Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
I visited Lake Levico in Northern Italy last summer ( you can read my full review of the holiday here). One of the highlights of the trip for me was a visit to Arte Sella, a fabulous art complex in the mountains featuring art in nature by world famous artists. The visit was made all the more special by our guide, Clelia Di Loreto, whose passion for the venue, and the art shone through. When I heard that Clelia had relocated to Italy from South Africa relatively recently, I just had to feature her as a ‘fab woman’. Clelia shares her story – reinventing her life at the age of 65!
A little about Clelia
My name is Clelia Di Loreto I’m 70 years old and I now live in Italy with my husband. We live in a small village in the Alps called Roncegno Terme since 2012.
Prior to coming to Italy we had lived in South Africa and as I was born in Eritrea I consider myself more African than European so moving to Europe was a huge step. At the time I was 65 my husband 73 and we also brought my 89 year old mother with us.
My daughter lives in Sydney Australia and my son lives and works in London.
I come from an Italian background both my mother and father were Italian. My aunt and uncle, who was a paediatrician in Venice, had a little chalet in Roncegno in the mountains which they used as a summer getaway from the city. After my aunt and uncle both passed away the place became vacant and had remained empty for about 10 years. The house was available and that is the reason why we are here, I always say that Roncegno chose us….
A year after arriving I was diagnosed with lymphoma and had to go through chemotherapy for 2 years, Arte Sella was very important for me at that particular stage it forced me to get up in the morning and go and do my tours I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself, I just had to push forward. At the moment I am in recession and this I think I can thank to firstly to my family who were there for me but also for the regular exercise and fresh air of the mountains and the people who work at Arte Sella .
What did you do prior to moving to Italy and working at Arte Sella?
I worked at first at The Blood Transfusion Services’ labs and the Children’s Hospital Laboratories in Johannesburg, I remember one time Professor Chris Barnard came to do an operation on a child, we were all very excited to work with him.
I then went into pharmacy in Johannesburg and worked there for 30 years.
When did you start working at Arte Sella? How did the opportunity come about?
I started working at Arte Sella at the beginning of 2013. One day a few months after we had arrived in Roncegno, we decided to take a drive into the mountains as we had seen a sign indicating Arte Sella, the name intrigued me. We arrived at an outdoor Museum and we did a tour of the art works it was fascinating, giant installations made of natural material extracted from nature called “Art in Nature” artists from all over the world were represented. As I was making my way out I stopped at the Ticket Office to look at some books and I started chatting with one of the ladies who worked there and of course although I speak Italian I do sound foreign she asked me where I was living and where I came from. I told her that I came from South Africa and that I was living in Roncegno, suddenly a voice behind me said “you must be a Di Loreto” I turned around and there was a man standing in the doorway, you could have knocked me over with a feather, we didn’t know a soul in this part of the world so I was very surprised that someone knew who I was, he told me that he knew my brother who had lived in Italy for many years. As it so happened he is the founder of Arte Sella, His next sentence was, “do you want a job” well that also took me by surprise but then I realised that because English is my first language it’s an important qualification in this part of the world. I was thrilled. What an unexpected piece of luck!
What does the role involve
The role involves doing translations especially for the artists’ interpretation of their work, our website and generally anything else that needs translating. I interpret for the artist when we have the inauguration of their work . my main role is doing tours, initially I was to do only English tours but I have been doing mainly Italian tours which is great because it’s helping me to improve my Italian.
Did you need any special training?
Not really, but life experience helps and a great passion for art. Naturally I had to learn about each artist and their art.
What elements of your previous experience have been so valuable to you in this role?
Having worked with people all my life and mainly with sick people taught me patience and understanding you need a lot of both when you are dealing with groups of sometimes 50 people.
You seem so passionate about the park and the art that is on display – have you always been interested in art?
Yes, I have always loved art, in my spare time I often visited museums but had no contact with contemporary art in nature before. Only after having emigrated to Italy from South Africa was I fortunate to make contact with this type of art.
What is the most enjoyable part of the role?
Meeting people from all over the world, being able to discuss art and learn about the different countries and cultures. Meeting and chatting with the artists about their work and of course the fresh air, walking in the mountain forest among trees and bushes which are forever changing colours, wild flowers which change with every season. My favourite season is autumn when the colours are amazing.
Which is your favourite exhibit – and why?
I like all our art works. They each have a different story to tell the artists convey a message that inspires me, this is the reason why it is very important to have a guide who can explain the story, the thought and the feeling of the artist at the time of creation!
Did you ever imagine yourself doing this?
No! Never in a million years. In South Africa we lived in Johannesburg far from the reality of the Alps, snow was something you saw in Christmas movies. I must admit that winter is not my favourite season because I find it difficult to get use to the cold having lived in Africa all my life but when I see the art works covered with snow they are a thing of beauty.
What makes working at Arte Sella so special?
The people, the uniqueness of the place, the never standing still of activities which are a constant inspiration.
What’s next for you?
I hope to be fit enough to continue tramping in the mountains and getting more involved in the activities of Arte Sella. I have become a member of the Association of Arte Sella and the committee so the sky is the limit. And to be able to enjoy God’s given time that’s left for me!
What would you advise other women over 50 wanting to do something similar?
Go out there and if an opportunity comes your way grab it with both hands, there is no such thing as ‘I can’t’ or that I am too old for this, yes you can!’ Doors open for us all the time, be wise enough to recognise the opportunity and walk through them without looking back.
Images are of just a handful of the scuIptures at Arte Sella. Some are Clelia’s and others I took during my visit last summer. For details on holidays to Lake Levico look at Inghams Holidays.