Venice – White Coats in Readiness – Photo by Jed

Venice, Italywise

White Coats in Readiness

Often I visit the archives of photography I’ve done many years ago to see how my style has evolved, and to see if there are some gems that still stand out to me. Here is one that I took at least sixteen years ago using conventional 35mm film (Fuji Velvia 100) when I didn’t have the luxury of confirming I had the shot, as I envisioned it, on the spot. Oh how photography has changed with the advancements in digital technology.

Normally I stay far away from Piazza San Marco in Venice, feeling a bit claustrophobic, and so outnumbered by the throngs of tour groups – now made even more challenging with the proliferation of cruise ships docked close by. Consequently I seek out more opportunities in the in-between hours of activity – either crack-of-dawn, when it’s virtually deserted, or late afternoon when many people are sleeping off the excesses from earlier in the day.

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Embrace the mystery of life, and prepare for things to change…

Mystery of life, Italywise

Contrary to a life-long desire to figure “things” out, and arrive at a metaphorical destination in which I finally can relax, I’m learning that constant seeking…a constant insistence on being able to explain things, instead keeps me stuck and limited. These days I keep finding myself being invited to embrace the mystery of life, and to trust that, when I do, life will carry me along to unforeseen, and unimagined places of creativity and possibility.

And, I’m reminded that I don’t know squat. Most of the time, that’s actually is a huge relief, and I feel something inside of me let go, and relax. My, what a price we pay for being on high alert while simultaneously trying to lasso life and manage it to our liking.

Might life have better plans for us than even our most lofty ideas? I believe so.

This is the scariest part for me – actually to keep moving forward while trusting in the mystery of life. Moving to Italy and throwing myself headlong into all my creative passions (writing, painting, photography) feels like a huge roll of the dice. My inner judge tells me I’m being indulgent and irresponsible. It then tells me “Well, if you insist on this path, step aside and let me manage the process.” Yikes. Talk about a creativity killer.

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What is Your View of the World?

 

Venice, Italywise

A window in the Giudecca looks out on Venice in this new photo by Jed Smith.

 

I’ve been asking myself this question anew lately. Recently I was fully entranced watching the new television show Master of Photography with host Isabella Rossellini. Think Project Runway, but with a group of twelve amateur and professional photographers vying to make it to the next level after each photo assignment – one that is viewed, critiqued, and juried by world-renowned photographers. The episode (and assignment) was “The Beauty of Rome” and the participants were given a four-hour window to scour Rome for their unique take on it as the Eternal City.

I tried to imagine myself under the duress of this kind of assignment, and I started getting nervous watching the contestants hard at work. But, mostly I was excited and eager to see Rome through twelve different sets of eyes.

I sweated when the contestants made their final choices and submitted them for the critique and a subsequent elimination of one within their ranks. And, for good reason. The jury of famous photographers didn’t hold anything back, offering encouragement in the right moments, but mostly chiding them for playing to the judges and not delivering on the assignment that asked for a truly personal vision and statement.

I also remember a moment when one judge urged a contestant to not explain too much about her piece so as to not unduly influence the viewers and to allow them to bring their own interpretations to the experience. I loved that, because I needed to be reminded of the following:

Don’t let your creative expression become too cerebral. You can think all the emotion OUT of your expression, if you’re not careful. And, by all means, keep your mouth shut and let people find meaning in your work without your having to spell it out for them.

I’m at an important crossroads in my artistic endeavors, and I’m realizing that, all too often, my head goes to the place of asking the question, “Will this be a successful piece, and will people like it?” – rather than letting my heart and intuition guide me to what feels right for me personally. I believe my most successful paintings and photographs are ones in which I feel my way through their creation.

An additional piece of advice I’ve been giving myself is:

As you share your view of the world don’t consciously try to be clever or unique for the sake of being unique.

So many artists are clamoring to make a name for themselves by doing something that hasn’t been done before. Good luck with that, for the most part. Your work can run the risk of coming across as gimmicky and contrived vs. a natural authenticity. When you share your authentic voice and view of the world, I believe it will stand out.

Let art, like life, happen.

This is another piece of advice that seems to be repeating itself. This is why I like the photo above. At the time of its creation, I was totally focused on something else, and then this composition grabbed me and I knew I had to take the picture and not stand there analyzing it. I was at a wonderful retrospective exhibition of the late, great Helmut Newton in Venice’s Giudecca. I was fully immersed in studying his unique vision and style of execution, when I turned, and here was this view of the world that spoke to me. Enough said.

I hope, in my art, to share my unique view of the world. I hope to trust my gut, more and more, and to allow serendipity and synchronicity to lead my expressions vs. trying to control and over think based on preconceived notions of “good art”.

To see this and other photographs, be sure to visit my online gallery.

I’d love for you to become a direct subscriber to Italywise.com. It’s easy. Just enter your email in the upper right column. You’ll receive a confirmation email, and then future blog posts will land directly in your in-box!

 

 

Fall into the Warm Embrace of Sulmona, Abruzzo

Sulmona, Italywise

Sulmona is set amongst the majestic Morrone mountains.

Just a week ago I made my first journey to Abruzzo and the wonderful town of Sulmona. Boy, did I get lucky. You see, Abruzzo, hadn’t really been on my radar, with the exception of sadly noting the devastating earthquake in Aquila in 2009.

The universe works in mysterious ways, and my new mantra is allowing the river of life to take me to new places and experiences. Trying to overly orchestrate life if for the birds. Serendipity is my friend, and I’m discovering magic, indeed, can happen in our lives if we just get out of the way.

Sulmona, Italywise

Sulmona’s finest ambassador, Novelia Giannantonio

So, the universe brought me Novelia Giannantonio. She found me through my blog and began writing me and weaving her magic spell to coax me to come to discover the warmth and beauty of Sulmona, which is in the heart of Abruzzo. My busy schedule was threatening to delay a trip there indefinitely. But, thanks to Novelia’s kind persistence, a small window of opportunity presented itself, and I seized the moment, and booked train tickets for a two-day stay in Sulmona.

In typical fashion, as I quickly learned, Novelia sprang into action, helping me to secure a beautiful place to stay in a 16th century structure (next time, with more notice, I’m booking Novelia’s beautiful penthouse!). She and her kind husband Peppe insisted on meeting me at the Pescara train station. She also informed me, quite proudly, that she had included me in a very special guest list for a private concert by an amazing soprano singer who was coming from Modena (more on that later in this post).

I could not have been welcomed more enthusiastically to Sulmona. What did I do to deserve this kind of good fortune? Novelia and Peppe were my loving shepherds for the two days of my visit. Feeding me (quite deliciously, I might add – Novelia is an AMAZING cook), giving me a guided tour and history of the town, and introducing me to their circle of friends, which included a delightful community of expats (from New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, the U.S. etc.). Incidentally, several of the expats were a tad afraid of my exposing their hidden treasure in this remote corner of Italy.

If you read no further in this post, I encourage you to reach out to Novelia through her website about her sweet penthouse, the “House of the Heart”, which contains her full contact information. I can vouch for her enthusiasm and desire to welcome everyone with open arms. Novelia clearly loves her Sulmona!

I hope you find this post compelling and informative – without being cumbersome. My challenge is the abundance Sulmona offers – which is ironic since my stay was so brief. Novelia and I agreed that this “maiden voyage” was simply my antipasto, and a return trip in early autumn, is in order.

So, now I endeavor to hit the high notes of things to do and experience in Sulmona. Again, my thanks to Novelia for providing me so much information to share. If you wisely decide to include Sulmona in your explorations, you will not find a better guide.

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The Caretaker – Watercolor by Jed

watercolor, Jed Smith, Italywise

The Caretaker – Private Collection of Shelley and Ed Hobson

Just a few days ago I returned from a short trip to the beautiful town of Sulmona in Abruzzo. The experience was incredibly rich and warm (thanks to my amazing host and new friend Novelia) and I am hard at work on writing a blog post (soon to be published) about this amazing slice of paradise here in Italy. While I enjoyed many things in Sulmona, it was impossible to really scratch the surface with all the area has to offer. One thing, in particular, at the top of my list for my return trip is to do a “walk about” with a local shepherd. Novelia already has made calls and is working on possibilities to make this happen. What an artist/photographer’s dream to be able to camp out with and walk the sheep herder’s paths!

As I contemplate and look forward to such an experience, I remembered this watercolor that I painted several years ago, called The Caretaker. I love painting this, not only because of the unique perspective and composition, but because of the theme of a shepherd looking after his flock. I believe I inherited my fascination with flocks of sheep and goats from my highly influential artist mother, who frequently made them the subjects of her paintings.

I am drawn to the theme of the shepherd and his sheep, also because of the metaphorical meanings of having a benevolent force in my life that always is looking out for me, and always on my side.

I’m anything but conservative or fundamental in my spiritual beliefs, but my soul does respond to images and metaphors that become inspiring companions when fear shows up in my life. Currently, I am reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, and she speaks, quiet effectively, to how fear can stop creative pursuits in their tracks. She doesn’t reserve the concept of creativity for artists. She speaks to creating a life that allows a person to express their unique gifts and ideas. This resonates with me as an artist and writer who, all too frequently, can let the voice of fear talk me out of plunging ahead with a project. Ms. Gilbert wisely counsels each of us to not fight our fears, but to allow them to coexist. However, she advises not to let fear have a say or a voice in how we proceed.

As a person who has altered his life dramatically, these sage words of advice also come in handy. Leaving the security of the known can invite some pretty big catcalls from the voice of fear.

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A Moment of Meditation – Photo by Jed

meditation, Italywise

A Moment of Meditation

The woman in this photo represents something important for me, especially these days. This woman is someone who is practicing meditation as part of daily life.

As I am learning to be more present and more observant of life as it unfolds around me, I am struck by the magnitude of people escaping the present moment. Let’s be clear, this includes me much of the time, as my hungry, over active mind constantly is looking for something to chew on. A diversion from what is right here, right now. How can I possibly fully take in life if I am constantly glued to my digital devices checking emails, Facebook posts, news feeds, or playing games? Busted!

Often, those of us of the generations that have grown up and embraced the digital revolution shake our heads sadly at the “older” generations who haven’t seemed to “get onboard” with the same vigor. Maybe they actually are our teachers for learning to be present more often and for not seeking to fill almost every waking moment with a diversion.

Yes, I’m waxing philosophical again, and my blog often is a place for me to journal publicly about what life is teaching me. More often than not, I’m learning to ask questions…and to let those questions just percolate, rather than seeking to find some hard, fixed truth.

A big question for me these days is:

What IS meditation, anyway?

An excellent question. Mostly it conjures up ideas of sitting in an upright posture in a quiet room, and stilling or working to discipline the mind. It can become a structured activity that requires yet another set of ideals for doing it the “right” way. How quickly it becomes yet another impossible something to perfect, a task vs. a place where you can let go from all the doing and trying. Krishnamurti was outspoken in seeking to free people from traditional concepts of meditation.

Real meditation is the highest form of intelligence. It is not a matter of sitting cross-legged in a corner with your eyes shut or standing on your head or whatever it is you do. To meditate is to be completely aware as you are walking, as you are riding in the bus, as you are working in your office or in your kitchen… – J Krishnamurti

Mindfulness has often been used interchangeably with meditation. Be present for what you’re doing vs. being swept along on the autopilot of our conditioning. I have to chuckle at the word “mindfulness” as it seems to mean “full of the mind”. I don’t know about you, but I very much would like to not be ruled by the mind – well, at least not the chatty, persistent left brain interpreter.

I do believe there are benefits to having a structured practice and a time set aside to just “be” and to allow the thoughts to float by, much like debris in a stream. But, I’m very much intrigued and attracted to using the in-between moments of daily life as my real practice of meditation. This is turning my world upside down, as all too often I’ve learned to discard these in-between moments as being mere stepping-stones to a better, happier place.

Waiting at a traffic light, sitting on a train, being in a long queue (plenty of those opportunities here in Italy!) are all plentiful opportunities for me to explore meditation in my daily life. This often means leaving my iPad or iPhone at home, or safely tucked away in my backpack. Instead of reaching for one of these devices to stay connected, perhaps I can steer into the space of beingness.

In closing, I want to share a quote that I adore, and one that most perfectly, for me, expresses how and why meditation can be so powerful!

Meditation is like taking a bath to wash the mind. – from Meditation in Daily Life, theartofliving.org

To see this and other photographs, be sure to visit my online gallery.

I’d love for you to become a direct subscriber to Italywise.com. It’s easy. Just enter your email in the upper right column. You’ll receive a confirmation email, and then future blog posts will land directly in your in-box!

A Dream Tuscany Cycling Trip – Women’s Quest

Tuscany Cycling Trip

Twice I have been given special dispensation to hang with the gals, get an amazing workout, and eat sinfully, all while soaking in the Tuscan countryside as part of the Women’s Quest Tuscany Cycling Retreat. I’ve been one lucky fellow.

This year’s Women’s Quest Tuscany Cycling Retreat is September 11-18

I love getting the word out on special resources available to people considering coming to Italy and doing something extraordinary. This Women’s Quest Cycling Trip certainly fits the bill. Sorry guys, this year’s trip IS a women’s trip. BUT, in 2017 the schedule includes a Tuscany Retreat that is Co-ed! Woohoo!!!

I know Women’s Quest pretty intimately because, as part of my former job in California, I participated in doing a story about Women’s Quest and the numerous life-affirming trips they offer. The Founder and Leader of Women’s Quest is the inspiring Colleen Cannon, World Champion Triathlete (1984) and two-time US. National Champion Triathlete (1988 and 1990).

Don’t think about being intimidated by Colleen’s rock star status in the triathlete world – though she, and her incredible staff, will help you explore and push your boundaries. In my opinion, the universe sprinkled fairy dust on Colleen, and you will feel the magic of her guidance and mentoring.

Don’t just take my word for it, read the testimonials!

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Che bordello! – A favorite Italian expression.

Italian Expressions, Italywise

A frequently used Italian expression to communicate a mess of a situation!

One of the things I love most about learning and speaking Italian is stumbling across a phrase or expression utilizing a metaphor that perfectly captures the sentiment a person wishes to convey. “Che bordello!” is an Italian expression that rises to the top of my list of favorites.

“Che bordello!” translates literally into “What a brothel/whorehouse!” but also means “What a mess!”

As you can see, this expression doesn’t work in the English translation. If you said “What a brothel!” in the U.S. people would look at you like you’d lost your mind. Surely you’d offend someone. You might even get slapped.

“E un bordello,” or “It’s a mess,” is a more toned down commentary of a situation that is a bit out of hand.

I had heard the word “bordello” being frequently used, and finally I had the courage to ask someone why he kept talking about a brothel. The explanation came with a smile. As I soon learned, this Italian expression is considered to be one of the best for communicating confusion or a mess of a situation. I hadn’t thought of a brothel as inherently unorganized, but I guess you could say that there’s a lot of different activity going on simultaneously in a whorehouse. And, that prompts me to laugh.

This expression comes in quite handy, and I’m putting it to good use. And, when I do, Italians nod in agreement.

To headline this post, I searched for an image that might visually represent this phrase. And, the one above, during the high waters in Venice, won the contest, hands down. Believe me “Che bordello!” is used frequently when the sirens go off in Venice indicating high waters. We have a very good friend who owns two shops in Venice, and when the high waters come, she must rush to her stores to move all of her merchandise off the floors to a level of safety. Shop owners also have dams for their doors to minimize the water, though often the water seeps in from below.

And, of course, there is the matter of getting around Venice during high waters. Even in February, when this photo was taken, Venice is full of tourists and their suitcases. What a messy situation!

Oh, the applications can be plentiful, and I look forward to using “Che bordello!” with great frequency!

I’d love for you to become a direct subscriber to Italywise.com. It’s easy. Just enter your email in the upper right column. You’ll receive a confirmation email, and then future blog posts will land directly in your in-box!

Via Garibaldi, Rome – Photo by Jed

Photography, Jed Smith, Italywise

Via Garibaldi – Photo by Jed Smith

I love capturing images that imply mystery. Often I search out a spot that offers a nice composition, like this corner looking into Via Garibaldi in Rome. Then, I wait for the right moment with the right character/s, and the right sense of movement. Sometimes I wait, and wait, and snap many images, hoping to catch that split second when it feels like a story emerges, and when all the elements work together. While I like this strategy, I also know I can’t try controlling what happens. I have to “be” there, be alert, and then be open to what presents itself.

This has many parallels in my life. I’m reminded again of the credo that a good friend, and mentor taught me:

“Show up. Do your best. And, be unattached to the outcome.”

I’m employing this sage advice with my art, my writing and my photography. I have so many ideas bouncing around in my right brain, all vying for expression. Easily I can become overwhelmed, and frozen into inaction. It’s like my rational, thinking left brain doesn’t know where to start. It also is pretty insistent on knowing that we’ll safely (and perfectly) arrive at our destination before taking action. That’s a recipe for going nowhere.

My latest, and rather huge, revelation is that I’ve spent too much of my life sitting around thinking about stuff, rather than leaping into the unknown, and sayings “Let’s see what happens!” to the Universe. That’s changing, thankfully.

My mom, Liz Smith-Cox, readily leapt into the unknown with her art. A wonderful photo of this wonderful, artistic muse adorns my studio wall, and serves as a reminder to show up, to do my best, and to be unattached to the outcome. Liz would add, “Don’t forget to play!”

To see this and other photographs, be sure to visit my online gallery.

I’d love for you to become a direct subscriber to Italywise.com. It’s easy. Just enter your email in the upper right column. You’ll receive a confirmation email, and then future blog posts will land directly in your in-box!

My Buddy, the Bidet

The Bidet, Italywise

Here in Italy the bidet is indispensable when it comes to person hygiene.

Well, I promised myself I would be faithful to discussing all facets of my new life here in Italy. And, to that promise, today I’m writing lovingly about my buddy, the bidet. Pardon me if I insert a bit of bathroom humor, but I’ll try to keep it clean as possible (the puns already are starting!).

The bidet is found most widely in southern Europe, with Italy topping the list.

Wikipedia will ground you in the basics of the bidet, if for some reason, you need an education. I saw my first bidet many moons ago when I was studying art here in Italy. My university group had landed in Paris, and we were staying there for a couple of nights before taking the train to Florence. In our little hotel I remember my moment of extreme bewilderment when I saw this hybrid of a sink and a toilet. I stood there, wondering if there was a hidden camera recording my confusion, and my eventual choice as to which device to use. Mom and dad hadn’t prepared me for this. I chose wisely, opting to go with the known entity. I asked questions later, but basically got an explanation that it was for women to “freshen up” after using the toilet.

Now I understand so much more. And, I don’t know what I would do without one in our home.

Italians take their personal hygiene and their bathroom habits seriously. I’ve heard many of my Italian friends remark, with disbelief, that a bidet isn’t a common bathroom fixture in the United States, even going so far as to say “Che schifo!”, or “How disgusting!”. This is followed up with an inquiry as to how Americans make sure they’re “clean” after going to the toilet, and remarking that toilet paper surely can’t do a complete job.

I have to agree.

I now understand that the bidet is designed for both genders. The hurdle for me was getting past the sitting on cold porcelain. Yikes, that’s an abrupt feeling of cold. Now I know what women feel like when the men in their households leave the toilet seat up, and they experience surprise contact with porcelain.

But, now I’m well versed in how to use the bidet. A person can sit facing the faucet or opposite, depending on the task at hand, or personal preference. Soaps for “intimate” areas are always within reach.

What happens when space doesn’t allow for a bidet?

An important question, especially since some bathrooms simply aren’t large enough to accommodate a bidet. If you’ve ever been to Italy, and seen a faucet with a hose next to the toilet, well that’s what it’s for – not to hose down the floor or clean the bath, though it certainly can come in handy in that regard. The problem, for me, with this “solve”, is the inability to control and contain the water during the hose-down of private parts. And, the force of the water often is a bit much for my taste. But, now that my “house training” has adapted me to the benefits of the bidet, I’ll certainly take the hose over not having anything but toilet paper.

Now, when I’m out and about, and a bidet or a special hygiene hose doesn’t exist (as is the case in many restaurants and bar/cafès) I’m not a happy camper. And, when I visit the States, I have to revert to old habits, and settle for not having the extra dose of “clean up”. Certainly not the end of the world, but now that I’ve seen the light, I’m a convert.

Yes, I’m spoiled, but I’m happy not to be soiled (sorry, couldn’t resist it).

I hope you enjoyed this brief post extolling the wonders of the bidet!

 

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