Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Last Call

The Times today published its calendar of Alternate-Side Parking Rules (p. A-24). I had begun to think they were going to skip it this year, as there are so many higher-tech ways of accessing the calendar. Click here or here or here. Twitter. Cell phone. BlackBerry. Satellite. The coming winter looks pretty cushy, actually: Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 19, Lunar New Year on Jan. 26, Lincoln’s Birthday on Feb. 12, Washington’s Birthday (observed) on Feb. 16, Ash Wednesday on Feb. 25, Purim on (March 10). April is not the cruellest month for street parking, with Holy Thursday (April 9) and Good Friday (April 10) overlapping with Passover (April 9-10 & 15-16), and Passover overlapping with Orthodox Holy Thursday (April 16), culminating in Orthodox Good Friday (April 17). My rate at the garage is good for six months, but unless I am completely and utterly spoiled by the fairy-tale life (or in Bahia), I should get the Éclair back out on the street by April.

Speaking of Bahia, yesterday, the Feast of the Epiphany (on which, unfortunately, alternate-side parking was not suspended), was the last day of the fund-raising drive for my friend Pietro’s school, the Istituto di Cultura Brasile Italia Europa, or ICBIE. I prevailed on the good people in my Italian class to make a small donation, and we raised $150. If any readers would like to donate, you’re in luck: the campaign has been extended to Sunday, January 11th. The story of ICBIE is an epic to rival the Aeneid. You can look at the ICBIE Web site here or I can take a deep breath and try to compress it into one Bolañoesque paragraph. Here goes:

Pietro Gallina was born in Rome and grew up near the Forum, where his life was changed one day when his mother rented a room to an actor and artist and trumpet player called Ele D’Artagnan, an orphan who had been deposited at La Pietà, in Venice (where Vivaldi taught), and who, as his life went on, got more and more obsessed with his parentage, eventually discovering that he was the son of a harpist with La Scala—a daughter of the Lombardi family—and strongly suspecting that he was the illegitimate son of Toscanini, whom he resembled; he acted as an extra in Fellini films and produced highly eccentric and joyous paintings and drawings, often with found materials, but he could not bring himself to sell his art work, which he stashed in a couple of old suitcases and stored in a cave in Testaccio, because he had no home of his own after the shack he inhabited in a Roman shantytown was razed. Meanwhile, Pietro, motivated largely by the exposure to the arts that he gained through D’Artagnan, got himself a good education, in music (he is a composer) and comparative literature (he is also a writer), and taught at a high school of the arts in Rome for many years, until he got mad at Berlusconi and disgusted with modern-day Rome. Meanwhile, a friend of his, an American artist named Katherine Desjardins, had seen the work of D’Artagnan, which Pietro had inherited, and encouraged him to dry it out and bring it to New York, where it was exhibited at a gallery (KS Art) and three paintings were purchased by the Judith Rothschild Foundation and donated to the Museum of Modern Art, where one was exhibited last summer in a show called “Glossolalia”: triumph! The money that Pietro received from sales of D’Artagnan’s work became the seed money for his move to Brazil, where he bought a big old house in a beautiful but neglected neighborhood of Salvador de Bahia called Ribeira, a peninsula sticking into the Bay of All Saints, and started recruiting local kids to teach them Italian, because although you might not think that learning Italian would cure poverty it is nonetheless nourishing, especially when it comes with a side of pasta; he also made friends with the local grafitti artists (grafitti is not a crime in Bahia), giving them a place to show their work indoors for the first time, and he refurbished a couple of shacks behind the big house into guest quarters, where visitors from Europe and America can stay very reasonably, in exchange for work, and enjoy a garden of mango and banana and papaya trees, interspersed with basil and tomatoes, because you can take a Roman out of the Mediterranean but you can’t take the Mediterranean out of a Roman.

Pietro has been working on this project non-stop since 2003. He is running out of money, and I am out of breath. He decided to close the school for a semester in order to regroup and figure out how to sustain it over the long term. The supply of D’Artagnan paintings is not infinite, and the art market is not robust right now, and the economy of Brazil, like everyplace else, has tanked, and Bill and Melinda Gates have unaccountably overlooked this worthy cause. One group, Engineers Without Borders, out of Howard University, has made a tantalizing offer: they have chosen to work on Pietro’s project to build a theatre at ICBIE. The only theatre in the lower city of Salvador is a roofless ex-cinema, which nonetheless provides the venue for a lot of wonderful samba dancing. It's a great opportunity, but it's going to take some kind of miracle for ICBIE to keep enriching Bahia instead of the project in Bahia reducing Pietro to poverty. Anyone who wants to make a gift can do so through PayPal.



erieblue said...

What happened to the book you were writing about this? Or translating??

MJN/NYC said...

Pietro's memoir of D'Artagnan was published, in Italian, in Brazil. It's called "On the Margins of La Dolce Vita." Did I ever tell you what Pietro said about the English translation? He said, "it is very clear--TOO clear." (His style is a little baroque.) The project has languished, I guess because we've all been busy with other projects. But you're right: we should resurrect it.

Roy said...

Thank you so much for the wonderful description of the ICBIE! One small correction: the chapter of Engineers Without Borders is from Howard University, not Brown. They plan to be in Salvador in mid-March, to start construction!

MJN/NYC said...

Fixed! Thanks, Roy. I'd love to go to Salvador for the groundbreaking!