Reflections and Other Images

Today is my last full Monday in Florence. Having just finished another ‘first day’ of figure drawing (this week we’re doing portraits in charcoal – of real people) I gave myself a little time to reflect on my last three weeks here. I’m sure I’ve said this already – but, it’s been an absolute whirlwind of art, tourism, eating, and making friends. I feel like I’ve barely had time for a nap! There’s going to be time for sleep when I’m home, right?

I haven’t been able to update as often as I would have liked, but this week instead of glueing myself to the Internet, I’ve been going to sketch classes:

first sketch class

second week

Going to the Pitti Palace and surrounding gardens for some drawing practice with my new friend, Iona:

Iona sketches a big ol' naked dude

Gallery in the Palazzo Pitti

sketch of lounging park goer

And eating some delicious food (and gelato, because it’s in its own category) – unfortunately I haven’t taken any pictures of these places, but I’ll remedy that situation for my next post, so you’ll have to settle for google pics:

GustaPizza's signature pizza

La Carraia Gelateria

Regarding what I’ve learned, I can already tell that my eye is getting better and my hand is improving as well. This afternoon I noticed I could commit to a line and draw back from the paper to look, only to see that I was more delicate, deliberate, quick and accurate with my pencil. This may seem a little silly, but having done this every day for weeks straight, I can tell you it’s nice to be less frustrated with my work than I am satisfied with what I’ve accomplished! On Friday I think I’ll post a day-by-day picture set of my last figure drawing, so we can all see what work is done in three hours every day, for five days.

This is last Thursday’s figure – the only sitting pose that we labored over. What a trial that was!

All this improvement and frustration and concentration and general *hard work* adds up. I am so glad to have taken a chance on myself, and to have put myself out there! There’s a lot of value in trying something new, whether it is living alone, traveling abroad, or taking a class in something you’ve never really tried before! That’s my advice for today: do something new. You might surprise yourself with how capable you are!

And if nothing else comes of it, you’ll meet new people with new perspectives and experience:

From left: Iona, Sam, and me!

That’s enough for today! You’ll hear from me on Friday!

Getting to know Firenze

not sure how, but the Medici accountant is morphing into Nicholas Cage

I don’t know how I do it, standing up for nine-ish hours everyday drawing and having the energy to explore, but I do. Somehoooooow. It’s been a bit too long since my last post, but I’ve been spending some time with Florence!

Here are some things you might see here:

1. Gelato. Everywhere. There may just be a scrumptious opportunity on every corner, but you have to search out the good stuff. Never buy two scoops for more than €2.
2. Cafes. Also everywhere. Sometimes in the same space as a gelateria. They have other options, but the only good thing is coffee. And there’s a spectrum of quality even within that. Unfortunately I don’t know the best coffee in town, because I do not partake, so I judge a place on its atmosphere. Or, you know, a wireless signal. If you’re ordering anything else (ex: Coke) you’re probably American.
3. Internationals. I don’t mean tourists (although there are many of those too). You are just as likely to run into a Brit as you are an Italian, if not more so. According to my cousin Charles, who has lived here for 40-some years, Florence is the smallest international city by population in the world, so the people you see everyday are most likely from out of town. I think more people speak English than they do in any other non-English country I’ve been to, and I’ve been to so seriously touristy places!
4. Picturesque landmarks. There are many ugly parts of Florence, but the majority of the inner city by the Arno is gorgeous. The tourist destinations and preserved sites are definitely worth the wait, or the money or whatever you think you’re giving up when you’re traveling. On Monday I visited the Boboli Gardens with a couple friends from school and got some pictures which may illustrate my point:

(You may get the Duomo from all of the angles by the end of my stay, fair warning.)

5. Amazing architecture still in use, that may also be covered in art dating back as far as the Renaissance. There are paintings on almost every street, including my little alley way, of the Madonna and Child. Juxtaposed with the grime of streetlife, you get quite a scene. Apparently Florence’s skyline hasn’t so hanged since the fifties, so the view from any apartment building can still get a sight of the surrounding hills.

Things I’ve experienced:

– platform-heeled bicyclists
– leather shops, everywhere
– grandmas riding Vespas
– hen parties in front of the duomo
– gypsies
– baby blue capri suits on men
– street art
– babies in Armani
– tights for men
– amazing food, both from dining out and from the local grocer
– street performers pre-performance

I could write more, but then I’d be sitting here until closing! If you have any question of my travels or would like to request pics or suggest destinations, feel free to comment! Now, to sit and relax and enjoy a little Internet before I head out into the rainy afternoon!

Arrivederci!

Of long days and late nights, or, Figure Drawing May Kill You But You’ll Like It

Whew. I finally have an hour or so to sit down and relax!

These last couple of days have been both extremely rewarding and extremely exhausting. Combining jet lag, living without A/C, late nights and 6+ hours of drawing a day will get to you. Yes, I’ve been drawing all day every day since Monday morning at 9 am, which has been paired nicely with evenings out with my family before they moved on to Rome, as well a some sight-seeing and getting to know my roommates.

Duomo

Duomo interior

But, classes are just as amazing as Florence itself. The students – some with minimal experience – are all learning through the sight-size method used by artists since the Renaissance (artists who drew or painted their subjects proportionally). The idea is to stand far enough away that the entirety of the subject of your art will fit comfortably on the page/canvas and from there you can measure quite precisely the proportions of your work because of its closeness to reality. This theory comes from the idea that art should be looked at feet away as opposed to up close (which may be what you’ll find to be the norm in a crowded museum), which may remind you of the Impressionists:

Monet in Venice

Look at any Monet, like this study done in Venice, up close and you’ll get rainbow vomit. Not very sorry for that visual. However, stand back ten feet and you’re looking at a lovely study of light.

I quite enjoy the method because it is that – methodical, and requires organizing yourself, maintaining a routine and paying very close attention to detail.

my work with charcoal next to the real thing

The potential issue with drawing sight-size is – you must continue to stand back around 4-9 feet to look at your subject, and then walk forward to make a mark on the page. You can’t look around your easel to see if you’re doing it right, because it doesn’t look the same from nearly ten feet closer! So, I may have walked miles already, but not around the city… Just back and forth across the studio.

life drawing

Despite my fatigue, I will continue to persevere to live the life here in Florence, starting with a gelato on the way to my flat before I head off to an evening lecture in art history! Looks like a long day ahead, and it’s already four!

I’ll leave you with my first figure drawing, and hopefully will have an update at the end of the weekend!

first drawing with sight-size

Days One & Two: Florence

Hello world!

It’s me again, having embarked on my next foreign adventure: Florence, Italy.

Here’s what’s happening – as of yesterday afternoon (continental Europe time), I am in Florence for a month! I am taking a drawing course at Charles Cecil Studios nearby, and am staying with students of the school while I’m here.

Here are the facts:

I speak *zero* Italian.
I have never taken a formal drawing course in my life.
I have never stayed abroad all by my lonesome. Done it without parents, done it in a non-English speaking country, but never without other students who I had met beforehand.

Believe me, it’s not an introvert’s ideal situation, despite how excited I am to have this opportunity. Regarding my acceptance into a prestigious art school, yes, I know somebody who knows somebody, etc. etc. I am cousins with the founder of the school, who has been so gracious to offer the children in the family drawing lessons. Being the youngest one in my family, I am the last to have this opportunity! I have no idea of the talent I will be surrounded by, and I have no idea how prepared I am.

Did I mention I’m also not incredibly spontaneous? Well, there you are.

My first day, though, was great. We touched down in Florence and enjoyed an evening of extremely (incredibly, amazingly) fine cuisine due to my mother’s presence in Florence my first couple days here. We ate at the Borgo San Jacopo near Ponte Vecchio, the bridge famous for its accompanying buildings suspended over the Fiume. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. If you have questions about the food, leave a comment! I will tell you though, that the last picture is a tomato ice cream with chocolate “crunchies” and banana. It was indeed bizarre. But awesome, too!

foie gras wafers with apple sorbet and caramel accents
I don't even remember what this was called but it was my favorite dish
tomato ice cream

After dinner we noticed a chamber orchestra playing on the Ponte Vecchio and after further investigation we learned that someone had booked the bridge for the night (!!!) – what a ridiculously Italian thing to hear Vivaldi drifting down the river as the skies darkened and the streets lit up with nightlife.

Ponte Vecchio

Today was a lesson in going with the flow.

Having had minimal contact with my soon-to-be roomies, I informed them I would be showing up at 11am today planning to move in. Funnily enough, my roommates were no-shows, but my cousin appeared on his bicycle and offered to take me and my family out to dinner tonight! Eventually, (1.5 hours later) I was able to get into the flat and get a key.

the view from my flat

(Tip: if you’re staying in a foreign country for more than a week, I recommend getting international phone service, and even a wifi hotspot on your phone if you’re the type to be glued to the Internet – or blogging, as I planned on doing very frequently. As I have neither, this will be sure to be an interesting month.)

And now I’ve unpacked and plan to find an Internet cafe and perhaps a few photo ops before heading to Santa Spirito, if I’m reading my map correctly. Tomorrow is my first drawing class, so there’ll be a post as soon as possible!

Ponte Vecchio

The last stop.

So, Italy.

“Well, here we are at the end.”

Life since I’ve been back in the states has been both invigorating and a bit like swimming through molasses. This is likely why I haven’t updated this blog in a month, although it may be in part because I haven’t wanted to acknowledge that my time abroad is actually over! In the time between leaving Europe and now, I have had my 21st birthday, have started work for the summer and participated in a national convention, have been to the beach, and have almost finalized a deal on a new (and my first) car. Turbo diesel. How European of me. So, it’s not like my life has become less exciting!

A tractor spreads fungicide in a vineyard near Treiso, Italy

But I think you all deserve to hear about my wonderful time in Italy, even though it feels like an age ago. It was a Saturday in late April when I, accompanied by my dear dad and Cathie, embarked on an intrepid adventure on the 28th of April. Traveling from Switzerland with my mom and her boyfriend, I met Dad and Cathie in Stresa. Stresa is a town in the Lake Country of Italy with a fairly sketchy train station but a steep hill that falls toward a deep blue lake. The roads are narrow, so driving parallel to the water reveals a pinstripe of blue between hundred-year-old houses every block. I had arrived fifteen minutes late in the train station because the ICE train had stopped after crossing the border and sat for about ten minutes. It has been explained to me that they have to do this because Switzerland is not a part of the European Union and therefore has different “union” laws, but I still like to think that the Italians DON’T want to be on time.

Stresa and Lake Maggiore

Dad drove us to the Piemonte (the foothills of the Alps) region where we would spend a week eating good food, imbibing fine wine and basking in our beautiful surroundings. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Along the autostrada I saw the landscape change – from leafy, craggy earth against blue water to vast farmlands and rolling hills. I discovered that there were family farms older than my country, that cemeteries are all above ground in mausoleums because of the type of earth in the area, and that risotto is actually grown in rice fields. Yes, rice fields. If you had already figured that out, I commend you, because I had never given it a second of thought.

Risotto fields

Our rental, called Il Ciliegio (the cherry tree), was located in the little town of Treiso near the larger towns of Asti and Alba, which have a centuries-old rivalry. The kind of rivalry where Alba likes to hold an annual donkey race to mock the horse racing that occurs in Asti. The area around these rival towns is best known for its truffles during the fall, but when we went, it was the season to celebrate of wine (and asparagus season, but not AS exciting as wine). The local wineries that grow nebbiolo, chardonnay and muscato grapes surround you from every soft-edged angle, and you eat locally and seasonally in every restaurant you find. The Piemonte is the region from where the “Slow Food” tradition came, so every restaurant you will find will likely serve the same dishes, if not similar. The goal is not to serve unique dishes, but to serve the best dishes, which of course means that guests to the region benefit quite a lot!

View from Osteria dell’Asilo

The first example of this was at our first dinner that Saturday, in Coazzollo. Osteria dell’Asilo is a half-hour from Il Ciliegio, so we drove a spindly little road that threaded through the vineyards and over steep hills. Upon our arrival, the restaurant staff served Brut of Cascina Galarin, a sparkling wine that belongs to Beppe and Fabiola Carosso, friends of my dad and Cathie. A glass and a cheese platter later I met them for the first time – Italians always arrive when wind settles, it seems – and was very pleased to meet them, too.

From left: Dad, Fabiola, Cathie and Beppe

Fabiola is a schoolteacher who can speak English rather well and her husband Beppe (Giuseppe) can only speak ten words of English and runs his family winery where they make chardonnay, rosé, barbaresco, and muscato (which I immediately fell in love with). We had a six course meal at the osteria! The dishes included: insalata Russo, fassone cruda (thin slices of cold beef with rosemary sauce), magliotta pasta (like ravioli without the filling), faraona (guinea hen), and assorted desserts! Beppe insisted that I pour his muscato over the strawberries I had ordered for dessert. What a delicious discovery!

Venezuelan “Christmas bread”, made by Fanny

The next day, we met with friends of Fabiola and Beppe at their home for an extravagant lunch! Sensing a theme here? What I learned from that lunch was that as well as serving the same dishes for the most part, almost all special meals involve at least three courses, one of which is ALWAYS pasta. We had plin with veal filling and fresh sage, which was rich and deadly – I mean – delightful.

View from Fanny and Frank’s property

After, even though Cathie, Dad and I were pretty tired, Beppe and Fabiola dragged us to several homes for sale in the area, because they are the type of people to take an idea and run with it. And they had. My dad had asked them for their opinion of a house in the area several months back, which they took to mean that Dad meant to buy a home immediately. Well, my dad is the type to explore and test out ideas and research in order to gather insight BEFORE he actually does whatever he’s thinking of doing. You can see why it might not be well-communicated when these two types get together, not even adding on the issue of language barriers and cultural differences, like America’s and Italy’s vast differences of opinion on the concept of time!

It was a pretty ridiculous second day in Italy, but we were all determined not to let stress get to us, because it certainly wasn’t getting to anyone else within a 100-mile radius!

The view from our rental on a relatively normal morning
The view from our rental on Monday morning

Monday was misty and rainy in parts, so I skipped out on another “house-hunting adventure” in the morning before we went to another fantastic lunch at La Contea in Neive. We shared gnochetti, which was flavored with sage and nettles! A wine-tasting followed in the afternoon at Albino Rocca, which was actually kinda fun! Yay for being legal in Europe!

Gnochetti (or gnudi) at La Contea

We drove to Torino the next morning to pick up my dad’s cousin, Charles, who has lived in Florence for the past 40 years. With just that in mind, we were anticipating a grand old time when we got to the city, but we found a lot of random, cool things happening already when we got there! The first stop, when we finally got past the traffic caused by the May Day protesters in town, was the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in the renovated Mole Antonelliana.

May Day protester

The museum takes you through the history of photography and cinema, from shadow puppetry to photography to projectors to modern film. It was really awesome to see how cinema used to be an act at a carnival, like a magic show, and was thought not to have any particular potential. If you’ve seen the movie Hugo, you’ve seen a film that showed in the museum – the first ever film shown to an audience. It is of a train arriving at a station, and it scared people so much that they dived out of their seats when they watched it, thinking the train would just ride right into the midst of the theatre. Cool stuff, huh?

Museo di Cinema’s glass elevator inside the dome

The main part of the museum was a giant atrium, where there were several interactive exhibits where you basically entered film genres, but there was a space in the middle where a glass elevator went straight through to the panoramic city view at the top of the dome. It floated up from a lower floor, through the large space, and up, like an acrobat on a trapeze!

The dome of Superga

For lunch we had pizza in the Piazza Carlo Albergo before picking up Charles in a torrential downpour. The afternoon was spent exploring unknown gems in the city in the pouring rain, such as Chiesa di San Lorenzo, the Shroud of Turin, and Superga, up on a hill across the river.

Me with my cioccolato calda

San Lorenzo was my ultimate favorite, and the site of one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken.

Chiesa di San Lorenzo

That evening we met at Osteria dell’Oca Giuliva with Beppe and Fabiola for a wonderful dinner, Charles included. Charles always makes things infinitely more entertaining or at least eccentric.

One of my favorite vegetables

On Wednesday, we went to the local market in Bra and bought lots of delicious things, bought cheeses at Giolito’s famous cheese shop, and then took a tour of UNISG, a internationally renown university for the gastronomic sciences. Which was pretty darn cool. We cooked dinner at home that night, and we still managed to stuff ourselves silly! If you can believe it, I was actually tired of eating so much good food! It happens!

From left: Cathie, Dad, me, and Charles!

The following day, we visited Monforte d’Alba. Lunch was an improvised affair by the gracious owners of Albergo “da Felicin.” They were kind enough to fix us a four-course meal, even though they weren’t serving lunch. We ate in a lovely garden with an old olive tree and a pond full of turtles in the background.

That night, though, was the Fancy Meal.

The cheese cart at La Ciau
Dad and me on the terrace

We ate at a 2-star Michelin-rated restaurant. It was kind of fantastic. We went to La Ciau del Tornavento to celebrate a trifecta of birthdays: Charles’, Dad’s and mine! This of course meant that we were pampered with great service and fantastic food for four hours. The usual. The chef, Maurilio Garolao, came and welcomed us to the restaurant before we began our meals with a selection of wines and antipasti. One of the highlights of that evening was probably the palate-cleanser, funnily enough. It was a mysterious sorbet – made from grasses in the nearby foothills!

Probably 500 Euro worth of mushrooms. Ya know.
Cathie, Maurilio Garolao, and me!

Friday was our last full day in Italy, because we’d be flying back home from France (believe me, it was probably for the best). We had lunch at a small osteria with big portions and bigger taste. I had a salad with duck carpaccio, orange slices, blueberry and olive oil. IT WAS THE BEST THING!

My salad at Osteria Italia

That afternoon Cathie and I went shopping and I got an awesome white scarf with a turquoise detail, the one souvenir to bring back with me from Italy… besides maybe some wine to sneak through customs. SHH! Wandering around Alba was pretty cool, too. Cathie showed me another Chiesa di San Lorenzo, which had been recently excavated and renovated. Parts of the floors were made of grate instead of solid flooring, so we could see through to the remains of the old church foundations and baptismal fonts.

Chiesa di San Lorenzo

The last night, we went to a wine-tasting dinner as a part of the Barbaresco wine-makers celebration that would be taking place in the following week. Beppe and Fabiola got us in free of charge, although I think they just paid for us. They’re so nice! Ahh! The catering happened to be done by the same restaurant we’d gone to the night before, so we got to see our friend Maurilio again. And he recognized us. Crazy stuff!

Cathie and Dad at the Barbaresco Winemakers Association Dinner!

Sad to leave, we drove to Savona the following day for a final Italian meal of seafood at Restaurant Luna, before saying goodbye to Charles at the train station. The rest of the afternoon was spent driving to St-Paul-De-Vence, France, but not before passing by Monaco and other fantastic seaside places on the way. Upon arriving, we sat out on the deck at the Hôtel Le Hameau, and I tried out the hot tub, before we wandered into the town of Vence and found a restaurant in the old, walled city. Dinner was nice, but not Italian, of course. It was interesting to be back in a place where I could understand the language again! We reflected on our adventures while sipping rosé de Provence, and finished our meal with a nice crème brûlée.

Hôtel Le Hameau

On the plane from Nice the next morning, I missed the melodious hills of the Piemonte, but I also came to the realization that this very short part of my life was coming to an end. What an unforgettable experience. Now, I miss London most, but what I think I miss about it is the wonderful experience of being in a new place with new friends, and learning along the way. I look forward to getting back to school in the fall, to return to that sort of environment. I am so, so thankful and pleased as punch that I got to do this. And I recommend – to whomever gets the kind of opportunity I did – to take a trip like this by the reins, don’t take it for granted, and have all the fun you can.

Cathie at Nice Airport

Anyway, thanks for reading this lengthy post, and thanks for following my blog! I may return to it for my cross-country road trip/adventure in August, but it’s TTFN, ta-ta for now.

Until next time,
Ava