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Posts from the ‘Travel’ Category

My Travel Sketchbook: Naples

Many berate Naples for being a filthy city; strewn with graffiti, laden down by crime, full of waifs and strays wandering the menacing dark streets until visitors are so scared they depart swiftly on a ferry for Capri…Are such concerns an illusion? For me, the madness of Napoli is what makes the city so enduring alluring. Yes, it’s somewhat tragic that the local authorities turn a blind eye to the relentless street art and vandalism coating some of Italy’s most beautiful baroque palazzi. But look beyond it, and you will find a city as architecturally rich as Rome or Palermo, with countless sources of visual spectacle.

So when it came to flicking over the pages of my sketchbook from Pompeii to this great city, I was once again spoiled for choice. I settled upon a location that we discovered when we were in search of Naples’ undisputed masterpiece – Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of MercyThe painting’s location, in the Pio Monte della Misericordia is right opposite one of Naples’ smallest but most beautfiul squares, the Piazza Sisto Riario Sforza, in the centre of which stands a structure of breathtaking baroque beauty… the Obelisco di San Gennaro. And here it was that I settled down to sketch.

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Obelisco di San Gennaro (©2019 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

It was an ambitious composition to choose to be sure. During the hours of sketching which proceeded, I secretly cursed all of those elaborate baroque embellishments which made the scene such a challenge to draw. I also didn’t realise at the time that the stunning domed structure which can be seen in the distance is the cupola of Naples’ Duomo. So a significant scene to sketch indeed. And at the end of my many baroque-induced struggles, I must say that I am pretty pleased with the result.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2019. 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 

From Napoli to Capri, Part 4: Catacombs, Chiara, Caravaggio

More than any other district of the city, the Spaccanapoli embodies the spirit of a city emboldened by its own insuperable energy, history and cultural superiority. In Napoli, city of dangerous extremes, crimes of passion, astonishing food and stunning geography, the Spaccanapoli feels like the ancient core of a time-battered city, like the old family grandmother ticking along besides the central hearth. It is an area whose quaint narrow streets are intermittently broken by staggering baroque palazzi; which has so many squares and churches and historical buildings that it feels like an open air museum; but whose array of shops and cafes, all overflowing with locals, demonstrates that this is no still life for the tourists: this is the living, breathing heart of a city which never stops.

But for all the life that courses through its streets, Naples is a city that is morbidly fascinated with death. Whether this obsession acts more like a memento mori – a reminder to seize the day and live to the full (which Neapolitans almost certainly do) is unclear. Whatever the reason, I have never before experienced a place quite so haunted by the ghosts of its past, and by the creepy presence of the dead.

 The Catacombs of San Gaudioso

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This was no more so than in the Catacombs of San Gaudioso, a dark cavernous place accessible only through a secret trap door in the Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanita. There, in the depths of this once historical burial place, the tombs of the dead were marked not only by painted images of their former selves, but by their real skulls embedded into the wall. Meanwhile, downstairs, the alcoves still remain where bodies would be propped to be drained of their liquid selves, before being buried as a decidedly reduced form.

San Gaudioso was spooky to be sure, but offered a fascinating insight into Naples’ extensive underworld. Back in the sunlight, an oozingly cheesy pumpkin and pancetta pizza in the Piazza del Gesù reinvigorated any spirits which might have been temporarily subdued in the world of the dead, and gave us nourishment and energy in sufficient doses to appreciate the magnificence of two staggering places of worship in the heart of the Spaccanapoli – the Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo, with its diamond-like facade and its staggering golden interior, and the mesmerising Cloisters of Santa Chiara.

The Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo

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In Santa Chiara, in particular, we were stunned into submission by the mastery and magnificence which a garden filled with hand-painted majolica tiles embodied. Each depicting pastoral scenes, fruits and floral patterns, the overall effect was dazzling, and was to be a fitting precursor to the many beautiful majolica tiles we were to find decorating the floors of so many homes and hotels in Capri.

The Cloisters of Santa Chiara

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But it was back into the gloom for the end of the day… albeit a gloom punctuated by the staggering light created by the undisputed master of light and shadow: Caravaggio. I have long wanted to see his masterpiece, The Seven Works of Mercy, in person. After all, I have traipsed across Europe admiring so much of the oeuvre of this incredible bad-boy< artist. But as is always the case with a Caravaggio painting, properly lit and embedded within the surroundings he intended, seeing this work in the Pio Monte della Misericordia was quite an experience, and once which was a fitting conclusion for this exhilarating day in the Spaccanapoli.

Caravaggio in the flesh

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.

From Napoli to Capri, Part 3: It Continued in Naples

See Naples and die, or so they say… well I suppose we all have to die at some point, but the sight of Naples will not be the thing that finishes me off. For with its fantastic tangle of mad urban bustle, its multi-layered, jam-packed and over-constructed landscapes, its fiery hot-blooded temperament, and its mix of the baroque extravaganza with graffiti-strewn slum, Naples is to my mind a city to see, to experience and to savour.

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After the historical still-life that we experienced in Pompeii, we thirsted for something more akin to modern day madness. And where better to find it than in Naples, the city that never sleeps, never tires, but bustles with all the energy of its rather unstable tectonic foundations. So on this second day of our Naples adventure, we took to the streets of the Spaccanapoli, the Vomero, the Via Toledo and the Decumano Maggiore, each regions of a city exuding more character than I did sweat in the searing heat of day.

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From vast churches and convents to spooky catacombs and cocktail bars, we covered an awful lot as we continued our tour of Naples. But let us savour those characterful streets for now. This post concentrates on the fabric of the city, on those splendid baroque spectacles, on the multi-layered cityscapes constructed of palazzo upon pauper’s house, on the cramped shops selling sfogliatelli, and the cafes whose steaming hot terraces proved to be the perfect place for an extra strong negroni. See Naples… and live!

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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 Travel Sketchbook: Pompeii

How could I not take my travel sketchbook out with me on this trip? With antiquity abound, stunning scenery and the ancient city of Naples splayed out before me, I could have sketched non-stop. Sadly, time never allows for such a frequency of activity. But it did allow for this sketch of a pile of ruins in Pompeii.

Pompeii is the kind of place which lends itself to monochrome sketching at every turn. With so many ruins, textures, half-battered statues, discarded pots and mosaics (to name but a few features), all set against a backdrop of mountains and that ubiquitous Vesuvius, I was spoilt for choice in my decision of where to open my sketchbook. In the end I opted for this place – a pile of rubble towards the exit of the archaeological site, which appeared to lack the significance attributed to some areas, but which had one very striking highlight at its heart – a magnificent bronze nude, rising from the rubble and set against a staggering mountainous panorama.

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Pompeii Ruins (©2019 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

The statue itself is a modern addition to Pompeii, but by no means an unwelcome one, embodying the spirit of the place but providing a startling green/ bronze contrast to the monochrome colour of rubble and ruins. Of course the colours cannot be appreciated from this sketch in black pen, but the variance of topography it provides is what, for me, makes the landscape, and the composition of this sketch, interesting.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2019. 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 

From Napoli to Capri, Part 2: Pompeii

Pompeii: It’s a story which almost everybody knows, an eruption of such violent magnitude that it has fascinated writers, artists, poets and film-makers throughout the ages, making it a volcanic event more famous than any other. But the reason why Pompeii is so famous is not because of the eruption that destroyed a city in AD79, but because of the ghost of the city that was left behind. For beneath the ashes, the pumice and the multiple strata of volcanic material emerges the perfect footprint of a true Roman town, that gives us a compelling glimpse into the world of ancient Rome, its town planning, society and its people.

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Today’s Pompeii is deeply romantic. The remnants of this ancient world, cast in semi-dereliction but clinging onto mere glimpses of its fully resplendent past, are tinged with the melancholia of the romantic imagination, as weeds and wildflowers grown amongst rubble and the remains of once grand palaces and temples. It all feels rather like a idyllic pastiche from an 18th century imagined landscape… one half expects a giggling maid to sweep into the scene on a flower-strung swing tied onto a nearby tree, her rococo dress shimmering in the setting sun.

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Yet beneath the beauty of decay lies a far sadder truth – the reality of Pompeii’s end. Time is healer, but we should not forget how the people of Pompeii met their end: in an agony of excruciating burning and suffocation as the scalding gases of a pyroclastic surge swept through the town literally boiling people to death. It would have been a truly horrific way to die. Reminders of this cruel ending are all around in Pompeii: figures cast from plaster and created from the vacuum left in layers of volcanic ash as bodies have withered away demonstrate people contorted in pain, their hands rolled into tight fists as their bodies flex against the searing heat and agony, lovers clinging to one another, parents embracing their child in a final embrace.

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It was this tragic demise, and reminders of Pompeii’s daily life in the form of takeaway food bars, piles of bottles, jewellery, brothels, theatres and houses, which filled my mind as we visited Pompeii one very hot afternoon last June. True, I was fascinated by this ancient Roman world which we had so easily and transformatively stepped into. But I was also struck by the great tragedy which this vast archaeological site represents, and by the great irony that without the scale and extent of that vast eruption and its tragic consequences, we would never have had the opportunity to so totally immerse ourselves in a rare slice of the ancient world. For that alone we must be happy.

These are some of my photos from our day, in Pompeii.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.

Honeymoon and Hotels: Mareluna Napoli

Four years ago, I started what was to become a collection of gouache images of hotels. From my first image painted during our honeymoon, of our pretty pink little bedroom in the ravishing Colombe d’Or Hotel in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, with the iconic Calder mobile visible through the window and my painting tools spread on the wooden desk, a story of images was born – images which have since gone on the capture countless bedrooms and views from the many incredible hotels which have played host to us on our holidays.

As we arrived in Naples and looked onto the most ravishing views of the sea and the Castel dell’Ovo, I knew that the next chapter in my narrative of honeymoon and hotels was just around the corner, and I painted this work: Mareluna Napol, named after the hotel of the same name.

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Mareluna Napoli (©2019 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

This small painting is no traditional capture of the Neapolitan landscape, but in its haphazardness drunkenness, vivacity and freshness of colour, and that centralised seaside view, it is a very much a homage to Naples. All that is missing is a pizza! But true to form, this is very much an image of our hotel room in the Mareluna Suite de Charme, whose wooden floor and ceiling contrasted dramatically with the fresh white walls and retro curved plastic ceiling light, while its wrought iron balcony so perfectly framed that resplendent view in all its Mediterranean majesty.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.

From Napoli to Capri, Part 1: It Started in Naples

Just like the opening scenes of our favourite Sophia Loren/ Clark Gable film, It Started in Naples (1960), our magnificent trip from Napoli to Capri also began in Naples, on the Bay of Naples in fact. And in parallel with the first scene of that film, our first view of Naples was over the iconic Castel dell’Ovo with the silhouette of the mighty Vesuvius looming up behind it, and the silky blue waters of the Mediterranean sea flowing in around it.

This was to be the beginning of a mighty adventure in what must be one of the most beautiful areas of the world; a stretch of mountainous, fertile, stunning scenery full of contrast: from the bustling, sometimes menacing but beautiful Campanian capital of Naples, to the tranquil paradise of Ischia, and the fashionista’s paradise of Capri.

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Yet it all started in Naples, and that opening scene was framed, liked the most dramatic of theatrical montages, by the drapery of curtains and a proscenium arch, namely the window (and balcony) of our very own room with a view. That room was to be enjoyed at the Mareluna Suite de Charme, a charming little boutique hotel stationed on the first floor of an old Neapolitan palazzo, and from there, we could indulge in the daily blockbuster of the Bay of Naples awakening, the sea glistening, and the outline of Capri emerging out of the mist of the horizon, while in the closer foreground, locals would take a morning dip in the warm waters, and chat/ yell along the seaside promenade.

That same scene was to occupy a prominent place in our admiration of Naples, and this first, photographic post from our holiday is something of a prologue to the story that will follow. It is a collection of our first impressions – the view by sunset, and in the morning; the nearby Castel dell’Ovo and the Port of Santa Lucia, and the tenement blocks clinging precariously to steep hillsides nearby. And of course that looming, dramatic shadow of Vesuvius, an omnipresent backdrop to a city which thrives on its fertile soils, but is always living on the edge of disaster, knowing that a volcanic end is, like the sword of Damocles, a constant and real risk.

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Perhaps the presence of Vesuvius is why Naples feels both dangerous but alive, full of hot fiery tempers but a tangible vivacity for life. It’s a feeling which energises Naples, and makes it one of the most interesting cities to visit in Italy. Come back soon to the Daily Norm, to find out what happened when we made Naples our base for a few days.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.

One day in Ferrara

Medici, Farnese, Sforza, Borgia, Visconti, della Rovere... these are the names which dominated the Italian Renaissance… another is Este, one of whom, Alfonso I, was to marry the infamous Lucrezia Borgia. Together they moved to the Este stronghold in the city of Ferrara, nestled in the rolling pastures of Emilia Romagna in Northern Italy. And that’s exactly where we headed when, earlier last month, we returned to our beloved Bologna.

Situated just 45km of Bologna’s twin towered metropolis, Ferrara is a small city which packs a historical punch but which could easily be missed. Arriving by train to surroundings so penurious as to inspire fear rather than awe, you might wonder whether the place is worth visiting at all. Yet as with so many Italian towns, buried at the heart of this one is an old city gem which represents the perfect manifestation of its historical past and which is quite the match of its better known neighbours, Bologna, Verona, Milan…

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At the heart of it all, the Castello Estense is an imposing castle from fairytale lore, with four imposing bastions and a water-filled moat encircling the complex with all the romance of ancient chivalry. As the name suggests, this was the home of the Famiglia d’Este, and as we wondered from room after frescoed room, we could imagine the imposing touch of the magnificent Lucrezia dominating her new martial home, picking perhaps at at fragrant blossom which filled a terrace abundant in orange trees. But with their floral bouquet the romance ended – the castle is an otherwise austere and imposing space, and rightfully so given its role to protect one of Italy’s most important families. Outside – another imposing figure lies in wait: a statue of Savonarola, the apocalyptic friar who set himself against the indulgences of the Borgia pope, and burned the excesses of Florentines in scenes which have implanted themselves on history.

Having ventured through the Castello and avoided the icy glare of Savonarola, we wandered down the road to another Este palace – the Palazzo dei Diamanti – named after the characteristic bugnato of its exterior walls, created from some 8500 pieces of marble carved to represent diamonds. The visual effect of the exterior is certainly striking, while inside, today’s National Gallery makes for an interior replete with artistic treasures: on the occasion of our visit, we were able to enjoy an exhibition of the stunning Boldini, painter of society women and magnificent 19th century fashions.

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Ferrara is famous also for its Gothic cathedral, boasting as it does one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in all of Italy. Sadly, for us, it was covered by scaffolding, so this treasure at least had to be saved for another day. Instead, just meandering around the tightly packed, bustling little old streets and enjoying multi-layered views of campanile and cafeteria, and feasting upon the pumkin filled pasta parcels which are unique to the region, was sufficient to prove why Ferrara is a UNESCO protected city, and one not to be missed when you are in the area.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.

Norms in Cambridge // Punting on the River Cam

If the battle between Oxford and Cambridge was to be determined by the choice of the Norms, it looks like the latter may have won it. For here we see that the Norms have ventured as far as Cambridge where, on the delightful River Cam, they are idling their way through the afternoon on punts and pastures, picnicking, relaxing and generally enjoying life like a scene from a pointillist landscape by Seurat.

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Norms punting in Cambridge ©2019 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper

Upon closer examination, one can see that a fair few of the Norms have a glass in hand or a bottle nearby. But then this is a university town, where hard work is followed swiftly by revel and play. The Norms have decided to skip the former stage and move straight onto the reveling. And why not? For as far as summertime indulgence goes, there aren’t many places better than Cambridge to do it.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2019. Unauthorised 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.

Oxford-v-Cambridge: Gardens of Eden

My post about the discovery of the secret garden of Peterhouse College in Cambridge will have left none of you in any doubt about my love for the gardens of Oxbridge. Be they less secret, the formal quads and extensive grounds of all the sprawling colleges are no less of a treat to behold. While my previous post concentrated on the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, today I’m focusing in on the gardens which transform those places of learning into havens of tranquility. How life studying in these flower-filled Edens must differ from the smog-filled campus of my London university!

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As is evident from the photos I am sharing, we visited when the gardens of both Oxford and Cambridge were at their floral best. While my visit to Oxford was earlier in the year, and therefore decorated with the happy nodding heads of yellow daffodils and cautiously opening blossom, by the time of our April trip to Cambridge, tulips were abundant in a panoply of ravishingly colour, while blossom trees seemed to test the limits of their own staggering colour as they exploded in shades of arresting fuchsia pink.  Sloping green lawns, many alongside rivers and waterways, lushly demonstrate Britain’s great love of green and pleasant pastures, while extensive oaks and willow trees suggested through age that they had born witness to many a famous student passing through these grounds.

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The presence of students quietly working in most of these gardens is evidence of their importance in providing the perfect level of concentration and tranquility to aid study and well-being. I only hope that study gives way to an unbridled appreciation of these magnificent grounds once the books are closed.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.