Tag Archives: Travel

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 1)

IMG_1333After a surprisingly mild June, the choking heat of July is upon us here in Arkansas. Consider cooling off by visiting one of many outstanding art exhibits. My favorites so far are at the Arkansas Arts Center, at UA Little Rock, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and at 21c Hotel. I’ll start with the Arkansas Arts Center (AAC) which, I must admit, holds a dear place in my heart.

As a current mixed media workshop teacher there, I like to promote the AAC as often as possible. However, I have a lifetime of memories starting with early childhood that make me fond of the place. Do you have a place that you can return to after many years, and the smells and sounds make years rush back in one fell swoop? The AAC does that each and every time I step in the door, especially the original entrance which is now the back door and the quickest way to the museum school.

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More relevantly, I remember hearing my whole life about the drawing collection started by Townsend Wolfe, the famed and beloved Director and Curator from 1968 until his retirement in 2002. During my visit last week, I started my tour with “Drawing on History: The National Drawing Invitational Retrospective” which re-presents artwork featured in 12 Drawing Invitationals held at the AAC over a 30 year period. The exhibit showcases pieces from well known contemporary artists and the work is sure to impress the most educated art aficionados as well as visitors new to drawing. The variety of work is very relatable, provocative and advanced in concept and technique.

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Bill Vuksanovich, “Untitled”

Take, for example, the direct realism of Bill Vuksanovich, (please pardon the reflections in the glass). The boy’s stare grabs viewers and compels us to stare back, which is when we notice the details: the pressed yet wrinkled pants, the slightly awkward hands, the unsettling contrast between the boy’s expression and the word “Champion” on his baggy sweatshirt. This is a piece to be examined just as the boy is examining us.

It is a pleasure to compare and contrast the variety of drawings in this exhibit. For example, we grasp the breadth of the collection as we move from figurative realism to the mathmatical work of Stephen Talasnik and the alternative surface created by Russell Crotty (both in the slide show above).

IMG_1365Exiting the Drawing exhibition and walking toward the Young Arkansas Artists Exhibition (the 56th!), I had to stop and examine a recent acquisition, “Les Demoiselles” which reminds me of my favorite contemporary artists, Firelei Báez. Now I have another artist to study, Zoë Charlton. It just so happens she shows at ConnerSmith in Washington DC which I’ll soon visit (material for another post!). I haven’t done thorough research yet, but find myself hoping these artists know each other – it seems they would have lots to discuss.

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The aforementioned Young Artists exhibit is always a crowd pleaser. I come away enthralled and slightly jealous…the skills and ideas presented by such young artists…if only I’d had half their talent and motivation at that age!

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Savannah Bell, “Popped”

This year, I had the honor of being a juror for the show which is not a challenge I recommend for the faint of heart. There were simply too many excellent entries. It was a pleasure seeing the work in person and I look forward to seeing what becomes of these exceptional students.

From there, I visited the much anticipated 59th Annual Delta Exhibition, a regional show that features contemporary artwork from Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi and Texas. There is really too much to say about this fantastic selection of work so I will mention a few personal favorites.

I would love to meet fellow Little Rock figure painter, Baxter Knowlton, whose painting, “Woman and Dog” is exquisite. The composition and drawing skills are excellent with rich, loose brushwork reminiscent of Lucian Freud. I hope to see more work by this artist. And look at the oddly delightful details in “Being Slipshod” by Arkadelphia artist, DebiLynn Fendley! I’m a tad uncomfortable looking so closely at his moles, curly chest hair, low slung comic strip shorts and dirty, chipped fingernails. But I can’t help myself and stay with this one for awhile. I wonder why he covers his eyes…so we can’t recognize him? So he won’t see us looking? Lastly, at least for the figurative favorites, is this piece by my friend, Jason McCann. I enjoy seeing his work evolve over the years and what I like most about this piece is strong evidence and use of line. With drawn line, McCann has a superior ability to capture a person’s inner qualities with well placed marks.

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Pulling myself away from the figurative work, there were many pieces that caught my attention. Looking at these three together, I realize the element of “line” is dominant in each piece, though applied in different ways.

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Wait wait, there’s more! “Part 2” coming soon: The Nasty Woman Exhibit at UA Little Rock, hanging out at heavenly Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the powerhouse exhibits at 21c Hotel in Bentonville. Thanks for reading and please visit again!

 

Laura

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Opening Minds through Travel: Noticing the Art of a Place Part 3

Continued from Part 2:

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After five exhilerating and exhausting days in history, art and culture rich London, my daughters and I hopped on a non-stop 2 hour train to York and then Manchester for the more relaxing part of the trip. We still managed to pack in plenty of sites, but weren’t quite as overwhelmed as we were in London. York is a beautiful walled city originally founded by Romans with many ancient Roman sites still evident in the town structure. It was here that Constantine was named Emperor – I sometimes forget how far north the Roman Empire extended. It is also home to York Minster, a glorious gothic style cathedral famous for its facade as well as the stained glass windows, artwork, and crypt. Visiting a church built atop an older church is haunting as well as historic, andDSC_0943 going down below to see the original structure is a thrill. The deep relief carving (here on the left) is one of the artifacts that remains from the orginal structure, a Norman Church built around 1080 AD.

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In addition to York Minster, there are countless stunning sights in this northern English town. A walk on top of the wall itself is marvelous, offering what feels like secret views into gardens, homes, restaurants, courtyards, parks, and over bridges and rivers. Voted the most picturesque street in Britain, The Shambles,

the-shambles-7[2]is thought to be one of the oldest, best preserved medival streets in England. It’s timber overhangs make the already narrow street feel even more intimate and is filled with alluring shops and restaurants. Chocolate shops are a common sight in York, as the town has a long chocolate making history. It is no wonder I felt immediately drawn to the place! Confectionary window displays all over town are  like exquisitely designed jewels…works of art, really. Other beautiful sitDSC_0968es that contribute to York’s allure include the outstanding York Castle Museum with multiple exhibits and an excellent tour of the former prison, Clifford’s Tower with its expansive views, and the gleaming two rivers: the Ouse and the Foss. These rivers were an essential component for York’s earliest settlers, perhaps even Celtic tribes before the Romans arrived. One of our favorite sights was the botanic York Museum Gardens which include Roman ruins and the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey where Turner famously worked.

One day we ventured into the countryside. Hoping to explore the seaside town of Whitby, we were cut short due to inclement (worse than usual) weather so we decided to tour Castle Howard instead, which is about a 30 minute drive from York’s city center. Even in the rain, Castle Howard was stunning. The artwork and sculpture, both inside and out, was quite overwhelming. This is a good place to explore and get lost. DSC_1007

After four days of the most heavenly pastries, coffees, and chocolates on earth, we sadly departed York and headed for Manchester, where we would spend one final day before returning to the United States. We didn’t quite know what to expect of the industrial soccer crazed city, but the food and art did not disappoint. After tracking down ancient Roman ruins at Castlefield, we headed to the Manchester Art Gallery. Much to my surprise, we were all three more interested in the “Vogue 100: A Century of Style” exhibit than I would have expected. I suppose, after seeing the exhibit “Shaping the Body: 400 Years of Fashion, Food and Life” so recently in York, we were primed to appreciate the nuanced Vogue display where art dominated practicality most of the time.

Another visual treat at the Manchester Art Gallery was the exhibit by Boris Nzebo. The artist’s large bold paintings explore the relationship between humans and their urban environments. As an artist thinking about how to convey and how to integrate people with place, I admire the method and style Nzebo uses to enmesh the person with his or her surroundings. It is the opposite of my approach which attempts to blend the figure with surrounding space. Nzebo uses crisp graphics, patterns, and shapes – his large faces are filled with and defined by architectural lines and urban objects. In one way, his paintings are filled with multiple layers as objects and people fit within other objects and people. On the other hand, the hard-edged lines and patterns flatten the space which unifies the people and the urban elements. IMG_8841

After lunch in the up-and-coming northern quarter of town, we sought respite at a beautiful little cathedral known as “The Hidden Gem” on our way to the John Rylands Library. The is a bibliophile’s nirvana. The collection includes treasures such as John Wesley’s 16th Century Hebrew Bible, notes and letters by Chemist John Dalton, a Gutenberg Bible, and many first editions such as Ulysses by James Joyce. The most famous artifact in the collection is known as Papyrus 52, or the Fragment of the Gospel of John, which is thought to be the earliest portion of any New Testament writing ever found. To read more about the history of the library and its’ special collections, visit: http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/search-resources/guide-to-special-collections/.John-Rylands-Library-main-reading-room-1024x768

Our grand finale was an evening event, Summer Garden Party, at the Whitworth Museum. We had dinner overlooking a lush garden with live music. There was a perfume station set up for sampling, botanical cocktails, a drama performance about modern isolation – not to mention the exhibits themselves. The Whitworth is home to a renowned sculpture collection, print collection, portrait collection and wallpaper collection. I surprised myself by being most drawn to the teIMG_8775xtile collection; perhaps due to a recent surge of contemporary artists who incorporate fabric and thread into their mixed media creations which exemplifies the blending of fine art and craft that is so hotly discussed these days.

During our final walk in the rain to the regal Midland Hotel, my younger daughter hailed herself a cab and insisted we were finished with the walking part of the trip. I think the little one had no more steps in her so it was time for our adventure to end. A mere 8 hours of flight time and we were transported to another world, where the modern and the ancient coexist. In all of our travels, it was the art and architecture that provided the clearest insight to the enduring truth of a people and place. I’m deeply grateful to our friends who hosted us during parts of the trip and to my family who dug deep to cooperate with a mom who loves to explore and find the art of a place.

As always, thank you for reading.
Up next, Florida art…its not all about the beach!

Palaces and Churches Galore, Opulance in Rome

After breakfast, I walked down Via del Corso toward the Piazza Venezia and visited the Palazzo Dora Pamphili (thank you for the suggestion, Cecelia!). A portion of this prominent family home is still lived in by the family, and a portion is open to the public as a museum showcasing an incredible art collection. There is an outstanding audio tour done by one of the descendants of the family who is a current resident.

So, you know how these churches hold various relics, some more macabre than others? Well, the private chapel in this family palace holds two preserved bodies, those of St. Theodora and St. Justin. During the 17th Century, the family obtained written permission from the pope to move the saints from the catacombs outside the city which were being ransacked by thieves. We weren’t allowed to get very close or take pictures, otherwise I would give you a look. Another jaw dropping moment occurred as I turned a corner and entered a small, guarded room. There in front of me stood the Velazquez painting of Pope Innocent X. As the story goes, the Pope was initially displeased with the painting because it truthfully captures him too well.

After the tour, I walked around the Trajan Market and Forum which includes the Trajan Column, another slide I remember from a recent art history quiz. Like the a Temple of Hera, it never occurred to me that I would be standing in front of the column trying to decipher the story told in the scroll reliefs. I made myself continue past the multiple museums, twists and turns and focus on my mission: the grand Santa Maria Maggiore. I did start day dreaming of bananas and finally stopped in a market – if you are in Rome amongst all that beauty, and all you can think of is bananas, then I guess your body is trying to tell you something. The Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, located on top of Esquiline Hill, is known amongst other things, for its mosaics and large number of relics, such as a piece of the True Cross. The way the light fell into the lower chamber with the kneeling Pope Pious IX was glorious.

I accidentally took a wide circle off the beaten path (and passed the Piazza Vitorrio Park which was pretty though grungy) as I was trying to find Santa Giovanni in Laterano church. The first thing I noticed, once I arrived, was the sheer SIZE of this church. I mean, it is hard to understand how structures were made this big. There was a huge youth event happening when I arrived with lots of singing which was festive and pretty.

And then, continuing the church tour, on to San Clemente (thanks for the suggestion, Katie!). It is a church built on top of a church which was built on top of another church. As a visitor, one can descend all the way down 10 meters to the original structure, a groups of buildings dating back to the 1st Century, and see a still functioning spring and water system and rooms believed to be a Roman mint. There is also a group of rooms on the lowest level that from the 2nd to 4th centuries served as the seat to the Eastern pagan cult of the God of Mithras.

I’d heard that San Pietro in Vincoli would be hard to find, so I loaded up on coffee and struck out from the refreshing cool depths of San Clemente and continued on my pilgrimage. I made the effort to visit yet another church in order to find Michelangelo’s Moses sculpture and it was well worth the hike. He gleamed and almost pulsated, looking like he might stand up at any moment to declare something of great importance.image As a bonus, I got to the THE CHAINS worn by Peter when he was jailed. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, seeing the relics and the power they hold is something I find intriguing, as well as inspiring, to consider.image

Tonight, after a cold shower, I went out searching for food. I really can hardly emphasize how hungry I am most of the time. I think it is partly due to a different diet, but mostly I am famished because of this obsession to walk and climb and walk and climb and walk and climb.

For example, I fully intended in catching a bus first thing this morning and heading straight to one of my further destinations, either Santa Maria Maggiore church or Santa Giovanni in Laterano church. But I had trouble finding a bus ticket the had trouble finding the correct bus, and all the while I was headed in the general correct direction, and when walking you can take the time to peek in lots of surprise piazzas and churches and see the most amazing treasures, so I just kept going. The problem is that I was utterly exhausted about halfway though the day and still had so much to see…ah, the frustration of visiting Rome.

imageAnyway, because I can’t seem to stop moving, I’ve had a hard time sketching which was a strong part of my first two weeks in Italy. In Rome, there is such a tremendous amount to sketch, both indoors and outdoors and I am irritated with myself for not sitting down long enough to draw. Tonight, I grabbed my sketchbook and made a plan: Pick up a sandwich at a shop near Area Sacra Argentina, then walk down to the beautiful and well lit Piazza Venezia. I found the perfect spot, started my sandwich (famished AGAIN and trying to eat slowly so I wouldn’t choke), and a woman came up and asked the name of the massive structure in front of us. She and her parents were visiting from China (actually the women who approached me has lived in Berlin for twenty years and works in pharmaceuticals). They sat and visited with me for about 45 minutes!

imageThen I walked up stairs suitable for a giant whose legs each measure 8-10 feet long. And everything up there was so pretty! Spectacular! Then I found the famous Romulus and Remus sculpture that symbolizes the myth of the start of Rome…and then….ok, you get the point. Can you see how hard it is to sit still here? I have loads of photos that will provide inspiration for my art for many years and I wouldn’t trade my lovely conversation with Shanji and her parents for a small handful of sketches anyway.image

The climbs never end. When I finally drag myself back to home base after 14 hours of walking, I hike up 4 flights of stairs and my legs absolutely scream. There is a tiny elevator meant for those unable to take the stairs or with luggage and I am too proud to get on it. The people in this city literally trot up never ending stair cases with little effort and I won’t be the American tourist looking for the elevator. Plus, like they say, when in Rome…

An Early Start in Rome

imageThis morning, I left the hotel early on foot for the Vatican area meeting place for a Walks of Italy tour. The tour, called “Sistine Pristine” included early admission to the Sistine Chapel, many of the halls and collections of the Vatican, and St. Peter’s Basilica. We visited and learned about the globe collection, the splendid tapestries, the Egyptian art, the various Popes, the collection of animal sculptures, the Raphael rooms, and about the modern collection (which surprisingly includes artists such as the Matisse and Dali). The true shock was seeing  Francis Bacon Pope painting just tucked amongst the art in a little side room. I assumed it was at the Louvre, the Prado, MOMA, anywhere but here.

I would highly recommend a Walks of Italy tour. For starters, our guide Rosa, was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the collections. I’ve read complaints about visiting the Sistine Chapel and being shoulder to shoulder with aggressive tourists. Going on the early tour was peaceful and calm and I could tell the guards were waiting for the onslaught. We got to gaze upward to our heart’s content and the ceiling and walls really do live up to the hype. Additionally, the famous display halls were empty except our little group of 8. One of my favorite moments was passing this guard and noticing his sketchbook (both the Swiss Guards and the Vatican museum guards are SUPER SERIOUS). It surprised me to find him sketching – he even let me take a photo and seemed quite proud. What a great place to work for an artistic guard!!!image

Plus, Rosa explained so much of the inner workings of the museums and the business of the pope. For example, she explained the process of the white smoke coming out of a vent along the edge of the Sistine Chapel when a new Pope is elected (one name has to be chosen by 80% of the cardinals in attendance). She is also from a old Roman Catholic family so she is a true insider and passionate about the site and the traditions.

After the tour, and after visiting the Vatican City post office to mail letters, I took a cab (phew!) to the Travestere neighborhood to see some sights and eat lunch. On my way to two churches, I got lost and ended up in a convent turned retirement home/hospital inside a lush walled garden area. It was an oasis amongst the historic, gritty and loud neighborhood. Eventually, I made it to the Church of Saint Cecelia. It was believed that her beautiful voice was some type of sorcery and she was executed in 177 A.D. Not only was she executed for singing, but she was decapitated, and legend has it that during the decapitation, she continued singing. This marble sculpture shows her severed neck.image

I then found San Francesco a Ripa and got to admire, without another sole in sight, the famous Bernini sculpture, Beata Ludovica in Ecstacy, a sensuous marble sculpture that has drawn much attention since its creation for being the most provocative religious art around. I know these church visits can seem repetitive, but they hold treasures that are highlighted, due to historical importance and beauty, in art history books worldwide. And to gaze at Bernini’s sculpture in the cool isolation of this church feels like a small miracle.

After a few more churches and piazzas, I departed the Travestere area and walked across the bridge which traverses tiny Tiber Island….then wandered down Via del Portico d’Ottavia with all it’s enticing aromas and Hebrew shop signs. This street borders some of the larger ancient Rome sites and showcases a startling mix of structures from antiquity with relatively modern walls, stores, and cafés. This stroll led to Piazza Mattei, home of the beloved Tortoise Fountain. I had plans to meet my Danish friend, Cecelia, in Campo Di Fiori so I turned westward.image Along the way, I got to inspect the odd Largo Di Torre Argentina, which is a walled rectangular area where the ground is depressed and full of ancient structures and overgrowth. It is also full of frolicking and lounging cats who use the ancient columns, walls, arches, and water cisterns as a playground and home.

imageIt was a treat spending the afternoon with Cecelia, my Danish art resident friend. Though I’ve met many people along the way, I’ve noticed days where I talk with almost no one. It is a strange outward silence and inward conversation that replaces a more social life at home. We met around 3:00 at Campo Di Fiori for coffee, visited several churches, a bookstore and little piazzas. We then visited the Pantheon and headed to Piazza Navona for her favorite gelateria before she headed to the airport for her flight to Copenhagen.image

After I picked up laundry, showered, rested, and worked on plans for Sat and Sun, I went out to dinner near Piazza Navona at a little place called Caffeteria Pasquino. There, I sat next to a young woman from Germany. She was recently a nanny in Australia which reminded me of Kelly Corrigan so, of course, I had to suggest she read Glitter and Glue.

And finally, to bed.

Oh, Rome!

Oh Rome! I could stay awhile longer! Most of what I’ll say, is what all visitors say…I am consumed by the ceaseless visual delights. Wandering around without an agenda is the best piece of advice because if you are busy looking FOR something, you may miss the unexpected treasures that are so voluminous, they assault the eye. It is impossible to go one block without seeing something surprising, something beautiful, something rare, something ancient or something with an amazing story behind it.image

After Gennaro (remember him from the train station in Naples?) helped me get an earlier train to Rome, I arrived in time to check in and take a good long walk. I don’t think I mentioned that earlier in the day, I basically got lost in the ‘burbs of Pompeii – during a rain shower. As you may know, there aren’t exactly many roofs in Pompeii due to the fact they all were incenerated so it was hard to find a spot to wait out the downpour but I managed to squeeze under a narrow footbridge with some Belgian students. I digress…my point is that I’d already walked quite enough for one day but once your feet start taking you places in Rome, it’s hard to stop, regardless of extreme fatigue. My loop included the Pantheon (Oh. My. Gracious.), Piazza Venezia, and up to Trevi Fountain which is undergoing a massive restoration. I would be disappointed about my timing with Trevi Fountain if I weren’t so googly eyed about other delights.

Oh and before I forget, if you travel to Rome and arrive at the Termini Train Station, there is a life-saving Info desk down the corridor next to track #24 (the Leonardo Express train to and from the airport). I was the only person there getting help which correctly indicates it is out of the way and is unmarked, making it not very accessible. But, I seriously don’t know if I would have made it out of the train station, much less all the way to my hotel, had I not made the effort to stop there. They sell superior maps, speak some English and can help you with instructions on buying a bus ticket, which bus to take, and where to get off the bus.

NEXT DAY:

Tonight, I intended to spend time at the laundromat (yes, an enthralling evening out) but when I arrived, the man said they were about to close and for 13 euros, I could leave it for next day pick up. I admit I was overjoyed that someone let me off the hook. I’ve been spending such a small about of money (I think I spent 40 euros TOTAL the week of the art residency), that it didn’t take much deliberation to hand the laundry bag over and run.

So I ended up walking around the relatively quiet Prati neighborhood. I saw a woman smoking a cigar, I saw the Tiber turned pink reflecting the sunset, I saw the moon over St. Peter’s Basilicata, I saw little girls on skateboards with their parents strolling behind, I saw many bulldogs and pugs and dashaunds being walked, I saw old couples on old cobblestone streets helping each other keep their footing, and I saw many nuns on walks and in clusters hanging out on the corners, under monuments and along piazzas. I’d like to think I’ve developed a bit of a city swag as I walk these neighborhoods, but the truth is, I think I’ve developed a sway in my gait because it gives me the extra centrifugal force necessary to propel myself forward after today’s outings.

imageSpeaking of today’s outings, it started with the Scavi Tour, which means a tour of the necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica. Our guide, Daniella, was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable religion historian. But let me first point out, if you visit Rome and want to visit St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND signing up (a month ahead of time…google the instructions) for the Scavi Tour. It costs 13 euros and is THE ticket to success in the crowds. Seriously, you are amongst thousands and thousands of people getting in the longest lines you’ve ever seen (and for good reason, the Basilica is not to be missed). With your printed email conformation from the Scavi office, you bypass the masses, go around the left side of the ginormous piazza, and walk up to a little police trailer and poke your head in with a Buonagiorno, he checks your purse, and then these fancy court jester looking Vatican guards tell you to stand at the gate until 10 minutes before your tour and voila, they let you in. And that’s it. No line.

After the Scavi tour, you have access to the tombs of all the Popes and to the Basilica, including the righteous vertical hike to the tip top of the dome. But more on that in a moment. Before we scale the highest point, I must describe the dark, dank, oxygen deprived, winding, narrow, maze like environment down below. It was AWESOME. Other than the lack of oxygen, which made me feel faint, and a touch a claustrophobia, which I usually do not experience, what we saw down there was so old, so preserved, so historical, and utterly profound with regards to Christianity. As I mentioned, Daniella was outstanding in helping us understand how this area looked in, say, the year 100 AD.

Daniella explained what the site looked like before Vatican City was formed, even before Christianity was made legal by Constantine. The land was muddy and undesirable to Romans, plus it was on the “wrong” side of the river. Because the Roman practice was to put the dead outside the city, the hill on the wrong side of the river slowly became a popular place for upstanding Roman families to build their mausoleums. The narrow alleyways that are now under St. Peter’s Basilica were little alley ways between family tombs out in the country side.

Because the Roman practice was to respect all previously built holy structures, no matter what religion, historians believe today that they justified building a basilica on top of tombs based on the idea that the tombs would remain intact and unharmed, simply underground. Additionally, the Roman engineers built passageways that allowed them to haul in dirt to fill cavities and to build support beams for the new basilica.

After the Scavi Tour, once receiving adequate oxygen and feeling invigorated, I found myself going up a very long wide winding staircase. The incline was slight and the stair steps were both long and wide. After about 5 minutes of this loping around, we took a turn and walked up steeper stairs for about 5 more minutes. imageOnce the staircase narrows to the shoulder with of your average man (European, not American, no offense to anyone, but potential visitors need to know that there is a definite human width limitation), you realize there is no turning around. This passage is one way only. And then, without warning, you pop out a door and find yourself amongst the mosaics lining the base of the dome cap. Looking down at all the tiny people wandering in St. Peter’s Basilica was both frightening and exhilarating. But wait, there’s more!image

We were so high up, I mistakingly thought we would be fairly close to the top cupola. I decided to be brave and make my way upward once again. The staircase was terribly narrow and I noticed many people, such as all the men, turning their bodies at an angle just to fit through. There were areas of the ascent that induced vertigo because the step plane was no longer parallel to the ground and walls curved inward, not perpendicular to the ground. This went on and on and on and on and on. And when that ended, we filed up hollow tubes that were maybe three feet wide total (the tube, bot the stair width) that held tightly wound staircases with a long rope dangling down the center to hold on to for balance (no room for a railing!). This went on and on and on and on. I just let myself go into a meditative state and climb endlessly. Then, we arrived on the very tip top and the views were heavenly. After making it back down eventually, I visited the ground floor of the basilica which was saturated with sumptuous marble sculpture and mosaics. And more of the Vatican tomorrow! Ciao!

Good bye Salerno, Hello Pompeii

RANDOM TRAVEL TIPS:
Always carry a little toilet paper or napkin in your pocket. Multiple benefits.
Always carry a water bottle. You can refill them at public springs that are all over every place I’ve visited.
Use the restroom when you have the opportunity. When necessary, find a nice looking bar/cafe for a cappuccino break and use the restroom there.
Learn how to say compliments to the people around you. Nice words and the effort opens doors (I’m not suggesting to be fake, just gracious).
In your suitcase, pack an extra zip lock bag and an old plastic shopping bag.
Ok, on to the activities of the past day or two…

Salerno has a gritty charm and breathtaking beauty that is different from the other places I’ve visited so far in Italy. I walked around the city after returning from Paestum and visited the Duomo (barely, it closed within minutes of my arrival), many beautiful piazzas, and the Museo Dioceseno San Matteo.image Many travelers suggest letting yourself wander without an agenda and getting lost in a city and that’s what I did, which is how I ended up being ushered into the Diocese Museum. Though it was 5 minutes before closing, a man at the door told me I could go up to have a look before they locked up. It was incredible and I got to see the worlds oldest ivory tablets from the Christian Middle Ages. The 69 tablets, depicting the Old and New Testaments, were lost and dispersed around the globe and have all been reunited. However, I almost got locked in, as the man who ushered me in left work for the day and when I tried to exit, the huge door (seen in the photo above) was locked. I had that throw up panic feeling starting to churn in my stomach (a similar situation occurred recently in a cemetary, of all places!). Thankfully, I found another worker who let me out. PHEW.

THE NEXT DAY: Now I am on the fastest train ever going (in a tunnel for a large part of the trip) from Salerno to Pompeii. I was afraid I would miss my train when I woke up this morning because my shower would not work. If I could even tell you how much I sweated yesterday, you would know the situation of a malfunctioning shower was dire. In my pajamas, I wasn’t sure what do do expect call the B&B cell number, though no one answered. After messing around looking for help for about 10 minutes, I had to act fast and basically bathe in the sink. Not to brag, but I was a impressed with my adaptability and got the job done. By the time the owners of the B&B arrived, I was dressed and ready to check out. They kindly gave me a 10 euro refund which was actually a large percentage of the bargain rate and as I was leaving, the owner, apologizing again and again, gave me a little boat souvenir. Although it was an inconvenience, they were so nice about it, my irritation was quickly quelled.

Ok, now I am in Pompeii Scavi and it is unbelievable. Here is a photo of one of the best preserved buildings – you can guess what the business was based on the activity in the photo 😉 ?image

I should be too embarrassed to admit this, but I watched the cheesy Hollywood movie “Pompeii” recently and it really helped me imagine the streets full of people, the homes, the businesses, and the volcanic ash and heat rushing down and covering the town. Admittedly, I have a touch of fear every time I furtively glance over at Mt. Vesuvius which looks particularly ominous shrouded in today’s dark clouds. imageI know these images have been seen over and over, but the streets really were striking. One large stone meant the street was one way. Two large stones meant it was two way, and three large stones meant it was a major thoroughfare. We could see the groves in the stones from the cart wheels which was one of those eerie details making the daily human activity even more real in my mind. image

imagePOMPEII TIPS: I  saw countless people fall down. Wear comfortable shows, do not wear sandals. Wear tons of sunscreen and a hat. Take an umbrella. Do lots of research beforehand, there is too much to see and you need to prioritize. Do a guided tour. The ruins are not the only old thing in Pompeii – the street signs and info signs, when you can find them, are disintegrated and illegible. When you buy your ticket, if you do not do a guided tour, ask what streets and sites are closed or impassable. Do not rely on your map. The site changes constantly. (Another good reason to have a guide). There were so many English speaking guides around that I inadvertently absorbed information along the way, which helped tremendously. But if I did it all over, I would have joined a guided group from the start.

Now I am waiting for the bus to Naples where I’ll have real Naples pizza before my train leaves for Rome. First order of business in Rome? A SHOWER!!!

Ok, I’m going to have to write a letter to Trenitalia about my hero, Gennaro F. He would not let me take his picture, but I made sure to jot down his name. I don’t even know how to describe the lengths this man went through to get me on an earlier train from Naples to Rome. First, let me say, the Naples train station was superbly designed and well run. Unlike most places I’ve visited, there were multiple Info kiosks and they were staffed with plenty of people to handle the crowds. My only regret with catching the earlier train was that I had to miss Naples pizza.

Back to Gerraro, initially he helped me at a fast ticket change booth. Knowing I would not be able to understand the ticket printing machine, he walked me to the machine and did the operations for me. It did some sort of system shut down and he rebooted it and tried again. When that didn’t work, he went to a supervisor and they tried again. That didn’t work so he went back to the machine, printed the ticket, and hand wrote new information on it while waiting for his phone gadget to calculate a new seat number for me. He then walked me to the correct platform and train while we waited on my new seat assignment. I asked him if what he was doing was usual, normal, and he laughed, shook his head and said “no.” He even walked me on to the train, helping with my luggage and pointing to my seat! And off I go to Rome, 2.5 hours ahead of schedule. Thank you, Gennaro! Yes, there are rude people who will plow you down and cut in line faster than you can blink an eye. But I’ve run into more Gennaros than jerks and I hope my good fortune continues.

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Next post…ROMA!!!

Matera Matera Matera!

Before going to sleep last night, I had to say goodbye to my new friends because they leave the program is morning and I am now on a very early bus to the ancient city of Matera. Pina and Raffaele packed a little sack breakfast for me and provided the bus schedule. Raffaele said several times, be sure you confirm the destination each time you get on a bus. There are multiple bus transfers so the journey will take many hours but seeing this city will be worth the effort. This past spring, before my trip to Italy, it seemed serendipitous when I came across an article in Smithsonian magazine about Matera, the UNESCO World Heritage site which thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited place on the globe. More later….

imageimagePhotos: The bathroom in Policoro where I had to transfer buses (it is probably best that I couldn’t read the graffiti) and the quiet village bus stop at 6:30 this morning

Ok, I’ve made it to Matera and am having hard time articulating what I saw there. Words can describe the cave dwellings but my vocabulary is limited because the environment was utterly new and foreign for my eyes and mind. I’m not sure I even have the correct language to describe the Sassi area. It is made of hundreds of sharp inclines and declines with winding trails and stairs taking you to peeks and depths where the homes, churches and businesses were built into the ground and into the caves.image What you see in the photos is only the top of the town, with a large percentage hollowed out underground and into caves. The interiors use negative architectural methods meaning the builders removed rock and ground to create spaces and features such as arches, doorways and columns, the opposite of what we are used to when thinking about building structures where materials are ADDED instead of deducted. In front of one of the medieval churches I visited, archeologists have discovered pottery that dates back to the 8th Century B.C.! Much has been written about it. For more accurate and eloquently presented information, see Smithsonian.com and search keyword Matera (for some reason I am unable to insert the link).

imageI was looking around for the Barbarian Cemetary, and see those elongated shapes on the ground? I was standing right amongst the buried barbarians! Did you know that the term “barbarian” is what the Romans used for anyone who was not Roman? The barbarians were not necessarily inferior or bad or blood thirsty, they just weren’t up to snuff. And here we have the Church of Purgatory. imageMmmm, I’m going to have to read a bit more about this one. A facade of skulls and skeletons (can you see them in this photo?) is not an enticing place of worship in my mind but, as usual, I’m sure there is more to the story.

imageThe top point of rock in photo below is the Madonna de Idris church…as you can see, it is INSIDE those rocks. It is easier to see it in the close up shot. image

When I get home, I’ll have to rent the film, Christ Stopped at Eboli which was written about and filmed in Matera, in addition to Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, also filmed in Matera.

By the way, Reason #101 to get to the bus station a few minutes early: the bus driver did not have change so he could not sell me a ticket – he asked other people on the bus for change and when that didn’t work out, I had to canvas the area asking people for change for a 20. Another bus driver, who was chatting up some women at the bus station, lead me to his bus and gave me change. So nice! When I returned, my bus driver sold me a ticket and literally pinched my cheek affectionately! I’m not sure what he said but I think it was pretty adorable based on the twinkle in his eye. Oh, and reason #102, we’ve departed the Matera bus station 6 minutes early.

So the return bus journey is going fine. I’ve made it to Senise which is one town away from Noepoli. The only problem is that I have a 45 minute wait and I’ve seen just about enough of Senise. I popped into what is called American Bar, a misnomer indeed. It is the first place on my adventure where I have felt leered at and I’m about ready for that bus to come. The butcher across the street is so sweet (he was in an earlier post with Pina and Raffaele shopping) but he is not there right now.

Oh my goodness, an old man just joined me on the steps and now I’ve had my right cheek pinched a second time this afternoon! Now I’m on the bus to Noepoli and the bus driver is singing at the top of his lungs! He told me to sit in the front seat and it is frightening going through these mountains from this perspective. I think the bus drivers like to chit chat with the person in the front row. I’m going to be a big disappointment which he probably figured out when he said I owed 1.30 euros and I thought he was telling me we would be in Noepoli in 30 minutes and I just kept nodding. When he exclaimed “Soldi!” I finally clued in as I have recently learned the word for “money.” Ok, now we’ve stopped on a winding mountain road for the driver to talk with a shepherd. And here we go again. Now the bus driver is telling me that the shepherd thought I was rude to keep working on the computer instead of talking with them!!! What an adventurous day.

Next on the agenda, the Greek ruins in Paestum (which were part of my art history studies and slide quizzes…we’ll see what I can remember!). Until then, ciao!