Roma!

Images from our five days in Rome, with a one-day side trip to Pompeii. 

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Overlooking the gorgeous River Tiber in Roma.  

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On our way to the Vatican. 

On our way to the Vatican. 

Michelangelo’s Pieta at St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Michelangelo’s Pieta at St. Peter’s Basilica. 

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The  Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) is in the Piazza Navona in Rome, near where we stayed. It was designed in 1651 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Pope Innocent X and represents the four major rivers of the four continents through which papal authority had spread, according to Wikipedia. They are the Nile, representing Africa, the Danube, representing Europe, the Ganges, representing Asia, and the Río de la Plata, representing the Americas.

The Coliseum—wowza. 

The Coliseum—wowza. 

Lunch—and wine tasting—at the Bosco de Medici Winery in Pompeii. 

Lunch—and wine tasting—at the Bosco de Medici Winery in Pompeii. 

Firenze!

Photos from our three days in the spectacular city of Florence, Italy. 

 

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The Duomo in Firenze—formally Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers. 

The view from our hotel. 

The view from our hotel. 

Michelangelo’s David is as impressive as it’s said to be. 

Michelangelo’s David is as impressive as it’s said to be. 

The beautiful Ponte Vecchio.

The beautiful Ponte Vecchio.

Overlooking the Arno River. 

Overlooking the Arno River. 

A Botticelli at the Uffizi Gallery. 

A Botticelli at the Uffizi Gallery. 

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Saying goodbye to Italy

On the train from Barcelona to Madrid! It has been a whirlwind ten days since I left Lucca and all the wonderful women on our retreat. We had such fun writing and painting and visiting so many wonderful places in Tuscany. We’ll forever be grateful to Karolina Lenart, her husband, Dawid, and all the people who made our ten days at Casa Fiori so magical.

I met Rob in Florence after leaving Lucca, and we have been on a fabulous journey of seeing extraordinary art and experiencing local foods and customs in Italy. After Florence we took the train to Rome, where we had five days, which hardly seemed enough, especially with a side trip to Pompei. (Photos to come.)

Then it was on to Barcelona to visit our friends Janis and Bengt, who are spending two years there. We saw every sight there was to see, it seemed, ate too well (and too much), and capped our three days together with a rousing flamenco concert.  

The last few days in Tuscany also were a blur of activity, with visits to the Town of Fine Towers, San Gimignano, a biodynamically farmed vineyard and winery, and the coastal town of Portovenere.  The views and monuments in Portovenere are stunning (well, everything is stunning in Tuscany). On our final evening at Casa Fiori, we celebrated by tasting our limoncello and sharing our writing and painting. I actually painted some still lifes and a landscape (see below). 

More soon from Madrid!

San Gimignano, the Town of Fine Towers. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it boasted 84 towers at one time. Eighteen still exist.  

San Gimignano, the Town of Fine Towers. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it boasted 84 towers at one time. Eighteen still exist.  

Kathleen Barry and I found a sweet little restaurant down this narrow street in San Gimignano.

Kathleen Barry and I found a sweet little restaurant down this narrow street in San Gimignano.

Portovenere!

Portovenere!

Church and grotto at Portovenere. Lord Byron is said to have swum in the ocean from the grotto. 

Church and grotto at Portovenere. Lord Byron is said to have swum in the ocean from the grotto. 

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Windy! Portovenere is just south of the villages of Cinque Terra. 

Windy! Portovenere is just south of the villages of Cinque Terra. 

The altar inside the church at Portovenere. 

The altar inside the church at Portovenere. 

My first watercolors, with thanks to the excellent teaching of my colleague-in-crime Helena Hill. (Remember the tree tower in Lucca?).

My first watercolors, with thanks to the excellent teaching of my colleague-in-crime Helena Hill. (Remember the tree tower in Lucca?).

Enjoying the fruits of our labors. 

Enjoying the fruits of our labors. 

Kathleen with the limoncello we made. 

Kathleen with the limoncello we made. 

Helena, right, and Patricia assess our paintings. 

Helena, right, and Patricia assess our paintings. 

Lucca–Impressions, Day 5

Piazza dell' Anfiteatro, the Roman coliseum in Lucca

Piazza dell' Anfiteatro, the Roman coliseum in Lucca

Flowers prepared for the festival of Sant Zita.

Flowers prepared for the festival of Sant Zita.

There are a surprising number of cani (dogs) here in Lucca—lots of purse dogs and small dogs carried in people’s arms. Today is the Sant Zita Flower Festival, and there are thousands of people wandering the narrow streets. As the story goes, Zita was a housemaid in a wealthy household who, despite it being against the rules, smuggled leftover bread out in her apron at night to feed the poor. One night the police stopped her and asked what she held in her apron. She said flowers. When they made her open her apron, it was indeed flowers—a miracle. Thus she was made a saint.

We had lunch at the restaurant L’isola che non c’era (the island that wasn’t there) and I opted for a salad nicoise after four days of pasta. I have never eaten so much in my life—honestly! Every meal has at least three courses, and often five or more. Tonight we attend a Puccini concert in one of the cathedrals, followed by an eight-course dinner at La Norma, our host Karolina’s favorite restaurant.

Puccini, who was born in Lucca in the mid-1800s, was a brilliant composer (“La Boheme,” “Madama  Butterfly”). But he was also a braggadocio fashionista who flaunted his wealth and angered people in his hometown. After he took up with a married woman, Puccini was driven off. At least that’s the story our guide, Paola, told us during our walking tour.

Puccini if he were alive today, as envisioned by a street artist.

Puccini if he were alive today, as envisioned by a street artist.

Luca has a long and storied history that stretches back thousands of years. It is been continuously occupied since its founding and you can still plainly see remnants of the original Roman walls built around the early city. Today the walls reflect those built in the Medieval years, while the modern city of Lucas stretches beyond them. The city was at one time the capital of the Silk Road, and when Napoleon conquered Italy, instead of destroying Lucca, he gave it to his sister, Elisa, so she could be a princess. She did many good things for Lucca, Paola explained, including building an aqueduct to bring water into the city. But she also did bad things, Paola said, notably razing an old cathedral in front of her palace because it interfered with her view. An annual music festival is held in July on the site, which this year features Elton John and Sting, among others.

There are a number of towers in Lucca, and in the Middle Ages the higher your tower, the more money and power you had. The most famous tower—Torre Guinigi—was built by the Guinigi family, which planted trees on top (which are still there), to make their tower appear even higher than it was.

Next up: a visit to San Gimignano, the historic Town of Fine Towers. 

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Torre Guinigi

Lucca —Day 3: Painting our Ceramic Plates

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What an extraordinary day! We took our prepared plates to the studio and home of the ceramicist Katinka Kielstra, where she and her husband, Robert, greeted us with coffee and Prosecco, and Katinka helped us glaze them. I have never drawn or painted, but I have to say it was a magnificent experience. Some of the women, as you see above, were exceptional artists, but all the plates turned out to be quite beautiful.

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After a scrumptious lunch of homemade lasagna prepared by Katinka, we walked up the hill a short ways to the olivewood studio of Stefano Geminani, who demonstrated how he creates olive bowls and other beautiful pieces on his hundred-year-old wood-carving machines. It takes a minimum of 15 years to produce an olive wood bowl, because it takes that long for the wood to season. Sadly, his daughters have no interest in carrying on his craft, and he is forbidden from hiring or teaching anyone else the skill because his ancient machines have no safety equipment. When Stefano retires or dies, another tradesman of the old craft will be gone forever with no one to take his place.

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As we walked back to Katinka’s, I was struck by the vision of the hills that hold these beautiful orchards and groves. They are stunning in their variations of color and depth—punctuated by bright red poppies and other colorful flowers; the wisteria especially was extraordinary.

Back at Casa Fiori, Karolina prepared another delicious dinner with wine, and limoncello for dessert, of course. On Wednesday, Katinka will bring us our fired plates to bring home. Tomorrow, a day at the market in Lucca. 


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Walking through the olive orchard at Il Gallo

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Helena with the bowl Stefano carved

Helena with the bowl Stefano carved

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Casa Fiori, Lucca, Italia—Day 2

The entrance to Casa Fiori

The entrance to Casa Fiori

We spent this morning writing and talking about creativity and Julia Cameron’s wonderful book, The Artist’s Way. After lunch we designed our ceramic plates, with Helena’s expert advice. Tomorrow we will visit a local ceramicist’s studio to paint them, then Katinka will fire them so we can take them home at the end of our retreat. 

Limoncello

Limoncello

We also made traditional limoncello, a potent liqueur made from lemons (recipe below). It will “cook” for nine days and we will toast with it on our last evening here.  

The architecture and landscapes in this part of Tuscany are stunning—everywhere you look something extraordinary draws your eye: centuries-old villas, olive groves, soaring cathedrals with columns, statues, and murals. 

Casa Fiori Chef and manager Karolina Lenart’s food is exquisite Italian—simple, organic, and delicioso. My only “complaint” is there is too much of it. Every meal consists of at least four courses—appetizers, primi, secondi, and salade. If you count dessert, it’s five. 

Limoncello

Zest of eight lemons (do not grate the lemon peel; use a knife to slice the rind, being careful not to cut into the white pith) 

1 liter grain alcohol (or vodka)

Place in an airtight jar at room temperature for at least eight or nine days (if using vodka, at least three weeks) 

Add 1 liter water and 250 to 270 grams sugar (about one cup)

Freeze

Enjoy! 

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Designing our plates

My writing and painting journal  

My writing and painting journal  

A beautiful old dovecote

A beautiful old dovecote

Lunch!  (first course)

Lunch!  (first course)

Karolina with our afternoon spritzers  

Karolina with our afternoon spritzers