Monday, November 11, 2019

BEAUTIFUL LAKE COMO at the Base of the Italian Alps

View of Lake Como from Villa Vigoni, Menaggio, Italy
More than two hundred years ago, Heinrich Milius, son of a German banking family, came to Italy and established a successful business manufacturing silk in Milan. Like other wealthy Italian businessmen of the time, he built a summer home at Lake Como, one of the several large lakes filling the narrow valleys at the base of the Italian Alps. There Milius and his family could enjoy the cool fresh air and mountain scenery and walk in the surrounding gardens. A patron of the arts, he filled his home with elegant furniture and paintings and sculptures by the leading artists of the time.
Portraits of the Milius family
When Milius' last descendant, Ignazio Vigoni, died in 1983, he bequeathed the family property to the Federal Republic of Germany, with the purpose of creating an intercultural meeting place. Today, the estate, Villa Vigoni, is a conference center dedicated to promoting cultural and scientific interests.
Menaggio
In early October, I spent two days at Villa Vigoni when my husband Art was attending a conference. While he was at his meetings, I explored the Villa gardens and the nearby village of Menaggio. The early fall weather was sunny and warm, perfect for walks down to the lake shore.
Cobblestone walkway to the village
Following a cobblestone path downhill, I passed the walled gardens of other hillside homes. Far below I could hear the rushing water of Fiume Senagra, the river that tumbles down the steep gorge from the mountains above. Rather strangely, the banks were covered with stands of bamboo, a plant that evidently grows quite happily in the northern Italian climate. Fall wildflowers bloomed along the rock walls lining the path from the villa to the town.
At the bottom of the gorge the Fiume Senegra rushes toward the lake.
Near the bottom of the gorge was a small waterfall before the river emptied into the lake. Like other towns along the shores of Lake Como, Menaggio is a vacation destination for tourists, with restaurants and hotels lining the main street.
Promenade in Menaggio
An elegant promenade along the lake is popular for strolling or bench sitting to enjoy the lake view. A monument honoring silk weavers has been erected at one end of the promenade. For families there is a playground for children, and a miniature golf course. Although there is a small swimming beach, the water in Lake Como is too cold most of the year for swimming.
Monument to the silk weavers by Francesco Somaini
Menaggio is a picturesque town. As one walks along its streets, one feels transported back to another century, when time moved more slowly and was marked by the church bells ringing out the hour.
For a short history of Menaggio, click HERE. Guided tours to Villa Vigoni and its extensive park are available every Thursday afternoon from March to October (except in August). They must be booked in advance.
Villa Vigoni

Monday, November 4, 2019

DUBLIN CELEBRATES THE IRISH, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle



The Irish Influence: Display at EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin, Ireland

My friend and fellow children's book writer Gretchen Woelfle loves to travel and recently visited Ireland, where she spent a week in Dublin and went to both the Irish Emigration Museum and the Icon Factory. Here is her report:
 
Two very different sites in Dublin celebrate the Irish--those who left and those who stayed behind. 
Neville Isdell, former CEO of Coca Cola and founder of EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, declared, “My own experience of being an emigrant has always stayed with me. And as they say, I left Ireland but Ireland never left me….My career took me all over the world, to 151 countries. I’ve always believed that the story of Irish people around the world was one worth telling, and so, I founded EPIC in 2016.”
How they left Ireland.
And epic it is: a vast gallery of cutting edge technology -- video, audio, interactive exhibits, and artworks – that tell a 400-year old story of Irish diasporas all over the world.  
Transportation to Australia.
When, how, and why they left Ireland; where they ended up; and what they and their descendants accomplished are revealed as visitors wend their way through the lower floor of a 200-year old warehouse on the banks of the River Liffey. (Twenty-two U.S. presidents claim Irish heritage, from Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama.)
The first rooms dramatize events that forced millions to leave.
Swiping right for Irish writers.
The Irish in Tin Pan Alley.
Later rooms focus on famous Irish and Irish-heritage musicians, actors, artists, writers, athletes, scientists, politicians, and outlaws who made their names all over the world. The Irish Family Heritage Center helps visitors discover their Irish roots.
The Icon Factory.
Not all the talent sailed to Boston, Liverpool, or Melbourne. The Icon Factory and Icon Walk offer low-tech, up-close experiences of home-grown celebrities. The Factory, an artist cooperative with a studio and a shop displays paintings, posters, and sculptures of Irish artists working today.
Seamus Heaney
Some of those same artists transformed the nearby dingy alleys into a brilliant mural gallery that celebrate Irish achievements in art, entertainment, sport, and the long struggle for independence.
The writers are known world-wide, including four Nobel prizewinners*. (Answer below.) Other figures filling the walls – comedians, athletes, musicians, and “oddballs, crackpots, and assorted genius” – were new to me.
Irish rock stars.
A caption under a mural of The Play Writers: The Pen Versus The Sword” offers a brilliant example of Irish wit.

Around 1610 Shakespeare wrote The Tempest and retired to Stratford on Avon where he died in 1616. Queen Elizabeth I, having completed the conquest of Ireland, was dead. The last of the Irish leaders, O’Neill and O’Donnell were gone to Spain, and Ulster planted with Crown subjects. Between 1616 and the War of Independence in 1922 which won back selfrule for most of Ireland, no play of any real merit was written in the English language by anyone other than by an Irish-born writer. Now riddle me this, who conquered who?

For more information:
https://epicchq.com The Irish Emigration Museum

https://www.iconfactorydublin.com The Icon Factory and Icon Walk

* William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney

Monday, October 28, 2019

ANDY WARHOL: From A to B and Back Again, Exhibit at SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA

Andy Warhol, Self Portrait, at SFMOMA exhibit Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again
At the end of August, when I was in Oakland, I took the BART to San Francisco to see the fabulous Andy Warhol retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again. (The title of the exhibit is taken from Andy Warhol's book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, 1975.) The show ended September 2nd but is  now at the Art Institute of Chicago where it opened on October 20th. (Previously, the show was at the Whitney Museum in New York.) 
Portraits of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe
The exhibit encompasses Andy Warhol’s career from his growing up years in Pittsburgh and early career in New York in the fashion industry, to his ground breaking conversion of soup cans and Brillo boxes to pop art, to portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, and much, much more.
Painting of S and H Green Stamps, created by making a stamp from a rubber eraser.
His painting of S and H green stamps (apparently inspired by helping his mother paste them into books) brought back similar memories of mine, filling books with stamps my family got at grocery stores and gas stations and then turning them in to redeem prizes. In the same room at the museum a pile of Brillo boxes and a diagram of dance steps to do the Lindy were displayed.
A pair of diagrams showing the pattern of foot-steps (one for the man, one for the woman) doing the Lindy, a popular dance originating in the 1920s
The exhibit was so big that at MOMA in San Francisco it took up space on three floors (plus one more if you count the examples of his black and white photographs displayed on the third floor of the museum.)
Mylar silver cloud pillows. Recreation of 1966 exhibit of helium filled Mylar balloons at the Castelli Gallery.
In one room, giant silver balloons formed a popular interactive exhibit. Visitors, especially children, enjoyed batting the cloud-like pillows into the air, creating a constantly changing 3-D art piece.
Flower paintings and cow wallpaper
The variety of Andy Warhol's creativity is astounding, ranging from painting and pop-art, to video, television, interactive and performance pieces, to magazines (Interview) and advertising.
The large Rorschah painting was inspired by the "ink blot test" created by Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach.  Warhol folded the canvas in half vertically to make a mirror image of the design.
Although I had long been aware of Andy Warhol’s soup cans and extravagant life style during the 1970s in New York, I never appreciated the breadth and brilliance of his creativity until I saw the exhibit of his work at SFMOMA.
A few of Andy Warhol's commissioned portraits.
Among my favorites were his portraits, displaying both his painterly style as well his impeccable sense of design and ability to capture the essence of his subject. From 1967 to 1987, Warhol made hundreds of commissioned portraits, typically using a combination of Polaroid photography, screen prints, and paint. One room at SFMOMA is dedicated to these portraits.
The giant image of Mao was created by Andy Warhol in 1972. (Acrylic paint, silkscreen ink, pencil on linen.)
To appreciate the giant painting of Mao Tse Tung one has to stand on the other side of the room. It is mounted on a recreation of the Mao wallpaper that was on the walls of Andy Warhol's studio.
Wilhelmina Ross
Andy Warhol often painted the same subject over and over, as in the case of Wilhelmina Ross. He painted her 73 times, originally as part of a commission by an Italian art dealer in 1974 for a series of 105 portraits of drag queens.
A matchbook with "Drink Coca-Cola" on its cover, has been blown up to giant size in this painting.
But what most people will remember about Andy Warhol is his elevation of ordinary objects, such as a bottle or glass of Coca-Cola, to the status of art, making us think twice about the role these objects play in our lives and our culture.

Monday, October 21, 2019

VENICE, ITALY: Torcello and the Outer Islands

View of Torcello and the Venice Lagoon from the top of the Bell Tower 
During our recent visit to Venice, we spent a day on Torcello, one of the small outer islands of the greater Venice archipelago. The large island at the center that we know as Venice has been a trading center in the northern Mediterranean for more than a thousand years. Densely built and intersected by a maze of canals, it hums with activity. By comparison, our visit to Torcello felt like a day in the country--the island is mostly open fields and wetlands plus an old church and museum.
Torcello vaporetto stop. Torcello is of 114 small islands spread across the Venice Lagoon.
To get to Torcello we took a vaporetto (water bus) from the Zattere stop near our hotel to the Fondamente Nove stop on other side of Venice, where we transferred to a boat that went on Torcello. The first stop was at Murano, home of the Venetian glassware industry, and where most of the passengers got off. On our first trip to Venice we had visited Murano, watched the glassblowers and visited the museum. 
Walkway to the center of Torcello and the Ponte di Diavolo (Devil's Bridge)
The “town” of Torcello is just a few houses, a church and museum. To get there we walked about a quarter mile from the boat dock along a paved path next to a small canal.
Torcello. Church of Santa Fosca
When we bought our tickets for the church and museum, the ticket seller recommended that we visit the bell tower first.
At the top of the Campanile (Bell Tower)
So we climbed the stairs to the top, where we were rewarded with a spectacular 360 degree view of the island and surrounding lagoon. It was easy to imagine that this is what the main island of Venice might have looked like in Roman times, before it was developed into an urban trading center.
Roof of the Basilica as seen from the Bell Tower
The church at Torcello, Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, has been in existence since the 7th century,  and is the oldest church in the greater Venice lagoon. It is filled with magnificent mosaics, which are explained with an audio device that we paid for with our ticket. After visiting the church we went to the museum where artifacts from Torcello’s Byzantine past are displayed. (Photography was not permitted in either place.)
At the Ponte de Diavolo restaurant with our Aperol spritzers
Our destination for the day was the Osteria al Ponte del Diavolo restaurant, which had been recommended by a friend, and where we had a delicious lunch. (I had baby octopus for my first course!) The weather was perfect and we sat under an umbrella on the restaurant patio enjoying our leisurely meal. By the time we had finished our coffee and tiramisu dessert, it was time to catch the boat back.
On our way back from Torcello to Murano, we passed the small island of Burano, distinctive for its  brightly painted houses.
A woman in the seat next to me commented about Torcello that “there wasn’t much there.” I disagree. That’s exactly what we liked about it–a refreshing ride across the lagoon, a fascinating old church, and a relaxing day in the country.

Monday, October 14, 2019

VENICE, ITALY: Glittering Jewel at the edge of the Sea

Venice, Italy. Campanile and domes of Saint Mark's Basilica. View across the Grand Canal from Punte della Dogana on the Dorsoduro.
Visiting Venice is a little bit like going to Disneyland--the crowds, the rides, the spectacle, the assault on the senses--the difference being that everything in Venice is real and in many cases hundreds of years old. In late September, my husband and I spent three days in Venice and it was still just as magical as on our first visit 25 years ago. Between the food, the art, the music, the boats and the bridges we felt like we had been immersed in a painting by Turner or Canaletto.
A gondola traffic jam in one of the smaller canals.
The weather was perfect--sunny and warm, but not too hot--and although there were crowds of tour groups in the popular tourist spots during the middle of the day, they thinned out by evening.
Venice is an island, part of an archipelago that includes the main large island of Venice plus numerous smaller islands. You can see the Campanile in Piazza San Marco sticking up above the red roofed buildings.
Our first view of Venice was from the airplane as we approached the airport on the mainland. After landing, we followed a long walkway to the docks, where water transport was waiting to take passengers to the island of Venice. In our shared water taxi we sped across the lagoon, waves splashing across the bow, until we arrived at the entrance to the canals, where the boat slowed to a more sensible pace.
The Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal is the oldest bridge in Venice
We were one of the last to be dropped off, so our ride served as a mini-tour of the city and the web of canals that are the main streets of Venice.
One of the 400 bridges and 150 canals that connect the islands of Venice
Our hotel, Pensione Seguso, in the Dorsoduro neighborhood, was a two minute walk from the Zattere boat stop. After checking in, we took a walk along the Zattere promenade where there were various restaurants, many with tables on platforms over the water.
Waiting for pizza at our waterside table. On the other side of the channel we looked at the narrow island of Giudecca.
Our hotel was out of the way of the main tourist traffic in Venice, but it was only a short walk to the Accademia bridge over the Grand Canal and to the central part of Venice and the magnificent Basilica San Marco. (The easiest way to get around Venice is by walking, although the maze of squares, narrow walkways, bridges and canals make a map essential.)
View of San Marco and the Campanile (Bell Tower) from the loggia surrounding Piazza San Marco. The bell rings twice a day, at noon and midnight.
The Piazza San Marco is enormous, easily accommodating the thousands of tourists who visit it each day, not to mention the flocks of pigeons waiting for offerings of breadcrumbs. With its glittering mosaics and multicolored marble columns, the magnificent basilica is the perfect backdrop for all this activity. 
The Basilica di San Marco.
To the left of the Basilica in Piazza San Marco is Torre dell'Orologio (the Clock Tower) with its beautiful 15th-century blue and gold leaf clock.
The 24-hour clock on the Clock Tower.
Besides visiting the Piazza San Marco, highlights of our time in Venice included an afternoon at the opera (we saw the Barber of Seville at the Teatro de Fenice, the famous opera house where Maria Callas got her start), a Vivaldi concert at the Church of San Vidal, and visits to two art museums, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and the Accademia Gallery (to be the topic of another post.)
Posters on a palace along the Grand Canal advertise the Biennale.
We never got to the Biennale, the bi-annual international art exposition at the Arsenale–not enough time in our short visit. 
Art by Jean Dubuffet was on display at the Palazzo Franchetti.
But the streets were filled with smaller ancillary art exhibits, dozens of art galleries, and the display windows of the high-end fashion shops in the streets near Piazza San Marco had their own spectacular art creations.
Carnival masks on display in a shop window.
Other shops featured typical crafts of Venice--elaborate masks, marbled paper, glass sculptures from the island of Murano, and much more.
Gondolier shirts are among the many souvenirs one can buy at pop-up stalls on Piazza San Marco
On our first trip to Venice we met a architect professor who had brought his students to see and draw the intersection of buildings, bridges, and water that make the city of Venice unique.No other city is like Venice, with its mix of churches, palaces, plazas, towers, bridges and waterways.
Sunset on the Giudecca Canal, viewed from the Zattere promenade. After dark the lights come on and the city sparkles in the night.
We were lucky on both trips to Venice to enjoy good weather. (It can be foggy and rainy.) This trip was short and we only had time to sample a few of Venice's pleasures. One day was a trip to the outer islands, a chance to get away from the tourist crowds--to be the subject of another post. Altogether our visit to Venice was a magical three days--and we wish we had had time to spend more.

Monday, October 7, 2019

MOUNTSFIELD PARK: One of London's Many Green Spaces, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle



Autumn colors, London style. Mountsfield Park, Hither Green (South London)

My friend and fellow children's book writer Gretchen Woelfle loves to travel and frequently goes to London, living in local neighborhoods. Here is a post about one of her recent visits.

London has some magnificent famous parks: Regents Park, Hyde Park, Hampstead Heath among others. But I especially love London neighborhood parks. Many of them are the sites of homes (long gone) of landowning squires, or transformed farmers’ fields. A few include land reclaimed from World War II bombsites. 
Dragonfly gates at entrance to Mountsfield Park
I spent a month in Hither Green (south London) right across from Mountsfield Park, not famous but lovely just the same.  
A path with light and shade under green, leafy arches
I took a daily stroll (along with locals and their dogs) across large expanses of guilt-free (for a SoCal resident) lawns where people of all genders and ages play soccer, under tall stately trees, across wild places where the grass isn't mown and shrubbery isn't trimmed, with winding paths through it all. 
Girl power!

Lots of coffee at the tea shop.
I lingered at a tea shop, a rose garden, a wildflower meadow, a community vegetable garden, tennis courts, and a playground.
Hidden sculpture tucked in the trees.
There are carved wooden sculptures hidden here and there and heaps of logs placed to provide habitat for an endangered English beetle.
Berries ripe for autumn harvest.
The autumn colors were out – subtle but stunning. I love the wild foxes that roam the parks and gardens all over London.  Residents call them vermin, but they are exotic to me, with their long bushy tails. I see them crossing the street into the park at dusk.  And one morning as I was retrieving my bike from the back garden shed, I startled one out of the next-door overgrown garden.
Community garden.
Google tells me that 47% of London is “green”. The website below lists 111 parks and Mountsfield isn’t even one of them. Wherever you happen to land in London, there’s probably a park – or a garden or a common or a heath – nearby where you can enjoy the pleasures of the English countryside in the heart of the city.

https://secretldn.com/london-parks-gardens-list/: Here’s the list of 111 parks
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountsfield_Park tells the history of Mountsfield park.
Scarlet highlights.