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Posts from the ‘Sicily’ Category

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.

Taormina View FINAL

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.

Catania Sketch

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.