Friday, March 22, 2013

A Wonderful Life: Part II

After publishing the Weekly Bystander for over a year, I decided to post an interview that I did for a local newspaper a couple of years ago. Last week I posted the first half and here is the remainder.

Q. You are one of several highly respected teachers whose brief teaching stints, several times a year, for the Fairfield Senior Center‘s Lifelong Learners Program make you a valuable commodity. What is it about teaching Seniors that you enjoy?

A. I have always been interested in learning, and the best way to learn is to try to teach something. It is especially rewarding to teach in the Lifelong Learners program at the Fairfield Senior center. It is obvious just looking at the people in class that they are intelligent, educated, well traveled, and motivated. In my very first class on Renaissance art I asked if anyone had been to Florence, and practically everyone raised their hand.

So I get a chance to explore subjects that interest me with 40 or 50 people who really want to learn, and who also have a wealth of life experience that they can bring to class.

Cong. James Himes with Fairfield Seniors

Q. Do you enjoy traveling? What are your favorite places? Are they stuff for the New York Times travel section?

A. Linda and I have traveled frequently to Italy since 1997 when we visited our youngest daughter, an NYU student taking a summer program in Florence. Since then we have gone back practically every year. It was because of these trips that I began at series of talks at BACIO, an Italian-American organization founded by Leonard Paoletta, the former mayor of Bridgeport.

In the talks I tried to discuss the history and the culture and the art of some of the places we had visited. Most of the world’s great art comes from Italy. These talks led me deeper and deeper into Art History until the subject became a passion even before I retired.

Incredibly, this interest led me to a great discovery. One of the most beautiful and mysterious paintings of the Italian Renaissance is the “Tempest” by Giorgione, the greatest of all Venetian artists who died at about the age of 33 in 1510, 500 years ago. Not as well known as Michelangelo and Raphael, Art historians place Giorgione along side them in the Renaissance pantheon. To this day scholars, while universally admiring the Tempest, his most famous painting, cannot agree on what it's all about.

Giorgione: The Tempest, Venice 1509

I believe that I have identified the subject of the painting. A short version of my interpretation was published in the Masterpiece section of the Wall St. Journal in 2006, and I have been developing the thesis ever since. I have developed a website on Giorgione and also blog about the Venetian Renaissance at Giorgione et al...

Q. I see that you are a member of the Renaissance Society of America. What is that all about?

A. The Renaissance Society of America is an organization of scholars from all over the world who share an interest in the renaissance in learning and art that took place roughly from 1400-1650. They publish a quarterly journal of articles and reviews, and hold an annual meeting. In 2010 the meeting was held in Venice. At that meeting I presented my paper on the “Tempest.”

Q. What do you particularly enjoy teaching at the Senior Center?

A. My course on the art of the Italian Renaissance, “A Tale of Four Cities,” is my favorite because of my interest in Renaissance Italy and its Art. This Spring I will repeat my “Italian Dreams” course which used four great Italian films to understand the reasons for the great migration of Italians to America. Next Fall, I will present a new course on four 18th century revolutions. The course is entitled “England and America in the Age of Revolution.”

Q. Do you feel that you have a following? That you have developed a rapport with your students?

A. All the classes have been very well attended. I believe that we have developed a following for the Foreign Film Festival, which I launched in 2009. The films are shown at 12:15 on the second Friday of the month. In our second season we showed  “Bakhtiari Alphabet,” a film about an Iranian tribal people and their adaptation to the modern world. The film’s producer and co-director, Dr. Cima Sedigh of Sacred Heart University, was on hand to discuss it with the attendees. We are also fortunate to have our China expert, Dr. Richard DeAngelis from Fairfield University, on hand to lead discussion of a number of films from China including the award winning “To Live.” In April we will feature Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in “Too Bad She’s Bad,” a wonderful early Italian comedy.

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni

Q. When we watched Pagliacci, Tuesday morning, you asked your students to watch the faces of the adults and children in the operatic foreground? Why was it important that they look at the faces do you think? Did you get any feedback on that specific request?

It is very difficult for us to imagine our own parents and grandparents as young vibrant people with real emotions. Looking at those young faces watching the clowns makes me think of my own grandparents back in Italy before they came to America. Also, a good film is a work of Art. From my Art history study I have come to realize that you must try to see everything in a painting, not just the main figures. Franco Zeffirelli, the director of “Pagliacci,” put those images on the screen for a reason.

Q. What question would you care to ask that hasn’t been asked?  [Why don’t you answer it.]

A. It seems that I have said enough for now, but you might have asked, “Why do you do it?” When I used to counsel my clients on retirement planning, I liked to stress that retirement was not the end but the beginning of a new career. It was sad when people told me that they had no interests beyond work. Linda and I both believe that it’s important to keep active and continue to grow and learn. 


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