Last Day of Class

What a busy amazing day! I should be packed and asleep for an early morning departure from Val di Pozza, but my brain won’t stop. I don’t know if I can sleep at all.

ImageThis morning started with a trip to Sommocolonio (Colony on the Summit), another hilltop village nearby. As always, we started down the narrow lane to the equally narrow main road. This is the one-lane bridge the Bells cross every time they come and go from their house. And this…Image is how close the side car mirror is to the railing on each side. The same is true whenever two cars meet on the road. Barely inches to spare! It is hard to fathom. (click on images to enlarge)

But up the narrow roads we went to historic Sommocolonio. I felt pretty good and the climb wasn’t bad at all. Maybe I am getting used to these hills. And the view was beyond spectacular. We didn’t stay since it was going to rain, but we took pictures and nic’d a few figs from an orchard tree. Love those ripe green figs!

ImageOn the way back we saw this guy leading horses to a timber lot. Wood is being cut and set out to season right now and the horses carry it or pull it from the fields to the lots.

Back at the house we had coffee and got to work. I decided to focus on the bridge painting to get it farther along. It had already been glazed red so more details were added. I chose blue for the second glaze just to see what it would do. It was interesting but will need more work. I’ll have to try the process at home to really accomplish anything with it. But here’s a few photos in progress…

ImageImageImageThis will take a bunch more glazes to get the end result, but here’s a photo of the class work for Imagethe week – at least the five of us who are left. Mine is on the far right and is what it looks like after the blue glaze was adjusted. Everyone else only got one glaze done because they all went back and worked on their small oil painting in the afternoon.

At the end of the day we had a final critique and talked about the week. It certainly was productive and we saw a lot of the countryside here in the mountains of Barga.I am thrilled to have started my trip this way – it was the perfect beginning.

In the morning I head for Viareggio – a small beach town about an hour away. More adventure!

Studio Day

Oy vey, I still don’t have a painting to share. Today we worked all day on our paintings of the Devil’s Bridge from Friday. It is a new technique I haven’t used and we didn’t finish so it is still a work in progress. But I am learning a lot and everyone is wearing themselves out to keep up with the schedule.

Image And would you believe I have been in Italy for a whole week already? For some people that is the length of their entire trip. Yet I feel like I’ve barely gotten started. I’m so glad I am able to stay for a while – otherwise it all would have happened so fast that it wouldn’t seem real.

The art class is a time hog – it is all I get done each day. But that’s how I wanted to get the trip off to a good start so I could get in painting mode and keep going. I think it will work out like that.

Tomorrow is the last day of class but things are a bit up in the air. The South African ladies are leaving in a few hours. They will miss the last day because they couldn’t get a different flight home. The British ladies (and me) are totally worn out. They both want to stay behind tomorrow when we are supposed to go to another hilltop location for the morning. I would love to go there and paint, but not sure I can get up another mountain myself. I guess we’ll see what the consensus is in the morning.

ImageTonight we went into Barga for a “last supper” together. The menu was “fixed” but we had a few choices. First course was antipasti – salami, parma ham, cheese, bruschetta and bread. Second course was pasta – a ricotta cheese and spinach ravioli, made in-house. Then meat or fish – I got steak, which came with a small lamb chop. And finally, dolce (dessert). Choices were pear tart with chocolate, vanilla ice cream with strawberries, apple pie or tiramisu. It was a no-brainer for me… tiramisu is my favorite dessert anywhere, anytime, so that was my choice. Wonderful – eating tiramisu in Italy after a day of painting. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Amo la Pizza

Today was a “free day” for the art class and all but me left early to spend the day in Lucca. I stayed back and painted in the studio. It was very quiet and I enjoyed just getting in some real painting time. I still have nothing to show here – I wasn’t thrilled with the day’s work, so tomorrow I will tackle it again. It’s always a bit slow getting back in the groove.

ImageMeanwhile, it was pizza day here. Chris spent part of the morning getting the wood and oven ready. Later in the day he fired it up and brought it to a roaring blaze. It’s a lot of work for pizza, but a wonderful thing! And there’s just no other way to get that taste,

Mari arrived later in the day as well and began the dough. ImageShe is an excellent cook and her dough proofed to perfection. I love making pizza dough myself and I know a great dough when I see one! 

A whole pizza was rolled out for each of us even though Kryshia explained we wouldn’t be able to eat the whole thing. They just wanted us to be able to load our own pizza with toppings and watch it cook in the wood oven. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process since pizza making is one of my hobbies. I wish I had thought to watch Mari make the dough since I’m always trying recipe variations myself.


My pizza was delicious – or as one of my new friends would say… “divine.” I know, I know – you will say I’ve never a met a pizza I didn’t like (and that is pretty much true) but it really was divine!

So the week here is flying by and tomorrow it is back to painting. We are having a “studio day” to work on the things we’ve already started. I’m anxious to go scrape down some of the mess I made today and get a painting finished. If it turns out, I’ll post it here for you tomorrow.


Living in the Moment

Image“What day is it?”
It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
My favorite day,” said Pooh.”
A.A. Milne

The thing I like best about traveling, or being on vacation, is that you are able to live in the moment much more easily. You’re away from the routines of home and the motions of everyday life and you are aware that you need to savor new places, new experiences, new friends.

This evening, 5 of us ended up at the house having dinner “alone.” Our hosts had to go out for the evening, so they set us up with a small buffet of salad, soup and homemade bread and we were on our own. It turned out to be a delightful evening.

There was talk of the day’s painting, the week so far and how knackered we all are. I fully intended to eat and run back to my room for some solitude, but soon the mood began to mellow. The afterglow of a day of living in the moment had set in. It’s not a thing you can create – you just have to be there when it happens.

The five of us are very different people from very different parts of the world. We each think the other has an “accent” and mannerisms that are a bit different than we’re used to. And so far our meals together – usually with one or both of our hosts – have been nice but more of a matter of making conversation. We are polite and ask the obligatory questions and pass the bread round and round. Then we say goodnight and think, “well, that was lovely. I really should meet new people more often.”

Tonight wasn’t like that.

Somehow, as the evening went on and we chatted at the table, a veil was lifted. The accents were gone, the mannerisms were invisible and 5 strangers became connected. As I looked around at the others all I saw in each one was the person underneath radiating through. It wasn’t the British ladies and the South African ladies and me – it was 5 souls who look and act very differently, but inside they are all the same. For this evening, our commonalities were much stronger than our differences.

And no, I hadn’t had too much wine. In fact I was so tired that I had less than usual – not even a full glass.But the buzz in the room was more warming than the buzz of alcohol. It was my favorite evening of the trip so far. One to be savored and remembered. As Pooh said, it was today… my favorite day.

The Devil’s Bridge

ImageToday we drove about 20 minutes to Borgo a Mozzano to paint the Ponte della Maddalena, otherwise known as Ponte del Diavolo – the Devil’s Bridge.It spans the Serchio River.

There are a number of “Devil’s Bridges” in Europe with a similar story. This one was built around 1100. The legend is that the builder was distressed because he could not finish the bridge in time. The devil came to him and offered to complete the bridge in one night in return for the soul of the first person who crossed it.

The builder agreed and the villagers were elated to have the bridge ready. The builder told the people not to cross the bridge until sunset while he rode his horse to Lucca to consult a priest about what he had done. The priest advised the builder to go back and send a pig across the bridge. Thus the devil was outsmarted but is still lying in wait for a soul to claim.

The painting class found the bridge devilish on an entirely different level. It was a lesson in learning to draw proportions and we were told that if we could draw this bridge, we can draw anything. So we spent a lot of time working out the lines on paper and recording the reflected image in the water. It was a tiring day as we all chose spots along the wall in the direct sun. Who knew you could wear yourself out drawing a bridge?

I was still tired from yesterday’s trek up and down the hills of Barga so by the end of the day I was dragging. I was the first to pack up because I just had to retreat to the car and sit in the front seat with my head back for a few minutes. Everyone else hung in there and got some color on their paper over some pretty nice drawings.

Packing and loading up was another challenge. All the big drawing boards are heavy and then we have easels, folding chairs and lots of supplies. Getting everyone in the van with all that stuff is a process,,, load the boot, the 3 smallest agile people climb in the far back (we’ve begun calling them “the little ones”)… hand them chairs to squeeze in… fold back seats into place… 3 more people in back with their gear… hand them more chairs to slide in front of their knees…slam the doors shut… hoist me into the front passenger seat and hand me something to hold or balance… and off we go down the narrow mountain roads like bats out of glory.

I’m getting used to the traffic and the rock walls along the mountain roads and the game of “chicken” everyone plays to pass each other in the narrowest spots along the way. But I am surprised that anyone has side car mirrors that are intact because there are often only inches to spare. If you had your hand on one while riding you’d surely lose your fingers at some point.

So that was our third full class day and tomorrow is a free day. The others are all leaving in the early morning to go to Lucca for shopping and lunch. But since I will be visitng Lucca in the near future, I am staying here to paint in the studio. I can’t wait to just hang out in there and spend a day painting on my own. The Italian dream continues…

Wine and Cheese Tasting

ImageIt was a beautifully clear day here and you could see all the colors of the mountains without any mist or fog. This is a shot of the landscape when we came back to the house after the day in Barga.

We had made a full day of it and got back about an hour late, so supper at 7:30 pm came quick. I jumped in the shower and changed clothes and went to the house for a glass of wine. Me and my wine habit are perfectly normal in Italy – I love it!

Marie was making drinks and appetizers – it is what they call “appertivo” here. So we had some snacks and chatted and then gathered round that long dinner table again. The table was set with hot Italian bean soup, which was delicious. Then we had a course of chicken with green beans and roasted potatoes. It was the first meal I’ve had with potatoes instead of pasta and it felt like home.

After dinner, Chris had arranged for a friend who is a “sommelier” to come in and give us a wine and cheese tasting course. It was really nice. He told us a lot about wine and let us taste a couple things that are produced on his property. I was too tired to even write it down, but it was wonderful. Then he had three types of cheese to share – one made with cow’s milk, one with sheep’s milk and one with goat’s milk. It was fascinating to compare them and taste the difference – especially with the wine.

Then he had this special bread that is only made here – again I am too tired to remember what it was called. All I know is that it smelled heavenly and everyone eyed the last piece like it would never be seen again. Honestly, how many wonderful local things are there like this in the world that we know nothing about?

So anyway, I am up late blogging because I want to record all of this trip. Everyone else is in bed and I have to sit outside on the patio with a blanket wrapped round me since the wi-fi reception in my room isn’t very good. AND I just saw a fox come out of the woods and steal some food from the dog bowl – and now the fox is drinking water from a puddle in the path to the studio. Time for me to skedaddle! Yikes!

The Day in Barga

Hmmm… I guess I stayed up too laImagete last night because morning sure rolled around awfully fast. But I finally got some real rest since the jet lag from the flight, so I felt (almost) ready to go.

We met in the studio, had a morning pep talk from Chris and packed up our art bags. After a poll, it was determined that I am the only one in the class who has painted with oils before – or ever painted “en plien aire” (meaning outside on location.) Now this is a pretty big deal for someone who has never gotten outfitted and gone outdoors to paint, so I was thinking, “heaven help us” because I knew what we were in for.

So off we headed for Barga. The English ladies, Dot and Renae, are what the others are calling a “comic show” unto themselves. They were cackling and amusing everyone even though they didn’t know it and the 7 of us were crammed in the van with all our supplies, which were numerous. Thankfully, I was given the front seat so Chris and I could roll our eyes at all the shenanigans going on. I told him I felt like I was in that old Michael Keaton movie called the “Dream Team” where a bunch of inmates have a day out of the asylum and all heck breaks loose.

It wasn’t far to Barga and soon we were unloading more supplies than we could carry. All I can say is that Barga is a town built into the side of a mountain. And if you have half a brain, you know you are going to be traversing hills most suited for mountain goats. Alas, this was true…

ImageHere are my classmates walking up one of the narrow streets of the area of Barga we were going to. And yes, cars travel these streets – you just have to get out of the way when one comes by. AND… this was a very FLAT slope. The hills and steps were incredible – I thought my lungs would burst before we got to the top – but the view was spectacular when we got there.

The next thing we did was pick out a spot we thought we could paint from all day, which was easier said than done. I knew I couldn’t stand all day, so the view of the rooftops of Barga was out for me. I also knew I didn’t want to be in earshot of the rest of the group complaining and asking questions because they had never worked with oil paints before, so I hung back to see where they decided to go.

Every single one of them chose the same location – which didn’t appeal to me at all – so it was easy for me to go the other way. I was set up in no time, had my preliminary sketches done and got my canvas ready. I had my underpainting done before anyone else even knew what it was. Now I’m not any smarter than the rest of them – it’s just that I’ve done it before so was able to get a head start.


But I quickly lost my advantage because it was lunchtime by then and we had to walk back down the mountain to a restaurant for lunch. OMG… I did it, but it was exhausting and I was worried about going back up for the afternoon and back down again at the end of the day.

But the best news is that they serve a cheapo version of Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) with lunch and I was able to chill out about it. That and some penne gave me the energy to go on…

Back on top of the mountain we began to paint in earnest. I may have a bit more experience, but it was very challenging. I chose the most simple scene I could but I wasn’t able to complete the painting in the couple hours we had. You can see a hint of it here but it has a long way to go.

All afternoon the tourists came by and many took my picture while painting. Can you believe that? People from God-knows-where will be going home with a photo of an unknown artist painting on the top of a mountain in Italy – and it’s me! I was almost overcome with joy at the thought of it.

Packing up for the day was another ordeal and I tried to get a head start because I knew it would take me a while to get back down to the car. Off I went, down myriads of stairs and slopes, slowly putting one foot in front of the other, and I made it without incident. All the way down I kept thinking I was doing well because the group never caught up to me. BUT…

When I got to the entrance gate, there they all were in the car! They had taken a shortcut back, which no one told me about because it is very steep, and they were waiting for me! Oy vay! Oh well, at least I am now known as a pretty good artist and they don’t really care if I can’t walk so fast.

The ride back to Val di Pozza was eerily quiet. The English ladies were swooning with fatigue and everyone else was in a bit of a daze, including me. I looked at Chris and told him it must be quite an accomplishment to silence the loony van in less than a day’s time and we had a good laugh.

So, it’s back to the room for a shower before supper – we’re all so tired I don’t know if we can make it!

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