Street Art in Bologna, Italy

Bologna, also known as the Red City, is famous for its many rust-colored buildings, small alleyways, and of course porticoes, and even though the town has plenty of old-time charm, it also offers plenty of modern street art in some parts of town. Many of the pieces are large and intricate and much more than a quick tag and dash (although there are plenty of tags around the city as well).

IMG_0213

A small street with the typical architecture and already some graffiti.

Many of the pieces I found in the university quarter of town are large and intricate:

IMG_0252

IMG_0253

IMG_0258

Many of the pieces are entertaining and do not offer political comments (at least not as far as I could gather):

IMG_0256

The piece is close to four meters tall.

IMG_0260

A large doorway enhanced by art.

However, some pieces do seem to include more obvious messages, which were still lost on me (but I did appreciate the details in the pieces):

IMG_0264

IMG_0259

Several pieces spell their message out rather clearly:

IMG_0261

Technology is phallocentric

IMG_0263

IMG_0262

While many of the pieces are painted or sprayed onto the walls and doors,  a few of the pieces are also pasted and hung like wallpaper:

IMG_0205

IMG_0266

And then there are murals that cover half a building/block:

IMG_0265

If you are in Bologna, look for more than old churches and palazzi. As I explore more parts of the city over the next few days and weeks, I am curious to find out if more large-scale art pieces exist outside of the university quarter.

Advertisements

Most Fragrant Season in California

A short period of about three to four weeks in early spring (the length is dependent on the weather) is my favorite season in Northern California; it is also the most fragrant season. It is orange-blossom season! Well, it is actually citrus-blossom season but that just does not have the same ring.

In late winter and early spring, all the effort and time to wrap my citrus trees on cold nights to withstand the few hours a night of temperatures close to freezing are finally paying off as the the first trees start to bloom and envelope the backyard in their potent, sweet smell.

Covered Orange Tree

The daily ritual before cooler winter nights – swaddling the citrus trees in tarps and blankets. Once they are taller than 7 feet, the endeavor becomes quite challenging.

The fragrance is hard to describe, and none of the scents captured in bottles ever come close to the real thing; the smell is sweet and potent, even stronger at night, and very different from the smell of an orange fruit or peel. In my backyard, the limes and mandarins bloom first, then come the grapefruit trees, and last but not least the orange trees that seem to do double duty by still carrying some fruit while already blooming and working on this year’s crop.

Blossoms

Close-up of Blossoms

The white, star-shaped flowers attract honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to the backyard, and at times “air traffic” becomes too busy for me to sit nearby.

Sure, the golden-orange California poppies cover the hillsides in spring and acres and acres of almond trees blossom in the Central Valley, but nothing is quite as impressive as the aroma of orange blossoms. Walk through the suburbs or through downtown, and you are sure to catch a whiff of the sweet smell every couple of hundred feet or so. This is the most fragrant time of the year in California and nothing quite compares for me.

PS: Last spring came close to this experience as  I spent a weekend in Sorrento, Italy and on Capri, where I was  embraced by the fragrance of lemon blossoms every corner I turned (and that might be the reason why I enjoyed that trip so much).

Interacting with Art

I love art museums, and over the last few months of visiting Italy, Austria, and Germany I have visited plenty of them. But even though I am a fan, I have to admit that visits can quickly become monotone and especially lesser-known or eye-catching pieces are easily skipped, overlooked, or at least not remembered. Another issue with museums is that I love to “look” with my hands, which usually is not an option; indeed, most places  do not even want one to stand too close to the art to see the brushstrokes for example, and of course that is understandable, but the problem still is that it is difficult to become fully engaged – even visually.

Sunflowers

Detail of “Sunflowers” 3rd Version by Vincent van Gogh in Neue Pinakothek Munich, Germany  – no flash or touching but the guard was not happy with me

Sure some visitors are more active in museums and sketch and/or write, but this active appreciation of art usually is not created by the museum and the art; the visitor decides to sketch or write or maybe as student is required to complete an assignment or in need of extra credit. So the motivation for interacting comes from the visitor and is not created by the museum displays.

Student in Bargello

Visitor writing about/drawing the art in the Bargello in Florence, Italy

 

Sure, museums catering to children and focusing on science usually include interactive displays, but very few art museums do, so I am always excited when a display invites me to interact and I am no longer a passive observer. A recent example was a display of modern art at the K-hof museum in Gmunden, Austria. One of the sculptures, for example, came with sticky notes and visitors were encouraged to react to the piece and to other comments already left on the wall. These comments changed my perception of the piece as I started to react to the comments stuck beside it. The piece was not famous but it was memorable because of the interaction.

Christ Sculpture

Christ Sculpture by Ferdinand – One note mentions that the artist does not want a God who suffers with him but a God who laughs with him.

 

Notes

Notes responding to the piece of art: “Laughing about what? About me? [Without interest in my suffering?] No, thanks!” Another note responds: “Laughs WITH me (not about). Therefore I am also allowed to laugh about myself.”

Another example of interaction were the hobbyhorses depicting famous horses in art at the State Exhibit “Human & Horse” in Lambach, Austria. There was Marengo, the stallion from the painting “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” by Jacques-Loius David; the horse’s description includes the achievement of galloping 129km in five hours.

Marengo

Ride the Hobbyhorse Marengo at the State Exhibit “Human & Horse” in Lambach, Austria

Napoleon

Painting by Jacques-Louis David [Public Domain} via Wikimedia Commons

And then there was also the much calmer looking hobbyhorse Pferdinand created by Franz Marc. The description of the horse lists a talent for expressive art.

Pferdinand

Ride the Hobbyhorse Pferdinand at the State Exhibit “Human & Horse” in Lambach, Austria

marc2c_franz_-_blue_horse_i_-_google_art_project

“Blue Horse I” by Franz Marc [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

These were just two of nearly a dozen famous hobby horses that were ridden by children in the courtyard of the exhibit, and even though no adults were playing when I visited, I could not see a sign that limited the activity only to kids.

More and more places also include replicas of the art that not only can be touched but is meant to be touched. These are geared especially towards visitors with vision impairments, but since my natural instinct is to touch, these replicas keep me entertained as well. I also realized that they help me notice details that I did not see before but now felt, and I could go back and look for them in the piece itself. Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” in Milan includes one such replica, which is usually overlooked by visitors as it rests on a side wall. Read more about the artist who created this replica and many others in Italy in this article.

img_1133

Touchable Replica of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”

IMG_3165

Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” in Milan, Italy

Art museums could still do much more to encourage more active enjoyment of the pieces, but these examples show that change is coming.

Reposing with Jewels: Bejeweled Skeletons of Saints in Austria

Statues of saints in Catholic churches aren’t anything surprising; skeletons of Saints adorned with precious stones and pearls, however, are quite a lot rarer and also much more fascinating. These bejeweled skeletons can be found in churches throughout Austria, Bavaria, and Switzerland and while they were rather common in the 17th century, many were taken down, looted, or lost in the 18th and 19th centuries. I am always amazed and amused by any bejeweled saint I come across; most of them nonchalantly repose on cushions and seem to try to make eye contact with those who meander down the side aisles of a church (most bejeweled saints are by side altars).

Interior Melk

Interior of the Church of Melk Abbey

Saint Clemens in Melk

Saint Clemens in Melk Abbey – A Gift to the Abbey in 1772

During my last trip to Austria and Bavaria, I was lucky enough to see quite a few of these bejeweled saints (without actually looking for them). They are so-called Catacomb Saints and meant to personify the glory of afterlife – which explains the relaxed poses and the over-the-top jewels; I guess there is no stress and plenty of riches. The Catacomb Saints are skeletons that were found in catacombs in Rome, Italy in May 1578. During road construction, an estimated 500,000 to 750,000 remains dating back to the first three centuries of Christianity were found. Based on the amount and age of the remains found, the conclusion was that some of these remains must be the relics of early Christian martyrs. Perfect timing – during the Protestant Reformation in Europe many relics (the physical remains or personal effects of saints or venerated persons) had been destroyed or lost, and now new relics had been found. It was an opportunity to “restock” so to speak.

Relic San Feliciano Medici Chapels

Relic of San Feliciano in Capelle Medicee at the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy

 

 

The Catacomb Saints of course came without labels or a resume, so names were invented for them after they had been declared saints by the Church. Thus, many of the saints have very German-sounding names to fit the place where they were going to be housed. Catacomb Saints were often gifts by the rich and famous to a church, such as Saint Friedrich, who was presented to the Abbey of Melk by Austrian Empress Maria Theresia.

 

Fine mesh gauze covers the bones and jewelry; precious stones and pearls are sown to the fabric. The elegant clothes and fancy jewelry were often donated by the rich of the parish. Most of the work was usually preformed by nuns but also by monks. While I am fascinated by the poses of the skeletons and the artistry of placing the jewels, many visitors are rather put off by the display.

Saint2 Engelszell

A Bejeweled Saint in the Monastery Engelszell

Saint Engelszell

Close-up of a Saint in the Monastery Engelszell

 

Saint Sandal

Another Fancy Sandal of a Saint in the Monastery Engelszell

This repulsion by some  may be one of the main reasons why so many of the saints are not displayed to their best advantage: the glass cases are often old, dusty, and badly lit, so it is hard to see the details clearly or take a picture; few of the saints have clear descriptions beyond their names on labels; signage that could also explain their history and importance at one time is non-existent usually; and most of them are placed in side niches cordoned off by rope, so it is easy to overlook them. Guidebooks and even leaflets about the history of the building and parish found in the church rarely if ever mention the saints. This meant that I usually came to see a church and “stumbled” across a Catacomb Saint, so if you are interested in seeing some of the saints, do some research ahead of time to look for the churches that still display these amazing examples of sacral art.

Saint Author in Aldersbach

A Bejeweled Saint who also Seems to Be an Author the Church in Aldersbach

 

Close-up of Saint in the Monestary in Reichersberg

Close-up of Saint in the Monastery in Reichersberg

Note: Details about the Catacomb Saint are mostly from the signage at some of the churches that I did find as well as an article by CNN, which has some pretty amazing photos of the saints as well. I visited the churches in Engeslzell, Reichersberg, and Melk (all in Austria) and in Aldersbach in Bavaria.

The Beauty of a Toilet: Toilet Museum in Gmunden, Austria

“For many people, having a toilet is an afterthought, one of the easy-to-take-for-granted amenities of living in the modern world. But for 40% of the world’s population that lives without sanitation, having a toilet is a luxury, and one that can often make the difference between life and death” explains a posting by the American Red Cross. I would argue that for many Americans easy and free access to a bathroom is nearly seen as a fundamental human right, which explains the surprise of many American tourists in Europe when they figure out that public toilets often require a fee and receipts are checked consistently to ensure that really only customers use an establishment’s bathroom. And do not even think about hoping to find a bathroom in a supermarket. Bathrooms – and especially clean bathrooms – are not a certainty. This became clear for example on Mount Vesuvius, where no free bathrooms existed. The toilet I ended up paying for (I think it was one Euro) had no water to flush but was not designed to be a waterless porta potty and it had been used a LOT throughout the day. Let’s just put it that way: what cannot go down must pile up. At that point, I really wished for a lot more bushes on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius…

IMG_3539

View over the Bay from Mount Vesuvius in Italy

Considering the impact of toilets and our dependence on them, it is rather surprising that they are not more celebrated or talked about. So it was a nice surprise to find a museum dedicated to toilets in Gmunden, Austria. Sure, the museum is definitely not the main attraction of the town. Rather, the main draw are the panorama of the magnificent lake Traunsee with the tall mountains in the background, castle Orth on an island in the lake, and maybe the ceramic manufacturer established in 1492.

Lake and Boats

Lake Traunsee and Sailboats in Gmunden

 

Schloss Orth

Schloss Orth in Gmunden on a small island in the lake (Photo by Ibokel from Pixabay)

 

Saint Orth

Saint Nepomuk Statue on the Bridge to the Castle Orth near Gmunden

On my last visit to Gmunden, I finally visited the toilet museum in the center of town near the lake. The toilet museum (its official name is the sanitation museum) is one of five rather small museums housed in the so-called K-Hof. The other four museums focus on geology, salt and tourism, nativity sets and sacred art, and current art (it seems this exhibit changes throughout the year). It is a very eclectic/odd mix as one floor houses the nativity sets and the next one the toilets. The museum even includes a chapel. The toilet/sanitation museum focuses on sanitation objects from the 19th and 20th century even though the first water closet was already invented in the 16th century.

 

The museum has some interesting pieces with the majority of the exhbits from Central Europe, but it does lack an international or intercultural aspect. Would not this be the place to show and discuss the differences in toilets and the impact of the toilet on everyday life around the world? I expected the exhibit to be more informative and in-depth. But it does have some extremely beautiful toilet bowls that put the common current and very boring toilet bowls to shame. You won’t be able to find anything close to these in your local store I think. Here are some of my favorite toilet bowls (hmm  – what an odd and unexpected sentence to use):

The exhibit also includes other items associated with the bathroom such as toilet pulls and sinks and even an outhouse.

 

Outhouse

Old-fashioned Outhouse

The museum is entertaining enough but not worth a special trip; however, it is an interesting addition to a visit already planned to enjoy the panorama and the castle, which are worth a trip.

Gmunden is in Upper Austria, about an hour’s drive from Salzburg and nearly three hours from Vienna. The museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10AM till 5PM and during the summer (June-August) Tuesdays through Sundays from 10AM till 5PM. Check the museum’s website for changes in the opening hours and other details.

Sacred Mountain in Italy

I have not posted for a while and the main reason is that I left Europe at the end of May and returned to the US. Even though it was great to see family, friends, and my dogs again upon my arrival in the US, I left (especially Italy) with a heavy heart; I was not excited about coming back. If my husband and dogs would have been able to come and stay with me in Italy, I doubt I would have left. Since my return to California, I have been a little in a funk, and although I have plenty of photos and blog ideas about Italy as well as Austria and Germany, I have put off looking through photos and starting to write. Maybe the “wound” of leaving was just too fresh to be touched in any way.

Chapel and View over Lake

View over Lake Como in Northern Italy from the Sacred Mountain of Ossuccio

Now three weeks later, it is a little easier to look back at photos from the last few months without criticizing California for not being Italy. Finding fault in California for being California is obviously not a very rational feeling but strong nevertheless. I miss that I could just walk anywhere without a plan or a guidebook, and more likely than not I would stumble upon something amazingly beautiful and of (high) importance in history and/or art. This is extremely unlikely to happen in California, especially in the suburbs, and I now need to make an effort to go/drive and find a sight (other than nature!).

An example to illustrate this is that several weeks I lived near and walked past what appeared to simply be a normal building in Florence, yet large groups of tourists were always blocking the alleyway by the house as I tried to pass through. I finally stopped to read the plaque one day and realized it was the site where Michelangelo lived (15 Via dei Bentaccordi in case you are wondering).

Another example is the trip to the small village of Ossuccio on the shores of Lake Como. We had arrived too early to meet with the landlady to move into our apartment for the week and had time to kill. We did not yet have a guidebook or any specific plans on what to see in the area, so we just started to walk up into the mountains surrounding the lakeshore to get a better view of the lake and ended up visiting one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Sacro Monte di Ossuccio (Sacred Mountain of Ossuccio). It is one of nine sacred mountains in Piedmont and Lombardy, and the UNESCO website highlights the impressive union of architecture, sacred art, and natural landscape of these complexes.

Sacro Monte

View of Sacro Monte di Ossuccio with the 14 Chapels Leading to the Sanctuary

Unaware that these sacred mountains even existed, we walked up the steep hillside to reach the small church we could see from the center of the village. But the path itself became part of the sight as it wound past 14 chapels constructed between 1635 and 1710 depicting scenes from the Bible with the help of 230 statues of stucco and terracotta and frescos in Baroque style.

Path Connecting the Chapels

Path Leading Up the Mountain and Past the Chapels

Assumption of Mary

Chapel 14: Assumption of Mary into Heaven

The nearly life-size statues by artist Agostino Silva were slightly creepy but also fascinating with their life-like body language and covered in what seemed a couple of centuries worth of dust.

Interior of a Chapel

Another Interior of a Chapel

The steep path of about a kilometer forced me to take plenty of breaks to appreciate the view of the lake and Comacina Island below until we reached the church/sanctuary Santuario Madonna del Soccorso from 1532.

View over Lake and Village

View over Lake Como and Ossuccio

Santuario Madonna del Soccorso

Sanctuary of the Holy Virgin of Help (Sanctuary Madonna del Soccorso)

And this is what I miss about Italy (or Europe in general) – what was really just meant to be a short stroll to stretch our legs after the car ride and kill some time until we could move into our apartment turned into the discovery of a pretty major sight. This would not happen that easily and that often in California I believe. But maybe I do not give California enough credit and maybe I need to be more adventurous and leave the paths I already know around here and see what I can discover.

View of Lake Como with Comacina Island on the Left

View over Lake Como with Comacina Island on the Left

 

Watch Your Steps: Fascinating Italian Floors and Roads

Traveling through Italy, I have had a hard time paying attention to all the details; there is just too much to take in (and I do not know whether that is just the richness of Italy or whether I have learned to notice more details on my travels over the last few months). As if it was not enough to have fascinating ceilings (see previous post), or small details such as enticing doorways and small decorative details (see another previous post),  or street art that one could overlook (see still another previous post), Italy also has amazing floors and roads. That may sound absurd and you may wonder how a road can be that amazing – especially when considering American roads. However, the roads and floors are fascinating – partially because of their age and significance and partially because of their beauty.  It is difficult to figure out how to pay attention to ceilings above, art at eye level, and floors under your feet often at the same place.

DSCN0045

Interior of Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence

One way is to spend plenty of time and to pause to take in all elements; another way is to acknowledge all but focus on one element. I have to admit for example that I remember the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel but have no clue anymore what the floor looks like (I looked it up online and it is actually a very pretty, mostly black-and-white mosaic floor).

Over the last few months, plenty of floors and roads have stood out to me – some because of their beauty, some because of their historical significance or age, and some even for all reasons.

Some roads are not pretty or very artistic but they make an impact because of their age. Imagine who has already wandered these roadways; think about how many people have walked on these paving stones over the centuries!

Path Forum

Road in the Roman Forum

 

Section

A Section of Original Brick in the Colosseum

Some pathways include details that might be overlooked at first glance:

Pompeii

A “Road Sign” Carved in the Paving Stones in Pompeii Points in the Direction of the Brothel

Mosaic Pompeii

Small Pieces of Original Mosaic Floor in Pompeii

Many of the surfaces are beautiful and already well-known:

Cave Canem

The Famous Cave Canem Mosaic Floor in Pompeii

 

Others fascinate with their intricate details:

Floor Vatican

Mosaic Floor in the Vatican

 

Marble Floor Milan

Marble Floor in the Cathedral in Milan

 

Many of the surfaces also serve additional functions such as displaying astrological signs on a sort of calendar or support a superstition:

Astrology Detail

Astrology Detail in the Marble Floor in the Cathedral in Milan

Coat of Arms Milan

Coat of Arms of Turin in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan – Legend has it brings good luck to put your right heel in the hole and turn three times around your axis.

And even ordinary streets become beautiful because of their surroundings:

Palazzo Vecchio

A Reflection of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

I know I have overlooked plenty of gorgeous floors and important roads in Italy while I was looking at or taking pictures of other elements, but at least that gives me a reason to visit again. Are there any additional floors and/or roads that you think are memorable and noteworthy?