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Posts from the ‘2018’ Category

Folio // Verona – The View from the Top

There’s nothing quite like the experience of viewing a city from above. In a single sweeping 360 degree motion, you can admire an entire landscape sweeping out before you, appreciating its scale and geography, but all seen from above. From the perspective reserved for those with wings, it’s possible to feel almost superhuman (and as those with vertigo will tell you, a little sick too) as you gaze down upon a city’s every day life unfolding while you, from on high, are like deity gazing down upon your subjects.

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It was no surprise to us that Verona, a city so magnificent from up close, would be equally as beautiful from the top of the Torre dei Lamberti. And as the city’s tallest tower at some 272 feet high, you are guaranteed a truly commanding view if you make it to the top. From there, the city’s grey marble streets and yellow and auburn palazzos became dominated by a sea of terracotta roofs, all apart from the striking semi-circular form of the ancient arena, and the sweeping green like snake of the river, twisting its way around the peninsular of the city’s ancient heart. Best of all were the proximate views the tower afforded of the nearby Piazza delle Erbe and the stunning statuary atop the Palazzo Maffei. Who would have known, from the Piazza down below, what incredible detail lies hidden within the folds and undulations of those wonderful depictions of ancient deity.

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Seen from above, Verona shared a new perspective of its indisputable beauty, reasserting why it remains the favourite city of literature lovers and true romantics everywhere, whatever the angle of their admirable glances.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. 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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Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part IV: Four Churches which Enchanted Us

“There are four main churches in Verona”, our hostess told us, “and you must visit them all.” Not two Gentlemen to take advice lightly, we decided we had better do just that. And so in their turn we visited the four principal churches of the city – Sant’Anastasia, San Fermo, the Duomo and San Zeno (although when viewed from the hilly city surroundings, we could see that Verona, peppered with spires, is host to more than four).

A combined visitors ticket made access to the spiritual quartet an easy endeavour, and once we had been inside the first – Sant’Anastasia – we were hungry to see them all. With its soaring vaulting ceilings frescoed in delicate bouquets of floral motifs, and harbouring the famous fresco of Saint George by Pisanello (which you’ll have to strain your neck to see), Sant’Anastasia made for an impressive beginning. The church had a tangible luminosity which bounced off its high ceilings and the walls adorned with devotional masterpieces. However it was the small details which enchanted the most, chief among them the holy water fonts, or hunchbacks, whose faces contorted with pain are said to represent the fact that the people of Verona were brought almost to their knees by the massive undertaking of constructing this church. Looking at the scale of the place, I can quite imagine why.

Sant’Anastasia

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A short stroll away saw us arriving at the second, and I suppose you should say the most important church of the lot – the Duomo. After Sant’Anastasia, the interior, while beautiful, did not impress us as much. That was the preserve of the exterior, whose delightful striped facade made for a truly beautiful sight when offset against the Veronese blue sky, while the huge mythological griffins which hold up enormous columns either side of the main entrance portico lent a true grandiosity to the building. A further highlight deserving of a mention is the Baptistery’s stunning octagonal font. Rendered from a single block of Veronese marble, it is aptly considered to be a masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture and with good reason. Its scenes of expressive high-relief figures were joyous to behold, bursting to life in their narrative of the birth and baptism of Jesus and the many hurdles along the way.

The Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta

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After lunch and a stroll through the Giardino Giusti, we took in our third church on the way back to our apartment. San Fermo is all about the ceiling. Ancient though it may be, the extraordinary multi-arched wooden construction is punctuated by an even more impressive collection of some 416 portraits of saints. It was time again to strain the neck to appreciate them, although the scale of work meant this short-term discomfort was well worth it, just to pay homage to the unknown artist whose ingenuity created them. 

San Fermo

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Our fourth and final visit came the following day, when Saturday meant that our visit coincided with a big fat fluffy wedding. While this meant for a rather glamorous spectacle as the church of San Zeno was given over to a vision of bridal beauty and the admiration of all, it did mean that we were unable to get close and personal with all of the ancient masterpieces contained within the church. We did however manage to sneak in a moment or two with San Zeno’s greatest spectacle: its doors.

Comprising 48 bronze panels, dating from 1030 and 1137 respectively depending on which of the two doors you are looking at, the panels depict in delightfully naive fashion the life and times of San Zeno. More than the images, I loved seeing the parts which had been rubbed smooth by centuries of visitors, the dark bronze polished to a sparkling lustre by the touch of the faithful. I can well imagine how churches such as these inspired visitors over the years to reach out and touch… just to be sure that these miracles of art and faith actually existed, and weren’t just a wonderful mirage. That same sense of awe-inspiring disbelief continues to this day, as Verona’s four main churches continue to inspire.

San Zeno

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. 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 go to Verona // Le Déjeuner Giusti

The Norms are never far behind me. It’s almost as though they live parallel lives. For the Norms have just arrived in Verona, to determine for themselves just how good this famed Italian city really is.

Pretty damn good is their initial conclusion, as they settle down to a picnic in the beautiful shady surroundings of the Giardino Giusti in circumstances which very closely resemble Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. And why not? The Giusti Gardens are after all a treasure of art history’s green-fingered maestros, so the Norms feel it only appropriate that they should adopt an artistic montage amongst this verdant Renaissance beauty.

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Norms in the Giardino Giusti (©2018 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

And once lunch is done, and that bottle of bubbly consumed, the Norms may have a turn in one of those fine box-hedge mazes too (there’s nothing Norms like more than a titivating flirtation half-shielded behind a hedge or two. Scandalous, I know… but who can blame them in this Shakespearian city of everlasting love?). Enjoy your lunch Norms!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. 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.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part III: The Piazzas which Seduced Us

A bustling café, an aperol spritz, a hand-full of renaissance palaces and preferably a fountain or two, all set within the confines of an elegant piazza – now that, for me, is Italy. And as piazzas go, they frankly don’t get much better than Verona’s. Every Italian city has a piazza or five – just look at Rome, where a glamorous fountain-filled piazza breaks the monotony of straight roads at every turn. But Verona’s squares are something truly special. Is it because they feel authentic – a haunt of locals as well as tourists? Is it the quality of the light, warm and golden as sun bounces off terracotta buildings and ancient marble statuary? Probably both, plus the very explicit beauty which oozes from every facet of Verona’s impressive piazzas.

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Chief among them is the Piazza delle Erbe. Paved with the same silky-smooth Marmo Rosso di Verona as lines many of the city’s streets, and surrounded by some of the most spectacular buildings in the city – amongst them the ravishingly frescoed Case Mazzanti, and the two towers, Torre dei Lamberti and Torre del Gardello – the former sales platform of herbs and flowers retains the bustling market feel of its heritage (although sadly the stalls of today are a little touristic in nature). But for the real Veronese experience, head to one of the cafes which circle the square and enjoy every vantage point of this spectacular place. Our favourite was the Caffe Filippini where, as if fate had ordained it, we managed to seize a front-line table, just by the Fontana di Madonna Verona, every time we visited, and from there of course I had the very best spot from which to sketch, and enjoy that glistening orange aperol spritz.

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But the great thing about Verona is you get two squares for the price of one. Not for the Veronese is one stunning piazza enough. For separated by a mere arch (the Arco della Costa to be exact) and a whale’s bone (hanging underneath said arch), you will stroll from the Piazza delle Erbe into the equally mesmerising site of the Piazza dei Signori. As the old political centre of the city, the intimate space exudes a tangible spirit of power-play reflected off fortress-like palazzos decorated with friezes made from stone and peppered with statues of great minds and the all powerful winged lion of Venice. At the centre of it all, a statue of Dante Alighieri looms in a masterful pose which dominates the square. No wonder the best cafe there (and arguably in town) is the Caffe Dante – our lunch there, of creamy al dente pasta, a deconstructed tiramisu and a chilled glass of white wine, was proof enough for that…Just one more reason why the piazza lifestyle is the best way to enjoy time in one of Italy’s most picturesque cities.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. 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.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part II: The Gardens which Beguiled Us

It’s funny. When I think back to my first encounter with Verona, some 17 years ago in the prime of my youth, touring from one art historical Italian treasure to another, I can remember very little of the city. I remember the balcony purported to be that of Shakespeare’s fictional Juliet, and the street where I purchased my first Burberry scarf. I remember the relief which blue skies and a bustling living city afforded after 10 days or so ensconced in the fog-filled fantasy land of Venice. But I remember little of the stunning streets and grand piazzas which dominated this most recent reconnaissance with Verona. But of all the highlights I remember with absolute clarity, despite the passing of the years, it is the wonder of the Giardino Giusti, arguably the best Renaissance garden in all of Italy.

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Just beyond the bustling centre, housed between the Mannerist walls of the Giusti palace and the higher hilltops of the upper gardens, the Giardino Giusti is a place of almost mystical quality. With perfectly trimmed box-hedge mazes and prim parterres punctuated by moss-covered statues from the ancient realms, the Giusti gardens is at once a Lewis Carroll wonderland as it is a perfect example of the Renaissance style. A sense of perfectly manicured order provided by sweeping central paths and cypress tree-bordering is yet tempered by the pure poetry which comes of patios lined by potted cypress trees and half-hidden structures such as the rose-pink colonnaded belvedere, which affords the most unbeatable view over the labyrinth of hedges and collections of ancient statuary.

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In fact it was in that same belvedere where my fondest memory of Verona was born. There, in 2001 in the autumn sunshine, my friends and I picnicked on fresh pesto and salumi, with a little wine, and some recitals to accompany the scene. Is it possible to ever beat such epiphanaic perfection? I don’t think I ever have. But this visit to the Giardino Giusti was just as I remembered it – a memory in no way diluted by the joy of my return, to a paradise garden which remains, for me, the highlight of any visit to Verona.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. 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.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part I: The Streets which Ensnared Us

Don’t accuse me of being repetitive. It’s not my fault that Italy is such a beautiful country. But if I’ve gone on about the beauty of Rome, of Bologna, of Sicilia, of Siena, who can blame me? Charm oozes from their every cobble and paint-flaking wall, from the tolling of cathedral bells and the trickling of their ancient fountains. And now I have another stunner to add to the set of Italian cities which are quite frankly spectacular: Verona.

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In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, two Gentlemen arrived in the golden light of a creamy sunset to an apartment overlooking the imposing walls of the ancient Roman arena, and knew that they had entered a new Elysium; a city perfectly compact but wide in impact, whose ancient charm extends far beyond the Renaissance but back to the splendid time of the Emperors, whose grand triumphal arches and magnificent arenas characterise the city to this day.

The city which ensnared William Shakespeare and inspired the greatest love story ever known has now caught these two Gentlemen inside it’s luxurious web. But if we are prey to its abundance of good food, splendid piazzas, quaint little cobbled streets and cases of the most velvety Valpolicella wine, then I say: catch me web, I’m hanging around for more.

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The Daily Norm’s new Veronese adventure starts in the sumptuous streets which inject the city with such a cosmopolitan buzz. They are the pulsing veins which carry a continuous and energetic stream of lifeblood around a city whose very existence burns with the vivacity of an aperol spritz, but which conversely exudes something of the tranquility of a lazy Sunday everyday.

The ancient marble pavements which run throughout Verona have been polished to a fine gloss by the millions of feet who have trod them throughout history. In places you can even see grooves marked by carts over millennia of history. Today, those same shiny roads glitter with the veritable glow of cake-filled patisseries and chic fashion outlets. Verona is, after all, a city in which to see and be seen; where sparks of romance resonate everywhere as tourists and locals alike take inspiration from the fabled Romeo and his Juliet. 

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A trip to Verona doesn’t require an itinerary. Just walk, explore, and waft amongst the little streets which wind like arteries across the packed historical core of this great city. From one end to another, your stroll will lead you to all the monuments and majestic sights any guidebook will require you to see. But in the meantime, the streets will give you the best Veronese experience of all: one of cafes and couture, of people perambulating and history unfurling.

This post is in made in homage to those wonderful streets of Verona. At points, of course, those streets widen into the most perfect of piazzas – the real gems around which they wind. But there’s time yet for the piazzas, which will be explored in their turn. 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. 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: Ancient Rubble in Jerez Cathedral

Having dusted off the pages of my travel sketchbook twice now this summer, once in Crete and again in Cadiz, I was on a roll, and it felt only natural that I would get drawing again once we had arrived in Jerez. However, while a natural choice for a sketch might have been the impressive baroque dome of the city’s Cathedral, rising over the skyline, or perhaps a barrel or three at one of Jerez’s famous bodegas, my attention was caught by a pile of ancient rubble looking rather abandoned in a corner of some sunny cloisters, hidden at the back of the Cathedral.

I can’t tell you how the rubble came to be in the Cathedral, nor exactly how ancient it is, but the splendid mix of lines and angles, dimensions and textures was a real temptation for me, and I set to work almost immediately, taking great care over the shadows cast and the rough texture remaining from these once fine architectural elements.

Jerez Ruins

Ancient Rubble, Jerez de la Frontera (©2018 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

The result is a sketch which shows very little of Jerez itself, but certainly captures something of the historically rich, often dilapidated fabric of this beautiful Andalucian city. And for that reason alone, it seems like an appropriate note on which to end this series on Cadiz and Jerez… until Southern Spain beckons again. It won’t be long in coming.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. 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 

Compendium // Jerez > Temples of Faith

Never far from Jerez’s Temples of Sherry are places of worship of a different kind. Despite being characterised by a very definite Islamic influence, Jerez’s skyline is  dominated by the many majestic Catholic buildings which have come to define the city. Chief amongst them is the monumental Cathedral, reached via a large sweeping staircase and combining both Baroque and Renaissance features. The interior is extravagantly decorated akin to many such cathedrals all over Spain, and its mighty Dome, centered over the main transept, is embellished with glorious bas-reliefs of the Evangelists and can be seen for miles around.

Jerez Cathedral

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But Jerez’s Cathedral is chief amongst many Catholic masterpieces peppered throughout the city, and had we not spent such a disproportionate time lolling joyfully in sherry bodegas and accompanying wine bars, we might have been able to visit extravagant church aplenty.

One highlight we did get to, and well worth the mention, were the serene Cloisters of Santo Domingo. With their perfectly balanced gothic arches framing a courtyard garden today used for events and performances, the cloisters offered a peaceful and cool retreat from the heat and bustle of Jerez and were, in many ways, more beautiful to behold than the Cathedral. While recent events meant that the central garden was full of piles of plastic chairs, for me and my camera, these chairs became a feature of artistic interest in themselves, adding interest to my snapshots of this most harmonious of catholic buildings.

The Cloisters of Santo Domingo

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And with free entrance to boot, what better retreat for an aching head once the sherry tastings are over and out? 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. 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.

Folio // Jerez > Sherry Streets and Shady Squares

My second Folio presents Jerez, city of squares and fountains, cobbled streets and cosy quaint cafes. Few visitors to the city would deny that it is perfectly picturesque. Jerez conveys so much of what we tourists have come to think of as the archetype Spanish city that I wonder how it came to be that Jerez falls under the shadow of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. Such is the result of a region whose cities are each, in their own way, a spectacle. It’s like when you have an art gallery with walls crammed floor to ceiling with gems – there are so many masterpieces there, that you miss out on most in order to concentrate on just one or two.

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Determined that Jerez would be our focus on this occasion, we lost no time in exploring its consistently beautiful alleys and avenues. Cluttered with sherry-barrel bar tables, cafe umbrellas seeking in vain to keep out the heat, souvenir shops spilling onto sidewalks exhibiting polka dots aplenty, Jerez is nevertheless a city whose every facet appears to be perfectly ordered and camera ready. Building facades do not just crack – they age gracefully like a fading Hollywood star, while alongside them, sprawling palm tree leaves fan languidly and frame each image with their tropical elegance. In wide avenues, shops give way to wrought iron benches and potted flowers, while lamp posts twist and curve with avant garde excellence, and fountains compete with one another, sploshing and splashing their way across the city’s grandest squares.

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Jerez is a city built largely in beige. It is not terribly green, but instead its attraction translates from the sunny disposition of its golden facades and ancient marble finishings. Wandering from one square to the next, you will stumble across colonnades befitting the Florentine Renaissance, and extravagant Catholic iconography worthy of Rome. All this will run alongside the simplest of neighbourhood tapas bars, where flamenco guitarists play emotionally in the corner over lunch. Tired, lazy, but elegant in its languor, Jerez in the summer is a city which reflects its own sunshine; a place whose excesses of daytime heat are transmitted into the passion of its dance and music by night, and in the deep amber sparkle of its Sherry at all hours.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. 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.

Folio // Jerez > El Alcázar y su entorno

In putting together something of a Folio of images which capture the spirit of Jerez de la Frontera – the city of our current focus of The Daily Norm – I struggled to limit these to a single post. For lovers of Spain (like me), and in particular the visceral, emotionally impactful region of Andalucia (especially me), Jerez is a true exemplar. With its sherry bars, flamenco tablas, white washed houses and cobbled streets filled with barrel bar tables, grand fountains and grander women fanning themselves in the balmy shadows, a single shot from Jerez could be a postcard image for the whole region. So with the need to split my Folio in two, this first selection focuses in on the Alcázar and its surroundings. 

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Any Andalucian city worth its salt will have an Alcázar or similar memorial to the region’s spectacular Moorish past. Rising in the 11th century, the Alcázar of Jerez bears all of the hallmarks of the time of Al Andaluz, with its horseshoe arches, trickling floor-level fountains, and a garden shaded with citrus trees and perfumed by jasmine. As per the intention of its Moorish creators, the gardens of these Arabic palaces are always the highlight of any visit, inviting the visitor into a slice of paradise on earth. Yet even this garden could not entice us in the 40+ degrees heat which coincided with our visit. No comfort could be found in the shade of those poor burning orange trees. We sought solace instead in the cavernous ancient baths with their blissfully darkened interiors and cool stone walls. 

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Heat aside, there is no doubting the beauty of Jerez’s Alcázar. Being relatively simple in design and largely rebuilt, it is no match for the glories of Granada’s Alhambra, but it resonates with a similar atmosphere of tranquility and meticulous balance. Beyond its fortress walls, the ancient city unfolds, and intoned in the same butterscotch colours, Jerez’s great gothic Cathedral rises spectacularly into ever-blue skies, while just beyond, against a landscape of patchwork fields and windmills, the great weather vane of the nearby Gonzalez Byass bodegas tells of another fortress for the modern age, built of row upon row of French and American oak barrels, containing that priceless nectar: sherry. 

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. 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.