Beautiful Italy

January 5, 2023   ·   1 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Writing about the Linda Jenetti Travel Award this week and how it is inspired by the late and great visual artist’s life and trips to Italy, to Monte Castello di Vibio took me irresistibly to my own life and times in that wonderful country. 

Descending from the Swiss Alps into the Italian countryside at an age of just old enough to be travelling with my equally young husband, Ernest, the contrast between the two countries was stunning. Somehow, merely a day’s travel brought us to a completely different place, where the priorities of life were quite diverse and the social expectations were still to be learned.

Maybe the weather, the wine, the art made the difference but the feeling of being in Italy is its own. Perhaps, it is the warmth of the colours, the red tile roofs, the sienna brick, the olive groves and the vineyards but everywhere our eyes rested, they were happy eyes for Italy is an “artscape,” (my word) by which I mean that everywhere is a place one might want to paint, want to write a poem about it or take a stream of photos.

Actually, my first reaction was that they did not paint their houses as often as do the Swiss.

We were headed for the village of Batignano deep in deepest Tuscany and I am pretty sure I have written about this part of our first adventures in Italy but let repetition of this moment be the launch for other tales. 

Batignano was a village of a thousand people, a country place next to which was Il Vecchio Convento, which in due course became host to an annual opera festival. However, when we arrived, it was still very basic with no running water, only a well in the centre courtyard and certainly no electricity. Just lamps and blankets for a cool evening in bed.

The building itself is large, a monastery after all, three hundred years ago, halls lined with very basic rooms, a large area in which to gather and was the dining room, fireplaces, a kitchen with a stove that worked off a gas bombula – well, it was wonderful.

The olive grove that was part of the property was our reason in theory for being there, as we had been invited by the co-owner of the establishment, Adam Pollock, to come and pick the olives when, by a charming series of circumstances, we met him while he was in Toronto, designing an opera for the Canadian Opera Company (COC).

Perforce, we learned to speak Italian once we were there, as no one in the village spoke English and our hosts were soon to leave us in the place on our own when they returned to the U.K.

During our lifetime of a few months, living there, Ernest worked for the contractor who was replacing the roof (we laughed at the idea that thousands of Italians came to Canada to work in construction and here was Canadian Ernest coming to work in construction in Italy). 

I learned to wash our laundry in the fontina, a spring-fed channel, halfway down the track in the village, where the ladies met to wash and wring their clothes and laugh at my fledgling Italian. They show me how to grasp and wring each garment. The Italian sun soon dried them on the line up by the old monastery.

Down in the village, I made a daily run ostensibly to check for letters at the post office but really to gossip with the locals. They corrected my every mistake, very kindly. It was just great.

Ernest too, had an easy method by asking about everything he touched: “Como s’é chiama?” how do you call this? And learning immediately whatever it was, retaining all of it, with clarity. Generous and patient, they never minded the lessons did our neighbours; they applauded our determination to learn.

We travelled, of course we did. Christmas in Rome and what a shock it was to finally stand before St Peter’s Basilica, after seeing so many photos of it. It is a place of tremendous history, after all, a powerhouse as well, with the mighty Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museum behind. The bones of St. Peter in the tomb called the Vatican Necropolis beneath the Basilica.

A celebrity of buildings, in many ways unparalleled.

Down further south, we went to Naples, the home of pizza, by the way – no pineapple in those days for sure. The city had a heavy reputation for crime, with theft a constant constraint.

We were fascinated to go on to visit the ruins of Pompeii, that astonishing city of dust, where the volcano of Vesuvius blew in CE 79 so violently and fast that the ash it produced stopped people as they ran, preserving them instantly so that what they were doing and where they were going is known even now.

A city moment captured and kept for all time. Long-term and meticulous archeological work has uncovered and detailed the lives of those people, their lives and loves so many centuries later.

What chance gave these times to chronicle and remember is a blessing, for which I will always be grateful.

Readers Comments (1)

  1. Onita Dey says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience, and taking us along on the journey! Though we live in Oakville, my daughter, Alexa and I have been coming to the fabulous Theatre Orangeville productions for years; perhaps next time you’re attending, you will do us the honour and allow us to invite you for drinks at the Blue Bird afterwards? (their initiative to deliver pizzas to the crew during the last blizzard did not go unnoticed!!!). Wish you a joyous, adventure-filled abundant, 2023!


Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.