Sicily's Musem of the Dead

Next time you're in Palermo, Sicily, don't miss Catacombs of the Cappuccini monks, one of the world's most macabre tourist attractions.

"Originally the catacombs were intended only for the dead friars," says Wikipedia.  "However, in the following centuries it became a status symbol to be entombed into the Capuchin catacombs. In their wills, local luminaries would ask to be preserved in certain clothes, or even to have their clothes changed at regular intervals. Priests wore their clerical vestments, others were clothed according to the contemporary fashion. Relatives would visit to pray for the deceased and also to maintain the body in presentable condition."

By Candace Dempsey, author of Murder in Italy, the true story of Amanda Knox
Read more ...

Jerusalem's Wailing Wall: You Are There

I fell in love with the time-lapse videos of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem (below) the second I saw them. They're by the talented blogger and crazy busy traveler Michael Hodson of Go, See, Write.

Next year, in Jerusalem.

I've been dreaming of that ever  since I went to Jordan a couple weeks after the end of the first Gulf War. One night a friend and I sat in a little outdoor bar in Aquaba, mesmerized by the lights of Israel, shining at us from across the Red Sea. The watery gap between the two countries is so small that a royal horse once swam across it.

Alas, unlike Moses we couldn't part the Red Sea and get across. We had only a few days left in Jordan, so we headed for glorious Wadi Rum ... But that's another story.

Michael is holed up in a Jerusalem hotel and updating the photos as we speak. Enter a Jerusalem neighborhood here.

Read more ...

Gauguin: What was he looking for?

Tahitian Woman With a Flower (Vahine no te Tiare: 1891) is the first painting that the infamous French painter Paul Gauguin sent out from Tahiti, where he'd hoped to find a new home. It was his letter to the world.

The world, it turns out, did not care. Many years flipped by before this stunning portrait found a buyer.

But we do care, hundreds of years later, about this young woman, her black hair caught in a single braid. She holds an orange flower, stares off into the distance, chaste in a blue smock dress with white lace collar and cuffs. The artist said she was not beautiful, but was beautiful in her strength. 

I feel so lucky because this week I got to see "Gauguin and Polynesia: Elusive Paradise" at the Seattle Art Museum.  

I've visited the Gauguin museum in Tahiti, a dreary place, with nothing to show but copies of paintings long since snapped up by European buyers. The artist himself died penniless, but his canvases are now worth millions. Such is the fate of the avant-garde.

Seattle is the show's only stop in the U.S. and it would be worth the airfare just to see 60 examples of Gaugin's work, including sculptures, wood-carvings, self-portraits, and even sketchbooks. You can also see many charming examples of the Polynesian art that influenced him, as did the people. Even the bodies of the warriors, tattooed from head to foot, were works of art.

Like so many of us, Gauguin was plagued with wanderlust. An addiction in conflict with the desire to create something lasting, to be somebody in the world. He was always looking for "something real," but when he found it, he quickly grew tired.

For a woman it's hard not to see his portrayals of beautiful young girls as exploitative, hard not to view his bedding of them without "ambivalence and resentment" (an observation I overheard a woman make in the museum). And yet, he never portrayed Polynesian women as mere sex objects. Just look into their eyes, the sadness around their mouths. Observe their staid cotten clothes, the result of colonization. Did he ever paint a woman who smiled?

But it's not the sadness that's stayed with me all week, after seeing this spectacular show. No, it's the gorgeous colors, the once-in-a-lifetime brushstrokes, the marvelous carvings and sheer talent.
Who knew Gauguin so yearned for European flowers (marigolds, irises, lilies) that he planted a garden in Tahiti? Or that he always intended to reunite with his family, the one he abandoned in France to chase a Polynesian dream?

How I'd love to own my favorite Gauguin landscape, Parahi te Marae (The Sacred Mountain), 1892, which I posted above. The show will be at SAM until April 29, 2012. Don't miss it.

Read more ...