Friday, March 10, 2017

An interview with artist Valeria Sanfilippo

I'm so excited to share with you my first ever artist interview featuring Sicilian artist, Valeria Sanfilippo.

I first met Valeria at her exhibit back in November 2016. I remember feeling an immediate connection to her work and wanting to know more.  That was the beginning of an ongoing conversation with Valeria, that I've been able to capture in this interview - in both English and Italian. 

Enjoy!


Valeria installing her work at the gallery space Photo and Graphica

I WAS SO FORTUNATE TO FIND OUT ABOUT YOUR GALLERY EXHIBIT A FEW MONTHS AGO. THE TITLE OF THE EXHIBIT - "TINNED TALES" - CAUGHT MY ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY. CAN YOU TELL US WHAT "TINNED TALES" MEANS TO YOU AND WHERE YOU GOT THAT NAME?

I played with the literal meaning of being “boxed”, “canned” or “tinned” like with a can of beans or a tin of sardines. When I first began to develop my artwork in my own style using my own, personal language, my main subjects were fairytales that I told to my daughter from the time she was very small. I reproduced these fairytales in terracotta and assembled them in boxes of painted wood. When closed, the boxes contained tiny secret worlds, a little bit like a tinned can of Campbell’s soup.


Detail of Valeria's 3D painting, titled 'NYLON', as pictured on the invitation to her exhibit last November

I WAS ALSO INTRIGUED BY THE IMAGE OF THE ARTWORK ON THE INVITE. I COULD SEE THAT YOU ARE A PAINTER, BUT THERE WAS ALSO A DIMENSIONALITY TO YOUR WORK. I WASN'T QUITE SURE WHAT MATERIALS YOU USED AND WANTED TO KNOW MORE. THEN, WHEN I WENT TO YOUR EXHIBIT AND SAW YOUR ARTWORKS IN PERSON FOR THE FIRST TIME, I COULD SEE THAT YOUR PAINTINGS ARE CONSTRUCTED FROM SLABS OF CLAY, AND SOMETIMES OTHER MATERIALS, TOO. MORE LIKE SCULPTURES THAN PAINTINGS, REALLY. SO ORIGINAL, UNIQUE AND TEXTURAL. COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR TECHNIQUE AND THE MATERIALS YOU USE? HAVE YOU ALWAYS MADE ART THIS WAY?

I use different materials. In fact, my works often end up being mixed media collages mounted on a wooden support. My main material of choice, though, is definitely clay, which I’ve been using since I was a child. I have always done a lot of drawing, but my true artistic training followed the path of sculpture and creating in the round. My technique is a synthesis of the two expressions, drawing and sculpture, and I like to call my works three-dimensional paintings.


Detail of 'Tulips' - 3D painting (painted clay on painted wooden panel)

I BOUGHT ONE OF YOU PAINTINGS AT YOUR EXHIBIT. MY HUSBAND, SON AND I PICKED IT OUT TOGETHER AND IT INSPIRES ME EVERYDAY. I THINK ONE OF THE REASONS WHY I LOVE IT IS BECAUSE THE URBAN SCENE REMINDS ME OF ONE OF MY FAVORITE CITIES IN THE WORLD - NEW YORK. I ALSO JUST LOVE YOUR USE OF CLAY AND HOW IT BRINGS SUCH AN INTERESTING DIMENSIONALITY TO THE SCENE. IT FEELS LIKE A MAGICAL, MINIATURE WORLD. YOU SHARED WITH ME WHAT THE PAINTING MEANS TO YOU -- WOULD YOU MIND SHARING WITH US HERE AGAIN? I ALWAYS FINDS IT ADDS ANOTHER LAYER OF INSPIRATION TO THE WORK KNOWING THE STORY BEHIND IT FOR YOU, THE ARTIST. 

You’ve seen well. I have also loved New York City, consider it an unending source of inspiration, and it did partially inspire the piece you are talking about: The forest of skyscrapers becomes a sort of sacred woods that represents my feelings of love and loss at the same time. A secret feeling, that’s reciprocated, for a person that life keeps far away from me. It is a very intimate and tormented story, but it is very freeing to be able to tell the story, at least visually.


Valeria in her studio - this is where the magic happens.

Work in progress in Valeria's studio

IT FEELS LIKE NARRATIVE IS IMPORTANT TO YOU IN YOUR CREATIVE EXPRESSION. I LOVE HOW YOU LABEL YOUR WORKS AS 'ARTISANAL ILLUSTRATIONS'. COULD YOU TELL US MORE WHAT YOU MEAN BY THAT? ARE YOU ILLUSTRATING EVENTS, LIKE SCENES FROM YOUR LIFE, OR FICTIONAL ONES FROM STORIES? 

I work with materials that get my hands dirty and require a certain level of physicality. When I'm working it feels like I'm building something...it isn't just an intellectual type of work. There's an idea that I start with, but there is also a great deal of collaboration with the materials, to the point that it is the material itself that leads me to the solution. From this point of view, I am an artisan giving form to my mental images. I use tools, my hands, wait for the clay to dry, wait for the kiln to have finished its job, put all the pieces together with patience, paint...

My works are always synthetic representations of a story or a feeling. There is always life or a dream behind what I represent, but above all, there is always a poetic vision of what I experience. 


'Mediterranean Nativity' - 3D nativity scene (painted clay assembled in painted wooden box)

AT YOUR EXHIBIT THERE WERE ALSO SEVERAL WOODEN BOXES CONTAINING NATIVITY SCENES SCULPTED FROM CLAY. I LOVE HOW YOU CALL THEM '3D NATIVITIES'. WE WERE DELIGHTED BY THE TINY WORLDS EACH BOX CONTAINED AND LOVED PEERING INTO THEM AND TAKING IN ALL THE DETAILS. COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE MORE ABOUT THESE TYPES OF OBJECTS? 

The presepio (nativity scene) is a cultural tradition with deep roots in southern Italy. In my case, though, there is also something more. Ever since I was a small child I have had a nativity scene made by my mother, and now my daughter has one made by me. My mother is an established ceramicist and her specialty has always been nativities. Now that tradition has been passed down to me. Even if I mainly dedicate myself to my own artistic language, I will never abandon this family tradition. The unique thing about our nativities is that they are always well contextualized. Generally they are personalized by inserting members of the family that commissioned the piece and by placing them in environments that are special to them. Like the fairytales I constructed for my daughter, our nativities are also tiny worlds hidden in secret boxes.


'Asher Lev' - 3D painting (painted clay on painted wooden panel)

YOUR WORKS HAVE AN ENERGY OF WHIMSY, PLAYFULNESS AND MOVEMENT TO THEM. WOULD YOU AGREE THOSE ARE IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF YOUR CREATIVITY? ARE YOU INTENTIONALLY CHANNELING THAT INTO YOUR ARTWORK?

Laughter, movement and play are important to how I am as a person in the world, so it is inevitable that these elements have also become part of my artistic language. I am also very interested in exploring ways that movement can be represented by the completely inert, immobile materials that I use.


A selection of work by Valeria's mother, Lucia Costarelli




YOU GREW UP IN A CREATIVE ENVIRONMENT - YOUR MOTHER IS A CERAMICIST. DID SHE TEACH YOU ABOUT CLAY WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP? DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER EARLY INFLUENCES?

My mom was very important in my artistic development. When I was a small and wide-eyed little girl, I was able to witness her training process. It was then, without me even realizing it, that my own training also began.

My greatest influence, though, came later from a great teacher, Vincent Butler, who is a Scottish artist. He hosted me in his studio in Edinburgh and taught me about art and life.


'Vendicari' - 3D painting (painted clay on wooden panel)

TELL US ABOUT YOUR SCHOOL DAYS AND YOUR ARTISTIC BACKGROUND.

My artistic training happened on several fronts. One of them is definitely ‘scholastic’, which mainly refers to my time as a university student, since I believe that without a study of art history and a good cultural base it is not possible to build something valid. Another area is that of my family and the school of my mom. And finally, as I mentioned before, the courses I took at the Academy of Art in Edinburgh and my time at the studio of Vincent Butler.


'My Little Amsterdam' - 3D painting (painted clay and aluminum on wooden panel)

THE TIME YOU SPENT ABROAD IN SCOTLAND WAS IMPORTANT TO YOU. COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AND HOW IT INFLUENCED WHO YOU ARE AS AN ARTIST?

Scotland is a country that you fall in love with. The warmth of the people and the enchanting natural surroundings create a unique energy and a land that is fertile for inspiration. But, to be completely honest, Scotland itself wasn’t fundamental for my artistic training, but rather the teacher that I met there who taught me to “really see” the world around me and also the seriousness and humility that are necessary to become an artist. Most importantly, for the first time someone told me that making art is not a frivolous activity to be done in whatever free time is left over from more serious or profitable activities. That to be an artist is dignified and worthy of respect, concepts that are very difficult to accept in a country like Italy, where the right to be an artist seems to have been exhausted long ago, with Michelangelo and Raphael.


Another shot of Valeria installing  her work for her exhibit at Photo and Graphica

TELL US HOW YOU HAVE BEEN ABLE TO BALANCE RAISING YOUR DAUGHTER AND RUNNING A BUSINESS WITH BEING AN ARTIST? 

Truthfully, I am very lucky from this point of view. I have been able to choose a profession that is completely compatible with my artistic activity. My Bed and Breakfast is in a family villa. On the second floor we host our guests, and on the first floor I have my art studio. This means that during slow moments at the B&B, which happen frequently with this kind of work, I can focus on my creations.

My daugher has never been an impediment to my creativity. On the contrary, she has always stimulated it. Like me when I was a little girl, she has been able to experience my artistic development, with a piece of clay or a pen in hand. Now she is my greatest critic. When I finish a piece I always ask for her opinion before anyone else's. She is also a great travel companion, the best one I have ever had!


Entrance to Valeria's studio in her family's villa. The Bed and Breakfast, Casa Demarata, occupies the second floor. 

YOUR BED AND BREAKFAST IS A LOVELY PLACE. THAT IS WHERE YOUR STUDIO IS, AS WELL. COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT IT IN CASE ANYONE IS LOOKING FOR  A SPECIAL PLACE TO STAY ON THEIR NEXT VISIT TO CATANIA?

As I mentioned, the Bed and Breakfast is on the second floor of a villa that belongs to my family. It was the house of my great grandmother, the Baroness Demarata, and the Bed and Breakfast is named after her. It was built specifically for her by my grandfather. It is a beautiful villa, surrounded by a lush garden cared for by my mother who is passionate about gardening. The space is designed to be warm and welcoming. There is no Ikea furniture or frilliness, just an honest and authentic place where you can feel at home. For anyone who is curious to know more, feel free to check out our website http://www.casademarata.it/.


'Presepio with Etna' - 3D Nativity Scene (painted clay assembled in painted wooden box)

DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS TO SHARE WITH US ABOUT STAYING INSPIRED AND KEEPING CREATIVITY A PRIORITY IN YOUR LIFE?

The main thing I’d like to say about this is that when the urge to create is strong and real, it’s impossible to keep it inside for long. Even in the most hectic of times, I am still in tune with noticing the poetic sense of things, which, for me, is the artistic key to interpreting the world and also the prelude to the creation of my artworks. The instinct to find inspiration from the things I encounter in my day will never abandon me.

I always carry some paper and pencils with me so that when I have a vision I can immediately capture it in a quick sketch. Then, when I am finally able to close the door of my workshop and dedicate myself to my creativity, I can turn to the inspiration contained in the many sketches I have tucked away in my pockets and bags. Days may have passed, but when I take them out they feel like tiny epiphanies, true revelations, because if I had not drawn them they would already have been erased from my mind, disappeared.


One of Valeria's current works in progress 

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON THESE DAYS? ANY PLANS FOR A FUTURE SHOW?

I’m already working on my next exhibit, which will take place in a very beautiful gallery space for contemporary art at the Bannata agriturismo in Piazza Armerina (the area where the splendid mosaics from the Villa Romana del Casale can be visited). The exhibit will happen in late spring, in the month of May.


Here's another work in progress. The unpainted clay pieces have been assembled to create the composition.

HOW CAN PEOPLE FIND YOU IF THEY ARE INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE OF YOUR ARTWORK?

At the moment I only have a Facebook page, “Tinned Tales”, but soon I will also have my own website. It’s possible to contact me on Facebook or by email. My address is valeriasan@hotmail.it.

And of course, the doors are always open to anyone who would like to visit me in my art studio at Via Cardinale Nava 3, in Catania.


THANK YOU SO MUCH, VALERIA. IT IS SO INSPIRING TO KNOW MORE ABOUT YOUR CREATIVE JOURNEY, YOUR PROCESS, AND ALL THE EXCITING THINGS TO COME. 


'Alice' - 3D painting (painted clay and aluminium on painted wooden panel)

Valeria with her daughter


***********************



INTERVISTA CON ARTISTA VALERIA SAN FILIPPO

Sono stata  così fortunata di venire a conoscenza della tua mostra alcuni mesi fa. Il titolo della mostra mi ha incuriosito subito - "Racconti in scatola” Tinned Tales. Puoi dirci cosa significa e dove hai preso questo nome?

Ho giocato sul significato letterale dell'essere "inscatolate" proprio come i fagioli o il tonno...Quando ho cominciato a proporre una mia autonoma produzione artistica con un mio linguaggio personale, il mio soggetto principale erano le favole che raccontavo a mia figlia già da piccolissima, le riproducevo in terracotta e le componevo in scatole di legno dipinte. Le scatole chiuse, custodivano piccoli mondi segreti, un po come la lattina campbell contiene la zuppa di pomodoro.
Ho mantenuto il nome perché le mie opere custodiscono sempre delle storie, più o meno visibili, più o meno segrete.  

Sono rimasta affascinata anche dall’immagine sul tuo invito. Ho potuto vedere che sei una pittrice, ma c'era anche della tridimensionalità nel tuo lavoro. Non ero abbastanza sicura di quali materiali avessi usato e voleva saperne di più. Poi, quando sona andata a visitare la tua mostra e ho visto le tue opere in prima persona per la prima volta, ho potuto notare che i tuoi quadri sono costruiti da lastre di argilla, e, talvolta, da altri materiali. Sembrano più sculture che pitture. Così originali, uniche e strutturali. Potresti raccontarci la tua tecnica e i materiali che utilizzi? Hai sempre creato arte in questo modo?

Uso diversi materiali, infatti le mie opere risultano spesso dei collages multimaterici montati su supporti di legno, ma il mio materiale d'elezione è decisamente l'Argilla, che mi accompagna sin dall'infanzia. Ho sempre disegnato molto, ma la mia vera formazione artistica ha preso la strada della scultura, la creazione a tutto tondo, le mie tecniche sono una sintesi tra le due espressioni, disegno e scultura, le fondo in opere che mi piace chiamare pitture in 3D.

Io ho acquistato uno dei tuoi quadri alla mostra. Mio marito, mio figlio e io abbiamo scelto insieme e rappresenta una continua fonte di ispirazione. Credo che uno dei motivi per cui lo amo è perché la scena urbana mi ricorda una delle mie città preferite al mondo - New York City. Adoro anche l'uso dell’argilla e di come si porta una dimensionalità così interessante all’interno della scena nella sua totalità. Sembra come un mondo in miniatura, quasi magico. Hai condiviso con me che cosa significa la pittura per te -Ti dispiacerebbe condividere questa idea nuovamente adesso? Trovo sempre un ulteriore livello di ispirazione conoscere la prospettiva dell’artista relativamente all’opera.

Anche io ho amato New York, la considero una inesauribile fonte d’ispirazione, hai visto bene, è a lei che mi sono ispirata in parte per l’opera di cui parlavi:
La selva di grattacieli, diventa una sorta di bosco sacro in cui rappresento il mio sentimento, amore e smarrimento nello stesso tempo. Un sentimento segreto, ma contraccambiato, per una persona che la vita tiene lontana da me.  É una storia molto intima e tormentata, ma è molto liberatorio poterla raccontare, almeno visivamente…..

Sembra come se la narrazione sia importante per te nella tua espressione creativa. Mi piace come tu definisci le tue opere … 'illustrazioni artigianali’. Puoi dirci di più su quello che vuoi dire con questo? Stai illustrando eventi reali, come le scene dalla tua vita, o quelli di fantasia presi da storie?

Lavoro con materiali che sporcano molto le mani, implicano una certa fisicità, quando sono a lavoro mi sembra di costruire qualcosa… non si tratta di un mero lavoro intellettuale, c’è un’idea di partenza ma c’è anche molta collaborazione con la materia che lavoro, talvolta è proprio lei che mi suggerisce la soluzione. Non mi sento più di un semplice artigiano che da’ corpo alle sue immagini mentali; uso gli strumenti, le mani, aspetto che l’argilla si asciughi, che il forno abbia finito il suo lavoro, ricompongo con pazienza tutti i pezzi, dipingo….
Le mie opere  sono sempre rappresentazioni sintetiche di una vicenda, di un sentimento, c’è sempre la vita o il sogno dietro ciò che rappresento, ma sopratutto c’è sempre una mia visione poetica di ciò che vivo.

Alla tua esposizione c'erano anche diverse casse di legno contenenti presepi scolpiti in argilla. Mi piace come li chiami 'Presepi 3D’. Siamo rimasti incantati dai piccoli mondi che ogni scatola conteneva e siamo rimasti affascinati nell’osservare al loro interno tutti i dettagli. Puoi dirci qualcosa in più su questo tipi di oggetti? Come si fanno e qual è la tua fonte d’ispirazione nel crearli?

Il presepe è una tradizione culturale molto radicata nel sud italia, ma nel mio caso è qualcosa di più: da piccola avevo un presepe fatto da mia madre, adesso mia figlia ne ha uno fatto da me… mia madre è una ceramista affermata, la sue specialità sono sempre state le natività, adesso mi ha passato il testimone, ed anche se mi dedico principalmente al mio linguaggio artistico, non abbandonerò mai questa tradizione familiare. La particolarità dei nostri presepi è che sono sempre ben contestualizzati; generalmente li personalizziamo inserendo I personaggi della famiglia che li ha commissionati ed ambientandoli nei luoghi a loro cari. Anche I nostri presepi, come le favole, sono piccolo mondi racchiusi in scatole segrete.

I tuoi lavori hanno una energia di fantasia, gioco e movimento. Sei d'accordo che questi sono elementi importanti della tua creatività? Stai intenzionalmente canalizzando questi aspetti nel tuo lavoro?

Lo scherzo, il movimento ed il gioco sono parti importanti del mio stare al mondo come persona, è inevitabile che diventino anche parte del mio linguaggio artistico. Trovo  molto stimolante rappresentare il movimento con quanto di più immobile ci possa essere, “la materia inerte”… il modo di rendere il movimento è spesso alla base della mia pulsione creativa.

Sei cresciuta in un ambiente creativo - tua madre è una ceramista. Ti ha insegnato a lavorare l’argilla da piccola? hai ricevuto altre influenze artistiche?

Mia madre è stata molto importante per la mia formazione artistica, da piccola, con gli occhi bene aperti, ho assistito al suo processo formativo ed è lì che inconsapevolmente è cominciato anche il mio. L’influenza più grande però è arrivata da un grande maestro, un artista scozzese, Vincent Butler, che mi ha insegnato ed ospitato nel suo atelier ad Edimburgo, da cui ho tratto lezioni di arte e di vita.

Raccontaci della tua formazione scolastica.

La mia formazione artistica è avvenuta su più fronti, uno è sicuramente quello “scolastico”, mi riferisco principalmente all’università, poiché senza lo studio della storia dell’arte ed una buona base culturale ritengo non si possa costruire niente di valido; un altro ambito è quello familiare, la scuola di mia madre… infine, come dicevo, I corsi presso l’accademia d’arte di Edimburgo, e l’atelier di Vincent Butler….

Il tempo trascorso all'estero in Scozia è stato importante per te. Come è andata e in che modo ha influenzato il tuo essere artista?

La Scozia è un paese di cui ci si innamora, il calore della gente ed una natura che incanta creano delle energie uniche, un terreno fertile per l’ispirazione. Ma, ad onor del vero, non è stata la Scozia in sè ad essere determinante per il mio percorso artistico, ma la persona che lì ho incontrato, un maestro, che mi ha insegnato a “vedere davvero” il mondo attorno a me, ma anche la serietà e l’umiltà necessari per diventare artisti.

Soprattutto per la prima volta qualcuno mi ha detto che fare arte non non è un’attività poco seria da relegare al tempo lasciato libero da attività più serie e redditizie. Che l’essere artista è dignitoso, degno di rispetto, concetto molto difficile da far passare in italia, dove il diritto ad essere artisti sembra essersi esaurito  qualche anno fa, con Michelangelo e Raffaello….

Come si fa a bilanciare le tue responsabilità quotidiane con l'essere un’artista? E’ difficile trovare il tempo per la tua arte? 

A dire il vero, sono molto fortunata da questo punto di vista, perchè ho potuto scegliere di esercitare una professione del tutto conciliabile con la mia  attività artistica. Il mio B&B si trova in una villa di famiglia, al primo piano facciamo accoglienza, al piano terra ho il mio laboratorio, qui, nei lunghi momenti di attesa, tipici di chi fa questo mestiere, posso dedicarmi alle mie creazioni.

Mia figlia non è stata mai un impedimento alla mia creatività, al contrario, mi ha stimolato; come me da piccola, ha assistito al mio processo formativo, anche lei con il suo pezzo di argilla o il pennello in mano. Adesso è la mia più grande critica, quando finisco un’opera è a lei che chiedo sempre il primo parere, inoltre è una grande compagna di viaggio, la migliore che io abbia mai avuto!

Sembra che il tuo Bed and Breakfast sia un bel posto. È qui che si trova il tuo studio. Ci puoi dire qualcosa di più su di esso nel caso in cui qualcuno sia alla ricerca di un posto speciale per visitare Catania?

Come ho detto prima, il B&B è al primo piano di una villa che appartiene alla mia famiglia, era la casa della mia bisnonna, la baronessa Demarata, da cui il B&B prende il nome, la costruì mio nonno espressamente per lei. È una bella villa, circondata da un giardino lussureggiante curato da mia madre che è appassionata di giardinaggio, lo spazio è pensato per essere caldo ed accogliente, niente fronzoli, niente mobili ikea, un posto onesto ed autentico, in cui sentirsi a casa.
Per chi è curioso e vuole andare a vedere questo è il nostro sito www.casademarata.it

Eventuali suggerimenti per condividere con noi su come mantenere la creatività una priorità e rimanere ispirati?

L'unica cosa che mi sento di dire è che quando la pulsione a creare è reale, forte, non si può tenerla a lungo repressa! Anche nel più frenetico dei momenti, il senso poetico delle cose, che è il modo attraverso cui il mondo si interpreta in chiave artistica e prelude alla creazione di un'opera. Anche volendo, l'istinto di trarre ispirazione da qualunque cosa io possa incontrare nella mia giornata non mi abbandona mai.

Porto sempre con me carta e matita, quando ho una visione, la fissò subito in uno schizzo veloce, così, quando finalmente riesco a chiudere la porta del laboratorio e dedicarmi alla mia attività, posso trarre ispirazione da quei numerosi scarabocchi che poi mi ritrovo in ogni tasca, in ogni borsa..... li tiro fuori a distanza di giorni e sono piccole epifanie, vere rivelazioni... perchè se non le avessi disegnate sarebbero già cancellate, sparite. 

A cosa stai lavorando adesso? Progetti per una futura mostra?

Sono già al lavoro per la prossima mostra che si terrà in uno spazio molto bello presso Piazza Armerina, (la località in cui si trovano gli splendidi mosaici della villa romana del Casale): il centro contemporaneo dell’azienda agrituristica Bannata. La mostra si terrà in tarda primavera, nel mese di Maggio.

Come possono fare le persone interessate ad incontrarti qualora volessero vedere le tue opere d’arte?

Al momento ho solo una pagina facebook, "Tinned tales", ma presto avrò anche il mio sito.
È possibile contattarmi su facebook o via mail, il mio indirizzo è valeriasan@hotmail.it.
Naturalmente le porte sono aperte per chi desidera venirmi a trovare presso il laboratorio in Via C. Nava 3, a Catania.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Saturnia: A Tuscan Town

After several days of soaking in the glorious waters of Saturnia's natural hot springs, we decided it was time to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. Yes, the area is also great for walking (and eating, too)!

View of the Terme di Saturnia from the walking trail

We made it to a marked trail that would take us along an old path up to the top of the hill where the tiny town of Saturnia was perched. 


Trail map love

I just love the detailed trail map, another reminder of how civilized Tuscany feels (don't find many of these in Sicily).


The hilltop town of Saturnia

There's the town and the gentle climb that warmed us up.


Beautiful scenery

The scenery was lush and green in a Tuscan kind of way. Vineyards. Cyprus.


Travel sketch inspired by the flowy ferns that lined the trail.
To see more of my artwork click here.


Flowy ferns.




Old stone houses.




Tiny bursts of color. 



The last leg was steep and we huffed our way to the arched entryway into the town, remnants of the ancient Romans who once lived here.




Huge slabs of stone of the ancient town walls. 





And here the path is actually an ancient road. 




Roman paving stones interrupted by the modern cobble stone. 




Ancient stone worn with grooved markings of the carts that once went up and down this hill.





In the town there are more details to take it. Lovely church and and bell tower. So typically Tuscan.





Charming shops in old stone buildings.





Surprising decorations. 




And a hidden castle, peeking out from behind a field of olive trees, too.





Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Biking Catania

The feeling of cruising on a bike, wind in hair, sun on face, seems to capture what I desire most in this new year: relaxation, fun, freedom, movement. 


'Let's Ride!' digital illustration
To see more of my artwork click here

It's actually been getting a little easier to experience the fun of biking here in Catania the last few years. I think most people would agree, Catania (and probably much of Sicily), is not the most bike friendly kind of place.

Despite that, bikers are a common sight. You have your hardcore bikers - those who prefer bikes to cars as transport, and the serious biking crowd, that moves in packs all geared up. And now, you have the regular folks who have been been inspired to join in the fun in a more relaxed kind of way.  

I think the main reason for for this new group of bikers is the construction of a bike lane (yes, Catania has only one official bike lane). Albeit a little short, the cycle-only lane is located in a convenient area, right along the city's seaside. For non-serious bikers like myself, this has been a most welcome source of inspiration to get outdoors on two wheels and get those legs moving.

I know the bike lane has received a lot of criticism for various reasons, but being an optimist I can't help but enjoy the views of the sea and Mt. Etna you can experience while cruising Catania on a sunny day. It's also one of the few places in Catania where I feel I can safely take my son on a bike ride. 

Today the sun is shining once again after many days of rain and it looks like the perfect day for a bike ride. Let's go!












Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Tuscan (and lovebird's) dream: the natural hot springs of Saturnia

Like a couple of lovebirds we were able to celebrate our 15 year wedding anniversary this year at one of our favorite places on the planet -- Saturnia.

Lovebirds doodle.
Check out more of my creations here


Saturnia is a tiny southern Tuscan town. What makes it special, other than its perfectly Italian Tuscan vibe, are the natural hot springs that gurgle up from the earth's deeps, forming the most glorious pools of hot steamy water.




These are healing waters. The sulphur content is high, so a pungent odor characterizes the place, along with steamy, billowing clouds that form in the cool mornings and evenings adding to the magic of this most relaxing and indulgent of places. 




The main pool is a simple, ancient, rectangular basin. Ledges along the edges allow for endless hours of soaking. Other than the occasional bubble rising to the surface, it is impossible to see the exact source of the thermal waters. They rise silently up from the deep bottom of the pool at such a fast rate that it always remains full (check out this cool video). The almost 100 degree Fahrenheit natural temperature is hot, but not too hot, especially in the cool autumn air. Truly the perfect medicine for warming body, mind, and soul. 




From the main pool the water is directed in channels down to a lower section of the spa. Here there are a series of additional pools, and a dizzying array of water relaxation delights.




The waters continue to flow, from the resort to the famous Cascate di Mulino. These are free, wild waterfalls that attract hoards of people all times of the year. Here you do not have the luxury of the resort, but you have the natural setting of this unique little paradise. The only downside is that the water is cooler down here.




These pools are reminiscent of Pamukkale in Turkey. Warm water tumbles down over the edges of white rocks that have formed from the accumulation of mineral deposits. They are white, smooth and slippery.




The water is perfectly clear with a pale blue hue. 




Moving further downstream the mineral waters merge with the Tuscan landscape.




And off they go.

To lovers of nature, natural hot springs, and beautiful destinations, Saturnia is the place for you. Not only for lovebirds either, this is a very family friendly place.