Via Dante Alighieri was the address on the taxi driver’s card. Last week I was in Italy on a writing week in the little village of Lippiano. To get there I flew to Pisa, then travelled by train to Florence (birthplace of Dante and his home for the first 36 years of his life) and on to Arezzo (where Petrarch was born).
I enjoyed the time to write, the company, the workshops, the beautiful landscape and the wonderful Italian food. It was great to be able to write without interruptions or to-do lists – it was, in the words of Seamus Heaney, binge writing. But I did do a few other things as well.
A visit to the Alberto Burri collection at Cittá di Castello was an amazing experience – Burri was one of Italy’s leading 20th century abstract artists. I found his work thought-provoking , challenging and stimulating. The brilliantly curated exhibition in the Palazzo Albizzini was laid out chronologically beginning with the distressed collages of the immediate post-war years and gradually moving to the calmer abstracts of his later work and the playfulness of his colourful 16 serigrafie.
For me, writing and walking go together. Most days after lunch I explored the paths and tracks which led me through the undulating landscape with its mix of woods, vines, olives and arable fields. The soil, the rcoks and the houses are a mellow Italian version of Cotswold stone. Everywhere there were splashes of colour – geranium red, tobacco pink, yellow autumn crocus and butterflies in yellow, bright orange and harebell blue. Small lizards came out with the sun – they were camouflaged by their brindled scales until they moved.
One night I walked at dusk through the village, my senses heightened by the oncoming darkness. Woodsmoke hung in the still air, spikes of rosemary grew on top of a wall and there was a scent of water mint from a ditch. I tried – and failed – to walk without making a sound on the road’s loose stones. I soon set off dogs barking in distant farmhouses. Muffled voices came from old dwellings, their windows shuttered against the night. Hill top villages showed as beads of light on the ridges across the valley. Cypresses, the most characteristic of Tuscan trees, stood out as cigar shapes in the fading light. At the end of the village a single bat darted out from the little belfry of the old church.
This is my second year on the writing week at Villa Pia – it could become a habit!