Happy New Year!
New Year’s Eve is always a time for reflection. As I get ready for tonight’s festivities, I look back on 2014 and feel only gratitude, joy, and, truthfully, a shred of disbelief – in 12 months, I visited 10 countries and 33 cities on 2 continents.
I crossed the English Channel from the White Cliffs of Dover to Calais, France. I toured these gorgeous bodies of water: Lake Lucerne in Switzerland on a foggy, rainy, summer evening (all the more magical), the river Seine in Paris (for the third time), the Rhine River Valley in Germany, Miami’s South Beach, and the Amstel river in Amsterdam. I swam in the Tyrrhenian and Mediterranean seas in southern Italy and the Amalfi Coast, and the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
As I wrote back in September upon my return, I sampled delicacies from different places, danced all night, read by rivers, boarded boats and trains and tiny little cars on tiny little roads, went to the tops of mountains and bobsledded down them, traversed valleys, strolled cities and small, cobblestone alleys, drank cappuccinos, drank (a lot of) fantastic wine, discussed current affairs with people from around the world, sat on cafe patios, read books that made a difference in my life, made lasting friendships, expanded my knowledge, lived and thrived in the countryside, counted stars, learned, embraced. And I did it all with complete strangers, or completely alone.
I had the immense pleasure of visiting four of the most beautiful, celebrated, and renowned wine regions in the world – Napa Valley, California, USA; Chianti, Tuscany, Italy; Niagara, Ontario, Canada; and the Rhine River Valley, Germany. Each experience is special, for entirely different reasons. I toured California from north to south throughout (a much less-crowded) January with my love; lived in Chianti for two months at a writing residence, where I finished a future manuscript, with international artists that I am fortunate to call my friends (Tommy Graham, Ellen and Patrick Coffey, Kristin Man, and Alli Rath); regularly visit the breathtaking Niagara region; and spent a couple of memorable Riesling-and-bier-filled days in Germany. For more pictures of my summer vacation, check out my September post here.
Each place is saturated in my memory. They are vivid and colourful and inspiring and alive. I feel so privileged to not only have truly experienced life, but to have participated in the art of fine living. I’m thankful for everything.
I wish you all a very healthy, happy, prosperous new year.
Here’s to more adventure in 2015!
My article in the November issue of The Florentine, Florence’s English newspaper!
Talking to Strangers: A Snapshot of Life in Chianti
I went to Florence to immerse myself in beauty. A few weeks ago, I leaned on the Ponte alla Carraia with a delicious treat from its namesake gelateria and looked out at the Arno. An old man on a bicycle stopped and stood beside me to do the same. We greeted each other, buona sera, and chatted. As he slowly climbed back on his bicycle, he said that my eyes are ‘full of light.’ ‘No,’ I replied awkwardly, never one to take compliments well. ‘It’s not me. It’s Florence that is full of light.’ He shook his head with a smile. ‘Something in your eyes, it says maybe you want to know the whole world.’ Then he rode away.
He’s right, the old man on his bicycle, making cryptic statements and reading people’s eyes. I do want to know the whole world. That’s what’s so beautiful in Italy: the relationships. That you cannot walk into a salon, a store or a café without indulging in pleasant conversation, a glance, a smile, either from those who work there or a fellow patron is enough to justify buying a crumbled old villa and settling down somewhere in the Tuscan hills—not to mention the local produce, perfect weather, Chianti wine and unique artisanal crafts.
It is such a change from life in Toronto, where many harbour almost a peculiar, inexplicable sense of refuge in anonymity. One can easily become another faceless person in the vast city, walking through the streets or sitting in a café without ever catching someone’s eye or engaging in genuine conversation. Sometimes I just want to talk to strangers. Which is what I do here in Greve in Chianti, where I am currently an artist in residence.
I awake to the sound of a cooing rooster, murmuring voices outside, a vine tractor meandering the vineyards. It’s harvest time, vendemmia. Each morning, I go to piazza Matteotti, Greve’s main piazza, for a cappuccino and brioche alla marmellata at my favourite place to sit and watch the world. The staff has memorized my order now. I once ordered a cappuccino without the brioche and received a startled look. The barista placed the drink on the counter and pressed the warm, soft pastry into my hands anyway. ‘Eat,’ he said. ‘It’s not right without.’
Despite its constant impermanence and change, there is a comforting sense of continuity here, an access to natural symmetry that cannot be found anywhere else. Things grow, die, replenish. People enter and leave. Time moves a little bit differently in Chianti than it does in other places—it’s slow enough to give you a true impression of who you are outside of the bustle of routine and industrial life, to make you stop and look at not only the world but yourself. It’s a special place.
Later, I walk into one of the many art stores to decide on a new print for my bedroom back home. As I’m considering the works, I hear a loud OINK! behind me. I turn—it’s Carmellino, the shop owner’s friend. The diminutive ‘-ino’ on the end seems far too young for this retired 60-year-old artist, but I realize people continue to call him this because he has never really aged.
OINK! He squeezes a stuffed piglet at us, and we laugh and shoo him away. He goes onto the sidewalk and squeezes it at tourists passing by, cradling their many purchases.
‘Buongiorno! Good day! Hello!’ OINK! OINK!
They give him dirty looks or roll their eyes. He comes back inside looking dejected. ‘Non ride più nessuno.’ No one laughs anymore.
The shop owner, Jacopo, turns the radio up louder—Michael Jackson is singing ‘PYT.’ He starts to sing. He grabs my hands with his hands that have wet paint on them and twirls me around. I laugh and chide him for dirtying my new white shirt, but, in spite of myself, dance along. It doesn’t matter really. It is a joy for me to simply come here every day, chat and browse the new paintings by local artists or the old photographs of Greve, grainy figures soaked in sepia, staring back at me. I like to imagine their lives back then, where their descendants are now, if they ever stood in this very spot.
I ask Jacopo how much the small Pinocchio painting is. It’s 30 euro, he tells me. Ah. Ok, I say. It’s wonderful. I will think about it. I begin to put the painting back. With serious looks on their faces,Carmellino and Jacopo talk in fast dialect. I can’t catch everything.
‘Ok … For you, 20 euro.’
‘The economy here in Italy is very bad, as you know. So we need to try to sell our pictures. And we want you to have it.’
I give him 30 euro, and refuse the change.
The world has opened itself to me in the form of endless sunflower fields.
I breathe in the smell of grapes, churning nearby, and listen to the rooster’s morning music. Raindrops hover, bulbous, on blades of grass, shifting prisms of sunlight in the late dawn. I write beneath an olive tree, staring out at rows upon rows of slanted vineyards and lush olive groves.
Limitless, peaceful freedom is both a blessing and a challenge, I have discovered here. It’s a reminder that we must make an effort to engage in acts of human culture every once in a while. To allow ourselves to abandon ambitious pursuits, and simply read, write, exercise, cook, grow, and engage in meaningful conversation. After two months of travel through Europe, and 6 weeks at La Macina di San Cresci, a Residence for Artists in Greve in Chianti, Tuscany, I feel so privileged to not only have truly experienced life, but to have participated in the art of fine living.
I sampled delicacies from 7 different countries, danced all night, read by rivers, boarded boats and trains and tiny little cars on tiny little roads, went to the tops of mountains and bobsledded down them (and sprained my wrist doing so – perhaps I will rethink this particular adventure next time!), traversed valleys, strolled cities, drank cappuccinos, drank (a lot of) fantastic wine, discussed world issues with people from around the world, sat on cafe patios, made lasting friendships, lived and thrived in the countryside, counted the stars, learned, embraced.
And I did it with complete strangers, or completely alone.
Back in May, when I was accepted to the Artist Residency, the decision to go was difficult, but one that I felt I had to make. I was having trouble measuring myself against the world: I felt restless yet stagnant, unmotivated yet desirous, not at peace yet overcome by a peaceful sort of melancholy. I was exhausted from my routine. I needed time away to immerse myself in something new. I felt lost in the right direction.
With the support of my loved ones, I chose to grasp the opportunity, and took some time off work. And I’m so happy that I did. I set out to challenge myself, to examine my mind beyond my comfort zone, to complete a writing project, and to marvel at beauty. And I think I have found what I was looking for.
– Greve in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
Here are a few pictures from my trip (not in order). For more, check out Instagram @crisrizz