Sunday, July 1, 2012

Diane Di Prima’s Recollections of My Life as a Woman

First off, let’s all cough up some cash for this lady, because as my pen-pal F.S. Rosa wrote of Di Prima, “she is an American literary treasure, but like a lot of older artists and writers who did not exactly have a 401K in mind when they embarked on their life on the barricades of art and lit, she is having a hard time right now health-wise and financially.” 

In fact a link to the Give Forward site from Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, which I’ve pretty much given up reading because it only makes me blue, is what got me to pick up my copy of Recollections of My Life as a Woman and finally read it.  The memoir traces Di Prima’s childhood and young life as a poet in New York City, at Swarthmore, in California, and upstate, and ends – or more like de-animates to an exhausted stop – with her leaving for “the West” in earnest, sometime in her thirties.  


Di Prima is one of the few women who was part of the Beat Generation (and of such intersecting rings as the New York School and the New York Poets Theatre) and moving through Recollections are figures such as Freddie Herko, Audre Lorde, Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, Hettie Jones, and LeRoi Jones – a man who played a significant role in Di Prima’s life, for better or worse.  Along the way, the reader is immersed in many vanished worlds:  in a stifling Italian-American Brooklyn; in a Manhattan where rent was so cheap that all kinds of artists and writers could afford to live here and fly their freak flag high instead of being dinned into submission by their day job in the marketing department; in a pre-“Slouching towards Bethlehem” California where, even if people were stoned, it was apparently never so much that they didn’t notice the baby chewing on the electrical cord.

I love this woman’s fierceness, her kicking down of conventions, her hunger for life, her devotion to her art.  And so I just need to say that this book drove me nuts. 

Why?  To start, I realize that, though I’m no kid anymore, I still read memoirs and biographies of writers in part – unfairly enough – because I want to see How They Managed It.  And on that count there was little here for me.  Instead, watching Di Prima move through her twenties and make so many disastrous and ultimately self-wounding choices (such as deciding to marry an asshole who threw out boxes of her notebooks and letters, and who gave little evidence of liking women, let alone wanting to sleep with them) was like witnessing a slow-motion train wreck.  I wanted to say, Diane, WHAT were you THINKING? 

She asks herself this a number of times throughout the book and, even though she was writing Recollections in some cases thirty-plus years after the incidents she describes – and since then had received the benefits of therapy and what sounds like a deeply felt, meditative Buddhism – she very often still doesn’t seem to have found an answer. 

To back up for a moment.  I think a prickly thing for me – and the reason why I’m, in truth, a terrible candidate to write about this book – is that Di Prima reminds me so much of someone I used to be very close to, and who had a crazy-making knack for putting herself in harm’s way for whatever magical-thinking reason she thought she needed to do so.  This is some easy psychology, but both of them seem to be re-enacting the childhood wound – which, in both cases, was their father’s abuse.  In Di Prima’s case, this also had a sexual component:  early in the book, she talks of her father beating her and then getting aroused when he was “comforting” her.  This, along with a mother who was too often no kind of ally and not beyond hitting her children herself, is plenty for anyone to attempt to overcome in one lifetime.  

In the first few spiraling chapters, Di Prima approaches her subject, circling among many different memories and modes:  loving, child’s-eye reminiscences of her maternal grandparents – who were clearly a huge inspiration to her and seemed to have enjoyed a happy marriage, despite being of the all-too-common religious wife/anarchist husband Italian variety; snippets from her current-day life; narrations of her attempts to “excavate” family history; italicized commentary; random scenes with relatives, many with a thick Italian-kitchen air that sent me back to my own paternal grandmom’s house (deeply dissimilar, however and thank goodness, was how often Diane had to rebuff creepy male relatives who seemed to see her as young meat for the taking); and, most of all, a working-out on the page of how to deal with her complex, wounded, deeply unhappy mother.  It’s the kind of written incantation a writer does to get herself started, and which most major publishing houses would have lopped off in a New York minute.  It’s awkward and frustrating and non-linear, but I like it – I like writing that has, as my former teacher Carole Maso used to say, “fingerprints” on it, and this has some mad fingerprints all over it.       

Reading these pages, it seemed to me that the shadow of the mother, as well as the abuse, loomed very large over so much of Di Prima’s life.  Early in the book, when Di Prima is helping her mother cook even though she’s “barely tall enough to reach the pan on the stove,” she gets burned by spattered oil and is told by her mother:
That Women had to learn to bear more pain than men.  That was just how they were made.  Women, mom went on to tell my puzzled little self, had periods, had babies; even in cooking and cleaning they got hurt more.  I would, she assured me, get used to it.  My fingers would get callused, and pots and fire wouldn’t hurt as they did now.  I looked forward to this armor as a good thing; she described it as a blessing. (26)

At the same time there was the strong charge from her mother to be neat and clean and ladylike:  to be, of course, the Nice Italian Girl.  Young Diane couldn’t wait to get out from under this oppressive and punishing household, and the degree to which she rebelled – or, better said, lived her life the way she wanted to – is pretty astonishing, especially for the time.  It must have been a long psychological distance indeed from white-ethnic Brooklyn to bohemian Manhattan, and taken a huge strength of will to decide and plan to have a child on your own in the mid-1950s. (She would go on to have five children, very often under the most precarious circumstances and/or with invisible or actively harmful men, and keep writing all the while – a fact I find nothing short of astonishing.  Her description of the whole process of giving birth – from the emotional needs of her body to how she was treated at the hospital – is just the kind of fascinating, specific, “mucky women’s stuff” that I’m thrilled to read and that, in my experience, rarely gets written about; maybe because it would make a certain kind of male critic squirm.)  

 Diane with My Neighbor Totoro
er, I mean with fellow poet Charles Olson.
 Just how cute is this image?

While she kicked over many of the mores of her class and time, what Di Prima seemed to have taken along with her was her mother’s attitude of stoically bearing pain.  Very often in the book, Di Prima talks about how important it was to be “cool” at all times, especially in her dealings with men, particularly her seemingly worthless husband Alan (the jerk who threw out her notebooks and who regularly put their family in harm’s way, often in the most elaborate and harrowing manner possible) and with LeRoi Jones, who – just to go out on a limb here – will win no awards for reliable boyfriend nor committed husband, and never mind what a treat it must have been for Hettie that these roles were ever coexistent. (See Hettie Jones’ excellent memoir, How I Became Hettie Jones.)  So often in Recollections, after reading about some terrible treatment Di Prima had to deal with from one of these men, I’d nearly cry out loud:  Why won’t you let yourself get angry?  Looking back on her younger self, after talking about the difficulty of opening up to a very loving female partner, Di Prima writes:

My mode had always been to tough it out, a shrug, a “what did I expect, after all?” was how I dealt with loss, betrayal, general unpleasantness.

This suggests to me an attitude that, again, goes back to the childhood wound, a response to the abuse from her father coupled with the lessons of her mother’s martyr attitude:  to admit anger means to give over power (I think Di Prima says this somewhere, but foolishly I didn’t mark this).  However, to not admit the fact that you’ve been hurt, to not admit the pain, is only to further wound yourself by creating a fiction that no “event” ever took place.  It becomes part of the conspiracy of silence…which harms the victim most of all.  She continues: 

The problem with that was it never discharged anything.  Tons of remembered grievances, things I’d “never forgive” even some of my dearest friends for, pain of being let down at the most crucial moments – these cluttered the air, and tended to turn my muscles into a knot. (196)

Painful and perplexing to read.  Also painful and perplexing, in a different way, are some puffy, self-aggrandizing passages, like this one in which Di Prima writes of herself in the third person:

Among her peers, her immediate friends, there were no women with her certainty.  No women writers who were artists first, who held to their work as to their very souls.  There were writers and would-be writers among the women, but they held other, alien priorities, assumptions.  The assumption that Art (always the capital A) was compatible with comfort, a nice house in the suburbs; all this poverty and struggle was a kind of trial period, something you passed through on your way to better things…. And then there were the women who while throwing themselves utterly into their work threw themselves concomitantly into drugs…. These women, while venturing further in the work than their middle-class sisters, fell prey to the same delusion:  that there was something a man could do for them that they couldn’t do for themselves. (223-224)

Surely there was a peer or two, here or there?  Or is this that tired thing, female exceptionalism – if they’ll only let in one female poet, you bet your booties that it’ll be me?  Di Prima definitely doesn’t suffer from that hobgoblin of little minds, consistency, however.  Because twenty-odd pages later she’s accepted an offer of marriage, in this case from a gay friend who’s in love with her friend Freddie Herko.  (Amazingly, this is not the gay man she would finally marry – and the frequency with which Di Prima’s gay male friends asked her to marry them made me sort of bummed out that none of my gay male friends have asked me to marry them over the years – jeez, what am I, chopped liver?).  She gives her reasons, besides their friendship, for wanting to marry this man: 

There was also the fact that Peter had money, a private trust of some sort.  I wasn’t sure how much was involved, but it seemed likely he could take care of me and [daughter] Jeanne, or at least pay Jeanne’s private school bills.  (246)

How does this not qualify as “something a man could do” for you? 

To switch gears and reconsider the self-regarding third-person section for a moment (because it really bugged me):  as I read on and Di Prima gets older and goes through more travails and losses, I realized that when she was writing she was looking back at her younger self with something like amazement:  I did that.  I was that fierce young woman.  She’s celebrating her younger self, almost as if it were a different person.  And of course neither of her parents, horrified by her life choices such as having a black man’s child, would ever celebrate her.  Nor would the masculinist Beat scene, nor her male partners – many passages in the book dwell on the depressingly low expectations she had from husbands, which always contained the threat of violence (“…the basic fact of married life: if he was bigger than you, you couldn’t stop him from doing it,” it being whatever pernicious thing that man got into his head, 335).  So she had to toot her own horn, be the one-woman band.  It’s a shame that it seems to come at the expense of other women.

The final pivot in the book, and where everything starts to wind down, is with the suicide of her friend Freddie Herko, dancer and Warhol habitué.  Already killing himself with speed, homeless and increasingly incoherent and “mystical,” he jumped out a sixth-floor window, a suicide at 28.  These passages are painful to read, and Di Prima’s love for him and grief at his death are enormous – she led group prayers from the Tibetan Book of the Dead for him for 49 days, which seemed to me a miracle of determination and devotion.  This is also where she comes to re-examine that eternal need to be cool.  She writes, “…I had begun to feel that silence and coolness was costing us our lives.  Had cost Freddie his” (403).  Herko’s death seems to have led to her changing many assumptions – one, I guess, being that she and her tribe were immortal, which of course is so common when you’re young – and eventually leaving New York. 

One of Di Prima’s last addresses in New York City, and a house beloved by her, was 35 Cooper Square, a Federal-style townhouse dating back to 1824.  This used to be right around the corner from me until very recently when, despite all the petitions we signed (and rallies with the likes of Pete Hamill), it got razed to the ground so that some new hunk-of-junk piece of crap architecture can go up.  Claude Brown also lived in that same building at some point, and Hettie Jones still lives very close by.  I’ve been introduced to her by different people about three times over the years, and one can read in her memoir about just how she felt when she first had the surprise of seeing Di Prima’s child by her husband.  (I can only wonder how she felt about Di Prima choosing to move so close by).  Painted on the side of 35 Cooper Square used to be the only September 11th memorial I could stand, until some genius decided to obliterate it with a coat of taupe paint; afterward, someone would regularly show their disgust at its disappearance by paint-bombing the wall with big splats of red, white, and blue.  But now, ten years later, the whole thing has vanished into the air.  

In 2002, with the September 11th memorial painted on the north side 
of Di Primas old house, 35 Cooper Square, behind me.

In 2012, registering giddy disgust at how utterly ruined my neighborhood 
has become. You can see the ghost outline of 35 Cooper Square on 
the jutting-box portion of the idiotic piece of architecture 
that is now the Standard East.

Lots more to say about this infuriating and fascinating book.  I was once again thinking about why so often it’s women who write with incredible specificity about the “minute” stuff of life while men are more likely (terrible, grievous generalization here) to paint with a broader brush.  I mean, we get information in Recollections such as how much eggs cost in the mid-1950s (29 cents a dozen) and sentences like this, concerning the effects of a flood at Di Prima’s small press shop on 4th Street in the early 1960s:  “Some of the blank paper we had bought was ruined from the dampness in the shop, and had to be discarded.”  Why is she telling us this?  Because every last thing was fought for.  And if, in general during that time, women were so often left holding the bag, they had better know just what’s in that bag.  

Not a painting of a young Diane Di Prima, 
but coming across this image I was struck by how much 
it could have been. A portrait of the painter Adélaïde Binard, 

If at times Di Prima’s behavior mystified me, her grandstanding made me roll my eyes, or her uneven and too-lightly-edited prose made me impatient, the candor in her book made me feel like I know her.  I respect her strength of spirit, commitment to her work, and her willingness to show herself to the world, warts and all.  And I hope this American Literary Treasure is busy writing the second half of her memoirs, so that I can be fascinated and infuriated all over again.  

Sunday, February 12, 2012


While it's pretty completely off-topic for this blog, I'm thrilled to report that my husband has an article in the New York Times' "Modern Love" column.  I am so happy for him.

Monday, February 6, 2012

IO VIVO! The Encyclopedic Palace Rises Again

Friends, I wish I had the words to describe my happiness when I learned last week in an article in the New York Times that my grandfather’s great labor of love, an architectural model he called the Palazzo Enciclopedico, has once again been rescued from oblivion and is back up at the American Folk Art Museum – now at their space near Lincoln Center. (Thank you, Tom Hachtman, for that email.)

My grandfather, Marino Auriti, and his “crazy” endeavor meant, and mean, so much to me that it’s hard for me to assemble my thoughts about him.  I tried to write an essay about him at MacDowell in 1998, but merely succeeded in smoking lots of cigarettes, eating lots of carrot sticks, and banging my head against it all summer.  Later still I started a mini-comic about all this and made two issues, but then ran out of steam because of my seriously feeble drawing chops, and maybe more so because of the sadness that comes over me when I think too much about my family.  So please bear with me on this.      

Marino Auriti was born in 1891 in the town of Guardiagrele (provincia Chieti, regione Abruzzo) – I can still hear my grandfather saying ’Uardiagrele, with the world’s fattest U-sound in his dialetto Guardiese.  He was a carriage maker by trade, but had a dreamy turn of mind, and a facility for mechanical things.  Architecture was his great love.  As my mom would tell me when I was a kid, when the Fascists came to power, my grandfather was an outspoken critic – he published in a local paper satirical anti-Fascist poems, which she quaintly termed “bathroom verse” (and geez, one wishes one had a copy of that for the family archive).  As I wrote in my Tresca post, my grandfather really was one of those men who was forced to drink castor oil in the streets by Blackshirt goon squads.  Things got so hot that he and his brother and their families left Italy in the late 1920s.  I remember my mother telling me that the Fascists had taken their house, “one of the best houses in Guardiagrele.”  If it’s the same one I saw in the 1990s and again in 2006, not so much.  Many years after the fact, however, the loss of that house was loudly lamented, a downscaled version of exiled White Russians grieving over the loss of their dacha. 

Although my grandmother, Maria Rachele, was an American citizen (born on Christian Street in Philadelphia in the early 1900s) she was taken back to Italy when she was a baby and was very much an Abruzzese, or to get micro-specific the way Italians do, a PretoreseStill, she could have come back into this country easily, but because of the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924, the quota for Italians, among others, was tightly restricted – Italians emigrating to the U.S. went from an average of 200,000 per year in the first decade of the 20th century to less than 4,000 after the act was passed – and my grandfather could not enter the country.  The families went to Brazil instead, where my mother was born, in Catanduva, in the state of São Paulo, in 1928.  There my grandfather and a business associate invented something called a coffee thresher, which, family lore had it (the White Russians twisting their pearls again), would have made him a millionaire if the other man hadn’t stolen his patent and claimed the invention as his alone. 

No matter, though, because shortly thereafter, the Brazilian coffee market crashed.  The price per pound fell from 22.5 cents to 8 cents between 1929 and 1931.  I well remember the shock of recognition when I was in college and, in my beloved German film class, I saw the Bertolt Brecht-written film Kuhle Wampe.  At the end of the film, there’s a scene on a train where the characters talk about the tumbling world coffee market and someone cries out, “They’re burning coffee in the streets of Brazil!”  I was sitting there, in the dark in the middle of a lecture room in Fayerweather Hall round about 1988 and I realized:  God, all this really did happen.  These things played out on the world stage, this wasn’t just some piece of secret family history.  All the sorts of abstractions about History became real for me, if at a very late date.   

The family eventually came in through Ellis Island in the 1930s, and settled in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania because, as my mother would tell me, the cypress trees reminded my grandfather of home.

My grandfather built himself a huge garage, and set up an auto-body shop and “artistic framing” business; although I suspect, in the cultural hot spot that was Kennett, he never made any artistic frames for anything but his own work.  On the picture-framing side of the garage was his studio, where he made oil paintings after everything from old masters and photographs clipped out of National Geographic.  He was a pretty old guy by the time I was a kid (he was in his late 70s when I was born) and he’d given up painting by then.  I remember the last, unfinished painting on his easel, its outlines gridded out in pencil, of a Japanese woman eternally lifting a veil to her head.  I remember the wall of mitred frame corners, all so ornate, hanging in upside-down Vs and covered with the thick dust of many years. 

 Me, circa 1976, in my grandparents’ front yard in Kennett. I’m wearing my favorite 100% polyester shirt-and-scarf set, patterned with yellow roses set against a blue lattice background. Note mushroom house across the street. If you’re on the East Coast, check your button mushrooms or your baby Bellas – chances are they came from Kennett Square.

I have my grandfather’s copy after the second-tier Pre-Raphaelite painter, Henry Holiday, of The Meeting of Dante and Beatrice (charmingly titled in pencil, in my grandfather’s hand on the lower right-side, “MEETING DANTE AND BEATRICE,” kind of like Eating Raoul or Being John Malkovich).  It’s objectively pretty inept, has little to do with the original, but I worship it.

 The Henry Holiday painting, compliments of the Walker.

 Marino Auriti’s copy.

 And me, in Florence in 2008, by the bridge that was built at that crossing in the sixteenth century, the Ponte Santa Trinità – the same bridge that I note in an earlier post was bombed to bits by the retreating Germans during WWII, and reconstructed with its original stones, dredged from the Arno, in 1958. It’s flanked by allegorical statues representing each of the four seasons; the head of Primavera was not recovered from the river until 1961.

In the garage, on the other side of the studio wall, were hung salon-style, almost floor-to-ceiling, scores of his paintings, all of them, needless to say, artistically framed:  Raphael and Michelangelo he especially loved, and Leonardo, and others I’ve sadly forgotten now. (When I’d see the real version of one of these paintings in books as a kid, I’d say to my mom:  “Pop-pop painted that.”)  But the really cool thing was in the back, beyond the oil-soaked cement ground, the car parts, the enormous chassis of an old, long out-of-commission car (an Edsel?).  And that was the Encyclopedic Palace.

 Marino Auriti in his garage, with his models.

I can only imagine the frustration my grandfather must have felt, living in a town known as the Mushroom Capital of the World, enlivened only by, to hear my mother tell it, visits from the Javella water salesman.  My grandfather was an inveterate tinkerer and was always making things out of wood – cutting boards, footstools, and eventually architectural models.  I remember a tiny, beautiful building that I think was a model of my cousin Emma’s house and, of course, the elaborate, stepped cathedral with gold domes, surrounded by spindly cypress trees.  But it was after my grandfather retired, in the 1950s, when he set to work on his pièce de résistance, the Encyclopedic Palace.  This one wasn’t just a model, though. 

It was a design for a museum, a national monument. He filled notebooks developing its concept; in his statement of purpose, in my stiff translation from his Italian, he called it “…an entirely new concept in museums, designed to hold all the works of man in whatever field, all discoveries made and those that may follow.”  He wanted it built on the mall in DC – and if built at the time, at 136 stories, it would have been the tallest skyscraper in the world.  With its surrounding piazza it would take up 16 city blocks.  He built the model, at a scale of 1:200 meters, out of wood, brass, plastic, and tiny celluloid windows on which he drew mullions; for the tiny balustrades, he cut down hair combs.  And this time, so no one could scoop him, he secured a patent for his creation. 

In his statement of purpose, he proposed a plan for construction consisting of a skeleton of steel and cement; the round form, he noted, would allow the distribution of natural light internally to best advantage (not so much, considering the impossible depth of the building core, but that’s the pragmatic architecture-firm-day-job me talking here).  The building would have twenty-four entrances, 126 bronze statues of “writers, scientists, and artists past, present, and future” and, on the piazza, 220 Doric columns with more statues of writers, scientists, artists.  At each corner would be domed laboratories, topped by statues of allegorical figures representing each of the four seasons, much like the Ponte Santa Trinità. 

Apparently my grandfather wrote letters to find interested parties to fund the construction of the real Encyclopedic Palace (I wish I had just one of those letters) and had the model exhibited at a bank building on Broad Street in Philadelphia in the 1950s.  Outside of this, however, nothing else happened with his dream.  The Encyclopedic Palace, eleven feet tall and encased in a glass enclosure with its brass steeple poking though a hole in the top, sat in the corner of his garage in Kennett Square – the stuff of local myth – until my grandfather passed in 1980. 

After he died, no one knew what to do with the model (or models, plural, because the cathedral was also pretty big).  Both were taken apart and put in it a storage locker in some grim section of Newport, Delaware.  As the years went by my mother would write letters to try and find a home for the Encyclopedic Palace, and only get vague replies, if any.  People weren’t talking so much about “Outsider Art” in those days.  As I got older, after college, I took over this job from her, writing letters and offering to donate the model, until one bizarrely mean response from the Franklin Institute – of all places! And I’d had such fond memories of visiting the Heart there when I was a kid – made me lose heart, so to speak, entirely.

The knowledge that this thing was moldering in storage was always somewhere in my mind though, and in 2001, when my mother’s health got very bad, my sister Poogy and I decided we had to do something about it.  Damian and I went down there and, in the car driving to the storage locker on a miserable, overcast afternoon, we all tried to calculate how much money twenty-two years of monthly storage locker payments had been costing my grandmother’s “estate”…porca miseria.  The key to the locker had long been lost, and so my brawny brother-in-law Jimmy cut the lock.  We opened up the storage locker and, inside…the shit looked terrible.

I was heartbroken. We put a new lock back on the storage unit, and drove away.  This seemed just like another huge piece of folly, like everything else the dreamers in my family touched.

Another year went by, and we rallied.  We went back down there, unlocked the unit, and took out some pieces…I held them up to the light, the clouds parted…and the pieces looked beautiful.  In need of some restoration.  But beautiful.

 Inside the storage locker, after twenty-two years.

 Out in the light...

The American Folk Art Museum had just put up its new building, designed by Tod Williams/Billie Tsien, on 53rd Street, and an architect I worked with was telling me about how among its collection was, of all things, an architectural model of the Empire State Building made entirely from wooden toggles.  They like architectural models, fabulous, I thought!  I paid the museum a visit and…I felt a huge letdown.  It was pure sweet Americana, weathervanes and quilts and Shaker valentines…no old weird America here.  But then, as I went down the stairs to the more modern floors, I saw a painting by the great self-taught Italian-American painter Ralph Fasanella.  It was of his father, an iceman, crucified in a block of ice pierced with pairs of ice tongs.  I looked at this painting, and I felt such a mixture of grief and hope that I burst into tears. 

 Ralph Fasanella's Iceman Crucified #3.    

And then I thought:  this is the place! 

I wrote the main curator there an impassioned letter describing the Encyclopedic Palace and telling her my family would like to donate it.  Amazingly, I got an instant reply.  They sent a pair of art handlers and a curator down to Pennsylvania, and my sister and I drove out with them to the storage locker.  As the art handlers took out pieces of the model – the idea was that they’d bring it to their warehouse in Queens to evaluate whether they could acquire it or not – the curator was, bless this woman, trailing after them picking up tiny celluloid windows and carefully putting them in zip-lock baggies.  I remember Poogy giving me her characteristic look of high absurdity – of course they wanted this thing if they were treating it with such care.       

And, of course, they did want it.  I helped raise money for its restoration, through the company I worked for, and it was unveiled at the American Folk Art Museum as part of its Folk Art Revealed show in 2004.  My grandfather would have been 113 years old that year. 

 Folk Art Revealed, 2004

The Encyclopedic Palace was on display into 2006 or so and then I heard through friends who went there to see it that it had disappeared.  It wasn’t part of the permanent display.  It was put away somewhere, in storage…in some big storage locker in some dim part of the city…. 

Over the last few years, I kept reading about how the American Folk Art Museum was having financial trouble.  As I read increasingly dire articles about it, I kept thinking I should get in touch with my contact there, wonderful Brooke Anderson; then I read she’d left to go to LA MoCA.  Last year the museum went off the rails financially and sold to MoMA the 53rd Street building, for which they’d disastrously overspent.  There was talk of transferring the collection to the Smithsonian or some of it going to the Brooklyn Museum.  Oh, splendid, I thought, now the Encyclopedic Palace has officially vanished.  Polvere tu sei e in polvere tornerai…

So you can probably imagine my amazement and delight when, late last month, I got the email with a link to the New York Times article, with a wonderful write-up by Ken Johnson ("You have probably never heard of Marino Auriti...") with a huge photograph of the Encyclopedic Palace. 

Photo from the New York Times, by Chester Higgins Jr.  

As a child, I remember my grandfather as a dour presence, rarely smiling, never laughing.  He didn’t seem to have a lot of use for English, or America, or the late capitalist twentieth century.  He and my grandmom seemed to always carry so much grief within them – over the loss of their homeland; maybe, for him, the loss of his dreams.  My mother was devoted to her father, and when he died she was in her fifties but she still called him daddy.  The house in Kennett so beloved by us all was sold, without any kind of consultation, by my bumbling father, and the garage was converted into a lousy vinyl-sided hunk of junk.  My mother was so sad over the whole thing.  Then she told me about a dream she had about my grandfather.  She was back at the house in Kennett, and walked out of the kitchen door and into the side yard (how well I remember that yard).  My grandfather was standing there, looking like a young man, and in his hand was a tiny, living tree with its root ball intact.  He looked at her and said:  Io vivo.

I live.