Unexpected treasures and sights are around every hairpin turn here in Italy. On the corner of Strada Provincial 6 and a country lane near Bagnoregio sits a gallery of delightful, durable, re-purposed dragons, monsters, and demons and an ark for them to sail in. On Google maps, where I found the self-same cross-streets circa 2011, none of the sculptures existed. August 2017, there they are, a herd of hip street art just begging to be noticed.
After we pulled over into the brush and left the car, closer inspection revealed that the sculptures were a creative maze of electronic refuse, household castoffs, construction leftovers, and anything else you might find in a solid waste dump. A wireless router as the head of a long-legged ungulate, a saddle transformed into a benign cross between an elephant and a hippo, and the lethal jaw of a crocodile given chopping power with old keys.
The exhibit is the inspiration of Doppio Sguardo or Second Sight, the nom de arte for a couple of funny folk with too much time on their hands, Francesco Marzetti and Regula Zwicky. Alas, no one has been home on either visit I have made, but living in a nearby village, I may run into these two at a Friday market and thank them for causing me stop, and chuckle.
Orvieto, a historically fascinating town, not simply because it was the former seat of the pope himself, but for the glorious Duomo that holds center stage at the top of the hill and spreads a peaceful, almost beatific aura over the global visitors, leather and ceramic shops, galleries, and plentiful four star restaurants. In August of every year, Marisa Basili, a textile artist from the tiny hamlet of Benano, gathers the fruits of her visionary labors and sets off to Orvieto to create her own gallery. There, she rents a remarkable space in the center of town and begins to sell. Billing her wares as Idee e Ricami a Orvieto (Ideas and Embroidery in Orvieto), Marisa first sources natural hemp fabric and then applies her skill as an artisan embroiderer to the surface. The results, from lampshades to pillow cases to wall art elicit murmurs of appreciation from all who enter the massive wooden and suddenly-open doors of this large annual studio.
Marisa herself, around 5′ tall, is a bundle of energy and explanation. She explains that the work is all done by hand (fato a mano), with special details, such as vibrant ceramic buttons on pillow cases, chosen specially, and the crocheting exemplifying ancient stitches. The pieces vary in style but not in the sense of quality craftsmanship and traditional ways. Probably one of the reasons for the consistency and attention to detail is that Marisa lives the country life represented by her art. Her home is in a village so far off the beaten track that the track is a gravel road for part of the distance. (I know this because we went there to see from whence her inspiration sprang.) The town keeps her anchored in her art and a real world of nature and community, far away from tech, commercialism, and the media frenzy. Yet, once a year, and sometimes before Christmas, she ventures forth and draws sighs of contentment from dozens of people, who recall times when beautiful things were made by hand.
Speaking of art, there is none more astonishing than the triumphs conjured by Madre Natura (You’ll figure that out.) Practically poking a pin in a map, my visiting sister and I discovered Lake Bolsena and its crowning citta Bolsena, which hugs the huge lake’s sloped shores with great affection and medieval pomp. Lago di Bolsena, a volcanic lake, formed as a caldera and began filling nearly 400,000 years ago. For tens of thousands of years, its pristine waters served the needs of encampments near its shores, and, in modern times, because of an extraordinary level of administrative wisdom, Lake Bolsena remains the cleanest large lake in Europe. Part of this is due to the fact that tourists have never overrun the area, being attracted instead to Bolsena’s cousin lakes to the north, Larga and Como, to name two. Looking deeper, we find that for the last twenty years, a regional pipeline has siphoned off all human waste and sent it elsewhere, away from the lake. As a result, you can actually drink the water. And, as you will notice in the pictures below, there is more than enough room for your beach blanket, noodle, and ice chest.
Clean, beautifully landscaped, replete with amenities in the form of hotels, restaurants, and cycle shops, Bolsena itself displays a level of civic pride rarely seen in cash-strapped Italian towns. The city has a strong litter and clean up policy, drip watering for the many towering hundred year-old trees on the avenues leading to the lake and along its shore front, and a schedule of musical and entertainment events that would keep even a seasoned socialite busy. It is a singular city with a strong sense of community and purpose, so much so that it was noticeable from the first moments we spent in its center. On that first visit, we didn’t have time to fully savor this small, inviting city’s offerings, but as with the other two singularities above, each return will increase the enchantment.