As I type this, there is someone strumming Spanish guitar at the park across from where I live. In all the months I have been sharing interview Blog Posts, this has never happened. I can’t help but notice the synchronicity on this particular occasion as this lyrical serenade compliments perfectly the world, story and life of the incredibly talented Valentina Solfrini of Hortus.
It seems, the potency of her message – whether captured through her stunning photography, poetic language or classic Italian inspired cooking is so deeply ingrained, that the effect of what she presents has the capacity to cross continents and strategically arrange itself into the stirring sound of Spanish guitar right at the precise moment I was to sit and type my introduction of our recent interview. I shouldn’t be so surprised though, as these unexpected synchronicities are simply a reminder of how the impact of the work we create, when it is coming from a place of true intention, has the ability to create such magic.
The passion of Valentina’s work, the considered approach in everything she shares is expressed with a deep love, care and pride for her Italian heritage and the resilience of the men and women that have come before her. In an effort to keep their memory and legacy alive, she is making her own mark in her own unique way to celebrate and ensure that the knowledge passed down across the ages remains for generations to come. I hope you enjoy our interview, inspired by a world that evokes nostalgia, romance and the art of slow living:
Everything you do – from your writing to your achingly beautiful photography, evokes nostalgia. The work you produce is immersed in poetry and romance. Tell me how this signature style of yours emerged?
It surely has a lot to do with my background: I attended an art-oriented high school, I was immersed in paintings and history of art, and arts like etching, drawing, sculpture. My school was in a 1500 ex-convent in the center of Urbino, in a stone building that overlooked a cloister on one side and the botanical garden on the other. I had this very close circle of friends with whom I could talk about Caravaggio, Rilke, Goethe, poets and artists. We were 16, 17, 18. It was quite the imprinting. Maybe what I do today is still the result of that. I am just looking for a way to convey those feelings in a more modern context.
What was it about classic Italian cuisine that was so important for you to learn more about?
I have always been fascinated by things past – maybe because the women in my family would always abide to rules of classic cooking from the ’50s and brought this knowledge into the modern day. I love how there was less choice but everything required just a little extra effort, and I love how they could make the best out of the simplest ingredients. I can’t even explain what it is: I feel a strong nostalgia for the kind of cooking they taught me, as if I lived through their time myself – as if I were there with my grandma when she made tagliatelle for German tourists in the post-war Riviera. I feel like there’s something to be learned in that extra effort that cooking required. I am somehow fond of memories I’ve only been told about.
You mention how you mostly walk barefoot and there is this strong desire to be immersed in the land. I loved reading this because it’s a reminder of how disconnected we are today with nature, we have a buffered experience of how we take in the world around us. Tell me about how being in tune with natures rhythm influences your relationship with cooking and food in general?
Growing up in the countryside, in a country that always ate following a strict seasonality, learning to sync with nature’s cycles is inevitable. In spring, I harvest chamomile, edible flowers and herbs, flower buds and aromatics to cook with. In summer, we eat lots of fruit, which grows on our trees, and tomatoes, which we grow ourselves. Fall is a time for mushrooms and chestnuts and winter for brassicas and roots. Each season has its ingredients and its cooking logic, and there is no such thing as porcini in March or figs in January. It is a sort of not-written-rule that lets you enjoy everything in its fullest. Syncing with nature means embracing that each part of a cycle has its perks and beauties, and it means enjoying the ephemeral. Some ingredients are in season for as little as two weeks per year. Such things remind me of the beauty of this sort of Divine cycle, where everything returns and everything has meaning.
Your blog celebrates the importance of slowing down and cherishing the simple moments in life. These experiences are so often overlooked, yet, I think it’s what all of us crave and are trying to cultivate more of in our day-to-day. Why was it so important for you to share these stories?
After living in New York, I learned that slowing down is a luxury, but it is also a skill to hone. Living slow in Italy is easy – we are, after all, a kind of culture who enjoys to sip one espresso in a second and sit for an hour, and having Sunday lunches and dinners that can last hours. But lingering on things a little longer can help you understand many things – what you really need and what you don’t. I think it is kind of inevitable to become more conscious of the world inside and outside ourselves, if we only learn to walk at a pace that is fitting for our character.
Who are your personal mentors and how have they come to influence what you want people to experience through the world of Hortus?
All Renaissance and Nordic painters have always been my biggest inspiration. I got into photographers at a much later time. Today, painters are still some of my favorite sources of inspiration, as it helps me understand texture and color: I love the work of Ron Hicks and Aaron Westerberg, who are both contemporary painters. I also love the work of Romantic painters from the ‘800s, like Margaretha Roosenboom. When it comes to food photography, there is hardly a more talented person than Zaira Zarotti, known as The Freaky Table. The rest I find out in nature: I just wish to give the readers/viewers the same wonderful feeling I have when working with plants and veggies.
Your photography style seems to be a natural extension of the work you produce as a cook and writer. How does this creative modality influence the way you take in the world around you and how you communicate to your audience?
A person very recently told me that it is wonderful how my work reflects who I am. I had never even thought of this as I did not think there could be a different way to do things, but I was very happy to hear this. I guess all three things can’t be but intertwined.
What have your creative passions taught you most about yourself? How have these experiences shaped the way you confront being challenged creatively?
I’m learning through the whole process that I can be pretty resilient. My work is subject to ups and downs, and it’s ok to accept both phases. Sometimes I kind of feel my creativity works as a moon cycle, with its crescent and waxing phases, with times of full and times of new. During a creative ‘new moon’ I learned to just slow down, or even stop completely, and recharge, without feeling guilty or anything. When I’m in times of fullness, I’m a beast, so I prepare for times of ‘new moons’ too. I learned to cherish those moments instead of being scared of their darkness: they always mean that something much better is about to come.
So many people are resistant to pursing what they love. What has been the greatest reward for you in following your heart?
I’ve always ‘followed my heart’ as I never imagined doing otherwise. As I said, the ups and downs are many, but I guess I would have ups and downs in any life I choose. It’s just a matter of which efforts are worth more to me. I love how being a freelancer reminds me that everything is way scarier when thought than when done.
Happy Travels, Paula x
All photos taken by the incredible Valentina Solfrini
To see more of Valentina Solfrini’s stunning work, CLICK HERE