Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Some Catanese favorites

I'd like to share with you a few special things that brighten my Sicilian world these days.

Juna    photo credit: shop therapy

My favorite boutique: Juna

I stumbled across this little shop in Catania's city center some years back and it quickly became my favorite place to purchase clothes, accessories and girly gifts. Really, it is one of the only places I shop at in Catania. There are very few shops that inspire here, but this one really does. The owner is a fashion designer and hand sews her own clothes which she sells in the shop, along with those of other Italian based clothing, accessory and jewelry designers. She also carries an inexpensive line from Spain (Kling) which I love when looking to add some funkiness in my life. This place is full of pretty things and it brings me great joy every time I make a visit. There are so few boutiques of this sort in Catania, and according to the owner there still is not much appreciation for boutiques of this sort here. As a result, the prices even for the handmade clothing is astonishingly affordable given the quality and uniqueness of the pieces. I really hope things pick up for Juna - I don't know what I'd do without it!!!!
You can read more about the talented owner, Paola, and her eye for fashion here

My favorite radion station: Radio Zammu'

This is the University of Catania's radio station. This was another accidental discovery when flipping through stations in the car one day and suddenly hitting upon something that wasn't Italian love songs, religious preachings, or Euro trash pop, but rather something in the range of 'alternative'. There are different student dj's throughout the day, usually some really good music playing, and sometimes informative interviews with people, authors, artists, musicians, professors, etc. involved in events  organized at the University or in Catania. I like listening to this station - it makes me feel part of a community and up to date on the latest happenings here. I'm also impressed with how well-organized the station is --something I hear is not usually the case at the university -- and that with its youthful vibe seems to be sincerely making an effort to be the voice of the university's students.   

My favorite source of seasonal veggies: BioGold

I've mentioned this before, but I am in love with my crate of weekly veggies and eggs that arrive farm fresh at my door. A friend of mine shared this discovery with me, and since my first order I haven't looked back. I love the convenience and the price tag, too. The guy who organizes the deliveries is very sweet - he always asks for the crates and egg cartons back and will even pick up your organic waste for composting if you don't compost yourself. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Max and Art - a children's book to inspire

When I announced enthusiastically to my son that his book Art & Max would be the source of inspiration for our kid's art group that afternoon, he smiled back, became pensive and said with a twinkle in his eye, "Are we going to paint things?".

In case you don't know the story, Art & Max is a beautiful tale about the creative process and painting. Set in a desert landscape, Art is a sophisticated chameleon while Max is an enthusiastic but inexperienced lizard. Through vivid and detailed illustrations the book tells a humorous tale about what happens when someone thinks outside of the box and tries something new. Based on some pretty mind blowing experiences that occur rather by accident at the hands of the novice artist, Max, the accomplished artist-painter, Arthur, finds himself completely transformed and is inspired to experiment with his paints in a whole new way. At the end of the story both novice and expert are immersed in an exciting world of discovery. Arthur discovers that painting doesn't only have to mean the making of realistic portraits on canvas, but that paint can also be freely splattered, dripped and squirted on things, like little lizards and real-life cacti.

My son loves this book for its humor. I love the book for its message about not being scared to try new things and being open to the possibilities that can lead to. When I thought of using it as a starting point for a kid's art group, I was imagining splatter painting would be our activity. I had never thought about painting objects as the main point of inspiration, but I was glad my son did!

We immediately started scavenging for stuff to paint. We piled together old slippers, broken toys, the remnants of a foam alphabet floor mat, old shoes, boxes, egg crates and an old stuffed animal.

When our friends arrived, we all sat down and read the book together. There was much laughter and surprise over the story and everyone was really excited to paint stuff. We encouraged them to also try splatter painting, but except for one brave soul who ended up with streaks of blue paint from head to toe, the other kids preferred to stick with the normal use of brushes and rollers. All together we spent over an hour engaged in this activity and there was a lot of giggling over choosing which objects to paint. A certain glitter-obsssessed little artist infected the whole crowd and soon everyone was adding some sparkles to their art work.

This was one of our most successful afternoons together with our art group in awhile. It was a fun new way way to paint for us, and also a wonderful way to recycle old junk. If you're not scared of making a little mess, this is a great book to get inspired by.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Happy music - Eugenio Finardi 'Passera'

I heard this song in the car the other day and wanted to share. It is not often that Italian music gives me the urge to turn the volume up and sing along. This one does! It is about change, hope and freedom.

E la notte passerà,
la chiameremo libertà
e poi domani arriverà l’estate
se dando tempo al tempo
noi diamo pane al pane
che domani si va tutti al mare.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


It was the middle of the night. The jet lag was all consuming and I was pretty sure there would be no sleeping. I tried to steady my mind against my husband's rhythmic breathing but it wasn't working. My brain was awake no matter how many times I told my body to settle down under the heavy warmth of the covers and join the rest of my family in the simple act of slumber.

What felt like hours later and still wide-eyed, I had no choice but to act. I was tired of feeling futile with nothing to do but listen to my skittish mind and its endless internal dialogue. I knew from experience that if I just declared an all nighter I could actually enjoy the stillness, the uninterrupted peacefulness, and possibly even reach a level of productiveness that during normal waking hours is a rare feat. So I rolled myself out of bed and shuffled down the hall to my work space.

The desire to make a heart had already been brewing inside of me for a few weeks. While I was in LA, a friend of my amazing sister who runs the Playful Art Studio held an open studio day for making hearts in service of the families who lost loved ones during the Newton Elementary School shooting. I wanted to show support. I wanted to make hearts with meaning together with my family. I wanted to step into the world of a working artist who has apparently transformed her garage into the most inspiring art studio.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to join the workshop or experience the studio first hand, but the idea of making a heart stuck. And for whatever reason that is the idea my jet lagged brain latched onto that night. And with thoughts of my loving husband sleeping peacefully in our bed, I dedicated my love doodle to him. I doodled away until dawn broke through and birds chirped. Switching from pencil and paper to mini canvas and paints, I let the desire to quickly getting something down and make this endless night not be for nothing guide the way. Wet paint became a scratch pad and the secret simplicity of a heart, two hands, oh so different yet still wrapped around the same blissful heart and joined as one, engulfed in electric bolts of energy and drops of water, at times for joy and others for anger. "I chose to lay my hand in yours" I wrote. And I am happy I did.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

LA: tingling taste buds

I know, I am lucky. I live in a place where I can truly say that  most of the food we eat is local and in season. I love how we eat here. I love the fresh, locally caught seafood. I love the seasonal fruits and vegetables that taste like they are supposed to. I love our olive oil which comes straight from the olives grown on my in-law's trees. I love the blood red oranges we squeeze every morning for breakfast from winter to spring. And I appreciate the style of shopping for food here - close to daily, small fruit and vegetable stores, little trucks or stands in front of someone's farm, or a crate of organic produce grown 90 minutes from where I live and delivered weekly to my door for only 10 Euros. Sicily just might be the best place to eat on earth.

But none of that goodness can cure me of my cravings for Mexican food. While I have taught myself to make some decent home cooked Mexican food in recent years, some things just cannot be so easily replicated: the salsa, the freshness of the tortillas, the texture of the refried beans, the crunch of the tortilla chips, the creaminess of the guacamole, the abundance of the cilantro. And that is why I stuff myself silly with burritos during my trips home to LA and inevitably come back to Sicily barely able to zip up my jeans. But really that's a small price to pay for the pleasure I experienced with every single deliciously spicy, cheesy, beany, cilantro-y guacamole-y bite.

Friday, January 18, 2013

LA - art inspiration

"Today is museum day!"

We were headed for LACMA

I had marked the calendar for that particular Sunday at the start of our LA trip when I saw that a family day would take place. Just my kind of thing. See some art. Get inspired. Expose son to all that creativity, history, beauty.

I love museums of all sorts and make an effort to visit several of LA's diverse choices every time we are in town. Sicily does have some nice museums, but few in comparison and nothing to the scale and level of organization of larger (dare I say non-Italian) cities. 

I hadn't been to LACMA in years and was excited to experience it with the 5 year old. Museum going with my son is an altogether different experience than when I'm on my own. He is speedy! Keeping up is a workout. Engaging in playful observations is the only way to slow him down and get him to take in a bit more carefully the things that he sees. That's why I decided to let him be our guide for the day, let his interests lead us through this mega museum.  

"Ancient things" was the number one choice. We started with ancient Egypt (mummies!) and moved on to the ancient Americas (cool pottery!). I intervened and insisted on a visit to the children's art room which was absolutely perfect: benches and tables and paper and watercolors and bamboo brushes and a room full of children painting. My pushiness through his initial resistance to entering the space paid off as he filled his paper with carefully placed lines and color. What started out as a "heart" turned into "abstract art". Love it. 

5 year old fatigue was starting to show at this point. Once those little legs start slowing down there are not many works of art that will get them running again... 

UNLESS, that is, the work of art happens to be a spectacular moving installation involving thousands of matchbox-like cars racing down miniature speedways that wind around and squeeze between fantastical buildings made out of blocks and other child-friendly construction materials, all erupting into an imaginative cityscape: Metropolis II. Mixed in with the conveyer belt full of cars riding to the summit of the contraption before beginning their roller coaster descent are also tiny railways and tramways that carry slower moving little trams and trains through this make-believe world, back and forth along their individual rails, oblivious to the speedy little cars that whizz by. 

Every other hour the installation is turned on for an hour stretch to let viewers partake in this incredible sight. We viewed Metropolis from every possible angle until we eventually picked a spot and sat down on the floor right in front of it - there was no way the 5 year old was going to leave this piece while the cars were running. Actually, none of the adults in our group minded - we were just as enthralled by the scene as he was.

The statistics of this work are quite astonishing: 
18 roadways, including a 6 lane freeway.
The cars reach speeds of 240 scale mph.
Every hour, the equivalent of 100,000 cars cruise through the city.

An hour later, we couldn't believe the silence of the room after the technician operating the mechanics of the installation shut it down for its repose. Call it miniature urban noise pollution, but our ears were ringing from all that zooming (no wonder the technician was wearing ear protection) and it was a relief to see it as a static sculpture. And that, according to the artist Chris Burden, is precisely what this work of art is all about.

Meanwhile, from the perspective of the 5 year old, the miracle of the machine continued to enthrall him as we finished up our museum visit (there was just enough time to see the amazing retrospective of the work of ceramic artist Ken Price). His fascination was in the hows and whys of its construction and operation. I really tried to enthusiastically respond to his pronouncement "I want to make one!" -- we do often try to make our own versions of inspiring things at home--, but this one is just so intricate and beyond me all I could do was throw back my head and laugh despite my admiration for his innocent ambition. And isn't that what getting inspired is all about?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Funny portraits

Nothing like a birthday to inspire some creative card making. I got this idea from a beautiful blog about making art with kids from recycled  materials. I made the cut out clothes and glued them down with some family members in mind and then let my son at it. He did 5 of the heads with silly in mind and for me that was a success. We scanned our people and turned it into a comic strip of sorts on photoshop, adding names to help identify our silly portraits and giving them even sillier dialogues. This was a fun collaboration with the 5 year old and hopefully brought a smile to the birthday girl's face!

LA: sun and sand

I've been away basking in the cool sun of southern California. Spending time with my family and soaking up all that I find lovely about LA. The photos remind me of the special moments -the relaxed rhythm of home life during the holidays, the diversity of activities available to us at a moments notice. No matter what we chose as our adventure, it was usually accompanied by blue skies and dazzling sunshine. This is the warm glow I want to remember.

The waterfall trail is closed but there is still a lovely stream to explore

a beautiful spot for viewing LA and learning about the universe

could have stayed here for hours, barefoot in the sand, hanging out with pelicans and seagulls