Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer Is Here, Bring on the Cherries!

Sweet Cherries in Wooden Box
Elizabeth Johansson Aponovich
oil on panel

Summer brings on an array of fruits, but cherries always become not only something to eat or cook with, they also end up as subject matter for paintings.
The color, the shine of the fresh cherries and the stems are eye catching and they continually  grab my attention.

Plate of Rainier Cherries
Elizabeth Johansson Aponovich
Oil on panel

One of the most challenging things about painting fruit  is the urge to overcome eating least on the first day, when the plate is set out and the fruit is perfect. After a day or two it gets less appealing, as the struggle to get the still life on to the canvas is foremost on my mind.

I feel fortunate to have such delicious fruits and vegetables to bring to the table and to my studio.
Cherry sauce for ice cream anyone?

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Walk Through the Gardens of La Foce.......Wisteria in Bloom ( Tuscany)

In the last blog post I mentioned the wisteria at the gardens of La Foce, so here it is. This photo was taken  in early May on a previous visit  to the garden.
Of course, I was smitten and wanted to have a pergola with wisteria in our garden.

So now, a quiet walk through the garden of La Foce with wisteria in full bloom.

Truly Magnificant!

Here's a tip.....
Before going to La Foce, plan a visit to Monticchiello, a medieval  Tuscan hill town, and have lunch at La Porta.

A delicious Tuscan lunch and a  grand garden, now that's a good day!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

La Foce ..... a pilgrimage to the gardens (Tuscany)

The garden and villa of La Foce are  the legacy of two quite amazing, if not heroic individuals, Iris and Antonio Origo.
  Together, with esteemed architect and garden designer, Cecil Pinsent, a masterpiece was created.

In 1924, Iris and Antonio purchased the run down  Tuscan villa and with their vision created the wonderous place that is La Foce.
La Foce means" a meeting place", in this case it refers to the place where two valleys meet,
 the Val d'Orcia and the Val di Chiana,  one of the most magical places James and I have visited.
To visit La Foce is more a pilgrimage than a garden tour.

The Pinsent designed Limonaia that houses the lemon trees during the winter months.

James and I made our most recent visit to La Foce in late May so the lemon trees had taken their places in the garden.

We have visited La Foce often, usually in early spring when the wisteria is in full bloom. Our visit this past spring was later, after wisteria but with the lemon trees out of the limonaia and in the garden, along with the roses coming into bloom.

The garden is the centerpiece of a visit here , but beyond is the incredible story of Iris and Antonio Origo and the history of La Foce.
 In 1924 when they purchased the villa, the surrounding landscape, known as 'crete senesi' was that of hardened clay.
It was barren. Some call in a "moonscape".
Iris and Antonio dedicated their efforts into creating a land that could be farmed to produce  food and income for the impoverished families of the Val'd Orcia.

 Work began to improve  the condition of the land and bring farming to the Val'd Orcia, meanwhile, architect Cecil Pinsent was hired to work on the villa and create a garden at La Foce.
Iris hired Pinsent,  for the garden design because she herself imagined a garden like those she knew from her home, Villa Medici in Florence, geometrical and of formal order.

Standing atop the staircase that descends to the lower garden, you can see
 the landscape of the Val d' Orcia centered on Mount Amiata. This is an important idea, the viewer sees the lush ordered green of the garden and then beyond to the beautiful vista of the ordered landscape of Tuscany and  farther yet, Mt. Amiata.

This formal staircase with grotto, designed by Pinsent, takes one from the upper garden into the lower garden with it's geometrical plan of boxwood, meant to create ever changing shadows and patterns as the sun moves across the sky.

The lower garden is framed with cypress, Pinsent's interest was in creating garden rooms. To create garden  rooms at La Foce he guides us along pathways through arches and stone walls, boxwood, cypress, and a pergola with wisteria. 

With  time, money and hard work Iris and Antonio, brought irrigation, wells, and ideas like crop rotation to area farmers and that lead to the  planting of wheat, grapes and olives trees.
An economy was started for this impoverished area.

 When the wisteria is in bloom, a walk down this path is better than any red carpet laid out for royalty. The air is perfumed and the violet blossoms cascading down are all together too magical in the dappled sun.

But, this visit we are here to see the roses, and a few lingering wisteria.

I have read that Iris had a real love for flowers, she would have been pleased by these roses .
Pinsent on the other had was less charmed by flowers, but did add wisteria and lavender to his design.
The roses and other flowers were for Iris.

Well, back to Iris and Antonio...
They were very committed to this place, La Foce and the Val d'Orcia, not only to improving the land and farming but also to the health and education of the people living here.
Both Iris and Antonio came from wealthy backgrounds, so they could have easily looked after themselves and lived a life of ease and comfort, but they chose a different path.

 World War II changed everything in Italy.
The Origos stayed at La Foce with their family. They could have readily escaped Europe and returned to Iris' family in the United States, but their hearts were at La Foce where they remained.
During the war years they took  wounded soldiers to their infirmary, and hid partisans.
Refuge children were welcomed by Iris to La Foce and a small school was built for them.

1943-44  brought the war to Val'd' Orcia and La Foce.
The villa had to be evacuated and the children led by Iris (along with her own children) had to walk  to Montepulciano. Along the way they had to avoid mined roads  and other dangers of war.
 German troops moved in and occupied La Foce.

After the war the Origo family moved back to La Foce , restored the war damaged  villa and garden and continued on their mission.
Their daughters continue to live there to this day.

 Post war, Cecil Pinsent returned to assist in the rebuilding of the gardens.

 This is a stunning view. Once again the garden and the landscape beyond become as one.

During a visit here I always see the beauty of the villa, garden and landscape but in my heart or soul, I don't know which, there is a feeling that this place the Val d'Orcia, has survived  the miseries  of drought, Medieval feudal lords misuse of land and population,  small wars and great wars and yet today survives as a place of beauty. So does La Foce.
It takes your breath away.

La Foce:
Chianciano, Tuscany
Open  to the public Wednesday afternoons .

Related Reading

The War in Val d' Orcia, by Iris Origo
Images and Shadows, by Iris Origo

La Foce, A Garden and Landscape in Tuscany, by Benedetta Origo, Morna Livingston, Laurie Olin & John Dixon Hunt

An Infinity of Graces, Cecil Ross Pinsent, An English Architect in the Italian Landscape, by Ethne Clark

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Postcard from Umbria (castiglione del lago)

Thinking back to gelato at Sergio's.

This gelato, at a bar in Castiglione del Lago, across from the train station, is divine!
Flavors I never dreamed existed. Che cosa...Polvere? And that dreamy chocolate stuff with cherries.
You think they look good? they taste even better.

Well, there's always next year.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Postcard From Tuscany ( La Foce)

Each time we visit Italy James and I make a pilgrimage to the gardens at La Foce.
Last we we went with a group of friends for a visit. 
This is the first time the lemon trees have been out of the limonaia and in the garden.
That was a treat to see.
Each time we visit there is always something new to see, and  somehow the gardens continue to surpass the previous visit.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Just Another Day in the Piazza (Panicale)

Aldo, in his blue sweater  at Bar Gallo.

It started out like any other day in Panicale. Caffe or cappuccino at Bar Gallo, chatting with friends, you know, the morning routine.
Then, chairs came in, along with music stands and then the musicians, including one guy with a large white tuba.

It was pretty fabulous especially when they played works of Morricone and some Italian classics.
O Sole Mio filled the piazza. This was a moment  made for Federico Fellini , bizarre and strangely romantic.

When the music was over, the musicians cleared themselves and their instruments the piazza returned to it's  rhythm. People walking through the square to do marketing before shops 1:00 closing, small groups of men sitting on benches, people sitting under umbrellas at bars and cafes, and children kicking soccer balls around the piazza.

Then.........without any introduction

The piazza was buzzing.

in came the apes ( the 3 wheeled utility vehicles, pronounced a-pay, short a)
Cute and colorful....What fun, tricked out with speakers and wild horns blaring!

Then the vespas made their entrance into the piazza.

Everyone came out to see this! The buzz of apes and vespas...Bzzzz!

Ciao Katia!

Stefania, Andrea & Stew , with cameras, of course!

I thought this  red vespa was pretty sweet.

Betty, Jane and Paul  still focused on the activity in the piazza, while Paul and James check out the aqua  scooter with the 2 helmets and  the suitcase strapped to the back.

I really liked that red vespa, but I think if James gets an ape, then I we should also get this model, with the two helmets. I could settle for this!

Very cool day in the Piazza Umberto I.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Castelnuovo di Berardenga ( Tuscany)

James and I recently spent a few days in Florence. We were driving so we decided that on our way back to Panicale to stop at the mythical Castelnuovo di Berardenga. I say mythical only because each time James and I have passed the exit to Castelnuovo di Berardenga we promised
 ourselves to one day stop there.

Driving through the Tuscan country side, we were on a mission.
James heard of a macelleria in Castelnuovo di Berardenga that sold Cinta Senese Pork.
Cinta is not that easy to find outside of the Siena area, so once parked we made a beeline for centro to find this macelleria.


James spoke to the butcher,with his best Italian,  "Avete cinta senese?
"Si, Certo!"
Sure enough, this was a source of that special, rare and ancient breed of pork, named  cinta ( Italian for belt) for the white colored band it has around it middle.

Another Tuscan specialty, Chianina beef.....from the huge white bull, is also available in this shop.
Do we need some of that too?

Proscuitto heaven!

Castelnuovo di Berardenga is charming. We crossed the piazza and stop to admire the fountain and to see if  James could locate an enoteca or somewhere to buy a good local wine to serve with the cinta.

An enoteca is never too far away, nor is a good bottle of local wine in these parts!
Il signore described the wine as with profuma and i sapori.....the aroma and the flavor.

What took us so long to get off the highway and make a visit here?
We will undoubtably return and fill our shopping bag again.

On our drive back to Panicale (Umbria) we missed a turn and ended up on a back road, it was a beautiful drive.
Sometimes it is a good idea to get off the highway and just explore.