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.