Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Journey Through Umbria
May, 2018

Ancient entrances
to the past...and the present;
Umbrian portals
Here we are, back amongst the rolling hills of the beautiful Umbrian countryside...but we're up on the top of a rocky outcropping in Orvieto, Italy.


Toni DeBella writes..."Orvieto has such a rich history- once Etruscan, then Medieval and now a vibrant, modern small city always buzzing with excitement, art, culture, music, food and wine..." Too, let me add the attraction of the warm, welcoming Orvietani...the people of Orvieto. My annual journey for the past 6 years...it always feels like coming home. 
This year, our daughter started her business- ADVENTURES IN ITALY (http://aiitaly.co/)

arranging art workshops (and so much more) with artists and students from all over... continuing a business established 15 years ago by Bill and Kristi Steiner. Michael and I were there for support,
but we did some traveling to enjoy a bit of what Umbria has to offer.

First, the beauty of Orvieto...















the reverence of Orvieto...









the people of Orvieto...












These photos can't begin to convey the wonder and beauty of this Umbrian jewel. Next posting...on to some other nearby cities, towns and villages ...check back in a few days if you're interested. Thanks for joining me on this Orvieto visit...


Big Hugs,
abbyj













































































































Wednesday, May 2, 2018

THE ARTFUL READERS CLUB 
"The Orphan's Tale"
by Pam Jenoff
May 3, 2018



  

WWII, the Nazis...and a traveling circus! Quite a combination and a recipe sure to arouse curiosity and interest...it did for me! THE ORPHAN'S TALE is a powerful novel of friendship, bravery and loyalty set in a 1940's moving circus in Germany and France.  
I found the circus theme very informative and fascinating. I enjoyed the characters and the setting was very real! I could smell the animal scented hay and see the tent poles being pulled up to hold the giant big top. The sequins, the trapeze artists' leotards, the elephants, lions and tiger as well as the littered floor of the Big Top all helped to focus the imagery. 
After having read so many books with WWII as a background, I enjoyed discovering a completely different wartime perspective, where circus owners and performers took major risks hiding Jews within their acts and in the backstage staff, knowing they could be searched and found out at any random checkpoint along their travels.
THE ORPHAN'S TALE follows two women... flying trapeze artists... who each had something serious to lose during this time of violence and persecution. Their roles within the circus provided them a place of safety and solace, but they were both willing to sacrifice everything for each other and for the one little orphaned Jewish baby boy whom they both grew to love. To be clear, this is a story about the two women and not the orphaned baby (although the baby is definitely an ever- present character,) so the book's title is a bit misleading. Not to worry, though...the story did come full circle in the end! 
The author, Pam Jenoff, tells THE ORPHAN'S TALE in praise of the traveling circuses that persevered despite hunger, poverty and war. They provided refreshment for the body and soul in spite of the extreme oppression and the horror surrounding them and the communities they entertained...and the performers' death-defying feats offered the kind of adrenaline rush that created wide-mouth smiles instead of fear.
After finishing a novel like this and reading The Author's Note, it seems to make the book even better to know that the story was inspired by real people and events.
LOVED this book and definitely recommend it!

Until soon...thanks for stopping by.
Big Hugs,
abbyj
 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

ARTFUL READERS CLUB
THE TUSCAN CHILD by Rhys Bowen 


THE TUSCAN CHILD, by Rhys Bowen, is a blend of romance, mystery and engaging fiction. The tale is told through a dual timeline...half the story takes place during WWII: Hugo Langley, an English pilot, crashes in the Nazi-held hills of a fictional town in Tuscany, Italy. (How does he remain hidden and how does he survive?) The other half is about Hugo's estranged daughter, Joanna, who, thirty years later, finds some puzzling papers among her father's belongings following his recent death in England. These papers are so compelling that she's driven to journey to Tuscany to solve the enigma. We travel with Joanna from Surrey, England, in the early 1970s into the lush, rolling hills of Tuscany and the small village of San Salvatore, as she searches for clues to her father's past.
A mix of historical fiction, romance, mystery and murder, the book is well written and absorbing as were the colorful characters. THE TUSCAN CHILD was a good marriage of past and present...it's a heartwarming story filled with descriptions of delicious Italian foods and pleasant, welcoming villagers.
Definitely worth a read...

Thanks for checking in...
Big Hugs,
abbyj

Sunday, April 8, 2018


ARTFUL READERS CLUB
A COLUMN of FIRE by Ken Follett 
APRIL 9, 2018




"The simple idea that people should be allowed to worship as they wished caused more suffering than the ten plagues of Egypt."     (Ned Willard, fictional spy for Queen Elizabeth) 

If you want to be hypnotized and completely engrossed  in page-turning, compelling historical fiction, Ken Follett is THE author...A COLUMN of FIRE is THE book!  The final book in the Kingsbridge trilogy (following "Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End,") this 750+ page tome spans the years 1558 to 1620...some of the most turbulent and violent times in world history. It takes a look at the beginning of religious freedom in Western Europe. Religion, politics, war and European history come together in England, France, Spain and the Netherlands. We sense how our Kingsbridge community (and those beyond) feel about what they must do to live the kind of lives they wish to live.  It's all about power, spying, violence and intolerance. (Sounds like today!!)  The novel was hardly about the make-believe town of Kingsbridge and didn't dwell on its residents, differing from the other two trilogy volumes. Rather, it was about the developing world  and the wider struggles between Catholics and Protestants. Perhaps this was because by this time, sea travel and exploration was becoming more common.
For the fans of the Kingsbridge series, A COLUMN of FIRE comes back to the town with the big Cathedral and some familial descendants of the colorful characters living in the first two trilogy books. In this volume, we experience the tumultuous reign of Queen Elizabeth and the battle of the Catholic and Protestant religions for the souls of the citizens of the West.
We meet a large cast of villains and heroes, both real and imagined, who want to impose their beliefs on all...tolerance was not an option!  Follett weaves the happenings of the times into the story line and puts the reader in the middle of the action. It was a stormy time and the fact that it was caused by religious choice seems unimaginable to me. What was done in the name of religion... Yet, the intolerance we often see today by religious fanatics who, just like in Elizabethan times, murder and plunder in the name of God, makes me wonder...will we ever learn? Will this religious conflict (if it is purely religious,) ever end? Just as it was a difficult and dangerous time to live in 16th century Western Europe, it's almost as frightening and sad living in today's world!

A COLUMN of Fire by Ken Follett...it definitely lit a flame in my literary heart. I highly recommend it!!

Thanks for stopping by,
abbyj 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

On the Road to Marrakech
Morocco, Part Two
March 30, 2018

OK...I admit it! I was blown away by the variety and beauty of Moroccan art on every step of our journey. There was some form of artistic expression wherever I looked...even on the oh, so ancient, crumbling tiled fountains, walls, doors and the cobbled and tiled streets. The paintings and drawings were equally amazing.


 L


Driving through the scenic cedar forests of the Middle Atlas Mountains (towards the Sahara Desert,)  the images I held when visualizing  Morocco were considerably altered. I thought of Morocco as a  place with narrow, maze-like streets lined with ancient, earth-colored buildings...it's still all of that. But, added to this vision is a remarkable place named IFRANE. It's a town that's unlike any other in Morocco. Located 5,460 feet above sea level in the Middle Atlas Mountain region, this small hill town is the Kingdom's Switzerland. Very European in feeling, it's a sharp contrast to the hot, dry climate that surrounds it....and it has snow!!! It's an  alpine-like village that's a winter playground for the affluent from the Kingdom's big cities. Boasting about 5000 residents, the King has one of his palaces here. It's the only place we saw snow and homes not at all like those in other cities or towns.
We explored a bit, then continued on to our desert destination. At some point, we left our regular vehicle and switched to a 4X4 to navigate the  sandy terrain and dunes of Erg Chebbi. A sunrise-camel-ride was on our schedule...something that excited all of us. Everyone went but me...I was sick!! (Michael and our guide took these photos.) We were  isolated at our desert encampment...it was lovely!



I must say, somewhere in this posting, that the Kingdom of Morocco has the bluest skies... consistently... that I've seen in a long time. Coming from a place where the sky is normally shades of gray, it was an awe-inspiring change! 

The road we were on was exceptionally twisty... made me nauseous! But, somewhere along the way, my "sick bug" seemed to migrate to our friend's system. Not fun...but our next stop was fun and AMAZING! We stopped along the road for a look  at  The ATLAS CORPORATION STUDIO...Morocco's Hollywood. We could tell it was going to be special because it had a Hollywood feel before we even entered the main gates! It was extraordinary to see all the very famous movies that have been filmed there...in part or completely: Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, Hercules, Red Tent, Spy Game, Cleopatra, Babel and Game of Thrones...among many others. We visited several of the sets and were in awe of the artistry...most of them were made of Styrofoam!!! There's a school, not too far from the studios, that trains those interested in this line of work and from the looks of the sets and props, close up... touching them...we were incredulous at the skill and artistry exhibited! 



Continuing on, this is a screenshot from Michael's Google Maps, of the road we were on to get to Marrakech. Not surprising that our stomachs were more than a bit upset.

But the sights along the way were interesting and unique...
We saw women washing clothes in a stream...


...near a beautiful, peaceful gorge. 


Our guide, Zouhair, and driver, Lahsen, posed for a photo when we stopped to stretch our legs... it was a 5 hour drive to Marrakech. Great guys...both!




As we arrived in the heart of Marrakech, we entered the medina (medieval, walled city) on foot as cars (other than delivery vehicles) aren't permitted inside.  Our riad (guest house) was just a short walk.



More than any other place in the Kingdom of Morocco, Marrakech is the place where tradition and modernity merge. It slaps your senses with its show-stopping muddle of crowded souks (the marketplace shops) where you can find anything you might want. It's so easy to get lost in the labyrinthine web of medina alleys, lanes and streets, but it's always an adventure. Marrakech definitely dazzles and enchants with its frenetic pace.




Marrakech's craft culture lays along side a contemporary arts scene throughout the medina. Fancy boutiques sit next to bazaar-like souks... wonderful eye candy...all! 

For centuries, Place Jemaa el-Fna, the  most extraordinary square in the heart of Merrakech's medina, has been the nerve center and symbol of the city. It's a showcase of traditional Morocco and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Think of it as live-action channel-surfing!! Everywhere we looked, we saw some kind of drama unfolding. The street theater has been non-stop here ever since the plaza was the site of public executions around AD 1050. Although there's lots of activity during the day, the real shows begin at sunset... to restaurants firing up their grills, storytellers, acrobats, singers... to the best show of all...people-watching!

 

Another wonderful people-watching spot, located   just outside of  the center of Marrakech, was a village market where things were alot more raw...


Yves Saint Laurent, world famous couturier, gifted the Jardin Majorelle to Marrakech, the city that adopted him in 1964. He and his partner, Pierre Berge, bought the electric blue villa and its gardens to preserve the vision of its original owner, landscape painter Jacques Majorelle...and opened it to the public. It's a psychedelic desert mirage of 300 plant species from 5 continents...a true oasis where, upon entering, you sigh with relief to be out of the joyful mayhem of Marrakech...even if only for a little while!

 
Time to head home...back to normal, with a suitcase full of memories on which to dwell. Goodbye to the  people we met...(here are a few more...)

 
...special thanks to King Mohammed VI and his very large family for making his country so visitor-friendly...


...and a huge thanks to our dear friends, Gene and Joanne, for joining us on yet another adventure. We look forward to the next...
 

 ...and thanks to our very knowledgeable guide, Zouhair. 

Thanks to family and friends who took the time to read both of these Morocco postings... hope you enjoyed traveling with us.

Big Hugs,
abbyj