Neither Strength nor Bravery

dsc 2068 copyIt is neither strength nor bravery that guides me on this journey, but rather a spirited desire to explore life and everything it has to offer with fresh eyes and an honest heart.

I have received numerous notes from people telling me how brave I am for doing this adventure, for throwing everything up in the air and just going, going somewhere, anywhere, everywhere, and all alone. Believe me when I say it's wonderful and not scary at all, and I am grateful. As I awake each day, under the ancient arched ceilings of my medieval Tuscan home, the knowledge that the day is free to be whatever I want it to be is a beautiful thing. And damn it, I am going to make each day a good one.

Everything about the Castello Banfi Montalcino winery is spectacular. From the patio I can see the ocean, and in the distance across the water, Montecristo. The skies are sheer perfection today. There is a clarity in the air that allows the eye to see vast and distant sights. The vineyard covered rolling hills are endless, the hlltop villas numerous, and the silvery grey olive groves are easily recognizable. Today is a day not to be taken for granted. This is the second winery of the day and I am about to have lunch inside the Castello. The dining room, with it's carved ceilings, wooden beams and gothic iron chandeliers is quite the vision. Not one to be missed. Inside these walls one cannot help but feel the embrace of mother Italy, like a warm blanket wrapped snuggly around your shoulders. The Brunello wines of Banfi Montalcino are some of the best in the world they say. I would tend to agree. The rich, deep brown color is what the wine is named after. Brunello, meaning brown. The winery tour is spectacular, the history enchanting and the visual beauty something to remember.

I am neither brave nor strong when I arrive at the villa set high in the mountains above the small village it watches over. What I am is tired and hungry. It is late and there is a big day ahead tomorrow. The first day of olive oil season is upon us, and I am here to photograph and observe it. After a good nights sleep in the villa I awake and set out down the long, cypress tree lined, winding driveway in anticipation of my first cappucino of the day at the villages coffee bar. (And yes, croissant too.) I stop my car as the owner of the villa drives up in the opposite direction and we squeeze our vehicles together in an attempt not to go into the ditches on either side. Now this is the fun part. My Italian friend here, speaks very little English, and I, well I speak a great deal of English and that is about it. After a little bit of language charades and the smile on his face I come to understand that I am to go and enjoy my coffee and hurry back as the olive oil process will begin soon.

The Frantoio, (the Italian word for oil mill), is bustling with actvity this morning. Just outside the oversized doors there is a large stainless steel, cone shaped, funnel that has been filled with 800 kg of fresh olives. If ever I had any doubt as to where I am, one look into the depths of the olives reminds me with a gentle whisper "Italy darling, you are in Italy." The air is thick with the enticing scent of olives. The colorful skins are a sight to behold. Bright greens, black, burgundy, all beautifully mounded in their resting place. The harvest waits patiently for its transformation, like caterpillar to butterfly. Extending from the funnel is the converyor belt, eagerly awaiting its first load of the season. The sounds escaping the Frantoio are not unlike that of a jet engine. Earplugs are a wise choice. Over the next several hours I watch the olives move through the production line. The leaves are separated and the olives are washed, then pressed, and churned into a thick brown paste. Then it happens, we get the first glimpse of the brilliant, lime green liquid. There is a magical glow to the oil as it makes its appearance. It's as though it is being lit by an invisible light, truly shocking. There is the promise of fresh oil on our bread with dinner this evening. Excitement and anticipation is evident in the eyes of the men who work in the Frantoio, but there is also tension. Tension because this is the worst year ever recorded for the olive harvest. There is a disease that has affected the groves and has caused the olives to prematurely fall from their branches. This has created a massive shortage of olives for the oil industry. It is going to be a devastating year for Frantoio's across the country. It is late by the time production comes to an end, after a pasta dinner it is off to bed for some much needed rest.

And today, I paint. I am back in my Buonconvento paradise. My mind is full of memories of the past few weeks. Memories of the walled city of Lucca, with its moody skies sprinkling out a short lived tantrum. The colorful umbrellas, whose reflections paint their own beauty on the rain soaked, cobbled streets. The olives, oh the olives, and the rolling hills, all visions that are certain to turn up in my artwork in the coming days.

Today I will let the honesty flow from my brush and onto the canvas. No bravery, no strength, just heart and paint. Each piece that every artist creates is in itself a serving of an honest emotion. Our hearts, our memories, our souls. And so I paint.

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