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Archives For May 2017

2017: Spoleto Picture a Day 8

By Christine Ragusa
Posted on 31 May 2017 | 10:00 am

by: Bret Lott

Creative Writing Professor Bret Lott is leading the summer, 2017, study abroad program in Spoleto, Italy.


This is the day we always take off for our four-day educational tour of Firenze. We had a workshop meeting in the morning at the villa to go over pieces written for the Travel Writing course, then packed and headed to the train station in Spoleto. Then the four-hour ride through the countryside and into the city, where we walked to the hotel, dumped our bags, and headed to view the Duomo in all its grandeur in the late afternoon light. And to pose like Americans for the photo here.

E ancora di più domani!

The countryside from the train.

General reaction (Mary, here) when encountering the duomo the first time.

Americans all.

2017: Spoleto Picture a Day 7

By Christine Ragusa
Posted on 30 May 2017 | 8:33 am

by: Bret Lott

Creative Writing Professor Bret Lott is leading the summer, 2017, study abroad program in Spoleto, Italy.

Cari Amici:

You might as well grab a cappuccino and settle in for this one. What a day.

For the second year, we took a tour of Assisi with our tireless guide Cristiana, shown here at the Piazza Santa Chiara, one of the squares in the town that looks out over the Umbrian Valley. Cristiana has proven integral to our appreciation of the entire Umbrian culture, giving us a clearer understanding and appreciation of this quieter but just as lovely sister to Tuscany. We visited the crypt of both Santa Chiara and Santo Francisco, got to view the world-changing frescoes of Giotto in the upper basilica and the stars in the night sky of the vaulted ceilings in the lower basilica. And then, as if all this weren’t enough, Cristiana walked us up to the top of the mountain, and to the highest villa in Assisi—which just happens to be owned by her auntie and uncle.

The villa, built in the 1920s on the site of Roman ruins, was owned by Lady Berkeley, also known as Mary Lowell of the Boston Lowells, who was the wife of Lord Berkeley—you’ve heard of Berkeley Square in London? Yeah, that Berkeley. Cristiana’s unbelievably hospitable uncle and his daughter played host to us all, gave a tour of the extraordinary residence (with a library larger than any I’ve ever seen in a private home), and then helped set up a lunch of porchetta and drinks on the lawn behind the villa, where the garden wall overlooked the valley to the north of Assisi. After lunch, the students arrayed themselves around the yard, and wrote. And how could they not, given the view, and the hospitality, and the food, and this day?

While the students wrote, Cristiana told Malinda and Tony and Melanie and me the story of how her auntie and uncle entertained Prince Charles here at the villa on a visit to Assisi back in the late 1980s, and how her auntie didn’t like him much. Suitably inspired by the view, he set up his easel and spent the afternoon painting. But then he spied a particularly fine lemon tree in a huge ceramic pot out here in the back yard, and noted to her auntie how much he liked it, a gesture which, as everyone with any culture knows, means you have to give the thing to the future King of England. Though she loved the tree, she was a very cultured person.

Then she told us the story of how, back in the 1950s when Lady Berkeley owned the villa, none other than a young JFK visited (the Boston Lowell connection, of course). One hot afternoon, he swam in the pool, and then was called to lunch, where he showed up with no shirt on. Lady Berkeley yelled at him to leave the table at once—did he have no manners, did he have no sense of propriety?—and dismissed him until he returned properly attired.

That swimming pool, there? This one? I asked, suddenly in awe of the empty pool right here next to us, not yet ready for summer.

Yes, Cristiana said, that one. She loved that story, not so much for the fact this was the pool where the future President swam, but for the image of Lady Berkeley chewing out the young senator from Massachusetts for his bad manners.

What a day. And thank you, Cristiana, for making this all possible.

Ciao—ancora domani!

On tour with Cristiana Bradley of Love Umbria.

The villa at the top of Assisi.

Yep. That swimming pool there, the one with students around it, writing.

The group, with Cristiana’s uncle and cousin.

2017: Spoleto Picture a Day 6

By Christine Ragusa
Posted on 29 May 2017 | 11:48 am

by: Bret Lott

Creative Writing Professor Bret Lott is leading the summer, 2017, study abroad program in Spoleto, Italy.


Today is always one of the best days we spend in Umbria: our wine tour day. We start at Duccio Pompili’s very very very small vineyard and winery, Fontecolla, just outside Montefalco, a hilltop town famous for its Sagrantino wines. This is a one-man operation—literally. Everything on his four-hectare plot of land (a hectare is close to four acres) is done by hand, and because next week he starts stripping the shoots that have grown off the trunks of the vines, the students, with his permission, went ahead and started helping. His aging room, seen here with our guide, Cristiana, is small, cozy even, yet the wine he makes in this room the size of a three-car garage is superb. Then we go to Antonelli, an internationally known vintner three kilometers down the road, where the aging room, as you can see here, is, well, a whole lot bigger. Big as a hangar. Given that the land Antonelli works is ten times the size of Duccio’s, it’s no wonder. But the very good thing about this experience of big and small is that the wines are absolutely beautiful in both places. That’s because they’re all grown with love under the Umbrian sun in a place as beautiful as this last photo of the hillside sloping away from Montefalco toward Spoleto.



The volunteers at work.

Cristiana in the Fontecolla aging room, with Duccio looking for something in a bin of bottles. I couldn’t tell you what.

And Wendy, our guide at Antonelli, in their aging room. A little bit bigger.

Why it works.

2017: Spoleto Picture a Day 5

By Christine Ragusa
Posted on 27 May 2017 | 11:45 am

by: Bret Lott

Creative Writing Professor Bret Lott is leading the summer, 2017, study abroad program in Spoleto, Italy.


Classes began in full today. For years we have been meeting on the third floor of Palazzo Ancaina, a beautiful old building that fronts on Piazza della Libertà. But because the building sustained some damage from the terremoti last fall, Gilberto Giasprini, the director of the office of tourism for the city of Spoleto, and our old friend for all these years, arranged to have us moved to the extraordinary Palazzo Mauri, built in the mid-1600s by the Mauri family, nobility in the region all the way back then. Recent renovations have revealed Roman mosaic floors and foundations about six feet below the present building—these can be seen through the glass floor in places on the ground floor. But now it’s the biblioteca, the city library, and we have the honor of meeting in one of the primary room on the second floor (what they call the first floor here). The photo showing the students seated in a circle really is our classroom, and those really are 17th Century frescoes on the walls—the originals. The photo of the window shows (1) more frescoes, (2) the thickness of the walls, keeping the building cool all summer long, and (3) the incredible view out the windows of our classroom. That really is what it looks like out there.

Nothing other to say than that we are humbled to be here, thankful for the generosity of the city, and looking forward to our studies in this grand building.



Palazzo Mauri, a couple streets up from the old classroom.

This really is our classroom.

Yep, that’s our view. That’s our sky. That’s our light.

2017: Spoleto Picture a Day 4

By Christine Ragusa
Posted on 26 May 2017 | 11:44 am

by: Bret Lott

Creative Writing Professor Bret Lott is leading the summer, 2017, study abroad program in Spoleto, Italy.


The weekend is almost over—7:30 Sunday evening. Tomorrow we head into town for the first full day of classes at the biblioteca (more than likely there will be photos of that incredible place!). But until then, here are actual unretouched photos of students in their native habitat already hard at work for their travel writing and short fiction courses.

A student (Nicholas) glimpsed studying with his foot actually akimbo (the foot thing may be a result of jumping off that funivia yesterday).

Student study conditions at the villa.

Mary and Alex spotted hard at work for classes.

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