Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dreaming of professional development

Painting restoration courses in Florence.

One-year course

This course offers a comprehensive and accelerated program, giving a unique opportunity to acquire a wide range of knowledge and techniques related to your field of study.

 Along with practical classes of your major subject - combined with challenging homework and assignments – our Basic Art Lessons will provide you with fundamentals of arts and design.

 Furthermore, you will broaden and enrich your artistic experience - looking beyond the borders of your specialty – through our weekly guided Art Visits and monthly Art Stages.

 Through this program, you will not only acquire a solid foundation in your study area, but also develop specific, advanced skills, immersed in a stimulating learning environment. Moreover, you will have the chance to learn basic business practices, to start up you career as young professional. Diplomas are issued to those who pass the final exam.

At least I'd be able to save the airfare.


Monday, January 11, 2016

So long to the Thin White Duke

You all know I left home at fifteen. The course of my life has been steered entirely from that one act. Looking back I think it was actually a perfectly sensible decision, but at the time... well... best not to think too much about it. I went from being a rather sheltered child to being the only one in charge in the space of a week. (I was a ward of the state, but being in the "care" of social workers and being on my own amounted to the same thing.)

At the time I mentally divided my life into two parts, the before leaving and the after, and it is still a pretty sound description. On the cusp of my 50th birthday, I am now at last at peace with it all. But at the time... Hm.

There were a lot of people and things that helped me survive along the way, and it might sound weird, but Bowie's music was one of them. I was raised very strangely by a woman I now understand was a pathological narcissist. One of the things narcissistic mothers do, especially to daughters, is to try to insert their own personality into the child, to make her a living replica of herself a kind of puppet. I had no sense of identity when I was 15 and broke away from her. Music was one of the ways I started the process of creating a person, an identity that was separate from my mother's.

One day, I went to visit my friend and she played her Bowie albums, starting chronologically with Hunky Dory.

It was the first time I'd come across something that I really liked that my mother knew nothing about. It was the start of me becoming me. It took a long time, but here we are.

David Bowie's music, for the next ten years, was playing as the soundtrack of that entire development, and will forever stand in my mind for that period of creating independence and identity.

Which is a bit funny considering ...


Wednesday, January 06, 2016

20 + C + M + B + 16

You really do have to be in Italy for a while to really get it.

Last night, after drinks I said good night to my friend and started walking home through the very quiet streets.

It was chilly and a dense heavy fog had settled on the town, so thick I could not see to the end of the road. I flipped my collar up and shoved my hands deeper into my pockets. The main street, normally bustling in warmer weather, was ringing in its silence, the only sound was my own shoes.

As I approached the Rome Gate, and passed the antiques shop, I was suddenly approached by a woman in a big pointy black hat with a long crooked nose who came as if by magic out of the fog. She was dressed in a long skirt with many carefully sewn-on patches, and wore a woolen shawl around her shoulders. She brandished the big twig broom she was carrying and came over to me with her arms stretched out.

She said, "EElaree! Auguri!"

I replied, "Befana!! Auguri!"

We kissed each others' cheeks and laughed and I went home happy with my Epiphany blessing from the old lady who still searches for the Christ Child.


Sunday, January 03, 2016

___k the Innernet!

Hey it's me!

I've been doing research on the internet about why the internet is bad for you.

When I was a kid, my elders called the television a number of derogatory nicknames, “the gogglebox,” “the idiot-box.” I remember that serious parents took to heart the warnings of the documentaries and books that children’s TV time should be strictly rationed. They were worried about kids sitting in front of the screen all day while Leave it to Beaver was still being made. What would Ward and June have thought of kids taking the TV with them wherever they went? I know an orthodox Jewish rabbi in New York who has nine children and still refuses to get an internet connection at home. I asked him about it once, and he said it wasn’t the porn, he just didn’t want his children growing up to be idiots.

Yeah yeah...shut up.

What, you think I didn't notice?


Thursday, December 31, 2015

So, didjer 'av a noice Christmas or wot?

Mine was fun because all the good buds came up from Rome and Dingleterra and all manner of other places and kept me'n'a kitties company. We ate much and drank much and had many fires in the nice camino.

Yeah yeah... I know. I thought about it. I thought about ditching the blogs entirely. I think we're done over at WUWTS, and around here we might be good an done with ter whole Francischurch thing and well done. Who cares. Me n' my buddies have been trying to warn everbody for freaking decades, man. Those who were going to listen have listened by this time. If you want to keep hearing about it, go read the Remnant. I'm on there now and then, but strictly for the money, you understand.

What I did do in the last month that I'm actually happy about is I finished my first big painting. It's in the monks' shop and they've put a pretty respectable price tag on it, but it occurs to me that there is a wider audience for my stuff than just our local Nursini and the tourists.

I had a huge struggle over it, and mostly the kind you have between your ears and your ribs. I didn't actually really think I could produce something worth looking at, the sort of thing I saw in my brain-o. What I came up with was not perfect, but was a good deal better than I had been expecting at the start. The other big struggle was with the medium, since I'd never really painted before except with oils and very briefly and under close supervision in Andrea's classes. I'd certainly never used gouache before, and had a heck of a time getting some reasonable level of mastery with it.

It's quite terrifying to put brush to surface when you're aiming at the thing you're doing being at least some level of quality and you don't really know how to do what you're doing. I realise the solution would have been to do a number of little studies and smaller practice pieces. But as I was going along, I figured it would be a pretty good lesson to do the hardest and most complex thing I was capable of right off the bat so once I was done it, I would have crammed in as much knowledge and skill as possible in one go.

It's a lesson I learned from fencing. I used to play safe and only fence with people mostly at my level. One day I was asked, "Wanna fight?" by the son of the coach, a boy whom everyone acknowledged was heading rapidly for the BC Summer games. We fought furiously all day, and from then on I only fought with him at every practice. (I also had a terrible crush on the handsome and suave fellow). I never once got a touch on him. Not one. But after three weeks of fighting Oliver, I kicked the asses of everyone I had used to fence with without even trying. I remembered that.

Reach waaaaaay higher than you think you can go. It won't matter at all if you miss that goal; you will get to the top of your own set in no time.

This is the first of my "sort of medieval" paintings for sale. I didn't want to do anything very formal. There are already a number of artists in town who do very formal and correct by-the-book icons and they're very beautiful. But I wanted to do something a little more friendly and informal. I wanted it to have a sort of fairy tale look and remind people perhaps of their childhood or of Narnia. It really follows no rules at all for anything, neither the iconography nor the style. It's vaguely based on a number of 13th - 15th century manuscripts and is an amalgam of styles. I guess I could say that I was mostly messing about and experimenting and wanted to end up with something cheerful and nice to look at, both from far away and close up.

It's done on an old terracotta tile, the kind the Italians have used to build their walls for centuries. Treated with a layer of plaster and then gesso. I dug it up out of the ground at our community's "old monastery," the property the monks are renovating up on the side of the hill. It's impossible to date the tile, of course, since it's exactly the kind that have been made forever around here, but the monastery dates to the 13th century. It was mostly knocked down by earthquakes in the '70s. (Yes, I got permission! Shee, what d'you think?)

Here's some pics.

The text turned into rather a disaster. The thing with calligraphy is the ink has to sink into the paper or parchment a bit to sort of stick. But since I was working on ceramic tile treated with gesso, it just sat there on the surface and got messy. Next time I'll just do the text in gouache which will look much tidier. The red-pen work around the D had to be completely redone in gouache, since the Windsor and Newton "scarlet" ink came out much too orange. It was a bit of a struggle, and took quite a few tries and my studio is festooned with little slips of paper covered in spidery red pen work.

I think the little cinghialino looks a bit more like a rabbit, but I guess it's pretty medieval to have the animals look a bit wonkey. 

At about the time I started the painting part, there was a great population explosion of coccinelle in town, and the little critters were all over the house.

I have been drawing butterflies and bugs for some time now, and they were so fun that next one is going to be all bugs and vines and gold.

It's a pity the camera can't pick up the glitter of the gold on the wings and elsewhere. I was very liberal with the gold, which, sadly, is just paint and not real. Real gold would have required me not only to learn a whole set of skills at the same time I was learning just to control the paint, but would have pushed the final selling price way past what I was aiming for. I want people to actually buy the things.

I kept thinking, "What if we treated both the vines and the clouds as real? Which would go over top?"

I was told by one of the monks who knows lots of formal rules about medieval art that Benedictine monks are not usually pictured in adoration. I shrug. Time to correct the oversight, I think.

Apparently the monks have been discussing which of them was the model for my little fellow here. But he's none of them. An amalgam. He does look quite a lot like Fr. Basil, though his beard is more like Br. Augustine's. 

And here's the red-pen work in the original orangey-ink. The test with gouache that you can see here brought it up to a much richer scarlet.

I'm especially fond of this angel. He will be appearing again and again.
I was just going to do one little flower, a lily, at the angel's feet, but it turned almost by itself into a field of wildflowers. 

I was very pleased with the way the border turned out. In the real medieval manuscripts, the blue would have been decorated with white lines and swirls, and I've done that but was worried it would end up looking too busy. But the borders were so fun that the next one is going to be all border and bugs.

The background is supposed to suggest Norcia and the Valnerina. The only thing I added from life were the mountains and the cross on top, which we have here, and the mist that rises from the valley every morning and hangs about the hills. For at least some of it, I just looked out the studio window and more or less painted what I was looking at.

I learned a great deal, and when I started I'd never used this medium before, gouache. I think I've mostly got the hang of it now, and I'm moderately pleased with the results. And as a friend kept saying all through my process of agonizing over it, "This is the worst one you will do. After this, it will be better and better every time."

Either way, I know that as I was doing it, I kept getting bright ideas for more and more, and when I was done, I felt sort of at a loss as to what to do with my time, and wanted quite badly to start another one right away. Which I will do just as I've caught up with a couple of writing deadlines.

It's in the shop right now. If you want to buy it, send me a pm. The monks say it will probably go pretty fast.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Greatest mushroom soup evah!

You guys seriously have to try this one.


1/2 onion, chopped
5 cloves fresh garlic, minced fine
1/2 peeled green apple, chopped
big lump of butter
1-2 potatoes sliced
2 cups of diced pumpkin
2-3 cups sliced mushrooms
handful of rubbed basil
1 porcini mushroom soup cube
2 cups milk

In a large pot over a medium heat saute the onion, garlic, basil, soup cube, mushrooms and apple in the butter until they're soft. Add potatoes (I don't peel) and pumpkin and enough water to cover. Reduce heat and simmer until the spuds are soft. This should be about 20 mins. Make sure the water level doesn't go down too far. Add more if needed.

While this is doing up, cut up some more mushrooms into nice bite-size chunks and sautee them in a pan with more butter and then set aside.

Take another pot or a big bowl and blend the hot soup together with the milk in portions, letting it go long enough to make it really smooth and frothy. If you've got it, try heavy cream instead of milk.

Transfer the blended soup into the new pot and put it back on a very low heat to warm up. Add the mushroom bits.

Eat with fresh bread and butter.

Oh! Best one ever!


Sunday, November 22, 2015


From now on, I'm just going to be using these gifs everywhere the Twitter or FB thread has become so tedious that I want to punch someone.

Gonna ask myself, WWTD?

"Oh, sorry... were you still talking?"

"Oh, no no. I didn't actually want to know."

(Yes, I didn't see these movies, but thanks to my glorious high speed innnernet and a certain surfeit of  time on my hands, I've become a screaming Thranduil fan-girl. Where's my pointy nerd-ears?)


Saturday, November 21, 2015

How the world ended

Minoan art; all happy and nature-y and dolphins! But then the sea turned out not to be our friend.

Here’s a thought experiment: what do you think would happen if China suddenly found that no one in the West were in a position any longer to buy their export goods? Just not enough money, too much debt. What if the lending institutions, credit card companies and international global financial institutions that hold national and individual debts, were one day to find themselves insolvent and demand immediate repayment? What if they just disappeared? Swallowed, perhaps, by a titanic tsunami hitting the Eastern Seaboard? (We’ve all seen that movie.)

Next, what if enormous numbers of fighting-age single men from a culture accustomed to violence, with sharply divergent assumptions about morality and social responsibility, with no jobs, no money and no family ties, were suddenly imported into countries already suffering chronic economic, social and moral instability after a century of devastating wars? What if this all happened right at the moment when these countries had severely cut back their military budgets? What if at that very moment, global “food security” were suddenly severely tested by ongoing environmental challenges? Drought, in a word.

Would this create some kind of vast instability? Could there be some kind of collapse? There have been a lot of people throwing around terms like “civilisational collapse” and “world war three” lately. But what does it take to actually bring down such an entity? Has it happened in the past?

What if I were to tell you that most of this had already happened in another remote time in history? And that the result was the near-annihilation of a hugely successful, cosmopolitan, multi-national civilization, in many ways like our own?

The opening paragraphs of a ridiculously long piece I finally finished last night for the Remnant. Mike said he's going to put it in the print edition, and then in a couple of months online.

Earlier in November it was ancient history documentary week at Hilaryhouse after a friend of mine with a degree in classics came to stay for a couple of days and, to my great relief, didn't want to talk about Francis or the Church. We had a bang-up time going over the sudden horrifying collapse of the Minoan civilization after the Theran Explosion and all its many far reaching after effects. In brief, a whole island in the Aegean - that just happened to be the major port trading centre of the Minoan empire, like the Hong Kong of the ancient Aegean, more or less just turned instantly to dust and ash and launched into the atmosphere, followed by what they think was one of the biggest tsunamis in human history - killed 80 per cent of their population in half an hour and destroyed nearly all their cities and infrastructure and reduced them from the greatest sea-traders in the ancient world to beggars in the space of a day.

Being a life-long sci fi fan, I've been fascinated with the idea of The Big Collapse. What would we do if suddenly there were no longer available the social framework to support us that we're used to? I was astonished and fascinated to discover that precisely this has already happened, though a very long time ago.

[This guy is kind of annoying, and not-funny, but he does summarize the whole thing pretty well.}

A big part of the Late Bronze Age Collapse, according to the Egyptian and some of the Hittite and Ugaritic records was this group who have been labelled "the Sea People" who came out of nowhere one day like a horde of proto-Vikings and started pillaging the crap out of everybody. It is all tied up with the rise of the New Kingdom in Egypt, the Theran explosion causing 150 years or so of recurring drought in the Nile breadbasket, and the cessation of 100 years of war between the Egyptians and the Hittites - suddenly there was a massive group of young, unattached, unemployed single men who got laid off from the two armies after the wars ended who had nothing to do and decided to go into business for themselves as raiders.

The city states, kingdoms and empires had been weakened by the economic effects of drought and had reduced their military budgets and were left more or less helpless. Chaos followed and as the cities burned behind them, people literally just grabbed the kids and a few goats and tools, and ran for it to the hills where they stayed. What followed was 300 years of the Greek Dark Ages where no one knew about writing or history or music or art. And no one ever went back to those cities again, which were later just buried and forgotten. They had to start all over again.

What I thought was most fascinating was what happened to the Minoans toward the end. They had had their civilization completely decimated. Literally; only about one in ten survived. What was left was a pathetic vestige, and within about 80 years of the tsunami they had been brought very low, losing their whole culture, essentially forgetting who they were and what they were about. The evidence shows that they ultimately started doing child sacrifice and possibly cannibalism - something almost unheard of in the ancient Aegean societies. It was just as they reached this lowest-low that the Sea Peoples showed up - possibly a group of proto-Greeks whose fleet had been sheltered from the wave and ended up being the only sea power left - and put the Minoan survivors mercifully to the sword.

Anyway... You can guess that this article comparing all this to our time has taken much of my attention lately. I finished it and sent it last night after Vespers over a couple of glasses of wine. 3700-odd words and not a single one of them was either "pope" or "Francis".

I'm hoping to make it a trend.

There's a fantastic story about the Valnerina and Norcia and St. Benedict and 700 Syrian hermit monks that needs a wider audience.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

I have just found the perfect television show

The final television show. The ultimate fulfilment - the Thomistic perfection - of all television shows. After this, there will be no need to watch any other television show, ever again.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "But Hilary, everyone knows that the perfect television show was Firefly. That was the peak. After Firefly there was simply no point in watching television again." And you would be right... except for one thing. Oh come on, it's the obvious thing. 14 episodes. Ugh. Firefly was not the greatest television show of all time. It was the greatest television tease of all time. I hate Firefly for that. Hate it.

So now you're thinking, "OK, OK, maybe not Firefly then. We've all felt the pain. But what about Fringe, Hilary? What. About. Fringe?"

OK, you may have something there. Fringe, after all, had Walter Bishop, the greatest mad scientist of all time, complex relationships and parallel universes AND Buckaroo Banzai. Of course it's up there. Of course we want to buy it all on DVD. Of course we need a Fringe movie franchise. All these are a given.

But were there pies? Was the whole show all about pies and death and resurrection?

And did it have Lee Pace?

This guy? (Yes, yes I know. We all want to lynch Peter Jackson for his bloated Hobbit desecration, but seriously, who wouldn't give just about anything to meet Thranduil IRL?)

I give you... (wait for it!)

Pushing Daisies

You're welcome.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Head for the hills!

I can't believe I stayed up til three am watching a guy go camping.

I've started watching "bushcrafting" videos. How to start fires in the rain with just a stick and no matches, how to catch fish with yer bare manly hands and whatnot. They're really great. Surprisingly relaxing.

This one that I watched last night was in equal parts peaceful and fascinating, and really had surprisingly beautiful photography for a home-vid kind of thing, and decent editing. One guy showed how to make quite a nice looking basket out of wild clematis vines, and I might try it. He knew all sorts of useful things about plants too.

If some day y'all don't hear from me again, It'll most likely be because I've made myself a bullrush basket to carry the kitties in, and gone off into the woods and hills never to be seen again.