This past spring I traveled to the Central part of Italy to visit two important cultural events in my capacity as the founder of the Avenida de Colores. For the first event, I traveled by train from Rome to Downtown Naples and stayed my first evening with Madonnaro Gennaro Troia. He is one of Italy’s true Madonnaros, meaning he creates chalk paintings on the streets and sidewalks for his livelihood. We have become friends since his participation in the Chalk Festival last year. He organized my trip to the Concorso Internazionale Dei Madonnari for the international contest of the Madonnaris of Nocera Superiore and the honor of being a judge with the festival coordinator, Maria Sessa.

In fact, Gennaro made many friends during his participation in our festival and some of them traveled to Italy to compete as well. One of the artists was Tonya Youngberg from Utah, who also was staying with Gennaro. It was her first time traveling outside of the US and she had plans to pal around Italy with a friend, who, at the last minute, could not make it. Instead of heading home early, I invited her to travel with me. She proved to be a great travel buddy.

The next morning we all traveled to the Salerno province for the competition of the Madonnari. Using chalk as their medium and the road surface as their canvas, participants create masterpieces bringing art and faith together. The competition is organized under the Parrish Community of the Saints of Constantinople and the Association for the International Competition of Pavement Artists of Saint Paschal Baylon. This was the 18th edition and while the artists finish their paintings in 24 hours, the grand exhibitions of lights, dance, song and festivities continue for a week. The US artists impressed the crowds and, even though they did not walk away with any awards, they did forge lasting friendships, eat a lot of pasta and gelato and got to visit beautiful places such as Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and many historical sites such as the Vatican.

For the second festival, Tonya and I traveled to Genzano by train and stayed at a friend's house, Alessandro Settimi, who started and sold two restaurants in Sarasota. His mother Simonetta took us in as her own daughters, feeding us the best homemade Italian food we ever had. In fact, she was the one responsible for the incredible tiramisu that was served when they first opened Matto Matto, which used to be in Burns Square.

We spent most of our time at the Infiorata di Genzano di Roma and witnessed thousands of graceful and glamorous flowers of all colors being ripped apart by volunteers who separated the petals, leaves and seeds so the festival artists could use the parts as their medium to make carpets of flower paintings on the road surface Observing and meeting the artists was the main purpose of my trip as we prepare for the first Floralia Infiorata in the US this coming spring. It will be another ephemeral cultural event that affords visitors the opportunity to see the creative process from beginning to end. And just like the Chalk Festival, it will be no easy feat. Teams of volunteers will have to organize petal colors and materials into large baskets and throughout the night, they will have to help the artists place the petals in order to turn the street into a carpet of flower paintings by morning, but unlike the Chalk Festival that started from scratch, we head into our first Infiorata with some knowledge about such festivals.

The Infiorata technique was invented in 1625 by a Vatican officer, Benedetto Drei, a florist and architect who headed the Apostolic Floreria. He used flowers to emulate a mosaic painting as an homage during the feast of the patron saints Peter and Paul of Rome. The art form now is celebrated throughout Italy, but the one in Genzano is the longest continuously running Infiorata festival, dating back to 1778.

We were fortunate to attend this year during the Jubilee because the students, who normally create a mini-Infiorata at another time, got to present a few days earlier. By the time the professionals finished, the students’ flowers were starting to wilt and the wind blew some of the designs away. While standing in the town square at the fountain and viewing both streets, you could see the contrast with the professional exhibition that remained bright and the designs bold and the students' looking antiquated. Both were beautiful.

The following day, a religious parade took place on the flower carpets with hundreds of people dressed in medieval and traditional garments. As a finale, the town children got to run over the artwork, blending all the colors and designs together. On my last day, I hiked to the top of the Molar, the highest peak of the Lattari Mountains, with pavement artist Vito Mercurio, where I got to see a panoramic view of where I had traveled for two weeks. It was a bittersweet ending.