Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Come profondo il mare: a painting holiday in Orvieto, written by David Paskett

Come profondo il mare - how deep the sea - it sounds better in Italian!
'Towards San Giovenale' by David Paskett
This song has been rattling through my head and I hear this week, in Italy, that it's composer Lucio Dalla, known in the UK for his song, Caruso, died recently. I am chewing over variations on his theme - how crisp the pizza, how delectable the gelato, how wet the acquerello, how dark the clouds?!
During our week in and around Orvieto, it was a perfect opportunity for the Authentic Adventures watercolour group to experience the technique of painting 'wet into wet'. However, rain only 'stopped play' on a few occasions and, un-phased by the weather, my merry band of thirteen artists worked under umbrellas and market awnings, sheltered in loggias or retreated to museums, churches and wooded thickets until the sun reappeared. One such occasion was the morning of market day, ear marked for some concerted drawing on the street. I have an image of Primrose dragging a plastic fruit crate through the puddles to seat herself in the shelter of an archway. That lunchtime we retreated to the hotel for some mono printing while others sat in the elegant Baroque Church of San Agostino converted into a sculpture court to house rows of dynamic white market 17th century statuary which became our subject matter for the afternoon, then shared a visit to admire the Signorelli frescoes in the cathedral.
The long road rising up to and in the Piazza del Popolo was the setting on the weekend of our arrival for the Palombella ceremonial pageant. Peter Falconer and I ran in front photographing the trumpeters, bowmen and drummers and flags carriers to the piazza where we all watched ceremonial displays, flag tossing and crossbowmanship until the sun went below the tiled roof tops. The streets were decorated with flowers and banners throughout our stay with 'infiorata' displays in the smaller piazzas.
Ricardo and I had toured the surrounding countryside in the previous days to find times of day when the magnificent vistas from surrounding hills back towards Orvieto, dominated by towers and the commanding Duomo, could be viewed to full advantage - the sort of views that medieval travellers and pilgrims would have had on their arrival.

The jagged Rocco Ripensa, a rock rising our of the rolling fields, was such a location on our first day out and must have once provided an ideal lookout and safe hiding place. I imagined Simone Martini or Bellini's Saint John The Baptist sitting by the caves beneath. A 14th or 15th century painter might have seen these incongruous rocks as a wilderness setting in contrast to the undulating fileds and hill towns that pepper the Umbrian landscape. One such small hill town, Civita di Bagnoregio, provided a unique viewing point at one end of a pathway that rose like a viaduct up to the open gateway of buildings stacked above us like an island in a wooded crater. As the sky darkened through the morning it loomed dramatically, like a vision from Gormenghast pointing, on our behalf, accusingly at the approaching rain clouds.
In the evenings, as part of our sharing of the days paintings, we looked at some images of Renaissance painters landscape backdrops from Biblical scenes. A strong front of rigorous drawing on the second day, interspersed with patches of sensitive painting, rocketed some on to a new level of image making, which influenced the weeks work and resulted in a fine end of week exhibition.
Inspired by the, characteristically Italian, gesticulating hands in the remarkable Signorelli frescoes decorating the Bracci Chapel in the Duomo, I offered a small reward for the most expressive hand drawing. The prize, presented by Simona, our host at the Grand Italia Hotel, was a ceramic fridge magnet of a red vespa - a reminder of my phrase of the week comparing the drawing process to Mohammed Ali's boxing bon mots, "move like a vespa (wasp) and sting like an ape (bee)"
Judy in Todi
The sun shone brightly on the last day for an excursion to Todi when the painters wasted little time in getting started on scenes around the flower stalls gathered in the Piazza at the foot of the Duomo steps. Garibaldi fiercely directing yellow fiats from his plinth into the parking lots delineated in a gentle shade of blue!

Ricardo & yellow Fiat
The Todi backdrop of creams, coffees, mustards, and pale foody colours of the architecture contrasted with the darker mushrooms of the Orvieto stone that turns from a Sickert-like range to ochres and oranges when the slanting sun of morning and evening lit up the buildings. The brightly coloured mosaics, statuary and carved stonework on the cathedral façade looked amazing at any time, whatever the weather and demanded ones attention. Before retiring to bed each day, I would stroll down and sit in front of it for a while, almost expecting it to start moving like a medieval drive in movie!
For my own part, my free day saw me converting drawing across table tops and fiats to the palazzo beyond into a setting for an annunciations based on Signorelli reproduction that I happened to have in my pocket. I also continued to draw into with it with raw umber, and white paint, chalk and pencil on folded and distressed Chinese paper, started as a demonstration copy of Mary surrounded by angelic putiti. The original, hanging among baroque sculptures, was the cartoon for a series of lost frescoes, drawn on to thin canvas with chalks. My annunciation was made up of pieces of paper stuck together as it grew beyond the edges of my drawing board, and I have an idea that it might end up with the ageing distressed look of a preparatory fresco sketch - we'll see! Watch this space for the Fiatitudes of Pasketti.
Hugh astounded us throughout the trip with his bold and lyrical trees. Linda came along to assist Ricardo and Cristiano with driving as we were sharing the holiday with a group of walkers.
David Paskett will be tutoring  painting holidays in 2014 - dates and locations to be confirmed. Be the first to hear about his forthcoming, and incredibly popular trips, by signing up to our monthly newsletter and joining us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/authenticadventuresholidays

Make sure you order our new brochure which will be ready, and sent to you, in the Autumn!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

By popular demand, two new dates for Cinque Terre, Italy in October!

Walking in Cinque Terre with Stefano Spinetti: 12th October
Painting in Cinque Terre with Brian Steventon: 12th October

Holidays to Cinque Terre have sold like hot cakes this year, so by popular demand we have added two new dates with two very popular guides! It’s no surprise – it’s one of our most romantic destinations, perched on the cliff edge are the five picturesque villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, high above the clear blue sea below. There are only a few roads, no cars or motorbikes, only trains to take you along the pretty coastal train track – it will take your breath away. Cheese, olive oil and wine tasting is not to be missed, or a train journey to Portofino perhaps? End the day with a cooling dip in the pool and some local Sciacchetrà wine. How tempting….
A giant sculpture of King Neptune in Monterosso



Hidden pathways and stunning views across the azure sea!

Fancy a leisurely ramble with our very own Italian climber Stefano Spinetti? He is an experienced and truly wonderful guide, his knowledge of history, flora, fauna and the delightful villages of the Cinque Terre is almost encyclopedic!  He has visited this region for years and you will get a real insight into the beauty and culture of this UNESCO Heritage site, he has even been known to recite poetry to weary walkers! Be prepared for a week of fun and camaraderie, evenings spent chatting and enjoying delicious pasta and wines, re-fuelling from a good days walking.

Walking grade 3+
Painting ‘en plein air’ on the Italian Ligurian coast – wonderful!

Cinque Terre has been inspiring artists and poets for centuries, and it continues to be a very popular destination for our painters. Brian Steventons trip, preceeding yours, is already sold out, so be quick to secure your place! He is a fabulous tutor with a relaxed and informal style, lots of fun and very informative, giving regular demonstrations on techniques. He will be in ‘full flow’ having taught a trip the week before and will be ready for your arrival! Pack vermillion, magenta and ochre in your hand luggage, although Brian will ring you before the trip to advise you on equipment, and the week ahead. We will provide boards and chairs for sketching and longer sittings.

Beautiful Riomaggiore




Monday, 10 June 2013

Quattro giorni a Bologna!

Four days in Bologna & Ferrara at the "Arte e Cultura in 100 citta Italiano" a cultural event promoting the Emilia-Romagna region. Sarah goes on a recce of the culinary delights of the region in preparation for our Cookery Holidays in 2014.

I'm sitting in a café in Via Voltecasotta in Ferrara on my last day here in Italy penning the beginnings of this blog. My order: caffe macchiato with a side shot of water, one sugar. Short, strong, and sweet - the way the Italians drink it. Often accompanied by a few cigarettes. It's their kick start to the day, often taken standing 'al bar'. They, of course, take their coffee very seriously.

Caffe macchiato con aqua
A woman in red caught my eye

I listen to the gentle hum of their beautiful language all around me, squashed in between strangers, their friends, colleagues and  tourists. Luckily for me I can understand (most) of what they are saying. I feel like a spy! Even if you were deaf you would be able to understand a good deal of what they were expressing. Italians talk with their hands, of course, brushing their chin in disapproval, twisting their finger into their cheeks, "buona" (yummy) and so on. Ferrara, city of bicyles, wheels turning everywhere you look, young and old, women in fur coats, young people ride whilst simultaneously talking on their telephones one handed, children perched on laps, old men ride slowly lent backwards. I must also mention the obvious glamour and style in which the Italians, male and female conduct themselves....I find myself suddenly eyeing up high heels and little black dresses - totally out of character! It is an innate part of the culture of this romantic nation, its sexuality oozing from every female, and the men strut with a vanity and arrogance unfamiliar to most modest British men.

It's a culture that we envy for its relaxed attitude, seemingly better quality of life, whilst of course understanding all its inefficiencies and shortcomings. The economy is in trouble, government in a mess, but life continues with all its important daily rituals. The wheels keep on turning. Bologna itself is famous for its 'Bolognese ragu', its towers and lengthy porticos, her beautiful university and the food.

The porticos for which Bologna is famed


Young and old ride bicycles everywhere

Representing Great Britain...!

Authentic Adventures were delighted to be invited to "Art and Culture in 100 Italian cities 2013", a cultural event promoting the Emilia Romagna region over four days. After completing the interesting, at times gruelling, five hour networking event with eighty five foreign delegates from all over the world (Koreans and Brazilians had made the trip....), we were treated to a city tour of Bologna, also known as 'La Grassa' or 'The fat one'! It seems fitting that, having studied Italian at Universita di Pisa, then as a tour guide to rival walking company (details not to be mentioned here!) that I return after five years absence. I could also mention that my family nickname is "gourmande" - that could be translated as "food lover with excellent palette" or more literally as "greedy". Italians also refer to Bologna as "la dotta" (the learned one) a reference to the oldest university in the world, founded in 1088. Friends of mine 'studied' there, a bit. The city is also known as "la rossa" not only for its red tiled roofs, but for its communist supporters.

We follow Tamara, our friendly guide, through the medieval streets of Bologna, past the busy Saturday food market, delighting in the array of produce and glamorous market stall owners! It seems the whole city has come to see and be seen in the streets and Piazza dell Nettuno. There is a huge student march in full flow, red flags, chanting and a curious 'moo-ing' sound coming from a gigantic life sized stuffed cow. I later discover it is in protest to meat eaters. We manage to side step the display of yet more passion, and hide in the quiet covered market with wonderful antique bookshops, an array of vintage posters and every conceivable kind of map. At the far end of the arcade we hear the light tinkle of music, and on close inspection find a group of young couples dancing to fifties swing. Just another Saturday afternoon in Bologna - it's a stirring sight, reminiscent of Italy post war perhaps? The Italians have to be some of the most sociable people in Europe, delighting in the evenings "passaggiata" - a display of fine clothes, good looking new girlfriend, new leather handbag, or new baby. A chance to catch up with friends
and relatives, enjoy a gelato after supper (yes, it seems Italians DO eat icecream regularly and still keep their figures...).

Piazza dell Nettuno is the central point in the city to which all other streets lead to and from. The bristling, muscly bronze figure of Neptune stands proudly surveying his people and the Town Hall nearby. Commissioned by Carlo Borromeo, Cardinal Legate of the city in 1563, his overt nudity caused a scandal, and folk-lore says that the council considered covering the offending parts with a lead 'sarong' - that obviously never happened, and his four maidens beneath further exemplify his prowess by water squirting from their breasts (until the nipples became chalked up.) We visit the 'Seven churches' rumoured to house the whipping post upon which Jesus Christ himself was tethered and thrashed, some wonderful adjoining monastic chambers and interconnecting chapels, linked by covered walkways made using mis-matching pieces of stone and whatever was to hand at the time. Santo Stefano and the basilica and Santo Domenico. Mosaics and patterns are inlaid into the walls as the communication of the time to pilgrims who could not read script.
A tailors gravestone

Torre Asinelli

Patterns and symbols are the writing of the day
 We have become a splinter group of around fifteen, in all shapes, sizes, ages and nationalities! Tamara leads us along a busy street (no cars allowed here at the weekends, a source of great controversy amongst the more traditional shop owners) towards Torre Asinelli. Another famous leaning tower, standing at ninety seven metres high, higher than the Duomo in Florence and the Leaning tower of Pisa itself (I have also clambered up this entirely unsafe antique!). During the 12th & 13th centuries there were one hundred and eighty towers in the city. Now, the two famous Bolognese towers remain, Asinelli and Garisenda. I feel claustrophobic and experience vertigo (through floorboards with holes) as does my Dutch colleague ahead of me, but we forge ahead, keen not to miss the experience. The views are stunning - from the safety of the back wall! Exhausted, but happy, the delegates are led to an atmospheric pizzeria, where we are greeted by four enthusiastic 'pizzaolo' (pizza throwers) - and they do not disappoint! I choose pizza Quattro formaggi and experience weird cheese dreams all night. I wake up with stomach ache and a feeling of not knowing exactly where I am - but the pizza was mouth-wateringly delicious. My Italian language is returning
with force and fluency and I take every opportunity to speak to Italians whilst making plenty of mistakes.
Fearing for my life...


Bologna would make a wonderful gastronomic city tour with its array of excellent restaurants, fantastic local produce and energetic city life. A vast array of special produce comes from this area and is grown in abundance due to the reliable climate; Parmeggiano Reggiano, aceto Balsamico (the good stuff), prosciutto from nearby Parma, mortadella, salami, and of course pasta, vino rosso, olives and olive oil. There are 230 'traditional products' alone in this region, and 33 with special PDO and PGI government protective ratings. Good local wines (sampled) include Sangiovese di Romagna and Lambrusco di Modena and Reggio Emilia. Favourite food memory: Cappellaci di zucca al burro e salvia - little pockets of hand made pasta (bright yellow and soft) filled with butternut squash with a butter and sage sauce. A sprinkling of parmesan cheese to top it off.

Prosciutto e parmiggiano
Even the market vendors seem stylish!
"It is obligatory to drink in this pub"

The following day we head to Ferrara, about an hour away. Our pretty guide, Roberta, is Ferrarese and speaks passionately about "her city", the city of bicycles. First stop, therefore, should be the bicycle rentals, where I choose a very tired looking light blue number - but 'she' has a basket AND a bell (others do not!). This turns out to be a good choice, as the streets of Ferrara are busy and the bell comes in handy. The bike stand falls off the moment I start pedalling, but nevermind....Ferrara is situated on the Po river and dominated by the friendly Castello Estense and her lovely moat built in 1385.
Nearby the Romanesque cathedral stands alongside City Hall, the three large buildings guarding this friendly city. We weave our way through the streets, we are not as adept as the locals and there are raised fists from the local mamma's trying to carry their shopping home, "Attenzione bicicletta!" It is a delightful way to see the city, and much faster than on foot - we cycle around the whole outer limit of the medieval city walls through lush green grassland where joggers take their Sunday morning run. Ferrarese boast that these walls are the best preserved Renaissance walls in Italy along with Lucca - very magical indeed. Pretty soon we arrive at the Palazzo degli Diamante (diamond studded marble on the outside catching the light at different times of the day) to see an exhibition by local Ferrarese film maker Michelangelo Antonioni - famed for his film, "Blow Up" - the 1960's classic. I hide in the shop, and the others cycle away without me to the Jewish Museum! Luckily Roberta returns to find me and we cycle at a leisurely pace through the back streets and short cuts chatting in pigeon Italian and laughing. The Jewish were separated from the rest of the community from 1627 until 1859 and the museum is in the heart of the ghetto.
A sunny day for cycling

We cycle around the medieval city walls

Bikes returned, apology for bike stand made, we are set free to wander the streets of Ferrara in the early evening light. To my total delight, there is a huge flea market covering the whole of Piazza Trento Trieste and beyond!! I spend three hours wandering around people watching and rummaging through jewellery, antiques, old postcards etc. etc. I buy a vintage King Kong poster for my eldest son, and a new pair of sunglasses which provide me with a new Italian disguise. I could be a local couldn't I? No-one would ever know.....

Authentic Adventures launch Cookery Holidays in 2014 - first location will be in Puglia, Southern Italy. Please keep following us via our monthly newsletters and on Facebook for information about forthcoming trips, news and competitions! www.facebook.com/authenticadventuresholidays