The Taste of Italy
At the end of a piece of rope longer than the heel on the boot of Italy was a dog. The other end led to Barbara’s House. Barbara lived next door. The dog padded into our house, flopped on the burnt orange tiles of the floor and wouldn’t budge. If we wanted to use the front door we had to step over him. I wanted; no! needed a coffee. I looked at the stylish, angular pot standing on the gas hob. I had no idea how to use it, nor that it was called a moka pot or that it was invented by an Italian named Bialetti. I asked Vicky how to use it. No good asking Vicky how to use it, she is strictly herbal tea. I stepped over the dog, sheepishly climbed the steps to Alexandra’s house, Alexandra being the only person I’d met on the first morning in Montemarcello, and asked her advice. Alexandra came down the stairs into our kitchen, explained the Italian passion for coffee, made sure I had good coffee in the cupboard, showed me what to do, and, “listen to the little ‘blip-blipping’ at the end, keep the gas flame low, too high and you singe the handle, and, most importantly don’t ruin the coffee by burning”. I thank Alexandra from the bottom of my heart.
Vicky and I immersed ourselves in our work. We both wanted to draw everything; to feel the emotions only this experience could bring. My drawings aren’t particularly for public display; they are for me, my language, a shorthand cut to how I feel in front of the subject, to reappear when I make the final paintings. I drew the big metal kettle that Vicky used to make her herbal tea and the Bialetti Moka pot – both on the boil every morning – and, perhaps, the finished painting is a symbolic portrait of Vicky and me. I made a simple watercolour of crude hand-thrown jugs and a bowl against the dazzling light of sunlit façades. In Tellaro, we melted in the heat, and the colourful buildings blurred through squinted eyes. Morning bustle gave way to the silence of the afternoon, parched earth under the searing sun, almost unbearable to stand out in and draw. As the days went by the heat built up and things slowed down… right down. Come the afternoon the café on the Square shut, the streets emptied and the air hummed with humidity. This atmosphere intrigued and enticed me, and late one afternoon I left Vicky resting in the house, slung a rucksack of drawing materials over my shoulder and wandered out alone, not one person was to be seen and just out of the village I found a spot to draw – a lane through dark woods, mysterious in that deathly quiet afternoon. I drew quickly, scribbling marks, laying on colour and used the sketch as inspiration for a finished studio painting. I made interior studies, in the shuttered light of the afternoon, the torpid heat pervading the atmosphere, inducing inertia. The evenings came alive again, the café buzzed and we’d watch Mediterranean sunsets from a viewpoint out of the village high up on the cliffs, afterwards walking back in the twilight to the lamp lit streets of Montemarcello.
Once a week some of the womenfolk of the village get together and go swimming at Punto Bianco, a local beach so named because of the white outcrops of rock on the beach. It’s a ladies only affair and the ‘foreign contingent’ of Vicky, Caroline and Leoni were invited to join them. They looked at me and said that as I was the only man there I could come along too. Feeling a little embarrassed in the company of so many women I declined and made the German girls giggle by telling them I couldn’t go as I’d left my bikini at home. Off they went crammed into a couple of cars while I stopped in the village and went searching for something to draw. They were gone quite a while and returned chattering excitably. There had been a man on the beach exposing himself, which obviously wasn’t nice for the ladies. Ah, well! – I missed out on that particular drama – perhaps if I’d tagged along I’d have got a chance of doing a male nude study, (only joking, girls!).
Our stay was drawing to a close and, of course, having made so many friends we simply had to spend the last evening together. We all wandered to a café at the edge of the village and sat drinking, chatting and laughing until the bar closed.
As we stood on the raised step outside our house on the morning of our departure an elderly man came by carrying a large basket of plums. He spoke only Italian but offered the basket up to Vicky beckoning her to take some fruit. Alexander was close by, she knew the man and explained the plums were to make jam and he was on his way back home after picking them. We both bit into a plum, they were sweet, juicy and still warm from the bush – we had our last taste of Italy.
We knew we would miss the life we had found in Montemarcello. We found our Italian friends serious and passionate about life who gave us kindness and friendliness without reservation. I must especially thank Alexandra and Barbara our neighbours for all the warmth and generosity of spirit they extended to us, and, of course, not forget the lovely German girls Caroline and Leoni. We were in Montemarcello courtesy of Henrietta Bowden-Jones who had the idea of sending artists over to this part of the world to see what we made of it – and so our biggest thanks must go to her.
Grazie, grazie, grazie!
All drawings and paintings reproduced in the blog are the original work of Anthony Yates, with the exception of No. 13 Vicky’s etching – ‘Montemarcello’ and No. 20 Vicky’s print – ‘Summer Sky one’ which are the original work of Vicky Oldfield
Photographic credits: for image 12 © Alexandra Schileo, for image 21 © Leoni Fritsch. All other images © Vicky Oldfield & Anthony Yates
Blog written by Anthony Yates and edited by Vicky Oldfield