My work travels take me to various cities, where I typically try to squeeze in a bit of culture while I'm there. But today's day-trip to Baltimore and Washington, DC, left no time for that. Alas, I snapped one great picture of the National Mall as we drove by in a cab on the wait to the airport. That's the Jefferson Memorial, honoring the 3rd US President and author of the Declaration of Independence, and behind it the Washington Monument, honoring the 1st US President (and, the world's tallest stone structure!).
One morning I woke up early and hopped in a Cocotaxi (a three-wheeled, two-seater taxi that is like a moped with a fiberglass roof) in order to explore Havana.
It was a nice way to go, because as you can see, it is open-air so I could enjoy all the sights and sounds, and my driver pulled over whenever I wanted to snap a photo. Which was often.
We headed down the Malecon, a broad walkway and seawall that extends 5 miles along the harbor from my hotel in the Vedado District down to Old Havana. It's very popular among locals, who you often see strolling, jogging, socializing, or fishing along its path.
There are several points of interest along the Malecon, many marking historic military figures and events, like this status of a Cuban General on horseback:
And even a monument to the 261 Americans killed by the explosion of the USS Maine, an armored cruiser sent to Havana Harbor in 1898 to protect U.S. interests there during the Cuban revolt against Spain. In all these years, no one has ever come forward to accept responsibility for the attack, which claimed three quarters of the ship's crew. Apparently, there used to be an eagle on top of this monument, but it was removed as too overt a symbol of American Imperialism.
Speaking of which...the nearby José Martí Anti-Imperialist Platform opened in 2000 as a place for the government to hold rallies and showcase some spectacular propaganda like a billboard that proclaims, "we will never surrender."
It's no coincidence that the platform is located right next to the U.S. Special Interests Section, our de facto embassy since diplomatic ties between our two countries were severed after the revolution.
In 2006, US diplomats displayed messages on a scrolling digital billboard in the windows of their top floor - things like, "In a free country you don't need permission to leave the country. Is Cuba a free country?" and a quote from George Burns, "How sad that all the people who would know how to run this country are driving taxis or cutting hair." This so incensed Fidel Castro that he erected 138, 20-meter tall flagpoles carrying black flags with single white stars that obscured the messages. The flags have since been taken down, but the flagpoles remain, separating the platform from the Special Interests Section building:
The next stop along the Malecon was the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a large Art Deco building opened in 1930 and host to a who's who of '30s and '40s era celebrities, including Errol Flynn, Meyer Lansky, Winston Churchill, Fred Astaire, Buster Keaton, Lucky Luciano, Rita Hayworth, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Nat King Cole and Walt Disney. It became the site of Castro's 26th of July Movement during the revolution.
The Parque Nene Traviesa is a mosaic wonderland created by ceramicist and painter José Fuster, who's designs have completely overtaken his hometown of Jaimanitas to the north of Havana.
Here, too, we passed the sherbert-colored buildings and classic cars that have become iconic Cuba:
But moving further into Habana Centro, the buildings become much more fragile, congested and run down. Some are clearly - if astonishingly - still inhabited, while others are literally just shells for their former selves that could crumble at any moment.
Despite the decay, there is a hint of their glory days in the pastel colors of their peeling paint, and the Moorish design of their broken tile work.
This area is also home to some impressive street art:
It isn't until you get closer to Havana Vieja at the eastern end of the Malecon that the buildings have been fully restored. And it is at this end that we encounter Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro (Morro Castle), a fortress built in 1589 to protect the port of Havana (and the ships docked there that were loaded with New World goods bound for Spain) from pirates or other enemies.
This is essentially where the Malecon ends. I had the Cocotaxi take me inland for the return trip to the hotel, and will save those photos for another post.
Grabado (printmaking) is a very important traditional art form. The handmade quality and aesthetic value along with the fresh smell of ink and the high quality paper (things that are rare in Cuba) make Grabado very sought after.
Here is one of the artists performing his craft:
I bought two small etchings here and was able to meet one of the artists; sadly, I can't recall or make out his name on the art itself, but I think I have it in my notes/receipts somewhere and will update if I can find it.
I'm gearing up for my next trip across the pond, and needed to add one more post from my last trip: a visit to Villa Necchi Campiglio at Via Mozart 14 in the heart of Milan.
This was the last stop on our Smithsonian Made In Italy tour, providing us with an insider's view of the style, design and life of an upper middle class Lombardy family in the early 20th century.
The home belonged to the sisters Necchi - Gigina (1901-2001) and Nedda (1900-1993) - and Gigina's husband Angelo Campiglio (1891-1984), members of a famous Italian manufacturing family known for its eponymous line of cast iron and enameled sewing machines.
Constructed between 1932 and 1935 by the Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi, the home is set back from the street and surrounded by a large garden with a swimming pool and tennis court.
It has an Art Deco design, in contrast with the more traditionally ornate homes in the neighborhood, and was modern in both in its style as well as its amenities (e.g., an elevator, dumbwaiter, telephones and intercoms, and the area's first heated swimming pool).
The sisters, who died without leaving any heirs, bequeathed the property to the Italian government for use as a museum.
Stone from Lombardy Italian marble graces the exterior, along with a sundial:
A walnut root and marble stairway dominates the main entrance:
Briar root (walnut) and brass/silver/zinc pocket doors designed to withstand a bomb connect the library, smoking room, and sun porch, and salon.
Most of the rooms remain as they did when the Necchi family and their servants lived there, featuring beautiful architecture, decorative arts, furnishings and collections of the period. Claudia Gian Ferrari’s collection of early 20th century art and Alighiero de’ Micheli’s collection of 18th century paintings and decorative arts were added in more recent years.
The dining room features 16th and 17th century tapestries from Brussels:
As was custom at the time, servants quarters and the kitchen and laundry rooms were located in the basement, with food brought up by hand or via the dumbwaiter. The upper floor is comprised of the sisters' apartments - a large bedroom, bath, dressing room, and sitting area for Gigina and Angelo, plus a slightly smaller (single-bed) version of the same for the unmarried Nedda.
They shared a long corridor of custom closets designed to house their extensive collection of hats, frocks, and shoes.
Also on this floor is a tiny corner apartment for the dressing maid (yes, the woman who pressed, mended, laid out and helped them don their clothing every day).
“It shows the obsession with perfection and details that the Milanese bourgeoisie have. Old money always comes with great charm. Their real success is making others believe that money doesn’t exist — and luxury, as most people perceive it, doesn’t really exist in this house. It’s very severe, and feels almost unmovable, like a piece of rock.”
And it is that obsession with perfection and details that made this the perfect place to wrap up a week steeped in Italian design. Bellissimo!
The Tortona district is a creative enclave southwest of Milan's city center. It's full of old warehouse buildings dating back to World War I (sounds familiar) that for years housed industrial giants like GE and Nestle. Today, the factories have been refurbished into a lively neighborhood of restaurants, showrooms, and artists studios (the Nestle building was converted to Giorgio Armani's headquarters), thanks to an early move by a couple of fashion insiders back in 1983.
At that time, Italian Vogue art director Flavio Lucchini and photographer Fabrizio Ferri created Superstudio Group to fill a void that they saw in the fashion, communication and creative fields. Not only would their company offer physical space for artists, photographers, and performers to show their wares, but it would also provide all of the related support services - staging, lighting, casting, hosting, production, security, catering, etc. - that might be needed. And they chose Tortona for the location of their business (a move that many of their peers thought was questionable at the time).
Today, Superstudio is comprised 13,000 square meters of large, flexible warehouse space that can be used for events, exhibitions, fashion shows, photo shoots, advertising/television/cinema shoots, parties, and dance performances.
The historic Superstudio 13 in via Forcella 13 is comprised of 13 photo studios with different characteristics (e.g., dimensions, lighting, backdrop) which over the years have hosted some of the world's top fashion and music photographers, videographers, directors, models, and performers.
Vogue fashion shoots, Fashion Week runway shows, and Salone Internazionale del Mobile events are all in a day's work for the Superstudio team. Countless celebrities, models, and artists have worked in the space:
Arnaldo Pomodoro is an Italian sculptor known for his "Sphere within Sphere" series that graces locations around the world, including the Vatican Museum, Trinity College in Dublin, UN Headquarters, the Guggenheim in NYC, and the Columbus Museum, among others.
I had taken this picture of one of his huge, bronze sculptures in front of the Banca Popolare di Milano building, not realizing that I'd visit his studio the very next day!
Yes, this is yet another artist we learned about on my recent Made in Italy art and design tour through Smithsonian Journeys (I cannot say enough good things about this tour...we saw and did so much! As evidenced by the fact that I'm still blogging about it two months later...)
On the second-to-last day of the trip, we visited the Arnaldo Pomodoro Foundation at Vigevano 9, an exhibit space originally set up to document and archive his own work, but now also showcases the works of others.
Interestingly, the pieces have a nature-inspired feel to them, despite the austere colors and materials. And despite it's small size, the Foundation offers a great little gallery for viewing contemporary sculpture by international artists.
Browsing through a recent issue of InStyle Magazine today, I was overjoyed to see a reference to Antonio Marras (even though his wild animal runway look was deemed over the top for anyone but a street-style star).
Last month when I visited Milan, I had the chance to visit Antonio's concept store, Circolomarras - and meet the Sardinian-born womenswear designer himself - in the heart of Zona Tortona, on via Cola di Rienzo, 8.
His studio/concept store is absolutely gorgeous, and one of the most memborable visits of the trip. In true Milan fashion, it sits back off the street, through a gate and a secret-garden of sorts.
Inside an old factory workshop with vaulted, unfinished ceilings and walls is a stunning collection of Antonio's designs, mixed in with antique furnishings, books, and gobs of fresh flowers.
It's a warm, inviting space, which is how Antonio likes to live and work:
I have always liked, as a child, the idea of having a space that was not my room or my house, an enlarged and private space, confidential, to stay with friends and unleash our energies. Back then it was the garage, the attic, a small barn in the countryside. As an adult, a huge space, a loft, a multipurpose space, a place not exclusively tied to exposition and sale. A comfortable place, private and open, welcoming, “hospitable” in the sense that this word had in ancient Greece, in Sardinia, in the Mediterranean area, where the stranger, the guest, was sacred and it was considered a crime to violate the laws of hospitality.
- Antonio Marras
Perhaps the most stunning aspect of the space is a collection of dresses hanging from the rafters, their hems tented out over bicycle wheels, and outfitted with lightbulbs to create an enormous, ethereal chandelier:
All of Antonio's clothes are made by hand in his home/studio/workshop back in Sardinia, and can be found at retailers like Saks and Shopstyle. From 2003-2011 he served as artistic director at LVMH's Kenzo fashion house, and over the years he became known for his hallmark "ligazzio rubio" (or, “red thread”).
There was a buzz of energy in the space when we were there, as Antonio's team was feverishly assembling racks of clothing for Fashion Week.
Back outside through the lush garden, we toured an adjacent exhibit by portrait photographer Daniela Zedda. Her collection "Aldilàdelmare" contains eighty-eight pictures of Sardinians (she is from there as well) who have left the island to find new opportunities. Her portrait of Antonio Marras is prominently featured at the entrance to the exhibit:
Inside is a cavernous, unfinished studio space where the art is the focal point.
Her portraits are amazing. I was particularly taken with this one of editorial consultant Colomba Rossi in front of street art by Kenny Random at Torre della Specola, Padova.
Here it is nearly 8 weeks later and I still haven't shared all of the sites and stories from Milan! But seeing reference to the people and places I encountered there gives me a little burst of creative energy. Good way to start the week.
Everyday life has gotten in the way of me finishing my Milan travelogue...but there are a handful of things I still want to share with you! Here's one of them...
After lunch and shopping at 10 Corso Como, we strolled around the Navigli District; meaning "ships" in Italian, the Navigli was once a network of waterways and trade routes, designed in part by Leonardo da Vinci, and now home to restaurants, boutiques, and artist studios.
Oringinally five canals, the oldest built in 1179, they connected the city with the rivers and lakes in the Lombardian region and were used for irrigation and transport - both people and goods - to and from areas as far as the Alps and beyond. In fact, the marble used for the construction of the Duomo was transported via these waterways from the Lago Maggiore near the Alps.
Traffic on the canals dwindled once road transportation took off, and some were filled in during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Only three canals survive today: the Naviglio della Martesana in the north-east and the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese in the south-west of the city.
This area was until recently an impoverished, working-class neighborhood and is still a bit "edgy."
But in recent years, the houses along the canals were renovated, and many are now home to artist studios, restaurants and bars.
Along the Naviglio Grande, you'll also find the Vicolo dei Lavandai, where women used to wash their laundry with water from the canal. There were children playing here on the day we visited:
The Navigli is a fun, energetic part of town. I've had a long-time fascination with Leonardo da Vinci, and it is amazing to see a system of damns and sluices that he designed so many years ago. Like much of Milan, the neighborhood is an eclectic mix of ancient and modern.
Before I had even arrived in Milan, I had read about 10 Corso Como and was dying to go there. Located near Porta Nuova at the address from which it takes its name, it's a stylish art gallery, bookshop, fashion store, cafe, terrace, and boutique hotel all rolled into one.
It's founder, Carla Sozzani, spent the early part of her career working as an editor for various Italian fashion magazines (including Vogue Italia, where her sister Franca is currently Editor in Chief) and American Vogue. Over the years, she worked with famous photographers including Herb Ritts, Bruce Webber, Robert Mapplethorpe, Juergen Teller, and William Wegman, publishing several books and photography catalogs along the way.
But it was in 1990 that Sozzani used her years of editorial experience to create a "living magazine" in a former mechanic's workshop at 10 Corso Como. Beginning with the Galleria Carla Sozzani, the concept space eventually evolved into a multi-level shopping and dining complex selling art, fashion, music, contemporary design objects and more.
The indoor/outdoor cafe on the ground floor is in a quiet courtyard surrounded by plants and flowers:
We sat outside and enjoyed a decadent lunch in between browsing the various floors.
Also on the ground floor is a large retail space featuring an assortment of apparel, jewelry, and accessories from high-end designers:
Heading upstairs, there is a bookstore with an extensive collection of fashion, design, art, photography, travel, and food titles:
Turntables for the DJ:
And 3 hotel suites overlooking the courtyard, each with it's own private entrance and all furnished in homage to mid-20th and 21st century designers so that visitors can live the 10 Corso Como experience.
The top floor houses the original Galleria Carla Sozzani art gallery, which was exhibiting the winners of the 2014 World Press Photos contest, including this haunting image of blind Indian albino boys by Brent Stirton.
Last, but not least, there is a beautiful rooftop terrace, full of brightly tiled furniture, metal and stone sculptures, lush plants, and great views.
I just love everything about 10 Corso Como; it's a must-visit spot if you are ever in Milan.
He worked in this space for nearly 60 years, and the rooms remain exactly as he left them, packed floor-to-ceiling with all manner of knick-knacks, memorabilia, sketches, books, magazines, models and films.
His heirs entered into an agreement with La Trienniale di Milano to create a foundation and keep the studio open for archiving and tours.
We were lucky enough to have Achille's daughter, Giovanna, as our tour guide, and she shared wonderful stories about her father and what led him to design several of his most popular products.
MoMA's permanent collection in NY hosts fourteen of his works, and many of his designs were produced by leading companies like Alessi, B&B Italia, Flos, and Kartell.
What's interesting is that he was inspired by everyday things, and used a minimum amount of ordinairy materials to create forms with maximum effect.
Most of his products are now considered design classics, and many are still in production.
Giovanna spent about an hour walking us through the cluttered rooms and explaining the genesis of a variety of products: a collapsible tin cup, the Mezzandro portable stool borne out of a desire to sit while talking on the hall telephone, an ashtray inspired by a Slinky.
A 1968 light switch designed for electrical component company VLM that is still in use today:
His famous Arco floor lamp with the long, curved arm extending the light out from a heavy marble base (Giovanna's holding up his original sketches), now prominently featured in the Flos store window near our hotel:
And this ingenious resin spoon for jars, perfectly designed to scoop out the last dollop of peanut butter, mayonaise, or jam. The red version is only available in the studio, and I bought two - one for me, and one for my Mom.
This was another fantastic visit. I just love seeing the work spaces of these creative people. So inspiring.