Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lifestyle

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, health

My brain is officially wired for insomnia. The more I think about getting a better sleep, the more incapacitated I feel. As a kid, I found it difficult to sleep.

But motherhood made sleep deprivation my best friend. According to the U.S. National Sleep Foundation, about a million different medical or lifestyle habits could be responsible for my war with sleep. Here’s what I know: men seem to have an easier time with sleep than most women. And, my trip to Inscape – a sleep and meditation space in New York City – gives me hope.

Science suggests that men are better sleepers than women. Unlike men, women have a harder time turning their brains off at the end of the day. According to Best Health magazine, this is further exacerbated by fluctuations in women’s reproductive cycles. Menstruation, pregnancy hormones, and peri-menopausal changes in estrogen and progesterone all cause variations that disturb sleep. It’s not right for mother nature to play favorites especially if, as the evidence suggests, women need more sleep than men.

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, health

Another explanation suggests women have more trouble falling or staying asleep because they worry more than men. This definitely feels like a sexist statement, that women are somehow less resilient or weaker than men. But Andrew Shanahan, editor of Man v Fat, says women actually “suck at sleeping” because they use their brains and multitask more than men during the day. Okay, this swings the sexist pendulum the other way. I don’t feel too bad anymore. By comparison, it makes us look smarter now, doesn’t it?

I like the science that sides with the conditioning theory.

It suggests that hormonal fluctuations and pregnancy set women up for interrupted sleep. We are therefore more inclined to hear noises that keep us awake at night. If women do, in fact, need more sleep than men, according to the National Sleep Federation, then sleep is a feminist issue. Arianna Huffington wasn’t kidding when she said that women can be more successful, quite literally, if they “sleep [their] way to the top.”

I took Arianna’s advice to heart after reading more about the effects of sleep deprivation. The alarming highlights of sleep deprivation include:

  • Higher cortisol levels that cause weight gain, reduce muscle mass, and increase hunger response in the brain;
  • When the hormone ghrelin tells us we need to eat more because we are sleeping less, we produce more ghrelin;
  • Sleep deprivation worsens because leptin, another hormone that tells us we’ve eaten enough, stops responding when we sleep less; and,
  • Depression, diabetes, and heart disease all spike up when we sleep less.

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, healthBut even still, when I gather the list of sleep hygiene rules, I can’t seem to follow them consistently. I exercise in the morning, I turn off my phone at night, and I even clean up my annoying writing desk filled with overflowing papers and books. It’s a pet peeve of my husband and a no-no if you want to relax the mind. I even add bedtime tea with natural chamomile and hibiscus flowers, but the glass of wine I shouldn’t have before bed probably counters this effect.

I need to take this problem seriously if I don’t want to develop long term sleep problems.

However, I keep putting it off because that’s what we women do. There aren’t enough hours in the day for all the things that need my attention. Even when I hear the lullaby chime on my cell phone reminding me it’s fifteen minutes before midnight, I can’t go to sleep. I get into bed but I can’t relax.

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, health

This is the perfect introduction to Inscape and meditation re-imagined. I am certain words like breathing, mindfulness, relaxation, and meditation are the missing keys to sleep-nirvana. I sign up for a class online and head into New York City to the Inscape studios. I force my husband to join me, with the promise we’ll go for dinner and drinks afterwards. But instead, we enjoy a Mexican lunch and a round of beer, thinking this might be a better prelude to sleep.

As we enter the posh high-tech looking entrance to Inscape, the air is calm and a fruity-floral scent wafts past our nostrils. We are separated from the frenetic sounds of traffic as the door closes behind us. White walls, comfy looking bean-bag chairs, and soft smiles invite us in. Gentle voices ask how we are doing. As we check in, a petite instructor wearing all black guides us to a small locker area. Photo below is the storefront in the the Flatiron section of New York City.

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, healthWe pass the two meditation rooms – the Alcove (pictured below) and the Dome (photo above). We’ll do a 33-minute relaxation session for $22 each in the Dome. The prices are cheaper if you buy a monthly pass or bundled package of sessions. The fuss is minimal, if whether you purchase online or use the Inscape APP.  I already feel lulled into a serene, whispering state as I wait for the class to begin. But, of course, I start to worry about the effects of our Mexican lunch. Not a wise move, but maybe the instructor won’t stay with us once the audio voice comes over the speaker. I assume we’ll close our eyes too.

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, health
Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, health

As we take our positions on the floor, the marvelous red and purple colors of the room’s ceiling and walls make it feel like we are leaving planet earth. We follow the instructor who takes her place in the center seat of the Dome. Adjusting the foam roller supports and back rests, we watch the room fill up quickly. The door closes. And the class, of equal parts men and women, listen to the instructor. She will help guide us through an audio series of relaxation techniques. We focus on breathing, and I struggle to stay awake.

The class is finished as quickly as it started. We are encouraged to hang out in the lobby lounge before heading back into the real world. I really do feel inspired and empowered. Shockingly, even my husband agrees he’d like to return. The purpose at Inscape is to connect with yourself so you can connect with everything around you. The Inscape founder and CEO is Khajak Keledjian. His studio space and APP offer a balance between what he calls “modern wellness and mindful luxury.”

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, healthSince my visit, I’ve started to incorporate some of the breathing challenges into my daily routine. I’m sleeping a little better but know learning to balance my sleep and awake cycles won’t happen overnight (pun intended). I’m already late for bed, but I’ve added some ammunition to my cadre of sleep tools. In addition to the Inscape App, I now have a copy of Camille Maurine and Lorin Roche’s Meditation Secrets for Women by my bedside. I’m hoping to follow their mantra “Discovering your passion, pleasure and inner peace.” If that goes well, I hope to enjoy a lot more sleep.

 

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

A young mother bathes her children in it every night. Lydia Delgado, my favorite watercolor artist, uses it to create layers of colorful florals with masterful brushstrokes.

When it falls onto the tongue of a young boy’s open mouth, he smiles joyfully as it melts. But when untamed, it frightens a mother who watches it rise with the fear she feels for her family’s safety. This is the power of water. In its many forms, it sustains us and threatens us, but we are lost without it. Artists from around the world remind us of water’s life-giving qualities and the divine role of women in relation to it.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, ChicagoWater has always been a symbol of life and strength. In Ghanaian culture, women are purveyors of water. They travel miles to bring water to their homes, carrying heavy jars of it on their heads. On the west coast of Africa in northern Ghana, most homes do not have running water. Women go to boreholes (like these women walking to wells) or lakes so they have enough water to drink and use for household chores like cooking and bathing.

But during the dry season, water from most lakes has disappeared and any that does exist is contaminated. Because it is so desperately needed, women spend a large part of their day, time and energy retrieving it.

Lately, shortages are also an issue for India, a country experiencing its worst water crisis in 40 years. The riverbeds in the south have run dry for many of reasons, including over-exploited groundwater to unplanned urbanization. But an organization called the Art of Living Water Projects is working to help empower women by providing better knowledge and ways to help them.

Community training sessions and other related program initiatives in India teach women how to partner with governments to build canals and rejuvenate riverbeds. The focus is on strengthening youth and women leadership in India so women can take charge of their circumstances and prevent younger girls from missing school to fetch water.  For more information or to consider donating, please visit their website.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

Helping women rise above threatening waters is literally the work of one artist, Sean Yoro aka Hula. I saw his work a few years ago in StreetArtNews.net. This online publication by Rom Levy promotes underground artists. His series, Women Rise Up From the Water, was created to draw attention to social problems like ugly abandoned buildings in Hawaii and the melting polar caps (see the cover photo).  

Sean is a NYC-based artist who grabbed his surfboard and acrylic paints to produce stunning paintings of women. He understands the powerful significance of using women as the central theme in his graphics. They are the givers of life, as mothers and providers of family. So when Sean’s women sink into the melted ice caps or disappear from the old building lots, he shows the resulting imbalance. Scientists suggest the violent cycle of earth’s storms will likely increase.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

Sean’s female-centered posters have a sense of urgency about rising sea levels, climate change and beautification. But using images of women in art is nothing new. Mother Earth Laid Bare, a 1936 painting by Alexander Hogue, uses barren plots of land in the shape of a woman to show the suffering of Mother Nature. The photo – on display in the Art Institute of Chicago a few years back – sits next to other works by realist painters like Edward Hopper, and shows how defenseless we are against drought, winds and eroding soil.

The severity of mother nature’s power is certainly underscored by the recent events of Hurricane Harvey in the United States. Hurricanes wreak havoc as millions of people in Houston and other parts of Texas recently experienced. Harvey has forced tens of thousands of people into emergency shelters, hoping they’ll be able to salvage some of their belongings as emergency personnel and government workers prepare for years of cleanup and economic recovery.

Destructive storms like Harvey will always loom over us, like the Bhola cyclone that struck East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) and India’s West Bengal region on November 12th, 1970.   More than half a million people lost their lives in what was one of the deadliest natural disasters of all time. People are helpless in the face of powerful storm or even tides of water like those in the Bay of Fundy.

The tides are the highest in the world, reaching up to a five story building, and the reversing tide section of Fundy Bay (see the photo below) claimed the lives of 19 people in a mass 1837 tragedy when 25 members of several families went berry picking. I saw the powerful evidence of eroding soil and rock along the cliffs of the bay, where tourists can walk among sea caves during low tide, before the high waters come in and flood the entire area. It is a solemn reminder of water’s power.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

Over the years, we have learned to harness the power of water for a huge variety of needs from hydro-electricity to stately fountains and water parks.Whether water is used by Indians who bathe in the Ganges or Arabs in the Middle East who depend on the desalination of water for its vital life properties, water is to be cherished and revered. The earth is roughly two-thirds water but “by 2025, 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and 2/3 of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions.”

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

As we celebrate Labor Day in North America over the September holiday weekend, I am reminded of the many women and men who have labored to service our communities, and emergency personnel who have dedicated their lives to helping those threatened by water.

This labor of love is also reflected in the artists of our time, who inspire us to higher standards and loftier goals for ourselves and each other. Artists like Arica Hilton remind us that nature is a gift and water is a powerful friend. In her one of her latest series, Multiverse, Arica prompts us to consider water conservation within the larger context of sustainable living. Her use of recycled and crushed plastic water bottles within the rich canvases of color, texture and design, help us to see and embrace water’s ubiquitous and free-flowing form.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago
Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

I encourage readers to learn more about Arica by visiting WomanScape’s The Artist Who Lights Up the Sky, or to enjoy her work online at Hilton Asmus or at Artsy.net. Arica is a visionary living and working in the heart of Chicago’s art district and part of her philosophy for life, written below, inspires us to be our best selves.

I believe in free will, that we can choose our path the way we want to design it.

I believe in the power of vision, perhaps that’s why I am an artist.

Milky Way. Silhouette of a standing woman practicing yoga on the mountain near the pond with sky reflection in water. Landscape with meditating girl on the hill. Night starry sky and milky way

It’s no secret that tens of thousands of books have been written about happiness.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeThe number of self-help gurus and Oprah-style lessons on meditation and paths to enlightenment are exhaustive. Like most people, I live merrily until there is some unrest or tragedy: a marriage ends, someone dies, a cancer diagnosis, or a life-altering events reminds us of our mortality.

Enter the history of the world and Marian Broderick’s Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History. The wealth of lessons from remarkable lives lived is an attractive proposition. I stumbled upon this gem of a book in Dublin’s oldest and arguably most radical bookstore near Trinity Square, Connolly’s .

The proposition of learning from wild women who broke the rules in unapologetic and pioneering ways is promising. Like Broderick, I “limp with an Irish background” with my muddied ancestral roots. But within the covers of this seventy-plus list of short biographies, I am moved by the story of Maura “Soshin” O’Halloran. She was a young woman who moved to Japan and achieved a Zen state of enlightenment at the ripe old age of only twenty-six.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeBut serious questions came to mind: how does an Irish Catholic move to Japan and master enlightenment in one year and, better yet, why? Broderick takes us through a brief history of Maura’s roots: born in Boston to the O’Hallorans, moved with the family to Dublin where Maura is educated in Loretto convent schools, academic scholarship to Trinity College and graduates college with a degree in mathematical statistics and sociology. (The photo above is taken in a special meeting of two rivers, north of Dublin in County Wicklow. St. Patrick said that a dream had brought him to this sacred place.)

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeThis seems an unlikely path to Buddha, but Maura’s desire to help others and a love of travel take her to volunteer posts in parts of the United States, Canada and Peru after graduation. Naturally a spiritual person, Maura decides to travel to the Toshoji Temple in Tokyo. There she asks to train as a monk and becomes the only woman and the only foreigner to be accepted.

The training is extreme and involves daily observances like meditation, chanting, menial work and begging with minimal sleep and food. Broderick notes that Maura is given the name Soshin, meaning enlightened, warm heart; which makes Maura very happy since Soshin rhymes with Oisin, the Gaelic word meaning “little dear” and the namesake of an Irish poet and warrior legend.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeMaura’s deep love for her fellow Japanese monks and her disciplined study impress the Dogen Zen Master so much that she graduates in only a year as a Tenzo monk and named second in command. While this achievement might be a prescription for finding Zen, it goes completely awry when Maura is suddenly killed in a bus accident. At 27 years of age, she intended to do a short tour of Southeast Asia but died in Bangkok, Thailand.

Maura’s journals came to be called Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind , with many people believing she had become a sort of Zen saint. Her words provide a fascinating insight into her path towards enlightenment, and the joy she hoped to bring to Ireland by founding a temple and teaching Zen.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeIn 1994, Lion’s Roar – a Buddhist magazine – shared some of Maura’s reflections about life behind temple walls. What surprised me was her candid thoughts about gender (which were never an issue) and the unconditional acceptance she felt among her fellow monks. But when I think about her quest to attain “mu” (to embody a completely blank mind and to erase all worldly concerns), I can’t imagine anyone ever  achieving this kind of detachment from our beautiful world.

Having visited Bangkok several years ago, I remember sensing something greater than myself. Entering several Buddhist temples and traveling into the countryside, I saw dozens of golden statues. Each was unique and massive in scale – whether it was a lying Buddha, reclining Buddha, or sitting Buddha. To my surprise, each seemed to elicit a strange spiritual calm even though my mind wrestled with the Catholic doctrines also initially shared by Maura.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeTraveling through the streets and touring along the Chao Phraya River, I considered two worlds: the modern conveniences of cars and a luxurious shopping mall commingled with the solemn but industrious movement of brightly clad monks and their young charges. I wondered what it must be like to live behind tall iron gates and if I could ever relinquish all worldly possessions.

Bangkok is filled with incredible architecture and royal lifestyles, like my stay at the Lebua Tower. The hotel service was exceptional and super affordable, with rooms costing the same as those of two or three star hotel in America. The vanishing edge pool and Lebua sky-bar, perched some 820 feet above the city, boosts one of the best views in the world.

No wonder one of the scenes from the movie Hangover-part 2 was filmed there. It could easily be mistaken for a Las Vegas hotel. The photo taken from the balcony of my room shows how developed Bangkok is despite the massive poverty and simple vehicles used to get around; tuk-tuk mini-buses and rickshaw bikes were a popular sight.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven life

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven life
happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven life

Only now, looking back at this experience and the roads that I have traveled throughout my life, do I realize that enlightenment is not found in books, temples or churches. While these can provide valuable knowledge and guidance for living a contemplative life, they are not enough.

The inter-religious dialogue that Maura Soshin O’Halloran pursued was personal and purpose-driven but incomplete. There is no one way to happiness and enlightenment except through the convergent paths we share with one another and the awareness that comes from the everlasting pursuit of being more conscious.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeIt’s simple to say we need to understand our interconnections. This is particularly challenging if we see it as a burden. What I do know is that the more open I am to the world and the more I reflect without judgment on those who come into my life, the more happiness and understanding seem to follow.

While researching this article, I found a startling journal entry by Maura. The source looks like a Buddhist blog – if such a thing can exist – and the entry is written by someone named Terebess . Maura is preparing to leave the temple

and tour Southeast Asia. She knows her life has been purposeful and satisfied, and eerily portends her death. The challenge for each of us is to ask ourselves how satisfied we are with life as we know it.

“I’m twenty-six and I feel as If I’ve lived my life. Strange sensation, almost as if I’m close to death. Any desires, ambitions, hopes I may have had have either been fulfilled or spontaneously dissipated. I’m totally content. Of course I want to get deeper, see clearer, but even if I could only have this paltry, shallow awakening, I’d be quite satisfied…. So in a sense I feel I’ve died. For myself there is nothing else to strive after, nothing more to make my life worthwhile or to justify it. At twenty-six, a living corpse and such a life! … If I have another fifty or sixty years (who knows?) of time, I want to live it for other people. What else is there to do with it? … So I must go deeper and deeper and work hard, no longer for me, but for everyone I can help.”

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven life

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe Jonus

What do you see when you look up to the stars? Make sure it’s not the sun on August 21, 2017, unless you’re wearing protective eye wear. This solar eclipse, dubbed the Great American Eclipse, will travel from coast to coast across the U.S., darkening the sky and revealing the stars as it startles animals and nature.

Even though people in North America and parts of South America, Africa and Europe will see at least a partial solar eclipse, this eclipse feels different.

This is strange because solar eclipses are nothing new. There are more than 3 billion eclipses on record, with the last total eclipse in America occurring in 1918. So maybe it’s a confluence of stresses and anxiety around the globe that makes this eclipse feel like a metaphorical doomsday prophecy?

Could it be America’s daily newsreel of White House tensions and the growing chasm of racial and socio-economic divisions are driving us crazy?

European countries are struggling with issues like immigration and millions of displaced citizens, not to mention economic uncertainties from the growing dissolution of the European Union. As if that’s not enough, we are constantly bombarded by escalating tensions in North Korea, border control disputes in India and China, and war and food scarcity in the Middle East and Africa seems to be spiraling out of control.

No wonder we are afraid. The world is mad. The eclipse will pass but the fear over the state of the world lingers. Fear is powerful enough to eclipse hope, purpose and meaning, unless we have the courage and wisdom to reframe our understanding. When we turn our eyes and our attention to the sky, we look to higher values and existential questions about why we are here. This is where the image of the eye gets really interesting.  

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe JonusA 1958 sketch called The Eyes by Jay DeFeo hangs in the Whitney Museum in New York City.  The large drawing was inspired by the artist’s own physical eyes, and she uses her canvas to question what it means to see. It’s appropriate to zoom in on DeFeo’s work given her study of art as its relationship to the cosmos. A large group of people stood around DeFeo’s work, studying the lines on the canvas and differences in each eye. The right eye appears hollow and white like a full moon, reminding me of television characters like Bran Stark, from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Bran has the gift of prophecy despite his crippled body.

DeFeo’s eye on the left side is noticeably different, with cracks in the pupil and a complex series of geometric lines. The eye seems to have more movement and unrest, and I imagined the wrinkles around this eye to be string-like tentacles that looked like a series of hydro poles. The effect is mesmerizing and you are drawn in, hoping to discover hidden pictures and patterns.

The wall plaque next to the sketch mentions an inscription on the back of DeFeo’s work. It’s written by her but taken from a poem by Philip Lamantia that says, “Tell him I have eyes only for Heaven, as I look to you Queen Mirror of the Heavenly Court.”  This surprised me even though I could feel the spiritual longing in the layered shades of black. Critics suggest that DeFeo used her art to examine a growing interest in themes surrounding symbolic versus physical vision. The dichotomy of heaven and earth and a thirst for God’s mercy are certainly obvious in DeFeo’s work when you consider the inscription.

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe JonusDeFeo’s work is visually beautiful. It carries me back to the paradox of our world and the struggle between the intuitive and rational processes we all possess. DeFeo took eight years to complete this later work (pictured to the left), The Rose, which weighs a whopping 1,850 pounds. Here, DeFeo is both seer and realist, looking for comfort in the future while trying to understand the present. Her message is her art, and it is both beautiful and comforting. It feels divinely inspired but grounded in earthly materials as it leaps off the canvas and asserts her transcendental power.

I remember seeing this three-dimensional canvas at the Whitney in 2015, thinking it looked like an exploding flower rising from the ground. Critics describe it as the place “where linearity and circularity, precision and coarseness, stasis and movement, and other such dualities coexist in harmony and with force.”

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe Jonus

History is filled with centuries of curious art created with a view to the eyes and perspectives that have evolved across cultures, religions, ideologies and geography.

The Egyptians and Ancient Greeks were especially interested in the eye, believing it able to cast a curse.

The evil eye was a glare that could cause misfortune or injury. It could be stopped with the help of a protective talisman or careful preparations of the heart. Hanging a chain of small blue beads or wearing an amulet with the eye of Horus (the sky god and son of the sun god, Re) warded off evil. The eye makeup photo below by artist KelleyOnTheBeat illustrates a modern take on the eye of Horus symbol.

This notion of the evil eye is widespread in many Mediterranean countries, including the Arabic culture. Someone with envy or jealousy in their heart (described in the Arab world as having hassad or hasid) has an evil eye. The evil is believed to be like an arrow shot from the soul and if the intended victim is prepared, the hassad will have no effect. Reading a certain chapter from the Quran each day offers protection.

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe JonusMany people remain superstitious and believe crystals like agate and gemstones like black onyx ward off evil spirits and negative energy. It’s no surprise some of the terms linking bad events with the eye are still used; for example, the worst part of a hurricane is the eye of the storm or the biblical justice of “an eye for an eye.”  

In contrast to the evil eye, people who are Third Eye Blind have clairvoyant abilities and can see the future. Having this extra or third eye is a powerful gift. My Irish father used to tease me about his all-seeing-eye in the back of his head. Of course, I knew as a child this was a lark, seeing no evidence of a gift on the back of his smooth bald head. To the contrary, I understood his teasing way of suggesting he was a father with all-seeing power.

Yogis and mystics believe we all have a third eye centered between our eyebrows. The colorful graphic below, is one of many artistic versions of this all-seeing-eye. Its mystic origin has been studied for more than 5,000 years years in the ancient world, with modern-day doctors and philosophers like René Descartes (1596–1650) explaining its powerful energy. Our chakra describes the place of wisdom and divine intuition where the third eye resides and can be awakened. Ancient Indians called this eye the atman and the Greeks, and the Romans said it was our psyche and the place of our human soul.

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe JonusIn today’s world, the custom of looking a person in the eye when you shake their hand provides  a glimpse inside “these eyes to the soul” . It suggests a measure of the person’s character or their level of honesty is somehow manifest in their eyes. In this same way, we know a person from their smile and we know the eyes can forgive without the use of words.

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran,  superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe JonusRemember the WomanScape story of performance artist Marina Abramovic? She sat across from her ex-husband and thousands of adoring fans at the Modern Museum of Art,  speaking only with her eyes and the tears that rolled down them.

There’s great comfort in knowing artists will continue to challenge the way we see the world, stimulating dialogue and pricking our conscience. Ellsworth Kelly, a Abstract artist whose work spanned seven decades, continued to dialogue about his American experience and view of our political system.

His Red, White and Blue painting (1961) hanging in the Whitney gives us a bird’s eye view of his political reality. In 2017, this painting on the right might be fracture into more pieces, with even more white white space dividing the Democrats and Republicans.

But what remains constant in this abstract work is the considered reflection of our party politics and our relation to them in the universe. Thankfully, artists continue to push and even protest, using and sharing their voices to wake up the world. The photo at the end of this article illustrates some of this art hanging as a retrospective exhibit in the Whitney Museum.

How we see this placement is very personal and we have the power to frame it under the banner of fear or enlightenment. As the shadow of the eclipse races across the earth, I will not be looking up at the sky. I didn’t buy protective eyewear and will instead play British singer Bonnie Tyler’s 1983 hit song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on Pandora.

Bonnie is scheduled to be on the Royal Caribbean cruise in the Atlantic and will perform her song during the exact time of the eclipse alongside Joe Jonus. While I’ll sing Bonnie’s catchy tune, which speaks of love lost and the eclipse of darkness in her heart, I’ll rest on ancient words from the bible remind us that faith is the evidence of what we cannot see.

(Last stanza of Eclipse of the Heart)

Once upon a time I was falling in love

But now I’m only falling apart

There’s nothing I can do

A total eclipse of the heart

Once upon a time there was light in my life

But now there’s only love in the dark

Nothing I can say

A total eclipse of the heart

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe Jonus

Art moves us to think, feel and experience. Why else do we visit galleries, gardens and museums?

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

Artwork helps us enjoy and reflect while also explaining our history. If art provides a better understanding of self, consider what would your painted self-portrait look like?

Would it capture a physical likeness of being or would the process and the materials – the paint strokes and color palettes – resonate on a deeper level to be a more proximate reflection of self?

Enter one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century, Maria Lassnig (1919-2014). The blazing red banner hanging from the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy announces her Woman Power exhibit as it roars through centuries of history, steeped in art produced by men.

Lassnig’s roar champions the powerful voice of women artists while also ushering in a new and unusual perspective on the creative process. Not only is this creative approach an important discussion of how Lassnig sees the influence of the world on her psyche, but it’s also a harbinger for the kind of reflective conversation we should be having in a world inundated with the pressures to conform.

Lassnig is typically described as an Austrian artist and pioneer of the feminist movement because of her quest for female emancipation. This is certainly an accurate description. Her work developed after the second war, at a time when women were exploring cultural confines and challenging the status quo and limitations to personal freedom.

The subject matter was also about women but with a new twist. Lassnig’s approach to her all-consuming subject was herself.

She focused on the self-portrait for almost all of her art, and made her physical image a backdrop to what she saw in the outside world. This shaped and expressed her perception of herself as a container for the inner feelings of the world.

This perspective was new to the world, especially with the added female lens. Lassnig was one of the early adopters of this art style, named after the French term Informel or Art Informel. This trailblazing creative process abandoned geometric abstraction for a more intuitive form of expression – a sort of action-art. The process is the action, and the action drives the methodology of her style as she focused more on gestural techniques.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

You can see this in her unusual works from photographs I took of the exhibit pieces. The painting above, Sleeping With the Tiger 1975, suggests she has made some peace with the animal as she holds the top of its powerful paw. This is a far cry from her earlier feelings, shown in the photos below. One shows shows her standing under herself, with a plastic layer that seems to suffocate her. She is muted and quiet, surrendering. The portrait next to this one, taken in 1981, is very different – a stunned look that is almost afraid or questioning.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art
Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

Lassnig’s focused dialogue with her art spanned five decades, and included a variety of mediums including painting, film and sculpture. Foremost, she considered herself a painter. But,  her uniquely honest and egocentric approach catapulted her to greatness in Austria and the larger international stage. Her focus on self was certainly not vain and to the contrary, she was  acutely vulnerable as she openly displayed her feelings, her pain and her state of mind. In her own words, she admits she willingly took a scalpel to herself, not wanting to exploit others.

The two paintings below, the Potato Press (1989) and the Man Cutting Himself in Two (1986), show her evolution as a painter.  They are bolder and challenge conventional manifestations of self in relation to the outside world; her physiology is completely transformed and resembles nothing of the human form. They creatively move past any recognizable perception of self and into a world where external forces and influences make it increasingly more difficult to understand who we are and what we value.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

These paintings force us to ask how we are responding to pressures and social messages. Lassnig feels like a potato in a press, squeezed and molded into a new shape that differs from its original form. The press is an apt symbol and the hot-colored red potato is squeezed into a grip. The scissor image is even sharper. Lassnig is cutting off her head which could mean any number of things from a severing of the emotional and intellectual to her frustration at the perceived male/female divisions in the world.  

How many of us feel these modern constraints and contexts influencing our ego? Can we be our true self or see our true self when society’s influences weigh so greatly on our self-awareness and subconscious? These insights are timely as women struggle to balance traditional and societal gender roles with a desire to be who we are free from these confines.  Men face these same questions. With ever-present influence of media and marketing campaigns that tell us to avoid pain, to create a happy persona on Facebook or to adopt populus attitudes about norms and expectations, how can we discover who we really are?   

This is the beauty of art and the brilliance of Maria Lassnig. She offers herself as a mirror of her time and circumstance, prompting us to consider our own notions of self. It’s no surprise Lassnig won the coveted Golden Lion Award for Lifetime achievement at Art Biennale in 2013, only a year before her death. Her work created a paradigm shift not unlike other art movements, such as Cubism or Impressionism. This exhibit is part of two annual shows that Italy’s Tourism Board has created to celebrate the accomplishments of women artists.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of ArtAs Lassnig continued to challenge herself, her work became a more dramatic discussion. In this 2005 painting that was part of a 2014 exhibit at the Modern Museum of Art, It’s You or Me, I can’t help but wonder if Lassnig became totally disenchanted with the world and felt forced to make a choice: conforming to society’s expectations was nihilistic. Her physical image is more representative of her older physical self, hopefully suggesting she is no longer defined by the emotions of the world and claiming her own powerful self.  

I can only hope that women continue to gain a foothold in the art world, pushing their creativity as society stands up to the challenge of reframing the new reality: 51% of visual artists are women even though their art work in museums represents a disappointing 3-5% representation by female artists in permanent art collections in the U.S. and Europe, and a 34% representation in Australia.

While there are likely many reasons to explain why female artists have received less attention than their male counterparts in museums (a study that requires more in-depth discussion), these older constructs are no longer valid.  

Real progress will happen when the gender of an artist do not eclipse the focus of her artwork. We need to bridge our conversations in ways that are physical and the many bridges that link Florence across the Arno River (see the last photo). I continue to look for inspiration from artists like Lassnig, who unabashedly forged her own ideas, and from Georgia O’Keeffe, a well known post-modernist painter. O’Keeffe insisted her art should not be defined or interpreted in a sexualized way and she wanted her art to be recognized for her art.

Parting thought: if possible, visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts; the only museum in the world showcasing female-only artworks.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

Her unusual talent and passion for fashion turns discarded condoms into something good. Sounds crazy doesn’t it, but this talent has taken Adriana Bertini around the world visiting over 35 different countries in Asia, Africa, South America, North America, Europe and Oceania.

This inventive artistry has also caught the attention of celebs like Charlize Theron, Richard Gere, Bob Geldof and Elton John. I can’t imagine cutting and fashioning a condom 80 different ways, but this feat is even more impressive as her mind-boggling art collections – over 200 sculptures, 160 dresses and 80 tapestries – transform our understanding of sexual health, love and respect.

Adriana Bertini is a remarkable woman and native of São Paulo, Brazil. She started making haute couture clothing until she became disillusioned with society’s rampant material consumption. Bothered as well by the negative environmental footprint of consumerism and condoms (defective condoms from factories are incinerated and send toxic chemicals into the air), Adriana put her artistic talents to work uniting fashion and health.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for GoodAs a fashion activist for over twenty-five years, Adriana has devoted her time and talents to important social causes surrounding inequality, discrimination and stereotyping. Some of her greatest efforts include working with Amnesty International’s Brussel campaign to end female genital mutilation, as well as helping a variety of other non-governmental organizations and AIDS patients.

This kind of dedication is infectious and has become more popular among artists and celebrities who share Adriana’s passion for changing the world. Organizations like clothing brand H&M have also stepped up to partner for causes, like this 2008 t-shirt design glossing the cover of ELLE magazine. It was a collaborative project in support of Designers Against Aids (DAA).

Adriana’s collaboration with artist-friend Ninette Murk is also a great example of artists working together on projects like DAA. Adriana’s friend Ninette is the founder and creative director of DAA, and each year new initiatives like her Beauty Without Irony in 2008 raise financial support and awareness for AIDs, while also examining superficial perceptions of beauty.

Adriana was inspired by her work with Ninette and other fashion designers, but the heavy toll of her challenging volunteer work with AIDs patience started to negatively impact her life. The sadness of caring for so many sick and neglected people, who suffered from injustice and prejudice, weighed heavily on her artistic sensitivities.

The grief from losing friends impacted her physical, emotional and creative work, causing Adriana to rethink her approach.

Influenced by her father, a sociologist who taught her to believe anything was possible, Adriana knew she had the power to change the world with three simple tools: compassion, generosity and love.

Armed with this renewed spirit, Adriana shifted gears. She decided to focus on proactive health initiatives and educating younger generations. This moved the conversation away from treating diseases to positive conversations amongst families. Adrianna saw how many parents were uncomfortable talking to their kids about sexual health. As a result, young people weren’t aware of important questions relating to how they treated or viewed their own body. Attitudes about self-esteem, implications related to sexual behavior, the risks of infection from sexually transmitted diseases, gender identity, sexual abuse, discrimination, abortion and a long list of other considerations were simply ignored.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

But where to start? There’s nothing like wowing an audience and this photo from journalist Leo Goulart does exactly that, illustrating the wow factor of Adriana’s creations. Adriana knew the social aspects of using condoms naturally tied into sexual health awareness, so she created amazing dresses and sculptures. Some of these dresses in the photo above used as many as 80,000 condoms and were fantastic attention-getters.

Even though most people don’t immediately identify her art with environmental consciousness, it certainly draws you in. By creating Condom Art Workshops, like the one described in the photo below, Adriana started collaborating with high schools and universities to build awareness around the use of condoms.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

These workshops were an immediate success, and Adriana saw how much women in particular benefited.

Women learn they have the power to negotiate condom use and to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases. But deeper discussions about topics like self-esteem, respect your body, the purpose of sex, and loving yourself follow from these insightful conversations.

As the mother of two young children, Adriana can relate to the sensitive nature of these topics and the need for professional support from educators to guide students. Adriana has also welcomed a psychologist into her work to ensure education workshops are age appropriate and ideologically sensitive.  In a short time, Adriana watched as more parents and kids talked about sex and its complex issues, and this continued to push her to want to do more. The photo below shows Adriana’s stop in Senegal, as she travels the world sharing her vision.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

Adriana believes it’s not enough to talk about condoms and more needs to be done to break stereotypes and stigmas surrounding their use. You can see kids at work in the photos below, as  Adriana creates internships and opportunities that inspire a new generation of leaders. Eventually, Adriana would like to open her museum and work space dedicated to growing her cause. She’s open to partnering with organizations and hopes that one day everyone will see  condoms as a second skin.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good
Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

I think it was destiny that helped me discover Adriana’s incredible story. Pursuing research for another article brought me to New York’s Museum of  Sex on 5th Avenue. The museum was completely underwhelming and filled with racy collections, except for one glass enclosed case. Inside was a mesmerizing purple party dress that was part of an exhibit tracing the evolution of the condom.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for GoodThe New York Times had written a piece about Adriana but the 1,200 hand-dyed purple condoms (pictured left) moved me to want to learn more about its creator. The dress promoted the condom as a image of prevention and pleasure and I knew I had seen one like it about seven years before in Bangkok, Thailand.

I had dined with my cousin in a restaurant called Condoms and Cabbages; where a portion of all sales helped undeserved populations have access to birth control. I still remember the odd looking Santa and Thai woman condom costumes in the middle of the restaurant, a popular tourist site. A small sign drew attention to the need for safe sex and  awareness about HIV. Evidence of declining HIV infections in Thailand suggests programs like these are working.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for GoodWhen I asked Adriana about this restaurant, she admitted that many of her creations have been copied. She had worked on an exhibit in Thailand in 2004 and answered questions about her designs before the restaurant was opened. Whether this was coincidence or not, Adriana is flattered and focused on the larger impact that her work serves.

Adriana and the creators of WomanScape share a common belief – that art has the power to change the world and to build greater self-awareness and understanding. So I couldn’t help but smile when Adriana added that she took solace in Coco Chanel who believed that if you want to be original, you should get ready to be copied.  Like Coco who blazed a trail in the fashion industry, Adriana is doing that and more with her determination and creativity.

If you’d like to know more or connect with Adriana, she can be reached through Instagram @AdrianaBertini or on Facebook. You can also contact Adriana by email at: condomart@gmail.com

San Clemente Island, women in asylums, Kempinski Palace Hotel, Venice, Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra, Benito Mussolini, Ida Dasler, Italian dictator, Faschist regime, Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia, Kempinski Hotel in Istanbul, Trento, Rachele Guidi, Marco Bllocchio, Vincere, A Woman At Bay, Sibilla Aleramo, University of Toronto,

 San Clemente Island women in asylums Kempinski Palace Hotel Venice Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra Benito Mussolini Ida Dasler Italian dictator Faschist regime Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia Kempinski Hotel in Istanbul Trento Rachele Guidi Marco Bllocchio Vincere A Woman At Bay Sibilla Aleramo University of TorontoI tried to squeeze my camera lens between the barred windows of my hotel room, hoping to catch a morning shot of the glorious sunrise. The harbor and nearby rooftops were beautifully awash in gentle hues of soft pink and muted yellows. Unable to open the bolted glass panes, I fumbled with the aperture before the cloudy picture eventually dissipated.

 San Clemente Island women in asylums Kempinski Palace Hotel Venice Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra Benito Mussolini Ida Dasler Italian dictator Faschist regime Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia Kempinski Hotel in Istanbul Trento Rachele Guidi Marco Bllocchio Vincere A Woman At Bay Sibilla Aleramo University of TorontoThis reminded me of scary TV shows that searched for a supernatural presence or tortured souls who lingered behind with unfinished business. Maybe it was my imagination, but the air felt cold and heavy despite the glossy hotel finishes and shiny gold plaques that numbered the hallway doors. Maybe the stories and women who had lived here decades ago were haunting me and refusing to be airbrushed so easily from history?

I don’t know, but during the mid-19th to late 20th century, thousands of women in Italy were housed in mental institutions, never to return to society because they suffered from conditions like postpartum depression, alcoholism, and dementia. The conditions were inhumane and photographs of abandoned hospitals like the one pictured below at Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra in Tuscany, Italy are disturbing. Women were locked away for any number of ailments or worse, for committing social transgressions like adultery.

San Clemente Island, women in asylums, Kempinski Palace Hotel, Venice, Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra, Benito Mussolini, Ida Dasler, Italian dictator, Faschist regime, Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia, Kempinski Hotel in Istanbul, Trento, Rachele Guidi, Marco Bllocchio, Vincere, A Woman At Bay, Sibilla Aleramo, University of Toronto,

Their lives were airbrushed from history because they lacked access to proper medical care  and had little social status, power or money. This eerie picture of the abandoned wheelchair and peeling walls are shocking reminders of the abuse in hospitals, where the population of patients grew by more than 30% under the reign of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship in Italy from 1922 to 1943.

I made this shattering discovery by chance, after my excited arrival at the Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia (train station) in Venice, Italy. After leaving the station, my husband and I boarded the Kempinski Hotel water taxi that would whisk us away to the beautiful island of San Clemente, about seven kilometers from Venice’s city center. The porter loading our bags onto the mahogany speedboat casually mentioned the hotel was once an insane asylum for women. As we sped off, I had no idea what to expect.

 San Clemente Island women in asylums Kempinski Palace Hotel Venice Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra Benito Mussolini Ida Dasler Italian dictator Faschist regime Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia Kempinski Hotel in Istanbul Trento Rachele Guidi Marco Bllocchio Vincere A Woman At Bay Sibilla Aleramo University of Toronto

Having stayed at the Kempinski Palace in Istanbul, Turkey in 2012, I was excited to explore this five star resort but I have to be honest – this news shook my active imagination and sparked my googling fingers. I needed to know more about the island’s history. That’s when I discovered the shocking story of Ida Dalser. Incredibly, historians only unearthed Ida’s history in 2001 and her connection to Benito Mussolini, Italy’s Fascist dictator who rose to power in 1922.

During his reign, Mussolini reorganized and modernized many government sectors in Italy, with the exception of mental health hospitals. Prevailing laws in Italy linked mental illness to “social dangerousness” and Mussolini likely used these laws to his own personal advantage. Mussolini’s connection to Ida Dalser began in the Italian village of Trento, where she met a young Benito.

 San Clemente Island women in asylums Kempinski Palace Hotel Venice Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra Benito Mussolini Ida Dasler Italian dictator Faschist regime Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia Kempinski Hotel in Istanbul Trento Rachele Guidi Marco Bllocchio Vincere A Woman At Bay Sibilla Aleramo University of TorontoHe was working as an political activist and she supported him with the earnings from her beauty salon. They soon married in Milan in 1914 or 1915, and Ida gave birth to a son less than a year later. When the couple separated shortly after, Mussolini went off to serve in the war. After he was injured and hospitalized, he directed his war pension to help support them. Things quickly deteriorated when Mussolini married Rachele Guidi, a nurse he had met while in hospital even though he was still married to Ida.

When Mussolini rose in the political ranks and was elected Prime Minister in 1922, he began to worry about Ida who voiced her opposition to his new marriage. Mussolini placed Ida and their son Benito under government surveillance, denying any relationship to them. Eventually, he tried to cover up his marriage by burning the town hall records in Milan, yet Ida persisted. She had kept a copy of their marriage license and pressured Mussolini, threatening to expose him as a traitor. She claimed he had accepted a bribe from the French government and favored Italy’s neutrality in the war.

Mussolini eventually had Ida arrested and exiled to a northern city in Italy, before she was moved to the asylum on San Clemente Island. In 1937, she died of a brain hemorrhage. Her son Benito remained under close surveillance, but continued to support his mother’s story after he learned of her death.  He too was sent to an asylum where he, at just 26 years of age, was murdered by a lethal injection.

 San Clemente Island women in asylums Kempinski Palace Hotel Venice Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra Benito Mussolini Ida Dasler Italian dictator Faschist regime Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia Kempinski Hotel in Istanbul Trento Rachele Guidi Marco Bllocchio Vincere A Woman At Bay Sibilla Aleramo University of Toronto

Mussolini, like many politicians and powerful leaders, used these asylums as a convenient way to make women quietly disappear. Mussolini’s dark history in Italy, partnering with Adolph Hitler and dismantling democratic institutions, was further blackened by these personal crimes. Ironically, this sad story about Ida and her son was made into a movie, Vincere. Film director Marco Bellocchio debut his film at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007 but it was marred by news of Marco’s infidelities. Once again, Ida story seemed to be politically sabotaged.

After learning about the institutionalization of Italy’s women, I wondered if others like Ida dared to speak up. Were their voices joined in protest and, if so, how? The suffrage movement was starting fires and gradually helping women to win rights and the vote across Europe. Other real life femme fatales like Ida were garnering attention and spawning an underground movement in newspapers and journals. Together, their collective stories were making waves.

Sibilla Aleramo (pictured below) was one such woman. She caused a quiet storm when her autobiographical novel,  A Woman At Bay, shared her personal journey and raw emotional response to what she called her attempts at escaping the brutalizing existence of being a woman. In this novel, she showed how Italian law rendered women slaves to men.

 San Clemente Island women in asylums Kempinski Palace Hotel Venice Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra Benito Mussolini Ida Dasler Italian dictator Faschist regime Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia Kempinski Hotel in Istanbul Trento Rachele Guidi Marco Bllocchio Vincere A Woman At Bay Sibilla Aleramo University of TorontoI downloaded a free English translation of Aleramo’s 1908 publication from the University of Toronto Press – one of my college alma maters. A copy of her original text Una Donna was translated in French, German, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish, and Aleramo wrote under this pseudonym to protect her real name, Rena Faccio.  

I read Aleramo’s novel with great interest, learning about the difficulties of being a woman in Italy and the social expectations that made her feel powerless. Aleramo shows exceptional intelligence at a young age and a keen interest in science, but these are thwarted by prevailing social conventions. Aleramo teeters on the edge of a nervous breakdown and details the moral stigmas society attaches to everything she says, wears, does or even thinks.  

Aleramo feels abandoned by her family and completely controlled and isolated by her husband. It’s so debilitating that she tries to kill herself, mirroring the actions of her mother. Aleramo scoffed at what she perceived to be one of her mother’s melodramatic attempts for attention, when she threw herself down a second story balcony. Only until she experiences the anguish of marriage and the unrelenting domination of a husband and society waiting to find fault with any misstep, does Aleramo identify with her mother. In a breakthrough moment, at the lowest depths of her despair, Aleramo suddenly realizes the possibility of escape through books and meditation.

She makes a conscious decision to focus her happiness on the freedom of thought and exercising her mind. She decides to build a better world by improving her son’s view of women. Aleramo finds solace in “a great collective force…(which is) the book of human life”. She exclaims, “To think, to use my mind!”  

Aleramo hopes the modern heart of a woman will find emancipation in the burgeoning women’s movement. She lived from 1876 to 1960 and became a “woman at bay”, withdrawing from her family and society until she made the difficult decision to separate from her husband. This was unheard of at the time and, as a result, she lost custody of her only child. However, she admits this type of self-imposed asylum helped her find happiness in philosophy and writing.  

 San Clemente Island women in asylums Kempinski Palace Hotel Venice Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra Benito Mussolini Ida Dasler Italian dictator Faschist regime Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia Kempinski Hotel in Istanbul Trento Rachele Guidi Marco Bllocchio Vincere A Woman At Bay Sibilla Aleramo University of TorontoTo look at the beautifully inviting San Clemente Island and the gorgeous Kempinski Palace, you might never suspect it had once been a hospital. Other than the long ceilings, curious windows and inexplicably long halls – we’re talking really long hallways – the history of its former existence seems to have been wiped clean from the internet. This article was a real connect-the-dots-approach to linking the hotel’s history to its former existence as a hospital.

The grounds are lush, the main dining room is one of the top restaurants in Venice and the staff and service are impeccable. I would definitely return to enjoy another vacation at the Kempinski Palace Hotel, and to lounge around the tranquil pool. The hotel is a convenient respite providing an easy commute to Venice’s main tourist sights.

The Kempinski hotel chain has conveniently restored remnants of its more saleable history – it was a 12th century monastery with beautiful Italian frescos and religious art – until the Fascist government repurposed it into a hospital.  But the legacy of Italian women like Ida will rest, albeit heavy, in my heart because they inspire us to call out social injustices. Ida paid a heavy price for others to better enjoy life and its freedoms, and Aleramo’s optimism and strength show us what’s possible in even the most desperate and isolated corners of the world.

 San Clemente Island women in asylums Kempinski Palace Hotel Venice Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra Benito Mussolini Ida Dasler Italian dictator Faschist regime Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia Kempinski Hotel in Istanbul Trento Rachele Guidi Marco Bllocchio Vincere A Woman At Bay Sibilla Aleramo University of Toronto

A Cinderella Night in the Liechtenstein Palace

For one night in Vienna, I was a royal. During my Cinderella moment, I dined like a queen and caught an insider’s glimpse of royal life.

The dinner event was the culmination of a beautifully orchestrated business trip to Vienna, Austria. And, as I stepped from my pumpkin coach (it was actually a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van) humming the Royals song by Lorde (no lie), I tried to exude a kind of “I do this all the time” air. But stepping back in time and into the Liechtenstein Palace was anything but ordinary.

A Cinderella Night in the Liechtenstein Palace

The city of Vienna is exceptionally cool. I know a royal might not describe it this way but the city’s old world charm is magnetic, from its cobble-stoned streets to the many historic sights. Yet, Vienna is also a bustling and convenient European hub for travelers. Modern art museums, inventive cuisine, edgy fashion and a mix of architectural styles sit comfortably next to Baroque style buildings and churches; some erected on ancient Roman sites dating back to the 4th century. Even the famed Vienna Opera House has incorporated a modern flair, as people are invited to sit on benches outside of the theater to watch live performances for free. Culture is accessible and flashes of fanciful nouveau art like giant, brightly-painted modern sculptures, remind people that art is a living form.

Vienna, Liechtenstein Palace, Austria, His Serence Highness Prince Hans Adam, Princess Marie of Liechtenstein, Rococo, Baroque, Danube River, Blue Danube, Royals, Lorde, Vienna Opera House, Schoenbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace, Viennese coffe, Edelweiss, Johann Strauss, Swiss Alps, Austria, feminine, frivolous, #Princelymatters, Rubens, Rembrandt, Beidermeier furniture, neo-classic furniture, German furniture, art deco style, Grace Farms, WomanScape, Cinderella, Viennese waltz, King of Waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, Tomas Hercog, Gute Nacht, Wein,

After a week touring some of Vienna’s most beautiful sights, I saw grotto’s from the middle ages and tasted 12th century wines. I felt the sun on my face as we cruised the dreamy Danube River (photo above from the cruise). I studied the royal lives and storied past of the Hofburg and Schoenbrunn Palaces. These winter and summer palaces are grand glimpses into the dynastic lifestyles of the rich and the royal, inhabited for more than three centuries. But dressing in a long evening gown and experiencing the luxuries of life as a royal, felt entirely different than I expected. Here’s why.

Vienna, Liechtenstein Palace, Austria, His Serence Highness Prince Hans Adam, Princess Marie of Liechtenstein, Rococo, Baroque, Danube River, Blue Danube, Royals, Lorde, Vienna Opera House, Schoenbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace, Viennese coffe, Edelweiss, Johann Strauss, Swiss Alps, Austria, feminine, frivolous, #Princelymatters, Rubens, Rembrandt, Beidermeier furniture, neo-classic furniture, German furniture, art deco style, Grace Farms, WomanScape, Cinderella, Viennese waltz, King of Waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, Tomas Hercog, Gute Nacht, Wein, Two smiling gentlemen waved us into the Liechtenstein Palace, directing us towards the elegant gold-and-red-trimmed runner to the right of the magnificent stone archway. My eyelids fluttered under the weight of overly zealous clumps of mascara and the brilliant white light bouncing off the marble steps and glacier white Rococo sculptures. The newly renovated palace gleamed under its stucco ceilings giving the entire entrance and hallways a heavenly glow.

As we climbed the grand stairway to the second floor landing, I spied a massive gold and crystal chandelier in the room ahead. Without time to refuse, and not that I would have, a crisp glass of bubbly was thrust into my hand and someone said, “You better get ready for this Rose. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.”

Vienna, Liechtenstein Palace, Austria, His Serence Highness Prince Hans Adam, Princess Marie of Liechtenstein, Rococo, Baroque, Danube River, Blue Danube, Royals, Lorde, Vienna Opera House, Schoenbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace, Viennese coffe, Edelweiss, Johann Strauss, Swiss Alps, Austria, feminine, frivolous, #Princelymatters, Rubens, Rembrandt, Beidermeier furniture, neo-classic furniture, German furniture, art deco style, Grace Farms, WomanScape, Cinderella, Viennese waltz, King of Waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, Tomas Hercog, Gute Nacht, Wein, So forget Viennese coffee, fluffy, cream-filled pastries drowning in vanilla sauce and the Edelweiss song.

The trumpets sounded and the clouds parted as if Johann Strauss himself was welcoming me into one of the most beautiful ballrooms I have ever seen. But before I can pick my slack jaw off the floor, I do a North American quickstep, catching my heel on the bottom of my dress.

Thankfully, I stopped short of falling onto the waiter who, moments before, had handed me the delightful glass of champagne. I hoped to avoid another Bridget Jones moment as I took in the gold gilded walls and ceiling, and the giant cherubs with a more balanced eye.

A few things about Liechtenstein help explain the detailed wall decor and gold and crystal accents. Liechtenstein is the fourth smallest state in Europe and the sixth smallest country in the world, yet His Serene Highness Prince Hans Adam II (the current ruler of Liechtenstein) is the wealthiest monarch in Europe. With a nest egg of 5 billion dollars, Liechtenstein is only second in wealth to Monaco and boasts hundreds of millionaires. Prince Hans Adam himself has one of the world’s finest art collections, some of which are housed in the Liechtenstein Palace!

Nestled in the centre of the Alps and situated between Switzerland and Austria, Prince Hans Adam rules as a Monarch on a hereditary throne. The Liechtenstein economy is based on Swiss currency and the country is a tax haven that attracts more businesses than there are people. There are many unique things about Liechtenstein (like the railway track cutting across the land despite no any actual train system) but the strangest was that women could not vote until 1984.

This irony is not lost as the interior design of the Palace is considered to be quite feminine. The Rococo era followed the Baroque style, and is known for its feminine curves and intricate designs.

When you look up at the walls and ballroom entryway – from the golden chandeliers to the fanciful crystal accents – the “frivolous detail” is arresting. It’s interesting that designers call these architectural lines feminine as well as frivolous. The shapes actually come from nature, like puffy clouds and sea shells.

I don’t know what Princess Marie, Hans Adam’s wife, thinks of them or the “frivolous” design label. I do know that she was born in Prague, to the daughter of a Count and a Countess. She was a graphic artist before she married, and the royal family that includes four children still maintain family quarters in the Palace. To learn more about the architecture or to book a tour at the Palace, visit: https://www.palaisliechtenstein.com/en/home.html

As you can see from the beautiful details in the stunning professional pictures* throughout the article, it would be easy to get used to the royal treatment and the appetizers before dinner. The presentation of the food and attention to detail was breathtaking. The table settling cutlery, florals, and presentation of the plated food was spectacular. The ultimate was the main entree of asparagus, beef and a potato type grit. With orchestral music playing in the background, the wait staff walked into the dining room and timed the sequence of lifting huge silver domed tops off the warmed plates. It was completely grand!

Vienna, Liechtenstein Palace, Austria, His Serence Highness Prince Hans Adam, Princess Marie of Liechtenstein, Rococo, Baroque, Danube River, Blue Danube, Royals, Lorde, Vienna Opera House, Schoenbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace, Viennese coffe, Edelweiss, Johann Strauss, Swiss Alps, Austria, feminine, frivolous, #Princelymatters, Rubens, Rembrandt, Beidermeier furniture, neo-classic furniture, German furniture, art deco style, Grace Farms, WomanScape, Cinderella, Viennese waltz, King of Waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, Tomas Hercog, Gute Nacht, Wein,

Vienna, Liechtenstein Palace, Austria, His Serence Highness Prince Hans Adam, Princess Marie of Liechtenstein, Rococo, Baroque, Danube River, Blue Danube, Royals, Lorde, Vienna Opera House, Schoenbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace, Viennese coffe, Edelweiss, Johann Strauss, Swiss Alps, Austria, feminine, frivolous, #Princelymatters, Rubens, Rembrandt, Beidermeier furniture, neo-classic furniture, German furniture, art deco style, Grace Farms, WomanScape, Cinderella, Viennese waltz, King of Waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, Tomas Hercog, Gute Nacht, Wein,

As I relaxed into the small group setting and the tour of the castle apartments before dinner, our guide explained that important Viennese art from the Neo-classic and Biedermeier eras existed throughout the palace. Old masters like Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt weren’t available for us to see, of course, but the new style of art and architecture changed the mood in Vienna during the 19th century.

Industrialism and a growing appreciation of art by the middle class shaped the emerging German style of furniture-making that was more simplified. The more decorative French designs and interiors found in the summer and winter palaces were replaced in the Liechtenstein Palace by reliable, local woods and a more romantic style that would go on to influence the art deco period.

It’s virtually impossible to equate this so-called simplified interior design to our modern-day German furniture. Today’s sleek styles can be seen around the globe, with some even featured in WomanScape’s article about Grace Farms and the Japanese architecture. When the room filled with the sound of music ( an appropo choice of words to describe Viennese song), it brought the Cinderella feeling to life.

Vienna, Liechtenstein Palace, Austria, His Serence Highness Prince Hans Adam, Princess Marie of Liechtenstein, Rococo, Baroque, Danube River, Blue Danube, Royals, Lorde, Vienna Opera House, Schoenbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace, Viennese coffe, Edelweiss, Johann Strauss, Swiss Alps, Austria, feminine, frivolous, #Princelymatters, Rubens, Rembrandt, Beidermeier furniture, neo-classic furniture, German furniture, art deco style, Grace Farms, WomanScape, Cinderella, Viennese waltz, King of Waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, Tomas Hercog, Gute Nacht, Wein,

The small group of string musicians who played throughout dinner, disappeared for a few moments while a tantalizing dessert of fresh sorbet, berries, and pastry-like cheesecake, replete with an edible floral sprig, was served. Before anyone got up from the table, a sudden burst of quick paced, upbeat music rang out. Four elegantly-costumed couples took to the floor in swirling motions, twirling around our long table of seated guests.

They performed a series of traditional Viennese dances that included a waltz, tango, foxtrot and quickstep. Having raised daughters who Irish danced, I learned a little about the various genres of traditional dances. The footwork in a Viennese waltz includes a sort of three step rhythm that follows a simple box step; see http://www.wikihow.com/Dance-the-Waltz for additional information.

Vienna, Liechtenstein Palace, Austria, His Serence Highness Prince Hans Adam, Princess Marie of Liechtenstein, Rococo, Baroque, Danube River, Blue Danube, Royals, Lorde, Vienna Opera House, Schoenbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace, Viennese coffe, Edelweiss, Johann Strauss, Swiss Alps, Austria, feminine, frivolous, #Princelymatters, Rubens, Rembrandt, Beidermeier furniture, neo-classic furniture, German furniture, art deco style, Grace Farms, WomanScape, Cinderella, Viennese waltz, King of Waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, Tomas Hercog, Gute Nacht, Wein,
Vienna, Liechtenstein Palace, Austria, His Serence Highness Prince Hans Adam, Princess Marie of Liechtenstein, Rococo, Baroque, Danube River, Blue Danube, Royals, Lorde, Vienna Opera House, Schoenbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace, Viennese coffe, Edelweiss, Johann Strauss, Swiss Alps, Austria, feminine, frivolous, #Princelymatters, Rubens, Rembrandt, Beidermeier furniture, neo-classic furniture, German furniture, art deco style, Grace Farms, WomanScape, Cinderella, Viennese waltz, King of Waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, Tomas Hercog, Gute Nacht, Wein,

I don’t know that I’ll ever get the chance to relive this kind of dreamy experience. Living like a royal certainly isn’t a Viennese Waltz every night, but every time I hear the music of Johann Strauss – Austria’s undisputed Waltz King and most famous composer – I’ll remember my Cinderella time and the unique travels that filled my adventure with song and dance.

Thanks to Tomas Hercog for allowing me to use his amazing professional photographs, including the last one below; it captures the excitement of my husband and I as the night kicks off. I encourage readers to check out Tomas’ photography and video collection at: http://www.tomashercog.com For now, Gute Nacht, Wien!

And to learn more about Liechtenstein, visit https://tourismus.li/en/our-country/about-liechtenstein/

Vienna, Liechtenstein Palace, Austria, His Serence Highness Prince Hans Adam, Princess Marie of Liechtenstein, Rococo, Baroque, Danube River, Blue Danube, Royals, Lorde, Vienna Opera House, Schoenbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace, Viennese coffe, Edelweiss, Johann Strauss, Swiss Alps, Austria, feminine, frivolous, #Princelymatters, Rubens, Rembrandt, Beidermeier furniture, neo-classic furniture, German furniture, art deco style, Grace Farms, WomanScape, Cinderella, Viennese waltz, King of Waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, Tomas Hercog, Gute Nacht, Wein,

Maya, Hungary National Gallery, Danube River, Fearless Girl, Gyula Pauer, Marina Abramovi, WomanScape, Kristen Visbal, badass, women, Melissa McCarthy, Spy movie, Dove, Pantene, #MyBeautyMySay, #ShineStrong, Margaret Thatcher, Always Napkins, #LikeAGirl

I met Maya in Hungary’s National Gallery. We could be sisters except that Maya’s wooden, with multi-layered wrappings of sheer, linen-like, fabric.

Maya, Hungary National Gallery, Danube River, Fearless Girl, Gyula Pauer, Marina Abramovi, WomanScape, Kristen Visbal, badass, women, Melissa McCarthy, Spy movie, Dove, Pantene, #MyBeautyMySay, #ShineStrong, Margaret Thatcher, Always Napkins, #LikeAGirlBut she looked like I felt – open and vulnerable to the world. She stands motionless on a dark pedestal, eyes closed and arms tucked neatly under her gossamer layered clothing and a floor length veil.  The deep gash slicing the middle of her abdomen accentuated her composed resistance and beauty. Maya’s beauty is her impassive resolve; not some sexualized social construct or aesthetic definition of female power.

Maya is the 1978 creation of artist Gyula Pauer, whose surrealist and theatrical sculptures have undertones like the performance art of Marina Abramovic. I featured Marina in an earlier WomanScape article about “Tearing Down Walls.” Both artists invite audiences into an illusionist world, inviting us to identify more personally with the social concerns of our time.

Maya, Hungary National Gallery, Danube River, Fearless Girl, Gyula Pauer, Marina Abramovi, WomanScape, Kristen Visbal, badass, women, Melissa McCarthy, Spy movie, Dove, Pantene, #MyBeautyMySay, #ShineStrong, Margaret Thatcher, Always Napkins, #LikeAGirlDespite her age, Maya is a relevant and timeless social commentary. She precedes New York’s Fearless Girl on Wall Street art (defiant Latin girl in the face of a charging bull) by Kristen Visbal. Fearless Girl made headlines in early 2017 yet both Maya and the girl capture an attitude and the complex ways we are affected by society’s shortcomings. They also speak to our perceptions about our place and role within this broader society, especially with issues like gender parity and stereotyping.

In this way, Pauer’s figure is purposefully misleading and ageless, when you consider the deceptively badass power of women.

When I first saw Maya in the National Gallery in Budapest, I was staying at the Greshem hotel where Melissa McCarthy filmed parts of the blockbuster hit, Spy. I could see the National Gallery in the top left corner of this photo that I took from my hotel room; it had a spectacular view overlooking the Danube River.

Maya, Hungary National Gallery, Danube River, Fearless Girl, Gyula Pauer, Marina Abramovi, WomanScape, Kristen Visbal, badass, women, Melissa McCarthy, Spy movie, Dove, Pantene, #MyBeautyMySay, #ShineStrong, Margaret Thatcher, Always Napkins, #LikeAGirl

Maya’s exterior mirrors that of Melissa’s character, Susan. Susan is a homey, secretary-type CIA agent who is forced to work behind a desk. Her appearance suggests she is weak and incapable of being a field agent. Movie watchers learn, however, that Susan was a stellar CIA rookie with amazing performance results in the training program. Her true physical strength and agility are kept hidden under her intelligence, and Susan is rewarded by making agents in the field look good. That is, until her unassuming character is forced to reveal her humble but kick-ass self. This same quiet feminist statement rings true in our modern world for fear we’ll be labeled.

Maybe our progress has stalled? My vision of Maya’s psyche and the duality of our existence in the world seems to be moving mainstream. I’m not so sure this is a good thing, even though it helps build awareness for and among women. Companies and organizations realize the power of their advertising messages that target our status, but they’re also utilizing this emotional pull for increased sales.

Just look at the popularity of Dove soap or Pantene hair product campaigns.

Dove soap appeals to the #MyBeautyMySay and Pantene hair products say #ShineStrong when they tell us it’s time to stop worrying and apologizing. They recognize women want to be seen as attractive and confident, even if society labels them provocative and bossy. Nothing new here.

Unlike art, however, these ads also commercialize our emotional frustration. I’d like to know how many of these companies are investing profits from these campaigns to improve women’s status and social practices of discrimination? Sure, it’s good to know someone is listening when companies like Always sanitary napkins tell us they understand, but what are they actually doing to help women? You can bet someone is making money when 64 million people watch #LikeAGirl champion stereotypes or the #WhipIt Pantene commercial seen by over 1 million viewers. Pantene is even segmenting its female audience to improve their target marketing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xYsvcKfq8E

Looking back two years to the day that I met Maya, and the impression that she made, I am more powerful. The old me who walked through the marketplace in Budapest, admiring pictures of Margaret Thatcher, would not be so startled by the uniformed woman who tapped on my shoulder in rapid morse-like code when I started taking pictures of Maya.

Today, I would not apologize to the guard questioning the sticker pressed to my chest. My sticker gave me permission to take pictures for a few extra Forints. The new me would say nothing. I would simply stand like Maya, self-assured and stoic.

India's Silk Road At Your Feet: Vintage Carpets From Scarves

Decorating trends and interior designs come and go, but silk is a timeless classic.

India's Silk Road At Your Feet: Vintage Carpets From Scarves

When Felicia Gimza, a great friend and award-winning interior designer from The Expert Touch, suggested a silk carpet to complete my newly decorated Toronto condo, I assumed we’d find a traditional silk rug. But I never imagined our search would introduce me to India’s women weavers and their one-of-a-kind Silk Road carpets that combine modern artistry with vintage silk scarves.

You may remember Felicia from an earlier WomanScape article about Grace Farms and Architectural Design. We’ve been friends for over twenty years and she knows I prefer traditional design – aka elegant, comfortable furniture with clean lines that stretch across many centuries of style. Color choices are typically simple, and the overall décor appeals to a broad audience.

It was love at first sight when I saw this carpet of my dreams. Felicia worked behind the scenes with Linda Payton, a design specialist at ELTE Furniture in Toronto, to pull some samples together when I met this magic carpet one rainy afternoon. I learned that having a good working relationship with local design specialists is critical when it comes to customer service. Felicia shared photos of my furniture with Linda and a colorful inspiration, a painting by Toronto artist Pietro Adamo.

India's Silk Road At Your Feet: Vintage Carpets From Scarves

India's Silk Road At Your Feet: Vintage Carpets From ScarvesIndia's Silk Road At Your Feet: Vintage Carpets From Scarves

As we flipped through a pile (pun intended) of carefully curated rug options, Linda explained buying considerations like size, type and quality of the thread knotting, fabrication process used, and other factors that affect the price and history of the carpet. And that’s when I saw it – the pattern drew me into its mystical swoops of bright hot pinks, soft blues, and earthy greens. The unusual color combinations tugged at my heart like an old friend’s embrace bathing me in happiness. It may sound crazy, but I knew right away that this carpet was special. It pulled me in the same way a great painting pulls you into the whispering’s of an artist’s mind.

I’ve been lucky in love and marriage, and turns out I also have an eye for beautifully crafted carpets too. My new carpet is reinvented silk scarves and the story behind their production is just as captivating as the silken jewels. Linda graciously shared the story of ELTE’s collaborative production process by providing me with a copy of the details in House and Home, April 2017 issue.

The New Silk Road

In “The Silk Road: An Essential Part of India’s Social Fabric,” writer Wendy Jacob describes the collaborative process between ELTE’s Toronto buyer and general manager, Jamie Metrick, and third generation Indian rug makers who created ELTE’s Silk Orchid collection. The name is fitting and underscores the labor-intensive process used to create these exotic carpets. Silk threads from vintage saris are sourced, deconstructed and pooled into like colors. At this point, the silk is respun and may be dyed again before it’s rewoven by hand to create a new rug.  Traditional Turkish or Persian knotting techniques are used but the artful process isn’t finished. The rugs are laid out in the sun, sometimes for days, before they are washed and bleached in the sun, only for the process of washing and bleaching to repeat again.

Two things struck me when I read Wendy’s beautiful article about ELTE’s rugs. I loved the intensity of the manufacturing process, and I marveled at the new opportunities for women prompted by the increased western demand for the Silk Road. Captivating photos of charkhas (spinning wheels used to turn the sari threads into yarn) and Indian women creating design templates with laser tracing papers revealed India’s industrious women. The numbers in my 8’x10’ rug were mind boggling – more than 100 silk saris grouped, unraveled and respun into new rugs over 8-10 weeks. The washing process happens 3-6 times to bleach them in the sun and one rug takes 10 months to a year to complete.

You’ll have to subscribe to House and Home to read Wendy’s entire article, but this video link to Jamie Metrick and the Silk Orchid manufacturing process in India really captures the energy and spirit behind ELTE’s unique, old world meets new world, carpets. See:  https://houseandhome.com/video/sari-silk-rugs/#tab-b

India's Silk Road At Your Feet: Vintage Carpets From ScarvesThe second point concerning the industry of India’s women was this re-imagined Silk Road. Silk was originally an ancient Chinese textile; a discovery that harnessed the protein fiber of silkworms as they built cocoons. The process of making silk dates originated in 2700 B.C., and was used by the imperial court for cloth, drapes, and other royal products. It quickly became an export and diplomatic gift, spurring the development of expanded trade routes from Europe to the Far East. Hence, the trade routes namesake, the Silk Road.

Today, silk is a luxury good in India and according to Wikipedia, 97% of raw Indian silk is produced in five Indian states: Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Jammu, and Kashmir. It makes sense that the weaving industries in India developed around royal residences and holy temples, and now account for about 85% of the world’s silk production.

A recent resurgence in silk demand fueled by companies like ELTE is good news for India’s women living in a country where poverty levels affect 22% of the population. India’s poverty profile, according to the World Bank, estimates that more than 270 million people – 80% of whom live in rural areas – live below the poverty line and make less than $1.25 a day. Increased demand for silk production can translate into lower poverty rates if fair trade business practices  exist; especially since silk production is the second largest industry in India after agriculture.

Preserving the Artistry of Handlooms

On a personal level, I’m also thrilled that my rug supports the artistry of women who use traditional hand-looms. Indian women complain about the difficulties and dangers of power-looms, where flying parts can cause life-threatening injuries. Power-looms are also more expensive for the poor because they can’t afford to spend more on electricity. When mechanical repairs are needed, the process is expensive and slow. This increases the vulnerability of women, who live in rural areas where their livelihood depends on silk weaving. With few employment options, their weaving skills are also an important vital link for keeping the ancient tradition and quality of hand-loom products alive.

India's Silk Road At Your Feet: Vintage Carpets From Scarves

These issues never occurred to me when I visited Mumbai several years ago. I purchased beautiful scarves at low prices in outdoor market areas. Signs of poverty were everywhere but blurred in the abundance of bright colored sights, frenetic traffic and pungent smells.  How many of us think about the source of our products we buy, and whether fair business practices were used?

India's Silk Road At Your Feet: Vintage Carpets From Scarves

In 2004, the WomenWeave.org project was created to help women in India become less vulnerable to industry changes. The organization helps women dependent on jobs that use traditional hand-looms, by connecting them to potential customers and businesses. Additional skills training and design assistance is also offered, to increase profitability and create more sustainable businesses.

Every time my bare feet enjoy the luxurious feel of my beautiful handloom rug, I’ll think of the women and the scarves underfoot. I’ll treasure my friendship with Felicia and continue to celebrate her creative skills and impeccable design talent.  I’ll also remain ever grateful to my new friend Linda Payton, who generously provided information about her company’s Silk Orchid rugs. Most of all, I’ll cherish my connection to the women of India. Their artistry and future rests in the hands of global businesses and consumers like me.

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