Monday, July 12, 2010

L'arte della liuteria

L'arte della liuteria = the art of violin-making

One of the cities I hope to visit this fall is Cremona, Italy, famous for its violin-making, including the world-famous Stradivari bottega, or workshop. I find I am being led there by a series of unusual coincidences.

It started several years ago, when I was traveling to a tiny hamlet called Civita di Bagnaregio, in Umbria, and the only other traveler I saw that day was Miwa, a young Japanese woman who had been living in Cremona for three years. She was working at a Stradivari workshop to learn more about rebuilding violins, to use in her family business in Japan. She didn't speak English, and I was just learning Italian at the time, but we managed to converse with each other about our lives. We ended up spending the day together in Civita di Bagnaregio, and her story sparked an interest in me to learn more about Cremona.

Miwa and I with Civita di Bagnaregio behind us, 2008

More recently, I stumbled upon two books that take place in Cremona, and the main character is a liutaio (luthier). The books, written by the British author Paul Adam, are mysteries that focus on the world of violin making and selling. In particular, they deal with violins made by Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu. Many people have never heard of del Gesu, but in the current world of violin selling, his violins have surpassed those of any other violin maker. Just last week, the asking price on one of del Gesu's violins (the Vieuxtemps Guarneri, made in 1741) had reached a record high sum of $18 million.

Adam's novels, Rainaldi's Quartet and Paganini's Ghost, in addition to being suspenseful mysteries, also offer good history lessons about the art of violin-making and insight into the lives of Stradivari and del Gesu. I was immediately drawn into the story, and was left wanting to know more. It's a fascinating story how violins evolved, thanks to three Italian families (several generations of the Amati, Stradivari, and Guarneri families) who developed the style of Classic Italian violin-making that started in 1535 and continues into the present day.

Coincidentally, the next week after reading the novel, I found a mini-course being offered in my town on the Art of Violin-Making, taught by a local luthier through the continuing education office of the university. Struck by the synchronicity of the event, I immediately signed up for the course. I've been enjoying the class, mostly for the history lesson on the evolution of the violin, and the biographies of the Italian violin-makers. The teacher is more scientist than artist, so the element of artistic passion is sadly missing. I understand the need for precision, but without an emotional perspective included, I quickly lose interest. In Adam's books, the luthier's passion is evident, even down to describing the wood and the varnishes used in his craft. I am eager to visit a bottega in Cremona to witness a more passionate approach to this art.

Several other coincidences have turned up on this topic. Several of my Italian friends have told me about a special area of Italy where abete rosso (red spruce) trees are grown that provide the resonant, flexible wood used to make the tops to the violins. It is said that Stradivari used to search the Foresta di Paneveggio in a park near the Dolomiti (Dolomites) of northern Italy for the best trees to build his violins with. One of my friends lives not far from this particular park. Perhaps I'll see it!

From the teacher of the course, I learned of an American who has a bottega in Cremona, one I might be able to visit in the fall. In 2000, Bruce Carlson, now a world-famous luthier, was appointed the conservator of one of the most famous del Gesu violins, il Cannone, the very same violin that served as a focal point in the book, Paganini's Ghost. (Il Cannone was owned by Paganini, and it now resides in Genova, his home town.) I just learned today that Regina Carter plays il Cannone on one of my favorite albums, Paganini: After a Dream. As this odd string of coincidences continue to pile up, fueling me on a sychronistic journey, I'm more eager than ever to visit Cremona and see what happens next.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Room with a View

Actually, I’ve found a studio apartment with a view…from a terrace! After several weeks of viewing rooms and apartments from the options available on Craigslist, I decided to go with an agency to find the right place. And I’ve found a charming little place to live next fall during my stay in Firenze (Florence, Italy).

Since I will need to work while I’m there, I had some prerequisites that are non-negotiable: I needed a place with a fast internet connection, somewhat quiet, where it would be safe to leave my computer and belongings when I travel to other cities for a few days. I also had a certain area of town I wanted to live, near Santa Croce and the Sant’Ambrogio open market.

First I looked at single rooms in multi-person lodgings, but the apartments offered several rooms, a fully equipped kitchen, a washing machine and more. Once I came across the studio apartment with the terrace, I had trouble imagining myself anywhere else. When I contacted the agency, I received quick and thorough responses to my questions. I found the cost a bit daunting, as it includes not only a booking fee, but also a security deposit and a hefty monthly rent. If all goes well with my work while I’m there, it should be no problem managing the expense. If not, I can just squeak by with my savings, though I may have to limit other expenditures during my stay. I’m willing to take the risk.

In addition to being near Santa Croce and the open market, the apartment is equidistant from other favorite places: the Duomo, and Piazza D’Azeglio, where there is a large park I love to hang out in. I can easily walk to any of these places within 5 –10 minutes. In any case, I’ve booked the apartment, and can start to imagine being there: waking up to a view of the city of Firenze from my terrace; walking to the open market for fresh produce each day; sharing a glass of wine with friends from the terrace in the evenings. I feel quite certain it will be worth the expense!

awaiting company!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Making Dreams Come True: It’s a Process

As I move closer to realizing the dream of spending more time in Italy, I’m contemplating the process and stages of the journey. So often, we have yearnings, including the desire to experience and become more, but how often do we actually act on achieving those things we desire? For too many years, I was content with the dream of living in another culture, until it became quite clear that it would forever remain a dream unless I did something to bring it into reality.

My journey with Italy started just four years ago, and I’ve come a long way in a short time, but it seems I still have far to go. My goal is to know, as best I can, another language and culture…..not just on a superficial level, but all of it…the good, the bad and the ugly. How can I hope to accomplish that objective without living in that culture? I’m often frustrated by the slow but steady progress I’ve made; but I stay with it, and it continues to push me forward.


Fortunately, I’m in excellent health, I have a comfortable income from jobs I can do online while abroad, my mind is sharp and curious, and I have rich connections with my son and many good friends who encourage my journey. I've made good friends with Italians who live in many different regions of Italy: I speak with them often on Skype,and visit them when I'm in Italy. They've contributed a great deal to my knowledge of the Italian language and culture, and have become another kind of family, pulling me closer to Italy every year. These aspects of my life sustain me as I gather the courage to move forward. There are many uncertainties ahead, but I’m willing to risk some comfort and security in order to experience life and the world more fully. I don’t want to regret that I didn’t try when I had the chance to. And as they say, it’s the journey that rewards us, not the outcome.


Coraggio! Stai tranquilla…..tutto andrĂ  bene, vedrai.
Courage! Be calm…all will go well, you’ll see.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Beginnings/Vita Nuova

Vita Nuova: New Life
Ciao a tutti! Since 2006, I've been writing about my travels in Italy, but am starting a new version of my blog. I'll be spending more time in Italy and want to record those experiences in a fresh space.
You can read of my previous travels (five trips to Italy, one to Japan) in an archive blog by accessing this link:


BecomeMore1: Italy and Japan