I went back to Assisi today, to hear Marco Nicoletti give a talk on medieval church architecture. It involved the Divine Proportion, so I couldn’t miss it.

After a morning spent in Perugia reading, I took the 2:10 bus to Assisi, and spent 2 hours or so with Antonella at her exhibit. I spontaneously met Ivan, who came with her from Gaeta. He was super friendly, someone who loves to socialize and make new friends.

He asked me where I was from. I gave my usual answer: I’m from New York, but I currently live in Kyoto, Japan. As soon as he heard it, he made what I now realize was a clever joke. It took me some time to work it out even after he explained it. He said: “Chiodo scaccia Kyoto.”

Allow me to unpack this. It works on several levels, like a lot of Jon Stewart’s jokes. There’s an expression in Italian, “Chiodo scaccia chiodo.” It’s idiomatic. Literally, it means “nail (or spike, or something pointy of that sort) drives away nail,” but it really means something like “one problem chases away another.” It’s used when, for example (this is the example he gave me), your girlfriend breaks up with you and you immediately find another. The problems caused by your new girlfriend chases away the pain of the breakup. It’s used to indicate that you’re on the rebound.

So what he was really saying here was that “your problems in Italy chase away thoughts of Kyoto.”

And you know, he’s right!

Antonella’s aunt and uncle showed up. They live in nearby Spoleto. We all sat in a café in front of the art gallery and talked for awhile.

Italians are really good at lingering. They can make a shotglass-sized cup of coffee last for hours if necessary. Me, I’ve got the bad habit of scarfing down food, picked up in Kyoto and especially at sesshin in Zen Buddhist temples. It’s a habit I’m trying to get rid of.

There was a lot of talk about my book. Everyone wanted to know what it was about, and the first question that many Italians have asked me is, “Is it a murder mystery?” They reach this conclusion because of the drawing on the cover.

Now, though John Wells did the drawing, the idea for the image came from me. The picture is the seed idea for the whole novel. I got it from a dream I had back around 2006. I actually woke up from it in the middle of the night laughing my head off.

Let me just say that the novel is not a murder mystery. I don’t know how to describe it, though. I generally claim it’s postmodern fiction, but people don’t know what to make of that. I guess I just have to get people to read the book in order to find out what it’s about, but the problem is, I have to convince people to buy the book first.

Antonella wants to do the design for my next book. I’ve already got an idea what I want it to look like, and I kind of want John Wells to do that one, too. There’s another book I want to write in which the characters will struggle with spiritual matters, and that one would be ideal for Antonella, so preoccupied with spiritual matters are her paintings and thoughts.

I went over to San Rufino Cathedral for Marco’s talk at around a quarter to 6. He got a much bigger crowd than I had the previous night (about 30 people), and he very kindly referred to my talk during his presentation. As a result, I had a few people ask me about it. A few people wanted me to send them articles I’d written on the thesis, but there aren’t any! By the time the thesis was accepted in 2008, I was so wiped out from doing it that I needed time away from the idea, and I never wrote any articles on it. So I gave out my business card and offered to send the thesis to anyone who emailed me.

I also got a really nice comment from a pianist who told me he had especially enjoyed what I had said about Johann Sebastian Bach’s music the previous night. He said it inspired him, and he wants to tell me more about it via email. More on that when and if he writes, but I just want to say, what a nice compliment! I really wanted everything to be clearer in my talk, but the topic was technical and complicated. Musicians got it, though.

I further realized how complicated talking about the Divine Proportion was when listening to Marco’s presentation. It’s a topic that takes a lot of setting up in order to make your points, and then the points are all fairly technical.

He talked about the façade of San Rufino Cathedral, which we were all standing in front of (nice touch, to do the presentation outside in the piazza!). I got roped in to providing a generalized English translation for a small group of Americans who were present, but everything moved so fast that I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight.

Basically, Marco’s presentation was divided into two sections. First, he talked about the geometrical figures (triangles, rectangles, and circles, in this case) used in the design of the church façade, in which the Divine Proportion was involved, then he explained the details of all the figures (here’s a close up of the art above the central door). His talk progressed from large to small. I often think in terms of form, and if I had known that his talk would take this particular form beforehand, perhaps I could have sorted his ideas more quickly and translated them more clearly.

Medieval church façades have a LOT of details. When I look at descriptions of them, I’ll read something like, “the second image above the main portal is a griffin,” and I’ll take a few seconds to get a mental image of it (a griffin is an imaginary creature that you might have seen in a Harry Potter movie. The image of a griffin doesn’t come to mind quickly for me), look for it, and in all the gaudy detail it’ll take me two to five minutes to locate the exact figure being described. San Rufino was no different. It had so many details that as soon as Marco mentioned one, I’d look for it, not be able to find immediately, and miss the next two minutes of what he was saying, so I’m afraid I only further confused the American crowd. There simply were two many details. I wound up just telling them what the larger subject was.

Anyway, tomorrow is that last day of Assisi Suono Sacro, and it will feature a concert on silence. If they need me to translate that, no problem!

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