Travels with Penelope

Travel, Food, Wine, Spirituality and Everything Else

Category: Art (page 2 of 2)

October 19, 2015 The Art Inn



As we drove into Lisbon towards the Art Inn Hotel in the glossy Mercedes, I began to have second thoughts about my plans for a pilgrimage. Pilgrims let go of normal life; they walk, carry little, face deprivation, and visit sacred sites. Like the pilgrim in The Way of a Pilgrim, I had chosen my mantra and a practice that I planned to use as I made my way around Portugal, but, with my “way” so paved in luxury, could I realistically call it a pilgrimage? With some reflection, I soon realized that I had to let go of my antiquated parameters and allow the tao to unfold. Facing what it brought my way seemed much more in alignment with my intentions. Continue reading

December 6, 2014 Mattress Factory





Thanks for all the wonderful and mainly humorous responses to the last post on husbonda. With all the possibilities that were suggested Wolfman included (explanation offline), I shall continue to use partner when I am writing about travel with rather than solo.

In spite of the years I have spent in the art world as a student, a gallery owner, a curator and an arts writer who covered artists, galleries, museums, exhibitions and projects related to the creative process, until my trip last October to the steel city I was unfamiliar with the Mattress Factory. As I read about it in a top ten sites to visit, my inner voice prompted me to “Go!” Not one to argue with the intuitive, I obeyed.

The museum, a composite of nine inner city, mainly old homes that have been restored and adapted specifically for the purpose of exhibit and hands on work by the artists is located on Pittsburgh’s North Side a few blocks from the very spot where I was born.

Keep reading!

In its brochure the Mattress Factory defines itself as “a museum of contemporary art that exhibits room-sized works called installations. (installation is a genre in which site-specific works are created that are intended to alter the viewers’ conception of a space.) Created on site by artists from across the country and around the world, our unique exhibitions feature a variety of media that engage all of the senses.”

On entering the museum I almost ran into two three dimensional word balloons by multi dimensional artist John Pena. Pena provided a thought provoking opener that tailed me through my entire visit.








The seriousness of the word balloons followed by its polar opposite “Damn Everything but the Circus” by Ben Sota was pure play! To attend a circus  is one thing, but here I actually became part of a social circus!













Next, some images from Diaspora by Ryder Henry.








More images follow, but first the Museum’s description of Ryder’’s work:

“Ryder Henry creates models of cities that replicate real places in his neighborhood (true to actual scale), combining fantasy sci-fi motifs like space ships and futuristic “Jetson-style” buildings with contemporary architecture. Henry’s preferred medium is recycled cardboard—often collecting boxes right off the street.

Outside the city are the brick towers that hold sentry across the suburban expanse. These buildings are the hubs of their own autonomies. What they lack in aesthetics, they make up for in utility. In the spaces between, the viewer may imagine farmlands and useful things, being looked after by the occupants of these structures.

Beyond the brick towers we see giant ringships in outer space. These are self-contained biospheres with variable gravity and other necessary space stuff.”













An exhibition that took me by surprise Traces of Memory by Chiharu Shiota, was an exemplary example of what Carl Jung must have meant when he said, “As a human being the artist may have many moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is ‘man’ (woman, too, Carl) in a higher sense – he is ‘collective man’ – one who carries and shapes the unconscious, psychic life of mankind.”

As I walked through the site I became part and parcel of the installation – which is of course, the intention of the artist. With threaded mystery leading me, I found myself jockeying between timeworn rooms that led my consciousness as it were through a passage not unlike Alice’s rabbit hole into new dimensions.




With fascination I tripped through the knotted and woven caves and hollows that dominated each room. Loose woven cords like spider webs, crisscrossing, interconnecting interiors sets, and rooms were knitted together with the expertise of a craftsperson, the eye of a designer, the soul of a creative spirit, The giant weavings held me in their grip as a willing prisoner.







Enclosed old furniture, tattered paper remnants leaving exposed walls brought to mind the history of former occupants. As I gawked and gaped my way through their former space their spirits silently hiding in the shadows stalked my every move. A stranger in their midst I had been granted access to the hallowed space in which they had lived out their soulful journeys on earth.
















I felt like an astronaut visiting an unknown planet, a historian observing antiques long forgotten and leftover from another age, a dreamer caught between the real world I had just left and the ephemeral that threatened to disappear in and at any moment. I became a child tantalized, but fearful of what lay just beyond each doorway. I would get lost in the anxiety of the unknown only to return as a wayfarer giddy in unbounded space.













Completing my crawl I turned and made my way back in the opposite direction seeing the same from hindsight – something we rarely do in real life.

Over the years I have worked my way through various definitions of the purpose of art. “To make the invisible visible,” “to make the daily meaningful,” “to express abundance,” “to arouse consciousness,” “to decorate,” are but a few. Art happens in a studio, on a wall, in a public site, but art creates in here where I think, breathe, feel, contemplate.

Shiota reminded me that art and life art are not separate. I have often pointed to the fact that in Balinese there is no word for art as art and life are one.  What happens in here is reflected in the work of  artists who have the talent to replicate in here  out there.  Whatever the former space, boarding house, apartment, stripped down abandoned home, Shiota took it by hand and deftly wove a history with warp and weft that took this viewer from the external into the mythic dimension. I went in; I went out, and arrived at the same place.

A regular performer on the symbolic stage earlier Shiota studied with Marina Abramovich and assisted Rebecca Horn. With her sensitivity to how our bodies move through space and its potential to get trapped, her installations lead one to experience the untouchable: unbounded space,

If Shiota’s weavings drew me into dark and intimate spaces, the windows in the set of rooms following her installation opened into yet another dimension where windows framed outdoor scenes of paintings that cannot be framed.


















October 3, 2014 Madonna della Bruna






As we traveled through Sardinia, Matera and Bologna last summer, I discovered a country rich with on-going annual festivals many of which date back thousands of years. Some have become major tourist attractions as with the Mamuthones mentioned in an earlier post.

When we stayed in Matera in July we had the opportunity to witness the annual three-day festival celebrated in honor of the Madonna della Bruna. Historical and legendary accounts give an interesting background for the festival.

The legend recounts that in a time long past, a peasant woman agreed to escort a mysterious woman to Matera. When the carriage bearing the woman arrived in Matera the woman had disappeared, leaving a statue and a letter to the local bishop in her place. The letter claimed that she was the Virgin Mary. The bishop honored the letter and had the statue carried around the Piazza del Duomo (duomo is the Italian word for cathedral) three times. She became the protector of Matera. Today the statue is carried around three times in the same way on the evening of the third day of the festival.

The historical account says that in 1389 Pope Urban IV determined that the annual date for the celebration of the festival the Madonna della Bruna would be July 2. An interesting history preceded the Pope’s call. July 2 from the tenth century on became the day for the celebration of the Visitation the name given to the story recounted in the Gospel of Luke. Mary, pregnant with Jesus does a charitable act and goes to see her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist. Just what two women friends, let along cousins would do if simultaneously pregnant! Urban also elevated the Visitation date to give it a place on the Roman liturgical calendar about the same time he established the date for the celebration of the Madonna della Bruna. Matera had celebrated the Visitation on July 2, long before Urban formally appointed the Madonna her role.

Prior to the celebration we know that antequated rituals to honor the earth mother goddess long celebrated through out Italy were assimilated from the fifth century on into Christian expressions. That the stories and legends surrounding them are/were real or delusional seems less important than their mythical significance.

So, whether rite of earth mother, celebration of the Visitation or  arrival of the legendary woman in a carriage, I was not prepared for the magnitude of the current day event. The shock of being knocked out of sleep by a loud cannon at 6:00 am on the first day of a tridium led me to my computer as well as to locals for a history lesson.

Marked with celebrations and festivities going on all over Matera the tridium caps on the evening of July 2. That night we witnessed colorful, loud spectacle with a secret float central to an ethereal performance that ended in an explosion of fireworks the likes of which I have never seen. (Fireworks From Matera can be viewed in an earlier post.)

The upper part of town, above the old sassis is where most of the events took place. In the week previous, elaborate decorations are constructed around and in the streets leading to the Piazza. Before the first day my partner and I took this all in, not because we were trying to, but because we happened on it as we strolled through the area looking for a place to eat, checking out shops and scouring the museums. We also encountered women from Africa doing exotic hairstyles along open-street salons and a giant street market that catered to the event.


















Chalk street drawings are part of the rituals.






On the third morning, the Madonna statue was taken from the cathedral, put into the float and transported to another church away from the piazza. We witnessed an afternoon filled with revelry, concerts, followed by an evening meal, and as dark descended the beginning of the culmination.

In the evening invited to the home of some friends of Tim and Chris we ate buffet style-a little like Italian take-out, but made by the attendees. As travelers passing through my partner and I sans personal kitchen, took wine as our contribution to the meal. Surprised, our gracious hostess assured us that our gesture was appreciated, but not necessary.

After the meal we climbed up the stairs of the five story house to the rooftop that overlooked the Piazza, the place where the tour of the Madonna’s float and ritual would conclude. We had the equivalent of box seats for the spectacle. The friends and relatives of the hosts gathered at the balcony edge in full view. Since it was our first time, our host pushed us up front so that we would not miss anything.






For more than an hour we observed the scene on the plaza from the rooftop.


































Finally, the paper mache float pulled by donkeys and carrying the Madonna  appeared.  As she reached the plaza populated to the max with locals and tourists, a full troop of uniformed knights of Santa Maria della Bruna riding tall, flower bedecked stallions, a parade of Roman clerics from the Archbishop’s court dressed in full religious regalia, and a band accompanied her float.















The float made the customary three rounds. Following, the Madonna was taken out of the float and carried back to the church from which she had been taken earlier.



















Then something strange happened. The US is not the only country that is witness to the militarization of its local police. A swath of carabinieri, dressed in military gear surrounded the float to escort it to the edge of the Piazza where the people as is the annual custom would destroy it. For this police oversight is called in. It is believed that if one obtains a piece of the float it will give protection for the following year. As the scramble for the pieces was about to begin the slow roving scene moved a little out of our purview.

But all was not lost! We climbed back down the stairs to watch the conclusion on local television.










The screen showed a crowd turned mob. It reminded me of beer bloated fans screaming and yelling while watching the Super Bowl.

As I witnessed the spectacle I wondered if in earlier years the energetic aggressive forms of destruction that occurred at the peak of the celebration were present then as now. The police tried to maintain the revelers at bay until the float reached its destination. Several men taunted police and vied with one another to be the first to get on the float. A scuffle ensued. I had been told earlier that this was not a place to be as it became rough and ready, and injuries occur. On the small television screen I witnessed sacred go profane! A reveler broke through the barrier followed by several others and began to tear the float apart. The Madonna had been honored, the aggressors had conquered. At that moment my fellow spectators cheered



















The annual ritual concluded, we thanked our guests and made our way back to the hotel. As we desscended down the steps through the sassis into the old part of Matera many people moved along with us. I wrongly assumed that they were returning home. When we reached the hotel, we prepared for bed and retired for the night. With shutter and window open a plethora of stars quivering across the night sky illuminated our room. Street lamps flickered on the plaza next to the hotel. Silent darkness filled the ravine. All quiet, we nodded off to the goddess of sleep.

Thirty minutes later, from the deep of sleep, I was roused from bed. BOOM! Shocked, I dragged myself over to the window and peered out. Fireworks. In my groggy state I thought the fourth had arrived a day early. The dark ravine had turned into a cauldron of light and color. The locals that accompanied us on the walk back to the hotel stood along the cliffs above the ravine watching the kaleidoscopic sky pummeled with rounds of fireworks for forty-five minutes. Until 1:30 am my partner and I took turns sitting on the windowsill watching the conclusion to the festival of the Madonna della Bruna



July 29, 2014 Doors

In Japan, design with its ancient laws for functionality and quality has seeped so deeply into the collective psyche it manifests not only in the traditional arts of say, prints and ceramics, but in every human made artifact. One of my discoveries in traveling around the country three years ago was that the same rules apply to man-hole covers.

Public art at its best, embedded in streets trafficked by humans and cars alike, the round embossed iron canvases reminded me of series of prints or, in some cases single, stand alone paintings.

Pursuing manhole covers turned into a passion. Each time I arrived in a new city, I sought them out, photographed and posted the photos. I had found a fine example of that Balinese adage, “Art and life are one.”

The passion did not end in Japan. In trips to other parts of Asia and Europe I continued to look downward, searching for unusual covers and patterns. In Sardegna my search for the most part, failed to yield mentionable results. The Sards do not share the same decorative proclivity for manhole covers as do the Japanese. With nothing of interest embedded in the streets other than irregular cobblestones my eyes turned elsewhere. Not looking for anything in particular,  I drifted along visually noting this and that, until they caught my attention.

As we drove in, the small city of Cabras greeted us with its single story houses laid out in the original pattern along the edge of a deep blue, fresh water lagoon. In the old days fisherman used to fish here in pointed boats built from marsh grasses dried in the sun—a technique initiated by the Phoenicians. Our intention to stay two nights afforded enough time to visit a special cantina and take a cooking class with the well known culinary teacher Fabrizia Fiori.

Following our first night we rose in time to make the unusually early nine o’clock appointment at the cantina. After croissants and yogurt with a few minutes to spare, we took time to look around slowly edging our way toward the cantina on the edge of the neighborhood. An unusually bright sun created the illusion of dancing diamonds on the waters of the lagoon. The streets empty, a stranger in a foreign land, I felt comfortably at home in the morning quiet.


Several single story recently renovated homes maintained the style and character of old Cabras. An adobe wall, covered in a subtle play of colorful forms and texture, with the focus of attention–articulated shapes of missing plaster, and complemented by rectangular turquoise, wood strip doors–took me by surprise. An abstract painting done with tedious attention to detail, I was especially drawn to the door.


As I reflected on what the front door in its size, structure, color, design revealed about the house and its inhabitants I took up my camera once again.













Not since the famous doors of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico observed over a decade ago had I seen doors with such appeal.

After visiting Cabras and the Leda D’Ittiri Wine Resort, we headed to Orosei where we found our hotel located in an ordinary neighborhood. A recently established new Italian hotel system, places the lobby and breakfast room together in one location, the sleeping rooms–two to six blocks away—generally, smack, dab in the middle of a neighborhood.

Seems that some Italians have a penchant for bringing tourists into the local life. Local life with all it sounds: ten year olds engaged in soccer, black garbed grandmothers holding court on the stoops, heated arguments over the latest victory at The World Cup, high flying delivery trucks among others. From the river of neighborhood sounds vibratory telegrams punched up the walls that lined the narrow slit of street beneath our room, made their way across our small terrace and rained  tingling vibrations throughout our second story room.  Connections to the neighbors is what I have at home, but on returning to a room following a full day of touring to confront a river of local sounds is not my idea of a good time. Next time precautions to avoid such will be taken ahead.

The front door to the building that housed the hotel rooms with our balcony just above.






On a walk  to a restaurant for dinner we angled through another host of recently renovated homes. The facades as in Cabras retained the charm of old Orosei.  To my chagrin, I happened upon the following:






December 31, 2013 A Dozen Stories Waiting in the Wings

It took two full days to return from Vietnam, one spent having lunch in downtown Tokyo between flights. Followed by a long sleep mid-air, we arrived in San Diego on Christmas Eve at 9 AM. Now that the holidays have had their due I can reflect on the haiku-like thoughts streaming  through my mind as well as the many stories left to tell.  In the meantime here are some of the thoughts and photos that  captured my attention.

Ok, so I could not build on my manhole collection, but check out the wiring systems in Vietnam…there’s an art-form!










Like a canopy at night…..



Motor scooters seemed to have mastered it: unbound wholeness



Tis the season in Hanoi, Saigon, Hoi an, not of a savior, but rather of saint santa creating illusions, delivering on fantasies…



While in the Mekong, Buddha laughs his head off



The simple life



Hanoi teaches surrender: renunciation and capitulation








War destroys and war builds: victims of agent orange trained in the ancient art of lacquer painting become artists.







Trickery of the mind creates illusion of privacy; the street reveals all.



It’s finally coming to Saigon



New friends in their one room home on a fish farm in the Mekong Delta






Time to take a break and relax


December 18, 2013 Hoi An




Silence everywhere. Well, not quite, but Hoi an is such a contrast to Hanoi. Can’t get used to the quiet. I thought I had maintained inner silence and space while foraging through the din of Hanoi, but now to my chagrin, I can feel a lingering vibration from the clamor of the ancient city. Hoi an, a UNESCO World Heritage site is balm to my soul. We flew into Da Nang to get here. The Vietnamese pronounce it daNUNG or at least that’s the way it sounds to me. My pronunciation of Viet cities is based on Walter Cronkite’s news reports on the war.




Along the coast of the East Sea in Quang Nam Province, described in the guidebooks as one of the best shopping venues in Vietnam and one of the “best places in the world to have fashionable shoes and clothing made…”  Hoi an. And that’s not all. Once a major port, grand architecture, city of hanging lamps top cooking centers and restaurants make it a must for at least two-three days. I am beginning to sound like a travel guide! One of the best things for me is the lack of pollution, noise and heavy traffic of the larger cities.








What a beautiful place with more friendly, smiling people. The only problem is the hawker vendors. They are relentless. Even the children and newspaper sellers get into it. Three times I refused to buy a paper from one lad. I finally told him I had a copy of the Vietnamese Times in English. He replied, “I don’t believe you.” Eventually he gave up, continued on down the road on his bicycle. Later he came back our way, pulled up beside me and repeated, “I don’t believe you.”

I had to buy a new suitcase. We went into a shop and were quoted one hundred dollars for one that should have cost 40.00. “No thanks.” As I tried to walk away, the sales woman said, “Name your price.” 35.00. She offered 75. I countered with 40.00. She countered with 65. The bartering continued until I started to walk out. She relented and gave me my final offer of 45.00.  My partner almost left early on. Bartering is so counter to our process, but I knew I had to do it in order to get a fair trade price.

I see more tourists. Mainly, Australians, followed by Germans, some Chinese, Japanese, Malaysians, Indonesians, very few Americans. It’s off-season, beautiful weather and time to be here.

I know so little about the local geography. Just showed up for a few days to relax after the work and long hours in Hanoi. The Ha An Hotel is an old colonial style building with lovely grounds. Service is poor. Never got our mango juice at breakfast and had to go track down the servers for refills. Got used to being treated like a queen at the Golden Sun in Hanoi.




We hired a taxi driver to take us over to the beach –  a ten minute drive, fifteen by bicycle. Every hotel has its own bike fleet. A stretched shore with soft white sand, breezy, dangerous surf, multiple layers of churning foamed waves greeted us. We did not stay long, just wanted to have a look. On the way to and from we passed Betel-homestay where Jen and Henry are staying. Going to see it later today.

When we got back I climbed into a hammock in the center courtyard. Looking up through three dancing coconut palms I dropped quite naturally into a meditation that I learned a couple decades back from a Buddhist teacher.

Gaze up at the sky with unfocused vision. With my vision anchored, not focused, while the trees danced, the clouds glided across the sky, I was taken by the thought of Unbounded wholeness. Later when my vision returned to focus, I noted three coconut palms gracefully waving in the breeze. I noted that one branch center-middle took the lead like a main dancer in a ballet. Like a lauded ballerina she-he moved to and fro, then full circle proclaiming command of the dance. I did not expect to see such magnificent ballet in Hoi an.




If you are among those who followed the blog to France and Italy last month I must take back, or at least moderate one of my pronouncements. I said that if you had not been to the Lyon farmer’s market you had not been to a farmer’s market. Here’s the change: if you have not been to the Hoi an farmer’s market, you have not been to a farmer’s market.

So after dinner at the Cargo one of Ms. Vy’s restaurants, we strolled along the river on the edge of full moon. In October we strolled over the bridge in Lyon on full moon, in November walked along the waterfront under the Oakland Bay Bridge on full moon and now here in Hoi An walked across another bridge, see photos, on full moon. There seems to be a pattern here that has given me pause for reflection. I welcome ideas from the universe as well as from friends.

Women were selling candles housed in paper holders folded into the shape of lotus flowers. We purchased one then placed it in the river in honor of an old full moon tradition as a way to seek prosperity for the rest of the month.  I am reminded of a similar tradition we discovered in Hanoi. Eating dog meat in the first week of the month is done for the sake of having prosperity for the remainder of the month as well. A street devoted  of restaurants specializing in dog meat is popular at this time, we did not make it to any of them—by choice.





Random sites including a pedicure and  farmer’s market














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