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.
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.
More 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. After 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. The 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.
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.