Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Horses of the Vikings

November 11, 2018

The Icelandic horse has been around since Viking times.  It is one of the most purely bred horses in the world. No other horse has been introduced to Iceland since the Vikings settled there in the 9th century.  If an Icelandic horse is brought outside of Iceland, that horse will never be allowed to return to Iceland. Race horses who compete in other countries are sold after the competitions. There are even strict regulations about bringing saddles or riding boots from another country into Iceland. By law, the breed has been bred pure in Iceland for more than 1,000 years. And because of this lack of contact with other breeds, Icelandic horses have very few diseases.

The Viking parliament Althing forbade horse imports to Iceland as far back as 982 AD, to prevent the degeneration of the stock.

Traditionally, the Icelandic horse was used for herding sheep, transporting hay, and carrying fish from sea to village. They were originally bred for farm work.

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The Icelandic horse is the only horse breed in the world that has five gaits.  Other breeds walk, trot, canter, and gallop. In addition, Icelandic horses can also do what is called tölt:

The Tölt is a natural, fluid gait of the Icelandic Horse, during which at least one foot always touches the ground. Foals often tölt in pastures at an early age. The tölt is an extraordinarily smooth four-beat gait, which allows the rider an almost bounce-free ride, even at 32 kmh (20 mph). It is said a rider can drink a pint while riding, without spilling a drop. The footfall is the same pattern as the walk, but is much faster, almost as fast as a gallop.

I rode a horse and got to experience the tölt and the ride really did feel bounce-free and smooth.

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In addition, the Icelandic horse can perform a flying pace:

The Flying Pace is a fast, high speed gait (48 kmh – 30 mph), during which both legs on one side of the horse simultaneously touch the ground. The gait is used for short distances, and can equal the speed of a full gallop, thus it is the primary gait used for racing. Being a two-beat gait, at one interval all four hooves of the Icelandic Horse are suspended off the ground during a flying pace. Riding at a flying pace is considered the crown of horsemanship.

Below are some facts about the Icelandic horse:

  • Even at full maturity, they are pony-sized. They are 4-5 feet tall and weigh 600-900 lbs.
  • Pound for pound, they are the strongest breed in the world.
  • Icelandic horses have heavy three-layered coats protecting them from the freezing temperatures of Iceland.  They shed the coats in the summer and became very sleek.
  • They can appear in 42 different color combinations, with more than a hundred variations.  Their coats can change colors according to the season. They can also have blue eyes.
  • They tend to be very easy going and friendly, docile, easy to handle, and they form affectionate bonds with people and with other horses.
  • They are traditionally raised in herds, which helps them develop social skills and high intelligence.
  • They are not trained nor ridden until the age of 4. Their structural development is not complete until the age of 7.  Icelandic horses can be ridden for 25 years, or until they are 30 years old.
  • An ancient burial custom, Icelandic horse owners were buried with their horses.  If the horse did not die in battle with its owner, it would be killed and then buried next to its owner. Many grave sites have been found containing bones of a human body and of a horse lying side by side.
  • The breed is very long-lived. There are known cases of Icelandic horses living to be 42 and 56 years old.
  • Mares and stallions are fit for breeding until the age of 25.  In most other horse breeds, fertility decreases at 15 years of age.
  • The Icelandic horse has no natural predators so they do not spook easily and are of a very gentle nature and show no fear of humans.

The Icelandic horse was venerated as a symbol of fertility in Norse times. They were considered supernatural in Norse mythology. They were said to be able to transcend mortal and immortal worlds and they carried the dead to the afterlife. Horse spirits visited humans in their dreams and relayed messages from the gods. Horses acted as intermediaries, connecting man to the supernatural world of gods and goddesses. Horses had the ability to carry the gods across various worlds and the gods trusted them to do this transcendent work.

In Iceland, I assigned a god or goddess to every retreat participant and we all had to do a little research and present our findings to the group.  I was Nott, goddess of the night.  Nott had a magnificent horse called Hrimfaxi, whose name means Frosty Mane.  Hrmfaxi was responsible for creating night.  Hrmfaxi would pull Nott’s chariot and as they rode across the skies, his legs created night.  His breath became the frost covering the grass and the trees.

There was also Skinfaxi, whose name means Shining Mane, who was responsible for creating day.  And there was Odin’s horse, whose name was Sleipnir.  He was the most famous of the Norse horses.  Sleipnir had eight legs and was the fastest of all horses. He never  tired.  He carried the dead to Valhalla, which is the Norse mythology equivalent to a Christian heaven.  In Valhalla, souls dine with the gods in the great hall of Odin, the king of the gods.

Back to modern times, I want to tell you a little about a horse whose name was Raven. She was so named because of her color.  Her body was black as a raven and her mane was the same color as my hair. She was six years old and just starting her formal training. Already she was showing much promise to be a race horse. Raven is extraordinary in many ways.  She is a healer. My entire group witnessed something incredible.  One of the women in our group had been thrown off a horse back in the States and had experienced serious physical injuries. Though her physical injuries have healed, she was left with emotional trauma from the accident.  Well, Raven sensed this and literally reached her big beautiful face out to do her healing magic.  The two connected and the emotional trauma healing started taking place. It was the most moving human and horse connection I have ever witnessed in my life. I will never forget Raven’s deep intelligence, intuition, and kind heart:

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And finally, because I teach yoga, I should also talk about the Horse Pose, Vatayanasana. It is one of my favorite poses. There are actually two poses with this name. The one I generally teach looks like a wide squat or a sumo player’s stance. Perhaps you prefer to call it a plié? Horse pose benefits Hamstrings, hips, thighs, quadriceps, and knees. It is also very grounding and is said to connect us to the Root Chakra (feet and legs connection in terms of body and earth in terms of connecting to an element) and the Sacral Chakra (pelvis in terms of body and or water in terms of connecting to an element).

What I love most about Horse Pose is how strong it makes me feel! Maybe also because I am Sagittarius. And one may wonder if this pose is the actual horse or is it the rider?  And the answer, as one of my equestrian loving yogis said, is BOTH.  Horse Pose is both rider and horse, as the two should be deeply connected and ONE when riding.

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A Glimpse of Icelandic Art

November 9, 2018

While in Reykjavik, my group and I stayed at the Hotel Holt.  I am attracted to this hotel for many reasons, such as its location which is right in the heart of the city. The hotel is within walking distance to the city’s main sites, museums, cathedral, coffee shops, pubs, restaurants, and main shopping street.  And the staff is extremely helpful, kind, and welcoming. However, the main reason I love this boutique family-run hotel is because of its art collection!

Hotel Holt houses Iceland’s largest private collection of art.  There is a collection of 1,560 works of art, though you will see “only” 460 works of art on display.  We were given a private art tour,  led by the very knowledgeable Hotel Holt office manager, Marissa Sigrún..  What I will attempt to do here is to include some of the photos I took of the artwork and give my impressions of them.

My apologies for not having written down and not knowing the artists’ names.  And my apologies for not capturing the paintings in their entirety. Some of these works are quite large and so, in some cases, I focused only on a portion of the art work.  Also, I want to say that the paintings were illuminated by lights that sometimes cast a shadow, so the photos are not perfect representations of the artwork.  Lastly, I’m not an art historian and, in fact, I hesitated to post this blog, but I so want to share these beautiful works of art with you and share the feelings invoked within me as I look at them.  I hope the artwork below will speak volumes to you, too!

The texture of the paint in the painting below is so incredible!  The texture lends itself to the landscape and the action within the landscape! You can almost see the waves moving, the boats rocking, and the man’s working movements. The paint texture gives a sense of perspective to the mountains. Mountains beyond mountains grace the background.  And the colors are reflective of the color palette we see everywhere in nature in Iceland.

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Humble work, hard work, necessary work, the work of a farmer, the sacredness of planting and harvesting. I believe here, the farmers are harvesting. And this work of art gets me thinking about how difficult it must have been for the Icelanders to gather enough food to suffice for the winter months back in the day when there were no geothermal powered greenhouses and easy year-round shipments of fruit from warmer sunnier climates. I love the standing farmer’s hands and his face, so serene and, yet, filled with concentration.

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Below is a portion of a larger piece of artwork.  The whole work shows a family, including the father. The family is enjoying a picnic on a fine Icelandic summer day.  This is perhaps a very romantic notion of a picnic in Iceland.  The mother, traditionally clad and probably a very hard working robust woman, looks so relaxed and her baby is adorable, fast asleep on mamma’s shoulder, perhaps grown drowsy from the summer sun warming his/her face.

The light in Iceland is very special.  As I’ve said before, you can’t go to Iceland and take a bad photograph.  The sun’s rays hit differently. They come in a different angle. Colors appear vibrantly pure and so you really do see these shades of purple and light blue as captured in the painting below.

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The painting below is of a mountain and moss. In the past, I went to Iceland during the last two weeks of September when the moss is at its best in terms of color and when the lichen and the field flowers come alive with color.  I think this artist captures the landscape colors beautifully!

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Below is one of my photos from a few years ago in Iceland.  You can see what I mean about color.  These are the colors that are so vivid and present in the Icelandic works of art:

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In a land where landscape is so inspirational, it is not surprising to see these breathtaking landscapes created on canvas. How is it possible that this landscape also carries emotion?:

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I felt that this photo I took in Iceland a few years ago is another example of how the colors found naturally in the landscape also found their way onto the canvas. The photo below and the painting above match in color:

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Beautiful pastoral scene. A hard life within a harsh landscape that also offers up so much beauty and strong community.  Here, the women are at rest, alongside the resting cow:

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I love this one.  Hunger being satisfied by a bowl of hot soup, a soup so hot that this man has to perhaps blow on his spoonful to cool it a bit.  I imagine the hot bowl or small tureen warming his hands and his legs.  I imagine the kind of hunger he feels, the kind of hunger that comes after a day of hard work.  I imagine how the soup will warm his chest and his belly. This painting reminds me of the various kinds of soup I have had in Iceland: delicious tomato soup, lobster bisque, lentil soup, leek soup, pumpkin soup, potato soup, vegetable soup, and asparagus soup…and it makes me want to make a pot of soup right now!

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This painting was perhaps one of my favorites! It is enormous and sits in the lobby.  Please imagine this canvas stretching boldly across a wall in a hotel lobby. I see fire and ice!  I see lava flowing, glaciers, geysers, hot springs, black lava beaches, waterfalls, fissures in the earth, movement, hidden people, Kali energy, destruction and birth, Thors’ hammer Mjölnir held high as a symbol of power, geothermal energy, and new land forming.  The feeling is pure chaos and yet the chaos is contained. I see a merging landscape captured by form and color.  The entire canvas is shaped like the island of Iceland and gives me a feeling of mystery and adventure.  For me, it’s a wild and crazy, scary and tempting piece of artwork! I could look at it for hours:

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And next, after getting off that wild carousel ride above, we enter another world, that of three women gathered and processing fish.  Beautiful colors, gorgeous and strong women, lively and serene colors, communal work, workers who work in harmony and live in harmony with the land, life-giving fish, tradition, hope necessary to get through the dark winter months that are certain to come again:

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We saw many works by Kjarval, Iceland’s most beloved painter:

Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885-1972) was one of Iceland’s most accomplished painters. Kjarval drew and painted from an early age and studied art in Iceland to the extent it was available. He was 25 years old when he went to Copenhagen to study with the aid of his beneficiaries. Kjarval never shied away from experimenting creatively. Icelandic nature was an inspiration to him and within it he created a mystical world of hidden people. Icelanders adored Kjarval and this complex artist’s body of work is interwoven with the Icelandic national spirit.

I am pretty sure the painting below is by Kjarval.  The concept of hidden people is mysterious and, whether or not you believe in their existence as Kjarval did and as do many Icelanders today, the very idea of hidden people brings us into a mystical and invisible world.  The artist Kjarval recounted how at times, when he was out in nature with easel and paints on hand, he was unable to paint because the hidden people would thwart his efforts. They would throw pebbles or rocks at him until finally he’d have to pack up his easel, paint, and brushes and leave the scene.

Below you can see what I think of as hidden people. This painting is vast in scope and has so much mystery in it. It also has a sense of wind or a storm brewing, if only for a brief moment, with the promise of a rainbow at the end of a spate of rain and gusts of wind. Fire, ice, clouds, hidden people, waterfalls, lava brewing and flowing, a cold landscape with elements of heat.

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The last landscape below looks like a lunar landscape.

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The painting below is one of the few works of art in the Hotel Holt’s Icelandic art collection that is done by a foreign artist.  The artist is Danish:

The lobby and lounge of Hotel Holt has seascape works from Icelandic shores by Danish painters Carl Locher and Vilhelm Arnesen who accompanied Frederick VIII, king of Denmark, on his visit to Iceland in September 1907. You’ll also find two seascapes by Frants Landt from his journey to Iceland in 1936 as well as the painting Færeyskur sjómaður / Faroese Sailor (1963) by Faroese painter S.J. Mikines. 

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Dear readers, I’d love to read about your insights, and your impressions on the artwork you see here.  Please comment below. -fran

Slideshow from the Land of Fire and Ice

October 23, 2018

The following slideshow is of our recent yoga retreat in Iceland. It is a trip I hope to offer again and again.  The slideshow is set to the music of the Icelandic group Low Roar and the song playing is called Breathe In.  The words go well with the experience of being in the Land of Fire and Ice.  The melody seems to carry the mystery and stark beauty of the landscape.  Most of the photos in the slideshow are mine, but a few come from some of the other photographers in our group.  I believe all the photos capture the light that is unique to Iceland!  Being so far north, the sun’s rays hit at an angle, which, when captured by camera, makes every person holding a camera appear to be an extraordinary photographer.

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We did yoga every morning and every evening, though you will not find a single picture of our yoga sessions.  We immersed ourselves in our practice.  In our yoga sessions, we became warriors, molten lava, geothermal energy, and pure rays of northern light.

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It was a pleasure to see friendships deepen and new friendships forged.  As the week progressed, everyone in our group appeared to become more luminous. Was it the relaxing and cleansing aspect of the yoga practice?  Or was it the hot springs?  Or perhaps it was the hiking?  Could have been the pure spring-fed water we drank directly from the tap? It was probably a combination of all of these ideas and more.  All I know for sure is that the retreat was a great experience, one that I will never forget.

Turn up your speakers for this 6 minute slideshow of our retreat in Iceland:

Iceland: Yoga in the Land of Fire and Ice 2018 from Fran Gallo on Vimeo.

http://www.frangallo.com

 

Laugarvatn Hot Springs

October 17, 2018

Today was one of those perfect days which I think I’ll replay in my mind again and again. The day started at 6am when my alarm went off.  I made coffee, read the news online, checked email. Then, I went off to teach yoga.  This morning’s yoga was focused on the chakras.  Chakra Yoga was followed by breakfast.

At 10am, we left our cabins for Laugarvatn.  There we hiked a hillside in a wooded area. Along the trail, there were panels with depictions and Icelandic instructions for various stretches recommended while hiking.  After the hike (and the stretches), Einar drove us to the hot springs of Laugarvatn on the Golden Circle.  We first enjoyed lunch, a beautiful spread of delicious fresh vegetables and fish.  Some people in my group enjoyed bread which was baked using geothermal steam.  I have tasted it in the past and it is delicious.  After eating, we enjoyed the hot springs of Laugarvatn.

The hot springs are located in a lakefront spa, featuring natural steam baths, outdoor mineral pools and a sauna. There are various temperatures, one being especially hot. Soaking in geothermal springs is very healthy.  At Laugarvatn, we soaked in a natural pool lined with rocks. While inside the steam rooms (both wet and dry sauna rooms), we listened to the sound of the bubbling hot springs coming from deep within the earth

Every so often, when the heat became too intense, we bravely walked over to Laugarvatn Lake, which is right next to the springs, and took a very fast dip in the 40 degree Fahrenheit water! Every bracing dip came with a yip and a few loud shouts.

The day ended with a second yoga session (a focus on postures to strengthen bones) followed by another delicious dinner (three bean salad for the vegetarians and lamb for the others).

I am including some of the benefits of soaking in geothermal healing waters:

Anti-Ageing Properties  Hot springs are also recognised for their anti-ageing properties. Bathing in a hot spring increases the production of collagen and tightens the elastin within the second layer of the skin.

This leaves your skin looking both firm and youthful.

Other minerals such as calcium, lithium, magnesium and even radium also help improve your skin.

As geothermal water cools, it saturates and then forms into a white mud. This form is completely hypoallergenic and has anti-ageing properties that can firm the skin, reduce pores and revitalise appearances. It is also effective against rashes, sores and skin problems such as dermatitis and psoriasis.

Respiratory Problems  As well as improving your skin, taking a dip in a geothermal spring offers many additional benefits to your overall health. As mentioned above, sulphur is a common mineral found in hot springs.

Sulphur can help treat respiratory problems such as asthma, and it can help clear excess mucus from your lungs.

Pain Relief  Moreover, the heat and buoyancy of a hot spring is very therapeutic for your body. The buoyancy helps to reduce the body’s work load.

As the body is focused on the sudden heat, the nervous system’s sensitivity lowers and the heat becomes a form of therapy for sufferers of muscle pains and arthritis.

Soothe sore muscles and chilly limbs.

Better Blood Circulation Bathing in hot springs helps to boost blood circulation. As the skin soaks in minerals such as calcium and sodium, hydrostatic pressure increases.

This increases the flow of oxygen to our bodies and boosts blood circulation, keeping your body fit and strong.

Increases Endorphins Our bodies absorb minerals in the water which stimulate the immune system and strengthen it. These minerals enhance the production of endorphins within the body and this interacts with receptors in the brain.

Think of it as a “happy chemical”, endorphins release a positive feeling and relieve the body and mind of stress whilst alleviating tension in tired muscles.

Overall, regular geothermal bathing can help normalize your body’s functions and nervous system whilst drastically improving your skin’s condition.

My lovely cabin mates Keira and Colleen.

There’s a whole lot of magic going on here in Iceland!

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The Good Karma Boulevard

September 3, 2018

It’s already September!  I am writing from my desk at Ocean Shores.  It is a fine day, skies are clear, windows are open, and the rush of the ocean waves fills the room with energy.  A slight breeze is playing with the tree tops, the swaying movement visible from my desk-perch.

It is Labor Day weekend, a day to honor working people.  I love this holiday, the rest it provides, and the respect it brings to those who labor seemingly endlessly.

A day to write!

Earlier today, I was looking at my calendar and noticed that there is a World Kindness Day on November 13.  Just knowing such a day exists gives me a surge of joy. I already had in mind to write about kindness. Seeing an actual day devoted to kindness was a reminder to write this post today.

There is a Japanese proverb that goes like this:

One kind word can warm three winter months.

How I love that succinct line! The proverb reminds me of something my Sicilian friend Giorgio said to me.  Before going to Sicily earlier this year, I heard about a well-known Sicilian cafe that has gotten much attention in the media.  The place is known for its gelato and cannoli. I will not mention the name of the place, but suffice to say I told Giorgio that my group and I had to stop at this cafe to taste the best of what Sicily offers. We went there and the gelato and cannoli did not disappoint us at all.  Perhaps the best cannoli I’ve ever had in Sicily was right there.  However, even though I had called and chatted with the owner before going there (because who wants a group of tourists to suddenly appear when you are not ready for them?), we were not greeted in the charming Sicilian way, not welcomed with a gentle smile or a booming BENVENUTI (welcome).  Instead, one of the owners took our orders, without a simple buongiorno or a kind greeting, and the staff filled our orders and worked the till.  We enjoyed our desserts, but as we were leaving, Giorgio called me aside and said emphatically, “You will never go back there. I won’t let you.  They were not kind and that is not the Sicilian way.”  I found myself making excuses for the cafe owner and staff. I argued that I would go back because the desserts were the best and that I understood the family and staff were busy and overworked.  But Giorgio stopped me in my tracks by saying with grand emotion, “Yes, busy, overworked, and yes, perhaps tired, but Francesca, what is the cost of a smile?”

Wow!  Since that day, I often hear Giorgio asking me this question. One smile or one kind word can go a long ways in changing the world around us.

Giorgio enjoying a gelato.

And then I watched a documentary on Mr. Rogers. Welcome to the Neighborhood. If you have not seen it yet, it is a must see! Fred Rogers was a gentle, kind soul providing powerful messages about his vision of kindness and love.  Through his children’s television program, he talked to kids about divorce, assassination and death, and overcoming racism among other topics.  He believed love is at the root of everything.  His great message was that all people should be loved and are capable of loving.

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And yes, I will go back to the best gelato and cannoli place in Sicily.  I will make more of an effort to pour love into that place so as to elicit a smile or two from the hard workers who are making the best gelato and cannoli in the world!

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The title of this blog entry came from my friend Jeri, inspired by this photo:

A tree-lined boulevard, dubbed The Good Karma Boulevard by my friend Jeri. Photo taken by Lisa Latchford on our last day of Yoga in the Park (Outdoor classes will resume next year June 2019)

Yoga in the Company of Dogs

August 19, 2018

Ruby – Cleopatra – Sidney – Bo 

These four furry characters graced a recent yoga session I led on Marrowstone Island this past weekend.

Don’t know where Marrowstone is?  Neither did I!  This was my first visit to Marrowstone Island, a small island located just 15 miles from Port Townsend.  I was visiting a friend who has a weekend home on the island. We had such a dreamy relaxing time doing yoga outdoors, enjoying an evening dinner together on the large front porch, taking long beach walks, foraging blackberries and apples, eating cobbler. The sky finally cleared of smoke from the terrible Canadian forest fires.

844 fortunate people make beautiful Marrowstone their home.  I saw a sign on a beach house that said:

If you are lucky enough to live on the beach, you are lucky enough.

But back to Yoga in the Company of Dogs!  Not every culture sees dogs as a source of great company, as creatures capable of great affection, as sources of great pleasure and undying faithful love.  I am not a dog owner, but I love dogs.  Dogs can make you feel loved like no other.  They can make you feel safe.  They do not judge people based on social status, physical appearance, or personal hygiene.  No human will ever celebrate your presence the way your dog will when you come home after a couple hours or a few days of being away.

I’ll bet you have heard this prayer:

Lord, help me be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.

Research shows that oxytocin spikes in both human and canine brains when a dog gazes at its owner.  If you are reading this blog post, and have a dog, you probably already knew this before scientists measured oxytocin levels.  And if you are from a country or a culture where dogs (or cats) are seen in a different light and not esteemed in this way, you may be surprised to learn that many or most dog (cat) owners in my culture see their dogs (cats) as full-fledged family members. We will go to great measures and shell out great amounts of money to seek medical/veterinarian care when our pets are ill. Often, in my culture, dogs (or cats) are our best friends.

So it is not surprising that the yoga session I held on Saturday morning, in the company of four dogs (Ruby, Cleopatra, Sidney, and Bo) was delightful and deeply relaxing.  I have done yoga in the company of dogs many times before.  They become deeply relaxed.  Tiny Cleopatra, a chihuahua who is normally very nervous around strangers, became so relaxed that she got out of her little cuddle bed and ventured out to sniff at my legs.  She even started interacting with the larger dogs, who were equally relaxed.

All the dogs were off leash, but none strayed very far.  Toward the end of the yoga session, all four dogs were crowded near us.  Some were lying in Shavasana-like poses.  Others were finding comfortable perches on our bodies.

There is a place…

June 2, 2018

There is a place….

where magic happens.  It’s not far from Seattle, just a short ferry ride away on Vashon Island. For a few years now, I’ve offered day retreats at what I will call a “secret garden”.  I’m not allowed to say on social media where this place is because it is a private property, but those of you lucky enough to have been at one of my yoga day retreats there will know exactly where it is.

The photos from this blog post are from a yoga day retreat I offered at this site two weeks ago.  I am afraid that this may have been my last retreat offered at this enchanted site as there are some changes taking place on the property.  I am not to talk about the situation.  Just like Jury Duty!  Being cryptic is not my style, but there you have it!

What I can say is that two weeks ago a group of 14 lucky yogis got to breathe in the emerald forest air, see a bit of Indonesia in the Pacific Northwest, walk among ancient stones imported from Asia, eat organic, locally-sourced food infused with love and tenderly prepared by Karen Biondo of La Biondo Farm on Vashon.  Together, we meditated in an ancient temple, shared some beautiful imagery we observed during our stay on the property, images we continue to carry in our hearts, did yoga in an authentic antique Chinese tea merchant’s house, and shared meals and warm conversations.  New friendships blossomed and old friendships deepened.  It’s the kind of gathering every yogi dreams of.

I will always have a deep gratitude and respect for David Smith, who visualized this lush paradise and created this Indonesian-Meets-Pacific Northwest haven at his home on Vashon. David was a delicate gentle soul. When he passed away, he left this precious legacy behind.  The current caretakers of the property have done a marvelous job of keeping this place vibrant and ever more beautiful when I didn’t think that was possible. I can’t believe we have been lucky enough to practice yoga on this property.  I will continue to search out another treasured place to host my next day retreats on Vashon.  Wish me luck and if you have any leads for future Vashon sites, let me know.

Chillin’ before our meditation session inside this temple:

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Summer
Summertime brings joy
The sun warms us outside in
Nature calls us out

Beach Walk
Nature opens eyes
While great blue Herons hunt fish
Water sparkles wet

Poems by Milo Minnis: fellow yoga instructor, yoga day retreat participant, poet, student of Judith Lasater, visionary, beautiful human being

Serene: photo of statue below taken by Skye McNeill (Surface Designer, Illustrator, Photographer, Graphic Designer extraordinaire! visit Skye’s website)

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“As yoga teachers, our job is to mirror back the inherent goodness and inner wisdom of our students. But first, we have to find it in ourselves.”  – Judith Hanson Lasater

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Yoga and Hiking in Sicily

May 24, 2018

I will let the slideshow of the Yoga and Hiking in Sicily say it all!  The slideshow is set to the music of Carmen Consoli called Madre Terra, Mother Earth.  Carmen Consoli is from Catania, Sicily and has a soulful voice that is as rich as the Sicilian soil.  Turn up the volume!

I do want to mention that most everywhere we went has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The retreat was a complete success and, though I have been back only 10 days, I miss Sicily terribly.  I miss my group, the caretakers and cooks at the villa, and all the wonderful people I have met via my Sicily journeys.

Not too early to sign up for next year’s yoga retreats in Sicily. Contact me for more information:

Week I September 7-14, 2019 (Yoga + Cultural Outings, includes a visit to a ricotta farm, a day at a cooking school, two fabulous winery visits)

Week II  September 14-21, 2019 (Yoga + Hiking, includes one cooking course and a visit to a winery)

Sicily in Film

May 5, 2018

I love Italian films and attend Seattle’s Cinema Italian Style fiIm festival every November.  My only regret with the Seattle’s film festival is that I have to teach during the week and I miss out on viewing many of the festival’s featured films. And I can’t stay up late at night to attend the film festival because I have to be up at the crack of dawn during my work week.

I seek out films that were shot in Sicily.  I made a list of films I have watched which were set in Sicily for this blog post. And before writing this blog, I checked on line to make sure I wasn’t leaving any films out and I now feel overwhelmed with the number of films that have been filmed in Sicily which I have not yet seen.

Yesterday’s blog post was about Sicily in Literature.  Some of the movies mentioned below are based on novels written by prominent Sicilian writers such as Leonardo Sciasica, Luigi Capuana, Federico De Roberto, Ercole Patti, Elio Vittorini, Vitaliano Brancati, Gesualdo Bufalino and Luigi Pirandello.

In this blog post, I will include films I have watched and would recommend.   Please note that this list is NOT a complete list of movies filmed in Italy.  The blog post would be too long to include them all! Also, note that I am not a professional film reviewer.  I just know what I like and would like to share this list with you.  Perhaps you, my readers, have watched these films or would like to watch them.  Many are available on Netflix and others are available at the public library.  Sometimes the films are found with their English titles, sometimes with the original Italian titles.

Angela

This film was directed by Roberta Torre and is set in Palermo. Donatella Finocchiaro plays Angela, a woman trapped in the Mafia lifestyle.  It is based on a true story.  For more info: link  

Baaria

Directed by Tornatore.  The film had a lot going on, sort of chaotic, reminded me of a Fellini film. Shot in Bagheria and Tunisia. I found it hard to follow.  I mention it here because so many people really liked it.

Caro Diario (Dear Diary)
1994 Directed by and starring Nanni Moretti.
This semi-autobiographical film, for which Nanni won Best Director at Cannes, reads like a diary and is divided into 3 episodes. Link

Cinema Paradiso
This is a great film! Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1989 Academy-Award-winning film is a romantic look at growing up in a remote village. The filmmaker returns to his Sicilian hometown, Bagheria, for the first time in 30 years and looks back on his life. This film has become an Italian classic. The director, Tornatore, was born in Palermo.

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Diario di Una Siciliana Ribelle (first film, a documentary, I did not see)

The Sicilian Girl (Second film is based on the above documentary. I watched this and it is really good. Based on the true story of Rita Atria, who went from devoted daughter to mafia informer.)

1997 Marco Amenta.
The first film is is a documentary of Rita Atria, a 17 year-old daughter of a mafia don who gives her diaries to the authorities to avenge her father’s death. Her evidence and work with Borselino and Falcone proved extremely valuable in the exposure and convictions of many important gangsters. Bravely told, director Amenta was so captivated by Rita’s story that he made a second film, The Sicilian Girl (2008) to explore Rita Atria’s psychological and emotional journey. The rest is history. Filmed around Palermo.

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Divorzio all’Italiana (Divorce, Italian Style)
Pietor Germi’s 1961 comedy had Marcelo Mastroianni as a Sicilian aristocrat seeking a divorce when divorce in Italy was not legal.  Filmed in Catania, Ispica and Ragusa Ibla.

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard)
Luchino Visconti’s 1963 film version of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel.  Set in revolutionary Sicily in the mid-1800s, the film stars Burt Lancaster as a Sicilian prince who seeks to preserve his family’s aristocratic way of life in the face of Italy’s unification by Garibaldi.  Filmed in Palermo, Mondello and Ciminna.  The costumes are incredible and it is said that a fortune was spent on making this film. The cast also features Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli, Romolo Valli.

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Il Postino 

Michael Radford’s ultra lovely romance set in a small Italian town during the 1950s where exiled Chilean poet Pablo Nerudo has taken refuge. A shy mailman befriends the poet and uses his words to help him woo a woman with whom he has fallen in love. Filmed in Procida (Bay of Naples) and the Aeolian Island of Salina. Some scenes were also filmed in Pantelleria. The main actor, the painfully shy postman played by Massimo Troisi, was having heart issues at the time of filming so they moved the filming to Procida to be near hospitals. Sadly, he died before the end of the film, but enough scenes had been filmed in order to finish the film.

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Johnny Stecchino

(Comedy, translates to Johnny Toothpick) 1991 comedy directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. Stecchino (Mr. Toothpick) is a hapless bus driver who is believed to be a snitch for the mob. Filmed in Bagheria and Capo Mulino.

Kaos (Chaos)
Directed by the brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani and released in 1984, Kaos tells four stark powerful tales of old time Sicilian life based on stories by Luigi Pirandello. Filmed with haunting and mesmerizing music around Pirandello’s hometown of Agrigento. On Netflix under “Kaos” the Greek word for Chaos.

L’Uomo Delle Stelle (The Star Maker)
1995, Giuseppe Tornatore
This film, from “Cinema Paradiso” director Giuseppe Tornatore, is about a con man from Rome who, posing as a Hollywood talent scout in post-war Sicily, travels with a movie camera to impoverished villages, promising stardom – for a fee – to gullible townspeople.

To follow the locations of L’uomo Delle Stelle (The Star Maker) you need to move from one end of Sicily to the other. One can recognize: Monterosso Almo, an old village in the heart of the Iblei Mountains, and Ragusa Ibla, the old Benedictine convent just outside Gangi, in the Madonie Mountains, and the little fishing village, Marzamemi; the rural area of Casalgiordano, also in the Madonie, near the Petralies; the Gurfa Caves, a rock settlement in the territory of Alia (Palermo province), the Morgantina archaeological area and the ruins of the village of Poggioreale, destroyed by the 1968 earthquake and today used as a setting for a lot of films. The locations included in this movie inspired Theresa Maggio’s book The Stone Boudoir.

La Terra Trema (The Earth Trembles) (very old film, depressing, but a classic)

Luchino Visconti’s 1948 adaptation of Verga’s I Malavoglia, the devastating story of a fisherman’s failed dream of independence. Originally a failure at the box office, the film has emerged as a classic of the neo-realistic movement.  Filmed in Aci Trezza. (on Netflix under the Italian title)

Mafioso, 1962 Mafioso is a 1962 Italian mob black comedy film directed by Alberto Lattuada.

Malena
2001 Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Set during WWII and filmed in Messina, this is the story of the life of beautiful Malena, her husband’s absence, a boy’s obsession, and angry townspeople. Shot in Siracusa.

Mid-August Lunch

2008 Filmed in Rome and not in Sicily, this film shows the influence Italian mothers have over their grown sons. Gianni di Gregorio writes, directs, and acts in this film! Humorous.

Nuovomondo (The Golden Door)
2006 Directed by Emanuele Crialese
It is the turn of the century and these poor illiterate farmers want to emigrate to the land of opportunity, America. This is their story, the story of old customs, courage, fears and the importance of the homeland.

Respiro
2002 Directed by Emanuele Crialese
A story of family, mental illness, and misunderstanding. Filmed on the island of Lampedusa.

 

Rocco & His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli)

A 1960 Italian film directed by Luchino Visconti, inspired by an episode from the novel Il ponte della Ghisolfa by Giovanni Testori. Set in Milan, it tells the story of an immigrant family from Sicily and its disintegration in the society of the industrial North. The title is a combination of Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers and the name of Rocco Scotellaro, an Italian poet who described the feelings of the peasants of southern Italy. The film stars Alain, Delon and Claudia Cardinale, in one of her early roles before she became internationally known.

 

Salvatore Giuliano

1961 Directed by Francesco Rosi
While exploring the Sicilian world where politics and crime exist in a turbulent marriage, Rosi sets this film in the 1950’s western Sicily. The city of Castelvetrano, the piazzas of Montelepre, the mountains, and the small villages are scenes of the life of the Sicilian Robin Hood, Salvatore Giuliano, one of Italy’s most beloved criminals. This dark Neo-Realist film tells the story of how his passion for an independent Sicily brought him to be murdered at the age of 27. The story is so captivating that Mario Puzo wrote The Sicilian a dramatized version of the story in 1984. It was subsequently made into a film in 1987. An opera entitled Salvatore Giuliano by Lorenzo Ferrero premiered in Rome in 1986

Sedotta e Abbandonata (Seduced and Abandoned)

1964 Directed by Pietro Germi
With Lando Buzzanca and Stefania Sandrelli
A masterpiece of a comedy narrating the grotesque story of a beautiful girl that is, as the title says, seduced and abandoned. Set in Sciacca, this satire on Sicilian society, focuses on the importance of saving honor.

Stromboli, Terra di Dio (a classic)

1950 Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Roberto Rossellini filmed this classic on the Aeolian Islands in 1949. Stromboli, Terra di Dio marked the beginning of Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman’s highly publicized affair.

Terraferma, directed by Crialese Drama

A Sicilian family deals with the arrival of a group of African immigrants /refugees on their island. Based on a true story and the African woman in the movie played herself and is the very person this story happened to! Very interesting and very much a current issue in Sicily since Sicily is  so close to Africa.

The Italian Americans  (I have not watched this yet)
2014, John Maggio Productions
The Italian Americans is John Maggio’s film about the Italian immigration experience. This four part documentary is intelligently done and while exploring how they evolved, helps to dispel many misunderstandings about Italians. It can be seen on  PBS video, purchased, or rented through Amazon. (the whole series is on Netflix…on my DVD queue…have not watched it yet)

Italian TV SERIES available at the library: Inspector Montalbano (Il Commissario Montalbano) 1999, based on the detective novels of Andrea Camilleri. Very popular in Sicily. Filmed in Ragusa. Try to watch at least one of the episodes and meet the cunning Inspector Montalbano, the famous commissioner with his Sicilian riddles.

Sicily in Literature

May 4, 2018

I have compiled a list of books that were either written by Sicilian authors or were written by non-Sicilians about Sicily.  The list is by no means extensive, but this is a start of some books you might consider reading if you have an interest in Sicily.

  • The Late Mattia Pascal This novel was written in 1904 by Luigi Pirandello. Its Italian title is Il Fu Mattia Pascal.  Pirandello was born in Agrigento and is Sicily’s most famous play write. This novel focuses on Pirandello’s favorite themes: the theme of “mask” and people in search of an identity. His most famous play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, also deals with the same theme. There is also a Sicilian film, Kaos, the Greek word from which we have our English word chaos, is a series of vignettes based on some of Pirandello’s short stories. Kaos is available on Netflix. images
  • I Malavoglia, by Verga Giovanni Verga was a Sicilian writer born in 1840 in Vizzini (that’s the same town where my friend Francesco was born) and died in Catania. He was best know for his depictions of life in his native Sicily. Verga is considered one of the greatest of all Italian novelists.  I noticed that he died weeks after my father was born. Verga was an Italian realist writer and his style is called verismo. The book looks at the life of an impoverished fisherman’s family and portrays what happens when economic and social structures break down. The English title is The House by the Medlar Tree and there is also an old black and white film based on the book called “The Earth Trembles”. The novel and the film are very bleak, but very moving and interesting.  He also wrote Little Novels Of Sicily.  I see his books in every Sicilian bookstore! images-1
  • Sicilian Carousel, by Lawrence Durrell  I enjoyed reading this and I wish the Sicilian Carousel Tour Bus still existed. It was a tour company in the 70s that took tourists all around the island, stopping at ruins and other places of importance.  I like how Durrell talks about Greek mythology and brings the Greek gods and goddesses to life as he journeys this ancient place.

 

  • What Makes a Child Lucky, by Gioia Timpanelli  Love her writing! images-2

 

  • Behind Closed Doors: Her Father’s House and Other Stories of Sicily, by Maria Messina. Maria Messina was a recluse. She suffered from MS. She was born in 1887 in Palermo, and wrote 18 books that portray women’s lives during her era of life.

 

  • The Day of the Owl, Leonardo Sciascia. Leonardo put the town of Racalmuto on the map and Racalmuto is the town next to my parents’ blink-the-eye-and-miss-it-village of Grotte in the province of Agrigento. Sciascia was the first writer to stand up to the mafia and lived to tell the tale. The Day of the Owl was also made into a movie. It is true crime fiction genre. The Italian title is Il Giorno della Civetta.

 

  • A House in Sicily, Daphne Phelps  This book reminds me a lot of Under the Tuscan Sun, a dream come true to refurbish an old home.

 

  • On Persephone’s Island: A Sicilian Journal, Mary Taylor Simeti

 

  • The Stone Boudoir: Travels Through the Hidden Villages of Sicily, Theresa Maggio  Teri Maggio’s writing will get you hooked to her easy style. She also wrote the next featured novel below.images-4
  • Mattanza, Theresa Maggio  I liked this one, too. After I read this book, I looked at YouTube videos of the Mattanza and I read up on the tuna fisheries in Sicily that were thriving way of life for thousands of years.  It makes me sad that the tuna numbers have dwindled to dangerously low numbers.  However, here you have it, the fishing done on a day to day basis, the way it’s been done for millennia.

 

  • The Terracotta Dog, Andrea Camilleri Everyone loves Camilleri in Sicily. He is Sicily’s Agatha Christie, another great mystery writer. Camilleri has many many books to check out if you like mysteries. His mysteries were set to a very popular tv series here in Italy. And you must watch at least a few of the Inspector Montalbano television series. They are based on Camilleri’s books, subtitled and available at the library. I love the Montalbano series.

 

  • The Sicilian, Mario Puzo (author of The Godfather)  If you are Sicilian and reading this, you probably just cringed! Sicilians have fought hard against political and social corruption and they are not eager to talk about mafia or subjects of protection money and violence.  They shudder at the thought that people actually come to Sicily to do “Mafia Tours“, where certain sites of massacres are visited, and former homes and hideouts of mafiosi visited and where tourists visit the places where scenes of The Godfather were filmed.  I am surprised that such tours even exist, given how much they are abhorred by the locals!  The Sicilian is a book about the Sicilian bandit, the black market food smuggler, Salvatore Giuliano.  Giuliano was Sicily’s Robin Hood and I have actually been in humble homes where there is a huge poster of the very handsome Giuliano right smack on the wall of the living room.  I have even seen photos of Giuliano with his arm around his mother! He is a bandit who could very well be a movie star with his good looks and poise! He is local hero of sorts from the past. The photo below is Giuliano. See what I mean? latest

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