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“Give us this day our daily bread” has new meaning

May 26, 2010

In the 1950’s the family’s chickens were zoned out,

and their backyard vineyard destroyed when Interstate 80 was constructed.

Their house was moved on a flatbed truck a few blocks away and they rebuilt their garden,

but the vineyard was lost, and nothing could ever quite replace that.

My grandparents never returned to their homeland.

Each surviving member of my family has gone to see the sites in Rome, Florence, Venice,

and Pompeii, the furthest south any of us have ventured.

They, like most Italian-Americans, had identified their Italian-ness

with Leonardo and Michelangelo, Hadrian and the Medicis.

These cultural icons instilled pride, and were an easy link to the past,

yet were not accurate to our background.

We have our traditions, and we have our faith,

and these  have been passed down and have never taken for granted.

I prefer to understand the truth of my past to idyllic visions of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

We are tenders of the land.

“Give us this day our daily bread” has new meaning,

to our thankfulness that we can bake our own,

and share with others the bounty of our gardens.

I suppose I never had such pride, being a third generational immigrant on all sides,

half Italian, a quarter Lithuanian and a quarter Pennsylvania Dutch.

Having a mixed origin and identifying with many family homes,

I have always felt a nomad.

And because my features were unfamiliar,

when we moved I was seen as a witch, gypsy and outsider.

Over time, my love of nature was seen as suspicious in an increasingly technological world.

Becoming an artist, I have been fortunate to pursue the handcrafts of my ancestry

while traveling the world and working with others that have found similar paths.

Growing up, I always imagined that our backyard gardens and orchards

were almost a shrine to the countryside that we had come from…

miniature gardens of paradise.

In all my various homes, I have tended the land and identified with those that do likewise.

While living in Egypt, I would leave the cities to find visions of my grandparents in each village.

But I knew that the Nile delta was not my home, and those were not my ancestors.

I do not idealize Calabria, but I imagine it is that missing puzzle piece,

the answer to “diPaola” as a question in my mind.

My artwork is a collection of self-portraiture, and this seems a necessary step.

I have never used my name capitalized, feeling that I haven’t grown into it yet.

I must admit that I have felt compelled to write to you.

Perhaps it is an indication of your proposal that I have never found anything ever seeking out “me” before,

I have always had to find a way to be apart of someone else’s world, especially in the art world.

At a cousin’s wedding, my uncle told me “you are living out our dreams.”

I took this message to heart, realizing that for my whole lineage,

I am courageously returning, through my adventures and travels back in time, to the Paola that Giorgio left.

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