Sicilian Sketchbook #3 – Agrigento

The third and final installment from my Sicilian sketchbook comes from Agrigento in the southwest of Siciliy, home to the Valley of the Temples.

It’s two months since we left and the memories, the feelings of calm and joy, are already starting to fade. But the temples, dating back to the 5th Century B.C., aren’t going anywhere. They stand as an inspiring reminder of a group of people who long ago turned to dust.

Art, whether in the form of Doric columns or shaky scribbles of ink on paper, is one way to spit in the face of old man time. Creative energy unleashed into the world can have repercussions that are unforeseeable to the people who create it. Sometimes it’s that attempt at timelessness that is art’s greatest inspiration. And sometimes it’s just fun to whip out a sketch pad in the shadow of an ancient temple and scribble away.

The temple in this sketch is the Temple of Juno Lacinia. It’s 2,465 years old, give or take. When it was about 50 years old the Carthaginian army, under the command of Hannibal Mago, attacked the city of Akragas. Hannibal caught a touch of the plague and died there. His replacement, Himilco, a kinsman of Hannibal, restored his soldiers morale by sacrificing a child to his god. Give me that old time religion. The Temple of Juno was torched but eventually it was restored under the Romans. They even replaced the old terracotta roof with a brand new marble one.

They don’t make them like that anymore.


Sicilian Sketchbook #2 – Taormina

 
 
From Taormina, Sicily, you can see the mainland of Italy. In the other direction you can see the smouldering volcanic giant, Mt. Etna. You can see a lot of things. It’s difficult, in a place like that, to not see something beautiful. As you might expect, the people who live in such a place are happy, and inspiring.
 
It’s always a good idea to have a sketchbook handy in a place like Taormina. I’m a sucker for the Moleskine 5 x 8.5″ (13 x 21 cm) plain cahier journals – 80 pages of unlined potential. Rumor has it they were used by the likes of Van Gogh, Picasso, and Hemingway. Pretty decent company. Also, they’re designed in Italy.  
The Ionian Sea is bordered by eastern Sicily, the bottom of the boot of Italy, the west coast of Greece and even part of southern Albania. It’s one of the most seismically active areas of the world. So it’s wise to keep sufficiently lubricated if find yourself in, on, or near the water. You might even see a 5-masted schooner in the waters if you keep your weather eye peeled.

There’s a beautiful island there named Isola Bella, for obvious reasons. You can walk down from Taormina, as we did once, or you can ride the trolley up and down, as we did many times. 3 Euros each way and it runs every 15 minutes.

Taormina is such a romantic place that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton spent both their honeymoons there. If you’re getting married, or divorced, or ready to consign yourself to a lifetime of solitude, you could find many worse places to go.

Sicilian Sketchbook #1 – Cefalu



The first stop on my recent trip to Siciliy was the sleepy medieval village of Cefalu. It hasn’t changed a lot in the last 500 years. It wasn’t built for cars and it’s an unpleasant place to drive one. Ever since it was founded, centuries back into BC, people have laid on the sandy place where the Tyrrhenian Sea kisses the island, soaking up the sun and going for a swim.

I compacted the view of the town from the beach to fit it into this drawing. I had to demolish five or six fine buildings so I could get the wall that reaches into the sea in my sketch. The beach is a great place to sketch because the brilliant sunlight allows the artist to see details of the subject with an unusual degree of clarity.


In 1131, the Normans began construction on the cathedral that stands at the center of Cefalu today. I sketched it at night, after a few drinks, so the clarity isn’t as pronounced as in the previous drawing but there’s a fluidity to the lines that might be more appealing to some, what with beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all.


Any artist seeking inspiration can find it by the boatload in Sicily. The natural beauty of the mountain and the seas (in two weeks I swam in three – the Tyrrhenian, Ionian, and Mediterranean) is matched by the monuments of man. Then there’s the food.

Next stop, Taormina.

Better Things

 “Here’s hoping all the days ahead won’t be as bitter as the ones behind you.” Ray Davies

A friend once told me that I was the youngest 50 year old she’d ever met. I took it as a compliment at the time but now I’m not so sure. It’s no fun to be out of sync with your own life. I watch my friends fit comfortably into the slots of their lives but I can’t find the way to fit into mine. It’s like I’ve been too young for too long and now have to catch up to myself.

The advantages of youth are obvious: physical beauty and strength; fountains of energy; the ability to bounce back quickly and fully from injuries and setbacks. The advantages of age are more subtle: experience; perspective; patience; if you’ve been able to gain some insight over the years you might even achieve that most elusive and valuable advantage of age, wisdom.

There’s also the whole don’t-give-a-fuck-anymore thing, which is nice.

I recently traveled to a place where time is measured in centuries rather than weeks. The past is everywhere in Sicily but it’s immutable, so people learn to accept it. An echo from my immutable past reverberated across the oceans of time to me while I was there. It was this song, from 1981, by the Kinks. Written by Ray Davies, it’s got some of that elusive wisdom about it for people who believe in hope, and in the healing power of music.

Here’s wishing you the bluest sky,
And hoping something better comes tomorrow.
Hoping all the verses rhyme,
And the very best of choruses to
Follow all the doubt and sadness.
I know that better things are on the way.

Here’s hoping all the days ahead
Won’t be as bitter as the ones behind you.
Be an optimist instead,
And somehow happiness will find you.
Forget what happened yesterday,
I know that better things are on the way.

It’s really good to see you rocking out
And having fun,
Living like you just begun.
Accept your life and what it brings.
I hope tomorrow you’ll find better things.
I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.

Here’s wishing you the bluest sky,
And hoping something better comes tomorrow.
Hoping all the verses rhyme,
And the very best of choruses to
Follow all the doubt and sadness.
I know that better things are on the way.

I know you’ve got a lot of good things happening up ahead.
The past is gone it’s all been said.
So here’s to what the future brings,
I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.
I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.

I hope tomorrow you’ll find better things.
I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.
I hope tomorrow you’ll find better things.