art, beauty, creative inspiration, Life in General

Overflowing.

There are times in your life when beauty shines undeniably around you, and there are times when you find it in something as simple as moss between stones. And then there are the times it flows up, spilling out of your very self, as though you become one with the magnificence of the world and humanity all around you. For me, that happens most often in Venice. I cannot tell you how many times a spongy joy has saturated my heart, rising up until tears have filled my eyes in the last three weeks. Everyday I have been inspired to work with a fervor that seldom comes this many sunrises in a row. And I have three more weeks to go.

The bounty of creativity and art here are impossible to deny, and why would you want to? I gaze at art in a museum or a church and feel ecstasy. I stand on the edge of the fondemente and from the soles of my feet, the silver blue of the Adriatic ebbs into me. I take a spill in a square, and the kind people rush to help me. I do not know the Italian word for ice skating, so I cannot explain to them that after years of training 8 hours a day, falling is a familiar feeling for me, but I smile and wipe my hands and tell them how kind they are,and how grateful I am for their concern, but it is nothing. I am laughing, “Niente, niente.” My tripping has given me their kindness as a gift.

Joy pervades everything here for me. A simple stroll through the ancient streets, the singing greetings of ‘Buon Giorno!’ from the shop keepers we’ve come to know, or even strangers, ring like the bells of the Cathedrals that are all around us. Time after time the simple awareness of where I am now mists the world around me as my chest is saturated with  love of the moment. A Madonna painted by Giacomo Bellini is so drenched in color and beauty I cannot speak for the brilliance of how much it moves me.

And here is what I have to say about that. When beauty brings you to tears—weep, sob, let the tears flow with all the love and connection of which we are capable, and that is infinite. It is not only here that I feel this, it is more a state of mind, it’s just that here, in this ancient place still so full of life and passion, those exposures are closer to the surface, more available, and more constant.

We choose what to see and do in life. Often, we choose what to feel about it. With every word you put out, every smile or scowl you give to another, you plant a seed.

Will you grow a flower? A vine? A magnificent oak? Or something dark and poisonous.

There is beauty in darkness too, I do not deny that. But it’s up to you to nurture your own soul, to know that the stars are still there even on the cloudiest midnight. It’s all there for you, embrace it, let it go, weep for the perfect bliss that is in it.

Take it in, and give it back.

Shari, February 3, 2016. Venice Italy.

 

 

 

 

Life in General

Laughter in Hallowed Places.

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Walking through the sea in St. Marks Square.

 

A special month is engraved now in my heart and mind. Every month is special, of course, but the blessings of time in this city have once again charmed and enthralled me.

I leave with so many wonderful memories of time with my daughter and husband, too many to try to share or write down, I wish I could, but those are mine, and you shall make your own.

Venice itself is a priceless museum, a moment in time, evolving and frozen, the people here have exuded their class and enthusiasm like some invisible atmosphere, their love of life and sense of wonder are contagious, and Joseph and I are, as always, infected, saturated with the germs of life and laughter.

I have fabulous pictures, of course, but one thing I will always remember, and the suggestion of which will produce waves of sense memory, are the smells. Yes, sometimes Venice smells of the sea, of tides, of moisture, of mossy damp, but as you walk, ah, as you walk.

We exit our apartment and the warmth of radiated heat interspersed in the moist air of the marble stairwell greets us. We open the huge wooden doors onto the street and the canal and the bakeries with their yeasty love assault us. The wind brings us hints of the sea and the marsh, inviting, secret scents. We cross a stone bridge, listening to the chatter of joy and the calls of greeting and pass a tiny shop in a narrow brick alleyway, where everyday, all day, they bake fresh pizza rustico. This is not the delicious thin version so often served here, but thick, bread-like slabs smeared in sauce and cheeses and every delicious accompaniment you can imagine.

As we pass it we move on to the square, hitting the open avenue where each evening the locals ‘promenade.’ Many a twilight found us seated at a café table with an aperitif in hand, a bowl of salty, crisp and thin, homemade potato chips at our fingertips, watching the ebbing tapestry of life. Children on scooters and rollerblades, friends calling out enthusiastic “Ciao!”s and every version of intense conversation moving or still in the constant flow of people, conversations that take more than just words to participate in, they take punctuation of hands, rolls of eyes, symphonies of syllables and intonation.

And nearby, they serve hot chocolate, not hot chocolate like we do, thin as water, but thick, melted chocolate with fresh cream, dense as snow, laid over the top with a spoon. This is a treat so rich it must be served not on a plate, but in a mug.

And on it goes. The smell of rich sauces cooking on every other corner as the locals prepare their dinners of the richest ingredients bought daily from stalls on the street. Ripe tomatoes, basil grown in pots, never dried, sweet peppers, onions pulled from the earth yesterday, meats from a tiny butcher, who sells only what is best, from cows contentedly grazing only days before.  Preservatives are scoffed at, as is pasteurization or freezing, and the result is not only taste, but health. It was hard, when we visited the cemetery, to find a grave of someone less than 80. I think that should tell us something.

As for the treasures of Venice, the art, the architecture, the city itself, these things are remarkable, irreplaceable, and indelibly printed in our hearts.

But it’s the simple things that I remember the most. So I will leave this city with this story.

We were visiting the Scuola de Rocco. One of the most famous and magnificent buildings here, the entire interior is decorated by gigantic painting by Tintoretto, carved wood walls and seating for the great members of that great Union that are works of art in themselves. On the top floor is a room filled with their religious relicts, goblets, crosses, grails, each of them wrought of gold and silver and priceless jewels. Many of them are so ornate that they required years of an artisans’ life to complete. A guard sits sentry at all times. One of these objects could feed a village for a year, and that doesn’t take into account the artistry and skill of their beauty. 

We were not alone as we walked through this room. A young father was holding his daughter, she was probably between 2 and 3. As they went from stunning treasure to priceless work of art, I heard her childish voice ask, “What’s that Daddy?”

The father was English, and with typical patience and grace, he answered, “That’s the fire extinguisher, darling.”

And the sound of my laughter in the hallowed, hushed room rang out so that the long dead craftsmen must have stirred in their heaven and smiled down at us.

Sometimes, it’s the treasures, and sometimes, it’s the thing you wouldn’t usually notice that you carry with you.

I take home the scents and the weather and the laughter of Venice. If you ask me why I chose to turn down that narrow passageway, with no idea where it would lead me, I will answer you, “Because the wind invited me.”

 

Ciao, Venezia, a la prossima volta.

 

Shari March 18th, 2013. 

Life in General

Gorillas in the Mists of Venice

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A view of the filming from the bridge.
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And what I see when I’m ‘alone.’

What’s that? There in the fog? Look closely, that way, in the near distance, a movement, a murmur, the wildlife stirs.

Oh, that’s us. We’re shooting a film here sans the rest of our crew. The whole big scene, assistants, grips, FX team, assistant directors, catering, etc, will all be hunkered down for a few weeks of intense group participation back in LA, and that will be tons of fun, no doubt, but today is a very different animal.

Because for this segment of the film, probably the first three minutes, it’s just me, the director, and the director of photography. It’s a raw way of working, but let me tell you, it has its definite advantages.

First, as an actress. Yes, I’m doing my own makeup and hair, and keeping track of my own wardrobe, not very well, by the way, I won’t look as pretty or be as well lit, but that’s okay, this film isn’t a vanity piece, and on the other hand I don’t have a team of people in my face picking and fussing at me with spray cans, lint rollers and brushes right up until the director says action, which, when you are doing a scene where you are beginning to see the devil in your real life, helps I think.

So much of acting is about just being able to be alone in a crowd. Being capable of not seeing what is right in front of your eyes, but instead what you imagine and mentally produce. The more I think about it, the two most valuable qualities to have as an actor are probably a fantastic fantasy life, and emotional detachment.

Here’s an example. I’m shooting a scene in my hotel room in Venice, it’s a very intimate phone conversation with my estranged husband, (played by the fabulous Eric Etebari, who will shoot his part much later back in LA) I don’t have him giving me the lines, and the director is busy, so I have to just memorize my part, and ‘hear’ his lines in my head. Meanwhile, the DP is constantly checking the focus on the camera because the camera is panning and moving in as the scene continues.

Do you have any idea how hard it is not to look at someone moving suddenly in your eye-line? To stay fixed in a tense, emotional moment when someone is waving a hand a foot from the camera? The combination of ‘forgetting everything’ and ‘being in the moment’ is a dichotomy that is extremely unnatural.

But, hey, that’s what I do.

A huge part of being a good actress means being technically good. By that I mean that you know what the framing is on the camera and visualize how to best fill it, you match your hand and head movements so that the editor can cut between the master and the close up. You make sure you are in your light, even if that means a fraction of an inch turn of your head. You are careful not make any unnecessary sound that might mess up the audio. You sit into the shot and place your face in the exact inch that means you will be in focus. You pause when a boat in the canal outside sounds it’s horn and then repeat the line so that it is ‘clean.’ All in a days work.

Now add to that, shooting in a city packed with tourists with nothing to do but try to see what’s going on, and locals who try to get in the picture. It’s hysterical really. We got to the point where we would set up the camera facing the wrong direction. The Italians, always on the phone, would find a place to settle themselves directly in the shot, then, when they were ensconced, at the last minute we would swing around and I would move to the other side so that we could get the shot even amidst the indigenous flora and fauna.

And there you have it, Gorilla filmmakers in the mists of Venice.

And if I must say, we got some amazing footage. Atmosphere and emotion and history that we could never have achieved back in good ol’ Hollywood.

So for you actors out there, my message today is “be flexible.” Don’t expect everyone to be completely silent and still and cater to you. It won’t happen, not even on the biggest sets. Other people have jobs to do too, and you need to respect them as well. When the sound guy lowers the boom to six inches over your head to catch your whisper, don’t look at it, and don’t even think about it. Yes, you will see the grip angle the reflector card as you step in to your close up, yes you will see the first AD cue the extras to walk behind you. But you must stay in your own dream.

Forget them all, and remember everything. Be in the moment emotionally yet intellectually perform a thousand tiny physical tasks. That’s my advice for today. Whether you are shooting with two people on a busy street, or a crew of hundreds on a sound stage.

You will never be alone, but we must believe that you are.

Meanwhile, back in the jungles of Italy, in between shots, I smile at everyone, help the elderly man down the stairs of the bridge when our camera is blocking the railing, listen to the bells of the cathedrals tolling in their fullness, and remind myself again how lucky I am.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Shari Venice, Italy, March 10th 2013.

Life in General

Cities of Lace and Glass.

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The colorful island of Burano, where the world’s most beautiful lace is still made by hand.

 

 

Though I have visited both islands many times, today was the first time I’ve visited the museums on Murano and Burano, two unique places that share the lagoon surrounding Venice.

On Murano, which has produced some of the world’s most fabulous glass, the Museo de Vetri, (glass) works in chronological order. The first room holds glass from the ancient Romans. I was immediately arrested by a large, thin, clear vessel, maybe twenty four inches high, bulbous and tinted with clear blue marbling, which read on the small card, “dal I secolo.”

From the first century.

That’s a year that doesn’t even have a one in front of it, our century has a twenty begins with a twenty.  

That’s a piece of glass twenty centuries old, my friends. Twenty times one hundred years, this delicate, hand-blown piece of glass has survived, intact. Our country is two centuries old, this fragile, graceful pitcher has survived ten times as long as the United States of America, which we think of as so solid, so superior, so unbreakable.

Later, on Burano, we saw lace as old as five hundred years, incredibly intricate, woven of silk-thin fiber into patterns of birds and flowers, angels and demons, saints and martyrs. Still, in the light from a window, old women sit and work, twisting fibers so frail into art with infinite patience that will soon be beyond the skill of those who will come after them.

I was stunned by the honor of standing witness to these precious things. Speechless that these objects, so seemingly fragile and delicate, crafted by hands and eyes that died so many generations ago, could still be seen by my living eyes today, things you thought too frail to imagine surviving even a lifetime, have persevered for millennia.

Yet, sometimes it’s the way of the world. That which we consider the most fragile is in fact, stronger than we know, capable of weathering the most inconceivable tests of time.

Just like life. For often the most delicate of things are the most enduring—love, innocence, hope, these things continue in spite of all the cruelty, bullying, the crushing blows dealt by ignorance and violence, brutality and indifference.

A lasting relationship is not so different from that lace, it is woven of so many threads, every smile, wink, every individual glance of compassion representing one of those threads. Sometimes, when handled by the unskilled or the unknowing, they grow tangled, knotted and gnarled beyond repair, but sometimes with care, attention, and infinite patience, they can be unsnarled, and still other times even the mistakes can make a beautiful pattern, a new, yet enduring one.

And our years on this planet are not so different from that glass. How long we have is as uncertain as the strength of that melted sand, shaped in fire, and molded by intent.

As for the glass, and the lace, they will one day crumble, be crushed or dissolved. The cities that treasure them will be drowned, the world will change, life will evolve or pass out of existence.  That too is not so different from us, we are after all, all part of the great evolution. We shall die, turn to dust, be forgotten, everything passes, people, buildings, countries, even stars burn out.

But maybe, just maybe, those threads of connection, those reflections of real emotion will endure, spinning a lace of fineness in a universe of unimaginable grandeur, sparkling with the reflections of all that was good.

A museum of us, of our lives, of every tender moment in humanity and of all that was good in the universe.

A Museum of Eternity.

At least, I hope so. Perhaps, if we knit the thought together and put it under glass, it will be so. 

Shari, February 28, 2013

Life in General

The Incredible Beauty of Age.

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My husband Joseph and I were on the Grand Canal in Venice watching the palazzos slide by and I commented that it would have been remarkable to have seen it in it’s youth, when the buildings were covered in frescos and mosaics of gold and brilliant color glinted in the sunlight.

And he smiled gently and said, “It’s remarkably beautiful now.”

He’s right of course. Spending time in a different culture is beneficial in so many ways, the food, the history, the art, the language, all of these fill me with a sense of hugeness, and of the rapid passage of time. The diversity and unfamiliarity offer a sense of perspective that what we value in one small part of the world can often be incidental, or even distasteful, in another. This is important to realize and crucial to remember.

Even the faces here are different. One thing I noticed right away was the handsomeness of the elderly, especially the couples. There is a distinct difference in what is considered valuable here, and as a result, I have not once seen a woman who has destroyed her identity with plastic surgery.

People age here, and they do it gracefully. It would appear that they spend their lives living, experiencing what life has to offer with relish. What a wonderful reminder for me at 52, I have always preferred looking my age to looking desperate to be younger, it has always made me sad to see the artificiality that our society so often deems attractive. Of course, I live in Los Angeles, the city of surfaces. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t take care of yourself, for goodness sake, wax that hair or have that mole removed, or maybe get a small tuck if something bothers you. Many of the older women here in Venice wear subtle makeup and dress exquisitely.  They look their age, and their best. I have several friends back in the states who have had ‘work’ done that makes them looks as though they just had a restful vacation. That’s not what I’m talking about, I’m referring to abusing the knife until the individuality is lost. In my humble opinion, it does not improve their appearance, only neuters it.

I’m not judging other’s choices or actions, to each their own. I color the gray out of my hair, because it isn’t flattering to my skin, but I’m looking forward to it arriving at a tone I can leave. I use creams and lotions and in a few years I may have my loosening jaw tightened, not because I want to look younger, but because I think being jowly makes me look mean, and if there is a way I want to look, it is kind.

The wrinkles can stay, I don’t mind them. In fact, I not only like them, I earned them. And for anyone to tell me that the results of the laughter and suffering in my life, the wind on my face as I walked in nature’s beauty or the storms I have braved for adventure, have made me ugly, shows that it is not my skin that is unattractive, but their superficial insecurity. I would not trade those experiences for any amount of beauty. 

How frustrating it must be to feel that you should look decades younger than you are. How positively awful to judge yourself by what someone shallow enough to place your value there would think, or for that matter, what anyone but you would think. And shame on anyone who judges only the outside, they are missing all that is important. 

I have, as they say in Italian, five decades, in a blink I will have six, and if I’m lucky, seven and then even maybe, eight.

And I want to look beautiful—and eighty. I want my eyes to shine as the crinkles radiate from them and my smile to deepen my laugh lines until the story of my extraordinary life is written on my face. No one but me will have my unique memories, will have seen and felt the experiences I have had. That is precious to me.

They have a saying here in Italy, “If you are fortunate, you will get old” It doesn’t matter what you do to try to hide it, you will age. Why not appreciate the value and beauty of that? When did we forget to honor age and the passage of years? To see it as something magnificent in itself? 

I will look at this ancient city and see the crumbling walls and the fading frescoes and listen to the secrets that they whisper and see the magnificence that stands, more graceful and vibrant for the time that has brushed them, and I will feel overwhelmed with life, with death, with the beauty of centuries, of ages, past and present.

Venerable Venice, it is always the same for me, I am awed. And the millennium that have passed over and through it make me smile with my heart.

We are not so different, after all. I will grow old, and I’m content with that. And I know that my husband will never look at me and say, how beautiful I was, wishing that he could see me then, he will smile softly at my old face and say, “You are amazingly beautiful now.”

And he will mean it.

Amore da Venezia

Shari, February 24, 2013

Life in General

Return to Venice

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How lovely to be back in our favorite city, and for a month. I have been many times, and I still get lost.

Just like life, you think you know now how to handle mistakes, rude people, even the psychopaths you deal with regularly, yet each time, you find yourself thrown off and disoriented when faced with the twisting paths of territory that is, not necessarily unfamiliar, not even unexpected, but somehow still surprising. You can know that a city is twisted, that a person is unreasonable, that a reaction is absurd, but they are what they are.

And yet, along the way, we find beauty, affection, and real connection and you draw enough strength from those to suffer the random insanity. On this adventure we are staying in an apartment on the top floor of a 16th century palazzo. I find that amazing. To be in a place that was built for a single family over 400 years ago. The view from every window is remarkable, historic, and awe inspiring. And I feel so honored to have this opportunity.

A large part of my heritage is Italian, and the food, the laughter, the passion—and the aggressive driving—are in my blood. They might not have cars in Venice, but on the way into the city on the water taxi, our driver was on a mission to beat out the other boats, my daughter, whose humor always warms my heart, turned to me and said dryly, “He drives like an Italian.”

Which he was. Which I am, though tempered with a good portion of British blue blood. We have been here only one full day and already we have connected with so many good people. There are no elevators here, of course. And our apartment is on the fourth floor, many wide marble steps, interspersed with magnificent mosaics on landings, mark our pathway home. An older gentleman occupies the only other top floor apartment and we arrived home as he was bringing his groceries up. Not having known he was going all the way up, when he arrived after us, I said, in italian, “I’m sorry, I should have helped you.” Then joked, “Troppi scale!” which means, “There are too many stairs!”

He looked at me with a bright eye and a yellow toothed smile and said with a laugh. “Troppi anni!”

Too many years.

Ah, the heart of the Italians. To have spent your life in a city of ancient and immortal beauty.

And an inimitable sense of humor, a love of laughter and life.

You cannot have too many years.

Con amori da Venzia,

Shari, February 18, 2013