Nurturing Resilience at an Artist’s Residency in Italy
On a bus from Florence I was equal parts nervous and excited. I didn’t quite know what to expect. I’d never done an artist’s residency before. Would it be an idyllic writing time while listening to the likes of Andrea Bocelli singing atop Tuscan hills, or a gastronomic delight of plump grape juices dripping down my chin? Surely not out of the realm of possibility?
The residency was a short drive out of Greve in Chianti, a quaint market village. We drove to the villa, passing vineyards and fields of olive groves. My apartment had a view of the ancient town of Montefioralle. It was just like the movies, a dream come true. I felt very lucky.
The villa was attached to beautifully renovated tenth-century church. As there were no services it was always empty. In fact, I often had to walk through it to get to the villa car park. Weirder still was lugging my groceries past the altar. I’d look up, nod to Jesus and whisper respectfully that I’d bought organic. Surreal.
My time was very social. I went out regularly with the residency owners, their friends and the other artists, August being busy with markets and festivals. So many cafes and wonderful restaurants to choose from, along with a regular morning café and occasional afternoon aperitivo in Greve.
When I was in town the people were polite, but I felt somewhat invisible. I guess they thought I was just another tourist. Then one day, for no apparent reason, I wore my adorable red lipstick. And whoa–a big change.
I was seen! People looked at me with a warm smile. The young, the old and the in between. Remarkable what a bit of lippy does. Who wants to be ignored? Not me! So, on every trip outside the villa after that I wore my red lipstick. Handy hint ladies: if you come to Italy, consider wearing red lipstick!
One day, for no apparent reason, I wore my adorable red lipstick. And whoa–a big change. I was seen! People looked at me and gave me a warm smile. The young, the old and the in between. Remarkable what a bit of lippy does.
Life in the villa was often solitary but one day I had the most exquisite three-hour conversation with two extraordinary Italian women, an artist and an interior designer who spoke some English. We shared stories of our childhoods, marriages, the struggles women face and the power of art. We discussed philosophy, literature and, of course, lovers. It held a richness that was fulfilling and inspiring. An experience of deep connection that I treasure.
But, little did I know, trouble was brewing.
Turns out, even in paradise, challenges arise. In this case it was in the form of bed bugs. How they got there no one exactly knows, but there they were, sharing my bed.
I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t until my clothes and bags were treated. Otherwise, I’d take the bug eggs with me. I told the owners of the situation and suggested some ways I’d researched to get rid of them. They attempted to eradicate them using standard bug spray, which (predictably) didn’t work. This was frustrating indeed and the language barrier didn’t help. But I left it to them as I didn’t want to cause a fuss. No one wants to be that person.
An artist’s residency in Italy should be serene, an environment full of inspiration, at worst I’d experience writers’ block, I thought.
After copious bug spray and continued bites, the bed bugs were still in force. Thoughts and emotions arose as my patience ran out. This wasn’t how I thought it would be. I don’t like the painful bites. An artist’s residency in Italy should be serene, an environment full of inspiration, at worst I’d experience writers’ block, I thought. This was a distraction from writing.
Just as I was about to message a friend, she rang me and I was able share, shed some tears and get much-needed sympathy. After some deep breaths, it was time to quieten.
It was OK to feel sad and frustrated. By acknowledging the pain and observing my thoughts I could gain some distance and perspective. Seeing the situation more clearly, I came to view it as if I was watching a movie. In his book The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer writes: “If you don’t let go, you’ll notice that the energy that got stimulated in your heart works like a magnet. It’s a phenomenally attractive force that will pull your consciousness into it”.
If you’ve had experience with bed bugs, you know the lengths you must go through to be rid of these critters. Thankfully, the owners tried a new tactic and the bed bugs eventually were gone. Along with many of my clothes, which were put through a high-heat dryer.
Rather than reacting with judgement, by using my practice, I was able to bring self-compassion and loving-kindness to myself, and then a kindness to those involved. An opportunity for growth with a lesson in resilience through mindfulness.
Life settled down and I was back happily writing, and of course I got to the enjoy the occasional Campari spritz. Life in Italy was good. Onwards and upwards!
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