Monday, June 4, 2018

Spello, Italy: L'Infiorata

A view of the Umbrian landscape from Spello.
I've been traveling again, finally, after a long spell. This time I didn't bring my computer along, so I'll be writing most of my posts once I return home, where I will also be able to access photos from my digital camera. It's a laborious process trying to create posts on my tablet, so most of them will come later. And photos taken on my phone will have to suffice.

I traveled with my son for 16 days: ten were spent in Paris, and six in Italy. Now Jesse has returned to the States, and I have ten days to explore some new sights on my own in Italy. I came to Spello for the annual celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi, L'infiorata, which takes place on the 9th Sunday after Easter.

Traveling with Jesse was a departure from my usual mode of going it alone. We were both eager to explore Paris in more detail than previous visits, and I had the chance to share Italy with him for the first time. The pace of traveling with him was a challenge for me, as we walked 8-10 hours (sometimes more!) almost every day, and we were out late many nights, which is not my usual travel habit. But we crammed in a lot of rich experiences during our time together. Staying in Spello will give me a chance to process the previous weeks, relax, recover, and write.

The first mention of the Infiorata was recorded in 1831, and paintings of the celebration started appearing in the early 1900's. Designs made with flower petals, leaves and herbs cover the village streets, creating a carpet of beauty along the winding, sometimes steep passages.

A design is laid down on the street, beneath a protective structure.
It was exciting to watch the Spellani at work on their flower creations. Groups of children and adults pulled or cut fresh flowers, separating the colors to fit the design. About 15 million flowers of nearly 65 different species are collected. Petals from different flowers are used either fresh or dried to obtain a wider palette.

More than 2,000 people of all ages are involved. During the "Night of Flowers", they might work 14 hours to complete the carpets.

Work on the designs began in the evening, and continued through the night on many of the more elaborate ones.

At sunrise, more than 60 floral creations ranging from 15 to 70 square meters cover the streets of the historical center of Spello. Soon after, a religious procession passes on the flower carpet, reminding the observers of the ephemeral beauty of the Infiorata.

The finished design.
On Sunday morning, crowds of tourists, mostly Italians, started arriving about 8.a.m. I had been warned to get out early, so I went out at 5:30 a.m., only to find that quite a few of the larger pieces were still being worked on. I went back out at 8:30, found the streets crowded and nearly all of the work complete. The designs are judged according to a variety of criteria, including age group, creativity and elaboration. A religious theme is always present.

The course of the Infiorata started at the bottom of the village, then wound around the steep streets to the highest point, and back down to a medium point. Though I walked most of the course, I found even more designs later in the day that I had missed earlier. My photos don't do justice to the designs, as it was difficult to get the right angle to capture the long or wide creations.

Misting the flower petals to keep them fresh.
By the afternoon, the carpets of flowers were drying out, and the crowds started to diminsh. By evening, street cleaning machines were whisking away all traces of the beauty and creativity that was evident only a few hours previously. I feel privileged to have had ths chance to witness Spello's Infiorata: it was well worth the journey to get here.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Pre-Paris: By the Books

For me, travel is all about learning. Language, culture, history, art, literature, music, food....these topics and more all come into play when I make travel plans. Preparing for a trip abroad can start months or even years in advance, as I do research to learn more about my destination so I can make the most of my travels. For an upcoming visit to Paris, my preparations began more than a year ago, reading accounts of the lives of Impressionist artists whose art will be a focus of my stay. Monet, Renoir, Manet, Rodin, Degas, Cassat, Morisot all figured prominently in my research. I whiled away the winter months absorbed in accounts of their lives, through both historical fiction and non-fiction books, some of which I will list at the end of this post. Though I previously visited Paris in 2012, this visit will be devoted to zeroing in on specific areas of the city that I want to explore.

More recently, I've turned to blogs and memoirs written by people who live in Paris for my research, as well as more general fiction, even some chick lit titles, that take place in Paris. One of the most interesting books I've read recently is one by Liam Callanan, previously known for his novel-turned-movie, Cloud Atlas. His new novel, Paris by the Book, is an inventive rendition of the ever popular "American adjusts to life in Paris" saga. In the process of reading the novel I was introduced to several other iconic books and an area of the city, usually forsaken by tourists, that I hope to explore while I'm there.

Rather than go into the plot of Callanan's book (which I wholeheartedly recommend), I'll mention the children's books that are integral to the storyline: the Madeline series by Ludwig Bemelmans, and The Red Balloon, by Albert Lamorisse, which later became an award winning 1956 short film. Though I read the Madeline books as a child, and have vague recollections of The Red Balloon story, revisiting them as a guide to my upcoming travels has been a playful and enlightening approach.

I also learned about the Menilmontant quartier of Paris, which is the setting for the Lamorisse film. Located between Montmartre and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, it is largely untraveled by tourists, but is said to provide some awesome vistas. You  can view the Lamorisse film via these links:

Red Balloon,  original, grainy version and soundtrack

Red Balloon  superior, restored version, but lousy music 

Another series of books that take place in Paris was inspired by a real-life event in 2010 when a Paris apartment was discovered after being abruptly abandoned by its owner for 70 years. At least four different authors have used this scenario to create works of fiction, each unique in its cast of characters and plot, while using the real story as background. I've read most of these books, some better than others: the first two capture more of the facts behind the real story, but all of them are entertaining. For an account of the true story behind the books, use this link:
Lavish Paris apartment untouched for 70 years

The books:
The Velvet Hours - Alyson Richman
The Paris Apartment - Michelle Gable
The Paris Secret - Karen Swan
Paris Time Capsule; From a Paris Balcony - Ella Carey

I could go on and on about the treasure trove of books about Paris, but instead, I encourage your own research on the topic. Here's hoping the titles I've provided in this post will get you started on that journey. Enjoy!

Book list, about artists:
Claude and Camille - Stephanie Cowell (Monet)
Mad Enchantment - Ross King (Monet)
Girl in the Afternoon - Serena Burdick  (Manet)
Paris Red - Maureen Gibbon (Manet and his muse)
Impressionist Quartet - Jeffrey Myers (Manet, Morisot, Degas, Cassat)
The Painted Girls - Cathy Marie Buchanan (Degas models)
Luncheon of the Boating Party - Susan Vreeland  (Renoir)
Naked Came I - David Weiss (Rodin)
You Must Change Your Life - Rachel Corbett (Rilke and Rodin)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Dream of Italy

I recently learned of a new tv show devoted to travel in Italy, which gives free access to their programs online. I watched a few episodes on PBS, then found their website, which features all of the episodes for viewing. So far there are two seasons of episodes, showing some regions of Italy that are often overlooked.

Check it out!              Dream of Italy

Monday, October 16, 2017

Reliving Past Adventures

I haven't had the chance to travel this year, but am hoping for another long stay in Italy next spring. In the meantime, you can read about my travels from 2006-2009 in an archive blog.

NOTE: The archive blog is a work in progress, as I've had to copy all the posts from a now defunct website I used to have. Some of the photos are missing, and travels from 2009 still need to be published, but I hope to have it completed soon.

Become More1: Italy and Japan

Archive of travels from 2006-2010
via this link:


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Spain: Cadaquès and Port Lligat, Dali's home

First view of Cadaquès and the bay along Costa Brava.
 After Figueres, our group traveled along steep winding roads to reach Cadaquès, on the Cap de Creus peninsula along the Costa Brava. During the summer, Cadaquès is off limits to tour buses, as the roads are narrow and with more traffic it becomes a treacherous drive for even small buses. Since we were there in October, we were able to enjoy the scenic route, climbing a series of hills, then plunging down toward the sea.

Tranquil and empty Cadaquès.
Cadaquès is a sleepy fishing village that Dali often visited as a child. It was an attractive spot to many other artists, including Picasso and Miro. It was an overcast day when we arrived, and there was little activity going on in the village.

The "Blue House": at one time, many Cadaquès natives immigrated to Cuba,
then returned home with riches and built elegant homes like this one.
We had an hour free for lunch in Cadaquès. I came across a wonderful outdoor creperie, and ate a delightful crepe filled with goat cheese and fresh raspberry jam. After a bit of wandering around the quiet village, we moved on to the main event: Dali's home in Port Lligat, twenty minutes away.

Dali's house in Port Lligat, marked by his iconic eggs on one portion of the roof, 
Dali was drawn to the location by the landscape and isolation it offered. From seven small huts once used by fishermen, he gradually created a home with a labyrinthine structure. Though the structure became habitable in 1949, construction was continuous from 1930 to 1972, resulting in the form that stands today.  As Dali described it, the home was " like a real biological structure...each new pulse on our life had its own new cell, its room."

The Library: Each room is decorated with various odd objects: paintings, statues, and even taxidermy.
Dali and his wife Gala lived a the house in Port Lligat until her death in 1982. The home remains the same as it was on the day he left in 1982 and moved to Pubòl Castle, where Gala was buried.

Dali's easel.
In Dali's studio, you can see the easel that he designed, which moves up and down, into the floor, so that he could always paint while sitting in his chair.  

Dali's studio.
Lounge area, leading to bedroom.
In the room shown above, Dali positioned a mirror (above the sofa on the wall to the left) so that he and Gala would be able to watch the sunrise from their bedroom, which was up a short staircase to the right of this room. Since Port Lligat is the easternmost village of mainland Spain, Dali bragged that he was the first person in his country to see the sun each day.

Bedroom of Dali and Gala.

Gala's oval "relaxing" room, often used as a salon for guests to enjoy stimulating conversations.
Only eight people are allowed in the museum at a time, due to the narrow halls, numerous stairways and labyrinthine setup of the house, and advance reservations must be made.  In addition to the house itself, there are several outdoor spaces to view.

One of the terraces

Dali's iconic swimming pool, shaped like male genitals.

Another terrace, all in white.
This view into Dali's life was richly interesting, and well worth the trip. Due to the difficulty of getting to Cadaquès and Port Lligat, this area of Spain is often overlooked, and remains a tranquil testament to the life and art of Salvadore Dali. 

Adios to Cadaquès!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spain: Figueres, Dalí Theater and Museum

Teatre Museu Dalì
I ended up spending another week in Barcelona on my own, and arranged to take an organized day trip/tour to visit the Dalì museum in Figueres and his home in Cadaques. First, our small group was driven by mini coach east along the Costa Brava to Figueres, where the Dalì Museum is located. Our tour guide, a lively young woman from Salou, kept us entertained with informative stories throughout the two hour ride from Barcelona.

A closeup of one of the bread loaves.
The outside of the iconic building is topped by a series of giant eggs, and the walls are covered with small ceramic loaves of bread, a tribute to Dalì's wife Gala, as bread was her favorite food.

The heart of the museum is the building that once housed the town's theater when Dali was a child. It was also the site of one of his first public exhibitions. The old theater was burned during the Spanish Civil War and was in ruin for several decades. Then, in 1960 Dali and the town's mayor decided to rebuild the theater and use it as a museum dedicated to Dali's creations. A glass dome cupola crowns the stage of the old theater, and Dali is buried in a crypt beneath the stage floor.

A reconstruction of Dali's creation The Rainy Taxi (1938), that "rains" inside the car.
Dali was inspired by an article in Scientific American about the minimum number of pixels needed to describe a unique human face. He used 121 pixels to complete Lincoln's face in the portrait below. On closer look, one sees the nude Gala in the middle of Lincoln's face.

"Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea
Which at Twenty Meters Becomes the
Portrait of Abraham Lincoln."

Another highlight of the museum is a 3D living room installation that when viewed from a certain spot, looks like the face of Mae West. Dali used paintings for the eyes, a fireplace for the nose and a sofa for the lips. The hair is draped over an arch atop a staircase, which allows one to view the illusion from a distance.

The museum continues through many levels and rooms, and visitors are urged to tour the space is no particular order, as the rooms have not been laid out in any systematic or chronological order, according to Dalì's wishes. The museum was a wonderful romp through the clever,  magical, often bizarre mind and talent of Dalì.

Retrospective Bust of a Woman.....with bread on her head and neck!
However, my very favorite part of the museum was in a separate building, which housed Dali's jewelry creations. I was unaware of this aspect of his art, and was impressed by the designs and craftsmanship of these items.


The trip to Figueres and the Dali Museum was well worth the effort and expense of the tour I'd arranged in Barcelona. The second part of the trip took us to Dali's home in Cadaques.