Newsletter 19, 2012 (2)
Study holidays in 2012
20–26 September: Perugia and Umbrian towns
Learn Italy’s first visit to the capital city of Umbria was a five-night holiday in autumn 2006. It proved a popular centre for trips to various cities; this coming year we will visit many of the same places. In Assisi the famous double basilica filled with frescoes is devoted to the memory of the town’s most famous citizen, St Francis. He is buried in the lower church. In the upper church there is the famous cycle of paintings of St Francis’s life that is still attributed by most art historians to Giotto. Orvieto is justly famous for its cathedral; its Gothic façade is a masterpiece, as also are the vivid frescoes of the Last Judgement by Signorelli in a large inner chapel; outside the city wall is a remarkable Etruscan necropolis. Spello is a small and charming hilltown; the Bagioni chapel in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore is frescoed by the attractive Sienese painter Pinturicchio. Perugia itself is a busy lively city, with plenty to enjoy, including several exquisite churches, the Collegio Cambio decorated with strange mythical and historical figures by Perugino, and the excellent National Gallery of Umbrian Art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Our hotel is on the main pedestrian street, the Corso Vannucci. Alice Foster will be the tutor on this study holiday.
15–21 October: Udine and Trieste
There are still a few places left on this visit to Udine in the north-eastern province of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Udine itself is a pleasing small city full of Venetian art and architecture. Its most celebrated feature is the central Piazza della Libertà, flanked by Renaissance civic buildings and loggie; close second must be the Patriarchal palace with extensive frescoes by Tiepolo. We will also be visiting Cividale to see some very rare fragments of Lombard art; Aquileia, with its huge mosaic pavement in the early Christian basilica, and an excellent archaeological museum, home to a remarkable collection of Roman sculpture and glass; and Trieste, the Austro-Hungarian port which is so fascinatingly and uniquely unlike any other Italian city. FVG is also celebrated for its food and wine, especially delicious white wines. Our guide will be an Udinese, Barbara Zucchia.
Study holidays in 2013
Some of the ventures pencilled in for 2013 so far are:
a winter study week with Alice Foster in Florence (late January or early February);
a late winter weekend in Verona with Cathy Oakes, looking particularly at the wonderful Romanesque architecture in that beautiful city;
a spring visit to Sorrento, to see Pompeii, Herculaneum, the Villa Oplontis, Amalfi, Capri, the Naples archaeological museum, and, probably, the Greek temples at Paestum. Our tutor will be Steve Kershaw.
For further information about Learn Italy or any of the available study holidays, please fill in the accompanying postcard. Don’t forget to add your name and postcode. Or phone Martin Gray on 01865 860984 and leave a message, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
More on beaches
Learn Italy holidays are nearly always based in cities, but for many north Europeans contact with Italy consists mainly of a stay by the beach. At the end of August huge processions of overloaded family cars from Denmark, Holland, and Belgium toil northwards.
What fascinates me is how strange it is that, in pursuit of pleasure, we should strip off most of our clothes, lie down on the ground (sand, I suppose, is a special kind of dirt) and expose ourselves to the rays of the sun, while occasionally taking a dip in the sea. Even more surprising is the way images of people indulging in this strange practice have become the ubiquitous symbol of blissful holiday. As the travel industry gears up for the forthcoming year, we are assailed by pictures of couples or families in bathing costumes ecstatically enjoying the seaside: blue skies, sand, the ocean, perhaps a palm tree or two according to the location, and a boat in the distance. This is what holiday means.
Sea-bathing, with machines to trundle out into the sea, began in the eighteenth century. From then on seaside towns have a special popularity, as is shown by the countless nineteenth-century pictures of people walking along promenades or in the vicinity of the sea. But a holiday in which the chief occupation is sitting doing not very much on a beach is a twentieth-century phenomenon. It seems to come into being at about the turn of the century. The prototypical study of a north European coming into contact with Italy is Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1913) in which the protagonist becomes obsessed by a boy he sees in the bagno of the Grand Hotel des Bains. Built in 1900, this was where Mann stayed in 1911, and Visconti filmed the story in 1971.
In the 1930s Coco Chanel took the lead in making a suntan not just acceptable, but even a symbol of wealth and leisure. Formerly it had been a sign of rural labour and therefore poverty.
So what is it about the beach? It is, I suppose, an elemental experience, where we compose ourselves in relation to Earth, Water, Air and Fire, without any particular aim in mind other than to be human, to be the poor bare forked animals that we are. Perhaps this is the closest we may get to simply existing, without seeking after anything but being in the world.
I can close my eyes at any time and conjure up the memory and sensation of being on a beach; the constant sound of the sea, always the same and always different, the cool texture of the sand in the morning, aimless cries of children at play, the bright sun warm on the skin, and with my head buried in my arms, a private darkness in which to contemplate these elemental sensations. Am I alone in this?
An interesting gloss on all this can be experienced at the Brancolini Grimaldi gallery at 43 Albermarle Street in London, not far from the Royal Academy. Until 28 January there is an exhibition of photographs by Massimo Vitali, who specialises in beach scenes. There are not many more than half-a-dozen photographs of crowds on beaches in Italy, Spain and Greece, but they are huge, wall-sized works, some capturing dozens of people going about the business of doing nothing by the sea, nearly all set against enormous natural backdrops – cliffs, rocks, bleached formations of stone – so that the scale of things may be difficult to judge until you’ve entered right into the picture. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area.
A wonderful New Year to all friends of Learn Italy, past, present and future.
May your labours prosper and your leisure be fruitful.