Part 3 – Italy & Slovenia
I’m standing next to my canvas in Painting 101, it’s 2006. I’ve taken versions of this same class for years. It’s like tennis. You keep taking lessons and finally someone asks, “Don’t you know how yet?” The instructor wears baggy pants with a corduroy jacket, a scarf tucked inside the lapel. He has mounds of sloppy gray hair that fall forward over his round glasses as he talks to us, all the while looking over our heads at the wall. He doesn’t introduce himself that day of our first class, Mark Andres, just begins. There is a simple concept he learned through one of his mentors. He will share it with us. We wait. He shifts his gaze to the window. There are straight lines and there are curved lines. That’s all. Look for them. Their patterns repeat. I think of this almost everyday now, both in photography and life in general.
The delicate curve of a petite woman’s wrist. The hard line of a chiseled jaw. The feminine roundness of an eggplant leaf that grows in the gardens here in Slovenia. The masculine straightness of the hoe the old farmer uses to plow his field by hand. Rows of cherry trees in perfect lines crisscross a field. The bending red river of juice that flows from lip to chin after we stop to buy a kilo at the side of the road. Round barrels of wine lined up side by side at the farmers house where we have lunch. The sharp peaks of the Alps rising up through the sky, the soft arc of the stone bridge crossing the Soca River. Straight lines and curved. The way life never goes in a long direct line, but from point to point for some and in great loops and swirls for others.
These lines can also surprise us when we look in the mirror or at one another. Lines that cross my face. The flat line silhouette of a friend’s mastectomy. The unyielding curved edge of a young soldier’s casket. Lines on a map define us as nations and states. Men drew a line through Berlin dividing a city, a people, a family – like here in Gorizia/Nova Gorica. One side Italian, one side Slovenian. A line drawn in pencil, thin and light. Erasable, changeable. A heavy thick line of pen, permanent, indelible. A line drawn in the sand. Cross it and you end a marriage and, of course, he did.
“Look, a land far faraway,” says Elisabetta as we drive from hill to seaside where, on a clear day, you can see the Italian Alps and occasionally the Dolomites. There’s a haze in the distance today and despite the bright sunshine we can see neither. I tell her that I can’t see my place that’s far faraway, only what is immediately in front of me. The future is too clouded right now. I prefer my 85mm lens to my wide angle 24-70mm. Too much information is overwhelming at the moment. I have to look for the bold graphic elements to compose my shots as well as my life. Elisabetta loves this expression, “…far faraway.” It reminds her of Shrek. I think of fairytales, white knights, Prince Charming. I think I might throw up.
It’s Tuesday and yet another holiday in Italy. Republic Day, or something like that, is all the more anyone cares to tell me. We just had a holiday two days ago, as well. There’s another next Tuesday. Then the elections. The children will attend school only four out of the next ten school days. All of this is made up for with school on Saturday mornings. What a drag. But for today, the children are free and we pile in to two cars and head for a day in the Slovenian countryside. Elisabetta, four of her six grandchildren, her son and Argentinean daughter-in-law and one American. As we drive across the abandoned boarder checkpoint, I’m amazed at the ease of crossing. No longer are special papers required, no guards, no guns. Slovenia has been taken into the fold of the European Union since my last visit. Euros buy the children potato chips and sodas at the gas station.
Around every corner there seems to be another castle. Perhaps I am in the land of far faraway, I think to myself. Too bad I didn’t leave my baggage at the boarder. Who was it that said, “Wherever you go, there you are”? That’s my problem now; my mind keeps following me everywhere. I focus on the lines and curves to keep myself present, if only for a while.
This is a perfect place for photography or songwriting. The red clay contrasts directly with the complimentary green vineyards. Color theory at work. It’s so fertile I’m afraid to walk on it. The grape vines and rose bushes could be kudzu. It reminds me of the Mississippi delta red clay. In 2000 I was a touring singer-songwriter who had been on the road in the US for nearly three years. These lyrics “…where the kudzu vines cover up the road signs that nobody reads anyway – ‘cause the only folks here been here for years and they all know these roads inside out,” ring true. These people have been here for generations. They know their roads, wines and wars.
There is the most fantastic turquoise water I’ve ever seen. More of a milky green. Even more vibrant then the glacial lakes I saw in Coopers Landing, Alaska. I remove the polarizing filter from my lens, as I want to make sure there is absolutely no modification of this color. Here along the Soca River the small villages either melt into the clay or sit high upon the white limestone crests of the canyon. That water, the color, is literally unbelievable. The Alps build in a great musical crescendo in the background. One image layered upon the next. The shutter flickers away, but I can tell that I’m not getting anything as beautiful as the simple experience of it all. So I put down the camera and try to enjoy this land of far faraway.