I confess that it was me last week who stole bunches of wisteria from the pergolas that stood along lake Como’s promenade in Menaggio.
Since the day we arrived we spotted it everywhere, bunches and bunches of it, some very long and skinny, other puffier and shorter. The ancient looking vine trunks were twining and wrapping themselves around trellis, handrails, gates, iron fences or up and over elaborate iron-wrought supports forming pergolas of cascading lavender flowers that came in many different shades and intensity. If you stood under their canopies the view of the lake took on a fairytale quality that brought you into a different dimension where you could be excused to think that magic was indeed possible.
So the stealing of the flowers, far from being an act of vandalism, took on the challenge of a task to be performed at all cost in order to fulfil the quest of the week, namely to make sure that the group who would be attending the art course would get the promised reward: a week for all the senses.
I was determined that the first exercise would be the drawing, painting, photographing or just looking and filling the eyes with the beauty and elegance of this flower; to inhale the scent which was so strong and intoxicating, and in order to do this I needed to get some. Stealing seemed to be the only available (and somehow attractive) option.
On the Monday morning very early when the town was still asleep and the soft rain kept away strolling tourists I went up to the pergolas and quietly and brazenly took a few grapes, brought them to the art room, displayed them on the table and let the artists respond to it.
Over the following days as the weather gradually improved we roamed the area being guided by the light, the reflections on the water, the scent of many other flowers, the sound of bells and the artistic sites. We travelled by car, walked a good deal, some retraced an ancient pilgrims’ path along the side of the mountain to the next fishing village. We took our time on the ferry which took its time criss-crossing the lake going from villages to villas. As the tourists noisily boarded the boat they would take a seat and soon quieten down, their eyes fixed on the beauty of the waters and the surrounding mountains whose tops were still covered with snow.
There was so much to take in that, from the very beginning I had warned the group to take it easy and go with whatever felt fine as the task of the week was not necessarily to produce as much work as possible but to experience as much as possible and to record those experiences in many ways: sketching, writing, photographing, feeling and walking. It was also important that they would take time to taste the food, to listen to the many sounds of the place and to the people’s speech and to observe them getting more animated as they expressed themselves in the local dialect.
The biggest recommendation though was not to feel guilty if, at the end of the week, they didn’t fill their sketchbooks or painted but a few pictures because the many type of images they would bring back would keep nourishing for a long time.
To allow ourselves to be enchanted is not easy task and needs training which is easier done when we are away from the daily routine. I believe that transferring that capacity for enchantment to the every day life is a very healing art, that to learn to recognize beauty in the many forms which abounds in familiar surroundings is life saving and to respond to it in whatever art form we are comfortable with should be a welcome habit. In this way the outcomes generated by the transformative power of art will cease to be an occasional gift and become part of everyday magic.