Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Fast forwarding, skipping over Sacha's South American and other ventures because I want to focus on the more off-beat things his restless imagination drove him to undertake. Come to think of it, everything he undertook was off the beaten track. 

Here he is in Florence - I don't know who took the above photo but it strikingly captures him in inward-turned, isolated mood, oblivious to his surroundings. Whatever the triggers which could set off his recurrent bouts of melancholy, Sacha's response was always to leave, move, travel far away and begin something new. In this instance New York was the place he left and the something new was an idea he conceived - perhaps on the way from one city to the next - for which a special house in special surroundings was required. Once an idea had taken root in my father's mind it began growing instantly, spreading antennae in all directions and locating with extraordinary serendipity all the elements needed for its realisation. Thus he found the special house in the special surroundings: it was called Villa Ulivi, within walking distance of the heart of Florence - you could see the Duomo from the rooftop terrace. 

How Sacha came to discover this magnificent fifteenth century residence I do not know but he did, and it happened to be for rent, and so he rented it for several months. Apart from a photo of my recently resurrected painting (see January 20, 2010) of cypress trees in the garden, the only picture I can find of the villa is the black and white snapshot below. Yesterday, on the off-chance, I googled Villa Ulivi and...what do you know?...the Villa is alive and well and has become a hotel (I borrowed the colour picture of the house from their website). A very nice hotel apparently but I don't recognise the current interior decoration. When Sacha moved in, and later on all our family, there was very little furniture, only a few beautiful, darkly austere Renaissance antiques.

Sacha named his project The House of Contrasts. Here's a summary, taken from a description written after the event: 

It was proposed that a demonstration of positive and negative stereotyped views about each other held by two cultures, American and European, presented in dramatic fashion and in uninterrupted succession, could produce an enlightening psychological shock. This shock would help to crystallize one's own manner of seeing and perhaps also come a step closer to the goal: a kinder and more tolerant understanding of one person, or one nation, towards another.

The experiment was tested on groups of American college students on a cultural tour of Italy. A Florentine villa was the setting for the demonstration and the script, narration, music and graphic presentation was prepared by voluntary collaboration between American and Europeans. The stereotype views were shown in allegorical fashion, inspired by Dante: the negative clichés were 'Inferno' while the positive ones were 'Contrastland'. The reactions, opinions and criticisms of each group of students who visited the House of Contrasts were tape-recorded to serve as valuable records for further exploration of this theme. 

I was in New York pursuing my art education when my father's idea and Villa Ulivi got together and the House of Contrasts began to take shape. At first I resisted his urging me to come and work on the visual presentation - I felt it would distract me from my own path. But Sacha's power of persuasion was hard to resist, especially when it offered such an intriguing situation in such tempting surroundings.

I'd better continue this in another post, otherwise I'm just going to be at this computer all night. Part 3 coming up next - is anyone still here? 



Argent said...

I'm still here! I'm really enjoying your father's story. How inspiring to have had such a creative force in one's life.

Natalie said...

Argent,glad you're here. I am indeed grateful for the creative inspiration I got from both my parents, in very different ways.