I really don’t like this sappy countdown business of my Italy trip, but it has to happen. Time to make arrangements to go home and plan the little time left here to full advantage.

I’ve actually been packing for a couple days – which my family will find surprising since I’m usually a “last minute” kind of person. Ellyn was horrified 3 months ago when I was trying to leave for Italy – she arrived to take me to the airport and my suitcase was still undecided. But going home is another story. I have to know how much room I have to get everything back to the States.

As usual, I’ve accumulated “stuff” and I want to take gifts and I want to buy a few things for myself, and it’s gonna cost a fortune to haul it all back. With me, it just can’t be helped, so I plead guilty and will suffer through airports and immigration and customs until I land back in good ole Ohio.

I also need to decide how to spend my last few euros. I don’t want to take any more money out of the bank and I don’t want leftover currency I can’t use. So today was pay-up day. My landlady, Paola, came to visit and collect the rent. She has also arranged for my ride to the airport on Wednesday morning and I have the cash put back for that. So….

Now it’s a matter of what I still want to do – and what I would like as a last couple meals. Yesterday I had da Felice pizza again – which they won’t let me pay for. I love that! Grazie, da Felice!

Image I’ve almost used up everything in the fridge, so today I had to decide what one more meal do I want to try? The answer was… suckling pig at da Nonna Clara. I read great reviews about it and it is something I’ve never ordered, so off I went in hopes that they would be open on Monday. You never know in Italy.

The weather is quite cold and rainy, so I was happy to see that the restaurant was indeed open. And yes, they served the suckling pig at lunch. Hooray!

ImageI had the same waitress as last week, Christina, and she remembered me, which was nice. It was also nice that they didn’t kick me out during “siesta.” They just locked the door and I lingered with my wine. There was no mention of hurrying up and leaving.

In Italy, it is rare that you are ever even brought the bill. Unless you flag the server and say “il conto” it is considered rude to interrupt your table time. You either have to ask for the tab or just go to the counter and pay.

ImageSo I sat and soaked in the atmosphere. And watched the fish tank for a while. And enjoyed the meal and read my book off and on. Christina reminded me several times that she was not ignoring me – to just flag her if I wanted anything.

ImageFor dessert I got the “cake with chocolate” which in American terms is more like a pie. The chocolate was dark and rich and the crust was like shortbread – neither cake nor pie. Quite delicious.

I ended the meal as an Italian would – with espresso. Perfetto.

Then, as I paid the bill, Christina began to talk to me and somehow I ended up telling her that I only have one more day left in Italy and even though this has been the trip of a lifetime, I am very excited to get home and see my family. Surprisingly, just the thought of family (which I have purposely been suppressing) made tears fill my eyes.

Well, I haven’t cried in ages, so I was a bit embarrassed, but Christina was kind and we kept talking. I would cheer up when talking about Italy, but as soon as I talked about family, the tears welled. Christina grabbed a napkin and handed it to me. My goodness, I thought, what will it be like when I actually see them again?

So both Christina and Paola have made me promise that I will post or send photos of my family for them to see.

But then, there was also a more humbling experience for me. Yesterday I was in a fantastic ceramic shop – I’ve visited it many times because I have coveted a number of items there. I went back again and again to window shop and try to determine both what I could afford and what I could transport home. After weeks of this, I decided on my purchase.

Stefano, who’s family runs the shop, is wonderful to talk to. He is a professional musician (opera) and he teaches voice classes. There’s always arias on in the store and you can hear him singing along. He is a real artist – not like the tourist shows in other parts of town.

When he asked me why I spent so much time in Lucca I mentioned my painting and sketching and he was intrigued. He invited me to come back with the books and photos of the paintings, which I did this afternoon. But I think I should have known better.

Now some of you will understand this and some will not…

The fact is, I can draw really well. I can do illustrations and charming journal pages and paint more-than-passable pretty pictures. Most people are impressed and I get a lot of praise for what I can do. I actually love that and take advantage of it all the time to make friends and give small gifts that people really appreciate.

I’ve worked hard to get to the level I am at, but even I know it isn’t great art. It isn’t groundbreaking, breath-taking, out-of-the-box work. (And please don’t dispute me on this because I’m not looking for compliments here.) I know real art when I see it. It stops me in my tracks. And it isn’t always someone’s popular choice.


early Picasso

For instance, most people I know don’t care for Picasso. I didn’t think I did either until I went to the Picasso museum in Barcelona. His early works are very realistic. He could draw like Rembrandt as a teen. And the fact is he HAD to master that skill so he could go on to break the rules and become a great artist. He was so innovative and prolific that he became one of the most renowned artists of the 20th century.


later Picasso

Most of his work isn’t pretty. It isn’t meant to be. Art needn’t be pleasant, but it must be truthful. And I think Picasso was always truthful. That doesn’t mean I love all of his work or want to live with it around me – I just respect his daring to be so blatantly honest. However, he was quite full of himself and I doubt if I would have liked him much. Again, that’s not a judgement of artwork. When I saw his work in person I saw the genius.

By the same token, I sensed that Stefano is a real artist. He has the background and education not to be impressed with pretty pictures. He knows the difference between that and real art, and in all likelihood, he is probably quite a snob about art.

Recognizing this, I walked to the shop with my books and photos anyway. What I was afraid of is what happened… He greeted me enthusiastically and then thumbed through the books very absent-mindedly. I could tell he was a bit pressed for what to say. I made light comments like, “oh this is just daily drawing practice” and “I just write and sketch about whatever comes to mind…”

Then he looked at the paintings on the camera screen. It took him less than 10 seconds to flip through 15 paintings. He smiled and thanked me for stopping by. I felt dismissed and I was.

I don’t think that is harsh, but it is a reality check for me. It’s a reminder of what I know inside myself – that I am not yet doing the art I want to do. I wanted more of a breakthrough in Italy, and I do think there has been progress, but I’m not “there” yet. Which just means more work to do. I’m fine with that. I have not painted near enough miles of canvas to be great.

And just to back that up, I had a similar experience in another ceramic shop a couple days ago. It was also a very “arty” place and I could tell that the artist is not just a commercial hack or a hobbyist. We talked at length and he, too, took a look at just a few of my sketches. However, he came right to the point. “You seem to have some skill,” he said, “but I don’t really care for these type of illustrations.” I actually knew just what he meant.

I won’t stop keeping my sketchbooks over these incidents. I enjoy them way too much and get a lot of mileage out of them. I think they’re quite good and my sketches have a particular charm and life about them. I’m just saying that I recognize them for what they are – plenty, plenty nice. The envy of many. But not great art.

So the last couple days have been bittersweet. A mix of enjoying Italy and being excited to go home. A blend of art that is pleasing and satisfying but not truly accomplished.

It’s the way of life to take the bitter with the sweet…

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Alison McKee
    Dec 10, 2012 @ 20:27:06

    I know what you mean, Starr. I’m a really good writer. I am, and I know it. But I’m not A Great Writer, in the manner of the world’s great writers. I’m just not. I work to improve my craft and I’m good in my own sphere of operation … but that’s a different matter. That said, I absofrickinglutely ADORE your drawings. xoxo A switch sibling


  2. MaryBeth
    Dec 10, 2012 @ 22:13:40

    I have few words, and feel deeply saddened by this. I am obviously no expert, but I LOVE your art, great or good, imperfections or whatever…and a final thought, my mom always told me beauty was in the eye of the beholder. It is also about how we feel when left with the gift of your talent. If he didn’t feel it, it was his void, not yours. And finally, always learning and improving and striving for excellence is a good thing, but shame on anyone that expects more from someone than they can deliver themselves!

    Safe travels and hugs,
    MaryBeth, MB, Maria Betta


    • thesketchylife
      Dec 11, 2012 @ 04:49:02

      Thank you MB! Actually this is not discouraging to me at all. It confirms that I am still on an exciting art journey and just haven’t arrived at where I want to be yet. And I’m not belittling my own work – I know it’s good and makes a lot of people happy. I am thankful for that. This is a hard subject to talk about – we could all debate it for a good while, I’m sure. But this was part of my trip here and I wanted to acknowledge it. I’m glad for these experiences – they are actually quite helpful! (And so is your support!)


  3. Ellyn
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 08:09:52

    I’m sorry, but I had to laugh a little when I read this. Mom, you know I’m your harshest critic and everything you say is true. You’re very good, far better than most, but still not Great, not yet. It’s not mean, it just is. And I know you get that.

    But all that having been said, it’s the journey, not the destination. You’ve been on a fantastic venture and have probably learned more than you’re able to process. This has been the trip of a lifetime for you, a real turning point. I think you’re just getting warmed up. 🙂


  4. Jean Miller Ader
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 08:20:44

    You are going to be so glad that you kept all of these writings in the years to come. All of your precious memories will be sparked as you read through them, and then you will remember some other thing that happened, and another. I am going to suggest that you print these out and put them into a cover so that when you are old and in your rocking chair next to me we can go through them together. 🙂 I am so glad you had this great opportunity, and did I mention how jealous I am? Three months of Italy. Who’d have thought!?! You’ve come a long way, baby. Literally…


  5. Jean Miller Ader
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 08:44:59

    I forgot to ask – how was the suckling pig?


  6. Paula
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 10:18:32

    I understand. I make cakes. But when someone compliments them to an extreme, I think they have not seen too many cakes. I do ok for having taught myself. But thats it for me. Ok. And I’m good with that cuz then I don’t have to make that many. In fact I don’t any more. However, it’s a bit comical to me that they would be so blunt. You call it honest. Tomatoes, tomatos!!! Can’t wait to see you at some point. By the way, How WAS the piggy? And I think I would’ve gone straight to dessert! Ellyn, you are a kick! ( Think how much time you’ll have to perfect your art in the New System Starr. Maybe you can teach me!)


  7. Billy D
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 17:33:25

    I feel that way about hair. I can grow a sweet imitation of a brillo pad despite the onset of MPB, but you will never see me and Fabio shopping together in the beauty aisle at Rite Aid!

    It is good that you can be frank about your current status as an artist. I have no doubt your best work is still ahead of you, and with this trip you will have even more experiences to draw from. Literrally!


  8. bdauby
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 22:35:23

    World class artists are overrated! World class moms are not! Can’t wait to catch up this weekend!


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