Local Culture


Rocca Maggiore, the fort above the town of Assisi

After the visit to Florence, Assisi and environs felt more manageable, more familiar. I was working my way through the sketchbooks Bob had made me.


I still hadn’t seen one of the wild boar on the mountain, but they didn’t surprise me when I cam upon them in town.


I visited the Porziuncola, St. Francis’ first mini-church, around which was built the magnificent Santa Maria degli Angeli basilica. Consecutive Masses were going on inside the small church and outside in the larger church as I sat in a pew sketching.  My strong preference was for the smaller church, which held the energy of St. Francis, but only a few people could fit in it at a time.


One evening we attended a choral concert in another local Franciscan church.  The program was varied, covering many centuries of devotional music. I sketched for a while before floating off with the angelic voices.


It’s unusual in Italy to find historic edifices which have been significantly modified for other purposes.  The rule is usually “restoration” rather than “remodeling” or, heaven forbid, demolition. But at the top of the town of Assisi lies a Roman ampitheatre, built circa first century B.C. which has been partially taken over by a Spa called Nun. So to see the ancient stones, we had to surrender our bodies to the steam bath and sauna with adjacent ice room, jacuzzi and mineral baths, showers and massage jets, and the exquisite tea room with soft illumination of ancient stone walls.  Oh well, the rigors of travel, you know.

To Meet an Angel


You are probably as surprised as I was to see this angel sitting in the piazza in front of the great Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi. Of course I grabbed my camera, and this is what happened. Turns out she is a woman dressed quite convincingly as an angel, who sits at the a table in the middle of the piazza and writes prayers for pilgrims as they approach her.


I figured that doing a sketch of her would work as well.


The Basilica is one of several great pilgrimage sites in Assisi filled with precious religious art. This crucifix hangs over the main altar, glowing and radiant, inviting contemplation of suffering and redemption.


We made many trips to Assisi, and often were there at lunch time, trying out different restaurants with their golden pastas and truffle sauces, and ending with . . .


In Town


My first visit to the town of Assisi was right after a rain, when all the tourists were walking around still in their plastic ponchos. For a draught starved Californian the rain was enough for celebration in itself.  I just wanted to wander the streets, mainly medieval in architecture, and gaze through the openings and arches to the fertile Umbrian plain unfurled below.


When the feet get weary there is always a gelato shop or espresso cafe with outdoor tables. Anticipating stone textures I had prepared some pages in my sketchbook with a stencil.


Always on the lookout for interesting “types” I immediately forgot about my drink and grabbed my pen when the gentleman above sat down right opposite me and was talking with several people in the cafe.  Clearly he was a “personality”, an artist no doubt.  Later Marina identified him from my sketch and gave me his knickname.  Indeed he’s a well known artist in the community.


The fountain in the central Piazza del Comune became our meet up point and a spot where I would have a few minutes to sketch while waiting.


Voyeur that I have become, in the interests of Art of course, I particularly enjoyed watching this young couple engaged in a public show of affection, Italian style. Pretty juicy stuff!

Breakfast at the residence

I realize now that I’ve already written about the breakfasts so I’ll try not to repeat myself.  But. . .breakfast in the sunny country kitchen at 8:30 every morning was an exceptional way to start the day.


First there was the food, which I’ve already written about, and then there was the conversation.


Once I’d gotten to know the other resident artists I took the liberty to sketch “the breakfast club”.  Nancy is a fiber artist from Colorado, who was weaving on a hand loom and dying silks.  Deb is a watercolor artist and photographer from Michigan.  Reinout and Nel are a Dutch couple who live in Australia but spend months every year in Europe.  She is a mixed media painter and he, a Mathematics professor accompanying his wife on this trip. Maria is a best selling author from N.Y. who was finishing work on a book.  To say we got along would be an understatement. We are all parents of 20-somethings, for one.


Morning was a good time for a walk up the mountain.  I became enamored of the stones and rock of the road, the ancient walls, the church edifices, the farm houses.  The golds and siennas and pinks and pure whites.  The cypress trees with their flame-like shape planted in cemeteries like this and at homes to remind one of the flame of eternal life.  Small wonder I ditched my black ink pen in favor of golden brown in an attempt to honor the glow of these scenes.


The Breezy Mountain


I have already switched from the feeling that I have the luxury of time in my month here in Assisi to a bit of urgency about all that I want to do and accomplish while here.  There’s the hiking and the sightseeing and the sketching, but also the studio time in the lovely spacious attic by the open windows where the breezes are always blowing.  I’m in the sponge stage of soaking up the sensory experiences and seeing what gets squezed out on paper.  My fascination is with the mountain rock, transformed into the roadway which glows white at midday and silver at night, the rocks here and in town that sustain the memory of 20 centuries of living.  Add to that the glory of art in those magnificient structures and somewhere in there is to be found the paintings which I hope to create this month. The above is a start, tease, the beginnings of ideas to be explored.

Packed. . .almost


I’m driving myself a bit crazy trying to make decisions about what to take.   Tomorrow I leave for Italy and a month’s artist residency in Assisi.

I’ve been trying out various bags and pens and books for months now, and here is what got juried in:  an Eagle Creek day pack that even has room for a water bottle and my tiny collapsible stool and secret compartments for money, etc. The sketchbook is handmade by my husband with the hot press watercolor paper.


These are the basic art supplies which will go in the checked luggage.  With clothes for the month and more, it’s getting a bit heavy.  I picture myself dragging two (they’re small, but. . .) suitcases through the chaotic Rome train station. . .but they are on wheels!

There’s some last minute looking through a phrase book to get some basic Italian phrases, Google translate app, podcasts downloaded for listening while traveling.  If you are one of the many friends who have offered advise for the trip, thank you!  I think I’m ready.

Please join me on this trip – next post will be from Assisi.