Saturday, June 20, 2015

Botero in Tuscany

Although Italy surely lies somewhere in Fernando Botero’s family background, I was quite surprised to find out that the famous Colombian artist has established a foothold in the Tuscan village of Pietrasanta.  In an interview given to Marlborough Galleries, Botero reveals that he was first attracted to the area by its world-class foundries but later came to appreciate the people and their lifestyle   This summer the work of the late Polish sculptor, Igor Mitoraj, held pride of place in the piazza centrale.  However, the south gateway to the village, shown above, and two Botero frescos are permanently on view at the church of Sant’ Antonio e San Biagio.

The frescos employ Botero’s emblematic, pudgier-than-life figures to present visions of Hades and Paradise.  In the Hades panel, the round shape of Lucifer and his imps sap some of the hellish imagery created by flames, serpents, and pitchforks.  In a bow to the traditions of Latin American muralists and engravers, Botero includes a pair of Calaveras, each accessorized with the trifles of wealth.  And as a final touch, Adolph Hitler raises his head from a sarcophagus, as he makes his final descent into the lower regions.

In Paradise, Botero brightens his palate—blue sky, green fruit trees—and paints a crowned Virgin with babe in arms as its central motif.  To heighten the celestial effect, Mother Teresa stands prayerfully, canvas left.  Botero includes a self portrait, adorning himself in the garb of conquistador, sword poised to decapitate a serpent that slithers under the Virgin’s slippers.  At the bottom of the panel, beside fruit fallen from the trees, sits a guitar player, wearing a red dress and a pair of wings.  

Who is that?

The Rains Came

And the Rains Came

For five years now most of Texas has struggled with drought.  Rice crops on the Colorado River, reservoirs of drinking water and lawns of thirsty grass have shriveled to dust.  In response, Texas municipalities prohibited outdoor watering and car washing and encouraged restaurants to serve water only by request.  The state also weighed in when Governor Rick Perry issued a proclamation calling for three days of prayer for rain in the state of Texas.  Nothing worked, until now.

On May eighth, my wife and I flew to Little Rock, with a plane change in Dallas Fort Worth International, to attend a wedding.    Two days later, with the newly weds happily launched, we drove to the Little Rock airport in a light drizzle, turned in the rental car and rolled our bags to check in.  Much to my wife’s chagrin, we were early; something about cutting it close lies deep in her genome.  But this time punctuality paid. Approaching the counter we sensed some high-voltage tension.  The lines were very long, and American Airlines had put all hands, including a man dressed as a baggage handler, out front.  Seems that the night before, heavy weather and a power failure had closed DFW and snarled air traffic for the entire region.  Since our flight had already been cancelled, we relaxed and did some participant observation.

The long lines mashed together people with destinations all across the west.  Like the characters in Julio Cortazar’s novella Todos los fuegos el fuego we soon began to reach out, sharing experiences, passing along bits of information gleaned from airline websites, calculating time and distance.  Our neighbor-in-line, also in Little Rock for a wedding, seemed desperate to get to his job in Denver.  As we guarded his luggage, he scurried off to other airline counters looking for alternate routing.  United offered passage on flights that would get him to Denver by midnight through Los Angeles and Seattle.  He took it and waved goodbye.

As soon as we got in line, I dialed the American Airlines customer service number and took the automated option for a call back.  Ironically, the call came almost simultaneously with our turn at the ticket counter.  “Austin,” the agent moaned.  “I just did that routing for another customer, and the best I can offer is Tuesday morning” (two days later). The agent on the phone offered a different reservation, but similar delays.  After some hemming and hawing, my wife and I decided that we had already done Little Rock and another day or two there was not an attractive proposition.   “Let’s rent a car and drive”, someone said, “Goggle Maps shows it’s five hundred seventeen miles to Austin.” So off we went.

IH 30 to Dallas; IH 35 to Austin; we wouldn’t get lost, anyway.  I drove the first shift, south by southwest on the compass.  We stopped in Hope, Arkansas, Bill Clinton’s birthplace, for gas and a shift change.  The rain now fell steadily but not torrentially.  As we passed Nashville (the one in Arkansas), our cell phones and the radio began to squawk in distressed tones.  “Tornado warning, take cover,” flashed across the screens.  OK, but where?  Later we learned that a twister touched down in the area; luckily we had dodged it.  The closer we got to Dallas, the heavier the rain fell.  Lightening occasionally illuminated the landscape with intensity far superior to our headlights.  During the flashes we could see that we were not the only ones driving and forged ahead even though the warning squawks continued unabated.

That night tornadoes struck Van and Corsicana, Texas, both frighteningly close to our route.  We pulled into our driveway ten hours from Little Rock, home but not out of the rain.

May precipitation in Austin has set meteorological records.  The good news is that the major reservoirs quenching our thirsts and washing our dishes are now 60% filled.  The bad news is that the ground is so saturated that any rainfall flows immediately down the watershed.  On Monday night two inches of rain triggered damaging floods in Austin and tragedy in some surrounding areas.

Governor Perry, your prayers have been answered.  Twenty-five more days and Noah’s record is ours.