Let’s talk about Italy for a minute.
After Aaron and I parted ways in London, I headed to Italy for a two-week long Artist Residency in the shadow of Mt. Subasio in the Umbria region.
The Residency is called Arte Studio Ginestrella and it is, hands down, one of the best places I’ve had the honor of being accepted to. Being in the mountains, in the forest, it offers an immense sense of quiet and stillness that I’ve been craving for a while now.
It also happens to be located just outside of Assisi–which is truly a gem not to be overlooked.
I left London on June 18th and arrived (finally) at the Assisi train station at around 6:45pm. I had been due in at 4:30 but a minor flight delay set me back just enough that I couldn’t catch the direct train from Rome to Assisi.
Typically it wouldn’t have been such a big deal but there’s also no wifi anywhere in Italy (I’m convinced) which rendered my phone useless. I spent two hours in the Termini train station trying to find a working pay phone or a cell phone I could borrow so I could let Marina, the wonderful owner of Arte Studio Ginestrelle, know that I was running 2 hours late.
I had no real luck. I boarded my 3:15pm train and hoped that there would be wifi on board. Strike two.
As the train pulled away from the station I resigned myself to just take things as they come. I was a ball of guilt and frustration at not being able to get a hold of Marina in time to let her know what was going on and leaving her to wonder but there was, for the moment, literally nothing I could do except get to Assisi and hope for the best.
A few minutes into the ride, the ticket control came through asking for validated tickets. I pulled mine out only to realized that I had validated the wrong one…I’m pretty sure at this very moment, had you taken my blood pressure, it would have been off the charts. It’s a 50 euro fine if you don’t have a validated train ticket!
He approached my row and asked for my ticket. I took a deep breath and did a thing that I hate doing…
“Do you speak English?” Cringe. I literally speak 0 words of Italian (I’m not counting “ciao” and “pizza” in this context).
“Yes. A little”
“Well, I made a mistake” I began. I showed him my uselessly validated “regionale express” ticket (for my connection from Terontola to Assisi) instead of my “supposed to be validated” ticket from Roma Termini to Terontola and held my breath.
“Ah, Ok. Well, let me write something on this other ticket. I can see you clearly bought today. It happens”
Yes! Score one for the magic of “let me write something”. I burst into a smile, I was so excited to not be evicted from the train with a 50 Euro fine to boot that I went out on a limb…
“Is there a phone on this train I can use? I need to call the person who is supposed to pick me up. I’m late.”
“You can use my cell phone?”
!!! I nearly died on site.
I was so excited to finally be able to call Marina that I fundamentally failed at explaining myself clearly once I got a hold of her. What’s more, my connecting train ticket had no useful information on it so I had to guess at what time I would be arriving. I tried to make it clear that I was going to be on a connection train from Terontola but I don’t know if she understood my terrible pronunciation or not but at the very least, I had made a connection with her.
I’d like to say that after the gracious and amazing acts of kindness from the train controller that I was able to sit back and relax and enjoy the rest of the ride but, traveling in Italy, when you speak no Italian, is the opposite of relaxing for me. I find most of the conductor announcements over the loudspeakers to be incomprehensible and I’m always afraid I’m going to miss my stop. I spent the next 1.5 hours or so peering as far down the track as I could, trying to catch an early glimpse of my connecting station. Not that I had any idea what I was going to do when I got there, but “one problem at a time, sarge”.
I did manage to catch the Conductor-ese announcement for Terontola and I hopped off with bags in hand and a ticket that gave me no information about where I was supposed to pick up my next train.
I wondered into the train station and looked, somewhere between desperately and hopefully, at the guy sitting behind the desk.
“Assisi?” (I know, I should be given an award for articulation in a stressful situation).
Luckily, a girl buying a soda seemed to put two and two together and launched into a conversation with the guy behind the counter. I caught words like, “binario” and “partenze” (platform and departure”) and just sort of stood back and listened to them hash it out for a few moments until she finally turned to me and said “Due”.
“Yes. Two. 10 minutes”.
Ok, so platform 2, arriving in 10 minutes. Got it. At least, I hoped I got it. That’s a lot of inference from three words but it turned out to be spot on.
I still couldn’t bring myself to relax, however, knowing that I had totally guessed at what time my train would actually be arriving and having no way of letting Marina know that I had actually made my connection and was on my way.
Here’s a trick–and I actually remembered to do it this time for myself–when traveling on a train, count the stops listed so you can keep track of where you are. That way, if they don’t announce the stations or you can’t understand the conductor, you at least have some idea as to where you in the process.
I made it to Assisi, about 20 minutes later than I had guessed, and hoped that I would find Marina. I had no idea what she looked like but I can only imagine that all arriving artists she picks up have a certain look about them. Namely, lost.
Luckily she was there and was more than understanding and forgiving of my really awful lateness. We stopped by the grocery store on the way to the residency and I grabbed a whirlwind amount of stuff, trying to figure out how to feed myself for the next 14 days.
As we were driving up the beautifully winding roads to the residency, Marina was warning me as to what we’d find. She’d say, “you know we are in the mountains. In the forest. It’s very remote and there are wild boars that wander around but they aren’t dangerous”.
Sounds perfect to me! No, seriously. It was going to be great!
I was greeted by this as we arrived at the residency:
Once I got in and got settled in my very nice and HUGE room, I did some basic exploring. Turns out there’s a great run to be had by going up (and I mean up…) the main road and to the little church at the top of the hill and back. All in all it’s about 4 miles and it definitely helped clear my head when I was stuck in the studio.
The studio spaces were really great–here’s a peek at where I spent the majority of my time working:
While it took me a few days to get going, I really ended up finding my groove and creating some works and works in progress that I’m really proud of. I also had some great conversations with the other artists over some fantastic bottles of wine and pizzas.
I participate in residencies for a few reasons–the main one being I love to talk to people and get their perspectives. I was very fortunate in this case to be surrounded by established and talented artists who were willing and able to speak openly and honestly about their experiences, their motivations, their strategies and their struggles. I did a lot of thinking and came to some conclusions that I hadn’t really vocalized or experienced before. For this reason alone, I consider this a total win.
And another of the really big piece that I started working on and am looking forwards to finishing: