Pranzo a Randazzo

In 2007 we visited the medieval town of Randazzo in Sicily. We were there to celebrate my 50th birthday year. I’m only thinking about this now because we plan to travel back next year to celebrate my 60th birthday.

Dave and I were there for about a month. The first part of the vacation we celebrated with our kids, friends Dave, Tricia and Irena. After they left, my sister Paula and her husband Paul joined us.

Throughout the entire stay we had a glorious time with great food and wine. But this story is not about one of those times.

It was towards the end of our stay in Sicily. We drove to the town of Randazzo, our name sake. It is a beautiful medieval place at the foot of Mount Etna. We found a great B & B, atop a wonderful shoe store. Paula was in heaven. Matteo, the owner of the B & B and the shoe store was a great host. He made suggestions and told us to use his name whenever we stopped somewhere in town.

On one of the last days in town, we were wandering around. It was getting late (by late I mean noon, when everything closes and people go home for lunch and naps) and we were hungry. We didn’t plan this very well.

We were tired, hungry and a wee bit whiney. Paul complained about the lack of civilization. Which promptly got my back up about what civilization is and this was it. While we were debating this point, Paula had slowed down to look in a window of a taverna. Before we knew what was happening, a small four foot tall crone, dressed in black, grabbed my sister and dragged her into the bar. We sped up to follow. The crone kept saying in a witchy kind of voice, ‘Entrare, entrare. Hai fame?’ She was offering us food. We looked at each other and thought ‘ok.’

She took us through the bar into a banquet room. We were the only ones there. The signals were loud and clear from the get go… a little witchy crone, an empty place… could it get worse? Yes.

I was the translator, using my very basic Italian. She, of course, spoke no English, ‘Pasta? Ziti al forno? Vino rosso?’  I translated, “pasta, baked ziti and red wine.” I asked for ‘insalata’ – salad.


Rancid Baked Ziti


I’ll try it.

She brought us each a serving of baked ziti, which I swear was 3 weeks old. It was crusty, dry and terrible, possibly rancid. The red wine came next. It was home made in a plastic bottle that use to have some other liquid in it. Not sure what. Dave poured the wine. It is hard to describe in words the sound that the wine made as it poured. It was a thick, glub, glub kind of sound. It sounded solid.

Nope, nope, nope. I did not drink it. Dave and Paul tried. I think Paula poured hers in the plant behind her.


Dave is opening the wine


Dave is pouring the wine

The insalata was not so bad. It was pomodori e olio d’oliva, tomatoes and olive oil. I ate some of that.

Next the crone came back and offered us funghi? I looked at the faces around the table. ‘Would you like to try some mushrooms?’ No one really said yes or no. So I ordered the mushrooms.

The crone came back a minute later and put a plate on the table. I swear to god it looked like slugs. Big, black, slimy slugs. Paula was positive the crone whipped them out from under her arm pits.

There was no way we were going to eat that. Okay, there was no way that Paula, Paul or myself were going to eat the plate of slugs. Dave, always thinking he’s being polite, tried one. I could barely hold on while I watched his jaw work and gag reflex kick in. That was the highlight of our lunch.


Why, why would you eat that?

We were done. He was really done.

We got our bill. Not surprisingly it was the most expensive meal we had on our entire trip. Dave barely survived. He spent the rest of the afternoon at the B & B, sick and out of sorts.

We forgot to mention Matteo’s name. Though I’m not sure if it would have helped us with the crone.


One year ago…

It’s been a year. A long time to not put thoughts to paper.

In a few days I’ll be attending the key west literary seminar. This year I will be also attending a workshop on reading the invisible.

The first reading is already resonating.

From Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life: “The writer studies literature, not the world. He lives in the world; he cannot miss it. If he has ever bought a hamburger, or taken a commercial airplane flight, he spares his readers a report of his experience. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know. The writer knows his field – what has been done; what could be done; the limits – the way a tennis player knows the court. And like that expert, he, too, plays the edges. That is where the exhilaration is. He hits up the line. In writing, he can push the edges. Beyond this limit, here, the reader must recoil. Reason balks, poetry snaps; some madness enters, or strain. Now, courageously and carefully, can he enlarge it, can he nudge the bounds? And enclose what wild power?”

Do artists work this way? Do we live in the world and recreate what we see? Do we report what we see, in a literal sense? Or is it always reinterpreted through our personal lens? Do some of us believe that what we draw, paint, sculpt is an actual representation or a reinterpretation?  Do we push the limitations? What is the purpose?image


If you want yDSC_0270our prayers answered, get up off your knees and do something about them.

I wrote that yesterday. I do believe it, however it does come across harsh for certain circumstances.

Two weeks ago there was a terrible earthquake in Nepal. Devastating. I first learned about it when I was at the farm and Taylor told me that Greg’s brother was in Nepal, near Everest, in the earthquake zone. My thought at that moment was, ‘oh that’s not good.’ Then I went home.

Naturally I had no idea of the extent of what was happening in that brief conversation. When I got home and got on the computer I learned what was happening. At this point there was over 400 dead and damage to the homes and temples in Kathmandu. I thought about Jonathan, who I didn’t know well, and became concerned.

Then it just escalated. Every day, from that Saturday, I became weepy. I was thinking about all the beautiful architecture, millennia old, gone. The death toll kept rising. Jonathan was nowhere to be found. I’d be driving my car and tears would form. I would be lying in Shavasana in my yoga class and my mind would twist around and I would gulp air.

I thought about Nepal. I know a few Nepalese. Wonderful people and I based my whole concept of what was a Nepalese on them. Beautiful, thoughtful, spiritual, fun-loving, gentle. Everyone in Nepal was like them. And tears kept flowing.

I thought about Jonathan. I don’t know him well, but Taylor kept telling me about his adventures. Moving out west to work. Travelling, travelling, travelling. In my mind he was the polar opposite to the rest of his family, farm folk, who never went anywhere. He was in Australia, he was here, he was there, and finally he was trekking in Nepal.

The reports from Nepal continued to be horrible. Thousands and thousands of people dead. Unknown numbers missing. Avalanches wiping out base camps. Where was Jonathan?

Finally news came that he was last heard from in Annapurna region. Searches on google maps, looking at the earthquake boundaries… maybe he’s okay. It doesn’t seem to be affecting that area.

After a week they find out he was in Annapurna. The earthquake missed them. They didn’t know about it for two days. It took them five days to trek out to internet access. They were safe.

But that doesn’t alleviate the other part of my despondency. I stopped being weepy, but I’m still devastated about Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal.

I realized that they don’t need to get off their knees and do something. They can keep praying. We need to get off ours and help. In whichever way we can.

The Language of Spirit

How do writers, dancers, artists struggle with language of spirit? How to be human? What is the value of spirit? Things have value in themselves but sometimes mean something else. A language of signs.

We are susScotland Orkney 2012 770picious of language. One word can have many meanings. Or be used so much it becomes meaningless.

Can marks on a page deliver a message of the holy? Lives structured on narrative, beginning, middle, the end. Can we step away and experience without language? Is it linear? Is it circular? Is it something else?

Spirit, can it be accessible by the five senses? Or meaning, comprehensive poetry that hold the unsayable at the centre. It’s there, in silences between the words. Like a Chinese brush painting, speaking in all the white spaces. Contain silence in poems. Silence is there – we interrupt it. It begins with silence. Can a painting be poetry, speak volumes, speak nothing? Is it prose?

Are poets, artists, closest to being grounded beings? Prose can be lyrical and close to poetry. It comes back to language.

Immerse self in character, give up self, what is self? Is self a construct? Are we real? Is self an illusion. We all wrestle with something. No – I’ll not carry and comfort despair. To free self from self – to release from suffering.  Spirit moves against every barrier. It upholds dreams. ‘I have a dream.’ Belief. Imagining other than what is. Need the courage. Bring spirit in by cleansing space.

When does spirit speak to you? Is spirit primarily about the world waiting to act? Catholicism – ‘when the Spirit enters.’ What does that mean? Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Pater, Filius, Spiritus Sanctus, Amen.

If you want your prayers answered, get up off your knees and do something about them.

Seo nathair-sgiathach

1 Final seo nathair-sgiathach copyPlease join me at you me gallery at 330 james street south. Reception April 10, 7 – 9 pm. Exhibit up April 10 – 26.

Seo nathair-sgiatach

Here be Dragons

 Who am I?

How to know the unknowable?

Each stone is my story, my body.

But it’s not me.

My DNA connects me to this place – to Orkney. I’m drawn here.

But not there.

Here are my mother’s roots.

But I’ve grown into something else. Branches written deep. Leaves blowing far.

Who am I? Chi sono?

This is what I am.

Her være dragger.

Here be dragons.

Seo nathair-sgiatach (Here be Dragons) Costay Family Tree

1 Final seo nathair-sgiathach copy

Seo nathair-sgiatach

Here be Dragons

 Who am I?

How to know the unknowable?

Each stone is my story, my body.

But it’s not me.

My DNA connects me to this place – to Orkney. I’m drawn here.

But not there.

Here are my mother’s roots.

But I’ve grown into something else. Branches written deep. Leaves blowing far.

Who am I? Chi sono?

This is what I am.

Her være dragger.

Here be dragons.

The following are closeups of each stone

1. William and Jane

2. Roots

3. Cattle

4. Orkney Wife

5. Stones of Steness

6. Map of Orkney

7. Orkney

8. Costie Gravestones in English and Runic

9. Costay Croft and Maes Howe

10. Fishing

11. Farming

12. Jane and Alex

2 William and Jane seo nathair-sgiathach 3 Roots seo nathair-sgiathach 4 Ness of Brodgar seo nathair-sgiathach 5 Orkney Wife seo nathair-sgiathach 6 Stones of Steness seo nathair-sgiathach 7 Map of Orkney not Irish seo nathair-sgiathach 8 Orkney Arial seo nathair-sgiathach 9 Costie gravestones seo nathair-sgiathach 10 Maes Howe and Costay Croft seo nathair-sgiathach 11 Farming seo nathair-sgiathach 12 Fishing seo nathair-sgiathach 13 Jane and Alex seo nathair-sgiathach

Costay Family Tree (work in progress)

family tree cropped

Who am I?

Why do we feel compelled to search and trace our family roots?

When we find them, these names are just that, names, and in many occasions not linked to the immediacy of our current lives.

But they do root us in history. They make us feel connected to something, however obscure and seemingly aimless.

Connected to everything, where if you go back far enough, you can see we are related to everyone.  Deep. We all have shared blood in our veins. Are we family?

Who are you?