Swept Away in Sardinia

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Jan 15, 2022

Sardinia beckons with its crystalline blue waters and sun-soaked beaches, dramatic rugged landscapes, eclectic cuisine, and gentle, gracious people.  It’s also a mysterious island filled with much to discover reflecting its unique history and geography.

Though the island is now part of Italy, Sardinia produced a culture distinctly its own over the last two millennia. The ancient Nuragic people were its first inhabitants, as far back as 1500 to 460 B.C., and their presence can still be felt in the 7,000 conical “nuraghe” megaliths they left behind.

And the island’s relative isolation has resulted in the development of native vegetation as well as animal species, such as the white donkey of the Asinara.

For those seeking distinctive gastronomic experiences, Sardinian food and wine offer culinary treasures galore. With over 1,100 miles of coastline and an abundant mountain interior, Sardinia features marvelous seafood (what would you expect, given its name!), rustic specialties like roasted pig, and unique breads and pasta preparations, including fregola – a cross between grain and pasta with a nutty flavor and texture all its own.

Moreover, Sardinia is known as one of the five locales in the world with the highest number of centenarians – those living 100 years or more. Why?  In truth, there is no definite answer to this question. Some scientists believe that the secret lies in distinctive local DNA; for others, the answer relates to a lifestyle of pastoral simplicity along with Sardinia’s cuisine which epitomizes the healthful Mediterranean diet.

Another thing I especially love are the hundreds of murals, virtual open-air museums, that express Sardinia’s unique cultural identity, customs and traditions, daily life and even political discourse.

Renowned for their poignancy and immediacy, the murals found in the town of Orgosolo, painted in the 60’s, reflect the artistic verve of a group of feuding anarchists.

I hope this whets your appetite for Sardinia as you dream of and begin to plan a post-Omicron sojourn exploring the many cultural and natural glories of the Boot.

A Renaissance Christmas

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Dec 24, 2021

Tis the season of angels, heavenly music, and nativity scenes!

Christian or not, we all know the Christmas Story, its characters and incidents … but many of us don’t realize that it is, in fact, an amalgamation of only two of the four Gospels which have been cobbled together.

Matthew tells of a nativity full of pageantry and procession with the arrival of the Three Magi — scholars, wise men from far, far away, with their finest gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to pay homage to a newborn King; while Luke shares a story of humble simplicity — of a babe born in a rustic manger surrounded by animals, and of local shepherds who come to adore him.  Both gospels prominently feature angels in important roles as messengers who announce the arrival of the baby Jesus.

All of this has resulted in the creation of many a Renaissance masterpiece.  Please enjoy this holiday slideshow featuring some of my favorite paintings, by Italian Renaissance masters … naturally.  Photos features were either taken by me or sourced from Wiki-Commons and are in the public domain.

Wishing you all Buon Natale and Buon Capodanno as we all look forward to a brighter and more joyous 2021.

Vicenza: Palladio’s Playground

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Oct 30, 2021

Halfway between the tourist meccas of Venice and Verona lies the elegant city of Vicenza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which, remarkably, remains off the beaten path.

Vicenza has been home to many illustrious personalities, the architect Andrea Palladio – as in Palladian windows – being the most notable. Considered one of the world’s most influential architects, Palladio transformed Vicenza and the surrounding countryside into his architectural playground with 23 palaces and buildings in the city alone and 27 nearby country villas which served as weekend and summer homes for wealthy Venetians.

Palladio revered and helped revive ancient Roman architecture and it is this influence that helps give Vicenza its distinctive and noble character.

Vicenza’s Piazza dei Signori is one of Italy’s most beautiful squares, and the Basilica Palladiana, Palladio’s first civic commission in 1546, is its most central and stunning sight.

At the beginning of the Corso Palladio you’ll discover the Teatro Olimpico, Palladio’s last and most ambitious work. Inspired by the ancient open-air Roman theaters, it is utterly unique. Classical statues and ornamentation abound and the painted trompe l’oeil sky is breathtaking … as is the stage set, the oldest in the world, still in use today. Completed after Palladio’s death, the set represents the city of Thebes and the setting of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex which was the inaugural production of the theater in 1585.

Another exceptional destination, the Villa Valmarana, built 200 years after Palladio and lavishly decorated with frescoes by Italy’s leading 18th century painter Gian Battista Tiepolo, is just a 20-minute walk from town along a quiet wooded path.

From there you can continue on another foot path which leads to you to Palladio’s most famous and majestic country villa: La Rotonda. Its sober classical exterior contrasts with its vibrant, dramatic interior. It feels more like a temple than a residence.

A short drive through the Veneto countryside brings you to perhaps my favorite of Palladio’s villas, the Villa Barbaro, with its charming and playful frescoes by Paolo Veronese.

Palladio’s works and seminal treatise The Four Books of Architecture have guided and inspired architects throughout Europe and in United States for centuries (e.g., St Paul’s Cathedral in London, our White House, Capitol Building and the Mall). In recognition of that influence, Palladio was proclaimed the Father of American Architecture by the 111th Congress of the United States in 2010.