Posted by Matthew Daub – Arts Sojourn
In my previous post I described how I came to be a slow traveler on my first trip to Italy. While I believe that there are many benefits to traveling the slow way I certainly understand those who question the value of taking the slow approach. How do I get to see everything that I want to see? Just what am I going to do with all the free time that I will have on my hands? The answer to the first question is simple – you won’t get to see everything! It’s just not the way slow travelers do it. If your goal is to see as much as possible you will be giving something up, but what will you gain in return? Hopefully you will return home with a feeling that although you may have seen less, you have actually experienced more – your memories will be more poignant than any snapshot of a building façade could ever be. There is both a philosophical and practical difference between the typical Rome-Florence-Venice approach to Italy and spending two weeks in Montalcino. If you try it just once I believe that you will see what I mean.
What about the second question? What will you do to occupy your time if you are not constantly on the go? There are many possibilities. I have discovered two things that have made a huge difference for me – painting on-site and journaling. You might say, “but I have no interest in either of those things!” That’s OK; just hear me out for a moment. I am not suggesting that you should paint, sketch or keep a journal, but there are plenty of other activities that may be of interest to you – horseback riding, cycling, hiking, cooking…..what is it that you like to do? How about simply practicing the lost art of relaxation; taking the time to linger at an outdoor café table without punching a time clock; visiting that small local museum that rates only a line or two in most guidebooks? I absolutely LOVE relaxing in Italy and never feel as though I am wasting time; in fact it is quite the opposite.
Although I am a professional studio artist, outdoor (plein air) painting did not really interest me at first. To be honest, I just did not enjoy it. I was much too concerned about producing a good painting and I was disappointed when I did not. What I discovered in Italy was how to quit caring so much about the product and to start appreciating the process. Instead of creating a masterpiece my focus became using painting as a means of experiencing my surroundings. Through painting I have been able to take in more of day-to-day Italian life. I observe the intricacies of minor architectural details. I smell lunch being cooked in the apartment above. The locals begin to recognize me – their greetings to me change. Does this matter? Maybe not to some, but it does to me; my life has been enriched through the practice.
Journaling has had a similar effect, although it too seemed foreign to me at first. I had never kept a journal; I never even thought about it until I made an extended visit to Italy in 2001. I started slowly, but I soon found that my journal became perhaps even more significant than my watercolor blocks. I am never traveling alone if I have my travel journal handy. I have boxes and albums full of Italy photos that I never look at any more. I’ve forgotten where many of the places are, but I vividly remember every detail described in one of my journals. I love re-reading them, and when I do, my experiences come alive again!
You do not have to be a writer to keep a travel journal. You do not have to be an artist to use a sketch book, or to combine these elements into a combination scrap book full of ticket stubs, labels, post cards and other found objects. I have seen non-artists on our Sojourns do this and return home with something truly beautiful and personal. The main thing is to find a way to slow down and become immersed in the culture. Slow travel is about taking the time to connect on a sensory level.
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Matthew Daub is a professional artist and university professor with works in major public and private collections throughout the United States and Europe. He has been leading plein air painting workshops in Italy since 1994. In 1999, Matthew and his wife Barbara formed Arts Sojourn, as “a vacation for artists and their friends.” The program is designed to appeal to artists of all levels as well as non-artists who enjoy the company of creative people in a slow travel format.