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Posts tagged ‘Culture’

Marrakech Moments: Tea at the Café de France

Every city has an iconic café. It’s not always the fanciest, or the most expensive or the most beautiful, but it will be the place with history, with a notorious clientele, and a spot beloved by locals and tourists alike. In Marrakech, that place is the Café de France. Located at the bustling heart of the Jemaa El Fna, the iconic market square at the centre of Marrakech, it is simply the perfect ambience to take a Moroccan mint tea and watch the world go by.


But as with all such iconic places – we’re talking the level of Florian’s in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Caffé Greco in Rome – the best tables are hard to get. When we arrived in Marrakech, a very friendly steward in our Riad told us that the most sought after table was the one up on the first floor terrace of the Café in the most south western corner, with a perfect view of the Koutoubia Mosque at sunset. When we arrived at the Café de France, it was so crowded that we would have been lucky to get a table at all, let alone get the table most coveted of all. But suddenly, as if by magic, and at the precise moment when the lingering clouds of the afternoon cleared and sun rays flooded the terrace of the café, the very same corner table became free and we swiftly occupied it, and soaked in its very enticing view.


The recommendation was correct. It really was the best table. From there we could enjoy the sunset, the Koutoubia tower, and the bustling Jemaa El Fna square at this time when it transformed from day time market place to a huge open air eatery and evening performance venue. There is where the stories of ancient sand dunes and shifting deserts are told, where serpents uncoil out of baskets and monkeys are trained to dance. This exotic space is the centre of the city for a reason, and we had the very best view of it, from above.  Determined to enjoy the table, we took endless photos, reflected upon the ever changing view, sat back, read, and enjoyed a perfectly fresh mint tea. An iconic moment fit only for the café of all Marrakech cafés.


© 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.

Abstract #26: Todos Rectos

I have long been inspired by the Semana Santa parades which fill the streets of Spain with their melancholic processions at Easter time. Too many times I have berated the confusion of ignorant outsiders who see the parades as anachronistic, or worse still, reminiscent of the unthinkable 3Ks. In truth, they make for a stirring spectacle, no matter that their devotional repercussions are undoubtedly far weaker than they might have been 100, even 50 years ago. Yet with the sinister pointed masks of the nazareños, the swinging thrones lifted on high allowing a precious statue of Jesus or the Madonna to make its annual outing into the streets, and their moving brass band harmonies resonating throughout cobbled streets, Spain’s Easter parades are for me a highlight of the annual calendar.

Readers familiar with my blog will know that this will not be the first time I have painted Spain’s Easter parades. They feature in my Seville Triptych, my study of Domingo de Ramos, my Semana Santa code, and my painting Catholicism CatholicismBut these solemn spectacles never fail to move me, and it was during the afternoon in the week immediately preceding the parades that a moment’s reflection on what was to come brought this image sweeping before my eyes. That same evening I bought my canvas and set to work.

Abstract #26: Todos Rectos (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Abstract #26: Todos Rectos (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Featuring all of the various characteristics of the parades; the pointed hats of the nazareños, the enthroned statues of Jesus and Mary, the candles, trumpets and incense smoke, this new painting encapsulates Semana Santa, with each aspect reduced into an abstract form typical of my new style, and with a highly limited colour palette of deep blood red, yellows and touches of blue.

Asides from the forms, the title of the piece is something of a play on words. Todo recto in Spanish means straight on, like the direction of the parade, led by the trumpet. But to be todos rectos is to be literally all right, referring not only to the moral righteousness of those involved in the procession, but also eluding to the right wing politics with which the Spanish Catholic church was always historically associated. And of course to be recto is also to be straight. Enough said.

It’s a painting with which I am wholeheartedly delighted. A finely balanced addition to my new collection, and the many of my works which have been inspired by Easter in Spain.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. 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 work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at

On the trail of S’Arxiduc (Part 1): Son Marroig

Mallorca is a well-known magnet for people from all nations, and of all the famous foreigners attracted to the island, none has been so well admired locally as ‘S’Arxiduc’, Archduke Ludwig Salvador. Born in 1847 in the Pitti Palace, Florence, the son of Leopold III of Tuscany and Marie Antoinette de Bourbon, he came to Mallorca 20 years later to escape from Viennese court life and immediately fell in love with the island.

Championing conservation before the word even had a meaning, the Archduke was a passionate admirer of the wild beauty of the North-Western Tramuntana coast, and very quickly bought up estates along the coast (including S’estaca which today belongs to Michael Douglas) in an effort to save them from development. Once saved, he devoted himself to studying and recording Mallorcan wildlife and traditions along the land, and his seven volume Las Baleares remains an authority on the subject today.

Na Foradada and the famous marble rotunda

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100 years after the centenary of his death, the island of Mallorca is marking the life of this critically important Mallorca enthusiast, including a large exhibition devoted to his life in the Casal Solleric on Palma’s leafy Borne boulevard. So with S’Arxiduc very much on the brain, it felt like the perfect time to visit two of his former properties, which I have so often seen on the way to my beloved Deia and never explored. The first, Son Marroig, was the Archduke’s home and has today been turned into a shrine in his memory.

Son Marroig inside

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While the house is rich in S’Arxiduc memorabilia together with impressive antique furniture and traditional Mallorquin upholstery, the real gem for me is the outside: sun dappled gardens cooled by a small pond and a lavish array of plants, and beyond them his famous white marble rotunda, made from Carrara marble and imported from Italy, from where you can sit and gaze at the Na Foradada (‘pierced rock’) peninsula, jutting out to sea with a gaping 18-m hole at its centre. It’s a poetic structure from a man who, like no other before, appreciated the true poetry which resounds in this most stunning and unique of Mediterranean coasts.

Gardens of San Marroig

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All photos are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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 Gaudi which eluded me: Palau Güell

While I am as familiar with the works of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi as the next Barcelona aficionado, there is one Gaudi masterpiece which has managed to elude me in all of the years I have been visiting the city: the Palau Güell. For many years this was due to extensive renovations of the property which saw it closed to the public both partially and entirely for some 7 years. But latterly I just never seemed to be in the city when the palace was open to the public. But no longer is this unsatisfactory position the case! As soon as our Barcelona trip was booked, the first thing I did was to reserve our entrance to the Gaudi masterpiece, and within hours of our arrival in the city, we had entered its impressive lofty interior. 

The Palau Güell

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Built between 1886 and 1888 in the El Raval neighbourhood of Barcelona, the Palau Güell was in fact one of Gaudi’s earliest works, and the first major collaboration with the industrialist Eusebi Güell who was to become Gaudi’s most significant patron. Although its sombre interiors show somewhat more restraint from the man who was later to go on to design such fantastical masterpieces as the Sagrada Familia and the Casa Mila, the exterior of the house already showed the young architect pushing the boundaries of socially acceptable architecture, filling his facade with magnificently twisted wrought iron, animal forms, and his terrace with his now iconic multi-coloured tile chimneys. 

The famous terrace

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That is not to say that the interiors were boring. Far from it. Past the initial somewhat gloomy entrance which was intended to be the preserve of carriages, the upstairs rooms showed every sign of the virtuosity for which the architect would become know, with magnificently intricate woodwork, wrought iron and personalised furniture heavily influenced by the Moorish design which is so prevalent in Spain as well as the innovations of line and shape which were becoming modish in what was to be known as the modernist or art nouveau era. By far the most spectacular feature of the house is the main atrium: a dazzling space which cuts through the entire height of the house, topped with a dome into which little holes cut are like stars twinkling in space.

The impressive central atrium

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So the house which had long eluded me did its best to impress, and certainly received from me the admiration it deserved. I did however leave somewhat concerned by some of the renovation works undertaken, not least the extent to which staircases have been modernised, for example, with swish inlayed lighting which is clearly out of character with the original house, and worst of all the adaptation of the roof’s famous chimneys such that on one, a contemporary artist has shamelessly attached a tacky toy lizard as some kind of new interpretation of an otherwise perfect Gaudi icon. Why this was allowed I will never know. As they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


Ronda | Day One: Matadors, Miradores and Multiple Moments of Epiphany

I am going to say something potentially controversial. I think that the experience of a moment of epiphany is the preserve of artists and creatives. Not because other people can’t be placed in the often emotional, sense-tantilising circumstances that give rise to such a moment, but because they do not have the creative mentality which makes them aware of it, or at least of just how sensational are the surroundings giving rise to it. Not everyone therefore will necessarily understand me when I say that in Ronda, a small mountain-top city in Spain’s Andalucia, the surroundings were so bone-achingly beautiful that I experienced multiple moments of epiphany – times when situation, atmosphere and inspiration combine into a powerful fusion of mood and moment; when creative ideas pop and flow from my head like bubbles out of a fast-moving fountain. (The blogosphere does however tend to me full of creatives, and I therefore retain high hopes that most of my readership will be able to flow effortlessly along with me as I describe the happening of those moments under the hot sunny skies of a summer-baked rolling Spanish landscape). 

The Spanish City of Ronda

The Spanish City of Ronda

The first of those moments occurred shortly after our arrival in this incredibly placed city up in the vast mountain ranges that sit behind Marbella. As if the incredible view of vertiginous mountain passages on the wildly meandering road from Marbella to Ronda weren’t enough, but up in the city itself, our hotel (and one of the town’s best) – the Paradores – was so sensationally located as to give us the very best views wherever in the hotel we happened to be situated. Located bang next door to Ronda’s iconic Puente Nuevo, the newest and largest of three bridges that span the 120-metre-deep chasm that carries the Guadalevín River and divides the city, the hotel has an enviable location right on the edge of the vast El Tajo gorge on which the whole city is precariously perched. 

But my moment of epiphany came not in the hotel lobby, or in its well appointed restaurant or swimming pool gardens, but in our own room which we had, with great fortune, been allocated with a vast hotel terrace spanning one whole corner of the hotel and presenting the most sensational almost 360 degree views of Ronda, the El Tajo gorge, the bridge and the mountainous valleys and hills beyond. Looking over the variously angled terracotta rooftops of Ronda’s old town houses, across the rocky gorge and over to vast planes in a tapestry of sun-burnt browns, coppers, umbers and olive greens, we could see hints of Tuscany, moments of Malta, the green verdancy of lush tropics, but predominating over all the unmistakable russet richness of a Spanish landscape. In those fields were every conceivable shade of orange and red; pastures haphazardly placed and others neatly planted with olive trees; curving meandering roads lined with cypresses and Spanish firs, and exposed hard-edged rocky outcrops with birds of prey flying overhead. 

What a view…the Paradores Hotel, our terrace, and the landscape beyond

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From the hotel, we were but moments away from the Alameda Park; lush botanical gardens whose beauty would themselves make for a view worthy of lavished attention, but which are largely overlooked because of the incredible mountain views which span the entire length of the gardens at the bottom of their sun dappled paths. This reminded me of those sensational gardens at the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello – stunning gardens, much overlooked by visitors who rush to the Terrazzo dell’lnfinito (Terrace of Infinity) to see the unbeatable views of the Mediterranean which the terrace affords. 

The stunning Alameda Park

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Photo Focus: Marbella Mix

It’s Marbella week on The Daily Norm, a blog which has become progressively taken over by a summer of Mediterranean (and Adriatic!) travel as I seek to pursue the only true source of a man’s spiritual and creative happiness: La Dolce Vita itself. And back in Marbella, the place which has been my family home for over decade and which has given birth to so many of my most successful creative moments, the typically Andalucian charming little old town which inspired me from my first visit in the year 2000 continues to do so these 14 years later. Still, when I walk around the town, I take my camera with me, for the excitement that this Spanish beauty instils in me continues to inspire creativity of every form, and a camera is a necessary tool in those moments.

So this post contains just a few of the Marbella shots I took while I spent two wonderful weeks recently ambling down its little narrow alleyways, through large cobbled squares, and around its lush gardens and seaside promenades. In this mixed old bunch of shots, you’ll enjoy energetic bursts of fountains glittering in the hot afternoon sun, you’ll see old Spanish locals creating a picture-postcard grouping as they gather together out in the warm balmy evening air to gossip; and you can share in the burst of optimism which the long shadows and sharp sunshine of an early Spanish morning can bring – when hope itself goes out for a promenade. Amongst the Marbella locals, you’ll see a rather friendly pigeon enjoying those ample fountains, you can meet the rather handsome patron saint cast in bronze outside the Iglesia de la Incarnacion, and, like the lady in one photo, you’ll want to sit out in an Andaluz square reading while the sun breaks out around you.

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These photos are very much an expression of the true authentic heart of one of Andalucía’s most overlooked historical centres. For as I’ve said so many times before, Marbella is not just about the superficial glitz of Puerto Banus – it has a heart and soul too.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.

Marbella Medley | Folio 2 – Semana Santa

Heading to Spain for Easter is often a risky business. Far from providing the wall-to-wall sunshine much promised of the tourism posters, my experience of the country at this time of the year has been that rain falls more widely than just the plain, and for more days than the tourist board would care to admit. And this Easter was no exception, with the Spanish skies tipping it down for 3 out of the 6 days I was on holiday there. Unfortunately, what this seasonal capriciousness also means in that the Semana Santa (Holy Week) parades, which are otherwise the other big certainty of a trip to Spain at Easter, will likewise be cancelled. After all, local churches cannot risk the damage which might otherwise be done to their priceless statues, many of which are centuries old, whose procession in the open air is central to the Semana Santa parades.

Happily, this year, save for the unfortunate cancellation of the big climax to Marbella’s Semana Santa festivities – the Easter Day parade – I was able to see a full set of stunning processions on each of the evenings when I was in town. With their military bands and mighty golden tronos, their multiple rows of candle-bearing conical-hooded nazareños, and collective of local dignitaries, these parades are full of all the pomp and traditional ceremony that a Spanish town or city can muster, and represent the centrepiece of a year’s religious celebrations.

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As I have said on this blog many a time before, these parades are totally inspirational to me, and cannot help but move me, even though I do not share in the religious sentiment behind them. So even though this year must have been the 10th or 11th time I have seen the parades, I could not help but chase them all around town, taking photographs of each detail as I went. The parades, which largely run at night, are nevertheless notoriously difficult to photograph, and the set I am sharing today have their fair share of blurring issues. But I kind of like this, because in the blur you get a sense of the mysterious and solemn atmosphere which is created when you see the flickering candlelit tronos emerge from around a street corner, seen through the puffs of incense and candle smoke which are so characteristic of these parades.


Special mention also has to go to the military sheep who was perhaps one of the more unique aspects of one parade. Appearing to be some kind of military mascot, the sheep did a sterling job, joining in the parade for the full 4+ hours of its duration. With its tilted hat and little Spanish flag ankle cuffs, this sheep was fully dressed for the occasion and is so endearing that I have given him two photos in this collection – it’s only what he deserves.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.

Mallorca Map Commission Part 2 – Palma

If I thought the first of my Mallorca maps was a complex undertaking, with its representation of iconic Mallorca filled with the towns and terrain that characterise that Mediterranean gem of an island, then things weren’t going to get any easier when it came to commencing the second of the two commissions undertaken for Cappuccino Grand Cafe this Summer. This time round it was the capital city of Mallorca (and the Balearics) Palma de Mallorca which needed to be put on the map, as it were, a requisite for Cappuccino’s Mallorcan representation, seeing as the popular café chain has some 5 restaurants and two takeaway branches in the city alone.

Map of Palma de Mallorca (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Map of Palma de Mallorca (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

But quite asides from illustrating the cafés characteristically prime locations, the real dilemma for me, when I set about designing the map, was how best to represent the stunning city of Palma in all its architectural and nautical glory, while ensuring that the illustrations of the Cappuccino cafes did not become overshadowed. My solution was to focus on the areas and the architecture which makes the locations of the Cappuccino cafés so desirable, contributing inexorably to the simple joys of visiting one of their branches, sipping a coffee in the vicinity of the ancient Palau March for example, or overlooking Palma’s yacht-crammed marina; and to otherwise reflect the great mass of this sprawling city with simplified terracotta blocks, these hinting at the architectural maturity of the city, while also resembling the terracotta floors which are characteristic of the Med. However, I suppose the pièce de résistance of the map for me is my representation of the River Borne, cutting through the Western half of the city as it makes its way down to the marina beyond. I could not resist the temptation to give this map a surreal twist, lifting the river like a satin ribbon, out of its river bank, undulating and flapping through the air as it approaches the sea.

Cafes in the Borne and Palau March

Cafes in the Borne and Palau March

The Cappuccino HQ at San MIguel

The Cappuccino HQ at San MIguel

The Colon takeaway

The Colon takeaway

The Weyler takeaway

The Weyler takeaway

The Borne - detail

The Borne – detail

The Paseo Maritimo Cappuccino

The Paseo Maritimo Cappuccino

The result of all this is a map which must surely represent a satisfying climax of my Balearic maps, and one whose result is the self-evident result of hours of laborious and detailed work. But with Mallorca, Ibiza and Palma under my belt, the question has to be: where will my map making take me next? With their capacity to capture the essence and character of a place, while reflecting the topography and geography of a location, I have now realised the potential that a map can have for artistic illustration, while reflecting an accurate representation of location and terrain – and frankly, I cannot wait to explore the medium further.

Detail of the cathedral

Detail of the cathedral

Detail of the Marina and the River Borne

Detail of the Marina and the River Borne

The Cappuccino Brand Fusion placed in an iconic modernista shop sign (now home to Colon takeaway)

The Cappuccino Brand Fusion placed in an iconic modernista shop sign (now part of the decor of the Colon takeaway)

Detail of the Cathedral roof and nearby arab baths

Detail of the Cathedral roof and nearby arab baths

Detail of the Es Baluard museum of contemporary art

Detail of the Es Baluard museum of contemporary art

You can see all of my Balearic maps in the Cappuccino Grand Papier, available online, and in everyone of the cafés irresistibly indulgent branches. What other excuse do you need for a weekend in the sun?

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2013. 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. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.