we had no choice about drinking. (Gina and Angie’s mom is Calabrese.) We all agreed that we hated the taste; it was yuck. And yet there we were sipping the delicious extract made from camomile and laced with grappa.

I’m old enough to remember my mom making the brew with the dry, yellow-orange, daisy-like flowers. Forget tea-bags or sachets, back then you put the loose dry flowers into a cup and poured hot water over them. Drinking the tea, you hoped the stems and flowers stayed at the bottom and didn’t migrate into your mouth.

Renato and Gina wrapped up a bottle of the liqueur for me to take home. (They are very generous that way and on previous occasions, because I was worried that the custom agents in Buffalo would confiscate any alcohol, I said no to their generosity. But between the beautiful packaging and the great taste, I wanted to try getting the bottle across. The agent in the NEXIS lane had no problem with my having the liqueur and I now have a bottle of Milla in my home.)

the blueberries

The rains have swelled the blueberries and (a) the plants are full of fruit and (b) the berries are huge. Normally, the berries are medium size, especially on the low bushes in the front. Not this year. The low bushes are full of plump berries and they actually have taste. And the rains have made this possible.

I love going in the morning and picking a bowl full to have with breakfast.

One of the dogs, loves the berries; as soon as they’re let out, he runs to the blueberries and tries his best eat anything within reach. Well that’s not allowed; the berries are for me, so I put up fencing.

Three years ago, after several disappointing harvest, I did some research and most of what I read, suggested cutting the bushes down to ground level. The first year, there was new-growth; the second spring, the plants were full of berries. And now in the third year since the drastic cut, the plants are producing more and bigger berries than ever.

The majority of the plants in the plot are over 30-years old. I have added some newer varieties, but these new plants haven’t produced fruit yet.


June 19, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

i have squandered my resistance for a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises


when i left my home and my family
i was no more than a boy
in the company of strangers
in the quiet of a railway station

now the years are rolling by me
they are rockin’ evenly
i am older than i once was
younger than i’ll be, that’s not unusual

no, it isn’t strange
after changes upon changes
we are more or less the same
after changes we are more or less the same

in the clearing stands a boxer
and a fighter by his trade
and he carries the reminders
of every glove that laid him down


or cut him till he cried out, in his anger and his shame, i am leaving, i am leaving



June 28, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

i primi pittuli e iuri – first zucchini-flower fritters

When my neighbors re-paved their back-yard, the contractors mounded some of the excess dirt against my back fence. This is a four-inch wide mound, on the side of the alley-street – Sampsonia Way – behind my house. To prevent it from turning into a weed bed, I went to the greenhouse, grabbed some zucchini plants and stuck them in. It’ll take another couple of weeks for the plants to acclimate; they are producing small flowers and today I picked enough to make a small batch of fritters.

I’ve been teasing with my Italian relatives that only an immigrant who still has some WOP1 in him is gonna plant zucchini on the side of an alley-street. Guilty as charged.

The title is dialect.

1. WOP is a pejorative slur used to describe Italians or people of Italian descent.


July 12, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

peaches in the backyard


Last spring, I made the decision to replace the ornamentals in the backyard with fruit-bearing trees or plants. (Some may say that in my old age, I’m becoming an immigrant; others may say I have too much time on my hands.) The first new planting was a Redhaven dwarf-peach. (I researched the best peach variety for Zone 6 and the Redhaven kept coming up. The variety is known for its attractive pink spring flowers, sweet yellow fruit and bright gold fall foliage. The Redhaven produces large, yellow freestone peaches that are ready for harvest midseason – July. The dwarf version of the tree, reaches only about 6 feet and can be expected to live more than 40 years with proper care.) By the end of last year’s growing season, the tree was spindly, but almost 5-feet tall. All the literature on the plant mentioned not to expect fruit in the first two or three years. But this spring, the tree had a number of blossoms. This was a wonderful surprise.

The above pic is one of the peaches and it was juicy and very tasty. Imagine eating a peach that isn’t hard as a rock or a peach that you can eat by just biting into the flesh. Going out, first thing in the morning, and picking a peach off the tree and having it with my toast is what summer is all about.

And I’m certainly looking to fall and to pruning the very full tree. I found these guidelines online.

Prune the tree every year in the late fall when the leaves have all dropped and the tree is dormant. Remove all dead and diseased limbs, followed by any that grow toward the center of the tree and those that cross or rub against each other. Cut off any branches that grow straight up and shape the tree similar to a vase or lollypop. Thin the canopy by removing any branches that will shade the fruit growing at the center.


July 17, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections


go the edge of the cliff and jump
build your wings on the way down


July 21, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

the old distillery district

Downtown Toronto is slowly being over-developed into a Blade-Runner environment. There are sections of the Gardner Expressway, downtown, where it’s lined with glass high-rises on both sides and when driving this portion, it feels like a Blade Runner set. All that’s missing is the constant acid-rain that bathed the building in the 1982 neo-noir classic.

The Torontonians refer to the over-development as the Manhattanization of their city. They insist that the many, many glass towers are making their city into a replica of the mess on the Hudson. And is everyone forgetting that winter here is not just cold, but f’in freezing?

I think of Manhattanization as a disposable architecture, allowing real-estate conglomerates to take down and rebuild every twenty years. And here in the north country even sooner. Bet that in twenty years, the glass tower behind the century old distillery buildings will be gone.

Today, we went to the old distillery district that has been reclaimed and re-imagined as a tourist area. We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant; the food was very good. One of the things that I always find in Toronto is that tourists destinations are less full of clap-trap and cheap memorabilia. The distillery district is populated with high-end restaurants, antique shops and boutique clothing stores.


July 27, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

arts and crafts homes in toronto

High Park is the largest in-city park in Toronto. It begins on Bloor Street and stretches all the way down to the shore of Lake Ontario. And I’ve walked around the High Park neighborhoods all my life. My grandparents lived on Jane Street and High Park was an easy destination. I remember on one visit, my mother and I walked from my grandparents’ house all the way to the entrance of High Park.

The High Park neighborhood, as well as many others east and south of Bloor Street, are filled with Arts and Crafts houses. The one in the image is on High Park Boulevard and an old friend lived there on the second floor, before he and his partner bought a house. My cousin Gina lives in an Arts and Crafts house east of High Park and below Bloor. Apparently, most of the upscale neighborhoods High Park North and Swansea included went Arts and Crafts at the turn of the 19th century.
I found the following text while doing research on the Arts and Crafts movement in Toronto.

By the time the Arts and Crafts movement had reached Canada, the defining elements were well set. The overlying theme was the house as a living element within the natural environment; it was based on the function of the home as a shelter for the family, not a banner building relentlessly trumpeting the owner’s status. Houses were meant to fit intrinsically into their sites: orientation of the house was based on the relationship of the house to the garden. Rooms were positioned to take advantage of the movement of the sun for warmth and light during daylight hours. The grandiose central entrances of so many other styles were often replaced by side entrances that allowed for manipulation of the front façade for light or garden use. Entrances were often recessed, accessed through a covered porch, giving the impression of solidity and permanence, almost like entering a cave dwelling.

And then a comment on what is happening in modern day Toronto.

Scott Weir’s excellent article on Arts and Crafts homes in Toronto sums up the sad fate of many of these homes beautifully. He says “It may be that the Arts and Crafts house’s lack of ostentation has been its undoing.” Many of these fine homes are being torn down and replaced by monster homes that are beige on beige monuments to the owner’s pretensions and self delusions. Where the Arts and Crafts aesthetic was to provide a beautiful living space built in harmony with nature and the surrounding area, many of these new buildings are simply overlapping masses of ill proportioned, unrelated architectural features. Return On Investment building (ROI Modern) is wiping out some of the best houses in the province. Instead of fine homes where people actually live and are part of the community, there is a growing trend for ‘renovators’ to hop from one spot to another gutting old homes and gutting established neighborhoods and leaving behind houses, not homes, that can only be described with Dickens’ famous term “Architectooralooral”.


August 6, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear 1


Wikipedia – Midsummer is the period between June 19 and June 25, and centered on the summer solstice.
In northern Europe, it is better know as St John’s Day and celebrations accompany both the solstice and the feast-day.

That may be the formal definition of midsummer, but I want to use the term more literally to mean the half-way point of the season – mid-way between June 21 and September 21. That would make today the middle of summer.

Where spring is renewal and re-birth, summer is lazy days and vacations. It’s the season for picnics, fireworks, baseball, for sun-bathing. It’s the season when economies slow down, when highways are filled with campers, when cities are abandoned and the country-side and the beach are teeming; it’s the time when schools are shuttered, repainted and cleaned. In Calabria, it’s the dry season when rivers become rivulets and streams turn into stagnant pools. In Northern Ontario it’s the season of endless daylight.

Summer is temporal, fleeting. It’s a time to experiment, explore, to dabble; it’s the season of no-strings, no commitments.

– 1967 was the summer of love, the summer of the Detroit riots

– 1968 was the summer I left Canada for Narragansett

– 1972 was the summer I went back to Italy for the first time

1  William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Act V, Scene I
2  The pic is of from the second-floor deck – looking through the slats to the waning light.


August 16, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

additions to the 7th circle of hell

Stephen Colbert used the seventh circle reference in his monologue on Tuesday night.

In Dante’s Inferno, the seventh circle is reserved for those who’ve committed violence. In the first ring of the circle, murderers, war-makers, plunderers, and tyrants are immersed in a river of boiling blood and fire. These monsters are sunk into the boiling blood, each according to the degree of his guilt – the more monstrous the violence they committed, the deeper they’re sunk.

The same day, Michael Steele, former Republican National Committee Chairman, described Trump and his comments about the riots in Charlottesville: He’s the schoolyard bully and no matter what the teacher, in this instance the news media, says, the bully looks to his sycophants, in this instance, the White Supremacists, the KKK, the Neo-Nazis and together they snicker. Who cares what the teacher/news media says?

fall is coming

August 22, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

fall is coming

Here in the north country, hints of fall are everywhere. The weather is cool enough to wear a sweatshirt (I brought a limited number of long-sleevers, so I’ll have to dig into the winter clothes I leave here.); the sun rises at 6:00 and by 8:00 pm it’s getting dark (very different than June when daylight lasted almost 16 hours.); and my father’s garden has large empty patches (the bush peas, the lettuce, the fava, the onions are all gone.); the winter vegetables are filling in where the garlic and the other early summer greens once grew.

In the image, Ciccio is doing his morning ritual – every morning, my dad gets up and at sunrise heads into the garden and harvests what is ready. In the garden, the other indicator that points to fall is the beans. In the bowl, Ciccio has the Romano beans he shelled yesterday and on the table he’s cleaning the flat-green beans. In my mind, whenever the beans were being harvested, I knew summer and the growing season were coming to an end. On the picnic table is a basket full of zucchini flowers that my mom will make into fritters, also on the table are five cucumbers.

I’ve always liked going into the garden and picking the small cucumbers off the vines and eating them as I walked under the pole-beans and towards the peas to eat my fill. A breakfast of small, juicy cucumbers and big, sweet peas will always mean summer in my dad’s garden. (Under my rimless Cartiers, my blue-swede Hubbards, my fitted Etro and my skinny-jeans, I really am an old Calabrese.)

Also walked over to my uncle-and-aunt’s and in their garden too, the harvest was in full swing. My uncle grows amazing eggplant; the plants, in plastic barrels, were heavy with a second picking.

I don’t think I was ready for the chill. (Everyone talked about it having been a wet and cold summer.) But then, I’ve been here in early August and even then we were eating indoors, because by late afternoon the weather had begun to cool.


August 23, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

two bushels – shit, that’s a lot of tomatoes

After finding out that Rick, Sarah and I didn’t have any more tomato sauce, Ciccio Zinga made a dash to Metro, a Canadian grocery chain, and came back with two bushels of tomatoes. He paid $12 a bushel. (He was proud of that price, because No Frills wanted $18 a bushel.)

I was called out to take them from the van and to the room in the back of the garage (notice all the stuff – table-saw, grill, stool, table, ladder, and patio-chair), and to spread them on his table with the lip all around. Also, as I dumped the hard Romas on the green table, I’m thinking that they will be here for a while (they as hard as baseballs).

The next task, was to get the ladder and climb into the crawl-space above the garage and bring down the huge caldron for cooking the tomatoes and a smaller caldron for transferring the cooked mixture to the table with the milling machine.

After supper, Ciccio announced that he was going out to cut up the tomatoes, so that tomorrow morning he could start cooking them and be done by noon. WHAT!!!

Next thing I know, I’m lugging bowls of tomatoes from the back-room to the sink; washing them, and then lugging them to middle of the garage where Mr. Zinga had set up his chair and pails. He cored the pith, cut the fruit in half and threw the halves into one of the tall pails. When I asked why he was removing the pith, he said, “We’ve always done it that way.” Never one to accept tradition, I went online and found several discussion about removing the pith, because it was often unripened and if left on, added a bitter taste to the sauce. That made sense.

Let me be clear – I took 4 half-bushel boxes from the van to the back of the garage (each box weighing around 30 pounds), then I took all those tomatoes back out to the sink in the garage and then to the work station in the middle of the garage. WHY!!! Why didn’t he have me stack the boxes next to the sink?

Two bushels of cored and cut tomatoes filled two 10 gallon pails and two 5 quart metal bowls. My mother covered the cut tomatoes with clean dish-rags and we all went back in the house.

Click to read the second entry of making tomato sauce.



August 24, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

It’s 5:00 and I’m standing in front of my dad’s garage, facing south-east and shooting the house across the street and the waking sky.

Click to read the first entry of making sauce.

The door behind Ciccio, leads into the back-room where the tomatoes rested for 5 minutes on the green table. On his left is the sink. Yes, I carried 4 half-bushel boxes from his van into the back room, then back out to the sink and then over to the table. Oh yeah!!!

fire burn and caldron bubble

It’s day 2 of the tomato sauce protocol. My dad has been up for a half hour and he’s already started cooking the tomatoes – the huge pot with the lid on the left, on the burner.

We’re in the garage, where there’s a third kitchen for canning and making tomato sauce. The machine in the forefront will strain the cooked tomatoes removing the peels and the seeds; the big plastic bucket under it will catch the tomato sauce. The long paddle on the small green table is for stirring the tomatoes in the giant pot. (The stirring is muscle building, well at least after the strain goes away.) My dad is getting ready to plug in the milling machine; the tall bucket on his right is full of halved tomatoes that will soon get added to the large pot (more muscle building). The tomatoes cook for about two hours.

The next step is take the very liquidy mixture and transfer it to a smaller pot that he and I lug over to the table. My dad then begins to put the liquidy pulp through the milling machine. (After this first round, I opt for a smaller transfer bowl. Man, lifting a pot full of hot tomato sauce is not pleasant.) When all the sauce has been milled, I get to take the caldron out into the back-yard and scour it clean. (Ciccio claimed that I didn’t need to keep stirring, that the flame was low enough to prevent burning. Wrong!!!)

The caldron is back on the burner and now I get to transfer the sauce from the blue bucket under the milling machine into the cleaned pot. Once I transfer all the sauce, Ciccio starts cooking it a second time and I drive off to my uncle’s to get basil.

By the time I’m back, Mafalda has joined the crew. She is washing the jars and putting then on the round table near the caldron. She shifts and quickly washes the basil and she and I begin to add two leaves to each of the empty jars. My dad using a small pot with a handle and a funnel, begins filling the jars. It’s my job to place the lids on the filled jars and to then screw the rings on tightly. We fill 58 Mason pint-jars. (I asked about putting the jars in a water-bath canner, but my dad said they haven’t done in years. The lid, tightened by the ring, seals as the piping hot sauce cools.)

The jar end up on the counter in the back and covered in a green synthetic blanket. This will slow down the cooling process guaranteeing that the lids seal tightly onto the top of the jars.


September 11, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

morning has broken

We’re walking in Humber Bay Park – two landspits situated at the mouth of Mimico Creek where it empties into Lake Ontario. The Park is below the Gardiner Expressway on the south-western edge of Humber Bay; following the Bay’s contours takes you to downtown Toronto.

Background – The Park, opened on June 11, 1984, is built on 5.1 million cubic metres of lakefill. Several habitat restoration projects have been initiated at Humber Bay Park, including the planting of Carolinian trees and shrubs, the establishment of wildflower meadows and the creation of a warm-water fish habitat and wetland on the east peninsula. The park is also a popular destination to view migrating birds.

We got up early and Franchino drove down so that we could see the sun rise.

I’ve been traveling this end of the Gardiner for years, but this is my first time in the Park.

What I like best about the image is the golden hues bathing the skyline silhouette. The morning sun’s reflection, on the glass skyscrapers, is more obvious in the larger image in the slide-show.


September 12, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

hint of fall

This morning’s walk was through High Park. It’s a walk we’ve done before, but not first thing in the morning. The dew was still on the grass; the fog lazied just above the ground; the sunlight fracted from the east; and morning silence filled the hollows.

High Park anchors a huge green-space in southwestern Toronto. This green-space, along the lakeshore, goes from Humber Park, in the west, to downtown. It’s almost 7 miles of beautiful park-land along the shore of Lake Ontario.

I remember when Canada, because of its wilderness, its open lands, its small population, its miserable winters was considered a backward country. Canadians, when compared to their southern neighbors, were labeled second-class citizens. Today, those once negative attributes make Canada a very desirable destination and Toronto a world-class city. (Franchino has been showing me all the parks and green-spaces within the city limits. Within the city there are multiple golf-courses and it seems like every street has some kind of park or green-space. The city, the 4th largest in North America, doesn’t have the paved-over look of New York or Los Angeles. Toronto actually looks green.)


September 12, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

man-made waterfall in wild high park

High Park is 400 acres (in comparison Central Park is 780 acres). Every time Frank and I walk High Park, it’s always amazed me that we can do the whole perimeter in one session; now I know why.

Another difference is that High Park relies much more so on natural contours and elevations. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park to such detail – creating every rise, every path-twist, every pond, every knoll – that after all these years and because the park looks so natural, we forget the structure they imposed on the acreage in central Manhattan. On the other hand, one third of High Park is still in its natural state and the rest of it has been added onto to provide amenities – tennis courts, baseball diamonds, soccer fields, pools, zoo, sculptures and fountains – for its many users.

The Park is part of the Canadian penchant towards wilderness, towards natural environments, towards a love of its rugged lands.


September 13, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections


le musée aga khan

How can I pass up such a header – a French article, an accent aigu and an ancient Islamic title.

The pic on the left, is of an 15th, underglazed, painted tile from either Syria or Egypt. The blue-and-white color scheme was meant to imitate Chinese porcelain. The tile is one of the 300 artifacts and art pieces on display at the Aga Khan Museum in North York.

The building is faceted, white geometry; the gardens, a glimpse into paradise; the black pools, the quality of mercy. The Museum represents Islamic culture from the Iberian Peninsula to the Malay Archipelago. Its collection is remarkable and beautifully displayed; its textiles and clothing shimmer in the ambient light; its Korans and manuscripts illuminate (the museum holds the earliest surviving manuscript of Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine, the text that kept ancient Greek thought alive while the west plunged into the dark ages); its apothecary jars chipped, but lustrous; its ancient pottery ablaze with reds, oranges and blues.

Prince Shah Karim Al Husseine – The Aga Khan – is the 49th hereditary Imam of the estimated 15 million Shia Muslims and a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. He was ready to build his museum in London; a site, on the southern bank of the Thames, had already been selected, but it became politically difficult to locate an Islamic museum in Brexit-drunk England. The push-back brought the Prince, his famed Japanese architect and his collection of Islamic masterpieces, across the pond, to multi-cultural Toronto.


September 13, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

where did it go …

Consiglio’s Kitchenware has been on St. Clair (this northern east/west thoroughfare is always referred to without the street identifier) for as long as I can remember. Every time my parents, my uncle-and-aunt visited Toronto a trip to St. Clair and to Consiglios was mandatory. (all my stovetop espresso makers, my colanders were bought at Consiglios)

My grandparents and their fellow immigrants settled in the west-end around College. (In everyday language, this southern east/west thoroughfare is also referred to without the street identifier. This use of the street name without the road, way, crescent … identifiers is very common in Toronto. The exception is Avenue Road.) Back then the city was a small urban grid hugging the lake-shore. The next wave – my parents’ generation – stayed in the west-end, but went north to St. Clair.

There’s a great story of my dad and I standing in front of a woman’s apparel store, holding bags containing half of a goat that one of his paisani had to cut up; my mother, seeing the sale sign, had rushed in looking for a bra, because after all the bras on St. Clair were so much cheaper than anything she could buy in that little outpost better known as Sault Ste Marie. And not to be outdone by the two old people, I texted Welch and described the whole absurd scene.

Welch, I’m in the middle of St. Clair holding two bags of goat meat
My dad is cursing, there’s blood running out of a bag and onto his shoe
My mother is in the underwear store
I can see her through the window, she’s touching the bras feeling them

My generation left the city behind and moved further north into the suburb of Vaughan and Woodbridge.

Franchino wanted to go to St. Clair to Consiglios to buy red remembrance candles for his mom to use at the cemetery up in Sault Ste Marie; I was looking for a stovetop, Neapolitan coffee-maker. We went to the small parking lot on Via Italia (I’ve been parking here for years) and made our way to the store. St. Clair isn’t the street it used to be; there are several vacant store-fronts and the foot-traffic is minimal. And when we got to the store that used to be Consiglios we found an empty building. “What is happening? We’re at the right place, right? Where’s the store?” On the door was a small sign announcing their new address in an industrial area off the western QEW.

The new store has a series of small showrooms, but its focus has shifted from a traditional brick-and-mortar store to an online business. (My parents have lost their favorite store.) The owner explained that going online, going virtual was the only way to survive. “We’re trying not to go the way of Sears.” OK, I understand, but my world has tilted. A store that has been there all my life, a store where I bought most of the items in my kitchen, is now doing business in the ether.


September 23, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections


last rose of summer

Am I ready to let go of summer and consider that we’re getting closer and closer to the end of 2017?

Summer-2017 was not great for the trees and vegetables in my backyard – the peach tree produced wonderfully tasteful fruit, but then developed a leaf fungus and lost all it leaves by the end of July. (i have no idea if it’ll come back next spring) The only vegetables that survived through the season were the tomatoes. The kale, the cucumbers, the fennel all withered and died. The flowers that filled the many pots in the north-east corner were filled with yellow and white annuals. The pallet soon faded – the yellow begonias were rust ridden by the end of June, the white geraniums were feeble and stringy. Ended up replacing the begonias and diversifying the color pallet to include purples and reds.

And finally, summer-2017 brought 3 deaths – Frances Thorman died August 9, Norma Cornblat died August 21 and Tom Stack died September 16. And for that alone, I’m ready to leave the season behind for a time to re-group, re-examine and remember.


September 29, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

back after a year away

Frank, Ron and I met up in Windsor at the indoor tennis courts that we played at before. (the indoor courts are easier on the feet and way easier on the body than the heat-reflecting asphalt courts in the public park in Harrow.) We volley, two on one, for an hour.
Franchino had volunteered to cook veal scallopini, so I took everyone to the LCBO down the street to purchase many bottles of Pinot-grigio and Italian-red. (ontario has liquor stores – LCBO – as well as separate beer stores) The Pinots would be for before dinner, the Reds for during and after.

The image on the right is really the next evening. (l to r – Ron, Franchino, Lynn) Franchino brought all the ingredients he needed for the veal scallopini and we all helped putting it together.

The drive from Windsor to Harrow is through flat farmland, perimetered by scrubby thickets with some trees sprouting above the green walls (the locals call these “the woods” and they are home to foxes and feral cats). The GPS takes us south through Harrow and down Snake Lane to Gore Road. The last time we were at Lynn-and-Rainer’s was October of 2015 and in two years the property has changed significantly. The cedars that line the west side of the long driveway are now easily 30 feet tall; the other trees on the property are full, tall, massive; the landscaping is now settled and the property no longer has that work-in-progress look.

Once we unload, we migrate out to walk the property. In the fading light, the dissonance is made obvious by the lack of ambient noise. (imagine a place with no urban sounds) The second jolt comes when a stream of beautiful young cats comes running to greet us. There are 14 of them.


September 30, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections


visiting south-western ontario

  •     – Rainer-and-Lynn live almost as far south as you can go in Canada. Lake Erie is two miles from their front door.
  •     – At one time, the entire area, around their house, was marsh-land. Early settlers, in the 1700, in order to farm, built a series of ditches to drain the water. Many of those ditches are still in use, but many are blocked with silt accumulated over the centuries.
  •     – This is a corn year, but because the field in front of the house was under water during the planting season – early spring, the farmer ended up putting in the faster growing soy. And, because it’s basically a filler crop, he hasn’t tended it as scrupulously resulting in tall weeds among the low soy plants. (The drainage ditch, in the field in front of their house, was clogged and in spring the field became a shallow pond. Swans found the water and stayed eating the seeds that had settled on the bottom.)
  •     – Bungalows are everywhere in the area. Rainer-and-Lynn’s 19th century farmhouse is the anomaly. Rainer said that the farmer who severed the property they own from his larger holding, would love to buy it back and that his first improvement would be to tear down the old, original farmhouse.
  •     – All the houses around Rainer-and-Lynn are all on septic tanks and weeping-fields; and all the houses have wells that they get their water from. Even if Essex Township brought sewage and water to the area, tapping in would be very expensive. Their house is some 500 feet from the road.
  •     – The only time you hear noise is when there’s a car on Gore Road.
  •     – Self-reliance along with chipping-in to help your neighbor are key pillars of living almost off the grid.
  •     – There are many families living on the edge of poverty. And many of these same families have more than 2 children.
  •     – The modern world with its Internet, smart-phones, tablets is peripheral for many people living in this rural area.
  •     – A cash-only and a barter system are common economic models among the people living in this part of south-western Ontario.
  •     – Rainer said they’ve been hearing people coming onto their property late at night and trying to get into their out-buildings. Many are also scouring the area looking for marijuana plants. Small marijuana growers are not harassed in a province getting ready to legalize marijuana. The Provincial Government has announced that on July 1, 2018 marijuana will be on sale in all its wine and alcohol stores across the province.


Saturday morning, at first-light, I’m outside with my camera. And the cats, assuming that I’m there to feed them, swarm around me. There are currently 14 cats on the property and none of the females will go into heat until early spring. This will be the first winter Rainer-and-Lynn will have this large of a pride through winter.

One of the things I like best about the image of the cats in the tree is the direction of the light. The morning sun falls on the eastern side of the tree trunk.

The image on the right is of Ron’s 1988 Lincoln Town Car (I refer to it as the boat ). It was his brother Louie’s car. We are on Gore Road, facing east. Ron had gone home to Leamington to water the new sod he had put in around his house. In the image, Rainer is standing on the left and Franchino is talking to Ron who is in the driver’s seat.


October 9, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections


new kitchen, day-one

Over the weekend, the contractor began taking down the old kitchen cabinets – basically dismantling the old kitchen and removing the old microwave. She left the sink, the sink-cabinets and a portion of the old counter. This gave me a usable sink and a somewhat usable kitchen for a couple extra days.

This morning Marty, from M&D Plumbing, came in to take apart the old sink and to cap all the pipes and drains under it. Once he had everything cut, he and I dismantled the last two reaming cabinets and partial counter. Marty then stayed until the carpenters and installers showed; he wanted to make sure that all pipes and drains had been cut and capped to minimize the least amount of holes in the new sink cabinet.

The left image is the spice cabinet. One of the reasons I ended up with a custom cabinet maker is because he proposed options that gave me the largest amount of cabinet space. The other bids, used standard cabinets from the large, home-improvement chains; and their solution for the non-standard space that is my kitchen, was to use fillers – covering any unused space with Sheetrock. Joe Kelley covered the side and back of my dish-shelf with a laminate to match the new cabinets; he extended the height of the dish-shelf to match the new above the counter cabinets; he added the spice cabinet on the left of the stove; and designed an amazing unit for the alcove between the old warming-oven and the back wall.

In the middle image Ross, one of Joe’s people, is starting to cut the cast-iron ring on the side of the warming-oven. He only managed cutting one side before the grinder over-heated and died. Once the ring is cut, a great custom-built unit will fit into this space, giving me additional storage.

The image on the right is of the base cabinets. The push was to get the base-cabinets installed so that the counter measurers can come tomorrow morning. I will have no water or sink until the new pressed-glass counter is installed. And it will take a week from the time of measuring to the installation. As soon as we knew the base-cabinets would be done today, both Joe and I called the counter people and the measuring is rescheduled for tomorrow. (Once the new counter is in, Marty will come back and reconnect all the plumbing. If things work out, I should have a full functioning kitchen by next Wednesday.)


October 10, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

new kitchen, day-two

I’m going to begin by writing about the image on the left. It’s probably one of my favorite images. In reality it’s the inside panel of four cabinet doors above the microwave. The larger image at the end of this post shows the knobs as they are on the cabinets.

I selected drawer-pulls that are large and have a modern design; for the very top cabinets, the glass fronted ones, I selected a blue ceramic knob; the large doors have hidden finger pulls. The two doors above the microwave have the finger pulls. But once the microwave was installed, it mounted beyond the depth of the cabinets so the finger-pulls were inaccessible. I suggested that we use two of the blue ceramic knobs on these doors.

Creating the abstract, vertical image was great fun. It’s a sliver of the left image in the triptych below. I kept cropping until I had what you see on the left. The blue knobs on the cherry stain, the vertical line of symmetry, the cruciform, the different grains. If you look carefully, you can see the finger-pulls on the underside of the top knobs.

The top cabinets came in 3 sections – the largest is above the stove; the smallest is the cabinet in the alcove; and the third sectional is above the sink. The new cabinets doubled the space I had before. Also, the new cabinets were fixed 22 inches above the counter. That is 4 inches higher than standard, but the extra height makes for a more open counter area. (The old cabinets were a whopping 25 inches above the counter-top. The standard is 18 inches. I don’t know why the original contractor put them so high. In the right image in the triptych, the white patch above the stove was the old microwave and the patch to its right was the old above-the-counter cabinet.)

There are some minor fixes that need to happen – the drawer-pulls are very wide and the second drawer in the cabinet closest to the sink can’t open, because is butts against the pulls on the sink cabinet. (My suggestion is that we replace the two pulls on the sink cabinet with something similar, but narrower. And if we find the right replacement, then I want two more smaller/narrower pulls for the spice cabinet. This cabinet is itself narrow and a smaller/narrower pull would look better.)

Tomorrow the electrician comes in to connect the microwave and put power behind the alcove cabinet for TV, cable-box and router-amplifier. The counter-top people aren’t due until the middle of next week. And when the new counter is in, I can get Marty back to hook up the new sink.


October 16, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

new kitchen, following-days

As soon as the new cabinets were hung and the carpenters gone, I put everything back. I needed a semblance of kitchen even if there was no microwave, no TV, no counter, no sink, no water.

Last Thursday, Clay came in and put power in the alcove, behind the unit pictured on the left. (There were two additions that Joe Kelly suggested that in many ways clinched the deal. The first was the alcove unit, the second was a custom built table to replace the IKEA special that we had been using for 30 years.) Clay hooked up the new microwave, and ran power into the back of the alcove. All wires – cable, electrical – are now well hidden behind the new, open, corner cabinet.

I covered the bottom cabinets with some thin plywood that was left over from a bed platform. Got out the electrical saw and cut the pieces to fit on top of the cabinets. It’s not the best, but it gives me a place to work when making coffee, lunch or filling the dogs’ bowls. The new, pressed-glass counter-top is being installed Thursday morning.

Marty is coming Thursday afternoon to hook up the faucet and disposal to the new sink. It’s hard to believe that I may have a functioning kitchen by dinner time Thursday.

Items in the alcove cabinet: the ceramic canister on the bottom shelf holds dog biscuits and is from Deruta – a hill-town in central Italy known for its ceramics; the squat, yellow canister on the second shelf is a garlic-keeper also from Deruta; and the jars on the top shelf are glass canisters with spring-sealed lids that I use to keep coffee in.


October 17, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections


new kitchen, reflections

I’ve been working on the image most of the day, hoping that the daylight would fill the kitchen especially the top of the cabinets. It didn’t and I ended up adding a floor-lamp light source – notice the bottom of the image and the shadow of the knobs. Also, the best shots came from me standing on a ladder and getting eye-level with the top-cabinets and even then they needed a lot of Photoshop tweaking.

In the above image, besides the espresso pots, you can see the stain-glass windows and the bowl of the overhead light. The stain-glass and the knobs are in the blue range, the espresso pots add primary colors and the red-cherry cabinets frame everything.

A side note – the renovation sparked a great cleaning-out; last week, on garbage-day, 10 huge garbage bags lined the alley. They were filled with dishes, pots, pans – anything we hadn’t used in over a year; they all went. The cleaning-out is continuing and so far I’ve filled 4 forty-two gallon bags and it’s only Tuesday. (Update – counted 15 large garbage bags for this week’s pick-up.)


October 19, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

new kitchen, new counter

Getting closer. This morning they came to install the new counter, but didn’t bring the back-splashes, so they’re either coming back later today or tomorrow morning.

The pressed-glass counter is very low-keyed. Up close, you can see all these amazing bits of color – reds, greens, blues, tiny shards of clear-glass, even things that look like shells. This splattering will make it great at hiding dirt and crumbs. The new sink is fastened to the bottom of the pressed-glass countertop with 7 small pieces of corian. The installer put glue on the corian and then fastened the small pieces around the perimeter of the new sink holding them in place with painter’s tape. Apparently the corian and the glue are strong enough to hold the sink in place. (The two installers said that anymore, it’s rare to drill into the counter-top and use metal clips to fasten a sink. The new glues are strong enough and long-lasting enough to forego drilling.)

Besides using the corian as a fastener, the next interesting aspect of the install was to see the worker use two electrical vacuum units to move the heavy slabs into alignment. Once he had them aligned and level he added the poxy to the seam.

Right now, Marty is beginning to rebuild the pipes and drains under the new sink. Wonder if I’ll have water by dinner time?


October 20, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

new kitchen, pressed-glass

The countertop is actually more white than it appears in the image, but in an room full of yellows, browns and cherry-reds, it’s hard to eliminate the tan hue. (Paul says it has a 1950’s look.)

The back-splashes are in and Marty is here to finish hooking up the plumbing.

Two weeks after it all began, I have a working kitchen again. The last two things before it’s completely finished is the flooring and repainting.

Total cost was approximately 28K and that includes – demolition, cabinets, table, countertop, sink, microwave, electrician, plumber, flooring and painting.


October 21, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

my uncle’s 80th birthday

Today is my uncle’s 80th birthday and last night we celebrated with dinner and cake. We’re at Mary-and-Domenic’s and it’s my uncle and aunt, Daniel and Alyssa in the pic.

What amazes me is that my uncle began life in a small Calabrian town – Martirano – on a remote farm and 80 years later, his life is such that he flies down from Sault Ste Marie, to Toronto and then to his daughter’s in Pickering to celebrate his birthday.

I believe Canada has been enriched by these courageous immigrants who left their homes and made a new life in a foreign land. It’s a generation, pushed out of Italy because of the war and its aftermath, but it’s also a generation of pioneers. And much like the pioneers of an earlier age, they too had to conquer the wildness of Northern Ontario in order to establish homesteads, build cities and raise families. Sault Ste Marie is no longer the industrial center that it was back in the 50’s and 60’s when my uncle’s generation worked its mills and factories; it has lost most of that manufacturing base to cheap labor in other parts of the world; and it has lost most of the kids, from those immigrant families, to Toronto, to Vancouver, to the United States. But the modern world, unlike 19th century Europe, affords us the opportunity to meet up and to celebrate life’s milestones.


October 22, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

in the haze

I drove from Pickering down to High Park and both the 401 and the Don Valley were congestion free. But the Gardiner between the Air Canada Center – hockey arena – and the Rogers Stadium – baseball park – crawled. Once through the downtown tourist bottle-neck, the highway opened up and I thought I was making good time until I hit the Dunn exit and road construction forced me onto Roncesvalles Avenue. Roncy, in local parlance, is the current hip-area and at 12-noon it was full of older, well-dressed residences who had left their suburban enclaves to come back to the old neighborhood for Sunday Mass in Polish and young hipsters in their torn jeans and low-fade haircuts anxious through a sunny afternoon.

Franchino and I were walking through Humber Bay Park and there in the haze was the skyline. (I like the image because of the ephemeral, far-off quality of the skyline silhouette and the immediacy of the fall colors on the trees in the bottom left corner.)

It continued to be a day of contrasts. The apartment was excessively warm, but the shoreline walk, with the wind whipping off the Lake, was uncomfortably cold. We took the paths away from the water and the chilling wind.

Franchino always has a movie ready and tonight’s was as disturbing as High Noon. Tonight’s movie was The Ox-Bow Incident. I literally sat there with my mouth open. Wikipedia has the following description – The Ox-Bow Incident is a 1940 western novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark in which two drifters are drawn into a lynch mob to find and hang three men presumed to be rustlers and the killers of a local man.

Clifton Fadiman wrote an introduction to the Readers Club edition in which he called it a “mature, unpitying examination of what causes men to love violence and to transgress justice,” and “the best novel of its year.” In 1943, the novel was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated movie of the same name, directed by William A. Wellman and starring Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan. The movie was seen as a repudiation of Fascism.

What is jarring is that the actions/plot of the novel/film are based on fake-news – the cattle were legally purchased and the local rancher was hurt not killed. And watching this classic with a 2017 sensibility, l can’t stop thinking that like the 1940’s, fake-news is driving much of our political discourse, group-think and military actions. And fake-new, now like then, seems to be pulling us towards killings, towards war. (About 46 percent of Republicans support a preemptive strike on North Korea; 11,000 troops are currently in Afghanistan; and American special forces are in South Sahara Africa.)


October 23, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

looking north-west

Frank’s apartment is in the back of the building and it faces the North High Park neighborhood. I’m on the balcony and shooting the canopy that covers the area north of Bloor and west of Dundas.


October 29, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

the witch of november

My mother was telling me that they were having miserable weather, that the winds were wrecking havoc across the city. When the weather front hit us yesterday and today, we had the rain and cold, but no winds. This is the first true fall weather of the year and I almost want to say, about time. The pumpkins were the only color is an otherwise dreary, gray and cold day.

Last night, I made comfort food – pipi e patate. I fried potatoes and red-peppers – an old Calabrese dish that fits cold damp weather. The variations are on how long you cook the pipi e patate; I like the potatoes to be firm, so I toss them in first and brown them before throwing in the red-peppers. And I do not cook the red-peppers to limpness; I like some crunch in my fried peppers. And last night for some reason, I didn’t add onion. I used my dad’s recipe and he doesn’t add onions to his oil when he’s frying.

Listening to Motongator Joe’s cover of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and wanting to use the line – T’was the witch of November come stealin’ – for this post, I did some research on the term – witch of November.

The witch of November refers to the strong winds – gusts greater than 100 mph – that frequently howl across the Great Lakes in the fall. The witches are caused by intense low atmospheric pressure over the Great Lakes pulling Arctic air from the north and warm Gulf air from the south. When these contrasting air masses collide, hurricane-force winds churn up massive waves across the lakes.1

Since the mid-1800s there have been more than two dozen of these cyclones recorded in the Great Lakes, most of them in November, and many affecting the largest lake, Lake Superior.

  •  The 1905 Blow: Destroyed or damaged 29 vessels, killed three dozen seamen, and caused more than $3 million in damage along Lake Superior. Winds were estimated at 60 to 70 mph.
  •  The Big Storm of 1913: Probably the worst storm on record, it affected all five Great Lakes. Thirteen ships sank and more than 240 men lost their lives, most of them on Lake Huron. Winds were estimated at 90 mph, with waves of more than 35 feet, along with whiteout snow squalls.
  •  The Duluth Storm of 1967: This is also known as “Black Sunday” by locals. Three boys and their rescuer were killed after being swept off a pier. A rare fall tornado outbreak accompanied this storm, which also brought waves of more than 20 feet to Lake Superior and winds gusting more than 50 mph.
  •  The November 1975 Storm: Probably the most infamous storm – nicknamed the “Witch of November” – which caused the sinking of the Great Lakes freighter named The Edmund Fitzgerald.2

And finally, BuzzFeed Canada had some amazing photos by Dave Sandford. He recently spent time on Lake Erie shooting the Great Lake’s turbulent fall season. From mid-October to mid-November, the longtime professional sports photographer traveled each week to Port Stanley, Ontario, on the edge of Lake Erie to spend hours taking photos.3
1  Wikipedia – link
2  WeatherBug – link
3  BuzzFeed Canada – link


November 9, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

hiking the northside – spring gardentrek – 1
click to read the hiking posts


the other side of the tracks

The area, outlined in blue, is bounded on the east by Highway 279, on the south and west by Route 65; its northern border is the first ring of hills that reach all the way into the middle of the state. This area is sometimes know as the Northside Flats (it’s the northern shore of the Allegheny River). The area is approximately one-and-a-half square miles or 960 acres, and it has been the focus of great renovation and redevelopment over the last 40 years. The Northside contains the 4 largest historic districts – The Mexican War Street, Allegheny West, Manchester and Deutschtown/East Allegheny; it’s the home of The Mattress Factory, The Warhol Museum, The Children’s Museum, Alphabet City/City of Asylum, The National Aviary, Allegheny General Hospital and the oldest park in the city – Allegheny Commons.

I’m trying to develop a walking routine that will get me ready to hike the Inca Trail in late May, and this morning I decided to walk up the hills east of Highway 279. The area is know as Spring Garden. Many life-long Northsiders who lived in the Flats migrated to Spring Garden when gentrification and redevelopment forced them out of their old neighborhoods. The contrast between the Northside Flats and this old neighborhood was amazing. The slopes of Spring Garden feel more like the hills and hollers of West Virginia than a Pittsburgh neighborhood. The housing is edgy, the yards are littered, the sidewalks are crumbing, but the views of downtown are spectacular. As I’m walking and taking pictures, the mailman comes over to tell me there’s a Pit-bull running loose, so I may want to move on and take the headphones off.

The old expression – the other side of the tracks – gives way to the modern – the other side of the highway.
The image is taken from Perrysville Avenue the ridge that borders the Flats and I’m shooting south. The Northside Flats – the facing hillside is Mount Washington; the tall structures on the right are CCAC-Allegheny; you can also see one wing of Heinz Stadium. The bridge on the left is the Fort Pitt spanning the Monongahela River at the Point. The black circle in the bottom is my house. And all the trees in front of my house are the park – Allegheny Commons.


November 9, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

hiking the northside – itin streettrek – 2
click to read the hiking posts


The image on the left is one of the renovated houses in the Flats; the image on the right is a view from a set of stairs in Spring Garden. I’m shooting the smoke from the Heinz Plant. Recently, after the merger with Kraft, the old Heinz Plant is slowly being converted to hipster lofts. The smoke and all manufacturing will soon be gone.

The word – Galileo – was part of Alphabet City’s wordstream, an art event creating a stream of words from its location on Sampsonia Way to its new headquarters on West North Avenue. Many of the old hipsters, living in the Mexican War Streets, tacked a plethora of words on their walls and windows helping to create the stream from Sampsonia to North Avenue.

From my house to the top of Itin Street in Spring Garden is 3.1 miles; (yesterday I walked from my house to Gateway Center 1.9 miles). I headed into Spring Garden because I wanted to climb Itin; it was my first uphill hike.


November 11, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

hiking the northside – buena vistatrek – 3
click to read the hiking posts


Along the periphery of the historic district – The Mexican War Streets – there is great development and we’re finally seeing modern design infiltrating the staid and traditional. The two images are new houses going up on Buena Vista just north of the historic district boundaries.

I love the golden door.

Seeing the new designs is seeing new life in an area that was rescued from the wrecking ball by the urban homesteaders of the 1960s and 1970s. And those same pioneers are now welcoming new homesteaders who have a different world-view, a different sensibility than those of us who preserved and rehabbed the old structures.

The construction and rehab rules are different outside the original historic district – the gray area – and what these new home-owners seem to be doing is using the lines and the symmetries of the old houses to develop a new architectural language that looks to the past, but isn’t confined by it.

This morning’s hike was up Buena Vista Street. The Department of Public Works classifies Buena Vista at 12.5% – 6o grade/steepness from horizontal. (A 0% grade is perfectly flat and a 100% grade is 45 degrees from the horizontal. The percentage expresses the steepness of the hill as the rise over run expressed as a percentage.)

I walked up Buena Vista to Perrysville and then took steps down to Arch and then home; the hike was 1.5 miles. The uphill portion – Buena Vista – was .6 miles; Google Maps shows a rise from 761 feet at the bottom to 1063 feet at the top. (My Thursday hike up Itin Street was a rise from 761 feet at the bottom to 965 feet at the top. No wonder this morning’s hike was so much more strenuous.)

Also, found a set of stairs from Perrysville down the hillside to Arch Street. I’m not ready to do stairs yet, but I’ll keep using them as the way down to the Flats.

Am also using the hikes to better learn the d800e camera. Today, all the images were shot using the preprogrammed settings – P is Nikon’s auto setting for its high-end cameras. I’d like to take the d800e (36.3 effective megapixels) with me to Peru and I’m assuming that I will be handing it off to other people on the tour so that I can be in the Machu Picchu pictures, and so I need to get familiar with the auto setting.


hiking north park – lake shore drivetrek – 4
click to read the hiking posts


As the cloud-cover leached the reds and yellows from the turning leaves, chilly rains shellacked the tree trunks and branches black. Whenever I’m out in this ashen miasma, I think:
A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:

And given that in Catholic lore November is the month of the dead – Frances, Norma, Tom and Joe – Shakespeare’s quote adds an emotional dimension to this sunless day.

Rather than hide indoors, I decided to explore the lake-trail in North Park. The artificial lake covers over 75 acres and because I’ve never walked this trail, I used the solid portion on the southern shore; I walked to a 1¼ mile-marker and turned around. The hike was 2.8 miles. On the map, it’s the blue line; I started in the bottom left corner, 1600 feet before the beginning of the marked trail on Lake Shore Drive. Afterwards, to better understand the whole of the lake route, I drove the perimeter road. From where I parked, it’s a 5 mile trek around the lake.

Tomorrow morning, I’m gonna walk Walter Road; it’s the road on the left-hand side of the map. It has some elevation, going from 968 feet at the bottom to 1,158 feet at the top. In contrast, Lake Shore Drive is a set of low rolling hills. And next week, I’ll do the entire 5 miles around the lake.

While walking, I’ve taken to listening to music (franchino would chide me, insisting that i’m missing the natural sounds, the world around me). On my own, with my camera on my shoulder, it’s amazingly peaceful listening to music and walking. The road-noise is silenced by Tracy Chapman’s repetitions in Stand By Me and Dylan’s longings in If You See Her Say Hello. And then, I look up and there on the hillside is a deer snacking on the green grass. What else can I ask for?


November 19, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

hiking north park – walter roadtrek – 5
click to read the hiking posts


Walter Road, for a mile-and-a-half, climbs the hillside above the lake and then descends to meet the Lake Shore Drive at the man-made lake’s northern most point. At its steepest, Walter Road climbs 200 feet above the lake. (The pedometer, on my iPhone, assigns a 9-floor or 90 feet elevation to the climb and descent.)

North Park is full of shelters that look like they were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The old ones, like the one in the above pic, are made from local materials – field-stone, hand-made bricks, logs and planks from the park’s trees; and these old shelters seem situated to blend into the hilly landscape. (An aside on the pre-programmed setting for the d800e – it takes great pics in overcast, gloomy weather. The above pic was taken on a gray, dull day.) The back of the shelter is built into the hillside making the top deck accessible directly off the parking-lot.


November 22, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

hiking north park – pearce mill roadtrek – 6
click to read the hiking posts


This post is dedicated to Father Pierce one of my high-school teachers. (Yeah, I know it’s two different spellings, but let’s not forget English’s propensity for homophones.) I called Franchino to ask about Father Pierce, because I couldn’t find him in my 11th or 12th grade yearbooks and Frank remembers high-school much better than I do.

Father Pierce was a tall Texan who taught us Religion – Catholic History – in 9th and 10th grades. (I learned about the Babylonians and Nebuchadnezzar from the tall Texan.) He was famous or infamous for insisting that on every sheet of foolscap – writing paper measuring 13.5 inches by 17 inches – we write JMJ – Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – in the left-margin and the date on the right-side (i don’t remember where we wrote our names). Also, he lectured and we were expected to take verbatim notes. He also checked homework. His was the only class that I did homework for, simply because he checked it. Most of our teachers only checked homework if during the homework review, you couldn’t answer their questions (any homework that I knew how to talk through, I didn’t do, because if called on, I could answer and prevent the teacher from asking to see my notebook and my homework).

We had final exams twice a year, first in December before the Christmas break and then again in June before summer vacation. There were no classes during finals week and you were expected to study and prepare for your tests in the time when you were not scheduled to write an exam. All finals were taken in the auditorium/gym and the Friday before finals we would bring our classroom desks down to the auditorium/gym and set them in long rows. You wrote finals either in a 2-hour morning session or in a 2-hour afternoon session (the afternoon sessions were most desirable, because you could study in the morning). The teachers proctored the exams.

Back in 1964/1965, all exams required essay answers and you had write in ink. Foolscap was provided and you could ask for as much paper as you needed. The only exams that had fill-in-the-blanks or multiple-choice questions were the French or Latin finals (verb conjugations and noun adjective agreements were common fill-in-the-blanks or multiple-choice questions). Father Pierce’s finals were renowned for their length and the amount of writing they required. And because of Father Pierce long exams, a saying developed among the “brains” (in 1964 terms like geeks and nerds were not in use, the geeks and nerds of that bygone time were known as brains). After taking Father Pierce’s final we would come out and ask each other, “How may foolscaps did you write?” Franchino always wrote more than the rest of us; I’m talking 15 to 20 pages in a two-hour sit-down. The expression stayed with us even after Father Pierce was gone from St. Mary’s.

The image at the top of the post is of the weather-vane shot through the archway at the entry to the pump station. The two smaller thumbnails on the right are of the pump station and its weather-vane.

Today, I walked the circumference of North Park Lake – 4.7 miles. Google Maps tracks the circuit at 5 miles, but I took a .3 mile shortcut. I decided to start on Pearce Mill Road and to circle the lake north-shore to south-shore. The northern shore is amazingly diverse. First, Pine Creek that looks inconsequential from the south shore turns out to be wide and meandering; second, the north shore has all these new walking-paths that take you down to the creek banks; third, the north shore has all the historical plaques outlining the park’s origin; fourth, on this side are the historical stone structures – pump-station, boat-house – that iconically identify the park; this side also has the dams and spillways that create the lake and direct Pine Creek into the surrounding Hampton Township.


November 26, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

trek – 7
click to read the hiking posts


hiking north park – northern mockingbird


Today was the first time hiking North Park that the sun was out. (The background in the above landscape image is water. I’m high up on the riverbank shooting through the trees and bare branches at the lake below.) Walked Walter Road and the north side of the lake for a total of 4.1 miles. Saw the bird at the beginning of the trek. Almost missed it, because it’s beautifully camouflaged among the vines draping the dead tree.

I sent the image to the Interpretive Naturalist at North Park’s Latodami Nature Center for ID and she wrote back identifying it as a Northern Mockingbird – once quite rate, they are becoming so common that they are now year-round residents. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the specie – These slender-bodied gray birds apparently pour all their color into their personalities. They sing almost endlessly, even sometimes at night, and they flagrantly harass birds that intrude on their territories, flying slowly around them or prancing toward them, legs extended, flaunting their bright white wing patches.


November 29, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

hiking north park – oriental bittersweettrek – 8
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Today, I walked 4.7 miles. Once at the top of Walter Road, I followed a utility-pole access-path to the top of the hill and the North Park golf-course, this added more uphill to the walk giving the hike an average 110 feet elevation. My route has three parts to it: 1.Walter Road – the first half of Walter Road is the climb – to Pearce Mill Road (1.6 miles), 2.Pearce Mill Road to Babcock Boulevard (1.7 miles), and 3.Babcock Blvd. to East Ingomar Road, right onto Kummer Road and right onto the parking area on Lake Shore Drive (1.4 miles).

This was the first time I used a wide-angle lens – 17-55mm. Turns out it’s not the best lens for use in the Park; there aren’t any open landscapes; and I’m walking along the edge of an artificial lake at the bottom of the holler. (Yes, I’m using an Appalachian term.) I’ve used this lens very effectively up close, but the ravines and hillsides don’t allow me to get near any of the things I’m shooting. Several times today, I found myself wishing I had a second camera with a telephoto lens.

The main reason for the walking is to get in shape for the trip to Machu Picchu. When I walk, I wear a fanny-pack and carry a camera – d800e – things I will have with me on the trip. The wide-angle lens is heavier than the multi-purpose 18-300mm that I normally use, but I wanted to see if the results made it was worth packing and lugging it on the Inca Trail. Today’s pics decided that the wide-angle lens is not coming with me. I have one more lens to try the 80-400mm before making a final decision. (The 80-400mm needs to return great pics to warrant its weight.)

With a super blue sky, I decided to shoot the vines with the orange berries that cover many of the trees on Walter Road. The best results were impressionistic images showing a red/orange haze in the trees; the details – the berries – didn’t come through. There’s a large image of the vines and the berries cascading over a tree-trunk in the slide-show. The vine is Oriental Bittersweet and here in Western Pennsylvania it’s considered an invasive species – the vines twist themselves around the trunk eventually strangling the host tree. And let’s just add that all parts of the plant are poisonous to humans. The species is native to Eastern Asia, but was introduced to the US for aesthetic purposes – it has been used in floral arrangements. Now, the plant is recklessly affecting the ecology of over 33 states from Georgia to Wisconsin. And here in the Paris of Appalachia, in North Park, Bittersweet is everywhere.


November 30, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

highland park – male cardinaltrek – 9
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Today, I had two goals – see if the 80-400mm lens was a viable option for the Machu Picchu trip and measure the walk around the Highland Park Reservoir.

the lens
In the plaza, in front of the reservoir, are several holly plants and they are full of red berries. In order to get the shot that is in the slide-show, I had to move far away from the bush and shoot it from a distance. I like the shot, but not having used the 80-400mm lens in a while, I had forgotten that it needed the distance. And where normally I like a manual focus, because it allows me to decide the core of the image, the problem with the 80-400mm is that it’s so heavy that keeping the camera still while adjusting the focus becomes a difficult balance. Also, I want to take a user-friendly camera with me to Peru so that I can hand it off and be in some of the pictures. The manual focus and the weight of this lens don’t make this an easy set-up.

the walk
The flat asphalt path around the two reservoirs is .96 miles. The reservoirs are at the highest point in the park and I had thought that being high up I’d get some good vistas and some good shots of the environments below. Nah! The trees are so thick around the path that the Allegheny River and valley below are, for the most part, hidden.

For the second part of the walk, rather than do the path again, I went down to Reservoir Drive which circumscribes the two huge reservoirs; this part of the walk clocked in at 1.1 miles.

It was just past the pump station, half-way around Reservoir Drive, that I saw the Cardinal. The above pic has been greatly zoomed. I took the original RAW file and zoomed in until the bird was front-and-center. A 300 pixels per inch resolution makes this zooming process easier and the limited zooming maintains pixel density and resolution. I copy the zoom detail into another file, creating a brand new image. And it’s at this step that I save the new image for the web – 72 pixels/inch.

I so want to say something about the contrast between the suburban Mockingbird and the urban Cardinal, but I may be beating a dead horse …


December 1, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections


glad tidings of comfort and joy

Last night, I discovered Annie Lennox’s Christmas album. It’s great fun; she takes all the schmaltz out of the seasonal songs and replaces it with pounding drums, African voices and her smooth contralto.

  • – The beautifully lyrical chorus – Il est né le divin enfant, chantons tous son avènement – in the mouths of the South African Children’s Choir, becomes a staccato shout of rebellion, liberation and hope.
  • – In God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, she uses her belting range and her band’s hard-rock drums to pound this old traditional carol into an anthem of tolerance and generosity in a gone-crazy world.
  • – Her Coventry Carol is a hymn of solidarity with women everywhere who have lost their children to the duplicity of men and their religious hypocrisies.
  • – And in The Holly and the Ivy, you can forget pretty; Lennox’s incredible comfort in the lower extremes of her voice produces a solid, dark, male-like timbre as she sings about blood, thorns and bitter gall. 1
  • – But In the Bleak Midwinter her voice is soft, nostalgic for a long-ago time.
  • – In the angelic As Joseph was a Walking, her ability to sing a single syllable while moving between several different notes gives this old Lutheran hymn a haunting beauty.
  • – And her Universal Child – I see the tracks of every tear that ran right down your face – is most definitely the soul of the album. Let’s not forget our Annie is an atheist, this collection is not about the Christmas season.
  • – Of the 12 songs, Angels from the Realm of Glory, See Amid the Winter’s Snow, The First Noel, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, and Silent Night are not used to message. Yes, her powerful voice is still there, but she sings them straight adding no nuance.

After looking at all the images of Lennox online, I settled on the Mapplethorpe photograph. Come on, how can I pass up the opportunity to write about Annie Lennox, Robert Mapplethorpe and Christmas carols? (It’s my answer to, “We’re saying Merry Christmas again.” )

1 The website – Diva Divotee – has great info on Lennox’s unique voice.


December 3, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

base line to carpin beach roadtrek – 10
click to read the hiking posts


Today, I walked from my parents’ to Connie’s for a total of 4.97 miles. Connie and Ron live in Ron’s family old house, west of the city. Ron is the third generation to live on the land that his ancestors farmed. The original farm has been subdivided into smaller plots and various family members live on these smaller plots. And the original homestead, built in the 1900s, is still in use; it’s on the plot next to Connie-and-Ron’s and a cousin lives in the old farmhouse.

The farms are between Base Line and the shores of the St. Mary’s River; approximately a 3500 acres area. Base Line marks the bottom of the hill and the beginning of the flats. The St. Mary’s connects Lake Superior and Lake Huron.

The image was taken at the corner of Base Line and Carpin Beach Road; Connie and Ron live down Carpin Beach Road. The roads below and perpendicular to Base Line take their names from the beach where they terminate.


December 5, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

social services in northern ontario

Like all aging boomers, I’ve needed to look into support housing for my parents. My search is into the Canadian system, because my parents live in Northern Ontario. The advantage here is that it’s a small market and there are enough family and friends who can act of resources. The most surprising aspect is the cost. NOTHING like what the same facilities would cost in the US. And as my brother-in-law added, “Nothing like what it costs in metro Toronto.”

Currently, my parents tap into the various home-services that the provincial and federal governments provide. These services have allowed them to begin this phase of their lives while still living in their home. (My parents have always been practical people and we’ve begun the application process for an assisted living residence before we find ourselves with our backs against a wall, because one of them needs immediate placement.)

I’m using the farm photo for this post, because it’s a harkening back to an older time when grandparents, parents all lived in a multi-generational home; when extended families ran farms; when people didn’t move away from their communities and families. In today’s world, mobility, opportunities, schooling have dispersed family units and aging parents often find themselves alone in the town or city where they raised their kids. In my family, only my younger sister stayed in Northern Ontario. (I’m part of that age-group that ran to the cities for college and work.)


December 6, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

trek – 11
click to read the hiking posts



The Leslie Street Spit is a man-made headland, or land-fill, extending from Toronto’s east-end into Lake Ontario. Originally, it was conceived as an extension of the Toronto harbor, but it has evolved into a largely passive recreation area. On the map, it’s the green amoeba-like protrusion crawling into Lake Ontario. The area is officially the Tommy Thompson Park. Thompson is one of Canada’s famous Group of Seven artists.

Its common name – The Leslie Spit – is technically incorrect, since the land form is not truly a spit or a peninsula, but an amorphous landfill. The road running along the middle of the Spit is a southern extension of Leslie Street, hence the popular nickname.

The walk from the end of Leslie Street, on the mainland, to the end of the peninsula and back was 4.3 miles. (After two days of absolute miserable weather in Northern Ontario, it was great to find the sun again.)

The views of downtown Toronto are spectacular from this vantage point. The image on the right is deceptive, because it suggests that downtown is on the other side of vegetation. However, between the outcrop and the skyscrapers is the Toronto Harbor and Centre Island – better seen on the map.


December 7, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same

Back in the late 60s and throughout the 70s, every time I went back to Canada to visit my parents, I would fly into Pearson Airport, take the bus down to the Islington Subway station and hop the eastbound train to Jane. I’d get off at Jane and Bloor and walk the 5 long blocks to my grandparents’ house and stay with them. I would visit with them; I would visit with my cousins; and I would visit with Frank.

It was great to fly in and get into town on public transportation. The airport bus and the subway allowed me to get to know my grandparents and to maintain my friendship with Frank and later his family. (At Norma’s memorial, Frank mentioned how through all the years – from grade-school on – we were able to stay in touch.) Toronto’s bus and train systems were an amazingly cheap and convenient way of getting around. I was a poor university student for many of those years and public transportation gave me options. (I remember meeting my cousin Gabe, after he and his family had moved from Calabria to Toronto, on the subway and us going out to lunch.)

Also, because of public transportation, I was able to nurture and expand my friendships into the extended Zinga family; I met, two or three times a year, with my cousins Gina and Renato. And 50 years later, I still see Renato and keep in touch with Gina through social media. I built a whole friendship group in Toronto and public transportation allowed me to come into town and visit with these friends regularly.

And, 50 years later, I’m repeating the process. This time around, I’m talking the UP – Union Station/Pearson Airport – train from the airport to the Bloor St. station and walking up to Frank’s. The trip cost $2.00. And it’s a 10 minute walk from the train station to Frank’s. This morning I did the reverse.


December 12, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections


winter’s first snow

I shot these same pumpkins back at the end of October and then the focus of the post was the coming gales of November. (Back then, there were only the two large ones, the small one was still in the kitchen – fall decor.) It looks like the middle pumpkin may be collapsing. Once they freeze, with the next thaw, they collapse and it’s time to throw them away; fall is officially over.

Today, the weather turned – the skies stayed murky and gray all day, the winds brought blinding snow and when they had exhausted themselves, flurries and dropping temperatures allowed the snows to continue. (Dug out the snow-scraper and put it in the car.)

And today is the infamous election in Alabama. It all feels so much like the Carter years (1977 – 1981) when everything seemed to be in an upheaval; when we lived with stress on a daily basis. The difference is that back then the threats were external, now the threats are internal. Also now like then, new news-programs are emerging and reflecting the anxiety of the times. In 1980, Ted Koppel became the voice of the nation, counting the days that the American hostages were being held in Iran. Today, Rachel Maddow and Jake Tapper are rising above the din to tell the narrative of the times.


December 13, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

trek – 12
click to read the hiking posts


he who makes himself a dove is eaten by the hawk

The title is an old Italian proverb. I like it, because it describes the current political state of Democrats and Republicans. As Democrats, we are well off; civil rights are a foundation of the party; we champion LGBT people; we support net-neutrality; we believe in climate change; we stand for a woman’s right to choose; we want health-care for all; we believe wealth should distributed not concentrated; and we believe that a good education is a civil right. And yet, in 2016, we were shellacked by nasty, rapacious Republicans who with their first piece of legislation will take away health-care from 13 million poor Americans, forbid health-care to millions of children; loot the treasury to give their cronies – the richest Americans – even more of our money; and to make up for the revenue loss, will make poor people pay more taxes. The hawk has eaten the dove.

The only pause, and let’s not pretend it’s anything else, in this carnage, is that yesterday, Alabama voters, for the first time in 25 years, elected a Democrat to fill the seat vacated by Republican Jeff Sessions. (In the 2016 presidential election, 62% of Alabama voters voted for the Republican candidate. Clinton got only 34% of the vote in this very Red state.)

The image is from my walk up Walter Road in North Park. As I was climbing the hill, the hawk lighted onto the snow covered branch; he was quite a way up from me. The 18-400mm lens allowed me to capture the predator from a distance that didn’t disrupt or disturb him. I stood there and did shot after shot, hoping that one would come out; and when I saw the above image, I knew I got it. Isn’t he glorious. Makes me think of Albus Dumbledore. (I sent the pic off to the the naturalist at the Latodami Environmental Center for ID. And I may have to change the pronoun once she gets back to me.)

I walked from the Off-leash-dog-area parking lot to the Kummer Road parking lot; a distance of 2.5 miles with an elevation of 190 feet. I climbed the Walter Road hill twice.

In researching the proverb, which I never found in Italian, I came across another one which is in keeping with the tone of the post. (My translation is more sentiment than literal.)
l’amicizia fugge della ricchezza come colomba del falco 1  —  friendship is destroyed by wealth, like a dove is destroyed by the hawk.
1 Niccolò Tommaseo, Pensieri morali, 1845


December 14, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

trek – 13
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on my way into town

I’ve finally hit the Ebenezer Scrooge phase, and I’m enjoying it. A recognition of the hypocrisy of the season has helped push me into an anti mindset. The media and the business community are telling everyone to spend and spend; to buy frivolous shit, because everyone needs something to unwrap on Christmas Day. And reality can be suspended, rejected if it interferes with anything Christmas. This coercion is everywhere. I’m seeing people, some in my own family, spending money on insignificant and even insincere gifts, just because it’s what you’re supposed to do.

And to stand against this tide of hypocrisy is to be a Scrooge. For years, I’ve been on the fringes of the Christmas craziness, this year I’m actively announcing my resistance.

I can appreciate the decor, I just don’t want to participate. The above image is three doors in the War Streets.

Today, the walk was into town, for a 3.5 mile trek.


December 15, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

trek – 14
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on the north ridge

I’m looking for walks in North Park that include a climb. (I’ve walked Walter Road enough times.) Earlier in the week, I stopped by the park-office and got two trail-maps and a park map. The maps give a detailed outline of all the roads and trails in the park. In walking the circuit around the lake, I had seen a road that climbed the hill off of Pierce Mill that I thought it may be something to explore. Using the maps, I figured out a route to the intersection of the hill road and Pierce Mill and decided to give it a try.

I parked at Kummer-and-Walter, set the pedometer and headed across the street to walk the north shore of the lake. A mile and a half from my starting point, I got to the hill I wanted to climb – North Ridge Road. It was great seeing it closed off to traffic and not plowed – no oncoming traffic and undisturbed snow. This section of North Ridge Road is quite steep, shooting the overall elevation of the walk to 100 feet. Last week I had taken a spur off of Walter Road and I was careful, because it was a dead-end service-road. Today, I was less concerned, going up the closed road, because it was a wide two-lane and obviously used regularly, but out of service because of Wednesday’s snowfall.

The walk from the parking lot at Kummer-and-Walter, to East Ingomar Road, to Babcock Boulevard, to Pierce Mill Road, to the top of North Ridge Road, around the shelter loop, and then back down retracing my steps to Kummer-and-Walter was 4 miles.

Today was also a lesson in dressing for winter-walking. If I’m going to wear a short jacket, then I need to wear heavier pants or a base layer under my sweats. (When I did the first winter-walk a couple of days ago, I wore a long winter coat that covered me like a blanket. Today, I went back to the Canada Goose short-coat; not great for the lower body when the wind is pushing the cold through the sweats.)


December 17, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

trek – 15
click to read the hiking posts


red-tailed hawk

When I was doing the research, the Red-tailed came up as a common hawk in Western Pennsylvania, but I hadn’t seen the birds tail feathers and therefore couldn’t identify it such. Today, I saw one in flight and caught its beautiful cinnamon tail feathers. What also amazed me was the wide wing-span.

Because they are so common and easily trained, the majority of hawks captured for falconry in the United States are red-tails. Falconers are permitted to take only passage hawks (which have left the nest, are on their own, but are less than a year old) so as to not affect the breeding population.

Today’s walk was up North Ridge Drive. The road climbs the hillside above Pearce Mill and it starts and end at Pearce Mill. The other day, I walked the southern portion of the hillside road and today, did the northern leg. The road was plowed and open up to the Senior Center and the Water Tower, but closed for there on. The red-tail was in the trees below the Senior Center.

This leg of the Drive is steep; the overall elevation of today’s walk was 270 feet. I walked a mile-and-a-half in and then back out. Two factors restricted how long I walked: one, the day was gloomy, foggy and very gray making for dull, muted pictures; two, the Steelers were playing at 4:00 and I needed to get home well before that time or have no parking spot. On game-day, our street fills up with cars of fans who don’t want to pay the exorbitant stadium parking fees or get stuck in the post-game, get-home pandemonium. (It’s 7:30 and the fans are just now coming back; there’s a cacophony of beeping sounds out on the street.)


December 21, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

trek – 16
click to read the hiking posts


st. peter’s

My memory is that Mafalda took me to this Protestant church for my first set of vaccines back in 1957. (Nothing like two immigrant Catholics walking into a non-Catholic church. But Mafalda, ever the practical one, could set aside those cultural beliefs if it meant her child would get access to health services.) The free clinic was in the basement, so I never got to see the church or sanctuary.

The history of St. Peter’s Anglican Church goes back to 1906.

Got here yesterday afternoon. Pittsburgh was drenched in sunshine; Toronto was gray, but free of snow; Sault Ste Marie was covered in the white stuff and the temperature was at freezing. In the two weeks since my last visit, the landscape has changed radically. Only the major roads are snow-free, everything else is covered with ice and snow. There’s easily 6 inches of snow on the ground and the snow-banks are already almost 2 feet tall.

Today, Rose, Derrick and I went walking. I started from my parents’, walked to my aunt-and-uncle’s and from there up to the Fort Creek trail. The walk, there and back, was 5.4 miles.

Learned two things – cold weather drains the camera battery; the preprogrammed settings, on the d800e are not good on gray, overcast days. (For the first time, I brought only one camera and one lens, because wanted to see what I could do over a week’s time with one camera.) Between the cold weather, the gray days and the manual settings, the simpler d7100 may be the better camera for this environment.


December 24, 2017 2017, diario/journal, reflections

winter has hit

In the last week alone, Sault Ste. Marie has received over 4 inches of snow. The most recent snow activity was yesterday and today – it hasn’t stopped snowing.

The image on the left was taken before the new snow fall. Notice the picture-window on the right side. The majority of houses in this part of town were built in the 1950; and having a picture-window was how you announced that you were living in a new house and that you were a young family.

Talking with friends of my parents, a couple of facts intruded into my consciousness:

  • when we came to Canada, in 1957, I was already 8 therefore the Santa myth was never part of my experience. And I never got Christmas presents.
  • In those early years, the tradition among the Calabrian families in Sault Ste Marie, was to exchange gifts with their friends and relatives. The gifts were for the adults. I can still remember one of the compari or commari visiting and coming with gifts that my mother would open as soon as they left. She wanted to make sure that the gift she bought was of equal value to what she had received. (It was all about saving face – vergogna – and not feeling ashamed of your gift.) The gifts were always household items for the women and a bottle of whiskey for the men. (I remember hating the fact that they would open the gifts before Christmas; open them, re-wrap them and then put them back under the tree. How immigrant.)
  • Another tradition was to spend Christmas afternoon visiting. My parents would go to their friends’ houses and at each house you drank a shot of whiskey in honor of the holiday. You then got in the car and went to the next friend’s house. Apparently back then, the police would help you if they saw you driving drunk. (I suspect that what prevented accidents was that there were very few cars on the road.)


January 1, 2018 2018, diario/journal, reflections

new year’s wolf-moon

I went out my front door, with the camera on a tripod and just shot up at the moon. Also, I did nothing to the image in Photoshop except to crop it.
Fifty years ago, the album – Song of Leonard Cohen – was released. On the back cover of the album is a Mexican religious picture of the Anima Sola (Based on Roman Catholic tradition, the Anima Sola or Lonely Soul is an image depicting a soul in purgatory, popular in Latin America, as well as much of Andalusia, Naples and Palermo.) depicted as a woman breaking free of her chains surrounded by flames and gazing towards heaven. In a Rolling Stone interview, Cohen described the image as “the triumph of the spirit over matter. The spirit being that beautiful woman breaking out of the chains and the fire and prison.” Cohen found the picture in a botánica near the Hotel Chelsea in 1965. The album’s front cover depicts a sepia tint photo of Cohen credited to Machine.

The first two LPs I ever bought were Gordon Lightfoot’s first album – Lightfoot! – released in January of 1966 and Cohen’s debut album – Songs of Leonard Cohen – released on December 27, 1967.


January 3, 2018 2018, diario/journal, reflections


and weave it on a loom
of smoke and gold
and breathing

The image is from Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller released June 24, 1971. It’s gorgeous Julie Christie toking in an opium den.
Film Facts 1

  • Carpenters for the film were locals and young men from the United States, fleeing conscription into the Vietnam War; they were dressed in period costume and used tools of the period, so that they could go about their business in the background, while the plot advanced in the foreground.
  • For a distinctive look, Altman and Zsigmond, the cinematographer, chose to “flash” (pre-fog) the film negative before its eventual exposure, as well as use a number of filters on the cameras, rather than manipulate the film in post-production; in this way the studio could not force him to change the film’s look to something less distinctive.
  • Pauline Kael wrote: The classical story is only a thread in the story that Altman is telling…The people who drop in and out of the place—a primitive mining town—are not just background for McCabe and Mrs. Miller; McCabe and Mrs. Miller are simply the two most interesting people in the town, and we catch their stories in glimpses, as they interact with the other characters and each other… Lives are picked up and let go, and the sense of how little we know about them becomes part of the texture; we generally know little about the characters in movies, but since we’re assured that that little is all we need to know, and thus all there is to know, we’re not bothered by it. Here we seem to be witnesses to a vision of the past.
  • The three Cohen songs used in the film were The Stranger Song, Sisters of Mercy and Winter Lady. (The title is from the chorus of Winter Lady.)
  • Altman had Lou Lombardo, the film’s editor, use the music to maintain a rhythm for the film (in effect using it as a “temp” track). He later said, “I think the reason they worked was because those lyrics were etched in my subconscious, so when I shot the scenes I fitted them to the songs, as if they were written for them.”
  • Scott Tobias wrote in 2014 that The film is unimaginable to me without the Cohen songs, which function as these mournful interstitials that unify the entire movie.
  • Julie Christie’s performance was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography received a nomination by the British Academy Film Awards, and the film’s screenplay garnered a Writers Guild of America nomination. Greeted with muted praise upon release, the film’s reputation has grown in stature in the intervening years.
  • In 2010, McCabe & Mrs. Miller was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.

1 The information in the Film Facts came from Wikipedia.


January 7, 2018 2018, diario/journal, reflections

trek – 17
click to read the hiking posts


you chose your journey long before
you came upon this highway

The last time I did any walking was a week ago and that was indoors at Pearson Airport going from the domestic terminal to the new gates for the puddle-jumpers between Toronto and the American cities within a 500 miles radius. The pedometer clocked that walk at two-and-a-half miles.

Between getting over a cold and the miserably frigid temperatures, I’ve been indoors the last ten days. But today I wanted to see if I could get some walking in. Not too successful. After being out in the wind and cold for less than a half-hour – 1.1 miles – I turned around and headed back to the car. But I did shoot the red-tailed hawk in the above image; I’m on Lake Shore Drive with my camera pointing at the sky and clicking away.

I’m staying with lyrics from Cohen’s first album. The title, like that of the last post, is from Winter Lady.


January 9, 2018 2018, diario/journal, reflections

trek – 18
click to read the hiking posts


and where do all these highways go
now that we are free

Today, the Park’s rodents ventured out – squirrels and chipmunks were everywhere. The miserable freeze is in retreat and the January thaw has marched in. The Park’s inhabitants, like its human users, ran the branches, rested on the tree-tops, crowded the roads and the tramped the trails.

I got in a 3.9 mile hike. And given that it was my first in a while, I stayed on the flats.

This is also the beginning of using the d7100 with the Tamron 18-400mm. Discovered that the lens couldn’t read the focus-point at 400mm, the solution was to switch to manual focus. (I want to see if there a difference in picture quality between the Tamron and the Nikon 18-300mm. The Tamron is a slightly lighter lens.)


January 11, 2018 2018, diario/journal, reflections

trek – 19
click to read the hiking posts


the holly bears a berry
as red as any blood

I’ve been trying to incorporated hills into my North Park walks. The first was Walter Road; before I walked it, I drove Walter Road and knew where it lead, its terrain and elevation. North Ridge Drive is a second hill road. But a major part of the drive is currently closed to traffic and therefore I can’t picture the walk, the elevation or the ups and downs. (North Ridge Drive is approximately 3.3 miles. This is from rough calculations on Goggle Maps.)

The climb from the skating rink, at the bottom of Ridge Drive, to the top is a 250 foot elevation change. The initial hill, the rest of Ridge Drive and then Pearce Mill Road back to the car is a 5.2 miles trek. (I’m leaving this loop for a nice spring day.)

Ridge Drive at the top has a number of new plantings – American Holly Trees. These are native to Western Pennsylvania and have been planted along the northern slopes of the road where there is good drainage and much organic-laden mulch. It was a surprise to see these small evergreens among the tall, bare trees. I also saw and shot a young red-tail. I’m assuming it was a young bird, because it was half the size of the others I’ve seen.

I think I’ve settled on the d7100 and the Nikon 18-300mm for the trip to Machu Picchu. It’s definitely the lighter camera, much more versatile and easier to hand off it I want someone else to take a pic with me in it.

Today, I walked 3.7 miles.

L to R – dead tree with fungi and nest-hole, North Ridge Drive, young red-tail, observation tower top of Ridge Drive


January 17, 2018 2018, diario/journal, reflections

trek – 20
click to read the hiking posts


in order to see birds
it’s necessary to become part of the silence

Walking Walter Road was a way of getting back into a routine. (The cold and snow have made walking sporadic. Today, the cold was still there, but it was sunny.) Walter Road, from its southern junction with Lake Shore Drive to its northern junction with Pearce Mill Road, is 1.2 miles with an elevation of 203 feet. I walked to Pearce Mill Road and back to the southern junction.

There were birds all along the walk. They flew in and out of the reeds, that were above the snow on the side of the hill, pecking for seeds. Most were brown, sparrow-like things, but the one in the image on the left could be a mockingbird, but I’m not sure. I liked that I caught it fluttering its dark-blue wing and I liked the contrast between its very white tail-feathers and the surrounding snow.

Actually today was a wildlife day; besides the various birds hunting for seeds, there was a red-tail hawk monitoring the skies and deer that came down to the roadside where the snow was less deep and twigs were accessible. Never mind that the snow, around the picnic shelters, was littered with animal tracks.


January 19, 2018 2018, diario/journal, reflections

trek – 21
click to read the hiking posts


ballo con te, nell’oscurità

My favorite version of Ed Sheeran’s Perfect Symphony is the one he does with Andrea Bocelli. I like the orchestral arrangement and Bocelli’s tenor voice singing the choppy lines in Italian. Sheeran sings about dancing in the dark, Bocelli makes it even more intimate with his – ballo con te, nell’ oscurità. The English – dancing in the dark – provides an amazing image; the Italian wraps beautifully soft sounds, ballo con te, nell’ oscurità around the dancers.

Went back to Ridge Road for today’s walk. The southern half from the junction of Babcock Blvd/Pearce Mill Road to the Wyoming Grove – the midpoint – and back is 3.2 miles. So, I’ve now walked both the northern half and the southern half; somewhere along the line I’ll have to walk all of Ridge Road.

The second image in the slide-show – the trees – and the above image are both from today’s walk.


January 24, 2018 2018, diario/journal, reflections


through the bare trees

This shot is from Frank’s balcony, looking west, and it’s the first time I’m seeing the steeples.

Winter in Canada is a miserable season. The ticket-clerk at Union Station commented on the cold, but it was a throw away line, because her tone suggested the freezing weather was nothing out of the ordinary. When I got off the train at Bloor, it was -100 Celsius and with the wind-chill factor it felt much much colder. In the one-block walk to Frank’s, it was so cold my face hurt.

Spielberg’s movie, The Post, is an interesting period piece. It reminds us, that the publication of The Pentagon Papers was the beginning of the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency; that women in the 1970’s were absent from the decision-making process (Katherine Graham’s father – Eugene Meyer – chose her husband – Philip Graham – to head The Washing Post, rather than his own daughter. And she didn’t see that as wrong or unusual.); that analogue technology ruled; that the entanglements among journalists, politicians and policymakers in Washington is normal.

I generally don’t like Spielberg movies. They are too romantic, too sappy, too pretty, too long. I hated what he did to Thomas Keneally’s book on Oskar Schindler. A character that in the book is anything but attractive, is impersonated in Spielberg’s romantic retelling by gorgeous Liam Neeson. Talk about making Schindler a superhero; talk about manipulating an audience.

The only over-the-top, sappy scene in the current movie is his having a reporter repeat out-loud the Supreme Court decision – In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.

Yes, Mr. Spielberg we get the message. Thank you Mr. Spielberg for making sure we don’t miss your elitist liberal views, because they weren’t on display throughout the film. (Frank says that I’m being too harsh and that normal people need the repetition, the pointing out of the obvious.)


January 25, 2018 2018, diario/journal, reflections


barrie, ontario

Wikipedia describes Barrie as a city in central Ontario. The city was named after Sir Robert Barrie, who in the early 1800s was in charge of naval operations in Canada and frequently commanded forces through the city. Today, with a population of about 136,000, Barrie is the 34th largest city in Canada.

Barrie is 70 miles north-west of Toronto and in a show-belt. Prevailing westerly, blowing off Georgian Bay, just dump lake-effect snow onto the Barrie area. This morning, we drove up to Barrie to go cross-country skiing. (The last time I cross-countried, I had more hair, more stamina and less weight.)

What I like best about cross-country skiing in Canada are the groomed trails. (I used the above image to show the groomed trails.) When I tell Pittsburghers about groomed trails, they have no idea what I’m talking about; when I tell Canadians that people in the US cross-country in the woods, on golf courses, they look at me, shake their heads and whisper, crazy Americans.


January 28, 2018 2018, diario/journal, reflections

ponte sul crati – dedication

For years, officials in the city of Cosenza have been working on an ambitious urban regeneration project. One of their primary goals was to bridge the gap between two neighborhoods, Contrada Gergeri on the eastern shore of the Crati and Via Reggio Calabria on the western shore of the Crati. (Cosenza is at the confluence of the Busento and Crati rivers; the Busento terminates in Cosenza and merges with the Crati that feeds into the Ionian Sea.) To accommodate this difficult site, Santiago Calatrava suggested a cable-stayed bridge with a single inclined pylon rising above its urban surroundings.

The slender steel pylon has a quadrilateral cross section shape with rounded corners (the image on the left is of Mario Occhiuto, the mayor of Cosenza, inside the pylon) and it is inclined backwards to show visible tension as well as create a clear visual direction towards the city. Overall the strings and form of this structure suggest a giant harp that’s been floated above moving water. The structure stretches some 460 feet between the two neighborhoods. Traffic for both vehicles and pedestrians moves in both directions.

“I’m proud and honored to be a part of this momentous urban improvement project for the City of Cosenza,” Santiago Calatrava said in a statement. “Thank you to the officials of Cosenza who have placed their trust in me to deliver such an important piece of urban infrastructure …”

Facts: – Cosenza, with a population of 71,000, is a city in Calabria (population – 735,000); it is also the capital of the Province of Cosenza which has a population of 268,000. The ancient town is the seat of the Accademia Cosentina, the second academy of philosophical and literary studies to be founded in the Kingdom of Naples (1511) and one of the oldest in Europe. To this day, the city remains a cultural hub in Southern Italy, with several museums, theaters, libraries and the University of Calabria.

Partial Text: Nick Mafi – Architectural Digest – link
Photos: Osvaldo Spizzirri – January, 2018


February 5, 2018 2018, diario/journal, reflections

ponte sul crati – in b&w

The above images were posted by Antonio Rende on his Facebook page. They’re amazing.

My favorite is the image in the middle; il signore Rende was able to maintain the monochromatic elements even though there’s a red-light at the top of the tower and a person, with a mustard coat, on the bridge-deck.

Deciding how to organize and create the above composite was also great fun. The blog-page is 950 pixels across. And, I wanted to showcase the narrow center image and bookend it with two wider horizontal ones. The center image is 15 of 950 and the other two are each 25 of 950. (Visually, the image on the left looks wider than the image on the right, but they are the same width.)


February 6, 2018 2018, diario/journal, reflections


in the bleak midwinter
frosty wind made moan
in the bleak midwinter
long long ago

The midwinter mark was February 3 (the season has 88 days); we have turned the corner and are moving towards the end of snow and cold.

Yes, there was a time, long long ago, when winter was full of things to do and the snow and the cold were just incidentals. Why pay attention to your cold toes when there was a rink to shovel; when there was a warming-hut full of friends and hot apple-cider? Why worry about the 10 inches of new snow when there was a Bon Soo 1 dance to get to and a promise that Jim Morrison would plead, Come on baby, light my fire?

Remember Ron’s 1959 Buick LaSabre?
Yeah, we spun round and round up on Pine Street hill.
Whoa! Man, that was great.

That was a boat not a car.
The tree-huger speaks. Oh speak again dark angel.
We all fit in that boat and in winter it went everywhere. And don’t forget, we were the only kids from the West-End
with a friend who had his own car. Yeah Ron!!

Hey, hadn’t you just started dating that Anita chick? Man, you were the first one to have a girlfriend.
Oh wait, you still have one of those.


My favorite memory, was tobogganing down Garson’s Hill.
You took my brother’s toboggan without even asking.
Well, I wasn’t going down on no sleigh. Them was for losers.

Tobogganing was great until we started cross-country. Remember going down the snowbanks at my parents’ with our first skis? Yeah! 2 seconds of downhill.

My sister smoked and she still kicked my ass on the trails. She could do the Pinder
9K extension and never break a sweat. Man, I hated her.
Aren’t you like supposed to get winded and wheeze when you smoke a pack a day?

This from the man who refused to pay trail-fees. And bragged about it. Of course, focus on your sister
and not on your ILLEGAL activities.

You have nothing to say, so put a straw in that mickey, shuck on it and shut-up.
Remember you refused to come skiing, because it was TOO COLD. A Canadian whining about winter.