Archive for March, 2009

Academy Benefits for 2009: Looking back at Ojai, and ahead to April and May galas in New York, Rome

March 25, 2009

nycbenefit08Scene from last year’s AAR April gala at Cipriani 42nd Street NYC

The centerpiece of the Academy’s events year comes Wednesday 15 April 2009 at Cipriani 42nd Street NYC, a benefit gala to celebrate the arts that will honor AAR Trustee and architect Thom Mayne, artist Bruce Nauman, and opera singer Jessye Norman.

Co-chairing the event are composer Robert Beaser FAAR’78, architect Wendy Evans Joseph FAAR’84, and visual artist Laurie Simmons RAAR’05. Click here for the Benefit Reply Card and schedule of (tax deductible) ticket prices. Proceeds from the Benefit support the ongoing programs of the American Academy in Rome.

villaaurelia2005A silver lining to the clouds that hovered over the 2005 McKim Gala at the AAR’s Villa Aurelia

Then still to come: the McKim Medal Gala, honoring Academy Award-winning composer Ennio Morricone, that takes place 3 June (note new date)  in Rome at the American Academy’s Villa Aurelia. Proceeds from that event will go to provide valuable support for fellowships at the AAR for Italian artists and scholars.

mckimgala2008In the Villa Aurelia gardens: AAR President Adele Chatfield-Taylor at the May 2008 McKim Medal Gala

And save the date: on Wednesday 2 December in New York, a “Cabaret for the Academy”, also to benefit the arts, chaired by AAR Trustee Laurie Anderson (RAAR’06) and others. The venue is the Angel Orensanz Foundation Center for the Arts on Norfolk Street in lower Manhattan.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

An unexpectedly foggy Ojai was the setting this past Saturday 21 March for an inspiring Garden Lunch with food visionary Alice Waters. The aim was to benefit the Academy’s Rome Sustainable Food Project and inaugurate its new friends group.


Despite some drizzle, “the energy was amazing, lots of enthusiasm”, reports one of the many dedicated RSFP fans present. “The crew in the kitchen was great and it was so terrific to see [AAR executive chef] Mona Talbott and some of the interns we knew in Rome.” On the meal itself, see here.


Some of the Fellows glimpsed among the roughly six dozen guests at the event: Rachel Allen FAAR’03; William Fain, Jr. FAAR’02; Frederick Fisher FAAR’08 (sponsor of the afternoon with his wife Jennie Prebor); Michael Gruber FAAR’96; Wendy Kaplan FAAR’00; Tom Leader FAAR’99; Gwynn Murrill FAAR’80; and Maureen Selwood FAAR’03. Also Elisse Pogofsky-Harris, a former Fellow Traveler at the Academy.

The master of ceremonies for the afternoon was William B. Hart, Chair of the AAR Board of Trustees. Mona Talbott, Alice Waters and Fred Fisher each hit the mark with speeches that reflected on the delicious past and prospects of the two year old Rome Sustainable Food Program.

ojairsfpApplauded in Ojai: AAR executive chef Mona Talbott (in apron) and alumni/ae of the RSFP


Celebrating the 2nd anniversary of the Academy’s Rome Sustainable Food Project

March 15, 2009


“The Rome Sustainable Food Project has reestablished the connections between food, agriculture, art, and scholarship.  The dining table at the Academy isn’t just delicious, it’s an idea that brings us back to our senses and can be a model for educational institutions everywhere.”—Alice Waters

OK, technically its birthday is 26 February 2007, but the tributes to the American Academy’s Rome Sustainable Food Project (RSFP) on its second anniversary have been continuing well into March….

Let’s start with some excerpts from an article by Elisabeth Rosenthal about the RSFP. This appeared in the Styles section (p. 10) of the 15 March 2009 New York Times:

“[T]wo years ago the academy challenged Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and her team of chefs to lure fellows back to the table. The academy wanted its new food service to be in line with its conservation goals, [AAR Director] Dr. [Carmela] Vircillo Franklin said, so ideally, it would be a cafeteria that could feed the 50 to 70 scholars and their families each day with nutritious food that was mostly local, leaving a minimal environmental footprint….”

“The academy, with its small size and proximity to the Italian countryside, has run with the concept. It now offers a menu that mainly relies on ingredients that are delivered by local farmers, grown on the academy’s sumptuous grounds, or foraged by the academy’s fellows in field trips to local meadows and forests. All food scraps are composted and not much is thrown away. In a town where residents talk a lot about food, the new food at the academy quickly became the talk of Rome, and a dinner invitation became a coveted commodity.”

Excerpt from Alice Waters 15 March 09 feature on CBS 60 Minutes

And again, the NYT, quoting AAR executive chef Mona Talbott: “she said the work has paid off in unexpected ways: ‘We came with a mandate to create a new model for institutional dining—to change the culture of institutional food so that it’s seasonal, nutritious and local. But it has become more than I ever expected. We have created a real community.’”

There’s much, much more, with a welcome focus on the spirit of volunteerism that permeates the RSFP, for which you will want to read the full article.

As it so happens, at 1 PM next Saturday (21 March) in Ojai California the Academy celebrates the first two years of the Rome Sustainable Food Project by hosting a Garden Luncheon with Alice Waters and friends. This luncheon—one that is expected to be but the first in a series of such gatherings—also inaugurates a RSFP friends group. Tickets to the event itself are $250 per guest. And there are a range of other options for supporting this great initiative. Contact Jennifer Dudley at the American Academy for more information.

rfmFrom the Zach Shapiro Rome Food Movie project

And this just in…a documentary by RSFP alumnus Zach Shapiro about the AAR Kitchen is in the works.

This movie project (teaser above) has already prompted its own Facebook group.

That’s in addition to the Rome Sustainable Food Project’s own Facebook group, which to date has the best collection of images and info on all that Mona Talbott and her team are cooking up.


Three questions for Anthony Doerr, FAAR’05, author of AAR memoir Four Seasons in Rome

March 6, 2009

doerrportrait2Anthony Doerr FAAR’05. Credit: Jerry Bauer

It started like this. On the day that Anthony Doerr and his wife Shauna return from the hospital with newborn twins Henry and Owen, he learns from the American Academy of Arts and Letters that he will receive a Rome Prize in Literature for 2004-2005.

And so “we are moving from Boise, Idaho, to Rome, Italy, a place I’ve never been.”

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World (Scribner 2007; also UK edition by Fourth Estate Ltd 2008) is Doerr’s captivating, acutely observed memoir of that fellowship year at the American Academy.

doerrcoverUK cover of Four Seasons

Boyd Tonkin in reviewing this book for The Independent described Doerr’s writing here as “fleet and sharp, fixing monuments, neighbours, dishes and Popes (John Paul II dies during his stay) with a radiant image, not a purple passage.” You can listen to a NPR interview with Anthony Doerr here, in which he discusses Four Seasons in Rome.

After an except from the book (entitled “Starlings”) appeared in the Winter 2008/9 number of the SOF News (p. 7), the SOF Weblog wrote to Doerr (first on vacation in Mexico, then back home in Idaho) to ask a few follow-up questions.

SOF: Four Seasons has received many great reviews, in both the established press and the more freewheeling world of posts. What are some of the most—and least—gratifying things you’ve seen and heard about your memoir?

Doerr: Oh, gosh, I deal with reviews by trying not to read them, not being able to stop myself from reading them, and then hating myself for reading them. I don’t typically get too gratified by them, not matter how nice the reviews might be. Fundamentally, I’m happy any time someone is reading one of my books. There are a lot of wonderful books out there, and all I can control are a few things: to try be as generous as I can with my sentences, and to keep moving forward to new projects so that I don’t get unreasonably attached to my completed ones.

doerrimg_2389The Doerr twins in their double stroller, which looms large in Four Seasons

SOF: Can you say a few words about the process of “habitualization”, an important concept for Four Seasons?

Doerr: Well, I’m fascinated by the dynamism of language: how it changes, how it evolves, how it’s prostituted. I believe that (in most cases) verbal repetition has a blunting, sleep-inducing effect. When a writer writes that, say, a character has her “heart in her mouth” or “a surge of adrenaline” or her “eyes sparkle,” then a reader, seeing combinations of words she has seen thousands of times before, glosses over the phrase, rather than seeing a vivid image. She doesn’t see an actual eye, sparkling away like mad. Over time a reader gets “habitualized” to commonly-seen combinations of words like these, you know, sidelong glances, glinting eyes, “a chill ran up my spine.” I think this is as true in human lives as it is in human language. We get habitualized to our toasters and our cars and our offices and our shoes. Even our families. Even raging, improbable, sudden beauty.

Habitual things (cliches, the route to work, Starbucks) offer something safe and comfortable and sometimes our brains crave safe and comfortable. But, and this is massively oversimplifying the idea, I think that the role of art, and the role of travel are similar: they show us the familiar world in an unfamiliar way. They shake us up.

The guy I usually quote when I get asked about this stuff is a Russian ex-commisar named Victor Shklovsky, in an 1917 essay he wrote called “Art as Technique.” “Art exists,” Shklovsky says, “that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known.”

People like us, writers, we’re trying to use words, maybe the most used and familiar elements of daily life, and we’re trying to combine them to create transcendent aesthetic structures. We’re trying to employ language in ways that helps a reader see life in some—forgive the awkward word—dehabitualized way. Always, for me, art is slightly strange. So are new places. Strangeness is what helps us crack apart our old eyes and see the world in a slightly new way. Fundamentally, maybe, this is about empathy: strangeness helps us step outside of ourselves and into a the other.

As Flannery O’Connor said, “A certain distortion is used to get at the truth.”

doerrimg_2520Henry and Shauna a few steps from the AAR, at the Acqua Paola

SOF: What are you doing now? To what extent has your AAR experience changed the way you think, work, write?

Doerr: I’m writing a very, very long story for a literary magazine called McSweeney’s that’s set in South Africa in 2024. And I’m still working away on the war novel that I mention in Four Seasons, a project I started (and stopped, and started again) at the Academy.

Living in Rome changed us in a lot of ways—our appreciation for olive oil, for classical architecture, for the gaps and blanks in history, for the superiority of European Kit-Kats.

But maybe no change has been more pronounced than my new awareness of the preposterousness of designing cities around the automobile. In Rome, cars have forced themselves into a city that didn’t see them coming. Even though it’s difficult, it’s still possible to imagine certain corners of the historic center as they were before cars. In America everything seems to be built around the car. Suburbs, parking lots, drive-thrus, car washes, repair garages. Why? I know we need petroleum, I understand that I benefit hugely from cars, that my clothes and vegetables get floated and driven and trucked into my life, but I can’t help but wonder why we can’t have a few more areas in our cities protected from them.

doerrtwinsOwen, Anthony, Henry Doerr

SOF: Four Seasons is Doerr’s third book, following upon The Shell Collector (2003) and About Grace (2005). In addition to his Rome Prize, Anthony Doerr has received three O. Henry Prizes, two Ohioana Book Awards, a grant from the NEH, the Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction, and (shared) the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award.

Anthony Doerr currently teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times and Der Spiegel, and he writes a regular column on science books for the Boston Globe. From 2007 to 2010, Anthony Doerr is the Writer-in-Residence for the State of Idaho.

doerrimg_3268Owen Doerr in the ‘Triangolo’ AAR children’s park

Jana Dambrogio FAAR’08 lectures 6 March 09 in DC on life at Academy, work in Vatican Secret Archives

March 3, 2009

archivesflyerNow here’s a bit of breaking news…about a presentation by Jana Dambrogio FAAR’08, a Senior Rare Book and Manuscript Conservator at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington DC.

On Friday 6 March 2009 at 1 PM she’ll be lecturing at the Archives on her experience as a Booth Family Rome Prize winner in Historic Preservation and Conservation. Her talk is entitled, “Life at the Academy: Viewing Archival Records as Artifact at the Vatican Secret Archives.”

The Guild of Book Workers Potomac Chapter and the National Archives Assembly are co-sponsoring the event. Refreshments will be served from 12:30-2pm.

It all takes place at the National Archives Washington Conference Room. That’s located at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. You’ll want to use the Special Events entrance on Constitution Avenue.

Plan to attend? RSVP to by Thursday, March 5th.

2555400403_64ecbccee3Jana Dambrogio (at table, left) and her studio at the AAR, 2008

During her Rome Prize term, Jana Dambrogio worked on a collection of northeastern Italian medieval and early modern monastic legal and accounting documents and bindings at the Vatican Secret Archives.  (more…)

Los Angeles SOF group hosts epic regional event to coincide with CAA 2009 annual meeting

March 1, 2009

lapostcardVintage postcard of LA’s Gin Ling Way, site of the 2009 SOF Los Angeles regional event


Well, anyway, that’s what the sign said at the College Art Association conference hotel in Los Angeles this past Friday, 27 February 2009.

yalesanbernadinoSign of the times? Credit: John Marciari

Apparently, Yale had changed the location of its annual CAA party to a ‘San Bernadino’ ballroom in the hotel—but in these tough times, one never knows.

Meanwhile, to mark the 97th Annual Conference of the College Art Association, the Society of Fellows and friends of the American Academy in Rome moved decidedly off-premises, instead descending on Gin Ling Way in LA’s historic Chinatown.

The Los Angeles SOF Group had put together the warmest southern California welcome imaginable, at the ultra-hip Mountain Bar. Great Chinese food and Chinatown-themed gift packages awaited all who made the scene, as well as Mai Tais and much else.


No matter how fascinating your conversational partner, it was hard not to glance over his or her shoulder and up at the screen on the central wall of the Mountain Bar. There was projected a mesmerizing montage of film clips—from the 1950s up to the present second—of how Los Angeles represents itself in cinema.


Spotted: William B. Hart (AAR Chair of the Board of Trustees) and Constance Eaton; SOF Council members T. Corey Brennan FAAR’88 and John Marciari FAAR’98; SOF Los Angeles mainstays Robert Gurval FAAR’97, Leslie Rainer FAAR’99, and (the producer of the LA film compilation) Maureen Selwood FAAR’03. Very much missed: Council member Michael Gruber FAAR’96, who did much of the organization for the event, and then was called out of town at the last moment in the greater service of architecture.


Extra bonus: as the evening progressed, Mountain Bar resident DJs Fadah Sparrow, Mr. Chin and Mr. Frew spun massive reggae and dance hall classics through a veritable pounding system.

What’s there not to like?


Big, bold, and now online: the Winter 2008/9 SOF News

March 1, 2009


It was early January that the Winter 2008/9 edition of the SOF News rolled off the presses in its striking large spread full-color format.

Haven’t seen it yet? You now can download that issue here—or click here to read seven years’ worth of back issues of the SOF News.


This latest number features the work of recent Fellows in the arts and literature, including Patrick Barron FAAR’06, Anthony Doerr FAAR’05, Ward Shelley FAAR’06, and Lisa Williams FAAR’05.

Diane Favro (Fulbright Fellow in 1979/80) discusses her work on the virtual “Rome Reborn” project—a digital recreation of the city as it stood in the time of the emperor Constantine.

And there’s lots on the place of food and wine in the American Academy in Rome experience—featuring must-read interviews with AAR Executive Chef Mona Talbott on the Rome Sustainable Food Project, and Assistant Director for Operations Pina Pasquantonio on her role as sommelier for the Academy.

sofnrsfp1The staff of the AAR’s Rome Sustainable Food Project, with Mona Talbott at center (in dark apron)

sofnpinaInterview with Pina Pasquantonio, on her path to becoming a wine expert, and the buying and serving of wine at the AAR

And that’s not all. There’s a look at two historic AAR “re-openings” that were the focus of  well-deserved celebrations in Rome in 2007. The first of these marked the centennial of the birth of Laurance P. Roberts, and recalls the re-opening of the AAR after World War II.  The second describes the re-opening of the Arthur and Janet C. Ross Library, which was closed for the year 2006/7 for a comprehensive renovation and expansion.

sofnbibliothecaThe Linda Bettman Reference Room in the AAR Library

AAR President Adele Chatfield-Taylor FAAR’84 writes of the Roberts Centenary celebration; Assistant Director for Properties Cristina Puglisi offers personal thoughts on the Library renovations; and Vice President for Development Elizabeth Gray Kogen remembers Arthur Ross, who died in 2007, aged 96.

sofnrobertsThe fall 2007 celebration of the life of Laurance P. Roberts, AAR Director 1946-1960

The next issue?  Due in May—with pieces by T. Corey Brennan FAAR’88 (on current SOF initiatives undertaken during his presidency, including the New Centennial Directory), by AAR Director Carmela Franklin FAAR’85, RAAR’02 on the life of families at the Academy, and an update from Executive Chef Mona Talbott.

But the main focus will be on musical composition at the Academy—with a feature on the new 4 CD set on Bridge Records, Americans in Rome: Music by Fellows of the American Academy in Rome, and an interview of Yotan Haber FAAR’08 by Heiskell Arts Director Martin Brody RAAR’02, plus much more.

James L. Bodnar FAAR’80 is the Editor of the SOF News. Joel Katz FAAR’03 serves as Associate Editor; he also designed the issue. Joanne Spurza FAAR’89 and Catherine Seavitt Nordenson FAAR’98 as Co-Editors wrote up, respectively, the many notices on SOF individual members and the obituaries.


Like living inside of a TV: from the SOF News cover story, Ward Shelley’s piece on the Flatlands project