Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Art&Facts from a Broad has moved!

For those of my loyal following, who might be wondering what's up with the silent treatment, here's the excuse/reason: Art&Facts has moved! Well, more like been incorporated into my new 'blogsite', GreyRoutesandTips.com

The site offers all kinds of travel inspiration and information for grownups (meaning, those of us over 45), so if you like this little blog, you're going to love the new site. (how's that for blatant up selling!)

You might also find more inspiration from the destinations page, the gallery (courtesy of hubby Henk who has become quite the photographer!), and even my particular style of grownup accommodation recos.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Dancing a Tango with Tromp l'oeil

The Art:
46-inch Paper Mosaic Artwork from Argentina



The Story:
As much as this looks like a well-loved (read 'damaged') woven shawl mounted in a giant frame, don't be fooled. This is actually a flat piece of paper on which tiny pieces of coloured paper have been glued to create the illusion of a 3-D textile. Complete with shaggy fringe of super-fine strips of paper.

Whaaaaat? 

That's what I said, when I saw it. Actually, when I saw it 4 or 5 times, since I kept returning to the shop in Buenos Aires' San Telmo art and antiques market, where it first caught my attention. It obviously made an impression because once I saw it, I couldn't stop myself from going back to look at it again and again. Every time I was impressed a little more, finding something more beautiful to look at.

Something tells me I'm going to do the same with Buenos Aires. Like the art in the historic market where I found this, BA is a mixture of old and new, antique and unique. Called the 'Paris of South America', its old-world architecture fools you into believing you are in a European city, until you turn the corner and see the strikingly modern skyscrapers that vie equally for your attention. 

My time in Buenos Aires was too limited to give me more than a taste of the history, food, culture, and art that makes this city so engaging. Like it's renowned Tango dancers, Buenos Aires played the tease and left me wanting more. 

But unlike my Argentinian tromp l'oeil artwork, I am under no illusion – I will be back to visit Buenos Aires again. 

The Fact:
The San Telmo market is a Sunday must-do if you like art, antiques, people-watching, tango, cafe culture and music, all squeezed into cobblestone streets full of locals and tourist alike. Plaza Dorrego is at the heart of it all, being the oldest public space in the city, so be sure to take time out to enjoy a drink at one of its cafes.


 



Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Spiritual Side of Shopping

The Art:
Native American "Ghost Shirt"

The Story:
You could say that I had been looking for this shirt for 18 years.

The first time I visited the Southwestern States was in the 90's, travelling by car for 2 weeks over 1500 miles, exploring a landscape that couldn't have felt more alien. Literally. If you've never been to Arizona, New Mexico, or Utah, you should make it a point to visit, because you'll feel like you've landed on another planet.

Montezuma's Castle, south of Sedona
The time-carved mesas and canyons feel ancient, elemental, and their million-year-old history makes your own existence feel insignificant. The native peoples who lived here before us understood this and have a respect and reverence for nature that infuses this part of the world with a spirituality that is palpable.

On my first visit, looking through galleries and shops in Santa Fe and Sedona, I searched for that certain something that represented this feeling but I never found it. But when I found myself back in Sedona in 2012, that certain something found me. In our bed and breakfast, in fact.

When I saw this beautiful shirt hanging in our room, I was immediately smitten, and although it was for sale, I still debated buying it. (It wasn't exactly in the same price bracket as fridge magnets or postcards.) But after literally dreaming about this ghost shirt the night before leaving Sedona, I realized that sometimes there are forces at work that you can't ignore. So I told the owner of the B&B that they would have to find something else to put on their wall.

It may have taken 18 years for me to put it on my own wall, but this hauntingly beautiful piece of art has found its perfect home - in my heart and mind.

The Fact:
Ghost shirts were worn by dancers who believed they were imbued with spiritual powers. The rituals of the ghost dance itself took on many meanings for different tribes, helping to unite tribes from various nations, even ones with a tradition of conflict.








Thursday, 14 March 2013

Toucan travel for the price of one in Costa Rica

The Art:
14 inch hand-painted ceramic plate from Costa Rica


The Story:
When a 5-star destination comes with a 3-star price, what results is one of the most affordable 'luxury' trips you could ever take. That's Costa Rica. This country offers EVERYTHING you could ever want (beautiful geography, active or soft adventure, eco-diversity, unique accommodations, friendly people) and a price that is nowhere near what you would expect to pay elsewhere.

My research started when my then-fiance suggested we join some type of eco-tour, since he had taken one in Costa Rica many years before. Hoping to access some of the local knowledge and expertise, I began my search online for a local tour operator and found Costa Rican Trails. www.costaricantrails.com

Luxury Tarzan-style at Lapa Rios Eco-Lodge





Turns out my options were not limited to group excursions, and instead we ended up with a private, customized tour that took us to some of the most beautiful properties and locations I have ever seen, allowing us to see the country from the Pacific to the Caribbean in only 2 weeks. Our accommodations ranged from jungle eco-lodges that felt like a Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, to front-row views of an active volcano you could see from your bed. We zip-lined, horseback rode, swam under waterfalls and hiked through nature reserves, tasting local fruit at farms by the road, and dipping our hands into hot spring runoff streams. Mornings we woke to brilliant macaws and toucans perched in the treetops outside our room.

We couldn't bring home Costa Rica's exotic flora or fauna, so I brought home this Fruit Loopy plate instead, having spotted it at a nondescript ceramics shop in a small town off the usual tourist routes where we stopped for gas.

Today it hangs in my kitchen not far from the cereal bowls. And every time I look at its painted toucan, I'm reminded of the natural beauty of Costa Rica and the incredible experience that was 2 blissful weeks of "Pura Vida" (pure life).

The Fact:
Criss-crossing Costa Rica in only 2 weeks meant taking a couple of flights on small planes that only hold about 10 passengers. Be aware there is a strict limit to the amount of luggage you can bring with you (30lbs each - including carryon!) So plan what to bring carefully, pack sparingly and do what we did - always fly wearing your hiking boots since they weigh down your bag and take up a lot of room.


Thursday, 7 March 2013

Falling for Fallingwater

The Art:
Frank Lloyd Wright's "Fallingwater" in Pennsylvania

The Story:
If you've ever read Ayn Rand's book, The Fountainhead, you should visit Fallingwater.
If you haven't, you should still visit Fallingwater.

Really.

I was first introduced to FLW when I was a Fine Art student at university, and I went to Buffalo to tour one of his homes. But I really didn't have much of an appreciation for what I was seeing at the time.
Maybe years give you perspective, or maybe you just become more aware of real vision once you realize how rare it is. In any case, fast forward 30 years or so and I found myself on a road trip to Pennsylvania, having made it my mission to see Fallingwater.


Let's start by saying that if you aren't looking for it, you won't accidentaly stumble onto Fallingwater. Located about 90 minutes south of Pittsburgh, you need to drive through the middle of Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands, a beautifully wooded, very hilly part of the state, before you reach the road to the house. It's not that Wright was purposely trying to hide the house – he was just building where the owners already had their country getaway. The fact that there's nothing much around is what adds to the beauty and peacefulness of Fallingwater.

From the first view of the house, cantilevered over a creek terracing into waterfalls, to the built-in sectional couches, this house has been done Wright (pun intended). Whether you call him a control freak, an obsessive perfectionist or an arrogant megalomaniac, Frank Lloyd Wright executed his vision down to the smallest detail, from the integrated rockface fireplace surround to the choice of colour on the modern/retro furniture.

I'm no expert on architecture but visiting this place can't help but elicit descriptors like 'harmonious', 'tranquil', and 'inspiring'. My husband, a contractor, had a more practical perspective, but there was one word we both agreed on: enviable. Because I couldn't help feeling just a little jealous of the Kaufman family that called this place theirs until 1963.

A dream cottage, a work of art, an architectural game-changer? You can decide. All I know is that like Branjelina when they visited, I am smitten.  Maybe not enough to buy my husband a waterfall of his own like Angelina did for Brad, but that's just as well. Because, as my husband assured me - with building restrictions these days, you couldn't build it "to Code".

Well there goes his birthday surprise.

The Fact:
Getting a little 'alone time' with Fallingwater is near impossible if you're not a celebrity. But you can get ahead of the crowds if you book a brunch tour that gets you into the property first and ends with a brunch on one of the terraces. Just be sure to do it during the summer before it gets too cold for dining 'al fresco'.


Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Hangovers and the Art of Negotiation

The Art:
A ceramic statuette from Cancun, Mexico


The Story:
When I heard about a large local arts and crafts market in the town of Cancun, I couldn't resist the opportunity to see a little of what the artisans had to offer, so we headed into town, still hungover from the previous night's tequila games on the beach. Which, as it turned out, actually sharpened my bargaining skills in the market.

Coming from the land of price tags and shopping malls, bargaining wasn't exactly my strong suit; in fact, I was a bargaining virgin lost in a sea of statuettes, jewellery, and pottery, all of which started to look the same to me. I searched through hundreds of what looked like identical trinkets, hoping to find the unusual or something that would distinguish itself as unique in some way. I worried that I would just be wasting money on very commonplace mass-produced pieces. Then I spotted this dusty statuette, high up on a shelf in one market stall, and was convinced that I had located the solitary piece worth bringing home.

That's when my hangover came to my aid: having used up my last bit of energy browsing for this gem, I had no tolerance left for the 'fun' of negotiating, and after a brief exchange with the seller, I told him (completely truthfully) that I was exhausted and needed to leave. Turns out this became my bargaining edge, and the piece was mine for the last price I offered.

The seller cheerfully wrapped up my precious artefact in wads of newspaper, stuffed it into a Kotex shipping box, and tied it all up with multi-coloured lengths of twine. My one-of-a-kind Mayan statuette made it home in one piece (now there's an ad for Kotex protection!) and once installed in my Toronto living room, looked exotic, rare, distinguished, and not at all mass-produced.

The irony?
The piece is not unique, of course. In fact, on a day trip to Chichen Iza later that week, our bus stopped at a gas station/souvenir shop, and there was my Mayan lady, or rather, a dozen of my Mayan ladies, all lined up on the shelf beside the Doritos and Coca-Colas.

None of which matters when I look at her now, because I had learned a valuable lesson: what looks common or ordinary because you see it often or everywhere in another country, is exactly the kind of thing that looks exotic and unusual once you get it home. And if you liked it enough to negotiate for it in the first place, chances are it's worth it for all those reasons and more.

The Fact:
Bargaining is normal in many countries and many situations, and you shouldn't feel like you are taking advantage of anyone because you try to bring the price down. When I need to put my bargaining hat on, I always remember something that my uncle told me:
"No one will let something go for less than he needs to be paid, and nobody buys something for more than they are willing to spend."
So, decide what something is worth to you, and let that be your final price (with or without the hangover).

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Bazaar Impressions of Egypt

The Art:
A coverlet from the Tentmakers' Bazaar in Cairo


The Story:
I think I put off going to Egypt for many years, despite my fascination with it, for one reason: I was intrigued with the world of Ancient Egypt, a world that hadn't existed for 5000+ years. To be honest, I didn't think that modern-day Egypt would impress me, and might, in fact, take away from my expectations.

Wrong-o.

On a two-week trip to this amazing country,  I saw two very different but equally fascinating Egypts (and I'm not talking Upper and Lower). Visiting ancient Egyptian sites is like walking into a History Channel's archaeological dig and discovering quiet, yet monumentally impressive evidence of a wealthy aristocracy long dead.

Modern Egypt, on the other hand, is the opposite: Cairo is loud, very crowded, and very much alive with over 9 million residents. Rural Egypt is poor, yet we met friendly and hospitable people who greeted us with smiles and invitations into their homes, however meagre by our standards.


It was this hospitality that impressed me most - even extending to something as everyday as shopping -  where having tea with the merchant when contemplating a purchase is considered the only civilized way to conduct business.

Unfortunately, I didn't allow enough time for these pleasantries when I set off to the massive bazaar in downtown Cairo. With only a limited amount of time to explore before meeting my tour mates to return to our hotel, I made my destination the Tentmakers' Bazaar, a covered medieval section of the market where shopkeepers sold a particular type of appliqu├ęd textile I had read about, originally used to make tents (hence the name).

Two hours later, I found myself racing through the market, like the crazed foreigner that I was, hurrying to meet my friends at our rendezvous before they left without me. Lots of choices in the bazaar had meant lots of pots of tea, but I made it to the rendezvous point in time, bladder bursting, prize in hand.

Egypt today may not be the same as it was when I was there many years ago, but the lesson I learned is that pre-conceptions about a country shouldn't prevent you from visiting it. While it may be the past glories that attract you, it's often the beautiful things from the present that stay with you, too.

The Fact:
Unless you're really good with signs in foreign languages, (and it doesn't get more foreign than Arabic!), always carry the address of your hotel with you. Not all taxi drivers speak English, and in big cities like Cairo you'd be surprised how many Hotel Cairos there can be. Kind of like saying "I'm staying near the Tim Horton's."