Thursday, May 26, 2011

Report from Bellagio

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Lake Como
Watercolour postcard triptych
©2000 Charlene Brown

On May 27, 2000, we visited San Gimignano, a pretty little Medieval village between Florence and Siena, where they claim to have invented skyscrapers eight hundred years ago – and there they all are, still standing! The stonework and architecture are really wonderful to look at, but an amazing number of people seemed to have found out about the place since I’d first seen it in 1988 – we had to deal with an awful lot of world class competitive parking professionals.
Our next destination was supposed to be the Ligurian Coast – Cinque Terre villages and Portofino, then on to the Toulouse area, via the Riviera. Here is what happened instead…
Somehow we missed the Pisa exit from the autostrada, and I was still looking for it when I realized we were a third of the way to Bologna – non-stop viaducts and tunnels and, as far as I know, no turning back (remember these were the dark days before translation-apps). By the time we got to Bologna, then west to Parma where we were going to turn south to get back to the coast, I had remembered that the best parts of the Cinque Terre are only accessible by rail and that driving to Portofino might now be about like Sorrento (well no, nothing could be that bad!) and we decided to go to Lake Como instead.
We picked Bellagio as it looked nicely situated at the north point of the peninsula between the two branches of the lake. Eventually, after a short drive straight up from Bellagio, we found the ultimate apartment, with a 180-degree view of about 15 villages along the shore and up the cliffs, backed by the snow-capped peaks of the Swiss border surrounding the north end of the lake.  It took me these three postcards to fit in the whole panorama!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Virtual Paintout on the Côte d'Azur

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Ave. de Verdun, Eze, Alpes-Maritimes
Watercolour and CP
©2011 Charlene Brown

The Virtual Paintout is on the spectacular French Riviera this month, and locations all the way from St. Tropez east to the Italian border may be painted. On Google Streetview, I headed immediately for Eze, as I remembered lunch in a spectacularly located restaurant on a cliff near there about 12 years ago.  Of course, I encountered the usual Google Streetview problem – they were unable to get their camera car into that particular restaurant… but what I also noticed was that you get a much better view of everything visible from the road than you do if you’re actually there!  I mean, think about how much gawking around you’d do if you were really driving on this or any of the winding routes along the Côte d'Azur Here’s a link to location I selected (You'll need to pan the camera a little to the right to take in all of the view I’ve included here.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Report from Pompeii

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Vesuvius from Pompeii
Watercolour and crayon
©2011 Charlene Brown

We left Lago di Garda planning to get as far south as we could so as to have an easy day’s drive to Sorrento the next day.  Here is what happened instead… We found a perfect place overlooking Lago di Balsena, quite by accident. Driving right through the town we’d planned to find a B+B in because nothing was quite right, we continued on only because there was nowhere to turn around… and there it was, hanging off the top of a cliff!  We had our own huge balcony with a panoramic view of the sunset over a couple of islands, and the place had a great restaurant too. As my husband said, over the best scaloppini I’d ever tasted, “They’re going to have to come up with a pretty awful breakfast to get me to leave this place after only one night!” We did in fact stay an extra day before heading south again.
We by-passed Rome and Naples and sped directly down the Autostrada del Sole to the base of the Bay of Naples… and what a horrific traffic malfunction the whole Sorrento Peninsula turned out to be! We discovered we had an air re-circulater in the AC, so managed to avoid asphyxiation in the tunnels, but the air outside wasn’t much better, what with all the scooters, trucks, and tour buses, with everyone else operating on the flying wedge principle.  And that was a Thursday! What was the weekend going to be like? We not only didn’t stay there, we didn’t even slow down much as we did a U-turn and headed back to Pompeii.
Pompeii was pretty impressive, especially with Vesuvius still looming in the distance. I took lots of pictures, but no painting as we headed back north after just one day. 
I just painted ‘Vesuvius, from Pompeii’ this week. using a couple of those photos. It reminds me of a picture of the Jebel Akhdar at a similar ruin at Ptolemais in Libya.  I wrote about that one a couple of years ago

Friday, May 13, 2011

Report from Venice

 A quiet corner of the Grand Canal
Watercolour and crayon
©2011 Charlene Brown

Continuing our European Grand Tour, which began with my Report from Prague  ... We arrived in Italy on May 18, and stayed one night in Cortina, where we woke up to find everything covered in snow – ironic, in that the reason for heading to Italy from Sweden was so we could be sure it would be warm. The snow slowed our descent to the autostrada for the journey south – not because there was any left on the road by the time we got going, but because as the cloud lifted, the glistening white mountains were so sensational that we had to stop anywhere the road was wide enough to take pictures! (Remember, this was in the dark days before affordable digital cameras, and you couldn’t just shoot continuously from a moving vehicle in the hope of getting a few good pictures).
We headed down to Lago di Garda to stay for a few days, arriving to see windsurfers crossing the lake at horrifying speeds propelled by gale-force winds! Oddly enough, the next day we were having lunch at San Zeno di Montagnes high above the mirror-like surface of the lake, watching about fifty tiny sailboats trying to have a race… Or maybe it was a synchronized sailing display, because that’s all they did for the three hours we managed to make lunch last – line up in various directions and hold each position for about fifteen minutes.
One day we left the car in Garda and took a day-trip to Venice, where a gondola ride was included in the tour. This turned out about like you’d expect… Because my husband is so big, it was thought better if we didn’t actually sit together.  So off we went, with the gondolier standing on the left, me sitting on the right, and my husband in the pointy part up front, facing backwards, leaning to the left or right as required to stabilize the whole manoeuvre as we glided beneath bridges or knifed our way through the other two thousand gondolas in operation that day. Actually it was a pretty terrific day all round and because we got there on a train we got a chance to have a look at the vineyards, orchards and fabulous fluorescent red poppies of the Volpolicello region, instead of just the road or the road map.    

Monday, May 9, 2011

Award Nomination!

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Running in the Rockies
Still from computer-painted video
©2010 Charlene Brown

I’ve just learned my computer-painted video, Running around North America,  has been nominated for an award at a student film festival taking place May 14 in Vancouver! 
In the festival listing, I described the making of this video, in a five-day session at the Gulf Islands Film & Television School, as follows:
Animation is an alarmingly slow process, so I was pretty relieved when I realized that by replicating a short Flash animation and compositing this replication with a ‘green screen’ film clip and some paintings I accessed from my blog, I could actually come up with something that ran for more than a couple of seconds…

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Report from Kranjska Gora

Triglav National Park, Slovenia
Watercolour postcard
©2000 Charlene Brown

We left Prague May 10 and spent three days getting to Budapest, with stops in Cesky Krumlov (which I painted last year on a virtual repeat visit) and Melk in Austria. We climbed up to the Melk Abbey, an awe-inspiring place, and the most extremely baroque church you could ever hope to find, but my husband didn’t get far inside the place – his hiking boots made so much noise on the polished wood floors he carefully squawked and squealed his way to the back pew and stayed there. 
Besides the expected attractions of Buda and Pest, there was a (then) new place, Szobor Park. Unlike other formerly-communist countries, which have mainly dumped their Soviet-style sculptures, Hungary has gathered them all together in one place, and it’s quite an impressive sight. I mean, some of those hummers are huge!
Heading west after Budapest, we found a wonderful pension, high up in the vineyards and orchards overlooking Lake Balaton –the first time we’d actually followed our plan to just stop whenever we saw a perfect place – and decided to stay a couple of days. While there we visited Heviz, a huge thermal lake, to ‘take the waters,” which we shared with water-lilies, quite a lot of floating moss, algae, a few hundred other people and ducks. Spent three hours floating around contemplating the many flights overhead and trying to agree on which might be EK001, EK035, and EK016 out of Dubai.
When we left Hungary we were unable to obtain any Slovenian money (remember these were the dark days before the Euro was introduced) but proceeded for almost an hour without any difficulty – until we realized we’d been traveling on a toll road! The folks in the tool booth were not interested in our leftover florints.  They would have accepted Austrian schillings, but we only had 18 of them.  DM and SF would also have been okay but supply buried in suitcases somewhere. Tentatively waved an American $5 which they not only accepted with smiles all round, but gave us 645 tolars change! Next booth, shorter road, paid another $5, got 930 tolars change. Obviously this wasn’t going to be enough for a B+B, so when we reached Kranjska Gora (by turning right just before Ljublyjana and heading toward some great-looking mountains) we took the trouble to find a hotel that accepted Visa.
The second day we drove up to Gorski Prelaz Vrsic, the highest pass in the Julian Alps, and the scenery was about the most spectacular we’d ever seen. In our road atlas the road up the pass was white – same colour as your knuckles if you go up it – which apparently indicates a paved path with squared cobblestones on the near-vertical switchbacks. But it was worth it. Finally painted some postcards here, after our triumphal return from the pass, to the thundering beat of The Best of Communism, a CD we picked up at Szobar Park.