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A Sense of Place

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Well, I'm back from a bit of traveling: England, Scotland, Ireland, Texas and New Mexico. I'm ready to resume my blog articles for you. But, I'll be working my way in slowly with a short article today.

Her response: “Now you tell me!” Well, yes, now she knows.

This week I'm just letting you know about a change I've made to my list of blog articles, and why I've done that.

Last Thursday, I was visiting with a friend who had just returned from Italy. She expressed a bit of disappointment in some of the restaurants they chose in Venice. I let her know of my Italy Our Italy blog and the fact that it contains personally evaluated and recommended restaurants, hotels, and other helpful information on certain places within Italy. Her response: "Now you tell me!" Well, yes, now she knows. And I want you to know, too. That's why I've made changes to my list of blog articles.

What I have done is to take the Index of Blog Articles to another level by creating another series of headings in the right-hand column (which is labeled, "By Subject"). You will now find three new subheadings for 'places' within Italy -- specifically 'Places: Venice', 'Places: Amalfi Coast', and 'Places: Tuscany'. This will give one a greater sense of these wonderful places.

Now, if you are traveling to one of these fabulous places of Italy, you will have all of the resources that I have previously published about those fabulous places in one place. 

That about sums it up for today's very short article. 

Ciao for now,

Steve

 

Eat Here: Il Flauto di Pan

In a followup to last week's article on the beautiful Villa Cimbrone, I present their fabulous restaurant, Il Flauto di Pan.

Wow! I’m very excited about Villa Cimbrone gracing the walls of a new development in San Antonio, Texas. Be sure to read the late-breaking addition to this article at the very bottom.
I have never lied to you, and I won’t start now — so when I say ‘we ate every bite’, trust me on that

We have a general feeling in our family about the quality of a restaurant versus its height above its surroundings...you know, the meals in space-needle-like settings, tops of very tall buildings, etc...often it is the quality of the view that takes precedence over the  quality of the food...not always, but often enough that we steer clear without a recommendation.

Here is a restaurant that sits high above the Amalfi Coast, which has both a quality view and quality food. 

The remarkable gardens of the Villa Cimbrone extend to the entrance of Il Flauto di Pan, as you can see here with a wall of petite white flowers.

As you are seated, you will find a lovely welcome at your place setting, as shown in the first photo at the top of this article, complete with embroidery hoop. So striking, don't you think?

As we sat, we were treated to both a view of the Amalfi Coat and bread sticks -- two of our favorite things!

 

In addition, there were two varieties of butter from which to choose. 

 

Il Flauto di Pan is a Michelin-starred restaurant. Having a star is of great significance, and it is extremely hard to get.

If you have watched 'Chopped' on the Food Network, you know that they judge the food on taste, presentation, and originality.

These, of course, are important to the Michelin folks, too. But beyond the food itself are the aesthetics of the restaurant and the ways in which the diner is pampered. Touches like the orchids on your table are taken into account. 

 

As Italian wine lovers, we seldom have cocktails whilst in Italy...well maybe a Negroni or Campari & soda on occasion -- but the suggestion of a Bloody Mary made with fresh-squeezed tomato juice sounded too good to pass up...so we didn't. And man-o-man was it ever good! 

We had course after course, some of which I'll show you here. I won't try to tell you exactly what each dish is, because frankly, I can't remember.

I think you can get the gist of a Michelin-starred restaurant from the photos...lots of garnish, debris, drops and plops on decorative substrates with well-placed and tasty sauces. Not only is it pretty to look at, but it is most excellent in taste!

Of course, right now you are asking, "But what about desserts?" My response would have to be, and is, "Yes, they have admirable desserts -- which we did indeed admire, right before we ate them." I have never lied to you, and I won't start now -- so when I say "we ate every bite", trust me on that. And, as unusual, we also enjoyed a dessert wine.

 

I have to say that we had a wonderful afternoon and evening at the far reaches of Ravello at Villa Cimbrone -- at the villa, the gardens, and the extraordinary restaurant. As I finish, we toast you and say 'thank you' to all of you who loyally read the articles of Italy, Our Italy.

 

Villa Cimbrone in San Antonio!

You can now find Villa Cimbrone in San Antonio, Texas...at least photos of the villa. 

I'm pleased to announce that 210 Development Group, one of the premier property developers in San Antonio and beyond, has ordered eight of my photos of Villa Cimbrone as the wall art for a model in their recently completed Aviator project. This housing project is on the site of the old Brooks Field of World War II fame, now called Brooks City Base.

Here, you can see photos of the installation. My thanks to Alyson Callison, Director of Design for for 210DG, for putting her confidence in my work, and for creating the beautiful model that surrounds my photos.

I suspect you will recognize these photos from last weeks article, titled A Visit to Villa Cimbrone.


  

Ciao for now,

Steve

 

p.s  You can see other Amalfi Coast blog articles here:

A Visit to Villa Cimbrone

A quiet place of peace and marvelous views.

The first mention of Villa Cimbrone is found in the 11th century. The origin of the name comes from the rocky outcrop that surrounds the 20-acre site

 

 

It's time to return to the Amalfi Coast...way above the Amalfi Coast.

 

Getting There

Villa Cimbrone (cheem-bro-neigh) sits in the town of Ravello, at the end of its peninsula-in-the-sky. And Ravello sits high on the escarpment above the town of Amalfi. Getting there is not too difficult, unless you are faint of heart on narrow, winding, ever-climbing, roads.

A pokey Piaggio on the serpentine road

The road from the Amalfi Coast highway to Ravello gets very narrow...so narrow that a traffic light allows cars going up hill to proceed whilst cars traveling down hill wait, and versa vice. And not all of the vehicles travel up the road at the same pace, as you can imagine from this photo.

 

 

[lease click on a photo to get a larger view]

 

Here you see this peninsula-in-the-sky, which is the town of Ravello. Notice the cliff to the left where The Belvedere is located.

A birds-eye view of the Ravello escarpment

The Piazza and Duomo

One parks, or is dropped off by taxi, at the Piazza, where the duomo, or cathedral church, sits.

The Duomo of Ravello

I'm not sure if this is admonishment, praise, or otherwise, but the priest of the Duomo has something to say to his parishioner and her sun-glass-wearing son.

 

Inside the church you will find the typical, gorgeous trappings of Italian churches. Here we see the Angel Gabriel doing battle with Satan, Mary and the soon-to-be-risen Christ, a marble-lion column support, a bronze door with Biblical scenes (well, mostly Biblical, as you can see St George slaying the dragon in one panel), a marble and mosaic altar with Jonah waving farewell as he is devoured by the serpent, and a painted icon.

 

Young entertainers on the Piazza at Ravello

While we were there, a number of the young of Ravello were having fun making music as they marched around town. I'm not sure if the fingers-in-her-ear girl in the rear is enjoying the group's musical attempts.

 

 

Frivolity in Ravello

These two young men seemed to be particularly zealous in their appointed task.

Our first thoughts as we watched these children was, 'This would be a fabulous place to live.'

 

A Walk to the Villa

It is a walk of about 4/10ths-of-a-mile from the piazza to Villa Cimbrone, all the while wandering narrow, pedestrian-only walkways. And along the way, you will have ample opportunity to purchase beautiful, hand-painted Italian ceramics. And we love the care that is taken in wrapping purchases. In the photo on the right, notice the ceramic panel in the top-right -- you will see what that scene is in a moment.

Along the way we saw several shrines and vines, and a cat or two.

We came across an occassional lazy dog sleeping under lemon trees, poppies, and views of other towns across the valley.

This fabulous view took our breath away...town after town clinging to the hillside above Amalfi, marred only with the drifting smoke from someone burning their trash. If one isn't born in a particular town, how on Earth could you decide in which to settle?

Looking to the west from Ravello, where the town of Amalfi sits at the terminus of the distant valley

The Villa

At last, we arrive at Villa Cibrone. The first mention of Villa Cimbrone is found in the 11th century. The origin of the name comes from the rocky outcrop that surrounds the 20-acre site, which can be seen in the aerial photo at the top of this article, which was known as 'Cimbronium'. You can read much more about the history of this property on the Hotel Villa Cimbrone website here.

Today, the estate consists of the villa/hotel, a Michelin-starred restaurant (that being the subject of next week's article), the gardens, and the famous scenic viewpoint known as 'The Belvedere.'

Here is your first view of the vine-covered villa as you approach.

The vine-covered Villa Cimbrone

You see scenes from inside the walls of the villa, just below.

I particularly like this scene of the stairway, and the intricate pattern of iron work found on the door on the landing.

Verdant Gardens

And then there are the gardens.

The Belvedere

The world-famous Belvedere, perched atop a cliff, offers a magnificent view of the Mediterranean, one which these time-worn busts seem want to ignore. 

The busts of The Belvedere

These statues are actually quite whimsical, as their expressions are not what one normally sees in classic carving. See what I mean by clicking on the thumbnails in these closeup views.

They look very content to be sitting there, don't they?

In this view from The Belvedere, you can see more towns to explore along the Amalfi Coast, should one have the time.

View of the Amalfi Coast looking to the east

I'll leave you with a quote from Gore Vidal concerning The Belvedere: 'A wonderful place from which to observe the end of the world." And when it comes to that, I would have to agree.

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

Steve and his lovely wife, Ellen

Next week: The Michelin-starred restaurant at Villa Cimbrone

Amalfi Stairs

If you want to shop, this is not the path for you! But, if you want to get home quickly and without being run down, this way is perfect.

This week, it's back to Amalfi. We've been there before in One Fine Day! and Staying in a Convent Retreat. But today, I want to tell you about the stairs and passages of Amalfi. 

Amalfi is situated in a ravine that comes down from the mountains to the harbor of Amalfi. The buildings of Amalfi are situated up the slopes of the ravine. At the very bottom of the ravine, there is a small road -- and this road is the main thoroughfare through the town, as you can see in the photo below.

[click a photo for a larger view]

As the buildings were constructed centuries ago before automobiles and trucks were envisioned, the roadway is very narrow. Here is a photo of this main street through the heart of Amalfi -- yes, that is THE street.

The roadway is so narrow that there is a traffic light that queues traffic wanting to travel one direction, whilst the traffic going the opposite direction works its way through the crowds. As you can tell from the photo, this is really a pedestrian-mall-roadway combination.

 

Here is another photo with vehicles making their way through the masses.

When the buildings were constructed many years ago, a number of alleyways were set aside within the structures. Some of the alleyways parallel the path of the roadway, while some work their way up through the buildings that cascade down the sides of the ravine. 

Here is one of the alleyways that traverse the same path as the roadway, but under the protection of the surrounding buildings.

If you want to shop, this is not the path for you! But, if you want to get home quickly and without being run down, this way is perfect. You just have to know the hidden-away location of these passages.

 

These hidden-away passages are the subject of today's article, and I will be focusing on the stairways that travel up the ravine-situated buildings. And, at the same time, I am giving you a two-for-one article, as you also get one of my photo transformation articles rolled in. 

Stairway #1

Here is a snapshot of one of those stairways. It's a long way up there.

By now, you know that I have a bit of an OCD issue with modern bits and pieces in my dream-world of an Italy of another time. To satisfy my compulsion, I just have to remove these items. 

Here is the photo with modern matters resolved. 

And, to get that age-old look that I am after, I've added a sepia tone and worn-frame look. Here is the final version of this very long stairway.

And, what might lie waaaaaay up there at the end of this stairway? The photo below tells us that to the right is a pizzeria and to the left is the Patrizia (Patricia's) Esthetician Center, of course. Only a local with well-formed calves would know.

Stairway #2

In the passage below, you can see that there was just a bit of wrought iron and stair railing with which to deal. It's zapped away in the second photo and the final sepia version is at the right.

[click on a thumbnail for a larger view of the photo series]

Stairway #3

In this series, you can see that there was a panel to the left, a person entering the door at the top of the stairs, and a plethora of electrical wiring in the arched alcove. In the second photo, all is gone and the sepia version ages this passage a bit.

Stairway #4

This stairway was the most challenging. In the archway to the left is a sign for another pizzeria and a scooter -- maybe for pizza delivery? On the right are a number of panels and several electrical conduits. Working up the stairs are other detriti that I felt compelled to remove. In photo two all is cleaned up, except the ages-old grime that has worked its way down the stairway. 

 

To bring home the compactness of Amalfi and the forced interaction of pedestrian and vehicle that stems from the old working its way into the new, here is one more photo. This one shows my wife, Ellen, as she walks the 'sidewalk' along the main Amalfi Coast highway on the way to a Michelin-starred La Caravella restaurant (which will be the subject of a future article).

 

I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of these hidden, secret passages of Amalfi. When you go, how about wandering around up there a bit -- we may run into each other!

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

Transforming the Cathedral of San Andreas

Today’s transformation contains a bit of a history lesson. This transformation is one where my original, very weak looking snapshot of the Cathedral of San Andreas in Amalfi, Italy is renovated into a much nicer photograph.

It is typical of photos taken aiming either up or down, that there will be a good bit of distortion. Aiming your camera up creates a convergence of lines toward the top. Aiming your camera down does the opposite.

But, did you notice that I am publishing this article on Monday, rather than the usual Tuesday. Well, there's a reason for that. You'll have to read down a bit to find out why I did this.

Original, yucky, unaltered snapshot

But for now, here is my original, blah snapshot. Pretty pathetic, huh?

Remember two weeks ago when I discussed JPEGs vs RAW photos. What you see here is the unaltered RAW snapshot – none of the JPEG’s alterations have been applied, as this was not saved as a jpeg image. If you are a bit confused by this, go back and read that article from two weeks ago.

So, Who is San Andreas?

Before I show you the transformation of this snapshot, I think you will find it interesting to know more about the man for whom this cathedral was named. You probably know San Andreas by his more common English-naming version of Saint Andrew. Yes, he’s none other than Saint Peter’s brother. Both were fishermen who became disciples, called by Jesus at the same time to become ‘fishers of men’.

Oh, and there’s a geological formation in California that was named after San Andreas – though through no fault of his own. I’ll pause for just a bit to let the laughter die down before continuing.

 

 

Detail of Saint Andrew and brother, Saint Peter

In this enlargement from the still-drab snapshot, you can see Saint Andrew (with a stringer of fish) and brother Saint Peter (with the Keys to the Kingdom) as they appear with the other disciples on the facade of the cathedral.

 

Statue of San Andreas in the Cathedral's piazza, with saltire cross

And here is a photo of the San Andreas statue that sits in the piazza in front of the cathedral in Amalfi. Note the diagonal cross? That’s pretty significant to the death of San Andrea (and to Scotland it turns out – but more on that later).

 

That diagonal cross is called a ‘saltire’ cross. Saint Andrew – as was the fate for all of the disciples – was martyred. But their martyrdom, unlike many of those today, was personal, as they were the only ones to perish in the process. Saint Andrew's martyrdom was in the form of crucifixion on a saltire (or diagonal) cross.

 

Here is a depiction of that crucifixion by the artist Juan Correa de Vivar, painted about 1545. Not a very pretty sight, but I think that was probably the point, wasn't it?!

Artist's depiction of Saint Andrew's crucifiction, by Juan Correa de Vivar

The Scottish connection?

In 832 AD, a leader called Óengus II (in what is now called Scotland) led an army of Scots into battle against the Angles (the Angles were one of the Germanic tribes who settled in Britain after the Romans left, and they founded Anglo-Saxon England – so basically, they formed what we call today 'the English'). As Oengus was heavily outnumbered he engaged in prayer on the eve of battle, and vowed that if granted victory he would appoint Saint Andrew as the Patron Saint of Scotland.

On the morning of battle white clouds forming an X shape in the sky were said to have appeared. Óengus and his forces, emboldened by this apparent divine intervention, took to the field and despite being inferior in numbers, they were victorious.

Flag of Scotland

Having interpreted the cloud phenomenon as representing the saltire cross upon which Saint Andrew was crucified, Óengus honored his pre-battle pledge and duly appointed Saint Andrew as the Patron Saint of Scotland. The white saltire set against a celestial blue background became the design of the flag of Scotland. Here is that flag of Scotland. 

Flag of the United Kingdom

And that same cross was then incorporated into the flag of the United Kingdom, as seen here. 

So now you know why there is an X in the flag of Scotland and the United Kingdom, including Australia.

Back to Amalfi

OK, back at the Cathedral of San Andreas in Amalfi.

You’ve heard of the Crusades, right? There were four of them. The first three had to do with the Holy Land. But the fourth was a bit bizarre in that, when the Crusaders arrived in Venice to get onto ships to head off to the Holy Land once more, those conniving Venetians talked the whole gang into going off to sack their financial rival, Constantinople, instead. So, that’s what they did in 1204. As Constantinople was the seat of the Eastern Catholic Empire, there were many relics of the saints ensconced there, including a good part of Saint Andrew's body.

Then, in 1208, following that sack of Constantinople, some of those relics of Saint Andrew which remained in Constantinople were taken to Amalfi, by Cardinal Peter of Capua, a native of Amalfi. A cathedral was built, dedicated to San Andreas (as is the town itself), to house a tomb in its crypt where it is rumored that most of the relics of the apostle, including an occipital bone, remain. FYI: Saint Andrew's skull is said to be housed in one of the massive pillars of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. 

As a side note, the room at the entrance to that crypt is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. Here are a couple of photos of that marvelous room. 

So, that’s how the Cathedral of San Andreas that sits in the town of Amalfi came to be. Now back to the transformation.

The Transformation

It is typical of photos taken aiming either up or down, that there will be a good bit of distortion. Aiming your camera up creates a convergence of lines toward the top.  Aiming your camera down does the opposite. So, as you can see in the original photo, the real-life vertical lines of the Cathedral are skewed. Additionally, as I was not standing straight-on to the cathedral, the horizontal lines are also a bit skewed. And then there is a bit of scaffolding. There is always a bit of scaffolding.

Photo with distortion alterations, only

So, my first job was to make vertical lines vertical and horizontal lines horizontal and then to remove the scaffolding. After removing the scaffolding, I had to borrow a bit of the facade from the left of the cathedral to balance out the right of the cathedral. Here is the result of this first step.

Now that things are straightened out, it’s time to work on the color elements of the photo. Like in the discussion of jpeg images, I needed to add color saturation, contrast and sharpening to this RAW image. So, that’s what I did. Here is the spruced up photo as it stood then.

Almost completed transformation...that sky is a bit blah

Artist Bob Ross liked 'friendly little clouds', and so do photographers. A photographer's best friend is often a cloud – we do have other friends, but clouds usually add a good bit to photos where the sky is visible, where our human friends do not. See this photo, and this one, to see what I mean. So, as I didn’t particularly like the plain, blue sky of this nice Amalfi-Coast day, I went to my cloud file (yes, I have many, many photos of clouds that I’ve taken over the years) and selected clouds that I felt really added another dimension to the photo. So, here you have the final version of the photo.

The final image, complete with friendly clouds

And here is an enlarged segment of the façade which reveals some interesting things. One is that the façade is actually a very well done, and colorful, mosaic.

Detail of mosaics, bowing kings, and Apostles

Another is the depiction of kings, who are bowing down and offering their allegiance to Christ through the offering of their crowns.

Finally you will note three animals and one man, all winged and haloed. These are the traditional symbols of the Apostles. To Christ’s extreme right is Mark, who is always shown as a lion (and as he is the Patron Saint of Venice, it is called ‘The Lion City’). Then there is an ox, which represents Luke. To Christ’s left is a man, who depicts Matthew. And finally we see an eagle, which is the symbol for John. You will often see these animal effigies of the Apostles in various forms of Italian art.  

So there you have it. Another example of transforming a blah, lifeless image into a fine-art photograph. If the original image, all skewed and lifeless, had been saved as a jpeg image, there would have been little that could be done to improve it beyond straightening it out. When I first looked at my original snapshot, I actually considered deleting it...but then I thought, 'hmmmmm'.  And, since the photo was saved in a RAW image format, there was a lot to be gained in transformation from the original photo.

I hope you enjoyed this transformation. Feel free to leave a comment. 

Why on Monday Instead of Tuesday?

And oh, I almost forgot to tell you why I released this article for my blog on a Monday instead of a Tuesday. That is because today, November 30th, is both the 'Feast of Saint Andrew Day', as well as 'National Day' in Scotland, both related of course to the subject of today's article. 

Ciao for now.

Steve

 

 

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