Saltworkstudio Florence: Perfume and Pigs

The Officina Santa Maria Novella, aka oldest pharmacy in Florence, since 1221, now a world class perfume shop with original scents.

Non perfume-people, you have to read through this this to get to the pig! This place is pure magic. You enter through cascades and garlands of flowers. I am already enchanted, walking in a dream through clouds of scent. It was formerly a 12th century church, so that’s a nice storefront. Inside, women wander with looks of bliss and men with looks of discomfort— except the Italian men. I will generalize here. Italian men are comfortable with animated shopping for fashion, shoes, perfume. They’re well trained; after all, this place has been open 800 years. It was originally a hospital, where the monks gave you cures: rose water against the plague and so on. And then they made the perfume for Catherine of Medici, Queen of France. Through her, perfume was introduced to the French Court in 1533. Yes, Italy invented perfume as we know it! I have a small sample of that perfume. Whooof!

You can see the perfume ranged on the sides
You lift the ceramic funnels to sniff. Elegant

The scents are strong; they are based on the herbs, the monks’ noses, and hygiene needs of the past. It’s a three part process to choose. You sniff the perfumes you like in the funnels, then get them spritzed on cards. If you still like them, you choose one only to have applied to your wrist by a young, beautiful Italian woman. It took me over an hour. Reader, I bought one. They smell very unusual, and the cologne lingers as long as a modern perfume would.

The Museum attatached to the perfume shop

After all this ethereal scented beauty, I decided to visit a famous pig. Pork is big in this city; it’s a meat heavy cuisine. I am not going to try the Florentine beef steak. I am always let down by European steak. Yes, even the French kind. I grew up in Western cattle country. You call that a steak? It’s like me being proud of my pasta. An Italian might have a few things to say. Giant sides of beef and pork hang in windows.

Il Porcellino, The Boar

Il Porcellino eats the coins of visitors who rub his snout for luck. Forget all about the art treasures of the Western world. The Boar is where it’s at. Pietro Tacca, 1654, sculpted the original, but no one remembers him; the artifact eclipses the artist. It’s magic, hilarious and a very fine sculpture. I didn’t feed him a coin, but I might before I go. I did rub his golden snout. The place is thronged. People are laughing and screaming with joy. The coin drops from his open mouth either into a little grate (desirable and lucky) or to one side (not as lucky but hey you tried).

Grabbing him, rubbing him

The sculpture is excellent and I enjoyed it. It was easy to enjoy the beautiful swampy base filled with snakes, frogs and toads. I have noticed this about painting and sculpture. We only get screwed up when it comes to humans. People have always made naturalistic, gorgeous animals, birds and plants, no matter what the religious and aesthetic dictates of the time. Even the Egyptians made perfectly accurate bird and animal paintings when freed from having to make the pharaoh and his god-court in a certain sideways style. We marvel at Donatello, who, gasp, made the first naked guy statue since the Greeks, un-damming the flood of Naked Guy Statues. But animals have always been pure and vigorous, and joyful.

Snake eating a frog
A lovely toad. The bronze rubbed to a golden sheen is glorious.

Spiritual Congruency and Road Trips

 

Road to Ojai Foundation
Road to Ojai Foundation

On our road trips last summer, Scott and I developed an idea we called “spiritual congruence.”  Every place, every direction we headed, every style of experience– from rough travel to luxury— moved either toward greater congruity with the flow or time or what was needed… or away from it.  For example, spiritual congruence on a camping trip might produce a campsite like this one, on the Olympic National Park peninsula.

This was a campsite that “just happened” to be open in the busiest campground in the National Park, just when we needed it, without reservation.

Behind our campsite, Olympic National Park
Behind our campsite, Olympic National Park

We first invented the term when we landed at a cabin that looked great on Yelp, but felt really soulless. It was expensive and unsettling… it was supposed to be the “honeymoon cabin” but it was coldly over-decorated in black and grey, graveyard colors, an attempt at modernity and elegance that failed and became merely frigid and depressing. We had hoped for a cozy, kitschy, pine paneled little place. We were surprised at how disturbing it was.  After all, we had weathered true travel crises with equanimity and humor.  But the vibe was bad.  We started talking about it.  There was no congruity with who we were or what we wanted from the trip.  We sacrificed a hundred bucks, took the hit, and checked out.

The last time we experienced this deep disquiet, an anxiety bordering on fear, was on another road trip when we were heading to the Badlands of North Dakota.  We wanted to see Mount Rushmore.  As we drove, an overwhelming oppression enveloped us.  It was so profound that we decided to cancel our trip.  We checked into a motel, where we both had nightmares all night, and turned right around the next day.  Perhaps it was the blood-soaked, coal-ripped country around us, the country of so many Native American massacres.  Or maybe the earth itself was bleeding from strip mining.

road trip 10

Spiritual congruence is a flow state where outer world and inner move together. We got up before dawn to go tidepooling on Beach  4; light, water, and tidal treasures.

Sometimes it doesn’t come too easily.  We were only 10 miles away from Dungeness Point, yet could not find fresh, cooked, whole crab for a whole week.  We only found overpriced restaurants with crab salads and such.  I even tried crabbing, with no luck!  We finally found a roadside stand after hard searching.  We cracked our crab congruency and ate it without butter on paper plates… ahhh.

Sometimes you can make your own little snail shell world so you can be spiritually congruent on the beach even on a rainy day. This setup of campfire in a can, beach shelter, and lowboy chairs makes even a windy, cold day a beach day.

My beloved "campfire in a can"
My beloved “campfire in a can”

 

I am very interested in those states where, even where there might be discomfort, there is a larger flow or current of rightness, agreement, moving together: spiritual congruency.  How can our little lives be folded in like egg whites to the cake batter of the wide and glorious world?  I sense it more in travel than in my daily life.  But it must exist everywhere, in minor and major states of grace.  I think a lot about how to make my life more like the road trip it really is.

Orange wall, purple boots, and an open studio
Orange wall, purple boots, and an open studi

I am open for Art Trails this year in Studio 33 one more weekend, on October 17 and 18.  Come visit.  I have the Camino notebook pages up, and have decided to take the plunge and make a book.

 

My Marble Buddies: Hanging with Sculpture in Rome and Naples

Three weeks in Italy! I felt like I was dipping my toe into a river of souls.  It was a time of borderlines and thresholds: old year to new,  marble to flesh, ancient streets filled with modern people, and classical beauty in the faces of people arguing, eating, buying stuff, driving Smartcars. The ancients seemed to live,  and the Christmas crowds of elegant Italians seemed temporary flickers haunting the alleys.  Meet some of my marble buds. 

The Capitoline Walls… this guy is great.  Is he a David figure?  To us he looked like he had 400 years of saying “Hey, Sailor” to his credit.   Cocky.  Just sayin’…

 

An achingly blue winter day, and I couldn’t tear myself away from the brilliant negative shapes against the stone. Youth and horse… stunning  contained force, and a tremendous face.  I like the entire Capitoline hill, and this museum piazza was designed by The Big Mike, Michaelangelo.

Capitoline Hill, sunset from the museum cafe terrace.  Murmurations of starlings, kinetic.  The whole Hill was formerly a nest of  state oracles and seers.  They liked the elevation so they could interpret flights of birds.  Nowadays the seagulls have invaded.   Oddly, they fly at night in the city, shrieks and white forms soaring in the darkness, a bit ghoulish.

 Classical sculptures are virtually all knockoffs—copied from ancient Greek sources, now lost— or propaganda for the ruler du jour.  Some mighty bodies were made with removable heads so the next Caesar could just screw his own on.  The head of Constantine below is 5 feet high, so the whole sculpture, with pedestal and base, might have been 50 to 70 feet or more.   Statues of this mass can so easily verge on  Facist architechture.  But they impress.  Think of Lady Liberty!

What has that flawed eye perceived in its time? Think, too, of paint and decoration, fabrics and jewels originally draped around the sculpture.  The marble we see now is more a bone structure.  Ripped from their original colored and decorated context, they become evocative collage pieces.  But some still shine. I felt that it wouldn’t take long to develop a real relationship with them.  The more we like them, the more they come alive, like any so-called “object”, I suppose.  I’ll miss hanging with them.

Next: Happy Couples and Horned Gals: More Archaic Art Friends from Rome and Naples