Skip to content

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.

DSC02551DSC02323IMG_1621DSC02617IMG_1609DSC02620DSC02768DSC02555DSC02548

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.

DSC02549DSC02310DSC02547DSC02317DSC02545IMG_1428IMG_1626DSC02553DSC02566

© 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.

DSC02229DSC02257DSC02686DSC02264DSC02285DSC02286DSC02630

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.

DSC02628DSC02278DSC02245DSC02711DSC02318DSC02323DSC02631

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

DSC02056DSC02037DSC02043DSC02044DSC02047DSC02035

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)

DSC02070DSC02064DSC02066DSC02068DSC02063DSC02079DSC02074DSC02075DSC02077DSC02072

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

DSC02038DSC02055DSC02034DSC02052DSC02033DSC02032DSC02030

© 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.

DSC01998DSC02084DSC01918DSC02016DSC01959DSC01994DSC02125DSC01893

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.

DSC02133DSC02122DSC01969DSC01996DSC01954DSC01952DSC01941DSC01927

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.

DSC02143DSC01890DSC02142DSC01904DSC02135DSC02087DSC02004

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.

DSC02085DSC02014DSC02009DSC01944DSC01935DSC01919DSC01842DSC01840

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. 

The Colours of Marrakech, Part 6: Sunset Fuchsia

Marrakech is a city so abundant in its palette of colour that I have been able to successfully craft my tale of our trip there by reference to its vastly diverse tonality. Starting with the rose colour which characterises the city walls and the majority of its ancient buildings, and exploring the golden ochre of its crumbling palaces and the stunning blue of the Marjorelle Gardens, my colour-focused posts reached a peak when they entered the multi-coloured world of the Souks which beat at the heart of Marrakech’s ancient medina. But to end the set, it felt appropriate to go back to the pink hues which started it all, not least because this specific shade of pink was cast at the end of the day, when the sun cast a glorious new hue over the city.

DSC00483DSC00504DSC00503DSC00497

While the city is most definitely pink, it was enchanting to watch how that pink developed and transformed as the various stages of the day unfurled. In the morning the pink was dusky and pale as it warmed up gradually with the rising of the sun. At midday the baking sun made the pink luminescent, fiery and peach like. And when the odd cloud came over, the pink was more mauve and moody. But only once did we see the greatest transformation of all. It was after a huge storm ended the day, refreshing us all, but casting a fierce spectacle of rain and lightening across the city. Just as it was nearing its end, the sun plummeted to a level beneath the clouds and as it did so, its refracted light reflected off the clouds and back down onto the city to create a vivid kind of fuchsia pink lighting which literally filled the city. The result was almost eery, as spaces such as our Riad, which were decorated by a very pure white marble, were immersed in a beautiful shade of cherry-blossom. It was almost as though the clouds had rained rosé wine, and we were all swimming in their fruity waters.

DSC00492DSC00495DSC00501DSC00487

The drama and the beauty of the moment was one I will long remember, and is a fitting tribute to this incredible trip, a journey which tantalised each of my senses to a degree never experienced before.

DSC00753

© 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. 

Marrakech on Paper: The Majorelle Gardens with Majorelle Blue

The gift shop adjacent to the house of Jacques Majorelle was very chic. As touristic destinations go, it was very chic indeed – a true boutique – which exhibited all of the hallmarks of Yves Saint Laurent, the subsequent owner of this dazzling blue house and gardens. When, amongst the spectacular YSL pieces and beautifully crafted bottles of exotic Moroccan inspired perfumes I saw a pyramid formed from little cans of paint, my heart skipped a beat. It was Majorelle blue! And while the paint is clearly intended for outside use, I knew as soon as I saw it that with this actual authentic blue, I would paint a work dedicated to the garden: The Majorelle Gardens with Majorelle Blue!

The resulting work, posted here, focuses on the wonderful geometry of the 1920s construction at the heart of the gardens, whose cubist architecture reflects the trends of the time, while the arabesque and arches are truly Moroccan in character. But of course the real star is that ravishing colour, that blue so iconic amongst gardens. But as for the  diverse array of cacti which, in reality, almost hide the house, whose wavy, almost quivering shapes are like the hattifatteners of Tove Jansson, vibrating in the moonlight… these I confined to illustration in shadow, hinting at their presence, but not allowing it to dominate. It was a controversial choice for a garden so famous for its abundance, but in this painting I wanted the house, and the colour to shine. Not the plants.

Majorelle FINAL

The Majorelle Gardens in Majorelle Blue (© 2017 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache and Majorelle blue on paper)

I have no idea whether the idea for painting garden walls this resplendent shade of blue came first from Majorelle or is more deeply imbedded into Arabic culture, but it’s funny to observe how entrenched this colour has become into the idea of the Moroccan garden. For me, the place was a true highlight of our Morocco trip, and this painting a highpoint of my Marrakech collection.

© 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 Colours of Marrakech, Part 5: Majorelle Blue

This post commences with a warning: You are about to be bombarded by blue. An intense, electric, ultramarine blue which defies the senses and energises the mind. And when the more natural colours of citrus and verdant green are set against it, they too become alive, as though infected by the sonic grove to which this blue vibrates. The result is a panoply of vivid colour, a palette so strong that these photos should not be viewed with a hangover. But rather, with a clear head, get ready to revel in this most glorious colour of Marrakech, a shade which has defined the idea of the avant-garde garden paradise, ever since it was first used in the Moroccan garden of French artist, Jacques Majorelle and later the home of one Yves Saint Laurent. This is a post dedicated to the colour so synonymous with its creator and his lavish Marrakech garden that it was named after him: Majorelle Blue.

DSC01134DSC01236DSC01277DSC01124DSC01269DSC01209DSC01206DSC01253DSC01199DSC01178DSC01093

The Majorelle Garden is one of Marrakech’s most popular sites. No doubt the legacy of YSL –  who recovered the abandoned masterpiece of fellow ex-patriot Majorelle in the 1980s and returned it to its former glory – is a prime attraction. But beyond the YSL gloss, which adds understandable glamour to this secluded, leafy space, this is a garden which packs a punch from its entrance. The blue, a mix of cobalt and ultramarine, is so vivid that it cuts through the plants whose dense foliage attempts to cover it. In the garden, every possible type of prickly cactus and tubular bamboo fights to fill the light afforded by the dappled space, and yet they are a mere chorus to the protagonism of the blue. Yes, it allows the green of the plants to sing like a true maestro, but it does so complacently, knowing itself to be the true star.

DSC01334IMG_0282DSC01288DSC01304DSC01309DSC01270DSC01268DSC01317DSC01225DSC01152

While the walls of a waterlily pond (like Monet’s garden on acid) and an adjoining Arabic waterway are given over to this blue, it is the house itself, with its cubic form and intermittent splashes of vivid yellow, which really give the blue its stage, from where its monologue can be radiated throughout a lush garden punctuated with yet more splashes of prominent blue, yellow and orange. Pots and urns do not escape the paint treatment, so that the whole garden becomes unified in colour. It’s as though no plant nor path has been allowed to escape the treatment of a designer intent on creating a cohesive catwalk show. This is a garden choreographed to sing out, to impress. And it does so with aplomb.

DSC01227DSC01114DSC01113DSC01117DSC01115DSC01097DSC01122DSC01110DSC01107DSC01104DSC01100

Predictably the garden is always awash with visitors. Their backpacks and chattering inject the colour harmony with unwanted clashing tones and a strident cackling which punctuates the calm which ought to dominate this cultural space. For this reason my photographic dedication to the Majorelle Garden concentrates more on the details than the overall space. But in those details you can see the effect of colour and contrast, as that magnificent blue comes face to face with its colour wheel opposites. The result is a true spectacle of colour, rarely dared to be seen in so naturally abundant a green and thriving garden space.

IMG_0267IMG_0274DSC01343DSC01185DSC01141

© 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. 

Moroccan Norms survey the Souks of Marrakech

Anything we can do, the Norms can do better, and more often than not as soon as we explore a new part of the world, the globular footprint of these gelatinous characters follows in our wake. Marrakech may be a surprising choice for these travel-fond creatures, especially given the relative unavailability of bubbly wine which a recent trip to Siena confirmed was their favourite source of sustenance. But given that their second favourite pastime is buying their way around Norm-World’s most interesting shops, the utterly diverse product-packed labyrinth of Marrakech’s Medina Souks is a pretty suitable choice for the Norms.

Marrakech Norms Souk

Moroccan Norms Survey the Souks of Marrakech (Pen and ink on paper, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, 2017)

But of course visiting Norms are not the only blobs to gather in the Norm-Souks, and in today’s illustration, you can see the Norms who are also resident traders and local shoppers alike. Whether it be to breathe deep the perfume of rose essence and moroccan spices, to touch the silken thread of magical carpets, or to gaze in wonder at the sparkling brass pots, lanterns and lamps, the magpie Norms are naturally attracted to this Aladdin’s cave of exotic emporiums. And is this packed street, framed by horseshoe arches and plied with plenty, it is not hard to see the attraction. Happy shopping Norms!

© 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