I know this is a blog about cities- but I want to diverge briefly and write about a whole country. I did say that this was going to be an overly ambitious urbanism blog from the get go didn’t I?
What is the Italian equivalent of a Francophile? An Italian-ophile? Is there any such term? I’m not sure. For now let me tell you a story about how much I love Italy. First of all I loved Italy long before I had ever even been there.
I loved it through the dusty blue and white picture of Venice that hung in our living room in the 50’s fibro house where I grew up. I wondered how a city could meld with the water so convincingly- so differently from the harbour city I knew dotted with its coves and impenetrable cliffs. I loved it through the stories of my Mother and Father, who eloped and were married in St Peter’s Basilica in 1986, the year the Challenger went down, the year the UN designated as the International Year of Peace.
Italy became a country that was embedded in our family mythology- not just the birthplace of the Catholic Church but of our own little gene pool. I loved Italy through the mini Pieta that sat on my father’s bookshelf, through the Virgin’s face, through the hand that said ‘look, here is my son’ to the entire world. Later I learnt that Michelangelo had smoothed the wrinkles from her face and sculpted her young, against contemporary convention and biblical logic. I loved Italy even more when I started to love cooking, when I came to understand flavour and simplicity and ‘temple food’- and the moments of quiet standing at the stove simmering.
I loved Italy when I came to study Art History at University, some 500 odd years of Western tradition dominated by the workshops of Florence, Venice, Rome, Sienna and Bologna. Our class sat on the cusp of the transition from slide to digital but even well into the 21st Century the institution I attended clung to such traditions. Only in first year were we treated to a lecture using slides. In the dark, the mechanical rolling of the changing images was mesmerising. Granted, I wasn’t always listening intently to the professor, and my mind wandered just as I’m sure trecento pilgram’s minds would have wandered standing under a Giotto ceiling- across the angular faces and elongated hands to my own hands and the lines and marks I might make myself- on my page, on my life, on the people around me….
And then almost two years ago I went to Italy with my parter. It was the last country of a long journey together. We flew into Rome, jumped into a taxi complete with a handsome young Italian driver, arrived at our accommodation in the dead of night, exchanged whispered “Bongiorno”, glimpsed red bedspreads, stone walls. Again, the quiet. When morning came we entered the breakfast room to the sound of a young Australian chef and a 60 year old Napoli woman bantering about bread. Light streaming into windows that looked out on a large interior courtyard. Crooning pigeons.
What happened over the next few weeks was fairly incredible. Italy exceeded all my expectations, and that is surprising in itself because my expectations were very high. But it also opened some floodgates in me. I drew and wrote more in my short time in Italy then I ever have in my life- bar only the last minute scrape to the finish line trying to complete my HSC Visual Arts Body of Work.
Since coming home life picked up around me and swept on, leaving little to no time for such pursuits. I’d dearly like that to change and I’ll write a bit about what I am trying to do to make those changes over the coming weeks.
I have often looked back and wondered what it was about the country, the people, the built and natural environment that so emphatically dissolved my artistic inhibitions as well as all the unwritten boundaries I had invented for myself around drawing and writing. Like when you can do it/what it should look like/what materials you should use/what music you should listen to and most importantly: What will everyone think of it! I just let go of all that. A big part of it was not having the luxury of picking and choosing where you could something and when. I drew in cafes, in courtyards, on trains, in bed, on the floor, on church steps. I drew from life, from memory and from the back of the camera looking back over the shots of the day. And let me say this: If you think a photograph is a great way to remember a place in all it’s rich layered detail…definitely try drawing it.
So reading over what I have just written perhaps I have answered my own questions about the ‘I’ factor (‘I’ could stand for Italy, Inspiration or just be a new way to look at the first person pronoun). Visiting or revisiting any place that plays an important part in your own mythology becomes a pilgrimage of sorts- one that is bound to inspire you to the core of your being. Where do you get your ‘I’ factor?
A/N Two things in particular inspired this post.
- Looking at my friend Natalie’s pictures of her recent trip to Italy. Pangs of jealousy coupled by our inability to produce photos like this on our crappy 2mpxl point and shoot have prompted me to include them here.
- Re-reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet which I discovered online here just the other day, many of which are penned from Italy where Rilke sought solitude and respite in order to write. And definitely a bit of the ‘I’ factor.
Til next time,