I have been baking all my own bread for a few months now but have recently become obsessed with sourdough. It took me a while to get a viable starter going but since that happened I’ve been baking two or three times a week. After a personal loss, I’ve been using the bread making as a kind of mindfulness practice. My life is quite simple and monastic now. I’ve quit FaceBook and have been enjoying the solitude of my studio and kitchen. I’m spending most of my time reading, baking and painting.
Each batch of sourdough takes a couple of days as the dough sits overnight to ferment. It’s pretty amazing when you think that all that’s in this bread is flour, water and a little salt. The leaven is from naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria that are on the flour and in the air.
I mix the flour with water and it becomes a living, moving thing. I love shaping the dough into loaves and watching it slowly fill with air.
And the result is beautiful and tasty. Below is a video clip of the loaves just out of the oven. Turn up the volume and listen to them crackle!!
I’ve written a series of posts here about my wife, Leslie’s, death and how I’ve coped with her loss. I feel like I should conclude this somehow but am not sure how. July 3 marked the one year anniversary of her death. I marked it with family and friends over a few days then went off to Italy for a month. As I look back, it appears that I made a kind of project out of it in that, for the year following Les’ death, I did my best to experience that loss and everything that came along with it as deeply and in as many ways as I could. I did several types of therapy, personal growth seminars, healing ceremonies … whatever I could think of. I said yes to most things that came my way and tried to stay open to whatever came at me. I fell in and out of love and learned that relationships don’t have to have the boundaries I usually contain them with.
The second part of the project was to start having new experiences as a person who is in the world alone. Alone in that, although I have friends and family, my life is no longer shared. The month in Italy was the first step in that.
The year of grieving, as I wrote in earlier posts, was tumultuous and both painful and expansive. I grew and unconcealed parts of me that were buried inside for a long time. I think, in many ways, I realized that I’m the person Les always saw in me and have become better able to see that in myself.
Learning to be myself for myself is something I still grapple with and have been keeping in mind the question, can I be enough for myself? Can I find everything I need to be happy inside me? I get disappointed in my self when I feel a longing for something outside. I can usually let go of it and return to the present but longing for something, something I can’t quite describe, revisits me often. The solitude I hated earlier, I’ve learned to love at the same time that I crave connection with others.
I didn’t used to think I was much of a people person but I know that’s not true now. The reason I’m still alive is the people I love. My fondest memories of this past year and my time in Italy are of the beautiful and interesting people who’ve entered or passed through my life.
I’ve just returned from a month of painting as part of the Jerusalem Studio School Summer Program in Civita Castellana, Italy. It was very stimulating to spend so much time with people dedicated to painting, including modern masters, Israel Hershberg, Vincent Desiderio and Yael Scalia. They were very generous with their time and knowledge. Living and working among so many artists is a wonderful experience. I miss the daily immersion in painting and the camaraderie.
The month was packed with opportunities for artistic experiences. Every Thursday was a bus trip to another city with maps and lists of art treasures to visit. Sunday nights the guest artists showed slides and talked about their work. Two critiques a week led by Vince, Israel or Yael and on regular painting days, the instructors would wander the town and visit painters at work. Communal meals were served in the hotel or various other restaurants in the town and you could usually find some of our community at the Club Cafe either having a cappuccino or drinks late into the night.
Although I went there with the intention of painting in oil, I started out wandering the town with my sketchbook and watercolors and really loved soaking in the experience that way so continued to work largely in watercolor. I did rent a studio for the last two weeks and did some oil painting there and plein air but the watercolors were the bulk of the work I produced.
Although I spent a lot of time painting, the largest impact on me, I think, will be from the time spent in conversation with the other painters and instructors. I came home with a lot to think about.