Welcome! See Italy (and more) through the eyes of an artist: American sculptor and painter Kelly Borsheim creates her life and art in Italy and shares her adventures in travel and art with you. Come on along, please and Visit her fine art work online at: www.BorsheimArts.com
The short version of how I met Rita: I made a nun angry on a train. The Kelly version … hmmm:
Almost a year ago, I had flown from Florida to New York to Milano, Italia. From there I boarded a train to Firenze. It was mid-December. It was cold, the holidays were fast approaching, and I was alone. My divorce was final months before, I had packed up my life in America, traveled around to see as much of my family as I could, and again, I was returning to Italia without a love that I thought I had. In addition, my Italian landlady had jerked me around on my contract for a room in my former flat. While I would be staying at a friend’s place as I waited for my room to become available, I also knew that being in that place alone surrounded with my memories would make the winter feel even colder.
To top it all off, I had more luggage than I could manage alone. I met a man named Terry on the flight from NYC to Milano. [That was a story with a happy “ending.”] I helped him buy his train ticket to Firenze and he offered to take my portfolio of current art projects with him in first class. I could not even pretend to afford to ride with him and simply hoped that I had met an honest man. Thus, in boarding second class with my other full suitcases, I was in a low emotional place, physically tired, and feeling quite vulnerable. The car was full, except for my seat. I saw a space for my larger bag and proceeded to remove a small backpack so that my bag would not crush it.
After pushing my bag into the space, I put the backpack on top of my luggage. Before I even turned around, I realized that I was being yelled at . . . by a nun no less! No one had spoken Italian to me in about a year and a half so it took me a while to understand her words, but as luck would have it, a nun is not unlike most people. She repeated her points until she was sure there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about her position. Basically, she told me that I was raised wrong by my parents, and that I was rude and inconsiderate: The backpack was hers and I should have asked her permission before I touched it. [Thank GOD she was a nun or I would have received much more colorful insults!]
Embarrassed, belittled by a NUN, and already in a sad state of affairs, I think I just alternated a response of “scusa” with a “grazie” until she stopped yelling. I dropped down into my seat and put my other suitcase on my lap, squeezing its hard shape like it was a teddy bear as I felt tears well up and start to run down my face. In all of the scenes I can imagine, I had never envisioned this would be how I would start the new phase of my life!
As the train began its journey, I started to notice a very elegant man watching me from a nearby seat. He was much older than I and very beautifully dressed. His white hair topped a long and distinguished-looking face, the kind an artist would love to paint or sculpt. Each time I looked away, I felt myself looking back. He had such kind eyes and a lovely expression. He gave me a gentle smile and some time to relax, but at some point, he stood up and I could see that he was quite tall as well. He walked over and in a soft voice asked me if he could take the suitcase off of my lap and lift it up in the storage shelf above me. I let him and he returned to his seat. There was nothing to feel but gratitude.
Shortly after that, I heard the voice of an angel. She spoke to me in English and while I do not remember her exact words, they were along the lines of, “What a ridiculous nun!” The helping hands of strangers and Rita’s kind words opened up the world to me in that moment. She was sitting next to the nun, who sat across from me. (I only learned that yesterday because there was another nun sitting across from the elegant gentleman in the next section over. I thought she was the one, but the one who yelled pretended to be asleep after I finished with the bags.) I was sitting next to a man named Giorgio. After Rita broke the ice, she and Giorgio and I spent the rest of the train trip getting to know one another a bit and then Giorgio helped us with our understanding of Italian verbs. I arrived in Firenze a less frazzled woman. I also met Terry’s fiancé, Hanaa, at the stazione a Firenze and they both helped me take ALL of my bags to a taxi.
All of this to explain how I came to enjoy the most wonderful day with Rita yesterday in Firenze! She and her husband Tim are back in Italia for a short stay and I was delighted to see that the event Florens 2012 is currently happening.
Just outside of Zecchi’s art supply yesterday morning on my way to the studio, I ran into my long-time friend Alessandro. I had not seen him in over two years and we caught up over “un caffè.” He told me about the large marble cross art installation going on in Piazza Santa Croce. An Italian artist Mimmo Paladino has filled the square with a huge artwork of mixed materials, mostly marble. I thought this would be a perfect start to the tour of Firenze I would give my new friends after our lunch together.
Rita, Tim, and I met up at the Residenza il Villino where they were staying, not far from Teatro Pergola. Proprietors Elisabetta and Sergio are wonderful, with the kinds of smiles, warmth, and humor that have made Italian hospitality famous. I recommend staying there when you come to Firenze.
Our lunch included the porcini mushrooms shown here. Delicious!
We wandered on down to Piazza Santa Croce, whose basilica houses the tomb of the wonderful Michelangelo and many other great Florentines. I was delighted to see the snow-like field of tiny white pebbles covering the normally grey stoned floor of the piazza. Huge chunks of marble made me regret AGAIN leaving my stone-carving tools in America. Sigh… however, it was refreshing to see so many people enjoying the stones, including climbing up all over the artwork.
My friend Alessandro, an architect who lives right off of Piazza Santa Croce, told me that he was dismayed that so many of his neighbors just did not understand (and therefore like) this marble installation. But Ale and I agreed that it is beautiful to see the piazza in white and also to see how the people are interacting with the stone. [And after hanging out with him at his place last night, I must say that the crowds around the art installation were MUCH more fun than the obnoxious drunks hanging around in the streets that shout grunts repeatedly into the night just under Ale’s window. He said that Saturday nights are the worst and they are always like this now that more bars haved moved into the neighborhood. Sadly, Firenze might be going the way of Venezia…]
Anyway, Rita and Tim and I toured the central part of the city. We saw the sculptures in Piazza della Signoria and I showed them the spot on which occurred the Bonfires of the Vanities, as well as the execution of its originator, Savonarola, once the tide changed again. We caught the tail end of a parade just before we visited with my colleague madonnari (street painters). We saw some of the life in Piazza della Repubblica, including a weekend market of Italian-made food and herbal products. And we even visited the famous artist hangout, Le Giubbe Rosse.. There was a show of etchings going on and we met the artist. Also, some of the “gang” was there, as often the case, and Rita decided that I was famous, since I seem to run into people who know me wherever we go. Ha. Sweet.
We soon headed back to Elisabetta and Sergio and ended up at a favorite place of Florentines with tasty pizza. So, here we are, the five of us enjoying a lively and saucy conversation about love, marriage, and … how to be an Italian husband. Sergio and Elisabetta sure know how to make people feel welcome and as if you knew them forever – and would want to.
They walked me to my bike in Piazza Salvemini and from there I headed over to Alessandro’s home for a fun catch-up visit. What a glorious day yesterday was and I look forward to many more like it.