Art & Aesthetics Art Blog
Drawings are like currency in the memory bank. Flipping through my sketchbook, I was transported back to Italy, to a Tuscan hillside village called Radda in Chianti.
I'd already drawn a picture of the valley that smelled good from our balcony, so I grabbed my pad and pencils one sunny afternoon and walked with my wife down the cobblestone via looking for something to sketch. Drawing helps me see like writing helps me think. Elizabeth veered off to scope out a leather shop, so I found a shady bench in front of a house across from a fountain and church steps, and started doodling. Before long, two kids, a boy of four or five and his little sister, came out of nowhere and hopped up on the bench with me. They leaned one each on my shoulders to watch me draw. I paused...turned my head to the boy on my right...and then to the girl on my left..."Whassup?" I asked. Not much, apparently. "Buongiorno" I tried again.
The boy starts chattering at me in Italian so I say "Whoa - hang on there, Pinocchio." They laugh. "Oh, you like that - Thumbelina?" I add, kind of smart-alecky. Nothing. So the boy points at my sketch and says something like "belvedere" or "bananarama." I don't know.
"Well, you obviously don't know much about three-point perspective, do you?" I scoff. He gives me this quizzical puppy-dog look, you know, like "Huh?" He points at the building and then at my drawing and starts in with the "bandiera, la bandiera" stuff again. Just then the children's mother steps out of an archway with a watering can, sprinkles some flowers and says "flag." She disappears.
"Oh, right - the flag. I knew that" says I to the boy. There's an Italian flag hanging off of the building next to the church and so I line it into the drawing, filling it with red and green. I could have done better but the kid rattled me. I'm not used to people looking over my shoulder, yet someone did it each time I pulled out a pencil in Venice, Florence, and Spoleto. The flag was the last thing I drew before another woman, the grandma this time, came out of the big wooden door next to the bench. I think she told the kids not to bother me (but she might have been telling me to scram, I don't know). I indicated that they were no problem. Frankly, I was entertained. The woman spoke slightly better English than I did Italian and sparked up a conversation. Turns out she was an artist too and invited me into her home to see her paintings. I jumped at the chance to see behind one of the magnificent doors that lined the street, and followed her into the medieval apartment.
Despite the blinding light of a courtyard, it was dark inside. Dark and cluttered - and meravigliosa! The place was filled with statues and artifacts and cool junk. Her studio was hung with drawings and paintings - portraits, landscapes, and even a picture of the very scene that I'd been sketching outside. After all, it was her bench and her view. Her style was rustic but expressive. We communicated just fine in the language of art, thank you.
The younger mom came in from the courtyard and listened briefly before saying something that got the kids all geeked up again -- "gelato" I think. They started dancing towards the door all "arrivederci" and stuff, so I followed them out but not before saying plenty of grazies to "Nonna." I told her that of all the museums and galleries I'd seen in Italy, hers was my favorite. Still is. I think she got it.
We all hit the street just as Elizabeth was walking by with her new handbag. She was surprised to see me bounding out of the door like the man of the house with my secret Italian family, but 'splainin' that one was a piece of cake. Bidding the madre e bambini a happy divertimento, Elizabeth and I headed back to the inn.
Now, I know most pictures have deeper meanings or stories behind them but this half-baked sketch reminds me of that colorful, cultural episode. So excuse me if I think it's a masterpiece.