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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Scrooge of a Season and the Gift of Giving

The air is cold now but not crisp. It's wet and grey-toned here.There must be at least 50 shades of it. Hardly a cause for celebration. The sky is mostly overcast, giving a dull and laden feeling to most everything under it. Certainly including me. 

No birds sing. Exception: the crows and ravens still quarrel, sounding a bit impatient with the state of things. Strong winds sometimes break through this diminished daylight, with occasional gusts blowing away the endless clouds and fog to show a moment of sparkle upon the waters or a glimmer of distant snow-covered mountain. 

Winter-solstice is approaching. I feel like a bear., Truly. I should be hibernating, but there's just too much to do. Although I do want to do much of it, a seasonal lethargy has gotten into my bones and makes me cringe at taking action. Instead, it directs me to the couch. Where I have been sick with a cold-flu-(whatever) just to justify it.

Not the right attitude for Christmas, Chanuka, and winter holiday season. Humbug! I feel like Scrooge, without his ill intent. I'm just morose and lethargic. Hardly a time to join in on the generic la la la la lah. More in tune with some old blues music, which is exactly what I have playing. Oh, Bessie. 

Nothing like the blues to get a gal out of this sorry state. Which brings me to the good news in all this glum . It's a genuine gift of giving in the form of an art donation to the VGH-UBC Art Foundation. For many years this foundation has collected a rather remarkable art collection, with works adorning Vancouver's main hospital locations. Art acts as a form of connection, healing, joy, contemplation, enrichment, and all the many varieties of experience it offers. 

I am very pleased and grateful to know that three of my works have just this month been selected for the Art Foundation collection. I have donated the paintings, and am told they have a new setting in mind for them, which I will be most interested to see. Even on less than happy occasions visiting the hospital, I have been so very impressed by the art that greets me in all sections of it. How much of a difference art makes. Perhaps this is especially so when it is seen in unlikely moments and settings. 
I'm so thankful to be a part of this. 
All Things Bright, Greeting, and Praise: paintings by Janet Strayer, VGH-UBC Art Foundation
.And so, I will end on this up-note and wish you well this season of gifts and giving.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Focus on Female: Latest Digital Art Paintings

Art inspiration comes in spurts. For me, at least. While working on one thing, I think of another. They're not evidently related, or they may turn out to be. I can't tell whether or not until the work is done and I see what's what. That's how it works for me in the  progress of my "traditional" painting (i.e., moving paints around with brushes on canvas) and my "new media" digital painting (moving pixels around with electronic brushes on computer). There is cross-talk between the works in each media. 

I wish the art-world didn't segregate the two approaches as much as it does. But that's another long story. 

For now, what I'd like to do is show you three digital paintings I've completed. The first two are based on my many drawings of Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty. The first, aptly titled Reconstructing Aphrodite, both deconstructs and reconstructs her in contempoary fashion, which itself begs the question of both love and beauty. The second, called Aphrodite Rising, imagines her rising from sea-into-sky, a form only glimpsed amidst the dazzle of her creation. The third was done afterward, with the female form still very much in mind. I called it Sublimation. That's a complex term with many associations. The story of what I mean here by it is:
The female form, powerful and direct, is sublimated into the surrounding context. Assimilation appears to result, but conformity is not the outcome. Instead, there is, perhaps under the surface, an activation of effective expression. Her presence in the world gains variety and nuance. as she gathers strength and resonance, . Well, that's my thought on it. The image came first, the thought later.
 
Reconstructing Aphrodite by Janet Strayer, 36"x30" Ltd. Ed./5
Aphrodite Arising by Janet Strayer, 36"x30", Ltd. Ed./5

      

Sublimation by Janet Strayer, 24"x36", Ltd.Ed./5
 

I like to focus on the female. It's important to me and its many formations defy formulations.  In art as in life.
 

Regards,


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Autumn is Growing Up

painting by Janet Strayer
We're into a new season now. I love the start of autumn. Ever since childhood it has always signaled the 'new' year for me. Perhaps because it marks the beginning of the school year, around which so much of my life was organized. Not that I didn't enjoy the summers off. They were playtime supreme and time off and away. That's how I experienced summers, as time off doing whatever citykids and grown-ups do in the summer. Time away: from the city, from established patterns, a sojourn in the country perhaps, father joining the rest of the family on weekeneds, a new (if often familiar because oft repeated) set of friends along with the changed summertime setting and  living conditions.

Somehow summertime was not quite real, not the way the rest of the school-year was. Though always a bit glum at summertime's end and the loss of apparent freedom, the advent up to Labour Day had a bitter-sweet taste that lingers strongly in memory and recurrence. Upon its heels came a sense of renewed excitement as the wheel turned to autumn.

The weather might or might not catch up with the calendar season, but it was clearly autumn because you went back to the city and 'normal' life resumed.  September meant a new reckoning was starting up. New things to learn, new people to meet, perhaps a stretch upward beyond the horizons of one's limited vision. Growing up was autumn to me, and so it remains.

That's my personal metaphor for autumn. Even now that I am old. How much growing up there is still to do. 

The glowing part of this reflection is mirrored in the colours of the land, the trees bursting with magnificent leaves giving  this year's last-hurrah before the winter sets in, the composty land under-foot (now that I live in the country), the rush of week-enders scattered away, the longer nights and shorter days. I feel oddly thankful for it. 
our tree on Saturna Island, JS photo



Saturday, September 22, 2018

Saturna Island Inspired Art on Exhibition in Vancouver

Now that we've officially fallen into Fall, the autumn season brings a new show of my Saturna Island-inspired paintings to a municipal gallery in North Vancouver. You can visit their website for more info, but the invitation appears below. For more photos of the paintings hanging at the gallery, click here.



Hope you get to see and enjoy them. 

Now I'll get back to cooking and canning all the pears we picked from our garden. I'm making spicy chutney. This batch promises to be wild and wonderful ... let  the taste buds judge!

Best to you as the days shorten,









Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Give a Fig for Art?

It's been an unusually dry and hot-cloudy summer on Saturna Island. The fire hazard remains high, and the garden doesn't quite know what to do with itself. There have been a few glorious days, as always, but it's hard to know what's in store.

I take the weather personally, of course. Pathetic fallacy was coined with me in mind. You can see it in my nature-inspired paintings. So, it's been good weather for painting, but not so good for our veggie garden. 

Nevertheless,  our fig tree (the one that's directly descended from the Garden of Eden tree), has been the most prolific it has ever been. Plump figs just bursting with sweetness. Beautiful to behold and incredible to taste. 

I brought some figs inside and placed them at the center of two botanically-inspired paintings that suggest to me botanical maps or the inner networks of plants. Putting the figs there just seemed the right thing to do, you know. 
3 figs and 2 paintings by Janet Strayer


My immediate association was "love for three oranges", and I remain hopeful someone will set this fig-composition to music!

When not eating figs, I've been busy getting work ready to go to the Pender Island show. Regretfully, I won't be able to attend the opening with my fellow artists because I'll be in Seattle for an anniversary. But I raise a toast to a fine show and some fine wine to enjoy with it!
Enjoy all you can.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Island-Hopping Art

Saturna Island, a little-known wonder of the world, is home ot many creative people... as you might imagine it to be. Yesterday, for example, I went to a book-launching  for the first novel published by a friend and neighbor, Lyne Gareau. Her book, La  librarie des Insomniacs, written (and currently available) in French, will no doubt soon be available in English as well. The launching was held at a gorgeous and locally well-known spot at Saturna's east-most point, the FAB building, a Saturna Heritage Site.
photo by:http://saturnaheritage.ca/node/10

Another creative event is coming soon. In this one, Saturna Island shares a bit of the spotlight with its neighbor, another of the very special southern Gulf Islands (an archipelago west of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia,

A group of artists from Saturna has been invited to show their artwork at the Sea Star Vineyards on Pender. Island  This vineyard has been making a good name for its wine ... and for its art exhibitions.




I'll be including a few paintings with the other Saturna Island artists mentioned in the poster  (original painters, photographers, textile artists) from Saturna. We're a bunch of interesting individuals. You can find out for yourself at the opening celebration.

 If you have the opportunity to visit during our art exhibition, please raise a toast with us... to ever-inspiring art and creative life!





Thursday, August 2, 2018

Saturna Island Studio Tour 2018

Saturna Island is magical place to visit... and this tour is a very congenial way to meet the creators and see their work in their own studios. You can see original paintings, fabric art, photography, and ceramics, and woodworking. 
Check out the artsaturna.blogspot.ca for full into.
This showcase of the fine creative artists and their work in their studios on Saturna Island has been a an event  for some years. Very different from the mostly crammed studio spaces in city-tours, the studios here are in wonderfully unique rural settings.  You can also see a group show  to give you an overall view of what's in store.
It's a fine time to visit if you can make it! I'll be partiipating and we can meet at the PRISM Gallery  near the ferry dock.

Happy summering.




Saturday, May 26, 2018

PRISM Art Gallery Opens for the Season

June inaugurates my second Spring-Summer season at the PRISM Gallery on beautiful Saturna Island (open weekends and holiday Mondays 11am-5pm).The PRISM is located at a fine little spot near the ferry dock and pub, so you can drop in and browse when coming, going, or lingering.  

The new show features my paintings of fabulous faces.I love faces. They are like windows from which we look at others and others look inward into us. Faces fascinate if you just look. But we're not supposed to look, and certainly not to let our gaze linger. Perhaps that's why I especially love to paint faces-- real and imagined.You get to look and linger and see inside as well as out.  

These imagined faces I've painted come from fables (hence they are fabulous), dreams, reveries, and idiosyncratic amalgams of people known or created. Mostly female because I am.
 

I've used a range of styles for different purposes:Sometimes the idea (or abstract concept) of a face is what I'm seeking, so I've painted in an abstract style.Other times it's the emotive quality of faces, so I've painted expressively to catch this aspect.Yet other times it's the narrative quality of faces, the stories they hold within them, so I've painted what I think and feel the narrative might be. Themes expressed in these works include the links between human and animal, child and doll/puppet, and the beyond.






Saturna Island is filled with a variety of wonderful artists and crafts-people. Each has his or own studio, which I'm happy to help you locate. My own working studio seems a bit hard for many people to reach, so I've opened this new spot to welcome you to my artwork.

The B&Bs and camping spots on Saturna are well recommended and range across preferences and budgets. Plan a get-away here if you can. And include a visit to the PRISM.




Sunday, April 1, 2018

Sorrento and Naples

Sorrento was our reward after our grueling stay in Matera during an unexpected snowfall. What a lovely and welcome site it was to come out of the harsh precipice and slippery cavernous streets there and into this still cold but sunny seaside town. Nothing could be more of a contrast than our experience of this same morning in Matera and evening in Sorrento. 
Vesuvius through Minervetta hotel window (Janet Strayer photo)
A bit broken by our recent adventures, we lay in the luxury of a fine little hotel in Sorrento, looking out our huge window at Vesuvius. This day was another reminder of the dramatic contrasts of Italy. 
View of Vesuvius, Naples and Seagull over bay (from our window)
 We had treated ourselves to this boutique hotel once previously: the Minervetta, a small and beautifully architected modern white house standing several stories along the slope.
The interior and all rooms are individually decorated with professional but also delightfully eclectic care, with wonderful art pieces and good books and magazines in all private rooms and in the hugely comfortable lounge and corridors. It's a feast for eyes and senses.





 












We stayed in Sorrento but took the train into Naples -- that city that eats cars, among other things. Every guide-book screams NOT to take your car into Naples and expect to get it back intact. Driving in the city is lawless. Every guide-book, as well as some city notices, also warns of pickpockets. We know: we'd been hacked by nimble fingers on previous trips.

I like Naples, that overwhelmingly noisy and grungy city that has too much of everything unrefined. Since reading Elena Ferrante's books, starting with My Brilliant Friend, I felt a bit more personal connection to Naples . Not that I'd take anything for granted there. 

It was just going to be a "look-around, make it easy" kind of day. We ended up just strolling busy old streets, with construction repairs going on all over the city center. It was fun window-shopping along the main streets from the train station, no visible signs to guide us. Each of these main streets branched into many little side-streets, each devoted to different products. One was filled with presepi, originally Christmas manger scenes in miniature, now extended to include whole village populations and activities involving moving parts. The sculptural quality of some of the people depicted was really quite good. Another little street was fitted with lovely old chocolate shops, another with embroidery and sewing shops and outside stalls. Probably anything could be found, if you knew where to look. Except maybe your car.
Cloister, Sta. Chiara, Naples (photos Janet Strayer)

 We ended up at the massive complex of Santa Chiara (monastery, church, tombs, archaeological museum, cloisters), built in early 1300's by the Queen of Majorca and her husband, King Robert of Naples. Too much, too big, and the architecture, well, just too heavy .... so we settled for a visit only to its famed cloisters. 
You'd think nuns from the Follies Bergère might have strolled there. Huge frescoes (now very damaged by time and war) decorated all the walls, and every inch of unplanted area is filled with decorated majolica tiles. The cloister, transformed in 18th C. grand Rococo style, is a brashly colorful floral decor. One wonders what kinds of contemplative thoughts this lavish decor inspired in cloistered nuns. The frescoes (the remains of those still visible now) are all religious in theme, but the tiles decorating the perimeter foundations of the pillared cloisters show bucolic scenes of country life beside the sea. 









photos Janet Strayer







Walking down from Santa Chiara we came to our final destination in Naples: one of six top-rated pizzerias (by Michelin) in a city famous for its great pies. We ate in the last room of the plain, white-tiled L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele. This place serves just two types of wood-fired pizza, but there's no need for more. We had one of each.
 




street view, Sorrento winter, Janet Strayer photo








We walked back to the train station, having walked about 6 miles in Naples that day. The train was packed with commuters. It was dark outside by now, with the train travelling through tunnels and above ground. Every now and then the train doors opened and, though you could not see them, you could smell the scent of oranges in winter.  

It was a good trip.


 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Oldest Inhabited Cave-City in Europe: Matera, Italy


We are now at a very unusual place, located on the instep of Italy's boot.

Matera, a very unusual city in Basilicata (Lucania), is thought to be the oldest continuously-inhabited settlement in Europe (over 9,000 years). It also had the distinction of being one of the most deprived and impoverished areas in Italy until the latter part of the 20th century. 

looking across gorge from Sassi, Matera (Janet Strayer close-up photo zoom)
The oldest, most interesting part of Matera contains the Sassi (the Rocks), two areas along a precipice deposited on either side of a gorge. This highly porous limestone resulted in many caves and houses dug into the precipices. It is the ancient and continuous habitation of these caves and dwellings in the Sassi that finally put Matera on the map. It is now a designatied UNESCO site (click link for what we missed).

We picked a bad time to go to Matera. But it was the time we had free, and we'd made reservations online (non-refundable).  It was just overcast and drizzling,  when we left Lecce. And Basilicata province borders Lecce, so how much worse could it get? No big deal. But rain turned to big, wet smudges of snow on the windshield as we neared Matera. In fact, we'd picked one of the worst times to travel. Today's headline (Feb. 26 as I write in Matera) from The Guardian International Edition reads:"Beast from the east' brings snow and frosty weather across Europe: Schools closed and transport disrupted as temperatures plunge across continent" 

Travelling keeps you optimistic though. I think this is because you have to keep going, in any case; so you lower the bar of your expectations or you reframe them. OK, we were likely not to take the tour we'd wanted up and down and in and out of the many caves in what's known as the Sassi districts, and we were not going to see the famed Byzantine-frescoed cave sites scattered throughout the precipices forming the Sassi. But at least we were going to see a possibly more "genuine" Matera in all its cold and wet and grey reality. We would experience a very small bit of what the winter (one day of it, anyway) was like for those who had lived here year round ... and under much worse conditions than a pre-heated hotel room! So, with our re-booted expectations held firmly much lower than we'd originally hoped, we travelled onward.

A few kilometers before we reached Matera, we saw some strange out-croppings of eroded rocks and barren land that could be imagined as moonscapes. It had a very harsh attraction, even (or especially) on this overcast day that blocked out sky and sun. But, like other travellers, we were intent upon having our modern troglodyte experience.

Many years ago, we'd been to Cappadocia in Turkey, a similarly eroded landscape that also had archaeological traces of  Neolithic cave settlement (but were no longer lived-in). It also contained interesting frescoes tucked into oddly shaped caves in the rocks. But that was in the light of the sun. We'd even bathed our feet in thermal springs there. 

Sassi, Matera (Janet Strayer photo, Feb 26, 2018)
No such luck here and now. It was bleak when we got to Matera.The temperature was about -5 C. It felt even colder walking around the Sassi. The wind blew smacks of wet snow at us. All around us was cold stone and highly porous  rock. There was nowhere to go. Nearly everything was sensibly closed. Only a handful of  bundled-up people were visible, all of us taking photos with gloves on. This could get claustrophobic, I thought,  as I had to watch my steps along the very slippery stone pavements and steps along the rockface. Everything in stone and everything leading to more stone strata , now with houses (once caves) tucked into the porous rocks. Looking down, more stone precipice. 

 
This worn and harsh terrain is the landscape used for biblical dramas like Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) and  Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004), as well as the Amazon's city in Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman (2017). There is something other-worldly in its severity and lack of softness. Many have  taken what shelter they could in its many caves. And some have been exiled  here.
Carlo Levi, self portrait (part of painting)
This area became home to Carlo Levi, the Italian-Jewish doctor, painter, writer (Christ Stopped At Eboli), and activist who was exiled near here as an anti-Fascist political prisoner. Levi's penetrating description of the daily hardships and deplorable conditions experienced by the often starving, malaria-infested, and stalwart people who endured in this region helped to propel the inequities of Italy's southern regions to national and international attention after WW II. He likened the rock-faced, funnel-like Sassi of Matera to the imagined landscape of Dante's hell. 



the day before the snow hit hard: a piazza in the Sassi, photo by Janet Strayer
Matera now is nothing like the rawness of Levi's description. But neither is it a gentrified place.
night in the Sassi before the snowfall, from screened window in our room, Janet Strayer photo
It seems still to be evolving, with greater cross-Italian and international interest, re-settlement, improved housing conditions and hotels, as well as re-vitalized communities. The once disgraceful state of living conditions here have now been converted into a unique heritage site for the world to see. The New Yorker published an interesting article in 2015 about Matera from the perspective of its locals past and present. As it always does, progress has come at the price of loss.

A national embarrassment, the Italian government in the 1950's forcibly relocated Matera's cave inhabitants to more modern quarters, a move that lacerated their local culture while aimed at improving conditions.
Cathedral atop Sassi precipice in Matera (Janet Strayer photo)
Subsequently, people, including those with means, started moving back into the Sassi, renovating it, and now the European Union supports it with investment and tourism.
This remains a site that, in the midst of improvements, well remembers its recent past, visible in historical records and videos, and always in the landscape itself. It is a place worth knowing, but it is not a pleasant place in my regard.
ceiling of our room in Sassi of Matera, Janet Strayer photo
We'll remember our visit for several reasons.The night we slept in the Sassi, we felt the coldness of the place, its unforgiving harshness, its stories, its ghosts. The wet snow that greeted our arrival turned overnight into a steady accumulated snowfall. The power went out in our room (we were the only guests). The caretaker served breakfast the next morning and told us to get on the move pronto, before they closed the roads. Trouble was, I felt awful. I'd hit my head at night, without remembering it, and the pillow was bleeding. No vehicles could come get us here. We'd have to walk in the snow to a main piazza, and maybe there we could find a cab to take us to the covered lot where we'd left our car before entering the Stassi.  Not on your life.

Backback and bag in tow, we did our best. Me, with toilet tissue inside my hat that padded my bloody head, and with a stick (a mop handle) I'd taken from the courtyard to help me balance. My partner carried most of our load in his backback. We couldn't find the piazza, having taken one of the many possible wrong turns in the Sassi. We slipped and fell on the slick and slanted stone walks, with snow falling in our eyes. We knew we couldn't be  far from the piazza, but we also knew by now that there would be no cabs (that was part of another world). There was nothing I wanted more right then than to get out of this god-forsaken stone maze. Dante's hell came to my mind, just as it had to Carlo Levi.

We trod down another dispirited route, weary and sore, as a truck was inching its way down the road. Angels picked us up. They were stone-masons who'd been working inside the Cathedral and were going home to their nearby town before the roads closed. They didn't know Matera, but did their best to drive us to the parking lot. Mercy.

It was the wrong parking lot. And it took us even further away from where we'd parked. We discovered this as we wandered around looking for our car. A woman noticed we'd been circling the lot on foot several times. We'd thought this was the only covered parking lot in Matera, but she told us there was another. It was much too far to walk, especially under these conditions. She resolutely escorted us to the police, located on an upper floor of the parking lot, telling us in as much Italian dialect as we could understand that this was absolutely what must be done to get us out of here.

So there we sat in the police station hallway for several hours. At least we were out of the snow and could drink some water. A female officer told me I should go to the hospital, seeing my blood-matted hair (I'd tried to clean it, but the wound kept opening and hurt to touch). Nope, all I wanted to do was get out, thanks. No police cars available. All roads were a mess. We waited, limp in the corridor, deciding that our fate was sealed: we'd have to spend a wretched night in any place that would give us a room, even in the poke. Several hours later, one very, very kind and competent officer told us he'd managed to order a police car from somewhere. He and his partner drove us through chaotic streets to our car. Mercy again.

We made it out, inching our way among the other cars to the highway. It was a rough drive out, but here we are. And now it has become our own true story of a winter night in Matera. 
 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Southern Italy's Other Playground: the Gargano Peninsula

We're now walking on the spur atop Italy's stiletto heel: the Gargano Peninsula. Rivalling the Amalfi coast (Italy's justly famous Ionian shoreline south of Naples), the Gargano, is located northeastward, on Italy's Adriatic coast, across Albania. Like the Amalfi, this region is a seaside playground, particularly well visited in warm weather by Italians and international tourists for its scenic beaches and resort life. Now in wintertime, we get to see it somewhat differently.

The Gargano is a unique place.  If the Amalfi is known to be precious and somewhat like the  French Riviera in its established high-hill towns and sense of luxury, the Gargano is a rough-hewn jewel. It's much newer to tourists. And much more rugged in its scenic but unpretentious towns settled atop jagged cliffs. Old fishing structures, crudely built but still in use can be found long the rocky shores. Its unspoiled fishing villages are acquiring some reknown, yet none has been made as famous as Picasso's Antibes. Here's your chance, artists!
fishing structure, Gargano, photo credits
The Gargano is about a 4+ hours drive from Lecce, where we're located. On the drive, you get to see the transition from flatlands to highlands as the ocean shifts from grey-blue to turquoise, even on this cloudy day.

We're staying overnight in the small fishing town of Peschici. It was harrowing trying to maneuver the car along impossibly narrow alleyways within the old ramparts of town. We got our car stuck between abutting stone houses. I should have taken a photo, but I was too busy. Within seconds, locals appeared from nowhere, giving us advice and hand signals on how to get turned around. One of the women asked if I spoke Spanish. Luckily, yes. Turns out we both spoke it better than Italian.Yet, whatever the language: Italian, Spanish, or hand signals, we were royally stuck! After about 20 minutes of what seemed like forever, we got unstuck (leaving a momentous scratch on the car). Everyone except Renault was happy.

view from our room, cloudy day, Peschici, Gargano Peninsula (Janet Strayer)
Our refuge for the night the Locanda al Castello, is right inside the castle walls,. We can see the sea from our window. Here, I feel how much of travelling ( in contrast to tourism), is not so much about seeing the sights. The sights here now are, well, so-so. But the experience of being here is what makes the visit worth it. Walking the town in its simplicity, knowing we're the odd strangers, yet comfortable in how everyone treats us. The next day is Sunday and the kids are dressed in costumes, with confetti on the streets, a party having just ended. I felt too much an intruder to take photos of all that. Still, some kids spoke to us, as open and friendly in their curiosity about us as we were about being here, in their everyday town.

Nothing fancy here. All is as it should be: impressively wild terrain, the windswept sea, the capricious sun going in and out from among the clouds, a distinct chill in the air but a cozy room, and welcoming hosts in the family that has run our locanda for several generations.We had planned to drive further and explore more that day, but we were very glad to abandon our now parked car. Instead, we ate a good meal, with all the family (young children to nonna) eating at nearby table. Then, as the sun set, we just walked around this now very quiet village. 

We learned there is hunting in the nearby hills (deer, wild boar). And there's fishing, of course,  as well as nature walks and beaches to explore. There are nearby camping spots for vehicles, cabins in the woods, and cabanas on the beach. No wonder this region is a haven away from the cities in the scorching summer. But I prefer it now, without the crowds and the summer beach-lounges lining the sand. Perhaps it's not as beautiful now as when the sun-dazed sand and sea glitter in your eyes, but there's a simple contentment in all we've seen and partaken.
Vieste, with view to its cardinal hat's cathedral top, Janet Strayer photo
The next day we travelled to nearby Vieste, a much larger city. This is one of the white cities you see on clifftops as you travel the Gargano. We saw it from the car as a wide expanse of white atop a winding, tree-lined, road. The road is as narrow, and with hairpin turns as tight, as the corniches on the Mediterranean coastline to Monaco. Which makes me think the car is like that little ball on the roulette wheel. Something I'd avoid at night if I could.

photos of Vieste by Janet Strayer
The city of Vieste is a city of steps, as are most towns we visited in the Gargano. Defying physics, they seem to go up more than down.  Built high atop the cliffs from the sea, the city keeps going up until you reach its perched castle, now housing the Italian military and off-limits. No problem. By this time we were ready to descend into the town piazza for a macchiato. I enjoyed hearing stories from the café owner (who had lived in London years ago and liked speaking English ). He told us a bit about the town's past and Padre Pío, the district's famous priest and mystic with stigmata. He was popularly venerated while still alive, but  also harshly criticised in and outside of ecclesiastical circles. He very controversially entered sainthood ((Saint Pio of Pietrelcina) after his death in 1968,  and his devotional writings are cherished by many.
Vieste looking at Adriatic from walk down from its castle top
As we peeked over to the Adriatic while walking down to our car, we said our silent farewells  to Vieste. And onward we drove to our last destination in the Gargano: Monte Sant'Angelo.

entrance to the grotto of Archangelo Michele (photo by Janet Stayer)
This small town is the place I found most interesting on this excursion to the Gargano Peninsula, and one well worth a visit. Monte Sant'Angelo is a famed pilgrimmage site from medieval times onward, along the route from Mont Ste. Michel in France. Here, the shrine to St. Michael the Archangel is easily spotted atop the town. It houses the grotto which marks the spot where the Archangel Michael is said to have left a footprint. I didn't know angels had physical feet, but so it goes.

A rather small couryard and building set atop the town mark the spot. In this courtyard, above a gated entry to an outside path, sits acrowned skull, a reminder perhaps of mortals facing their outer limits.
photos by Janet Strayer

It is hard to imagine what you will see after you enter the building, given it looks fairly typical of its time and not very elaborate. But visitors are duly warned by this inscription (below). Be careful as you enter, for the sign inscribed in Latin above the portal says: Terrible (Awesome) is this place, here is the house of God and the portals of heaven (my loose translation).
inscribed above shrine of Saint Michael in Monte Sant'Angelo (Janet Strayer photo)
 Among the illustrious pilgrims to this ancient site are kings, popes, and (no doubt) rock stars. As you enter the shrine, the steps are wide and broad, and you can go down the grotto steps easily. Not so for dedicated pilgrims who have proceeded on their knees.













There is an active chapel in the grotto, with a service in attendance during our visit. Its outer doors are ancient bronze ones made in Constantinople. Along the way are also a museum and shop among several stopping points.

But most of all, I liked the experiene of the grotto itself, with its golden walls and sense of mystery.
Chapel dedicated to St. Michael in grotto of Sant'Angelo (Janet Strayer photo)

As in so many of our travels, one often finds sanctified places of one culture built upon formerly sanctified places of another culture. It is said that this grotto, sacred to many Catholic pilgrims, is the site of what once was a sacred spring to others -in times beyond record. As for me, this grotto in this time (without pilgrims or even many visitors) was a fine experience, peaceful and profound in its silence and setting. 

Altogether, this trip to the Gargano Peninsula was quite remarkable. As we drove through the romantically named Foreste Ombre (Forest of Shadows), and down again through the winding hair-pin turns of the Gargano cliffs to the flatlands below, we were headed for home by nightfall.
gotta lov'em cherubs, Janet Stayer photo
A lovely trip, and also nice to be back home in our lovely city of Lecce, where more cherubs await us!

We have a few more 'must-see' spots to visit before we regretfully must leave southern Italy, and I'll post them after this one. One is Matera, for sure, cited as the (or at least one of the) oldest continuously inhabited settlement/cave-dwellings on earth, which we've never seen. Another is Sorrento with a train to Naples, both of which we have seen and need to see again.

By the time you get to read these new posts, however, we'll already be travelling in the Balkans on a trip with my partner's orchestra. I'll keep some notes and photos for that journey as well. You never know what you'll encounter when travelling, do you?

Happy trails on your own journeys.