Whenever you travel you can’t help but notice other people out on the road with you, cameras slung around their neck, that vaguely lost appearance, and the map or guide in hand trying to figure out where to go or what to do next. Sometimes you meet some really interesting people that way. I met three women on Windjammer cruises back in 1986 and 1989 who are among my closest friends today and are like sisters to me. Other times the people you see simply make up part of the interesting backdrop of where you are. And I love to people watch.
This lady, reading a guide or maybe a map, we saw in Perugia, Italy resting in the square just outside the university. It was a beautiful day in March and one of the warmest we’d experienced since coming to Europe from the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia. Students were basking on the stairs of a nearby building and everyone seemed to be enjoying this early Spring day. I cannot say what she might have been doing or looking for. Maybe waiting for someone. Perhaps on a tour on her own. We were happy to rest with her in the sun along with our other fellow travelers, gathering energy for the second half of our world trip that extended through southern Europe, culminating in Morocco.
Yesterday was jam packed with activities and distractions and so I got off schedule. Only got halfway through today’s painting before Dave and I headed north to Mt. Vernon for his exhibition reception. A quality show at the Cedarhurst Center for the Arts. Check it out through mid October.
Part of our neighbors in Mexico are various herds of farm animals. We see them every morning and evening as they make their way to the pond just to the north of our place. Cows, horses, sheep, goats. Dogs and their masters guide their charges for a brief drink before heading out to mountain pastures for the day or back to paddocks to bed down for the night. Among them are a few billies, lording their dominion of the ladies over lesser creatures among them. Theirs is an envied position and their powerful stature gives presence to the herds. Love those curved graceful horns and that beatnik beard. He definitely has a swagger to make these girls not stray too far.
Mexico is filled with interesting doorways. Some are skillfully made intricate wooden doors, others simple corrugated metal. As in today’s painting, some you really don’t quite understand. But I think of doorways and entryways when I visualize Mexico. Many houses are hidden behind walls so it’s the doors you notice and that give character to walled streets and alleys that would otherwise feel like mazes.
This particular dwelling caught my eye not only because of the doors, which weren’t so fabulous, but because of the overturned earthen bowls or pots on the roof above them. These are cooking vessels used over an open fire, which many women still cook on out in the farm villages like Alcocer where we live. Why these bowls are on the roof remains a mystery.
Spain was a revelation. It seems like a hidden gem with practically no one we know talking anything about it except for Barcelona and Costa del Sol. But the interior is splendid with magnificent cities and charming small towns that date back to medieval times, such as one that we spent several days exploring, Baeza. The locals hangout in the central plaza, strolling along at a leisurely pace, gossiping and discussing matters of importance to their world, no doubt. It’s a relaxing pace after the likes of Madrid and even Toledo, both of which we visited and enjoyed thoroughly. But they have their crowds and hoards of tourists, where Baeza is simpler, a more intimate glimpse of the people out in the countryside. Baeza sits on a hilltop and was formerly a walled city with some of that remaining overlooking the olive tree fields below in the valley. You smell the olive oil processing plants on certain days, but its more intriguing than offensive, just to know a bit about how those oblong green gems get made into the golden green liquid that brings so much cooking to life with the delicate earthy flavors it imparts.
The painting is the street where we stayed, the sign actually that of our hostal. An off kilter place that felt like a cross between a medieval castle and a Wisconsin lodge, but it was clean and friendly, and also the home of a multi-generational family still in residence. It became our home for a couple days as we experienced their small town and a lesser known part of Spain.
I had wanted to go to Cordoba, Spain since reading about it in the book Ornament of the World, an account of Islam in Spain since the seventh century. I got my wish in the spring of 2004 on our round the world trip. We spent three days there and were stunned by the incredible architecture of the Great Mosque, built and expanded from 756 – 1031 by the Ummayads. The streets of the old town were narrow and intimate, allowing little but foot traffic and the ability to envision Cordoba as it was centuries ago . One of the other impressive sights of the city was the palace, which we toured at our leisure.Â Thick fortressed walls told of protection it required for its inhabitants. But Cordoba was the center of progressiveness, academia, and enlightenment while the rest of Europe moldered and stewed in the Dark Ages. Culture flourished as did religious tolerance.
This is a scene from the outside of the royal palace, flanked with flowering Spring trees and looking like the castle of old that it is.
Dave and I landed in Singapore from Bali as part of our around the world trip in the Spring of 2004. It was hot and humid beyond imagining, but I loved visiting the various old towns like Chinatown.
This is a street scene there with wonderful colonial buildings in the background, one painted over with big flower patterns. I’m experimenting with a really loose style here, much looser than my norm, and way out of my comfort zone. But my in-house critic claims it to be very good. And I’ll at least say that I’m liking many parts of it. It’s something I want to try to do more.
Maybe you can tell I’m missing Mexico. This is another view not far from our casita. Behind the pond in front just beyond us stretches a grazing field filled with cactus, scrub, and grasses that is used for cattle and livestock to graze. The villagers constructed an elaborate waterway many decades ago that consists of a series of ponds and connecting streams that ensure a ready source of water for their animals. The dam that keeps our pond in check is over 400 years old. So their ingenuity goes back a ways.
This is one of the streams that runs through the field. Dave and I like to explore there to look for wildlife and flowers, or any other thing that catches our fancy. The view stretches for miles to the north, the distant mountains part of the Sierra Madre that head south from the US border. From our vantage point we sit at around 7,000 feet, so while it looks as though we’re at a low elevation, in reality we exist on a high plateau of farmland and semi-arid scrub land with mountains all around us.
I wanted to do a landscape today and so I thought of our village of Alcocer, where our casita is just outside of San Miguel. One of my favorite little scenes there is the small adobe building across the arroyo from us. It looks old but obviously has stood the test of time. I’m not sure how our neighbors use it, but when the sun begins to sink low to the horizon it hits the building in such a way that it lights up like a vision. I’m always mesmerized by it.
I’ve approached this in a fast and loose way, to get the feel of the place. It’s age, all the deep shadows caused by the thick scrubby vegetation of mesquite, huasache, and nopal cactus that are common throughout the area. I love the earthy tones and how the adobe reflects its surroundings.
I got started later than anticipated yesterday and so by the time I finished my little painting it was too late to photograph it. So, here it is, yesterday’s painting. This little guy is a Mexican horse, or maybe it’s a pony as it turned out from the way I painted it. He’s looking out from some of the ruins in Real de Catorce, an historical town up in the mountains of central Mexico on the way to San Miguel. It’s an interesting town, accessed only through a mile long tunnel carved through the mountain like catacombs. The streets are steep and meandering. We stopped on our way south last year to explore and were charmed beyond belief. This little guy was peeking out of an abandoned hacienda at the edge of town.
Watercolor on paper
4.5″ X 5.5″
Contact me for purchase
Dave, my in-house art consultant, has convinced me, along with another knowledgeable friend, that my pricing on these daily paintings is off. Pricing is always a tricky business, and when you start something new like this you kind of have to gauge response and what others are doing. So, taking all that into consideration, and because I value their opinion and judgement, I’m changing the price on these to $50 each.
Todayâ€™s selection is an image from our first trip to San Miguel de Allende. Just to the east of town is a nature preserve with a man made reservoir that attracts myriad water birds, among them Black Ibis. Exceedingly shy birds, weâ€™ve never been able to get very close to them, and absent a telephoto of some power, this is about the best you can do. Later, when we rented a house on the east side of town while building ours, the ibis would make nightly sojourns from east to west to roost somewhere for the night. Their trek invariably took them directly over our house, making them a special bird indeed for us.
â€œBlack Ibis Flightâ€
Watercolor on paper
4.5″ X 5.5″
Contact me for purchase details
On another note, yesterday brought a reason for celebration other than starting this series of small paintings. My painting, “Mexican Place Settings,” which I’ve posted as a new work this spring and also as part of a post during Quilt Week, was accepted into the 63rd Annual International Exhibition 2009 Aqueous Open. This show is put on by the Pittsburgh Watercolor Society, and for me represents my first acceptance into a watercolor society show of any kind. Strange as that may seem, and for all the other shows I’ve been in, none of them have been exclusive watercolor exhibitions. The show will be at be Galleries, 3583 Butler Street, in Pittsburgh, PA from November 3 – 28, 2009. The opening reception will be Saturday November 7 from 6 – 9pm.