Amelia

The Niche

It’s 6:25 on a Friday night in the heart of Wellington City and the seemingly constant hum of club music and street noise is already breaching the walls of my apartment. The apartment itself is still, everyone is out so it’s just me for the moment. I am sitting on my bed, rainbow stripped alpaca blanket thrown across my legs, laptop steadily heating up my thighs. My calendar hovers in the corner of my eye to my right. Hanging there, staring at me, willing me to look at it for the hundredth time today. 26 days to go.

In the big scheme of things, in the measurement of a lifetime, 26 days is not that long. But every time I see that calendar, or the countdown I decided would be a good idea to have on my phone home screen, my stomach tightens and my heart skips a beat. I feel like my body is struggling to decide how to feel. Am I nervous? Am I excited? Am I scared? Most likely it is some twisted mess of them all.

What is happening in 26 days? In 26 days I believe my life will change forever. What a cliché right? Another tale about a stock character who goes on a life changing journey. How original. Would you believe me if I told you this time it was different? Maybe not. But for me this is it, this is the beginning of the rest of my life.

In 26 days I will be flying from Auckland, New Zealand to Rome, Italy. From Rome I will be catching a train to a hill top village called Amelia where I will spend the next 11 weeks studying art crime.

Everyone will take their own paths through life, figuring out what they love and who they are. I am only 23 and so I feel I still have some figuring out to do, but one thing I know for sure is that I love art. This is the path that I have chosen for myself. Art and being a part of the art world is my passion, it is the niche that I will forever dedicate all of my time and energy to.

I have been studying art history for 4 years now (6 if you include the two years at high school), and have a BA and an Honours degree to show for it. I am now embarking on obtaining a postgraduate certificate in art crime and cultural heritage protection.

This blog is a means of not only documenting and sharing my time in Amelia, but also as a place to grow my knowledge and understanding about art, the art world and art crime, and to share that with others.

In all honesty the whole notion of blogging is all new to me and I don’t quite know where it will lead. But that just adds to the excited part of my mixed up emotional state.


 

FIRST

Boarding Pass

4am appears to have become my standard wake up time in Italy while my body tries to comprehend that it should be 2 in the afternoon. Today is my first full day in Amelia and though I am not a morning person usually, I was showered, dressed and had eaten my breakfast in the garden by 7am. I decided to make the most of my new found interest in early rising and have gone for a wander through the town. I was half on a hunt for wifi so I could let my mother know that, yes I had arrived alive and no, I had not been abducted, and half on a quest to get to the top of Amelia to see the view. And what a view. I am sitting in a little deserted viewing area with a few old park benches and some newly trimmed trees.

I have to admit I definitely underestimated the amount of travel it took to get to Amelia. Auckland to Melbourne was a good start. It wasn’t a particularly long flight and it was dinner time when I left so I got to eat straight away. I was sitting between two South African men. The man on my right was in his 40’s and was a police officer from Cape Town who was heading home after visiting his sister in Wellington. He confided in me that he would never want to work for the New Zealand police because he thought they were arrogant. I didn’t quite catch his name when we introduced ourselves but he became my travel buddy until we parted ways at Dubai. The man to my left was in his 50’s and was originally from Johannesburg until his wife insisted that if they were to be married he would have to move to Cape Town. After 10 years in Cape Town they moved to Auckland (because Australia was too hot) and had been there ever since. He said he was on his way to Venice to which I instinctively asked if he was going to the Biennale. Unfortunately he was on his way to say goodbye to his mother who was being kept on life support until he reached her.

The flight from Melbourne to Dubai was long and uncomfortable, but I managed to get a bit of broken sleep with the help of a white wine with my second dinner and the Whitney Huston classic hits soundtrack. I found it interesting that the planes aesthetic design included a lighting schedule that simulated the rising and setting of the sun, complete with little stars on the ceiling at night time.

The final leg was when the butterflies began to kick in. I was content with receiving two breakfasts, one before Dubai and one after, but the man in the front row who got a full cup of orange knocked over this thigh by a male flight attendant did not seem so impressed. I had managed to nab a window seat for our venture into Italy with the empty middle chair separating me from a stern, quite woman whose age I could not decipher but who I helped open her small ice cream tub that was provided for afternoon tea.

As we drew closer to Rome the Italian country side spread out beneath us, modestly revealing its small clusters of terracotta roves nestled between rolling green hills. It was this sight that sparked the final realisation that I was here, that I would actually be living in Italy for the next 11 weeks. I stepped off the plane feeling at the same time exhausted but invigorated. After getting that all important stamp of acceptance from the Italian customs officer, who was far more interested in his fast passed conversation with the officer behind him than giving me a first glance let alone a second, I had officially arrived on Italian soil.

The absence of any reliable wifi or phone service made finding Aubrey, my American traveling companion and future room mate, a somewhat interesting task. The rule of ‘it’s better to stay in one place and not move around’ worked for the first 20 minutes, but after I realised that our meeting place was not ideal in the hordes of hustling airport employees and exhausted travellers, I ventured out with suitcase in tow. Luckily the stars aligned and Aubrey spotted me as I walked past looking confused and increasingly concerned.

SECOND

Our shared lack of energy levels lasted just long enough to get ourselves onto the right train to take us into Rome and engage in exasperated conversation about our travel experiences. The evening demanded only refreshing showers at the hostel before indulging in pizza and a large bottle of wine at a small restaurant that sold Italian flag coloured pasta, and was manned by a very round and eager matre de who kissed our hands and filled our glasses hoping we would buy more.

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The night was frustratingly long and restless and I awoke to another day of busy travel. We approached our 10:30am train to Orte at 10:26am behind a hurrying girl adorned with a fuzzy pink sweater and a buzz cut whose swift steps made us increasingly nervous as to why she was moving so quickly. A hand insistently waved at us a few carriages away and it wasn’t until he was shaking my hand that I realised it was Samer, a Syrian living in Rome, who we were supposed to be catching the train with. Jessica, a Canadian who would be another room mate while in Amelia, was the final member of our travel party and was already on board. Jess lead the way as we squeezed our way down the isle of a rather full carriage, obviously we should have been a bit more prompt about out arrival on platform 2.

The train ride to Orte was swift and beautiful, although my ears began to pop each time we went through a tunnel. We arrived at Orte just after 11am and were faced with our final obstacle, getting our suitcases down the stairs and then back up the other side where Paolo, an expert at suitcase tetris, and his taxi were waiting to take us to Amelia. We had to take the more gradually climbing road into Amelia because there was so much weight in the back of the taxi. Samer happily chatted to Paolo in Italian who frequently let go of the steering wheel in order to free up his hands for vigorous explanatory gesturers.

As we rounded the last corner and passed through the Porta Romana (the main gate into Amelia) I experienced a feeling that was a mix of utter exhaustion, excitement, nervousness and awe. I felt like this place was something that only existed in novels or films and to call this place home for the next 11 weeks was almost incomprehensible. I am intrigued to explore her secrets and hear her stories, this was truly a moment where a dream, or even a vision, became a reality.


A Town Called Amelia

These people that a week ago were strangers have now become like family, a central and important aspect of Italian culture. We share wine, food, old stories and new adventures.

On our first night in Amelia we were invited to a restaurant called La Locanda which is run by Monica’s father, for a cocktail party. I was nervous to meet everyone and didn’t quite know what to expect. The jetlag and general exhaustion didn’t help, although most of us were feeling the same way. When everyone had arrived we began the evening by standing in a circle and introducing ourselves, saying our names and where we were from. Elise, originally from Sydney, and I had travelled the farthest, the closest people had come straight from Rome, and then there was everyone else in between. The mix of cultures has made for some interesting discussions as we try to decipher each other’s accents and slang.

The wine started flowing on that first night and hasn’t really stopped since. We mixed and mingled, repeating our travel stories, discussing our different fields of study and our new houses. We all sat down for our first meal together, a simple and delicious cheese and pepper pasta followed by a dish called Arancini Di Riso, a Sicilian dish made up of a large fried ball of rice with chickpea bread and a warm eggplant and tomato relish. I was almost falling asleep on the table so called it a night and headed home with Aubrey so that I could finally get some sleep.

1

I wrote my first post on my first morning thanks to the early wake up. The rest of Saturday began with orientation conducted by Lynda Albertson, the ARCA CEO, Dr. Corrado the academic advisor and Summer from Texas who is the administrative coordinator. After hearing about the course and experiencing a fresh wave of excitement, Aubrey, Jess and I ventured to the local supermarket to have a go at shopping. It took us a bit longer to go around the tiny building as we tried to decipher if that packet was in fact butter or not, and what kind of meat that was.

That afternoon the interns took us on a quick tour of Amelia. The best places to eat, the cheese shop, the butcher and also Titi’s sandwich shop. Titi’s has become a regular lunch stop for me, her prosciutto, mozzarella and pickled eggplant sandwiches for 3 euro are amazing.

On Sunday we took a longer tour of Amelia with Monica and another local tour guide. “Antiani Populi Civitatis Ameriae” (A.P.C.A), meaning “Elders of the Town of America” is Amelia’s official slogan.

There have been people living in Amelia, originally a settlement with a defensive purpose, since the eleventh to tenth centuries B.C., and the walls surrounding the old town have been dated back to between the eighth and third centuries B.C. Since then the town has steadily grown through the ages, surviving an earthquake in 1703 and with some points being remodelled in the 16th and 17th centuries.

One of the jewels of Amelia is the Social Theatre, built in the second half of the 18th century. The theatre seats about 300 people and is frequently used by the town. Monica even recalled performing her dance recitals there when she was a child. The wooden stage was built with a significant downward slope so that the people on the ground floor could get a better view. It was interesting to think what it would have been like for the dancers!

The seating area is shaped like a horse shoe and the majority of the seating is made up of individual red and gold framed boxes. The theatre itself is the same design as the Gran Teatro La Fenice theatre in Venice, the architects were friends at university and when the Venice theatre burnt down was rebuilt using the Amelia theatre as a guide.

Our final stop on the tour was underneath the main square where the town hall is located. As we descended the steep stairs they turned from stone to metal and the air became refreshingly cold. I was amazed to be confronted with the huge open space that was the Roman cisterns. This space was one of ten that stretched out in a long line under the square and were connected by low archways carved in the walls.

These cisterns were described as a rare example of hydraulic engineering, constructed by the Romans in the second half of the second century A.D. The caverns were a complex system used for collecting and purifying water, with above ground wells allowing access to the water beneath. When some of the caverns needed repairing in the 18th century, the people of the time could not figure out how the Romans has managed to create them so perfectly and efficiently. The caverns were so efficient that they were used as a water supply for the upper part of the town as late at the 1960’s.


13

28 Via Farrattini

The couches in our house are incredibly comfortable considering that under the cushions there are small collections of different sized pieces of ply wood.

The first week of living in Amelia has come to a close and I am finally feeling settled in my new home. I am currently sitting on the corner of the three seater, next to a small round table holding a large rustic lamp that’s shade is a map of the expeditions of the America’s and a single silver candle stick, complete with silver candle. There are church bells ringing, a sound which is a constant presence here, and have become my regular 8am morning alarm. They ring again at 8:15am just in case the first lot weren’t enough to get me up. It is not raining at the moment but there is an impressive, and a little bit frightening, thunderstorm going on which is literally shaking our doors.

When we arrived in Amelia on Friday the 29th May I was more than ready to be introduced to the house where Aubrey, Jess and I would be living. 28 Via Farrattini is the old family home of our landlord Lucio, his daughter Valentina and son Nicola. Valentina did most of the talking, which was all in Italian and had to be translated to us by Monica, a native to Amelia and our local ‘go to’ woman. We were also introduced to the two ARCA interns, Arron from Utah and Mairead from Massachusetts, who thankfully both speak Italian. As we were welcomed into the house, Valentina presented us with some chilled homemade pastries that we couldn’t quite figure out but were topped with slices of pear and dusted with icing sugar.

The three of us occupy the ground level of a two story house. There are people above us who we assume are the landlord but we are not %100 sure. Aubrey, Jess and I each have our own bedroom and share two bathrooms. The first bathroom has a bath that housed a scorpion on Thursday night. We didn’t think he could get out so just left him alone but put a towel over the door crack just in case. He was nowhere to be found the next morning and I’m telling myself he went back down the plug hole. We are always finding strange looking bugs lurking about.

The first bathroom shower produces a single dribble like stream of water that falls like a waterfall bouncing over rocks, and a curtain that is constantly sneaking up on you and clinging to your legs as you try to push it away.

The walls here are pretty thick which makes the place internet proof, but on the plus side keeps the house nice and cold which is a relief in this humid weather.

Aubrey and Jess both have rooms with double beds and I have two single beds in the first room you come to in the hall way on the right. The room was Nicola’s childhood bedroom and it reminds me a lot of the spare room at my grandparents’ house where I would sleep whenever I stayed over. Nicola was very eager to show us his Beatles lamp on the bed side table that lets off a soothing orange glow. The room also has double doors that, like all of the other doors in the house, has a screen you can leave shut when the doors are open to keep the bugs out and two black outer shutters. I have got into the habit of leaving the outer shutters open so I get the morning sun pouring into my room in the mornings.

Nicola had to demonstrate how to raise the screen in my room because it went up and down and not across like the ones in the kitchen. He wasn’t sure how to say it so asked, extending his hands out palms up and raised them towards the ceiling; “what is the verb for…” Aubrey and I both responded “lift?”, “Ah yes!” he said. The next day Aubrey called me into her room because she couldn’t lift her screen up. As I bent down and tried to release the mechanism I asked her, “weren’t you paying attention when Nicola showed us?” without missing a beat Aubrey responded “no, I was too busy looking at his butt”. Right on cue the screen shot up and we both fell backwards in hysterics.

We have a beautiful garden out the front with a table and chairs underneath an old wooden pergola that is overrun with a kiwi fruit vine! (how fitting). Arron has already laughed at the fact that I am a Kiwi who eats kiwi. The garden gets all day sun and is a peaceful spot to eat and read, and a great location to host parties (except for the kiwi fruit flowers that drop on you and into your drink and food at random moments).


The Pool House

The Pool House is the residence of Arron, Mairead and Summer. It is a tall, boxy, stone building in the new town, about a 10 min walk from the old town. Once you have reached the huge stone shrine to the Virgin Mary, you’ve made it.

Thursday night (4th) was our first trip out to the pool house and we arrived trailing behind Dick Ellis and Mysterious Fred, bearing food and wine. I had actually ventured past the wine and selected a three pack of %100 Italian, lemon infused beer (basically an exact replica of Export Citrus). We walked past the body of a snake that had been run over and pushed into the gutter. I had no idea Italy had snakes, no one ever told me there were snakes here, I am now slightly paranoid.

INJECTION: I have just noticed a spider on my roof as I am writing. I don’t know how these things keep managing to get in. I feel like we are in a bit of a standoff, hopefully he stays where he is.

We had all brought a whole lot of food and put it outside on a round stone garden table. Summer had made the most amazing warm spinach, cheese and bacon dip. It was also my first opportunity to try Nutella bread, which are just crispy, flaky pockets filled with Nutella. I have noticed that the Italians are big on, not only their Nutella, but just sweet filled pastries in general.

The view from the top of the outdoor steps of the pool house, looking back toward the old town is postcard perfect. Jess and I were the most eager to go for our first swim of the summer. Jess was the first to do the count down and take the plunge. With only a short moment of hesitation and a small bout of stage fright as everyone started watching, I jumped in to. It was quite fresh! But will be the perfect solution when the Italian summer really kicks in. Mysterious Fred and Dick soon joined us and we swam and chatted until the sun had dropped low behind the hills and we began to shiver.

In an attempt to get warm again Aubrey suggested I do an aqua aerobics move called ‘the bicycle’, basically getting into the deep water and act like you are riding a bike. It’s a lot harder than it sounds and I almost drowned because I was laughing too much.

When we were dry and changed, Summer suggested that we play Cards Against Humanity. Using the small amount of light from the garden lamps to read our suggestive questions and crude answers, we were all in constant fits of laughter. Once the sun had gone that was when the bats came out! Another creature I didn’t know inhabited in Italy. This was also the night we were visited by the bath scorpion.

As we were sitting down to play, the sound of drums and trumpets began to fill the air. Dick explained that it happens every year and that they were the musicians that would be playing at the medieval, inter-district competition held in Amelia in the middle of August. They practiced until about midnight!

I had to flick the roof spider on the floor with my wardrobe stick. I couldn’t sleep knowing he was up there watching me, I was too paranoid that he would crawl over and drop on my face.


Narni – The American, The Kiwi and the Fortress 

On Saturday the 6th, our first weekend after the first week of classes, a group of us all piled into Giuseppe’s taxi and Monica’s car and made the 30ish minute trip over the hill to Narni. I know what you are thinking, “oh Narni, like Narnia!” that’s exactly what we thought and surprisingly we were right! Narni was the town whose name inspired the mythical land beyond the wardrobe.

It was quite a hot morning and we had piled 10 people (including Giuseppe) into an 8 seater van. Everyone was sticking to each other and had to peal themselves away when we arrived. It wasn’t much better on the way home either!

As we drove in through the main gate which was a huge stone archway (I love that these towns all have ancient stone gates at their entrances) the road narrowed and we wound our way up to the very top of the town. The views were incredible. I gracefully stumbled out of the taxi and into the sunshine where on the top of the hill sat the Albornzo Fortress. The fortress is a huge medieval, castle looking structure that was built as a military stronghold between 1366 and 1371 and was where the Governor, selected by the Pope himself, resided at the time.

In the grounds of the fortress were a huge medieval slingshot and battering-ram facing out over the hill as if in preparation for an attack. There were also stables and a small archery range. Inside, the rooms had been restored to resemble what they would have originally looked like. There were studies and bed chambers and a ‘shower’ which was just a wooden tub with a piece of material draped behind it. There was a toilet but you couldn’t really see it because it was literally a hole in the floor that was tucked off to one side. I felt like I was in an episode of Game of Thrones but with a lot more sunshine and less killing.

Aubrey and I were most looking forward to the torture museum room, which was a lot smaller than we expected. Twisted I know, but Aubrey and I were quite intrigued by the whole history (both being historians) and we had had a running joke all week that Aubrey would teach me how to do a proper “sorority squat”. A sorority squat, I have learned, is a cliché pose performed by sorority sisters in America when taking group photos. Again, pretty twisted.

We worked our way up, ascending thin, steep stone stairs and eventually emerged into the throne room and banquet hall that was amuck with primary school children on a tour. We continued up onto the roof that looked out over Narni and the luscious, green, mountainous countryside beyond. As we worked our way back down, we agreed it was time for lunch at to meet in the main piazza. Some people got a ride with Monica but most of us strolled back down the hillside and took in the unique sights of day to day, small town Italian life.

While we were all deciding where to go for lunch, and eventually splitting into two groups, I was on the phone to my aunty Christine who was calling from London. We were having a great catch up when I turned around and realised that everyone had disappeared! I just managed to see Aubrey as she walked up an alley way across the piazza so I hurried after her. When I got to the top of the ally way there were 4 joining alleyways off a small square had had no idea which one they had taken. I clicked off with Christine and tried calling Aubrey. No answer. I then tried Elise. No answer.

Ok so there was a little bit of panic, like a child who had lost her mother in a supermarket. Then my phone began to ring and it was Elise to the rescue! I had walked right past the entrance to the restaurant which looked over the piazza so they could all see me as I chased after them.

After a very tasty eggplant filled filo pastry with a tomato sauce and a few glasses of prosecco, we ventured further into Narni to discover the underground Dominican monastery. The monastery was built in the 12th century and mainly consisted of a chapel, another small room that now shows how the Romans build roads that connected to Rome, and a chamber that was used as a court room by the Tribunal of Inquisition. In one of the walls of the courtroom was a small wooden door that I had to duck to get through. Through this door was a prison cell where they would keep people for months at a time as they awaited trial. The walls and ceiling of the entire cell were covered with carved graffiti; names, pictures, people, saints and symbols. There is apparently no other place like it in Italy.

The entire complex was boarded up after the Inquisition as a way of forgetting what had happened and so was completely preserved. The area was bombed in WWII by the Americans but the sight was not officially rediscovered until the 70’s when it was accidently stumbled upon by a group of local youths.

You were not allowed to take pictures in the spaces but the chapel was amazing. There were almost perfectly intact frescos adorning the cave like shrine to St Michael. There were quite a few of us in in the tour group because we had joined a group of Russian tourists and an Australia couple. As we stood in the space a large woman from the Russian group steeped forward and asked the tour guide a question. She then began humming a tune and soon her entire group were singing the most amazing Russian church hymn. It turned out they were actually a traveling choir. It was a very unique experience and the main woman was so good she gave me chills.


Post-Narni Potluck

After we got back from Narni we invited everyone over to Via Farrattini for a pot-luck dinner in the garden. It was a still and picturesque evening as we scrounged together as many chairs as we could find and got some music going. While we were in the middle of getting seating and food sorted, Aubrey’s phone rang but she was down the other end of the house so I answered. It was Sam who started the conversation with “hello, this is the Amelia police” which was confusing at first because I didn’t quite hear him and because of his thick Syrian accent. When I understood that he was joking I laughed and told him I would walk up the drive to meet him, Maria and Mysterious Fred.

As I was saying this and walking to the door I didn’t realise that Jess had closed the bug screen behind her when she had last walk in and mid-sentence I walked face first into it and almost through it! Luckily I managed to stop before I completely destroyed it but I had screamed down the phone into Sam’s ear who had no idea what had happened and I couldn’t explain because Jess and I were hysterically laughing.

It was a great night of getting to know people a bit better, Mysterious Fred became slightly less mysterious, but only slightly. Sam informed me that he didn’t think my blog was exciting enough…I will try my best to be a bit more exciting in the future. The night reached the point where we were eating Nutella by the forkful, or in Anna Maria’s case by the salad serverful, straight out of the jar. The huge mass of strawberries that Maria, Sam and Fred had brought had swiftly been demolished. I also introduced everyone to L’n’P Whitakers and Afghans!


L’Infiorata del Corups Domini

After a bit of a late night on Saturday after our trip to Narni and our pot-luck, I was up and out of the house and heading into town by 8:30am. I was meeting a few of the others on the main street, Via della Repubblica, so we could take part in L’Infiorata del Corups Domini which is a festival of the flowers held in Amelia every year.

For this festival a particular route was mapped out that circled around the whole town starting from one of the main squares and ending up on the top of the hill at the Duomo. Citizens of Amelia would get up early in the morning and decorate the entire root in a carpet of flowers and leaves. When I arrived the others were already getting stuck in so I ditched my bag and Elise handed me a huge chunk of chalk. Ashley, Maria, not so mysterious Fred were already working on outlines that had been handed out by some of the organisers. Our job was to pick a pattern and draw it in chalk so it would later be filled in with petals, died sawdust, ground coffee, corn starch and flour.

We were handed a long piece of wood for straight lines and a few cardboard stencils, given some brisk instructions in Italian which none of us understood, and got to work. I teamed up with Ashley in drawing some designs which was nice because I got to know here a bit better. We drew a weird off the cuff diamond shaped thing and were then told to move further up the road to one of the main intersections (where one tiny street meets another tiny street). One of the ladies then handed us a circular, multi coloured flower pattern and made a huge swinging motion with her hands saying “grande!” We had to make it as big as possible, challenge accepted!

We worked from the inside out, stopping occasionally to discuss how to make it perfect and to fit the space. The pattern became out master piece and we worked solidly on drawing and filling it in for over an hour as more and more people began to arrive and start working around us. We hunted down the right colours and materials, resorting to borrowing a few handfuls from other close by designs that other ARCA students had made and then moved on. At one point a car came up the road and we had to get out of the way. Ashley and I both literally held our breaths as the car slowed and drove over our master piece, we were relieved when all the tires did was compress and flatten the sawdust rather than mess it up.

By the time we were done I was so proud of what we had achieved and was impressed to see people taking photos of our work. I still had a bit of time before the procession started so I went for a quick walk down to the church and was amazed at what some people had created. Other ARCA students had had people popping their heads out of their doorways and requesting they create something beautiful in front of their houses. By then the streets were buzzing with locals and the simple chalk drawings were springing into life.

I hadn’t had breakfast and just managed to grab a custard filled pastry (not ideal for the waist line but as they say, when in Rome!) and start walking up the road when I realised the procession was starting. I rang Aubrey in an attempt to find the others but when I looked up I saw the procession right in front of me with one of the priests holding a huge elaborate golden cross leading the congregation which was followed by the locals. I quickly shoved my phone away and watched as they passed, chanting prayers in Italian. Just as the locals began to file past in two parallel lines, one on either side of the road, some wearing heels (I don’t know how they managed it) and some pushing prams I saw Ashley, Elise and Mairead in the line and jumped in between them. The congregation then began to sing hymns and were accompanied by a marching band and continued to pray the whole way down the main street until we reached the church.

Once we got to the church everyone gathered in the square. There were a handful of men standing around holding huge wireless speakers who would slot in amongst the crowd so that everyone could hear. Everyone was staring up at a window that was directly opposite the church. A microphone was run up and handed to an incredibly old man who was the head priest.

There was a huge funeral last week while we were in class and the town bells had rung at about 10:45pm the night before and we think that it was this same man that had passed away. The shops were all closed up and there were signs put up all over Amelia with his name and a message that said “thank you for everything.”

He addressed the crowd in Italian so I couldn’t understand him but as I was looking around at all the people who had gathered I realised that almost every one of them was whipping away tears. I looked over to the church steps and saw Titi (the woman who I buy sandwiches from) with tears streaming down her face. Arron later explained that, among other things, he was saying what a wonderful job everyone had done and how beautiful he thought Amelia looked. When the priest had finished everyone was cheering and waving up at him as he waved his hand over the crowd as though blessing everyone there.

The procession then got moving again and wove its way all over the town. By this time the sun was beating down and all the people with pushchairs, some with very new babies in them, jostled across the road in an attempt to stay in the shaded parts. As we headed up to the Duomo it was clear to see how much effort people had put in to the occasion. Not only had people decorated the roads but they had also erected shrines to the virgin, draped local flags out of their windows and some children had made colourful cut out of butterflies and hung them all along the procession root.

Mairead and I ended up being the only ones from our group to do the entire walk and it was really nice getting to know her (she has now become my fact checker when I can’t remember the names of things or people). The procession made one more stop in the main square, I couldn’t quite see what they were doing but there were some nuns helping out and it was right in front of the hospital. We then marched forward with bells ringing across the town and a continuous stream of hymns and prayers.

I was not expecting the sight that greeted us at the top. We all filed past the spot where I wrote my first post my first morning here. We then turned into the Duomo which admittedly I didn’t even know was there when I walked past it that first morning. I am not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination but my love of art had created a pocket of admiration and appreciation for church interiors. This place was breath taking. Not only were there frescos, statues and oil paintings covering every inch of the walls and ceilings but the whole place was alight with candles and small light bulbs that had been draped across all of the wall trimmings. It was like nothing I had ever seen before and I know may never see again.

Even with my lack of religion this was a truly unique and beautiful experience. It is events like these that I know I will most likely only see once and so I am trying to make the most of it all while I have the chance.


So Far

Considering my serious lack of internet, I think I am getting the hang of this whole blogging thing. I am actually typing my posts into a word document and then copying and pasting them into WordPress. I have just figured out how to add photo galleries to my posts so I can give you a visual picture of my adventures as opposed to just a mental one.

I am trying my best to make sure I sit down and record things on here because I know I will thank myself later. In my first version of this post I was venturing into my third week of classes and the study was real. The study is even more real now but this is a little backtrack because there is so much to say!

I had spent all of Sunday (14th) doing the reading in preparation for my class on Monday and even trying to get ahead. The weeks are already going so quick that I don’t want to fall behind. I get one shot at this so it has to be all or nothing. My first two weeks here were split between learning about the ‘Art Market’ (this is an umbrella term because there are so many different kinds of art markets) with Tom Flynn and learning about art policing and investigation with Dick Ellis.

In Tom’s class I learnt about the ins and outs of the Art Market; auction houses, galleries, museums, collectors and dealers. He was incredibly captivating and knowledgeable which was pretty intimidating at first but he presented so many angles, avenues and insights that my desire and determination to be apart of this field exploded like adding petrol to a bonfire.

In Dick’s class we learnt about how the police deal with crimes against art which is actually incredibly difficult. We mostly learnt about specific art crime cases and how they demonstrated that art crime is significantly international and therefore crosses multiple police jurisdictions. We also learnt about the use of criminal informants and some of the particulars of conducting sting operations.

If you’re in the business of art crime you are in it for the long run. There are no quick fixes. Dick had an abundance of stories to tell us about cases he has worked on, criminals he had tracked and art that he had recovered. He quickly became a lot less intimidating than Tom once we had all had dinner with him at Porcelli’s (one of our locals) heard his stories and picked his brain over wine…and grappa…and port.

There were a few things I missed out in some of my previous posts so this is a small flash back. I wanted to tell you about the small yet surprisingly loud dog that barks at us, without fail, every morning when we walk out our drive way. Aubrey, Jess and I were walking home on Thursday (11th) night and weren’t expecting said dog, I am convinced it was hiding in wait, when it sprung out behind the gate and barked at us. Aubrey and I both screamed and grabbed each other because we got such a fright.

I also wanted to tell you about a very handy design in our kitchen. Aubrey and I only just took the rubbish to the ‘general stuff’ bins yesterday because it was seriously building up and was producing some interesting perfumes. But we keep the rubbish under the sinks, of which there are two and they are tiny. Above the tiny sinks, because of the lack of bench space there are two cupboards that have had the bottoms removed and replaced with drying racks so that when you do the dishes the water just drips back into the sinks. Genius!

What is not so genius is the height of all the cupboards in our kitchen. I am not a tall person, I am taller than Aubrey but Jess is taller than me and all three of us have to duck under the cupboards to do our cooking at the stove or do the dishes. Many a time already I have forgotten to duck and have bashed my forehead on the wood.

After our morning experiencing the Corups Domini we all went to Lynda’s house for lunch (she is the CEO of ARCA and the one who runs this circus). After we had eaten Lynda asked if we wanted to see the secret door she had. We followed her into the lounge which is not a big space and she started removing books and nick-knacks and glasses of wine off of the large white shelf in the corner by the door to the garden. We didn’t really understand how this was a secret door until she released a small latch and the side of the shelf swung out and the top lifted up to reveal a metal staircase leading down under the house. We all followed her down into the cool darkness and found ourselves in a huge stone cellar illuminate by a single lamp on the floor. The cellar dated back to around 300 B.C. with the ancient Roman arches still perfectly intact.

I don’t think Amelia will every run out of surprises.


Cascata delle Marmore Belvedere Superiore

I have never experienced so many thunderstorms in such a short period of time. It seems like almost every day the sky is clouding over in the afternoon and the flashing lightening and rolling thunder sets in. The other day I was woken up in the middle of the night by the biggest crack of thunder I have ever heard in my life. It was right over Amelia and it honestly sounded like a bomb had gone off. I got out of bed and looked out my glass doors to see the lightening. As I was watching, this huge toad that would have been the size of my palm hopped past me. He was either loving it or hopping for cover.

On Saturday (20th) Aubrey, Jess, Elise, Maria, Ed and I had decided to take a trip out to the biggest waterfall in Europe called Cascata delle Marmore Belvedere Superiore which lay just past Terni. Paolo was our driver for the day and picked us up outside Bar Leonardi at 9:50am. He talked non-stop the entire way there, however he could only talk to Maria who translated bits and pieces of their conversation to the rest of us. From what I gathered, Paolo is a big reader and knows a lot about Italian history. He was so enthusiastic about their conversation that he barely kept his eyes on the road let alone his hands on the wheel. I don’t think Italians care much about which lane they occupy. He talked all about the history of Christian holidays and how they were appropriated and misinterpreted from the original Roman traditions. ‘Lent’ for example was a period of 40 days when the Romans gave up meat because that was how long it took to prepare it! For most of the trip I gazed out the window and took in the stunning sights of the Italian countryside.

Ed is the oldest member of our cohort this summer, he is an 81 year old Economist from New York. He is constantly falling asleep in class but is clearly very intelligent. When we first met him, Aubrey and I joked that he was probably CIA and the forgetful old man persona was just an act. He speaks Cambodian and has clearly had an exciting life, but his body and mind seem to be beginning to fail him. I had a nice conversation with him the other day and he confessed that being in this course is a way of him staying in the game, he is just isn’t ready to give up yet.

We had been talking about going on the hike up the waterfall all week and Ed was determined to do it with us. Once we got to the waterfall and had said our grazie’s and caio’s to Paolo we headed for the entrance to the walkway. Once we came in full view of the huge cascading water, Ed said “Oh…are we walking up there?” I don’t think he a quite realised what he had let himself in for. It became an unspoken agreement between the rest of us to take turns hanging back with him to keep him company and not make him feel like he was slowing the group down. On our first tour of Amelia when we first arrived Ed managed to miss the changing levels of the church stairs and fall almost a meter onto the road and cut his knee so we were all a bit worried that he might fall during the hike too.

The waterfall was incredible. The amount of water thundering over the rocks was inconceivable and the sound engulfed you entirely. Even standing at the very bottom we were already getting wet from the mist created the force of the water hitting the landscape and being thrown back into the air. Everywhere you looked there were miniature waterfalls springing forth over the shelves of rock that tiered down the hillside. I couldn’t wait to get closer.

We ascended some stairs and crossed over a metal bridge and began our quest to reach the top. Within the first 5 min, Maria and I in particular were already soaked through. We wove our way across bridges and around dirt pathways, exploring each lever of the falls. One of the most surprising things to see were the amount of women visiting the falls in wedges and tight fitted dresses. They clearly don’t know how to dress for interacting with nature. Some people had been smart and brought those plastic ponchos you wear to outdoor music festivals, but we just wanted to get wet.

There were lots of interesting rock formations to look at along the track (this is what happens when you date a geologist). I found one formation in particular that I couldn’t figure out whether it was lava that had been frozen in time or a tree trunk that had fallen and been wedged in the rock, smoothed over by the endless bodies climbing over it.

My favourite part of the walk was when we reached the Lovers Balcony which was strategically placed right next to the massive main waterfall. The whole area was completely saturated in a blanket of torrential downpour and within seconds of stepping out of the safety of the long damp cave you were completely soaked. Aubrey and I joked that it was probably called the Lovers Balcony because after being on it you were so wet you would have to take your clothes off…

It wasn’t much further before we reached the top and what a view! The place was pretty busy with people taking photos and there was a little brick viewing shelter at the very end of the walkway where you could get a more front on view of the falls. Because of the heat of the day we all dried out pretty quickly and ate our lunch (sandwiches from Titi’s and fresh cherries thanks to Ed) in a shaded picnic area just under the brick viewing room.

We had managed to complete the walk a lot quicker than we thought so we called Paolo and asked him to pick us up a bit earlier. After one more wander around at the top we made our way back to the bottom. Aubrey and I went back to the Balcony on our way back down to get some romantic photos taken of the two of us but when we got there the ‘rain’ had stopped. The most interesting aspect of the falls are that they can be turned off and on by releasing a valve to a dam further up the mountain. We had managed to time our walk perfectly and were able to see the falls both in full action and when they were reduced to just a trickle. This made for a very calming and more serine walk back and I spent a bit more time following different tracks and discovering small hidden viewing platforms while the others went for coffee.

We were all feeling very content with our dose of nature on the ride home but exhausted at the same time. We made Sunday a pool day and spent some time hanging out with the interns, swimming, listening to music and relaxing before a week of fakes and forgeries and art insurance.


A criminologist, an art historian and an underwriter walk into a bar…

My entire 3rd week in Amelia was taken over by the vibrant and enthusiastic criminal lawyer turned criminologist Marc Balcells. It has been one of my favourite weeks here so far. Marc is a tall, slender Spaniard from Barcelona who at the tender age of 35 already has three degrees, two masters and is currently embarking on his PhD thesis. This man’s achievements and abilities are mind boggling.

He has to be one of the most expressive people I have ever met in my entire life with his long tattooed arms flailing about as he described the ins and outs of criminological theory in fast pace Spanish tainted English. Whenever something went wrong, or he got off track or something was particularly dramatic he would produce and expressive “ay yi yi.” He had so much energy it was hard to keep track of him, you would look down for a second to write something and when you looked back he would be on the opposite side of the room twirling his glasses around and then he would be off again. Sitting, standing, leaning, stretching, gesturing, glasses on, glasses off, cardigan buttoned, cardigan unbuttoned or cardigan off all together.

He is a self-professed ‘nerd’ sporting tattoos of ships from Star Trek, a cartoon Hans Solo and Luke Skywalker, skull infused Darth Vader and Superman (only to name a few). His classes were like stage performances and I loved every minute of them.

Week 4 was divided between fakes and forgeries taught by the founder of ARCA Noah Charney and a New Yorker called Dorit Straus who taught us about the world of art insurance. It was a shame to only get two and a half days with each of them but it made for a fun filled week.

Meeting Noah was quite nerve racking at first because without him we would not be in this beautiful place exploring this incredible field. He is a tall, softly spoken American who currently lives in Slovenia with his wife and two young daughters. Once he started teaching I realised he was actually very easy going, approachable and easy to talk to. We had a great time chatting around our garden table at Farratini on Wednesday night when we hosted another of our regular pot luck group dinners.

Like Marc, Noah has a resume that stretches for pages, it is hard to believe what these people have managed to achieve at such young ages. Being a fellow art historian I really enjoyed Noah’s classes and his teaching style. We talked a lot about actual art objects and their construction which was a nice break from the full on theory we have been learning so far. We learnt the tricks of the trade in how art works are forged and even had a competition to see if any of us could forge Noah’s signature.

On the Tuesday night Noah offered to give us a short evening seminar on how to get published. We all met in Lynda’s garden bearing wine and note books. It was an incredibly beneficial experience because these are things they don’t teach you at university. Noah talked about the basic things like how to word an email, how to get your work seen and how to not piss editors off.

By the end of the short class he declared that he now expects us all to be producing books in the coming years, be they fictional or academic. I have already taken one small step by having my first article published the other day! Here is the link if you want to check it out or it is also on the Academia section of my blog.

Dorit was our first female lecturer and she really embodied the persona of the strong, doesn’t take crap from anyone, New Yorker. I was worried that I would struggle in the insurance class because numbers and I go together like jelly and spaghetti. But even with only two and a half days, Dorit made the class memorable and the information stick.

For every class so far there has been some kind of graded assessment. In Tom’s class we had a 50 question multi choice quiz, Dick’s class we had individual presentations (I did mine of the 1972 theft of the Motonui Panels), Marc gave us pop quizzes that weren’t really ‘popped’ because we were allowed to take them home and Noah gave us a test consisting of 5 long answer questions. Dorit however did something a little different and let us do theatrical group skits.

We got to pick our teams and so Aubrey, Jess and I went together so we could work on it at home, we only had 1 night to prepare, but we also grabbed Ana Maria, a beautiful and intelligent Brazilian woman, to make our team complete. There were three teams in total and each of us were given one a key staring point and a few compulsory guides lines. We had to represent either a museum, a dealer or a private collector and had to include the main players in the insurance game in our skit. Our team was assigned the museum and the rest we had to make up.

Our final product was a mock TV show called ‘Insurance Intrigue’ hosted by Nigel Falcenburg (one of Aubrey’s alter egos) which aired on a 3am morning television slot. Nigel narrated the entire story of the theft of a print titled ‘Mustang Sally’ (picture of a horse) from the collection of the recently deceased Lord Switcher Gardnerplanter II (me). I also played the role of the thief in what Nigel described as the “low budget, inaccurate, re-enactment” of the theft. I dashed across the stage covered in a shawl and scribbled FAKE across a stick figure drawing of a horse I had prepared earlier and then fled out the classroom door. Our performance got a few laughs, including from Dorit and received a resounding A mark from our peers.

The best parts of the other team’s skits were Arron’s performance as a snooty, important and too busy private collector named ‘Gatsby’ who set fire to his incredibly expressive new art work that was a huge dollar sign completely constructed out of match sticks. When he discovered his million dollar work destroyed he dropped to his knees, hands clutching the air and head tilted to the God’s, screaming “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Sam also left an impression as the double crossing employee named Marco who stole a million dollar Modigliani from Ed (AKA Mr. Lary Gargosian). Ed was continuously telling people “just call me Larry” and greeting Sam with “Marco my man!” The greatest moment of the day was when Sam underwent a costume change in the middle of the stage and started taking his pants off to which the high number of women in the room began screaming and laughing. Luckily, Sam had on a second pair of pants underneath the first and transformed himself into a member of the Carabinieri, complete with red ribbon tapped down his legs and an authentic Carabinieri cap.


The Amelia Conference

The weather is really starting to heat up now, and just in time for ARCA’s annual art crime conference.

I ascended the stairs with a pounding heart and a knotted stomach and then attempted to keep my balance and composure along the cobble stone hallway. The cocktail party was the first event of the weekend long conference and as they say, first impressions are everything. We were at the Palazzo Farrattini, only a few doors up from our own humble abode and of course we were unfashionably early.

I was so nervous about the people I would meet and the networking I would need to do because this was it, this was the foot in the door I would need to break into this field. At first all the ARCA students huddled together in a flurry of excited and nervous energy, complementing each other on how well we had scrubbed up. I had had lunch with Lucy Jackson, a good friend from university, earlier in the day. She was in town with her mother Penelope Jackson who was presenting on one of the panels on the last day of the conference. I quickly spotted them under the canopy of vines by the wine table as the garden of the Palazzo began to fill. With them was Judge Arthur Tompkins whom I had met in Wellington before I had left for Italy and was our lecturer for our classes on art crime in war. I greeted him with a mix of a hand shake/hug/double cheek European kiss which was all a bit of a mess. Great start.

Food and wine flowed out from unknown sources for the whole night and most connections were made while waiting to be passed the wine bottle or reaching for meat and cheese. I spent a lot of the night with the small group of New Zealander’s who had gathered at the conference; myself, Arthur, Lucy, Penny and Mia (who was also presenting on the last day). I hadn’t realised, until I was speaking to other Kiwi’s, how strong my accent is and how much I miss home. I am having an amazing time and meeting amazing people but there are times where you miss familiarity.

Fred had arrived back from 2 weeks away working on a ship wreck in Madagascar earlier in the night, and as the evening began to wind down we made our way up to Maria’s room in the Palazzo Farrattini. The interior of the building is incredible and Maria’s room is a picture of Italian perfection. Fred had brought back with him some lychee and coffee whisky and poured some glasses for us to try. We stayed for a few sing along’s and then made our way to Porcelli’s where most of the group had migrated to for some more food and wine. We found a bottom table and I sat down next to Tome Kline, a lawyer who does work on assisting Holocaust victims with retrieving art works stolen by the Nazi’s. We ate pizza and talked some more and then finally wandered home to get some sleep, it was going to be a long weekend.

Saturday was the first full day of panel talks, this is the first conference I have ever been to so I didn’t quite know what to expect. We made our way up to the cloister where Lynda and the interns had set up a large wooden table adorned with flowers and a registration book. At the cocktail party the night before we had all been issued with a large nametag hanging from a lanyard, and most attendees wore theirs all weekend. The lecture hall was already warming up with so many people present and fans had been set up to help circulate the air and provide some brief relief along the isles on either side of the rows of brown leather chairs that are bolted to the floor.

The whole room was buzzing with people making introductions and greeting old friends and colleagues. One of the main drawing cards of the ARCA conference is that it is interdisciplinary, there are people here from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, lawyers, judges, insurance people, archaeologists, art historians, journalists, conservators and researchers (only to name a few). These experts had gathered from across the globe, from New Zealand and Australia to Hong Kong, the Middle East and Europe. A special guest that attends every year is His Highness Prince Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong of Cambodia who gave a speech on the return of the Monkey God to Phnom Penh. The Princes final request of his beautiful speech was that we all keep our hope that we will find ways to get objects back to their home countries and save cultural heritage.

The day’s talks covered a huge range of material and addressed issues from policing and law related issues to the heritage crimes being committed in the Middle East. We were give two networking coffee breaks throughout both conference days during which tables of pastries and treats (provided by Massimo), coffee and juice were set up in the cloister. We were also given an hour lunch break during which people could pay to have a catered lunch in the cloister, we decided on the first day to get sandwiches from Titi’s and went and sat in the cloister with everyone else. On Sunday Titi’s was closed to we went to Chicco’s across the road from the Porta Romana instead and had lunch with Lucy and Penny.

Saturday was long and packed full of information, I was constantly scribbling notes as people brought up revolutionary ideas and discussed topics I had never even considered. We had a couple hours after the day had ended to run home, shower and change because that night the ARCA team had organised a 5 course meal at La Locanda. When we got there Aubrey headed for the table by the one man band that was already occupied with a number of our class mates, the restaurant was already filling fast and I scanned the tables for a spare seat. I spotted Arthur at a large round corner table with his father and Jess and I made our way over to him. Arthur’s father had approached me at the cocktail party and had shaken my hand kindly saying “I had to come over and see the New Zealander before I went home.”

I had some great conversations with him throughout the night and he reminded me a lot of my own Grandad. When everyone eventually started dancing he declared that what we were doing was not real dancing, we weren’t even touching! It made me consider how fun it would have been to have gone to dances and actually done proper swing or ballroom dancing, it would have been a lot more skilful than the jumping around we do. Ed and his wife also joined our table and when the dancing started they were the ones swinging each other around. Ed also spun me around at one point and had a huge smile on his face the entire night.

The Italian Karaoke began half way through the dinner service. Because there where so many of us and the food was being made fresh it took a while for each course to be served. So for our in-between-course-entertainment, Monica, The Prince, Monica’s husband and her father began performing for us. The final course (before desert) was a huge pig that had clearly taken hours to prepare and which was carried into the centre of the restaurant and carved in front of us. The meat was incredible and was a great way to finish off the dinner. I passed on desert because I was so full and was also too busy dancing and talking. I was so busy talking outside that I missed the conga line! They were playing all the classics and the most impressive dancers were definitely the Prince and Arron. The party was shut down at about midnight and we all slowly wandered home well feed and excited for the final day.

Sunday offered us more engaging discussions focusing on the issues of authenticity, forgery, trafficking, theft and repatriation. This was the day that all three of the New Zealanders presented. Each of their talks were strikingly different and it was a great feeling to think that one day I could be up there with them. The day progressed with more networking, juice and pastries (may need to cut back on the pastries after this weekend). The last work came from Lynda who made the final point about the necessity of this field being interdisciplinary and that we needed to work together and share information in order to solve art crimes and stop the destruction of cultural heritage.

We ended the weekend with another dinner at Porcelli’s. I decided against a pizza this time and tried a savoury crepe with blue cheese and prawns instead. I said my final goodbyes to Penny and Lucy, Arthur was staying on because he would be teaching our next course, I was sad to see them go but new I would be home again before I knew it.


Fields of Yellow

Summer is definitely upon us now. After a long hot day in class on Tuesday (30th), Aubrey, Jess, Elise and I all decided to meet after dinner and go for a walk down the road and into the fields beyond the old town walls.

We couldn’t use the elevator short cut because it stops running at 7:30pm. The elevator is an old, simply styled, one level metal box inside an even older stone tower. We usually use it when we go to the small Superconti supermarket just on the other side of the wall. But tonight we decided to take our chances at navigating through the small streets of Amelia to one of the other ancient gates.

This side gate is on the east side of Amelia if you are looking at the old down from Porto Romana. It is not nearly as grand and decorative as the Porto Romana but it almost feels more real with its slightly crumbling sides and foliage spirting out of its cracks.

We wove our way down the road and made a sharp U-turn down what looked like a steep gravel driveway. As we rounded the corner the landscape opened up and flattened out. There was a small wooden cottage surrounded by fields with horses with mesh masks over their eyes for protection against flies. We followed the path around through the fields, passing a suspicious looking empty parked car (all this talk about crime is making me very suspicious). We came to a bridge that arched delicately over a still green river flanked by drooping trees that seemed to be falling asleep with the setting sun.

Walking over the bridge was like crossing into a new dimension because on the other side your eyes were filled with the vibrant yellow of millions of sunflowers that seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. My first instinct was to run amongst them but then the fields were so vast that you may very well not found your way out again for some time. We instead took the sensible approach and used the walking track that circled the entire field and took you back to where you started. The whole walk too us about an hour but admittedly we did stop and take photos quite regularly.

I have seen so much during my time here already but this has to be one of the most beautiful and interesting sights so far. I have never seen so many sunflowers on one place and the view was stunning with the sun setting and the old town of Amelia perched on top of the hill looking down at us. I have said before that Amelia has endless secrets and she is yet to prove me wrong.

 

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