Ciao Nashville, Ciao Orvieto / by Lily Greenberg

Ciao from Orvieto! I have been in Italy for 3 weeks now, just between Rome and Florence, living with 18 other college students from across the U.S. in an old convent, bought and renovated by my college. Orvieto is a tiny walled city on a hill, small enough to walk around the perimeter in under an hour. And yet, despite its size, I discover new streets, cafes, and lookouts almost daily.

We are in the last few days of a class entitled Designo. It’s essentially an art class, but Designo is also far beyond just basic drawings. Throughout the class, we have been challenged to really try and see Orvieto and its rich contents, to stare without looking away, to take the necessary time to document.

Designo is the first serious art class I have ever taken. Most of the other students in my program are art majors or minors or at least artistically inclined. I am none of these things, apart from my love for creative writing (the ability to write a sonnet is decidedly useless when I am trying to draw a building). Our first few critiques of one another’s work were about as pleasant as getting a cavity removed. Mostly people asked if my drawings were abstract. They were not.

But then, after hours of looking and looking and looking, I began to actually see—ah, yes, that’s where the ground actually is and this lamppost only reaches halfway up the clock tower and those shadows are diagonally slicing through the cobblestone streets. Yes. This looks like something.

Of course, this is not to say that in a few weeks, my drawings emerged from a dogshit cocoon like elegant butterflies—but this is a start. 

Inevitably, all of my demons arise when I draw. Every bit of suppressed self-consciousness and deprecation, like a wave of inferiority. I do not typically choose activities where failure is even a possibility. And yet, with each new drawing, I carve my way out of darkness and begin to wrap my hands around a form.

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Because my laptop has been in the shop for the past few weeks back home, I have been interacting with this town on a strictly first-person basis, writing and drawing by hand, as well as reading only the pages brought with me. Wifi is seldom accessible, and spotty when available. I have had no other option than to thrust my hands directly into this town. And I would not have it any other way.

When it comes to the formidable Italian language, my communication abilities are sub-par at best, even with years of French studies under my belt.  However, the Orveitani are as welcoming as could be. One of my favorite nights so far was having dinner at a local family’s house with some other students, eating homemade pasta and drinking their family’s prized limoncello, all while sharing stories about our respective homes.

I love the eye contact here—people stare and stare, bold and unflinching. I savor the connection, the knowing without knowing. For an instant, we are one.

On the daily, I have an enviable amount of open time. Class is over by noon, and then I have the rest of the day to draw, take long walks, perfect my cappuccino-making skills, and endlessly people watch. Everyone in my program takes meals together, all cooked by our fabulous Italian chef, Maria. 

I cannot wrap my head around the passing of time here. I have only just arrived and yet I have been here all along.