Friday, December 18, 2020

Venice Watercolours

 One really enjoyable thing to do in Venice is grab a sandwich and/or a drink, have a seat, and watch life unfold before your eyes. There's usually something to catch your eye, whether it's the delivery guy hauling something by on a dolly, kids playing soccer, or maybe just some older folks stopping to chat. And if you're in one of the campos, perhaps a busker playing some quiet guitar. No matter what your goals are when visiting Venice, be sure to take the time to soak it up. Don't just splash around from site to site, making a nuisance of yourself. Slow down, blend in, have a seat. You'll be richer for it.

Some watercolours from Venice.

A classic Venetian scene
More classic Venice: windows framed by stone decoration.

View of the Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Square from the water.

Another classic view: Maria della Salute from
the Accademia bridge.

View past the Doge's Palace, across the canal
to the Church of San Giorgio.

It doesn't get more classic than this.

Contact me for more info, size, and availability of these paintings.

Things Will Not Always Be As They Were

 One of the great joys of the big trip we did several years ago, was visiting Syria before the fighting broke out.

With the events of the past decade, I wonder what has become of the many children we met, who stepped forward to welcome us, to ask questions and pose for photos, kids who would now be in their late teens and early twenties.
Syria is rich in history, with a city like Damascus that has been continuously inhabited for four thousand years. Evidence at a nearby site, barely twenty kilometres away, suggests the existence of a small town from ten thousand years ago. Aleppo has been inhabited in some form or another for eight thousand years.
Apamea was a Greek and Roman city located about 100 kms southwest of Aleppo, with a population that exceeded 100,000 at the turn of the millenium (Year 0). Its most striking remaining feature is its main colonnade, nearly two kilometres long, still lined by dozens of pillars, still paved with original stones. The memory of walking that road still gives me chills.
It's a stunning site/sight that is only outdone by the extraordinary friendliness of the people of Syria. There are friendly people all over the world - we of course hail from Friendly Manitoba - but our experience in Syria is something we will carry with us to the end of our days. The occasional kiss, the firm handshakes, the effervescent smiles and enthusiastic welcomes from people of all ages made Syria a highlight of our travels.

Main Colonnade at Apamea

Wandering a bit around Apamea

Entry arch at Palmyra
Temple of Bel, Palmyra

A window at Azem Palace in Damascus. Note the cat.

One of Hama's many water wheels.

Window at Krak des Chevaliers

Looking out over the countryside from Krak des Chevaliers.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Windows of Kolkata

There was something about this particular Kolkata window that seemed absolutely transcendent to me. The exposed brick, open shutter, the sheet, the bars. Every element in the image added up to something I could not explain, but could feel connecting deep within me. Perhaps the ten weeks of travelling around India by that point had something to do with it, as well as the way were travelling around India. We were embedding ourselves into a society in a fundamental fashion, but also from a perspective that allowed us the freedom to exit at any point should things go awry. That freedom allowed me to examine society with a micro lens while forever keeping a distance between us. I'm struggling to explain the way that distance impacted my feelings about India, or perhaps whether that distance means that I could never have a true understanding of India.
Regardless, this window made me understand how India is so much more than the sum of its parts.

It Speaks to Me
Water soluble graphite on paper

Oil on board, 24 by 48"

Another Kolkata window -

Skin Deep
Water soluble graphite on paper, 17 by 22"

A Day in Casablanca

We spent one day in Casablanca at the end of our Morocco trip, arriving Friday around noon and leaving at dawn on Saturday morning. With a number of the things we wanted to see being closed, we had a fair bit of extra time one our hands. Which is okay because we like to take the time to wander.
I had resisted all pleas from my wife to check out Rick’s Cafe, but given the current situation and our proximity to this “legendary” spot, I relented. It was kind of hard to find as we figured it would be noisy and packed with people. I think we actually walked past it a couple of times before google maps politely informed me that this quiet unassuming door was indeed the place we were looking for. Laura was thrilled. For months in advance I said there was no way I was going in this snakky little tourist trap. And now here we were, entering the fabled cafe that had set her mind to wonder since she first saw the movie. That magical little bar that has become an icon in the world of movie sets. That little place that has a sign on the front door saying, “Closed for private function.”

So we went and toured the medina instead. I think I enjoyed that much more.

Before checking out Rick's Cafe, we inspected the mosque as closely as we could without going inside.

The buildings above were very familiar to us, and after walking around and through them, we realized that they were used in the movie, A Hologram for the King. It was weird because everything was finished, but they were clearly unoccupied.

All things considered, Casablanca didn't have much to offer us, especially given that a number of things we wanted to see were closed. As it was a Friday, the mosque was also closed to us as non-Muslims. We knew that ahead of time, but it was the only way we could work our flights and squeeze in as much of the rest of Morocco that we wanted to see as well.
But for a two-week stay, I'd say we did all right. Asilah, Chefchaouen, Fes, Meknes, and Rabat.
For Canadian travellers, Morocco is very convenient what with direct flights from Montreal to Casablanca.

Here's a short video of some of our time in Morocco.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Chios Island, Greece

Chios is one of those places that you'd probably never think of when it comes to Greek Islands. And why would you? There's Santorini of course, which everyone has to go to because every book about Greek islands will probably begin with a chapter on Santorini.  Mykonos. Naxos. Paros. Crete. All beautiful islands to be sure.
One of the reasons we chose Chios was its proximity to Turkey. Another was its simplicity. And as budget backpackers, cost.
By the time we got to Chios we were in week nine of a forty week trip. We wanted a place to relax, restore, and hang out, without breaking the bank. And when we were done, it was a half hour ferry ride to Turkey. The house on Chios was one of the few things we booked before we left on our trip at the end of July. I'm not entirely sure why I was comfortable booking some other places in Italy and Greece while on the road, and not on a Greek Island. Probably because I knew we were going to be there for two weeks, so I'd better get it right.

In the water at Limnos
Limnos Beach

At any rate, we showed up in mid-September, which turned out to be perfect timing. Apparently no Greeks or any travellers are interested in going to the beach and dipping their toes in water that for a prairie Canadian was practically at tropical temperature.
The first thing we noticed about Chios was that it looked like it never rained here. Later, we found out that that was almost true. It had been a year. The next thing we noticed was that once the sun came up, Chios looked a lot like other Greek islands: no clouds in searing blue skies, and a lot of water nearby.
So what does Chios have to offer?
Chios Town, where the ferries dock, has pretty much everything you need, from car rentals to big grocery stores, and a decent beach down at Karfas, but we didn't really do much in the way of exploring around town. Our home was on the opposite (west) side of island, about an hour's drive away. Up one side of the mountain and down the next (with lots of ups and downs in between).

Our house in the bottom right, all of the Aegean at the top.

The house was just a couple kilometres outside of Volissos, a pretty small town with maybe four hundred in habitants. In town you can get most things you need at a basic little market, and a nearby baker that is about as basic as it gets but makes the most mouthwateringly good bread. Over the course of our eighteen days here, we probably walked to town ten times just to get bread in the morning. And I didn't take even one photo, of the bread or the bakery. What a shame.
There is a demolished fort above the town that has some attractive views of the surrounding area.

Views from the hill over Volissos

Chios is a big island with a some fascinating small towns, of which we visited Mesta, Pyrgi, and Olympi.

Friendly cat at a restaurant in Mesta.

Mesta is an extraordinary place that would be worth a visit no matter what island it was on. Known for its labyrinthine alleys and numerous arches, it was a centre of mastic production, important in the early days of gum production. As in chewing gum.

Emporios Beach at the south end of Chios, after visiting Olympi.
One place we didn't go to and I'm forever kicking myself over was Anavatos, a ghost town from medieval times. This isn't the best drone video ever, but it makes me think that if I am ever back on Chios, I will not miss this again.
The main reason for coming to Chios was to relax, and we did plenty of that on Limnos Beach, just a couple hundred metres from our house. If we weren't eating, or walking to town for some more bread, we probably spent eighty percent of our free time on this beach or in this water. We saw one other family, only twice, on this beach the whole time we were on the island. It doesn't get much more relaxing than that.

These are all from Chios, except for the far left, and the pillars. Note the blue skies.
Breakfast on our patio.

Walking to Volissos, the town in the background.

Every evening looked like this.

Monday, June 15, 2020

A Day in the Life of an Artist

A fun look at what goes on around here some days.
Usually a lot more, but I can only spend so much time trying to document what I do.


Chefchaouen is a city in northern Morocco, a couple hours south of Tangier.
If you are familiar with Chefchaouen, you immediately recognize any of the photos, the stunning blue that pulls you in and holds you in a firm embrace. It's an embrace you will feel long after you've left, every time you see one of those photos.

If you've thought about going to Morocco enough to do some research, you've probably seen a photo of this stairway as it is shown pretty much every time someone even whispers, "Morocco..." It's not quite this blue, but it FEELS this blue when you're in it. It is absolutely immersive, especially when you're out early, early in the morning before most people are awake (when this picture was taken). That's also the only time you'll be able to get a photo like this without having to wait in a lineup of gushing tourists who can't wait to hold hands or kiss or do something Amazing (!) while being photographed on these stairs by the person waiting in line behind them.
Thankfully there are hundreds of beautiful spots to hold hands and take your picture in Chefchaouen if that's what you go travelling for, so no need to wait in line here.

So in between taking hand-holding photos, be sure to really explore. Wander down alleys in a direction you are positive is not where you're headed. Go up this hillside for a look over the whole town. Walk up the path to the mosque on the opposite hill for another great view. 

But most importantly, walk around. And spend some time here. 

It's a true joy to walk around this town. There are lots of stairs, and you will hear a fair bit of huffing and puffing from tourists and local folks alike, but there are also the main arteries which go in a generally horizontal direction for the most part.
There are loads of shops and shopping opportunities with many things being pretty reasonably priced. There are hidden shops and outdoor shops, tiny shops and shops that are a little less tiny, classy shops and shops that could use a makeover, shops that are neatly contained and shops that kind of spill out all over. 

There are lots of great restaurant options, enough cat-petting options to keep you busy for a week, several great hikes outside the city, and be sure to add to your door photo collection, they will become prized possessions over the years.

I highly recommend getting a lift out of town to do the hike to the Akchour Waterfalls. Ask at your hotel as they will know all about it. But it's a glorious two to three hour walk in almost alpine conditions ( I think it was five hours in and out), where you'll have to cross the creek about ten times in both directions on not particularly stable footholds that are most certainly not state recommended. Some require balancing on unsteady logs and holding a rubber tube/rope to stay dry.

We reached Chefchaouen from Asilah, which required an hour long bus ride to Tetouan (which shouldn't be too arduous for most people) and then finding a share taxi at Tetouan's taxi park (a parking lot full of white Mercedes vehicles) and going for a hair-raising one-hour drive at top speed, which generally won't push you beyond 6 or 7 Gs in any of the harder turns.
There isn't a bus service that I could find to get us in or out of Chefchaouen, so for the journey to Fes we opted for a private car. Many times more expensive, but far fewer g-forces.

Some of the images above are available as prints here.
You can see a little more of our experience in Morocco in this video:
It's a sampling of our time in Asilah, Chefchaouen, Fes, Meknes (including glorious Volubilis), Rabat, and Casablanca.