Monday, May 26, 2014


 Tuscany is drunk with memories. Seven years of our lives in Italy, the odd weekend or holiday in the sage green hills and silver-tipped olive trees of Tuscany, fill the cup and overflow and I am back here after much too long a separation. Flooded with sensations, the warm sun on my skin (after chilly, rainy days in France) tickling out souvenirs of driving these same roads next to my husband, two little toddlers asleep in the back seat.

 Boxes of props and hulking, bulky camera bags have taken the place of those little boys. Ilva now sitting in the driver's seat. On our way to the old Tuscan villa for a workshop. Cameras, paper and pens, excitement and anticipation, anxious for all to go well.

 Eight women around a dining table, the strains of Italian pop rock push against giddy voices, a cacophony of laughter and stories as we get to know each other, or renew friendships. Bottles of red and one of bubbly white, frizzante, illuminate the evening, the deep, velvety baritone of Barry White serenading a meal. Years of Italian vino, salumi e abbondanza di festa color this evening, as we begin the first Plated Stories Workshop.

 You are my everything.

 Tuscany the perfect backdrop, participants exuding passion and industry, bursting with curiosity and questions, overflowing with energy. There is nothing like Tuscany, ancient, lush and vibrant, to inspire. Cameras click, laptops hum, faces peer into screens with intensity and concentration.

 Socrates the donkey, the spitting image of Eeyore yet evidently much more clever if his name is a mark of proof, hovers close by, urging our attention. Lips pulled back, tongue out, teeth bared, the braying begins, much to our utter amusement. Capture it in words, capture it in images.

 Red the color of Pienza. Burnt brick, old stone flushed with time and sun, burnished and bruised. Rough yet oh so elegant. We are surrounded by chatter; Italian, yes, but English and French and a smattering of German. Tables spill out onto squares, tables pushed closely together to make room for everyone, for more souls hungry for panini, hungry for street theater, hungry for a bit of Italian noonday sun. Conversations run into each other like red Tuscan wine poured onto the pavement.

 Three little boys lined up on a low wall against the amber stone clutching ice cream cones, intent on their mission. Huddles of cyclists in cerulean blue spandex, virile, take their place, lined up like little boys on that wall, bright spots against the stone, always moving, animated voices, laughter and eating ice cream, them, too, waiting to take off.

 This once impersonal conference room is bursting with activity, barely enough to contain all of the creative energy. Props shifted around on painted backdrops, cutlery handed round, exchanged, women hunters, primal urgings. Women shifting around the room, mumblings and grumblings and the occasional outburst assisting the learning process. One spread out on the floor, another standing on a chair, all taking up the entire floor space. Ilva peeping over shoulders, pointing out, challenging, suggesting, guiding, encouraging. Photography. 

 Eggplants, tomatoes, lemons, olives, Tuscan props.

 Writing. A whole different ballgame, an entirely different kind of beast. Or is it? Expectant eyes boring into mine, waiting. Tickety tick of keyboards, the scratching of pens on paper (yes!), words read aloud, giving birth to a story. A multitude of aha moments. Eureka!

 A voyage through the countryside, a trip to Pienza. What story can you tell? A clutch of Pinocchios, a collection of copper pots, a fragrant mountain of cheeses, musky, the damp scent of churches infused with wood, incense and centuries of voices. Chanting, haunting.

 Each group has its own distinct, unique personality, its own needs, its own dynamics. Each group brings something different to the table. Curiosity tainted with doubt fills the space, excitement mingled with self-consciousness. I love nothing more, feeling the electricity pass between teacher – me – and student – them, a charged atmosphere. Can you find words to describe a smell, a noise, a taste? Can you transform an image into text?

 Finding the words to describe the Plated Stories Workshop is so difficult, even for a writer. It is a feeling, a sensation, a dance of elation and serene contentment, back and forth between words and visuals. When push comes to shove? Yes indeed for how else to nudge students out of their comfort zones, to create a momentum forward, to prod and push each one into a higher creative territory and hold them there until they find their footing?

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  1. It looks and sounds like you had a wonderful time in Tuscany. Lucky participants!



  2. <3 And that is all I have to say about that.

  3. Congrats on the success of your first workshop!

  4. Congratulations on your workshop Jamie. It sounds like it's a roaring success. I so wanted to be there, but reading these words and seeing the images are the next best thing.

  5. What lovely poetic prose and evocative images to describe the symbiotic enterprise far from home. But, Tuscan wine poured onto the pavement? Ack!
    sign me - Barry White sound-alike

  6. This looked absolutely amazing. Bravo on your workshop, Ilva and Jamie - and cheers to the next successful one in October. So wish I could have been there but love the quick tour here.

  7. I've just ventured on a mini vacation, and I didn't need to pack a carry on. Thank you for taking me to a rich destination of words and images.