Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Italy Notebooks
Elizabeth Johansson Aponovich
oil on canvas, 16" x 13"

James and I had to wait to travel, due to many things  that include time, money, family, work and other obstacles that life threw in our path. I suppose when it comes to those things we are not unlike most people. When we finally had the opportunity to travel, it was to Italy in the mid 1990's, James was asked to do a painting with an Italian landscape. It was with good fortune that I , along with our daughter were able to join  him. It didn't take long before we fell in love with Italy.

We had  no expectations and very little time to plan and prepare for the  first trip, so, when a decade later we once again were able to travel to Italy, we planned the trip carefully, and learned some Italian which on the first trip we were completely ignorant about.

I began to keep notebooks. The pages of these blank notebooks start to fill long before we step onto a transatlantic flight. James and I plan out the places we hope to visit and from there the journey begins.....on paper.

Knowing the opening and closing times of places in Italy is important if you do not want to find a locked door at a church that holds a masterpiece that you have traveled an hour to see. We sadly learned this after finding a few locked doors ourselves. Although, just because you arrive at a place at a posted open time, don't be surprised if there is no entry allowed due to the fact that the church or museum  floor  is being waxed, or there is a film crew inside! That has happened to us on more than one occasion.

There is much about food in these notebooks, along with art, food is at the top of our list when we are in Italy ( I could say it is always at the top of our list). If I read about a good restaurant or osteria from a reliable source, or someone recommends a place where they had a delicious meal I always make note of it.

I always carry a notebook and a sketchbook, as does James, and sometimes they are one and the same.
Ideas of things seen are sketched in. I  made this quick sketch while at the garden of Villa Aurelia, a grand garden that is on the grounds of The American Academy in Rome. A large grid pattern with alternating lemon trees was in a large open courtyard just outside the villa.
This idea came back with us to our New Hampshire garden where we used a similar grid with boxwood....heartier for a New England climate. James began  constructing this  new garden, known as the "Aurelian Garden", at our house in New Hampshire. Keep in mind it was was exactly one month prior to our garden being part of the Garden Conservancy Open Days, I said, " Don't start something you can't finish." Well, he did complete it, with the help of his brother , about 24 hours before the tour visitors arrived!
So much for ideas sketched in a notebook!

Winters are for reading, often about places we plan to visit. We select an artist to follow, this notebook prepared us for the Benozzo Gozzoli trail, which took us to
 places like Montefalco (Umbria), San Gimignano and Florence. Italy provides us with the unique opportunity to see a fresco or painting that is in situ, or in the place where the artist painted it, such as a chapel. Gozzoli frescoed the walls of the Medici chapel ( in the Medici Riccardi Palazzo), Florence. The story of The Procession of the Magi  (1459) is breathtaking and to stand there studying it, under the same ceiling where it was painted is a remarkable experience. The chapel, tiny yet made so exquisite by the masterful eye and hand of this gifted Renaissance artist.
Without my notebook, we may have missed it, walked right past the Palazzo, or worse yet, gone on its closing day!

Olive Trees, Panicale
Elizabeth Johansson Aponovich
watercolor on paper

We often spend our days in Panicale, drawing and painting, marketing, cooking and eating.
See, as I told you, food always gets into the picture!
This watercolor sketch Olive Trees, Panicale, a hillside orchard, often filled with sheep, that is visible from where we stay.
The pages of my notebook also contain short essays about this enchanting place and it's people.
It's a love story.

Piazza Margherita, Panicale
Elizabeth Johansson Aponovich
pencil on paper

I am captivated by these buildings and this view, I think I have drawn it three or four times, and James has as well. I drew this a few years ago and I still have distinct memory of drawing the place....the buildings, the wires, the cast shadows from the roof, the landscape in the distance.....the things I drew and the things left out.

 The Italian Lesson....
As I said, our first visit to Italy left us literally speechless. We did not know or understand a word of Italian, so we missed out on a lot of things. We spend hours trying to get a bus from Florence to Lucca because of the language barrier......shame on us.
So now, during the winter months we study Italian and when we are in Umbria we have also taken classes and last year dear Katia gave us lessons. in Panicale, people often kindly correct us or teach us new words and phrases.....very helpful.
All this goes into notebooks and hopefully our brains!

 Vendita Diretta
We kept seeing a sign with these words, Vendita Diretta. I wrote it down and asked what it meant......'To Buy Direct', as in wine, olive oil, pecorino,  directly from the farm or vineyard. Now, we know and we stop at places with this sign to purchase wine and cheese. Fun!

 OK., so here it is the  2015 Italy Notebook...................
what will I fill it with? I already have a few restaurants and a agriturismo to enter on to its pages.