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....


...in 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.




Friday, November 7, 2014

A story about following my dreams, and a sale in my art shop!

As a late-blooming discoverer of my big dream of becoming a working artist, I feel compelled to share the story of how that came to be....

....AND a promotion that is going on in my new on-line shop at Society 6:

$5 discount  on all items + free international shipping through November 9!

Make sure you use this promotional link 
[http://society6.com/intuitivewhimsy?promo=XCDW6VGXRTY9] 
to get the discount!

And now for the story.

I’ve always loved being creative, but it wasn’t until about 2 years ago that I really committed to rediscovering my passion for making art. I stumbled upon an approach to making art that was purely intuitive and I was hooked! This process was all about letting loose, not planning, following my intuition, using inexpensive art supplies that didn’t feel precious, and not considering the outcome of the work of art at all. This was exactly what I needed to break the ice and learn how to get into the creative flow from a place of authentic expression. I began an almost daily intuitive watercolor painting practice and was amazed at the surprising array of images, shapes and patterns that flowed out of me if I just trusted the process and let go of any expectations. At that time I was very shy to show my paintings to anyone and kept them very private. I had a lot of fears about not being a ‘real’ artist, not being good enough, had perfectionist tendencies and was scared of other people’s negative judgments. Intuitive art lead me to paint in a very free and expressive way that was not at all conventional, but which brought me great joy and a sense of completion, but would others understand it?  




Soon after starting this routine, my mom was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer. I found that during moments of heart wrenching angst as a result of my mother’s illness, the watercolors were my only consolation. That is when I really started to understand the depth of the healing powers of art making. My mom continued to fight her cancer in the most inspiring way, and I was determined to find it in me to enjoy the moment, find joy and follow my dreams just as she was struggling to do. I began sharing some of my paintings and was making a conscious effort to shift my thinking from ‘I am not good enough to be an artist’ to ‘I am an artist’. I took an on-line painting class by Flora Bowley to explore another approach toward intuitive painting. From that class I completed one painting that felt like it appeared as if by magic, and had started 3 that were unfinished. Flora’s approach was so free and I loved the idea that nothing you do is so precious, it is just paint, and it can always be painted over and over and over again until you reach a point where you love what you make. I remember taking that first big leap of faith with my finished Flora painting and sharing it on Facebook and with my family and how inspiring and joyful that first positive feedback was. My mom wrote me a very sweet email saying how I was meant to be an artist and this was just the beginning of my new path. 


On January 12, 2014, my mother passed away peacefully at home. In the aftermath of the mourning and grief, I turned to my watercolors and now, also, acrylics. I was in a heightened state of being from my mom’s passing and I knew in my heart that my deepest desire was to overcome my fears of not being good enough and to just do whatever it took to follow my dreams of being an artist, and to dedicate it all to my mom. In no time, though through many tears, I finished the three uncompleted paintings from Flora’s class. I hung them in my studio, dedicated them to my mom and loved them, but I was still very insecure when others came into my space and started looking. 


To try and cheer me up my sweet husband traded in my old Samsung phone for a new one that had a bigger screen, a drawing app and a little stylus for writing or drawing on the screen. I had no idea at the time how much this little device would change my art making and, now I can say, my life. I began sketching and doodling on the Sketchbook Pro app and loved how this digital medium tied into my intuitive art making since it was so forgiving and easy to change a design. After the loss of my mom and in my new state of extreme open heartedness, I had noticed that my fear of being seen and sharing my art was fading away, freeing that authentic part of me that wanted to be seen, connect and feel the love and community of others. The point wasn't so much about what people thought about my artwork (although I am absolutely over the moon when someone does like what I make), but the potential to connect to something bigger through the act of sharing. The drawings I did on the phone were digital files and could be immediately sent out on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, you name it. I started doing it all. I started doing it every day. It was like I was in this magical place of really stepping into being an artist, understanding the joy and pleasure it brought me, and understanding the joy and pleasure it brought me to share my creative expressions with a larger community.


I started getting some positive feedback about the drawings I shared on FB and even opportunities to collaborate with friends, and my confidence built. I also started making drawings specifically for people I loved and giving them as gifts. It was (and still is) really an exercise in learning to trust and making my decision to share based on the joy I feel for the process and the possible connections sharing it can create. I began to dream about what it would mean to earn an income from my art making and started telling people I trusted about my dream. As a self taught artist I still have many insecurities, but I have been making the conscious decision to take small steps in the direction that brings me joy, push myself to the point of being a little bit uncomfortable, and doing it anyway. Most of the time it works. And having the support of my loving family and friends really help in those moments of fear or hesitation.  


As a first step in really claiming my dream of being an artist I opened an on-line print shop with Society 6 just a few months ago. Here you can see many of those first digital drawings I created on my phone that I shared on Facebook, plus newer drawings that have been inspired by the people I love, my intuitive artwork, travel adventures, and just the beauty I see all around me in regular, every day life. I love how with Society 6 the art products are both high quality and affordable, and can be printed on archival paper, American Apparel t-shirts, cards and more.















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 soul's 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!