What Happens When We Wear a Mask?

Carnevale, ItalyWise

Would you laugh with this jester?

My mind and my imagination are still reeling from the bountiful display of pageantry and costumes that I saw during the official kick-off of Carnevale in Venice, just over a week ago. I marveled at the sea of exquisitely designed masks. More than once I had a sense that some of the masks were revealing sides of people normally hidden in the shadows. As I continue to edit the ocean of images, I find myself dancing between artistic admiration and asking “Just what happens when we wear masks?”

Do events like Carnevale and Halloween coax hidden parts of ourselves to the surface?

When I moved to Italy and discovered that Halloween “dress-up” practically was non-existent, I was a sad little puppy. Back in the States I loved Halloween, and those of you who know me, know I adore dipping into my creative reserves to design and embody vastly different characters at Halloween. Usually my characters have a bizarre twist. I love playing freely behind the costumes and masks I create. I often wonder what a psychologist would say about the collective assembly of characters and masks I’ve worn. Hmmm…

I guess you could say I’d been going through costume and mask withdrawal, until I hit the jackpot of all costume jackpots

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A Colorful Dove, with Great Fanfare, Launches Carnevale in Venice

 

carnevale, Italywise

Il lancio della colombina – the launch of the dove kicks off Carnevale 2017

Man, was I lucky this year (2017) to have a front row seat for the official kick-off of Carnevale in Venice. Life keeps offering up these incredible opportunities. This time it came in the form of a pass into the “inner circle” at the heart of the official Carnevale launch, Sunday, February 19. But, let’s first back up to the adventure of arriving in Venice and making our way to Piazza San Marco.

If you’re brave (or crazy) enough to put yourself in the midst of the spectacle of Carnevale’s first official day, be prepared to go early and patiently navigate the crowds.

This is no small matter. If you don’t like crowds or cramped spaces, I’d advise you to stay home and watch the events on TV. I’m not a fan of crowds, but being six-two, at least my head is above most of the crowd. As long as I can breathe I can vanquish my anxieties of tight spaces.

Carnevale, Italywise

Patiently waiting a security check on the way to Piazza San Marco

The big event, Il lancio della colombina (also called The Flight of the Angel), was scheduled for noon. We arrived at the Santa Lucia train station at nine-thirty, and promptly made our way to the vaporetto stop, where we queued for at least half an hour. Four vaporetti later, and we were on board. The journey to the San Marco stop took at least forty-five minutes. Our progress was impeded when the boat was halted to make way for a regatta with a police escort.

I was ready to hop off and make a beeline to the center of the piazza. But, oh no, we came to a virtual standstill at a small bridge heading over

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Buone Feste from ItalyWise!

Venice Santa, ItalyWise

Wishing you the best of holidays my dear friends and followers!

May the season be full of joyful surprises, like the one above that I experienced just yesterday while strolling through Venice. Everything “arrives” differently in Venice, so I guess it should be no surprise that Santa travels by boat here and not by sleigh!

Who knows what Santa will bring me in the way of adventures in the coming year. Stay tuned!!!

Tranquility Often is Just Around the Corner

Venice, tranquility, Italywise

A Venice canal in the Cannaregio at dusk.

Venice is my favorite city in Italy. I love how it is full of mystery, history and paradox. I love its organic, challenging terrain. I love allowing myself to get lost, and the adventure of finding my way and navigating this giant maze. Yet, what I love most is how tranquility always awaits, if you’re willing to venture off the main thoroughfares. And, this leads me to the featured photo for this post.

Just a few weeks ago, I made the short trek from Treviso to Venice by train. I gave myself permission, for the afternoon, to wander, without a fixed time schedule or agenda. Let the journey unfold. This seems to be a major lesson and opportunity for me, especially since moving to Italy. Set preconceived ideas aside, and trust that the universe will lead me. Trying to control my experience, and life’s outcomes has been a yoke that I took on years and years ago. But, that is changing. Scary to “let go”? Yes. But, it can be an incredible relief to step aside from trying to be chief commander and choreographer of one’s experience.

The first time I visited Venice, I was pretty much put off by the throngs of tourists owning the streets. The noise level, and the threshold of activity was just too much for me. Had I attached myself to this first experience, I would have deprived myself of the full dimensions and offerings of this spectacular city. Subsequent trips, purposefully planned to take me off the beaten-track and thoroughfares, yielded a bounty of experience that led me to fall deeply, irrevocably in love with Venice. I found beauty, quiet, and tranquility hidden away.

So, on this recent excursion, I first threw myself into the current of tourists until I found my exit to head to the Fondamente Nove vaporetto stop, and a trip to Burano. Within just minutes, and in a matter of just a few steps, the noise abated, and space opened up. I meandered my way to the boat stop, relishing the beauty of lonely canals and quiet comings and goings.

Upon my return from Burano, at dusk, I slowed my pace, hoping to prolong a meditative stroll, before abruptly finding myself amongst a sea of activity and noise. I stopped on a bridge, savoring the warm, evolving colors of dusk, and snapped this photo. Nothing can repeat the moment of being there, but this image does serve as a reminder and a beacon that tranquility is often close at hand.

The main streets of Venice, clogged with eager tourists, serve as a metaphor for my mind, and the often incessant stream of thoughts. When I am caught up in the grips of thinking, I really can’t see or experience anything, and I suffer a major case of misidentification. Life feels “flat” and I feel anything but present. When I am under the sway of incessant thinking I often completely forget that tranquility and quietude awaits. And, like this canal at dusk, with its still waters, and warm colors, peace can find me, or present itself, when I take the metaphorical journey away from engaging with or believing the stream of thoughts that stubbornly insist on my attention.

Often we distinguish between talking and thinking. Yet, I offer that thinking simply is talking to ourselves. Thinking can be a marvelous servant, but I believe it has taken over our lives, and obscured our true natures. Kahlil Gibran, often called a Christian mystic, beautifully expresses this in an excerpt from The Prophet:

 

There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.
The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape.
And there are those who talk, and without knowledge or forethought reveal a truth which they themselves do not understand.
And there are those who have the truth within them, but they tell it not in words.
In the bosom of such as these the spirit dwells in rhythmic silence.
– Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

 

 

 

Hitting the Jackpot for Venetian Cicchetti (Small Bites)

Cicchetti, Italywise

Cicchetti with baccalà

I can be a control freak, which at times can be at odds with spontaneity and seizing the moment. When I do quit trying to orchestrate life’s opportunities, some pretty great experiences have shown up in my life. Hence, this post…

We’ve recently relocated to the Veneto, and are living within a half-hour of Venice. We’ll still be maintaining the house in Umbria, but the Veneto is now our “home base”. So, just days ago, and after yet another day of unpacking and trying to settle into our new abode, friends called and invited us to meet them in Venice for drinks and cicchetti, which are Venetian “small bites”. We drove to Venice Mestre and took the train shuttle into Venice. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Frankly, I had to keep reminding myself that I’m one lucky fellow now to be able to do this kind of thing.

Having drinks and cicchetti is like breathing for Venetians. I’ve quickly became a devotee of the practice, after visiting some of the best establishments for these addictive “small bites”.

Cicchetti, Italywise

Perfectly hidden in an alley that seems to go nowhere, protecting the goldmine of cicchetti and ambiance

A good friend, who hails from an old Venetian family, urged us to visit Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso. It is so close to the Rialto bridge you might think it would be a major tourist trap. Thankfully it’s hidden from view of most tourists, several turns down a narrow alley which seems to be a dead-end. As we arrived this past Thursday night, a barren alleyway suddenly yielded a lively crowd spilling out the door of Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso, with drinks and small plates in hand. Inside, locals were queueing up to order the beautifully displayed cicchetti. The variety was immense, and at least half of the selection was seafood “themed”. Baccalà, or codfish, is the star of much cicchetti in Venice, and comes in many yummy variations. There were vegetarian options (e.g. mini eggplant Parmigiano), meat options (e.g. skewers with sausages and vegetables), and several cheese options (e.g. fried mozzarella with anchovies). I could have closed my eyes, and pointed blindly at the vast array of choices without being disappointed with any single dish. I ordered the skewers of grilled seafood, several polpette (meatballs) of tuna and ricotta, polpette with meat, and a couple of mini eggplant Parmagiano.

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The Faces and Doors of Venice

Venice may very well be my favorite city in Italy. I am certain countless other undiscovered gems are waiting to vie for top-tier status, but for now Venice remains firmly entrenched in first place. Even though I have visited Venice at least a dozen times, I still marvel at how much of the city remains shrouded in mystery. I am convinced this city never will completely reveal herself to me, which probably makes me love her even more. Secrets lurk in the labyrinth of alleyways throughout the city.

When I visit Venice I do my best to avoid the main tourist thoroughfares, especially areas like Piazza San Marco and the Rialto –even though those areas have much to offer. Instead, I steer directly into the less frequented, residential areas of Venice, Often, the most foreboding alleyways are the ones that draw me in the most. It’s probably a good thing that I haven’t watched the classic movie Don’t Look Now for several years, otherwise I wouldn’t be so bold.

What I have discovered in my wanderings through the more shadowy areas of Venice is a wealth of faces and motifs adorning the doors of Venice. On my most recent trip I endeavored to begin capturing these beautifully rendered door knockers, door pulls, and bells. I would love to build a catalog of these and research the symbolism, history and philosophy behind their creation. Even more, I would love to see the dwellings and people behind these doors, to see how they might correlate – or not.

Take this as Chapter One in a story that is just beginning to unfold for me…

 

 

Aperol Spritz – Signature Drink of Venice

The Aperol Spritz is THE Signature Drink of Venice

The Aperol Spritz is THE Signature Drink of Venice

We just returned from Venice where I officially I initiated my love affair with the Aperol Spritz, the signature drink of Venice. Ever since I overdosed on gin and tonics in my early twenties, I have avoided any type of cocktail that has the slightest bitter taste. I had tried an Aperol Spritz several years ago, without being impressed and without wanting to repeat the experience. Perhaps it was just bad timing and the wrong conditions. Fast forward to a suffocatingly hot and humid June day in Venice, when my mouth was screaming for something to revive me and to quench my thirst. This time, the Aperol Spritz was magical, and now I am a devotee. I probably shouldn’t confess this, but between the two of us, Simone and I consumed probably fifteen of these beauties during our three-and-a-half day stay in Venice.

If you’re not having an Aperol Spritz, along with cicchetti (small bites or a Venetian type of “tapas”), then you’re not getting into the swing of Venetian life. Making a meal of these small bites while enjoying a Spritz is quick and easy.

Aperol Ready for Mixing and Consuming

Aperol Ready for Mixing and Consuming

An Aperol Spritz is made of three parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol, and one part fizzy water. Add a slice of orange or lemon, and your ready to go. Normally you can find a Spritz for 3-4 euro, but expect to pay much more if you choose to sit in a popular tourist spot.

My New Favorite Tee Shirt from Elitre Concept Store in Venice

My New Favorite Tee Shirt from Elitre Concept Store in Venice

I returned from Venice with my witty new Spritz tee-shirt, which I found in the Elitre Concept Store. The store has two locations – one in the Dorsoduro, and the other close to the Rialto Bridge. Federica, who owns and runs the store, has curated the store selection with uniquely fashionable and fun items. You’ll find many items there to temp your whimsy.

 

 

A Study in Blue – Painting by Jed

Watercolor of "A Study in Blue"

A Study in Blue – Private Collection

A Study in Blue is one of my favorite watercolors. I completed this years ago after a wonderfully inspiring trip to the island of Burano, near Venice. If you haven’t been there, do yourself a favor and plan an excursion. I have no idea when and how the people on this island began painting their homes such “happy” colors, but I never tire of going there. In fact, I have a trip planned there in early June. I hope to board an early vaporetto so as to arrive, witness, and capture (with my faithful camera), the village coming to life. I am especially fascinated with what happens in the windows, as is evidenced by this painting.

This particular painting was honored with the prestigious Gold Award (Best in Show) in the Georgia Watercolor Society’s 20th Annual National Exhibition.

For this and other paintings and photography, check out my online gallery.

Lace Making – Watercolor by Jed

Lace Making - Watercolor by Jed

Lace Making – Watercolor by Jed

As many of you already know, I have been working on a series of smaller watercolors capturing scenes of everyday life in Italy. “Lace Making” is one of my most recent, and captures one of the many women from the island of Burano working outside their homes, and along the canals of the village. You reach Burano via a vaporetto ride from Venice. Unfortunately it is often overlooked and overshadowed by the island of Murano, which attracts hordes of visitors in search Murano glass. Burano is one of the “happiest” places I’ve visited. When the vaporetto pulls into port, you are greeted with a spectacular palette of homes painted in the brightest and most unexpected colors. If you come to Venice, be sure to schedule time to visit this wonderful island. While many people characterize it as a colorful fishing village, it also is a haven of lace-making artisans hard at work – like the woman featured in this watercolor “study”.

For this and other paintings and photography, check out my online gallery.

A Seagull’s View of Venice – Photo by Jed

A seagull's perspective of the high waters in Venice.

A seagull’s perspective of the high waters in Venice.

Just a little over a month ago we were in Venice during two days of very challenging rain, wind and high waters. While the weather didn’t make getting around the city easy, the conditions provided me a different perspective on the city. Not only in Venice, but in other cities in Italy, I’ve been asking myself, “How does a bird experience its surroundings?” So, I played around with this. In this image, taken in Piazza San Marco, I risked dropping my camera into the flood waters. And, given that this is Venice and the city has a reputation for not having the most sanitary water accumulating in public places, I also risked taking an onerous biological sample back with me to Rome. Thankfully my grip on the camera was solid.

Here you see the result of my “playing around”. I love how the seagull is the focal point, in a way that doesn’t dominate the photo. The Doge’s Palace and its reflection provide the framework. I plan to explore the birds eye view in future photography pursuits. So, as always, stay tuned!

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