We Are All Local - Jerry

I've wanted to photograph our neighbor Jerry Moore for many years, but it's never worked out. We see each mostly on the road below our house, me walking, him riding, and it isn't often. And when we do meet up, I either don't have a camera with me, or he's in a hurry to get to his girlfriend's house in Asheville, or he just doesn't feel like it. But the other day I was at the bottom of our driveway on the last leg of my walk, and they stopped to visit. We caught up on neighborhood news, laughed a lot. Jerry's had some health issues lately - heart, diabetes - so my wanting to photograph him was weighing on my mind. I wanted some tangible memory. I had my iPhone with me and asked if I could make his picture. He joked about breaking my camera, but was more than agreeable. He did complain about not having combed his hair. His girlfriend said, "Jerry, you never comb your hair."

Jerry Moore, PawPaw, Madison County, NC 2017

I'm not sure which photograph I like better. Entirely different looks from the same face. I sense Jerry would like the color image. He's more open, positive, happy, flirtatious. The color makes him look younger. It is him at his most appealing. But I also know the black and white side of him, as real as the other. Darker, more suspicious, more hidden.

I like Jerry. I like the color Jerry and I like the black/white Jerry. I like the diversity he brings to my life. He helps me realize not everyone is like me and how fortunate I am to live in a place where I am reminded of that every day.

 

Jerry Moore, PawPaw, Madison County, NC 2017

 

My Mother

 

Catherine Agnes Galeano, ca. 1942

 
 

Looking at this beautiful, mutely colored photograph of my mother when she was about twenty-one years old, it's easy to see why my father fell in love with her. I'd say I inherited my good looks from her, but I've never remotely looked this good. 

My mother was a first generation American of Italian and Sicilian descent. She identified as American and was more than ready to give up the majority of her Italian background. At an early age she changed her name from Caterina Celeste Galeano, named after her two grandmothers, to Catherine Agnes Galeano, adding Amberg when she married my dad in 1945. Everyone knew her as Catty. She understood Italian, but I never knew her to speak it. We ate spaghetti most Sundays and lasagna on Christmas and Easter, along with my grandmother's classic Italian wedding soup. But we mostly ate my father's mid-western, German meat and potatoes diet. Early on, she traded olive oil for Wesson and Crisco.

But she was also a classic Italian mother. To say she was driven underestimates her and in her lifetime she achieved more than she dreamed possible as a young girl growing up in a Italian neighborhood in depression-era DC. She was adept at pointing that drive toward her children. There were expectations about education, cleanliness, family, church, loyalty and patriotism and she used guilt with the best of them to see those expectations were met. She could be fierce about this and it drove me crazy.

On our recent trip we stopped for a brief time in my grandmother's home town of Gioia del Colle in Puglia. There, walking around town, having coffee, and later driving through the immediate countryside, I felt familiar and comfortable, like I had been there before, even though I hadn’t. Psychologists call it genetic memory, that is, memory that is with us at birth even without any sensory experience of the memory. For me, there was something in the air, as we’re fond of saying, the smell, the taste, the salt coming off of the nearby Aegean Sea. It was something I knew, deep inside, but couldn’t quite identify. But I sensed the answer lay in ten or more generations of genetic memory that preceded me, most recently passed from my grandmother and mother, and onward to my children. For this I am eternally grateful. 

 

 
In Gioia del Colle, Italy, 2017. Photograph by Joe Grittani

In Gioia del Colle, Italy, 2017.
Photograph by Joe Grittani

Some Pictures - With Nuns

 

Rome, Italy 2017

 

Our final two days were in Rome, one of the world's most romantic cities, and my mind was on love. I booked a double room in a place that promised peace and quiet, a place of solace. What better way to end our trip, I thought. We were met at the entrance by the man we'd spoken with who escorted us into a stunning courtyard, filled with soft light and magnificent flowers and fruit trees. I was slightly suspicious when I saw the religious statues, but Rome is full of religious statues, I said to myself. Then I saw the nuns - three of them in full regalia - acting like they owned the place, which, in fact, they did. They lived in the other building, the man assured us.

 

Rome, Italy 2017

 

Our room was spare and small. Two single beds (thus the double billing), narrow and hard with mattresses a short step away from bare ground.  There was a single lamp between them and a small attached bathroom. A window opened to the street outside. As promised, it was peaceful and quiet. My disappointment was palpable. But I said to Leslie, "I've never made love in a convent before and it offers the opportunity to rid myself of any remaining catholic inhibitions. I'll show 'em nuns."  Leslie, nothing if not a good sport, agreed to go along with the program. 

Rome, Italy 2017

We spent the day walking through Trastevere's elegant parks and gardens and suppered in a small family restaurant just up the street from the nunnery. Another great meal of pasta and seafood, wine, a light desert and we walked home arm in arm in the cool air. There, we undressed and I invited her to my bed. We are not big people, but cramped doesn't begin to describe the situation. Yet we persisted, thankful for the lack of creaking bedsprings, or any bedsprings at all, in the absolute silence of the convent night. But then, the bed itself took over, knocking, banging, wood on wood, wood on wall, making noise I only imagined possible on a boat in a North Sea storm, echoing both inside the building and outside in the street. I lost focus and began thinking of neighbors, the other residents, and yes, the nuns. "I'm sorry," I said, "i've got to stop." Leslie looked me in the eye, stroked my cheek and said, "well, I guess those nuns have still got you."

Some Pictures - We Are All Tourists

- click photographs to enlarge

 

Pompeii, Italy 2017

 
 

There was a moment on this trip when I realized that I was just another tourist. Until that time I had mistakenly, and arrogantly, believed I was somehow different than the throngs of people around me reading the same guide books, making the same photographs, and drinking the same bottled water they stored in backpacks. Just the number of selfie-sticks, and the corresponding selfies being made with them, was overwhelming. I had the sense people were less interested in the actual sights and more interested in showing the world they had been there. I thought, 
that's not me. 

 

Amphitheater, Pompeii, Italy 2017

 

I wanted to believe because I was half Italian and could speak a few words of the language, I possessed some unique and intuitive insight into the culture and history. That my photographs and observations would stand alone and mark me as an insider, rather than the outsider I clearly was to anyone paying attention.

 

 

St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, Italy 2017

St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, Italy 2017

 

Rome and Florence were on the verge of "too much." There are people everywhere. Europeans, Americans, Asians, and all points in between. Rude people, friendly people, tired and hungry people. People ecstatic about being in places they had previously only dreamed of being. People willing to stand in line for hours to see the Vatican art collection or wade through pedestrian torrents on the Ponte Vecchio. 

 

Florence, Italy 2017

Florence, Italy 2017

 

Italy is absolutely dependent on these millions of tourists that flock to its churches and galleries and incomparable vistas and beaches. Tourism is a major revenue producer throughout the country, but some cities and towns would cease to exist without it. It seems that everyone in these places is a tour guide, or runs a hotel, or is an entertainer that caters to the fantasies of visitors. 

 

 

Cimitero delle Fontanelle, Naples, Italy 2017

 

So, here we are. Pressing flesh with unknowns on packed trains. Sipping wine and coffee in quiet cafes on remote side alleys. Vowing not to enter another church. Relishing the soft voices and respect in a little-visited, underground cemetery for those not able to afford to be buried in a church. A meal with my Sicilian cousins and their wives in a restaurant filled with locals where my cousin Enzo coaxed Leslie into eating things she never dreamed she would put in her mouth. 

Throughout all of it, I play the tourist. 

 

Some Pictures - Graffiti 2

REVOLUTION, Naples, Italy 2017

FIGHT, Naples, Italy 2017

 

MARCH, Rome, Italy 2017

 

I don't see much graffiti in Madison County, which might serve to explain my fascination with it. Italians, at least those in the cities, seem to believe every available surface is just another pallet, made to carry a message. Often, the language is political and speaks to dissent; there is clearly a sense of darkness somewhere below the surface. I wonder who paints them, and mounts these posters, and why? And I marvel at their existence alongside the Italy of light and color, that of gelato and high fashion.