Skillful hands

All my life I have enjoyed watching any expert at any thing at work.  I like watching dancers rehearse; I like watching a barrista steam milk and pull espresso; I like watching a mechanic’s hands run over an engine seeking the ping I hear when driving.  It is all amazing to me.

And I love watching these videos that Elizabeth Minchelli has posted on her great blog:

So, here I share one of the videos she posted.  It captures a rather unexpected art, but an art nonetheless! Hearing the Italian language backdrop is nice too!  Enjoy!

How it took 14th century sonnets, opera, and prison to make me realize that my name is Italian!

Lauretta Vintage Name Tattoo Designs

In this day and age, when it seems as if no female under the age of 30 has a regularly spelled name, my first name might seem to be just one more example of the same.

However, it is not.  I did not take the common name Loretta and pretty it up to make it Lauretta.

I am named after my paternal grandmother, Lauretta Belle Romjue.  And, not only that, but I didn’t like my name when I was young and had, for like the first twenty years of my life, a love/hate relationship with it.  Mostly I wished I could have had a more common name, something regular, like Julie.  I even liked the more patrician version of that name, Julia.  In first and second grade I longed for any name that was easier to write and spell.

But eventually, by the time I more or less grew up — around age 35 I’d say–  I finally enjoyed my name.  I thought it looked good in print and since I was publishing scholarly articles and book chapters, it was nice to have a solid, interesting, old-fashioned name. But, even then, what I did not know was that my name is Italian!  Which is kind of weird, because….

I have had, for as long as I can remember, an affinity for Italy.  Nothing about my association to things Italian makes logical sense.  My ancestors did not come from Italy, but rather from France and England, and they were in the United States from at least the time the nation was first formed. So, why, I have often wondered, do I have this inexplicable love for all things Italian?

I still don’t have an answer for that question; I am not a believer but it does kind of make me wonder if I lived before this life and maybe I lived on the Italian peninsula?  But, even though I can’t rationally explain my love for Italy, I have made a lot of trips there during my adult life, simply because I’ve always been happiest in il bel paese.

One autumn, many years ago, following a very trying summer, I made a trip to Umbria to restore my soul.  While there, I spent time in Spoleto and visited the majestic Rocca Albornoziana, a fortress castle built for a cardinal in the 14th century.  The Rocca was used by Spoleto’s Renaissance governors and many popes even took up residence there at various times, including Boniface IX in 1392 and Nicholas V in 1449. Even the colorful character, Lucrezia Borgia, is known to have stayed in the Rocca on several occasions.

By 1700, however, the castle began to lose importance, and from 1764 onward Spoleto’s governors no longer wanted to live in it, preferring to reside within the Spoleto city walls. In 1817, the fortress was transformed into a high security prison.  How far the mighty fall!

In 1982, the prison was transferred to another location and a long, careful restoration process was begun on the castle. The Rocca was reopened in 2007 as the home of the National Museum of the Duchy of Spoleto. The fortress also houses the Cultural Heritage Diagnostic Laboratory and the European School of Preservation and Restoration (of antique books).

I took a guided tour of the Rocca one fine afternoon that restorative autumn and, while following my guide around, I almost fainted when I looked up high on the walls of the main room and there, in what looked like graffiti, was my name Lauretta.  This was the first time in my entire life I had seen the correct spelling of my name outside of something connected to my grandmother or me.  By the bye, I have never in my lifetime met another woman with the name Lauretta.  I’ve met a handful of Lorettas, and even have one of them for a sister-in-law (how coincidental is that?), but never, ever a Lauretta.

When I had recovered myself and tuned back in to hear what the guide was saying, I asked him about the feminine names written in graffiti high up on the walls of this magnificent room.  Oh yes, the guide explained, when the Rocca was used as a prison, some of the soldiers would write their sweetheart’s names as they pined away for them. One of the men apparently had a girlfriend named Laura, whom he affectionately called “little Laura” or Lauretta.  Or, possibly her Christian name was Lauretta. The conservation teams uncovered the graffiti and left it as a reminder, for it gives a certain patina to the old monument, speaking as it does for its history as a prison.

I explained to the guide why I was so interested in the graffiti and he complimented me for having such a beautiful and such an “Italian” name.  I was still doubtful, but he assured me that my name is a quite common Italian name.  It is? I incredulously inquired, wanting to believe I had this lovely association to my favorite land on earth.  When I was a very young girl, the priest of my friend’s family came for dinner on a night I was at their house.  My friend’s mother introduced the priest and me and he said, “Oh Loretta, such a good, Catholic name!”  Ha! I thought.  What do you know?  I am not Catholic.  So, I was skeptical when my guide in Spoleto told me my name was Italian. Oh yes, certo, he continued.  Do you not know the Puccini opera, Gianni Schicci, he asked me?  Kind of, I answered.  He said one of the main characters is a Lauretta and that I should check into it.  I promised him I would.

Of course he was correct and Lauretta is a main character in Gianni Schicchi, a comic opera by Giacomo Puccini with an Italian libretto by Giovacchino Forzano, composed in 1917–18. The libretto is based upon an incident mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy. This opera includes one the maestro’s most famous, and indeed one of opera’s most beloved arias, O mio babbino caro (oh, my dear papa or daddy).

Was the aria ever performed more beautifully than by Renee Fleming?  Who could answer such a silly question?, but I doubt it!

Original costume sketch for Lauretta. Gianni Schicchi, Il trittico. Gianni Schicchi is the comedy within the trilogy, a farce full of greed and conniving. It is the most often performed of the three operas today, and contains the popular aria 'O mio babbino caro'.

And so that is how I came to know that my unusual name is Italian. I still don’t know if that explains why I am in love with Italy, but it is a start!

So, I started researching my name and, sure enough, it was at its height of popularity as a name for girls in the United States during the very early 20th century, as you can see in the chart below. Not coincidentally, my grandmother was born in 1902, so it all begins to makes sense.

Popularity for LAURETTA in the United States
Lauretta is an Italian diminutive of Laura. Laura originates in Latin language and means “bay laurel tree”. It is taken from the name of an aromatic evergreen large shrub. In the Greco-Roman era, laurel was used as a symbol of victory, fame and honor. As a feminine given name Laura has always been one of the most popular names not only in English-speaking countries. Laura was the name of the 9th century Spanish saint, as well as the name of the woman in whom Francesco Petrarch, an Italian humanist, found inspiration.

“. . . The senses reign, and reason now is dead;
from one pleasing desire comes another.
Virtue, honor, beauty, gracious bearing,
sweet words have caught me in her lovely branches
in which my heart is tenderly entangled.
In thirteen twenty-seven, and precisely
at the first hour of the sixth of April
I entered the labyrinth, and I see no way out.”

“Laura, illustrated by her virtues and well-celebrated in my verse, appeared to me for the first time during my youth in 1327, on April 6, in the Church of Saint Claire in Avignon, in the first hour of the day; and in the same city, in the same month, on the same sixth day at the same first hour in the year of 1348, withdrew from life, while I was at Verona, unconscious of my loss…. Her chaste and lovely body was interred on the evening of the same day in the church of the Minorites: her soul, as I believe, returned to heaven, whence it came.”

Dante Gabriel Rosetti: The Day Dream, 1880.

Back in the 1300’s, before card stores and chocolate manufacturers all conspired to commercialize the true spirit of love, passion, and romance, Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) literally wrote the book. His collection of verses, Rime in vita e morta di Madonna Laura (after 1327), translated into English as Petrarch’s Sonnets, were inspired by his unrequited passion for Laura, probably Laure de Noves, a young woman he first saw in church.

Head-over-heels in love with his Laura, Petrarca wrote 365 sonnets, one passionate poem per day, over the course of a year, all dedicated to his true love. Considered the first modern poet, Petrarch perfected the sonnet form, a lyric poem of 14 lines with a formal rhyme scheme, expressing different aspects of a thought, mood, or feeling.

When Love within her lovely face appears
now and again among the other ladies,
as much as each is less lovely than she
the more my wish I love within me grows.I bless the place, the time and hour of the day
that my eyes aimed their sights at such a height,
and say: ‘My soul, you must be very grateful
that you were found worthy of such great honour.From her to you comes loving thought that leads,
as long as you pursue, to highest good,
esteeming little what all men desire;there comes from her all joyous honesty
that leads you by the straight path up to Heaven-
already I fly high upon my hope.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Quando fra l’altre donne ad ora ad ora
Amor vien nel bel viso di costei,
quanto ciascuna è men bella di lei
tanto cresce ‘l desio che m’innamora.

I’ benedico il loco e ‘l tempo et l’ora
che sí alto miraron gli occhi mei,
et dico: Anima, assai ringratiar dêi
che fosti a tanto honor degnata allora.
Da lei ti vèn l’amoroso pensero,
che mentre ‘l segui al sommo ben t’invia,
pocho prezando quel ch’ogni huom desia;
da lei vien l’animosa leggiadria
ch’al ciel ti scorge per destro sentero,
sí ch’i’ vo già de la speranza altero.

Back to my post:

And I made one more discovery about my name when my son was small and I was reading all the classic children’s literature out loud to him.  In the charming book, Anne of Green Gables, Lauretta is one of the characters.  I now have a great fondness for this sweet book as well!

To close this rambling post on where in the world my name came from, the following sentiment from Anne of Green Gables shares that awesome feeling that, just when you think the world has already revealed all of its charms to you, you can still be surprised by the most amazing things about even the closest things that you take for granted.  Thanks world!

And to my great-grandmother, Estelle, I say grazie mille for giving her lovely daughter such a beautiful name filled with such happy associations to gorgeous italia!  To my own mother I say thank you for your generous spirit in naming me after the woman we both admired and loved.

Recipe for magic…

Mix one part Pucci and one part antique landmark and what do you get?  A moment of magic.

Step 1. Take a famous old Italian monument (Medieval is the best flavor if you can get it.  It is hard to come by, so just do the best you can):

baptistry normal

For the purpose of our post today, we will start with the Baptistery in Florence.  It is the striped building in the front of this 3 part complex, which includes the Cathedral (il duomo), the campanile (belltower), and the octagonal Baptistery.

Step 2.  Add a colorful vintage design from a later master, say something from the 20th century. The Marquise Emilio Pucci will do nicely for our demonstration. Emilio_Pucci_Cities_of_the_World_Florence_web

We’ll use this Pucci scarf today, which was created in 1957 with the Florence Baptistery as its central motif.  Pucci created a series of silk scarves using the most famous world cities as inspiration.  He was a Florentine, so it is quite interesting that, of all the structures in his native city, he chose the Baptistery above all others as his iconic symbol of his town.

pucci scarf

Step 3. Put the ingredients into a large vessel of some sort, kind of like a giant cocktail shaker, while wearing a pair of vintage Pucci capri pants and a top fashioned from the same silk as the scarf you are shaking up, as seen above.

This next step is important to the success of your final product: Be sure to notice your background while you are mixing things up. You see one of your ancestors standing in front of the Baptistry and holding the scarf. This will get you in the right frame of mind to enjoy your dressed up monument.

Battistero scarf Pucci

Step 4. Shake, shake, shake. And eccola!

Step 5. Enjoy!  You’ve got yourself a dressed up monument! A new masterpiece!  You have breathed new life into an old item.  Think of it as re-purposing on a grand scale.  What was old is new again.  You can see something old with new eyes.  Whatever saying floats your boat.


Step 6.  Stand back and look at your newly finished monument.


Be brave, because change can be hard…you can bet that not everybody will embrace it…


Step 7. Move all around your monument to see it from every imaginable angle…


And in every kind of weather condition…

You want to see it on sunny days…



See how it shines!


Monumental Pucci installation

And on cloudy days:


And even in the rain:



Step 8. Look, look, look.  Looking can be hard work, but not when you have something this fun to gaze at. Look at your masterpiece at night:


Monumental Pucci


And try to catch it with the moon in the sky…

Step 9.  Then, look at it again in the sunshine, because…


Now you see it…


And now you don’t.


Poof!  The cover is gone and you are back to your old monument.  But, now you will have a better appreciation for it.

Ha ha.  If you’re wondering what is up with all of this, it is very simple to explain.

The Baptistery of St John in Florence’s Piazza San Giovanni  dates back to 1059, but, for a brief moment last summer, it resembled an up-to-the minute, larger-than-life, pop art installation, thanks to the flamboyant intervention of luxury fashion House of Emilio Pucci.

Last June 17-20, for only 3 days, the iconic Baptistery in Florence was decorated with a reproduction of Pucci’s Battistero scarf, designed in 1957. Pucci’s scarf interprets an aerial view of Battistero San Giovanni in the brilliant hues of a Mediterranean landscape, using vibrant lemon yellow, orange, fuchsia and the emblematic Emilio pink. Never before had the Baptistery been so artistically reinterpreted, as it was for three days last June, in canvas printed with a Pucci design.

The Apse side of the Baptistery was clad in a scale reproduction of the original Battistero scarf design as a whole, having been reproduced and framed in large scale in its entirety.

The other seven sides of the octagonal building were covered in almost 2.000 square-meters of canvas, printed in a to-scale rendering of the famous Pucci design. Faithfully following the contours of the building, it was completely enveloped in rich and loud splashes of Pucci line and color.

The City of Florence was delighted to drape its iconic monument with a design by the famous Italian fashion House of Emilio Pucci, for the city has been celebrating this year the 60th anniversary of the Center of Florence for Italian Fashion.  Several fashion labels, including Gucci, Ferragamo, and Cavalli also participated in the festival to help celebrate their Florentine heritage as a part of the Firenze Hometown of Fashion initiative. Palazzo Pucci opened its archives during the celebration as well and fifty photos from editorials shot by Vogue Italia were also on display in the city.

Pucci’s gigantic scarf building covering was conceived by Pitti Imagine, the branch of the Center of Florence for Italian Fashion that creates fashion events.

Fans could follow the unveiling of the Baptistery’s new look using the hashtag #MonumentalPucci on social networks. While the display was being put up, Pucci posted teasers of the finished product. This tag was also used to share archival images of the house’s fashions over the years.

Monumental Pucci Facebook
Facebook post from Pucci

The Baptistery is currently being restored and Pucci, which is part of the LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) group, will substantially contribute financially to the restoration on the octagonal monument, in the same way that other design-related companies are supporting to the care and upkeep of the many of Italy’s monuments.

A detail of the scarf designed by Emilio Pucci in 1957

This temporary new landmark of the Baptistery wrapped in a Pucci design captured the attention of every tourist, who were seen gawking at and taking selfies in front of the monument. The whole atmosphere was a bit surreal. Lucky were all those who managed to see Florence with its Baptistery “dressed” in Pucci—such moments go down in the history of fashion and stay there forever.

Even if you weren’t one of the lucky ones who saw the dressed up monument in the flesh, you can experience a sense of it in these cool videos.

First impressions are everything.

When I landed at the Delhi airport last January, I was instantly ready to love with India!

My feeling was based simply upon this stunning first impression of contemporary art which represents timeless Indian culture in a simple, modern fashion.

First impressions ARE everything!

Nameste!  See more after the jump.

mudra2 delhiairport

Mudras_at_Indira_Gandhi_Delhi_1007delhiairport2  wpid-IMG_20111128_095644  OB-JJ763_ihand8_H_20100728041111

I knew I had come to the right place! I was jet-lagged into next week, but I noticed this artwork!  When a work of art can speak to me through the fog of severe jet-lag, I know I’ve hit the motherlode.  India did not disappoint!

Arriving at the Indira Gandhi International Airport’s brand-new Terminal 3, filled me with a sense of awe. The incredible visual experience of this series of giant gesticulating hands, jutting from a wall of what look like copper discs, made me stop in my tracks in wonder.  I like anything that has that power.  It’s why I travel.  It’s why I read.  It’s why I study art and culture.  It’s why I live.

Jaipur-based artist, Ayush Kasliwal, was commissioned to produce these giant, expressive hands.   The builders of the new concourse of the truly modern airport were keen to give the terminal an Indian context, to infuse it with Indian values. The idea of the hands emerged as the winning concept, for all forms of Indian classical dance use hand gestures called mudras. Thus, mudras are a both a distinctly Indian and common vocabulary.  The writer of this blog heartily adds her compliments to the designers.  It really works!

If you’d like to know more about this stunning installation, please go to

Click to access DIALmudras.pdf