Archive for September, 2012


…get a haircut!

This past week I went to Rome for two days to accomplish the 3 C’s: Caravaggio, carbonara, and a cut. After traveling for 7 weeks I knew I would be ready for a trim and I had had a hair cut two years previously in Rome and thought it was a fun way to treat myself. I had been reassured by a fellow traveling artist at the time that the Jean Louis David salon was a great choice for cut and color. She was right. They take walk-ins only and the stylists are top-notch. Knowing that I would be there again, I added a haircut to the itinerary.

On the first day, after arriving by train from Orvieto, I made the hike up the Via Corso to Piazza de Popolo to the small church, Santa Maria del Popolo, on the northeast corner that houses two amazing Caravaggios – The Conversion of Saul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter. These paintings embody the beautiful chiaroscuro that Caravaggio is known for, an Italian Dutch master in a way. I have a personal admiration for his achieving an emotional connection in the expressions of the bodies, the dramatic compositions and particularly fond of the horse so profoundly present in
The Conversion of Saul.

On the return walk back to my hotel, I paid a visit to Trevi Fountain, making my requisite wish to return to Rome one day. I found a lovely cafe further toward my neighborhood that the maitre’d insisted had the best spaghetti carbonara in Roma. Giddy up! It was pretty darn amazing! Along with a nice house red wine and salate misti, I was in pancetta heaven.

The next morning, I made my way to Via Quattro Fontaines to the Jean Louis David salon. The receptionist sat me down for our consultation, introduced me to Fabriana, my stylists and we began an interchange in Italian (mine very broken) and English (theirs better than my Italian) and we forged a plan for a new ‘do. After two color sessions, one base coat, one highlights, washing, rinsing, and repeating, trim, dry and styling, I walked out of the salon ecstatic with the fresh look. She didn’t do anything dramatic, but just the gift to myself of this indulgence was easily worth the 150 Euros to feel like a new me.

There are many Jean Louis David salons throughout Europe, in most major cities. You can check it out and find one if you ever want to treat yourself, too.
Jean Louis David Salons

For a good carbonara recipe, I suggest the one I use from the best of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. Spaghetti Carbonara

When in Rome, I highly recommend a Caravaggio day, walking through Rome to all the sites where his amazing work resides. Best place to start if you don’t have a lot of time? The Galleria Borghese. Best to reserve tickets in advance, it is one of the most stunning art and sculpture collections in Rome, if not Italy. Galleria Borghese

There’s so much to see and do in Rome, it’s impossible to absorb the immensity of the history, art and food, let alone just the frenetic and palpable energy that permeates. So at the end of the day, find a rooftop terrace, I recommend the one at the Pace Helvezia Hotel, pack a picnic and just enjoy the sunset view of this amazing city.




Read Full Post »

Postcard From Orvieto




Hi from Orvieto! I’m here for two days exploring this unique and historic Umbrian hill town. To say it was built on a hill doesn’t do it justice. Orvieto sits atop a bluff 1000 feet above the valley floor on a cushion of volcanic tuffa. It was an Etruscan center, prosperous some three thousand years ago. When traveling in Italy, it’s difficult to get away from the fact that you are treading on some seriously old dirt!

The evidence is all around…and below. Because the tuffa is porous, water seeps through, settling on the layer of sand and silt deep, deep, deep down below the city base. The Etruscans were an industrious lot, they needed water, so they designed and dug some forty wells and a virtual city of caves beneath the town streets and buildings. The caves provided security, storage space, an endless supply of porous material to turn into cement and brick for construction above. They even raised pigeons and crushed olives for oil, as explained by my tour guide. The best perk is that the caves hold a constant cool temperature – the perfect wine cellar. The underground tour is well worth doing, by the way. You can buy a combo ticket at the cafe at the train station or at the main tourist information office on Piazza Duomo.

People come to Orvieto for the geography, the wine, the pottery and ceramics, but mostly for the Duomo. The grand cathedral is a mighty presence with its zebra stripes of marble and Signorelli’s masterpiece, the depiction of the Apocalypse in the Chapel of San Brizilo inside. The frescoes are dynamic, packed with figures, woven in a myriad of gestures and richly colored. It looks like all his models worked out at Golds Gym. Makes sense to know that Michelangelo studied these works, inspired by this elder master painter.

I highly recommend the three-mile hike along the Rupe Trail, circling the town along the tuffa. It provides an escape to nature and spectacular views to the surrounding hills and valley. You can see the villas amidst the vineyards, an enticing romantic vision. It’s on so many postcards its become a cliche. But it’s real, and so abundant to this region.

Orvieto has much to offer. The tourists here aren’t predominantly American or from other European countries. I was impressed to see that this is a place Italians young and older visit. And why wouldn’t they? It has all the traits of a perfect weekend getaway – good food, wine, history, shopping, gelati and natural history. I wish I could stay and be like the tuffa, soak it all in. But alas I am off to the next leg of the pilgrimage.

As the saying goes…wish you were here!!

Read Full Post »





Today I leave Spello, my home away from home for these last two weeks. I begin slowly heading west, toward the last leg of my European journey. As I pack and clean and assess the “stuff” of travel, I always become introspective. A transition is happening both physically and emotionally with the feeling of something quite rich and wonderful coming to an end, and the anticipation of what is around the next corner building. This is maneuvering through the liminal space, a feeling of in between. It is disquieting for some, puts you on edge. There is a great wide open space of unknown.

I tend to think of it as a mourning process. Not saying good-bye necessarily, I certainly plan to be back here many times to come, but more of an acceptance that with the inevitable movement of time and us with it, there is a letting go. I try to take the “live in the now” approach. I’m happy where I am in the moment. It’s a piece of practicing mindfulness, being present, that we often forget to do. We get so caught up in train schedules and passport requirements, worry and wonder if we’ll get there on time, will we know where to go, what if we get lost?!

But the truth is, we are maneuvering through the liminal space all the time. In fact, even when we are just sitting, thinking, a memory triggered, a sound heard – no matter what, our neurons are interacting to create thoughts and that process requires a space over which to travel. Essentially we are traveling by just being, physically and psychologically through time. This form of travel is just as important as the getting on a plane kind of travel. We’re just not so aware of it. And I certainly don’t have the quantum physics knowledge to begin to explain the how’s and why’s but I feel a part of it and that’s what matters most to me.

I was reflecting on all the forms of transportation I will have utilized in these eight weeks. Planes, trains, cars, boats, elevators, bicycles, escalators, trams, gondolas and buses. I could have taken a zip line at one point as well as gone paragliding but I preferred staying on the ground. My feet have carried me the most, miles and miles of hiking, exploring and lugging up and down beautiful hills and roads.

The most travel I’ve done so far on this trip has to be time thinking. I remember trips with family, the first time I was ever on a plane, the time I got off of a train in a town in Spain that was not where I expected to be. I have moments that I wish my friends were with me, seeing and experiencing what I’m experiencing. I think of all the paintings and art that I want to create just to honor the colors and landscapes amassing in my head.

Today I will try to enjoy the packing and cleaning and getting to the train station on time. Did I really bring all this stuff? I will check to make sure my passport is in my purse side pockets, probably thirty times, just in case a magical fairy decides to steal it or put it somewhere else just to stress me out. And I will step into the liminal space bidding “see ya soon,” or “a presto” in Italian. But I never say “good-bye.” With all this traveling and moving about, there’s no end. Just new beginnings.

Buon viaggi!!

Read Full Post »

Off to the Banca I Go!


Main Street – Spello, Umbria

One of the issues with travel, especially to foreign lands, is estimating how much cash to bring and being prepared to access it if and when you need more. When moving across borders like I have in the last six weeks, finding the best and cheapest way to exchange currency becomes a factor. And if there’s a twinge of gambler in you, you hope the exchange rate changes in your favor over time so you don’t exchange it all at once, you hedge your bet.

I require four different forms of money on this particular trip: US Dollars, Euros, Swiss Francs, and Croatian Kunas. Thanks to my membership with AAA, I was able to order much of the money beforehand with no processing fee. This is by far the cheapest way to go. The exchange booths at the airport and train stations are your worst bet. ATM or Bancomat here is a reasonable option, still fees, though. I tend to rely on the third option, walking into a bank that can do an exchange. There is a fee but sometimes cheaper than the ATM and I don’t run the risk of scammers rigging the card slot or theft. I just feel safer having a face to face with a bank teller.

Monday morning I left my apartment at 9 a.m. intent on picking up some groceries, shopping for souvenirs and exchanging some Dollars for Euros. Easy! How long could it take? And then I remembered I was in Italy. Everything happens on Italy time. With that acknowledgement, I reminded myself to look at it in a positive light – experiences are always far more charming and interesting when in a foreign country!

9:04 arrive at the Banca di Spello on the corner of the main piazza.

9:06 enter the bank. Now, you’re probably wondering why it took two minutes for me to actually get inside the bank. That’s because none of the banks here have normal doors. In fact, I hate going to the bank, it gives me great anxiety knowing I needed to exchange cash, because I don’t know how to work the darn doors. I can see people inside, I know they are open, but they obviously want you to be really sure you need to get in the bank ’cause you’ll need to maneuver the intercom and security locks that form an impermeable seal around the entrance. And in this particular case, I kept trying to pull the door open when I just needed to push. Stupido!

9:07 realize there is only one teller and I am fifth in line, after the woman currently being helped, an elder gentleman and two other women. They all seemed to nod in agreement once I figured out the door that I’m not from around these parts.

9:15 teller answers the phone, same woman still being helped.

9:17 I ponder why there is a painting hanging above the teller area depicting a night time scene of Venice’s Campo San Marco. Is there a connection between Spello and Venice? Does all the money from this bank go to a home bank in Venice? Are there no good paintings of Spello at night?

9:23 a man barrels in the door, walks to the front of the line and asks the teller for something. She goes to a side room, comes back, answers another phone call, finishes with the man’s transaction, and no one seems to be bothered that this has just occurred.

9:38 I’m next in line. Another man walks in, jumps in line, asks the teller to do something with a form he has. She deals with it and at this point, I’m starting to get a little ticked. There must be a system here that I’m unaware of.

9:42 my turn! The teller gives me a blank stare when I ask to do an exchange. “oh, non, this is impossibla.” What? You don’t want my dollars? It took me a few seconds but I realized she was saying the bank was too small, I would have to go to the big bank just outside of the old city center.

9:52 arrive at UniCredit di Umbria.

9:55 enter the bank. Now, this bank has a doozy of a door. In fact, it’s not a door. It’s a pod, with circular transparent panel doors. I pushed the green button to enter. The outer shell of the pod opened. I step in. The door closes behind me. Then, the shell facing the inside of the bank opens, and I can step through. I thought for sure I was going to be beamed up to the Enterprise or dropped down a shoot into a live Japanese game show. But alas, I was in! And fifth in line. And only one teller.

10:08 my turn! Yes, she could do an exchange.

10:16 after photocopying my passport and signing off on the not-so-great exchange rate, I walked out (beamed up) via the pod hatch/door thingy and made my way to the market.

I felt so empowered, I had maneuvered through not one, but two bank entrances and actually executed a financial transaction and it only took one hour and twenty minutes. Stay tuned, tomorrow I will share my adventures of going to the post office. I can’t wait to see what kind of door they have!

Read Full Post »

Ahh, Assisi




What do you get when you mix one part religious icon/saint, two parts tourist kitsch, and three parts Italian zest?

Did you guess “a biscuit?” I didn’t think so. But it would have been a correct answer. I’ll start with the end of the story first…

As I was waiting to catch my afternoon train from Assisi, home of the incredible St. Francis Basilica, back to my “home town” of Spello, I noticed the station gelateria was selling biscuits and cookies wrapped up with a simple ribbon with a St. Francis bakery label to anyone who may have some how missed the hundreds of opportunities to purchase St. Francis – inspired souvenirs. I was drawn to the fact that they looked oddly like Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies which was quite appealing at that moment considering good chocolate chip cookies don’t exist in this country. A trade off I’m learning to accept. I’m not sure those were actual chocolate chips as I was a bit delirious from hiking the town on its notoriously stunning perch in the center of the Umbrian hills (Italy’s version of the stairmaster) and I chose the hottest day this week to do it.

But back to the marketing ploy…I had been to Lourdes, France some years ago and seen how a whole tourist industry is built around millions of people making a pilgrimage to a place etched by miracles and sacred powers. It’s inevitable that these holy places end up becoming commercialized. The spirit of St. Francis, the fact that this place is the crossroads of art history and spirituality of the highest power and boasts endless views helps me to overlook the kitsch. Granted, modern man certainly reminds us with the key chains, the rosaries, the books, postcards and bakeries lining the three main streets leading to the monumental church built in his honor that St. Francis was a special soul. If buying a key chain makes you feel more closely connected to him, why not? The alternative is to give up all worldly goods and take a vow of poverty. So ironically, the majority of us support a commercial system that honors a man who did just that by screaming buy, buy, buy!

A friend recently posed the question, what might he have thought of all this? Maybe he would have been fine with it. He knew humans were humans. He, along with St. Clare made the sacrifices that the rest of us could never muster or begin to contemplate. And regardless of faith, you can’t overlook the appeal and lastingness of the Franciscan message – be nice, to each other and the environment, live simply, treat all God’s creatures with equal respect.

And so on a splendid day in August, I arrived in Assisi at 9:30 a.m. and had a pilgrimage of my own. I hiked to the top of the town, to the old castle ruins of Rocco Maggiore, visited the Church of St. Rufino (oddly the patron saint of Assisi), the Church of St. Clare, soaked up the Umbrian views, working my way down to the grand basilica on the west end of the hill. This monument and school not only honors the saint, it honors the dawn of art-making like the world had never seen before. This is an artists’s place of worship, too, so I spent the remainder of my time, a few hours, sitting, listening, sketching, and meditating on all those who came before me. I highly recommend a visit, Assisi is not easily forgotten.

And so what of the cookies? Apparently Francis had a weakness for a special almond cookie, called Moastaccioli, the one and only earthly food he loved. The story goes that a young widow named Jacoba, became a follower of Francis and upon hearing he was dying, brought him his favored cookie to his deathbed. To this day, many bakeries in this region make and sell almond pastries in his honor.

From now on I will always think of the almond as Italy’s chocolate chip!

Read Full Post »