Shortly after graduating, my friend, Lorna and I received news that we were to go to Macerata in Italy to take part in a two week course with a final exhibition. The brief was to “think outside of the box” and to not make anything too obviously representational. Two other colleagues were to go with us, one had the status of lecturer and would stay in hotel accommodation, while Lorna and I and the other student were to stay in a student hostel.
The hostel was altogether what I expected as I had been on a visit to Rome some years earlier and stayed in similar accommodation. We were to sleep in a large room with four beds and scarcely any other furniture. We all got on well to begin with, although as the fortnight went by very slowly as we were all homesick, and various difficulties arose, the atmosphere became a little tense.
Our first drawback was that we had no plan for our fresco. The other groups of students seemed to have entered competitions with winning designs in order to earn their place on the course, and so we were at a great disadvantage. The course was held during the the summer of 2010 and the weather was hot. We enjoyed making ourselves acquainted with the town and the other students, who were from different European countries. We were allowed to make use of the University studios, in order to draw and design our plan for the fresco. Unfortunately, we had difficulty in coming to any agreement about how it would take shape. We all made our separate designs, but there was never any overall plan.
In the meantime, we had to learn how to weave the base from and to mix plaster for the fresco. This was a precise business, and, under the direction of the tutors, we made a stab at it. Some of our group attempted to adhere to the recipe for the plaster, but occasionally another person would chuck in extra ingredients, so that our mix did not resemble the other groups’ mixes in any way. We did our best, however, with what we had, but the end result was lumpy and did not stick to the matted base.
When the fresco was dry enough to paint on, we all agreed in the end to draw our individual designs, which was not very successful, I thought, and as we worked, the plaster was crumbling at the edges.
I had left my two sons at home together, as the eldest had been living with us for some months, as he had split up with his wife, and the brothers seemed to be getting along quite well, as far as I could tell. Unfortunately, though, Bob phoned me shortly after I had arrived in Macerata to say that my grandchildren had also come to stay, which was not the plan at all, and that he was left alone to look after them some of the time. I sent texts to their parents to express my concern about the children, as there had been no agreement beforehand, but the response I received was that their mother had already gone on holiday,
I promised myself that I would never go away from home again without Bob.
While we four were struggling to make a compromise of a design onto our fresco, we saw that the other groups were making real progress, and that some of theirs were absolutely fantastic. They were obviously working as a team under the direction of their tutors, who did not actually get their hands dirty. When the exhibition of frescoes was put up, there was also a film show produced by the French team, and a reception was given with local dignatories and the press in attendance.
It was not all hard work, though. We did manage to fit in some tours of the local countryside and important places of worship and pilgrimage. We had a lovely afternoon at the beach after a wonderful lunch and then continued our journey until nightfall.
However, our plans to return home were scuppered by the volcano ash from Iceland, and it was touch and go whether we should travel to the airport or not on our final day. Lorna phoned home to find out if there was any clearer news about what might be a sensible course of action to take, and we were informed that the journey may have to be delayed. This was bad news for our tutor, who had only brought enough medication for her current ailment to last the exact two weeks we were away, and there were frantic discussions between various parties about what she could do to obtain a further supply.
We decided, at the last minute to take a chance and travel to the airport to see if we could get on a plane home, and luckily, our interpreter came with us. After several hours in the airport and many discussions with travel representatives, our UK group were allowed to queue up for boarding. The interpreter also kindly enabled a young married couple to come along with us. We counted ourselves very lucky, as many would-be travellers remained at the airport long after we had left for the UK.
On arriving home, I found that everyone was well and there had been no incidents, which was a great relief. Bob had been quite worried that we might be delayed.