Some of you have asked me, “How did you come up with Da Vinci Capers?!” This is a good place to tell you. It was a combination of conscious decisions, a dream and an epiphany. (Nota Bene: For those of you who have been on a Da Vinci Capers’ trip and already know my story – mi dispiace… I’m sorry!)
I was a late bloomer getting my undergraduate degree and was heading in the MBA program when I suddenly changed my mind. Humanities sounded much more fun - studying the classics, art and Italian. I needed 3 credits to finish and randomly took a sculpting course. I was in love. Since I knew Italian, I studied an Italian text on slip-casting and creating architectural sculpture by Nino Caruso. Commissions fell out of the sky and suddenly, public television wanted to interview me. This was a turning point – did I want to continue in this field? I loved design and sculpting, but frankly, it was plain hard work. Also, breathing silica was not good… but basil was! So, I called a friend who ran one of the first cooking vacations in Italy figuring that I could cook well and knew a lot, had the Italian connections, and some business background.
My friend so happened to need someone to market her business, chit-chat with people (I’m really good at this) and go over to Italy to run her programs. From the start, she knew that I loved art and that eventually I would do something on my own; but, this was a win-win: I could help her build her business and I would learn about how to do business internationally.
I can’t explain how excited I was to run my first program. Just standing on the stone terrace overlooking the vineyards in the early morning, dew kissing the big broad leaves that were just beginning to turn crimson, large purple clusters dangling down while, in the distance, I could hear exotic peacocks calling. Entrusting me with her group of 15 people, my boss left for a Slow Food Convention in Bra. This was the early days of Slow Food. It was the buzz in Europe and slowly moving across the Atlantic. But, I was happy as a clam being with my small group in a Tuscan agriturismo.
Standing outside my little apartment, I remember saying, “Ciao! Have a great time! Non-preoccupata! Don’t worry!” Then, the next thing I remember is that I was crawling on all fours to the bathroom. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I felt deathly sick. One talent that I have failed to mention is that I can squelch throwing up – a phobia I have since a child. I have mastered splashing water, draping cool washcloths just so, moving a certain way to recover in record time. After all these tricks, I pulled myself up, straightened my clothes, combed my hair as if I were Harriet on the Ozzie and Harriet Show.
Off I went to meet our guests. We all huddled in a little bar off the restaurant. I went through introductions and the week’s itinerary. Everyone was jazzed to start to learn to cook the real Italian way with a handsome Italian Chef who spoke little English but made great sweeping hand motions and fast movements around our ‘stations.’
That evening I rested my head on my pillow thinking, “Ah, this is the life… a great group of people in a beautiful setting in Tuscany…” Knock, knock on my door. It was midnight. Out of a deep sleep, I heard the words, “Your guests are very ill. Come right away!” Several people had been violently sick for hours and I needed to call a doctor to come and give them shots and to rehydrate them.
Then, the rains came – torrential, flowing in sheets. The doctor knew no English and I remember translating: “Yes – she still feels sick. It started after dinner. Is she allergic?” Plowing through the puddles, we made bedside visits from one apartment to the next.
I stood outside for a breather, leaning up against the wet stone wall, but shielded by a little overhang. I remember looking up into the black night and thinking, “Why have I been placed here in Dante’s Inferno? How could this be happening?” I held it together until I reached my room and just cried and cried.
The next morning we were supposed to get into a bus and go to an herb farm while the Chef started preparations in the kitchen. I looked at everyone and knew that I needed to change the itinerary – first day on the job and I’m already changing everything… I called an artist friend who lived a couple villages away in Panzano.
“Bring all of your supplies here as soon as possible – we need an art lesson!” I said. That morning, we sat under the cool purple wisteria, overlooking the rolling vineyard, sipping Pellegrino. We were taught about washes, masking, perspective, using brushes and sponges, sun direction, how to create shadows… Most everyone had never picked up a paint brush and were holding in their hands a painting they were proud of.
Afterward, a man came over to me and touched my shoulder to catch my attention. He was the physician from Sacramento. My first thought was he will insist that we go to the herb farm – it’s on the schedule after all. But, when I looked up I saw tears in his eyes. “Thank you so much for creating this art experience… I know that we are in a cooking school.” He continued, “You see, I forgot how much I loved to draw and paint. As a little boy, I used to do this and remembered loving it. I’ve come here thinking I would take up cooking as a hobby to off-set my horrendous work schedule. Now I know. I will study painting.”
Well, we stood together with tears rolling down our cheeks. It was at that moment I knew there are probably many people who have forgotten what they loved as a child. Most of us are on career tracks and raising our children. And now, we are in the information age getting constantly bombarded. Somehow, we need to carve out time to spark our passions, remember what we loved, discover new interests. We’re more complicated than just being ‘a doctor’, or ‘lawyer’, or ‘mother.’
This is why I created Da Vinci Capers ~ A Personal Renaissance Journey. I want people to discover the passion in themselves and to instill new zest in their lives. Experiencing moments – even half days – with talented and heart-felt teachers, all in a spirited and beautiful setting, is the recipe. It doesn’t get much better.
P.S. I’ve spoken about the conscious decision and my epiphany. To hear about the dream… stay tuned. (Hint: What’s black and white and green underneath?)
P.S.S. The illness came from a broken pipe on the property and all the clients in agriturismo, including staff, became ill – terribile!