Where in the Euro World are we?

Wow. This airport is gorgeous. Bright. Clean. Fun and funky bold graphics on all sides. Best bathrooms. Spotless to the extreeeme. A lady was in the men’s room when I was in there. Feather dusting the already sparkling white tile walls of the stalls. I’ve been in bathrooms in Europe where the bathroom walls would have grabbed ahold of that duster and ripped it out of her hands for trying.

Where ARE we?

Stepping out into the hot late afternoon sun toward a queue of taxis (there is no line) a silver Mercedes slips silently up next to us on the curb. It is in motion but the driver’s door is fully open wide and the instant the car has glided to a noiseless stop, Mr. Driver is out of the car and springing the truck and gracefully opening the doors with a sophisticated florish. Oh, my. For us? The body parts in the door wells, the parts that don’t show when the doors are closed? They sparkle and shine like the rest room walls. I’m telling you it is hot outside. But not in this sweet chariot. The driver is cool to the max as well. Maybe 35, well groomed and like all the drivers we saw, he was dressed in white shirt and tie. And speaking perfect English.

No. Really. Where the heckARE we? The hot weather, the American cars in the photos, the bullfighting poster and British soccer fans there are all red herrings. And I suspect they eat a bit of herring in this place. But we actually shot all these photos in the same European country. Where? Well, any of you that guessed Amsterdam need to go ahead and give yourself one of those gold stars you save for occasions just like this. I know what you are thinking: Who cares? Isn’t this supposed to be about Italy? Well of course, you have a point, but stick with me.

YES, HOLLAND CAN BE A FINE PLACE TO TAKE AN “ITALIAN” VACATION.

We used it as a chaser, a cool down follow up to our time in Umbria. And it is right on our way home. Italy, strangely, was the main reason we were in the Paesi Basi (Olanda) because that was where the Caravaggio Show to end all Caravaggio Shows was this summer. All my Italian friends were mad to go to the show and we did have a lovely Italy trip and then finished it off with the Italian extravaganza in the Rijksmuseum. What a rush. It was technically the Caravaggio and Rembrandt show in honor of Rembrandt’s 400th Birthday. But to me they were just riding on Caravaggio’s coattails and I didn’t care as long as I got to see this once in a lifetime collection of Caravaggio’s work.

We settled into the slightly fuddy duddy but awesomely located Hotel Smit. Hotel Smit To be fair it was under construction and probably by the next time anyone reading this gets to Amsterdam it will be renovated and wonderful. We liked it fine as is for the location. Indonesian restaurant across the street, a very happening bar next to it and just past them not only the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. People were extremely nice there. When Grayson needed to go to a clinic they said You need a taxi to the ER and one was literally there as they were ending the sentence. Ever grateful.

Holy shoot it is clean there. Yike. But do they think it is weird to be this clean and for every man woman and child to smoke? Did you know that? I did not either. No big deal but just surprised me. About the smoking thing.

Our first night there we had drinks in the nearby park by a long reflecting pool with big red climbable letters stretched across one end of the pool spelling out MADRETSMAI. Which may have made more sense from the other side now that I think about it.

What if the slogan for Sonoma was IOSONOMA? (io sono Sonoma)

And what if it was written just like that, in Italianspeak, on posters and keychains and such everywhere you looked? In California, America. That would be strange wouldn’t it? Well. I think so. But there is the slogan for Amsterdam and it is a strange word game pun in English. The words “I am Amsterdam” contracted to IAMSTERDAM.
As I was saying before that linguistic digression, these big sculptural letters are by a reflecting pool but people were doing more than reflecting, they were cavorting and splashing and having a fine time. This smack in the middle of the longest continuous heat wave in recorded Dutch history. Of course people were in the water. I was in the water too. One tall blonde with her English bulldog was especially notable splashing about. She was so, what can I say? So “Dutch”. I always assumed a certain amount of fair skin and blonde hair. Our family name is Vreeland and it is supposedly quite Dutch. Our pale skinned, blonde daughter Grayson is what we’ve always felt was family’s our token little Dutch girl. And she said it first: If we are Dutch people, we are extremely little Dutch people. The hostess / greeter on our KLM flight from Rome to Amsterdam must have been 6’2” if she was an inch. And tall slinky blondes of both sexes filled that airplane, the airport and the streets and reflecting pools. Our Dutch named ancestors were definitely not in the gene pool the day they handed out height to the other Dutch people. Dad? We are still waiting for that growth spurt so we can look like these Dutch kids.

Amsterdam. What is up with the name? You got an Amstel River. You Dam it up, you got you an AmstelDam. Say that fast for a few hundred years and it comes out Amsterdam. Think that is what the guides were implying. Why did I need to be told that? Very nice town, most of it looks like Mayfair in London to me. But with less street flash, very understated. Rolls Royces and Bentleys are a dime a dozen in London. Here, its all decidedly down scale bikes, buses and boats of every stripe.

Ok, the first thing to do is to get tickets for the show.

Midge and I got adult all year memberships so we could (and did) see Caravaggio every singel day. Grayson was too young for that so we got up early to get in the queue for general admission tickets at Key Tours. Bit of non-linear thinking to go one place to find out you need to go some place else to buy the ticket to go to the show in yet another place, but it keeps things moving at the gallery.
Walking my post ticket buying cappuccino back to the hotel I was struck by the fact that I was in the middle of my first ever bike rush hour. One wrong step and you could literally be struck by the bike rush hour. And by the way, bike rush hour seems to last all day. Bikes rule.

BICYCLE BEAST OF BURDEN

Carts out front. Big carts. Truck sized carts. Kids on mom’s bike front and back. Hippies on bikes, bow tied professors, a waiter in a tux. Was he a waiter or a man about town? Can’t tell here. The pedal pushers pour down the streets. In their own major lanes. They may look like sidewalks. But. Do. Not. Step. Out there. These people live for their bikes and on them. And with out pretension. All the bikes look to be old, single speed clunkers. Rusting or hand painted with a brush. Almost all are Model T black. Not about flash. And trust me no one, repeat no one, is wearing spandex. They wear what they are wearing and get on their bikes to get there. At the ferry terminal there is a four level parking garage. For only bikes. Off into infinity sized garage. They seem to be used across all levels of society. Function over Form. Noting how much a part of the fabric of life bikes are there and then reading at the Anne Frank house how the Nazis made the Dutch Jews turn in their bikes made me think again what a cruel, intentionally brutal, dehumanizing mind set was in play there.

The day after we toured Anne Frank’s home we took a bus boat to Rembrandt’s house / museum. Tons of paintings, etchings. The gallery in New York where our son worked (Salander O’Reilly) loaned a painting to the special exhibit. Next to it was one from the Met, the next one from a castle in Poland, the next from the Uffizi in Florence, Italy. World class collection. And it was a wonderment to see them all in the very house where they were painted. It was sort of an out of body kind of thing, my mind rushing back and forth from the sixteenth century to the 21st.

DUTCH MEDICINE IS A LOT LIKE ITALIAN MEDICINE.

Our little Dutch girl is under the weather. Can you have too much travel fun? Evidently yes. She’s beat from traveling from the top of Maine to Costa Rica to save the sea turtles, back to the top of Maine to report on saving the sea turtles and the rainforest, sideways over to Italy and then part way home in Holland. Kind of a lot for a month. We’re going door to door looking for aspirin. Supposedly socialized medicine but dang hard to find an Apothotik when you need one. But, like in Italy, Dutch hospitals and clinics will take care of foreigners in need. And be good about it. We were ever so grateful for the help we got for Grayson when she got an infection that was beating her up. A long story that was. But with a happy ending. My advice is if you need an ER, get on a plane and head to Holland.

AMSTERDAM FINE PLACE FOR AN ITALIAN ART SHOW

But, let’s talk about something fun: This art show was awesome. We’ve seen some great ones in the last few years. Picasso Matisse, Manet Monet, etc. The Rembrandt Caravaggio one really may have taken the prize. The American judges in our party had the Italian leading 2-1. In my side by side comparison Caravaggio was whupping Rembrandt and had him on the canvas. Grayson backed me up on this, but Midge was slightly leaning toward the Dutchman. Heresy. Or Home Court advantage?

These paintings are no timid little hang’em over the mantle sort of paintings. These are big guys, meant for rich prelates’ palazzos and or their long-suffering churches. Caravaggio just knocked me out with his smooth as silk rendering, smashing reds, deep smoky blacks, and bright slashes of sunlight or the intense, golden glow of a lantern that had just been worked into the composition. Sun light, candle light, lantern light, it is always about the light. Brilliant face-smacking, drowning-in-it kind of light. Or maybe it is unbalanced bowls of fruit teetering on edges of tables (Meal at Emmaus) What confidence the boy had. Wasn’t much for sketching things out, he would just get back from a duel or some street brawling or such and sit down, grab the nearest brush and start masterpiecing. His stuff is still shocking 400 years after the fact.

When you come around one of the many corners they built into this exhibit and come face with one of his blood curling canvases (Judith beheading Holofernes) it about makes you miss a step. Prepare to be baffled when you see one up close. Thinking maybe you could see a brushstroke on that dewy piece of fruit or the bad boy angel’s wings? Think again. I’ve painted. OK, it was art school. In another galaxy, far, far away. But still. No earthly idea how he put the paint on the canvas. And the details in the shadows. I kept leaning closer and closer and seeing more and more. Hands way behind my back, hoping the guards wouldn’t push me away before I drank it all in. But it didn’t help. I got as close as close could be, reading glasses on, and still could not imagine how the deep black shadows on the dark edge of an arm could become warm, tender skin in the highlights of the same arm.

Anyway, next trip to Rome I’m all about doing a Caravaggio pilgrimage. (and will likely see Meal at Emmaus again at the National Gallery in London) We have two architect friends in Panicale who are pazzo for Caravaggio and one has already mapped out a Roman itinerary for us to follow. Non vedo l’ora and can’t wait either. I’m so making a list of places to see and checking it twice. For the complete, complete, almost annoying complete book about Caravaggio read “M the man who would become Caravaggio”. It is by Peter Robb. It wouldn’t be quite so annoying if he didn’t insist on the vanity of always referring to Caravaggio as “M” over and over for way obscure I Know More Than You reasons. And if he is so smart why doesn’t he have more pictures in his book about pictures? He describes every painting Caravaggio did in minute detail and barely shows any of them and then often in just tightly cropped detail. Ma, va le la pena in somma. And the list in the back of the book of exactly where every Caravaggio in the world lives is excellent. That, plus the big catalog from this Dutch show and I’m good to go. And go I will the next time I’m in Rome! Rome was Home to Caravaggio for most of his short and frantic life. That is where the bulk of his paintings live out their lives when they aren’t being loaned to shows like this.


We came, we saw.

Well enough of the Netherlands. But it was very exciting to see all this great Italian art, even if I had to go to Holland to see it.

We are now officially counting the days till touchdown in Italy: 30. Going via London where we plan to hook up with daughter Wiley newly arrived there to start a master’s program at Central St. Martins. And we will meet up with our Panicalese friend Francesco and probably see even more Italian art. And then, the real thing: Italia in person!

See you in Italy,

Stew

Where ARE we???

Great question. Whew. Long strange trip we’ve been on. That is for sure. No short answer but trying. The bad news is that we had some technical difficulties while we were on the trip to Italy and Amsterdam. Technology. Can’t live with it, can’t travel without it. Well, we can’t. But this time we sort of had to. Was impossible to put up blogs for awhile and eventually we even lost a couple days of emails in early June. If you wrote us then and didn’t hear back from us, we weren’t being rude we just did not get the emails and please try us again. Sorry for any of that disconnect. Must have been a total full moon. Because before we could get out of Amsterdam we even got to see the interworkings of the Dutch hospital system. Youngest daughter got an infection in a bug bite and shut things down there too.

The good news is we have pages and pages of notes (last resort, use pencil!) and mountains of photos from Panicale, Montepulciano, Rome, Amsterdam and beyond and will have lots of fun bringing you all kinds of stories in the very near future. Stay tuned to this Bat Channel for more travel news as it becomes available.

Let me just say that if you get a chance to see a Caravaggio in person, do it. I’m still reeling from the show in Amsterdam and making a list of all the many locations in Rome, Sicily and Malta that have paintings by Caravaggio and are now at the tip top of my Must See list.

Stew

NEXT STOP, UMBRIA. GOING DUTCH?

We typically go to Umbria via London or Munich or Paris. But London is having a jet fuel issue and threatening to raise Cain with flights originating in the US. Airline pouting and politics. So, maybe this time, we are thinking, we will go via Amsterdam. Kind Dutch people have emailed us here at SeeYouInItaly extolling the charms of their town outside Amsterdam named Vreeland. Never been there. Never got the Tshirt. But the perfect meld of Dutch and Italian is happening now in honor of the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt’s birth and one of the highlights of the celebration is a massive Rembrandt—Carravaggio show at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. That has to Gogh on our list. And then, la nostra cara Panicale. To see how my Umbrian roses do grow. This photo was taken last April by our good friends the Lambarts, from Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Nico and I have been tending these roses for several years but I have only seen them in bloom, in photos. Hope to correct that this year!

To quote the Italian designer Valentino: “ . . . I must go. It is not convenient. Perhaps it is not right. But this garden must be seen. There are many things you have to do in life, but you cannot ignore the roses. When they demand to be seen, one simply has no choice but to go to them.” Words to live by, whenever possible.

Michelangelo. Of New York.

NY, NY— Let’s see, how can we contort being in the Big Apple for the Country Music Awards into something Italian? Could be tricky. No. Wait. I think I see an opening. OK . . . how about this: we stayed at the Michelangelo Hotel and saw works by the real Michelangelo at a gallery?

The hotel is very cool, very downtown and quite Italian. Coming in late Saturday night, I saw bound-up stacks of ”La Republica” next to stacks of New York Times. And get this: they carry Rai Uno on the TV’s in their rooms! Our satellite dish in Umbria is so out of whack that we can’t get Rai Uno in Italy. And they get it in NYC? How DO they do that?

We blame our problem on Moonlight. Our satellite TV guy, who we could not find on our last trip, is poetically named Marco Lumadiluna. Marco Moonlight. Could there be a more evocative name for the person in charge of bringing moving pictures down from the heavens? Allora, non fa niente.

GALLERY SLAVES

The art by Michelangelo was in the Salander-O’Reilly Gallery up by The Frick on Central Park. Our son, Zak, is the librarian at the gallery and master of what looks like hundreds, maybe thousands of art reference books. So, we had to go see him, in situ, in this new-ish job. What a place. Sculptures by Bernini, paintings by Tintoretto, carved life sized madonnas, rooms full of them, in fact. Crucifixs? What size do you want? We went to the Salander Gallery after seeing the Fra Angelico exhibit at the Met and before going to the Frick and before we saw the illuminated Italian manuscripts at the Public Library.

As you enter Zak’s domain in the fourth floor Salander library, the first thing you come to is a Cellini sketch. And a signed letter from old Benvenuto, himself. In the totally, non-public reference library! I guess I can, make this about Italy. Yes. Yes, I can.

LA DOLCE VITA, LA DOLCE VINO

We ate at several fine, fine Italian places in the city including Scalinatella which is just down the street from the Four Seasons on the Upper East Side on East 61st. Hyper hip. All the waiters spoke Italian to each other. Loudly. And in an accent I had never heard, so I got a case of timid and didn’t get into it with them. Food was off-the-chart good. Waiters were suave, funny and engaging. And the wine. Aces, truly aces, 1999 red wine from Montalcino, which is near us in Italy. Just velvet.

You know, this shoehorning Italy into New York is pretty easy, once you get into it. We also had great Italian Proseccos and pastas at Orzo. On west 46th in the Theater District. We ordered all kinds of fun anti pastas for the table and dived in and liked it too.

What with cappucchinos every morning and Italian food almost every night, it was rather like being in the old country. And the Fra Angelico show I mentioned at the Metropolitan was Really like being there. I did not previously understand, or fully appreciate how articulated and gilded his backgrounds are. From studying him in art history I knew he was amazing, in person and in quantity it was really overwhelming. The detail, the etched lines in the gilding in the feathers of the angels was just too wonderful for words. He could paint on wood in a way that would make that wood turn into surreal, luminous, precious metal, fabrics truly fit for angels to wear. And consider, if you will, these pieces of art are hundreds of years old. My mind boogles and reels at seeing them. Imagine the people of the times seeing these when they were new.

SHOW ME SOME STARS

We were lucky enough to tag along to party where James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano. How Italian/American can you get?) was hanging out in the middle of the night in a big party house on Gramercy Square. We did not speak, omerta and all that, but for a moment, we were so traveling in the same circle.

Oh? The Yoko thing? OK, she may not be 100 percent Italian, but as long as we are name dropping here . . . we had finished our Italian sausage sandwiches and I was shooting some photos near Zak’s gallery. A pretty Japanese bride was walking to her wedding photo session in the park, her formal, hoop’ed wedding gown hitched up to mid thigh over white Nancy Sinatra type boots. I was focusing on that, when Midge poked me in the shoulder and said See the Purple Jacket that just went by? Yes. You just missed it . . . That was Yoko. Oh, no!

Buone Feste! And Happy Holidays too!