Sunday, March 30, 2014

Arrivederci Amalfi

My week on the Amalfi Coast is over. In fact my month in Italy is coming to a close. I'm writing this on the train to Rome, where I'll spend one last night with my friend Jim and his family before catching the plane for Vancouver in the morning.  After 31 consecutive days of pasta I'll be eating sushi in my favourite spot with my family before my head hits a pillow tomorrow night. 

There are so many stories from my time here on the coast that every day I found myself thinking  'I have to write this down. I want to remember every detail!'.  Somehow now it's just too much. Hence the blank page above. 

But here are some of the highlights: 
-hiking through the valley of the old paper mills above Amalfi, 
-joining in discussions with the Youth in Action group in a convent in Tramonti, hearing about their projects and their lives in their home countries; places like Belarus, Greece, Georgia (no, not that Georgia, although shamefully I am singing it in my head every time she says the word) and Albania
-walking in the hills above Cetara with Senem where she shows me the old abandoned stone swimming pools, still filling with fresh water that flows through aqueducts from one to the other all the way down to the sea, eating fresh asparagus sprigs that she hands me after spotting and picking them on the hillside as we go
-listening to Gian Pietro tell beautiful stories about food and culture, experiences and traditions, with all his passion and enthusiasm, Senem providing the odd word that he doesn't know in English and I can't figure out in italian, all while he makes bread or rolls out pasta dough for dinner

The sketch above is the old tower on the beach in Erchie; a magical place that is twice as beautiful at night with a million stars overhead. I did this sketch sitting on the beach yesterday, right before I entered the scene myself for a head-clearing swim. I'll never forget this place. 

I will tell you all about these things and more over a Peroni, those of you who are interested, and if you're planning a trip there I'd love to give you some references. But, half the fun of a trip is the serendipity of it all.  So the best advice I could give anyone is just to go, wherever your Italy happens to be. I'm glad I did. 

Thanks mom, for thinking this didn't sound like a crazy idea.  And a big thanks to all of you who pre-bought artwork from this trip. I couldn't have done it without you. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Amalfi Coast

I really almost didn't make this last leg of my journey. I was so happy and comfy at Ginestrelle I found myself half-wishing that a spot would open up for me to stay on until the end of the month. And then wouldn't you know it; exactly that happened. Someone left ahead of schedule. It was like a test of my resolve to follow through with my original plan. I pondered, then thought of my own little 'ABC's of Life' (Adventure, Bravery, Creativity), put my bags in Marina's car and headed to the train station.  

The landscape of this country changes pretty quickly as you head south. It becomes looser, more colorful. I was trying to read one of the books I bought at the train station in Rome, but I couldn't keep my eyes on the page.  Once I switched from train to bus in Salerno I was just flat out staring at the view, jaw dropped, nose against the window. The one and only road clings to the coast, teetering in and out with the rock formations high above the Mediterranean.  Grove upon grove of terraced lemon trees are interspersed with wild jumbles of vegetation; fig and olive trees, cacti, flowering bushes. Ancient buildings cling to the rock face like barnacles. Every so often a bay opens up below revealing a beach, boats and a cluster of rooftops below. The road is so narrow that we honk as we head into each curve, and many times cars are forced to stop and reverse carefully along the narrow road to let us pass.  We're like goats on a mountain trail. I'm anxious for the driver to call out my stop. There's no actual bus stop where I'm going, I know you can't see the town from the road (too steep) and I have a giant suitcase to retrieve from under the bus. Finally he calls our Erchie (air-key-eh). I step off to find beautiful Senem, smiling, ready to help me haul my bag onto the narrow shoulder and wind our way down the hillside to my new home away from home. 
Senem and her man Gian Pietro live in a sweet little apartment above Federico's Restaurant, 50 metres clear shot to the sea.  Within 20 minutes we are lifelong friends, sharing food, wine, music and stories. They're both passionate about food production; growing and sourcing, preparing and eating. They make their pasta by hand with flour ground from wheat grown from their own seeds of ancient origin. It's an education and a complete pleasure to sit at their table.  And the food, oh my god. It's good. I can't believe it's only been four days that I've been here. We've been on many adventures, which I will write about later, but today is all about resting up. It's three thirty in the afternoon and I've done nothing but sit in the sunshine and play my guitar, nap, and write this post. Might be time to wander out and see what's cookin'.
More stories to come...

Monday, March 24, 2014

Arte Studio Ginestrelle

Here are a few images of our surroundings at Arte Studio Ginestrelle. Marina and her family have taken wonderful care of us. They've provided this beautiful space, fed us fantastic breakfasts every morning, stoked the fires and created an environment perfect for contemplating and creating.  Tonight we have feasted once again on local cingiale, chickory and wine, this time for my farewell dinner. I'm all packed up and will head to the train station in the morning. This has been such a rich time that it feels both like it couldn't possibly have been just two weeks, and like it went by too quickly.  A huge thanks to Marina and family, and to my fellow artists here, for making this an experience I'll never forget. I hope to see you all (and Ginestrelle) again someday. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Media Break

I've been on this Italian adventure for 22 days now.  Since I left Rome I've applied mascara exactly once and a little lip gloss on two separate occasions. I haven't used a hairbrush or any kind of hot tool yet. For someone in the hair and beauty biz this has been a beautiful break.  

The other thing I've taken a break from is North American media. No news, no netflix, no nothing. I hear a plane went down somewhere. I hear the Canucks are not doing well, and the Luongo has been traded. And that the Italian film La Grande Belleza won an Oscar. That is the sum total of information that's made it's way through. 

So what have we been doing for entertainment? We've been creating our own little subtitled film fest, and it's been great.  

First up - Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna (Brother Sun, Sister Moon). It's an oldie, depicting the lives of Saint Francis and Saint Claire. It's a 'must watch' if you're spending time in Assisi. It made all the site-seeing more relevant for me, and it's just a good watch. 

Next - La Grande Belleza. I was buying a Fellini movie in a little store in the bottom of a church in Perugia and the nun pulled out a copy, said 'Oscar', handed it to me and gave me a smile that said I was buying this, no matter what other ideas I had about the subject. I'm not Catholic, but I know enough not to tangle with a smiling nun. We watched it one of my first nights at Ginestrelle and we couldn't stop talking about it. We've watched it a second time already, and I'll be watching it again as soon as I get home. The cinematography is stunning. No wonder it's winning awards. 

Next was Fellini's La Strada, an old b/w about a strange couple living on the road, surviving on a circus act and their charm, neither of which are in large supply. It is bleak and beautiful, ugly and tender. If you or someone you love is considering running away with the circus it'd be a wise thing to watch. 

And last night Sarah pulled out a copy of Pina, a documentary on the German modern dance choreographer Pina Bausch. In my man-filled house back home a documentary, in German, subtitled in French, about modern dance?  Not happening. Ever. But it was beautiful. Glad I saw it while I had the chance. 

Tonight, though, was the entertainment highlight of the trip. Marina took Sarah and I in to Assisi to attend a concert at the Basilica San Francesco. Eight monks sang sacred music a capella in beautiful harmony under the vaulted and frescoed altar. The combination of the sounds, the colours in the painted imagery, all the intricate textures and marble inlay around us, the night falling in shades of indigo through the beautiful church windows as we listened to the music; the combined effect was magical. 

So in 10 days I'll be back to the land of non-stop news with other news scrolling along the bottom in case the stuff I'm watching isn't fulfilling my need to know; hockey games, golf games, shows that talk about hockey games and golf games, and marathon sessions of whatever is hot on netflix.  I'll be ready for it, under my fur blanket on my sofa with my man and my dog within arm's reach, pizza arriving at the door with one phone call. But I'll always be so grateful that this trip has been possible, filling up my culture cup, napping at willhaving quiet space to create and think, working late into the night when the mood strikes. 

I have one more day here, then I head south on the train to the Amalfi Coast. I'm off to a town so small that not only does it not have a bus station, it doesn't have a bus stop.  I'm guessing that my media break is going to continue. I have no idea what will fill the gap here, but I'll keep you posted. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Ready For Some Colour - Italy

  My first prints are dry enough to paint today. Here they are:

Hanging Out In Trastevere 

Perugian Slivers I 

Perugian Slivers II

Glass Ceiling Rome 

Le Petit Prince Of Lyon


Bernini's River Gods

Coloseum In The Rain

Rooftops Of Montmartre

They're not this blue in real life. I'll get some better pics sometime soon. Don't forget you can pre-order the finished prints in my website at

I was working on carving some new images when these guys cruised by the studio to say hello. 
Lovely, no?  

Perugian Slivers

These four images came from a page in my sketchbook titled 'Perugian Slivers'. Text says:
Walking around Perugia I find my eye keeps getting drawn up along these fantastic little sliver views. They're everywhere, around every corner, rising and dropping with the hillside. These four, all leading off Piazza IV Novembre, look like doorways but they're actually skinny little streets. Al Mangiar Bene is through that arched door you see on the right. It's where I had my first meal here (fantastic). But the street doesn't end there. All of these streets buck and twist their way down the hillside in a maze of stairs, tunnels and archways. Each day I let myself fall a little deeper into it, finding the food gets better (and cheaper) the further I let myself go. No fear of getting lost. If I get totally disoriented I just head upward and I know at the top of the hill these four archways will appear again and I can find my way home. It's better than breadcrumbs. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Colosseum and Trastevere Complete with Umbrellas and Bicycle

A couple more from the new series:

The Colosseum in the Rain. 

I arrived at the Colleseum a bit by accident, just taking the bus and deciding to jump off when things looked interesting. I literally stumbled upon it. It is as impressive as you would think, even in the pouring rain. I kept getting approached by umbrella sellers, being one of the only tourists who didn't yet have one, but I had a rain jacket with a good hood and a desire to keep my hands on my painting bag after all the warnings I'd read about pickpockets here. I wouldn't mind losing a credit card, but my iPhone is my lifeline here, and a sketchbook, well that can't be replaced.  As it turns out, I'm glad I didn't do business with these guys.  A commotion broke out, and a parting of the sea of tourists, to reveal a fight between these umbrella sellers and the local police. It got ugly, with one of the umbrella guys whacking the coppers with an umbrella, and another picking up a menacing boulder and scrambling for position to hurl it. I walked away fast. Violence freaks me out. But I suppose in a place famous for feeding Christians to lions for the entertainment of the masses a little violence just helps get in the appropriate mindset to contemplate. 

Hanging Out In Trastevere

This is a typical street scene in lovely Trastevere, although truth be told I kind of pieced this together from a composite of photos.  I love the feel here, and every time I think the word 'Trastevere' I hear the voice of my friend the tour guide explaining that the river is the Tevere, therefore 'Tras' (across) and 'Tevere' are not just the name, but also directions to gets there, being just over the river from the center of the city.  I only knew it as the place where Alec Baldwin meets his former self (or is the other guy meeting his future self) in Woody Allen's 'To Rome With Love'.  But I knew I wanted to come here, and I wasn't disappointed. The winding streets just keep revealing one surprise after another. Someday I'd like to come back and spend more time exploring here. And painting of course.  There really are all these classic old bikes leaning against walls everywhere, laundry on the line, a tumble of architectural detail, crumbling and otherwise. Trastevere is like that adorable child, ready to have its portrait done at every turn. 

For anyone who might be wanting one of these when they're done you can still order them at the pre-buy pricing anytime before April 15th.  The info is on my website at

Bernini's River Gods

This was such a fun piece for me to do. It's the first time I've pieced together a couple of tiles to make a bigger image, something I'll happily do again. I did this from the sketch I posted earlier, done on site at Bernini's fountain in Piazza Navona, Rome.  Rio Di Plata's hand didn't fit on my sketchbook page, so I had to do a bit of a brain twist to add it in later, having to draw it in backwards because of the nature of relief printing. I'm happy to see his thumb is not on the wrong side of his hand :).  I first saw these sculpted river gods at night, during my moonlight tour. They are magical anytime of day. 

It's probably not that cool to have a favourite spot on your own artwork, but I love the bottom of the other guy's foot. Makes my own feet feel a little ticklish. As I was drawing these figures I kept thinking about the fact that whoever modeled for these all those hundreds of years ago was still so present; and how cool it is to feel someone's presence so intimately, someone who had a life, dreams, ideas, a reason to be modeling at that time and in that place, but separated by centuries. Just another of the million things we have to marvel at every day. 

Can't wait to throw some colour on this. 

For anyone who might be wanting one of these when they're done you can still order them at the pre-buy pricing anytime before April 15th.  The info is on my website at

First Peek at the New Series in B/W

A few black and white images from the series I'm working on:

Rooftops of Montmartre 
This was created from a sketch I did perched in the window of our incredible home exchange in Paris last summer. The apartment we stayed in was filled with light, art and incredible books.  Creating prints always becomes a blend of things for me; the subject itself, how I was feeling when I sketched it or chose it, my environment when I'm carving the plate, what music I'm listening to as I ink and transfer the image, all of it rolled up into one image. This one makes me feel great, blending time in that great apartment with my husband, time spent here at Ginestrelle, carving in the sunshine among all these wonderful and artistic people, listening to Lucio Dalla, and to Middle Brother singing songs like 'Portland' and 'Daydreaming', thinking about my family and music, art and life. All on one piece of paper. Definitely keeping one of these for myself when they're done. 

Glass Ceiling

I wandered into this building in Rome as I was walking from the trevi fountain to piazza Navona.  I'm glad I looked up.  I had an immediate and I think understandable urge to lie on the floor and contemplate it for hours.  The sunshine was streaming in, the sky bright bright blue.  So beautiful. 

Le Petit Prince

This was my room in Lyon, France last summer. I stayed here while I was studying, and I loved it. Not just the room but the whole experience; having an 'apero' every evening, dinner and conversation in the dining room with my wonderful host, and every night reading the copy of Le Petit Prince that was waiting in this room for me when I arrived. 

While the little prince and Saint Exupery were not actually in my room, somehow they landed here. They both make appearances in other prints from this series as well. I wonder if anyone will spot them.  

I loved the experience of reading this book so much, I thought I'd recreate some of that magic by reading Pinocchio in Italian while I'm here. I'm not sure if it's because my italian is not great or because I've been so busy, but I'm on page four on day 19.  Not exactly crashing my way through it. Oh well, I have a six hour train ride coming up in a few days. Maybe I'll make some progress then. 

I've pulled between 4-7 prints each from 8 different images. That's a lot of rubbing with a wooden spoon. My hands are officially done.  It's time for a well-earned rest. 

For anyone who might be wanting one of these when they're done you can still order them at the pre-buy pricing anytime before April 15th.  The info is on my website at

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hot Off The Spoon!

Yahoo!  I've been working on this print series solid since I got off the plane on March 1st. Today was the big reveal. It was finally time to do a print run. Working in relief printing is interesting for a bunch of reasons. And, a person really has time to ponder those reasons when they're head down over a set of linoleum tiles for 9 days solid. First of all you're working backwards all the time, like in a mirror.  You draw, transfer, carve, ink the plate, lay the paper down and gently rub each print into existence with a wooden spoon without ever being able to see how it's coming. You can't see what it'll look like until you pull the paper off the inked plate, when it's totally done.  I love that moment. Each print emerges with its own unique character. It reminds me of the doctor saying 'It's a boy!' after all those hours of labour.  You look at your new creation and think 'yep, that was worth it all'. 
Sarah came in and took these pics, then we went out in the dark to do a photo shoot with her amazing headdresses. She strapped each piece onto my head, wrapped me in a sheet and took photos while Marina shone the car headlights on the whole scene.  I felt like a fairy creature from the forest with these majestically creations emerging from the top of my head. Can't wait to see the photos. 
We've both been working so steady, it was fun to have both of our projects hatch on the same day. We celebrated with local farm wine and asparagus wrapped in prosciutto.  I guess you could call that a good artist day all around :-)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Invisible progress

Don't be fooled by the fact that I'm not posting much artwork. This I swear has been the most creatively productive time of my life. 
Here's a typical day here:
6:30 Wake up to sunshine streaming in my window and a symphony of birds singing nearby.  Amazing. 
Lie there for half an hour contemplating the day and feeling so lucky to be here. 
7:00 Get up, go get my art toys  and head outside to carve lino In the sunshine and wait for the breakfast feast I know is coming. 
8:30 Feast on amazing fresh local fare, most of it from neighboring farms, drink freshly brewed coffee and make plans for the day. 
9-1 Carve carve carve. 
1-2 Make some kind of collaborative feast with my fellow artists in residence and eat it at the sunny table we've set up in the open barn/studio drinking local organic wine and talking about how our projects are going. 
2-4 carve carve carve. 
Some undetermined time in there: sneak away for a nap.  Or two. 
As I'm carving I keep seeing Sarah pass by dragging various woodland finds and ephemera off to where she's making her incredible headdress pieces. Our Finnish poet Sami can be spotted standing in the garden scribbling in his moleskine. Hye Weon is busy in her outdoor studio sculpting clay, Marina and her mother are busy making everything lovely, and the two black cats, both of whom we are calling Neroni because we can't tell them apart and we like the name are wandering and lounging in sunny spots around the property. 
Late afternoons we go on some fantastic excursion together, like going up to the neighbor's farm to buy fresh eggs, discovering new picnic destinations, exploring Assisi, making the pilgrimage into town to the art supply store, whatever is going. It's always something.  Today it was Assisi and Saint Francis's tomb, tomorrow it's mass at a centuries old church in a nearby village. 
In the evenings we watch italian movies or we sneak in a little more work. 

It's perfect having all this cup-filling exploring to do. Even with all the time we spend eating and doing 'Le Gita Scholastica' ( my new word of the day, means field trip) I know I'm carving as much as my hands will let me. I'm constantly aware of them and what they can do, and when they're about to give out.  Thats the price of having broken them I guess, and having screws and plates in there. When they're tired I can feel all that stuff. I'm riding the edge of what I can do in a day. I'm deep into 10 linocuts, and I figure I can finish carving them all ( and possibly one or two more) by Wednesday, print Wednesday afternoon,, let them dry until Friday, paint them Saturday, and be ready to head to the coast Sunday. 

One of the things we did in Assisi tonight was go and see the gallery where our group show will be in November/December. It, like everything else in Assisi, was totally beautiful. If you're an artist and you've ever thought of doing a residency I highly recommend Arte Studio Ginestrelle.  They take amazing care of us. The house is beautiful and comfortable. It's just the right size for getting to know your fellow artists but never feeling crowded or lacking privacy.  There's lots of studio space, and great outdoor space for working on projects.  Marina and her parents nurture us,  constantly stoking the wood fires in the different rooms, making sure we have what we need but leaving us free to create at our own pace. Everyone is having an amazing time. I can't imagine a better artists residency experience. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Another Day in Italian Heaven

Here is my yesterday:
Got up, feasted on a breakfast of bruschetta and perfect little pesto toasts, fruit, yogurt, homey from a nearby farm and coffee. Did an amazing hike up to a little church on the hill. Sat in the sun working on my project, the sunshine making the linoleum tiles softer and easier to carve.  Made a 'collaboration' lunch feast on a little outdoor stove, dragged a table down from the studio and ate in the sunshine with my new little family of artist friends.   Went back to carving until my hands could carve no more, discovering all kinds of things about how to wield my new carving tools, then drove into Santa Maria degli Angeli for pizza at Penny Lane, swapping stories and listening to Beatles tunes. 

Just another day in Italian heaven. 

Here's Sarah dragging her find back from our hike:

It was like being followed by a moose, hearing her thrash through the brush behind me on our way back, this on her head like an antler. 

And Hye Weon making faces at dinner: 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Perugian Ink (no, I didn't get a tattoo)

My first morning in Perugia I walked past La Bottega del Papiro and saw this;
like a beautiful puppy with its paws against the glass, pleading to be loved and taken home. It's is a calligraphy pen, two nibs and 8 little bottles of ink. Colours with names like 'Turchese', 'Arancia' and 'Bordeaux', tops dip-sealed in wax the colour of the contained pigment; who could say no to that?!   I walked past that window every day and today, my final morning in Perugia, I went in and made it mine. 

This was a productive time for me.  I've done nothing but wander and draw for five days straight.  It's been fantastic, but I'm ready to be in the company of people again. 

And that brings us to Monte Subasio. Marina, the residency coordinator, came and picked me up in Assisi. We did a quick grocery shop then drove up here. Arte Studio Ginestrelle is situated on a beautiful farm  20 minutes outside of town in the Monte Subasio Regional Park. It is beyond beautiful. There are four other artists in residence at the moment; two Finnish poets, a French costume/set designer and a visual artist from Korea. Marina and her mother made a welcome dinner of wild boar and chicory. It was fantastic, as was the wine and conversation. I'm looking forward to getting to know everyone here. Afterwards we watched an old italian film about Francesco of Assisi (call it research) and now I'm tucked into my big warm comfy bed, so happy, and looking forward to tomorrow. 

Here's a little sneak peek at the lino plates I've transferred so far:
Some get split on half, others joined together, but it gives you an idea. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Two statues from Piazza Navona, and One Pizza from Heaven

Here's the sketch I did in Piazza Navona a few days ago. Today I added some colour and spent a big chunk of the day transferring it to linoleum. It was super complicated. Will be interesting to see how it carves and prints. It's bigger than the linoleum I brought, so I'm puzzling two pieces together along that vertical tone shift down the middle. Crafty, no?

On a more immediately gratifying note, here's the 6€ pizza I ordered for lunch:
It was amazing. Yes, that's some kind of molten goat cheese in the middle.  I'm having the second half for dinner. The gift that keeps giving. 

Dear Panagopolous,
You won't be hearing from me anymore. I'm sorry.  It's not you, it's this pizza. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Little Opera At All Saints in Rome

Here's the image from my earlie post. Text here says:
Before coming to Italy I googled 'concerts.rome.march' and this is what I found. It was an 'Opera's Greatest Hits' deal where an ensemble played while four soloists sang only arias a non-opera regular (me) would recognize. Loved it. And after a day of site seeing (saint peter's basilica- wow) I was just happy to have a place to sit still and sketch. This woman here s an alagamation of the two female vocalists, and the violinist did not fit page left. The nice French lady beside me keeps looking at my sketch and smiling (Bonjour Madame!) and during the last aria a couple of the performers pulled people up from the crowd and sang while waltzing. Fun :)

Sketching in Perugia

Got out and did some sketching today. And made my second mandatory Italy purchase. Gloves. It's c-c-c-cold. I'm not even in the mountains yet. But every corner looks like this. 

It's worth being chilly.  Truth be told I painted this from inside a cafe. I went on to do another painting from inside a resto while I ate chicken cacciatore for lunch. At this rate both my sketchbook and my jeans are going to fill out nicely. 

I wrote the following at Al Mangiar Bene after arriving here last night:

I'm in Perugia, and have apparently arrived here before the advent of wifi. It is nowhere, at least not in the historical centre where I'm staying.  It is completely medieval here.  The room I've rented is inside a building built for a cardinal in the 1500s. The entryway is large enough to drive a huge horse and carriage into. It's cavernous. The upper floors have been carved up into apartments, and then makeshift rooms were added into any awkward space they could put them. And that's where you'll find me. One wall in my sleeping area is still the old exposed stone. It's dank and musty, but that's kind of what I signed up for. I have a mezzanine, not tall enough to stand up in, but I work sitting down anyways

I arrived tired and hungry so my host sent me in the direction of the main piazza, just a half an alley, an Etruscan arch and one winding stone staircase away from our front door. There's not a square inch that isn't centuries old stone, and all at wild, impossible angles. Why didn't I see this when I googled Perugia?! It is mind blowing. I followed the little pirate map he gave me and found my way here  to 'al mangiar bene' where I sit in front of the remnants of one of the best dishes I've ever eaten. Gnocchi with pork, crema and truffle oil. So simple, but the gnocchi are little pillows from heaven. If I went in the kitchen I'm betting I won't find a can opener or a package of anything. Their ingredients must all come in sacks and baskets from local producers.  Or heaven. So good. 

I wonder what's for breakfast?

A BIg Church and a Little Opera in Roma

We're on day four, my last full day in Rome. I had a big ol' sleep in, then went to the Vatican City and Saint Peter's Basilica, the biggest church in Christendom. The piazza itself is breathtaking. Standing in it, you are surrounded by 140 marble saints perched up on top of massive columns.  There was a pretty huge line running along the base of the columns. Those who come on a Saturday in June would laugh at me saying that on a rainy Tuesday in March. I was happy waiting, looking up at the saints, tucked inside my only Italy purchase so far; a big warm puffy raincoat I bought on the way here this morning. Is the fact that it's cold and rainy here a problem?  No, it's a shopportunity!  
I made my way inside and was, of course, blown away. But I was expecting to be blown away. What I wasn't expecting was to be standing in Saint Peter's listening to a sermon and suddenly realize I could understand every word of it!  Thank you Rosetta Stone!  And my obsessive-compulsive approach to hobbies.  I wasn't really listening at first, absorbed in all the detail, but he was speaking really slowly and clearly and it all shifted into focus. I was so happy! I went to All Saints church after to watch a performance of opera arias, an 'Opera's Golden Hit Parade'. I couldn't understand it all (and it wasn't all in italian) but I could get bits and pieces. It made opera feel totally different, less stuffy and elite and more like people with emotions pouring their hearts out. It was a brain shift for me.

And it lasted long enough to sit and do this sketch. Which will turn into a painting. Which will turn into a linocut. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Bernini vs Borromini

Day 3 Update: I did go back the next day and sketch the piazzas. First I hit the Trevi Fountain, I switching from figure to figure as tourists blocked my view.  They were all taking selfies and throwing the requisite coin in the fountain. The story goes that if you toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain you're sure to return to Rome.  I tossed mine in the night before.  Just a little insurance to make sure I get back here with Greg for the romantic version of Rome 

From there I went to piazza Navona, where the incredible Bernini fountain of the four rivers takes center stage. It faces a building designed by Bernini's former student, Borromini. The legend is that the figures on the Borromini side of the fountain are shielding their eyes as a slight to his work.  They were rivals, and it's a fun story, like spray painting 'Borromini sucks!' on the side of a building in a way that would last centuries, but (spoiler alert) it's not true.  My Rick Steves' Pocket Rome points out that Bernini's fountain was actually finished before Borromini's building was begun.  Thanks Rick Steves, buzz killer. 

I sketched the two eye-shielding figures, then my friend Jim came and picked me up, extra helmet under his arm, for a scooter tour of Rome. It really is the perfect way to see this city.  Afterwards we scooted back for dinner with his wife and son at their home in E.U.R., which is this trippy moderne suburb filled with fantastic fascist architecture from Mussolini's day.  It's an amazing, pallet cleansing shift from the cacophony of architectural detail and two thousand years of colliding eras that is central Rome. Their home is adorable, as are they. It's great to see old friends so happy.

The sketches are rough, but I'll post them soon. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Pigneto Pad, Piazzas and a Plate of Pasta

Sunday night:

I just reread yesterday's post and yes, I did climb into bed with a glass of wine last night and sketch everything I could see. 

Enjoyable, but not very eventful. I made up for that today. There's an open air flea market in Porto Portense on Sunday mornings. I packed up my sketch toys and went to wander the stalls in the rain. Most of the goods were pretty junky, like flea markets everywhere, but there were enough treasures mixed in there to give a glimpse of a few layers of modern Roman life. I love flea markets for that. They, like reading the classifieds, give a peek into local culture that would otherwise go unseen by a visitor. 

Afterwards I hopped on the bus  (again without paying; I've got to figure out how that works), told myself I'd just jump out when it looked interesting and ended up stumbling onto the Roman Forum and the Colleseum.  It was just after the rain, and the remnant performers of a carnival parade all covered in sequins and glitter were no competition for the ancient stone structures, green trees and rich red earth all glistening in the fragile sunlight. Too chilly to sketch, I did my best to soak it all up. 

So what would be a perfect top off on a day like that?  How about meeting up with a favourite old high school buddy who just happens to live here, speaks fluent italian (he's been married to a Roman for 16 years), knows the back routes from piazza to piazza and has just the right mix of info and anecdote to give a perfect guided walking tour?  Yes please.  Polish that off with a big plate of pasta and I'm  ready for sleep, dreaming about all those fountains and piazzas that I want to go back and draw tomorrow. Yay Rome. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Safe and Sound in Rome

Act One:

I'm seated on a train bound for Termini Station in Rome. I have my rolling art studio with 30-something pounds of paper and linoleum alone, my backpacker guitar and all my other gear squished into a quad of chairs thatI'm sharing with an interesting (if not friendly) trio of Germans. We're close enough to smell each other's breath and they're doing their best to pretend I and my stuff don't exist as they talk/yell in Deutsch overtop of one another the entire way.  

At this moment I'm thinking about my Dad and the first lesson he taught me about travel (besides wearing a cooking pot on your head if you are traveling in the backseat of a family car after breaking your back window on a gravel road while towing a boat - true story). When I was first heading to Europe, 20-something and ready for a glamorous adventure, he said that before he would drive me to the airport I had to carry all my gear from the house up to the main road and back. I did, and when I came back I edited out about a third of my stuff. A couple of months into the trip a friend came over to travel with me. He took one look at my two remaining suitcases, foresaw all the lifting he'd have to do to appear chivalrous, and insisted I let him mail one home for me in the spot. I relented. After a few days it became clear that he and I had two very different trips in mind, and we parted ways. I didn't miss that suitcase one bit. Since then I've become a very efficient packer.  I can wheel my current set up with one hand, nothing to carry the other hand free for paying fares and hailing cabs.  I'm feeling pretty sleek. 

It still fascinates me that I can sit down in a chair (albeit an uncomfortable one), watch two movies, eat a microwaved meal, listen to some stuff on my iPad, have a fitful nap, stand up again and I'm in Amsterdam. I do all those things many other nights and nothing of import transpires.  But today here I am in Italy after a quick morning connector flight, which included my first attempt, and my first gaff in speaking Italian. I was trying to ask the flight attendant for peach juice, but based on his smirk and my previous language experience I suspect I requested a female fish. Oh well, at least I'm throwing it out there.  I did get the juice, and after gently correcting me he still spoke italian with me.  So far so good. 

And a few hours later...

A perfect intro to Roma:  

I got off the train and managed to find my trolley bus. I couldn't figure out how to pay my fair so I just didn't, and no one seemed to mind. We toddled off to a graffiti filled wasteland of tracks and tunnels about halfway to my destination and the trolley just stopped. Everyone looked confused.  I looked around and saw a lineup of trams in front and then behind us, all stopped and flashing 'non en servicio' signs. People mumbled, shrugged, and shuffled out onto the tracks and slowly dispersed like teenagers after someone's parents shut down a big shaker. 

Suddenly my suitcase set up didn't seem so fantastic. Trying to drag my rolling universe over tracks, curbs, cobblestones and potholes while dodging traffic in a skiddy area, I  searched for a taxi stand.  I found one, gave the address and we careened off through a windy maze streets. When we were getting close to our target a uniformed polizziotto appeared to shoo us away. The street between us and where we needed to go was closed.  No sooner had I offered to get out and walk the last chunk when a chatter of hail hit the windshield. My cabbie pointed at the thermometer gage showing a balmy 10 degrees Celsius, shaking his head and saying 'this is crazy!', but with the same resigned acceptance of the evacuees from the tram.  It escalated into the wildest pelting I think I have ever seen. And then, by the time I pulled my camera out to video it, it was over.  He insisted on getting me safely yo my door, helped me in, and up I went to the fabulous and adorable apartment of Virginia, my host, which I will sketch tonight as I drink the fantastic bottle of wine I bought for three dollars at the little store on the corner. 

I think I like my new country :).