THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
On the bus in Tuscany
La dolce vita in Florence

Pasta and Wine

Considering how selectively I shot in the previous day's blazing heat, I was happy with my "selects" for the critique yesterday. After class we adjourned to a restaurant where "Suzie" the chef had agreed to a pasta making demo / photoshoot. The area set up for the purpose was ablaze with natural sunlight from a large French window, so sensei hung a bedsheet over that to form a huge "lightbox." He then set up a studio flash outside to mimic the sunshine he'd tamed in controllable form. Another flash inside the room was slaved to provide "fill". The objective was that the lighting set up would not be apparent to the viewer, who would think we had just been blessed with perfect natural light. You can judge if we succeeded from my shot of Suzie (a patient, charming lady who rolled and chopped contentedly for over an hour).

Suzie (1 of 1)

The unusual heat (over 30℃) was already getting to me. Even more so in the box of frogs formed by my fellow photographers writhing and dancing around our subject. I didn't serve my full stint in command of the lighting set up. I got my shots quickly and adjourned to a cooler spot. After lunching on the pasta we'd watched made (I was too hot to eat and skipped that) we were due to head off for a wine tasting and photo shoot at a vineyard, Felsina. Wine and olive oil have been made there since the days of the Etruscans.

We spent an interesting and pleasantly cool hour or so among the barrels of maturing Chianti, Spumante, dessert wine and their "Super Tuscan" brand Fontalloro. I can't show you any of the pictures alas, as the company made prior approval of published pictures a condition of allowing us such free access. I have been promised an email address of someone who can approve my shots, but immediacy is in the nature of a travel blog so by the time that happens it will be too late. You can see their pictures at their website. The most interesting part of the day was watching sensei make a portrait of the vineyard's owner and management team. I love to watch any expert at work. 

The wine tasting was fun and I particularly liked the Super Tuscan. I was enjoying it so much that I offered to buy wine for everyone on condition that we cancelled our excursion to photograph the raw ingredients while being grilled by the Tuscan sunshine. Such enthusiasts are my colleagues that this (I thought) compelling offer was emphatically rejected. I was by now operating well outside my design parameters for temperature management. I stayed on the air conditioned bus while they frolicked among grapes that will be of no interest to any sensible person for years yet!

Then it was back to our Tuscan home at Castello de Gargonza for our last night there. We had a splendid buffet dinner in a garden. The night sky was of such a rich dark blue that several of my visually-acute photographer pals could scarcely digest for their artistic glee. While they got their jollies their way, I gave the good Tuscan wine the full respect it deserved.  I sat at the same table as the Italian contingent of photographer/interpreters. Much international goodwill was generated over toasts. We exchanged idioms that foreign language speakers would never normally learn. I now know how to respond if insulted by an Italian. If an Italian photographer in London tells you it's "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey", you will be detecting my influence!

Hands were raised before bedtime to indicate who was up for a dawn photoshoot at 0515 today. Mine was not among them. I rose at a sensible hour and packed for our return to Florence. This was meant to be via Siena. I had been looking forward for months to that. I have been to Tuscany before but never to that city. Sadly that visit is still on my bucket list as I decided I would not be able to cope with hauling my camera kit around a city centre in these temperatures. Leaving Leslie,  a charming artist from New York who is my usual companion on these runs, to ride with the main group on the bus, I headed directly to Florence. My plan was to relax and decide whether I could cope with tonight's planned event. We are all invited to a garden party at the home of a Florentine "aristocrat" (an odd pretension in a Republic). The jury is still out on that one as I write this.

Tomorrow is our final day. We shoot the Duomo in the morning and then meet for a final class over a working lunch. There's then a break while the faculty create a slideshow of our best work to be viewed before our farewell dinner. As I have done in past years, I shall host the slideshow here and link to it for anyone who may be interested. There is a good range of photographic styles in this year's group, so I think you may enjoy it.

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