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Local artist goes from UGA to Cortona, Italy

Miriam Rowe has been making and selling jewelry since she was ten. That same love of creating things led her to the art program at the University of Georgia. This May she will graduate from UGA with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jewelry and Metalworking. The UGA art school offers many unique learning opportunities, including a satellite campus located in the Tuscan town of Cortona, Italy. The University of Georgia’s study abroad program in Cortona, Italy was started in 1970. The program now has more than 8,000 alumni and holds University classes year-round. After hearing so many great things about the program from students, professors, and advisors, she decided to spend her last semester at UGA studying in Cortona. Through the generosity of family, friends, and even some people I didn’t know, I have been able to raise the money to pay tuition, program fees, and all the expenses incurred for this semester in Italy. She is currently in Cortona, where all of our classes are held. And she is blogging the whole journey. During the three months of the program, the students will study and visit Pisa, Lucca, Pienza, Montepulciano, Volterra, Siena, Bevagna, Torgiano, Assisi, Perugia, Arezzo, and Orvieto. During the last week in Cortona, the students will be having an art exhibition featuring the work they did during the semester. Miriam’s exit show will be done during this week. The program ends with a trip to Ravenna and four days in Venice. Recently Miriam sent us an excerpt from her journal called “Love in Cortona.” In the ancient city of Cortona, Italy, there is a stone statue of middle-aged matron with a small dog at her feet lovingly overlooking the valley below.  This statue is one of many tributes to Saint Margaret, the patron saint of Cortona.  In 1247 Margaret lived in one of the valley towns near Cortona.  She was the consort of a duke who refused to marry her even when she bore him a son. When the duke died Margaret was left penniless and alone.  Her family disowned her, so she left the valley and moved to Cortona, where she converted to Catholicism and became a 13th-century Mother Theresa.  Saint Margaret founded a hospital in Cortona for the sick, homeless, and impoverished, and established an institution to train nurses to staff the hospital.   The church of Santa Margherita is on the very top of Cortona’s hill. Her bells wake me every morning in my dorm (a 14th century convent) and toll many times during the day.  St. Margaret is entombed in the church and is still venerated and loved 700 years later. When I stand at St. Margaret’s church and look down on the city of Cortona, it is easy to see how Margaret could have given her life and love to this place and its people. From Saint Margaret’s church at the top, down past the University of Georgia campus in Cortona that is my home for the next few months, down the hill into Cortona, I make my way to one of my favorite places in town: a chocolate shop simply named Cocoa.  I walk through the door, seeing the glass cases full of hand-made chocolates, smelling the flavors of chocolate wafting through the air from the kitchen. Alessio Burroni, the creator of the confectionary delights on display, enthusiastically greets me.  I buy a cup of hot chocolate and sit at the table, visually savoring every treat in the glass display cases while I wait for my cioccolata calda to come out.  When it arrives, I sit with the tiny cup in my hands and savor my first sip. Alessio’s cioccolata calda is so thick it could be eaten with a spoon.  Unlike American hot chocolate, which is mostly milk with a bit of chocolate flavor, Alessio’s is cooked, melted chocolate. It is so smooth and silky, rich, dark and not too sweet, that even a small cup is almost a meal in itself.  Though the chocolate is the best I’ve ever tasted, it is not just the chocolate that keeps me coming back.  Alessio is passionate about his chocolate creations, and it is impossible to escape his infectious love of life and art.  The first time I met him we exchanged hellos and I asked him how he was doing. He responded, “I am benissimo! How can I be otherwise when I am here with the chocolate!” Alessio’s love for his craft and passion for chocolate is infectious, and his fervor for his work inspires me.  I asked Alessio why he decided to set up his shop in Cortona when his home is thirty miles away.  Even though Cortona is not the biggest town in the area, he loves having his shop where people from all over Italy’”and the world’”congregate.  Like Alessio, I am drawn to this distinctly Italian town and the diversity of the people who come here to visit or live.  I am so fortunate to be able to live here for three months, experiencing daily life in this Tuscan hilltop town.  Every time I walk out the door I stop, look at the stunning vista, and try to process the reality of my situation: This is Cortona, and I get to live here!  My love for Cortona came almost overnight, but my love and appreciation for Cortona have continued to grow as I find out more about the place and the people.  Cortona’s rich, deep-rooted history has surprises at every turn, and the more I discover, the more I appreciate’”the buildings, the shops, the people and their art which is a way of life.  From Saint Margaret in the 13th century; to St. Francis of Assisi, who spent his last years living in the hills outside of Cortona; to Frances Mayes, author of the book Under the Tuscan Sun, Cortona has become home to many travelers. They fell in love with this gem in the hills, and so have I. To read more about Miriam’s adventures in Italy (including being a model in an Italian hair show, winning an art contest sponsored by the city of Cortona, seeing the sights in Rome and Florence, and attempting to use every form of Italian public transportation while trying to get to the airport), visit click on ‘Travel’, then choose ‘Journal’.

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