Monday, 12 September 2016

Bella Italia!

Hello dear friends!  I'm back, and what an amazing holiday it was.  When I die, I want to go to Italy.

Painting in Italy is a company that arranges high-end painting holidays in, well, Italy.  The hotels they chose are absolutely amazing, and La Ghirlanda was no exception.  It's a former shooting lodge in the heart of Umbria, owned by the Count of Benedettoni Pongelli (that almost certainly is misspelled).   It's one of the very best hotels I've ever stayed at, and I've stayed in some mighty good ones.  The setting was heartstoppingly beautiful, and the food was to die for.  And the service was terrific: unobtrusive, attentive, and highly professional.

Here's the view from the terrace.  There was a swimming pool beneath.

Here's a view from the terrace where we had dinner in the evenings;

 Another view from the terrace.

Very imperfectly rendered by me in charcoal!

We would paint all morning, and then on occasion visit neighbouring villages in the afternoon.  Our tutor, Fiona Graham-Mackay, was utterly brilliant.  She is an incredibly distinguished painter: she's done portraits of Prince Michael of Kent, and (for me far more impressive) of the poets Seamus Heaney and Lemn Sissay.  She gave a wonderful talk about her interactions with the last two while she was painting them--I was spellbound.  She is an outstanding tutor: always there to provide encouragement to stretch out boundaries, always professional and kind.  I very much hope that we keep in touch.
Here she is with one of my colleagues, now friends.  Neville is a physicist who lives in Belfast.

And here are Pat and Mike, a retired accountant from Newcastle.  All of my colleagues were absolutely lovely, and so incredibly helpful with painting advice, helping me put up my easel, and that sort of thing Pat was doing cooking lessons with the Contessa, and had some wonderful stories to tell.  Another colleague was Jill, who's worked in banking. This sort of holiday attracts such interesting people...I love my poets and artist: they really are my tribe.

One afternoon we went to Todi, a beautiful village across the valley, and I burned a candle for those I've loved and lost, for Jonathan and for my family members.

And then we all went for ice-cream!  It was on the square, and right in front was a barber shop.  People-watching is the very best thing ever.

Here's lovely Fiona with a visiting dog, whom we learned later is called Francesco.  He was a sweetie: friendly, raffish, and not at all intrusive.

We also visited a vineyard in Montefalco! This was arranged by Sheila, who runs Painting in Italy.  She and I had talked about my vineyard, and originally I was the only one going, but then my friends said they'd like to come to. So they did, and it was great.  The owner, Albertino, was young and charming, and it was great to talk to him about the advantages of double or single Guyot pruning.  The vineyard was utterly beautiful, all golden lushness: in tones of green and gold and purple.

We almost always ate in the hotel, where the food was utterly divine (I am now on a VERY SEVERE diet! Desperate measures are called for.)  But in Montefalco we were taken to a restaurant. There's a lot of Fat Duckery about, in Italy as well as here.  I find that in establishments of this type, performance takes precedence over the enjoyment of diners, with constant tedious riffs about what we were about to eat.   The (rather officious and pompous) waiter recommended one of the day's specials, which was...meatloaf, with ginger and lemon sauce.  So a few of us thought that might be fun, and this is what appeared:

I have never photographed my food, but they say there's a first time for everything, so I did.  I'm afraid we dissolved into helpless shrieks of laughter...May the Lord preserve me from ironic postmodern restaurants.  The staff were not best pleased, since the whole restaurant was weeping in laugher...and indeed it must be frustrating to have your offering greeted with widespread
derision, but hey: they had it coming.  I wondered at one point if this was a culinary metaphor giving the Finger to clients...  At least there weren't little carrot balls at the base!

We then returned to the hotel to this view from the terrace:

 And here's an interior view.

On Friday evening, after dinner, we walked in to the village, where a jazz concert was taking place in the small central piazza.  Saragano is built in golden stone, and fortunately wasn't affected by the recent earthquake in Umbria, though throughout the region there were many cancellations.  The air was balmy, and the vibe--and the combo--was good.  So we all danced in the moonlight (of course I kicked off my shoes).  And then--the Devil made me do it--I went up to the keyboard player and asked if I could sing a number with him.  When I was Head of English at Glasgow, when colleagues (charming though they were and are) were driving me nuts, one of the ways I dealt with it was by having jazz singing lessons.  I think initially the keyboard player thought, Oh God, but then he asked me which key, and I smiled and said, 'Key of A.' I think that reassured him that maybe I'd done this a time or two before.  And then I sang 'Summertime,' a tune which I absolutely love.  People danced! Brits, Italian, everyone, and it was slow and smoochy.  At the end I  I got a rousing round of applause, and my friends and I went on to dance until the wee hours.  Magical, and a night I shall never forget.

The following day, Saturday, we'd been invited to sketch in the gardens of the tower where the Count and Contessa live (they were away).   Here's the place I found to draw.

And here's a view of the tower.

And here is a very majestic ginger tom.  I think there will have to be a poem titled 'Gatto Italiano.'
Perhaps Leo, my neighbours' gorgeous cat, has been reincarnated in Italy as a Count's Cat.

And here I am the Morning After.

I'll leave you with a pastel I did of the view from the terrace.
What an utterly fantastic holiday...I miss Saragano.  But it's good to be back.

Have a lovely week, dear friends.  I may post more images of my Immortal Art over the coming days!

love, Susan xx

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