Monday, June 02, 2008

Things You Might See in Italy

Click through the images to take a look, or scroll a little further down for an old-fashioned style reading about our trip.

As a preschool teacher, you wouldn't expect your job to ask that you attend a study group in Italy for a week, but Alex jumped at the opportunity when it happened. I jumped at the opportunity to tag along. We stayed in a small city in the northern region between Bologna and Milan. Since it was for just a week, I wanted to see as much as I could, so I stuck to a tiny sketchbook and inks.

The Kit: Fabriano Journal, a large charcoal holder I bought in Rome last year. I use it to hold a pocket Isabey sable brush (the holder along with the tape wrapped around the brush handle prevents me from over-gripping.... tendinitis slowly creeping in). Staedtler pigment liner for writing, as well as quick sketches when setting up an ink well is more of a hassle.

Getting There

We had a lot of layovers in both directions. On the way there, we had a couple hours in Vancouver, where you can find the best airport you're likely to ever see, and then an afternoon and overnighter in London. Not much to show from either place, I was doing a lot more writing on this trip.

The next day involved a seven hour layover in Frankfurt, technically our first time in Germany. We stowed our luggage and took a small daytrip into the historic parts of the city. I sketched locals, ate a frankfurter with sauerkraut, and drank a large stein of beer, naturally.

Then it was off to Italy. After two days of being in transit I was getting a little grumpy, but this African fellow and his friend sitting nearby in our train car spoke in heavily fragmented English about the kinds of things you'd normally choose to talk about in your native language - like the pursuit of happiness. The quiet yet reassuring manner in which he spoke about his beliefs was inspiring, and along with the view of dusk slowly cloaking the Italian countryside, I cheered up.

Home for a Week

We reached our town and caught a cab to where we were staying: a monastery turned school turned hostel. A perfect combination of coziness with monk-like minimalist living space, a large open courtyard, towering archways, and an aging church bell tower next door.

Despite the long day of travel, we spent three hours wandering the neighborhood. The timing of our arrival turned out to be perfect, as we showed up on the evening of "Notte Bianca", or "White Night." Throughout the whole night, families, friends, high school kids, and couples all come together to walk the town, hear live music, and browse shops with no real purpose but to just enjoy being out on a warm summer evening. We went to bed at around midnight, and as we awoke to the chime of the church bell each hour, we could still hear people walking about. I can't think of a better way to become acquainted with a new place.

The family that runs the hostel has a few young cats that wander about. One of them bore a strikingly similar resemblance to my cat Raven whom, as you can tell from one of the first sketches here, I was already missing. So against my better judgment as well as a strict order from Alex, I let this one hang out in our room during my afternoon rests.

But upon realizing our sudden allergy attacks whenever we entered our room was due to the amount of time Raventini spent in the lush green courtyard downstairs, we put a stop to the visits. Besides, I got an email from our close friend house-sitting for us, who said the real Raven missed us terribly, slept on our bed instead of the one our friend was sleeping in, and stayed in my studio all day, and that made having a stand-in kitty feel like cheating.

I spent most of my days wandering the town and I got to know it well. Alex and I enjoy the more immersed style of travelling as opposed to fly-by photoshoot travelling, so we had our favorite piazza, our favorite restaurant, our local morning coffee spot and so on. The slower pace here definitely catered to our style of travel!

It's amazing how much one scene can change throughout a day. This pedestrian street is lined with flea market tents during the early part of the day, empties out, then becomes outdoor seating for a restaurant in the evening, and by night it's a sheen of cigarette smoke under which you can make out the shapes of trendy twenty-somethings at a cafe bumping pop and techno beats.

We also rented bicycles. It's probably the best way to see this place. Unfortunately, there weren't many options at the rental.

I managed to take a couple day trips by myself while Alex was attending her study group sessions. It was kind of scary to explore a non-English speaking country by myself for the first time, especially considering there weren't too many tourists in the area, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly.


My first trip was for just a few hours at a nearby city, Parma. They're known for their prosciutto, or Parma Ham. Our friend recommended I try it, saying having it for the first time was like taking a bite into a gourmet cheeseburger after eating McDonald's your whole life. I don't know if I had the best the city could possibly offer, but yeah, it was pretty fantastic.

I met up with Alex later on to tour a balsamic vinegar producer, tasting samples from a bottle aged 25 years. We also visited an old castle in the hills. For dinner? More Parma Ham.


The second day trip was a three hour ride to Venice, the city of cities to have fun getting lost in. I only had nine hours there, but it was enough time to fall absolutely in love with the place. I alternated between navigating the empty shoulder width alleyways, snacking along the Grand Canal under large hallways, and braving the masses in St. Mark's Square. No gondola rides or even the water bus - maybe when Alex and I can visit together.

Mothers picking up their children after school, but having a chat first while the kids ran around, playing in the piazza.

Venice lingers long after you leave, it clings to you, its smells and sounds. It makes everything else beautiful too, and you stare out your train window where the vast shapes of fields, with its speckling of red poppies, cypresses and forgotten roads all roll by, soft and fleeting, like a kiss goodnight.

One of the girls at the hostel loved Alex's backpacker's umbrella. Nope, it wasn't raining. She also loved rummaging through my tiny cigar pochade box. It was pretty funny to see how easily amused she was.

There were some American dudes at the bar during a short layover in Frankfurt. They were Sweet Bros (dudes that say "Sweet, Bro", like, all the time), so I drew them the way Scott Campbell might, because a lot of his characters talk Sweet Bro-ish.

Hope you enjoyed the trip. You can view the images in a slideshow without having to click-enlarge over at my Flickr page. Ciao!


Tom Scholes said...

:O Awesome art overload !!!

Dori Melton said...

I did really enjoy the trip. Hey, I was introduced to your art at my gym, Ironworks. Although I don't climb, I'm a member because they have great yoga classes and I like the vibe there. Your show was really inspirational. I love seeing the Bay Area through your drawrings. I was at my favorite dog park, Pt. Isabel, today thinking that it would be a great place to make art. Thanks again, Dori

Antony Bridge said...

you are a master at drawing. love the work

Antony Bridge said...

you are a master at drawing. love the work

Julien alday said...

This post made my day ! ^^
Glad to read news from your trip Mike. Seems like you had a blast there.
The lil' bear got your facial expressions, remove your mask, Mike ! I'd recognize you ! ! :P
Hope you guys had rest, specially Alex.

JimmyG said...

Sweet bro!!!! ; ) Damn you've done more sketching in a week than I've done in a year! Really good stuff. I miss seeing your art in the gym, but now that you're back, we have to break in that new pochade of yours with some quality "early bird" sessions (why does that sound dirty?).

Adam Paquette said...

Oh man, this brings back so many fond memories - especially of Venice, there really is something special about that place, despite itself! I remember walking to the end of St Marks and round the corner toward the Bridge of Sighs, and looking out across the water to the promenade on the far side, with all of the mooring poles in between - it was the place in Europe that most powerfully 'transported me' back to the 16th century. I can only imagine the grandeur it must have posessed then.

Your story was beautifully and poignantly captured. Your writing is witty and insightful - your updates are always anticipated. See you round, mr gorilla!

Oh, by the way, should you get nostalgic over italy, I do believe Italian Spiderman Episode 2 is now out! Go slake your thirst! Ciao :)

Mike Dutton said...

Thanks for comments guys. I am always happy to read them.

Tom- Long time no talk! You need to fill me in on what's going on these days.

Dori - Is Pt. Isabel the one off Central Ave behind the Costco? There's a dusk scene I'd like to paint there of some metal towers in the water (the ones with the red lights on at night, I don't know what to call them). Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the ironworks show. :)

pochade - thanks for the praise, twice even! ;) I'm far far far from deserving the "master" title though. But cheers anyway! I enjoyed your blog very much.

Julien - oh you had to know who the bear and squirrel were from the very beginning when you first bought the print, I'm sure of it! Thanks Julien. By the way, how did that certain piece turn out??

Jimmy G - Bro! I am very much looking forward to slappin' down some paint with you. Your recent watercolors are killing me by the way. Too awesome.

Adam - You know, I had every intention of seeing the Bridge of Sighs, but I somehow missed it despite being so close to it. Bummer! I really enjoyed reading your comment by the way. Even for such a highly trafficked location, Venice affects people on such personal levels and I enjoyed reading how it affected you. Thanks for the kind words regarding my own impressions.

Anonymous said...

Totally inspiring me for the trip I'm taking to France in August...