Thursday, September 21, 2017

Travel & Lifestyle

The Art of Food

The Art of Food and Power of NatureThe view from the sandy shores of Whales Beach and the culinary delights of Jonah’s restaurant are two of the purest joys in life. They’re a source of renewed faith in the world, particularly when life feels overwhelming and news outlets are mired in troubling domestic and global politics. The waters are a quiet haven nestled in New South Wales, and its serene beauty provides a fresh, meditative perspective on the trans-formative powers of nature and her bounty of feasts.

Although my first visit to Australia was filled with mesmerizing water and aerial views, from my Sydney Harbour Bridge climb to cruising across local waterways, I think most about this small parcel of land and its riches. I can still close my eyes and see the expansive blue waters, the rocky clifftops, and the houses dotting the verdant hills. Better yet, I can still savor the culinary flavors of creative dishes whose artistry helped me to escape the depressing tastes of PESTs – my acronym for stressors that include political, economic, social and technological pushes – in my mouth.

The Art of Food and Power of Nature

 

Looking at the culinary photos from my lunch at Jonah’s, it’s easy to see why their menu is so appealing. The restaurant uses fresh local produce, making Jonah’s one of Australia’s most award-winning restaurants. It has a history that dates back over 85 years and its contemporary Australian menus (from a la carte offerings to seasonal tasting menus) are all designed by chef Logan Campbell. Additional information is available at Jonah’s website.

Below are three photos, illustrating our first course – an appetizer mix seared carpaccio of alpaca loin, yellow beetroot, parmesan cheese, and plantain with a sprinkling of blackberries. This was followed by two different salads – one a combination of fresh grapefruit slices with simple mixed greens and fennel, and the other a delicious fig and buffalo mozzarella cheese combo with roasted pear and almonds.

Our main entrees and dessert were naturally the highlights: one pan-seared North Atlantic scallops dinner with light greens and a cauliflower puree, topped with pine nuts; the other, perfectly prepared sea bass with a beet puree and vegetables, outlined in a savory root sauce. The two lower photos of dessert were just sweet enough. The hot apple & cinnamon crumb pie with Manuka honey and a compliment of lavender ice cream and chocolate mousse ganache did not disappoint.

The Art of Food and Power of NatureThe Art of Food and Power of NatureThe Art of Food and Power of NatureThe Art of Food and Power of Nature

No fine dining experience is complete without an exceptional wine cellar. While I didn’t document any of the delicious wine pairings with each course, the restaurant’s cellar holds more than  1,600 bottles of domestic and international wines so the sommelier had lots of choice. The meal was sumptuous and  visually artful. I’m sure the many celebrities who frequent the restaurant or stay for this quiet luxury weekend getaway come back for the dining experience and the scenic views. You can see Whale Beach and 180 degree views of the Pacific Ocean from the walk-out patio overlooking the bay or from one of only 11 relaxing guest rooms.

The Art of Food and Power of NatureThankfully, my travel to Jonah’s included per-arranged transportation. The intoxicating wine made for a sleepy return to my hotel back in Sydney.

Traveling to this northern beach was almost as exciting as the dining experience. The journey 30 miles north of Sydney provided an incredible view of Australia’s beautiful landscape.

My husband and I booked a Sydney Seaplane package that included a small shuttle boat from our hotel in the Sydney harbor to Rose Bay, where we boarded a small prop plane. The water was calm but the roar of the engine was loud enough to cut through the silencing headphones. Flying conditions were ideal with clear skies and few clouds, that seemed to dissipate as we traveled over the water.

Sitting in the front seat next to the pilot was a dream come true, as I imagined what it must have been like for Amelia Earhart, the first female to fly solo over the Atlantic ocean. I was content to keep land in sight and to enjoy the Aussie greenery that looked greener than Ireland’s Ring of Kerry. Our flight lasted about 30 minutes before we landed on the expansive Pittwater waterways and a Jonah’s courtesy vehicle ferried us to the island pier.

The Art of Food and Power of Nature

When it was time to return to Sydney, I knew I would cherish this unique experience forever. Food has a way of bringing people together and helping us to appreciate cultures all over the world. It has become a unique driver in the travel industry, as people explore their love of nature’s bounty. In a globalized world, this shared love of food is forging new friendships. Hospitality is at our doorstep, whether it’s a seaplane away or welcoming us into the garden of our own backyard. Happiness is a state of mind. When we relish the simple joys of food, nature and travel, we welcome joyful living.

The Art of Food and Power of Nature

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda Seymour

Ever think about the number of successful queens in the entertainment industry? There’s the sweet success of Oprah’s new Sugar Queen – a series about a modern-day mother named Charley Bordelon who runs a sugarcane farm in Louisiana. And who can forget Beyoncé, the royal queen B whose superstardom rivals one of my long-standing favorites, comedic actress and singer Queen Latifah. I’m forever fascinated by the many women who call themselves queen. Whether it’s  Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile (Katharine Hepburn) or the recent WomanScape Queen of the Desert article, I don’t know if any of them rival one of the most moving stories you’ll ever hear. I’m talking about the Bugatti Queen.

The Bugatti Queen tore through the pages of history and onto my radar a few years back at the annual Goodwood Revival Festival. I’m a fan of antique cars and powerful engines, so it’s fitting that I met my girl there after striking up a casual conversation with a group of women standing around some pretty nice roadsters. This backdrop couldn’t have been more perfect.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourGoodwood is an annual three day festival held every September at the Goodwood Circuit Racetrack, 60 miles outside of London, England. The event celebrates the best of British vintage fashions from the 40’s through the 80’s. Luxury car makers like Maserati, DeLorean, Ferrari and Aston Martin flock there to test car engines and relive the glory days of antique car racing.

The 12,000 acre park welcomes over 150,000 people who come from around the world. They cheer celebrity car drivers like Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) and enjoy exciting air shows featuring old Lancaster and Spitfire bomber planes. Music shows and vintage markets are added attractions, and big ticket sponsors of the event attend the invitation-only charity dinner hosted by the Earl of March on Saturday night.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourWhen I arrive at the festival in my rented fawn-colored dress and head of curly hair decorated with oversized sunglasses, I’ve traveled back in time with the other attendees. Lord Freddie March, a proud patriot and car racing enthusiast, is the owner of Goodwood Estate and grandson of the Earl of March; he’s pictured opening the event. The Earl built the track in 1948 to showcase race cars and warplanes, flown by British and Canadian airmen using his property as a secret refueling station during WWII.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda Seymour

As I wander among the impressive rows of car paddocks, admiring the machinery and the costumed people walking by, I see three purring convertibles – a creamy Bonnie and Clyde looking roadster, a silver-blue speedster like the one from the first Bridget Jones movie and a rich, forest-green machine.  I fire questions at a beautiful, twenty-something redhead and another blonde dressed in a white, hourglass mechanic’s outfit.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourThere’s an entire pit crew of bond-esque women working the park and the racetrack. Some are dressed in pink and violet jumpsuits (see the photo further down) helping to stagger the cars for the start of the race. Others are in white or blue jumpsuits mingling with the attendees like me.

Thankfully the girl from the silver blue car agrees to pose for pictures as we discuss what it was like for women behind the wheel in the 20’s. At a time when many women raced to the altar for a Mrs., a groups of women around Europe were racing to the finish line in the French Grand Prix Women’s event.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourWomen of the 20’s were already pushing the boundaries of fashion and traditional rules in risqué flapper fashions, from low cut dresses and exposed knees, to rocking R&B tunes in smoky, dark speakeasies. New freedoms came as the Suffragette movement earned the vote for women in Britain, other parts of Europe and the United States; even though women in France couldn’t vote until 1944.

But the standout beauty I was enthralled with at Goodwood was a fantastic Bugatti car, and the story behind its driver was mind-blowing. After moving to Paris in her teens, Helene Delangle became Hellé Nice, an exotic dancer who worked in risqué dance halls like the Casino de Paris. These were the same kind of “establishments” where the famed American beauty, Josephine Baker, worked.

Hellé met wealthy club patrons, including the wealthy French car manufacturer Ettore Bugatti. He introduced her to life in the fast lane until she fell in a horrible ski accident. The injuries ruined her dance career but spawned a new one, when she traded her dance shoes for racing gloves. She jumped at Bugatti’s offer to drive his Type 35C racecar in five major Grand Prix races in France.  The photo below is a Bugatti Type 35C sold at Sotheby’s Auction in 2014 for $638,000.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourHellé soon discovered that the press loved her trail of blonde curls and her shameless bravado. She was given the nickname “Bugatti Queen” when newspapers reported stories of love affairs and a larger-than-life personality.

Just as Hellé was enjoying her success, she crashed her car  in 1936 on a Brazilian racetrack. Narrowly escaping death after her car somersaulted through the air and ejected her, she became even larger than life. The Brazilians idolized her when she woke from a three-day coma and left the hospital two months later.

With the onset of World War II, the racing scene slowed.  Hellé planned her comeback in a Monte Carlo Rally in 1949, but a fellow driver wrongly accused her of conspiring with the Nazis during WWII. The scandal ruined any chance at a return to racing and made her unemployable.

Eventually, Hellé was cleared of the charges but the damage was done. She had competed in more than seventy events and pioneered female race car driving. Sadly, she died forgotten and penniless. Yet, her fearless approach to life lives on in Miranda Seymour’s  book about Helle’s riveting life; The Bugatti Queen.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda Seymour

As modern women continue to break conventional rules and expectations, Hellé confidence in a male dominated sport stands out. Sarah Edwards, featured in a WomanScape’s Queen of Diamonds article, reminded me of Hellé. They both exude a strength and conviction necessary for overcoming stereotypes. I wonder if Hellé’s career would have turned out differently had she been a man and no so outspoken and unconventional. Nothing can change Hellé’s French Grand Prix victory at the autodrome de Linas in 1929, and her courage can only inspire more women to race to their own finish lines with the same racer’s spirit.

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,

Venice, Italy, gondola, gondolier, floating city, 1600's, Giacomo Casanova, aristocracy, pimp my ride, seahorse, curley tail, ferro, stern, bow, Grand Canal, Venezia, sestieri, teeth, Rialto Bridge, Murano, Burano, Torcello, Gondolier Guild, Giorgia Boscolo, female gondolier, symbol of Venice, tradition of Venice

I recently visited Italy for the first time, hoping to experience the romance of Venice’s gondolas.  

I have always dreamed of visiting Venice, as it seemed to be such an amorous, magical place in books and travel articles. Friends have raved about it so I was actually afraid to be disappointed.  

Venice, Italy, gondola, gondolier, floating city, 1600's, Giacomo Casanova, aristocracy, pimp my ride, seahorse, curley tail, ferro, stern, bow, Grand Canal, Venezia, sestieri, teeth, Rialto Bridge, Murano, Burano, Torcello, Gondolier Guild, Giorgia Boscolo, female gondolier, symbol of Venice, tradition of VeniceThis fear subsided the moment my dream materialized. Venice is the epitome of old world charm and beautiful architecture. There are no words to adequately  describe this unique place.  It’s easy to get lost in the quaint shopfronts and unique bridges and canals that give visitors  the sensation of walking through medieval times. All of the grace and beauty of historic Venice are embodied in the traditions of the gondola.  

Maybe this sounds hokey but you haven’t experienced Venice unless you’ve taken a Gondola ride. And yes, it’s pricey. But you will forever cherish the memory of cruising through time in this storied city.  Just ask my husband, who believes he is the Casanova of romance, even though he insisted on negotiating price with our gondolier before we could enjoy a glorious sunset cruise. He thought why not save a few bucks to shower me with other baubles of love? Okay, maybe this is not a bad idea.

Venice, Italy, gondola, gondolier, floating city, 1600's, Giacomo Casanova, aristocracy, pimp my ride, seahorse, curley tail, ferro, stern, bow, Grand Canal, Venezia, sestieri, teeth, Rialto Bridge, Murano, Burano, Torcello, Gondolier Guild, Giorgia Boscolo, female gondolier, symbol of Venice, tradition of VeniceMost people don’t realize that gondola prices are set by the city government, with 2017 rates ranging from $80 Euros for a midday cruise (which lasts about 30 minutes), to  $100 Euros at for a sunset ride. Budget- conscious tourists can always share  a gondola ride with  fellow travelers if a couple’s ride is too expensive, and enjoy some added merriment with new found friends!

I recommend chatting with your gondolier before sealing the deal.  If you want a tour guide and ride in one, ask if what he can do for you.  If it  doesn’t feel right, talk to another gondolier before stepping into the boat.  Once you’ve agreed to the  terms,  sit back with your companion, enjoy the lovely upholstered love-seat and bask  in the gorgeous views of Venice from the canal!

It’s always nice to know a little history about a place when you visit, even though many people realize  Venice is a floating city.

Gondolas came into use when horses were banned during the 14th century. The aristocracy adopted the gondola as the primary mode of transportation, traveling by the 1600’s in personal gondolas decorated in bright colors, custom cabins and elaborate fittings.  It functioned as a personal sports car for the wealthy who flaunted their vessels like a bad “Pimp My Ride” reality television episode!  

In fact, the real Casanova – Giacomo Casanova – earned his reputation as a great lover and “seduced women by gondola”. He installed an enclosed  cabin  on the top of his gondola so he was free to ravish his female guests undetected from public view!  Eventually, gondolas were so encumbered by excessive, weighty flourishes that the government banned all ornamentation to minimize ostentatiousness, and preserve the gondolas’ seaworthiness.  

This explains today’s simple, black gondola style, with only three flourishes:  a pair of seahorses, a curly tail and a multi-pronged ferro or prow.  These are the only metal parts of the gondola and they are steeped in symbolism.  The  decorative seahorses on either side of the gondola are a symbol of protection.  These hippocampus were named from the Greek word “hippo”, meaning horse or seahorse, and represented the horses of Poseidon’s chariot in ancient mythology.  The curly tail on the stern adds balance to the heavier prow at the bow of the gondola. You can see the elaborate details in the gondolas pictured below

The iron prow head of the gondola is called the ferro.  It provides counterbalance to the weight of the gondolier at the stern.  It is in the shape of a large “S” which is symbolic of the many twists of the Grand Canal.  The top of the ferro has a comb like structure with six “teeth”.  

Venice, Italy, gondola, gondolier, floating city, 1600's, Giacomo Casanova, aristocracy, pimp my ride, seahorse, curley tail, ferro, stern, bow, Grand Canal, Venezia, sestieri, teeth, Rialto Bridge, Murano, Burano, Torcello, Gondolier Guild, Giorgia Boscolo, female gondolier, symbol of Venice, tradition of VeniceThese teeth represent the six districts or sestieri of Venice.  The curved top is in homage to the Rialto Bridge, one of the most famous bridges in Venice.  Some ferro feature three friezes in between the teeth to recognize the three islands, Murano, Burano and Torcello.

Back in the 1600’s, there were an estimated 10,000 gondolas!  

Unimaginable, given the boat traffic on my recent visit.  Today, there are about 400 gondolas that cater to the many tourists who visit Venezia.  Today’s boats are typically about 35 feet long and 5 feet wide, with the traditional six coats of black lacquer paint and customary metal decoration.  You can see from this “gondola repair shop” pictured below that gondola are fitted with very personal touches, from their unique upholstered seating to their decorative trim. Gondoliers maintain their vessels, traveling at about 3 miles per hour. It’s the same pace as someone walking on land but walking on water is obviously not an option!

Commandeering a gondola is one oldest professions in the world.  It is still a very closed profession and controlled by the Gondolier Guild; which has been in existence for 1,000 years and is strictly controlled.  A gondolier can pass his license down from father to son or any male  member of the family.

So who can be a gondolier? The average salary of a gondolier is around $150,000 US. but it’s “who you know” matters.  An aspiring gondolier, must find an experienced, licensed gondolier to act as his mentor, and attend 400 hours of instruction.  Upon completing said instruction, he must pass a comprehensive exam that includes knowledge of: the physical operation of the gondola, navigation, foreign  languages and Venice’s unique sights, culture and history!

What if you’re a woman and want to break into this  all male profession?

In 2010, Giorgia Boscolo became the first female gondolier!  She completed the rigorous training and exams, becoming  the first female gondolier.  The Gondolier Guild expressed reservations about granting her license and even her father admitted that he didn’t know if it was a suitable profession for a woman.  That said, Giorgia is only allowed to operate a gondola as a stand-in for a male gondolier and she remains the only licensed female gondolier ever.  

Venice, Italy, gondola, gondolier, floating city, 1600's, Giacomo Casanova, aristocracy, pimp my ride, seahorse, curley tail, ferro, stern, bow, Grand Canal, Venezia, sestieri, teeth, Rialto Bridge, Murano, Burano, Torcello, Gondolier Guild, Giorgia Boscolo, female gondolier, symbol of Venice, tradition of Venice

It’s impossible to know Venice without discovering its wonders by gondola.  There is no other place in the world that offers the same experience or perspective. Whether you glide through quiet, romantic alleyways or jostle for space in the traffic of the Grand Canal, the gondola tradition is the most storied tradition and universal symbol of Venice.

Article & Photos by Denise Benson

What makes more than 32 million people in the U.S. and fans around the world crazy over HBO’s record-breaking series, Game of Thrones?

Maybe it’s our love of fantasy? Even though we know creator R.R. Martin’s storylines are make-believe, they feel as real as the locations – Malta, Morocco, Croatia, Iceland, Spain and Northern Ireland – where they were filmed. Or maybe we identify with the warring personalities of the Seven Kingdoms and the dominant women vying for power in unpredictable battle scenes and plot-driven entertainment that’s as richly complex as our own history of civilization? Whatever it is, Damien Hirst’s popular Arte Biennale show in Venice, Italy entitled, “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable,” provides a timely example of how treasured art meets storied women warriors that merge our love of fantasy, history and entertainment.

HBO, Game of Thrones, Malta, Morocco, Croatia, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Arte Biennale, Damien Hirst, The Treasure of the Wreck of the Unbelieveable, Spain, Venice, Italy, fantasy, sci-fi, R.R. Martin, Mayan calendar, legend of Cif Amotan II, Antioch, Nile River, Myos Hormos, Queen Daenerys I Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Kings Landing, Warrior and the Bear, Lion Women of Asit Mayor,Sphinx, arkteia, Artemis, Kali, Khalessi, Hydra, Mother of Dragons, Yara Greyjoy, Queen of Westeros, Jon Snow,

Visitors to the Hirst exhibit move beyond the romantic waterways of Venice’s Grand Canal and into the underwater world of buried treasure. The 53,000 square foot gallery space sets the tone, with an entryway display of three spectacularly large pieces: a massive stone Mayan calendar, a large photograph of deep sea divers excavating artifacts from the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and a large bronze female diver statue covered in colorful coral and oceanic crustaceans. The calendar seems out of place but suggests visitors are traveling back in time, before the sunken treasures from Apistos, a Roman ship, were discovered in 2008 off the coast of Africa.

The buried treasure from 2,000 years ago is presented as a collection of fabled treasures from the legend of Cif Amotan II, a freed slave from Antioch. He amassed incredible wealth around the first century AD and constructed large installations in Alexandria that were transported down the Nile River. The plan was to assemble them at Myos Hormos, a temple museum. But the ship sunk before it reached land.

As visitors walk through gallery halls and stroll two levels of interesting artifacts hidden in every corner, they learn about the process Hirst used to create his unique artwork. Big cast moldings made from the recovered pieces were painstakingly replicated with the use of molds transformed into fantastical works of art over a ten-year period. Each area displays a variety of artifacts from glass showcases of coins, jewelry, bowls, and masks, to larger scale treasures. Detailed descriptions provide information about their origin and historical significance.

Hirst’s creative artwork can be seen online in various reviews and video sites like YouTube, where critics debate its authenticity and artistic integrity. By the end of the tour, it’s difficult to know what is real and what has been carefully reinvented to look like an historic piece.

But critics miss the point. Hirst’s exhibit is meant to be a combination of real and invented art that pays homage to important works as well as our imagination.

What follows is a description of some of his larger installations that focus on women warriors. They offer the perfect parallel to the powerful women in Game of Thrones while also providing a provocative discussion of their history.

The first of five sculptures is The Diver at the exhibit entrance. She is a fifteen-foot statue, standing at the bow of gallery; the gallery floor plan is designed to resemble the shape of a ship. Seeing The Diver immediately reminded us of the same defiant posture we see in Queen Daenerys I Targaryen. At the end of season six, Daenerys stands regally on the deck of her navy’s flagship in this Businessinsider.com photo, charging into war with her new naval fleet while dragons circle overhead.

HBO, Game of Thrones, Malta, Morocco, Croatia, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Arte Biennale, Damien Hirst, The Treasure of the Wreck of the Unbelieveable, Spain, Venice, Italy, fantasy, sci-fi, R.R. Martin, Mayan calendar, legend of Cif Amotan II, Antioch, Nile River, Myos Hormos, Queen Daenerys I Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Kings Landing, Warrior and the Bear, Lion Women of Asit Mayor,Sphinx, arkteia, Artemis, Kali, Khalessi, Hydra, Mother of Dragons, Yara Greyjoy, Queen of Westeros, Jon Snow,The Diver also looks like Cersei Lannister as she proclaims herself Queen of Kings Landing after the death of her son, Tommen.  Cersei stands with a cache of swords behind her, merciless and ready to employ any violent means for harnessing power.

Three large sculpture further into the gallery denote more obvious warrior women images. The  animalistic qualities of women are seen in the Warrior and the Bear, the Lion Women of Asit Mayor, and the Sphinx. The wild looking woman sitting on top of the bear represents the ancient Greek ritual, arkteia.  Arkteia pays homage to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt who was admired for her animalistic qualities. When Athenians slayed a bear as a sacrifice to Artemis, the city’s girls would imitate she-bears by dancing and celebrating their own female ferocity.

This type of dance is also a popular ancient tradition in the Near East, where women were considered divine guards for religious temples. Their protective, semi-god like qualities, are embodied in the sculpture which shows them taming predatory lions. The other animal-like sculpture is the Sphinx, dating back to the Egyptian period. A half-woman, half-animal creature guards the entrance of religious sites like the pyramids.

HBO, Game of Thrones, Malta, Morocco, Croatia, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Arte Biennale, Damien Hirst, The Treasure of the Wreck of the Unbelieveable, Spain, Venice, Italy, fantasy, sci-fi, R.R. Martin, Mayan calendar, legend of Cif Amotan II, Antioch, Nile River, Myos Hormos, Queen Daenerys I Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Kings Landing, Warrior and the Bear, Lion Women of Asit Mayor,Sphinx, arkteia, Artemis, Kali, Khalessi, Hydra, Mother of Dragons, Yara Greyjoy, Queen of Westeros, Jon Snow,  

But one of the most interesting sculptures and photographs in the show depicts the mythological figures of Hydra and Kali. A massive photograph of the two Greek figures appears at the beginning of the exhibit, as if they are doing battle. Hydra was a seven-headed snake-like beast and Hercules’s most terrifying and immortal opponent. Every time one of her heads was cut off in battle, a new head grew back making defeat seem impossible.

Daenerys’ mythological dragons in the Game of Thrones have the same qualities: they are all powerful and destroy Khalessi Daenerys enemies on command. The mythical figure of Kali, aka the goddess of destruction, eventually defeats Hydra and seems to have much in common with Khalessi.  Khaleesi is the Mother of Dragons and fans will remember the scene in season four when she is trapped in a burning fire with the Dothraki overlords. The men perish but Khaleesi walks away from the pire, immune from its purge and seemingly immortal.

HBO, Game of Thrones, Malta, Morocco, Croatia, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Arte Biennale, Damien Hirst, The Treasure of the Wreck of the Unbelieveable, Spain, Venice, Italy, fantasy, sci-fi, R.R. Martin, Mayan calendar, legend of Cif Amotan II, Antioch, Nile River, Myos Hormos, Queen Daenerys I Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Kings Landing, Warrior and the Bear, Lion Women of Asit Mayor,Sphinx, arkteia, Artemis, Kali, Khalessi, Hydra, Mother of Dragons, Yara Greyjoy, Queen of Westeros, Jon Snow,

Daenerys has become the leading contender to recapture the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. She aggressively takes matters into her own hands, wielding weapons of revenge and outmaneuvering her opponents. Both daughters from the House of Stark, Sansa and Arya, show similar strength as they focus on avenging the deaths of family members and looming threats. Arya wields a sword throughout her journey, having left a more skilled and nimble warrior after her stay with the Faceless Man. As she heads for home, Sansa is no longer the victim. She demonstrates strategic foresight sending Littlefinger to the Battle of the Bastards, in time to save Jon Snow and to demonstrate her determination to take back Winterfell.

See the before photo below, showing Hirst’s mold of Kali, the goddess of destruction, and what she looks like after she’s embellished with Hirst’s cretaceous sea life.

   

HBO, Game of Thrones, Malta, Morocco, Croatia, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Arte Biennale, Damien Hirst, The Treasure of the Wreck of the Unbelieveable, Spain, Venice, Italy, fantasy, sci-fi, R.R. Martin, Mayan calendar, legend of Cif Amotan II, Antioch, Nile River, Myos Hormos, Queen Daenerys I Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Kings Landing, Warrior and the Bear, Lion Women of Asit Mayor,Sphinx, arkteia, Artemis, Kali, Khalessi, Hydra, Mother of Dragons, Yara Greyjoy, Queen of Westeros, Jon Snow, The final sculptural art piece from Hirst’s show that communicates the warrior woman theme is the Woman Archer piece.  Ygritte, the fallen love of Jon Snow killed in the battle for Castle Black (and pictured in the BusinessInsiders.com photo at the end of the article) exemplifies the role of women archers in medieval battlefields, as do the sword-wielding Yara Greyjoy and Brienne.

As we tune into season seven, we escape ordinary life to see if Daenerys Targaryen will rule Westeros with her dragons, if Sansa Stark or Yara Greyjoy will become Queen of the Iron Throne, and who will win out in the battle between Margaery Tyrell and Cersei Lannister in the looming battle for Queen of Westeros.  Artists creating stories of fantasy provide entertainment often rooted in historical significance.

An earlier WomanScape article that mentions the fantasy character of Katniss and her bow and arrow quest to save her nation of Panem did more than entertain us.  It showed us the treasures of our imagination and the daring possibilities of art. So even if storytelling is other-worldly and does not ring historically true, as many critics claim Damien Hirst’s exhibit doesn’t, it’s worth the provocative stimulus and discussion that ensues when millions of people can enjoy it.

HBO, Game of Thrones, Malta, Morocco, Croatia, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Arte Biennale, Damien Hirst, The Treasure of the Wreck of the Unbelieveable, Spain, Venice, Italy, fantasy, sci-fi, R.R. Martin, Mayan calendar, legend of Cif Amotan II, Antioch, Nile River, Myos Hormos, Queen Daenerys I Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Kings Landing, Warrior and the Bear, Lion Women of Asit Mayor,Sphinx, arkteia, Artemis, Kali, Khalessi, Hydra, Mother of Dragons, Yara Greyjoy, Queen of Westeros, Jon Snow,

 

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.

On our first visit to Milan, my husband and I hired a guide to see the historic sights of this busy city and discover its past.

While there were many highlights, including Michelangelo’s The Last Supper, and tours of the Duomo and La Scala Opera House, the sweetest discovery was a visit to Pasticceria Marchesi.

This unexpected surprise started with a visit to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the most beautiful luxury shopping centers in Italy.  Built in 1865, the Galleria connects the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza della Scala in front of the opera house.  The Galleria is anchored by stores such as Versace, Rizzoli, Louis Vuitton and Prada.  This historic building is like a jewel box boasting colorful marble and mosaic tile floors, skylight glass ceilings and beautiful old world architecture nestled among some of the most delicious and legendary ristorantes.

There are loads of fascinating stories about famous people like soprano star, Maria Callas, who loved to dine at some of the best restaurants including Ristorante Savini. Callas frequented this popular meeting place for artists and scholars after many of her performances at La Scala Opera House.

This was one of the many stories our tour guide shared with us about celebrities and their favorite haunts; these insider history tips make hiring a tour guide well worth the expense, not to mention the added benefit of discovering where to find the best gelato in town or saving time skipping long wait lines to enjoy special exhibitions.

It was during a tour of this gorgeous Galleria, that our guide casually mentioned  a second floor pasticceria; an Italian pastry shop. This fact would have been lost on me if it weren’t for the word pastry. Hmmm… Turns out the shop is the oldest in Milan so I duly filed this information under a note to myself – MUST VISIT!

We awoke the next morning to a gray, rainy day. What better conditions for indulging in a decadent breakfast?  Our hotel was near the entrance of the Galleria, so we set off for Pasticceria Marchesi armed with our umbrellas and appetites . As the sparse yet elegant window displays of filled with chocolates and other confectionary delights came into view, it felt like we were leaving the real world for a fairy tale island of sweetness. The displays pulled us up a winding staircase, the way Christmas windows on 5th Avenue in NYC do. We were like excited children who couldn’t wait to see Santa Claus.

Pasticceria Marchesi specializes in chocolates, fruit jellies, single origin teas, jams, marmalades and creams packaged in beautiful pastel boxes making them an elegant gift or treat to take home.  I discovered Pasticceria Marchesi was established in Milan in 1824. It is the first of several, and is located at Via Santa Maria alla Porta. It’s no wonder it is still in operation today.  The  shop has gained a reputation for its fine confectionery offerings from exquisite treats to rich coffees. It has a cult following among the Milanese as well as world travelers.

The spring green marble interior, with green silk wall coverings and inviting velvet green seating, is an oasis in the middle of the crowded city. We bathed in the soothing colors and soft upholstery as the waiter directed us to our table. It was a perfect setting to focus on the impossible task of choosing which pastry or sweet to enjoy.  I fell under the spell of the tranquil mood of the cafe, as I relaxed into this beautiful, intimate setting.

Italian coffee is always delicious and my Americano café, robust and hot, was no exception. It was the perfect companion to my sweet Pasta Ciotti pastry, a heaven-sent custard filled pastry.  But the standout was my non-coffee drinking husband’s hot chocolate.  It arrived accompanied with a separate demi bowl of fresh whipped cream.  Dark, thick, brown liquid in a simple white cup, his spoon stood upright in the aromatic concoction!

Wonderful, perfectly rolled omelets with fresh vegetables and parmesan cheese followed our sweet starters. The flawless service during this delicious repast matched the perfection of our meal.  We lingered an embarrassing length of time, soaking in our verdant atmosphere while observing the mixed clientele of tourists: a small executive power meeting being led by a young, well dressed woman who held two businessmen captive, while other locals enjoyed their espresso standing at the bar before rushing out the door to start their day.

The traditions and allure of Marchesi have remained, despite changes in 2014 when Prada, another Milan institution, acquired 80% ownership of Marchesi.  Miuccia Prada,  the female designer and head of Prada and the pride of Milan’s business community, saw the value of expanding and promoting the much adored Marchesi.  Prada seems like a match made in heaven, with this powerhouse brand known for its luxury goods.

Two more Marchesi stores have opened in Milan, and Prada is thinking about expanding outside of Italy since the merger. Discussions about new locations include expansion into Hong Kong, Japan and Abu Dhabi. The two latest restaurants in Milan have certainly maintained the exclusiveness of Marchesi as a beautiful place to indulge in delicious treats with a loved one or special friend.  This unique place is rich in both history and decor, making it a great place to celebrate life’s small pleasures in our fast paced life.  Linking luxury brands with luxury treats is a sweet deal that makes Milan’s most beloved bakery even sweeter!

In 1686, “Cafe Procope” was a meeting place for intellectual “literary-type” men. Women were not welcome in this famed bastion where the first gelato in France was served. During the 17th and 18th centuries, philosophers like Rousseau and Voltaire, and politicians like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, gathered at Cafe Procope to enjoy gentlemanly coffee, chocolates and gelato.

The cafe still exists in the 6th Arrondissement of Paris, although sorbets have replaced the gelato and women are more than welcomed. What’s important is how the restaurant owner, Sicilian born Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, was an influential man and friend of Florentine Bernardo Buontalenti. Buontalenti is generally believed to be the inventor of gelato who introduced it to the court of Catherine dei Medici (pictured below) back in the 15th century.

Buontalenti was a talented architect, artist and inventor who wanted to please Catherine, a member of the powerful Italian Medici family. Catherine’s fascinating story will have to wait for another day, but I like to think of Catherine as Buontalenti’s “gelato muse” and the reason gelato was even invented; this is also a happy thought knowing Catherine was held hostage in a convent as a young girl before Pope Clement VII rescued her and married her off to the King of France.

Florence is the birthplace of gelato, which is actually the Italian name for ice cream. Gelato is different from traditional ice cream although both recipes contain three main ingredients – cream, milk and sugar.  Ice cream has a higher content of cream than gelato and therefore more fat, and is whipped at higher speeds to puff more air into the mixture. This “overrun” process, as it’s called, often relies on the addition of egg yolks to help the ice cream gel versus gelato, which is less sculptured and more dense in texture.

I think I was born eating ice cream and I converted to gelato as an adult. Until recently, I had no idea this cold treat was centuries old. Asian and Egyptian cultures enjoyed fruit-flavored ice chunks 3,000 years ago, and Arabs, Greeks and Roman cultures served variations of these as after-dinner desserts. When I discovered gelato, I was hooked. My female friends sung its praises as a slimmer option to ice cream, but for me it was the artisanal marriage of “perfecto” flavors and silky, unparalleled texture.

My idea for writing about five days of gelato in five cities materialized one frightful night when my husband and I had just started our vacation. We were returning to our hotel in Rome after dinner when our taxi was broadsided by a car. The gelato idea was born in the back of my dramatic ambulatory ride to Santo Spirito hospital (translated as the Hospital of the Holy Spirit).

Maybe I was in shock or perhaps it was divine inspiration, but the searing pain in my head from the taxi crash reminded me of a prolonged brain freeze. You know, the kind you get from eating ice cream too fast. As I bumped up and down on the cobbled streets enroute to the hospital, rolling side to side like a flapjack while strapped to a gurney, I had two thoughts: how could I get a refund on the expensive Colosseum tour I had booked the next day, and I should never take life for granted. I pledged I would never forget to wear my seatbelt and to live each day better, starting with a daily dose of gelato while on holiday. I would walk through the ages of five amazing Italian cities – Rome, Florence, San Gimignano, Siena and Venice – and couple my journey with the joyful search for the healing flavors of gelato in each of these cities.

I began my healing journey (like the Florentine art work pictured above) in Rome, at the famed Venchi Gelateria and Chocolate shop. A fitting start – as Rome is the capital of Italy and storied home of the gladiators. Venchi is the “colosseum” of gelato makers as one of the world’s largest gelateria chains. It has a thriving business in many countries around the world, including North and South America, the Middle East and Europe.

While there is certainly nothing violent about gelato, chocolate or the Venchi store, the display counters and quality of their offerings are gladiator-like spectacles fit for royalty and the masses. It’s a place you could come to die in. There isn’t a bad seat in the Venchi stores, even when you are standing in line. The gleaming window displays drip with golden store accents, there’s a sumptuous visual rainbow of gelato colors and the flavors are impossible to resist like the smells of rich, thick chocolate that fill the air with enchanted dreams.

Rome’s gelato delight for me was the espresso flavor.. Thank you Silviano Venchi for opening the first Venchi chocolate shop in Turin, Italy in 1878, and having the foresight to add gelato to your menu in 2006. I love the all natural ingredients and fighting my way through colossal flavors.

   

The gelato in Florence was mysterious and unexpected. As a city of wealth, built by bankers and merchants, the gelato feels more boutique-like and velvety than the firmer gelato in Venchi. The glass-domed counters are much simpler, with gelatarias offering fewer flavors in colors that seem softer and stacked in smaller quantities. A local guide told us the most authentic, high quality gelato is not piled high and often kept in the back of the store to optimize its freshness.

Like the moneylenders who financed masterful Florentine art produced by giants like Botticelli and Michelangelo, and the secret or hidden alleyways in the Uffizi Gallery or the Ponte Vecchio, the gelato experience in Florence is about design and craftsmanship. The best gelatarias are hidden in side streets away from the touristy sites, like the Arte del Gelato.

I dined on dolceamaro and cream caramel, both from the same gelateria when I toured the lush Boboli gardens behind the Pitti Palace (pictured above). I enjoyed one scoop before the tour, and another after the tour to cool off from the heat. Each time, the purity of the gelato texture brought me to my knees, and I swear I would have given my soul to the Medici family just to see the excitement of Queen Catherine when Buontalenti introduced this cold treasure.

Leaving this central city in the Tuscan region, we made two brief visits to Siena and San Gimignano. With only a few hours to discover the best gelato in each city, I was forced again to double my daily intake. Povero me! Our minivan rolled through the verdant countryside and past the tall cypress trees, arriving in the medieval city of Siena. I had two hours to find a gelateria while taking in Siena’s famous sites. My quest became a spectacle not unlike the Palio de Siena, the oldest horse race in the world dating back to the 12th century.

As I navigated the challenging inclines of the mind-boggling, gridless, narrow streets, I was tempted to climb Siena’s Duomo for a better vantage point. When our tour culminated in Il Campo, the city hall (not the church) area which forms the center of the town for the horse race, I found my gelato and lost my faith in Siena. While I loved the spectacular town and enjoyed the savory tiramisu flavor scoop, the gelato was less flavorful and lacked the artisanal quality I had come to expect in Florence.

What Siena lacked, San Gimignano delivered! The gelato in this relatively small, walled town southwest of Florence was spectacular. Just steps from the triangular central square of the Piazza della Cisterna, is a quaint shop with a big sign that reads, “Selected best gelato in Tuscany.” The Gelateria Dondoli was one of several gelaterias in this small, picturesque town, but it had a line of people waiting to order. I savored a cup of swirling purple and white frothy flavored lychee rose and my husband devoured the soft pink of fragola strawberry.

   

The last stop was Venice, a floating city on the water and what I’ve come to call the Las Vegas of Italy. Once a Republic, Venice’s history is all about the show. The city center is St. Mark’s Square and golden details from the Doge Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica (pictured above, next to the famous gondolas) glitter brightly under the Italian sun. The Grand Canal is the showstopper with gondola rides that weave through romantic waterways. But watch out – the city is slick with shoppers and tourista traps.

I suppose any gelato is always good gelato, but my plain vaniglia (vanilla) scoop and the lemone (lemon) flavored gelato from St. Mark’s Square area were average compared at this point in my gelato  journey. There seemed to be fewer gelatarias in Venice but after a scrumptious late lunch at Restaurant Riviera, we discovered some tasty scoops of cioccomenta (choco chips in mint) at Osteria Al Squero. The gelateria was a local and added a Vivaldi-type skip to my stride.

The joys of gelato helped me to discover the beauty of Italy and to see the unique flavors of its people. Italians are friendly and inviting, with a penchant for life. I’ll cherish their example and continue to chase silky, smooth gelato – inspired by the happiness and adventure it brings as I live each day better, one flavor at a time.

 

Only now do I understand how the face of Helen of Troy could launch a thousand ships. The Da Vinci-like smile of a young waitress in a place barely large enough to call a town sent me on a journey in San Juan, Puerto Rico that still boggles my mind. It happened when I asked if I could take her picture, innocently thinking I’d use it to punch up a travel article someday about Puerto Rican women. Little did I know this chance meeting and request would lead to a meeting with one of Puerto Rico’s pre-eminent artists, the discovery of the legend of Yuiza – an Indian Cacique Chief and a dozen interesting questions about a culture of people I had never heard of.

This all started as a long weekend vacation with a small party of four traveling to San Juan, Puerto Rico (PR), the familial homeland of my good friend Naomi. Naomi was excited to show us PR’s history, its amazing culinary wonders and its wondrous landscape of pristine beaches, colorful bright rows of houses and interesting shops, and lush greenery. We had stopped for lunch after a late morning visit to El Yunique National Forest to enjoy a meal at a restaurant owned by Naomi’s friend; a woman who had sold her popular Brooklyn restaurant to move back to Puerto Rico. For readers unfamiliar with El Yunique, it the only tropical rain forest in the American park system. At night, the coqui tree frogs sing Puerto Rico lullabyes and ancient petrogylphs dot the south side of its 29,000 acres.

  

I don’t know if it was the rain forest tour and the visceral connection I felt to its earthly splendor pulsating through me well after the forest disappeared from the car’s rear view mirror. Or, maybe my meeting with a Six Nations woman just before this trip that had sparked a deeper desire to connect with indigenous peoples, particularly the women whose families continued to struggle from the scourge of land expulsion and the loss of so many inalienable rights. But even if it was simply Genesis’ beautiful face and this strange connection I felt to our natural world, I believe the sum of these experiences captured my imagination. Her face was heaven sent.

We enjoyed great food and a cold frosty in the patio area with a view to a big white Buddha head nestled in the middle of modern white furniture surrounded by greenery rich with trailing purple florals; the flowers were more delicate but similar in shape to the wisteria except they were much looser like blue-bell flowers. Genesis had served us and when we paid the bill, I asked if I could take her picture. We shared our stories briefly, and I learned that she was a singer and actress.

She told me I needed to see the work of Puerto Rican painter Samuel Lind before I left the island. His art celebrated women and one painting, “Yuiza – the last Taino Queen,” became an overnight sensation when a biologist named Loir Pachter suggested that Puerto Rican women were genetically ideal human beings.

A Berkeley writer who read Pachter’s study of the genetics of the perfect human drew attention to Pachter’s HG00737 genetic code – a perfect blend of the Spanish, African and Taino heritage found in Puerto Rico. Lind’s painting became hugely successful and I knew I had to meet Lind and to see his interpretation of Yuiza.

Naomi and I talked our spouses into “popping by” Lind’s gallery on the way back to the hotel, suggesting they’d be back on the beach in no time and the cool beer wasn’t in danger of losing its froth. My research started en route to Samuel’s studio, described by Genesis as a tree-house on a small dirt road off the town’s main street. Finding it proved to be more difficult than we thought, but inside was a treasure chest of amazing sculptures and paintings.

  

The legend of Yuiza stemmed from her role as a Cacique Chief of the Tainos. Yuiza was one of only two female Taino Cacique Chiefs of the Caribbean, and the only one from Puerto Rico. The Tainos were Indigenous Natives or American Indians, who were divided into three classes: working (naborias), the sub-chiefs or noblemen (natianos) that included priests and medicine men, and the village chiefs (caciques). The Tainos were a subgroup of the Arawakan Indians who lived in northeastern South America and areas that included Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and Haiti.

When Columbus and the conquering Spanish invaded the Caribbean around 1508, they enslaved the Tainos. Sadly, their population quickly dwindled from disease, maltreatment and unsuccessful rebellion attempts, and tens of thousands of indigenous natives were wiped out less than forty years later. Yuiza (also known as Loiza) tried to protect her people as Chief of the Jaymano area, the largest Puerto Rican area along the Caryban River. When Yuiza married Pedros Mejius, a mulatto Spanish conquistador, some of her people thought she was a traitor and killed her.

Lind’s painting isn’t a portrait of Yuiza since historical information about her doesn’t really exist. It was unusual for a village to have a female Chief, so you can imagine that she must have been a great leader. Lind’s painting does, however, hint at the mix of cultures that have influenced Puerto Rico’s past and the blended heritage that Pachter’s references.

Years after the Spanish settlements were established, runaway slaves from the British colonies were brought to Puerto Rico and resettled in an area called Loiza Aldea, which also happens to be Lind’s town.  As indigenous people of the Caribbean and some southern parts of Florida, Tainos are not Latinos or Hispanics; they are indigenous natives that are neither European nor Spanish. The Spanish language is obviously prevalent in Puerto Rico, but many Taino words persist and have influenced many names for types of food, plants, animals and other things. Taino superstitions and legends like that of Yuiza’s live on in the art, stories and lifestyles of the Puerto Rican culture.

In fact, there is a growing movement to embrace the lost Taino language, identity and history. Spanish speaking people in Puerto Rico and across America want to know more about the oppression and conditions that obliterated Tainos. They are banding together to embrace their heritage even though school programs and classroom studies have yet to catch up. Thanks to the internet and social media links, there are sources of information and videos sharing the history and legends of Tainos. Until I met Genesis, I had never heard of Tainos and didn’t understand the binary difference between the Latinos and Hispanics.

Maybe something from the spirit world of the Tainos helped me to meet the beautiful young woman named for the beginning of time. I wonder if mother nature isn’t calling out to each of us. Whether we hear or are even attune to her voice, we are facing social justice questions about our respect for each other. The stakes increase as our natural world struggles to maintain its healing foothold against the challenges of urbanization and increasing environmental threats. Artists like Lind and legends like Yuiza’s are critical for helping us to celebrate our connection to our world and remind us of its beauty.

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