Tag Archives: Noepoli

Village Life

Today was special in many ways. I got to go on a walk early this morning and am feeling more comfortable in the village. My limited Italian is expanding slightly, which helps me feel less clueless and less isolated. When various people speak, I have an idea of what they are saying and how to respond (on a very rudimentary level). After a big breakfast that included a regionally special cake (cake for breakfast – my kind of thing!), I worked in the studio for a few hours before getting ready for lunch plans.image

A lovely local woman who summers here in Noepoli and lives the remainder of the year in Rome, invited Cecelia and me to lunch. Graziella does not speak English at all and we gestured our way though the meal quite well. I thought we were having a one course meal, and handily ate every bite of delicious spaghetti pompodore. Then, surprise, out came the second course – a Naples specialty of peppers stuffed with bread crumbs, olive oil and anchovies. They were incredible. Then we had cured meats made by a neighbor. And then ricotta cheese and bread that were both made this morning!! Then, out came a salad with cucumbers and tomatoes. Graziella drizzled it with olive oil made here and fresh lemon juice. I was trying to breath deeply and drink lots of water, because the food just kept coming. She kept pointing to her tummy and saying something – I think it was about all of our bellies getting big. Then, fresh fruit for dessert with the strongest espresso I’ve ever tasted. Thank goodness for the espresso – I’ll need it because I’m teaching a painting workshop this afternoon from 5:00 to 7:00 here at Palazzo Rinaldi. I’m going to set up now and will update you later. Ciao!

Well, I think the workshop was a big hit. There was a snafu with the materials that were supposed to be provided. We managed to recover from the lack of paper and stiff brushes (at the last minute, I finally realized and accepted that I would have to provide the paper and some additional brushes from my own work supply). When we first started, the mood was pleasant but a little hesitant. I panicked a bit when a second round of participants came in an hour after we started, and knew that between our lack of materials, my language limitation, the amount of time I wanted to teach, and the difficulty of teaching two groups at the same time, I was getting in over my head. However, the second group did not expect a full recap of the lesson and just observed and picked up brushes and painted a little.

imageMore importantly, their energy electrified the room and the event became a party. There were several men and women gathered around the table, laughing, joking, painting, and catching up on town news. Pina and Raffaele did a superb job of translating the ideas and instructions for me and all of the people included me in their conversations about their ideas and paintings. The most rewarding part was that they were able to create layered paintings with a variety of tools, such as stencils, to convey images that have special meaning to each person. The paintings told stories about their feelings and memories and that meant success in my mind. Of course, when Raffaele popped open the champagne, the volume rose and the room was like something from a movie with lots of laughing and gesticulating. There is truth in the stereotype of Italians talking with their hands and dramatic facial expressions which has turned out to be most helpful for a foreigner.

After dinner, I worked in the studio with Cecelia, collected my laundry from the line, and went to bed. NEXT DAY: This morning, after breakfast, I went on a walk in the village, with the intention of sketching while out. I found a shady stoop with a beautiful view of someone’s balcony with flowers and the mountains in the background. imageAfter no more than 5 minutes, three people came out and insisted that I come in for a visit and a drink. The owner greeted me with a Prego and though I tried to decline politely, suddenly I found myself inside on a tour which was magnificent. I hope this doesn’t sound snobby, but I didn’t expect such a modern and beautifully decorated home in such a small village. They showed me the view from her back balcony and then we sat in the living room for a glass of tea. I managed to ask their names and tell them mine and we worked through a stilted, though pleasant conversation. Then, a precious little girl came in. When her father tried to to hug her, she kicked and bit him prompting him to call her a word I did not understand. I asked him to write it down and he would not. Then I remembered the curse word section of the Rick Steve’s dictionary and showed it to the man. He found it and pointed to the word…They asked me how to say it in English and I felt terrible teaching them how to call their little girl an “asshole.” I didn’t want to over stay my welcome and figured out a polite way to depart after about 45 minutes.

After sketching outside with a sack lunch, I went with Raffaele to an old church built into a cave. The story explains that a monk who was trying to escape as well as save Christian icons form destruction by the Turks, hid the Madonna d’ Angelicas sculpture in the cave, which he made his home. Other monks joined him there, from both the Franciscan and Byzantine Orders. The story is told in frescos painted on the walls. Hundreds of years later, their cave home and the sculpture were found and, subsequently, a church was built extending outward from the grotto. It is now a holy place revered in the Basilicata region.

At several points during our visit, I got chill bumps. First, there is a massive 500 year old olive tree in front of the church. It was struck by lighting several years ago and appeared to by dying. imageThe rotund trunk was split in two and charcoaled. The leaves died and fell away. Then, new growth appeared, and slowly, the trunk began healing and growing together. It is now thick with foliage although the truck is largely hollow, as you can see in this picture.

Also fascinating, were the sea shells lining the walls of the cave. They are perfectly preserved in the silt mountain walls as a reminder of the geological formation of this area. A lack of funds, as mentioned in a previous post about the Noepoli Catholic Church stalled excavation, keeps these treasures relatively unknown (from people outside the areas) and the absolute lack of tourists makes me understand that I am on a rare and special tour with my host, Raffaele.

One of the more revealing moments was not about the church, or it’s treasures, but about the people caring for the church. Years ago, the priest gave the responsibility of the church keys to a man named Mario, who was coping with grief over losing his two sons and wife, all in a short period of time. The priest gave Mario an important job as a way of redirecting his mind and thoughts. When we arrived, Mario was in a state of high agitation, as he had loaned the keys to two women who were preparing the church for a wedding anniversary event. When the women did not return the keys when promised, it was clearly difficult for Mario, and when they arrived with the keys, he gave them a full five minute chewing out. Once that was over, he kindly proceed to give me a thorough and impassioned tour and was generous with his time.image

After returning to Palazzo Rinaldi, the residents and I prepared a final dinner before their Monday departure. The terrace was windy so we ate in the studio with the doors wide open. During this week together I have learned about the credentials, work, and achievements of these talented women. They are accomplished and have risen to the top of their fields in their countries of origin, and beyond. Listening to them discuss their experiences and ideas was an education in itself and I am grateful to have spent time with them both.

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Small Moments, Big Discoveries

What a wonderful series of small and big moments this evening. First, Raffaele knew that I wanted some tomatoes and he quickly came to get me when he spotted the fruit and veg truck driving around the village. He escorted me to the truck so he could negotiate the total price. Certainly something I could not have handled on my own with my 10 Italian words!

Afterward, I came back to the studio to download photos for sketches and was distracted by the gloriously ominous sky. imageAlong came Pina to tell Cecelia and I that she noticed a girl with keys opening the Catholic Church. imageShe asked the young woman if we could come see it and took us in (it is next door to our house). She and Raffaele gave us a tour pointing out all the old art and history. I am really getting into this old stuff and am kinda freaking out right now. First, here is a cross, carved entirely in wood of Christ from the early 13th Century. There are veins and hairs represented which means this cross was made by one of the finest artist for a very wealthy patron and church.imageimage Then, we walked back and check out the back right wall – partially excavated revealing Corinthian columns and frescos painted in the early 15h century. imageThe town has run out of funds to continue the excavation, so here is stands, as is. Next, we go to a little back room and Raphael points out a small baptismal basin from the time of Charlmagne!!!!!! Can you see it behind the plastic Jesus?  There it sits, unprotected.

When we returned to the house, Raffaele was ahead of us and poked his head back out the front door, saying hurry, you’ve got to see this! I was thinking about the treasures in the church as I followed Cecelia, Pina and Raffaele through the house to the balcony. And then this happened. Whoa.

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(Left photo is the view from the studio) After a lovely dinner with the Danish artist, Cecelia, I slept for more consecutive hours that I have during the trip, so today, I’ve felt more energetic and ready to tackle lots of work and sketching time in the town. After breakfast, I walked down from the top of the mountain to look for the little grocery store. Though the shelves were miscellaneous and sparse, I was able to find what I needed (I somehow lost my comb and the store owner suggested this “Afro” comb for my hair – perfecto!) imageThe owner talked and talked to me even though I repeatedly answered, non capisco, scusi! He was so sweet and I think determined for me to learn Italian while shopping in his store. He also insisted that I take a newspaper for free to keep as a momento from my time in the area.image image image image image






(the photos above show the red doors to the secret escape passage, me with the massive front door key of Palazzo Rinaldi, the sign for the store, the store front, and a group of men who asked me to take their picture)

The village does not receive many tourists or people from other places and as I walk down the street, people come up and introduce themselves, or hug me, or invite me in to their homes for a visit or a snack. I was shocked to just meet a woman with her daughter here visiting from New Jersey! She grew up in Noepoli and comes back to visit each summer. Before my errand, Pina showed us a secret passage the Duke or Lord of the area would use to get from the castle to a nearby town which could be used as an escape route if the castle was invaded. After my outing and some time in the studio, Raffaele showed me his copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy. It was published by the famous French illustrator, Gustave Dore and is one of a few original printings. Many book collectors have tried to buy it over the years but Raffaele keeps in under lock and key and will not part with his treasure.image

I’ve been sketching all afternoon and am content. However, there is a longing for my family that persists. It is one of those odd inversions of the human heart – some of us want space and independence and adventure and when we get it, we want home and family and familiarity. It does not stop me from savoring and enjoying my time here but seems worth acknowledging.

There is time to think, time to study, time to listen and time to look. These are times I rarely experience at home. In addition to the food, the history, the scenery, the art, the people, the monuments and artifacts, perhaps what I came here to experience is simply time.

First Impressions, Settling In

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 imagevillage 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!imageimage 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”! image imageI moved a few pieces to to the line outside to help them dry this morning but hesitated to hang out all my underwear! imageI 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! imageWe 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? image 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.image 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!