A breathtaking Italy…in words and pictures from Geoff Brookes

© Chuck Duboff

My good friend Geoff Brookes, and his wife Laureen, are currently on a three week holiday in Italy.  Geoff has been sending breathtaking pictures and this morning an e-mail arrived (of course Geoff has been asking for Jets updates…lol)  Enjoy this blog written and photographed in Italy:


© Geoff Brookes

‘m in the outdoor seating at “Bar Focacceria Antonio”, in Monterosso Al Mare, on a peaceful Saturday morning. In the misty distance I can see rocky hills falling to the sea like folds in a roughly thrown blanket. In each fold is another town of the “Cinque Terre”, the five towns that dot this spectacular stretch of the Mediterranean Sea. I’m having my second cappuccino, but I will wait until Laureen wakes to sample the three kinds of Focaccia bread that I spied in the display case. (We brought our gluten-cutter pills for this reason). This is where they invented Focaccia bread – Liguria province.

Last night we had a feast of seafood at a wonderful restaurant, “Belvedere”. It is indeed a “beautiful view”, through an open window to the Mediterranean. With a fine local white wine made in neighbouring “Vernazza”, it’s a slice of heaven to sample, where earth, wind and sea wish each other “buonasera”.

Rome was spectacular. We had guided tours of the Pantheon, the Colliseum and the Forum, while we wandered through the Palatine hill on our own. We also had an excellent guide for the Vatican and St. Peter’s (thanks Trev!). We liked the guide for the Pantheon, but the guide for the forum seemed to evaluate the ruins based on how much was left standing for each of the hundreds of ruined structures for the “forum” and the palatine hill. The forum is actually a vast congregation of ruins from the valley that was the centre of Ancient Rome. The Palatine hill was the area where the aristocrats built their palaces, above the city centre, and technically beyond its city limits, as was required at that time.

There are amazing ancient buildings scattered everywhere throughout modern Rome, but when you walk through the large area of the coliseum, the forum and the palatine hill, you feel like you’re walking through time. There are enough fully preserved remnants that you feel like you can imagine them as they were 2,000 years ago.

This 5 square miles (my guess) controlled Europe and North Africa for parts of 1,000 years, long before plagues ravaged the population of Europe. Most importantly, the Romans provided continuity in culture, art and science from the Greeks (who played at least some role in the origins of Rome), and similar historical cultures before them. Unfortunately, this knowledge went underground for 1,000 years after the Roman Empire collapsed, until its “rebirth” in the Renaissance, in which the Italians played a leading role once again.

Enjoy the pictures!






















The joy of planting flowers; by Geoff Brookes

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©Geoff Brookes

A few years ago I wrote one of my favourite poems, “Victoria Day”:


When I read it, I think of the joys of gardening in the spring, and the sense of discovery as to the plants that survived the cruel Manitoba winter.

What is it about gardening that drives us to diligently turn the soil and weed the earth?

What is it that brings a smile to our faces when we decide where to plant the new flowers? When we consider possibilities for arranging colours and heights?

planting flowers 2

Here are a few thoughts for these questions:

1. It satisfies our desire to create something beautiful. It’s an art.

2. It is an act of defiance of our own mortality. We declare that, like the rose bushes, we are back again for another summer!

3. It brings us back to nature, after the long winter season when spend far more time indoors.

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4. It allows us to try our hand at what Tolkien called “subcreation”, in which we mimic our own creator’s desire to create.

5. It provides us with a context to be outside with our neighbours, and to renew our life conversations with them.

6. It produces a natural high – the pure joy of seeing a plant take root and thrive.

7. It satisfies our desire to create order out of chaos.

I hope you’ll share your thoughts about the pleasure of gardening, or your favourite memories or experiences! Please leave a comment on our blog!

“Artists can have greater access to reality…” Reprinted from the Winnipeg Free Press


Winnipeg Free Press – PRINT EDITION

Artistic mystique difficult to explain

Artists are tortured souls. They can be odd. If they are not actually starving, they can certainly suffer from a pervasive lack of funds. They are loners, non-conformists, flakes, charlatans.

Or are they?

On Friday at the News Café, arts and culture writer Alison Gillmor will deconstruct the myth of the artistic temperament. Drawing from art history as well as pop culture, she will examine how and why we view artists the way we do.

Gillmor, who has written about art for the Winnipeg Free Press, Border Crossings Magazine, and CBC Manitoba’s The Scene, is interested in the contradictory nature of how society sees artists, calling the viewpoint double-edged.

Says Gillmor, “On the one hand, we often want art to be pure, noble, elevated from everyday life. But then we also darkly suspect it’s a sham, or a trick, or that it’s too remote from everyday life.”

Though we often bestow stereotypical labels upon those who work in specialized fields, we do so with affection and amusement. “The math geek,” for example, or “the food snob.” But artists have a particular way of getting under the skin, and cause a unique kind of ambivalence.

According to Gillmor, this is due to the way art history has shaped our perceptions. The Renaissance master Michelangelo was the first artist to sign his work, impelled as he was by a deep sense of responsibility toward his gifts and the belief that his talent was divinely inspired. As a result, artists were no longer seen as craftspeople working anonymously as members of a guild. The first individualist “modern” art superstar was born.

Though Van Gogh never achieved the same kind of Lord-like status during his lifetime, his tumultuous life and tragic death embody many of our culture’s myths about the artist — madman, pauper, martyr. And, says Gillmor, “Once a mythology really gets underway, it gets bigger and bigger. There’s a whole Van Gogh industry: books, films, songs, merchandise.”

We no longer believe artists are superhuman. But art history lives on in the way we confer upon artists a special status, seeing their ability to draw or paint as nearly magical. And, if the artists we know are not in the habit of slicing off ears in episodic insanity, they could at the very least be overly sensitive, socially awkward and a little moody. We tolerate this, suspecting that without it, the production of a masterpiece is not very likely.

If our romantic view of artists is informed by art history, what accounts for our skepticism where contemporary art is concerned? In recent years after all, art made out of fried eggs has won awards. At the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis there is a dead horse hanging from the ceiling. There are some art schools that no longer teach drawing.

As rap artist Jay Z recently opined, “Artists can have greater access to reality; they can see patterns and details and connections that other people, distracted by the blur of life, might miss.”

We want to agree with Jay Z, but we suspect that something terrible has happened to art. It no longer makes sense. We simply don’t “get” much of the art being made today, and that can make us feel stupid, offended or annoyed.

It should come as no surprise that we are completely unoriginal in our skepticism. As Gillmor points out, “We often think that the current crop of artist-provocateurs have pushed the limits way beyond anything ever done before. But you can find controversies about art exceeding the limits of taste or morality going back to the Renaissance.”

Even our beloved impressionists, she says, who painted those beautifully hazy scenes of pink and purple water lilies, were once grossly misunderstood, even reviled.

“When they started out,” says Gillmor, “a cartoonist warned that their ‘shocking’ paintings might cause pregnant women to miscarry.”

Gillmor’s talk will allow patrons to acknowledge just how much history has informed their thinking, and will allow them to locate exactly where they sit on the spectrum between reverence for the artist and suspicion.


Sarah Swan is a Winnipeg artist and writer. She will host Art Talk/Art Walk at the Free Press News Café on Friday at 6 p.m. Call 204-697-7069 for tickets to the event.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2014 D3