Sep 062016

Dave Kennedy A view to a passageway_working_Dave Kennedy

Anamorphosis is showing at Bridge Productions in Seattle, September 7 – October 1. The opening is Wednesday, September 7, 6-9 pm, Bridge Productions, Hamilton Work Studios, 2nd Floor, 6007 12th Ave S, Seattle.


Anamorphosis is an ancient representational technique; you deform the image of the object so that from a certain angle it looks like one thing and from another angle a different image appears (sort of). A classic example is Hans Holbein the Younger’s painting The Ambassadors, with its anamorphic skull. In that instance, the technique is allegorical, a reminder that we will all die. For Dave Kennedy, the technique is also allegorical, but in this case it’s a reminder that things are not what they seem, identity is unstable, even untrustworthy. He uses photos, photocopies, bits of cast off material, explodes and reconstructs images of what conventionally are not aesthetic objects, dingy street scenes, junk lumber. So not only is Kennedy calling identity into question, he is also subverting the idea of a conventional aesthetic and the relative value of objects in our society, a subversion that, yes, extends to our identities as people (think: race, ethnicity, social class).

In his artist’s statement, he writes:

He [Kennedy] creates an augmented reality based on his surroundings, documenting various street scenes, walls, fences, detritus, and everyday objects; shooting nearly hundreds of images of the subject matter. They are recreated by tiling the image, printing them out on 8 x 11 or 11 x 17 copy paper, and stitching the individual ‘pixels’ together to form a large-scale print with jagged borders, or an assemblage of an exploded view much like a photographic blueprint. He then opts to affix an actual or facsimile object from the scene to the printed piece, further thwarting our ability to gauge what is ‘real’ versus ‘image’.

One that lends significance to places, objects, and things, elevating them through a process of familiarity. The details noticed become representations of reality. They represent both what they are and something else, at the same time. Such symbols allow for a different way of seeing the self, not as a mirror but as an access point. They act as elements that allow the viewer to explore and possibly complicate the narratives that are firmly affixed in normative presumptions.

This special manner of viewing, human subjectivities and more individualized identifications are seen as something that can become knowable. Anamorphosis is a metaphor for reimagining and expanding on appearances, as well as, overcoming “Otherness”— more in the sense that when someone is seen as less than, or as an object, this perspective can then be appropriated and re-loaded with more poignant meanings that point towards agency and autonomy.

As happens now and then on NC, Kennedy’s statement provoked a conversation (via email), which is really worth reprinting here.

DG: Let me ask you a couple of questions. When you say “less regarded spaces and objects”, what do you mean? And what drew you to such spaces and objects. As I see them, they are the objects and spaces that we pass over in life as unartistic, not aesthetic subjects. It’s kind of a rebellion against an unconsciously accepted conventional aesthetic, to render the “unaesthetic” aesthetic with your art and thus in an extended sense to reshape identity.

One of the guiding stars at NC is the Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky who said that the purpose of art was to take the ordinary, the things we pass over in the process of conventional seeing, and process them (make the “strange”) by representing them inside aesthetic form (techniques and structure). His idea was to slow down perception, which has become too conventional. We don’t actually see things anymore.

Dave Kennedy: On “less regarded spaces and objects”: Douglas, what you wrote about objects, spaces, aesthetics and rebellion.. rendering the “unaesthetic” aesthetic to reshape identity is both beautiful, concise, and exactly what I’m pointing to. I would love it if you included this. In addition, here’s how I got to this…

I grew up in a WWII housing project in the Pacific Northwest. Due to a lack of government funding various parts of my neighborhood were left in a constant state of disrepair. “Under Construction” each street block seemed to have many ethnicities represented which was accompanied by a lot of racism bred of misunderstanding.  Personally, my mother is Italian and Eritrean, and my father Native American. So I didn’t look like one ethnic group or another and I would walk these multicultural city blocks alone, looking for someone else like me. It was common for people to make assumptions of what I was: Mexican, Samoan, Black. “What are you?!” My response to these objectifying guesses and questions is embedded in my practice and my exploration of an expanded view into unseen subjectivities.

Growing up in these spaces where other people did not want me to be. Places in various states of repair and ruin, provided me with a playground where I could escape this bias and bigotry. Lately I’ve been returning to these memories and attempting to reveal the marvelous that is often hidden in the aspects of life that we find quite ordinary while extending the availability of alternate roles to the subjects, places and objects I am finding.

On “reshaping identity”: First, thank you. It’s quite a distinction to be “fitting in” with Viktor Shklovsky…  Andrei Tarkovsky once wrote: “The goal for all art – is to explain to the artist himself and to those around him what [a human] lives for, what is the meaning of [their] existence. To explain to people the reason for their appearance on this planet; or if not to explain, at least to pose the question.”

The action of deconstructing spaces and objects — these images, with my camera and then adhering the tiled photo copy sections back together feels like a performance of investigation that culminates in a space for meditation. The photocopy allows me to physically take apart the image and put it back together. I do this in part because I believe that social constructs are stories that can be taken apart and told differently.

We need an alternative definition of reality. One that allows us to reconsider the beliefs that we bring to what we see.

The details that I notice become representations of my reality. They represent both what they are and something else, at the same time. Such symbols, in my opinion, allow for a different way of seeing the self, not as a mirror but as an access point. They act as elements that allow the viewer to explore and possibly complicate the narratives that are firmly affixed in normative presumptions.

Within my process — this special manner of viewing, human subjectivities and more individualized identifications are seen as something that can become knowable. Anamorphosis is a metaphor for reimagining and expanding on appearances and overcoming “Otherness”— more in the sense that when someone is seen as less than, or as an object, this perspective can then be appropriated and re-loaded with more poignant meanings that point towards agency and autonomy.

—dg & Dave Kennedy

Kennedy Something fully itselfSomething fully itself
(photocopies, yellow stick, orange straw, wood scrap, pencil, brick, adhesive mound and blue cap. 108″ x 81″)

Something fully itself_detail_1Something fully itself (detail 1)

Something fully itself_detail_2Something fully itself (detail 2)


Dusty teal stick and trapezoid paper objectsDusty teal stick and Trapezoid (constructed photocopies of various dimensions)

Dusty teal stick and Trapezoid_detail_1Dusty teal stick and Trapezoid (detail 1)

Dusty teal stick and Trapezoid_detail_2Dusty teal stick and Trapezoid (detail 2)


Framed between two othersFramed between two others
(photocopies, wood scraps, duct tape, tape, light grey tube, blue cap and rusty clip. 113″ x 73″)

Framed between two others_detail_1Framed between two others (detail 1)

Framed between two others_detail_2Framed between two others (detail 2)


Burgandy and White stripe paper objectBurgundy and White stripe (Constructed photocopies of various dimensions)

Burgundy and White stripe_detail_1Burgundy and White stripe (detail)


Almond Fudge SupremeAlmond Fudge Supreme (Constructed photocopies. 28″ x 40″)

06.Almond Fudge Supreme_detail_1 500pxAlmond Fudge Supreme (detail)


Crescent moon and white circle on rectangleCrescent moon and white circle on rectangle
(Constructed photocopies of various dimensions)

Crescent moon and white circle on rectangle_detail_1Crescent moon and white circle on rectangle (detail)


Black Raspberry delightBlack Raspberry delight (Constructed photocopies. 28″ x 40″)

Black Raspberry delight_detail_1Black Raspberry delight (detail 1)

Black Raspberry delight_detail_2Black Raspberry delight (detail 2)

—Dave Kennedy
September 7th – October 1st
6007 12th Ave S
Seattle WA 98108



Dave Kennedy_likeliness of an appearanceDave Kennedy at Kinnear Space (The likeliness of an appearance)

Photos: Courtesy of Joe Freeman

Dave Kennedy has recently worked as Co-Director and Visiting Lecturer for the University of Washington’s Art in Spain program. He is a recipient of the 4Culture Individual Project Award, as well as Artist Trust’s Grants for Artists Projects, the Joanne Bailey Wilson Endowed Scholarship, and the Vermont Studio Center Fellowship. Kennedy has recently served on Seattle Art Museum’s Blueprint Roundtable panel and has participated as a guest lecturer at the Henry as an intro to their “Out [O] Fashion” Show curated by Deb Willis. He has prepared multimedia presentations for the Society of Photographic Educators, Cornish College of the Arts, and the University of Washington on topics of marginalization and objectification. He received his MFA from the University of Washington in Interdisciplinary Arts and an undergraduate degree from Western Washington University in Visual Communication. Kennedy is currently working as the Visual Arts Coordinator at the Vermont Studio Center while continuing to be an active member of Photo Center Northwest and COCA in Seattle, WA. His works have exhibited both locally and internationally at such venues as the GGibson Gallery, Photo Center Northwest, Zhou B Art Center, Chicago Industrial Arts & Design Center, Escuela de Belle Arte in Spain, and the Seattle Art Museum’s Gallery.

Artist site:



Jun 032016

LMB-11Dilasa is ten years old. She was born in a Nepali refugee camp and came to the United States when she was five. Her parents are Bhutanese refugees.

The white gray rubble light blinds me, wait, I just thought—what if this is not visible, what if all this is not visible.
—Juan Felipe Herrera, United States Poetry Laureate
I Am Merely Posing for a Photograph

Lynne Browne is a workaholic. She is the web coordinator at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Utica, NY. She has a straightforward manner of speaking and a brilliant wit. People like her. People like her instantly. Largely because they know they can trust her. They can trust her because she does not bullshit them. She does not have time in her fast-paced world for such nonsense. She thrives in this fast-paced world. She is a leader and a go-getter. When she does something, she does it to the N-th degree. And her passion is photography.

The combination of Lynne’s approachability and her amazing technical skill with the camera and computer results in portraiture of unequalled intensity. In hectic settings, she is able to capture the lyric moment. Intimacy is achieved quickly, even in situations where there is a language barrier. I find this quite magical. The seduction of her candid friendliness and competence leave little room for even the thought of a “no.” And in response to Herrera’s poem, yes, one can certainly see the wound — coupled with hope — in the eyes of the children and youths Lynne photographs. In the worn faces of the aged, where one would expect only the “rubble,” Lynne is able to find also the underlying joy and pride.

I’ve asked Lynne to speak of the evolution of her personal ongoing project photographing refugees in her hometown region, Utica, NY (“The Town That Loves Refugees”), where she is making a difference with the images she creates. Herrera recently encouraged an audience at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs to “use their own natural and sincere voice to become who they fully are,” and just so, both the artist and the muse reveal themselves in these stunning photographs.

Lynne M. Browne at two.

LMB: It was by chance that I began a long-term project of photographing international refugees who live in the Mohawk Valley. In 2012 my anthropologist colleague, Dr. Kathryn Stam asked me to take photographs of her refugee friends who were performing at a local music festival. I’m so glad I agreed; I didn’t realize that event would lead to many more exciting experiences.

LMB-2Guman is Bhutanese-Nepali

I have loved images since I was a child, as seen in attached snapshot of me at the tender age of two. The twinkle in my eye and the big grin foretell my future as an image-maker. On my 13th birthday I received my very own camera – a Kodak Trimlite Instamatic. I could see what it was through the wrapping paper and couldn’t contain my excitement. There was an attempt to limit the number of photos I could take based on the roll of film, but that didn’t stop me. I babysat until I saved enough money to buy in bulk and then mailed multiple rolls away for developing.

I progressed to a 35mm camera in my senior year of high school as one of the yearbook photographers, documenting all the critically important activities of student life. In college I took my required photography class with a Pentax K1000 borrowed from my grandfather. I now shoot digital: DSLRs; mirrorless; point and shoot; and phone; and have a love/hate relationship with the limitless number of photos I can take!

My images tend toward photojournalism with elements of portraiture. In most cases, I’m shooting photographs at events where many, many things are happening at once. Dr. Stam and friends from the Midtown Utica Community Center (MUCC) showcase their different cultures through performances at Fort Stanwix, the Utica Zoo, Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC), SUNY Polytechnic Institute and other venues. I think the largest event that I’ve attended was the Karen New Year celebration at MVCC this past January where the Utica Don Dancers performed as one of several groups from across New York State. They practice many hours at the MUCC to get their routine as close to perfect as possible.

LMB500-3Members of the Utica Don Dancers go to many cultural events in the area and perform the traditional Karen New Year dance. KuSay (pictured) is Karen, from Burma.

LMB-4More from the traditional Karen New Year dance.
Tun Tun Win (pictured) is Karen, from Burma.

At these events, there are various groups of performers, some on stage, those who are waiting in the wings, and those who have just finished their performances. With so many performers and audience members present, I wander around the venue to see who might be willing to let me take their photograph. I feel that I am recognized as a friend now, and I have a unique opportunity, even when there is a language barrier. I love it when a younger person interprets for an elder.

In most cases we are right near all the action of the festivities, including dancers whirling around and musicians playing. By cropping in-camera, I’m able to capture what I think is an intimate moment between my subject and me. I don’t have a lot of time with each person, just a couple of minutes at most. Because my background is in public relations, I feel the portrait should remain as close to reality as possible, and believe in making minimal edits.

People wonder what I do with the many photographs that I take, and for the most part, I share them with the group I’ve photographedon social media for example, so they in turn can share them with their friends and families. There have also been a few public projects where we have used the photos. One major undertaking recently completed was a group of large banners featuring my photos along with information about refugees as part of Dr. Stam’s Refugees Starting Over project.

The banners were created to be easily transported to various functions and to help foster relationships between the refugees and local communities. One of their first appearances was at an event held at the Utica Zoo. Everyone from the refugee community was so excited to search the banners for images of themselves and their friends! The banners include text from the United Nations, defining a refugee: “Any person who: owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Born in the U.S., Shayal is Bhutanese-Nepali.
He has a tikka on his forehead, which is a Hindu blessing in Nepal.

LMB500-7Monisha came to the United States in 2014 from a refugee camp in Jhapa, Nepal. Her family occupied one of the lower social groups in the Hindu caste system, but converting to Christianity and coming to the U.S. freed her family from the discrimination of their former position. Monisha is a high school student and loves traditional Nepali and contemporary Hindi-style dance. This photograph was taken only a few days after her arrival.

The most significant exhibition of my work, titled Portraits of Hope: The faces of refugee resettlement in CNY, will take place in June 2016 at Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute in Utica, NY. This exhibit is a collaboration with Dr. Stam, using my photos along with her narrative about those featured in the portraits. The combination of the two will help viewers better understand each person’s story, and hopefully appreciate what some refugees endure before coming to the US.

While I am extremely excited about this opportunity, it really is a companion piece to the main attraction at MWAPI, featuring the work by internationally renowned National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry.

When I was growing up I loved to look at all of the exotic places featured in National Geographic, and thought it would be such an amazing job to travel the world taking photos of the things I encountered. Imagine my joy when I was introduced to people from around the world who now live in my own backyard and are willing to let me photograph them. And to top it all off, have my photographs tell this local story in one of my favorite places!

This ongoing project has opened my eyes to the Mohawk Valley’s refugee population. Approximately one in five people living in Utica today is a refugee. And, more than 15,000 refugees have come through the Refugee Center since 1982. Utica is a true melting pot with the fourth largest concentration of refugees in the United States and close to 40 languages spoken in the Utica school district.

LMB500-8Layla is a teenager from Somali-Bantu who has a quick wit and wants to be a model some day; she commands a room when she is present.

LMB-9Amina (L) and Zeinabu (R) are Somali-Bantu refugees who were resettled to Utica from one of the largest and most dangerous refugee camps in the world, Daadab in Kenya. They have been in the U.S. for approximately 14 years and are now high school students and fans of Korean drama and K-pop, Korean popular music.

I realize that I have only scratched the surface, and I look forward to future opportunities to photograph people who have found a home where they can feel safe enough to share their cultures with others. This is such a timely subject, seen almost daily in national and international news stories, including this one from the PBS NewsHour featuring Utica, How refugee resettlement became a revival strategy for this struggling town, and I am thrilled that I have had the opportunity to share their stories.

LMB-10This portrait was taken while three generations of women were enjoying cultural performances and visiting exhibits at the Utica Zoo.

—Mary Kathryn Jablonski & Lynne M. Browne



Lynne Browne is the web coordinator and a photographer at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Utica, NY. She has an AAS degree in Advertising Design from Cazenovia College, a BS degree in Professional and Technical Communication and an MS degree in Information Design and Technology, from SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Lynne Browne Designs website


A gallerist in Saratoga Springs for over 15 years, visual artist & poet Mary Kathryn Jablonski is now an administrative director in holistic healthcare. She is author of the chapbook To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met, and her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals including the Beloit Poetry Journal, Blueline, Home Planet News, Salmagundi, and Slipstream, among others. Her artwork has been widely exhibited throughout the Northeast and is held in private and public collections.


Oct 142015

Chasing Dragons
What I liked, reading Chasing Dragons at first, was the anticipation, the call to adventure that is in the author’s own answer to the call to adventure. —Douglas Glover

Bill Hayward 1Bill Hayward

Chasing Dragons: An Uncommon Memoir in Photographs
Bill Hayward
Glitterati Incorporated
240 pages, hardcover
346 original four-color photographs
$60; ISBN 978-0-9891704-9-9


AT THE AGE OF SIX, Bill Hayward was already blessed with magic and metaphor. He was born into an itinerant family, lived in or visited 17 states before he was in grade school. His older sister Janet, sitting with him in the back seat of the family’s 1940 Chevy, used to encourage him on long rides with stories of magic and adventure. Janet was Bill Hayward’s muse, his Yoda, the one who taught him to think there might be wisps of dragon smoke beyond the next hill. She made the world wondrous, which is something like religion, only under a different name.

Hayward has been hunting the dragon smoke ever since, hence the title of his magnificent new book Chasing Dragons: An Uncommon Memoir in Photographs; only now he also associates it intellectually with the dragon smoke of Chinese legend, dragon smoke equated with the imagination itself, with the ability to travel between worlds, which in Hayward’s universe becomes the ability to travel between and beyond forms, to hybridize, to traffic in aesthetic accident and unconscious inspiration, to transcend the torrent of conventional commercial dreck that is our contemporary fate.

Hayward is a photographer, also a writer, a filmmaker, and painter. He is a very good photographer, one of those A-list commercial photographers who shoot for glossy magazines in New York and are on call to do author photos for major publishers, the epitome of class. But at a certain point he rebelled against the conventional (even the very best conventional), the photograph that is already recognizably good as a photograph (“…at some point I realized that dragon smoke was somehow missing from the horizon…”), and as he says himself, went into the darkroom (this was when they still had darkrooms) fierce with experiment.

I commenced “bushwhacking” in the darkroom (this is way before digital) and experimenting with print, paint, paper and scissors and following real “brush strokes” of accident—disrupting what I knew of visual technique and tradition.

The result was wave after wave of startling, mysterious images. Like many great artists, Hayward seems to work in obsessional spurts, mulling over the same gestural form or experimental technique in image after image, but altering, nudging, scaling, colorizing, destroying.

Chasing Dragons is organized into five so-called acts, the acts subdivided into subtitled sections, each with an obsessional focus (some are called projects). For example, there are 17 collaborative bedrooms (“17 Bedrooms, A Spaghetti Western”), 17 black and white images of collaborator Joanne Baldinger standing in front of or even within a black on white painting of a room, door to a room, or windows looking out of a room. There are pages of paintings of a single torso with an arm bent at right angles, placed across the belly like an reversed L, sad, clownish faces, zombie figures. Or the floating, falling nudes suspended as if in a luminous vitreous humour of the “Broken Odalisque” series. Or the amazing set of photographs called “Consider the Flesh”: grainy images, nudes prancing/posing before a backdrop, camera pulled back to reveal backdrop against the studio wall, and lamps of various sorts held or disposed behind or in front of the subject, casting a mysterious glow.

I mention only a few of the sequences; this is a thick, beautiful book.

The repetitions inscribe motion from frame to frame, almost as in one of those old flip books, motion being one of the major fracturing devices Hayward uses, both inside and outside the image, his subjects caught over and over in ecstatic gesture, stillness infused with movement (gesture is a word Hayward uses frequently), so that the image sequences are a dance, not repetitious, but mysteriously rhythmic (like tides or the motions of sex) in their insistence on a particular motif (gesture, again), situation or subject, motifs that take on the numinous quality of dream signs.

One of Hayward’s most easily grasped innovations (invention) is the result of a rebellion against the conventional studio portrait: subject in front of camera, subject become object for the photographer, become something frozen, captured, pinned to the board. Hayward’s brilliant inversion, analogous to breaking down the fourth wall in the theatre, was to engage the subject as a collaborator in the photograph. Instead of sitting the subject in front of a backdrop, he set up a continuous roll of white paper, gave the subject (of the photo) a bucket of black paint and a brush and told him or her to make a backdrop for themselves, a scene, a place to pose, a place in which to act or even act out.

The result was/is an ongoing series of brilliant, witty, mischievous, punning, self-revelatory (in the sense of self-discovery) collaborative portraits. Many appeared in Hayward’s 2001 book Bad Behavior, and there are a few of those in Chasing Dragons, but he has extended the project into what he calls The Human Bible, traveling the country with his paper rolls and paint (near the end of the book there is a gorgeous photograph of Hayward clad in black, walking a dusty railway track somewhere in the west, with a paper roll over his shoulder).

Hayward seems to function along three basic vectors or principles, at least this seems to be the case when he talks about what he is doing. The first is the one already dealt with, the iconoclasm, the adventurous breaker of form, on a quest to find the rigid structure, the accepted mode, in what he is doing and break it. Little things, to begin with, like the incorporation of accident or imperfection, a studied black and white landscape with a road disappearing into distant hills and a purple crayon streak in the top corner. Which seems to lead to drawing and painting on photographs, to incorporating photos into paintings and then paintings that remind you of the photographs. Iconoclasm, breaking the image, the holy image, making it more holy in so doing. There is much more of this, pages of faces, strangely symmetrical as if the one side mirrors the other (not the way normal faces work), streaked, over-exposed, magnified, colorized, staring.

The second vector is a restless search for the feminine, a self-conscious desire to rebalance a universe that has tilted wildly toward the patriarchal. One source for this is Robert Graves book The White Goddess, which Hayward absorbed at just the right moment. But beyond that, and not to psychologize, it does seem as if his sister Janet, six years older and a leader of adventures, gave Hayward the perfect template for the White Goddess before he actually met her in a book. Chasing Dragons is full of female images, many nudes, many combining the ecstasies of dance gesture (there are naked men, too, but not nearly so many). Women lead Hayward, they are his psychopomps, his oneiric guides into the realm of abandonment, experiment, and revolt. Of this is he enthusiastically conscious, inserting throughout Chasing Dragons quotations and snippets from his favorites: Mary Ruefle, Clarice Lispector, Emily Dickinson, Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf.

And, finally, the third principle, the unresolved struggle, something Hayward recognizes within himself, the tension between the discipline of art (call it professionalism, craftsmanship, guild knowledge) and the free spirit of play, the foregoing of knowledge, the abandonment of certainty necessary to create the kind of art Hayward wants to create. There’s a great interview (with Geoff Gehman in Psychology Tomorrow) where Hayward catches himself in the contradiction. “I’m telling people they can do anything while at the same time my head is saying: You’ve got to know what you’re doing. I just tell myself to follow the gesture rather than the idea.”

The self-irony is all: the moment that catches a whisper of Hayward’s depth.

What I liked, reading Chasing Dragons at first, was the anticipation, the call to adventure that is in the author’s own answer to the call to adventure.

Throughout this read, I call out the shout and song of artists who have had, and who continue to have,  a significant influence on the gaze of my heart and eye…My compositions are foremost a transcription of my response to their call.

Painters I have known are rarely good at talking about their own art (Hayward is an exception in a high degree) because their art is in the manipulation of media with brush or pencil or camera. They think non-verbally, through their fingers and hands more than eye and mind. And no matter what they plan or expect there are always minute accidents of material at the finger tip. One of the beauties of Chasing Dragons (hunting the dragon smoke of the imagination) is (going back to the patterning, grouping, repetitiveness of the images) that you can see Hayward, the artist, thinking without words, thinking with the images themselves, making and remaking, with slight variation, the same gesture, scene, idea. The effect is mesmerizing; rarely do you get to see so many materializations of the same artistic thought.

As I say, Chasing Dragons is organized into acts. The first act contains the beautiful conventional studio portraits. The second act, the rebellion, is the crisis of risk, experiment, adventure. The third act enters the territory of collaborative art (the human other becomes the next frontier to be transgressed). The fourth is all dance and gesture. And the fifth is devoted to images from Hayward’s film Asphalt, Muscle & Bone. The first act establishes the credentials of mastery, but the second, third, fourth and fifth acts are where you will dwell, entranced by the incantatory and playful density of artistic thought and variation, flipping back and forth between the pages, one section at a time.

Reading this book underscores the difference between an art book and a gallery show. A gallery show will always be an abstraction (contradictory, yes, because, of course, there are particular works on show), representative of the total work; whereas in a book, while you only have images of images, you get a far better idea of the totality of the artistic output and the motions of the artist’s thought processes as they develop over time.

The book’s text, the word-memoir, is terse, elliptical, carved out of the silence of the page, but also beautifully written, as you might expect; everything Hayward touches, even the accidents, or apparent accidents, have an air of being self-consciously finished; the man possesses an epic cool that is reflected in the work. And for all its terseness, the text seems to tell you everything you need to know: the family road trips and the Delphic Janet (some lovely snaps of the two of them as kids), the dragons, the first camera, and (the same day in 1956) Hayward’s first exposure to photographic/cinematic art (Janet took him to see Fellini’s La Strada), the iconic moments that led him to yesterday and whatever comes tomorrow, after the book.

One section especially, the “Mise-en-Scène,” is heavily patterned, recursive like a Bach fugue, words and phrases repeating, accumulating nuance and incantation — Janet, dragons (morph into drag’n sticks juxtaposed with an image of a weathered stick in the shape of a dragon), beads, fire ants, smoke, and the phrase reportless places, a phrase from Emily Dickinson (and after the section ends, there is a postscript that is the Emily Dickinson poem where the phrase comes from). This “Mise-en-Scène” is like a poem itself or is a poem, but also seems influenced by Gordon Lish (who does a walk-on guest appearance in Chasing Dragons with a three-line preface) and his creative concept of consecution, moving forward in a composition by picking up elements already introduced, so the pattern is forward, back and bring forward, and back and bring forward. And those fire ants become the image of the artist: “obsessive, certain, incessant; their immortal process of building in mud and blood.”

That phrase — “obsessive, certain, incessant” — is the DNA of the book or Bill Hayward himself. In spirit, it is stamped on every page. It is the essence of the artist.

But dragon smoke has other meanings, all connected with trans-words, transcendence, transgression, changing states of consciousness. Chasing the dragon is/was slang for getting high, for seeking other worlds or dream in the arms of Nepenthe, forgetfulness, escape, illusion, Death.

I do not think this reference escapes Bill Hayward. Life is the attainment of form; the dissolution of form is a kind of death; that’s a paradox, of course, because rigidity of form also seems like a kind of death. So that art must always be this dance between breaking and making, breaking and making.

The fire ants are re-animating anonymous relics of lives already lived, ceremony of the persistent creative process, mud and blood, life and death, death and life.

—Douglas Glover

14 Chasing Dragons by Bill HaywardBob Dylan


17 Chasing Dragons by Bill HaywardFragment A (from the film Asphalt, Muscle & Bone)

09 Chasing Dragons by Bill HaywardBroken Odalisque

BH2Al Pacile (from The Human Bible)

11 Chasing Dragons by Bill HaywardDragon Smoke Behind Tree

Images from Chasing Dragons: An Uncommon Memoir in Photographs by Bill Hayward, © 2015, published by Glitterati Incorporated



Dec 102014

1818  (2012)

Jowita Bydlowska was born in Warsaw, moved to Woodstock, Ontario, as a teenager, knew no one, found solace in the library, learned to read, learned to write. Like another famous Pole, Joseph Conrad, she made herself a writer in a foreign language. (Try it some time.) Last year she published a stern and unforgiving memoir called Drunk Mom, about life as an alcoholic mother of a months-old child. She also takes photographs. The ones I like (I picked them) project a dark femininity, a gender-bending, violent, transgressive girlhood (womanhood). They are erotic, fretted with death, both fearful and fearless, compulsive, defiant, disturbing, and secret.



blow up, the yellow houseblow up, the yellow house (2014)

LevitationLevitation (2014)

wolves evolveWolves Evolve (2014)

Apocalypse NowApocalypse Now (2012)

Ghost bridesGhost Brides (2012)

Merry ChristmasMerry Christmas (2013)

On Sale!On Sale! (2012)

WillinglyWillingly (2014)

Red CarpetRed Carpet (2012).

—Photographs by Jowita Bydlowska



Jowita Bydlowska is a writer and photographer living in Toronto. Her first book, Drunk Mom, was a national bestseller. Her novel, Guy, is coming out in 2016. You can view more of her photographs at Boredom Repellent.


Apr 102014

author photo 2013

The moral overhang of plants, in the present case a disregarded bonsai, is the notional subject of this deft, intricate essay (with photographs) by Shawna Lemay, an essay that is also an anthology of quotations (about plants, art and people) and gnomic phrasing, an essay that almost seems to unwrite itself as it is written. “…we understand each other illegibly.” “In this way we come to know the unrepeatable secrets of flowers, and then to forget them.”



The bonsai, now. Purchased years ago from the hardware store. A wish, a pretension, a desire for peacefulness, with an envious thought to the serious practitioners, precipitated its purchase.

Relegated to the basement when it sensed I was not living up to its requirements for emptiness, calm, and a true tenderness. It became too lush and I could not be severe in bringing it back to balance. Years later, it re-emerges. Parts of it have died, irretrievable. Unbalanced but splendid and we understand each other illegibly.

At the stage where she was dreaming, conjuring, The Waves, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary, “A lamp and a flower pot in the center. The flower can always be changing.” There would be, “…a perpetual crumbling and renewing of the plant. In its leaves she might see things happen. But who is she?”


Quickly followed by the wish she remain unnamed. The leaves would most certainly see things happen.

I forge a plan which I quickly abandon, to ask women I know about the plants they have on their windowsills, kitchen tables, desks. I imagine receiving answers about geraniums being overwintered, about African violets, and about bouquets of grocery store tulips and about long stemmed, candy coloured daisies, and roses that deliberately open. Once, someone told me about the aloe vera plant she has on her desk  which has vast properties of healing and with which she conducts séances and hearing this made me too delicate.

We breathe the plant in and the plant receives our exhalations and our chakras align accordingly.

Of course, with Clarice, I’ve been thinking about the sadness of flowers in order to feel more fully the order of what exists for a very long time.

As Cixous said, we have all lived one or two flowers. We have felt the light of them, the light they attract and which goes right through them, and also the heaviness, the gravity, and we have known, perhaps, as the painter Francis Bacon called it, the violence, of roses. Not just the thorns, but the colours changing and bleeding and seeping out of those generous, soft, petals. The way our souls might rise up and speak to flowers, met by flowers, their breathing, the faint breath of them. The pain of finding we can’t quite sip, can’t quite internalize the answers, to the question of scent.


I imagine the pots and vases of flowers on a table near a window in time lapse photography, one that encompasses several years. The first day emerges deliberately. It begins in a veil of morning light, I place a vase of garden roses on the weathered table. The pink-orange petals are so various, each one a slightly different combination of pink fluttering into orange. They have opened under the sun, been changed by breezes gentle and ardent and arduous. Insects have nibbled and continued on their way. And now the light becomes more diffuse, evens out, brightens, declines again, and then moonlight comes in and bathes the roses, they soften and at the same time become more radiant, full. The leaves droop a little, curl, the water clouds, the edges of the petals wither, turn a greyish brown, and the pinks become less vibrant, and the orange deepens, lessens. They begin to look tattered in the repetition of this cycle, more graceful, more noble. At one point a hand comes into the frame, and shoves the vase from the center of the table to the edge, to the far end.

In this way we come to know the unrepeatable secrets of flowers, and then to forget them. We learn opening, opening. And then empty, drunk, we succumb to their heavenly sadness. It is the sadness of flowers that reminds us to keep the secret.

The table is empty for several days. The time lapse speeds up. A geranium arrives in a terracotta pot. The stems are thick and gnarled. The plant has lived and lives on in the slips that have been taken. It grows, leaning toward the light through the day, a slow dance. And then the cuttings are removed, and it must grow more leaves, and it does, small sprouts emerge. At which point someone takes it to make room for a gift, a vase of flowers. A ghostly image enters the frame and leaves, which reminds one of security camera footage.

An arrangement, a gift. A florist’s concoction. Tulips, roses, hydrangeas, snapdragons, bits of greenery in a  rigorously balanced and visually interesting triangle. Light pink, fresh green, and lavender. For days they stay as placed, rather too perfect. But then the tulips begin to droop through the course of a single day and are nearly done in.

The time lapse slows and then speeds up, and this feels alarming, how the flowers move as though in a deep conversation, the intensity of their gestures, leanings, listings, to and fro, petals drop in what could be happiness one moment, anger the next, then resignation.

Those which have perished are removed, and the bouquet is awkward, strange. A hand removes the bouquet, the arrangement returns in another form, the remaining flowers cut down and placed in a water glass. They last a day or two more. And at this point, the light in the room becomes grainy, and I can’t help but think about the clouds which must be responsible for this effect.


It goes on like this. Long periods where the space is empty. Shadows of people pass over the table. A bird flies by and casts a low and fleeting shadow. Snow falls so the window resembles a 20th century television screen at three a.m. The window is opened and the curtains blow into the frame, ever so gently. Punctuated by moments of flowering. Flowers changing. And changing.

It goes on like this. The fragrance. The colours. The fading. The beauty of decline, the simplicity. All of the attendant moods arrive and pass in waves, swelling and subsiding, at dawn, at dusk.

While I’m imagining the flowers on a table I’m also thinking about 17th century Dutch flower paintings. The way that artists would make and collect studies of  flowers so that they could paint them into lush floral bouquets that couldn’t really exist as the specimens wouldn’t naturally bloom at the same time. Sometimes an artist would share a particular study they’d made, so that another artist would have the exact same rendering of a flower in their own floral painting.

I also remember the painting by Remedios Varos called Still Life Reviving, which is the last thing she painted before her unexpected death. At the center of a small round table with a tablecloth draped on it is a lit candle. Swirling around and hovering above the table are plates, and above them various fruits which at times collide and explode, all of this witnessed by dragonflies. Seeds drop from the colliding fruits, and plants are being born from them before they hit the ground.

I remember the way things appear to lose their magic, and later regain it.

Paper whites in winter. An amaryllis bulb, forced. Spring plum blossoms. Forsythia. Peonies. Roses. Tiger lilies.

The flower is always changing which is dizzying. Which is why, still life.

—Shawna Lemay

Shawna Lemay is a writer, blogger, editor, photographer, and library assistant. She is the creator and co-editor of the website, Canadian Poetries. She has written five books of poetry, All the God-Sized Fruit, Against Paradise, Still, Blue Feast and Red Velvet Forest, a book of essays, Calm Things, and a work of experimental fiction, Hive: A Forgery. A book of poems and poem-essays, titled Asking, is forthcoming in April of 2014. Her daily blog is Calm Things.  She resides in Edmonton, Canada, with her partner, Robert Lemay, a visual artist, and their daughter, Chloe.

Mar 182014


In the heart of Tuscany the age-old rite of the hunt for wild boar rages long and lethal. Every Saturday and Sunday from November through January hunters converge in the hilly country spreading beyond the shadow of Siena’s Duomo. Men gather—no women in their number—with dogs and rifles, knives and bullets, walkie talkies and cell phones. Outfitted with modern equipment, today’s hunters are but a few in the long line that stretches back through the Renaissance and the Middle Ages to the days of Caesar and Odysseus. Ancient Roman reliefs depict boar hunts, while one tale recounts how the ancient Greeks baptized an island in honor of the beast; this was Kapros, now called Capri.


This morning, to one side of Monte Maggio, or May Mountain, men section off fields and cassocks, swells and dips. They pull numbers from a bag, assigning post to pursuant. Then the fifty or more shooters, tiratori in their camouflage, wind through the woods. For kilometers they tramp, then for hours they wait in their appointed spots along one side of the drifts and dales, rifles skyward. When a boar draws near they shoot ahead, never sideways, where fellow tiratori hide. No friendly crossfire tolerated. Meanwhile, twelve canai, doghandlers with their packs of sniffing hounds and growling terriers, park their jeeps on the far side of the woods and set off across the expanse toward the line bristling with tiratori. Scouring and routing, the men and their dogs startle and flush the boar, propelling them forward.

Boar Hunt Underway

Boar Hunt Underway

On the periphery of this elaborate orchestration today: my father-and law and I. I’m armed with my camera and am tolerated only because my father-in-law is a hunter of long standing. “We don’t want to end up on the front page of the animal rights group paper,” his comrades say in jest, but just barely, when they learn that he’s brought me here to take photos of the hunt. Siena with its Palio where horses are often injured in the famous race around the square in town already attracts a fair share of unwanted attention by animal rights advocates.



Today the canai’s dogs rootle through the woods above Celsa castle. The owner is an Aldobrandini prince who lives in Rome. Weathered marine pine line the avenue to the entrance. Someone has opened a couple of windows facing the sun. In the summer the castle is open to the public but now I wonder if the prince has come to his country estate for Christmas vacation. Or perhaps a maid is simply airing mildew out of the stony rooms on a bright and sunny winter’s day.


Hounds howl and bark and then several shots ring out. One who has lost the scent emerges onto the road near the abandoned carabinieri station that once controlled the area. When Monte Maggio was a tougher place, three-quarters of a century or more ago, bandits lurked here and the carabinieri chased them. After that, during the war, partisans hid in the caves. The Black Shirts and Germans hunted them.

The dog runs in circles, nose to the pavement. A woman in a Jeep spots it. She tries to lure it into her vehicle with a length of jerky.

“Scandalous,” she says. “Poor dog could get hit out here on the road.”

My father-in-law suspects she’s part of an animal rights group. He thinks she’s trying to sabotage the hunt by rounding up the dogs.

“But I bet she eats meat,” he says. “Probably pappardelle with wild boar. Take a picture of her license plate.” Then he pulls out his phone and calls il duca—the duke—one of the canai. The man’s not really a duke; it’s a nickname he’s earned one way or another. I suspect it has something to do with his less than genteel ways.

“A lady’s trying to lure one of the hounds into her car,” my father-in-law says. “Over here, on the road by the carabinieri station. We’ve got her license plate number. But maybe you should send someone over.”

I can hear il duca cursing into my father-in-law’s ear. No run of the mill obscenities though; he insults saints and the Virgin. Then he wants to speak to the lady. My father-in-law passes the phone over. It turns out that il duca and the lady know each other.

“Okay, I won’t. But get it off the road,” she says into the phone. In the meantime, the hound has already run off, back into the woods, having found the scent.



My father-in-law started hunting here when he was eighteen. Sixty-seven years he’s been hunting. At first, he hunted for hare and pheasant. He kept his own bird dogs—Jack and Tom, English names for Italian hounds—in a pen behind an old stone farmhouse. Then in the sixties when boar populations grew and overran the woods, he gave up Jack and Tom and turned to boar hunting. He loves the woods out here on Monte Maggio. He knows every centimeter. He comes when it rains, when it snows, when it’s warm and sunny like today. He’ll still keep coming as long as he’s able. He’s not sure how much longer that will be. He won’t think yet about when the hike, the interminable wait, the bad weather and the mountain itself will conspire to keep him home.


He goes to the woods for the peace, he says, and for the camaderie after. But best is when he’s the one to bag the prey. You can tell when the boar approaches. The dogs’ howling grows loud, the brush and bramble tremble. You take up your gun and aim, but only when you see the boar’s dark eyes. If you shoot into the waving thicket you risk killing a dog. You face that beast—black and fierce and angry, ringed by thirty or more frenzied dogs.

I imagine the jolt. I think the hunter’s heart must whip like pine boughs in a windstorm.

“No,” says my father-in-law, “it’s not like that. At least not for me anymore. You feel a strange sensation, but it’s more wrapped up with blood and life, the ebb and flow.”

“I see,” I say even if I don’t quite.

We find a break in the woods. “Here,” my father-in-law says. The hunters will pass by on their way back to their cars, parked on the rim of the road behind us. “We’ll wait here. Then you can shoot them as they hike through.” He grins. He likes how we’ve turned the tables on the hunters. I grin back.

We wait. Then we wait some more. While we wait we pull ivy off old oak and pine. Bark flies, red bugs scuttle, the air fills with sap, the sun shines through branches in filmy snatches. “Is this what it’s like,” I ask him, “when you’re a tiratore? Do you tend to the trees then too?”


“No,” he says. “Not when you’re stalking boar. You can’t make noise. You can’t smoke. You can’t eat. You can’t even pee. You wait ever so quietly for that one brief moment when you squeeze off a shot.”


After an hour or more, we hear voices. Men surge forward. One short, chubby hunter, a middle-aged man nicknamed Smilzo, or Skinny, drags a small boar up the path. My father-in-law thinks Smilzo’s boar may weigh 30 kilos—if that. Since Smilzo shot it, he will get the ears, tail, heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and tusks in addition to his share of the meat which will be divided equally among all hunters present. “In Tuscany,” he says “no part of the boar goes to waste. Make sure you write that.”

We follow the hunters to their shack in the woods. They roast sausage and steaks they brought from home, drink Chianti and exchange tall tales. My father-in-law recounts how we rescued several dogs from an army of animal rights do-gooders. Listening, il  duca insults several more saints. Smilzo describes how his boar almost tore his leg off. Feroce, or Ferocious, a small man whose real name no one remembers, scoffs. Burlacche, or Wiseass, jokes about Smilzo’s small boar and how it couldn’t have torn off a toenail.




Butchers gut and section the carcasses. Hunters light cigars, cigarettes and pipes. Hounds wait in small trailers, their noses poking out through bars. Two canai discuss returning to the woods with their dogs to look for a boar that someone swears is wounded.

My father-in-law’s cell phone rings. It’s my mother-in-law. She’s been keeping lunch for us even though it’s almost 4 p.m.


“You get what you need?” my father-in-law asks. I nod. We say goodbye to il duca, Smilzo, Feroce, Burlacche. On the way home he tells me the menu. Polenta with stewed wild boar that he shot last season.

“Okay,” I say. I realize I’m hungry after hours of tramping through the woods. Eating the kill is part of the ritual. And my mother-in-law is an ace at stewing boar. It’s fiery and rich; red pepper in the sauce is one of her secret ingredients, a tribute of sorts to the animal itself.


When my father-in-law and I first met, he wasn’t sure how he felt about having a foreigner in the family. I wasn’t sure how I felt about someone who thought killing was a sport. Over the years we’ve gotten to know each other. Now he’s warm and proud to show me where he loves to spend his weekends from November through January. And I’m glad to have had the chance to witness this chapter in his life, one that won’t go on forever.

 —Natalia Sarkissian

Natalia Sarkissian

Natalia Sarkissian has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been an editor and contributor at Numéro Cinq since 2010. Natalia divides her time between Italy and the United States.


Feb 142014

I am always trying to push the envelope in regard to author artist/photos. I loathe the refined, posed, airbrushed glamor head-and-shoulders shots publishers seem to prefer. The author as inhuman, noble object of adulation. NC has always had a subversive edge. And I have been thinking for a while of honouring some of our more adventurous and outlandish spirits for their efforts toward having a bit of personality in their images. I don’t know if I have all the best ones here. If you have a favourite that you remember, remind me in the comments.

I cheated a little bit. bill hayward’s photo of Gordon Lish wasn’t taken especially for NC, but bill has invented a brilliant style of artist/author portrait and we did get to show the photo on NC. But check out bill’s wonderful book of images Bad Behavior for inspiration. Also Jonah’s photo wasn’t his author photo; it’s a self-portrait of sorts. Sometimes I tell authors to at least get a child or a dog in the photo. Horses and goats will do…  André Marois went for bees.


ferryiguana_h_0David Ferry

Steven HeightonSteven Heighton

Andre MaroisAndré Marois

IMG_6257Sharon McCartney

sl, bird dog pete and sharptail, MontanaSydney Lea

IMGP2885Phil Hall

Amber HomeniukAmber Homeniuk

Betsy book pics 2013 - 236Betsy Sholl

Julie Bruck3Julie Bruck

DW-Ark_CodexDerek White

BRiannaBrianna Berbenuik

Michael BrysonMichael Bryson

Julie LariosJulie Larios

Steven AxelrodSteven Axelrod

Gordon-LishGordon Lish photographed by bill hayward

The AuthorJonah Glover

Taiaiake-001Taiaiake Alfred & Sons

Alexander MacLeodAlexander MacLeod

Diane Schoemperlen

Diane Schoemperlen

David Jauss and grandson GalenDavid Jauss & Grandson Galen

Sep 142013

Abdallah Ben Salem d'Aix

Numéro Cinq is pleased to introduce the Algerian-born photographer (now living in France) Abdallah Ben Salem d’Aix. I became friends with Abdallah several weeks ago on Facebook[1], and was drawn immediately to his pictures of flowers, which reminded me of freeze-frames from a deeper, more vibrant, twenty-first century version of Stan Brakhage’s The Garden of Earthly Delights.
When I asked Abdallah to describe his process for the series of twelve breathtaking images that we are proud to feature this month, he wrote:

First, while walking to the site, the lake or on the mountain, I collect dead leaves, petals, plastics…everything tiny, which, in a brief moment, has a self sufficing and sweet “presence” while playing with the Light and the “perfume” of that day. Second, the “Theater”: the support (mirrors, sheets of papers, material) is my little scene or stage, under the shadow of a tree. Third, the Play: I just shake, animate; left hand, the support and the hints; right hand, the camera. Light is decisive; sometimes, I have to wait, while reading or in reverie until the twilight. Fourth, the Images: they have to be cute, strange, “farcesques,” easily lisible, pleasant.

—Eric Foley

1 Neighbours as myself

Neighbours as Myself

2 Out Without Môm

Out Without Mom

3 salad day!...

Salad day!

Summer schemes When friendly summer calls again, Calls again… Thomas Hardy

Summer schemes when friendly summer calls again, Calls again… Thomas Hardy

The Road

The Road

“the soul without a name was in a terrible plight in the other world” (of course)

“the soul without a name was in a terrible plight in the other world” (of course)

“turn the other cheek”

“turn the other cheek”

When I Was Don Quichote

When I Was Don Quichote

Out of Hell

Out of Hell

Swift’s Stella & Vanessa were both named Esther

Swift’s Stella & Vanessa were both named Esther

Noblesse de l’Échec

Noblesse de l’Echec

Jacques Rigaut is not dead

Jacques Rigaut is not dead

—Photos by Abdallah Ben Salem d’Aix


A Brief Autobiography of Abdallah Ben Salem d’Aix

1949—I’m three years old. Death of Dad. “A hero.” During the WWII, he saved his French officer severely wounded. Medals, medals. 1962—End of the Algerian War. Family divided. Mother, a maid, preferred to follow her gentle employer, Mme Martin, and Mab, Mess and me, too. We, the children, have been Witness of the cruelties of the Adults of the Two Sides. Out of Hell! 1965-1969—Comedian, activist (Vietnam). During a year (Aix), training with J. Grotowski and his assistant Serge Ouaknine, (now in Montreal, and on FB). At night, drinking with the Ionesco’s (Madame Ionesco buvait du thé, elle). 1969-2001—Psychiatry—I work as a nurse, at first with psychotics, then the last ten years in the department for Alcoholics. 2001-2013—Travels. Algeria? No, thanks, no return, I prefer not. Shame. Mother was berber!…I prefer Greece, Crete, my future and last homeland, I hope. And the photos? I am an autodidact. No skill (to kill) (pardon), but rather a ritual with everything I find on my way, everyday. No studio, but always outside. Depressed when thunderstorms. Yes, the Wars. My heroes now? Robert Smithson, Annie Dillard, Goya, Chekhov…

A bientôt.


Editor’s Note: You can follow Abdallah Ben Salem on his Tumblr blog here or friend him on Facebook here.


Eric Foley holds an Honours BA in English and Literary Studies from the University of Toronto and an MFA from Guelph University. He has been a finalist for the Random House Creative Writing Award, the Hart House Literary Contest, and the winner of Geist Magazine and the White Wall Review’s postcard story contests. His writing can be found online at Numéro Cinq and He lives in Toronto and divides his time between his writing and teaching at Humber College

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Editor’s Note: Abdallah Ben Salem is one of those NC readers who have really made the effort to join the community. He friended us on Facebook and then shared many NC posts on his own wall. He “liked” and commented regularly. When a person makes that kind of gesture, NC often reaches back. In this case, the results are spectacular.
Sep 132013


Tonight I’ve Watched

The moon and then
the Pleiades
go down

The night is now
half-gone; youth
goes; I am

In bed alone



Eight a.m. August 13th. I’m sitting outside at a café in Sestriere, a small Alpine town in Piedmont, eighteen kilometers from the French border. The sun shines white at this early hour but the rays are unfettered by clouds or mist. Already the grass on the mountains glows like green flames. The slate in the peaks overhead glints like diamonds. Although chilly at this hour in this 2,000-meter-above-sea-level paradise, soon the temperature will balloon. In the meantime, I zip up my parka.

Down the road, my husband and dog are still asleep at our friend’s place. Further away, on the Ligurian coast, one son visits his friend’s family. In Lombardy, our other son explores the lake district with his girlfriend. Just a few years ago we all vacationed together. Now I’m here at this table, alone, hoping to get some work done. Instead, I reflect on mutability and my reading of the night before.

In her book of collected lectures, Madness, Rack and Honey, Mary Ruefle makes the case that the theme of poetry from all cultures and periods, from Sappho to Wordsworth and beyond, is mutability. In other words, poetry [and by extension, writing], “is about love and death, innocence and experience, praise and lament, the passing of time, appearance and reality, stability and instability; all these marked themes are nothing less—or more—than mutability.” [71] While dissolution and the passage of time are difficult for the imagination to encompass, we have no alternative. As she writes, “mutability offers us no choice at all: we die, it is built into our wiring like those batteries designed for obsolescence.” [72]


I don’t want to be maudlin about mutability while I’m sitting here in this sparkling cleft in this green and blue sphere. I don’t want to think about how my boys have grown and are now off in the world. I don’t want to consider the wrinkle I’ve earned or the fold I’ve gained. I don’t want to recognize that summer dwindles and autumn looms. Nor do I want to ponder the paradox of the mountains themselves: solid yet eroding. I’m late on a translation I’ve contracted to do. I need to think about that.

But while I’m trying to concentrate on translation, a pretty little boy, blond with curls, one who reminds me of my own boys twelve and fourteen years ago comes into focus.

This twenty-first-century cherub looks like he escaped from a Venetian ceiling by Veronese. The boy carries a brioche, a glistening square of focaccia and a pink newspaper—Gazzetta dello Sport—toward a man who sits at a table not far from mine. Juggling three items in his small hands, he bites his lip with the effort. He manages to deliver the brioche and the newspaper to the tabletop but drops the focaccia.

“Ooof,” he says. “Scusa.”

“Che cretino,” I think I hear the man say.  He frowns, picks up the focaccia and blows it off.

The little boy smiles. Because of the smile, I think I’ve misunderstood. Perhaps the father said something like, “che bravino (not a bad job)or “che sciocchino (silly)”. I hope so, at any rate. It never crosses my mind that the boy’s smile is meant as appeasement.

Because of the smile, I can see that the boy has all his baby teeth. I decide he can’t be more than five. I wonder if the boy will be required to fetch their beverages next, but am relieved when instead he climbs into one of the gleaming steel chairs next to the man’s. He seems too young to be charged with fetching hot drinks.

Soon an athletic woman, presumably the boy’s mother, in a hoodie and short velour shorts approaches with a tray. She sets frothy milk in a glass cup in front of the boy, a tumbler of orange juice in front of the man, a steaming teapot in front of an empty seat that she immediately claims. At this hour, the waitress isn’t yet on duty. This is a do-it yourself café in this mountain-top eyrie.


All three sip their drinks. Shade recedes. The climbing sun hits my face. The white light has heated to yellow. I slather on some suntan cream and unzip my parka. I open my computer but instead of working I watch the boy and dream; a reel of images flashes. I imagine how quickly his limbs will lengthen and carry him off. Again I remember Mary Ruefle, who writes that sentimental thoughts “give pleasure—or put a lump in our throats—and they make us think.” [45] So I give in. I let myself consider how his parents will miss him one day. They’ll wonder where the time went. Maybe they’ll remember sitting in these glorious mountains on a beautiful summer morning having breakfast together. I have memories like these.

I shake myself and open my Word file. I’m considering the best translation for the word ‘regret’ when the little boy cries out and I look over.

“That’s mine,” he’s saying, waving his outstretched hands at his mother who is eating the brioche. She takes another bite while the boy hops up and down in his chair. “Mamma, that’s mine!”

“You wanted the focaccia,” she says. “And you dropped it. Now you eat it.” She chews, examining her vivid pink fingernails. Even from where I’m sitting, behind her and over by several yards, I see that they are slick and professional. A slew of bracelets—pastel-colored plastic beads—rattles on one wrist. On the other I spot a gleaming watch—possibly a Rolex. Around her neck is a camouflage-patterned scarf.


Maybe over time, I’ve forgotten just what it was like to mother a voluble young boy. Perhaps this mother’s teaching him to be flexible or not waste food. I want to believe that she has his best interests at heart. But there’s something not quite right. It’s as if the Venetian ceiling I imagined the cherub flew from now has a crack running through it.

“But Mamma.” From where I’m sitting, just a two tables over, I can see his eyes fill with tears.

She takes another bite.

The little boy howls.

In the scheme of sounds it isn’t a loud howl. But the boy’s mother reaches over across the table. I think she pinches him, but I’m not sure. It happens so fast.

His hand flies to his cheek. He whimpers.

“I’m warning you,” says his mother.

“Serves you right,” says his father.

“I want the brioche,” the boy says. “Can’t I have the brioche?”

“Stop it,” the mother says. “Now.” She snaps her fingers under his nose. “One. Two.”

But the little boy still fusses. I really wish he wouldn’t fuss. I don’t like the sound of his mother’s voice. My stomach’s knotted like the sweater I ruined in the wash last week. I’m thinking I should buy the little boy a brioche. What would his parents do if I bought their son a brioche? While I’m trying to decide, the father catches me staring. He frowns. I feel threatened, so I pretend to be engrossed in my computer screen. But I’m listening. The boy still cries. He still wants the brioche. I soon look up. I watch the mother take another bite. I watch her sip her tea. The boy flails his arms.


A woman in a white blouse and dark pants hurries into the café, tying on her apron, brushing past me. My papers rustle in the rush of air. The waitress, late for duty. I’m thinking that when she comes back out here to the terrace, I’ll order a brioche for the boy. But just then the mother stands and reaches over the table. Grabbing her son’s curls, she yanks him out of his chair. She leads him from the café, toward the curb.

“Stupido,” I hear her say. “Deficiente!” Then I hear sharp slaps followed by thicker thuds—either she’s kicking him or spanking him, I can’t quite see—a wall is in the way—and therefore I can’t tell.

“Oh my God,” I cry, leaping up, waving my hands, knocking my computer off the table. “BASTA! BASTA! STOP IT RIGHT NOW!”

This is Italy. Children aren’t usually disciplined like this, especially not in public. Nonetheless spanking is not considered child abuse. But I’m finding she’s overstepped the line. But it looks like I’m the only one here with such an opinion. Two old men at two different tables nearby keep their noses in their papers. A middle-aged couple within hearing distance continues to sip their coffee. No one else pays the slightest attention to the commotion—to the mother spanking, to me yelling. But the father hears me—his head jerks in my direction. I think he looks embarrassed. His mouth twitches. I can’t tell for sure though, because he continues to sit in his seat, stony like the mountains above, his sunglasses reflecting light.


The woman leads the boy back to the table. She has him fast by the ear. He has balled his fists and wipes his eyes.

“Ignorante,” says the man when his wife and son draw near, “stupido.” So he wasn’t embarrassed after all. “You deserved everything you got. Now you eat that focaccia. You hear me? You dumped it on the ground. Not me. Not your mother.”

Hiccuping, the boy sucks on a green pacifier while his mother finishes the brioche.

I gather my computer from the pavement. I’m afraid to see if it works or not. I slip out of my parka and peel off my sweater. I’m sweating.

A pretty brunette in linen pants draws up. The father introduces her to the mother. The three adults talk and laugh about the joys of vacation. Now conversation veers to the kid.

“Why is he crying?” the brunette wants to know.

“He’s terribly spoiled,” the mother says. “He wanted focaccia but then dumped it on the ground so he could have my brioche. He made a terrible scene.”


Meanwhile the boy’s wiping his eyes and is sucking on the pacifier. Snot runs down his face. His eyes are red. He doesn’t remind me of Veronese any more. The brief passage of time has turned him into an urchin from Dickens.

“Isn’t he too old for a pacifier?” asks the brunette.

“He’d drive me crazy without it,” the mother says.

“She’s a saint,” the father says, pointing at his wife.

“Yes, I’m a saint with all I put up with.” The mother laughs.

Soon another woman draws up to their table. Everyone kisses everyone. This woman’s wearing a white lab coat.

The boy’s mother asks, “Hey, do you have something I can give the beast”—she points to her son—“to make him sleep?”

“Ordinarily, I’d say not without a prescription,” says the woman in the lab coat. It appears she’s a pharmacist; perhaps she works at the pharmacy just down the road.

“But since it’s me, you’ll close an eye.” The boy’s mother whispers to the pharmacist, the women look at the boy, then both explode with laughter.

The boy fishes inside a pocket and draws out another pacifier. This one is red. He tries to fit both in his mouth at once.

“TWO pacifiers?” asks the brunette.


The boy’s father shrugs. “He’s only five.” It’s the nicest thing I’ve heard him say about his son. His son thinks so too. He climbs into his father’s lap and threads his legs through his father’s. “I’m cold,” he says. The father zips up his son’s hoodie.

“What a good father,” the brunette says.

The newly genial father rubs his son’s legs. He rips a bite-sized hunk from the focaccia, and feeds it to his son.

“There you go,” says the brunette while the boy chews, “that wasn’t hard was it? You’re a good boy, aren’t you? You got up on the wrong side of the bed, but you’re a good boy.”

“I’ll see about the sleeping drops,” says the pharmacist. She studies the boy, frowning. “But maybe he doesn’t really need them.”

“We ALL need him to have them,” says the mother. Everyone laughs.

My breathing speeds up. I want to tell the brunette and the pharmacist what really happened. I want to tell them that the mother needs medication. But I don’t. They’d all think me crazy. They could sue me for slander. They’d hear my accent and think I was a hysterical foreigner. I am a coward.


I press the on button on my computer. A strange click erupts but the screen lights up. It takes longer than usual to start and I discover I’ve lost the few changes I made to my translation.

I stare at the screen. I can see the boy, his mother and father engaged in bigger battles in ten years. I can see the parents not taking responsibility for anything, blaming their kid, telling him how rotten he is. I wonder about the pacifiers the boy might then use.


I want to be sentimental. I want to tell them. If you screw this up you won’t get a second chance. But as Wordsworth says in his poem, Mutability, they won’t hear me and my “melancholy chime” about change and dissolution.


From low to high doth dissolution climb
And sink from high to low, along a scale
Of awful notes whose concord shall not fail;
A musical but melancholy chime,
Which they can hear who meddle not with crime
Nor avarice, nor over-anxious care.
Truth fails not; but her outward forms that bear
The longest date do melt like frosty rime,
That in the morning whitened hill and plain
And is no more; drop like the tower sublime
Of yesterday, which royally did wear
His crown of weeds, but could not even sustain
Some casual shout that broke the silent air,
Or the unimaginable touch of Time.


Deaf and insensitive to the passage of time, the boy’s parents will see their own towers fall.

A German couple sits at the table behind me. I overhear them speaking English to the waitress. “We love it here,” they’re saying. “So green and sunny. So very friendly. If only we knew Italian better. Our stay would be absolutely perfect.”

I close my eyes. All around me the mountains loom. Soon the grass will wither. Ice will cleave to the hazy blue outlines. Rock will crack. Next summer, the crags will cast a steeper shadow.



—Natalia Sarkissian

— — — — — — — — — — — — —

Natalia Sarkissian has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been an editor and contributor at Numéro Cinq since 2010. Natalia divides her time between Italy and the United States.







Sep 042013

0 Valentin TrukhanenkoValentin Trukhanenko

Herewith a lovely, lively, astonishing, revelatory photo essay by the Russian photographer Valentin Trukhanenko. We have these images courtesy of Russell Working who curated and introduced the post as an accompaniment to his terrific essay “The Roommate: Vladivostok and the Ghost of Mandelstam” also published in this issue. The two pieces for a diptych, wonderful to have.


Vladivostok is so distant from Moscow, when Anton Chekhov visited in 1890, he decided to return by ship via the Suez Canal rather than face the 6,000 mile journey home on land.

Yet today it is largely ethnic Russian, a European city in a region flanked by China, North Korea, and the Sea of Japan. It is linked to the heart of the country by the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The homes are largely Soviet-style prefab concrete, and Russian traditions endure—such as children taking flowers to the teacher on the first day of school. Stalin saw to it that the Asian minority was exiled to Kazakhstan and elsewhere in Soviet Central Asia, but some have returned in recent years.

While Russia has had a Pacific outpost in Okhotsk since 1639, the port of Vladivostok –“Rule the East”—was only founded in 1860. The city’s main bay, Zolotoi Rog or Golden Horn, was named for its similarity to the Turkish waterway.

Throughout the Soviet era, Vladivostok was closed to foreigners, yet its citizens had black market access to jeans and rock ’n’ roll tapes thanks to sailors who traveled abroad. My mother-in-law even read a copy of Orwell’s 1984 that had found its way into the city in the 1970s. A friend lent it to her overnight.

—Russell Working

01 Zolotoi Rog Funicular


Founded in 1860 on the site of an indigenous fishing village, Vladivostok’s Zolotoi Rog (Golden Horn) Bay is Russia’s largest Pacific seaport. It was closed to foreigners throughout the Soviet era. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


02 Monument to Soviet Fighters in FE


A Monument to Soviet Fighters in the Far East, who captured the city in 1922, dominates the central square. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


03 Market carrots


A woman sells vegetables at a Saturday market in the central square. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


04 Market abacus


Traders still use abacuses to tally their sales. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


05 Dacha


A woman works in her dacha, a plot of land and, sometimes, a rough cottage where Russians escape on the weekends. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


06 Beach Kids


Children enjoy the beach on a warm day. Although Vladivostok lies at roughly the latitude of Marseilles, France, the continental climate makes summers brief. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


07 Devushki


Women sunbathe and sip beer on a beach on along the Sea of Japan. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


08 Back to School


Children dress up and bring flowers for their teacher on the first day of school. © 2012 Valentin Trukhanenko


09 Japanese


A Russian sailor talks to Japanese women on Pologaya Street in prerevolutionary times. Stalin exiled tens of thousands of Vladivostok’s Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese to Kazakhstan and elsewhere in Central Asia.




Doughboys from the American Expeditionary Force Siberia joined Japanese, French, British, and Canadian troops in occupying Vladivostok in 1918 during the chaos of the Russian Civil War. One major goal was to aid 40,000 Czechoslovakian soldiers—allies of the Western powers—who had become stranded by the Revolution and were fighting their way east along the Trans-Siberian Railroad.


11 Lenin


A monument to Lenin still stands near the train station downtown. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


12 Cold Cop


A traffic cop braves a blizzard. Winter temperatures drop to minus 35 Fahrenheit. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


13 Hot water pipes


Central boiler houses heat water, which is then pumped aboveground to apartment buildings and offices. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


14 Clearing snow


Firefighters and other city workers clear snow on a bitter day. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


15 Climbing over the ice-1


A woman scales a mound of snow in downtown Vladivostok. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


16 Ice Fishermen


Bundled up for the cold, ice fisherman wait for a bite on Amursky Bay off the Sea of Japan. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


17 Ice Fisherman Solo


An ice fisherman drops his line behind a nylon shelter out on Amursky Bay. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


18 Sub in ice


A Russian submarine docked in the winter slush. Vladivostok is home to Russia’s Pacific Fleet. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


19 New Church


The Bolsheviks destroyed many of Vladivostok’s churches and Buddhist temples, in the post-Soviet era new ones have taken the place of some. © 2013 Valentin Trukhanenko


— photos by Valentin Trukhanenko & captions by Russell Working


Valentin Trukhanenko was born 1947 in the Tver region of central Russia, north of Moscow. A retired Russian Navy captain, first rank, he is a photographer with the newspaper Dalnivostochnye Vedomosti. He has been a laureate and participant in Russian and international photography exhibitions. His work has appeared internationally in Reuters, AP, the San Francisco ChronicleThe Japan Times, and other newspapers and magazines. Trukhanenko was named the best sports photographer in Russia’s far eastern Primorye region for three straight years, starting in 2005.

Russell Working is a journalist and short story writer whose work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, The TriQuarterly Review, Zoetrope: All-Story, and dozens of other newspapers and magazines around the world. He is the author of two collections of short fiction: The Irish Martyr (University of Notre Dame Press) and Resurrectionists (University of Iowa Press). He lives in suburban Chicago and is a writer/editor at Ragan Communications, which publishes PR Daily. He lived for five years in Vladivostok, Russia. He and his wife, Nonna, have two sons.


Jun 032013


“You should choose the finest day of the month and have yourself rowed far away across the lagoon….”

Henry James, Italian Hours, 1909



It’s five a.m. in Milan and my alarm rings. Outside I hear rain beating on my windows. I mute the clock and sling a leg out of bed. I’m going to Venice on the 6:30 train even though the entire Italian peninsula sloshes like an overflowing bathtub.

I stumble for the shower—some hot water to wake me up. And then for the espresso maker. Soon I’m ready and out the door. Dark clouds spit raindrops like shrill warnings. The wind upends my umbrella.

On the train, map open, I review my Venetian attack. So many have been to Venice, photographed Venice, written about Venice—from Michel de Montaigne to Byron and Dickens and Browning and Ruskin and Henry James and Mark Twain and Hemingway (and many in between and afterward) and I’m following in their footsteps.



Cà d’Oro — “A noble pile of very quaint Gothic, once superb in general effect.”

John Ruskin, Stones of Venice.



Santa Maria della Salute — “…the grace of the whole building being chiefly dependent on the inequality of size in its cupolas, and pretty grouping of the two campaniles behind them….”

—John Ruskin, Stones of Venice.


Today I’m on the trail of Henry James and John Ruskin. Both men loved Venice and visited it often. Ruskin documented his passion for the city in several tomes, most notably the Stones of Venice, a three-volume best-seller when it was published mid-century (1851-1853). In the later part of the 19th century, James wrote a series of essays for journals about his stays in Venice (as well as other Italian cities) which were compiled into the 1909 Italian Hours.

I plan to take pictures of the palaces and churches and squares both men loved as well as those they abhorred, and accompany the photos with their words. I locate the Cà d’Oro, a palazzo Ruskin liked, and circle it on the map for easy reference later. I find Santa Maria Formosa, a church whose architectural flights disgusted him, and circle that too. And I star the location of the Ducal Palace, a building both men loved. I plan to chug along the Grand Canal in a vaporetto, not an elegant vessel, but serviceable and cheap when compared to the eternally classic gondola. From a perch in the prow I’ll take photos. I’ll have more than ten hours; I arrive in Venice at 9:30 am and my return won’t be until 7:50 pm. With so much time at my disposal I’ll be sure to get my shots right. And while I’m shooting, I’ll spend a marvelous day like others I’ve spent in the city. I’ll revel in the light, the merging of sea and sky, the shining domes, the golden lions glinting from columns, from lintels, from façades.

Although. From the sound of the reverb on the roof of the train—fortissimo like Ligeti’s The Devil’s Staircase—the rain doesn’t seem to be abating. And we’re in Padua with just one more stop to Venice. But I won’t worry yet. A lot can happen in a few kilometers. And no doubt the rain won’t hold too long in Venice. After all, this is the city that James said was mutable “like a nervous woman whom you know only when you know all aspects of her beauty. She has high spirits or low, she is pale or red, grey or pink, cold or warm, fresh or wan….” [Italian Hours.]  So if flighty, changeable Venice starts out wet, she’ll soon turn dry. Right?

Just as I’m quitting the train station the storm worsens. I fling myself onto a vaporetto for cover without paying attention to which one. And so, instead of threading through the Grand Canal that snakes through the city’s protective embankments like I planned, the boat I’m on veers wide, toward the wind-tossed sea. Waves soon blast over the bow. Water drums in at a slant. My hair is soaking but at least my camera’s (relatively) dry; I thought to wrap it in a plastic shopping bag before leaving the train.


Like an ungainly walrus, the boat plows onward through the swell, past the fish market, some cranes, a garbage vessel. It carves a leftward swathe in the green sea near smokestacks, circles the city’s outskirts and finally, approaches those genteel structures that have entranced visitors for centuries. I spot the onion-shaped outlines of St. Mark’s five domes, off in the soggy distance. No inimitable views in my viewfinder quite yet, but as soon as I’m in the vicinity I’ll nab some. That is, rain permitting. Right now it’s lashing those of us foolhardy enough to stand in the prow. I see that droplets now splotch my lens; I need to clean it, pronto, but have nothing dry at hand.



The Ducal Palace — “the central building of the world….”

— John Ruskin, Stones of Venice


The boat rounds the Isola della Giudecca. St. Mark’s Basin churns with waves and whizzing motor boats. There I spot the mouth of the Grand Canal, gaping like a toothy eel. There’s Santa Maria della Salute with her stately steps, a large white pearl gleaming in the mist. And San Giorgio Maggiore with its Palladian façade and soaring campanile, a gushing brick and marble proclamation. And on the opposite shore, the Ducal Palace, Ruskin’s model of all perfection in architecture, “the central building of the world.” [Ruskin, Stones of Venice] But I’m not immortalizing anything with my camera yet. I’ve got the water-splotched lens twisted off and, in spite of the downpour, am switching it for one that’s clean.



View of the Piazzetta — “We pass into the Piazzetta to look down the great 
throat, as it were, of Venice …”

—Henry James, The Grand Canal


When the boat stops at San Zaccaria, not far from St. Mark’s, I hop off and flick my umbrella open. I navigate slick alleys to the Campo Bandiera e Moro where I find the Palazzo Badoer, “a magnificent example of 14th century Gothic, circa 1310-1320, anterior to the Ducal Palace showing beautiful ranges of the fifth-order window….” [Ruskin, Stones of Venice].



A magnificent example of 14th-century Gothic…. 

—John Ruskin, Stones of Venice.



But a tour group stands between me and my picture. Like me, they were caught ill-prepared for the weather and have bought bright raincoats from a street vendor. Unfortunately their plastic wrappings seem to keep them dry because they continue to stand listening to their guide with rapt attention. While I wait I find myself agreeing with James who wrote: “The
 sentimental tourist’s sole quarrel with his Venice is that he has 
too many competitors there. He likes to be alone; to be original; 
to have (to himself, at least) the air of making discoveries. The
 Venice of to-day is a vast museum where the little wicket that 
admits you is perpetually turning and creaking, and you march 
through the institution with a herd of fellow-gazers.”  (Italian Hours).



Riva degli Schiavoni — [From his rooms here] “the waterside life, the wondrous lagoon spread before me…”

—Henry James, Italian Hours.


Then I head down the glistening Riva degli Schiavoni toward the center of the universe—the Ducal Palace and St. Mark’s. As I go, my shoes squelch—not rainproof after all—and my coat flaps like wet wash on the line. My camera’s dry inside my shirt but then, in a rush of air, my umbrella flips its underbelly and entrails up. Flapping, I grab at the nylon and wrench it down but not before I douse myself.


Dripping, I decide to abandon my plan—at least temporarily—of tracing Ruskin’s and James’s footsteps through the city. Under the loggia ringing the Palazzo Ducale, I merge with a horde of fellow Venice-gazers standing in line for the Manet exhibition: a way to stay dry and warm. No photographs are allowed of the interiors of the sumptuous rooms of the Ducal Palace themselves, but the courtyard is fair game.



Courtyard view — “Within the square formed by the building is seen its interior court (with one of its wells)….”

—John Ruskin, Stones of Venice.




A dome and pinnacles of St. Mark’s from the Ducal Palace courtyard — “All European architecture, bad and good, old and new, is derived from Greece through Rome, and coloured and perfected from the East. The history of architecture is nothing but the tracing of the various modes and directions of this derivation.”

—John Ruskin, Stones of Venice.


After an elbow-to-elbow tour of the small show and a bit of yellowed mozzarella and wilted lettuce in the teeming cafeteria, three hours later I emerge into St. Mark’s Square. The rain has stopped. With the reprieve from the wet grimness of the morning, a charge of excitement pulses through the crowd outside, a jumped up beat, verging on hysteria. And I see that many of the hooting visitors are stripping themselves of their shoes. Because now the square is filling with the sea.



St. Mark’s lion and St. Theodore atop columns in the Piazzetta — “Whether St. Mark was first bishop of Aquileia or not, St. Theodore was the first patron of the city; nor can he yet be considered as having entirely abdicated his early right as his statue, standing on a crocodile, still companions the winged lion on the opposing pillar of the piazzetta.”

—John Ruskin, Stones of Venice.



Wind whips water over the embankment fronting the lagoon. Water bubbles up from holes in paving stones. I dodge the deepening rivulets, looking for higher ground while people around me dance and splash in the greening stuff that smells like rotting mackerel.

It starts to rain again. On the raised platform of the Library, under the loggia there, I find refuge from the flood. Protected by the arcade that’s higher than the level of the water, I skirt around one side of the square marveling at the show of people prancing through the water. And when I’ve had my fill, an hour later, I decide to catch that vaporetto I’d missed in the morning. I’ll go back to my original plan and take photos of palazzi along the Grand Canal. But there’s no way off the Library’s plinth. It has turned into an island. Rising water maroons me.



View with the Pillars of the Piazzetta — “The two magnificent blocks of marble … [that] form one of the principal ornaments of the Piazzetta, are Greek sculpture of the sixth century.”

—John Ruskin, Stones of Venice.



A shopkeeper in a fancy jewelry store says the water will still keep rising. “Forecasts vary,” she says, “but we could get another 10 or 20 centimeters.” I can’t tell if she’s serious. She tells me to take my shoes off, roll up my pants and brave it. “This is nothing. In November the water rose to my waist,” she says, scoffing. “Bidet level,” she adds, batting her waist with her palm.

But I don’t want to wade through stinky deluge even if it is only ankle-deep. The water’s cold too. I’m cold. I want my boots. Why didn’t I wear my boots?


“Where can I buy some cheap rain boots?” I ask.

“I told you,” she says, rolling her eyes. “We’re cut off. Cheap boots are at the Rialto. And the way to the Rialto is flooded.”



Florian’s café — “I sat in front of Florian’s café, eating ices, listening to music…. The traveler will remember how the immense cluster of tables and chairs stretches like a promontory …. The whole place … under the stars and with all the lamps, all the voices and light footsteps on marble … is like an open-air saloon.”

— Henry James, Italian Hours.



I wander away, wondering what I should do. At Florian’s—where James and Hemingway and who knows who else once sat—I pause to listen to a quartet under a white canopy play the Titanic theme song. The bandleader has a sense of humor. I linger, reading the menu but nix a warming cup of cappuccino (over $10) as too expensive. Traipsing on, I watch people wade through water that is now over their ankles. The shopkeeper was right. The water’s still coming in. I’ll never get off my island unless I take my shoes off.


But then I overhear a couple in new blue boots telling another couple with plastic bags tied around their feet that a boot sellers is a stone’s throw away. “Round the square,” they say, “cut through that glass shop at the end of the arcade. Go out the back door,” they say. “The alley beyond was still dry moments ago.” They stick their feet out so that their boots can be admired. “Only 12 Euros each.”

Having listened to their directions, I dash off—ahead of the bag-clad duo.


I find the glass shop. The owner frowns as I cut through to the back door and out into the alley behind. The alley’s puddling, but still traversable. It flanks a canal. In the canal water is rising. And in the canal there’s a gondola jam—gondoliers clog a passage under a bridge racing to bring tourists and boats back in. But they must lean and tilt their craft: 40 degrees, 50 degrees, 60 degrees. They risk spilling occupants and belongings. Tourists on board scream with glee, as if they are at a museum-cum-amusement park, which, as James noted over 100 years ago, they are. And I suddenly realize that for most of the day most of the gondolas have stayed lashed at their moorings; only the audacious have been out and about.

Leaving the stream of paddling boatmen, rounding the corner, I find the store with blue boots in the window. The price has gone up to 16 Euros. I stand in line, and, when it’s my turn I pay the extra without complaint. I’m just glad they have my size.

Newly booted, I splash to the embarcadero where I wait for my vaporetto. When the boat comes, I check my watch. It’s almost 7 pm. The hours have slipped by too fast. I’ll have time for just a one-way ride down the Grand Canal and a few shots of some of the palaces and churches I set out early this morning to admire.

The Grand Canal


The Grand Canal – “The noble waterway that begins in its glory at the Salute and ends in its abasement at the railway station.”

—Henry James, Italian Hours.


I sink into a wet seat—it’s sprinkling. I think how this day’s touring of the city has been different from others I’ve spent. Drenched in Venice by Venice.  Inundated. With James and Ruskin for company.

The boat groans forward. Foam flies over the bow. We leave Santa Maria della Salute behind and wind our way down the Grand Canal. Beautiful old palaces rise up, their lacy windows turning luminous with evening lights. Venice always inundates I think as we surge past. One way or another.



Palazzo Pisani Moretta — “[the] capitals of the first-floor windows are … singularly spirited and graceful, very daringly undercut, and worth careful examination….”

—John Ruskin, Stones of Venice.




Palazzo Contarini delle Figure — “I must warn [the traveler] to observe most carefully the peculiar feebleness and want of soul in the conception of their ornament which mark them as belonging to a period of decline….”

—John Ruskin, Stones of Venice.


I spy a Renaissance building with fanciful decoration coming up–the Palazzo Contarini delle Figure.  I hoist my camera and click.


I would endeavour to trace the lines of this image before it be for ever lost, and to record as far as I may, the warning which seems to me to be uttered by every one of the fast-gaining waves, that beat, like passing bells, against the stones of Venice.

— John Ruskin, Stones of Venice

There is nothing new to be said 
about Venice certainly [.…]  I write these lines with the full consciousness of having 
no information whatever to offer. I do not pretend to enlighten 
the reader; I pretend only to give a fillip to his memory [of Venice]; and I
 hold any writer sufficiently justified who is himself in love 
with his theme.”  

Henry James, Italian Hours.


—Natalia Sarkissian


Natalia Sarkissian has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been an editor and contributor at Numéro Cinq since 2010. Natalia divides her time between Italy and the United States.

Accademia bridge




Apr 142013

Richard Jackson

Poems and images intertwine in Richard Jackson’s “Soundings,” a series of nature photographs juxtaposed with the superb poems they inspired, the photographs themselves iconic, metaphorical and mysterious. The human and the natural intersect at the level of form when the poet spies a dilapidated chair in the forest, a cluster of roots resembling tank traps. A bee becomes a soul and a gap between facing cliffs looks like, well, a gap and the gap is violent, a pile of shell casings. Images and poems project a moral grid onto the cluttered world, they compose a judgement and a puzzle.

This is what Jonah had to learn, that it is
all loneliness, all forgiveness, all gathering
from the puzzling depths he carried within him.

Richard Jackson is a peripatetic poet and translator, an admired colleague at Vermont College of Fine Arts where we both teach, a good man to travel with and a profoundly engaged human being. He has published poems, translations and essays on NC before and it’s a pleasure to have him back.


Soundings photo by Richard Jackson



What we know deeply we know for such
short time before it appears again, distant and foreign.
Where do our words go once they are spoken?
The whale sheaths itself and leaves behind a footprint
of oil.  The sea gathers the setting light of the sky.
At some point, the sea becomes the sky.
This is what Jonah had to learn, that it is
all loneliness, all forgiveness, all gathering
from the puzzling depths he carried within him.
Above, a gull dives into a cloud. An invisible
plane leaves a vapor trail the wind bends. There is
a kind of truth we only see when we close our eyes.


Butterflies photo by Richard Jackson



All the energy collected by Radio Telescopes since
they started is only equal to the energy of a butterfly
landing on a flower. Which is to say how little we know
about what is in our own solar system, or ourselves.
In fact, Pluto’s orbit is so irregular we don’t know where
it will appear next. Which is how, I suppose, you have
landed here in this sentence and, like gravity, have begun
to shift the focus. Maybe that’s why I think of Newton,
who, poisoned by Mercury from his alchemy experiments,
couldn’t remember where he put his proofs for elliptical
orbits. There’s no reality without its proof, Halley had argued
years before the comet was named for him. The energy
it takes to remember is the energy it takes to love,
the saying goes, taking so little, as those butterflies know,
to flutter and fly off because there is no formula, and
because love is stronger than the proofs we remember for it.


Chair by Richard Jackson



The story begins with the muffled hum of bees you can’t see
as they circle a nest in the cushions. It begins with their sound
that folds the air into bolts of cloth. It begins with the whine
of the truck half a mile away on the nearest road. It begins
when we live in the absent sounds of someone else’s dreams.
They have gone where they had to go. The sunlight strikes
where it wants to go. There was never any money to stuff into
the cushions. The felled trees have their own stories but are
of no interest here. The path to the next clearing has not been
told yet. Pascal was right, there is no center or circumference.
The bees are souls. The bees wander off. The story begins there.


Tank Traps Richard Jackson


Ljubljana, Slovenia, 1992

Someone is watching from the window across the square.
There are Nightbirds complaining as they maneuver
And dive between the lights. We could drink the darkness.
Those aren’t child’s jacks or crosses as they seemed from afar.
Below us, a Roman city smirks about what we’ll never know.
South of here the souls of the dead disguise themselves as
Clouds to escape the militia. Each day is another trap.
Our words are blemishes on the truth. Every heart is crossed out.
The darkness provokes a few whispers.  Everywhere we look
Something crosses our path. We can’t see the lovers yet,
About to cross from the right. We can’t see the child
Crossing out what he’s just written. There are no halos
On the streetlights. These designs imprison us. The sky
leans down. If we aren’t careful we’ll cross out the world.

Rock Bird  Richard Jackson



No wonder the first people here believed we came from stone.
What these birds were waiting for was the day we would return.
The lizards wrap themselves in light. The wind whispers into
the ear of the sky. The shadows have a purpose we’ll never
decipher. Nevertheless, these birds invite us to speak to them.
At night these rocks will be iced with light. The question
they would answer is why they left the air. They are no longer
surprised by what we have tried to carve into history.
Sometimes our words hold an idea for a few moments before
the sand claims it. The mind shivers at this thought. Reality
seems like a provocation. Nevertheless, these birds, they are
silent to say whatever has been wearing us down, carving us
into shapes we could never imagine, never refuse to believe.


Fog Richard Jackson



Crows and Elephants watch over their dead and mourn.
How strange to come back now to that sentence, weeks
later. It’s almost time to leave. Every sound is louder
in the fog. My watch strains to go backwards. Shadows whisper
where no shadows could be. An echo of the moon strays
out of the last ruins of darkness. Yes, the two men in the boat
about to become fog are real. So, too, the dreams that are
lost among the fallen trees that scratch the shoreline.
Last night, the stars on the water were trap doors. The crows
with their charred wings are complaining to a hawk.  It’s time
to pack up  the sunsets the dawns and move on. There’s our dog
sniffing below this window who knows everything else we can’t see.


.Not Said Richard Jackson



Gravity happens to the lens. Words squint but
it doesn’t help. I want the mailman to deliver
another story. Instead there are only the homeless
men washing the windshield for a quarter. Why
does love seem stuffed in the trunk? This is not
a calculus problem.  The bridge from here
to there hasn’t been delivered. Empty bullet
casings litter the scene. No one is ever a witness.
The heart sags. My footprints forget me.
I don’t think anything will ever be the same.
This is the edge of the cliff and you can’t move,
can’t jump. Everything is vertical. With binoculars
you can see where you’ll be in an hour. Raindrops
collect on the lens. A fine mist. It hides us.
It drifts into clocks. Gravity presses your hands.
Some hurts never get said. Some get smuggled.

—Richard Jackson


Richard Jackson is the author of ten books of poems, most recently Resonance (Ashland Poetry Press, 2010) which won the 2012 Eric Hoffer Award), Half Lives: Petrarchan Poems (Autumn House, 2004) Unauthorized Autobiography: New and Selected Poems (Ashland Poetry Press, 2003), Heartwall (UMass, 2000 Juniper Prize), Svetovi Narazen (Slovenia, 2001), a limited edition small press book, Falling Stars: A Collection of Monologues (Flagpond Press, 2002), Richard Jackson: Greatest Hits (2004), and several chapbooks of translations. He has edited two anthologies of Slovene poetry: The Fire Under the Moon and Double Vision: Four Slovenian Poets (Aleph, ’93) and edits an eastern European Chap book series, Poetry Miscellany and mala revija. He is also the author of a book of criticism, Dismantling Time in Contemporary American Poetry (Agee Prize), and Acts of Mind: Interviews With Contemporary American Poets (Choice Award). His several dozen essays and reviews have appeared in Georgia Review, Verse, Contemporary Literature, Boundary 2, Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Numéro Cinq and numerous other journals, as well as anthologies such as The Planet on the Table: Writers Reading (2003) and John Ashbery (ed. Harold Bloom, 2004). In addition, he has written introductions to books of poems by four different Slovene Poets for various presses, and a special Slovene issue of Hunger Mountain (2003). He edited a special 50-page section of Poetry International (2004) on William Matthews with an introductory essay. In 2000 he was awarded the Order of Freedom Medal for literary and humanitarian work in the Balkans by the President of Slovenia. He has received Guggenheim, NEA, NEH, Witter-Bynner and Fulbright Fellowships, and five Pushcart Prizes.His new poetry collection, Out of Place, will be published by Ashland Poetry Press in 2014.

Mar 112013

Gordon Lishgordon lish ©bill hayward

I’ve known bill hayward since 1993 when Gordon Lish had him take my author photo for The Life and Times of Captain N. Gordon depended on bill for a lot of his author photos and also his own jacket photos. And bill has kindly given permission for us to run a selection. The photo above is from bill hayward’s 2000 book of author/artist portraits Bad Behavior, a gorgeous collection, unique in the method bill chose to situation his subjects: he set them up in his studio with a giant roll of white paper and a bucket of black paint and various brushes and charged them to create their own scene. The results were spectacular as you can see from this image of Gordon Lish before the page: a double image, the author, wearing an out-sized Stetson, back and front and shadowed, first examining his own work and then facing the viewer/camera, somewhat diminutive in relation to his hat and his own work. The three portraits below are more conventional, the patrician Lish, the authoritative Lish, craggy and mythic, larger than life and every detail emblematic.

And beneath, Lish’s own words, in full cry, as it were. His introduction to bill hayward’s 1989 collection of images Bill Hayward.


gordon lish ©bill hayward

Gordon Lish photo by Bill Haywardgordon lish ©bill hayward

 Gordon Lish photo by Bill Haywardgordon lish ©bill hayward

Gordon Lish’s Introduction to bill hayward’s 1989 book of images Bill Hayward

Come on, let’s face it, it’s tits and ass, right?

I mean, when it comes to sticking a camera in front of or—heh, heh—in back of: the good old nakedy naked bod, pal, I, for one, would like for you to show me how in Hades you think you are going to beat the rap of—ah, God, who’s kidding who?—of tits and ass, right?

Oh yeah, sure, I suppose you could go get real cute on us and stick your lens up on the ceiling or get it sneaked on down there from up under a floor which you went and made them make for you out of glass—but let’s get serious, okay?

Like, you bet, I, the looker, I, the eye, I, the lens, am—right, right—not ever going to go instantly anyway hunting down there and up there for the tits and ass as, er, well, as sort of let’s say distantly, terrifically, charmingly, discoverable fauna way on out there back behind the quaint but cunningly, dismissible topography of, um, the tops of the shoulders—or, uh, the bottoms of, yeah, the feet.

(Sure, sure, and when were the fucking feet ever like flat, you know?)

Make your fakes.

Meanwhile, we will — didn’t you always just know it, you devil, you? —just keep on checking the text for tits and ass. And, hey—Christ, yes! —for dicks, too.

Oh, but leave us not consider that there is always this other deal you always see—all the oopsie-poopsie bullshit evasions where the camera is going out of its fucking mind in some crazy, vicious song-and-dance aimed at the politics of giving the categories a quick shuffle and of knocking your brains out to punish some poor, helpless, arbitrary annexed zone of us (but, forget it, never really of just us but always only of a Jack La Lane-y species of us) into a dune, or maybe into an abyss, but anyway into a cruel, moronic geography via the pornography of partition, of amputation, of part.

I am talking about the stupid fascism of the fragment, the mute physics of the super-superficient!


So this is the scene, those are the unbridgeable terms, these are the relentless players.

But now enter Bill Hayward. I mean enter Bill Hayward! Infernal machine in hand. Well, whatever he really has in hand—heart? Whereas—agreed, agreed—people are people and here they are, all of them waiting for him—buck-naked.

Not easy, right?

But I said: Enter, goddamnit, Bill Hayward.

Now go ahead, start turning pages—and see for yourself what a fucking artist can do when it comes to doing the unfucking impossible.

Gordon Lish: Introduction to Bill Hayward (Paglia Press, 1989)
bill hayward lives and works in new york city and montana.
bill hayward ©bill hayward
Mar 022013


It’s the Sunday before Lent and I’m in Ivrea, a small town in Piedmont, at the foot of the Alps. The forecast predicts snow from Siberia, but right now the sun staves off the chill that I know will deepen with sunset. I stomp my feet while standing on frosty cobblestones waiting to buy a red jersey cap. Although flimsy, it will serve as a badge to show I’m a sympathetic bystander and protect me. In half an hour the streets will run red with the juice of tons of Calabrian blood oranges. Thousands of townspeople, divided into teams, will hurl fruit at each other, commemorating liberation—legend has it—from a medieval tyrant. This is the Battle of the Oranges, a three-day fight that takes place every year during Carnival. It starts on Sunday and terminates on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and I’m here to take photographs from the front lines.


According to the legend, in the Middle Ages, when a beautiful miller’s daughter—Violetta—married, a tyrannical lord insisted on exercising his right to spend the first night with her (le droit du seigneur). She gave him so much to drink that he passed out beforehand. Then she chopped off his head, the local populace rose to her defense and tore down the tyrant’s castle.

This act of rebellion is reenacted centuries later by the bare-headed populace (on foot) which battles the helmeted and armored tyrant’s supporters (on horse-drawn carts). They wage a sticky war through the various piazze and streets of town. At the end of the three days of combat, officials declare the winners of the battle. And during lulls in the fighting, a band plays, men, women and children in silken and golden costume parade through town and a Violetta stand-in rides a horse-drawn carriage through the fruity, fragrant mess, distributing candy and flowers.


Ivrea’s curious carnival celebration has evolved through the centuries. The battle with citrus as ammunition is a newer development, the origins of which are murky, but historians have dated its beginnings to the mid-nineteenth century. The fruit symbolizes sticks, stones and arrows; but while less deadly, oranges propelled with force still draw blood.


Hence this lightweight red hat—a stocking cap—which I’ve now bought and am wearing. It’s a Phrygian cap, modeled on the headgear that inhabitants of Phrygia (Anatolia) wore in antiquity. It came to be associated with liberty in the Western regions of the Roman Empire and many centuries later French revolutionaries adopted it. During the reign of Terror, French moderates wore this “bonnet rouge” to advertise their sympathy with the new regime.

And, in the United States, some revolutionary soldiers wore knitted red stocking caps and images of Liberty often included a Phrygian cap. (See: French National Symbols.)

In Rip Van Winkle (1820) for example, Washington Irving describes Rip’s great surprise upon awakening in post-Revolutionary war America with red cap imagery:

“Instead of the great tree that used to shelter the quiet, little Dutch inn of yore there was now reared a tall, naked pole with something on the top that looked like a red night-cap and from it was fluttering a flag on which was a singular assemblage of stars and stripes.”


(Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle, Philadelphia: David McKay Company, 1921, p. 56. Pictures and Decorations by N.C. Wyeth.)

Red-capped, camera poised, I’m in good company here, on this old bridge over an icy tributary to the Po River. I’m waiting for the oranges to begin flying. Hundreds of us revolutionary sympathizers jostle each other expectantly, vying for a good spot from which to take pictures. The battle is scheduled to begin at 2 pm and it’s already 2:08. A tv journalist from Norway knocks into me with her plastic-swathed equipment and my camera clatters against the cobblestones, the lens jarring loose. Her bodyguard, a burly local hired to shield her literally with his body from oranges while she shoots, apologizes. No problem, I say, biting my lip. Next to these professionals I feel exposed and unprepared. What if I get orange juice on my equipment? When I ask if they have any extra plastic, the bodyguard hands me a Carrefour supermarket bag. I rip a hole in an end and swaddle my camera with it.


Someone blows a whistle. A group intones words from Ivrea’s traditional carnival song:

“Once upon a time,
A cruel baron
With the rope and the stick
Up at his lair, the castle,
Laughing weirdly
Devoured us, meat and bones ….”

And on the bridge in front, men and boys in kilts and green jackets from the Tuchini di Borghetto faction stuff oranges into cloth shoulder bags. They hop with excitement. Around the bend, behind me, warriors in carts drawn by skittish horses, don their terrifying, football-like helmets.


The first cart surges forward, its black horses whinnying. Oranges sail and thump against the foot soldiers’ upturned faces and, in response, against the helmets of the adversaries above on the cart. Pulp flies through the air when oranges split. Rivulets of red run. The fighters pound each other, their zeal increasing, their accuracy decreasing. The Norwegian lady huddles under the big man she has hired to protect her from errant missiles, her lens peeping out from under his arm. I step away from them, out of the crowd to take a clear shot. Juice splatters when I’m hit in the head—right on my bright red Liberty cap—by a ricocheting orange. This badge offers no protection against the wildly spinning oranges. While I’m reeling, another slams my camera and the lens jars loose again. I struggle to put pieces back together, but oranges bounce off the pavement into my legs and arms. Fun and picturesque? Maybe, I think. But red cap or not, this reenactment hurts.


I step back from the fray into a doorway. I peel off the sticky Carrefour bag and fiddle with the camera. The digital circuitry seems out of whack. I turn the camera off and on, thinking of a Florentine Carnival song, Blessed Spirit (ca. 1513), by Niccolò Machiavelli, the author of The Prince:

Raise then, your weapons high
Against a cruel foe;
But to your own, bring healing remedy.
Lay down that old hostility
Fostered between you since long, long ago.

(Niccolò Machiavelli, Blessed Spirit. Revised Translation by Robert Adams. W.W. Norton & Company, 1992)

Since the Renaissance, carnival celebrations, this version in particular, are about contrast. I came here because I wanted to witness this spectacle, this bloody dramatization of fighting between polar opposites through which reconciliation can be reached. But I didn’t mean to ruin my equipment while doing it.

I stop at a bar and order an espresso. Still fiddling with the camera, I breathe a sigh of relief when the green and red LED lights turn back on.

I follow the show at a distance, down through the narrow passageways of the Borghetto. Then I wind up through other battle-filled squares and streets. Carpeted with peels and pulp, the cobblestones slide under my feet. The battered town reeks of bruised citrus that is already souring.


At the end of the gauntlet, on the loop heading back toward the bridge, combatants put aside their oranges for a few minutes. Men and women on the carts take off their helmets, lean down and shake hands with their adversaries, declaring a momentary truce before they circle around to battle again. A boy’s nose bleeds. A girl massages her shoulder. I mop my face and wipe my camera. And a man, on a cart I’ve photographed, maybe even one of the helmeted men I’ve photographed, quietly has a heart attack. He’s taken to the hospital where later—at age 35—he’s pronounced dead.


But I don’t know this quite yet. I’ll find out when I get home and listen to the news. Right now, while the sun sinks westward and the evening mist rolls in, I’m still red-hatted if damp with the blood-red juice of Calabrian oranges. The battle has started up again and I’m marveling at Ivrea’s rowdy pageantry that for me today continues to unfold.

–Natalia Sarkissian–Natalia Sarkissian


Natalia Sarkissian has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been an editor and contributor at Numéro Cinq since 2010. Natalia divides her time between Italy and the United States.


Jan 052013


On the roof of Milan’s Duomo amidst the spires and gargoyles and saints and angels, it’s noon on a late fall day and I’m here shooting. The sun shines over the city that spreads out like a bristling blanket; new skyscrapers and old bell towers puncture the worn brick and stone fabric of the town. At the edges, the Alps gleam, snowy in the distance. Above, the cathedral glows white against the sky. And all around me, friendly Romanian tourists in black jackets and thigh-high boots jostle, vying for vantage points from which to take pictures. They elbow in, admiring, snapping and clicking. Another group—this time from China—bursts from the stairs. Chattering and hopping about like hungry little sparrows, they freeze the landscape and their trip with hundreds of shots.




I retreat from the crush, thinking of Shelley and Tennyson and Henry James and Mark Twain who traveled here, part of their century’s onslaught: the privileged class that toured Italy, its monuments and museums serving as a finishing school. They climbed here too. Equally ecstatic but without cameras, armed with pens. They wrote letters to friends and poems for periodicals and chapters in books praising the Duomo. And of a different opinion, John Ruskin and Oscar Wilde came. They hated what they saw; their words were scathing.



On the rib of the roof, in the sun but with a brisk breeze stirring, I think of their descriptions and train my lens back on the cathedral, to see what they once saw.



At last, a forest of graceful needles, shimmering in the amber sunlight, rose slowly above the pygmy housetops, as one sometimes sees, in the far horizon, a gilded and pinnacled mass of cloud lift itself above the waste of waves, at sea—the Cathedral! We knew it in a moment.

Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, 1869



This cathedral is a most astonishing work of art. It is built of white marble, and cut into pinnacles of immense height, and the utmost delicacy of workmanship, and loaded with sculpture. The effect of it, piercing the solid blue with those groups of dazzling spires, relieved by the serene depth of this Italian heaven, or by moonlight when the stars seem gathered among those clustered shapes, is beyond any thing I had imagined architecture capable of producing.

PB Shelley, letter to TLP Esquire, 1818





We wished to go aloft. The sacristan showed us a marble stairway and told us to go up one hundred and eighty-two steps…. We were tired by the time we got there. This was the roof. Here, springing from its broad marble flagstones, were the long files of spires, looking very tall close at hand, but diminishing in the distance like the pipes of an organ. We could see now that the statue on the top of each was the size of a large man, though they all looked like dolls from the street. We could see, also, that from the inside of each and every one of these hollow spires, from sixteen to thirty-one beautiful marble statues looked out upon the world below.

Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, 1869



………………………………….I climb’d the roofs at break of day;
………………………………….Sun-smitten Alps before me lay.
………………………………….I stood among the silent statues,
………………………………….And statued pinnacles, mute as they.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Daisy,” 1851



Every face is eloquent with expression, and every attitude is full of grace. Away above, on the lofty roof, rank on rank of carved and fretted spires spring high in the air, and through their rich tracery one sees the sky beyond. In their midst the central steeple towers proudly up like the mainmast of some great Indiaman among a fleet of coasters.

Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, 1869




The cathedral is a mixture of Perpendicular with  Flamboyant, the latter being peculiarly barbarous and angular, owing to its being engrafted, not on a pure, but a very early penetrative Gothic … The rest of the architecture among which this curious Flamboyant is set is a Perpendicular with horizontal bars across: and with the most detestable crocketing, utterly vile. Not a ray of invention in a single form… Finally the statues all over are of the worst possible common stonemasons’ yard species, and look pinned on for show. The only redeeming character about the whole being the frequent use of the sharp gable … which gives lightness, and the crowding of the spiry pinnacles into the sky.”

John Ruskin, Notebooks, October 17, 1849


The Cathedral is an awful failure. Outside the design is monstrous and inartistic. The over-elaborated details stuck high up where no one can see them; everything is vile in it; it is, however, imposing and gigantic as a failure, through its great size and elaborate execution.

Oscar Wilde, letter to his mother, 1875


While I study the roof, the Romanians finish taking pictures and sun themselves, propped against pinnacles. An hour or so later, they get up and file down the stairs, off perhaps to go Christmas shopping at Rinascente department store across the way. I follow them down but enter the cathedral to take pictures of the interior for this essay. Today’s strong sunlight blazing through the stained glass windows has set the somber interior burning.




The interior, though very sublime, is of a more earthly character, and with its stained glass and massy granite columns overloaded with antique figures, and the silver lamps, that burn forever under the canopy of black cloth beside the brazen altar and the marble fretwork of the dome, give it the aspect of some gorgeous sepulchre. There is one solitary spot among those aisles, behind the altar, where the light of day is dim and yellow under the storied window, which I have chosen to visit, and read Dante there.

PB Shelley, letter to TLP Esquire, 1869


The guide showed us a coffee-colored piece of sculpture…. The figure was that of a man without a skin; with every vein, artery, muscle, every fiber and tendon and tissue of the human frame represented in minute detail. It was a hideous thing, and yet there was a fascination about it some where. I am very sorry I saw it, because I shall always see it now. I shall dream of it sometimes. I shall dream that it is resting its corded arms on the bed’s head and looking down on me with its dead eyes; I shall dream that it is stretched between the sheets with me and touching me with its exposed muscles and its stringy cold legs.

Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, 1869



St. Charles Borromeus lies at his eternal rest in a small but gorgeous sepulchral chapel…and for the modest sum of five francs you may have his shrivelled mortality unveiled and gaze at it with whatever reserves occur to you….  The black mummified corpse of the saint is stretched out in a glass coffin, clad in his mouldering canonicals, mitred, crosiered and gloved, glittering with votive jewels. It is an extraordinary mixture of death and life; the desiccated clay, the ashen rags, the hideous little black mask and skull, and the living, glowing, twinkling splendour of diamonds, emeralds and sapphires.

Henry James,  “A European Summer, VI.”  The Nation, Nov. 21, 1872.


They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter’s at Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands.

Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, 1869


As I
 strolled beside its vast indented base one evening, and felt it,
 above me, rear its grey mysteries into the starlight while the 
restless human tide on which I floated rose no higher than the 
first few layers of street-soiled marble, I was tempted to 
believe that beauty in great architecture is almost a secondary
 merit, and that the main point is mass–such mass as may make it 
a supreme embodiment of vigorous effort. Viewed in this way a
 great building is the greatest conceivable work of art. More than 
any other it represents difficulties mastered, resources
 combined, labour, courage and patience. 

 Henry James,  “A European Summer, VI.” The Nation, Nov. 21, 1872.



At the Duomo, I’ve lost track of time. When I finally squeeze onto the metro I realize I’m going to be late picking up my son to take him to the dentist, but strangely, down here in this dark tunnel, I don’t feel pressured. Words and images of the Duomo swirl in front of me and I’m uplifted.

 ––Natalia Sarkissian


Natalia Sarkissian has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been an editor and contributor at Numéro Cinq since 2010. Natalia divides her time between Italy and the United States.


Dec 022012

Herewith stunning and mysteriously timeless photos of the Vermont College of Fine Arts green, College Hall, and Alumni Hall, caught with a smartphone camera by John Solaperto who renders the familiar strange and other-worldly, out of time. He doesn’t just snap a photograph; he completely alters our perception not only by the common techniques of framing and point of view but also by his canny and original use of black-and-white and a photo app that makes new things look old. As John aptly points out, the photos look like they date from the 1920s, but they were taken last winter. I don’t know — this stuff knocks me out; I love how art twists the neurons in my brain, and these photos do that. And, frankly, I just warm to a real, down to earth photographer who doesn’t make a fetish out of gear and renders the world beautiful with whatever comes to hand.

John is an old friend from many a VCFA residency. Some of you know him as an amiable, intense, helpful presence at lectures and public occasions. It’s a pleasure to discover his art.



There’s an adage among photographers that “your best camera is the one you have with you.” My experience with the camera on my smart phone over the past two or three years has really driven that home for me. I’ve limited myself to only two camera apps, but there are dozens available.

I’m particularly taken with one called Hipstamatic, which lets me choose a lens and film combination that produces a black and white image with enough pixels that I can make a decent inkjet print at approximately 6”x6”.

The configuration with which I’m shooting produces an image in a square format. The camera is set up so I can’t see the entire scene in my viewfinder. Such a configuration adds an element of chance that I like. It’s an image capture process reminiscent of the plastic cameras popular in the 1980s and 90s that used 2”x2” black and white film. One must make a lot of images to get something usable in terms of content, tone, and sharpness. This particular series of images has a rather specific target audience, namely those associated and familiar with the Vermont College of Fine Arts community. I’d like to think, however, that they also have the potential to engage a wider audience of viewers in visual narratives more specific to the context of their personal life experiences.

The two images of skaters at ground level were shot late in the day on a rather cold Sunday afternoon in late winter. They were chosen from nearly 200 exposures, made as I walked around the rink on the college green. Besides the action of the figures, the photo has a certain quality of light that I find engaging. College Hall, functioning as a backdrop, adds to the nostalgic, period quality of these images. They look as though they could have just as easily been captured in 1912.

The aerial images of skaters were shot a few days later from a second floor window of College Hall. I was aware of the figures but thought of them as secondary to the composition of the other elements of the scene, i.e. the flag, sky, tree, and light post. As it turned out, the interaction of the figures with each other provides an even stronger visual interest  than the interaction of the figure with the other compositional elements. As a photographer, I feel that the image of the child with outstretched arms was an especially wonderful gift.

The aerial shot devoid of figures is included here as related to, but not really part of, the “skater series.” It was shot from the highest window I could reach in College Hall. While speaking with a colleague, I noticed the long, thin cloud or patch of fog moving rather quickly from south to north, just below the horizon. My colleague very graciously allowed me to open her office window to shoot. Of the 30 or so exposures I made to get this image, most had some part of College Hall’s architecture intruding into the composition. The one included here does not.

The night image of College Hall is an experiment in pushing the limits of available light. I think that the overall quality of light in the image, the footprints in the snow, and the diagonal motion created between the Christmas lights on the portion of the lamp post along the left edge of the image and the face in the clock tower, as well as the light in the doorway below the tower and the lamp post that lines up with the window in the center of the image, all work together to form a strong composition. The overall effect is eerie but pleasing.

All of these images represent the study of alternating patterns of light and dark tonalities. They’ve been edited with software, but not in a manner that is inconsistent with traditional dark room practice, i.e. I have made just basic tonal adjustments in all photos, and in some cases, I’ve done a lot of dodging & burning.

—John Solaperto


John Solaperto is a digital photographer and vocalist from Worcester, MA. He currently lives and works in Worcester, MA with his daughter and two grandsons. He is the Learning Resource Manager for the Applied Arts Program at Quinsigamond Community College and teaches Digital Photography in an adjunct capacity, evenings and online. He also spends approximately 12 weeks a year in Montpelier, VT serving as a media coordinator for Vermont College of Fine Arts’ two MFA in Writing programs and its Visual Arts program. He has an undergraduate degree from Clark University’s Studio Art Program (1993) and an MFA from VCFA’s MFA-V program (1995).


Oct 082012


Flowerpot Rocks, Hopewell, New Brunswick, low tide


Home of the highest tides in the world, a billion tons of water ebb and flow in the Bay of Fundy. Located along the East Coast of North America, north of the Gulf of Maine and between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the Bay of Fundy is one of Canada’s seven natural wonders and in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Bay’s unique funnel shape together with the pull of the sun and the moon cause resonance so that at the head of the bay, in Minas Basin, Nova Scotia, the water at high tide can rise as much as 53.5 feet.



The world’s highest tides continue to sculpt red sandstone. At Hopewell Rocks (north of St. John, New Brunswick), tourists clamber over the sea floor at low tide. Later, when waters surge back, reclaiming exposed rock and mud flats and seaweed beds, canoes exploit the currents while water-gazers climb on platforms to avoid being stranded or carried off.



Watergazers, watching





Alma, New Brunswick, low tide


In ports—such as at Alma, New Brunswick—boats lean against docks, waiting for the tide to come in, before heading out to check lobster traps.


Alma, New Brunswick, 6 hours later


When the incoming tide crashes into the St. John River at St. John, New Brunswick, it creates raging whirlpools and rapids. At high tide, the power of the water actually reverses the flow of the river. Kayakers and boaters here brave the surge.


St. John River, New Brunswick



While the vertical tides have made the Bay of Fundy famous, horizontal tides are also spectacular. At low tide, more than 620 square miles of ocean floor stretch exposed to the atmosphere. Every beach on the Bay of Fundy bares a substantial intertidal area where millions of organisms live half the day underwater and the other half revealed; they have adapted to the extremes of temperature and salinity (Randall, D., Burggren, W. and French, K. Animal Physiology: Mechanisms and Adaptations, 3rd ed. W.H. Freeman and Co. New York, 1998–Source here).


Alma, New Brunswick, low tide


Alma, New Brunswick, high tide


Upper Salmon River, Alma, New Brunswick, low tide


Upper Salmon River, Alma, New Brunswick, high tide


The greatest intertidal expanses lie in the North; scientists have identified these tracts of muck and mire as “food pumps.” The power of the water that rushes back and forth stirs up nutrients—phytoplankton and zooplankton—feeding the creatures that inhabit the Bay. (Smith, R.L. and Smith, T.M. Elements of Ecology, 4th ed. Benjamin – Cummings Publishing Co. Menlo Park, Ca.1998. Source here.).



Puffins breed on nearby islands. Flocks of sandpipers circle the exposed sea floor and then swoop in, concluding their 900-mile flight from Arctic breeding grounds with a feast. They gorge for two weeks on the Bay’s mud shrimp, doubling their weight before setting off on a 2500-mile non-stop migration to their winter grounds in South America, which they will complete in a little over three days (Thurston, H. and Horner, S. Tidal Life. Nimbus. Toronto. 1998. Source here.)


Northern Gannet


Approximately two million birds of all species stop here annually; this is the single most important stopover point for migratory birds on the Eastern seaboard. Other inhabitants include whales, seals, dolphins, porpoises, and all types of fish and crustaceans.



Boats slip through the fog, trailing these creatures; the lashed and lashing motion of the Bay of Fundy transfixes the water-gazer and invigorates the adventurer—who like Bulkington in Melville’s Moby Dick—finds that “in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God.”



–Natalia Sarkissian



Natalia Sarkissian has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been an editor at Numéro Cinq since 2010. Natalia divides her time between Italy, Egypt, the United States, and South Africa.

Oct 032012

A good photographer makes the world look different; good photography is not just a matter of reflecting what’s there — it’s a matter of perspective, taste, emotion, framing and rendering the world so that the viewer sees it fresh. In the best of his pictures, Roger Crowley makes myth of Montpelier, Vermont, makes it grand and spectacular, makes it look like no other place on earth. We all know Roger, without knowing him, because he’s there at every Vermont College of Fine Arts residency taking the graduating class photo. Now we get to know him a little better.



Alley between the Coffee Corner Diner and Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vermont.

Snowy barn doors in Montpelier Vermont.

First Night Fireworks Downtown Montpelier Vermont.

A decaying poster on a brick wall reflects shadows of a band in Montpelier Vermont on July 3rd 2012.

American flag in Montpelier Vermont – July 3rd Parade 2012.

College Hall at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier Vermont.

College Hall from Cliff Street in Montpelier Vermont.

Bob Sassaman takes a noontime slide down a hill in Hubbard Park, Montpelier, Vermont during his lunch break.

— Roger Crowley


Roger Crowley is a freelance photographer living in East Montpelier, Vermont. He specializes in images of New England and Eastern Canada, sports, nature, landscape and portraits. His pictures have appeared in major magazines and newspapers as well as online publications. See more images at

Jun 212012

Neighbors, Cape Town


Last Easter I traveled with my two sons to visit the fourth member of our nuclear family—my husband, their father—who has been assigned responsibility for his company’s Jo’burg office. It was our first trip. On the plane—a night flight—we wondered as we flew south over the sleeping continent. What unexpected things would we find in a place where constellations are unfamiliar, the seasons switched, foods like springbok and biltong grace menus, man-eating sharks cruise bays, penguins waddle along beaches and townships still teem and thrive?

This is a first answer.

–Natalia Sarkissian


Soweto, Johannesburg


Below Table Mountain, Cape Town


Near Regina Mundi, Johannesburg


Art on the Green, Cape Town


Art in Soweto, Johannesburg


Hill, Cape Town


Near the Abandoned Gold Mines, Johannesburg


Safari, Gauteng Province


Penguin Safari, Western Cape


Guarded Compound, Johannesburg


Houses of Landudno Beach, Cape Peninsula


Girl, Pretoria


Girls, Soweto


Ladies at the Zoo, Pretoria


Girl, Landudno Beach


Family, Landudno


Monument to the 1976 Uprising, Soweto


Mandela’s Prison, Robben Island, Cape Town


Apartheid Museum, Gold Rush City




Cape Point


Near Sandton, Gauteng Province


Cape of Good Hope


–Natalia Sarkissian


Natalia Sarkissian has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been a contributing editor at Numéro Cinq since 2010.

May 232012

Here are some luscious photographs of Paris, not your tourist Paris, but the Paris streets, and not just the Paris streets but a selection of photos that are in many ways a homage to the history of Parisian street photography, that is, photographs with a particularity, an edge, derived from history and impersonation. These are from the Montreal poet/novelist Mark Lavorato (see his poem in the last issue) who started taking pictures as a moment of research for a new novel. He impersonated a 1920s Parisian street photographer who would be a character in his book, and, Lo! he became a photographer himself.



I was researching my third novel, Burning-In (forthcoming), in which one of my characters is a photographer in the 1920s. What I soon learned in my research is that the art of street photography came before the advent of photojournalism. This was astounding to me; that the art aspect of photography came well before its utility.

I picked up a camera and took to the streets to learn about how my protagonist would feel as a street photographer, and I found that, surprisingly, it was me, and not my protagonist, who was doing all the feeling. So I dove into street photography with all the fascination and intensity of someone discovering a new and rich medium.

— Mark Lavorato



— Mark Lavorato


Mark Lavorato is the author of three novels, VeracityBelieving Cedric, and the forthcoming Burning-In. His first collection of poetry, Wayworn Wooden Floors, had just been published. One of the poems from that book was published in a previous issue of Numéro Cinq. Mark lives in Montreal and is currently seeking galleries to exhibit his work.


Aug 252011

Dan Wilcox is an Albany, New York, poet, photographer and social activist. That’s him in the photo above (with the sign) at a pro-union rally in February. This the second set of author photos Dan Wilcox has published on Numéro Cinq (see the first flight here). The Arts Center of the Capital District will have an exhibit “From the World’s Largest Collection of Photos of Unknown Poets” by Dan Wilcox from September 10 thru October 15. The exhibit, all black & white prints from film, will include photos of Albany poets Tom Nattell, Mary Panza, & others, as well as Allen Ginsberg, William Kennedy, Anne Waldman & Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The Arts Center is at 265 River St. in Troy, NY, should any of you happen to be in the vicinity.

Dan has just released a new chapbook called Poeming the Prompt using poems he wrote last November in response to the Poem-a-Day challenge on Writer’s Digest Poetic Asides Blog. This little book, including his “Top Tips for Anxiety-Free Writing from Prompts,” is published by Dan’s own imprint, A.P.D. (albany’s poetic device, another pleasant day, another poeming day, etc.). He is the host of the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center in Albany and a member of the poetry performance group “3 Guys from Albany.” He has been a featured reader at all the important poetry venues in the Capital District & throughout the Hudson Valley and is an active member of Veterans for Peace. His poems have been published in Out of the Catskills, Post Traumatic Press 2007, Chronogram, Poetica and in numerous small press journals and anthologies, on the internet, as broadsides & in self-published chapbooks.t, A.P.D. (albany’s poetic device, another pleasant day, etc.). .


Jean Valentine, Jayne Cortez, Gary Soto, Amiri Baraka, Ed Sanders & More

Photos by Dan Wilcox


Jean Valentine, with Edward Schwarzchild & Tomas Urayoan Noel, New York State Writers Institute, Albany, NY  — November, 2010


Jayne Cortez with Denardo Coleman, Sanctuary for Independent Media, Troy, NY  — October, 2010

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Aug 032011


Line Up

Tahrir Square, August 2011

Photographs by Natalia Sarkissian

Since the last time I wrote about Egypt after the Revolution, just a month ago, the atmosphere has changed. The military police are back in Tahrir Square after several recent protests became violent. Tanks have once again been deployed. And in the side streets, vans and more police sit, at the ready. It’s Ramadan, and according to local newspapers, “this year it will be more political than previous ones.”

Today, August 3, history is being made. Today Hosni Mubarak has been flown in from Sharm el Sheikh. His trial is set to begin. Today, armed with my camera and accompanied by my driver and my husband, I went to Tahrir Square. In addition to the police, we found others there, like us, gathering, waiting. Wondering what is to be.


Bridge over the Nile at dawn


On our way with Mohammed

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Jul 132011


The Sky is Red at Bordeaux: Photographs

by Natalia Sarkissian


At sunset, the sky shines red over Bordeaux, the city and its châteaux.


Right Bank


In the afternoon, the sun gleams golden.



Planes fill with wine-drenched tourists from Japan and China—just off the bus from château-touring and Bordeaux-tasting, on their way home via Paris. The cabin fills with their boozy breath. They snooze and dream of arrivals and beginnings and tastings, not of endings and leaving. Their heads bob gently, right, left, then against their headrests as the plane flies off.


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Jun 212011


Selling Tea on the Nile


Egypt After the Revolution, Part II:

Photographs by Natalia Sarkissian




I’ve just returned from a second trip to Cairo. In the two months since my last visit, the mood  has noticeably lightened. This time, I found no tanks patrolling Tahrir Square; the military had disappeared. Instead, the police force was back on duty. Protests were staged, but these were tiny and orderly. While dissatisfaction with the lack of a significant overhaul exists, for the most part, Egyptians keep it in check. They are waiting for the elections in September. They’re hopeful that with a new President, a new direction will be charted. And, in the meantime, they’re living.


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Jun 022011


Way back in February, I posted a series of whirlpool photographs made by husband, Steven David Johnson.  His obsession with whirlpools hasn’t ceased; only deepened.  Recently he purchased a wet suit (zipped into it, he closely resembles a superhero) and underwater camera in order to film whirlpools from beneath the surface.   He’s created a visual meditation on nature’s instability, layering his video imagery of a small whirlpool in the Shenandoah River’s North Fork over a soundtrack of “All Tremors Cease” by an artist named Erin Dingle (who kindly licensed her work through Creative Commons).  The resulting video meditation is dedicated to the victims of 2011’s natural disasters.



There’s something profound about two artists, a videographer and musician, who are unknown to one another, yet are able to collaborate in this very new media format, responding aesthetically to the recent disasters that have have affected our world.  We human beings (artists, musicians, whirlpool-watchers) are in this together.


—post text by Anna Maria Johnson, video by Steven David Johnson, music by Erin Dingle

Jun 022011

Something self-indulgent about dg publishing these lovely Nicole Dixon photos because they reference a brooding, romantic, Heathcliff streak in him, the part of him that likes the idea of climbing Signal Hill in St. John’s, staring into the fog, and knowing there is nothing between the rock he’s standing on and Europe to the east except the vast, surging, very cold Atlantic. (Just behind you is Deadman’s Pond and just in front of you is Cuckold’s Cove—they have a way with names in Newfoundland.) There is also something satisfyingly uterine about St. John’s Harbour—ships go in and out through a narrow passage called, um, The Narrows (which you can see at the bottom of Signal Hill) while the harbour itself is, well, it all looks like an anatomy diagram dg remembers from when he was 12. DG has many writer friends in St. John’s who sometimes call him up late at night from the bars. It is also the home of the Burning Rock writing collective, an amazingly vibrant literary community with the best name ever. (Sometimes it seems St. John’s must have more writers per capita than any other place in the world.) On a personal note (as if talking about anatomy diagrams wasn’t personal enough), dg’s mother was stationed in St. John’s as a radio operator with the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. He has photographs of her marching through the streets as part of the VE-Day celebrations (also pictures of the massive victory party after). She used to like to go out to Cape Spear, just south of St. John’s and the eastern-most tip of North American, and look out into the Atlantic, too.

Nicole Dixon is an estimable fiction writer, with a first story collection coming out next year (see bio below). She  took these photos on a recent trip to St. John’s to attend the Atlantic Provinces Library Association conference, where she co-presented a paper on Sea Stacks (, a web-resource she built to promote and disseminate information about Atlantic Canadian authors and books for children and teens. Much appreciated.




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May 012011

NC has a whole hybrid art theme, understated but insistent—Nance Van Winckel’s photoems, graffiti art, Domenic Stansberry’s graphic novel, and Nance’s off-the-page workshop video. We also like our art seasoned with a dash of wit and arrogance. So on this slow, droll Sunday, NC offers for your delectation a spritely, deadly comic photo essay by photographer Melissa Fisher who recently spent an afternoon in Whitehall, NY, (where the United States Navy was founded, mysteriously far from any ocean front, and a place noted for its Big Foot sightings—there is a Big Foot Liquor Store). Melissa has, in fact, a lot of affection for Whitehall where once she says, her car broke down and the local mechanic was sweet and persistently helpful as was the guy at the Sunoco station where she got a slice of pizza. She also, being from Vermont, has an affection for the backwoods, forgotten places, vestiges of older times, and the quirky things you find when you get off the main street. Whitehall proved to be a goldmine of comic signage, poignant in its juxtaposition with a kind of upstate economic decline. Her work has been published in Vermont Life and Hunger Mountain, and she has had an exhibition at After Image Studio in Montpelier.



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Apr 282011


Dear Nick and Chris:

Fuzz from the poplar sticks to the windshield of our Ford. In the courtyard of our building, the birch bursts with pollen and I sneeze when hanging out sheets to dry on our balcony. The sky glows, the days lengthen, you both grow long and lean. A strange time, perhaps, to write you about Christmas, but your father’s gone, and writing this to you fills the hole he’s left.

You’re at an age where you’re interested. You’ve asked how a twenty-year-old man from Siena and a nineteen-year-old art history student from New York met. As an answer I’m writing you about the Christmas of 1977, the first Christmas the two spent together. A bizarre Christmas, with the young woman shut in a monastery—not unlike poor Pia de’ Tolomei in TheDivine Comedy (whom I’ll tell you about later)—while the young man came and went when curfew lifted. In a strange way that Christmas echoes the challenges facing us this spring. We’re here, stuck in Milan, going to school. Your father’s off to Egypt, making a living, returning on short monthly visits.

But you were both born in an advanced age. So before you read about Christmas consider:

In 1977, Siena was a different place from the one you find now. Thirty-odd years ago, no exhaust-belching tour busses clogged the narrow roads. No umbrella-toting guides led tourists up steep Medieval streets. No greasy clouds of McDonald’s fried air hovered in narrow passageways. Back in those days vegetables and fish were sold in the Piazza del Campo. Souvenir shops were few. Iran hadn’t happened. Frost still hobbled relations with Russia. The Red Brigades had assassinated several public figures but were still plotting the murder of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro. In the Siena of that time, Americans were considered an exotic breed from a futuristic, hedonistic place. In that place your mother, me—one of the supposedly advanced, wanton Americans— in 1977 met an Italian on a cobblestoned street near a Renaissance fortress and found that love in a foreign language and culture is anything but easy.

The girl you’ll find in the following collage seems very young, her choice of fancy words an effort to hide a naïveté that today seems antiquated but then was typical of her age and her background. You might find it hard to believe she’s your mother, just a couple years older than you are now.

Reading, reminiscing, reflecting on how conflict was resolved. That’s why history matters. But you know that. Your teachers at school have already told you.

I’m enclosing sixteen excerpts from a journal and class assignments together with old snapshots and this letter:


1. The semester is over! Three months have flown by. Segments of time have been consumed yet the waxing moon grows whole again.

Christmas is almost here. Classmates are packing their bags, getting ready to go home and back to their previous lives across the ocean. I’ll miss Elisabeth and Brian, but gloat when considering Rachel’s departure. No more competition from her re: Mauro. I long to say, “I’m staying…you’re going,” but curb the urge. The semester has flown by with an alacrity that’s impossible to comprehend. At the end of the next short term, I will be in her position.

2. During the Christmas holidays, while the Ticci family (my hosts when school’s in session) suns on the beaches of Sicily, I’ll retire to a monastery and embark on a trip to the 13th century and the contemplative life. On Thursday I’ll be locked away behind big iron gates.

The monastic solution to the holidays was Mauro’s idea and I agreed because it’s quite economical to rent a monk’s cell—information my guidebooks neglected to tell me. So while the Ticcis are gone, I’ll pay a pittance to stay at Monastero Ventoso, on the outskirts of Siena.

The Padre Superiore has given me a room by the main entrance. Reserved for stray visitors, it boasts two twin beds—iron bedsteads with old-fashioned mattresses stuffed with wool—a night table with an iron lamp, a high window, a crucifix, a cherry wardrobe, a small desk. A print of the Madonna hangs over the desk.

Don’t get the wrong idea. The Padre has no hotel business on the side. When we met he stressed his convent is a place of prayer and meditation. He said I mustn’t be a disruptive influence. I promised not to disrupt anything. But permission was granted only when Mauro’s parents, well-known members of the parish, vouched for me. I was surprised they went to such lengths considering their feelings for me, the son-stealing American; Mauro said it was nothing, his father made a short phone call.

The Padre will stretch curfew past the usual hour of 8:00 p.m. to allow me to eat dinner elsewhere. At 10:00 p.m. sharp the gates will be locked. If I’m late, I’m out. The gate will be unlocked again at 7 a.m.

Honor and virtue; silence, solitude and prayers; curfews and gates heavily clanging shut. These are the themes I have confronted so far in arranging my new lodgings. Fierce and monumental. Worthy of the Middle Ages. Worthy of Pia de’ Tolomei, the 13th century Sienese noblewoman who perished while locked up in her husband’s castle.


2. Dressed up in Christmas finery, Siena bewitches. In Via Montanini two hundred Christmas trees flaunt their red ribbons. The Banchi di Sopra glitters with garlands of green fir and gold pine cones. The Via di Città leading up to the Duomo shimmers with candles and blinking lights. Under these gaudy displays, shop windows—lavishly arrayed in seasonal glitter—beckon. They persuade wallets into emptying their contents for last-minute purchases. I spent too much on gifts for Mauro’s family and now have to wire Mom for more cash.


3. I transferred my belongings from the Ticci’s to the monastery with Mauro’s help. Then it was on to Mauro’s home for lunch. I brought his mother a bunch of exuberant pink lilies that had been steamed open in a greenhouse in the hills behind San Remo.

His family, unlike the lilies, acted formal and stiff. Mauro’s mother took the flowers and smiled, but only with the bottom half of her face. His father, after a quick “bon giorno,” disappeared into the far reaches of their home. His grandmother, a small wrinkled lady, frowned when I tried to shake her hand, disapproving of my presence at lunch. Mauro said afterward that back in her day, women needed an engagement ring on their finger before they could meet a young man’s family.

At the table we made conversation:

“So, Mauro, your friend isn’t going home for Christmas?” his mother asked in rapid Italian, figuring I wouldn’t understand.

“I have another semester to go and the fare’s expensive.” I said, answering for myself.

I could have told her I’d had an invitation to go Paris to visit an uncle—expenses paid by the uncle—but decided to stay in Siena because of her son. Instead, I decided not to fan the flames of her dislike and said nothing.

When wine had melted some of the frost in the atmosphere, between the two meat courses of fagiano and cinghiale  (pheasant and wild boar that the head of the family had shot), Mauro’s father told me of his hobby. He opened his weapons cabinet behind the dining room table and showed me his hunting rifles, bullets and knives. Then he took me down the hall to see his boar’s head wall trophy.

Hunting, blood-letting—his favorite past-time. His eyes shone when he told me he especially enjoys hunting wild boar. The dogs, the chase, the kill.

4. It’s lonely in this monastery. And cold. Since curfew I’ve shivered in this bed with the lumpy mattress and thin blankets, reading melancholy stories of Pia de’ Tolomei, the noblewoman Dante relegated to Purgatory in the Divine Comedy. Apparently accused of infidelity and confined to a remote spot in the swamplands of Maremma by her husband, she languished and died there almost 700 years ago.

Like Pia I don’t see anyone, I don’t hear anyone. The monks live in a different section; I’m exiled to the wing near the head office where matters such as interviews with female boarders are conducted.

Tonight the howling of the wind keeps me company.

At least Pia had a maid.

La Pia de’ Tolomei, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

5. On tiptoes, in my flannel nightgown with the lace around the neck, I peer out the tiny window over my bed.

The wind has ceased moaning and groaning and whipping past corners. No lone moto, no car, no pedestrian sputters or clips through the night. No one but me sees that the heavens glow with a majestic full moon that dispels, with its brilliance, the shadows of the sleeping town waiting for Christmas to arrive.

Cypress trees block much of my view but I imagine Siena quietly spread over the hills south of me. Close by are several brick high-rises built in the 60’s. Far off, toward the centro storico stand the black-and-white-striped bell-tower at the Duomo, the brick-and-marble Torre del Mangia in the Piazza del Campo, and the red bell-tower at San Domenico. Three far-off friends.

As I sink down to the mattress I wonder. How many Christmases did Pia linger at her solitary window before she succumbed to loneliness?

This monastery. Pia’s story. Mauro’s hostile parents. They’re casting a pall on the joy of this season.

Snow at the Duomo

6. Today, Christmas, Mauro gave me a small gold ring with a red stone and a card with a sonnet by Pascoli in impossible Italian. Then he said we were fidanzati but that we wouldn’t mention it to anyone right now. They wouldn’t understand. I agreed, but wished he’d stand up to his parents and tell them how he feels about me instead of keeping it a secret.

I gave Mauro a glossy book of New York City with photographs taken by famous photographers of the last twenty years.

He’s never been out of Italy.

He flipped through the photos not speaking. Then he slapped the book shut, coughed and squeezed my hand and said he’d like to visit me in New York some day.

I coughed too and retied the lace on my boot so he couldn’t see my face.

I don’t want to think about leaving. I don’t want to think about impossible visits in New York some day.

When I bought the book, it seemed perfect. Now I wish I’d given him something else.

7. Mauro and I went to visit the Palazzo de’ Tolomei this morning and study it. I’m writing an essay over the holidays for Italian culture class.

Affixed to the side of the austere building hung a small plaque, high up, engraved with two somber, melancholy lines from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy:

Ricorditi di me, che son la Pia:
Siena mi fè; disfecemi Maremma:
Purg. V 133-134

(Remember me who am La Pia; me
Siena, me Maremma, made, unmade….
translation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti)

I’d admired the Tolomei Palace innumerable times, but the building had seemed just another beautiful remnant of Siena’s illustrious past. Now that I’d been reading about one of its inhabitants, it had acquired significance. As I stared up at the diamond-paned windows on the piano nobile with Pia’s sad words echoing round the piazza, I wondered. Pia had been “made” here. She’d been born and grew up within this edifice’s aristocratic walls. Once she had looked out over the square where I was standing. But how and why she’d been “unmade” in Maremma was a mystery that had attracted attention throughout the centuries and would likely never be solved.

In addition to the two lines reproduced on the plaque, Dante writes just two more lines about Pia. In them he alludes to who is responsible for her death: her husband, Nello Pannocchieschi.

salsi colui che ‘nnanellata pria
disposando m’avea con la sua gemma
Purg. V 135-136

(…This in his inmost heart well knoweth
he With whose fair jewel I was ringed and wed ….)

But Dante doesn’t explain why or how Pia dies and what Nello’s role is. No late 13th-century historical records to clear the matter. For centuries scholars have disagreed as to the nature of Pia’s sins. That Dante considered her a sinner up until the very last minute when she repented (but without receiving last rites) thereby saving herself from hell and the Inferno is clear, otherwise she wouldn’t be in Purgatorio. But was she an adulteress? Or was she guilty of some other crime? And was she thrown from a window in a castle in Maremma on Nello’s orders, who some say wanted to marry someone else? Or did she die of illness and solitude?

When I asked his opinion Mauro said he thought she’d cheated, gotten caught, said she was sorry but her husband rightly turned a deaf ear. Instead, I preferred the line of reasoning of one of the most popular legends. According to this version of events, Pia’s husband shut her up in his castle in Maremma because an associate—whose advances Pia had rejected—told Nello she’d been unfaithful but gave false evidence to back the charge. Locked away in swampy, mosquito-ridden Maremma marshlands, Pia got sick with malaria. In the meantime, Nello discovered the lie, returned to release her but instead arrived in time for her funeral.

“I don’t want to finish in the same way,” I said after giving Mauro my opinion. “Expiring on the outskirts of Siena.”

“I knew this Pia trip was going to end up back at the monastery,” he said, frowning. “I thought I was doing you a favor keeping you safe at night.”

Safe at night? Since when was safety in Siena an issue? And then I understood. He didn’t trust me.

“It’s not you I don’t trust,” he said when I asked.  “It’s the men here. This is Italy. You’re American.”

I’m a twentieth-century Pia. And Mauro? He’s a twentieth-century Nello Pannocchieschi.

8. I spent the early morning writing in my cell. My neck was stiff after a bad night in the bumpy bed.

At ten thirty weak sunshine and a watery blue sky beckoned. I put down my pen, stretched, grabbed my coat and began a tour of the gardens.

To one side of the main building stood leafless trees, un-pruned hydrangea bushes replete with last summer’s flowers (though now brown and stiff), a potted lemon tree swathed in plastic to keep it warm on cold nights. I picked a dried rosebud from another bush in need of care.

“Signorina, what are you doing?” asked a voice from behind. I turned. It was the Padre. He frowned at the dead flower in my hand.“This area is off limits. Didn’t I tell you this already? You must stay along the gravel drive to the front gate.”

“But what’s wrong with a little walk? I’ll be quiet.”

“The brothers are in the vegetable garden. You must not disturb them. And please don’t pick anything else.”

“But, it’s dead,” I said.

“It’s not your place to say or to pick,” he said.

Pia de’ Tolomei, by Stefano Ussi

9. Signora Rossi makes wonderful meals every time I’ve been invited.

“I’m sorry if she feels obligated to extra fuss,” I said to Mauro.

“No,” he said. “She can’t help it. It’s her way when we have company.”

Today’s lunch menu consisted of the following:

crostini misti (paté and prosciutto hors d’oeuvres)
gnocchi alla romana  (au gratin dumplings made of semolina wheat),
coniglio e gobbi fritti  (fried rabbit and gobbi—a celery-look-alike from the artichoke family),
crostata all’albicocca (homemade apricot jelly tart),
panforte, panettone and pandoro (Christmas cakes),
ricciarelli  and cavallucci  (Christmas cookies),
espresso caffé,

“I always cook like this, doesn’t everybody?” she replied when I complimented her skill and generosity and trouble on my account.

“No!” I said, belching softly into my napkin and unbuttoning the top of my skirt.

Soon after, Mauro and I fell asleep sitting up on the living room sofa. His grandmother found us. She jabbed me in the ribs with her finger and hissed something I didn’t understand at Mauro.

Then she yelled. “Get up!”

His mother came running in.

“What is going on in here! What are you doing?”

10. We are going to Pisa tomorrow for the day. Mauro will come and pick me up at 5 a.m.; the Padre Superiore will open the gates early so that I can get out in time to catch the train.

Such magnanimity in bending the rules! Perhaps he is glad to be freed of my presence for the entire day.

I, too, am happy to be leaving the claustrophobic atmosphere at Monastero Ventoso and the glacial stares of Mauro’s possessive family.

I don’t know how much more of this medieval nightmare I can take.

11. I’m in disgrace. The Padre Superiore called me into the office where he first interviewed me. A blond hair has been found in the spare twin bed in my room. Between the sheets. The sheets, in addition, were wrinkled. Clear evidence that someone has been sleeping in that bed.

“Was it Mauro?” he wanted to know. “Someone else?”

I denied any and all knowledge of any blond-haired persons sleeping in the spare twin.

“By the way,” I wanted to ask when the interrogation wound down, “what were you doing snooping?”

12. The Padre Superiore hauled me in again today for more questioning.

“Signorina,” he began, clearing his throat. “Have you thought about our talk yesterday?”

“Yes, of course I have.”


“How can you be sure there is no explanation other than I’m guilty of some crime? What if someone else used that bed before I got to the monastery?” I thought of Pia and false accusations.

“If you change your mind, please come to see me.” He said, staring at his fingernails.

“Don’t you think you should consider that there may be another explanation?” I said, thinking of Pia and her untold version of events, how she hadn’t been able to defend herself, how defenselessness had caused her demise.

But the Padre answered me with a chilling, “How long did you say you were staying here? Was it until the 10th, after the Epiphany?”

“At the very longest. I may be leaving even sooner, if I can make alternative arrangements.” I bluffed, wondering where I’ll go if he kicks me out.

13. Mauro tried to have curfew extended last night so we could celebrate New Year’s together but the Padre Superiore refused. He intended it as punishment, and perhaps as a moment for me to reflect, repent, recant.

I went to bed at 11 p.m. after drinking a Campari soda I had smuggled in. I felt very sorry for myself.

I should walk out, but after paying rent here and buying Christmas presents, I have no money left for a hotel. Mom’s cable hasn’t yet arrived.

14. “What to do about the monastery?” I asked Mauro as we walked in circles around the Castello di Belcaro, an exquisite spot outside Siena where tradition has it nobles once holed up to escape outbursts of the plague.

“What did he say exactly?”

“He said there was a short blond hair in the spare bed.”

“Mine.” Mauro swallowed. “Who do you suppose inspected the linen?”

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe things will die down.”

“He’s a bloodhound, after a scent. He’s not going to give up.”

“Funny isn’t it? ” said Mauro.


“You were late,” Mauro said, tugging at my hand, “it was your fault.”

I hadn’t woken up in time to catch the early train to Pisa and was not waiting by the front gate like we had arranged.

“But you were the one who breached the walls,” I said. He’d come to my room and had thrown rocks at my window—a misdemeanor. Then, when I opened it, he’d climbed in—a more serious offense. While I finished drying my hair, he’d sat on the twin bed—definitely a felony. And then the rumpling began. A crime of such gigantic proportions that if brought to the Padre’s attention he would lock us up and throw the key into the murky depths of the goldfish pond out back.

“Try telling him all we did was cuddle for a minute before running for the later train. He’d never believe it.”

“You’re right, as a matter of fact, I almost don’t believe it,” agreed Mauro.

15. Entering the Padre Superiore’s study, I found him writing at his desk.

Sinking back in his chair, he studied me. “You have something to say?” he asked.

“I’ll be leaving tomorrow, on the 6th, four days earlier than planned,” I said. “I wonder if I could have a refund on my rent? I’m broke.”

“You want a refund. I’d be glad to give you a refund. But first, is there nothing else? Isn’t something weighing you down?”

“No. I have nothing to say except that I’ll never forget my stay here.”

“It will be hard for us to forget you, as well.” He took his glasses off and put them on the desk. “We had you stay here as a favor to the Rossi family. I’m considering telling them what has happened. What will they think?”

I bit my lip. I wanted my money back. But on the other hand, I didn’t need it back that badly. Mauro said he’d help me out until my funds from home arrived.

“You’d be too late,” I said. “Mauro has already told them. Signor Rossi found it distasteful that someone scrutinized my sheets. But we all had a good laugh. He knows we didn’t do anything wrong.”

Later I told Mauro. We were sitting in his white sedan in a dusky lane near an abandoned school with shattered windows and a missing door where nuns once taught. Rumor has it they abandoned their newborn babies in the woods beyond.

“It was a stroke of brilliance to tell him you’d already ‘confessed’ to your parents, don’t you think? But, suppose I exaggerated too much? And he wants to tell your parents his side of the story?”

“He won’t. His best course is to keep a low profile. And then, even if he does talk to my father, what is the worst that can happen?”

“Your parents will be sorry that they went out of their way.”

“No, they won’t because they know I was home every night.”

“Vindicated only because you have an alibi. Not because anyone believes me.”

“By tomorrow at this time, the monastery will be a closed chapter. It was a bad choice. But it’s almost over.”

“Thank god,” I said, exhaling.

“You know, I’ve been thinking.” He leaned across the seat and brushed my bangs out of my eyes.

I waited for a while and then he told me. He wants his parents to know how he feels about me. That this affair isn’t some boyish infatuation.

I wondered about his change of heart. Had Pia and her unspoken thoughts and words affected him?  Had the mystery of her life and death—one without truth and trust—swayed him? Had the monastery showed him that he should speak up?

Somehow—although he didn’t say—I figured this were so.

16. It’s a holiday, the Epiphany, and here’s mine:

Skip living in Medieval establishments such as castles and monasteries.

Pia died a lonely death in one, I was embarrassed and humiliated in one.

No wonder the guidebooks don’t recommend them.

Albergo Castellini—a modest two-star—will do. Mauro’s lending me the money. I’ll pay him back when Mom’s cable comes through.

He says not to worry. He doesn’t want the money. He says he’s hoping to see me smiling again.

Right now I’m waiting by the front gate at Monastero Ventoso. It’s 8:25 a.m. and he’s late, but only by 25 minutes. He’ll be along soon, as soon as he’s through telling his parents.

Boys, your father came along right before lunch. He took me to his parents’. We had a multi-course meal—your grandmother’s way of expressing emotion—and then another, after that. And then many more.

Since then we’ve faced difficult challenges—we’ve done some climbing so to speak. Most of our climbs have been without guides. The air’s been thin, the water’s been scarce, the sun’s been hot, we twisted our ankles, skinned our knees and once ended up badly dehydrated, but somehow we’ve always reached a scrap of shade.

We’re climbing again, all four of us. Your father’s on one side of the Mediterranean. We’re stuck on the other.

But we’ll make it. We can say we love each other.

Your father texted me a minute ago. Here’s what he’s typed in this new, poetic language he’s learning:

“Sabah Al Khair Habibti.” 

It means ‘good morning, my beloved.’

After thirty-odd springs together, I think ‘good morning, my beloved’ sounds incredibly fine.

                                                                                     –Love, Mom

–by Natalia Sarkissian

Apr 272011

Tucked away in the pages of Numéro Cinq are skillfully told stories that pull us inside. The best of these hold us tight and whisper things that haunt our thoughts, urging us to care more deeply. Robert Semeniuk tells such stories with his photographs. He has been a photojournalist and human & environmental rights activist for 3 decades. I met Robert and his wife, musician Ruta Yawney on Bowen Island a few months ago and today I am honored to introduce you to Robert’s work. Each of the images shown here is excerpted from a story. These particular stories about the Inuit of arctic Canada, preventable blindness in Ethiopia, war affected children, and AIDS in Botswana are elaborated in image and word on Robert’s webpage.

— lynne quarmby

Five Photographs

By Robert Semeniuk


Tea time on the cariboo hunt

Gaza boys playing ‘Arab & Jews’

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Mar 312011

On the Hunt for Elusive Literary Game: the Premio Bagutta, Italy’s Oldest Literary Prize

by Natalia Sarkissian

Last Friday night my husband and I took a cab to downtown Milan. I’d invited him out to dinner at Il Bagutta, but it was a working dinner. Once again I had my Numéro Cinq press tags clinking around my neck and was hot on the trail of Italian literati. Because Il Bagutta is where the Premio Bagutta, the oldest Italian literary prize was established in 1926 (and first awarded in 1927) and ever since, Il Bagutta has been frequented by the crème de la crème de la crème.

“Please hurry,” I said to the driver, checking my watch. We were already late for our 9 pm reservation. What if the maitre gave our table away and we couldn’t get in and observe the literati wining and dining? What would I say to my editor at Numéro Cinq who was waiting with bated breath for this insider’s view?

“It’s on Via Bagutta, off San Babila,” I added when the cabbie began thumbing through his map of Milan. “Between Via della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone.”

“Relax,” said Mauro, grabbing my hand. “We’ll get there when we get there.”

I sighed and sank back into the plaid seating. Mauro can be so Italian about being on time at times.

As we sat in a traffic jam on flashy Corso Buenos Aires and then inched along stately Corso Venezia, I inhaled and told him about Paris and compared it to Milan.

Back in the twenties and thirties famous Parisian cafés like Le DomeLa Rotonde and La Coupole had seen literary giants—Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir—come and go. In his memoir, a Moveable Feast, Hemingway describes the atmosphere, when he was young and penniless, drinking in the company of Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Maddox Ford.  Likewise, Milan’s Il Bagutta, established at approximately the same time as its Parisian counterparts, offered good food, good wine and attracted home-grown Italian talents of stature; one of its first artistic patrons was Riccardo Bacchelli (a prolific novelist, essayist, playwright and librettist) who, in 1926, rounded up a group of gifted friends one night for dinner. Together they started the Bagutta literary prize at the spur of the moment. Later, Dino Buzzati, Mario Soldati, Ingrid Bergman, Lucia Bosé (Miss Italia 1947), Arturo Toscanini, Sandro Pertini (President of the Italian Republic 1978-1985) and other legends flocked to the restaurant.

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