Mecca for Modern Art

Gazing upon the building of Mumok, the Museum of Modern Art of Vienna, you have the impression of staring at a futuristic prison: a grey monolith with splits as windows, covered of molten rock, erected with cement, glass and marble. Once inside the main hall you’ll discover that there’s no lack of light, even if it is largely just a matter of an optical illusion due to the big, pure white walls. An elevator made of iron and glass, fast and silent, moves from three underground levels to two aboveground ones. Noise, here, doesn’t exists, if you exclude museum staff’s whispering words saying you can’t use flash when taking photos, or some child’s ride on the gangplanks that conduct from the elevators to the exhibition rooms. In Mumok reigns an almost sacred silence. Modern art, maybe more than classic art, requests concentration and introspection. Even devotion. Coming here is like setting your foot on a modern church, with portraits of Mick Jagger instead of saints and white walls instead of tapestries and paintings.

Walking through the wide, squared chambers of the museum you may feel in awe. Like when you find just in front of you the colorful, above mentioned portrait by Andy Warhol. Not far, you can find a bronze casting with human aspect: The Grande Femme Debout III by Alberto Giacometti. You can pass from one ambiance to another in such a fluid way, that it seems almost like walking without moving your feet. You stop, inevitably, when you find yourself in front of La voix du Sang, the beautiful, enigmatic painting by René Magritte. Staring at it, you could ask yourself: “what are a house and a sphere doing in the log of a tree?” Query to which nobody can answer. “What did the master want to represent with it?” Asking for the meaning of Picasso‘s women, of disquieting Man in Blue IV by Bacon, of Hahns Abendmahl by Daniel Spoerri, a table set up attached to the wall, is the job and the privilege for only a few. Tourists reason with the gut feeling. They love, or they stay emotionless.

Surely one gets alarmed, when a weird steampunk movie machine suddenly becomes alive and starts blowing and squeaking. It’s Jean Tinguely‘s Méta Harmonie, a creative expression of Flexus, an artistic movement that represents transition, the existing flow between art and life. Together with Viennese actionism and Nouveau Réalisme, avantguard movements that use objects taken from everyday human life for creating masterpieces, Flexus is the artistic current that, more than others, gives the imprint to this museum. Visit it, if you are in Vienna and you have a half day free. Entering the monolith covered by lava is an experience you will love to tell forward.

Antonio Leggieri – Image courtesy Mumok and Lorenz Seider 
Share: Facebook,  Twitter  

Sighs of Love

In the Amalfitana Coast, in southern Italy, there is a small pastry boutique with a hundred years of history. A century ago the owner of the place invented the Sigh, a little dessert to eat all in one bite. In a Sigh there are all the flavors of the sun and the sea, the beautiful coastline and its inhabitants. If you want to make a declaration of love to a woman, you have to give her a Sigh and you will be certain to have her love. It takes twenty minutes to prepare a single Sigh. Once cooked, the dough must then be manually filled with lemon cream, then soaked in lemon liqueur to finally be coated with frosting. But once ready, if you have the fortune to try one, you will experience that wonderful burst of flavor explode in your mouth. Pure love! For this reason it is called Sigh: this is what happens every time you eat one, like when you sigh thinking of the person you love.

Stefano Tripodi 
Share: Facebook,  Twitter  

The Biennale Backdrop

Venice, a dream-like arcadia of sun-drenched canals, postcard-perfect palazzi, vibrant restaurants and a unique art-scene that goes well beyond the Biennale, is sure to satisfy all traveling tastes.

It’s on the modern art front that Venice truly excels. Delight in Punta della Dogana, the city’s former customs house, where the outside view of the Grand Canal and Giudecca is almost as fascinating as the art within. Ca’ Pesaro, a white marble palazzo from the 17th Century, uses its Baroque façade to frame works by Miro, Kandinsky and Warhol. While the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum that was originally the private collection of the flamboyant American heiress Peggy Guggenheim, is perfect for those with a similar artistic flair.

Church lovers will be beguiled by Madonna dell’Orto – home of Tintoretto’s Adoration of the Golden Calf -, and San Zan Degola, famed for its frescos. Then there’s the gold-covered Basilica di San Marco, which took much of its decoration from Istanbul during the Crusades and, on the smaller side, Santa Maria dei Miracoli, a favourite of Venetian brides.
If you wish to walk (and sleep) in the footprint of royalty and philosophers, then take a room at Ca’Sagredo, a restored 15th Century palazzo. Overlooking the Grand Canal and Rialto Markets, hours pass quickly as you watch the watery activity below you. For a more boutique Old World experience stay at Ca’ Gottardi. Read a book on their terrace in the setting sun and prepare to feel luxurious. For an affordable canal-based experience catch the number one vaporetto from Piazzale Roma and make every icon stop along the Grand Canal. This journey is particularly enchanting at dusk.

Food-wise pay Osteria L’Orto dei Mori a visit. Found in Campo dei Mori, Tintoretto’s old stomping ground, this restaurant mixes Venetian classics with dishes from the South. Or indulge at ABC Quadri. Complete with an outside bandstand, that attracts waltzing retirees, and a blue mosaic floor, this opulent restaurant is the perfect place to watch the world go elegantly by. Similarly charming, La Piscina, near the old Venetian salt stores (that now house Biennale installations), allows you to sit, Bellini in hand, above the lapping Venetian waters as the sun descends. For something more casual, the cicchetti at Trattoria da Fiore and Cantino do Mori attract a modish, flavor-savvy Bacari crowd.

Known as the serene republic, this art-filled, flavor-rich and impossibly beautiful city exceeds every expectation. A slowly sinking wonder, it’s the ideal Biennale backdrop.

Liz Schaffer 
Share: Facebook,  Twitter  

The Suburbs

Whether you’re keen on about American suburbs or not, keep in mind the name Westchester. If you some day end up in California, remember to visit it, because this anonymous neighborhood of the South Bay Region of Los Angeles County is the emblem of an entire country, of its culture and the way of life of its people. It will be enough to spend just one afternoon there – perhaps a nice, sunny afternoon in mid August – to have the impression of being sucked in your home TV, in an episode of Desperate Housewives or on the set of The Truman Show.

A 1989 Los Angeles Times article described Westchester as a “raw suburb, created willy-nilly in the 1940s”. Official numbers about the population of the area are updated 13 years ago but, judging in person, you could swear that not much has changed from that time: a small neighborhood of 40 thousand people – especially rich with the elderly and war veterans (that Wikipedia defines as “better educated compared to the greater city’s citizens”) – who live in small, wooden houses with well-groomed lawns and the stars and stripes flag in show. The houses are painted pure white and they stand out perfectly against the electric blue sky, a colour met only in California, so vivid that it fills your stomach with expectations. Before you even realize, it turns into sadness, because under such a sky beautiful things could happen, but instead you find yourself watching the Mexicans mow the lawns and delivery boys unload cases of beer to bars. Beverly Hills and Hollywood are just a half-hour car ride away, but it seems like light years from Westchester.

Considering that the viewpoints of people who lived there can surely give a better idea of the place compared to a mere visitor’s opinion, here is a memory found on the site of LA Times left by a veteran named Louis: “Grew up in Westchester from 1951 until I left for the Marine Corps in 1966. Parents stayed until they passed in 1998/2000. Loved it but the area outgrew itself. Went to Visitation and then to Westchester HS. Ron Dutton from Orville Wright Jr HS (Teacher) and I are still corresponding. What a life!”

Now, as a final test, do this: write “Westchester, Los Angeles” on Google Maps and see a street view. How could you disagree with him?

Antonio Leggieri 
Share: Facebook,  Twitter  

Anchovies of the Mediterranean Sea

There is a small seaside town in southern Italy, a few kilometers after the town of Salerno, where for hundreds of years the locals produce Colatura di Alici (anchovies juice). The town is called Cetara, it’s beautiful and fragile, embraced by mountains and bathed by the Mediterranean sea.

The monks who lived there began to extract the juice of salted anchovies and to store it in wooden barrels. Today the locals are doing the same in small workshops. The Colatura is a precious condiment that can be used with pasta or on bread or in salads. The anchovies are put in wooden barrels covered with the salt of Trapani (in Sicily) and then matured for years. The result is this precious nectar that you should definitely try. Unfortunately for the foreigners, you can get this pale yellow culinary jewel only by visiting their shop on location. But it’s worth the travel.

Stefano Tripodi 
Share: Facebook,  Twitter  

On High Ground

The heart of the global theatrical, artistic and comic community every August, Edinburgh is a city of soaring volcanic hills, ghost-guarded closes and culinary daring.

The biggest attraction is the Edinburgh International Festival, which runs alongside the somewhat adventurous yet thoroughly captivating Fringe Festival – a month-long celebration of all things creative and laughter-inducing. But the city exists apart from these festivals. Scotland’s cultural and traditional capital, a UNESCO city of literature, and hugged by the North Sea, this is a place of history, national pride and rocky hills that are well worth a climb.

Robert Louis Stevenson, a native son of Edinburgh, always claimed that the best view of the city was gained from Carlon Hill. A weathered, monument-covered hilltop, this was Edinburgh’s first public park and was formed by volcanic activity 340 million years ago. Once used for bleaching, it’s now frequented by those keen to snap a cloudy, atmospheric shot of the moody city. Found at the far east of Princess Street, from here you can spy the port town of Leith (where the Britannia now resides), Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Craigs and the surrounding countryside.

On the subject of Arthur’s Seat, that’s another Scottish treasure worth tackling. Found in Holyrood Park, this climb is short but steep. From the summit, if it’s not too blustery, you can spy the entire city below you with the Royal Mile – stretching from Holyrood House, once the home of the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots, to the Edinburgh Castle – appearing particularly alluring. Overlooking the sea and adorned by a ruin or two, you’re unlikely to hear the call of a bagpipe up here. Moving and dramatic as they are, they do get a bit much after a few days in the city.

Naturally, this sort of climbing brings on peckishness. But fear not, Edinburgh is a town where foraged foods and local produce are utilized and adored. At Wedgwood the vivacious character that is Head Chef Paul Wedgwood creates dishes inspired by his global travels and filled with ingredients he foraged himself. If you’re going to brave haggis, brave it here. Then there’s the Larder Bistro, where the team works with local farmers, fishmongers, fruit, vegetable and drink suppliers to create a tempting seasonable menu. With a range of characterful suppliers and a love of all things local, this is where you head for a contemporary taste of Scotland. If it’s a view you’re after, accompanied by pickled vegetables or salmon prepared three ways, then venture to the Tower, attached to the National Museum of Scotland. Here you’ll feast on a rustic menu while watching the Edinburgh skyline transform beneath a seemingly endless sunset. Hills, panoramas, food and festivities, there’s a lot in this city to love.

Liz Schaffer 
Share: Facebook,  Twitter  

The (Re)downfall of Empires

There are some moments in everyone’s life in which words don’t count. In these moments you realize that explaining a concept out loud or writing it down don’t work; even trying, you notice soon that the names and adjectives coming out from your mouth can’t really describe what you have in your head. The photos shot in Athens during the last three years, published on world-wide media, can cause this effect. Increasing protests, ever increasing number of poor people and the syringes scattered on the streets of Exarchia – the rebellious district of the most important Greek University – leave you speechless. The tourist attraction beloved by millions of people has turned into a dangerous destination that’s more likely to be avoided. Athens is collapsing: photos of temples kissed by the sun, golden sunsets and beautiful shores are getting pulled next to ones of violent clashes between civilians and the army force, and the ones of junkies injecting themselves with battery liquids.

Also Rome is having hard times. The Capital is always going to remain one of the most fascinating cities in the world: Colosseum, St. Peter’s Church and Vatican Museums are there to prove this. It would be madness to advise against a vacation in Rome, even if it is more and more assuming the aspect of a dirty, tired and old city. There are shabby neighborhoods, such as Garbatella and Trastevere, and there are even real favelas in the heart of the city, next to Parioli, one of the most chicest zones. Even slightly more plentiful rain is sufficient to block the sewers and inundate the streets with leaves and sewage. But you won’t find, unlike what happens in Athens, much more increasing poverty or rebellions. The Roman – and the Italian in general – ruins are of an invisible kind, the result of decades of corrupted politics and inactivity of institutions. Rome is the emblem of a beautiful country that now appears without faith for a better future.

Who would have guessed that two cities of that size, history and potential would have ended up in this kind of situation? In 2011, according to a study published by Eurostat, Athens and Rome have been the very last in line of the European cities in investments in culture and education. As a sort of poetic justice, the two cities that were the cradle of Western culture find themselves no longer worthy of a new world that is evolving quickly. Their infrastructures are old and inefficient. Most of their inhabitants are afflicted and discouraged, especially after the crisis that affected the whole Europe since 2008, Italy and Greece in particular. And now, while the powerful watch incapable what happens on the streets, Rome and Athens slowly die. In the past, they fell and rose up again. Will they be able to do it again?

Antonio Leggieri – Images Galinos Paparounis, Dimitris Papazimouris, Mehran Khalili, Francois “Mister Pink”, “Giorgos”, Armando Moreschi, “MIchelle” 
Share: Facebook,  Twitter  

The Man And the Sea

There’s a small and beautiful region in Italy between the end of Campania and the beginning of Basilicata called Cilento. The sea is salty and wild and the men are living on their own, looking at the sky with glazed eyes. Saverio is one of these men. In the morning he goes down the mountain to a small beach, through the familiar trails. The water is emerald green and the wind is blowing through all the little yellow flowers. Saverio takes his old motor boat and reaches the small harbor of Scario. The boat collects a handful of people and brings them on his small beach. There are few rules: speak with a whisper, no music, no phones, only the silence broken by the sound of the sea.

Saverio offers cold cuts and cheese produced in the mountain village of San Giovanni a Piro. Wine is home made, it’s a kind of a red sparkling wine, very fresh and sweet. The bread is soft with a great crust baked in a wood oven; special, because it remains soft for days. But the most wonderful specialty are the small sweet marzipans garnished with candied orange peels, that Saverio’s wife prepares every week for their guests. We were lucky enough to discover this distant corner of paradise. You have to know how to listen and keep your ears open down to the harbor to know when Saverio will come back to pick up another group of people to give them half a day of serenity.

Stefano Tripodi 
Share: Facebook,  Twitter  

In a Beautiful Place

We are in the southern Italy. Near Naples, between the mountains of Positano and Sorrento, live many households who work the land and produce everything in-house. They spend their lives on these clods of earth above the sea without cars, internet or television. Their greatest reward, every day, is the landscape, clean air, amazing food and simple nature. We went to visit them, going up the mountain for hours before discovering their homes. From there you can branch out several paths leading from the mountains to the sea.

Salvatore cultivates the ground and his wife is in the kitchen preparing canned legumes. The work is tiring and the days very long, but the life here has a completely other kind of value. We ate sitting on the ground and Salvatore showed us their products. Grapes in anise-flavored liqueur, tomatoes dried in the wind and in the dark, wild garlic and bread buns wheat. We ate a wonderful eggplant parmigiana, washed down with white wine, falling afterwards asleep under a lemon tree.

Stefano Tripodi 
Share: Facebook,  Twitter  

Limoncello, the Golden Liquor

In the gardens overlooking the sea of Positano grow the most important lemons in Italy. The locals say that they resemble women’s breasts, because they have a round shape and a bump at the end. This type of lemon is called “sfusato” and its aroma and flavor are very distinctive; sweet and crispy. If you walk through the mountains of Positano, you can feel this fragrance in the air. Here people are long-lived, eating a whole lemon every day.

Here this wonderful fruit is transformed in one of the most important liqueurs of the coast: Limoncello. The skin is peeled and infused in alcohol for a few months, to give life to the world-famous Limoncello. Valentino, the friendly owner of Il Gusto della Costa, a small workshop on the streets of Praiano, explained to us that the sun and the ground are the key factors in making those areas particularly suitable for the cultivation of lemons. Even the salt of the sea and the mountain air contribute to the birth of the delicious fruit.

We strongly recommend to get to Praiano to purchase at least five kilos of lemons and ask the villagers few tips on how to make Limoncello. You will return home with your notebook full.

Stefano Tripodi 
Share: Facebook,  Twitter