If it’s Tuesday, it must be Italy

Back in the 1970’s I saw a hilarious film about a group of American tourists traveling abroad in Europe called, “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium.”  It was clearly satirical, mocking a type of travel where the aim is to visit a number of countries in a week, and cram as much as possible into a short itinerary. Collecting snapshots was more important than actually seeing sights, and cringe-worthy antics ensued throughout this silly film, including thefts of towels and toilet seats.  One tourist was left behind, while another got mixed up with a group of Japanese tourists.  If, understandably, the European view of the “ugly American” tourist  remains, my hope as a traveler is to offer a more positive perception. For me this means making attempts to communicate in the native language of the country in which I am a guest, as  well as to take time to engage with local inhabitants of the places I visit.  Having a sketchbook and art materials in hand has helped a lot to bridge the foreign gap, for I have found that wherever I am sketching, people gravitate towards me in a friendly and curious way. Indeed, art -making is universal, and whether it evokes “oohs and ahs” or head-shaking (young Italian children) people are inclined to respond to it.

As the leader of another art group to Italy in September of 2014, I am particularly focused on cultivating the role of reverent participant within the communities we visit.  How? By encouraging students to slow down, sit in one place for awhile, and focus on one detail to sketch or paint. In sketching a particular wall, fountain or lamp post, one’s senses will be ignited by the fragrant smells of coffee, flowers, baking bread, or the musical sound of the ebb and flow of surrounding conversations. Indeed, as morning turns to noon in any small town piazza, the  crescendo of voices and activities is a remarkable thing to experience. Inevitably passersby will stop to offer comments or to start up a conversation when one has a sketchbook in hand, and locals typically express pleasure when they notice that a visitor is quietly taking time to observe the beauty of their town or village.

But what about the missed sights of a particular area?  It is true that there are limits to staying in one location. However, the trade-off is “depth over breadth,” and as I have noted, by slowing down, one is more likely to  engage with and actually SEE the place and it’s people.

Back at our monastery home of La Romita, we can continue our slow and reverent pace, working quietly in the studio to develop the sketches or paintings done in the field, and to write about our experiences.  As we become settled, it becomes clear that one need never leave La Romita to have a full, delightful, authentic experience of  Umbria. Whether enjoying the local, healthy cuisine in the dining hall,  noticing museum quality paintings and artifacts in the studio, walking among ancient olive orchards or painting the lovely flower-filled gardens,  there is much to delight and engage all the senses.

Breathe. Sit. Observe. Write. Paint. Draw.  Through slowing down we learn to see, and wherever we are, we become in tune with the heart and soul of Umbria.

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