Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Rose & Claire's Chianti & Fresh Figs


Back in my junior year of college, I was studying fine arts (painting and drawing), and I wanted to study abroad in Italy. After much research, I settled on an art school in Florence with an international student body and at least some classes that were taught in Italian. It was a wonderful experience in countless ways, but most especially in one specific way: it was there that I met my most beloved art teachers, Rose and Claire.

These two women have changed and shaped and illuminated my life in such meaningful and important ways. Honestly, just thinking about them can bring tears to my eyes. I was always a studious little A-student, but they were the first ones to teach me the true joy of inquiry. They taught me to look inside in order to see more clearly what was around me. I first met them when I was about 19 years old, and 20+ years later they remain an important part of my life and they are very, very dear to me. 

After a semester at the school in Florence, Rose and Claire invited me to spend the summer doing a workshop with them (and other students) out in the Tuscan countryside, and I jumped at the chance. Where we lived and studied and had melt-downs and break-throughs was (and still is!) a place of tremendous beauty. Us students (studenti) lived in two super rustic farm houses, surrounded by lush greenery, vineyards and agriculture. 

Thinking back to these days, I am touched by how many endless details I remember vividly ~ and many of them are food related. But two specific foods really stand out for me from those summer memories: Chianti Wine and Fresh figs

The farm produced chianti (and white wine and grappa too), so at our lunch and dinner meals us students were served tap water, Chianti, or white wine for our beverage options. After a 10 hour day of intense learning and painting in the sweltering Italian heat, a glass of Chianti was never what I was in the mood for. It always seemed to make me more thirsty! In those moments, I would have sold my favorite painting for a cold glass of Coca Cola (or even a glass of ice water!)

the classic chianti bottle

Honestly, I never really developed an appreciation for wine, and yet all these years later, just the thought of Chianti, and that sweet little pink DOCG label* bring me great joy and can make me feel quite sentimental. 
(*the DOCG label is a little pink label that the Italian government puts on the bottles of Chianti to certify that it was authentically produced in the Chianti region. Look for it!)

I didn't know I would remember this for the rest of my life
Luckily, I was saved by the fresh figs. I was no stranger to fresh figs when I got to the Italian countryside, but I had never experienced them in such bounty or in such glory. Right outside the farmhouse was a huge, huge, huge fig tree. The figs were bright green on the outside and stunningly pink on the inside. Have you ever seen the inside of a fig? It is the like the universe opening up before your eyes. It is amazing. I recall the abundance of the figs was such that we could go out and fill a huge serving bowl with figs for our dessert, and do the same thing again the next day. Can you imagine? I still dream of those baskets of figs with such longing.

The experience of living there with those figs, the hot weather, the thunderstorms, the rigor of study, the depth of companionship, the quality of loving instruction, and even the chianti wine... it changed my life and changed me for the better. I am so grateful. 

super fig!





16 comments:

  1. What a beautiful story! That sounds like an amazing summer. I can totally understand why it would be permanently etched in your mind. Have you seen your favorite teachers since that summer? Have you ever gone back to visit them?

    We spent some time in Umbria on our honeymoon, and I have similar feelings about figs for the same reason. I don't know if I'd had figs before then, but they are now my favorite fruit. We stayed at a vegetarian B&B in Umbria, where they had a large fig tree they would pick from for dessert that evening. Did you know that figs are inverted flowers? Whenever I eat them, that knowledge makes them even more special and delicate.

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    1. oh yes, I've been back to see them quite a few times, including just about 1.5 years ago. They are just so wonderful!
      And also, yes! The whole inverted flower thing is so totally amazing and beautiful. They really are very sublime little things. So glad that you have also experienced the joys of Italian figs.

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  2. I have such a huge craving for figs now! As always, your photos and drawings are so beautiful, thank you :)

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    1. :) thank you so much Imogen! i hope you find some figs!

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  3. Amey I studied in Florence too! It was the best time of my life. I loved how the huge jugs of wine in the groceries were cheaper than water. I didn't have many fresh figs though, because all I was doing was eating pizza and gelato. Thanks for bringing back great memories!

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    1. yay! Rest assured, I was also very, very busy eating pizza and gelato. Yes indeedy. My favorite flavor is nocciola. I miss it so.

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  4. What a great story! Sounds like a dreamy way to spend a summer...

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    1. it sure is... though it's a lot of hard work too. one of my favorite things about my teachers is how demanding they are! high expectations!

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  5. What a lovely story and how lucky you were to live in Italy. It sounds so beautiful and like it was really great experience!

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    1. yeah it was! and I sure do feel very luck for it!

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  6. This sounds like a fantastic experience. What an amazing summer.

    When I was in high school my mother arranged a "swap" for me & my sister. We went to stay with families in France and then the daughter's came to stay with us. It was such an amazing time. Thanks for reminding me of it with your wonderful memory.

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    1. oh what a neat experience! Do you still speak french? my italian has, unfortunately, become quite rusty. i love how many readers have been sharing their memories with me this month. It has been so touching and sweet!!

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  7. What a great summer! I love red whime and I agree. It makes me thirsty, too. I am glad it's fig season right now, I'll buy some later and think of you:)

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  8. What a wonderful experience and what an amazing summer! My sister and I are staunchly divided on the subject of figs - I am, happily, in favor of them.

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  9. wow you had some amazing experiences!!

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