I’ve been silent here for the past few weeks for two reasons: 1) extreme busyness at TheWritingFaculty and 2) too much to process. I won’t talk about work here, but Andrew and I went to Italy for the first time mid-month for a 3-day weekend. A family friend lives in Milan and was getting married, and we were close enough that we could go.
Now both Andrew and I have traveled extensively, but in our 11 years together, we’ve never visited a country that was new to us both. I’ve spent a good deal of time in Mexico and Brazil, so I could introduce him to places and food when we went there. He’d been to the U.K. before we visited. I’ve been to Senegal, Norway, India, Costa Rica, Panama, and Portugal without him. We went to Germany at different points and Canada both on our own and together. He’s heading to China soon without me. So this was an adventure for us both.
Italy is incomprehensible. Everything about it — the architecture, the language, the art — is extravagant. Going from Lausanne to Milano, I felt like the country cousin dropped in fashion central (or centrale). Don’t get me wrong, I loved it! I want to learn Italian, go Christmas shopping in Milano, and explore, but I was also relieved when we crossed back into Switzerland and I had my quiet countryside and my mountains. I’m not sure why I love the mountains so much, but there’s something so comforting about the Alps — the impossibility of nature and centuries of constancy as opposed to the frenzied, cumulative activity of humanity.
All of the Italian I knew was from voice lessons and learning selections from the 24 Italian Songs and Arias (art songs from the 17th and 18th centuries), and I kept exclaiming as I recognized musical terms. “Next stop” while in Switzerland was Prochain arrêt and became Proxima fermata when we crossed the border. Una fermata! Mio amor!
The wedding itself was beautiful, and we met some wonderful, interesting people and saw old friends (the bride’s father and mine went to college together). The ceremony was in Italian in an old church and the reception was at a villa about an hour outside of the city with insane amounts of food and wine and desserts (five or six courses spread over four-five hours).
We also visited the Duomo, the Galleria, and two art museums, the Pinacoteco di Brera and the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, the second of which is part of the second public library in Europe. Byron went to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana after his summer in Switzerland and claimed to have stolen a lock of Lucrezia Borgia’s hair (which we saw on display, so either he only got part of it or he lied!). We saw original pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus along with pieces by Raphael, Caravaggio, and many other masters.
Books cannot capture scale, and one of the pieces that struck me most was Rafael’s preparatory sketch of his famous painting, The School of Athens. His “sketch” was 16 x 25 feet! In any art or art history class, you learn about the technical mastery required to paint a still life or to capture and use of light — this is the first time I truly understood what that meant. I initially thought the museum had done a brilliant job of displaying the paintings and then realized that no, the light came from the paintings themselves — the artists had created the glow within the work. I also fell in love with Breughel, who lived in Italy for a while and so his work remained there.
And then last weekend I went to my first SCBWI meeting here. There were 10 of us, which was apparently record attendance — the region was founded 7 years ago, and although there’s plenty of interest, we don’t have the depth of organizational experience of, say, New England (go figure — 10% of the international membership lives there!). We have a new RA, who moved here 6 months ago, at the same time that I did. The meeting made me truly homesick for the first time. This was my first time with other writers (I even met a VCFA alum!), and I realized just how much I miss my crit group and book group and the constant Boston-area happenings.
Of course we’re working on getting things going here, and just last night there was a Vermont College faculty member in town, so the local alum hosted a gathering in her honor, and it was such a treat to have two kidlit events in one week. But I still miss my people, and I’m trying to sort all of that — loving a place and feeling attached to its geography but missing people individually and cumulatively. So between Italy, 12-14 hr work days, and missing my writing community, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.