A vintner. An artist. A collector. A patron of the arts. A builder of dreams and legacies. When I met Annibale Parisi at his vineyard, Nostra Vita, situated in the rolling hills of Tuscany, I had no idea one person could contain so many passions and execute them with such unabashed joy and child-like curiosity.
Six months prior, after receiving a number of painful writing rejections, I found myself questioning my vocation and in desperate need of clarity and direction. I’d been invited to join a group of fellow writers on a spiritual retreat in Tuscany, and I immediately agreed, thinking a change of scenery might be exactly what my word-weary soul needed.
From a villa in the Val D’Orcia, we spent our days exploring everything the area had to offer, from a renaissance village to a hilltop fortress, a medieval abbey to a lush olive grove. Each outing a wonder in and of itself, but also crafted around a daily spiritual theme which served as a lens through which we processed the experience. The day we visited the Nostra Vita vineyard, Italian for “Our Life”, we’d begun the morning discussing the day’s theme, Wisdom: The Art of Living Well.
Nostra Vita’s founder, Annibale embodies the art of living well, which I soon discovered as his daughter, Giuditta, gave us a guided tour of their family property. Much of the vineyard was just as I expected: rows and rows of thick vines heavy with fruit, vats of wine prepared to age, and storerooms filled with stacks of bottles, filled and ready for guests to purchase.
However, as we continued on the tour, delight, in the form of artwork, appeared among the workaday necessities of the vineyard. A curated collection of pieces by artists had been placed by Annibale where visitors might discover them. Sculpture, found art pieces, pottery, and paintings on various mediums were nestled in every corner of the property from their family home, to a purpose-built workshop, to the vineyard itself.
I saw in Annibale a great love for and patronage of the arts. He’d created a unique artist’s studio with four distinct units—woodwork, sculpture, ironwork, and another for pottery—where he invited artists to work and absorb inspiration from the Tuscan landscape. I admired his vision for presenting the land as a canvas—an open-air gallery of sorts. He increased the impact of each piece by placing them within a work of earthly art—a land sculpted by God and cultivated, with love, by man. I discovered art upon art upon art—a layered approach to beauty.
It came as no surprise to learn that Annibale himself is an artist. I drew a sharp breath when he led us into his personal studio, filled with a treasure trove of his own creations. Sketches covered the walls, wood carvings sat on work tables, stacks of stories printed on aging paper piled up in corners. Nesting in a custom-made box, lay a set of stunning hand-carved tobacco pipes smoothed into the intricate shapes of a leaf, a flower petal, a shell.
When asked what inspires him to create, he replied that he is simply making use of his artistic gift. He creates for the pleasure of it, he said, not for the recognition. Nowhere was this more evident than in a small, sunny room in the back of his studio. Against an ochre wall, he’d constructed iron shelves into the form of a tree, and on each branch sat handmade boxes in the shape of books, carved from tree bark. Each “book” opened to reveal a collection of objects and a description of a specific tree in the Tuscan landscape. These “Diario Naturalistico” contained bark, preserved leaves, dried fruit, and a calligraphied description of the tree. Annibale crafted a Diario for every tree in Tuscany. His singular pursuit of beauty was breathtaking.
I blinked away tears when I saw what he’d created—his acts of careful preservation, his attention to the most minute details, his love for the land on which he planted his life struck me like a bell. I rang with the joy of it.
Annibale embodied wisdom and artful living. Later that evening, as I journaled about my experience at Nostra Vita, I asked myself how I can create a life pursuing this kind of wisdom in a place and situation so far from the idyll of Tuscany. What does it mean for me to live artfully in the suburbs, in a classroom, in my work, in my family?
I returned home from my trip to Tuscany to a set of vocational circumstances that remained unchanged. I had no offers and no answers for my writing life, but I had a collection of stories gathering, making a home inside of me. I had art and Annibale and a thousand other moments of connection and beauty. Months later, when I close my eyes and return to Nostra Vita in my mind, I feel the resonance of that struck bell within me. Wisdom is the pursuit of a life filled with meaning. It is digging deep into the soil where I am planted and creating something original, unexpected, struck through with a ringing beauty.
Kimberly Coyle is a freelance writer with an MFA in creative nonfiction. She writes regularly online and has written for Dayspring’s (in)courage, The Write Life, Fathom Magazine, and In Touch Ministries Magazine (both online and in print). When not writing, she teaches college writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Read Kimberly's previous work, Friends for the Journey.
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