Making Room for Christmas

Josephine Baldizzi came to this country as a young girl from Sicily. Her family lived on the Lower East Side of New York from 1928 to 1935, in a small tenement apartment at 97 Orchard Street.

In those depression years, there was no money for Christmas presents or decorations, so her father, Adolfo, traveled  the city, scavenging fallen pine branches from other peoples’ trees. Returning home, he put his carpentry skills to work, drilling holes into a long piece of wood and using the scavenged branches to create a Christmas tree for his family.

Josephine told the story with obvious pleasure. “He would make his own tree, shape it, tie it to the wall, and then get ornaments and dress it all up,” she said. There were glass ornaments, some lights and tinsel for the tree. For the children, there was a tray filled with traditional holiday treats – marzipan, dried fruits, walnuts, chestnuts, and oranges. It was, she said later, both memorable and magical. (more…)

Published in: on December 20, 2013 at 10:44 pm  Comments (91)  
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Art and Gratitude

Years before I first encountered a palm tree, decades before I found myself entranced by the watery ribbons of azure, lapis and turquoise entwined around and through the chain of Caribbean islands, I passed through shadows of tangled bougainvillea and tumbling poinciana into a world of tropical dreams. There, I discovered Winslow Homer and his art.

One of America’s premier watercolorists, Homer (1836-1910) moved from New York to Prout’s Neck, Maine in the summer of 1883. His work makes clear his love of the New England coast, yet he often vacationed in Florida, Bermuda and the Caribbean. His mastery of his medium and his unique vision of the islands produced exquisite renderings of sun-drenched homes, synchronized palms and great, vivid falls of blossoms that seem touched with scent even on the printed page. (more…)

Bean Counting

As June edged into July, the summer increasingly seemed marked by “that sort” of day – disjointed, frustrating, compelling, anxiety-ridden, tiring and tiresome days.

There was plenty of heat in Houston and elsewhere being measured with thermometers. There was even more heat rising around the country that didn’t seem to fit into any known scale – heated words, over-heated emotions, simmering anger and pot-boiling rhetoric. While terrible thunderstorms – even an uncommonly strong derecho – raged across the Eastern Seaboard, there was enough political and social sturm und drang to make even the most avid Wagnerian happy.

More than once, while contemplating apocalyptic imagery from the Colorado wildfires and apocalyptic language from political commentators of every persuasion, I found myself thinking of a favorite poem written by Kay Ryan. Poet Laureate of the United States from 2008 to 2010, Ms. Ryan represented the U.S. at Poetry Parnassus, a festival held at Southbank Centre as part of London’s Cultural Olympiad. (more…)

Published in: on July 7, 2012 at 7:39 pm  Comments (75)  
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ellaella, remembered

From the beginning, she was a godsend. New to blogging and confused by the intricacies of setting up a site, I began browsing the WordPress forums, seeking answers to questions I barely could formulate.

Her avatar was the first to catch my eye. The apples – two red, a few green – shimmered on the page. I asked my questions, and she answered in a way I could understand. Like other experienced forum volunteers, she brooked no nonsense, but never ridiculed. I began to learn, and began looking for her avatar even when I had no questions.

In the beginning, I never considered why she might have chosen apples as her signature image, but in time the apples made perfect sense. Ellaella was a New Yorker at heart, a former resident and devotee of “The Big Apple”. Her favorite apple, the Honeycrisp, perfectly represented her personality – a sweet heart, accompanied by crisp, concise opinions and a tart tongue to share them. (more…)

Published in: on March 24, 2012 at 11:34 am  Comments (82)  
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Shaping the Gift of Reality


Long before encountering a palm tree, years before skimming across watery ribbons of lapis and azure entwined through the heart of Caribbean islands, lifetimes before walking entangled and thorned into tumbles of bougainvillea and the shadows of tropical dreams, I loved Winslow Homer and his art.

A prolific and engaging American watercolorist, Homer (1836-1910) moved from New York to Prout’s Neck, Maine in the summer of 1883. Despite his love of the New England coast, he often vacationed in Florida and the Caribbean. His mastery of his medium and his unique vision of the islands produced exquisite renderings of sun-drenched homes, palm-fringed beaches and great, vivid falls of blossoms redolent of nutmeg and honey.

During a first visit to the Caribbean, I was intrigued to discover how completely its marvelous realities entangled themselves in my mind with Winslow’s work. It seemed impossible to separate the threads. I had expected to think, “Winslow Homer’s painting looks like this.” But as I gazed about, wriggling my toes into sugar-soft sand and tasting the salt-heavy air, I came to a rather different conclusion. The Caribbean looked liked Winslow Homer. It was as though the artist himself had absorbed, intensified, and re-presented the sea, sand and sky in such a way that his paintings were distillations of the islands – purer than reality itself. (more…)

Published in: on February 13, 2012 at 10:32 pm  Comments (62)  
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