Friday, September 23, 2011

Vatican Frescoes

Brain anatomy.
Being able to tour the Sistene Chapel before the crowds arrived was a pleasure.  Gazing at the walls and ceiling without being elbowed and jostled, and being able to hear the guide without the babble of the crowds meant there was little to disturb the connection.

Standing in the midst of a room that has spoken to generations of Cardinals as they voted in the next Pope,  I couldn't help but wonder what these figures spoke to their consciences.

Michaelangelo didn't even have a specialty in fresco before the Pope summoned him to Rome. He went unwillingly.  He struggled with technique, perspective and ego as he worked to complete the masterpieces.  Between 33 and 37 when he painted the ceiling; and between 59 and 64 when he painted the Last Judgement.  Almost ten years of this genius' life, poured into wet plaster.

Michaelangelo dissected corpses to gain deep insight into the muscles and body, and likely dissected a few brains.  Neurosurgeons have confirmed that in the creation panel, the depiction of God and angels is an accurate representation of the cross-section of a brain. The green scarf is modeled after a brain stem.

Michaelangelo in the foreground of Raphael's painting.
As Michaelangelo was hard at work in the Chapel, young Raphael was busy in adjoining rooms, painting the Pope's personal quarters. R. snuck in behind M.'s scaffold and was amazed to see the human figure revealed with such raw power and intensity; it was groundbreaking. R. went back and painted M. into the foreground, copying his technique. In the same painting, higher up on the steps, you can see another master, Leonardo da'Vinci, depicted as Socrates with a long grey beard.  Raphael's own self-portrait is to the far right in the black hat.

Michaelangelo's self-portrait in the flayed flesh of St. Bartholemew
Michaelangelo's self-portrait is presented in the flayed skin of St. Bartholemew in the Last Judgement.  The genius was brilliant, but not particularly happy.  He spent much time alone and not a lot is known about his personal habits, loves or personal tastes.  One of the guides was heard to say he was a depressive and wore boots to bed... but maybe that is just idle gossip.

If M. was depressed, maybe it was because he knew that not long after his death, his students would be called in, to paint strategically placed scarves and garments over the naked flesh that many found so unsettling.  Imagine the religious debate that preceded; repeated in recent history when the 20th century saw restoration work carried out to the ceiling.  Figures could have been returned to their original, yet only a few were fully restored to their original splendour.

photo credit Sistene Chapel
photo credit Last Judgement
photo credit Raphael Room

Divina Costa

The view from our balcony at night was molto bene!  We were staying in Praiano, so got to see the twinkling lights of Positano in the distance.

The stars above were on full display on the clear nights, but we did have 2 nights of wicked lightning storms.  This was the first rain Praiano had seen for months.

During the day we toured surrounding territory.  Positano, Amalfi, Ravello.  Many of the cars you see on this coast are scraped along the sides, either from passing traffic or the cliffs.  We chose  taxis and buses so we could enjoy the scenery.

In Positano at Le Tre Sorelle,  we lingered at the table out of the hot sun and tasted a memorable meal at the beach. Lots of shops here and no shortage of ways to spend money.  Plenty of luxury hotels with stunning views. 

Amalfi was gorgeous too, but the highlight for me here was the Cathedral.  A place of beauty, repose and faith, it welcomed deep contemplation.  Liz and I wandered the back steps and streets together and emerged again at the foot of the cathedral and in the town piazza. Come to think of it, it is likely all the streets eventually wind up somewhere near.

on the tour bus to Ravello
Ravello wasn't originally on the itinerary, but what a breathtaking spot.  Higher up in the cliffs from Amalfi, it was originally settled when rebels ('revel') broke with the Duchy in the 800s.  I loved exploring the gardens of Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone.  Resting in the cool of the Duomo.  The open air bus tour that climbed to our destination at the top of  the cliffs had us gaping in awe.

Just as we left the Divina Costa we stopped in at the Herculaneum to wander the ancient ruins and get some context for our next stop - Roma.

More details later.... caio caio

Ravello photo credit
Positano at night photo credit

Thursday, September 15, 2011

O my!

Rob gave me a nice Brunello for my birthday this year and I was  saving it for a special occasion.

What am I waiting for?

Six months of anticipation and now we are on the cusp of our journey. Tonight I am packing for my long-awaited trip, tomorrow we will be on our way.

Alex and my brother Dave will hold the fort at home; water the cat and feed the plants.   I don't think I've ever gone this long without seeing Alex and it will be a bit odd, I'm going to miss him...  We decided to take my laptop so we could Skype each other.  I've backed up all the data, just in case the laptop disappears somewhere along the way.  It would be a shame to lose all the photos.

This wine is exceptional.  I've long been a fan of this big-red-berry flavour and I'm so excited to think the next Brunello I sip may very well be in Montalcino!

I can't believe how much I'm dithering over luggage.  I did a practice pack the other day and managed to fit everything into  a carry-on very nicely.  Should I bring the extra-sized bag so I can shop and carry home... or do I travel light?  And what about my yoga mat?  I'll be bringing that, but does it count as a purse or carry on?  Can Rob carry on the laptop and the yoga mat as his purse? If I am bringing a laptop, do I need to print the itinerary?  Plans A, B, C and infinity... So many important matters to sort.

A nice surprise!  I found 55 euros & change I stashed since our Mediterranean cruise.  I forgot about it being in my purse, I'd tucked it into a pocket and then never quite got around to exchanging it.  Now it's tucked into a sleeve with my passport.  When I unfolded the bills I was surprised by their stocky dimensions (so much shorter and wider than I remember). Now instead of exchanging this for Canadian dollars I will exchange it in an Italian market to buy some bread & cheese & olive oil.  So much more suitable a use for euros, don't you agree?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Best Wishes

What a birthday celebration!

We invited some guests down to TGIF at BPYC to help celebrate my birthday and it was a truly special night. 

Grace arranged for her trio to be there and play music that made the evening even more magical.  Great music, surrounded by friends.

Years ago I started a gratitude journal and since it still had some empty pages,  I asked people to write down their best advice for living well in the next half century.  I got some real gems!

Best of all, I can pull the book off the shelf and read the handwritten words of wisdom.

The advice is so wonderful I can't keep it all to myself, so here it for you to enjoy as well:
  • Age is strictly a case of mind over matter.  If you don't mind, it doesn't matter!
  • Life is like reading a book; one doesn't know what's on the next page until the page is turned; and one doesn't know what's in the middle until you've reached that point.  Here are a few thoughts to influence the other half of your book:  it's not about how much love you have in the beginning but how much love you've built in the end.  Happy is the person who doesn't mourn what he's missing but delighted for what he has.
  • You are as young as you let yourself be.
  • As my 89 year old friend says, just keep on going.
  • Seize every moment that leads to a new adventure.
  • Stay positive - there is good and evil, pain and joy - all part of life.  So for the next 50 - keep your focus on the good and joy.
  • It's like, relative.  For example, you seem like a fox to me. xx
  • Enjoy every day.  Every day is worth it!
  • If life begins at 40 then congrats!  You are only 10.  But they also say 60 is the new 40, so that means you aren't born yet.  Either way you have your whole life ahead of you, so enjoy!
  • 50 was the start of a great decade.. I stopped procrastinating and started doing the things I had always wanted to do.  I couldn't wait any longer to "grow up".  Hope it's the start of a beautiful part of your life, too!
  • The years will fly by but the moments of joy will last forever.  Celebrate each day as it is built upon the one before.
  • My best advice is "feel no guilt" - life is too short to carry guilt and worry.  The next decade will be good - a time without many family responsibilities and a time to grow.  
  • Our advice "drink lots of wine" especially whilst in Italy.  As they say in Rome, do as the Romans do.
  • Don't sweat the small things.  Embrace your new freedoms.  Write things down. Breathe. Deeply.  Know you are loved and appreciated.  Have fun!
  • Be good to yourself with the same kindness you give to others.  Continue to explore, embrace, engage and experience.  As best we know, we get one dance around this earth, make it a tango.
  • They say that anything you try and stick with as you get older you tend to master... 
  • I have no advice to give you; you know what you're doing; you're doing it right; keep on doing it.
  • How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were? (Satchel Page)
  • Once you turn 50, you should start counting backwards, and begin to think younger instead of older.  That way when you turn 70 you're thinking and feeling like a 30 year old, but much wiser than the first time!
  • Hope the next 50 years are filled with wealth, health and happiness.  Now that you've passed the uncertainty of youth and hopefully left judgement behind, the world can be your oyster (or in your case, your garden) to explore.
  • I turned 50 six years ago.  I absolutely think these are the best years of our lives.  Enjoy.  Be happy.  Think about retirement.  Kids growing up.  It's all about you.  Do everything you want.  Think back to when you were a kid.  What did you enjoy doing back then.  Do it now.
  • Sing and dance whenever and wherever you want; live and laugh large.  Use your silver, china and crystal every day.  Don't ever think about your age when you are shopping for clothes - if you like the way you look in it and it feels good - buy it.  Tell the people you love how you feel about them every day.  Do one thing or say one thing each day that makes someone feel good.
  • Keep your love strong.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Full Harvest Moon - September

I love a warm September sail and this weekend I was blessed with two great days on the water.

Saturday was my first-ever race (loafing on Bob and Margaret's boat), and today it was a leisurely cruise from late afternoon into evening, watching the full moon rise like a Phoenix.  Moonlight dazzle on the water.

The official time for the full moon this month is 5:27 a.m. September 12.   The moon closest to the fall equinox is the  Full Harvest Moon which would give me an excuse to post the Neil Young standard, or the 1930's favourite, "Shine on Harvest Moon", both of which I absolutely love.

But what can I say, Italy is on my mind.  And the moon hit my eye, like a big pizza pie!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Happy Birthday!

If You Were Born Today, September 7:
Famous people born today: Grandma Moses, Buddy Holly, Chrissie Hynde.

Your Birthday Year Forecast:
A trine between the Sun and the Moon in your Solar Return chart this year is a fortunate aspect. It suggests that your domestic and career needs are not in competition with one another in the year ahead. Your inner needs tend to be mirrored by external events, and vice versa. This aspect is very powerful and rewarding. It suggests that you will be on top of your game this year, for the most part, and positive connections with others can be made fairly easily. A comfortable level of personal popularity helps to keep conflict to a minimum. With the ability to handle your emotions successfully, there is less stress on both your mind and body. Your self-confidence and positive attitude will reward you!

You are more aware of moral issues this year, and have a stronger than usual desire to improve and learn this year. Optimism and confidence are with you, and you are able to attract fortunate circumstances into your life as a result. Problems are easier to resolve this year. Travel opportunities are likely. You are likely to enjoy good humor, optimism, and a larger perspective on matters that keeps you from getting lost in details or overly frustrated by everyday stresses and strains. Be confident, but also grateful and humble, and this will help attract the things you want into your life.

Opportunities to advance your personal interests are especially strong in April 2012.

Your faith in your ability to produce and to win takes you places you perhaps never imagined. You are able to see the "big picture", which helps you to plan effectively.

It's a strong year for engaging in creative projects and for joining in groups working towards a common goal. Competitive activities may often work in your favor - positive outcomes in competitive activities, including sports and business, are likely.

Err on the side of caution if offers arrive that seem too good to be true, however. Some confusion or possibly deception could arise in communications this year, and you may be skipping important details without even realizing it. Your imagination is stirred, but you may not always follow through on your ideas.

Romance is in the air this year - your sensuality, sex appeal, and animal magnetism are enhanced.

Relationships tend to hold good levels of interest, and you might find it easier than usual to make connections.

Your social life is likely to be animated and pleasing this year. The ability to see the big picture helps you to stay confident and optimistic, and to stress less over the little things. A cooperative attitude improves your relationships. Creative and group projects can thrive in the period ahead.

illustration credit
horoscope from cafe astrology

Sultan's Tent

Rob, Alex, Penny and I went out to celebrate a special occasion on Wednesday night and I got to pick the venue.

Although I am a bit of a foodie, we don't get out to restaurants much and I confess, I don't stay current on what's hot.  This is all by way an apology to confess why I picked the Sultan's Tent. Oh dear.  I think this has seen its day, back in Yorkville when people sat on pillows and ate with their hands.

The night of our visit the food was uninspired but the biggest disappointment was the belly-dancing.  We ended up with someone who shook their bum, instead of undulating their belly.  It kind of missed the point.  Ah well.

To make up for the transgression, here are two of my favourite You Tube performances.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Saint-Paulin Fromagerie D'Oka

Sure, the packaging made it all look innocent enough, but 350 grams of Saint-Paulin have somehow disappeared after just 5 days in my fridge.  That's a good-sized chunk.

Rob brought it home and left it in plain view and now the entire round has somehow disappeared.  Where oh where did it go? 

All told, over 1000 calories. In Weightwatchers parlance that is about 36 points (almost an entire weekly 'treat' allowance).  Mea culpa!

Saint-Paulin is made in accordance with the authentic Trappist recipe and set in the original cellars of the Oka abbey.  So it can't be all that bad.  Sure tasted good. 

If only I could put that "all things in moderation" advice into practice! 

My chunk was just over  .722 pounds or .350 kilograms.

To help put things into perspective and for comparison purposes the average intake of cheese per person in various countries
Enough feeling guilty, already.

Of course, there is another way of looking at this. Appetite and drive for specific foods may be a biological mechanism to assure intake of all necessary nutritional components.  In other words, my body is craving calcium. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Buona Notte

Buona Notte!

Last year we went on our Mediterranean Cruise and it was our first cruise as well as the the first time to Europe.

We were scheduled to stop in Naples and were so looking forward to the Amalfi Coast, but the port wasn't able to accommodate the cruise ship.  It meant an extra night in Venice, but still, it is an understatement to say we were disappointed.

So this year, Positano is on our itinerary.  And Capri.  I can already hear the ocean waves!

Looking forward to seeing the lights at night.  That was the one serious drawback of the Mediterranean Cruise last year - boarding the ship at the end of the day and missing out on the night life and the stars above.  This time, we're scheduled for three nights and four days.  Time enough to explore...

Positano from pierrelord on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

... and a fine summer it was...

The first autumn leaf has fallen in my backyard.  It is just a tiny little thing, less than an inch, but bursting red.   And it is already September 3!

This was an amazing summer.  I was able to take almost the entire month of July as a holiday and for awhile it almost did feel that the days were moving as slow as syrup. 

Henry and Josephine
Versailles clematis

Nelly Moser clematis
astilbe, iris, Japanese fern

Margaret's lily

image of maple leaf is from Getty Images