July 16, 2017

Conzano Diary by Wolfgang Müller and An Paenhuysen

In May, Wolfgang Müller and I spent a marvelous three weeks in Conzano, Italy. Renata Summo - O'Connell, director of Artegiro Contemporary Art, had invited us for a residency as part of the Cocoaa Project.  We were writing on our book about The Science of Misunderstanding and during the breaks we watched birds. Here is the diary of our observations. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Cin Cin Conzano!*

When An told me that we were invited for a residency in Italy, I was excited. I asked her: “Where in Italy?” She answered: “In the north, in a small city in Piedmont.” When she pronounced the name I understood “Cinzano.” Later I found out that it is “Conzano.” Misunderstandings always produce surprises!

* In Germany there is the advertisement slogan “Cin Cin Cinzano” for an alcoholic drink.

We’re sitting in the dining room, 12:30 pm, eating delicious bread with olive oil, cheese, and tomatoes. Looking through the open window I suddenly see a special bird. Wolfgang recognizes the bird, it’s a rare one, he says. It’s a hoopoe. He once saw the bird spreading its wings on top of a colony of ants. This way the ants attack the bird with their poisonous fluids and the wings are cleaned from parasites.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The poppies are already blooming in Italy. They do so in the month of May. The name “poppies” comes from “popping up,” so Renata tells us while driving the car to the nearby town Casale Monferato. “How simple!” she laughs. In German language poppies are called “Mohn”, in Latin it’s “papaver.” In Dutch we call them “klaprosen” because their flower leafs have the color of red roses and they fold together with the slightest breeze. Once I ate a “Mohnkuchen” made out of poppy seeds that Wolfgang baked with a recipe of his mother. It was delicious and heavy.

Today I’ve heard the call of a cuckoo. What do the inhabitants of Conzano think about this bird? I mean, the people here seem to be very kind and friendly to their children. They love their children. Do they know that this bird just puts his egg into a nest of another bird? And do they know that the young cuckoo kicks all his new brothers and sisters out of the nest? What do they think about this bird?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The cuckoo and the pigeon are in contest for the most monotonous bird song: “cookoo cookoo” or “grou grou groug, grou grou groug”. Because of the last syllabus which stretches out the sound, the pigeon could be the winner in variety. 

Time can go merciless over art and reveal it for what it is. This is the case with Anselm Kiefer, so I told Wolfgang. In the museum in Berlin where I give guided tours, his paintings look more and more “mothy.” They age badly and make you think of badly aired cabinets in which moths live. Wolfgang told me that in the newspaper he read an interview with Sylvester Stallone who had an Anselm Kiefer hanging on the wall when suddenly a piece of hay fell down from it on the floor. “What did you do?” so the journalist asked Stallone. “Stick it back on,” he said. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Today we were sitting like a modern version of Bouvard and Pécuchet on our terrace that stretches like a platform over the street when a woman came up the hill wearing a blue jacket and carrying a red bag. We had the impression that we were performing a theatre play on an elevated stage. 

LG (Liebe Grüße), so Wolfgang and I agree, is one of the ugliest abbreviations in German. It’s the very opposite of what it means (loving greetings). 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

House animals: in the early morning a lizard climbed over the wall on our territory but before we could give it a name, it already disappeared. 

In the afternoon we explored the border of Conzano with our bikes. We had to go downhill to find the sign. Then we discovered it’s easy to get out of Conzano but it’s much harder to get back in. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

At the local Ristorante Vineria del Pozzo, the owner Guerrino tells us that he saw our theatre program on the terrace. He waved at us but we were so involved in thoughts that we didn’t notice our spectator. 

Emanuele, the mayor of Conzano, is driving me to Alessandria today. There I will pick up my friend Dirk at the station and we will rent a car for the weekend. Such a surprise when Dirk is not there. He sends a message that the airplane changed its direction during the flight and was landing somewhere else. But he will make it on time with the train. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

In Germany everybody knows Mon Chéri and thinks that the Piedmont cherry comes from Piedmont. Our guest Dirk tells us that the Piedmont cherry is a fake. It was an advertising trick of the Italian company Ferrero. Instead you can find truffles in Piedmont and eat truffle cheese. 

Today is bird day. On our bird excursion in the nature reserve near Albano Vercellese we spotted a swamp chicken, herons, cormorants and an Ibis Sacro. The Ibis Sacro has black and white feathers and a bent beak. In ancient Egypt it was a holy bird depicted as the guard of the dead. It was mummified and buried in the graves. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

At the restaurant I doubted that the rose on the table was real. But when I touched it I found out it was a real rose. So we took a picture with me holding the rose and subtitled it: “A real rose is a real rose is a real rose.”

We drove by rows of lime trees. When you make tea of lime blossoms, it tastes as if there’s already honey in it. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

While driving through the beautiful Italian villages we think of Rodin, who said that more beautiful than a beautiful thing is the ruin of a beautiful thing. In Germany they tend to exaggerate in renovation so that historical half-timbered constructions have the looks of Disneyland. 

In Germany they say “gehe doch zum Kuckuck!”, which means: “Get lost!” This morning while having breakfast and upon opening the window the cuckoo sounded very near to our house but we didn’t take it personally. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The cuckoo is very international and seems to integrate easily. In every country the cuckoo sings differently:

France: coucou
Italy: cucú
Russia: Kukuschka
Greece: koukoula
English: cuckoo
Polish: kukulka
Hungary: kakukk 
Latin: cuculus
German: kuckuck
Dutch: koekoek

Today a rat ran along the garden wall. We named her spontaneously Elvira. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The mayor Emmanuel was in the villa today. We heard his voice and we were wondering if he was selling the house with us included. We’re pioneers in gentrification. 

We were talking at the restaurant when Guerrino stepped in to give us an Italian language crash course. Not “ja, ja, ja” he gestured with emphasis, but “si, si, si”!

Thursday May 11, 2017

Today is our Charles Baudelaire day. Our sight is limited by the fog. In the morning we couldn’t even see the next town. “Les rêves et les féeries sont enfants de la brume,” wrote Baudelaire. (Dreams and fairy tales are children of the fog.)

Friday, May 12, 2017

We admire the panorama in the park and smell the surprising scent of the invisible brooms that ascends from the orchard below. 

Bird of the day: a redstart balancing on the garden wall.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

When Wolfgang looked in front of him, he noticed the geranium flowers sitting next to each other in pots on the balcony. Because he’s been reading Gertrude Stein, he said: “A geranium is a geranium is a geranium.”

In the local grocery store we meet a woman who lives in Conzano but is originally from Peru. She recommends us the fresh tortellini. With a bit of olive oil, cheese and 2 minutes of cooking they are delicious, she says.

Sunday May 14, 2017

The Day of Saving Animals: 
A big fly was buzzing around our desk. I took a big glass, put it over the fly and slid a paper in between the glass opening and the window. I carried the glass with the big fly inside to the open window where I set it free. Only half an our later something similar happened with a swallow who flew inside the room and panicked. She sat herself on the white lamp and then fluttered in between the curtain and the window glass. I threw a scarf on the swallow and grasped the bird carefully then to release it through the open window. 

We observe a starling in the back garden. He sings convincingly. Suddenly a grey female starling flies towards him. He tries to copulate. She twists herself free and he leaves, frustrated, the tree. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Harmony is an allusion. We hear screaming outside. Then we see a Siamese cat pursuing another cat around the church. Three cuckoos crash together in the sky then to flog off in three directions. Also the starling sitting on the antenna of the kangaroo house has trouble with its confreres. Only the swallows seem to be in harmony. They’re happily flying around the church tower. And the flies who gather in our apartment don’t seem to have enemies either, only allies. 

An starts to communicate with the birds.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We noticed today how there’re two kind of art critics: one type can be compared to the cuckoo and the other one with the starling. The starling takes in all the suggestions coming from the outside and transforms them into an own interpretation. The cuckoo stays true to itself, is incorruptible and doesn’t change its opinion. Art critics move in between both poles. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

krrr krrr krrrrrr
is the bird in the backgarden
coo coo 
sings on the side
grou grou grouu
is everywhere around
skweet skweet 
is in the front
around the church tower
and in the middle 
there is we
who make no sound 
at all 


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