Wednesday, June 23, 2010


June 23, 2010 rococo
We stood hunched over in the basement of a centuries-old shop in Bolzano, Italy: Dave, Libby, Mom and me, along with my sisters Sherry and Sue. The shop owner, a man small enough to stand shoulders-back and still have head room, had invited us to maneuver the narrow stairs down into his workspace after Mom had expressed particular delight in his work.

Angels. He carved angels. Rococo carvings: swirls and vines and wavy hair atop cherubic faces with pale plump lips and chubby, kissable necks. Chiseled out of wood, they belied their medium, looking for all the world like you should be able to squish them into your arms like we snuggled our well fed babies, except for the fact that their squishiness always sat atop a set of gilded wings.
I fell in love with them, too. Italy does this to people. Charms them, as if Italian flute players sat invisibly outside little shops and lured us in. We think we can take the feeling home with us to our sterile American houses.
Mom looked adoringly at all the pieces the artist was currently carving. “Oh my!” she’d say, “You have gifted hands!” The more she said, the deeper he took her into his workshop, until finally we were in the chilly dank back room, a fruit cellar sort of place, where there was very little light. There my mother fell in love with two large angel faces, almost life size, beautifully crafted, with obvious spirit infused into them. The were truly beautiful. And truly expensive.
I made myself turn away as I watched them start to negotiate. I got a pit in my stomach. Seriously…was my mother going to try to buy those things? I mean, are you kidding?
I made myself climb the stairs back up to the store space. Found some nice little 2 inch angel heads that were perfectly charming. Singularly lovely, each of them, and much more affordable. “You should be looking at these, Mom.” I thought this to myself, too un-daring to speak it aloud. But I grumped, like I had any right whatsoever to comment on what my mother chose to do with her money. I laid down my chunk of cash for eight tiny angels, which were wrapped in a nonchalant sort of way; while afterwards I watched the artisan, risen from the tomb with two angels under his arms, carefully dust the years of waiting off the ones my mother bought. Large, heavy ones, whose wing-gilding alone cost more than all my little angels. He carefully wrapped them and boxed them and took her money, almost hesitantly, not because he thought it was too much but, it appeared, because he was not so sure he wanted to part with his handiwork.
I hmphed around as we continued down the street, annoyed that she would allow herself such a luxury. I don’t remember, but maybe she was living with us at the time and I thought I had some say in what she did. I don’t know. It was immature and silly nonetheless.
My mom has this strange relationship with money. She thinks it is to spend. She has always had great credit…at least after Dad left and she was in charge of her own checkbook. She went so long with so little that when she started being successful in her own career you’d presume she’d hold on to a bit of it. And she did, I now know. At least held onto enough for a rainy season, if it should come again. But she was not one to believe she should hoard. Money, to her, is to facilitate life. Life does not focus itself on money. Sort of like some people live to eat and others eat to live. When Mom had it; she used it. And when she didn’t; well, she could live happily on less than anyone I know. Libby has learned this from her. They are Realtors. This current economy is a serious test of that philosophy for them. But they are making it; without complaint, without furrowed eyebrows. They are so graceful in their struggles, both of them. They don’t panic. Maybe a bit of silent worry…but they won’t panic until the spirit tells them to. I wish I was more like both of them.
Those big, beautiful rococo angels currently hang right by their front door. I see them every single day. They remind me that my mother loves beautiful things; as my sister does. She understands that artistic excellence requires a cost, and she (bless her heart) is willing to pay that. So few people understand the cost of good art.
Meanwhile, my cute little cheap rococo angels sat in a drawer, unseen, for years. I found them last Christmas and tied them to my chandelier, swaging cedar boughs between the candelabra from which the cherubs hung. I don’t know if anyone even noticed them.
I need to remember this and other lessons from my mom: some things there is no need to chintz out on. If you love something and want it to last; pay for it. This holds true in so many things: education; vehicles and homes; relationships; and rococo angels.


  1. i noticed the angels hanging from your chandelier. they reminded me of our mother and made me smile. it was a fun trip, even if we spent most of our money on those angels. lets go again.

  2. I still don't know why Libby uses that orange Orang as an avatar - somehow, she just doesn't look like that in my mind.

    This is a hard lesson to learn. As we get older we're caught between two things: the old wisdom about saving for the future, which is actually pretty much what we're living now, and worrying about retirement - a thing becoming rare and rarer every day in our culture and economy, and another set of future altogether. I realized a year or so ago that the money I had been saving all these years, if I had spent it back then on what I just paid for last month, I could have had twice as much of what I bought, and been enjoying it all this time.

    McLean said to me once - why are we saving when our money just keeps losing value - shouldn't we by buying the things we'll need in the future - like land and a good car and food instead?

    Which doesn't cover angels. But then, so few things do.