Saturday, June 27, 2015

Taormina getaway

I'll let the photos speak for themselves....
This time it was about relaxation and togetherness. We mostly enjoyed our hotel, the pool and a special meal...the next morning wandered through town with two main goals in mind - a birthday present for hubby and a peek into my favorite ceramic shop in town known as Don Corleone. I just love everything inside this place...the fun wall mosaic is what greets you at the shop and here's its front door with the artist's information in case any of you are also lovers of fun and original art. A little free publicity because I love it so much.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Sicilian view...

I've spent a lot of time recently looking at this hillside. It was enjoyable etching it into my memory through the creation of this drawing I feel called to share here on the blog today after a long period of blogging silence.
Peering out the window, my mind would relax into the distance of this view, the little farm house, built of gray-black etna stone, the terraced overgrown groves of orange trees, the quintessential prickly pear tree, the wild weeds sprouting everywhere and already dry with the early summer heat. 
There is nothing unique about this hillside, there are a thousand others just like it all over this island, but I am grateful for the ripose it offered me in a time of need, for the simple rugged beauty, the wild cultivation, the spark of inspiration, my love of lines and colors that emerged in a natural graceful flow of creativity. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A peek into Palermo

It only took 24 hours to fall in love with Palermo!

We slept among the rooftops in a sweet little room in the historic center on the main drag.
The sunny morning invited sitting on the balcony and enjoying all that could be taken in with both eyes and ears: the contrasting colors and patterns of the roof tiles, domes, spires, clouds. The morning noises seeping through shuttered windows across the street, almost close enough to touch, hiding what I imagined to be narrow apartments filled with families just waking up to enjoy their Sunday mornings. The tinkling of church bells chiming the hour, reminding us it was time to make our way down to street level so we could continue our adventure on foot.

We stopped and lingered at the gorgeous Quattro Canti intersection: four collonaded facades that make you stop and stare, craning your neck upwards to take it all in. The Palermo marathon happened to be in full swing that morning, so the streets were closed to traffic and we witnessed the first place runner zipping through this beautiful landmark.

Then we were back in Piazza Marina, where we had spent time the day before visiting the Museo delle Marionette. Here we were inspired by puppets from around the world and also experienced an innovative and entertaining live performance of The Three Bears by a pair of Russian puppeteers in Russian with subtitles projected in Italian, more NYC than Sicily I couldn't help but think.

Back to our stroll and the enthralling contrast of still standing, barely still standing, and partially destroyed buildings jumbled together in the ancient neighborhood of Kalsa...

....where we visited an unfinished church (Santa Maria dello Spasimo), roofless and open to the elements, and the perfect home for a lonesome tree.

And then we reached the long-awaited destination (especially for the 7 year old). The Botanical Gardens in Palermo is huge for Sicilian standards and invites aimless wanderings along its many paths, some wide and majestic, others overgrown and meandering, as well as peeks into greenhouses and free standing Grecian inspired buildings that house mini museums.

The Palm House was my favorite with its exhibit about everything related to palm trees. Palm inspired contemporary art works. Glass vitrines filled with botanical specimens and objects of all kinds made with parts of palm trees.

Not only did we love the plants and trees,

...but also the lizards and birds (even parrots!) that call this place their home.

It was hard to leave the luscious greenery of the Botanical Gardens, but we still had to visit the touristic port and enjoy the big blue sea to make our brief yet enjoyable visit complete.
Ah, here it is. The pefect spot for climbing on rocks and romping on the open grass in the sea side park before saying goodbye to my new favorite city in Sicily.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The new pedestrian path from Acicastello to Acitrezza

We couldn't wait to check out the just opened Acicastello-Acitrezza walking path last weekend. 

While the two lovely seaside villages are within easy walking distance from each other, this potentially beautiful walk has never been possible in a continuously coastal kind of way. That's because a big lido (aka private beach club) is perched over the rocks right at the border between the two towns. From both towns the lungomare streets dead end on either side of this beach club and before the opening of the new walkway, there was no foot friendly way to get to other side.

We quickly crossed through Acicastello's town center and made our way down to the little fishing port that leads to the seaside street known by the locals as the muretti (little walls). The weather couldn't have been more perfect. The sun was shining bright and we worked up the kind of sweat that that made you forget it was actually November. Seeing lots of people basking in the sun in their bathing suits added to the summer vibe.

Here's a closer look at the (awful!) beach club, the structure surrounded by green fencing. Really it is actually a pretty lido and much loved by the city folks, I am just a little resentful about its obstructive location.

We really weren't sure where this new walkway was located until we got there. We quickly discovered that the Ciclope Lido has made an agreement with the town of Acicatello to open up its doors to the world only from the hours of 9am - 4pm, allowing anyone who would like to enter its premises and follow a signed walkway that takes you through the lido in a circuitous and not so seaside-ish kind of way.... order to get to the other side...
 where you find yourself on solid ground in Acitrezza. Many curious folks were lingering around to celebrate (?) this long awaited event.

We decided to celebrate, too! By continuing our walk into Acitrezza to the nearest bar, where we could have a shady seat and savour a refreshing grantia (think icy fresh fruit sorbet).

On this side things weren't much different. Lots of sunbathers and even a few bathers.

By the time we turned around to head back to Acicastello the crowd had cleared and we were able to get a good look at the new signage and especially the 'rules' of the pedestrian path. Good news, joggers are welcome. Although personally my jogs never happen between the hours of 9am and 4pm. Bad news - no dogs or bikes allowed AND the path will not be open during the summer when the lido is in use by paying clientele. Better than nothing? Absolutely. But still not exactly the kind of pedestrian walkway we were hoping for.

A litle more background information might be necessary here. For years there have been talks of building a bridge to connect the two towns by foot. In the light of past proposals that have never been realized for a combination and political and financial reasons I presume, this 'solution' is better than nothing, but definitely falls short of people's expectations.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Festa dei Morti: Celebrating the Day of the Dead in Sicily

This year I am a little bit obsessed with the Festa dei Morti. 

In the past I tended to avoid any situation that might force me to think about death.  And a holiday that turned it into a celebration seemed anything but festive. I never got beyond admiring the fun skeleton artwork associated with the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. I never really tried to understand how such a vibrant, artistic tradition developed, or how people could consider death anything to celebrate at all.

BUT, life changing events have happened to me this year.

My mom passed away in January.

My father in law passed away in June.

This year I have had to face the universal human experience of death.
The deeply heart breaking sorrowful part of experiencing such profound loss.
The healing journey of moving on with living while not letting go of the precious memories of the dead loved ones.
Embracing the at first hard to acknowledge gifts that the passing of a loved one carries for the those of us who continue to live.
I have gained such strength at the loss of my loved ones.
Strength for living.
Strength for following my heart.
Strength for letting go of old beliefs and patterns that hold me back or create negativity.
Strength for letting go of fear.

The tabu I had subconsciously created about death has been lifted and I am no longer scared to talk about it, think about it in a personal kind of way, and question my beliefs.

While I had a somewhat religious upbringing as a child, as an adult I am not religious and I don't think I really internalized any of the religious beliefs I was taught as a child, particularly those concerning death.

I have always felt like a spiritual being, however, and over the years have learned to connect to that part of myself in a personal kind of way.

My interest in exploring my spiritually has increased lately, and I mainly attribute that to motherhood and especially with having confronted death with the loss of my mom.

So, this year, the Festa dei Morti makes complete sense to me.

While every day I carry the memory, spirit and love of my mom inside of me, today I feel a strong desire to participate in the collective gathering that takes place at cemeteries around the world, honoring, celebrating and remembering the dead.

According to Sicilian tradition, this is the day that the ghosts of dead loved ones visit the homes of their families bearing gifts of sweets and toys for children.

The tradition of giving gifts on Christmas is only a few generations old in Sicily, as the Festa dei Morti was the day it was always done.

Special sweets are also baked and consumed all over the island at this time of year.

And of course, the cemeteries fill up with families who gather around the graves of their dead loved ones, bearing love, fresh flowers, and a spirit of remembrance.

We visited the small cemetery close to my home to pay our respects to my father-in-law's grave.

The cemetery was full of families, mingling, cleaning off graves, bearing bright yellow flowers.
The energy was peaceful, beautiful and rather celebratory.

For my mom, I have no grave to visit (she wanted to be cremated and I have some of her ashes here with me in Sicily).

So instead, in her honor, I partook in the Mexican tradition of constructing an altar, a place to fill with gifts for the souls of the dead loved ones who come to visit us on this day: candles, food, sweets, flowers, and of course the fanciful skulls that have come to symbolize this holiday in Mexico.

My own version of a Day of the Dead altar is an imaginative drawing.

I loved dedicating time to this drawing over the last week.

Each line, color and shape represents an offering from my heart to my mom and my other loved ones who are no longer here with us.

There was no sadness in the art making, only a feeling of closeness, connection and gratitude for the many gifts I have received from them.

Dare I say it - it was a fun and celebratory creative act of remembrance!

It now makes perfect sense how such a holiday could have come to be.

There is something to be said for inviting the souls of our loved ones to spend some time with us in a specific context of offering and gratitude.

I am sure I have more to explore and learn here, but for now I feel blessed and at peace for I have done my part in my own way.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The art of Sicilian cart painting: the world of Maestro Domenico di Mauro

Domenico di Mauro is a 101 year old artist, trained as a boy in the art of Sicilian cart painting. Sicilian horse-drawn carts stopped being used many years ago, and the dwindling art of painting them is kept alive today by only a handful of living artists and their descendants. 
A visit to Domenico di Mauro's home-studio-family museum-art shop felt like such an honor! Being in the presence of this beautiful man was an incredible experience. He is full of joy and pride at his accomplishments and along with his 80-something year old son, was happy to open up his home and let us experience the world of Sicilian cart painting for a few hours.
As Sicilian carts are pretty much obsolete today, and can be mostly viewed in Sicilian museums or during special festivals, cart painters now use their talents to produce small canvases, vases and sculptures that can be purchased by collectors or tourists.
The di Mauro home has several rooms dedicated to displaying a dizzying amount of colorful artworks created by the father-son duo, in the traditional Sicilian painting style, as well as one priceless cart proudly on display.
Domenico's life story is pretty amazing and he and his son were happy to share how he became an artist, ended up owning his own cart shop in Aci Sant'Antonio where he still lives today, and achieved great acclaim for his talent and accomplishments in Sicily and beyond.
The most moving and inspiring part of the experience was seeing the artist at work. An outdoor easel is set up in a peaceful, shady corner of the courtyard, just next to his bedroom. Here he sits every morning and paints. Seeing him in action definitely felt like living proof of the secret to a long, healthy life: follow your passion, do it purely, simply and with love, and most importantly, do it every day!
Domenica di Mauro, it was such an honor to meet you!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Isola delle Correnti: Where two seas meet

Welcome to the Isola delle Correnti, Sicily's most southern point! 

From the town of Portopaolo we admired the island from a distance, the silhouette of the old abandoned lighthouse and the long thin strip of rocky earth that once connected the island to the mainland. Of course we weren't satisfied by only seeing it from afar. 

We wanted to get a closer look. So off came the shoes (and then shorts and shirt of the little guy), and we slowly crunched our way across the long sandy beach.

The light was amazing. In other parts of Sicily a major rainstorm was raging, but here we remained dry and quite warm as the sun peeked through the rolling clouds. By the time we'd made it to the rocky strip we were ready for a swim. Only the little guy was so lucky, as by now he was playing in the waves in his underwear! In the summer, when the water is warm and the tide is low, it is easy to walk/swim to the island for an even closer exploration.  

The amazing thing about this place is that exactly here is the meeting point of two great seas: the Mediterranean and Ionian. You can tell by the continual rows of small waves rolling against each other, one from the east, the other from the west, forming a clear straight line where the clashing currents meet. Today, things were quite calm and you had to pay close attention to notice the currents.

First we hung out on the Mediterranean side. It was so calm and still, barely a ripple disturbed the glistening water.

Then we took a long wade in the Ionian sea. There was definitely more movement here today. Can't you see the difference?

One long last look at the big blue sea....and we were off, until next time!