Drawing In: The Spirit of Assissi

La Romita Sketches: Assissi for La Romita

La Romita Sketches: Assissi for La Romita

The strong aroma of coffee teases my nostrils as I walk on the cobbled street through the city’s gate.  Perched high on a hill,  its view of the Umbrian landscape below is no less spectacular than the impressive stone church which greets one immediately on the left of the entrance..  As they have for centuries,  the  two saints respectively buried beneath this church and the larger edifice on the either end of the city, continue to draw crowds.

I am one of a stream of  pilgrims & tourists who begin to fill the main street of Assissi. Moving past those who stop at the Church of St. Claire, I press onward to find the coffee I smell, and discover a pleasant fountain at the center of a piazza. Alighting here with my art materials, I go to the nearest cafe, order a cappuccino, and return to my stone seat.  Basking in the morning sun, I am mesmerized by the sound of the flowing water and the  crescendo of voices as people gather in the surrounding cafes.

What do I draw when faced with a myriad of possibilities, including the aforementioned church, the broad plains of the Umbrian valley below, the fountain itself ?  In the spirit of St. Francis, I focus my attention on  a humble (but lovely), ordinary stone wall  with shuttered windows and a plant-lined patio.   It seems ancient, having beautifully weathered the passage of time with a patina of muted rusts, browns and grays. Choosing a simple sepia waterproof ink pen, I begin to sketch the wall, placing the drawing over a few watercolor rectangles I had painted on the page with a flat brush prior to this visit. The palette I  have chosen is one I see repeated in the Italian landscapes, cities and sites we visit: neutral grays, greens, blues, browns.

Engrossed in the wall before me, I am visited by several curious passersby, first among them  a woman from Eastern Europe who mistakes me for a German tourist (perhaps because of my Birkenstocks?.)  She is intrigued by my activity as much as by the drawing itself, and tries to converse with me in broken English. ” You artist, yes? Is very good!”  Nodding & smiling, I  continue sketching as she bids me a pleasant goodbye. The local Italians who pause to converse with me are similarly complimentary and enthusiastic.  They seem pleased that an American tourist would take time to draw something in their city, rather than rush around taking photographs  in the usual manner.

Later I am told I  missed a lot of “must see” things in Assissi that day, including St. Claire’s resting place.  By the time I finish my  sketch, I have just enough time to walk to the other end of the city to see some of the remarkable interior and exterior of the stunning Church of St. Francis. Upon leaving, however, I am not bothered by what I have missed, but am content with what I have Seen.  Sitting still  by that fountain for an hour, mindful of the scene before me, and the surrounding sounds and smells, I drew in a full-bodied breath of Assissi. It’s Spirit remains in a simple sketch.

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