Pastel Painting in Tuscany - Seeing the Light


Seeing the Light in Tuscany

pastel painting of Sant'Antimo Abbey, Tuscany, Italy, by John Hulsey
Sant'Antimo Abbey                         John Hulsey

hile I was painting in another beautiful Tuscan landscape, Bob Copeland, my workshop partner, had taken his small cadre of photography students, to visit the Abbey of Sant'Antimo, near Montalcino.  I finally caught up with them after lunch, at a place in the road that allowed a nice high view overlooking the vineyards which led down to the Abbey.  My first impression of the group was that something very bad had happened - no one was smiling or even taking photos, and in one van an intense discussion was underway.  As I approached, several of them turned to me and one said in a loud and exasperated voice, "WHERE WERE YOU?  We really needed you to translate at lunch!"  I asked why, having no idea where this was going.  "We had such an awful experience at the taverna - the owner was very mean to us." "Mean to you?" I said, "Why, whatever for?" She went on to explain that when they tried to order, the owner, whom they described as a short, stout old woman with a perpetual scowl, came thundering out of the restaurant and over to their tables on the terrace.  In one fist she held a whole lamb shank and in the other a large meat cleaver covered in blood, which she shook at them as she spoke.  As if this was not enough to put anyone off their feed, she then began to berate first the waitress, who broke down in tears, then all of them, in her rapid-fire and apparently incomprehensible Italian, before stomping off to the kitchen. 

   The waitress, who did not speak any English, somehow made it clear that the only thing they were allowed to order was spaghetti.  "Solo spaghetti!" the old woman had shouted.  Apparently, she had made a huge pot of it and that was what they would be served.  Nothing else!  Bewildered, they ordered spaghetti.  It turned out to be very good spaghetti, and they all ordered seconds.  All except for one poor woman who could not eat wheat products.  She made the fateful mistake of confronting the owner in a vain attempt to explain, in English, why she could not eat the spaghetti.  Enranged, the old woman threw her out of the taverna and told her, by way of arm and hand gesture, to get off the property.  Unfortunately there was no other restaurant, taverna or bar in the village, so she had no spaghetti, or any kind of lunch at all. 

   As the group finally paid the bill and decamped from the terrace, they casually noticed that a bicycle team was pulling up for their lunch. 

   At this point in their story, I began to laugh somewhat uncontrollably, and I noticed that some of the others were beginning to join in.  I explained between gasps that the large pot of spaghetti was undoubtedly ordered ahead by the bicycle team who had discovered, by now, that their high-carbohydrate lunch had just been eaten by a group of tourists, who had no idea why they were forced to order spaghetti in the first place!  I was picturing what the scene must have looked like - with the entire Italian National bicycle team loudly complaining to the old woman about the loss of their reserved-in-advance spaghetti lunches. 

   By now everybody was laughing in agreement and a great relief of tension seemed to come over the group, who quickly returned to their former jolly selves.  Even though I had not been witness to the event, my role as interpreter made me feel as though we had all shared one of those wonderful, mysterious experiences that make travel so rewarding and unforgettable.  I still laugh, just thinking about it.

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These Members-Only articles include:

  • 3 on-location pastel painting videos
  • Detailed map of painting locations
  • Essential gear for painting overseas
  • Must-have pastel painting materials for traveling
  • 30 top artist terms in Italian with important measurement conversions
  • Links to in-depth information about the towns, Abbeys and painting sites featured in the articles

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