Friday, August 28, 2009


Mykonos is all about the blue ... incredibly blue water, blue sky and blue doors and window frames on the most dazzling white buildings you have ever seen. Nearly every structure is painted white; so is the mortar between the cobblestones on the street, and the trunks of the trees. And it all looks like it was just painted yesterday, especially for your arrival. This town is absolutely brilliant, so if you go be sure to pack your darkest shades.

We did our own tour of Mykonos, arriving by tender and wandering into the side streets from the dock, venturing up the hillside and capturing the view, then coming back down to navigate the narrow streets and shop a little. All in all, it was a lovely visit, except I could not get the Fleet Foxes song Mykonos out of my head the entire time.
And you will go to Mykonos
With a vision of a gentle coast
And a sun to maybe dissipate
Shadows of the mess you made ....
You go, wherever you go today

For all the whiteness, there wasn't a single sheet of paper to buy. But it was a great photo day!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The destruction of Pompei in 79 AD was always one of the more memorable stories of ancient history when I was in grade school. I was fascinated by the idea of everything becoming frozen in time, just as it stood, until it was discovered over 1,500 years later. It never occurred to me then that I would be able to visit it one day, but here we were, walking down the stone paved streets and peering into homes and businesses and public buildings, all under restoration since its discovery in the mid 1700's.

We could see Pompei approaching from quite a distance. It is in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, and the whole town has a kind of smoky appearance from a distance, although I did not sense it as much as we toured the site. A major earthquake took place early in the morning on August 24 in 79. As the residents were recovering from the after effects, Vesuvius exploded with such force that the city was buried under about 60 feet of rock and ash in fairly short order, within 48 hours. (How weird is it that I'm writing this post on nearly the exact annniversary!)

If you love a good crumbling column (and what artist doesn't!) then you will certainly be happy here. The buildings that have been restored are really incredible ... private homes that were quite large and elaborate, with pools and beautiful courtyards and lovely mosaics and frescos on the walls. Businesses, such as the bakery (above is a photo of the ovens) were found with the baked bread still intact inside. Apparently the baker, who came in to work before the earthquake, never removed the loaves and they have been amazingly preserved. The bath houses, the library, the brothel ... its all still there. You get such an eerie feeling walking around in the footsteps of the former residents.

I was struck by how many of the everyday objects of art survived ... vases, urns, there are hundreds of shelves like the ones shown here, with items from the excavation. There are also casts of the residents' remains that are similarly eerie ... captured forever in their last poses. A dog. A pregnant woman. So sad to experience such an untimely end.

The textures on the buildings and walls were an amazing visual treat while visiting the site. All in all, a fascinating day, and there wasn't even a paper store to visit!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Amalfi Paper

Back in the 13th and 14th centuries, Amalfi had a currency as good as gold .... its beautiful handmade paper. Most of Europe functioned on the barter system during early times, and Amalfi paper was very much valued as payment. The paper has a 100% cotton content; it is thick and luscious and the most beautiful shade of cream white. When you are faced with an entire book of its pages you nearly swoon from delight. To see it and touch it is to love it and want it!

We had about an hour to spend in Amalfi; the bus had passed an interesting looking archway going back into a bustling piazza (which turned out to be Duomo Square, where the giant church from yesterday's post is located), and that is where we headed. We crossed the street from the parking lot and WHOA! what was this! Right on the corner at the archway was an inviting shop, La Scuderia del Duca, selling Amalfi paper.

If you are ever fortunate enough to go to Amalfi, you must visit this shop. This is the store that book artists see in their dreams. A wonderful blend of old and exciting. Floor to ceiling inventory. No possible way to see everything on the first, second or third visit. No particular order to the merchandise -- papers in flat piles, papers rolled and stuck into huge colorful jars, papers here, there and everywhere. And handmade books, blank and with lines and for accounts and for music writing, and antique pages from books framed on the walls, and some rolled for individual purchase. The store is not very wide, but it encompasses two long rooms and has an impressive inventory.

So of course I bought some Amalfi paper, and a few large sheets of hand marbles which were made in Florence, as well as some of their handmade books for gifts. I also found this beautiful piece of paste paper done on an Amalfi sheet. Thanks to the magic of the web, you can go visit there now using the link under websites at the right. Stay as long as you like!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Amalfi Coast

A few years back, when I visited St. Thomas for the first time, I told my buds that if I ever disappeared, they should look for me there. I was totally in love with the climate, the pace of life, the color of the sea and sky. Well, move over, St. Thomas, because Amalfi has bumped you from first place.

Such a day we had there! First of all, we were all chomping at the bit to get back onto dry land after the extra day at sea. During the night, the water had calmed considerably and returned to the beautiful blue we remembered from Monte Carlo. There were two parts to our tour for the day; a drive along the Amalfi Coast, followed by a visit to the ancient city of Pompei. We arrived in Naples very early in the morning, and were soon on our way.

Within 30 minutes we were looking out over one of the most beautiful places on earth. The Amalfi coastal highway (and I use this term loosely, as it is mostly only 2 lanes) rises high above the sea, making for breathtaking views at every turn. Did I mention there are over 1,060 curves on the highway that we covered? Very little of this road is straight for more than a few dozen yards. To this, you add lots of huge tour buses (ours included), lots of fast moving small Italian cars, and two gazillion motor scooters, some being driven by tourists who have never been passengers, much less operators, of such a bike. The locals call them the kamikazee. Somehow, everyone gets along just fine for the most part, As a tourist on the bus, you can distract yourself by just taking in one jaw-dropping view after another, and not have to worry about who is driving or what their credentials for the job might be.

When your home is hanging off the side of a cliff, it creates a unique challenge for parking your car. Thus, many of the residents park their car on the roof, mostly at street level. Others park their cars in the smallest possible space available, wherever that might happen to be. The no parking signs, our guide explained, are more of a suggestion than a rule. I recalled our experience in looking for street addresses in Florence, and then I understood-- we were in Italy!

We wound our way around the many towns and villages, the guide pointing out highlights such as the little island off the coast that was once owned by Rudolph Nureyev, and Sophia Loren's villa when she was married to Carlo Ponti. Watchtowers along the coast, no longer needed for protection, have been converted into private homes or businesses. One of them has become a disco for the very rich; you enter the tower and an elevator takes you down to the fun. Oh, and you'll need an invitation to get in. Apparently the sultan of Brunei is a regular there, so you get the idea.

Our bus took us through and around Sorrento, Positano (did you see Under the Tuscan Sun? That's where Diane Lane wore the white dress to visit her beau.)
We made a stop in the town of Amalfi, known for centuries of making incredible handmade paper, so of course there was paper shopping, which I'll share in a future post. The town is absolutely charming. It is closer to the sea than many of the coastal towns, and has a very useable sandy beach in place of the usual large rocks found in this area. There were plenty of tourists, but the crowds were smaller and friendlier than those we encountered in the large cities.

Our guide took us to a small hotel restaurant for lunch. Imagine my delight to learn the building was a former paper mill, owned by one of the older families of the area. The photo of the large stone wheel, which I believe was used in the pulp making process, was taken there. There is a paper museum in Amalfi; alas, our schedule didn't permit a visit, but it is so on the list for next time. And there will definitely be a next time here.

Rome Drive-By

This should have been the post where I tell you about our fabulous day in Rome, but alas, it did not come to pass. We were supposed to dock around 7 am, and most of us were leaving on various land tours shortly thereafter. Mother Nature, however, was working very hard while we were busy making plans. Winds in the harbor at Civitavecchia, Italy, the port for Rome, were gusting at 50 knots, and the captain and pilot deemed it too dangerous to try to dock. So instead, we had an extra unplanned day at sea.

The waves were the largest I have ever seen while on a cruise, and the going was a little rough for the next several hours. We wandered the halls of the ship, staggering like drunken sailors, careening off the side walls and railings. I visited the ship's library and checked out a good Thomas Harris mystery, then headed down to the promenade deck to find a nice spot to read while the waves were crashing all around us. In honor of doing Rome drive-by, we had pizza for lunch.

So, we will do Rome some other day, perhaps when we revisit our favorite spots another time. The next day proved to be one of the most memorable of the trip.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Paper Shopping in Florence

No self-respecting book artist could leave Florence without a few sheets of paper. Florence is known for its hand marbled papers as well as those delightful Florentine prints you would recognize anywhere in the world. I confess, I am not a fan of the small prints for my work, so I focused my search on finding some drop dead gorgeous marbled paper.

We had about two hours and five different store addresses to search. Earlier in the day, when we were on the tour, we walked right past Il Papiro, an Italian store chain of lovely papers and handcrafted books, but could not stop without losing the guide. When we finally reached the free time in the afternoon, we used some of it to speed visit the Uffizi gallery, and when we emerged from there we had about 90 minutes left until we had to meet up with the tour group to return to the ship.

Address book clutched in hand, we set off to find as many of the recommended stores as we could in the time allotted. After searching for several, we experienced firsthand the logic of Italian numbering. It's possible to find the street names on a map, but the numbers of the buildings are not necessarily sequential. No. 5 was sometimes next to no. 14, with no. 7 on the opposite side of 14, 4, 6 and 8 where nowhere to be found..... you get the picture. The address is more of a suggestion, and not an actual number on the building. I finally actually found one of the stores, but they did not stock any hand marbles; it was more of an invitation store. Even my husband, who has the best sense of direction on the planet, could not make sense of the addresses. There was no there there!

I didn't really want to abandon hope, but things were looking grim and time was running short, so we began to wander around, and soon streets became more familiar looking ... we had been there earlier in the morning on the tour. I looked up and saw the Vini sign pictured in yesterday's post, and I knew we were close to ..... Il Papiro! Yes, there it was! We dashed inside, feeling smug at our good luck in finding it.

The shopkeeper spoke very nice English, and pointed me in the direction of a huge stack of large hand marbled sheets. While I worked my way down the pile, he demonstrated how marbled paper is made, distracting my husband from the growing size of my stack. Here are a few of the choices I made. The patterns are very detailed but have a soft focus quality to them, and the colors are very beautiful. Full sheets were running in the $12-15 range. The store also has nice packets of smaller sheets in assorted sizes; a great way to obtain many patterns and a wide variety of colors.

With my stash of treasures and less than 30 minutes to spare, we made our way back to the meeting point, stopping for a yummy cool gelato on the way. It was hard to say good-bye to Florence, but we were going on to Rome the next day. Or so we thought.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Details, details

In yesterday's post I mentioned how the architectural and other details on the buildings we saw were pretty fascinating all by themselves. As part of our continuing tour of Florence, I'll share a few close-ups with you. All of these items were found attached to, embedded in, or hanging on, buildings around Florence.

The Medici practiced embellishment with a capital E. I took it all in with a great sense of awe and wonder. Who thought of these things, and how did they come to be way up there? (Some of these items are 20 or 30 feet above street level.) Given the large number of tourist heads that block a clear sightline of just about everything at eye level, I was grateful that I could look up from time to time and forever capture just a little moment in Florence on film.

Tomorrow we'll go paper shopping in Florence. Bellissimo!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fun in Florence!

After Monte Carlo, we sailed to Livorno, our first stop in Italy and the port for reaching Pisa and Florence. It would have been cool to see the Leaning Tower, but we opted to spend the full day in Florence instead, as it was our first visit ever to this magnificent city.

Being a tourist in Florence requires a little multitasking. First of all, you are walking all day on cobblestones and uneven bricks down narrow streets, often with little Italian cars and motor scooters whizzing right by your side, so you must pay attention to where you are putting your feet at every step. If you are on a tour, you are likely wearing what the tour guides call "the whisper," a small radio receiver around your neck, and a bluetooth wannabe looking earpiece on your head. To this you must add your camera (assuming you are the designated photographer, as I am), your bottle of water, and your purse or totebag, which must also be under your constant surveillance due to the abundance of pickpockets in heavily populated tourist areas. Whew! Add to this temperatures exceeding 100 degrees fahrenheit, no shady trees or benches, and you get the picture. It's not easy being a tourist.

But that doesn't stop us from coming. Florence was swarming with people at every corner and every attraction; tourists from every country in the world (and not, I might add, a whole lot of Americans this time), bus loads of high school and college age kids, bus loads from the cruise ships, throngs of people everywhere you go. The next time I do Florence (and other cities visited on this trip) I will go before June or after August, when both the crowds and the temperature have dropped to more comfortable levels.

This is the city of the Medici and grand high ornament carried to extreme. I found myself marveling at the architecture of larger structures, but totally captivated by the details. It is also the city of Michaelangelo, Dante, and Galileo and bigger than life sculptures and paintings that look oh, so familiar when you finally see them in real time.

Our day started with a walking tour to the Duomo (main cathedral), past artists' studios and other points of interest until we reached the Medici palace and the Uffizi museum. Adjacent is the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge that crosses the Arno River. Those charming little huts that seem to be stuck to the side of the bridge were the studios of the craftsmen in the days of the Medici rule.

We had some free time in the afternoon and were able to secure tickets to go inside the Uffizi gallery to see the paintings whose lectures I slept through as a freshman in Art History back in the day. (Class started at 8 am; by 8:20, when the lights went down for the slides, pretty much everyone was back to sleep until the lights came up again--guaranteed 40 minute power nap, three times a week.) There were so many, it was a bit overwhelming visually until we invented a little game called "find the book in the painting." And, by golly, we did find one or more books in just about every painting!

After two hours of uber-culture, we went out into the streets in search of paper and more architectural details to photograph. More on these topics tomorrow!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Monte Carlo Malaise

Our first port of call after Barcelona was Monte Carlo in Monaco. The country is so small it is nearly all visible at one glance, only a few miles wide and a mile or so deep, just like Munster, Indiana where I live. This is basically where the rich come to hang out when they just want to be one of the guys. Most of them, however, have vanished for the summer because Monaco, like most of the places we visited, is so awash in tourists it's hard to walk down the street, or even get to your yacht.

We chose to walk up from the dock to the Royal Palace, a trip that involved many, many, many staircases until we leveled off at the top. The city is spotless; no litter or graffiti here; everything, everywhere is freshly painted, neatly trimmed, highly polished, and very lush. This is the point at which you realize how brilliantly blue the Mediterranean is, even more so than the best photographs you've ever seen -- the color is quite remarkable. Flowers grow everywhere here, in an explosion of color across buildings, hillsides, balconies and in parks. I would say I could get used to this type of lifestyle, but I didn't see a single paper store anywhere, so it is definitely not going to work for me.

The palace lines the main square in the heart of town and is a beautiful, classic style building. Daily changing of the guard takes place just before noon; we missed it by a few minutes (it was those last few staircases that did us in) so the guard I photographed was fresh on the job and looking very buff. Other stops included the massive church where Prince Rainier and Princess Grace (Kelly) are buried; the royal crests shown here are engraved on their grave stones.

On a short train ride around town, we saw how the rich air their interesting laundry, and also where they grow those lovely Hermes scarves and handbags (oops, my bad).

Chicago had life size cow sculptures all over town in the 90's; Cincinnat had flying pigs,. Monaco has giant birds, including one on the palace balcony and others in various public spaces.

Monte Carlo is one of those places that makes for a nice day visit, although I don't think I will be going back again anytime soon. Too many other adventures await!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Street Art

Street graffiti and signs in Barcelona are nearly as fascinating as the architecture and market displays. Many of the shops have pull-down doors that have been painted by street artists, making for colorful walks down the side streets in the evening or early morning hours. Here are a few that I photographed, along with a mixture of street signs and commemorative tile plaques adhered to the sides of buildings along the way. Tomorrow's posts will move on to Monte Carlo, so enjoy your last day in Barcelona!