Monday, October 27, 2014




The Val di Chiana from Panicale
James Aponovich
Pencil on paper

From the Piazza Masolino one can look over the red tiled roofs of Panicale and see the Tuscan city of Cortona nestled alongside the mountains that form the eastern edge of the Val di Chiana. By car it takes under an hour to get there. The road up to Cortona is not easy. It is full of hairpin turns, steep ascents and sudden cut offs. If the name Cortona sounds familiar, you are either a fan of Renaissance homeboy, the painter Luca Signorelli or you enjoyed basking under the Tuscan sun with one of Frances Mayes books.

Virgin and Child
Luca Signorelli
Tempera and oil on wood, c. 1505


In Italy, for Elizabeth and I,  almost anywhere is worth going to as long as there is a decent chance of finding a great place to have lunch. Nothing wrong with a little destination dining the way..."I wonder whats in that church ?"  You never know.
Aldo had told us that there are two "must do" things when we visit Cortona.
The first is to walk to 'Le Celle', an abandoned monastery founded by St. Francis in 1211
( Stew and I will do that in the spring). The second and equally important
 is to have lunch ( pranzo ) at  Osteria del Teatro.  Enough said.

Outside Aldo & Daniela's Bar Gallo

The four of us were having our usual morning coffee at Bar Gallo. It was the beginning of what was to be an unusually warm day for May. As we sat there I could sense an unease in our friend Debbie as she sipped her cappuccino grande. She seemed to be in a fog, even though we hadn't drank that much  wine the night before. Debbie is an articulate, intelligent and creative woman with the most uncanny sense of being able to do whatever it is a G.P.S. does. A few years ago we were lost, driving around the backroads of Tuscany trying to find our way to Siena. I was seemingly driving around circles when suddenly she screams "STOP!"
I slammed on the brakes and looked to the side of the road only to see a rundown factory with the name Pratesi on the side of it......OH, shoes...we will never make it to Siena now. this was a must stop. Elizabeth still wears a pair of red loafers she bought that day.


Got Prada? Nah. Want Tod's? Too expensive. Bargain basement deal? Yes!
Place Debbie anywhere on the globe and she can locate wherever she is by the nearest shoe outlet. It is amazing, so I knew that the uneasiness I sensed that morning somehow involved shoes, or the lack of them. I decided to throw down the gauntlet...."Anybody up for a trip to Cortona?" Then over the empty coffee cups a war
cry arose......"Yes, shoes!"

We soon found ourselves in Cortona on the Via Natzionale looking for the Pratesi outlet.  Elizabeth and Debbie were on a mission for two finds: shoes and Italian leather purses, Jim and I, as usual, stood outside the more than tiny store  and did what men around the world do....we waited.


Cards From Cortona
James Aponovich
oil on panel, 7" x 5"

Boredom, or was it watching one too many people licking gelato soon got the better of me and I began to look around at the various shops. There was one in particular that caught my eye, Il Papiro.
It seemed to be a paper store and since paper is part of my trade, I decided to take a look and left Jim
standing sentry.

Me                   " Buona sera."
Comessa          "Buona sera, mi dica?"
Me                   " No grazie, sto solo guardando."
Comessa          " Bene."

* more of my butchered Italian

Looking over the cards, stationary and sealing wax, I noticed a deck of playing cards. A card player, I am not, I can't even play solitaire. But I love the hearts, clubs , spades and diamonds, never mind the King and Queen along with the Jack. However, I have always held the Joker in high esteem, and this Joker was one of the best I have ever seen. Paint him. I must!
Oh, Guess who ended up buying shoes?

Me! I need a pair of Italian suede driving shoes like I need a hole in the head. What's next, an Alpha Romeo?............Hmmmmmm.


Fighting The Italian Street Musicians Union Rates

We became exhausted after all that shoe shopping so the best remedy was to revive ourselves with a shared bottle of prosecco. We had just settled down at the nearest bar when a street musician came by and played a short riff on his accordian. Want to hear more, you gotta pay. Little did he know that I have harbored a lifetime of hatred of accordion music, must be the Lawrence Welk thing.
Anyway, I was feeling flush and offered a two euro coin. He looked at it, looked at me and walked on muttering something. Fortunately, I couldn't understand. So, I kept the coin and added it to the composition.

Me                       " Good afternoon."
Shopkeeper          " Good afternoon, can I help you?"
Me                       " No, thank you, I'm just browsing."
Shopkeeper          " Very well."

'Tip O the hat' and thanks to Debbie DePeyster for suppling friendship and photos of Cortona.

Monday, October 20, 2014

TURN, TURN, TURN, ( Giri, Giri ,Giri ) week 8

( Giri, Giri, Giri )

Sunflowers on Appledore
James Aponovich
oil on canvas, 32" x 26"

In October, they shut Appledore Island down. Autumn drops heavy in New England. The scarlet flames of color in the trees are like the anguished scream of nature about to extinguish herself. Dreaded winter will come, long, dark and cold.

But now it is harvest time. The air is still warm and the sunflowers are at their peak. In Italy, they are called  Girasole. Girare is the verb 'to turn', and Sole means sun, so the name connotes motion, a turning towards the sun. Turn they do, I can attest that in painting them, they behave like an inexperienced model who constantly fidgets in a pose, never still.


Q.      Hey Jim!   Whats with the cloth......again? You paint flowers n' stuff wicked good but I keep seeing the yellow cloth. Its old fashion and kinda boring. I dunno, what gives?

A.     Huh?


Hydrangeas on the Amoskeag ( detail)
James Aponovich
oil on canvas

The textile goods produced at the Amoskeag Mills in the 19th Century were world renown. Almost every field in rural New Hampshire had a flock of Merino sheep whose wool was destined for the mills, cotton flowed from the south.
In Italy, during the Medici's, Florence rose to her glory on two things, banking and wool. The Florence, Flanders route meant that amongst other thing, artists could see each others work and ideas were exchanged.

Thematically, the woven textile is a reference to the original Amoskeag Mills. Pandora was a well known textile manufacturer and a recognizable landmark for travelers heading north to the mountains of New Hampshire.
There is also a more subtle water. The cloth and flowers sit over the Amoskeag waterfalls, so the cloth cascades over the wall to counter the unseen falls behinds it.
About the cloth......


( The Textiles of Anghiari )

I first saw this particular cloth at a shop in Arezzo while in Tuscany hunting down the Piero della Francesca Trail. I immediately fell in love with it and often use it as my "go to" fabric in painting. During our last stay in Italy, Elizabeth and I, along with friends Jim and Debbie, made a pilgrimage to the Tuscan village of Anghiari to visit the flagship factory, Busatti.

For more information on our trip to Anghiari and Busatti factory click on:


Monday, October 13, 2014



Nasturtiums Over Trasimeno
James Aponovich
oil on canvas, 17" x 12"

Massimo said, " You know James, it takes about three weeks to get comfortable here in Italy." I blankly looked at him and nodded as I sat at Aldo's with a birra grande in front of me, trying to clear out the cobwebs after the transatlantic ride Elizabeth and I had just taken. With a hoarse laugh he continued,
 " And you must be here seven weeks before you are really here!" I looked down at my plate of affettati misti ( you never drink without food) and thought, what in the world does that mean, particularly if you only have ten days? What is this hidden Italy? I would eventually discover what Massimo meant.


Piazza Umberto I, Panicale
James Aponovich
Pencil on paper

In Italy, everything is closed on Monday. Even if that is not true, you must assume it. A restaurant, which is always open on Sunday is open on Monday, but closed on Tuesday, or is it Wednesday, I forget, no I think it's Thursday. You go to the bank at 1:00...closed, return at 3:00...closed. You go to the Forno a few minutes past noon to buy focaccia....closed.
There is a time for everything. 


Aldo, Bar Gallo, Panicale

Aldo and Daniela's Bar Gallo never seems to be closed. Italy is a culture run on coffee. In Panicale, Bar Gallo is where you find yourself at least three or four times a day. It is where everybody comes for this or that depending on the time of day. Sometimes it is just to be around other people and feel the heartbeat of the town.


Aldo starts putting out tables at 7:00 or earlier, always fresh flowers. All the shop owners and merchants come in to stand ( in pieti) at the bar and savor that first cup of coffee. In Italy, particularly on weekdays, breakfast is minimal, conversation is not.

Me                    " Ciao Aldo!"  " Buongiorno Daniela!"
Daniela             " Buongiorno James, dimmi, dimmi ?"
Me                    " Due cappuccini, e un cornetto con marmalatta, per favore."
Daniela             "Certo James, dentro o fuori?"
Me                    "Fuori, fa bel tempo oggi, grazie."
Daniela             " Prego"

                                                                                                          * butchered Italian

It is called  friendly conversation and it occurs in every shop and store. Sleep in and you miss it a vital connection to Italian life.

study for: James at Bar Gallo
Elizabeth Johansson Aponovich
Pencil on paper

Now, about that cappuccino.

Me                        "Hi Aldo, Good Morning Daniela"
Daniela                  "Good morning James, tell me, tell me ( what you want)"
Me                        " Two Cappuccino and a croissant  with jam, please."
Daniela                 " Certainly James, inside or out  ( refers to, where are you sitting?) 
Me                        " Outside, it is nice weather today, thanks."
Daniela                 " Your welcome."  


Monday, October 6, 2014

THE FOOD ISSUE ( week 6 )


Basket of Fruit with Grapes and Morning Glories
James Aponovich
oil on canvas, 26" x 26"


It is said that if you ask 100 professional French chefs to each make a Bearnaise  sauce you will get 100 sauces exactly alike. On the other hand, ask 100 Italian cooks to make a ragu and you most certainly get 100 versions along with some heated arguments. In Italy things change , not just from region to region, but even town to town..
So, when I speak of Italian food, I am referring to the places I am most familiar with, Umbria, Tuscany and Rome. When I speak of food from my native New England, the conversation
 gets kind of sparse.....what dishes most represent New England? bluefish and beans? New England boiled dinner? Boston cream pie?


Roger Swain, the eminent Botanist, Horticulturalist, Public Television personality, listed only six indigenous edible crops in the United States, they are:

Fox grapes ( Concord grapes)
wild rice

"That's piss poor!"

                       -R. Swain

Throw in a roasted wild turkey and you got a pretty decent Thanksgiving dinner. My point is that we don't have much to work with here in New England......well, thinking about it, there is one thing we do have.............

James Aponovich
oil on panel, 16" x 12"


The North American lobster abounds off the coast of New England. Purists say you must go Down East in Maine to where the frigid Labrador current is home to the best lobsters. Having lived there, I cannot disagree.
Although most people prefer to dunk their boiled lobster in copious amounts of melted butter, ( and yes the bibs you wear around your neck do make you look silly ) there remains an ardent group that searches out the quintessential New England lobster recipe.

Sanders Lobster Pound, Portsmouth, NH.

Inside Sanders Lobster Pound


Some recipes are all the more difficult due to their simplicity.
 Try boiling an egg.....perfectly.
It  may be axiomatic that less is more, but what is most important here is balance.
If this were a painting ( and it is a work of art) I would be referring to proportion, how one area relates to and balances the other. So, I have chosen to profile the lobster roll not because of its "chefy" complexity, but  because of its seemingly infinite variations on a relatively simple list of ingredients.


Lobster, freshly caught is best, preferably from waters on or above the 43rd Parallel. Boiled and cooled then diced or torn. If you can buy shucked lobster meat, make sure it is fresh.
Mayonnaise, yes, some is necessary, it is after all, lobster salad. The amount you add is up to you. 
Make your own mayonnaise or use Hellman's, or if you are a true New Englander, Cains.
Celery, crunchy and finely diced.
Scallion, only if you must.
Lemon Juice, for brightening
Salt & Pepper
New England Style Hot Dog Roll,  buttered and toasted.
A bag of Cape Cod potato chips, if you live in Maine, Humpty Dumpty potato chips.

Prepare the lobster salad, it should be chilled, but never cold. Keep the lobster pieces the right size to comfortably fit the roll. Reserve the claw meat to decorate the top. Brush the sides of the roll with melted butter and place on a hot pan until toasted a golden brown, open the roll to release some of the heat and fill with lobster salad mixture, do not overfill.

Lobster roll from Alisson's
Kennebunkport, Maine

There is a continuing controversy that never seems to be resolved....
What is the best thing to drink with lobster?
There is nothing wrong with a tall glass of Geary's Ale to have with your lobster.
But, our choice  of beverage is a cold crisp Prosecco when lobster is on the menu.
Our  favorite is Turina Lugana Spumante Brut.