Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Art of Travel

TRAVELIFE Magazine Editor in Chief Christine O. Cunanan reminisces about a painting trip around Europe’s lake district

In the Ticino region of Switzerland, the area closest to the Italian border, there’s a tiny and ancient hilltop village of stone and wood called Soazza, that holds special memories for me. Many years ago, I spent two blissful weeks here in July indulging very compatible interests of art and food.

My friend Marivic and I joined famed Manila jeweler Hans Brumann and his wife Maria, both former Swiss nationals, for a two-week watercolor workshop in Soazza conducted by a contemporary artist from Milan named Margherita who lectured entirely in German. Neither Marivic nor I spoke the language, but somehow we managed through the class of Swiss and Germans including a spinster from Neuchatel and two young girls from Basel.


It was the ultimate girls’ trip of enjoyment and indulgence, as far as I was concerned, and one of the happiest holidays I have ever taken. Marivic and I flew on KLM from Manila and spent most of the long ride to Europe via Kuala Lumpur, giggling like schoolgirls and mapping out three weeks of painting, exploring and shopping. Since we were already going for the workshop, we’d decided to spend an additional week driving through the lake districts of Switzerland and Northern Italy, including Lake Como, Lake Garda and Lake Lugano. We planned to paint the lake towns and the beautiful churches and town squares along the way. Several days in Milan, Italy’s fashion capital and mecca for Europe’s summer sales, was also on our itinerary.

Upon landing in Zurich at 6 AM, we hired a car and drove directly to Zurich’s Sunday flea market for a morning of bric-a-brac hunting and a lazy walk around town. Afterwards, we found our way to Regensberg, a quaint walled village in the outskirts of Zurich, where we had reserved rooms at an 800-year-old inn with lovely antique furniture and handpainted flowers on the walls. We spent our first evening at a local restaurant in the next village, and I can still remember the taste of the lamb we feasted on in the restaurant’s garden.

After that, time passed all too quickly. We visited a friend’s family in a skiing hamlet in the Swiss Alps, lazed along the shores of Lake Como with sketchbooks in hand, and attended an open-air performance of the opera Aida in the coliseum of Verona. In Milan, we succumbed to so many sales at 70% off that our purchases covered every inch of our hotel room floor.

We ended our holiday with our watercolor workshop in Soazza, a little village with a population just under 400, about half an hour’s drive from Lake Lugano. At the Ristorante al Cacciatore, an impeccably-furnished 13-room hotel and restaurant run by a local aristocrat that was the center of Soazza’s social life and that also served as our workshop base, I experienced the pure joy of being able to discard all mundane cares and focusing all day solely on observing and recreating beauty.

Each morning, after breakfast and a short lecture by Margherita on that day’s painting theme, we would each find some bench or doorstep to sit and paint on, and try to capture on paper the life that was going on so naturally before us. Soazza is not a pretty village by the standards of this exceptionally picturesque part of Europe (although Marivic disagrees!), but we found captivating vignettes worth painting everywhere: an open window with a child’s toy on the ledge, a ramshackle alley with tin pots and firewood, or even just the flowers growing alongside the little church on the hill. Whatever our subject, this would often prove so engrossing that Marivic and I would frequently miss lunch or sometimes paint all night – much to the amusement of our less fired-up companions.

One evening, I’d had enough of staying up late and painting, so I retired just before midnight, leaving Marivic still working in the hotel’s adjacent studio. Then, just past three am, I was awakened by stones being pelted on my window. Marivic had been so focused on her watercolors that she failed to notice the porter had already locked up the hotel for the night and gone to bed. Unable to get in, she’d taken to climbing a stone wall next to my room and throwing stones at my window to wake me up. Luckily, she succeeded, and you can imagine my surprise to see her perched precariously on the wall outside at such an unseemly hour, amidst the darkness of the sleeping village. Even today, we still laugh about that night and wonder what she would have done if I had not woken up.

We had so many memorable experiences that summer that I can’t help smiling even now as I write this. And, for me, this trip will always be linked to the sweetness of youth, the special bonding of travel, and the joy of discovering beauty in the most ordinary circumstances.

This appears in the current issue of Travelife Magazine, the Philippines' leading travel and lifestyle magazine.


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