Friday, January 9, 2009

More Works of Franco Alessandrini

Another of my favorite sculptures that Franco Alessandrini created is in his home country, Italy. It stands, actually it’s seated, on a stone wall at the Monte Casale Monastery overlooking a magical valley.

It is sculpted in white Carrara marble, the same material Michelangelo used to sculpt “David”. Franco and his family live in Italy each summer, where they live on a mountain top near Arezzo. From here he can more easily supervise the quarrying of the stone he will use for his next project.

I remember fondly how, in 2005, they invited all of us (we were a party of fifteen!) to join their Fourth of July celebration on their mountain top. I believe the entire town was present. It was a perfect melding of two cultures, complete with a roasted suckling pig, a Tuscan flag waver, a local rock band, American apple pie and brownies, and fireworks. After the medieval flag-waving demonstration, my niece beamed with utter delight and exclaimed: “This is just like being in the movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’”. I smile when I remember how a small group of us, mostly the teens in our party, broke out and sang “America the Beautiful” and other American patriotic songs during the fireworks.

Little did we know that less than two months later, their lives would be turned completely upside down.

The Alessandrinis returned to their home in New Orleans in time to see Hurricane Katrina come looming into the region. The majority of New Orleans’ citizens evacuated frantically and witnessed the effects of the hurricane and subsequent flood through news reports from their scattered destinations. The Alessandrinis first fled to Texas and then to Italy, where they stayed for one year before returning. The feeling of helplessness and disorientation left a deep-seated feeling of displacement in their souls. Over three years after Hurricane Katrina, in November 2008, Franco Alessandrini installed a sculpture on his rooftop to express the collective sense of displacement in New Orleans.


Franco writes:

The wind starts to blow and the rain beats down on her deck. The waves begin to rock her gently at first then become huge swells likened to those you see on the High Seas. She is pitched violently into the dock time and time again. She is beaten. Desperate.
She panics to free herself, to save herself, as a horse would that is tied in its stall as the water rises.
Her mooring lines snap and she is set free. Set free to sail but faces more peril ahead.
The water recedes and she finds herself in a place she never dreamed of being. 
Under her there is no water where she once glided with the wind. Now she is still. Trapped in this foreign land.
I liken this boat to my soul. The soul that I lost in the storm. My soul that I hope to reunite with one day.
I liken this boat to the thousands of people who were beaten by the winds, rain and leve breaks. 

You may wonder how this 30-foot, 5,000 pound boat is secured up on that roof; here is the structure that holds her:

If you have the great fortune of visiting New Orleans, I hope you have a chance to visit Franco’s studio and see the sailboat on their rooftop at 813 Howard Avenue. Be sure to tell them that dutchbaby sent you.

Images from 
Franco Alessandrini's website

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Visit to Franco Alessandrini’s Studio

When I visited New Orleans with my book club in October 2007, we had the great pleasure of meeting up with several of my husband’s of relatives who live there. One evening, a couple of us went to visit Franco Alessandrini and his family for cocktail hour on the roof top of his studio home.

Franco is an internationally-known artist who has produced many public works around the world. He was born near Florence, Italy but came to live in New Orleans when he was the artist in residence for the World’s fair in 1984.

When we arrived at their home, Franco and his wife gave us a tour of the small storefront on the ground floor. I immediately recognized the centerpiece of the space, a model of the Monument to the Immigrants:

It is quite beautiful in this scale; I like how you can easily walk around the entire sculpture and see all features without having to crane your neck. The full-sized, marble statue is now installed on the riverfront near the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans where most immigrants actually first set foot on solid American ground.

This is how Franco describes the monument:

At the turn of the century many Italian immigrants came to this country, a large number of them through the port of New Orleans. This monument will commemorate and honor those who left their country to find something better for their future as well as their children's. The female muse is a symbol of hope in different civilizations. The star she holds represents guidance to the explorer toward his desire to find a new place and to achieve his dreams. Her gown, an inspirational and spiritual presence, flows over the figures of four immigrants forming a family nucleus. In each of their faces one can see the grim determination and courage they must have had to leave behind everything they knew. These people are being rendered from real photographs of their time to capture the proper wardrobe, detail and, most of all, the look in their eyes.

Being an immigrant myself, I’m always moved when I see this sculpture. It perfectly captures the ambivalence we felt when we set foot in New York in 1966. It did take a great leap of courage and determination for my parents to once again leave everything behind in hopes of a better future, yet we are still draped by the influence of our muse who points to our past experiences in the Netherlands and Indonesia.
On the mantle nearby, I noticed this sculpture and fell in love with it:
I admire how he celebrated and honored the jazz musicians of New Orleans:

Next we were invited upstairs to his studio where he was working on a plant series.

Right next to the studio is a lovely rooftop garden where we joined Franco and his family and friends for cocktails and hors d’oevres. They personify the image of Southern hospitality, both of the American and European varieties.

After drinks, to our great surprise and delight, Franco and his wife presented each of us with a poster of the Louisiana Alphabet he created. In 1984, it was declared the official alphabet by the governor.

Next time, I will tell you about some of Franco’s other works of art and show you what now graces his rooftop.

Top photo of the Immigrant Monument with the riverboat and the photo of the close-up of the immigrant face are from Franco Alessandrini's website.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Gratitude and Dreams - The Party

I am still feeling the glow of being surrounded by our wonderful friends and reflecting on the sentiments of heartfelt Gratitude and Dreams shared at our party on Saturday.

My daughter came through once again with running many errands, including chasing down the last bit of caviar left in Palo Alto (note to self: buy caviar before New Year's Eve, not on the second!), and by cooking homemade peppermint bark, two pies, and 75 tiny red potatoes stuffed with artichoke hearts and topped with lemon zest and minced garlic.

Michelle Bailey, The Roving Gourmet, made the rest of the food. My favorites were the mini blinis that melted like clouds in my mouth. I could have had twenty, but I had my guests to consider. The home-made gravlax, sushi, and herb-stuffed turkey breast were also very popular.
Last but not least, I received a package of delectable home-made chocolate truffles from Edi the day before the party. Thank you, Edi, they were out of this world!

I rang the jingle-bell to gather the crowd in the living room to share our journal entries.

Here’s a sampling of what our guests shared:
Gratitude 2008:

  • My Dad turning 80, on a Sierra wilderness trip with his sons
  • Almost finished the back yard greenhouse
  • 50 fingers/50 toes are still intact
  • The brow beating to complete college applications is over for now
  • 45 years of marriage with the prospect of many more
  • The end of the dark ages, i.e. The Bush Years
  • Having a job in a tough economy
  • Moving away from an unloving relationship … moving on with my life to restore my ability to care, love, and create…
  • All five of us survived Hurricane Ike as our Partay Garage Tailgate Generator kit saved our day (7 days actually)

Dreams 2009:

  • To hear a sweet little voice say for the very first time “Mormor” (grandmother in Swedish)
  • College goers score summer internships
  • Wife gets backyard re-model,  post Hurricane Ike
  • To think less and do more about my dream to own my own little store/studio
  • Help preserve local history of Palo Alto
  • We will have enough rain this season for a good crop of apricots and tomatoes
  • Travel to re-awaken that part of me that loves far away places
  • Restoring economy
  • Maybe go see our second solar eclipse
May all your dreams come true in 2009!
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