Italy part two: The Autumn trip

 

6th October 2007


The second trip for me is going to be linked with the tradition of Italian carvers dating back to origins of classical sculpture. It is the opposite pole to the first study trip and I am full of nerves as I will be totally throwing myself in at the deep end.

 

I leave the house late Friday evening to begin my journey, I have that uneasy feeling of having left something important behind, then just as I’m getting onto the M5 heading east (to the ferry at Dover) I realise that I have actually forgotten the most important thing. I take the next turning and double back to collect my master! This is the plaster of which I am hoping to be able to carve in marble and without which I would be lost.

 

This makes me a bit more stressed and a little late regards to my timing. On the way to Dover I struggle to stay awake and finally arrive at the ferry with 25 minutes to spare. We leave on time at 2 am and set sail for Calais in the full light of the moon.

The ship arrives in the early hours and daylight is nowhere to be seen: I’d had a little sleep on the ferry so decided to drive for a few hours and then stop for a good rest. I stop just north of Reims and fall asleep in the back of the van, which was very comfortable due to some small improvements made after the last trip.

 

I wake at about 11am French time and make a breakfast; as I was having my coffee a beautiful red dragonfly came and sat beside me on the table, just to my right. It stayed around the whole time to remind me to focus on my own transformation and connect me to my lover for whom this creature also holds much significance. A small thing really but it made me smile.

Going south, again!

I realize that this document might not be for everyone, but for those of you who will read through I hope you get an insight into how valuable this kind of journey is. I say this here as I can now see this from the perspective of having returned and found the inspiration gained to be immeasurable. It seems to me that it is only when we push ourselves into the unknown that we get to truly learn, learn about the process of the work we are tackling, learn about the environment we are inhabiting and most relevant, we learn about ourselves.

 

The drive south has been good with no hassle, the roads are clear and having stuck to the auto routes I make quick progress. I am about 400 miles from my destination and will be pushing it to get there in daylight so may as well take it easy and just trundle along. It will be good to get to the coast to get a swim in, though that will have wait until tomorrow.

 

3pm Sunday 7th

 

Swam in the cool sea - just a quick one as I want to get to Pietrasanta to find a place to sleep: as my van is my home for the next month it’s a worry to me that I don’t know where I’ll be able to park up.

 

6.15 pm

 

No beach sleeps, as everywhere is well covered by parking meters and beach restaurants (private beaches), except a space near Carrara where a few bigger touring vans are staying, though this does not feel right for me and is too far to be able to get into work every day. I leave the coast asI feel unable to see where I could rough camp here. Its all too built up and policed, and not at all what I want.

 

I am seeking the solitude and sanctuary of the hills and need to be within walking distance of the studio in Pietrasanta.

 

I head right into the town centre to find first the studio and look for a place to park up. I drive around the town twice on this sleepy Sunday evening and as the sun sets I end up taking a chance and head up into the hills right behind the old town’s fortifications.

 

As the hill climbs it becomes apparent that this road is for locals only and there are just a few houses dotted around. I pass Marco’s studio where I will be working tomorrow and climb steeply into the back hills of Pietrasanta.

 

View from my home and time for a cuppa!

 

Then I see it: a perfect stop-over space. It’s halfway up the hill and positioned in a little clearing which gives me a view (out of the back of my van) of the setting sun over the sea to the west. The town of Pietrsanta lays below me and beyond that, the sea.

 

The light now is a beautiful soft glow and I decide to stay here for tonight and see how it feels in the morning. To my left is a small wooded area belonging to a shabby run-down house which itself is empty and to my right across the road and up a bit is a new build which is not quite finished, so empty too. I think I might have found my space.

 

Monday 8th

 

This is my first day and I drive down to the studio to unload and ask Marco if I can stay in the grounds of the studio. He greets me and helps me unload, then says I can leave the van there today but not again as they have to move huge blocks of marble around and it would be in the way. Ah well you have to ask, don’t you?

 

I meet the guys who I’ll be working alongside and they are Marco, the master, his brother Nicolla, a master and Mori the senior master (in his 70s) Francesco and Fabio the young masters. I call each one of these men masters as it becomes plain to see they each have an immense skill with marble and Mori is astounding to watch working.

 

 

Marco and the studio Gionanni: my plaster can be seen in the low left centre.

 

I spend the morning getting set up and finding a space to work. Fabio and Francesco take me off to the local café/bar for lunch but realise that me being a vegetarian here will be difficult. This is a hard-core local for the hunters, of which there are many here, and the place is full of tough-looking men who all enjoy the meat of the day, which no doubt, one of them shot the day before!

 

The menu is set, so I just have the vegetables and cheese, which to be honest is fine. I drink a glass of wine and finish with a coffee and this comes to a very cheap 7 euros. Still, I can’t afford to eat this every day so decide to cater for myself in the future.

 

I struggle to get through the day as its all new skills to learn; using the pointing tool which I get the hang of quite quickly but the power tools are a different matter.

 

The pointing tool is the traditional way to take measurements from the ‘master’ or sculptor’s work and transfer these into the marble. This method has been used for centuries and is one of the main reasons for me being here.

The block for me to carve: Mori cutting it down to size.

 

The plaster with the pointing tool to take measurements and transfer them to the marble.

By 3pm my hands are bleeding and the blisters blown. You’ll know what this is like if it has happened to you and is at the least, very uncomfortable. All the tough skin on my hands is placed where I have done many hours of hand carving and as such, not very useful here, as the method I’m using is so different. The tools I’m learning to use require that different areas of skin need to be toughened up. The result is that by the end of day one my hands are a mess.

 

I finish at 5pm and head straight for the beach for my wash down (no shower at the studio and not one in my van either!). I swim and find the sea a little warmer than up in the north but not really warm, it is October after all. The sun sets over the sea and I sit and watch it sink into the horizon, the colours turn the sky into a fiery glow and I meditate to the sound of the small waves breaking on the shore.

 

Next I head back to my overnight stop and get some supplies on route which becomes my pattern for the next few weeks and one I come to love. I park up as the last bit of light fades away and make myself something to eat, drink some fine Italian red wine and crash out. I’ve set my alarm for 7 am so I can get into work for 8, which is when everyone starts. I think its best to try to keep to their times as much as possible - I feel it is only right to adapt to their ways as best I can.

 

I have very vivid dreams and wake early, tired, and with hands that feel just a little like someone else’. Tthis feeling will get much worse before it gets better but I’m not to know that yet!

Tuesday 9th

Mori shows me a thing by blocking out (smacking huge chunks off my block with a hammer that must weigh at least 10 lbs). Bearing in mind my usual all day hammer is 2 lbs, and also take into account the fact that Mori is in his early 70’s, and you get some insight to what is going on here. He chats away to me as if I can fully understand him, which I can not, but I nod every now and then and get the gist of it. I feel I am beginning to make a little progress today and find Marco’s ‘little by little’ to be something to not be taken lightly. The task here for me is to finish this carving in the time I have (5 weeks) and take home a fully finished work. The young guys Fabio and Francesco say that I will not make it and think it will take longer than I have, but they don’t know me yet!

 

The process is to first take many detailed measurements from the plaster and transfer them into the marble. This is done by lining the pointing tool with a mark on the plaster then switching the tool onto the marble and marking where to cut into the block, removing the point and cutting to within 2 cms of the final depth. This must be done all over and the first marks are all done on the high spots, thus reducing the risk of taking too much off… something you must never do of course! You can see from the plaster in the next picture how many marks are being transferred and these are just the beginnings.

 

The start of the process as the marks are being transferred into the block

 

 

Marco helps me come to grips with the pointing tool and I slowly begin to find my rhythm with these harsh power tools. My hands are raw today and the blisters weeping, so I wrap some cloth around them to ease the discomfort.

 

He asks me how I come to know the Basarti studio. I explain my connection with the magical showroom on the banks of the river Arno in Firenze. But that is another story and I will have to come to it at a later date. I realise that I am extremely fortunate to be here as Marco does not have outsiders working with him at all and I am only here to study and learn as an act of his kindness. This kind of knowledge is only passed through the tradition and I well understand that I have been given a very precious opportunity to dip into their world.

 

Tuesday 9th

 

7pm:

 

I’m at Veraggio beach for my swim, I’ve some fresh bread and wine to watch the sunset. My hands are looking messy as I was trying to get to grips with the big hit, (hammer from ear to chisel to remove the most marble). Francesco was trying to teach me this but after a full day of direct concentration even a small error results in much pain and blood spilt. The sea is healing though, and the wine numbs the pain a little. Later when sitting in my van up in the hills the pain in my hands reminded me of when I first started carving stone and was always hitting my left thumb knuckle: the new pain reminiscent of that time when so many things were changing in my life. Still sometimes we have to go through a pain barrier before we can move on and this is where I find myself now. After only two days work I am beginning to question what on earth I am doing here, I feel the guys at the studio see a foolish English man who is smashing himself up in an attempt to learn something which takes decades to master. I fall asleep early as I am shattered and the 8 am start seems daunting to me in this present moment.

 

11th Thursday

 

I’m writing this from Massa beach: it’s 6.30 pm. Today I met one of my heroes who came to the studio to see some 4 or 5 works which are being finished. One left yesterday on a truck and I got a few photos of it flying away, an angel with only one wing, made of pure statuary marble and still flying!

I tell him he is a great inspiration to me. As he is off to Paris to his other home, (he has one just down the road here too) he comes to say goodbye to me. He looks at my marble (4 days into the carving) and says “keep up the good work”. I say “maybe see you again” and then he is gone. I’m sure the young guys are finding it all very funny as I am obviously quite happy to have met this famous artist. However, as they are the ones to have been carving his marble sculptures, I guess they can see the irony in the situation!

 

Mori helped me out this morning and Francisco this afternoon with a few heavy cuts with the diamond disk, really shifting large amounts of marble with ease. Marco has been doing really well with his English and I think he knows much more than he lets on. I think I amuse him more than anything else, as he questions me on religion, life the universe and everything…….I tell him the answer is 42 but I think this is lost on him.

 

The sun is setting now and I have to look through the gaps between the beach houses as all along this coast it is developed with restaurants, all with their own patch of beach. I have been waiting for the surf to kick in and today the sea is still flat, although there is a wind blowing a small swell onto the shore. My hands were hurting a lot last night with open blisters on the left hand from holding the electric hammer chisel, the right has blisters too but not broken yet.

I have now spent three full days chopping out the torso and every point has to be measured again and again and again ……now I’m ready to make the second cuts to within 1 millimetre of the final surface, so careful measuring will be necessary from now on. You have to concentrate completely as there is no room for mistakes and I am being mindful of doing my best here to follow these teachings, as I value this experience and want to prove to myself that I am able to do this.

 

Friday 12th

 

I have just had a text from England informing me of the sale of one of my small works ‘Boy from the Block’. Good news and a good omen for the future. This coming at the end of my first weeks carving gives me a well needed lift, as at first I was so unsure of what I was doing here but ‘piano a piano’ I have begun to really learn. The place I call home right now is just 1 mile form the studio, up via Santa Maria and overlooks the city of Pietrasanta, west towards the sea. It’s a very beautiful spot and I feel fortunate to have found it. The old house below is an empty shell: the grounds are wild forest and a small level garden with fantastic views and each morning I wake up to enjoy this special place. My only companions are the cats and they come each evening for their dinner which is brought to them by a local elderly couple. I usually bump into them as I wearily climb the hill at the end of my working day: we say a happy hello each day and slowly get a little conversation going.

 

The torso is coming on really well, I think….I keep getting the odd tip from Francisco, and Marco continues to teach me the techniques needed to cut the marble close to the final depth. The five tooth tungsten chisel is held at a very shallow angle which gives a clean cut and leaves a good surface for the next stage. No sign of Fabio today as he works at another studio some days.

 

Fabio finishing a marble birthday suit

Now, after one full week, I have fully cut the right side and I am on my way with the left. Francesco thinks I’ll have it finished by the end of next week, but that’s coming from someone who has many years experience in this work. It’s amazing to see how it’s coming out, as if by magic, sculpting by numbers… anyone can do it ! That’s not quite true as my left hand is still painful, though my right is ok: Va bene! So after a weekend off they will be ready for week two.

 

Tomorrow I’m going to visit Carrara again to look around the old city. I also wish to visit Gualtieri again and choose a few blocks of good clean statuary marble to take home to carve in my own studio.

 

Left side cut close, right rough cut.

Monday 15th

I spent the weekend travelling around Carrara and checking in with Gualtieri to choose some fine marble. It was good to see him again and he was amused to see my dancing around his marble studio excitedly picking out various blocks of stone with a blue marker. (Some of these marks are still visible as I have a few uncut pieces in my studio to this day). I then stayed with my cousin and his family for the night in a real bed, real shower and home-cooked food. We went shopping for me to get my Italian suit, but I still have to find the right one….I did get a cheap option though (50 Euros!) and this will do for now. One thing I do not own is a classy suit and as we all know the Italians make some of the finest suits available: it is something I would like to get while I’m here. The trip to Livorno showed me the cheap options and now I will check out the high end.

 

I came back to my spot last night so I could walk to work this morning …..I got in on time and found only Mori and Marco in today but Francesco popped in to say hello and see how its going. I worked full on all day and was in the sea before sunset, although this is getting sooner each day and the water temperature cooler. Next stop is Massa to go looking as Fabio tells me I might find what I want there. I park up in the old town and walk through the narrow streets towards the church. It is a beautiful building with paintings and carvings all over and a small service is going on inside the side chapel. I left by the side exit and walked around the quadrangle then out to find a proper suit.

 

I window shop until I find the Versace shop….new suits and very cool they are too! I try one and feel this might be it but then see I’d be looking at nearly 750 euros so I leave feeling I might have to make do with the cheap one from Livorno. I head back to the van and then see one last shop still open and I end up trying on a really classic black and white pinstripe Versace number. In my head, this is my suit and I know it. I see myself in the mirror and like it. I like it a lot. It costs 735 euros and I think a haggle is in order!

 

I get talking to Francesco, (another one) and he tells me he and his wife are expecting their first child early next year. I tell him I’m studying sculpture in Pietrasanta, following the old tradition. He looks at my book (which I happen to have with me) and likes the baby in the bronze. Then it clicks, I can cut a deal here but I let it come from him. He wants to commission me to make him a sculpture to give his wife and in return he will sort me out with my suit, shirt, shoes…the full works! Excellent, I give him my details of where I’m working and invite him to come over anytime over the next few weeks. I offer him a mother and child piece as a theme and he is happy with this choice. I must say here that after looking in all the posh shops at the posh suits this strikes me as a positive affirmation again that I’m on the right path. Of course this might all fall down at the last minute if the sculpture is not up to it ! We will have to see. It is very rare to find this attitude of friendship and exchange, so as I leave I give special thanks for this opportunity and I make a pact with myself to make this sculpture with as much love as I can.

 

Wednesday 17th

 

If you have looked through my 1st Italy trip you will know I spent my time further south in the hills of Tuscany. I have to return there to collect some bits and pieces and today I make the arrangements. I sit outside a little café just off the main square and in the shade….perfect, Café Pebi. My lunch is a café latte and brioche. It’s small but as I spent some time catching up with my emails I only have time for a quick bite before getting back to work. As I now have a second piece to make (the mother and child) I must really get my head down and work full tilt.

 

I had an email asking me to be artist in residence at a show in Mayfair later in the year. So things seem to moving in the right direction and I’m feeling happy to be where I am right now. All the doubts have finally faded as the concentration needed to produce this type of sculpture is very draining and I guess this has overruled any questions of why I am here. So now I have become very happy and very tired too, I am aware I’m pushing myself quite hard but this is normal for me, so I just get on with it, enjoying it more now I’m hitting the marble more and myself less!

 

The first week was really tough on my mind and body and I felt truly exhausted by the end of it. Now, having had a couple of days off and with the commission from Francesco I am coming to understand the importance of being in the moment. I see the deal with him as being a positive affirmation of my journey here.

 

The way of the ancients was to barter and exchange skills and this chance meeting has brought two people together to show that there is still room in this modern world for the old ways to continue. I feel it is so beautiful and I vow to put everything into the sculpture I am making for him. I have begun to carve the piece and my aim is to show the mother embracing the child in a closeness and softness which is reflected by the light of a halo around her head. I’m carving it out of the alabaster which I brought with me intending to carve another commission I have back in England. So I will have to get some more when I visit Volterra which has a great supply of the finest alabaster in the region. Having been there in the spring I have a good idea of where I will get exactly what I need. I’m going to be there at the weekend so I'll collect as much as I can afford, as it will be great for fast work and experimenting with some of the stained glass ideas I have on going.

 

It’s been so noisy in the studio today and my head is banging, with the added stress of concentrating for 8 hours I have been contending with four other sculptors working with machines and the dust all adding up to a pretty heavy day. The little piece is coming on well but my hands are sore again, this time from the more detailed work on the alabaster.

 

Thursday 18th

 

Had a good morning working on both pieces and I've nearly finished the mother and child. The guys in the studio cannot believe the deal I have struck and find it all very amusing; I’m sure they do not expect me to actually get the suit but I have every faith in the integrity of Francesco and work really hard to produce a good piece. I have a difficult time with Marco today as there is a misunderstanding with regards to me asking to make a work incorporating him and Mitorij.

 

I spoke to them both as I wanted to make a work which honoured their individual commitments to the final work which the public sees. It all got out of hand and I upset Marco rather deeply. I was mortified that something with good intentions could go so badly and began to question what I was doing there again.

 

No amount of explaining could put this right so I ended up leaving the studio that evening with a sadness that left me exploring my inner reasons for bringing it up in the first place and I can now see that there was an undercurrent of wanting to show the great are only where they are because of the great works done for them…..as it is now, so it always has been, for every great artist has had a team of workers making the actual sculptures for them.

 

I make an extra effort to keep out of the way and get on with the carving I have to do. I do a lot of clearing up around the studio and even give the shower room a full wash down (long overdue). Making the place a little more tidy was the least I could do to try to make amends.

I was just asking too much from these two creative masters and naive as I am, thought it would all work out. There is a lesson for me here and one I take a while to fully understand, the essence of which was to show respect for my masters and find humility in my heart.

 

Torso coming on

Saturday 21st

 

I am sitting in my van having lunch and a cup of tea…might have a glass of wine later! I’m as high up in the mountains as you can get and before me is the quarry which Michelangelo founded some 500 years ago. A strong wind from the north, blows through the mountain tops and the sun is just breaking through the clouds every now and then. This seems to be the wind of change as we fall towards the end of summer and being to feel the approach of the winter months.

 

I have spent the weekend in these mountains and feel as if I am rooted here in some way. I love walking in the marble dust and feeling the fine powder between my toes. This morning I put on my tourist hat and visited the ‘Cava de Marmo’ of Frantriscritti (one of the largest caves) for one of their tours inside the mountains.We were driven into the heart of the mountain to the centre and stopped some 600 meters in, another 600 and you would be out the other side, 400 up to the top and 400 meters down to sea level. The height of the cave was 30 meters and it all felt very unreal as the slabs being cut here weigh around 70 tonnes! At one point in the past, there was an unrelenting block which would not shift, there were nine holes drilled into the surface of the solid wall and all that came away was a fractured shape of Mary holding the Christ child….very like the work I am making for Francesco and his wife in Massa! The section has been left as it is considered an omen of some kind to the quarry men, although last week two young men in their thirties died up here working the marble free from the hillside.

 

It seems so disconnected when we see a piece of sculpture in a gallery, museum or garden as to the origin of its creation having been right here in these huge mountain quarries.They tell us now that there has been as much marble cut from these quarries in the past thirty years as has been taken in all the past quarrying. I wonder how much longer we shall have access to this beautiful stone they call white gold, already it is getting harder to find the supplies of the purest statuary marble and this will not get any better for the future generations following in my footsteps.

 

Carrara, one of the open quarries

Monday 22nd

 

Woke at five am and could not sleep again, bad head and feeling very poorly so took pain killers and got on with finishing the mother and child commission. Marco kindly let me have a beautiful black base which I spent most of the day squaring up and polishing to a fine finish. The Belgian black base looks really good with the white alabaster and it is now finally all done.

 

Now it's 8 pm and I am really tired, I didn’t swim today (first day I missed) as too worn out. After work I took off to the beach to enjoy the sunset and put the finishing touches to Francesco’s sculpture. At lunch time I bought some green felt to attach to the underside of the base so it would not harm any surface it was placed on. By the light of many candles I cut and stick the felt into place. The piece weighs about 7/8 kilos so it is important that this last detail is not omitted. I must be careful to get it to the shop tomorrow in one piece and I’m quite excited to see the response, whether or not I’ll come away with my suit! I must take the camera to capture my first Italian commission.

Alabaster carving for Francesco

Feeling worn out as I do today and spending all day in the noise and dust of the studio was a real trial today, I have a pretty bad hearing condition (tinnitus with only 20% hearing in the left ear) and this is really not a good space for this as it is worse than it has been for a long time right now. I will work on until I have the torso finished though and this will be Thursday if I work flat out.

 

I’m off on Friday to get tools and materials and begin my journey home, this seems quite strange at this point as I am living so in the moment the thought of somewhere else is almost unreal.

 

It doesn’t feel so cold this evening so I hope I sleep better tonight. After work I set off to the beach as was normal for me at this time of day. I began the decent into town and suddenly there was this crash from the back of the van…I had forgotten to pack away last night’s supper and had left it all balanced on top of the cooker…. it all fell into my bed; the glass broke and the washing up water went everywhere. I arrived at the breach and took everything out of the van……..so much stuff! Then the sorting, chucking out and washing up till now, as I sit here I can honestly say it’s really cosy and nice again. Five little candles give enough light to write by and see my mother and child. Funny thing is it’s my mum’s birthday tomorrow so it will be even stranger if it all works out with Francesco.

 

Tuesday 23rd

 

Rang mum in Oz and left her a happy birthday message at 7am my time. I was awake early again but thank goodness the temperature has risen a little and the studio is warmer again. It is such a lovely time of year to be here as it’s not too hot but warm enough to swim……although I do seem to be the only one going in now, mad dogs and English men and all that!

 

Tomorrow is the thank you breakfast day: this is a lovely part of tradition here which I am playing my part in as a way of saying thank you to all the guys, Marco asked me to get some bread and salami but I think they deserve a little more for all their kindness and teachings. So on my way back to my camp, I go to the supermarket and stock up on the best salami, breads, butter, olives in chilli oil, sun dried tomatoes in oil, cheese, dips, the finest biscuits and fruit juice too. In the days gone by Marco’s father tells me they would do this kind of thing more often but not so much these days; so it is an honour for me to be given the opportunity and I like to do thing well so I go to town a bit.

 

Tomorrow might be my last day carving as the torso is nearly done now with only the base and neck and arm to finish off.

After work I took myself off to Massa to deliver my sculpture; when I arrived Francesco was busy upstairs with some customers and I was given over to one of his assistants to be fitted. Before she began I placed the sculpture on a glass table for him to come and see. A few moments later he arrives and I call his attention to the work.

 

He really likes it and so do the assistants, each studying it closely. A flush comes over his cheeks, I can tell he is truly touched and I am happy to have made this connection. Next thing is my fitting session and once complete we agree to meet up on Thursday to collect my suit and go for a drink to celebrate our good fortune.

 

Its 8.30 pm now and I have just got back from Francesco’s where I was fitted (by a rather lovely Italian girl) with my new suit, which looks very dapper…even on scruffy old me. Leather Italian shoes, belt, beautiful shirt and tie complete the picture: if I were to be buying these items I would get very little change from 1,000 euros.

 

Now for some food, gnocci and pesto with a green salad, ciabatta from the local baker’s in Pietrasanta. She (the baker) is the largest, meanest looking baker I’ve ever met, but she seems to be warming to me now, as she doesn’t throw the bread and change at me any more, just places it gently on the counter!

 

The hand over.

Wednesday 24th

 

Well the day has been very pleasant despite the rain and cool temperature. The breakfast I took in was a great success and at 10 o’clock we put down our tools and got ready. Mori (73 years old) prepared the table and cleared a work platform about 2 ft x 2 ft. I said it needs to be bigger so he gets a marble slab and places it on top, dusts it down and there we are. I set out the food and Marco brings a really good bottle of wine, a 2002 merlot. As I unpacked the food there is much chat about what a lot of food there is, and there is. The salami gets quickly chopped up and the bread is broken and wine is opened.

 

The feast has begun and I can’t help but make the connection between this simple gathering and sharing of the wine and bread to the breaking of bread within the church.

 

Here in this studio many icons have been carved for such spaces and these guys here have been doing all this work. In this small way, as we share in the bread and wine there feels a truth and happiness about all those present. Happy to be carving this pure stone and revealing the inner visions of man: so that others may find inspiration from the fall of their gaze when it rests upon these works.

 

The simple bread and salami sandwiches become more elaborate as time passes and the wine is just right too, with the chilli spread, olives and cheese all going down well. All the little special biscuits were just right for the final assault and when we were almost done we became silent for a moment…….until Mori lets out a loud belch.

 

All smiles and good merriment, even Giuseppi (Marco’s Father) came down to join us for the full spread. Giuseppi tells us the story about one of his sculptors who when they used to have a bash like this, after he had eaten and drank too much, would do handstands, never sober, only when drunk.

 

Half an hour later we all get back to work, full bellies and happy again. Marco seemed pleased that I had shown enough respect to get just too much food for everyone. So Mori gets the extra salami to take home and he’s so pleased he gives me his banana which makes me smile as that’s usually his mid morning snack.

I feel happy that Marco chose this way for me to repay him as everyone had given me something of themselves and I have learnt so much in such a relatively short time. It is fitting that we all enjoy a breakfast together and pay homage to the old days at the same time. The day is soon over and my torso is almost finished with the last few cuts and then a polish left to do.

 

My last night in Pietrasanta and one I have to say feels right, the weather is turning, the sea is getting cooler and I have achieved what I set out to do. In fact I have exceeded my goals by some way and feel blessed to have had this time here. I get a good bottle of wine for each of the guys at the studio and a special one for Marco.

 

 

Thursday 25th

 

Last day in the studio and not a rest day either as still have the surface to do, this is produced by using the acid, ossalico mixed with a little water, then polished with a cloth and then polished again with a tool called a saxophone: a fitting end to the sculpture which I will call Champion. All that remains for me now is to get packed up and collect all my gear. I have one final lunch with Fabio and Francesco in the hunting restaurant and then leave the guys whilst I go shopping for some tools to take with me back to England. By 4 pm I’m all ready and say my goodbyes and close the doors on a very special time which I have been fortunate enough to spend in the company of these highly skilled artists.

 

I set off to visit Massa for the last time and collect my suit. When I arrive I find Francesco in good spirits and he wants me to speak to his wife as she is really pleased with the sculpture, she cried when he gave it to her and that is a good thing, I think! The suit is all done and feels just right so we head off into the mountains of Servasser, to a favourite restaurant of Francesco’s in a town called Rosina. If you get the chance to visit try to find the little Italian on the left hand side of the road as it winds uphill. We are joined by Luca who is a poet and old school friend and we have a good feast and enjoy some fine local wines.

Friday 26th

 

I wake early and spend some time walking in the hills. I eventually find some marble which has been road-side for some time as it’s quite weathered and tough on the surface. This characteristic is common in the stone which has been on the surface for some time but I find a great piece which looks like it will fit ok in the back of the van. I then spend an hour blocking it out so that it fits in the boot…..perfect!

 

I felt a little kinship with the quarry men of days long gone as I sat there high up in the mountains, blocking this huge stone so I could then heave it into place. It began to rain as I was finishing and this reminded me of the time I left Italy last, a cleansing refreshing time to leave. I give thanks to the mountains, my spirit guides, ancestors and all those who hold me in their thoughts; then I eat a little lunch before beginning my journey homewards.

 

It is about 3.30 when I get to within striking distance of Genova and I feel unsure about breaking off the auto route to get down into town and try and find this cemetery. Fabio was quite insistent when we spoke about it and I trust his judgment, so I take the turning off and follow the signs for the town and cemetery. I find it not too difficult to get to and am quickly parked up and ready to go. When I get to the gates it is made clear that I do not have much time as it is winter closing. I make a fast pace towards the lower right inner walled section. Now this is where inside knowledge helps, as the place is huge and it would have taken all day to get round. I turn a few corners and then it strikes me: I am in the midst of something truly magical. All the tombs have been created by the carvers of the last century and they were, so it would seem, all quite astounding masters of the art of sculpture.

 

 

I feel like my small successes pale into insignificance at the walls of never-ending beauty. These strong passionate people of Italy, at the turn of the 1900s knew a thing or two about how to honour the dead. I have never seen such a commitment to the memory of those passed away and it puts me to shame that my own father’s ashes lie in a shallow grave with only an old broken cross with his initials and dates to his lasting memory. I make a vow to change this situation when I am back in England and give him something more fitting to his status.

 

 

This made me literally do a double take as the figure is so life-like.

The beauty with which these works have been made is a testimony to man’s belief in the present, for it is only now that we truly have and if we live in the shallows of our past we do nothing but wallow and if we are always looking to the future for some time to come for things to be right then we are held in limbo.

 

It is only now that we have the power to act and make decisions from which we can grow.

 

Now is the moment which holds all the power and the glory and we are made stronger for becoming ever more present.