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Sicily Inspires: Baroque Suite at the Palazzo Trigona

I cannot agree with those who say it is unimportant where you stay on holiday. “It’s only where you sleep” they proclaim, while bedding down into a threadbare hostel with more cockroaches than fellow guests. For me, the accommodation acts as a kind of spinal cord of a holiday from which all other experiences branch off; it is the place where the real rest takes place, those moments of marvellous contemplation, and where you can truly feel at home in a strange city. So for me where you stay on holiday is very important, all the more so because these places so often inspire me to paint.

Having started making gouache illustrations of hotels and hotel rooms back on my 2015 honeymoon, I have carried on the tradition in places such as Granada, Rome and Marrakech. And Noto in southern Italy was never going to be an exception, especially when we saw the splendour of the suite in which we found ourselves at the Palazzo Trigona Suites, just next to Noto’s iconic cathedral.

Noto is a city awash with baroque detail and architectural grandeur, and so it felt appropriate that we would be housed in a room which exhibited wonderful high ceilings, a stately black and white chequerboard floor, and all number of design flourishes befitting the period. Such was the grandiosity of the room that we took to playing baroque classical music whenever we were in situ, and against that erudite background I sat down to create this gouache painting.

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Baroque Suite at the Palazzo Trigona (gouache on paper, ©2017, Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Featuring the understated tones of grey and gold which made up the room’s design, as well as that wonderful floor and accompanying furniture, the highlight of the painting is the room’s view, looking onto the Chiesa Madre di San Nicolò Cathedral, the side profile of which dominates the piece. It’s a work which feels very different from my illustrations which have gone before it, which seems about right. After all, there’s no place quite so magnificently, baroquely, like Noto.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

The Sicily Series | Part VI – Noble Noto, treasure of the Baroque

I had heard much about Noto, the small town in the South Eastern corner of Sicily, before going. In fact the promise of a radiant Baroque treasure so intact that it has been granted UNESCO protection was what persuaded me that this would make the perfect base for the second half of our trip to Sicily. Yet as we approached the town, nerves started to take over. Not only were the surrounding landscapes devoid of civilisation, but the immediate outskirts of the town were anything but baroque. However there came a point when we crossed the brow of a hill and suddenly the landscape transformed; when what stood before us was an urban panorama which literally dazzled. Here was a horizon peppered with cupolas and embellished roof tops, with extravagant decoration and exquisite carvings. But above all things one imbedded with glowing tones of a creamy honey coloured yellow. This was the notorious Noto to which all the guidebooks had referred.

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Built in the early 1700s almost entirely in one go when the former town of Noto was destroyed by an earthquake, the Noto we see today is inherently characterised by the baroque fashions which dictated its construction. The result is a town almost perfectly intact in its baroque splendour. Every building is elaborated with architectural flourishes, with putti and angels, with classical columns and vast sweeping staircases. But while the Baroque of Catania is darkened through the use of Etna stone, Noto’s constructions are luminescent in their creamy vanilla yellow turning a deeper shade of gold.

Thus the town glows and dazzles like a jeweller’s window or an architectural showroom from another century. But beyond its obvious splendour, it is a town which feels alive with a spirit of recreational indulgence and amenable sociability. As the sun descended each day, the swallows would swoop through the air, and the temperatures fell to a more bearable level. In this moment, Noto’s principle Corso Vittorio Emanuele would become  a veritable magnet to residents and tourists alike.

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As the great caramelised sun descended, the stone of Noto transformed into a heavenly shade of creamy ochre, and the best way in which to enjoy la bella vita was to sit in sidewalk cafes, sip on an affogato al cafe or drink a sparkling prosecco. Reclining back in the evening sun, the great silhouette of Noto’s grand spectacles warming the eye, it was truly possible to bask in the town’s reflected glory, and to become as resplendently baroque as the ravishingly theatrical town itself.

 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

The Sicily Series | Part V – The views that put Taormina on the map

Despite the chic which characterises the burgeoning boutique-lined streets and bustling café-filled piazzas of Sicily’s Taormina, the attraction which really put the town on the map was in situ long before the fashionistas took up residence. For the picture-postcard undisputed highlight of Taormina is its ancient Greek Theatre, a stone semi-circular auditorium which benefits from a stunning altitude which gives its stage the most enviable of backdrops of the sea, the coast and the magnificent silhouette of Mount Etna beyond.

Taormina’s Ancient Theatre

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Imagine the scene: a balmy summer’s night, a bustling old theatre, a chorus of masked greek players performing Antigone or Media, and beyond, the silhouette of Etna, cloud slowly smoking from its crater like a wise old onlooker smoking a pipe in the distance. Yes your bottom might be a little sore from the stone seats, but imagine the view, and the naturally occurring brilliant acoustics which somehow manage to transport the voice of the actors on the stage to the very highest seat, despite there being no speakers nor modern day technological intervention. Sadly our trip to Taormina’s theatre did not coincide with one of the festivals when this magnificent theatre is put back to use, but that did nothing to dispel the magic of the place which was omnipotent across its ancient structure.

But the ancient theatre is not the only place from which Taormina’s trademark views can be enjoyed. From the Municipal Gardens, crafted as they were by Florence Trevelyan along another ridge of high hillside, the views of Etna and the coast are uninterrupted, and delightfully framed by the bounty of cypress trees and pines, flowers and topiary which fills the happily verdant gardens.

The Municipal Gardens

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Taormina’s location is undoubtedly the reason for its historical roots and its current popularity, and views are by far the town’s most ravishing feature. But ultimately it’s the happy combination of history, views, boutique shopping and café-culture-comfort which makes the town such a pleasure to visit. After all, what better way is there to contemplate a view than with an aperol spritz in one hand, and a few bags of shopping in the other?

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

The Sicily Series | Part IV – Beaching at Isola Bella

I am something of a lucky Mediterranean beach regular. Whether it be hanging out on the beaches of the Costa del Sol at my parents’ house, or whiling away the hours during almost 3 years residency on the stunning island of Mallorca, the beach and I have become firm friends. I was even born by the sea in England, and lived by the coast my whole pre-adult life. But every beach, and every coast has its own character, never more so than the Italian Riviera which is synonymous with carefully raked sand, striped umbrellas, and sunbeds usefully fitted with a kind of head shade contraption. Genius. I don’t spend all that much time on Italian beaches, so it was with some delight that I passed some brief hours on the beach of Isola Bella, the stunning little semi-circular inlet which, as the name suggests, has a “beautiful island” at its centre. That island, rumoured to have once been the home of long term English Taormina resident, Florence Trevelyan, is today a natural habitat, but retains a cute little house and a pebbly walkway which, when the tide is low, allows access to those beachgoers wanting a stroll around a mysterious feature of this otherwise very Italian beach.

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Having explored the island ourselves, a venture which required a carefully balanced walk across countless pebbles and the urgent purchase of jelly shoes to protect our battered feet soles, we spent the rest of our time on this beach lounging amongst striped umbrellas aplenty, reading calmly as the sound of waves gently nudged the shore, and best of all, breaking for lunch, where a beach side café served up grilled squid with a picture perfect view of the sea from whence it came. However perhaps my favourite experience at this splendid Sicilian beach came not from our daytime sampling, but from a walk at night, when the hoards had gone, and only the moonlight remained, casting an eerie silvery glow upon Trevelyan’s island sanctuary and the calmly rippling waters. Lying on the pebbles, feeling the heat of the day slowly reflect off their surface, and listening to the water and is popped and sploshed against the larger rocks made for one of the most memorable, and romantic, moments of our trip. It wasn’t so much the time for admiring the beauty of this beach, but one in which the senses of sound and smell were tantalised like never before.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Sicily Inspires: Cubist landscape at Mazzarò Bay

When I am in the Mediterranean, when I even think about it from afar, artistic inspiration stirs inside me like a typhoon whipped up by a storm. The smells, colours, sights and sensation of the Mediterranean combine to create a heady mix of cerulean-tinted sea-perfumed reflections which move me to make art. And while some of the results may be small little landscapes like this one, painted on an A4 pad of white paper with a box of travel gouaches, they capture with them a small piece of the experience.

This landscape, with its mix of simplified cubist forms and unfussy geographical outlines, falls broadly within my series of hotel-room captures, but also resembles the early interpretative landscapes I first conceived while on holiday on the Amalfi Coast. Showing the beautiful bay of Mazzarò which sits just below the hill-top gem of Taormina, this was the ravishing view which we got to enjoy daily from our rented apartment just above the beach front. While the flat was not a front line seaside property, it benefitted from the most stunning prospect – even the surrounding houses appeared to frame the view in a way which made the seascape all the more precious.

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Cubist Landscape at Mazzarò Bay (©2017 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

This was a work I started as soon as we arrived on Mazzarò Bay and which was quickly finished in situ. After all, seduced as we were by the house and by its location, we spent a good many hours either reflecting upon the sea or holed up in the luscious back garden. Happily we had 4 days to enjoy those magical surroundings. It was a time we wished could have continued for far longer.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

The Sicily Series | Part III – Taormina Town

From the dusty, bustling and chaotic streets of Catania, we moved upwards and outwards along Sicily’s Eastern Coast to the popular tourist town of Taormina. Situated in a delightful apartment by the sea, which benefitted from both an extensive green garden, full of lizards and ferns, and an incredible sea view over the beach of Mazzaró, we were only metres from the cable car station which led us straight to Taormina, perched upon its rocky heights. There was something about the quaint little cable cars which took us up from the coast to this ancient town which reminded very heavily of the set-up in Capri, and indeed the town of Taormina also had something of the Capri style about it.

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While the popularity of the town of Taormina has very much hinged upon the presence of its stunning Greek theatre and its dramatic Etna backdrop (more about that next time), no doubt the heritage of having taken its rightful place as a stop on the Grand Tours of old has contributed to the somewhat classy breed of tourism which characterises Taormina today. Of course you’ll see the odd inappropriately vested tourist ambling along the salubrious Corso Umberto, but you’ll also notice that he looks out of place. For today’s Taormina is a town of quaint old streets and pricey boutiques, of people-watching cafes and streets adorned with fountains and churches and marbled pavements. In short, everything that in combination makes for my favourite kind of holiday destination.

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So the town of Taormina very quickly became our favourite Sicilian haunt, to enjoy an Aperol Spritz, to listen to the many street musicians frequently assembled, to watch as the milky afternoon sunshine bounced of glittering carts serving gelato and granita di limone, and to admire the breathtaking views which offered a vista across the long Eastern coast, sprawling hillsides and of course the mighty silhouette of Etna beyond. The photos on this page offer something of the wonderful atmosphere of Taormina. A place to see, and to be seen in.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

My Sicily Sketchbook: Bellini’s Fountain, Catania

It’s been a while since I last opened the pages of my travel sketchbook. I believe the last time was in sunny Granada, almost one year ago, when I sat in Andalucian cafes, happily sketching away at views of the Alhambra and the rooftops of the Albayzín. In fact part of the problem (asides from a vast international house move from which I am still recovering) is the fact that with my last sketch, I filled the final page of my first travel sketchbook, and there was something about starting a new volume which I found daunting, especially because this one is a sexy Fabriano sketchbook, with a ravishing red cover designed to resemble the tiles of San Marco’s basilica in Venice.

But as I suppose was inevitable, it was the bright light and the perfumed air of the Mediterranean which had me taking out my sketching pens once again to create this first creation of my new travel sketchbook vol.2. This deliciously baroque fountain, with four handsome dolphins spitting water across a round stone pool, sits at the centre of the Piazza Vincenzo Bellini in the heart of Catania, Sicily. Celebrating the life of Catania’s favourite son, opera composer Vincenzo Bellini, the Piazza is also the location of the resplendent Teatro Bellini, which can be seen to the right of the fountain.

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Bellini’s Fountain, Catania (©2017, Nicholas de-Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Requiring an awful lot of details and the challenge of drawing water to boot, this sketch was my first lesson in how tricky the baroque details of Sicily can prove. But it made for an enjoyable and meditative experience, and is a welcome first page of my new travel sketchbook.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

The Sicily Series | Part II – La Pescheria, Soul of the City

You can smell Catania’s famous daily fish market, Le Pescheria, long before you approach it… that unmistakable smell of the sea tinged by an ever so decipherable pungency of putrid flesh together with the fresh zing of lemon, the fragrant perfume of fresh herbs and the pure scent of water, the neutral base note which both reflects and is imbued with the distinctive nature of the surrounding area. In Catania, that is a smell which is characterised by the scorching heat absorbed into and evaporating off the dark lava stone walls of its ancient Etna-born palazzos. Follow the scent, past the resplendent Baroque Duomo, and you find yourself in Catania’s burgeoning and frankly raucous market, starting with the abundance of locally caught fish, and spreading outward into the streets beyond where stalls loaded with fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, bread and cheeses populate every spare inch of the pavements.

The famous fish market

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I have been to many wonderful European markets. Each have their own character, and every one of them is utterly captivating for the breadth of fresh produce and characterful salesmen. But Catania’s market feels more historical and more authentic than any I have visited. Gathered together among the foundations of ancient Roman ruins and decaying Medieval walls, the stalls of the fish market are collectively transportative, with the power to recall the bustle of a Roman Forum or a scene from the Renaissance. The market takes us back to the roots of modern civilisation, stripping back our senses to a basic appreciation of nature at its best: enviably fresh fish, sensationally plump vegetables, none of them the result of quality control but a product of nature’s caprice. And beyond the produce, perhaps the best thing about Catania’s market is its people, the fishermen and stall holders who are so full of passion, who will declare strong and loud that their fish is the best, outdoing one another to see who can attract the most attention, and secure the quickest sales of their freshly acquired catch.

To be accompanied by some super-fresh fruit and veg… (and cheese)

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All of this combines to make a visit to Catania’s market an ultimately thrilling experience, full of noise, of smells, and of colour; shades of pink and red and green and blue whose vibrancy truly shines against a backdrop of black lava stone. This is street theatre at its thrilling best, as fishermen slice open slithering fish and proudly display their decapitated fish heads while elegantly dressed women totter in heels, neatly stepping over pools of water stained with blood. Catania is a city with real spirit and an abundance of outwardly expressed emotion, but it is perhaps in its market where Catania’s soul truly resonates.

…and some more fish

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

The Sicily Series | Part I – Catania, Black City

Over the last few weeks, the Daily Norm was all about Marrakech, and the highly spiced rose city will resonate long in the minds of Norms and the Daily Norm writer. But now this blog has headed back to European shores, albeit not far from the desert sands of Morocco. For one of the Mediterranean’s most southern points, and its largest island, is the Italian island of Sicily, known for some as the ball being carefully nudged by the point of Italy’s toe. Famous for its volcanoes, its mafia, its voluminous seafood and rolling agricultural land, for its ruins and its baroque splendour, Sicily is a veritable melting pot of historical and cultural highlights, and the perfect location for any aesthete on holiday.

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But Sicily is a large island and we would be pushed to do it all in the time available. So with only a little over a week at our disposal, we concentrated our energies on the Eastern coast, and the lands above and beneath the mighty shadow of Mount Etna, one of Europe’s most active and prominent volcanoes. With its proximity to Greece as well as Italy, the Eastern side of Sicily is one heavily characterised by a history of both Greek as well as Roman civilisations, not to mention the Arabic and Spanish influences which also made their mark during their respective occupations. All of these influences were clear to see upon our first stop in Sicily, in its second biggest city and the tenth largest in Italy: Catania.

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Both the scale of this bustling city, as well as its historical and geographical influences were immediate upon arrival in Catania. Bracing ourselves behind the wheel of an all-too-new hire care, our first encounter with Catania was with its wild roads, filled with drivers, irritated by the heat and paying little attention to generally accepted driving rules. Mercifully unscathed, it was only when we parked that we were able to calmly appreciate Catania, a city whose roads seemed to stretch off into an eternity of traffic jams sparkling like slowly moving jewels, whose streets are crammed with more churches than there are shops, and whose landscape is rendered tiny by comparison with the mighty silhouette of Etna which is omnipresent in the background, wherever you look.

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For me, Catania was a city with much of the hectic disorder of Naples, but with the refinements of Rome. It is one characterised by the breadth of its architectural splendour, from frequently arising Roman and Greek remains squeezed between more modern houses, to the exquisite quality of its baroque architecture. And above all, it is one which has earned its epithet: “black city”, forged as it is from the lava stone which nearby Etna has regularly granted the city, Surprisingly hard but tellingly cratered, the lava stone from which Catania is built is a true testament to this city’s unavoidable relationship with its nearby volcano – both the source of its wealth, and the constant threat of its destruction.

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Perhaps it is this vulnerability which gives Catania the undeniable spirit which pervades it. Its residents can be excused for living by the ethos: carpe diem. After all, Etna is continuinuously erupting, and no one can ever be sure just when the next large eruption will reach this heavily inhabited Sicilian city. So seize the day we certainly did, passing 24 hectic hours in Catania in what was a relentless conveyor of churches, coffees, aperol spritz and lots of pasta. And what a great beginning to our Sicily trip it was!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

The Colours of Marrakech, Part 6: Sunset Fuchsia

Marrakech is a city so abundant in its palette of colour that I have been able to successfully craft my tale of our trip there by reference to its vastly diverse tonality. Starting with the rose colour which characterises the city walls and the majority of its ancient buildings, and exploring the golden ochre of its crumbling palaces and the stunning blue of the Marjorelle Gardens, my colour-focused posts reached a peak when they entered the multi-coloured world of the Souks which beat at the heart of Marrakech’s ancient medina. But to end the set, it felt appropriate to go back to the pink hues which started it all, not least because this specific shade of pink was cast at the end of the day, when the sun cast a glorious new hue over the city.

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While the city is most definitely pink, it was enchanting to watch how that pink developed and transformed as the various stages of the day unfurled. In the morning the pink was dusky and pale as it warmed up gradually with the rising of the sun. At midday the baking sun made the pink luminescent, fiery and peach like. And when the odd cloud came over, the pink was more mauve and moody. But only once did we see the greatest transformation of all. It was after a huge storm ended the day, refreshing us all, but casting a fierce spectacle of rain and lightening across the city. Just as it was nearing its end, the sun plummeted to a level beneath the clouds and as it did so, its refracted light reflected off the clouds and back down onto the city to create a vivid kind of fuchsia pink lighting which literally filled the city. The result was almost eery, as spaces such as our Riad, which were decorated by a very pure white marble, were immersed in a beautiful shade of cherry-blossom. It was almost as though the clouds had rained rosé wine, and we were all swimming in their fruity waters.

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The drama and the beauty of the moment was one I will long remember, and is a fitting tribute to this incredible trip, a journey which tantalised each of my senses to a degree never experienced before.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.