I’ve been in Italy the last couple days. I’m here because my parents invited me to come spend a week with them at a place they like outside Florence. They’ve been here over a month and this is their third or fourth visit. The place they rent is in the hills and is surrounded by olive trees. The owners sell olive oil, in fact. This is called agritursimo here—kind of like AirBnB but out in the middle of a landscape that looks like the background of a Renaissance painting.
I don’t really know how to travel. The only touristy item I had on my agenda was visiting Giorgio Morandi’s house-museum in Bologna, which is about an hour and a half away from here. Half the route is through twisty little village roads. These were my initiation into driving in Italy. No one got killed and the car’s in one piece, so I count it a success.
Morandi’s place is on a nondescript side street called Via Fondazza. He lived there with his sisters for most of his seventy-four years, painting the same dusty bottles, saucers, cups, and seashells, and views of neighboring yellowish stucco houses with terra cotta shingles. The room he painted in is preserved now behind glass like a diorama display in an old-fashioned natural history museum. The only thing missing is a mannequin of the man himself, frozen in action. It has a monastic cell feel to it, this little room. What’s visible are the remnants of a life lived with blinders. The man only really did one thing for over fifty years. I don’t know if such a thing is possible these days—to shut out all the noise and devote yourself to a singular activity until you die. But the idea of it is very seductive. Perhaps, at least in part, because I know I couldn’t do it.
Before I left Chicago, I painted another dog, reviewed a show of illustrations from the pioneering satirical magazine Puck, and added to my growing collection of capsule film reviews.