Musings from Italy

Tuscany has been my home for this past week and will be for a few more days. Roberto San Giovanni (Robert St. John) and I are leading a tour based on our book, An Italian Palate. My childhood understanding of Italy was through American movies, the music of accordions playing with mandolins, Sophia Loren, and Dean Martin. Maybe a little Pinocchio and Lady and the Tramp thrown in, too. It was a cartoon. My father was stationed in Northern Africa during WWII and would occasionally take a seat on plane flights to Italy as they supplied the troops. It expanded his world from Midway Mississippi to the larger world. He brought back a white marble ash tray and would occasionally speak in accented phrases I could not understand. Otherwise he never spoke of the war much. My own experience of Italy was through the watercolors of John Singer Sargent. He did much of his best work in this country. When I was getting prepared for my first trip, I decided to not google anything about Italy. I also didn't take photographs to work from. I wanted the genuine experience to inform my painting; the people, the coffee, the food, the wine, the life. So, here we are in Italy leading two tours, having a great time, and sharing our experiences with some fine people knowing that when these friends leave they will be taking a little of Italy with them just like we did. Travel is not just about getting away. It's what it does to you and what you take back inside when you go home. It is the simple act of asking a stranger directions and their graciousness when they discover you are from the land of the delta blues. Henry Kissinger may have been able to bring people together but I believe ordinary people meeting from different countries in travel works just as well. We are all ambassadors. I painted with some of our fellow travelers and I believe art is one of those ways we keep the trip in our memory. It imprints my memory and is like a diary to me. We are preparing for the second group to join us and I hope they will feel the Italy that we have felt. It's an Italy where people have more than wine and cheese to give you. They leave you with the knowledge that wherever you go we are all just people and have things bigger things to share. I love America but the Italians have been doing this for a long time and have learned a thing or two. The long line of history here makes me feel small yet more significant at the same time. There is comfort in this continuity. It's a cool feeling. Makes me want to sing All You Need is Love in Italian.


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