Category Archives: Art

A Sojourn in Sicily – Part 1

Traveling to Europe from Austin is usually an adventure unto itself, and this trip was no exception.

We’d opted to fly in/out of Houston to avoid the missed or much-too-lengthy connections that occur when landing somewhere else in the US.

After a last-minute switch of hotels (note to airport travelers: do not book the Houston airport Holiday Inn, which is filthy and reeks of smoke!), we check in at the airport Marriott and have dinner at highly recommended Chez Nous in nearby Humble. I learn that the town is pronounced “umble” – perhaps to avoid the obvious jokes about pie?

The meal is excellent and we’re off to a good start.

Next morning, we check in for our flights: Houston to Newark and then on to Milan. Board the plane, settle in, and… nothing happens. After three “we’ll be slightly delayed” announcements we’re told of a “mechanical issue” (airline code for “we have no freakin’ clue what’s wrong”) and herded off the plane to scramble for new flights, as many on board are clearly going to miss their connection.

Several hours later we’re en route to Munich, where we’ll connect via Lufthansa to Milan. We arrive safely – still shivering from the insanely cold airplane – way behind schedule. Our luggage does not.

This necessitates another hour filling in paperwork while the lost luggage clerk tries to figure out whether United or Lufthansa is responsible for locating it and getting it to the hotel before we leave for our next destination.

BUT, intrepid travelers that we are, we head to our hotel, the very lovely Grand Hotel Et De Milan, and set off wandering this sophisticated and stylish city.

Day 1

Since we’re both opera fans, the main reason we’ve stopped in Milan this trip is to see a performance at La Scala the following night. Today, we head over to the opera house museum, which is pretty much a shrine to Maria Callas, patron saint of warblers worldwide. There are costumes, posters, videos, photos, portraits, you name it. Also set and costume designs from various other performances.

We scarf down a delicious dinner of trenette with pesto and cacio e pepe (here’s one recipe, though it’s even simpler and better if you use grated cacio cheese, olive oil, pasta water and freshly ground pepper) at nearby ristorante Salumiao, which we like so much we eat there the next night as well.

Day 2

Having been awakened at 1 a.m. by my dear husband (DH) who was obsessing about the missing luggage and wanting me to call someone (who in god’s name is working at that hour? but sure, why not!), I’m not as rested as I could be. Still, off we go to walk around and shop for a shirt and tie for DH to wear to La Scala in case the bags don’t arrive (it’s looking bleak).

Best discovery of the day: Museo Novecento, showcasing major art movements from 1910-1960’s, including some interesting political pieces.

After an afternoon drink at the hotel bar we return to our room to change for the opera and – mirabile dictu – bags have arrived!

At La Scala we see a silly opera (Von Weber’s Die Freischutz; about a hapless suitor, magic bullets, and the devil) with pleasant, mostly forgettable music, but we share a box with a nice couple and can now cross it off DH’s bucket list.

Days 3-6

We take the train to Florence – our 4th visit to this beautiful city, which is sadly overrun with selfie-stick-brandishing tourists even in October. Our hotel (a private palazzo nicely located near the Duomo) turns out to be lovely despite its unprepossessing exterior: ancient gate/courtyard with faint “eau de urine” from generations of animals and a dirty welcome mat in front of the battered industrial elevator which takes you upstairs to …

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Some highlights: Eating at Del Fagioli and Alla Vecchia Bettola, admiring fresh vegetables at the market and frescos at the Pitti Palace and Santa Maria Novella, and window shopping on the Ponte Vecchio,”considering” whether we need to buy the Buccellati lifelike silver crab serving dish that’s “only” 3600 euros after the VAT refund. Hey, let’s take two!

Day 7: Arrival in Sicily!

Alitalia seamlessly transfers our luggage from Florence to Rome to Palermo (take note, United!), where our Stanley Tucci lookalike driver takes us to our modern (aka no frills) hotel at 11:30 pm. I’d bought a sandwich to eat on the plane but DH has not eaten – he’s been fighting a cold and wasn’t hungry until now– and dines on minibar bottles and potato chips. Who says travel isn’t glamorous!

Next up: Palermo….

Mama’s Got a Brand New Bag – And You Should, Too!

As many of you know, I love using my small platform to introduce you to people whose work I respect. This week, I’m delighted to share the gorgeous handcrafted designs of the very talented Bernice Angelique.

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I’ve can’t remember how/where I first saw her bags — I think I was researching “genuine ostrich bags” online — but eventually we started corresponding. One thing led to another and now I have two of her beautiful (and amazingly well-priced) bags and always get compliments on their simple yet sophisticated lines. Their appeal to me is much more than skin deep because unlike a lot of designers (including most stratospheric-priced name brands) hers are lined with suede instead of fabric. Luxury through and through.

A quick note about ostrich: the quills (bumps) are where feathers are removed during the tanning process. Ostrich leather is extremely durable and softens over time, retaining both its beauty and value. Just like us!

After graduating from the London College of Fashion, Bernice launched her brand in 2011 with a focus on exotic but affordable leather in clean, architectural shapes and an absence of gimmicks.

Hand made in Cape Town, South Africa, Bernice Angelique leather goods use the highest quality ostrich leather, hardware and techniques. She’s recently changed her business model to focus solely on custom-made bags. (Below, bags in progress.)

This means not only consistent quality control but lower prices as well. Win-win!

As she notes on her website, sustainability, empowerment and a desire to support local trade are the foundations of the brand. The leather is all locally sourced, providing employment to South African artisans. And the tannery, Klein Karoo, also sells the meat – primarily exporting to France and complying with strict international standards in every aspect of their business.

I asked Bernice to share some of her experiences with us.

 

What has been your biggest challenge? Oh my! Just one?!? Well, I would have to say keeping the belief alive and never losing sight of my dream. It’s challenging to hold on tightly to your dreams through all the ups & downs, but my mom always told me growing up, “Slow and steady wins the race!” I remind myself of this through the challenging times and just keep persevering.

Can you share any funny stories from the “early days”? One memory I have goes way back to before I even started the business. It was during my time at London College of Fashion, and I was just being introduced to handbag crafting. The first handbag I ever made was a complete disaster…but nevertheless, I knew that this was what I wanted to do!

What are your hopes for the brand in the future? I am so fulfilled now with how I’ve been able to structure the business. I would love to continue to craft custom handbags for women around the world. My time designing and crafting in my studio is my magical escape and I find it absolutely amazing that I get to share this magic with such wonderful women from around the world.

What are the biggest rewards? My biggest reward would have to be that I feel that I live an authentic life, as I am able to fully express who I am through my work. I feel that if one loves what one does, it just filters into the rest of your life and relationships.

The newly revamped Bernice Angelique website shows most of the new styles with chain straps and embellishment. If you prefer a leather strap or a single color, as I do (I love my Temptress, below: 340 GBP/about $450) just send her a message.

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Everything is bespoke, i.e. made to order and personal to you. For instance, you can have a longer strap made if you’re very tall or want the option to wear a shoulder style as a cross-body. In her own words, “I love getting to know each client and crafting a specific piece just for her. I treasure the unique.”

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And if an older style featured in the “News” section of the website catches your eye, ask about that as well; she may be able to revive something from the archives just for you.

Try getting that level of service from an ordinary store!

Bernice has generously created a special 10% discount for readers of this blog. Check out online with code BLOG10. You deserve it.

She’s now added Nile crocodile to the line, available in 60 colors with a matte or glazed (shiny) finish. Fabulous! A croc Provocatrix may be my next purchase.

xo, Alisa

(An unsponsored post, as always. Just a company I admire and believe in!)

The Five Best Things About Living With An Artist

This Father’s Day post is dedicated to my husband, who has sketched and painted all his life. Although “artist” is not his official job title, that’s fundamentally who he is. He also happens to be a wonderful father to his two daughters and a terrific stepfather to my daughter and son — an art unto itself.

Lest we get overly sentimental, I would like to point out that living with an artist is not all beer and skittles, as my mother used to say. Bear in mind that certain sacrifices are called for.

The five worst things about living with an artist:

  1. There’s at least one sink that is never clean
  2. It’s really hard to wash dry paint off someone’s clothes
  3. You have to be diplomatic if they create something you hate – and then you still have to live with it
  4. You have to learn to interpret grunts as conversation when they’re in the middle of working
  5. Painting the bathroom (or anywhere else in the house) holds no allure whatsoever

But on the plus side,

  1. You always have beautiful work around you
  2. Your partner understands the value of alone time
  3. An artist finds an aging person interesting rather than repellant
  4. An artist appreciates silence
  5. An artist is inspired by variety so he or she is never boring

Some recent work, featuring “unloved buildings”:

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Happy Father’s Day to all the inspiring men in our lives!