impressions of italy
I'm home now after a very memorable, first-time visit to Italy, overwhelmed with new experiences. Most of my stay was in the Lake Como area in the northern part of the country, where I taught two workshops at a very charming, renovated 17th century farmhouse (see my previous post.) Then came a few days of visiting Verona, Venice, Padua and a bit of countryside with my Italian friends, Roberto and Paola. (Roberto lived with us 45 years ago as a foreign exchange student, when we were in high school; we have kept in touch ever since.) Here we are in Verona:
My return trip on Thursday took 26 hours from the time I woke up in a small village near Padua until I reached my own bed at home. During my travel, I dozed when I could--in the car, the plane, and the shuttle van-- exhausted from eight days of teaching and all the sights and interactions of the short vacation with my friends. My dreams as I napped held the atmosphere, the light, the colors, the sweet details, and the stillness of Renaissance paintings-- a gift that kept me cocooned for a just little while longer in a particularly beautiful essence of my experience.
Now, several days into readjustment to normal life, my thoughts about Italy are difficult to summarize-- almost as elusive as those dreams. My mind brings up a complex mix of memories and emotions, of ancient surfaces, the faces of dozens of people, the intense workshop energy, the feel of cobblestone streets, the constant soundtrack of Italian and the occasional note of church bells, the sights of elaborate old buildings and richly colored paintings, the tastes of food as beautiful to look at as to eat. A wild ride to Como on a hot night in a 1974 VW bug convertible.
Given this deluge of memories, instead of a normal blog post, I'm going to just note some of my impressions. They are in no particular order and without much regard for grammar. Time will tell what aspects of my experience will continue to speak to me and come through in my work...
s: my first days in Italy--studio with three walls, open to the air, everyone painting with focus and intensity as the wax turned soft in the heat, and the mosquitoes buzzed. There were breakthroughs, especially noticeable in the small works on paper we did. Frequent need for translation in my communication with students from Italy and Switzerland. Communal meals on the porch, quiet at breakfast, raucous by dinner time. Fireworks from the village festival and rain dancing
on the last nights of the two sessions.
heaven for vegetarians like me...nice, light eggplant parmigiana, crispy bread, a lovely cheese they make at the Cascina from yogurt, my friend Paola's minestrone, thin crust pizza, lots of home made pasta, caprese salad (fresh tomatoes, mozerrela and basil), numerous flavors of gelato. Lunch and dinner rarely less than two courses; until that realization set in, I ate too much on the first round, unaware of what was yet to come. Did not take food photos, wish I had.
: every glass I had (and there were quite a few) was savored. Nice grappa, too.
: air conditioning pretty much non-existent except in cars and some shops. Early on the temps climbed to over 100 degrees--thick old walls of the Cascina kept the bedrooms comfortable. Windows without screens, opened at night, closed up and shuttered during the day. Everyone sweaty during class, taking cool showers before dinner. Loose clothes and lots of chilled water. Heat wave shattered by massive thunderstorm halfway through the time at the Cascina.
: the sound of two, three or six people going at once, with passion, a confusing block of sound. Gradually picking up some words and phrases. Managing some simple conversation with my non-English speaking friend by the end of my stay. Brava! (pats self on back.)
Shopping for art supplies:
concern about the safety of open bins of powdered pigments in tiny, stuffy back rooms appear to be culturally based. I bought lots.
How to relax
: nap in the afternoon, linger over supper until bedtime, sit the terrace with wine, hang out with lazy cats. Stop for a coffee or gelato or limoncello every time you go out. Wait for your purchases to be wrapped in paper, with slow, thoughtful precision.
: close-up, intimate views in church if St. Zeno, Verona... crumbling, overlaid images, delicate colors. Exterior walls on upper floors covered with painted fragments all over Verona. Most remarkable: those by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel,
Padua. Limited time inside, no photos=extremely focused observation. Being very present. Faces as real in their emotional expression as any in our lives. Below, one of the S. Zeno frescoes.
: ancient/modern,..old walls butting up against shiny glass and metal of expensive, trendy shops. Commerce and sacred antiquity co-existing.
: narrow, dark calles (alleyways), vast sunlit plazas, water lapping at the bases of ancient walls, intricate marble work, ornate facades, a story behind every building and statue. Thinking of Turner's paintings. Signs for Biennale (closed the day we were there.) Shops selling masks and costumes for Carnival, gondoliers punting self-conscious looking tourists around. Peggy Guggenheim Collection and exhibit of Charles Pollock (Jackson's brother--who knew??) Crowded water buses, crowded streets, crowded cafes. Then suddenly a quiet corner, a dark tunnel, a sweet, nearly empty little plaza.
: everywhere I went, a paradise of subdued earthy colors, blues, greens, roses and ochres. Unexpected pink and orange painted buildings. Weathered layers revealing shades of similar hues. A particular bluish green on the shutters of a building in Venice, against a mellow white wall.
: lavender, basil, garlic, incense, bug spray, boxwood, rain, peaches.
Things that moved me to tears:
My beautiful solitary lunch the afternoon I arrived at the Cascina. Sweet words of praise for my teaching on our last night, and the departure of workshop friends. The view of the Grand Canal from the water bus in Venice (thinking of my mother's affection for Italy and her "Italian son," Roberto.) Stepping inside the Scrovegni Chapel. Hugging Roberto and Paola goodbye at the airport.
in northern italy
An olive tree outside my window, and the morning sun hitting red tiled rooftops on the opposite hillside. The scents of lavender and basil. Intricate brick work in a 17th century ceiling. A grey cat sprawled beneath an ancient wood ladder. Espresso, homemade bread, local cheese, and fresh juice made from watermelon, peach and lemon. Trees laden with pears, apples, figs, and elderberries. Church bells ringing in the village below.
It's morning at Cascina Rodiani
, the exquisite old inn just outside Como, in the Lombardia region of northern Italy, where I'm staying for 10 days and teaching two cold wax workshops. There are ten artists here for the class, from Italy, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. The group arriving next week is even more diverse, from seven countries including Australia, Sweden, Ireland, and Spain. We're working in a rustic, open-air atelier, where we are holding up well despite of the hot days.
This is my first time in Italy; I arrived here by bus on Wednesday straight from the airport in Milan. Aside from what I could see from the bus passing through the countryside, and the cities of Como and Chiasso, Switzerland (we are right on the border here) I saw very little until I arrived at the hotel. Although I have plans to visit with friends near Venice at the end of my stay, for now, the lovely grounds of this green hotel--its gardens, workshop, porches, ancient rooms and pathways, are my entire view of Italy.
As I've photographed the surroundings here, I'm reminded again that the essence of a place can be found in its details. Filtered through my personal perceptions, emotions, and experiences, the soul and spirit of particular places is what has guided my abstract painting ideas for years.
I am completely charmed by what I know of Italy so far through the textures and colors, the quality of light, and the poignant aspects of ancient objects I am seeing here at Cascina Rodiani.