Thursday, July 31, 2008

An evening in Pisticci

Tuesday night was the beach party and it seemed appropriate that I break out my ukulele. The event organizers - a young and enthusiastic group from Pisticci - were as or more appreciative of my limited talents as anyone I have so far encountered. They seem to really enjoy American folk music and I wish I knew more songs they could sing along with. "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and "Lovesick Blues" seem to be the favorites.

Last night we showered at Antonio's house and then dined on pizza and beer at La Lanterna in Pisticci proper. This is the town adjacent to the beach where we are building but it was the first time we had actually gone into the city itself. It is als o very historic and lovely even (or especially) at night. I shot lots of photos and video, some of which is already posted on my flickr stream.

Intrigued by the stories my hosts told but frustrated by the language barriar, I googled Pisticci this morning and found -- almost nothing. A few picures and barely a mention in Wikipedia. How can this be?


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

one of those weird coincidences

Last night we three sculptors had a wonderful dinner with the event organizers at "Agriturismo Tre Pini" - a farm where you can book your vacation. We arrived after dark so our tour of the grounds was somewhat limited but even at that we could see how lovely the setting, including a small lake. The food - all made from ingredients raised right there - was the best I have eaten since I got here (and before!) The hosts most gracious and the wine flowed. Midway through the plata primo I got a text message form John the housesitter - power had returned to Saturn Street, South Padre Island! We drank a round to celebrate and finally, at a very late hour, headed back to our rooms here in Matera. In one of those ironic twists that seem too weird to be true, the power had gone off in our 5-star hotel as the desk clerk in the candle-lit lobby had stayed up late to explain. I spent the night sweltering in solidarity with my friends back home - the ones who don't have power yet, anyway.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Matera - Settling in, writing home

Hi Mom,

Don't have a lot of details about damage yet - power is still out (and could be for a week or two yet) and my housesitter doesn't have phone or internet access. I understand there are shingles missing and sections of fence down but have heard no reports of leaks or flooding so I think my house is a sturdy old thing which is very good news indeed.

The news from home is not very happy. SPI really took a pretty bad hit and the timing couldn't be worse -- July is peak season when most of us need to make enough to get us through the slow times. If the power stays off for weeks no one will come even for those of us who didn't suffer significant damage. At least I am earning money here. I would be losing all the way around if I hadn't left when I did...

It is really something here in Matera. My room at the Palazzo Gattini is spectacular, maybe the nicest I have ever had. The hotel opened just 20 days ago so I may be the first person to ever inhabit this room, which used to be part of the palace church. The walls are very thick so there are no outside sounds whatsoever - it feels like a monastery.

The other sculptor who is here - Katsu from Japan - and I went to an art exhibition of Abstact Expressionist sculptor Ibram Lassaw (a friend and contemporary of Jackson Pollock and Miro) in a rock-hewn cave church with frescos that dated back to the 10th century and that had later been inhabited by poor local people as recently as the 1950's. A guide who was happy to use her English language skills told us that her father had lived in one of these caves until he was 11 years old, and she was a wealth of information about the living conditions.

Today we will head to the beach where we are building our sculptures - Pisticci is about an hour's drive away from our hotel.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I only THOUGHT I needed to remodel my laundry room

What I really need is hurricane shutters. Or impact-resistant windows. Or maybe a new roof -- I am still waiting to find out how well mine survived the storm.

I wonder how many other SPI residents are reaching the same conclusion this morning.

I am posting this entry from the VIP Club in Rome Fiumicino airport while awaiting my flight to Bari. Four thousand miles away from Blackbeards, the wide-screened TV is tuned to CNN International where I am treated to the totally surreal vision of my beloved island - battered and under water - over and over again in the news loop.

It is hard to believe that just a few days ago Dolly didn’t exist as anything more than a name on a list.

Since it is the middle of the night in Texas, I can only imagine what my once-lovely backyard now looks like. Did my windows sprout leaks? Did my shingles fly away? Did the renters upstairs (yes! I had renters!) regret their decision to come in spite of the predictions?

I won’t be back home again until Aug. 8th and so will not get to see first hand the worst of what Dolly did to my island -- in this respect I am like so many other absent property owners who I am sure are sharing my frustration.

But I am seeing it on TV - over and over again - and it just makes me want to cry.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

fragments of news from the Island

I got through to a couple of people but the connections were so bad that I didn't get a lot of news before the calls failed. Walter says his place is fine but there is visible damage elsewhere. I briefly got through to my housesitter who said something like "we're okay but your neighbor---"

News releases from Melissa Zamorra suggest that people have been seriously injured trying to leave shelter too soon. Hopefully news will get reported on the new thread at - I suspect that most folka don't have internet access in addition to power outages.

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Dolly update - from Houston

I caught the last flight out of Harlingen yesterday and spent the night in Houston to allow me to get to a job in Italy on time, so I am anxiously perusing all news sources of Dolly's imminent landfall very near to if not directly on South Padre Island. John, my Very Capable Housesitter, seems to be most concerned about the surge - says the water is already halfway up the driveway with high tide or the storm not even there yet. I filled 10 sandbags before leaving town, but when I talked to him a couple hours ago he was talking about filling some trashbags with sand from the sandbox.

Pretty nerve-wracking, actually.

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Monday, July 21, 2008


Well life suddenly gets interesting...

Dolly might be a hurricane that might land somewhere very close to me at just about the time I am supposed to be climbing onto a plane to Houston/Newark/Rome/Bari -- 24 hours hence.

The sculptor who hired me for this job assures me that as long as I stay in touch someone will be there to pick me up in Bari no matter when I land. He tells me that the theme I am carving is Ancient Greece, and that I can do anything within that broad topic that I want. I have seven days to complete it. Maybe a pound-up already exists? Not clear, but I always travel with my favorite shovel, just in case. I understand that I will be working under a tent near the (Adriatic) sea. That it will be hot (though highs in the mid-80's don't strike me as particularly furnace-like) but that the (sweet sweet) hotel - has a swimming pool. (I hope that means it is something less than a deathmarch away from the sculpture site.)

Carving spirals on the sunny south Italian coast. This is going to be seriously fun.

I had a Bari adventure a few years back with dear old Fred. (I bet he remembers it as vividly as I do.) We landed there by accident and had to hang around all day while waiting for a late-night ferry to take us to Croatia. Although the day had its happy surprises, it wasn’t an altogether pleasant experience: At one point we were towing our luggage through an area where we felt distinct hostility on the part of the natives and, I ended that day's trip log thusly: “It had been a pretty good sight-seeing day for being totally unplanned -- but I would be pretty okay with never seeing Bari again.”

So now I am returning after all. As an honored guest artist. Cool.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sloppy writing reflects sloppy thinking

Did some long-ago English teacher pound that into your head, too?

That is what I was thinking a few days ago when I had the nerve to point out a usage error posted by a SPI Forum user.

I don’t pull my former English teacher creds very often. I think it is bad form to point out mistakes in public, especially when they are trivial. And I certainly cannot hold myself up as a paragon of proper writing -- especially when I am dashing off text messages or quick emails to friends and family.

But there are certain specific situations when I think it is important to get things right, and persuasive writing is high on that list. When I am writing in a public forum, I will re-read my post many many times through before hitting the submit button -- I want to make extra double sure that my words truly reflect my thoughts. In the process, I am usually able to spot and correct (most of) the silly little typos and misplaced punctuation marks that might otherwise distract a careful reader from my message.

I think that is what bothers me most about the anonymous posters on the SPI forum: imprecise language, and a tendency to type any old thing that comes to mind without pausing to reflect, refine and rewrite.* I think that those of us who sign our names to everything we type are more invested in our words, and so we pay more attention to getting things right.

Even so, simple courtesy will usually prevent me from pointing out simple errors in things that I read. But if you just feel compelled to step right up there and try to convince me that your intelligence is far superior to my own, you‘d best take a minute or two to make sure you really do mean your instead of you’re.

*That’s what blogs are for!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Virtual Packing

I leave for Matera, Italy in a little over a week! I will be heading directly from there to another sand sculpture job in Martha's Vineyard, so I am packing for two - three if you count my employer in Italy who requested I carry 2 gallons of Elmer's finest with me...

So the mental packing has to begin right about now.
See where I will be staying


Monday, July 07, 2008

"Battle to the Beach"

Tweet Tweet!
Got a band? Need money? Got a fierce internet following? Want to perform at the SPI Music Festival? If so, it looks like this is the contest for YOU!


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Blimey! Pirates on the Horizon and they're headin' this Way!

Sea Turtle Fever in Laredo

I am working at the Imaginarium - this really great place for kids of all ages to play and learn. I am mostly finished with the small demo sculpture which is strategically placed so that shoppers strolling through the monster mall (Mall del Norte) can see enough in the window to be enticed to enter (theoretically.) Friday a group from Gladys Porter stopped by to talk about sea turtles. Yesterday I played in a giant sandbox with a bunch of kids (and some of their parents) where we built sandy sea turtles! and today I will be lending aid and encouragement to competitors in the indoor competition. (I was encouraged to bring my ukulele which I will do and probably sing songs about - sea turtles!) I did several interviews with local media yesterday - here's a story in Spanish.

I will be heading back home later this afternoon.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

SPI declared a "Top 10 Hot Spot" by Men's Fitness Mag

The article features three large photos (an aerial view of the beach; a windsurfer and a Hobie Cat)with the following caption:

Location: Approximately 300 miles southeast of San Antonio, two miles off the southern tip of Texas

A longtime hot spot for spring breakers, South Padre Island offers warm, turquoise waters and waves that are perfect for bodyboarding. As a vacation destination, South Padre is affordable and the people there are amazingly hospitable. And don't worry about getting around - the island is about six blocks wide, making access to stores and restaurants a breeze.

Fit Factor: Laguna Madre Bay, between South Padre Island and the Texas mainland, is home to some of the best windsurfing in the world.