Welcome to Tapenandy: it is the new blog for Labinac. The word is from the Guarani language. It means the open road. We want to signify that all things can be considered, investigated. Wild flowers, terrapins, and colibri seen along side the road are as important as the stones, wolves and people met on it, and we intend to write about whatever comes into interest.
New ideas and new designs and new people will be introduced; without a regulated schedule, but as things appear. Sporadically. By the coincidental chances the world likes to lay in our path.
While shaping molten glass its soft state seems to be at times slithering to the point of no return where glass, stressed out, can no longer be encouraged on the path of shaped solidity one wishes to craft. Words, so much more sluggish than our thoughts, at that amorphous moment hinder the work by imposing limitations on the shaping and then — the glass hardens and one cannot coax it until it is reheated again.
Spontaneously, in an attempt to allow the maestro to work with the molten glass a little longer without going through the process again of preparing to place it back again so soon in the furnace, I laid my hand on top of his and guided it and the wooden paddle that was shaping the molten glass. Nicola understood I had wished to be able to influence more the process where one must make quick decisions and quick shapings while the glass is in constant motion and still malleable.
He began by encouraging me to approach, with some fear on my part, the dangerous heat of the molten glass. I began to work with a small rod for shaping – tricky because when the glass is molten hot it slides too easily and when the glass starts to harden much more force is needed to move it and it skips bringing ones fingers too close to the molten glass. The heat from the glass was too much on my bare hand, he used his to shield mine from the heat long enough for me to continue. I then asked for gloves.
The glass blowing tool known as a jack is similar to long and large tweezers and is used to form glass while it is rotating. I use it for something I call scarring the glass – by digging into it but not making a hole but rather a shallow perforation – a wounding. The wooden paddles soaked in water to withstand the heat can be used in many ways to push molten glass from one side to another, angle some of it downwards or upwards and flatten it. If you are not quick enough the wood paddle starts to smoke and once it caught on fire. I can work small sections at a time for about a second and then Nicola must turn the glass before it sags, more work for a second, more turning and then it eventually hardens and goes back into the furnace, and out again. The furnace is 1300 C. And we begin the process again.
Another type of wooden paddle can be applied to the end of a perfectly shaped vase and then I can compress it into a perfect imperfect functional vase – questioning why perfect straightness or roundness are deemed necessary. Nicola reminds me that glass likes symmetry, I try to convince him that perhaps glass would like to be freed from this prison.
Once in a perfect dance the glass, I and the rod for shaping were swept into creating a new form of life – Nicola and I paused and both realized it had happened. After the piece was placed in the annealing oven, he said, that is why he works with glass; because sometimes it can be magic.
In Napoli we have a terrace where we provide water for some pigeons. In the past two days they, and the seagulls which normally patrol the area have disappeared. So have the sparrows and in the evening even the swallows. These are all the birds we usually have in summer, with a pair of hawks who stop by now and then to prey on the other birds.
Last night we began to be concerned but had no idea of what is happening. This morning we postulate that perhaps it is connected to the corona virus… few people are in the streets, shops are closed, which means no food scraps available for pigeons and city seagulls.
Well, a working hypothesis… we read a few days ago that rats are invading homes; they depended on restaurants’ garbage, which is no longer there.
Cities support so much life beside humans, yet only when the humans act socially in our typical messy ways, leaving food for other animals inadvertently.
We do not exactly miss the pigeons and gulls, and wish them well wherever they have gone.
But what is a city without sparrows?
After three months of house arrest we took an excursion to the town of Caserta in southern Italy. We had long wanted to visit there because of the gold artisans but on a short day-trip a friend took us to San Leucio, an area where silk was woven into cloth. The main factory still functions, although only one shop was open when we went.
There were two men in the shop, the boss and a young assistant, both properly fanatic about silk. The boss is a charming guy who has lived in the U.S., Milano, and other places. We admired some rich purple cloth; he said that in that part of Italy, including Napoli the colour purple is considered to be bad luck. You would never see it in a theater, for example, he said.
The number seventeen is also bad luck, he explained. We already knew that in Napoli one touches iron instead of wood for emphasis or luck, were ignorant about numbers and colours.
Good to know.
We bought silk for covering cushions that will be in our Napoli showroom, and a few scraps on impulse (who could refuse?).
Caserta has a VERY LARGE OLD CASTLE, with intact park and grounds. It, and the silk and gold industries were made by the Spanish nobility, the Bourbons or Borbones, when they controlled Napoli. (They are still the so-called nobility of Spain)
Another time we intend to visit the gold workers.
The next day Pietro brought us a large carton box full of old lace that had been discarded in an abandoned villa near Rome. Such delicate, intricate work. We have an appreciation of the craft because Maria Thereza also learned bobbin lacemaking, and we had spoken much with lace-makers in Burano, Venice.
Now we must think carefully about how to clean and preserve it all, and what to do with it…
But what a privilege. To be in touch with those artisans from so long ago.
Animals in ‘the wild’ become desperately thirsty after a long day of getting by. They approach a water place with extreme caution. Everyone knows that enemies understand your needs and hide, wait for you by the water.
(even domesticated humans like to gather for a drink at sundown.)
Perhaps your friend has avoided every trap, begins to drink and is brought down by a crocodile who was hiding in the water.
These things happen every day, don’t they?
It is not our story, though; when we lived in Mexico we watched two squirrels we were acquainted with tease a young hawk who was learning to fly. Since they were babies we knew these squirrels as joyously playful animals, always playing chase with each other and looking for trouble. So we knew too well the habits of the hawks. Yet the squirrels were fearless and not exactly aggressive, just foolish, we thought.
Over many years we have watched many animals playing in the face of life. Even sparrows and calves. They all know to stay alive. Whether or not they understand death, (do we?) they understand that it is to be avoided no matter what….
Animals other than humans certainly mourn friends who are gone but in the next instant will play as though life were good..
The knowledge may be without conscious thought, without a plan… full of life. Undefeated. Ready for the next play.
Walt Whitman wrote, ‘I think I could turn and live with the animals. They are so placid and self-contained…’ they are not, really, though… it is more that they are actively alive with each other at every moment.
When someone is so good at something it seems natural to them it is said that, ‘she is in her element.’
Fish swim in water because it is what they were born to. Birds fly in air because it is what they were designed for.
Mammals have on their own moved from being land animals to flying in air, swimming and every intermediary way of living imaginable. So much so that maybe other descriptive verbs should be developed. The movement of even the most graceful fish does not compare to the movements of dolphins or whales. Still needing to breathe air, such mammals understand water as a celebratory choice. Even otters have a special sense of being in water unequaled by any other animal.
Remember mudfish or eels moving about on land; they do it, they do not glory in it.
This time of year bats return to the evening sky over Naples, and watching their maneuvers, acrobatics, is the first joy of early spring. They do not fly. They move in air as though they understand something about air and wings; some possibilities of how to be with skill, how to live with skill. As a horse or cheetah does running on land, a monkey or squirrel does free-wheeling in branches.
Bats are in their element in the air. As we sit down to lunch they dream and plan their next tricks.
2019 will soon be a strange memory. But there is more to the past than past….
Recently we visited an old oak tree we had known for years. It had fallen in a storm, though, and the ground around it was full of very small seedlings of new oak trees.
All of the acorns which had fallen around the tree which had not been dispersed by wind, birds or animals suddenly had sprouted. Before, in the shade of the old tree, they had had not enough light to activate and remained dormant, not dead.
We knew that maybe only one of them would make it to become the next great old tree. The others would not be gone and forgotten. They were becoming nourishment for other kinds of life.
Seeds can remain alive dormant for even hundreds of years, developing when conditions are right.
Seeds are hope with reason. A seed might be called preparation for a future, even if no one can imagine that future…
This is the season for nuts, in the northern hemisphere, and for feasting celebratorily. Many years ago in the Italian part of Switzerland, I chanced upon a festival of roasting chestnuts in a forested area. Large fires, lined up one after the other along the sides of a road. The purpose, I later found out, besides celebrating the bounty, was to insure a large cache of dried chestnuts for use in winter dishes. In those days chestnuts were still a staple food.
Polenta was made from chestnuts or millet until Europe started getting maize from the Americas. When Leonardo da Vinci ate polenta it was chestnuts dried and ground, then baked or boiled into a loaf.
Recipe for chestnut cake:
3 or 4 cups of chestnut flour
A bit less than a half a cup of olive oil
Water enough to make the mixture pour into a shallow baking dish
Mix the ingredients thoroughly and pour into the baking dish.
Then put pine nuts, raisins and sprigs of rosemary on top.
Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180° C.
After about 30 minutes it is ready. Good for breakfast and 5 o’clock tea.
Trees which make nuts are all evolved from ferns. Isn’t that remarkable? Over millions of years the spores which form on the undersides of fern leaves became the nuts, which is why there is no fruit, only the nut itself. Some fruit trees have seeds which are edible like nuts, however, such as pistachio, almond and apricot, cashews. Peanuts really are beans, which flower above ground, then descend underground to make the bean pod.
As everyone knows, black walnuts are the best nuts to eat; actually the best food to eat. But hard to shell. Hickory nuts, a close cousin, would be even harder to shell, except that they are so hard and dense it is impractical to shell them unless one fills a clean cloth bag with them and pounds them into small pieces with a stout stick.
Then they are dumped into a bucket of water. The shell sinks, the nutmeat, along with oil, rises to the top. This is skimmed off and picked over for bits of shell that might remain. The water is filtered and added to the nut meat, along with some hominy (maize which has been soaked in a potassium solution to make it softer and more nutritious). This is then cooked together until it is thick. Can be thickened more and formed into balls.
Impossibly good. It is called kannuche.
In parts of Brazil there are strange pine trees which produce very large pine nuts, as large as the first two joints of your finger, with soft shells. They can be simply boiled and shelled, eaten straight away or added to dishes.
In other words, what a planet! Let’s celebrate. Would you like some pecans?
One often reads in art or design texts that simplicity is a goal to be aimed for. Why that should be so is not explained, as though it were clear in itself.
Our bodies are not simple. Our brains are not simple, our minds and our thoughts are certainly not simple. Trees are not, small weeds are not.
Neither molecules nor atoms are simple. Even rays of light are not simple; they may be particles or waves according to something so complex we cannot understand it.
As we know, the simplest sentence spoken is never the least bit simple: who is speaking when and where to whom for what reason in what state of well-being makes for much complexity.
Even more, we not only need it that way, we like it that way. If my partner in any endeavor is simple enough to be completely understandable by me I would lose interest very soon.
Although it is good if a machine does exactly the same performance all the time, only when instructed to do so by the operator. For that to happen the machine must be complexly made.
So then. Why is simplicity advertised as an aesthetic and moral Good?
‘The answer is simple”, we hear. In that case, it is surely only a partial answer at best.
In a traditional Japanese tea ceremony the actual drinking of the tea is rapid but must be performed in an exact, complex, controlled manner, without rush. What goes on before and after the drinking of the tea is of equal or greater importance but unseparable. At all times one looks for grace and ease, just like an American Indian pipe ceremony.
Nothing is simple.
Recently we were on a train in Portugal and shared figs and cheese with a man in the seat across from us. Turns out he is a professor of economics in Coimbra and we discussed the state of the world. He said that this century is so much better than the last one; more people with enough food and shelter, more security and much less war.
Truly, he has an important point; yet one always feels an urgency of impending and ongoing crises. A list of iniquities in our times is long. We are part of a family that includes all life on earth, plant and animal, and we understand that in some semi-conscious ways — just the fact that people who work in offices need plants as companions shows that we do understand more than we might like to admit.
So many members of our family are becoming extinct because of human actions.
But it is not fair, is it? Two hundred years ago thousands of whale were slaughtered every year, changing the oceans for the worse irreparably. Whale oil made machinery work, though, and that really was progress (no matter that progress always has its bad side).
Then petroleum was discovered, just oil in the earth – what could be more innocent, more of a blessing? Soon afterwards plastics were developed from petroleum, so that most of our clothing, our computers, cars, furniture and constructions are made from petroleum products, plastics. It was like a miracle. The down side is like a poison. Not fair. All we wanted was better, easier, safer life. Or maybe all we did was the delight of experimenting and knowing stuff…
What now might we say to the next generation? Well, maybe it is not a matter of this generation saying anything to the next. There are really not such clear distinctions at any time nor place. How can we all act now, is a more real question. There is an annoying tendency to imagine that the solution is for Leaders of countries to be held accountable. Annoying because then it all comes down to talk or at best working to elect better candidates (always a good idea, and talk is most certainly necessary).
Much more drastic changes are happening whether we like it or not. So much of the northern world is refusing to aid people from the south who are in great need and suffering. More and more policies that are economically bad for everyone are being implemented. Even though it causes much suffering it will not matter in the long run. The world is changing.
Many people in many areas are seeing that all of our urgent problems are interconnected, and come from a way of being, thinking, that has been called ‘natural’ by the men in power. Patriarchy, colonialism, racism, what is called intolerance towards people of different sexual orientation (who is in charge of ‘tolerating’?) and aggressive destruction of the environment all come from one destructive set-up that is on its way out.
As someone else recently wrote, the old guys are dying. It is a time for humility and willingness to be less.
New ways of thinking, acting, are happening. Yes, there is much posturing and psychological profiteering. Much banality, as usual. Let’s sober up.