Some stories are worth telling again. This is a new publication of an older blog post I first wrote about in 2013. I was in the Cinque Terre traveling with a group of artists. I went back for a visit this year, and it reminded me of this memorable moment when I was there in 2013. I hope you enjoy the story… 😉
The Cinque Terre are 5 cities along the
northwestern coast of Italy near Porto Venere.
Our group spent the first day on and off the ferry and shuttling between
these inaccessible hill-towns along this coast.
On our final day, the rest of my group was ready to sit and paint in
Porto Venere, which was the town we were staying in. I had only seen 3 of the 5 cities and wanted
to see them all, so I set out on my own and bought a ticket for the ferry
It was a beautiful day. Just being on the boat and able to drink in
all that visual beauty of this amazing coastline was a treat.
Europe measures time in such different increments. We look at our history and measure it in terms of wars and perhaps 50 year segments. Here, they literally go back thousands of years. These cities are OLD! They date back to times when there were no national governments.
For centuries, it was every man for himself, and every village for themselves. Pirates or Saracens would regularly raid along these coasts. Protection was gained by making it inconvenient or impossible to reach you. As a result, families moved up into the hills and began cultivating grapes and terracing the incredibly steep slopes in order to literally carve out a safe place to live.
When you look up and down the hills, you can get some sort of appreciation for how long people have been living in these hills. Every possible square foot seems to have been altered by human labor. Life here must have been incredibly difficult, but life has been going on here for a long, long time.
Just walking around is a struggle…and that is with paved roads and stairs to travel. What must it have been like to live here without any of those? It really makes the point that my life has been so easy by comparison.
I got off the ferry in Manarolla and walked uphill, and uphill again, and UP some stairs to yet another hill. By the time I got to the church at the top of another hill, I was ready to sit and paint.
I decided to go up even a little higher on a path that led to the terraced gardens above the village in order to get an aerial view of the church square and see the buildings’ roofs a bit better. (I love all the roofs here…so full of great shapes).
I got out my water bottle, set it beside me, got out my little 3 legged stool and quickly found that it didn’t support me very well on an incline. Since very little ground is flat in this place, I just propped myself up as best I could with my legs and hoped I could be fast with my drawing and painting. Comfort is not necessarily part of painting plein air!
Once I was done with my sketch it was time to
paint. I reached into my pack and pulled
out my paints. My palette had some paint
which had oozed beyond the box and I did my best to clean it, and started
painting. I used a little watercolor, a
little white acrylic ink, and was trying a scraping technique I was interested
in using. As I got going, a bit of red
paint made its way onto the painting.
Where did that come from? I
looked at my hands and I had thick red paint all over my right hand! Oh no! Reaching for my water bottle, I knocked it over and it began to roll down the steep little path I was perched upon…
It landed in a garden with a fence around it. I put everything down and tried to retrieve it, but the gate to the garden was locked! There was my water, but it was out of reach…so close and yet so far. And my hands!! I looked like an axe murderer with red paint everywhere!! I needed water, and I needed it right away.
Anyone who has been to Europe knows that bathrooms aren’t always easily located. I looked around and the closest public facility was the church. I went inside and there was nobody in there. These old churches have no bathrooms, but
then I spied it… and it was like a choir of angels began to sing… the holy water fount! A beautiful marble fount
with a small plastic container of holy water in it! Do you hear the angels yet? I certainly did! Yet the good catholic
girl in me hesitated for a minute before dipping in…well it was at least for a short moment (I was never really that good).
I certainly couldn’t bathe in the fount, but who was I to say that God hadn’t provided this perfect provision for me in my time of need? Who was I to not take advantage of what
God was providing…Right? I looked left…looked right…and dove into my pack for some paper towels. Dipping them into the holy water I was able to rinse the red color off my hands without staining the holy water. It took quite a few dips to get clean, but eventually I looked a little less like a serial killer. What a relief!
Then I remembered that I had acrylic on my brush…and those of you who paint know you
can’t leave acrylic on your brushes…right?
So again, I looked left…looked right…and picked up the plastic container
and carefully poured a little water into a collapsible bottle I had with me. I spilled a bit in the transfer from container to container, but it was captured by the marble fount (that’s what it was made for, to hold holy water, right?) Still hearing the angels? I was!
When my covert operations were over, I felt clean and relieved that my
brush wouldn’t be ruined. I may have to mention it next time I go to confession, but I felt no guilt and a whole lot cleaner!
I made my way down the hill, bought some regular water, and boarded the ferry for Monterosso. This last city is flatter than most of them and has a beach. I was ready to try again…this time on more level ground! I found a cute wine shop and decided to sit in the shade and do a little sketch. This experience went much better and I just loved capturing the umbrellas, the barrels and all the wine bottles and signs. When my sketch was done, I had lost my shade and needed a little gelato, so the sketch never got painted, but it was a great ending to a fun day of trying to make art en plein air (which means outdoors on location).
I’ve decided plein air painting is a little like camping…it
may not always go well, but when you survive the misadventures you end up with great stories and some art which records the memories. I can’t wait to do it again!Rebecca Zdybel
Artist, Instructor, Art-Travel Instructor
Art Lessons in all media
Myrtle Beach, SC
firstname.lastname@example.orgSpread Light, Share Love, DO Art!
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