Sunday, October 29, 2023

Juxtapositions and related questions

I fully expected to publish pretty pictures of our forced march from Venice to the Prosecco Hills and on to Verona, Bologna, Florence and now Siena. My expectation if not my plan was a travelogue interspersed with stories about Stefano, my photographer friend in Venice, and my touching reconnection with Lenny Levenson and his wife Meryll in Treviso just north of Venice.

I had thought we went in separate directions in 1982 but in fact he took a position with one of our Pizzeria Uno franchisees in 1984, right after we opened the Denver Uno. We opened more than twenty restaurants together and books could be written about those heady days. I left the company after opening the Brentwood, California restaurant in early 1985. So, Lenny and I hadn’t seen each other for 39 years. When we met for appetizers at Lenny and Meryll’s condo in Treviso, I told Meryll that Lenny was the most talented restaurant guy I’d ever met. Meryll told Peggy that Lenny idolized me. So, we're even.

That was the plan till circumstances interceded in the form of two photography exhibitions that we discovered quite by chance. On our first night in Bologna, we saw a banner for a Vivian Maier retrospective a mile away. We had 16 minutes to get there in time to be allowed in. We virtually ran to the gallery and arrived with a minute to spare. Street photographer Vivian Maier was unknown in her lifetime as a nanny in New York and Chicago. When boxes of her negatives were discovered by a former employer her work found an astounded contemporary audience and she is now recognized as one of the great street photographers of the latter half of the 20th century. To see perhaps 200 of her extraordinary images was breathtakingly good luck rivaled only our surprise encounter with the prestigious Siena Awards, an international photography competition held every year. The work was cutting edge, adventurous and large scale. Technical virtuosity was the hallmark of the show.

Among the award winners was The Ameriguns, which speaks to America’s gun culture as examined by Italian photojournalist Gabriele Calimberti. I’ll let Calimberti’s photographs speak for themselves. I'm including all of the images in the show because every one tells a story and his juxtapositions of the rabid and the banal are chilling. I can't unsee them. 

Sunday, October 22, 2023

A Little Italian

My new best friend, Stefano, whom we met late on our first night.

Canal life.

Family unit, Venice style.

Working class.

The lagoon at sunset.

It’s 9pm in Bologna and I’m pondering my blog for the first time in a week. In most cases the subject and images have percolated for several days and by this time Sunday night I’ve done twenty or more edits. To say that I’m not focused on this entry puts it mildly. I don’t know whether it’s too many stimuli, being bone tired, no free time or the world’s worst cold, but my mind is an empty vessel. So, here are some random shots with little descriptive text. And to add insult to injury last week’s images included a couple of color ones which were rendered in black and white by for reasons that escape me.

All of these are color photographs befitting Venice and its Crayola hues. If they don’t appear in color squint your eyes and pretend.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Lost in the Crowd

My queen on her throne at the Guggenheim Collection.

Venice is the most visually arresting city I’ve ever seen.  Peggy’s been touting the place for thirty years and I can see why. That’s why we picked the city of 118 islands as the perfect location for her rather large birthday. She’s still two years younger and refuses to catch up.

The Grand Canal.

The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

Pilings and dock

Giovanni, the gallery dog

Nighttime on a canal with no name

As to Venice, it has no bad angles and just every shot is recognizable as, well, Venice. And there’s the rub. I despair that I'll muster a photograph that’s more than a picture post card. The unrelenting tourist hordes will drive (or have already driven) a marginally sane old man crazy. All that you’ve read about Venice being visited to death understates the situation. I hate crowds. Then there’s the blight of retail stores ranging from Made in China to Hermes and Bulgari. To get where you want to go takes you through a never-ending gauntlet of merchants grabbing for your wallet. It’s aversion therapy for the addicted shopper.

Still, I’m in this beautiful place with the love of my life. And we’ll always have Venice.

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Start to Finish

Thursday of last week Peggy and I drove to Grand Junction, Colorado where she was judging Monuments and Canyons, an invitational plein air panting event held by the Colorado National Monument Association to benefit the Colorado National Monument. It was the seventh year of the event which has raised $700,000 for the stewardship and preservation of the amazing place. On Thursday evening she did a plain air painting demonstration from 7 to 9pm. In other words, the painting would stop at 9pm whether she had finished or not. She opened with the disclaimer that she might not finish since was attempting a larger size, an 11”x14”, than she would normally use. Happily, she finished about 20 minutes early to a hearty round of applause.

I find the journey from the first brush strokes when the shapes in the painting are established to the completed piece to be miraculous. I can’t fathom how an artist can deliver a vital, evocative, work of art inside two hours. Yet, there it was at 8:40pm Thursday night after four hours of sleep and a harrowing nine-hour slog from Taos. Peggy’s drive and endurance are beyond me. I was toast, while she proceeded to judge the show Friday afternoon between 2pm and 4pm, give the awards at 4:30, joined me for dinner down the block in bustling downtown Grand Junction, and attended another art opening across town at 8:30.

And we were on the road back to Taos at 7:30am Saturday morning. On the way we stopped at her gallery, Sorrel Sky, in Durango to pick up some frames and a real baguette at Bread.

The woman’s a machine. And I'm not.

Sunday, October 01, 2023


Another lousy sunset in paradise.

Today I lead with one last image of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim at dusk. After a week I’d had enough of the gaping hole and escaped to the Verde Valley which, I was told, had grown into a wine producing mecca. Where there’s wine making, I suggest, there’s bound to be a food scene. The promise of good food and substantial portions at fair prices when compared to the Grand Canyon drew me to the recently designated Verde Valley AVA or American Viticultural Area. I’d also heard whispers about a heady stew of restaurants in downtown Cottonwood, the area’s biggest town. And I’d have Clarkdale, the Verde Valley Railroad and Jerome for a much-needed non-Canyon energy boost.

Locomotive 2321

Truck, Verde Valley Railroad, 2006.

Train and tracks.

Chain link, Clarkdale, AZ.

Industrial chic, Clarkdale.

A shell of its former self, Jerome, AZ.

What we have here is a splatter of photographs that barely relate. The “truck” of a long gone locomotive was taken 17 years earlier almost to the day. Back then I was producing completely black and white images, no toning. I like this truly black and white presentation very much and it may be time to reevaluate my approach. Then again folks seem to favor warm tones and sales increased substantially when I made the switch a dozen years ago. Sadly, the vintage locomotives, passenger cars and cabooses that made the Verde Valley Railroad such a draw have vanished from the industrial barrens south of downtown Clarkdale.

Still, I got the hell away from the Grand Canyon and enjoyed a killer Caprese salad and woodfired artichokes at the outstanding Bocce in Cottonwood. I recall that a hazy IPA was part of the ensemble. I know this. The three blocks of eateries, brew pubs, bars and tasting rooms in Cottonwood require further examination. And I'm just the man for the job.