Nine summers ago, a New York friend told me of an American writer she knew living in Italy and looking to swap studios. I scraped together a ticket and rented a piano to be delivered the day I arrived. A few months later, the writer’s neighbour picked me up at the airport and, as she placed my bag inside the door, invited me to come later to a small dinner party in her apartment. “I’m here to work,” I ached, but her eyes, like grey almond Modiglianis, turned minutely downward at my stupidity. “See you at nine-thirty.”
Lucca is a Tuscan jewel, a once-strategic fortress city that safeguarded the olive border of the Italian peninsula with what are now perhaps the most preserved defensive walls in Europe. Just 30 kilometres inland from the Ligurian Sea, you can get to it in less than two hours by train from Florence. Here is a kinder, gentler, perfect microcosm of art, bedazzled with the efforts of local Renaissance geniuses and nightly recitals of the arias of Lucca-born Giacomo Puccini. In the center, a narrow track has barely changed since the Middle Ages and delivers an ancient amphitheatre, its soft edges now furnished for sipping an Aperol spritz while the pink lardo of Gombitelli melts on your tongue.
Lucca’s 16th Century walls are crowned with plane trees, which flank a wide gravel walk-and-bike path. Because they make an ellipse around the city, the walls capture the day’s shadows and light, depending on where you are in relation to the sun. Included in my swap was a bicycle named “Rilke.” “We see the brightness of a new page where everything yet can happen,” wrote Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet. I stacked a dozen linen boards and some Italian acrylics into Rilke’s basket and set out to question the dappling light and cloud pockets of Tuscany’s big dome. “Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.”
PS: “Art, too, is just a way of living.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)
Esoterica: Today in Lucca, Peter and I have re-wandered the micro-labyrinth of Lucca and re-read the eight letters my dad wrote to you during the weeks he and my mom came to visit me here in 2008. My neighbour Isabella, my life-friend now, coaxes fall’s local porcinis into a pot of risotto on the stovetop. Through the shutters, Turandot’s “Nessun Dorma” floats up from a distant nave in a kind of obscene art blanket, and Mario, the miniature apricot poodle, pulls a ribbon of prosciutto from a platter teetering in still life at the table’s edge. “And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)
“If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)
Highlights: See all 6 Mosaic’d churches in Ravenna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Visit & sketch the places where Michelangelo sketched in the late 1490’s in Bologna; Wander the house where Renaissance artist Rafael’s grew up; Tour the castle that inspired a chapter in Dante’s Divine Comedy; Paint while watching the sunset over a cliff-top castle; Ride a bicycle along the beach to a Roman Bridge built in 10AD that is still in use today!; Sketch alongside Canadian artist Joanne Hastie & experience how the Italian countryside inspires her art.
Included: 7 nights accommodations, 7 gourmet breakfasts, 7 gourmet dinners (wine included) at Hotel Belvedere in Riccione; transportation to and from Riccione to each location; watercolor sketchbook, plein-air starter kit (watercolor), ink pen, eraser
$3325 CAD per person
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