Travel Essay - Italy In the Springtime

 

Article and Photos By Greg Matchick

 

The following article appeared in the Spring 2005 Issue of Exposure Gallery Magazine:

 

My wife and I have been gardening for a number of years now and always enjoy the arrival of springtime. Living in the Midwestern United States we are privileged to observe the beautiful display of flowering trees such as redbuds, dogwoods and crabapples as well as azaleas and other flowering shrubs. But there is one flowering plant that has remained elusive to us. We have tried for years to coax several wisteria vines in our garden hoping to see a lovely profusion of blooms gracing our arbor and fences, but without success. In fact we rarely see the wisteria vines around our city blooming in such a manner. We have seen photographs of Britain and Europe where the wisteria climbs the stone walls of homes in graceful clusters of blooms that hang from the vines. However, we began to wonder whether we would ever see such a sight.

 

Imagine our surprise when we unexpectedly encountered such a sight when traveling through Italy in April of last year (2004). We travel to Europe almost once a year, or at least every 18 months or so, but usually we visit in the autumn. During the last half of April 2004 however, we visited Germany and Austria and then took a train to Venice, circling back to Germany by way of Verona and Bolzano. As we crossed over from the chillier northern side of the Alps the change was distinct. The sun-warmed Tyrolean region was a most welcome change – the tender greens of spring in the vineyards and best of all, wisteria in bloom everywhere.

 

My original reason for visiting Italy was to photograph Venice in color. Five years before I had photographed the city primarily in black and white but I hoped this time to capture the colorful play of light and reflections in this special city. Immediately though, I saw that there was something else, something unexpected, that was going to attract my attention – wisteria! What opportunities would await? What might be the challenges of coming away with images worthy of display? Without answers I was ready to face the challenge. After all, if we can’t get it to bloom at home I had better capture it on film at least. (I would like to believe I am a better photographer than gardener anyway).

 

Of course, we photographers know that it is one thing to see a beautiful scene in real life and another to capture that beauty on film and then convey such beauty to the viewer. This certainly proved to be the case when photographing the wisteria blooms as well as the rest of the sights in Venice and northern Italy, during this trip. Although I always have an agenda and plan out my trips carefully ahead of time (with my photography in mind) I try to keep myself open to all the possibilities and go with the flow. For example, had Venice proved to be gloomy and rainy during our stay I would have had to forego my plans for colorful reflections and adjusted my photography to the circumstances. (No I would not have put my camera away). But, such was not the case and we had beautiful weather and numerous photographic opportunities.

 

In Venice there were a number of places where we found wisteria blooming. Often these were on backstreets and alleys or in small courtyards. Although many sights were tempting, there were the usual challenges: there were electrical wires in the way, I couldn’t get enough height on my tripod to crop out a wall or the sun was striking from the wrong direction, etc. Yes, I know the latter seems to have a solution – come back at another time of day, but this is Venice! If you have ever been there you know how confusing it is to find your way. (The maze of streets and alleys would confuse the smartest of lab mice). With the exception of the landmarks I could never find the location of many of my shots again if you were to ask me. However there were a couple of pleasing wisteria shots I was able to capture while visiting the islands of Murano and Burano. The image Wisteria and Gate in Venice was taken in a small courtyard on Murano.

 

Of course wisteria blooms were not the only color in Venice. The image Shutters and Flower Pots” captures the intimate side of Venice. This photograph was also taken on the island of Murano and illustrates the appeal of Venice – ‘shabby chic’. The islands in particular are given to more color in the homes, especially Burano which is known for its colorful homes and the rigid laws to maintain their colors. Although homes in such disrepair would be torn down here in the states, in Venice they convey romance and charm. (As they say in real estate – location is everything). Yes in Venice even the puddles are romantic, as you can see from the image Reflection In a Puddle”.

 

Leaving Venice we traveled to Verona, a short distance away. As we looked out the train windows we could see more wisteria in the small towns along the way. What would we find in Verona I wondered? In Verona we wandered the streets, visited the castle and the Roman amphitheater, but I always had one eye open for wisteria. It was late in the afternoon when we exited the castle, where I uneasily had to leave my photography equipment in a room among the piles of backpacks, etc. (Needless to say my mind was not on the exhibits as we toured the castle). Upon exiting the castle, lo and behold – a profusion of blooms! There it was – wisteria climbing a wall and up the balcony, then spilling down over a gate. It was truly beautiful. However, there were challenges. I moved about in a small courtyard across the street from the home. There were cars parked in the street, angles were tough, I kept changing lenses (I still use a manual camera and fixed lenses). In addition, I was shooting with 100 speed film and working in the shade in late afternoon light – with a breeze! I am not sure how long I spent composing and shooting but I am thankful that my wife is a patient woman. (She does not share my enthusiasm for photography, although she appreciates and enjoys the finished product, and understands that it takes time). The results are the two accompanying photos, “Wisteria Climbing a Wall” and “Wisteria and Gate in Verona. Yes I had more shots of wisteria, which I hoped would turn out well and could be added to my collection.

 

Additionally, there is a Piazza in Verona with some very old frescoes. Under very low light I set up my tripod in the square in the midst of a flurry of activity as evening began to fall. Focusing in on them with a long lens from the ground was a challenge trying to keep the film plane level for sharpness and shooting from an angle. It yielded several successful shots, but I think the image Veronese Fresco and Balcony” captures the color and beauty of these old frescoes.

 

Our departure from Verona began the return to Germany, from where we would fly home. But there was one more stop in Italy, Bolzano. There is very little said about Bolzano in guide books and I was going to ‘wing it’. I knew it was in the Tyrolean foothills and there was an old castle there but that was about all I knew. Bolzano itself was an unusual experience. Although it is in Italy and signs are in dual languages (Italian and German) it is distinctly the Germanic presence that is felt. When asking for directions to Castello Roncolo I continued to get puzzled looks, until I asked for Schloss Runkelstein. The castle is a few miles out of town and we were on foot so we set out walking. As our walk approached the outskirts of town I photographed Castello Mareccio and its vineyards clothed in the tender green colors of spring, as can be seen from the image Castello Mareccio and Vineyard”. But wait, there was one surprise left – the path out of the city ran through a sort of city park and what was it lined with? Wisteria! Wisteria climbed the fences along both sides of the path for perhaps a mile and the fragrance pervaded the air. The accompanying image Wisteria, Vineyard and Home” is a result of this walk.

 

Yes Italy in the springtime is full of surprises. Expect the unexpected and go with the flow. Beautiful images can be had no matter when and where you go in Italy. You may or may not be able to get the shot you came for, but if not take what you can get. Get up early and take advantage of the golden hours for photographing, be patient and work with the circumstances given you. I have experienced a wide range of circumstances traveling Europe, including having most of my equipment stolen once (but that’s another story) but I keep going back. And sometimes, if everything goes right and comes together, you may walk away not only with the images you came for but you might get a bonus, such as I did in April.

 

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