The Italian Collection

Ciao Friends and Family! We have finally come to the end of the three-month excursion to Italy and it is time to post the paintings! There are 16 in the Italian Collection and most of them will be given away this evening at our family dinner. I plan to set them up for a small show and everyone will draw a number. Whoever gets number one, gets first choice and so on.

I do want to say a couple things first here…

One, if you are a family member, you should NOT be looking at this blog before the dinner! The paintings are for show this evening!

Two, I retain copyright on these paintings. I am posting them here to share them with those who followed my trip to Italy. That does not mean you can copy them and use the images for yourself without permission. No! No! No! That is stealing. My friends of course can make copies for themselves for their own enjoyment, but you may not reproduce these images on your website or for any commercial use. If you would like to contact me about purchasing an image, please do. I am happy to discuss commission work for sale.

So… here they are. There is only one that is definitely not available for those who have to check the blog and text their picks to us at dinner. And maybe a second. I will label them in the notes.

The Italian Collection

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L’Italia e tetti di Tegola
(Italy is roofs of Tile)
12″ x 16″
Oil on Canvas Board

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Barga, Italy
16.5″ x 11.5″
Oil on Canvas Board

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Ponte Vecchio, Firenze
6″ x 8″
Oil on Canvas Board

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View from Ponte Vecchio at Night
6″ x 8″
Oil on Canvas Board
(this painting is not available for the drawing)

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Frutta e Vedura Mercato, Lucca
6″ x 8″
Oil on Canvas Board

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Where the Old Men Gather
6″ x 8″
Oil on Canvas Board

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Via Prete, Lucca
6″ x 8″
Oil on Board

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Sommocolonia, Italy
7″ x 8.5″
Oil on Board

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Lucca from the Wall
8″ x 12″
Oil on Canvas Board
(MB – this is the one from the day we went up on the wall)

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Enoteca Calasto, Lucca
(Wine Bar & Restaurant)
6.25″ x 9.5″
Oil on Board

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Carciofi
(Artichoke)
6″ x 8″
Oil on Canvas Board

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Rain on San Paolino, Lucca
6″ x 8″
Oil on Canvas Board
(this painting may or may not be available…)

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Barga, Italy
6″ x 10″
Oil on Canvas Board

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Public Fountain, Lucca
6″ x 8″
Oil on Canvas Board

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View of Firenze
6″ x 10″
Oil on Canvas Board

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The Spanish Steps, Rome
6″ x 8″
Oil on Canvas Board

Thanks again to everyone who eagerly followed my trip and urged me on. I enjoyed painting more and hope to keep it up.

I’ve had a couple people ask me to continue the blog. And it IS the sketchy life – not the Italian life, so if I can keep it interesting and keep sketching, I just may keep posting, although not as frequently.

Give me your feedback on the blog and the paintings and whatever else – I’d love to hear it!

Arrivederci!

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Home, Sweet Home

Hmmmm. 12/12/12 was not the end of the world after all, as many predicted, but it was one of the longest days of my life!

I detailed the flights and missed connections for you yesterday and wrote the update from JFK airport in the middle of the night. I feel rather like a reporter giving you the scoop from behind enemy lines. Of course flight delays and lost luggage are not nearly so dramatic as that – unless it happens to you.

So here’s the conclusion of my 50+ hour trip back to home sweet home from Italy…

Overall, I think the night in the airport went pretty fast. I tried to doze off sitting at a bar height table with two carry-on bags, but it just didn’t work for me. I was so tired that I thought I would drift off, but there was just too much going on all around to relax and let go. This same area where I took photos of people sleeping on every bench and chair is the same place night time airport employees take breaks and meals. It was constant commotion all night long.

One odd little night shift guy was an elderly black man with half a beard! He had a long white mustache, but only on one side. He drove a little street sweeper type of machine around the hallways and was very funny about it. If even one person appeared in the hall, he would lay on the horn and toot until they got out of the way. (Not that they were in the way to begin with, but he was very serious!) I was so tired that every time I heard him beep that horn I would start laughing out loud. Lord, but I am somehow privy to the strangest things!

A little after 4am I packed up and made my way to the Delta check in desk. Even though I had a flight reservation, I had to check in to lock it in place. Naturally I got to the huge Delta section and there was no one on duty. I plugged my info in to one of the kiosks – what I really needed was a terminal number so I knew where to go next. But the machine came back and said that the flight was having unusual problems and I would have to speak to an agent. Frankly, I was numb and not entirely sure how to process that information.

Pretty soon other people were wandering in and getting in line and then 3 girls showed up and went behind the counter. But they totally ignored everyone queing up to have problems solved. I had to really talk to myself to stay calm and not grab one of them by the shirt collar and demand an end to this ordeal! However, I was first in line and soon I was told the terminal and gate number so I could get going.

Off to the train and exit at terminal 3. And of course there were construction signs everywhere. A young man in a fluorescent vest said the usual route was closed, so I would have to take the escalator to street level and go outside and walk to terminal 3. Just what I wanted to do before daylight in NYC.

I found my way through several blocks, pushing my carry-on uphill in the dark. Was this ordeal ever going to be over?

To get to the gate I had to go through security again. Blast! Off with the shoes, get computer out of bag, hoist everything onto the moving belt, then walk through scanner, which always goes off when it detects my metal knees. Then “female assistance” is called and I get the big pat-down. And it’s a real pat-down. After which, I am shoved to a nearby bench to reassemble myself and my belongings. Only then can I proceed to walk endless corridors to the flight gate.

Oh, it would be so nice to have an Italian caffe about now!

As it is, I can barely hold my eyes open and I tell myself to just hang on till I get on the plane. The flight to Atlanta is 1 hour and 47 minutes, so I can pass out during that.

At least I thought I could…

No, I couldn’t. Well, I did drift off. And then would be brought soundly back to reality by the rudest child in the world, who was sitting in the row behind me. I was stunned by how bad he was. All of us for several rows kept getting startled by his screams and antics and kept periodically turning and looking at him and his dad. They didn’t seem to notice. The little beast was not only bellowing nonstop, he was beating on and kicking everything around him.

When the stewardess came by with a morning drink, I said, “Can you ask the person behind me to calm that child down?” She ignored me. Then it got quiet. Seems the dad took the tyke to the john, so the tall man sitting in the row with them stood beside me and sighed heavily. We commiserated and I told him I was quite on the edge with all the commotion.

Dad and beast-child returned and we all got back to quietly enduring the flight. Except the kid. He outdid himself. And suddenly, without even knowing I was going to do it, I lifted out of my seat, turned and shouted, “THAT is just about ENOUGH!!!” The kid ducked behind his dad and stared out at me. I looked him right in the eye and said, “you are giving me a headache so you need to calm down right now!” One little eyebrow raised up as he appraised me. I sunk back into my seat.

Dad and tyke got up and went to the john again. The tall man scooted forward and said, “Bravo!” to me. All was quiet for a very few minutes and then went back to how it was.

At least it wasn’t a long flight and we were soon done with it. Now all I had to do was find my new gate in Atlanta and maybe get a bit of breakfast.

Really, nothing sounded good in the way of food – I just wanted to get home. And again I had to check in with Delta to confirm my place on the flight. I did that straightaway. Gawd, am I really on my last leg of this endless trip????

Indeed I was. The flight from Atlanta to Dayton is only 1 hour and 2 minutes and I finally felt like I might make it. I just wondered if my luggage was in transit somewhere behind me.

It was quite exciting to finally set back down in Dayton and I steeled myself to carry my bags through one last airport to find Ellyn waiting for me. I started to feel like crying at the very notion. Then, when I rounded the last corner, I could see Ellyn and Colin waiting at the arrival area and tears flooded my eyes. Colin broke free and ran towards me. What a thrill! Of course after one hug he wanted to take over my rolling bag and off he went with it.

Ellyn appeared and took my other bag and for the first time in two days I felt the weight of the world come off my shoulders. Wonderful stuff!

Then we had to find the baggage office and file a report on the missing bags. The Delta girl was very nice and gave us good news: the bags were to arrive in Dayton in 5pm and would go out for delivery to my apartment on the 6pm van. Well, hip hip hooray! I was thrilled.

From there, Ellyn drove me through Taco Bell. It really was the only thing I was hungry for. But Ellyn was right – it didn’t even taste like real food to me anymore. I did eat it, but I kept chewing and thinking, “where’s all that flavor I was used to?”

Back at the apartment, Ellyn and Colin carried in my things and got me settled. And after they left I dove into my oversized, super-soft bed and fell right to sleep. When I came to two hours later I hadn’t moved an inch. And I could have stayed right there for the rest of the night but I had to get up and check on a couple things.

First, no luggage delivery. Dang. And I checked repeatedly before deciding to call the Delta baggage office at the Dayton airport. All they could tell me was that the flight the luggage was supposed to be on had come in late due to being delayed (of course it was!) so the delivery schedule was missed. I am more concerned, however, that the luggage was not scanned as received and can’t be tracked. Was it even on the delayed flight? Who knows…

At any rate, I am back at home, sweet home – which doesn’t feel like that at all right now. It is a new apartment, full of unpacked boxes, and I don’t know where anything is. And I’m so tired that I doubt if I do anything about it for days.

But I’m home… I’m really home. And I’m excited to get started settling in to a new place.

If home is where the heart is, then I’m not sure where I really live. Naturally my heart is firmly rooted to wherever my family is, but I think I just left a piece of it in Lucca Italy and will have to go back and visit it there. Hopefully the traveling part won’t always be so traumatic!

For now I can’t wait to catch up with my kids and grandkids and friends. For now, Ohio is Home, Sweet Home.

Uh Oh… Not Home Yet!

I knew today would be a long day, but even I am surprised at what has happened…

You know from this blog how I fare on trains. Well, you can officially add air-o-planes to that list.

I had no intentions of writing on the blog today. I thought after many long hours of flying I would be overjoyed to greet my family and check back in to my new apartment.

Instead, here I am, well after midnight, writing from JFK airport in NYC. I am numb with tiredness as I have been up for over 30 hours straight and I still have to make it through the night. Here’s how the day unfolded…

I was at the Pisa airport by 5:30 am. My flight was on the digital board but no check-in gate was listed for it yet. So I wrestled my suitcases to a seat and waited. For the next half-hour, I popped up and down like a jack-in-the-box checking that board. Finally the screen went blank and you could tell it was reloading. My 7:30am flight was the next to be updated.

The new screen unfolded from top to bottom and lo and behold, my flight and the two after it were completely gone. It had skipped to the 9 am and later flights. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Shades of the Florence train station started flashing through my brain.

So I went to the counter and asked. I no more got the question out of my mouth when an irate Italian man burst in front of me and started yelling at the girl behind the counter. She just stared at him and didn’t respond. I tried to say, “hey, I’m in line here,” but he completely ignored me. When his tirade was over he stormed off.

I got my bags checked and was sent to another counter to pay for the extra bag. Again, just as I handed my ticket to the clerk, a young Italian girl rushed in front of me like I wasn’t even standing there and started on a tirade of her own. The clerk ignored me and waited on her. I looked around to see if I had suddenly developed powers of invisibility without realizing it. Not so far as I could tell.

Oh well, I knew it was going to be a long day, so no sense starting off on the wrong foot by getting snippy. I went back to the first counter, got my boarding pass and made my way to the plane. Another ordeal. I am not fond of AirFrance. The planes are small so you have to take a bus way out on the tarmac and climb the metal stairs they roll up to the airplane door. But I got that done and settled in. The only thing I was worried about was if I had enough of a layover in Paris to change planes. That’s a whole ‘nuther mess.

Just as I thought we were going to get going, the airplane door re-opened, the stairs came back, and the pilot ran out. Great, now we’re going to be delayed. When the pilot returned, he made an announcement that we had to wait on paperwork to be cleared to take off. Then we sat.

Eventually someone came aboard with the paperwork and the door was closed again. But did we go? Nope, a few minutes passed and the door opened again. After a while, another announcement. The runway had been closed and we need to wait until it re-opens. I see emergency vehicles taking off all around. Turns out a plane running low on fuel had radioed in to make an emergency landing, so the runway was cleared. All told, we didn’t take off for an hour and a half after we boarded. I knew I was going to miss my next flight.

In Paris I had to line up in various queues and then take a train to a different terminal to find an AirFrance desk and get rescheduled. It took forever of course. And now I would be getting home at 10pm instead of 6pm. I had to let Ellyn know.

I found the food court and tried out the wi-fi – Paris “generously” gives you 15 minutes of free wi-fi and then you have to start an account and pay. I had to be very quick about sending the email. I sent it to all three of my kids and asked them to make sure Ellyn got the message. Then I had to log off and find a train to another terminal for my flight.

Once I found it, the boarding line was HUGE. I never saw so many people lined up to get on one plane! Evidently it is a massive, double-decker air bus. I got in the queue and was quickly growing tired of shuffling along pushing my heavy carryons. I was feeling faint when a clerk came and said the flight was delayed by half an hour, so we might as well go sit down. Everyone groaned and said they weren’t moving. I had to as I was wearing down. I had an assigned seat, so I didn’t figure it would matter if I was the last one to board.

When I did make my way onto the monster plane, someone was sitting in my seat. An attendant came over and checked our tickets. It was my seat. The man and woman got up and moved but they weren’t happy. I sat down, but soon the man was back saying, listen, do you have a problem sitting two rows up? I really want to sit here.

Evidently I would have had that row to myself and they wanted to sit with a seat between them for the long flight. Well, the other seat still left an open seat in the middle since there was just one of me, so I switched. Geez o pete! I got all rearranged and the girl in the window seat was exceptionally nice, so it really worked out for the best.

However, even though we had boarded a half hour late, there we sat. And sat. And sat.

The pilot came on and explained that the delays were due to necessary engine repairs that couldn’t be hurried. I was getting tired of sitting and we hadn’t even begun the nine-hour flight! The girl and I chatted to pass the time. An hour later we still hadn’t left. When we finally got into the air we were more than two hours behind schedule. This didn’t look good.

The flight was smooth enough and when things were quiet, I showed my connecting ticket to one of the attendants. “I hate to tell you this,” he said, “but you aren’t going to make that flight.” My heart sank. Not only was I going to have queue up and reschedule again, this time I had to get my checked luggage, go through customs and security again, and re-check the luggage. I was going to have to rent a cart.

When the plane landed at JFK it turned into a madhouse. More than 100 people on that flight alone were close to missing their connections and were breaking their necks to get off the plane. It didn’t do any good. You can’t collect your luggage and clear immigration and customs that fast. So I queued up again and again until I got to the luggage carousel. I looked at the rental carts and was astonished… it is $5 to unlock a cart! Wow.

People were jerking the carts not realizing you have to pay to unlock one. Others were running along the carousel trying to unloose bags from the mountains of luggage swirling around. I about got blindsided a dozen times. It was a zoo.

After about 40 minutes, the crowd had thinned out and the same luggage was going round and round again. I knew, sure as I was standing there, that my luggage had not made it on the plane. I went and found a girl with a list and told her mine was missing. She looked at my receipt and said at least one should be there. So we watched and searched for another 20 minutes before she would believe me. And of course she could do nothing about it. The procedure is that you report it when you get to your final destination then it will be tracked, located and delivered to you.

Fine. I’m so tired and hungry I could cry and I just want to get home. And I am not on that flight that Ellyn is expecting me on and she doesn’t know it. I still have to go through customs and queue up for rescheduling again before I can try to contact her.

Back in line with scores of unhappy souls dragging along in the same boat. When it is my turn, there are no flights left until late afternoon the next day. And the line I’m in doesn’t have a printer to give me a boarding pass. I have to go get in another line again to get the pass printed. “OK, I say, but what do I do with myself until late tomorrow afternoon?”

“Sorry,” says the girl. “All hotels are booked and we have nothing left.” I stared at her like she had two heads. “That can’t be true!” I protested. “Oh, but it is,” she replied.

I inquired who else I could ask and she sent me to a traveller aid desk. That girl confirmed that there were no hotel rooms to be had. The only choice left was to take a taxi into Manhattan and pay $500 a night, which the airline will not cover. “What am I supposed to do?” I asked, “sleep in the airport?”

“That’s your choice,” she said, “but this terminal is not open all night.” She pointed to a train across the street and said I would have to take it somewhere else. Oh, how encouraging, I thought… a train…

She finally suggested I try calling the motels that advertise free shuttle pickup as they are not on her list. I found the desk to do that and called every single one – about 20 of them. All sold out.Then I had a bright idea… either AirFrance or Delta was going to have to put me up in their lounge for the night. I took off to find another desk to put in that request.

No go. The lounges are inside the gate area and you can’t go into the gates until you have officially checked in for the flight and have a departing gate number. TSA regulations. And the gate number won’t be generated until a few hours before the flight tomorrow. The Delta lady looked at my ticket and said whoever booked that flight didn’t know what they were doing. Since I was going to have to spend the night in the airport, the least she could do was get me home sooner.

ImageIMG_3195So again I was rescheduled. Now I can fly out at 6am – but I have to go to Atlanta. And from Atlanta to Dayton Ohio, arriving at noon. Then she explained how to spend the night in the airport. Wind your way through overhead street bridges and take the train to terminal 4 – it is the one open all night. Find a place to sit where you can doze and then check in at the Delta desk at 4am. The gate will likely be in terminal 2 or 3, so take the train back there. Then fly to Atlanta, pick up a little breakfast during the 1.5 hour layover, change planes and fly to Dayton. Voila, you’re home – and it only took 51 hours!

And of course I still have to let Ellyn know I’m not on that 10pm flight and guess what – Internet is not free at JFK, either! I have to purchase a 24-hour pass on Boingo for $7.95 and set up an account to get online. I do and barely catch her before she left for the airport.

ImageSo here I am in a long hallway of terminal 4 full of tables and chairs, people dozing the best they can. Myself, I can’t get comfy. Mostly because of the added bonus – at the end of the hall here they are doing construction work in the off hours. Knocking down walls, sawing up new framework. Crazy noisy. And every 15 minutes the loudspeakers come on with flight announcements. Very restful…

ImageI’ve only got about 10 hours to go and I kinda got my second wind a little bit ago. So I”m blogging and taking photos and just figuring that adventure continues…

I’ll let you know when I get home – surely it will happen sometime. I think Tom  Hanks is the only one who really tried to live in an airport and that was in a movie. One I would probably appreciate watching again!

IMG_3201Now this guy was sleeping good – snoring loudly! The only thing was, he wasn’t a traveller – he was supposed to be working…

At one point his boss called him to see if he was through with his break. He said no and went right back to sleep!

Well, time to board the plane soon. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Homecoming Eve

It’s here… the end of the road for this trip. And what a journey it’s been. I’m glad I have this blog as a record because I could never go back and recall it all at this point.

Even the blog is just the highlights for the most part. I tried to tell some fun stories and share the delights of discovering Italy all while throwing in a bit of art and history and personal musings. It’s been a great exercise in preserving the trip.

On today, my last day, I spent the afternoon with new friends, Francesce and Edgardo. They invited me for lunch and served a beautiful salad of radiccio, fennel, walnuts, orange segments and big fat green, briney olives. Man were those good! I love green olives! There was also fresh bread, homemade mayonnaise and fragrant red wine from Montecarlo. Such a treat!

ImageFrancesce was working on painting a piece of ceramic ware – it’s her new hobby – and she got out a piece for me to paint. I was thrilled as I had really wanted to do this! I looked up a pattern on the internet and copied it on to a small bowl and painted it. The paint is very dull as it sinks into the unfired piece, but it is supposed to come out very glazed and colorful when it is fired. Francesca will have to get that done after I’m gone and I can’t wait to see it.

I had walked to my friends’ apartment and packed up some things to take them. I had grocery staples like rice and flour and sugar and coffee and laundry soap – which they might as well use up. And I left a couple of canvas boards and my easel with Francesce. She can use them – and maybe if I visit again, I can borrow the easel back.

ImageLate in the afternoon I headed back to my own apartment. It is a cold day and the street lights were already on. It was surreal to walk the cobblestones on a route I’ve taken so many times, realizing it would be the last walk that way for now. I took my time and enjoyed the shop windows, the people milling about, the foreign language that just sounds like music in my ears.

I tried to capture it all, bottle it up and save it for a time when I want to savor the sight and sound and flavor of a wonderful experience of a lifetime. And to know that when I conjure it up in my mind in the future, there will still be real people here, going about the same streets and activities just like they are today.

I tried to imagine what I’ve enjoyed here and it is quite a list…

  • Hanging out in cafes
  • Local markets and restaurants
  • Walking everywhere
  • Spending time on the wall
  • Flower markets on the corners
  • Cheap, good wine
  • Bells chiming on bicycles coming up from behind
  • Buying really small amounts of groceries
  • People laughing and chatting in the streets
  • A sea of umbrellas when it rains
  • da Felice pizza al taglio
  • Views of the red tile roofs
  • Thin crust pizza baked in a wood-fired oven
  • Ancient architecture that looks like frosted cakes
  • Gelato
  • Local street people
  • Greeting by kissing both cheeks

I so appreciate this chance I had to make a dream come true and I didn’t do it by myself. Family and friends were very supportive in many ways. I can’t thank everyone enough.

But I have to give myself a bit of credit, too. People here have commented that it must have taken courage to go to another country where you don’t speak the language for an extended period of time. Well, I don’t know if I’m courageous or just plain stubborn, but I did wrestle down some nagging doubts to make the trip.

I don’t think there is a perfect time in anyone’s life to do such a thing. My past year has been a great upheaval. I moved from my home of 22 years into a small apartment and the whole timing got so crazy that I was only there two nights before I left for Italy! Now when I go home – it is to a strange new place full of unpacked boxes!

Was it convenient? No. And it took my whole family to get me moved and shoved off onto an airplane for foreign soil. So don’t be thinking I’m brave or “lucky” or anything like that. In some ways it wasn’t wise at all – I have no idea what I need in the new apartment. I am going home to almost no appliances and no car. I sold everything that wasn’t nailed down to fund this trip.

And I’m glad I did. If I waited for the perfect time and for money in the bank, it wouldn’t have happened. I turned 61 years old while I was here in Italy and my feet feel every day of it. Who knows if I could even have gotten around this country in a few more years. As it was, I pushed myself (very hard!) and it was worth it.

ImageTraveling for pleasure is so rewarding. It forces you out of your narrow little world into the big picture. You have to learn to adapt to different ways of doing things you might not be used to. And so many things are new for the first time that it is like being a kid again. Then, once you master a few challenges (like Italian trains) you realize you can do more than you thought. It creates a sense of adventure in yourself you might have suspected was long-gone.

ImageThen, of course, you have the memories. No one can ever take those away from you. I certainly don’t intend to start living in the past, but this adventure has given me food for thought for a long time to come. And I’ll just have the best dinner conversation ever when people ask me what I’ve been up to.

An old proverb says that “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I think that is true, but I also think in order to travel, you just have to decide to make it happen. No one is going to show up at your door with cruise tickets and tell you to pack. It’s up to you. And it doesn’t have to be to Italy. I hope when I go home that I will look for travel discovery opportunities right in my own neck of the woods.

I’ve also tried to think what I am most looking forward to at home. Naturally it is seeing my family. Being away from them when I am not used to it has been an adjustment. I’ll be glad to have a phone again and be able to stay in touch. (And a reliable internet connection!)

And the only other thing I can think of??? Cheddar Cheese. Yep, I have sorely missed cheddar cheese. I have not found yellow cheese anywhere I’ve been in Italy. So my first lunch back in Ohio is going to be Taco Bell with extra cheese. And then I’m going to make my ham and cheese quiche that I love to have for brunch – and a super spicy Bloody Mary. And after I take a nap and all that wears off, I will steam a whole head of cauliflower and top it with…. more cheddar cheese. If my eyeballs don’t look jaundiced when I look in the mirror, I’ll have to go out for more shredded cheddar.

So now it’s time to putz around here, finish packing, do a few dishes, take out the rubbish and make it look like I was never here. I still have the paintings to wrap and pack… speaking of which…

I have purposely not posted photos of any of the paintings. They are no great shakes but there’s a few nice images among them. And they are really the climax of my trip. This whole Italy dream started years ago when I was a college art student. Like I mentioned yesterday, I didn’t really break any new painting ground. I worked at it and I have 16 paintings to take home. It is my “Italian Collection.”

All of the paintings are gifts for my family. Ellyn is having a family dinner this Saturday and I plan to set them all up for show. Then everyone, kids and all, can draw a number out of a hat. Whoever gets number one will get first pick and so on. Three people on my painting list can’t make the dinner, so I am going to post photos of the paintings on the blog earlier in the day. That day just happens to be December 15th, which is three months exactly since I left for Italy. You all can see them then and missing family members can text in their choices for the drawing. Immediate family, of course, will have to stay out of the blog that day so as not to see them ahead of time.

So thank you to everyone who has taken this journey with me and encouraged me to keep going. It has been a pleasure to share it with you and it helped me keep a fresh eye out so as to tell you all about it.

Tune in Saturday for the Gallery Show!

Buonanotte…

 

Bittersweet

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.

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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.

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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…

Biciclette

Italians love their bicycles and inside the walls of Lucca there are probably more per capita than anywhere. It is near impossible to drive on the narrow streets full of people, so a bike is the fastest way to get around. Man, if I could ride a bike here, I would have it made!

ImageEvery morning, streams of biking moms and dads go by my apartment taking their kids to school. Some folks have more than one youngin’ on the bike and some have little ones riding little bikes beside them. Some of the kids are pretty big to be still on the back of mom or dad’s bike but I am struck by the “closeness” of the arrangement. And I mean physically close. The child has to practically be hugging the back of his parent to fit on the bike.

I don’t think that is unusual – it is just typically Italian. Families are very close – emotionally and physically. And to me it starts young – with the parent hauling the kid around on a bike. They’re like kangaroos with their offspring kept touching in a pouch. I think it must prolong the bonding process for a while. So no wonder Italian kids live at home while going to college, and usually until – or even after – they’re married.

ImageI’ve seen so many things on bikes… doggies in the basket, couples riding together, young people standing up on a friend’s bike, boy and girl – holding hands while one rides the bike and one walks beside, friends riding slowly side by side chatting. And one day, while I was sitting in da Felice having a slice of pizza for lunch, a young woman in very high-heeled boots parked her bike, ran in for a slice, ran back out and balanced the pizza on the handlebars and took off while eating the pizza – high heels and all!

ImageNow this cracks me up… I think of this little bike with a high rise seat and handlebars as a sporty little pre-teen boy bike. But almost always, when you see one like this, an older person is riding it. I’m wondering if that is the answer to my problem? Maybe I just needed a smaller bike that I could control more easily and where my feet could touch the ground without too much trouble. Hmmm….

Of course, if I DID have a bike, I would want it to be like one of these…

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well, maybe not pink…

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but definitely a flowered basket…

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absolutely, flowers…

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and then I would have to ride somewhere and buy some flowers…

But other styles are nice as well. Maybe you need two baskets…

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The baskets are lined!

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or some custom leather…

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or a great color…

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but it would be flowers for me.

ImageAnd finally, here’s a bike I saw in Rome. Not sure what the parking requirements are, but it was rather fascinating to see. Evidently, biking Italians have a great sense of humor as well. Gotta love it!

And I just read that in 2011, Italians bought more bikes than they did cars. Italians love their cars, too, but in this small country where the economy has tanked like everywhere else, a bike is a practical solution. And if you have less than 5 km to commute – it is probably faster.

Not to mention that the price of petrol is about 2 euros a liter – the highest in Europe.

So I am going to miss this culture where everyone is walking or riding a bike to get around. And yes, you can’t go too far without a car or public transport. I just like the fact that life here is very active. You take the train, you ride the bus, you get on your bike – or you just go out the front door and go. The weather is rarely a deterrent. I saw one man riding his bike and holding an umbrella over him and his little dog cradled in his arm!

Ahh, Italy.

It’s Saturday – What Else Can I Say?

As usual, there’s never a dull moment on Saturday in Lucca. This place matches any big city in the world for action on the street, but the difference is that Lucca feels like your own small home town. You can wander all over this town, safe as can be, and find something new all the time.

I’ve been focusing on finishing my paintings the last few days as it will soon be time to pack them up for home. I want to give them a few days to dry before loading. Then… I have a plan for revealing them, which will be posted on the blog in the next day or two.

ImageAnyway, I went out at noon today for a walk and errands and there is a Renaissance Fair going on in my neighborhood. And it was good timing because just as I started down the street, here came a parade!

ImageNothing like a drum corps to cheer up the day. They were complete with flag bearers and people dressed in costume as the “audience.” After marching around a couple blocks, they went up in the center of San Michele Square and put on a show.

ImageThe flag bearers did a lot of tossing of banners all around and the crowd gathered to watch. Then off they marched to another part of the city to repeat the whole thing.

I did my marketing, got a piece of pizza for lunch, and went back home to paint. But since my apartment is right in the thick of things, I couldn’t help but hear the buzz on the street. Man was it crowded out there! I had to go back out and walk around!

ImageIt is getting VERY nippy now – winter temps are here. But does that keep these folks inside? Nope. Not only are the streets shoulder to shoulder with people, the outdoor cafes are FULL. There are people everywhere, bundled up for the weather, and walking and shopping full tilt. It really is like trying to walk at the fair – that’s how busy and crowded it is. You can’t cross Via Filungo without getting jostled.

And then there’s the dogs…

ImageItaliani ei loro cani! (Italians love their dogs!) They are everywhere. I’ve never seen so many dogs out and about. And the funny thing is they are so well behaved. They must be raised to be sociable because you see them in the cafes, in the shops, even in the restaurants and no one minds a bit.

ImagePeople do stop and let other dogs check out their dog, but rarely do you hear any fracas about it. And I’ve yet to see much of a dog mess anywhere.

A lot of people have two dogs with them, and some even have three. And I’ve seen many a pup riding high and dry in the basket of a bicycle…

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This pup sat at the table with his human for the entire meal.

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Lots o’dogs in the cafes.

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Trio of canines.

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No size limit!

There seems to be an abundance of poodles and small terriers. Probably easier for smaller living spaces. I am particularly fond of those breeds and every once in a while I just want to scoop one up and run home with it. Alas, the reason I don’t have a dog is that I’m allergic – which I hate.

So that’s my last Saturday in Lucca for now. I’m about to clean up the painting stuff, heat up some supper and relax with some hot tea and a good book.

Only a post or two left and I’ll be heading home to southwest Ohio…

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