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Posts from the ‘2017’ Category

Marseille to Marbella, Part III: Waterfront Renaissance

The shady reputation which has dogged Marseille for years was, at least in part, shaken off in the run up to 2013 when the epithet of European Cultural Capital for the year prompted France to pull put all the stops to initiate a revolutionary new look for a waterfront in decay. Sweeping away much of the city’s industrialised port, and making magnificent new use of the ancient stone fortresses which stand like a gateway to the city and recall the age of Dumas and the Count of Monte Cristo, the city embarked on an architectural and cultural renaissance which has reinvented the city’s place on Europe’s artistic map.

MuCEM and the Fort St-Jean

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The result is a new waterfront which combines a freshly gentrified old neighbourhood with the implantation of stunning new architecture to produce a dazzling display of cultural verve immediately alongside the Mediterranean sea. Central to the architectural revolution is the Musée des Civilisation dÉurope et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM), a masterly conjoining of a Rudy Ricciotti’s striking modern cube, covered from top to bottom with what looks like a giant lace mantilla, and, across a vertiginous narrow footbridge, the restored Fort St Jean, which today is awash with Mediterranean inspired gardens and striking sculpture. This combination of ancient and modern works surprisingly well. Both buildings are imposing and structural, but in their newly polished finish look dazzling, particularly at night. Next door to MuCEM another striking addition is the Villa Méditerranée, featured in Stefano Boaeri’s striking cantilevered construction which appears to defy gravity as it bends horizontally across a pool of Mediterranean water. 

The Villa Méditerranée and MuCEM by night

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But this waterfront would not be complete without the church which stands guardian over it all: the Cathédrale de la Major. Wedged between the sea and the district of Le Panier, the imposing 19th century structure looks like a cross between the Sacre Coeur in Paris, and Santa Maria Novella in Firenze. It’s stripes stone construction seems to echo the typical dress of Riviera beach goers, while adding a touch of elegant sobriety to this newly revolutionised cultural hub.

The Cathédrale de la Major

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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.

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Marseille to Marbella, Part II: Le Panier

It’s a story which is far from unique: European city, ravaged by the horrors of war, its architectural and cultural heritage trampled into dust by the unforgiving swathe of brutal violence – territory grabs without sensitivity nor foresight, all in the name of victory. Many of Europe’s ancient treasures were destroyed this way, when mass invasions and forced occupations brought with them a path of historical vandalism from which a full recovery has never been made. And Marseille is no exception. For on on the old Vieux Port, only the Renaissance style Hotel de Ville and the Hotel de Gabre remain as a reminder of what the grand old Marseille waterfront would have been in its golden age. The rest was cleared in mass explosions executed by Nazi occupiers who feared the uncontrollable warren of Marseille’s ancient streets, and the potential for hiding in them the “undesirables” they sought to eradicate.

And so, of this uniquely charismatic area of ancient Marseille, Le Panier, only the upper town remains today. Its previous quaint waterside was eradicated in one devastating act of destruction, only to be replaced by the horribly charmless art deco apartment blocks which remain to this day. Yet behind the port, up on the slopes of ancient Marseille, the old core of Le Panier remains, the merciful survivor of Nazi occupation, and clear example of how the city would at one time have looked.

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The streets of Le Panier carry a lazy, bohemian milieu characterised by a clearly artistic streak and a decidedly gritty, urban edge. Streets lined by painted shutters and washing hung out to dry are also decorated by large graffiti murals which give an indication of the creatively rebellious inhabitants who occupy the area. Steep slopes give way to quaint restaurants, and the area’s bars and shops are simple and unassuming. Streets are unplanned, cobbled and hilly, but they bare the signs of centuries of unceremonious habitation – the cracks of age and the scars of competing modes of expression.

While resembling something of the charm that the surrounding area of Provence exudes in bucket loads, Le Panier is as authentically urban as it gets. This is the hard edge to the Riviera’s soft, lavender-scented tourist-friendly facade, and is a quintessential representation of a modern Mediterranean city anchored in its history.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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.

Marseille to Marbella, Part I: Downtown City

Marseille is one of those cities that’s got a bit of a reputation. Like Naples and Palermo, (and even Barcelona before its Olympics regeneration), Marseille is characterised by an idyllic location which has been both its enemy and its friend. For with popularity has also come rapid growth, and the result is an uncontrolled urban sprawl where street crime has taken the place of riviera recreation, and the high temperatures have combined with a generalised lethargy to improve what are often grave social divides and ever evident crime and economic issues. Yet for all that, Marseille is a city with an undeniable arresting quality; which is so historically wealthy and with so vibrant and diverse a population that you cannot help but be mesmerised.

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Such is Marseille, France’s second city, and in many respects like Paris by the sea, except that in Marseille the social divide is perhaps even more visible. Here, Haussmann mansions have been given a graffiti facelift, and where the Seine would cut through Paris with all its luxuriant wateriness, in Marseille the sea, and all its accompanying ship building industrial heritage and fishing paraphernalia, predominates all.

This first look at our summer trip from Marseille down to Marbella takes the Daily Norm back a few weeks, to the sunny days of August when temperatures were at an all time high. Our arrival, on the Eurostar train from London into Marseille’s Gare St Charles, was one greeted by temperatures close to the 40s. Yet this was no blue-shuttered port or seaside retreat in which to enjoy the summer weather at ease. Marseille hit us with the full impact of its teeming urban sprawl which literally shimmered in the heat as the fumes of traffic and food and generalised humanity combined with fresh sea breezes and an awful lot of sunshine.

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From streets crammed with shops and markets, and bustling with faces from across the world, to the city’s true heart, the Vieux Port, where people milled to watch boats stride in and out of the harbour, it wasn’t hard to get to know Marseille: a city which wears its heart on its sleeve and is emotionally, viscerally real.

Marseille may be the capital of the French Riviera but St Tropez it is not. Rather, this thriving metropolis combines elements from across France and its ancient empire: it is a true world city with an evidently international demographic. What it lacks in luxury, it makes up for in spirit. And as you can see from this first raft of photos, it is a city of a not insignificant aesthetic appeal.

Bienvenue à Marseille!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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.

Memories of Marrakech, in Abstract

It seems incredible that the summer is now drawing to its close. Why is it that time always goes so fast in the summer, yet the winter always seems to be an interminable torture without end? Yet the excitement with which this last summer season started infects me still, and I remember with what feverish anticipation we headed to the wild planes of Africa for the first time in our lives, to visit the Moroccan city of Marrakech.

In all the bustle of the new summer season, I barely had time to reflect upon the mesmerising pink tones of a city so unlike others I have visited previously. I created a few small art works, but soon my mind was focused towards Sicily. Amongst them, I painted this small study of the terracotta hued rooftops of Marrakech – a rather traditional work, but capturing something of the essence of that hodgepodge of a city. Yet when I looked upon the work the other day, sitting as it does on my bookshelf, I felt incomplete. This work, like the Windsor landscape and abstract coupling I have just completed, needed its abstract counterpart. And that is exactly what I set out to create.

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Memories of Marrakech (©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown 2017, acrylic on canvas)

Featuring the same very Moroccan palette of pinks, blues and earthy tones, this abstract seeks to reinterpret my earlier rooftop study, injecting a whimsicality into the composition. In reimagining this work, I was also able to layer the abstract with double meanings. The round arc of a satellite dish also resembles, for example, the crescent and star which is the design of many an Arabic flag, while another dish is placed so as to recall the dome of a mosque.

Abstraction, as a concept, intends to remove something of the figurative and pictorial, at least from its normal compositional placement, if not from the canvas altogether. What interests me about this piece is its clear abstract quality, while retaining an evident illustrative quality of both Morocco and Marrakech. For me, that makes it the perfect souvenir of that fantastically unique city.

© 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 

Cassata Siciliana

Following hot on the heels of my last Sicilian sketch, today the final curtain falls upon my Sicily series with this, probably the best showstopper I could conceive in dedication to a holiday so rich in inspirational sources – my latest painting, Cassata Siciliana. 

Measuring some 100cm squared, it’s the largest painting I have completed in a long while and utterly dedicated to the joyful colours, textures and landscapes of South Eastern Sicily. Both its name and its central theme revolve around Sicilian desserts, more particular the Cassata which, in both its sponge-cake original and the ice cream alternative is a dish typical of the island comprising different layers of chocolate, pistachio, ricotta and candied fruit, all representing the wealth of Sicily’s locally available produce. Taking inspiration from that multi-layered dessert, I sought to paint a scene of Sicily made up of layers of squares and outlines, colours and textures, all of which combine to represent a jovial Sicilian scene, a town piazza at its centre, and the tables and chairs and striped awning of a gelateria dominating the scene.

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Cassata Siciliana (2017 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Whether it be the little ice cream cart on wheels, or that other famous Sicilian treat – the cannolo – proudly sat upon a marine-striped building, this is a painting dedicated to the joy of sunny afternoons filled with chatter, happiness and above all things, dessert. But it is also a homage to the beauty of the Sicilian landscape, whether the baroque brilliance of its cathedrals – such as this reference to the yellow-stoned magnificnetly-domed cathedral in Noto – or the natural scenery which characterises the island, in particular the startling shadow of Etna which defines Sicily.

© 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 

My Sicily Sketchbook: An Aperol in Taormina

Just when it looked like the Daily Norm’s Sicily series was at a close, I have a few final hurrahs to add to the collection, in the form of Sicily inspired artworks, naturally. The first is this one, a further page of the second volume of my trusty travel sketchbook, which was started in Catania and went with me along my travels across the south east of Italy’s most inspiring island. This sketch depicts the Piazza 9 Aprile in the bustling little hilltop town of Taormina.

Taormina Sketch

Drinks on the Piazza 9 Aprile, Taormina (© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, 2017, pen on paper)

Given its reputation as the Capri of Sicilia, Taormina is a town aptly peppered with plenty of boutique designer stores, baroque embellished houses and a panoply of cafes, their tables spilling out onto the black and white chequerboard pavements. It was in one such café that I began this sketch, an aperol spritz appropriately placed on the table before me, while around us, street musicians provided the perfect accompaniment to a wonderful afternoon moment. But the aperol did not last long, and soon enough we were off to dinner. The completion of this sketch had to wait, therefore, until many weeks later back in a decidedly less Sicilian UK… hence its delayed publication on The Daily Norm. But as they say, better late than never…

© 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 X – Baroque Round-up

From Catania to Noto, and all the lavishly decorated theatrical towns in between, Baroque was a huge feature of our Sicilian adventure, and very much characterised the look and feel of South Eastern Sicily. Yes, of course modernity has crept in, placing its often ugly stamp around these towns of baroque splendour, but Sicily is no Manhattan, and for the most part it is the ancient architecture which continues to dominate, even though it is often tired, dilapidated and a mere shadow of its former self. This, I think, is the true essence of the Sicilian Baroque: complete over the top theatricality while bearing all the signs of age and weathering which is a side effect of the harsh climate and the poor economic conditions which still dominate in the region.

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For me, nostalgically romantic as ever, it is this battered and broken appearance which gives the Sicilian Baroque its charm, furnishing it somehow for my perception of what the Mediterrananen aesthetic should always look like. Fascinated, I took a lot of photos, as the elaborate lines and fantastical detail of the baroque flourishes became more and more over top. While, throughout the Sicily series on my blog, you will already have seen many of these, I thought I would end this Daily Norm trip to Sicily with a final round up of the many baroque splendours on show.

So let me indulge you in the beautiful Baroque of Sicily, in the abundance of putti (cherubs) and swirling clouds that offer the promise of paradise. Gaze in wonder as life-like statues of the apostles and the saints appear to come to life upon their baroque stage-set, and be dazzled by the plethora of intricately carved balcony corbels, each displaying its unique take on the ultimate Sicilian decoration, as angels and demons, animals and even house owners are rendered in stone and set at the base of palace balconies where they can be best admired from the street below.

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Sicily is characterised by its food and its people, by its climate and its architecture, but chief amongst its influences are the tectonic actives and that ever dangerous volcano, Etna, which have so often caused havoc on the island. But with disaster comes beauty, and were it not for the great earthquake of 1693, Sicily might never have been presented with this opportunity to redesign itself in the baroque style. Today we cannot help but admire this aesthetic all the more, both for its fortuitous advent, but also in the knowledge that its fragile foundations may be rocked again one day when the powers below the earth decide its time to stir again…

© 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 IX – Momentous Modica: the Churches and the Chocolate

Modica, the momentous mountainous town lying somewhere in the craggy landscape between Ragusa and Noto, was the last visit of our multiple Baroque exposure during just a few days in the south of Sicily. Who knew that there could be such a concentration of putti and angels, of curling stone foliage and grandiose capitals, all to be found in comparatively tiny towns heavily overshadowed by these architectural masterpieces. But just as Noto had been notable for its golden yellow consistency, Ragusa for its hillside spectacle, and Ortygia for its elegance on water, Modica impressed us with the sheer magnificence of its churches, and for the unique quality of its famous chocolate.

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Modica, like Ragusa, is a town clustered around several steep hillsides before filling, in a dense mass of stone coloured houses and richly decorated public buildings, the lower town below. It is so tightly packed into and around the natural valley carved into steeply sloping hillsides that Modica is almost like shanty towns of South America, only much richer in its decoration. For amongst this swathe of little stone houses are two spectacular churches which just take the breath away. The first, the Chiesa di San Pietro, is framed by a series of fully lifelike, wonderfully detailed statues which line the grand staircase leading to its vast iron doors and another ridiculously over the top facade comprising an opulent broken pediment and rusticated pilasters. But if this church was to win the prize for its excesses of sculpture, the church of San Giorgio would carry away the award for theatre. For sat atop of sweeping soaring multi layered staircase, this masterpiece of the baroque is like the hotly anticipated starlet descending onto the stage from on high, a veritable wedding cake sitting abreast a multi-tiered display stand from which she demands the respect and astonishment of all who come before her.

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But Modica is not just a place which is inspiring for the eyes. The tastebuds will get a good tickle too. For Modica has another defining feature too: its chocolate which, usefully in this climate, never melts. Reticent to indulge too heavily (this was the end of the holiday after all, and the pasta carb-count was already at an all time high), we were nevertheless dragged into the chocolate dream that Modica presents so well by a very charming shop keeper from whom we had bought a parking voucher in his Pasticceria Frisby on the Via Vittorio Veneto (n.38). Generous to the full, he not only allowed us to taste the uniquely granular chocolate, but took us out to his kitchen and showed us how to make it too. Comprised essentially from bitter dark chocolate heavily sweetened with a coarse sugar which is not allowed to melt (hence the grainy texture) and various dried ingredients to make different flavour variations, the resulting chocolate paste is essentially banged into shape in a series of traditional moulds before being set in the refrigerator, traditionally wrapped and sold.

Learning the trade: Chocolate making in Pasticceria Frisby

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In that chocolate shop, we had our share of banging the chocolate, of tasting the various stages (pure bitter chocolate not to be recommended) and generally enjoying the utmost hospitality of this wonderful shopkeeper and his wife. Of course we left their store with far too much chocolate at frankly stupidly cheap prices. But above all things we left with a warmth in our heart founded on the great kindliness shown by those two chocolatiers. We arrived to Sicily thinking it would be a hard land full of mafiosi and moody islanders. We left touched by the hospitality we had been shown, and determined to return to this island of plenty.

© 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 VIII – Ortygia of Syracuse, the Venice of the South

The legend of Ortygia had come to us through the bathroom. Not that this should be misread as something smutty. For Ortigia the brand of timelessly elegant bath products, room fragrances and soaps is today one of the most prestigious purveyors of bathroom accessories on the market, with stores on Marylebone High Street and Sloane Square in London alone. And while the company, which hails from Sicily and whose packaging awash with leopards and palm trees is the very essence of the Il Gattopardo period, spells it’s name with the Italian ‘I’ it is otherwise the perfect ambassador for this equally stylish stunning little city in Sicily.

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Ortygia is more of an island than a city, connected to the bigger city of Syracuse by two narrow bridges. With few cars, plenty of picturesque narrow streets, and surrounded on all sides by the sea, Ortygia has often been called the Venice of Sicily and it’s not difficult to see why. For in place of Florian’s cafe are a host of cosy little eateries with pale striped cushions, blue glass and understated elegance. In the place of ancient treasures sacked from Constantinople you have multiple ruins dating way before the roman times and literally peppering the streets (the incredible ruins of the Temple of Apollo being the first to greet you when you cross the bridge). And instead of Saint Mark’s the main Duomo of Ortygia is a masterpiece mix of the most ravishing Baroque with an ancient Athenian temple.

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For me the Cathedral (not to mention the dazzling showpiece square surrounding it) is undoubtedly the highlight of Ortygia. With its elaborately decorated marble facade, the Cathedral shows but one face of an indelibly rich history which oozes from within. For one walk inside and you find an ancient interior not characterised by the Baroque at all. Rather the Cathedral is essentially a remanifestation of the ancient Temple of Athena which has always stood on this spot. It is not just built on the same foundations but is actually constructed over and amongst the original ancient columns which made up the temple. All they have done is filled in the space between the columns, put a roof on top, and that marvellous facade at the front. The effect is to receive an incredible immersion into the most ancient of civilisations, and really gain insight into what a temple back in the times of Ancient Greece would have been like.

Alas we could not spend too long in Ortygia. The sun bounced down on those ancient palazzos and that fine white marble which dazzled all around, and as the afternoon drew on, temperatures rose in unison. We therefore escaped to the air conditioning of our car and the promise of a prosecco back in Noto. But we left Ortygia with a real sparkle in our eyes, and, naturally, a little complementary purchase from its world renowned cosmetics store.

© 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: Cattedrale di Noto

It was the evenings in Noto that we enjoyed the most. Strolling down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele with the sun sinking straight ahead to the West lent an ephemeral golden light to the time of the passeggiata stroll, touching people’s heads with a radiant halo, and reflecting wonderfully across every shiny surface, each café table top, ice cream kiosk and resplendent baroque building.

From the first of these euphoric evenings onwards, we found ourselves a local haunt. The Chiosco della Cattedralle was a cafe sprawling out of an old fashioned gelato kiosk which benefitted from an unrivalled position in front of the sweeping staircase leading up to Noto’s Cathedral of Saint Nicholas. Appropriate, give the name, that I should feel so comfortable there, although my partner was likewise a fan – for there we could enjoy the best affogato al caffe in town, while the prosecco packed a mean punch too.

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Cattedrale di Noto (Pen on paper, ©2017 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

So with affogato, prosecco, a book (for Dominik) and a sketchbook (for me) we would hang out each evening in front of our favourite cathedral view, and it was in those delirious moments of complete calm that I set about sketching the marvellous vista before us. Of course being baroque, the facade of Noto’s cathedral is pretty much as complex as they get, and there was no way I was going to attempt to capture it all. Contenting myself instead to a small portion of the mighty facade, I created this work, a sketch which remained mercifully free of drips of melted affogato, but which nevertheless retains for me the beautiful spirit of those golden summer evenings in one of the most beautiful towns in Italy.

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Sketching in 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