Friends Around the World: The American Artist in Italy

From conversations in hostels to exploring cities together, I’ve met some interesting people who all have amazing stories to tell. I’ll be starting a series that highlights friends that I’ve met around the world and their stories.

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This summer in Certaldo, Italy at the Fattoria Bassetto Guesthouse I had the pleasure of meeting Zoe Rayner, an American artist living in Italy. We became friends after three days of conversation and the sharing of wine, pasta, and personal stories. It didn’t take long to discover her amazing talent for drawing. As I journaled at the kitchen table, Zoe took out a sketchpad, several pens and pencils, and started crafting a masterpiece. Check out her Instagram page to see more work by Zoe, @zoe.illustration. Be sure to follow me for more updates @vincent_thurman1.

Though it may not  reflect in her work pre-say, she does pull inspiration from Arthur Rackham, Katie Scott, James Jean, Brett Helquist, and Jared Muralt. “I’m definitely not saying that my art looks anything like theirs, but I find their styles and the depth of their ideas endlessly inspirational.

Bellow you’ll find a short interview between myself and Zoe.

Vincent: Why drawing?

Zoe: I always loved art, and it became a sort of natural direction for me to take. The process of creating something can be so meditative and personal, so it’s interesting to see how others respond to what you’ve made and how you can use the personal process to convey something universal.

Vincent: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve drawn?

Zoe: One of my favorites is of an octagonal bee hive, with a few bees around it. I wasn’t really planning it ahead of time, so it just developed as I drew. It was one of the more challenging drawings that I’d done then, so it felt like a personal accomplishment, to push myself a bit further than usual.

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Vincent: Describe a moment that captures the spirt of your work?

Zoe: I guess one moment that stands out is when I realized that art was what I wanted to do for a living: I was avoiding a college paper, so I sat down to draw instead, and when the piece was done I suddenly felt this clarity. I like to be able to return to that feeling whenever I’m doing a new piece.

Vincent: Any last words of inspiration for other artists?

Zoe: Everyone has their own style, their own way of expressing an idea or emotion. Don’t compare yourself to others, but take inspiration from them and strengthen your personal style. It’s much more rewarding to reach that point of feeling unique in your work, and to be aware of the qualities that make it your own.

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 Artist Spotlight: Zoe Rayner – find her on Instagram to explore her work.

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Food and Life – Final Trip Reflection

Until today, I couldn’t find a way to really bring my trip to a close. Writing a final reflection on such a tremendous journey seemed to be a daunting task. So much happened in three short weeks. New friendships were formed. I saw beautiful, natural places. I slowly explored cities and towns. I ate, drank, laughed, talked, woke up early and stayed up late into the night with strangers and friends. I realized that every decision was intentional. I made decisions about what my life would be like each day, but I remained open to how the experiences would unfold.

Today, I used a skill I learned in Certaldo, Italy. I made my own pasta. Luckily, I stayed in at Fattoria Bassetto and they offered a cooking class. It is definitely one of the highlights of my stay. The entire process took about four hours between the preparation and cooking. After that, seven or eight of us (myself, other guests, the owner of the guesthouse and the chef) shared a meal together during dusk. We talked and laughed during the entire meal and enjoyed one another’s company. We worked to prepare something that all of us would share together. What an interesting way to live?

Traveling has helped reveal the best parts of who I am. It’s given me clarity and insight that I could not get in any other way. Together, consistently and patiently, we worked together to achieve something that would benefit the entire group. These subtle, but deeply important, lessons revealed themselves day after day during my travels. Food and cooking was the avenue through which I was able to recognize the importance of working collectively and methodically, but also with heart and care for others in mind.

My trip has shown me the value of intentionally caring for and working alongside others. I’ve known this inherently, but by intentionally embracing this mindset, I will be better able to help others draw out the best in themselves like others did for me. Like a chef who must draw out complex flavors and marry them together in a way that reveals the food’s best features, I will work to bring together people of differing cultures, backgrounds, lifestyles, and histories in order to create a more beautiful, caring, and just world. It is with much gratitude, happiness, and peace that I’ve written this reflection.

Many moments were shared with beautiful, interesting people and I wouldn’t trade any of them for the world.

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Review: Bassetto Guesthouse

I’ve never reviewed a hostel before. I’ve never really felt compelled to write a review on a place. Overall, I’ve had great luck finding good hostels partly because Hostelworld.com is great at keeping up to date reviews available. However, I’ve picked a few placed that seemed great online and turned out to be just a basic place to sleep for the night. Neither is good or bad, especially for a traveling on a budget. So why have I decided to write a review now now? Two words: Bassetto Guesthouse. The Guesthouse is more of a home than a hostel, especially for travelers who’ve been on the go in big cities for a while.

To any travelers in Italy, I highly recommend you make your way to Certaldo in the Tuscany countryside for a retreat at the Bassetto Guesthouse from busy cities, crowed hostels and unruly train stations. Here you’ll find cooking classes, day trips to San Gimignano, a wine cellar in which you can have dinner (and purchase amazing wine), hammocks, flexibility in check-in and extending your stay, and also a top notch staff. Olivia, Zoe, and Kyle were amazing. They also have other staff who are great, but we saw them sparingly because they were doing other things to make sure our stay was perfect.

If you are in Tuscany and don’t go to Bassetto, you have taken an incomplete trip to Italy. Nearly every previous visitor would echo this sentiment. Visit Hostelworld.com to checkout the reviews; it stands at a strong 9.5 and nearly all visitors decide to extend their stay at least one day. The atmosphere is reminiscent of the Italian Culture. Things happen when they happen. The days roll by slowly, the guests are more like family than other travelers, and you can’t beat the nearly panoramic views of the countryside. It is a beautiful place filled with so much history.

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So what are the accommodations like? No bunk beds, hot showers,comfortable beds, a communal kitchen, an actually living room, three hammocks, a pool, a countryside kitchen for pasta making classes, and a wonderful garden. If you like dogs, they have two friendly dogs who love to lounge in the sun and play for a while. This place is like a home. For example, I participated in the pasta making class on my last night. We made three types of pasta from scratched, learned to make fresh (and delicious) pesto, and sat in the garden for dinner. In the middle of dinner, the owner decided to join us to discuss our stay and the future of Bassetto.

If you’re looking for a place to rest or recover from weeks or months of traveling, this is the place to do it. If you’re looking for an authentic experience in the countryside, go to the Guesthouse. Every aspect of my stay was perfect because of the people, the culture, the location, and deep commitment from the staff to making the Guesthouse feel like home. I’ve mentioned that I would return to Italy once a year if I couldn’t move there in previous blogs and in conversations with friends. The Bassetto Guesthouse is the place I will go when I take my yearly trip. To the staff, fellow travelers, and everyone that made my stay amazing, thank you and I look forward to my next visit. 10 out of 10.

The Best Place in the World – Italy.

A country filled with history, art, culture, food, life, and so much more. Imagine how lucky I’ve been to meet wonderful people and stay in amazing places. Most people don’t get to do this in their entire lives and here I’m sitting at a communal table in a guesthouse waiting to learn how to make pasta in a picturesque, quintessential Italian kitchen. But Italy, oh man, Italy has stolen my heart in a way that is just down right wrong. After two short romances, one for a week and the other for two weeks, here I am head over heels in love with this place.

To describe Italy is to describe home. The people, the food, the interactions, the places, the simplicity, and the commitment to mastery. Even making pasta sauce takes 8 hours to be made properly. I think of the holidays as a child when I, along with my brother, cousins, and friends, would run in and out of the kitchen to taste whatever my mom, grandma, and aunts were making only to sneak out the back door to snag a piece of barbeque that my dad and uncles had made on the grill. This place is deeply reminiscent of those feelings and experiences. It’s the place that reminds me of a simpler time and an all encompassing lifestyle. Something that I crave deeply for myself.

Family, culture, music, food, art, work, balance, happiness, contentment. These are all of the things I feel with each passing day in Italy. From the busy cities to the countryside and small towns, Italy feels like home. So I’m making plans to move here in a few years. Being able to stay in the countryside for three days has given me time to find clarity in what seems to be a storm of figuring out what to do with my life (if you know me this changes quite frequently) – not what I should do or could do, but determining what I actually want for myself and my life.

Ultimately, I am young enough to pursue one passion, while diving into another with bit more direction and after more preparation. To do everything all at once is to do nothing well, and if I’ve learned anything from the Old Masters (great Italian Artists), it is that mastering your craft takes a lifetime. To build the life I want will take years, not months, of working, planning, changing, and discovering even more about myself than I know now. But I’m on the right path and being here as helped me see that. So Italy, thank you for a short introduction to what will be a lifelong romance.

(Ps. I thought about adding photos, but I couldn’t find the ones to fit this bests. I may add some later).