Saturday, March 18, 2023

#OneWeek100People drawing challenge, 6-10 March 2023

March 6 to 10 was when artists around the world buckled down to the #OneWeek100People drawing challenge, introduced by Marc Holmes and Liz Steel on Facebook in 2016, and still going strong. I did my own, beginning on Tuesday, March 7 and finishing all 100 by the morning of Saturday, March 11.


There was a snowstorm in Denmark, making it impossible to go out and find people to sketch. I've found it practical to do my drawings surreptitiously on the train on the way to and from work, but it was late and I was certain a trip solely for the purpose of sketching would culminate in being stuck in subzero temperatures at some station halfway between Copenhagen and our suburban town. The husband was travelling, so no hope of rescue in the car. The upshot of this was I stayed home and used a travel photo as reference, this one taken at an intersection in Bucharest in 2012. It's the image at the top of the post. I used a pen and my go-to 24-pan White Nights watercolor set -- cheap but with vibrant colors. 

DAY TWO: I'd started a second drawing right after the first, using people from the other half of the photo, applying the same procedure: draw the lines, then color in with watercolor washes. I finished it to my satisfaction the following day, using a different brand of watercolor (Daniel Smith). The result has quite a different look from the first day's.


Did nothing but draw the whole day, starting off with another of my travel photos, this one taken at the My Son ruins in Vietnam. Then I headed off to the town library, where I found a seat on the second floor, overlooking the parking lot of a grocery store. It was 4:30 pm, just when people were doing their shopping or getting off the train from Copenhagen (or heading back) so there was plenty of activity.  Finally, actual urban sketching of real people in motion. When I got home after an hour, I added some watercolor, and even managed to come up with three more watercolor sketches, no prelim pencil work. Hit 70 on the third day.

DAY FOUR: Did a lot of teaching on Friday the 10th, so I barely had the energy to pick up my pen. I'm an English teacher at a private language school in the heart of Copenhagen, with about half of my students being Danish and the other half foreigners, generally from Europe, Latin America and East Asia. They're adults, all of them, and most need the English for work or to stay afloat in a graduate or postgraduate program.

The school conducts English-language exams, and I serve as a speaking exam supervisor from time to time. One of my duties is taking digital photos of the candidates, who very often are in their mid to late teens. I decided to draw a bunch of Danish young people from the imagination. I started with the girls, and was too tired to do the boy equivalents afterwards.

Some of the character of those hundreds of exam candidates, over several years, has seeped into these faces. I started with tiny pencil marks to designate the placement of the features and head, then did soft watercolor strokes to indicate their bone structure and hair color, and finished by defining their features with brush pens. The names of the girls, incidentally, are typical of Gen Z’ers in the Copenhagen area. They are entirely fictional.

DAY FIVE: It was Saturday, March 11, in Denmark, which is six to nine hours ahead of North America, and I had planned to go to the Statens Museum for Kunst (the National Gallery) to sketch the museumgoers, then meet some friends for lunch.  But once again I had no energy to make the 45-minute journey by train, metro and bus. I was scrolling in some desperation through my Facebook feed when I came upon some photographs taken by high school friend Nancy Ugsad just a few hours or so before: of Silliman University early on Saturday morning (the Philippines being seven hours ahead of Denmark), with the varsity athletes practicing their pitches on a playing field, and members of the marching band sitting on the apron of concrete in front of the Luce Auditorium, each in their own world as they practiced on their instruments. I got Nancy's permission to use her photos, took up a Pitt brush pen, and with quick strokes fulfilled the rest of the challenge, filling in the outlines with a neutral tint (well, Daniel Smith's Jane's Gray, which is a mix of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue). I photographed the pages of my sketchbook, posted it to the #OneWeek100People Facebook group set up by Marc and Liz ... and was done.

OR so I thought.  I was loathe to put away my watercolors, etc. Having abandoned it in late 2021, I was in love with small-scale painting once again. So after a bit of schoolwork, I closed the day with this little (A5) portrait of my email friend Dan Keller, from a black and white reference photo taken in the summer of '69.  #OneWeek100People plus One.

I consider the portrait of Daniel as the first in a new self-imposed challenge called "1000 People, 1000 moments", and which will be done in watercolor, alone or in combination with drawing media, no deadline, so as not to compete with all the other stuff I long to do.
                                                                                                                --- Bing <3

Sunday, March 05, 2023

100 Faces in 300 Days project, part 2

The faces are getting less and less precise. Not so much sloppy as reckless. Or free. One of these days, I will make a video of all 100 of them -- if I ever do reach the magic number, never mind that I probably won't hit the deadline in the end. Have been writing. Have been teaching. Have been working in the garden. Have been visiting with my elderly folks. Have been mentally agitated. Have been longing for far too much.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Bing vs. Bianca, 1981-82

THIS is how I, Bing, looked, circa late 1981/early 1982. Sitting against the piano and wearing a pink eyelet blouse. Twelve years old. This photo was taken at the faculty home on the Silliman campus where our family lived until I was 13. 

This is what I drew, among others. It's a tiny watercolor painting, a detail of a 5" x 8" inch piece that I had designed to cover an ugly spiral-bound notebook. It's Hornet's Nest fan art -- except that the boys are depicted as girls: five girls to be specific. They recur in my stories and were initially named after people we knew, and came into being around the time I turned 8 and my sister 11. Then the names changed somewhat, as did their appearance and abilities.

My avatar, also called Bing, is the one in blue dressed as Arturo, the tree-climbing boy super-soldier of Hornet's Nest. By then, two years had passed since we had seen the movie and I had forgotten that Arturo was supposed to wear long sleeves. This Bing's hair looks just like mine in the picture, the same grown-out bangs, except that the part is on the wrong side. This was probably because there weren't many photos taken of me at this time, so I knew my face only from what I saw in the mirror. 

What did I, Bing, write at age 12? Hah. A scandal. Fan fiction. Here are the first two pages of a story, out of hundreds if not thousands of pages my sister and I produced throughout our childhood.

Fans of Hornet's Nest (1970) will recognize the names and the situation. For those who have not seen the movie... this story is Bianca's. She is the doctor who three boys lure to a cave to attend to the wounded paratrooper/demolition expert they have rescued from under the noses of the German troops. Here she finds 12 other boys, most in their mid teens, who have been hiding out for weeks or months after their entire village is massacred by Nazis. In the cave, confronted with the prospect of aiding one of the enemy, Bianca at first refuses. Violence results at the hands of 15 boys. Okay, let me put it squarely: they attempt to rape her, and are stopped by the demolition expert (Capt. Turner, played by Rock Hudson) who has just regained consciousness. 

The following morning, one of the boys expresses disgust at their behavior, and another insists they wouldn't have gone through with it. Despite this, I found the savagery of the near-rape sequence upsetting. But it was also intriguing. I had, after all, just turned 11.

Bianca comes to realize that she is a prisoner of the Italian boys and the American captain, but throughout the movie, through dialogue and her actions, she resists.

Bianca was played by Silva Koscina. I didn't know what her character name was at the time (we only saw the film once, in a theater, which was how people saw movies in 1980), so my sister and I gave her a different name. In this story I wrote (I can see myself, nose to the page, utterly focused on the task of translating the story in my mind into words), she goes unnamed. The first two pages, and a third, are scenes from the Hornet's Nest movie as I remembered it, and was my way of keeping loyal to the subject matter. And also of recollecting the film, two years later. There are two completely made-up features here here. First is the interaction with the boy called Paolo, who oddly I describe as being nine years old (more about this, and about him, to come). The second is the woman's attempt to undermine the group by pinching the child Mario so that he cries and attracts the attention of the German patrol -- that was definitely not in the movie! (The actual scene is here, beginning at the 2:55 mark). Resistance indeed.

The third liberty I've taken will be familiar to writers of fan fiction -- telling the story from the point of view of a neglected or objectified character. Now the woman doctor is no longer the dolled-up, bouffant-haired creature to be knocked around and assaulted into submission, but is the subject herself.  But I wasn't aware of that kind of academic language as I wrote. All I knew was that my sister and I disliked Bianca. 

To me Bianca was an object of fun, a parent-figure (or a sexual yet prudish auntie figure) to be pranked and dodged. So for that matter, was the war-weary Capt. Turner, who my sister and I decided, out of guilt over his deeds, had gone quietly and completely insane. But as my sister turned 15 and we continued to write about and draw this universe, blending other movies and even comic books into it, Bianca became something else to her -- a whore-figure to be humiliated, for whom redemption was impossible. 

The frustrated rape in the cave (and the strong suggestion that it would be a gang rape) had a profound impact on us as children. It didn't help that, in the milieu where I had grown up, gang rape was a very real possibility for adventurous girls. At least it was held over us as a threat.

My sister and I spent a lot of time discussing Bianca then, demonizing her for being a pacifist wet blanket (we were kids and we wanted war!) as well as being so sexually attractive. We never once considered that it was the actions of the boys (really just Aldo) that were savage. Or that it was war itself that is savage. The story I wrote runs for several pages as a summary of some events in Hornet's Nest as Bianca would have seen them, then heads into dark terrain. Because on page three she is raped by  Capt. Turner, exactly as it appears (or is strongly suggested) in the movie. And, on page four, she discovers that she prefers to be taken by force. For as my sister and I merged more worlds into the Hornet's Nest one, our fictional Bianca went on to sleep with some -- a lot -- of the main players in each of those worlds, an invention I faithfully chronicled in the story, though not in any sexually explicit fashion -- more in the voice of a romance novel heroine, amazed at the attributes of each of these men, and of her response to them. 

I can't wrap my head around the fact that, at 12, I was writing this stuff. My husband says, "Maybe you weren't really 12." He means that I was smart, I had read a lot, I was precocious. In retrospect, I was trying to reconcile the adult sexuality I'd seen a lot of in movies and read about in books with what was expected of us as young women. (No one enforced the R ratings in the cinemas, and awful soft-porn paperbacks made the rounds of high school classrooms). We were growing up in the kind of society (provincial Philippines, late 70s-early 80s) where it was still acceptable for people to say that good girls would never have sex before marriage unless they were forced. Therefore much of the rape fascination probably had to do with that. It was a kind of projection as well, and of revulsion  -- "I'll never grow up to be like her. Not if I can help it."

I was fascinated by Silva Koscina, the actress, though. I didn't hate her. There were lots of pictures of her in old magazines lying around the house, and her woman-warrior character Danitza (Danica) in The Battle of Neretva, seen a few months after Hornet's Nest, was one of my favorites too. She was brave and beautiful there, she dies valiantly, and she was no one's possession.   (To be continued)


Throwback: 25 random things about me, Facebook 2009

Every once in a while, a friend from U.P. law school (she works at Allianz now; I dropped out in good standing when I was 23) reminds me of this Facebook post from 2009, back in the glory days when the social network was text-heavy as an extension of the old emailing list practice, and the meme had yet to be invented.

The post, a glamorized chain letter, was called 25 random things about me

There were rules. Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged... etc. etc.

Amazingly the 25 random things still hold true for the most part in 2023. I have marked in bold-italics those that are of particular resonance as I sit and write this today, in view of the numerous creative projects I am working on or keep dreaming about.

All this is TMI -- too much information -- of course. But what the heck.

1. Drawing pictures is my first love.

2. I can make any dog come to me.

(2023 note: After the heart-wrenching loss of the family dog, we all switched to cats)

3. I find creative writing a painful, embarrassing, emotionally-wrenching, high-pressure and utterly tedious experience, like sawing yourself open with a nail file, or building a house with matchsticks. And at the end you discover this beautiful piece you have built from the ground up has already been said better by someone else. And when it’s published you have to defend it in some academic forum and try to sound clever or profound -- or people will label you “over-rated.” 

(2023: Nope, I rediscovered the muse in 2022. Creative writing still hurts, but it hurts good now.)

4. Though I treasure my privacy,  my profession as a writer demands a certain amount of exhibitionism. It has often been a relief to write erotica under a pen name than to write a simple newspaper column under my own name.

5. I get years-long, rabid crushes on unavailable people. 

(2023: Hah! All writing is crushing).

6. I hurt the ones I love the most. 

(2023: No, not anymore). 

7. I loathed high school. I am very cautious about which batchmates I allow back into my life. 

(2023: Makes good creative writing fodder, though).

8. I passed up the chance to sky-dive.

9. I’ve been in a hot air balloon alone with a Japanese guy I didn’t know. He spoke no English. For some reason, he had problems controlling the burner, and we nearly crashed. When we landed in one piece far, far from the target, he kissed me on the lips!

10. I am still afraid to fly in airplanes. 

(2023: Got used to them). 

11. I have had more literary awards than I’ve had lovers. Tons more. 

(2023: Who cares?)

12. I have a talent for scrounge shopping. I once wore a beautiful outfit that cost three dollars from head to toe, bag to boots, culled from ukay-ukay shops in the Philippines.

13. I photographed my sister give birth, washed her when she was dying, and retouched her makeup twice in her coffin.

14. When I was 17, I had a pin-up of Pål Waaktaar (songwriter/guitarist/vocals for Norwegian band A-ha) on my bedroom door.  

15. I’ve owned and used the same hard plastic light pink Springmaid comb every day for 15 or 20 years. I wash it in shampoo and hot water every now and then, and it’s good as new.  

(2023: Jinxed: Shortly after writing these words, I lost the comb).

16. One of my coolest experiences was sketching a male colleague nude in the privacy of my solo apartment. 

(2023: Rest in peace, my friend. Our relationship was totally platonic btw. We were mutual fans.)

17. I wept into my palm at Robben Island and Tuol Sleng prisons. I hesitate to visit places where very many people suffered or died, but are drawn to them anyway.  

18. It takes me a long time to forget a grievance. I’m working to change this, I promise you.

19. I once did a 5 x 5 foot painting of the cover of the New Kids On the Block’s first (1986) album – and pasted it on all four panels of my closet door.   

20. When I was 24, I accompanied a military team on a botched raid on an Olongapo brothel. The only person they “caught” (and harassed) was a just-circumcised seven-year old boy in a nightgown.

21. This is by no means a random list. This is a highly considered, self-censored list. I aspire to be the kind of person who can amuse you and engage you with playfulness and spontaneity and make you feel that you know everything about me after half an hour. 

(2023: God, how nasty! To be fair, was going through sh*t at the time.)

22. I once crashed a barrier at a Sting concert unintentionally. The concert was part of his Mercury Falling tour -- Manila, 1996. They played “Roxanne,” and all the stage lights went red, and my friend, who was the real Sting fan at the time, screamed, and she and I started rocking the tube-metal barrier for fun. At the same time some other kids were doing it at the other end of the barrier, which then came down, and these crazed third-class ticket holders spilled all the way into the expensive seats, where all the multinational corporation expats were sitting.  

(2023: Not proud. Should have foreseen.)

23. Although I still feel excluded in some ways, there is plenty to love about Denmark.

24. I can’t dance at parties. I won’t. Filipinos have a culture of dancing for the entertainment of others. You either dance as good as a japayuki, or you sit down. 

25. Please fill in this blank with something you remember we shared...
2023: Or check out my childhood crushie boys at the other blog

Thursday, February 09, 2023

I shall revise

I must revise. I shall revise! Though “expand” is the more appropriate term. Expand the novel by some 10,000 words. That's almost a reconceptualization of the whole thing. But fortunately, I’ve gotten very useful feedback, which will light the way. Feeling good.

I had given myself a March 31 deadline for the “Boys of Hornets Nest blog. it looks like I'll either speed up the writing, or begin the expansion while working on the blog. Another novel was in the pipeline, but now it doesn't seem that I can work on it until this current one is out of the way. Won't stop taking notes, however, nor writing emails to the special ones.

Oooh, cryptic.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Bornholm, where I worked on a novel

WE stayed in a cabin on the island of Bornholm for a few days in May, 2022. It had been my idea to visit the place again (it is part of the territory of Denmark, though closer to Sweden). I wanted to swim in the ocean, walk silently through a forest feeling springy moss beneath my feet, return to the fabled cliffs.

As it happened, I remained in the cabin most of that week while my husband and our friends went sightseeing, only going out in the evenings to walk the kilometer or so down to the sea. I'd brought the draft of a novel along, and I had a May 31 deadline. In my computer, the novel existed in bits and pieces, including most of the ending and nearly all of the beginning, but I needed to work on the middle to connect everything. The middle is always hardest to write. 

The day before we left, I sat down and listed all the incidents which I knew the story lacked.  Then I numbered them in the order I wanted them to occur, figuring out how one might lead to the other.

It helped that the novel was outlined in a program called Scrivener, which is very useful for organizing your ideas, although not conducive to organic or intuitive writing. I'd been thinking of this book for years -- years! And now that the project was in motion, I'd been in love with the main characters for six weeks, and they had taken a life of their own and were beginning to flirt with one another in my mind. It was a hot and yellow spring -- if you've been to Denmark in the month of April you will know what I mean -- and as I dreamed them, on those moments of solitude traversing Copenhagen's immaculate sidewalks, I felt I was going crazy. I was giddy with happiness. 

I was in the perfect frame of mind to finish a short book, and nothing -- not even Bornholm, not even the presence of dear friends -- would stop me. And I did complete it. I picked the episodes off one by one, and on our return, took a day's break to attend a birthday party and teach a class, and then charged into the home stretch and finished the book by the 31st of May, just as I had planned.

It was a first draft and not very good, but that is the reason why authors possess revision skills. 

Here are some pictures from that stay in Bornholm. I do not know to what extent the few days on that Scandinavian island influenced the novel. 

Text and photos copyright Lakambini Sitoy, 2022, 2023. 
Check out my Il Vespaio (Hornet's Nest, 1970) blog.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A new novel

I sent in a manuscript to a publisher today.  They'd expressed interest in the book (a short novel) based on the synopsis I'd emailed them.

Now to keep my fingers crossed and be prepared for rejection, or if the news is good, the possibility of revisions.  I've been writing a lot the past weeks  emails, blog posts, private fiction — so further writing need not proceed from a cold start.

I can't say anything about the book right now other than to say it was written in the first half of 2022, before I was gripped by Il Vespaio fever. 

Also that in 2022 it felt like a book that I needed to get out of the way before I could indulge in the rest of my projects. 

The accompanying pastel drawing is of some limestone cliffs I photographed as we drove back from the Batu Caves to Kuala Lumpur in September 2022. I added the beach and the water. It is now a view of a tropical island, the world of my new novel.  

 © 2023 Lakambini Sitoy

Saturday, January 07, 2023

My tough years in Denmark

I've gotten into an email conversation that means a lot to me, because it is with an actor in a movie from long ago, a movie which is one of my guilty pleasures to this day. 


He wrote: You write compellingly of the experience of the Ukrainian immigrants you teach.  Was that also your own experience when you moved from the Philippines to Denmark?

I replied: I don’t know where to begin. The move from the Philippines to Denmark was …complicated, and was carried out over several years, as I travelled back and forth between both countries, trying to figure out whether I wanted to be married to a Dane or not. In the beginning there was the usual euphoria of being in a new place – the romance of perfect Scandinavia. (Incidentally, the first European country I ever visited, in 2001, was Finland, and it was then that I fell in love with the whole Nordic shebang)

I was free and independent. Then came the realization that, with the move to Denmark, I had lost everything. Friends, network, career, a job, all my languages. Unless they are lucky enough to have found employment in a Danish company (in which case they can speak English to their heart's content) new immigrants must go through public Danish-language education, and it’s here that the breaking-in, or breaking-down, begins. My situation was complicated in that I was in Denmark on account of marriage (so the permanent resident requirements were harder to meet), and I am a youthful-looking Asian woman. So in 2008 I went from being journalist with a career and “one of the best Filipina writers of her generation” to being the Asian wife of an older man, categorized alongside “mail order bride,” “au pair” and “Bangkok prostitute.” I was the Asian woman no one would talk to at parties because maybe she didn’t even understand what was going on and it wasn’t worth the effort spelling things out to her.  

In time I learned to manipulate that “youthful-looking Asian woman” thing – but it was haaard.


I re-read what I'd written and wondered if I sounded angry. I hadn't meant to. Had I given away too much of myself? I don't think so. There is nothing here that I hadn't articulated to my friends (very often after a few sips of wine), and I do recall saying something very similar to this to the wife of a friend from way back (she a producer, he a filmmaker) when we met in Manila in 2022. With the few fellow writers and creatives that I've met in Europe, the sentiments are the same. Some have worse stories to tell.

The only difference is that I don't put this out on Facebook.  For many of us, Facebook is the place to curate the brighter side of life -- not that the life we put out on Facebook is a lie, but it's what we have after we've managed to cut away the unpleasantness (that all of us go through anyway). For some, Facebook is a place to bitch and trigger people. Not for me.


I continued: 

I’ve been writing “fan fiction” for myself (Note: Over the 2022 holidays). For the pure enjoyment of it. And certainly for the practice … when I haven’t written in a long time the words don’t flow as they should, and the writing becomes self-conscious. It helps me in my writing practice because I don’t have to worry about creating new characters nor scenarios (since these are alternate perspectives on earlier ones I created) and enables me to focus on the act, the art and the pleasure of putting my fantasies into words.  ...

I’ve been trying to write a book about the experience of migrating to Denmark for years and years. Most often a certain anger boils up and I have to put the task away. By practicing the craft of writing I hope to find the right balance between passion and distance. At some point in 2023, I’ll put aside the blog (A blog on the boys of Il Vespaio that I am slowly building) and find my way back to this book. I wrote a short novel for young people early in 2022, so I've gotten some recent practice already.


Now that these thoughts have been put into words, they are less frightening. 

And it's somehow easier to proceed with writing about the immigration experience to Denmark. I don't mean to be disloyal -- I am a dual citizen after all. But it speaks of how deeply we "newcomers in Denmark"  have been conditioned to believe that we are eternal guests in this country and must behave and smile and say thanks, that more than 19 years after I first set foot here, after 15 years of marriage and of being a dutiful and law-abiding citizen, I still worry about being labelled ungrateful and -- being a second-class citizen -- unworthy of speaking out.

Monday, January 02, 2023

An Il Vespaio (Hornet's Nest, 1970) blog

I have a new project: a fan blog titled "The Boys of Il Vespaio", with a subtitle that mirrors this (I ragazzi del Hornet's Nest -- is that proper Italian?) I first saw Hornet’s Nest in 1980, in a packed movie theatre in a small city in the Philippines.  It was the second time the film had played in Dumaguete; the first, according to an uncle, was in 1971 or so, and it was so popular back then people lined up just to get in.  We had no idea of the film’s many names, nor that Il Vespaio was the name originally given it in Italian and used during the filming (a working title, if you like).

I had just turned eleven when we saw the film; we had returned from a year in the States and were already very Americanized, not surprising since we had grown up on the campus of Silliman University, which had been founded by American missionaries in 1901. We spoke English, read only English books, and loved a good war flick -- there were lots of them from 10 and 20 years back, playing in the theaters.

My older sister and I fell in love with Hornet’s Nest, and we remembered all the scenes and all the lines. Everyone we knew had seen the movie, and the boys’ theme (composed by Ennio Morricone) was whistled in school corridors for months after that.

My sister and I had a shared fantasy world, and so we spent the next couple of years drawing and writing stories about the Hornet’s Nest boys, making them interact with other characters in that universe.

Because we never got all their names (much less the names of the actors who played them), we had to invent. And invent we did. We gave them new names and complete personalities, and in the process collapsed one boy into another and made two or three out of what had been one. Memory and imagination mixed.

Then as we got older, she and I fell out, and the old school notebooks and folders of drawings were put away and lay untouched for nearly 40 years.

I was at my childhood home in August this year, and finally called up the courage to open, first my box, and then my sister’s, with a view to photographing everything before it all crumbled to bits. So, filled with nostalgia, and sadness that many of the best notebooks were missing (my fault!) and that my sister was no longer around to help me remember our stories, I decided to re-immerse myself in that world once again.

The boys in this movie are virtually nameless. Ironic, because the end credits present us with a screenful of names: Franco and Tonio, Arturo and Mikko and Romeo, Silvio and Umberto... and so forth. But because few of them are ever called by name as the film progresses, the audiences never get to know who is who. By the 1970s, it was standard to designate a minor movie character with some descriptive phrase: "Bossman's accomplice" "Juggler" "Class child." But not so with Hornet's Nest. No "Lookout Boy", "Demolition Boy no. 2", "Boy who had to pee in front of the sentry." 

The list of first names was elegant and tantalizing -- it indicated that somewhere there had been a master plan where each boy, perhaps, had a back story, maybe even a character arc. 

At the very least, I wanted to match faces with names. My sister and I had had a whale of a time re-inventing the 15 teenagers of Captain Turner's Baby Brigade, but something was missing. I'd tried twice before, in 1989, when I found a VHS tape of the movie and made some awful color sketches of the boys, taking notes (no luck there) and again in 2012, when I purchased the Michael Avallone based-on-the-screenplay novel off E-bay (still no luck -- the familiar lines had been shuffled around so that attributed to two or three boys were lines spoken by just one in the film).

What was missing was the actors. I've never been the kind of person to watch a film without simultaneously imagining the production behind it. Today, I sit in front of the TV with a finger hovering over my device, and it's a rare movie that can compete with the IMDB. My older sister was the same, and we'd always been that way, so when the 15 Italian boys lost their luster (somewhat) we went on to invent the world of the film production, with results that are too ridiculous to go on the internet. Two smartass girls, 11 and 14... what do you expect?

So I decided to use a combination of social media and movie databases to match names to faces and try to find out who everyone had been and (hopefully) how they had come to be in Il Vespaio. I’d recently done a portrait project where I’d had to compare photos of some people taken today with images of them from decades ago, and I figured I knew how to study a face and how it changes with the years. I wanted to write about them, and how important they had been for me as a child (or a young girl), how vital to the creative side of me. I decided I would not make it one of those awful "Where are they now?" features that both feed, and feed on, ageism. It was enough to know who they all had been. Details of how they'd come to be in the movie, and a hint or two of the trajectory of their lives since would be an extra reward.

Did I succeed? Yes. Did I contact them? Well, only one, as of this writing (but hit the jackpot!). Social media feelers for a couple more.

The new blog is in progress, and will be public soon.


This post began as an email, which was sent on November 30  via web contact form to Dan Keller, who played Tekko. How I sweated over what to write him.  The resulting email conversation can be read on his website at:    I’m pleased  to say that as a consequence  of our exchange, Dan found more and more photos from his files and posted them on his Il Vespaio page. I’ve gotten his permission to share those photos on-line. The behind-the-scenes photo above is courtesy of Dan, and was taken by production photographer Claudio Patriarca.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Wayang golek puppets

On the way to Skælskør the other summer, something wonderful happened. We were driving through a road with fields to one side and houses on the other, and one of them — a farmhouse, actually — had put out a couple of tables covered in knickknacks, with a sign that said “Loppemarked” (flea market in Danish). At first glance it seemed to be the usual unwanted stuff that people set out in the summer — mismatched china, little figurines, smallish African masks. But lashed to the branches of the tree above the table, some things that were colorful and shaped like dolls. I cried to Vagn, “Stop!” and he pulled over. I scrambled out excitedly. A truck thundered past and the car rocked. I dashed across the road and ran my fingers distractedly over the figurines. I was searching for dachshunds; there were none. Stop collecting kitsch, I told myself.

Then the owner came over and Vagn stuck his head out of the car window and called, “Ask him how much the puppet costs”. And I looked up and saw what hadn’t registered at first because sometimes my brain stalls when I’m staring at amazing things right in the face. There were four wayang golek puppets lashed with wire to the tree branches, and they all had price tags unglamorously stuck to their beautiful heads. Each cost 25 Danish crowns. I wondered how many zeros were missing. But the man assured me that that was what he was selling them for. I looked in my wallet and it contained exactly 100 Danish crowns. I asked the man for help to loosen the wires and take them down. He said “This is the best one,” pointing to the large white-faced puppet with the wings.

But I wanted all four. I handed him the bill and he piled the puppets in my arms. I was smiling like a child. They had come, he said, from a woman friend “who had travelled a lot long ago” and brought them back to this farmhouse in the middle of Sjælland, and that these were the actual figures that were used in wayang performances and not some cheap knockoffs for the tourists. But I already knew that. The batik fabric of their costumes was faded in places, as though they had been standing by a window for decades. I thanked him and returned to the car. I couldn’t stop grinning. I was still talking about them when we drove into Skælskør.

This winter, I bought some modelling clay, the kind that is sold in 2-kilo cylinders and that only emerges in shops at the end of the year, when people start to make their own Christmas table decorations. I used some thick serger thread to cut the clay into four thick disks, then eased the sharp end of the bamboo stakes that run through the puppets’ bodies as far into the soft clay as they would go. Each stake end was shaped differently. When the clay dried after a couple of days, each puppet had its own stand, and I didn’t have to set them in glass bottles to display them.

Who could they be? Which characters? The pink-faced one is a demon – but who? Who is the large male with wings and a bird on his head? Maybe someone can tell me.


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Cold and dark but alive

One thing I’ve been painfully aware of as of late is the rise in electricity prices. In Denmark it’s possible to see how much electricity costs per hour (we have this kind of arrangement with our provider; an alternative is to pay a fixed rate). We’re going through a cold spell, with temperatures below zero for several days now. The air is still, there is zero wind. In a country that draws on wind energy to keep its homes and buildings powered, this is bad news. Photo (a screenshot) shows the hour-by-hour cost of electricity today. Just a few weeks ago, during a particularly windy period, electricity prices were next to zero. Free electricity, at least for a few hours in the day.

Not that I’ve had the chance to enjoy the cold spell, vinterbarn style (winter child: taking long walks through a frozen landscape, camera in hand). I’ve had a bad cold since Sunday; something I must have picked up at Friday's Christmas party at work. I’m popping paracetamol to check my fever, swallowing spoonfuls of cough syrup to make myself sleep, resisting the impulse to take sumatriptan knowing it won’t make a difference. I’m not good for any writing or drawing at the moment, nor any school-related work, nor outdoor exercise, nor any exercise for that matter.

 It’s a bleak and dark December: we turn off all the lights in the house except where we are sitting/working. So do the neighbors. On our street, the Christmas fairy lights are conspicuously absent. And although we do what we can to save on electricity, we still have to pay the exorbitant cost of heating, which has just about doubled this year over last.

Yet this, from a December 12 article in Time magazine: “… at any given moment at least two and as many as ten million Ukrainians have no power, heating, or water because Russia is systematically targeting Ukraine’s utilities—its nervous system—with rocket and drone strikes.”

A bad winter this.

An Il Vespaio (Hornet's Nest, 1970) blog

I have a new project: a fan blog titled " The Boys of Il Vespaio ", with a subtitle that mirrors this (I ragazzi del Hornet's ...