This morning I visited Mastro Santi (Santi del Sere), a maestro in cabinet making and woodwork – in wood carving, inlaying, gilding, and restoring antique furniture. As one of only a handful of remaining artisans in this field, Mastro Santi is keeping alive a centuries’ old Anghiari tradition. (In future blogs, I hope to talk about other people who are keeping alive local traditions.) He also works in ceramics, and he is a member of a local group of musicians and singers who perform traditional songs, and he writes. (He has written a book about his own story in woodwork which gives a detailed account of his materials, tools and techniques. Other autobiographical writings are held in the national diary archive located in the nearby town of Pieve Santo Stefano.) Continue reading Master woodworker
Towards the end of my teaching session last year I experimented with a dialogue in one of my classes. We had read Bohm earlier in the session and although most of the students expressed disagreement with him, they seemed really interested in the ideas. When it came time to discuss their relationship to their research projects (how they were feeling about their research practices and work habits, their topics, the ethics involved in doing their research) I decided to run the class like a dialogue group. I explained what we were going to do. They would each have a turn offering something about their current relationship to their projects; together we would draw out connections and extensions between everyone’s comments and write them up on the board; then the dialogue would begin. Continue reading Dialogue in class
of what lives us
outliving the mountain.
Last week I was delighted to come across this animal.
Part of my pleasure was that I thought I could identify it. Even though it was now in the front herb garden, and no longer among the camellias at the back, I presumed it was the same fine grasshopper with which I began this series of blog posts.
I don’t think this recognition was at the heart of my response though. The best clue to this are the words I said to myself at the time. If my response had been recognition of the same individual, I would have thought ‘Oh, it’s that same grasshopper‘. But this wasn’t my response. The delighted thought that came to me was ‘Oh, it’s you‘. Why did I say You? What did I see that made this a You and not just ‘that same grasshopper’?
This isn’t a minor grammatical quibble. There is a world — an ecology — of difference between the two utterances. Continue reading This is not a grasshopper
Gardeners often talk of their state of mind. Gardening relaxes them. It changes their mood or perspective. It makes them feel differently about their lives. Although we often imagine that moods and states of mind are attributes of an individual, these experiences of gardening suggest that states of mind are a matter of ecology or sociology rather than individual psychology. The changed state of mind befalls the gardener; it emerges from their relation with the garden.
Indeed, just to take this thought a step further, maybe this is what is important about gardens. They are special places where people learn that what is innermost is also outside them. This is how they learn how they fit in a broader world that includes them but doesn’t belong to them. Continue reading A gardening state of mind
For the past few months, since beginning this photographic project, I have been uploading photos every day to an Instagram account. There are now many hundreds there. Every photo is different but every one is also the same.
Take this image. What do you see? A fist? An embryo? A fern? A mother and child? A helix? A shell? A heart in a rib cage? A mathematical formula? Continue reading What do you see?
It was a cold and drizzly day when we visited Pieve Santo Stefano, a town some 15 kms north of Anghiari, near the source of the Tiber, which runs right through the middle of the town. Pieve is close to the birthplaces of both Michelangelo and Piero della Francesca. It was almost completely destroyed by the retreating German army during the second world war, and the non-descript postwar buildings contributed to a bleakness about the day of our visit. By contrast, what awaited us was yet another experience of the gracious hospitality we had been shown while staying in this part of Tuscany. Continue reading National diary archives, Italy
Earlier this year, I was invited to speak at a humanities postgraduate symposium held at Macquarie University. The organiser, who used to be a student of mine, asked if I would share some of my experiences of the PhD. Thinking back to my time as a student, I realised that among the most formative and character-building moments of the dissertation process were those that involved some form of failure. The periods when the research and writing progressed smoothly didn’t stand out. Instead, the most memorable points were when things weren’t going to plan and the process felt out of my control. Continue reading Sitting with Failure
On my recent visit to Sicily and Crete I was reminded repeatedly of the place, in South Australia, where I grew up. Looking at a hillside of olive trees in Sicily, I would find myself in a primary school geography lesson, lost in pictures of ‘the Mediterranean’. I couldn’t now say if my fascination with ‘the Mediterranean’ had been a fascination with places in the Mediterranean or with South Australia’s classification as ‘Mediterranean climate’. But, while in Sicily and Crete, I had an overwhelming feeling that these seemingly faraway places were somehow inextricably connected with the place of my childhood. Continue reading The time and space of childhood
I know you are suffering. You tell me that you feel broken, exhausted. Your horizons are diminished. You feel as though you have lost a better self and have no way to regain it. In spite of the specialists, the doctors, herbalists, clinicians, the diets and disciplinary regimes, a cure eludes you. You are beginning to despair. I can hear the anguish in your voice, the distress on your face, when we speak about your condition. You are suffering.
At times you see your illness as the cause of your suffering. It is the insurmountable obstacle that prevents you from realising your true, happier, self. At others, you blame yourself for not being able to accept your condition and forge a life within it. You see your suffering as a sign of failure: your great and perpetual failure to be happy. As if happiness was an achievement. As if us non-sufferers were somehow better at living than you. Continue reading Letter to a friend