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A photographic and artistic adventure in Italy

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A few weeks ago, I took a solo vacation to Italy. Part of the trip was a weeklong art retreat sponsored by an Alexandria business, Artistic Artifacts, run by owner, Judy Gula. She led our group in creating mixed media art journals during our stay in a medieval town called Ischia di Castro, and our daily excursions, which included visiting religious sites in Orvieto and Assisi and several outdoor sculpture gardens.

This trip was a “bucket list” item for me. I turned 40 last year and made a “40 things to accomplish in my 40s” list. This trip checked the box for “traveling internationally alone.” Yes, part of the trip was with people I knew, but for several days on either side of the art retreat I spent time alone in Rome and Florence.

I read an interesting article this week on the “Instagram culture” that permeates our society now when traveling to places that are especially “gram-worthy.” I will admit I took more than several hundred photos on my two-week trip, but there were times I just put the camera away and tried to live the experience with my own eyes, instead of through the lens of my phone or camera. One of those times was visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Taking photos wasn’t allowed, but many people snuck in at least one quick cellphone shot (myself included.) 

However, I must have sat on a bench that surrounded the perimeter of the room and just stared at the ceiling — and Michelangelo’s masterpiece that has survived for more than 500 years — for maybe 15-20 minutes trying to take it all in and remember the beauty of the moment.

Italy has such varied history and styles of art that span centuries. For an artist, photographer and general art lover like me, I was in heaven seeing my art history classes come to life in churches and museums. From the awe-inspiring striped architecture of the Duomo in Orvieto to the beautiful fresco-lined walls of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi (another location that forced you to experience the images and history sans camera lens), to the cobblestone streets of Ischia di Castro lined with weathered turquoise grotto doors, flowers on stoops and mosaiced archways almost a 1,000 years old — there was always a new and amazing site to behold. The variety of street art and quality of local craftsmanship was something to behold and admire as well.

Living in a town for a week that doesn’t often get tourists (especially 15 from America), and mingling with locals who often didn’t speak English was something you couldn’t quite capture with a camera.

However, one of the things I did try to photograph on this trip wasn’t just the picturesque scenery — but the people who make up the heart of each city I visited. 

In Farnese, I captured the moment of an older woman stopping at the top of a hill while she rested her hand on her cane to pause for a breath. 

italy stacy 19At Lake Bolsena, I caught the moment of a little girl looking for shells alone on a black-sand beach with the golden light of sunset reflecting on the buildings behind her. 

In Florence I spoke with several artists in their studios and captured their hands making art. One gentleman didn’t speak English, but I understood how happy he was with the pictures I showed him when he exclaimed, “Bella!” While walking around the city, taking streets at random, I also witnessed young lovers kissing on a bridge overlooking the Arno River oblivious to their surroundings; a son sitting in his father’s lap on the sandy shore across the river; people young and old riding scooters down narrow streets and others getting in an early morning row on the river. I even stumbled on a photo shoot of two gorgeous models decked out to the nines at eight in the morning. 

I walked away from this experience and trip more confident in my own skills as an international traveler and as a street photographer. I confirmed that I am comfortable in my own skin and fine with being alone for short periods. Though, I like to meet and talk to people as well. One experience that stands out was meeting an older gentleman named Moreno in Florence while walking along the river. After speaking with him in a mixture of broken English and Italian we discovered we are both graphic designers and shared a connection through art and photography. He insisted we take a selfie together to capture the moment. 

This trip also was designed to help me find a creative spark that has been missing for a while. If you ever need inspiration to boost creativity and artistic expression — run as fast as you can to Italy, and Florence in particular. 

I can’t wait for my next travel adventure where, perhaps, I won’t pick up my camera as often and just experience my surroundings and take mental snapshots. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019