The owner, Raphael, of the residential property met me at the bus stop in Senise and we drove about 20 minutes to Noepoli (see photo below), the tiny village where the art residency is located. There are two other artists here at this time, one from Scotland and one from Denmark and they are very easy and friendly. Raphael showed me around the home and told me all of the instructions like which keys to use and where to do laundry (more on that in a moment!). It is quite like being back in college though my room is much nicer, and no roommate, thankfully! The program is run by Raphael, his wife Pina and their daughter, Susanna who normally lives in Ireland and is not here now due to the birth of her baby. The family summers here in Noepoli and Raphael and Pina live in Agropolis the remainder of the year. After the day of travel, I thoroughly enjoyed spending the evening talking with the other residents and learning about their countries and their work. I’ll tell you more about these fascinating women later – they are impressive to say the least. Before I could retire for the night, I spent time down in the basement doing much needed laundry – check out the laundry “facility”! I moved a few pieces to to the line outside to help them dry this morning but hesitated to hang out all my underwear! I slept like a rock last night and woke up ready to work. After a big delicious breakfast made by Pina, Raphael showed me the area and a beautiful belvedere in the national park. I then took a quick tour of town on foot (which took only a few minutes) and found the man selling fruits and vegetables, the miller/baker, the butcher (a woman!), the police officer, and the town hall. Noepoli is built on top of the remains of an old castle and is on a mountain peak so the weather is breezy and cool. It is strange being so remote after so many days with throngs of people and activity. After lunch, I worked on photos and sketches and then went on a hike with the artists, Cecelia and Karen. I wish Phoebe was here to see this shepherd walking his goats through the hills! We made it to another mountain top and were able to get a good view of caves that were once used by robbers as hideouts. The robbers were considered to be like Robin Hood as they helped poor people in the area who were under the rule of tyrannical dukes and counts who owned the land. Can you see these caves? The lone restaurant does not open until 8 pm so we ate peaches for a snack and did more work. Finally, we walked to dinner, passing a cemetary, which was a little spooky on the dark walk home. I had a lovely time visiting with the two artists who are full of fascinating stories and experiences. The only dark spot at this point is the teenage son, who against the residency policy, accompanied his mother to the program. I won’t list what all was said and occurred at dinner and on the walk home, but his hostility has changed the atmosphere of the residency and I will need to be away from him as much as possible. After breakfast this morning, I worked in the studio and then Pina and Raphael asked if I wanted to go with them to Senise. I was delighted, the drive was pretty and we passed many farms where the owners produce their own wine, fruits, veggies, olives and cheeses. In Senise, my hosts introduced me to the butcher, the mozzarella makers, and the bakery owner. I can hardly wait to make fresh pasta with tomatoes and mozzarella on the side tonight. It was especially fun listening to the banter between my hosts and the shop keepers. I felt like an exchange student and it was a great cultural education! On the drive back to Noepoli, Pina provided all sorts of information about the fauna and flora and about the history of the area. After traveling on my own, it is such a treat being in the care of such informative and kind people. Arrivederci!
I’m about to leave Ravello by bus for Amafi to catch a boat to Salerno where I’ll take a three hour bus ride to Senise where I’ll get picked up by someone from the residency to drive to Noepoli in the remote area, Basilicata. Just before my alarm rang this morning, thunder boomed. We are so high up that when a storm comes, we are in the clouds – the thunder felt like it was in my teeth! Needless to say, I was awake and ready to get going.
I then checked out of the lovely Villa Amore. The owner called TravelMar for me to see if the ocean is too rough for transportation. We got the ok, the skies look clear so off I go down the mountain again. To my delight, there are the two English men who I saw on Saturday! Remember them? They were my cohorts in struggling with the luggage door under the bus. They did not recognize me initially but when I described the luggage experience, they enthusiastically confirmed it was them! They tried to help me with the luggage compartment this time, but we all failed and discussed how insistent the bus drivers are about storing the luggage but how disinterested they are in helping you do so.
At any rate, we had a good visit about Rome and London and Ravello and they were very kind. I might be giving the impression that this area is sparely populated, considering the fortuitous repeated encounters I’ve experienced. However, this is high season along the Amalfi coast and the area is swarming with people. To add to the crowds who are vacationing here, they come in by the droves from cruise liners parked offshore. The crowds can be stifling, especially for an Arkansan used to a less dense population. Ravello has been isolated from the madness which has been a benefit of staying there – unreachable by the cruise crowds. I also highly recommend Atrani which is a lovely 15 minute walk (albeit lots of stairs) from the town of Amalfi, and is much less crowded.
I am now in the boat to Salerno, a 35 minute ride on the dot, as opposed to that 1.5 hour bus ordeal on the way. Travel tip: if you venture to the Amalfi coast, travel on a weekday instead of the weekend. Ok, while I’m at it, here are a few more suggestions: bring an umbrella, a little travel bottle of bug spray, one pair of very comfortable sandals, one pair of comfy Nike slip on walkers, one cute dress, a pair of cool blousey pants to travel in, clothes you can hike in, a hat, sunscreen, plenty of underwear, and plenty of undergarments.
Back to the boat ride, it rained hard but the ocean remained calm. I got to, again, sit by the English couple who kindly took my picture for me. Once I finally found the Salerno train and bus station, and bought my ticket for the bus to Senise, I wandered around looking for a place to eat lunch and get out of the rain. It was quickly clear that the station was full of cons as I was approached by a persistent woman with a baby, and three aggressive men asking for money or something…this was my first place on my Italian adventure to feel harassed and I kept my belongings under tight grip. Aside from the gritty feel of Salerno thus far, it seems to be an ideal place for catching trains, boats, and buses to a variety of locations. Many prefer it to Sorrento or Naples because of its convenient access to Pompeii, Herculeneum, Naples, Paestum, the entire Amalfi coast (and the islands such as Capri), and trains south down the Silcily.
My next post will be from the Artist Residency. If you are interested in learning more about the program, there are some new videos posted on their Facebook page if you look for Palazzo Rinaldi.
Thanks for reading! Ciao!
After feeling a bit down yesterday, three gifts came my way today and lifted my spirits more than the gift bearers can know. I’ll start with the adventures of the day and reveal the positive encounters as they unfolded. A storm moved in and woke me at 7:30. Initially I was disappointed, as a big hike was on the agenda. But at breakfast, the skies began to clear and the hotel staff looked up the weather forecast and said to proceed as planned. So, with water, sunscreen, bug spray and backpack in hand, I headed down an ancient trail that runs behind and below Villa Cimbrone. I read the hike to Atrani was perfectly safe though rigorous, and would take about 45 minutes and then 15-20 more minutes to Amalfi. Well, I realize steep climbs and descents have been a theme of the blog, but I must say I went down thousands of steps on this hike. I’m officially declaring that going down is, indeed, harder than going up. Occasionally, I thought I had arrived, but I would pop out at a vista and see the ocean was still far far down.
Finally, the path became less foliage-oriented and more alley-oriented, and eventually, a little cobblestone via tight between old walls spit me out in front of the stunning Maria Magdellana Church, which is build right on top of a cliff’s edge over the water. The choir was practicing while children played out front waiting for the singing parents to finish. As families exited, I followed them down a narrow path to the central piazza of Atrani.
As I popped out another narrow alleyway into the piazza, I almost ran into a large stage where crisply dressed brass band members where gathering for a practice performance. I walked over to what appeared to be a drug store and managed to ask, in Italian, for a “thing women put in their hair to go up.” The man, said, Si Si Si, and pulled out a hair clip. Perfecto! I walked back into the square and who passes by, but Colomba, the kind woman from Bologna who helped me on the bus ride from Salerno a few days ago! We talked for an hour and she provided all sorts of advice, a bus schedule to return to Ravello (walking up the mountain was simply not an option on these shaking legs) and pointed me to the footpath to Amalfi. She also explained the town was preparing for a celebration for their Saint, Maria Magdellana, which is why the choir and the brass band were practicing.
The town of Amalfi was incredible though overrun with tourists. I visited the church with its magnificent gold mosaics, had superb gnocchi with pesto and enjoyed window shopping but after an hour or so, I was ready to head back to Ravello, which was a 25 minute open air bus ride from Amalfi. It was one of those red tour buses that provided headphones to listen to the history of the area which I was happy to hear. Before leaving Amalfi on the tour bus, I watched a father teasing his daughter by grabbing her neck just like my brother, Owen, does. It’s this maneuver that tickles so badly it makes your knees buckle. I don’t know what language they were speaking as she screamed for him to stop, but I’ve always thought of it as something only Owen does.
I think these human similarities are striking me because I feel sort of like an alien here, or like a slightly different species than those around me. But then these very poignant commonalities appear, like Colomba describing her teenage son’s upcoming visit. She told me her 16 year old son was coming on the train from Bologna and she was afraid he would be bored and unpleasant. She said the last place he would want to be is hanging out with his mother, away from his friends in the city. I guess mothers of teenagers have things in common no matter how different our cultures may seem.
On the tour bus back to Ravello, I met a nice young woman, Diana, from Australia. We walked together and talked on our way to Villa Cimbrone, which is right next to my hotel where I was headed for a rest. We ended up stopping by the church of St. Francis of Assisi and enjoyed an interesting art exhibit in the church courtyard that I’d passed and missed several times. When it came time to part, I went to shake her hand but she gave me a big hug. So sweet!
That evening, I was sketching on the hotel balcony with a light early dinner (eating at 9 pm is leading to a late bedtime!) and a woman with the hotel approached and asked if I’d met an English family on my way up a couple of days ago. For a moment I was confused, wondering how she would be asking me this…then, I said yes! And she handed me a piece of paper saying it was a message for me. Remember the English family I mentioned a few posts back – the ones who so kindly helped me find my hotel and later invited me to dinner? As if those gestures weren’t already bursting with kindness, look at this!!!
They took the time to find and email me! Between the view (which just about brings tears to my eyes) and this email, I was momentarily stunned and teary while rereading the message two or three times. She signed the email with the names of each family member and with her Facebook name, so now we can stay in touch. And I can direct them to my art blog, where, surprise, they’ve already had a starring role (see “Magical Ravello” post)! I know there are lunatics and hateful people in the world but thankfully there are also people like Colomba, Diana, and the Flude family whose kindness shines bright during this adventure. Salute!
Today there were ups and downs. I’m gonna get real here. This experience is incredible, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but there are moments when sadness fills me up and I wonder how long is too long without seeing friends, family, and being able to communicate with anyone. I am the type of person who enjoys being alone and tends to not feel lonely. But a bit of loneliness is creeping in at the seams which is hard. Writing notes about the experiences staves off the isolation quite well, and turning those notes into blog material has probably helped more that I anticipated (which might explain the increasing loquaciousness of the blog entries!)
It is always very difficult to sent our girls to camp for a month and the feelings I have now are similar to what I feel every summer. But being so far away is compounding the longing, which I was afraid might happen. I depart soon for the Artist Residency and am hoping some artists there speak English…I’ll keep you posted.
So, to perk up a bit, I’ll write about the “ups” of the day:
Villa Cimbrone. It only took two seconds for me to realize upon entry why exactly C East had so many stars by “Villa Cimbrone” in her Italy notes. Pictures can not capture the magic – this one to the right shows an old well and Ancient Roman columns that were carved in the Middle Ages. After lunch in town, I returned to Villa Cimbrone to do some sketching.
It was just too pretty to stay away. Plus, I decided to postpone a longer hike I had planned due to the heat. After showering, I again splurged on the Revello Music Festival concert, then people watched, stumbled upon an inspiring organ concert in one of the churches, and went to bed. OH I ALMOST FORGOT! Between the poetic Argentinian themed concert and the lovely organ church concert, I happened upon a HUGE FIGHT!!! I mean these two people were sca-reaming at each other right outside the Villa Rufalo as I exited concert. I wish I understood what was going on. An police officer had to intercept them! And I’m not talking about two rough dudes. It was a woman, dressed up beautifully (of course!) with a large clock around her neck (you see how I am living in a state of confusion, yes?) and the man – a rotund chef (the people here are lithe due to hiking like mountain goats daily so it struck me as an even stranger sight seeing the portly chef guy). I thought maybe they were street performers at first, they were so vocal and dramatic – the fighting was lyrical and rhythmic which makes sense – as their talking is lyrical and rhythmic compared to English. I wish I could post videos and I would show you a snippet.
The view and my room are like something from a dream, or movie, something fiction, too colorful, too fragrant, to high up, too beautiful to be real. After a cold shower, I walked back down to the center of town. It is a square piazza with stores, cafés, restaurants and gardens around the perimeter with a large church as the central anchor.
What I first saw did not make sense to me. There was a group of the most beautiful people superbly dressed in front of an ancient looking structure called the Belvedere Di Villa Rufolo. There was a camera man filming another man and woman who were walking around speaking to various dignitary types. The people milling about in this area were the most fashionable, suave humans I have ever seen. I mean, I’ve never seen people so beautiful. Thank goodness I had the foresight to pack a good dress which I put on for tonight, though in this crowd, I do feel like quite a bumpkin. There were police following the mystery man and their uniforms were unbelievably tailored and formal and attractive…like no uniform I’ve ever seen.
I walked a bit further, trying to decide if I would splurge on the music festival that is currently scheduled for 5 nights at that Villa Rufalo. As I strolled by trying not to gawk, I heard organ music and singing, coming from the church, Saturday night mass. I then decided it would be foolish to skip the concert so I quickly found pizza, the best in my life, for a good price, too. Oh I forgot to mention in the last post, an English family felt sorry for me and offered to help me lug my luggage up the mountain…I refused but the father used his phone to get directions for me and they walked me to the entrance of my villa, which was so kind. We had a lovely visit on the way up. As I came back down to the Piazza for the evening, I glanced into an open air restaurant and there they were waving at me! I popped in to say hello and they invited me to join them for dinner! How incredibly nice is that? But I declined, not wanting to intrude on a family holiday – plus, I needed a quick bite if I was going to make that concert.
As I ate my pizza on a little bench, I asked a woman next to me (though I was almost scared to talk to her, she was so stunning) about the little fancy man with the police escorts. She said “politico importante” (or something like that). I figured for the film crew and police to be following him around, he had to be someone pretty well known (to everyone but me).
As I entered the gardens for the concert, I noticed a bottleneck up the way along a path and it was the little man and his entourage. I wish I’d learned his name! Okay, so I found my seat and out comes the head of the Ravello Music Festival to introduce the pianist. He has won Grammys and Emmys in the US and plays all over the world. When the pianist, Michel Camilo, took the stage, he spoke in Spanish and it was a relief! I’ve never been so glad to hear a language aside from my own. And when he played, oh, I’ve never heard anything like it. It was absolutely riveting. I wanted to yell “Te amo” but resisted. Didn’t want to be the idiot American standing up at a distinguished piano concert screaming like I did at Corey Hart in 1987. The stars were bright overhead, the temp was perfect with a slight breeze, the Amalfi coast was twinkling as the backdrop and the music was magical.
Once the concert dismissed, I came to the piazza for a sweet treat and a water. I accidentally ordered in Spanish and the man laughed and said I got lucky, he speaks Spanish. Skipping forward, I am sitting on the piazza, on a bench and have been surrounded by a group of teenagers. I wish I could understand them. They have all smiled at me and seem to not care that I sit amongst them. OK, they are literally sitting on the bench with me and singing. I’m a little freaked out. There are families everywhere including right here by me and children playing tag (I guess children of all ages and their parents hang out on the Piazza on Saturday night) and double Dutch jump rope.
I have not seen anyone with a cell phone out. Even these teen boys – in fact, I think the youngest person I’ve seen in Italy with a cell phone has been approximately 17 or 18. And these kids are all PLAYING and TALKING and SINGING. Is this for real? Ok, I can’t sit amongst these boys any longer. I just got up and asked in Spanish if I could take their picture. I wish I had used my cell so I could post the photo in the blog – help me remember to post it later. You won’t believe how cute they are. They all jumped in the get the picture and lined up along a railing together. When I said, “uno, dos, tres” they all yelled whatever Italians say instead of “cheese.” Oh my gosh, adorable!
With that, I must say goodnight.
WARNING, THIS POST IS LONG AND WINDING, LIKE THE DAY IT COVERS
I am now on Italotreno headed from Florence to Salerno which is a 3.5 hour train ride. I have a fear of getting kicked off the train from not stamping my ticket or following some sort of protocol. Or worse, getting on the wrong train and ending up in another country. But the announcer has said Salerno many times so I think I’m on the right track (ha, aren’t I hilarious, the “right track”).
This morning, before departing Florence, I ate breakfast with a woman from Lowell, MA and a couple from Germany. The man’s company makes the adhesive for New Balance shoes which are made near Lowell, MA. He was surprised that we had heard of New Balance so I let him know that they are a flat footed person’s best friend. He encourage me to keep buying them so he can keep providing the glue! Then, the woman from Lowell asked if we could go together to Santa Croce Church so off we went. Well, thank goodness I did not miss this church. I could have spent several hours there but only had one before my train. We saw the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli…
News flash! The train conductor just came through asking for tickets. I showed her a number and she said Grazie and moved on. So I didn’t get kicked off and seem to be following procedure. PHEW!
Back to Santa Croce. This is the hot bed for art historians. I took many a slide quiz based on much of the work displayed in this very church, such as famous pieces by Giotto and by Cimabue. As I exited into the side courtyard, the voice of an angel signing a Les Miserable classic guided me to a vaulted room. There she was, a tourist (perhaps a broadway star?), testing out the acoustics in the room. A few tourists clapped as she finished, she grabbed her purse, and continued the tour. What a treat!
I said good-bye to my morning companion (who was amicable and talkative and clear about her need for English speaking company), hoofed it to the hotel for my luggage and then pulled my bags down the cobblestone streets to Santa Maria Novella train station.
Alright, the train ride was smooth and fast. The man who sat next to me was surly at first, watching me haul my luggage, which required a deep squat and major heave (again, thanks Drew!) to the overhead rack. During the last hour of the trip, I painted a postcard and for whatever reason, he turned into a gentleman! He helped me practice Italian (literally quizzed me with my flash cards), told me he lives and works in Paestum as a police officer and volleyball coach at the local school. And he was very helpful with my luggage as we departed, making sure I was aware of the Salerno stop and hauling my suitcase down the steps and to the platform. However, let me remind you (hi Mom, Dad and Stephen) my guard is up and I am not seeking conversation or companionship from strangers. He was perfectly polite though still distant, just helpful. Oh, and by the way, when people tell you that everyone speaks English, NOPE! Not on this route, at least. Which, so far, is fine with me, I just thought I’d mention it to set your expectations if you travel here. Maybe I’m just going a little more rugged than some which is casting me apart from the high-end service people who probably do speak English.
It was mayhem departing the train and finding the bus for Amalfi. Thankfully, last night I read in a Rick Steve’s book a tip about ducking into the Celeste Globo travel agency right there between the train station and the bus station where the workers speak some English and can answer questions about which bus tickets to buy and where to wait. Entrance on the bus was dicey and I am lucky I got a seat. There were many people standing for the long and winding ride up the Amalfi coast. I’ll change busses in Amalfi to get to Ravello.
OK, ANNOUNCEMENT: I’ll be taking a boat whenever possible from this point forward. We are winding around these cliffs with the driver blaring on the horn at every turn, which means constantly. A woman boarded at Vietre and promptly began yelling toward the bus load of people in anger about not giving up a seat for the women and children (at least I think that is what she as saying).
One hour later, shockingly, I am still alive and after a treacherous ride to Amalfi, I have boarded the bus to Ravello, up to the mountain top. I’m trying to enjoy the views but when one fears for her life, the panorama is a bit less pleasurable. But now I have feeling like I might survive, as opposed to earlier when I was saying prayers and telepathically telling my precious girls good-bye. NEVERMIND!!!! Quite the roller coaster of emotions. Once again feeling like death is near. There are pedestrians on the road and they flatten themselves against the cliffs as the buses careen by. There are cyclists for crying out loud! The kind woman from Bologna who is seated next to me said the cyclists are not Italian. That Italians would not do such a thing. Do you hear that Krissa and Michael? Stick with Tuscany but I beg, do not get any ideas about cycling along the Amalfi coast, capiece?
Ok, now I’ve been dispatched in Ravello. A nice cabbie told me how to walk to the hotel (he was waiting to take people down through the ravine and down the mountain to Amalfi – Ravello is pedestrian only so I could not get a ride with him to my hotel. But just a minute, did I mention the bus luggage arrangement? The driver yells at you as you enter the bus and tells you to store it underneath. (A note about the yelling, they do it as nicely as possible, many of the Italians I’ve encountered put a vigorous amount of volume and emotion in their voices so I’ve come to learn that they are just explaining things, not really yelling). Anyway, no one comes to open the compartments and this English man and I jacked around with the handles thinking the bus was about to take off. I then found a button and pushed it and pop – the door lifted open. I heard him on the bus later telling his partner thank goodness for some American girl who figured out how to open the compartment. I felt a tinge of pride, I admit.
So, I think, Thank you Lord Baby Jesus for not letting me get killed and making it to this remote mountaintop on roads that are perhaps not meant to be traversed. I erroneously thought I’d arrived. As it turns out, my villa is further up the mountain…but I thought, how far can it be? Well, if I’ve mentioned the stairs and hills and hikes in earlier posts, let me just say, thank the heavens for those hikes. I didn’t know it at the time but I was in training for Ravello. The whole journey here, as it becomes more physically difficult and more dangerous, I am thinking, how and why to people go through such effort, such time, such risk, such discomfort to get here? AND THEN I FOUND OUT. Next up: Oh Ravello.
For any of you who are worried that I am wondering around getting lost (hi mom), let me clarify, I had a map and was following one of the tourist office’s walks around Fiesole. I just took the wrong tour and missed a closer look at the swanky Villa San Michele. Despite the climbs, heat and misstep, I highly recommend Fiesole.
Next up was San Lorenzo Basilica which was stunning on the inside despite the incomplete facade. The ticket also included entry to the tombs under the church which was full of surprises. First, there was the tomb of Cosimo Medici which was an enormous square shaped marble crypt build into the central column of the church, literally and metaphorically placing Cosimo in a position to hold up the church. Then, a few feet away was the tomb of Donatello. In a separate room, still underground, was a display of relics. Despite reading about relics in art history, I was still taken aback when I realized what I was seeing in the temp controlled glass cases. I thought the oval shaped, silver encrusted frames, with little circular windows were displaying some type of family tree. But upon closer inspection, I realized there were little objects in each window…little pieces of bone, hair, teeth…corporal souvenirs for people to worship for hundreds and hundreds of years! And that they do. The Forentines speak of the Medici, a family that died out many generations ago, with reverence and gratitude.
The whole experience makes me consider the intrinsic value of objects, whether it be art, literature, architecture, or relics. (Bear with me, spending is much time alone makes me rather introspective.) The line between animate and inanimate blurs as I come to better understand the power of objects for humanity throughout history. I am reminded of the Tom Robbins novel Still Life with a Woodpecker which will certainly change the reader’s view of the objects in our lives.
Studying the art commissioned by the Medici family, one will notice the frequent image of oranges which were a sign of power and life. As I ascended from the crypts, I arrived in a small beautiful courtyard and immediately noticed an enormous orange tree in the center heavy and fragrant with big bright oranges. Reminders of the Medici are very much alive!
I then headed to the post office which has so many names, it was hard to find. A kind waiter laughed as he helped me with directions. I was standing right in front of it! Thankfully, I’d read about the Italian post office procedures, or I would have never made it out of there with my tasks completed. It is like a major appointment to go to the PO for business. I needed to mail letters to Paige and Phoebe and needed to exchange American money to Euros which required lots of patience and more Italian than I’ve previously attempted.
By now it was after 7:00 and I was again famished. Thanks to Cathy and Jim Wilkins, I was able to get off the tourist dining circuit and walk to a residential area for dinner. On my way to dinner, I passed a few impressive street artists as well as a store that made me think of my sweet grandmother, Nana. I was the first to arrive at 7:30 and they even let me in a few minutes early. Still a bit anxious about dining alone, this place could not have been more accommodating and comfortable. The chef trained in NY for 8 years at some hot Italian restaurant and returned home to open Garga with his mother. I got to meet him and the restaurants encourages diners to draw on the table cloths. There were some statues around to serve as models so between the food and the drawing and the welcoming staff, it was pretty heavenly. I’ve never had a salad that I ate slowly to postpone the end. And the focaccia bread made me moan like those people who moan when they eat which I’ve found irritating. It was a struggle to be quiet and the perfect way to end a long, adventurous day.