Monday, March 10, 2014

The Umbria Experience

By Devan Lau

Everyone always has stories to share to each other. Whether it is from your friends, relatives, and classmates, their memories always create stories. My mother Betty had an unforgettable experience in her painting workshop in Umbria, Italy which took place in October of 2013.

D: Why is it a dream for you to paint and visit Umbria?

B: “My aunt gave me an oil painting kit for Christmas when I was ten and since then I wanted to learn how to paint. Growing up I was always busy working in a family business, and later, my career didn’t allow me to take the time. Finally after so many years, my dream was realized and I was to learn plein air painting in the most beautiful landscapes of Umbria. Another wish fulfilled was my desire to visit Sienna and Tuscany and Umbria was close enough.  The workshop was offered two years ago before I finally made the decision to attend. Financial and health reasons kept me from going earlier.”

D: What was your favorite experience of the workshop?

B: “I loved every bit of the workshop and trip…and it began with the arrival at the villa in Todi where we stayed. The estate and view around the villa was absolutely breathtaking and we did most of our painting at the villa. We were very fortunate that the villa owners were present because the wife wanted to take the painting workshop and the husband was on holiday. He was born in Italy and educated in Harvard and Columbia University here. They’re both Americans who spoke fluent Italian and they were our tour guides when we visited other towns because they live in Todi a few months out of the year. Traveling with locals made the experience so much more enjoyable and memorable because they gave us historical and present day information.  They accompanied us to neighboring towns and villages, such as Assisi, Orvieto, Civita di Bagnoregio, Todi and Spoleto.”

D: What was your least favorite experience during the trip?

B: “I arrived in Rome first, and spent a day and visited the Vatican Museum. Even in October, the tourists and crowds made it unpleasant. It was impossible to get around and enjoy the Sistine Chapel because of the wall to wall crowd and it was very hot and stuffy in there.”

D: What were some of your favorite activities during the workshop?

B: “Painting at the grounds of the villa, cooking lessons, sightseeing and visiting local hang outs in Todi.”

D: What was the best painting that you created?

B: “One of the views from the villas was San Damiano, a monastery near Assisi and I painted that. When I learned about the history of the church and monastery, it made the painting even more special. The weather was constantly changing also, so painting plein air made it very challenging due to the lighting changing from the rain and fog.”

D: What were the foods that you ate?

B: “One of the cooking lessons was making pasta from scratch and it tasted so good because it took all seven of us to make it and was the most fun and time consuming ordeal. When we ate at the villa, they had a cook who cooked for us and we helped without getting in her way. She used herbs and vegetables that were grown from their organic garden and everything tasted so much better and was very nutritious. We had their own olive oil and wine from their grounds with every meal. When we ate out, I tried foods that I wouldn’t normally order back home, like rabbit, pigeon and wild boar. It was all so delicious.”

D: Did you have a favorite attraction that you’ve visited?

B: “It’s tough because they were all great! The churches had incredible fresco paintings, but I guess if I had to choose…Civita di Bagnoregio is pretty up there. I learned that the village sits on top of a hill between two valleys at an altitude of 1440 ft. above sea level. We had to walk up this steep walkway to get to the village. They had an Etruscan cave preserved for visitors to visit and it was amazing to see a piece of ancient Italy. The village and sights around it were very beautiful and the local restaurants’ food were very good.”

D: Did you enjoyed the Italian culture?

B: “I was submerged in the culture, history and sights as well as learning to paint, only because we had the best two people showing us around.  We had art lessons at the museum and churches from the wife because she was so well versed with the artwork and artifacts. They took us to local places for coffee and people watched. It was just an incredible and memorable experience for me.”

D: Lastly, would you recommend everyone to visit Umbria?

B: “Yes, absolutely! You don’t have to partake in the painting workshop to enjoy this experience. For me it was a cultural, historical, artistic and gastronomic experience. I met such wonderful people in the workshop and the Italians who lived there. I learned to slow down and breathe in general -- just basically be present and enjoy the natural and ancient beauty around me in this medieval place. I continued to slow down and enjoy my surroundings and people back home.”

After conducting this interview, I wanted to thanks or “grazie” for my mother for taking her time with this interview. This would give an idea for anyone considering visiting Umbria, which does not require participating in a workshop to get there. This unforgettable experience is the perfect memory to share and will never fade away.

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