Ch 5: The Italian Connection

Angela and I have been going to Italy now for the last twenty years.  We usually go once but sometimes twice a year.  This chapter combines information about my painting career which really took off in Eugene with several exhibits of works influenced by Italian themes and inspired by individual Italians we met on our travels.  The paintings were well received by both the press and public.

La Mamma

Online / distance education

Angela and I had started an “Online & distance Education Newsletter.”  I had not yet started teaching online but found the British concept of “open and distance” education intriguing.

View of Florence, Italy

Some of this material will be chronological but, for the most part, I am just hitting some highlights of travels and various art shows both in Italy and in the USA.

Jerry and Katherine in Venice

In 1991, we attended a Conference in Bari, Italy “on the use of satellites in education.”  I was working at RIS and moonlighting at Linfield College, but had a strong interest in the possibilities of online and distance learning.  Both Angela and I were educators and were interested in this conference and in using it as an excuse to travel to Italy.  We had both been “Italophiles” (interested in Italian culture and arts) for many years.  I had incorporated Italian art into my “Changes” publication which had appeared now and then.  This time Angela and I teamed up to publish the “Open and Distance Learning Newsletter” which somehow got in the hands of the Conference organizers and thus an “invitation” to attend this 1991 conference.

              We had flown into Nice, France and rented a car.  We drove from Nice to Ventimilia, an Italian town 20 kilometers from the French border thus the name (“Venti “(20) and “miglia” (miles)).  This is how the town looked when we stopped there:  A small coastal town with farm animals grazing nearby and pastel colored buildings reflecting in the water.


We continued on to Legnano, Carrara, Luca, Pisa, and other places in the North, central areas of Italy. Eventually we made it down to Rome and then south of Rome to a highway that took us to Bari on the Adriatic coast.  We toured Alberobello and its “trulli” houses. At “Technopolis” we attended the 1991 Conference described above.  Afterwards we drove north along the Adriatic to Vasto and then to Aquasante Terme in Ascoli Piceno near Ancona.

Man from Fano

              It is really amazing how many paintings were inspired by our first trip to Italy.  Everything was a “discovery” and images were fresh, vital, and impressive.  I had been in Europe after teaching in Naco but Italy was different, more colorful and faces that were dramatic. 

  At Aquasante Terme we met Peter Sinski, a somewhat eccentric character.  He is an Englishman with Polish ethnicity.  He quickly became our guide to the area and he ended up showing us Grottomare and smaller towns. 

  We eventually arrived into Milan and then the lake district to the north (Stressa) and stayed there until our flight took off returning us to the states. 

Returning the following year we arrived into Zurich and rented a small red VW golf.  We took the Brenner Pass through the Alps stopping in Bellinzona.  This was a small mountain town in Italy but of a distinctly German characteristc.  The shop keepers spoke German and wore leaderhosen. From there we drove to Stressa.

In 1993, Angela went alone to Italy to study Italian at the University per Stranieri in Perugia.


In 1994, we rented an apartment in Florence from friends.


In 1995, Angela returned to Perugia and the University per Stranieri for a 7-week course in Italian.

In 1996, we were invited by Professor Cesare Bori to stay in his Livergnano “cave house” just outside of Bologna.

 Professor Pier Cesare Bori was a visiting scholar at the University of Oregen and, after attending one of his lectures, we became great friends.  Cesare was an expertb on Tolstoy and Renaissance humanism with a special interest in the work of Pico Mirandola.  We invited Pier to dinner at our home and he was very impressed by my portrait of Karl Marx.

When we stayed in his "cave house" in Livergnano, he was mostly living in his apartment in Bologna and would drop by now and then to check on us.  Once he came by at night and it was dark and hard to see out of the screen door.  Angela and I had been sitting at the kitchen table discussing how great it would be if we could ever meet Carlo Ginzberg, a friend of Pier's who also happened to be a famous author, and the son of Natalia Ginzberg, an even more famous Italian author.


Portrait of Pier Cesare Bori

I was standing there is my skivies when there was a knock on the door.  Not only was Pier at the door but also Carlo Ginzberg himself!  It was quite a shock.  I quickly got some pants on and soon we were on an informal walk with these two famous Italians.  We came to a clearing where they had a small club house for Quaker meetigs (Pier was one of the few Quakers in Italy) and we all sat around a table.

IMG_3996 (800x558)

Pier Cesare Bori, his wife and Carlo Ginzberg (right to left).

The Silvia Baraldini Case

At some point I became involved in the Silvia Baraldini case. Silvia was the daughter of an Italian diplomatic in Washington, D.C. who became involved with Black militants. Here are the Wikipedia details:

I already had extensive experience working on behalf of political prisoners from my involvement in the Martin Sostre case in Buffalo. Now, an experienced Italophile, I decided to help silvia out by organizing an Oregon-based chapter of her Defense Committee

To make a long story short, while in Italy one summer, I managed to visit with her two defense committees: one in the north of Italy based in Ferarra and one in the south of Italy based in Rome. The Ferarra committee was made up mostly of Silvia's family and the one in Rome was sponsored by the Italian old left.

Myfriend of many years, Sharon Fisher, who had worked closlely on the Martin Sostre case had informed me that something was not right with the efforts of Silvia's NY based defense lawyer, Elizabeth Fink. Some of the Attica Prison defendants represented by Fink were not pleased with the outcome of her work. Silvia's family in Ferarra had similar misgivings that the lawyer might be "cativa" (bad/immoral) or so they suspected.

In Rome, I had met briefly with Communist Party people working in her Committee and I had voiced similar concerns about the lawyer. Eventually word got out to Silvia because at some point I received a phone call at home from Silvia from a Federal Prison and she was very displeased with any criticism of Fink.

Anyway, Silvia continued to languish in prison until a Marine jet clipped a ski condola in Italy killing 20 or more people. The Italian government was really pissed off and demanded some political concessions from the US, one of which was the release of Baraldini into Italian custody. This actually eventually happened, and Silvia was released.

As with the Martin Sostre Case, I was glad I could play a small role in seeing justice was done. This despite the case that the Rome based Committee and perhaps Silvia herself regarded me as a CIA agent attempting to disrupt efforts on her behalf.

Given the amount of money the CIA has spent in Italy since WWII to make sure the left in Italy was kept in control, I understand their suspicians. I also remember that while staying in Loiano with my friend Carlo Bianchi, a taxi driver, that he drove me all the way to Firenze one time to attend a Silvia Baraldini event.