Every other year I teach a painting workshop on a farm, near Florence in the Tuscan countryside. The farm makes its own organic olive oil, chianti and grappa. Its young owners and a mutual friend, Carla, cook for us most evenings. Would you like to join me?
If you are interested visit Classes to sign up.
Apart from these evenings of wine and conversation with, maybe, a short passage of Vasari, or Dante we explore Florence and other towns. I lived in Florence for nearly two years after the biblical flood of November 1966. I was Head of Outdoor Restoration for the Uffizi Gallery so I am very familiar with Italian culture.
And, yes we paint. Even beginners bring home something of which they are proud.
More important: the act of painting encourages an observation that changes and deepens our experience.
In 2007 several of us painted an abandoned farmhouse. It was typical of the farmhouses throughout Tuscany in the sixties. In those days these were thriving operations. Large families, oxen and other animals, market gardens, orchards as well as grapes and olives. Now they have mostly been turned into fancy homes. This one remained in its original condition and prompted some interesting conversations with locals. I cite one below:
August 30, 2007
Today another visitor stopped on a motorbike called Stefano - a gracious young man.
“Compliments! Especially for your colors that truly reflect reality…If I listen it seems to me that this traditional house tells the story of the generations who lived here. The seasons. The war passed right through here, you know.”
We talked about the economy that is weak in Italy when he introduced me to a new Tuscan phrase ‘to extend the broth’ (allungare il brodo). Talking about the thirty percent of Americans who cannot pay their debts, he explained that in Italy if a person couldn’t pay:
“The creditors take everything and don’t give any further credit. I understand that in the United States, on the other hand, they ‘extend the broth’. But it seems to me that you can only ‘extend the broth’ for so long because in the end it won’t be broth anymore.”
These words of Stefano seem prophetic today.
But before you are bummed out by thoughts of our looming depression and the loss of traditional agriculture in Tuscany consider this other conversation I had in Florence in Piazza Santo Spirito:
August 14, 2007
My friend, Carla, introduced me to an ‘aperitivo’ in the piazza. If someone buys a drink for three or four euros he has the right to take the food, simple but delicious, that is available. Every night there is a crowd of young Florentines here.
Today I met Lucca while I was eating at the ‘aperitivo’ a fascinating Florentine of around forty who talks rapidly accompanying all his words with gestures. He says that the Florentines have lost the greater part of the center of Florence to the tourists and merchants.
“Here in San Frediano there remains a vestige of the spirit of the old city. However, not even here remain many of the artisans of years past. One needs to go to certain neighborhoods in the periphery of the city or even further out to the small towns to find them. In those places there are people and collectives who want to create quality products in a calm environment. They work outside the global market and for this reason they can offer the products at low prices to the community. When the global market collapses, perhaps these groups can take over. I also have faith in the intuition of the youth. They’re great.”
Artisans working outside the global economy, the 'slow food' movement, 'agriturismos' like the one we visit where a new generation can afford to continue farming: all these are indications that Italy, at the grassroots, is turning away from the consumer model that it has pursued, in its infatuation with everything American, since the last world war.
Those of you who have read this far might be interested in viewing my illustrated, bilingual book "Due Mesi in Italia e Istria, Two Months in Italy" online at lulu.com