While it feels like home when I’m at Villa Minghetti where I’ve stayed with family and friends twice in one year—in Spicchio village outside the small Tuscan town of Lamporecchio—there is no place like Hawai‘i, my real home.

I write from my studio in Ka‘a‘awa before daylight. Paint and prepare for an art show planned for November after sunrise. I have time to reflect on the recent journey to Italy and the beautiful extended family we all got to know.

My friend Debbie sums it up: “Over there, they adopt you.”

The experience designed for my painting students is unforgettable:  the keys from Federica to the three-story house, garden, and swimming pool for two weeks; five days of oil painting lessons by her husband Agostino Veroni; Tuscan cooking lessons by Franco Mazzei, chef; meeting their children and parents; free time to take the train to the glorious city of Florence and elsewhere; and the chance to enjoy Italian hospitality and experience the culture.

I want to return the hospitality in Hawai‘i. When would be a good time?

Federica, Agostino, and baby Giulio

Federica, Agostino, and baby Giulio

Our painting teacher Agostino Veroni showed us how he paints from start to finish in about two and a half hours. Amazing!

Our painting teacher Agostino Veroni showed us how he paints from start to finish in about two and a half hours. Amazing!

This family works hard to run a cottage industry, literally. The villa is on an olive farm where Federica’s grandfather had grapes planted once, but wine making is more labor intensive than getting oil from olives, so now it’s just olives. In a back room we watch Agostino bottle the olive oil as it runs out of the spigot of a big vat, one of five. The oil is from last November’s harvest; we were there when they shook the olives from the trees last year! Federica caps and puts on the labels.

Agostino uses a power rake to harvest the olives last November.

Agostino uses a power rake to harvest the olives last November.

The olive oil is stored in stainless steel vats and bottled by hand to the customer's order (our order).

Olive oil is stored in stainless steel vats and bottled by hand to the customer’s (our) order.

Federica carefully applies the labels.

Federica carefully applies the labels.

Every day he can, when he isn’t personally marketing his work on weekends or helping out with the property, Agostino paints. The land inspires his original oil paintings en plein air. Sunflowers, poppy fields, olive groves, mountains and the sea. His gallery agent has arranged to show his art in Naples, Florida, in February. Would I come? Federica asks. How far is it from Hawai‘i? She has little idea it is half a world away, only that it is “paradise.”

Agostino paints while daughter Giorgia, 7, watches

Daughter Giorgia, 7, watches Agostino paint sunflowers.

The artist's working studio

The artist’s working studio

And, of course, Federica manages and cares for Villa Minghetti, part of a family real estate business. A private wing that is a former servants’ quarters now houses the painter’s studio, viewing room, and kitchen. We have great fun baking pizza from scratch in the old, old olive-wood-burning oven!

Agostino selected the exterior of his studio, formerly servants' quarters, to demonstrate how to paint a textured rock wall. It looks plain in real life, so he decides to add wisteria flowers.

Agostino selects the exterior of his studio, formerly the servants’ quarters, to show how to paint a textured rock wall. It looks plain in life, so he decides to add wisteria flowers.

This is the finished oil painting by Agostino Veroni of the wisteria. He liked this one a lot.

This is the finished oil painting by Agostino Veroni of the wisteria. He likes this one a lot.

View from the kitchen into the viewing room.

View from the kitchen into the viewing room.

Agostino makes pizza

Agostino gets ready to shove his pizza into the hot oven behind him.

Aloha, ciao ciao, until we meet again. Your friend,

Rebekah

P. S. I’m still trying to duplicate chef Franco’s recipes. They may not be exact, but they’re close. I’ll post them soon.

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