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Posts from the ‘Tuscany’ Category

Norms in Siena

Readers of my post a few weeks back will remember my reaction, close to ecstasy, when I sat with my Partner in the Piazza del Campo in Siena at sunset and sipped upon a frothy prosecco and savoured several balls of stracciatella ice cream as around us the bustling city relaxed and wined and dined its way into the end of the day. In their parallel little world, the Norms enjoy very similar tastes to myself – who frankly could not – and sunset in Siena suits them down to the ground.

The Norms love ice cream. Its soft roundness reminds them of their dulcet gelatinous forms (not that Norms would go as far as eating themselves, perish the thought!). They adore prosecco too, the bubbles increasing ten-fold the bounce which characterises their unique Normy gait. But best of all the Norms are number one fans of the sunshine, which warms their blue blood and makes them glow like high wattage lightbulbs. That’s why, in this happy little depiction of the Norms in Siena they all look so very healthy and content. Saluti to that!

Norms in Siena

Norms in Siena (2017 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

© 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 

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Norms in Tuscany

Take a ravishing view of rolling Tuscan hills, a freshly patterned blanket, the distinctively shaped Chianti bottle, a ciabatta loaf, a crostini tart, and of course some good smoked cheese and pesto, and you have just about the best picnic set up in the world (with the exception of course of Glyndebourne, but who can compete with the crème de la crème). Mix in an iconic vespa (for transportation reasons as well as Italian chic) and you’re set. Or at least the Norms are set. For while we may have left Tuscany, the Norms are continuing to chill in Italia, to revel in the seductive landscape, indulge in the region’s plentiful wine production, and live la bella vita in a way that the Tuscans do best.

Norms in Tuscany

Norms in Tuscany (picnicking with a view of Volterra) (2017 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

Here are the Norms enjoying just that same perfect picnic we have described, with the addition of a good book (coincidentally Proust…like me!), a view of Volterra, a good snooze and even a visit from the region’s favourite mascot, the furry cinghiale. Looks pretty darn idyllic to me.

© 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 

Siena: Doing the Duomo

In choosing Siena’s most iconic building, there are two clear contenders. Sat at the pithy core of the citrus-sliced semi circle of the Piazza del Campo, the Palazzo Pubblico is a clear contender. With its soaring bell tower of red brick characterised by medieval power status and the objective to outdo rival Florence, the Palazzo is in every way iconic as a symbol of Sienese politics and ambition. But while for me the Palazzo and surrounding Piazza may be the brains of Siena, its beating heart and most charismatic structure of all is its Duomo. With a lavishly intricate facade made of blackish green, coral pink and creamy white marble, together with a multitude of gold enhanced mosaics and relief sculptures, the Duomo looks good enough to eat – a minty humbug and a prize wedding cake al rolled into one.

The Duomo and its facade

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But to focus on Siena’s exterior would be to miss the treasures on the inside, which range from Michaelangelo’s treasured sculpture of Saint Paul, Nicola Pisano’s impressively intricate Carrara marble pulpit, Donatello’s bronze relief, The Feast of Herod, Bernini’s sunburst lantern atop the dome, and an incredible marble floor depicting a series of biblical tales with pristinely cut delicately interlaced pieces of multicoloured stone which was the life work of some 40 artists across 200 years. What’s more, in the Piccolomini Library off to one side of the main nave, there is the staggering feat of Bernadino di Betti’s ceiling and wall frescos whose multiple areas of gold embellish the room with a lavishness equal only to a jewellery shop.

The Piccolomini Library

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Interestingly however, the Cathedral might well have been far greater and even more exorbitantly lavish had a planned (and commenced) extension in the 14th century, intended to more than double its size, been completed. Sadly owing to the onset of the Black Death in 1348, the work was ceased, and the evidence of errors in the construction meant that it was never continued. All that remains of the plans today is a the large outer shell which helps to illustrate the scale to which the Duomo extenders aspired and the power and ambition of the city.

The interior and the incredible pictorial floors

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So with those unbeatable views I’m brining this Siena and Tuscany series of posts to a close. They’re photos which capture a region of outstanding natural beauty, and hold the memories of adventures which I will long cherish… until the next time I’m lucky enough to visit the home of my in laws.

Up in the gods… and the views of Siena from the top

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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.

Tuscan Towns #5 – Siena

Of all the towns we visited during our last trip Tuscany, with Siena I have saved the best till last. More of a city really, this glorious product of the golden age of Renaissance is disproportionately heavy on art historical treasures, elegant shopping streets and stunning piazzas culminating in the most magnificent of them all – the Piazza del Campo. Siena’s geographical position, up on a steep hill and surrounded by verdant rolling countryside, is no doubt both the reason for its untouched beauty and for its prowess as a self-defended city. Today the city is almost intact in its historical architecture, with barely a modern blemish staining its golden walled, silver cobbled streets. The only embrace of modernity has been the emergence of super chic boutique shops and cocktail bars serving plate upon plate of tempting aperitifs, best enjoyed with an Aperol Spritz amidst the bustling atmosphere of locals filling out these packed social hang-outs.  Siena is a place of vespas and La Bella Vita, of large sunglasses and shopping bags, of that irrefutable union between seductive Italian passion and the innate elegance which can be found in every street. It is Italy at its urban best, surrounded by the most beautiful rural landscapes imaginable.

The seductive streets of Siena

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We entered Siena up a set of steep staircases, arising, blinded by the light, as though from a cellar onto the reflected glory of the Duomo, its black and white stripy façade literally glimmering as the sunshine hit the golden details of its external mosaics. What an entrance to a city! It was the ultimate precursor to a place whose treasures fill the senses like tree blossom swept liberally into the wind. A stunning mosaic here, a mighty altarpiece there. Cafes that dazzled, sculptures to inspire, street corners whose tangible charm roused the soul and inspired the mind. We went, of course, into the heart of the Duomo, but that adventure I will leave for the second part of this article. Rather today I want to concentrate on the soul of this ravishing city which, quite justifiably, has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site and is one of the most visited in all Italy.

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Getting lost in Siena’s uniquely sloping cobbled side streets is one of the greatest joys that Tuscany can offer, but after a time, the idea of being lost here becomes something of a fiction. For just as all roads in Italy may lead to Rome, as though in defiance of the expression, all roads in Siena lead to the magnificent Piazza del Campo, whose enormous semi-circular construct more or less dictates the layout of the remainder of the city.

The Piazza del Campo

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It was in that delightful main square that our visit concluded. As we approached, the atmosphere of a thousand visitors lying out on the sloping pavements to enjoy the sun, or sipping upon spritz and bubbles in one of the many cafes which line the square was highly tangible. It was like human electricity, building up in the semi-circular square before finding occasional release as it leaked into the side streets through the Piazza’s odd openings. Once in, the space literally dazzled as before us the enormous scale of the campanile of the Palazzo Pubblico unveiled itself and the Piazza, which is famous for the annual Il Palio horserace which plays out around the square, glowed as sun rays met red and ochre brick. There we sat, at one such café, as the sun swept a shadow across the curve of the Piazza much like the effect of a sun-dial. Soaking in the last of the rays, as golden sunlight reflected against the prosecco and gelato on our table, we people watched and soaked in the atmosphere, and observed a city which seemed to exude contentment. We were certainly contented in turn. It was a visit which would provide the highlight of our year so far. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were return again, before the year is even out.

The highpoint: Prosecco on the Piazza

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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.

Painting my travels: Castagneto Carducci

Painting is slowly re-entering my life. It’s been a long few months without it. As many an artist will tell you, it’s difficult to find inspiration when life is unstable, and an international move, a new London job, plus a mammoth redecoration project has done few favours in terms of my artistic production. But how could I not be inspired by my recent venture to Tuscany? The photos I have been sharing over the last couple of weeks go far in demonstrating just what kind of a place it is. As soon as I awoke on the first sunny day, the birdsong, fresh air and sunrays combined to fill my mind afresh with hypothetical paintings. And this one is the first to result from that round of preliminary creative ideas.

My 2016 collection, interpretative abstract, instigated a new abstract language in my art, one which has followed through to subsequent creative projects, and even the way I choose to capture landscapes in my photography. This meant that as I wandered the towns of Tuscany, I saw the sunlit streets not as townscapes, but as a series of abstract compositions. I was aided in this interpretation by the stark contrast between shadow and light, often casting distinct geometric patterns and lines across monotone building walls, and likewise by the nature of Tuscan streets which are inherently narrow resulting in a more dynamic composition of vertical and horizontal planes.

Castagneto #1 FINAL

Castagneto Carducci #1 (2017 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, watercolour and gouache on paper)

The result is this painting, entitled simply Castagneto Carducci #1, after the town which inspired it and which was featured on Wednesday’s Daily Norm. It uses watercolour, which is not a medium I utilise often, but whose transparency leant a very authentic depth to the depiction of the texture of Tuscan walls. But it also uses gouache in creating flatter colour planes, and the combination of media, together with an angular geometric finish to street-inspired constructs, forms a landscape which is at the same time an abstract composition.

© 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 

 

Tuscan Towns #4 – Castagneto Carducci

For a town with a mouthful of a name, Castagneto Carducci, just uphill from the sandy beaches of Donoratico, is paradoxically small. Distinctive for its coloured houses painted, unlike so many of the stone villages of Tuscany, in sunny shades of pink, yellow and other pastel tones, Castagneto contrasts perfectly with its surroundings of green hills and perfectly regulated striped vineyards. This is not the first time the village has featured on   The Daily Norm, since it is the closest little Tuscan town to my in laws’ home. In fact as we proved on this occasion, a brisk 40 minute walk through the vineyards of Donoratico followed by an uphill climb will see you arrive on foot at the church topped-summit of the town in no time. From there, it is views a plenty, not only of the surrounding countryside but of the quaint streets spilling out across the hilltop.

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Like so many of the Tuscan Towns I am featuring on this blog, Castagneto is a town which oozes idyllic charm. While the tourist trade has made sure to embellish the town’s best features and offer visitors boutique shops selling local produce, cuddly wild boars and hand-painted ceramics, my favourite places to visit are those which are the preserves of the locals – the small little cafes where locals prop up the bar to drink an espresso and a brioche; the hilly side streets whose pot plants and strung out washing are just as picturesque as the countryside views over which the tourists ogle; and the little passages where a simple parked vespa or a decorative street lamp look like works of Italian art.

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If you can only get to tour one or two of Tuscany’s quaint little towns, Castagneto is a perfect choice. With its various cafes and small up-scale shops, several restaurants making the most of the views and a perfect winding route around town which will take in the small church and iconic town hall, Castagneto has all the ingredients to afford the visitor a satisfying stroll. And if I were to recommend Bolgheri at around 5pm for a cocktail or afternoon coffee, Castagneto is a perfect choice for a morning coffee. Our sun drenched cup accompanied by brioche and croissants stuffed with frutti di bosco and cream was the best breakfast experience of my trip, and should not be missed, especially with views as fine as this.

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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. 

Another walk one early Tuscan morning: Corn fields and pine trees

I love walking, perhaps you’ve noticed. I trace the passion back to my 2008 accident and the two years of limited movement which resulted. When finally I lost my crutches, I realised for the first time the very simple joy of being able to walk. What a liberty to be able to walk wherever your feet may take you, one that most take for granted but which we all should cherish, especially when those legs take you somewhere as beautiful as the Tuscan countryside.

On the way to the pine tree forest

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The last walk I described passed through the ravishing local vineyards whose striped embodiment of leafy lanes roll leisurely over the nearby hills. But turn the other way, and a landscape of equal enticement spreads out for the offering, one of corn fields and olive trees which back onto what in the coastal town of Donoratico is a locally iconic wood of pine trees running all the way long the sea. This dense collection of the umbrella pines which are an iconic element of the Tuscan landscape make for an incredible sight, not least from within where a glance upwards unveils a ceiling of semi-transparent pine needles punctuated with light. Meanwhile and endless collection of pine tree columns is like a cathedral of wood which apparently spreads forwards for an eternity.

Within the woods

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There is something about a wood which is deeply, sensuously mysterious, drawing you in, albeit with some trepidation as to what lies within. We adored our time wandering through this lofty space, where we stumbled upon crazily shaped fallen trees and shards of light breaking through the pine tree canopy. But best of all things was the treat at the end, as the final archway of trees led directly onto a wide sandy beach and the turquoise sea beyond.

Breaking out 

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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. 

Tuscan Towns #3 – Casale Marittimo

Driving along on the slower (and far more beautiful) inner coastal road from Castagneto towards Livorno, you may notice on the hills beyond the acres of vineyards a perfectly formed little town perched up at a height. Small as a toy town but quaint in every respect, there is very little in Casale to place it on the tourist map, but with its cute little central square and an endearing piccolo church I defy it not to please any visitor to the max. But for us Casale was not about the uniquely formed sloping streets or the picture-perfect micro-shops. It was about the views, and one very special lunch spent appreciating them.

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At the Osteria L’impronta, we enjoyed one of those lunches that will linger a long, long time in the memory. With the most incredible private terrace all to ourselves, a soundtrack of jazz, sun rays bouncing off the table’s edge and an endless supply of wine produced on the very land whose spectacular appearance we spent our whole meal admiring, it was like a lunch from a legendary time of utopia. The kind of occasion writers conjure up and artists swoon over. And then there was food – a mix of perfectly al dente pasta, crusty bread with deep golden olive oil, and unctuously rich cinghiale (wild boar) from the surrounding landscape. All combined to make this lunch the culinary high point of our holiday, and a true homage to this legendary region of Tuscany.

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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. 

Tuscan Towns #2 – Bolgheri

Bolgheri is a tiny town, more of a hamlet really, based as it is along one main street which latterly converges into two, a sunny square and a row of delightful little houses and restaurants precipitating the divide. For the majority, the closest they will come to knowing Bolgheri will be to read its name upon one of the plethora of nectarean bottles of wine produced by the region every year. Yet for the lucky few, who are led, magnetised, down the perfectly straight cypress-lined Roman road to the tiny little village, finding Bolgheri will feel like stumbling upon a hidden jewel.

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While Bolgheri has a castle, it is as proportionately small as the village. It is not a place for museums, nor a city for those wishing to stroll endlessly from one new corner to another. No, the real attraction of Bolgheri is its atmosphere. It is enchanting. While a visit at any time of the day will be enthralling enough, there is a poetic grace about Bolgheri in the late afternoon, as the sun starts to set over the vineyards and rolling hills to the West, and every cafe and shop and house seems to fling open its shutters greedily urging the peach coloured light to spill into its small little terracotta buildings.

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Bolgheri in the afternoon is a place in which to sit and close your eyes, feeling the sunlight spill across your face. It is a village where sipping upon an aperol spritz takes on new majesty, and where an ice cream glimmers with a precious golden aura. It is a time which is all about relaxing, chatting, strolling, thinking, and if I wanted to do anything when I set out to take these photos, it was to capture this time of utopia. So apologies in advance to the fellow visitors who ended up in the photos on this post, but without the look of sheer pleasure and relaxation written all over their faces, I don’t think I could ever have properly expressed the blissful experience of an afternoon in Bolgheri.

© 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. 

A walk one early Tuscan morning: Vineyards and poppies

Florence, Siena, Pisa, Lucca, Arezzo, Grosseto… Tuscany plays host to more stunning cities than you can even begin to list, let alone visit on a single trip to the region. Full of art history’s jewels, quaint little streets and magical churches, these are the cities which inspired a golden age of travel. Yet the cities are only one facet of Tuscany’s charm. All along the length of the region, there are beaches so sandy that they can rival the very best of Spain’s costas. In its restaurants, the Tuscan people will tell you that the very best food of Italy is served up, from wild boar to Sopa Della Pescaia. But above all things, Tuscany is characterised by its iconic landscapes. Who hasn’t salivated over the picture postcard views of undulating hills truncated by a cypress-lined winding road? And it is this landscape, punctuated by vines and olive trees and pine-perfumed air that I like to enjoy above all things.

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I’m lucky. I have family living in the region. And that means proximity. When we visit them my favourite thing to do is to get up early, as the sun is just starting to make its ascent, and walk. Walk in whatever direction my feet take me. For all roads in Tuscany lead to a lovely landscape, as countryside paths take the earnest visitor through those perfectly ordered vineyards, across freshly ploughed fields and amongst wild flowers.

These photos are from one such morning walk when the hour was perfectly peaceful and the light a creamy tone of reflected gold. But despite the sun’s fast ascent, there was a tangible sleepiness to the air, as poppy heads drooped delicately along grassy verges, snails curled up in snoozing groups on deserted street posts, and the birds, slowly awakening, heralded the start of a sunny new day. Pure. Bliss.

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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.