Her Secret Was Hidden in the Painting. Su Secreto Estaba Escondido en la Pintura.

(Scroll down for English version.)

La Familia Gozzadini, (1584) Lavinia Fontana

Lavinia Fontana (1552 – 1614) fue la primera mujer que trabajó como artista fuera de una corte o convento en Europa-  Fontana era más prolífica que cualquiera artista femenina del Renacimiento, pintando cientos de obras durante su vida.

Fontana tuvo 11 niños. Ganaba más dinero que su marido, Paolo Zappi, que era un pintor menor. Zappi se encargó de la casa y los niños y sirvió como asistente de pintura para su esposa. Pequeños detalles en las pinturas de Fontana  frecuentemente son pintados por Zappi.  Por ejemplo, en esta pintura, es probable que pintara la mesa, el fondo y el perro.

Fontana era muy popular entre las mujeres de clase alta de Bolonia, donde vivía. Sus pinturas estaban comisionados para marcar eventos importantes en sus vidas. La habilidad de Fontana para hacer prendas suntuosas y joyas la convirtieron en una de las favoritas entre el “jet set” antes de que los jets existieran.

Una de sus obras más famosas, La Familia Gozzadini, fue comisionada como un acto de venganza. A primera vista, la obra parece un retrato de la rica y poderosa familia Gozzadini. La figura en el centro es Ulisse, el patriarca de la familia. Está sentado en una mesa. Sus hijas están sentadas a ambos lados de él. Sus maridos están de pie detrás de sus esposas.

La historia detrás de la pintura es muy fea.

Ulisse era un manipulador.

Prometió toda su fortuna a la primera hija que le dio un hijo, iniciando una cruel carrera de fertilidad.

Ginevra, la hija a la izquierda, ganó la fortuna.  Tuvo seis niños, cuatro de los cuales eran varones  En la pintura, su padre está sosteniendo su mano.

Sin embargo, el ganador verdadero fue el marido de Ginevra  porque ella murió cuando tenía solamente 28 años.

Laudomia, a la derecha en la pintura, prefiere acariciar a su perro que tocar a su padre.  Laudomia no dio a luz a un solo niño. Su marido la culpó por perder la fortuna.

La pintura cuenta del punto de vista de la historia de Laudomia.

En la pintura, Gineva está representada como el extremo feo. Laudomia, por otro lado, es muy bonita.

Ambas hermanas llevan broches. Cada broche representa un desnudo masculino. El desnudo de Ginevra tiene una erección enorme. El miembro del desnudo de Laudomia está flácido. En otras palabras, no es la culpa de Laudomia que no haya tenido hijos – su marido era impotente.

Laudomia no era estéril. Su secreto estaba escondido en la pintura.

English Version

Her Secret Was In the Painting

La Familia Gozzadini, (1584) Lavinia Fontana

Lavinia Fontana (1552 – 1614) was the first female artist working outside a convent or a royal court.  She was the most prolific female painter in Europe during the Renaissance, finishing hundreds of paintings in her lifetime.

Fontana had 11 children.  She was married to Paolo Zappi, a minor painter.  Fontana was the primary breadwinner in the family.  Zappi ran the house and took care of their children.  He also assisted his wife in their studio, painting minor elements in paintings such as drapery and other details.  For example, in the La Familia Gozzadini it is likely that he painted the table, the dog, and the background.

Fontana was very popular among wealthy women in Bologna who commissioned her to depict important events in their lives such as weddings.  The ability of Fontana to paint sumptuous fabrics, furs and jewelry made her a favorite among the “jet set” before jets existed.

La Familia Gozzadini is one of Fontana’s most famous paintings. On the surface, the work depicts one of the most wealthy and powerful families in Italy.

In reality, the work was commissioned as an act of vengeance.

The figure in the center is Ulysses, the patriarche of the family.  Seated at the table with him are his two daughters, Ginevra on the left and Laudomia on the right.  Standing behind them are their spouses.

It´s an ugly story.

Ulysses was a cruel and manipulative man who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted.

He wanted an heir, and quickly.

Ulysses promised his fortune to the first daughter who produced a son. The sisters were pitted against each other in a race of fertility.

Ginevra won the race.  She gave birth to six children, four of whom were male.  In the painting, her father is holding her hand affectionately.

However, the real winner was Ginevra´s husband. Ginevra died in childbirth at the age of 28.

In Fontana´s painting, Ginevra is fat and ugly.  Laudomia, on the other hand, is a beauty.

Each sister is wearing a broach with miniature paintings.  On each broach is an image of a nude male.  The male on Ginevra´s broach sports an enormous erection.

The male on Laudomia´s broach has a flaccid penis.

In other words, it wasn´t Laudomia´s fault she had no children.  Her husband was impotent.

Her secret was hidden in the painting.



Love Like Fishes and Loaves

Several years ago, instead of going to an expensive restaurant for                        Valentine´s Day, I invited the man I was seeing for dinner at my house.                     I asked him to wear old clothes and bring along a few items of clothing that needed repair.  After dinner, we chatted on the front porch while he put a fresh coat of paint on the flower boxes and I rocked on the porch swing and mended his clothes.  We gave the money we saved to Leaping Stone, an organization that is building a school in Ghana.  On that day, love multiplied like fishes and loaves.

The Box with the Cellophane Heart

Yesterday, I passed a man on the corner selling heart-shaped Valentine balloons.  In the middle of the red balloons was a single blue heart.

It reminded me of the box that I kept under my bed for years.

I was 19. He was my first love. We were planning our wedding.
It was the summer before I was to enter college.

The invitations were printed. The church was rented. The wedding dress was waiting in a blue box for me to walk down the aisle.

On the top of the blue box was a huge heart-shaped cellophane window that framed the dress, which was wrapped in pink tissue paper. I opened the box often to look my dress and dream of the new life I would soon be starting.

It was the prettiest dress I ever owned.

Then one night everything changed.

My boyfriend gave me an ultimatum: give up the idea of going to college or the wedding was off.

“A working-class man will never be happy with a college-educated wife,” he said. Besides, his uncle could get me a job on the line at his factory. I´d be making good money. Enough to buy something called cherrybomb glasspacks for his car.

I told him to take a hike.

I figured he´d come to his senses and change his mind.

He didn´t.  My heart broke into a thousand pieces.

My parents were pissed. Nobody in my family went to college. Did I think I was better than everybody else? Those invitations and that wedding dress cost a fortune. Did I think money grew on trees?

I put my black and blue, broken heart in my backpack and trudged off to college.

My grades were excellent.  At the end of every semester, I´d slide that blue box out from under my bed, take off the lid with the cellophane heart, fold back the pink tissue, toss my report card on top of my wedding dress, spit twice and refold the tissue, put the lid back on and slide the box back under the bed.

Semester after semester.

Later on, I added degrees to the pile.

Degree after degree.

In the blue box with the cellophane heart, I paid the price.

In the blue box with the cellophane heart, was a better dream.

In the blue box with the cellophane heart, my story has a different ending.

The Valentine´s Gift (A Story Overheard)

“We weren`t a touchy-feely family,” he said.  “If you wanted to bug my mom, you hugged her.  Her shoulders would stiffen up like rocks.  I never learned how to express my feelings.”

Like many men, he liked the holidays because buying things was the only way he knew how to show love. His gifts were always extravagant and often inappropriate.  One year, however, he was broke.

“Valentine´s day was just around the corner.  I out of a job and couldn´t seem to find work.  I was drinking a lot.  All I could afford to buy my wife was a dress from KMART.  It was horrible, cheap and tacky.  It cost me every dime I had.”

On Valentine´s Day, he had no money for booze, so he returned the dress to KMART and bought a bottle of gin instead.

“Honey, I got you the best Valentine´s present ever,” he told his wife. “I´m going to go to rehab.”

“Again?” she asked.

Photography: Mardi Gras, New Orleans

This photo, taken in New Orleans, was in sharp contrast with reality.
My friend had just lost the love of his life. Her death was unexpected.
I was there to help.

Helping him was a gingerly process, for he was deep in grief and shock.

I rolled up my sleeves and cleaned out the laundry room.  I put a jar of fresh flowers on the table, made soup, baked bread and listened to his stories about the woman he lost.

We uncorked a lot of wine.

He did not want me to touch her jars of creams and lotions in the bathroom.  The shelf they were on had been recently dusted, and I knew that he opened the jars to smell her.

I did not touch him, for he was untouchable in his suffering.  He did not cry.  It was easier for him to be angry.  Every evening, I retired to my room early to give him space and to paint.

The streets were filled with color and music while his heart broke and I watched him crumble.



This poem, written today, was inspired by the video below of Sara Baras performing NIÑA DEL FUEGO.  The study in oil, Castañuelas, was done in 2014. In the poem, the sounds move from the first line, to the second, to the third and finally to the fourth line.


TAK taka TAK, TAK taka TAK.
The heels of the gypsy speak
To the man in the corner watching.

Taka taka tak. (Shhh.)
Saying what must not be spoken.

Coiled like a snake beneath the surface.

Her compás burns red-hot
Like her dress.

Like her tears.
Like the broken places
That cut her like glass.
TAK. Takatakatak. TAK.


TAK taka TAK, TAK taka TAK
Los talones del gitana hablan
Al hombre en la esquina viendo

Taka taka tak. (Shhh.)
Diciendo lo que no se debe decir.

Enrollado como un serpiente bajo la superficie.

Su compás queman rojo vivo
Como su vestido.
Tak. TaTak.

Como sus lágrimas
Como los lugares que la cortan
Como vidrios rotos.
TAK. Takatakatak. TAK.

The Fragrant Kitchen: Challah

The Best Incense is a Fragrant Kitchen

This is my favorite bread recipe, easy to make and beautiful.   Challah is a Jewish ceremonial bread, eaten on Shabbat and other holidays.

Baking is a ritual I rely upon to keep my balance when traveling.

As a traveler, I have discovered that ritual is one of the necessary ingredients that transforms an unknown place into a home.

In Everyday Sacred, Sue Bender tells of a friend who lived in Europe during WWII.  To avoid being swept up by the Nazis, his mother and younger brother moved constantly.  Each time they moved to a new place, his mother would open their small battered leather suitcase and bring out the lace tablecloth the family used for Shabbat dinner on Friday nights before they were forced to flee from their home in Poland.

In each new place, the ritual was exactly the same.

His mother would place the suitcase on the table, carefully drape the lace over the leather, and light a candle.

In that moment,  the place, wherever it was, became HOME.

Baking challah is more than baking bread.  It is a magical alchemy, the sensual pleasure of kneading the dough, braiding the loaf and filling the the kitchen with moist heat and the fragrance of baking bread.

Making bread centers me when I travel.  My fondest memories are not of monuments and ruins, but of kitchens where I have cooked.

When I pull a beautiful loaf of challah from the oven, when I cut that first slice, the place, wherever I am, becomes HOME.

Recipe for Challah


  1. In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over 1 cup of barely warm water and the honey.  Let it get foamy.
  2. Next, add enough of the four to make a ball of the mixture (about 1.5 cups)  Cut a cross in the ball and put the ball in a bowl of hot water.  This is the sponge.  It is a very old-fashioned way to make bread.
  3. When the sponge has risen to the top, up it in another bowl and add four eggs, the oil and sale.  Add the rest of the flour one cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating to kneading with hands as dough thickens. Knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed. Cover with a damp clean cloth and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in bulk.
  4. Punch down the risen dough and turn out onto floured board. Divide in half and knead each half for five minutes or so, adding flour as needed to keep from getting sticky. Divide each half into thirds and roll into long snake about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Pinch the ends of the three snakes together firmly and braid from middle. Either leave as braid or form into a round braided loaf by bringing ends together, curving braid into a circle, pinch ends together. Grease two baking trays and place finished braid or round on each. Cover with towel and let rise about one hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  6. Beat the remaining egg and brush a generous amount over each braid.
  7. Sprinkle with seeds and bake.

Poem: Delta Blues


Delta Blues
Ritha Fellerman

Sipping sweet tea on the porch,
Blue glasses, white wicker swinging
A slow sultry rhythm in the silence.
No need to talk.

Motionless in the Morning Glories
A hummingbird.
Deep in the indigo shadows
A sleeping cat.

Anvil clouds flash and rumble.
Wind whips the sheets on the line.
Overalls tap-dance like cobalt minstrels.
We should take in the laundry
But we won’t.

Fat raindrops splash the dust.
Take off your shoes.
And your shirt.
Let’s dance in the muddy waters.
Until we are are soaking wet
While the neighbors stay inside,
Those dolts.

A garden is passion in the dirt.
Magic wanding seeds into plump tomatoes and jingle beans.
Waltzing between the rows, ten muddy toes.
Blue no more.
Throw away your compass.
You are home.

Come into the warm kitchen,
Bread is baking.
I’ll towel your hair like you were a child.
We’ll turn on some music and sing songs
While the gumbo bubbles on the fire.
Come here you hungry thing.
Let’s eat.

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