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.

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A Decidedly Italian Wedding

Cortona Wedding

Cortona Wedding is a photo by Jed Smith.

 

Years ago, I was having a nice leisurely lunch in Cortona, Tuscany, with friends who were visiting from the States. We were dining outside, and overlooking the square below and the city hall just opposite. The restaurant was La Loggetta, one of the best restaurants in Cortona.

If you aren’t familiar with Cortona, it is widely know for being the setting of the book and movie Under the Tuscan Sun. Many years before Frances Mayes published her widely successful book, I studied art in Cortona for a summer with my alma mater, the University of Georgia (they still maintain a campus there). While there, I fell in love with this old Etruscan village – well before wide-scale fame and tourism was dropped on Cortona’s doorstep.

As we were lunching, we realized we had front row seats to a wedding party descending the steps of the city hall, presumably after the act had been completed. Fortunately, I had brought my zoom lens, which I promptly put to use as I endeavored to capture this unique wedding experience, and one that says, we’re Italians and we take pride in expressing ourselves. For this reason alone, more often I’d love to play the role of a paparazzo (that’s a singular photographer) to capture, furtively, such beautifully and naturally orchestrated scenes. I can imagine it now, a version of The Wedding Crashers, but with me as a photographer who shows up, and tries to blend in.

In this particular scene from an Italian wedding, I invite you to zoom out to see the full image (if you haven’t already). I love the movement of all of the characters coming down the stairs, and leading to a focus on the bride and groom. Girasole, or sunflowers, are the chosen flowers of the wedding, giving a nod to the proliferation of these beauties throughout the area in the heat of summer. Even the groom’s boutinniere is a small sunflower. Brilliant.

Now my favorite part – the formality has been toned down with how naturally the bride and groom seem to be attired and styled. I particularly love how the groom is wearing hip sunglasses, and sporting a sexy open collar (yeah, with a couple of buttons unfastened). I looked at this scene, and thought to myself that these newlyweds wanted to be themselves, rather than conforming to a strict and formal matrimonial expression.

The right place at the right time. As an artist and photographer I’m continually amazed at how such captivating and intriguing scenes present themselves. Moments like these seem to be more elusive when I purposefully hunt for them. I’m learning it is useful to have a plan and to be prepared, but even more importantly, there comes a moment of getting out of the way and letting magic happen. And, it will.

For this and other wedding photos, be sure to visit my online gallery.

 

 

 

Well-Heeled in Italy

Italian fashion, Italywise

Well-Heeled in Italy is a recent photo by Jed.

I’m taking liberties by including the phrase “well-heeled” in the name of this recent photo. This two-word adjective most often has been used describing someone who is well off financially – as reflected in the quality of their shoes. However, its origins come from cock fights (check out this link at http://www.saidwhat.co.uk) – yes, cock fights. You see, spurs would be added to help them fight. Hence “well-heeled”.

As I study the prevalent sense of fashion here in Italy, I see much of it begins with the shoes. Most self-respecting Italians wouldn’t dream of being out and about with boring or crappy shoes – as evidenced by the two well-heeled women in this photo. You can’t see their faces, but I assure you they are well into their fifties. Fashion isn’t reserved for the youngsters and I love how these woman boldly and comfortably opt for sexy dresses and shoes that show off their legs (which often are kept in fine form by being part of a culture that embraces walking vs. opting for hopping in a car).

My favorite Italian fashion scenario to happen upon is an Italian wedding. I love snooping around to see the decked out crowd – men and women alike. It’s not unusual to see attendees standing outside (taking a break from the wedding in progress) to have a cigarette and/or check their cell phones. For me this is one of the best “cat walks” for checking out the latest Italian fashions. Hint, stay tuned for a future post about Italian fashion using Italian weddings as a backdrop.

In closing, I pay tribute to the Italians’ seemingly uncanny ability to effortlessly express fashion sense. I can’t articulate the exact “how” or “why”, but I sense it is hard-coded into the DNA of the culture. It doesn’t mean that fashion tragedies can’t be witnessed on the streets here – I just find it’s a pretty rare occurrence.

To see other photos, be sure to visit my online photo gallery.

Street Life in Sicily

Life in Italy, Italywise

Street life in Cefalu, Sicily is rich in vignettes.

I feel like a paparazzo (that’s just one photographer vs paparazzi, which indicates many) of street life in Italy. I do this not only for photography, but for inspiration for my paintings. I try to work in stealth (that translates into having a zoom lens), so as not to disturb the energy of the scenes that unfold before my eyes.

So it was on this day in Cefalu, Sicily, that I begin zigzagging through the streets with my periscope up on the lookout to see what presented itself. Much of the movie Cinema Paradiso was filmed Cefalu. I can see why this was a perfect movie set, and still is.

The translation of Cefalu is “head”, and theories suggest this refers to the shape of the hill and rock above the town, adorned with an ancient castle.

Learn more about Cefalu at ItalyGuides.it.

In this particular image, the gentlemen in the chair was fixed, as if rendered in stone. Meanwhile la suora (the sister) moves up the street, and enters a home. I love these layers of street life in Sicily, and I hope to return for a longer visit, solely to for the purpose of capturing life as it unfolds on the streets of Sicily.

For this and other photographs, please be sure to check out my online gallery.

Emerging from the Pantheon at Dusk

Pantheon, Italywise

Looking out from the Pantheon entrance at dusk.

The Pantheon is my favorite landmark in Rome. The sense of awe I feel when I round the corner and see this massive feat of architectural splendor never gets old. I remember the first time I entered the building when I was a mere 19 years old and studying art in Italy for a summer with the University of Georgia. My jaw dropped and I was struck speechless, marvelling that something this huge and this beautiful could have been built nearly 2,000 years ago.

Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. – Wikepdia

Until recently, almost all of my photos of the Pantheon have been taken looking towards the facade or inside the voluminous interior. On this chilly January day last year I was struck by the view looking out. I love the contrast of the stately columns against the always-hopping Piazza della Rotonda.

This photo reminds me to keep changing my perspective on the world and to always “play” and mix things up. It’s far too easy to get locked into a more standard view of the world, and go for the “expected” angle.

If you like this image, please be sure to check out my online photo gallery.

Saying “I do” in Italy.

Last October, I was honored to be the wedding photographer for the marriage of the daughter of some very dear friends from North Carolina. I had an amazing time being in “artist mode”, constantly on the move to capture key moments (often furtively). I also felt incredibly privileged to be included in a ceremony and celebration of love between two radiant, loving souls. The wedding itself was an intimate affair with maybe two dozen people – mostly family and close friends who had made the journey from the States to be part of this important event.

The wedding ceremony and the reception and dinner afterwards was held at my favorite restaurant and agriturismo, Calagrana, here in Umbria, in the Niccone Valley. They are masters at orchestrating events and delivering some of the most amazing wines and foods you’ll find in Umbria. The bride and groom were married under a verdant gazebo with graceful wrought-iron swirls. The bride’s father, a minister, officiated.

After the ceremony, prosecco and appetizers were served on the terrace overlooking the valley. A long sit-down dinner came next. Nothing was hurried or orchestrated on a strict time schedule. For me, it was almost as if Italy’s “Slow Food” movement had extended to the wedding venue.

As the photographer, I loved witnessing the many wonderful emotions flowing through the course of the afternoon and evening. At times I felt guilty – like I was some kind of voyeur or intruder into very personal and intimate moments. One of my favorite images is of the embrace between the new husband and wife when they slipped out on the terrace to have a moment alone.

I have attended two other weddings here in Umbria. Both were Italian weddings and they were much larger affairs (hundreds of guests). I’ll write about them in another posts. But, whether it is a wedding of Americans or of Italians, tying the knot in Italy is a magical experience.

 

In the Moment – Photo by Jed

In the Moment

In the Moment

This is one of my favorite photographs – for more personal reasons, which are inherent in the title. I have lived a very full life, yet sometimes the dark side of fullness is a cacophony of too much thinking and doing. Too much time in my head analyzing and labeling things, and too much time preoccupied with the future. Some philosophers have called it “intellectual violence”.

When I look back at this photo I’m reminded to “Be here now.” This photo was taken near the lovely Abbazia di Sant’Antimo, south of Montalcino (think spectacular Brunello wines) in Tuscany. I come across reflective moments like this in many rural Italian areas. In Umbria, I often see my neighbor, a woman in her 70’s, sitting out on her top step with her walking cane leaning against her, while she gazes, seemingly for hours, across her fields of vegetables to the spectacular mountain vista that surrounds all of us. Some people might look at the lives of such “salt of the earth” people and think they have boring repetitive lives. Maybe there is spaciousness and freedom in such lives that aren’t filled with non-stop “doing” or over-crowded by a world of constant digital connectedness. I suspect many of these people are more alive than we can imagine.

I pray to live a life outside of my head, and to reside more in my heart. I pray to experience truly what is right in front of me, right now.

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

Cellulari – Photo by Jed

"Cellulari" - Mobile phones in a story of movement here in central Rome.

“Cellulari” – Mobile phones in a story of movement here in central Rome.

 

I love capturing people as they go about their daily lives here in central Rome. At times, I resist inclusion of elements that demonstrate how the digital world is taking over people’s lives (no, I’m not immune), preferring to capture the old world charm of this city whenever possible. But, I believe art and photography moves with the evolution of societies. It makes me wonder where and how mobile phones will be viewed by future generations, and if technology will have advanced in such a way that these phones depicted here, will be perceived as old and clunky as rotary dial phones. Will the use of these devices be perceived as something that became nostalgic and romantic?

Pondering these questions, I was very happy to capture this pedestrian scene, which almost feels orchestrated in the movements of the characters. The older woman, stylishly put together (and her dog, too) clearly is engrossed with the contents of her phone, and she has the agility to do this “one-handed”, which shows she’s not a novice. Off to the right a father with stroller makes his entrance, also with the same focus and involvement with the cellphone in hand.

See this and other photos and painting in the online gallery.

 

“The Daily News” – Photo by Jed

Lettura del quotidiano

Lettura del quotidaino – Reading the daily news. A common scene in bars here in Italy.

This black and white photo captures a scene I enjoy observing every day in cafès here in Italy. Each cafe has several newspapers, so unless someone else is already reading your favorite newspaper, reading is pretty much a fee endeavor. I love seeing the concentration and involvement with these publications, which are ripe with the crazy politics and scandals of Italy and Europe. And, you’ll also find ample commentary on all that is newsworthy in the States. While Italy, and Europe is a bit of governmental and financial mess these days, people also find much of what is going on “across the Atlantic” to be a mess of its own.

Be sure to check out other black and white photos in the online gallery.

“The Card Game” – Photography by Jed

The Card Game

Just head to almost any piazza across Italy mid-day to late afternoon, and you’re likely to find a group of “the boys” immersed in a serious card game.

I want to share with you one of my favorite photos that I captured in the beautiful Umbrian hill village of Montone. I love seeing the engagement and intensity in these gatherings of locals. I will never be at a lack for such compelling vignettes of daily life here in Italy. Check out this and other black and white photos in my online gallery.

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