21 March 2010

LIFE: Snap Shot

SARONNO, Italy - On Tuesday Tatiana brought me a copy of the catalog for an exhibit of photographs by Uliano Lucas that will be featured in a gallery in Bari starting next week. Uliano Lucus is her father. He's a well known Italian photojournalist and the collection of black and white photos in the exhibit are some of the photos he has taken in Puglia over the past 30 years.

We have that connection, Tatiana and I. She knows I love photographs, especially black and white photographs, and the first time she came to my apartment she was delighted to see photographs hanging on my walls.
“Just like in the movies,” she said. 

Italians watch so many American movies their brains are full of American images they have never seen in person. So when they come face to face with the real deal, there is a flash of recognition. 

Italians don’t hang photographs on their walls, not unless they are photographs of their wedding or their children. Even then those photographs are usually confined to the hallways or entryways of their apartments. They prefer paintings. Landscapes are good but portraits of relatives are better. And the more the merrier. Of everything. 

The first time I saw this apartment the previous tenants were still living here. There was so much big heavy furniture and so many paintings and family portraits hanging on the walls that I didn’t even realize the woodwork and doors were painted lavender, and as for the second bathroom, well I discovered that after I moved in.

For the Italians my decorating style is a bit too sparse. Too minimalistic. And horrors of horrors, I don’t have drapes on my living room or dining room windows, or on any windows for that matter. I don’t even pull the tapperelle down at night. Don’t I know the gypsies are watching and waiting for just the right moment to scale the building and rob me? Apparently not. 

Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini spent a few years in Washington, DC and writes about his experiences in a book called ‘An Italian in America’. He talks about not being able to relax in the living room of his rented house in Georgetown because there were no tapperelle to pull down. Actually there were no blinds or shutters even worthy of the name, and the curtains, sheer and gossamer, were only there for decoration. People could actually walk by, look in the windows and see him sitting on the sofa watching TV. 

Roba da matti, as they say. It’s just crazy. Not that he ever saw anyone actually looking in his windows but, well you know, it’s the idea of the thing. And as for being able to sleep without the total black out and prison-like atmosphere those vertical slats of the tapperelle covering the windows provides, well he never did adjust. 

There are always adjustments to be made when you live in a foreign country, don’t get me started on that one, but truth be known after twenty years my list is shrinking. However, I had to promise Tatiana that her father’s photographs would not end up on my walls, torn from the catalog and hung in some springtime redecorating frenzy.

Lucas' Puglia photographs are particularly interesting to me. I’ve only been to Puglia once, to Bari and Lecce, and I loved everything about it. Maybe because I had such a different idea of what I would find. One of my first Italian teachers was from Bari and she always talked about the city as if it was a mile and half from hell. For years I carried around the idea that Bari was dirty and dangerous, a place to avoid at all costs. And then I went there to work on a project for the Italian Ministry of Culture and Tourism. It was nothing at all like the city she described. And as for Lecce, what I found was a city of extraordinary architecture and beauty that completely blew me away. 

Looking at the photographs in Uliano Lucas' catalog brought back those memories, and while it will be difficult not frame them, a promise is a promise. And I promised.

Photos: (1) Catalog cover; (2,3) A couple of photos I especially like from the catalog.

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