Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Still Life with Saints: Book Profile on Pink Pangea

Still Life With Saints book profile by Ellen Shick

The boot-shaped peninsula of Italy conjures iconic images; gondolas under Venice’s Rialto Bridge, Michelango’s David in Florence, trendy, well-dressed tourists eating pizza and panini, sipping an Aperol spritz, or visitors in Vatican City waiting to view the Sistine Chapel. 

In her latest memoir, Angela Paolantonio takes us to a different Italy entirely. It is a place no less beautiful, sensual, or spellbinding, yet it is far away from the teeming crowds and four-star hotels. Angela’s Italy might even belong to a different time, as she embraces an unexplored set of values and lifestyles. 

Her story takes place in Irpinia, known as the land of the wolves in Campania, 70 miles east of Naples, populated with wise and wild women, living connected to earth’s natural rhythms, where self-sufficiency and ancient wisdom rule the day.

In her first memoir, The Ghosts of Italy, Angela finds her Italian soul. At the start, she lives and works as an artist agent in Los Angeles. During a vacation in Rome, she takes a quick side trip to Calitri, the ancestral home of her paternal grandparents. The book is aptly named–Angela often felt a ghostly presence, especially around her Italian relatives. In Calitri, she was swept up by forces within her, a wild matriarchal and ancient calling, that flings her from her busy, urban life to Via Fontana, the street where her grandmother was born. She buys her grandmother’s childhood two-room stone house, falls in love with an Italian man, and builds a new life in Italy’s wild south.

In her second memoir, Still Life with Saints: Italian Adventures of Magical Spirit, Angela takes us deeper into her world on Via Fontana and we experience a seasonal year in the “old village” with the “ladies of the lane,” the well-respected women, in their wild country culture, reminiscent of pre-patriarchal times. Here she lives, and walks, settles into her roots, and becomes tenderly accepted by the women of the lane.

Angela Paolantonio has always lived her life surrounded by art, and now, her muse is this wizened life on Via Fontana. In Still Life with Saints, the book cover exemplifies Angela’s eye for beauty and magic. A seasonal Red Admiral butterfly floats on a dark nocturnal background. Open the book to view the front and back covers, and see the complete painting by Giovanna Garzoni, a seventeenth-century Italian still-life artist. Angela knew it would make a perfect cover. She says, “A butterfly symbolizes the transition of the soul, the essence of my story.” 

Much the same way that the Firefox series brought us deep inside Appalachian mountain culture, in Still Life with Saints, Angela seeks to record the lives and legends of the land of the wolves“Just like many wild places, this feminine culture will die out,” Angela says. “To me, the mature women of the village define the wild woman archetype.” In their grandmotherly acceptance of her, Angela likens them to the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. The women of Via Fontana have gathered Angela into their world; she learns of the planting, the harvest, and the saint’s days that inform the rhythms of village life. Angela writes about their traditions, folklore, daily life, and spirituality. She beautifully weaves all of it into her own, very personal story.

More than anything, Angela’s second memoir takes us deep into her inner journey. The Ghosts of Italy quickly joined the list of top Italian travel stores. Still Life with Saints: Italian Adventures of Magical Spirit, due to be released December 2020, is a journey not to be missed. 

Photo credits for Still Life with Saints: Italian Adventures of Magical Spirit by Angela Paolantonio. For more about Angela, read the Pink Pangea feature interview with her here.