Lyn's First Week At Il Bisonte

My first day was last Monday morning. I had to be at Il Bisonte at 9.30am - it's about a 15 minute walk from our apartment. Guy walked with me to school so I wouldn't get lost. Monday was a beautiful day, cold but sunny with blue skies.  My walk takes me up to the Ponte Vecchio, past the Conad Supermarket, and then along the Arno river. 

Guy left me at the front of Il Bisonte. As I went in, a group of young people were leaving (I didn't know it then but they were some of my fellow students who were off to get a coffee and have a smoke). For a little while there was only me, another student Julio (Italian), Ignacio (Spanish),  Simone, the President of Il Bisonte (nephew of the founder Louisa Guaita), Maddalena (admin assistant) and Vincenzo (one of the teachers). Everyone spoke English so I thought that it would be ok!! Little did I know....
The other students eventually came back and then we were seated at a round table and given written  information about the course - most of it in Italian. Most of the students said that they did not speak English (actually, I found out during the week that a few of them do speak some English but are very shy about it as they think their English is bad - but it's certainly better then my Italian!). Ignacio (pronounced Ignathio) is from Seville in Spain and is on a full scholarship for 3 months. He speaks English as he spent time living in Ireland. There is also an American student, Ben, from Boston in the US (but he lives in Chile and can understand Spanish). He also has a part scholarship for 3 months. Altogether there were about 8 students there at the beginning, 2 turned up later that day - they  come on the train from Pisa (about 1 1/2 hours) and then have to walk from the train station (about 20 minutes).
Simone started speaking about the course to everyone in Italian and then he spoke to Ben, Ignacio and I in English. The director Roberto Ceccheti then spoke to everyone about Il Bisonte - he spoke in a fairly slow and measured voice and surprisingly, I could sort of understood what he was saying - as Simone said "his talk was inspirational" and all about students working together towards a common goal and growing in skills. Thank goodness for Duolingo is all I can say! (and of course the Italian classes in Gisborne!)
We then all adjourned to the workshops which are up the street and around the corner - they are the converted stables from the Serristori Palace. Entry is through a sort of gallery area with big old etching presses and some artworks and then there is a big courtyard with a covered area and then the workshop area.

It's bit of a rabbit warren and you can't really see the sky when you are inside, so sometimes it is a surprise when you find it has been raining and you didn't even know!
Our teacher for the morning was Manuel Ortega - he is originally from Panama and was a student at Il Bisonte 30 years ago and he stayed on. He doesn't speak any English, only Spanish and Italian.
I stuck with Ignacio and Ben because by this time I had a raging headache from trying to understand anything!
Ben was jet lagged and cold as Lufthansa had lost his luggage and he only had a thin shirt and jeans. Ignacio says he can understand about 70% of what people were saying as Spanish is so similar to Italian. Ben said that he had no idea what anyone was saying. I had very little idea what Manuel was talking about - he was talking about Xylographia and then said the word il legno (wood!!) so I eventually worked out that we were going to do woodcuts. Anyway, we were given A4 size pieces of wood and shown how to prepare them by sanding them and painting them with three coats of shellac. Vincenzo came back and helped us with the list of materials we had to get, gave us a map of where to get them and then told us that the classes for the first week (except for Monday) would run from 9.30am to 1.30pm and then 2.30pm till 6.30pm!! Long days, and they don't take any breaks usually, very different from Australia. It is a bit hard to get materials when you can't get to a shop though. He also told us that we couldn't buy wood-cut tools because the man who sold them in Florence had suddenly died a few weeks ago and so they would have to get them from Switzerland and they would be more expensive. I asked him if I really needed to get the tools as I probably wouldn't be doing woodcuts at home (I needed so many bandaids for Lino, I would probably hit an artery if I was doing woodcuts!) and he said that we could use the tools at the school.
Ben ( I sit next to him)

Lucia and Manuel in the background. Clara at the press

Ignacio in foreground, Veronica, Julia and Nicola in the background

Eventually it was 1.30pm and were were allowed to leave " ciao a tutti! ci vediamo domani!!!" (Bye to all, see you tomorrow!)
Guy had walked back to meet me and I dragged my pathetically poor Italian speaking body back to our apartment and up the 60 stairs!
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (which turned out to be a half day!) and Friday all got a bit better. I am finding that every day I understand more and more - I also found that some of the students (Julia particularly) speak very good English and so she is helping me with Italian and I am helping her with English. I have asked the students to please speak to me in Italian so that I can learn. I have even had a few conversations with Manuel. Some of the students have no English at all and keep apologising for that - so I apologise for my poor Italian. The most useful verbs have been fare (to make, to do), imparare (to learn)  and the word bisogno (need). I also need to say mi piace (I like) a lot! and mi scusa (excuse me!)
We have a little shop we go to for lunch called Il Forno (the oven) and Guy has been meeting me for lunch every day this week - costs about 7 euro for both of us ; a panini each with pancetta and cheese as well as a drink and a coffee each and 4 frittelli di riso (little sweet fried rice cakes about the size of a donut hole). 
My forte is definitely not woodcut - the other students have mostly been to the Academy of Arts in Firenze and have fine art degrees and their subjects are all very classical. I am in a class with 8 Rembrandts...
There are also two people doing the woodcut course as a short course; Giancarlo from Rome and Nicola (originally French) who lives in Perugia and travels the 2 1/2 hours back and forward on the train every day! Both of them are practicing artists. 
I have found out that there are 5 workshops as part of the course; 
  1. Woodcut till the 21st January
  2. Mezzotint from February 23rd to 27th
  3. Engraving on Copper; March 2nd to 6th
  4. Silkscreen May 4th to 8th
  5. Lithography on stone; June 8th to the 12th.
So we will see how I go, both with the language and the workshops, I have taken some photos of the workshop area, not of my work yet!!
By the way, we also have our appointments for the permesso di soggiorno on the 27th January - hope I filled out the forms properly! We went to the PostaleItalia (Post Office) to submit our paperwork, expecting to sit for hours in a queue, but in the end we were quite quick and had a very nice lady help us finalise the paperwork. Reasonably easy! We now have to go to the Questura (central police station) for an "interview" and get our magic stamp.

Oh, and another by the way, since we bought that expensive tostapane (toaster) we have found so many toasters everywhere and every time we see one it is cheaper than the last!!!! I suppose its lucky we didn't buy the 200 euro ones!


  1. Lyn it sounds like an amazing experience. I admire you for plunging in. The studio space looks lovely.

  2. Hi Lyn, ques are part of the whole Italian experience, sounds like a great group to share the studio with.