Public Art vs Street Art: Calgary, Florence, Rome

After six weeks of recently wandering the streets of Dublin, Florence and Rome, I was puzzled by the lack of new public art (approved by a public process), appalled by the abundance of graffiti and intrigued by the street art (no public approval).

There was really only one piece of what looked like new public art that caught my eye. It was in Rome, in the tiny off-the-beaten path Vicolo dell’Oro square. The piece “Personal/NonPersonal” by Simone D’Auria was commissioned by the Gallery Hotel Art which is located next to the square. A very ambitious piece that encompasses the entire square, it has 18 ghost-like man/animal figures strategically placed from the earth to sky, including several figures climbing the side of the building. 

The artwork represents an imaginary world populated by white creatures with a human body and the head of an animal. The inspiration has its roots in the past of those great men who have made the city of Florence and its history and who repesented themselves through emblems depicting the head of an animal followed by a motto that extolled the value and virtue of action. Some examples? The turtle with a sail for Cosimo I,  symbol of prudence combined with the power of action; a rhino for Alessando de Medici to symbolize his strength and strong will; a weasel by Francis I, the symbol of cunning.

"Today, in my work, those animals and the meanings they carry with them become faces of men and women, ironic caricatures in which they can identify themselves, visible expression of their deepest inner values; portraits, in fact," says D'Auria. The circus-like animation is a welcome relief in a city dominated by somber ruins of past cultures and statues of people long passed away.  It was definitely a refreshing and welcomed surprise.

I can’t help but think that an artwork like this would be a good addition to downtown Calgary.  It would be very appropriate for a space between the many two-tower office blocks or for the alley space between the towers of the Hotel Le Germain project on 9th Avenue SW. 

fying
climbing the wall
bums
flying figures
seated figures

Florence Street Art

While Calgary invests millions of public and private dollars into public art, in Florence and Rome, temporary free street art seems to be the rage.  Very soon after arriving in Florence, I started to notice the appearance of faceless, simple cartoon-like stick figures with balloons and words like “exit, freedom and resistance”.  For me, it soon became a fun game of spotting the next piece. And they were all over the place!

Later, I found out by googling that the no-name artist was from Pisa, Italy a hot bed for street art. The title of the project is “Exit/Enter” with the purpose being to tickle the imagination of street spectators, to be a catalyst for a smile or a smirk and maybe even be a bit thought-provoking as one tries to understand the ongoing narrative.  I thought the title was very appropriate as the streets and alleys of Florence are full of doorways and corners where people are always entering or exiting. 

CLET

While walking around Florence’s San Niccolo district we discovered a t-shirt shop with some very interesting street-sign decals so we popped in.  We quickly learned that they were the work of CLET, a very well-known, European street artist who has his studio in the area at Via Dell’Olono 8r. CLET cleverly alters road signs around cities with removable stickers. Seems the local authorities tolerate the work, which again adds humour to an urban landscape polluted with street signage.  Once, we knew about CLET we started to find the altered street signs everywhere. 

This is the entrance to CLET studio. The Fish sign is CLET's, the hear and stick figure is from the "Exit/Enter" project and the blue piece is by Blurb another street artist (see below) and butterflies by another artist. I am not sure who did the guns or the black figure with paint roller. 

This is the entrance to CLET studio. The Fish sign is CLET's, the hear and stick figure is from the "Exit/Enter" project and the blue piece is by Blurb another street artist (see below) and butterflies by another artist. I am not sure who did the guns or the black figure with paint roller. 

close up


collage
kisses
cross
t-shirt
blind corner

Exit/Enter Project

waste
Resistance
resistance 2
Exit bike
Lost
balloon
woman and child
ladder
natzi
fly away

Blurb 

A third street artist, Blurb, takes on major masterpieces of art and dresses them up in scuba gear.  The title of the project is “Art knows how to swim” and while I have no idea was the meaning is, they too added an element of fun to serious works of art like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s David.   Many of the works on paper are ripped and faded to the point where they blend right in with the urban patina of the city. 

david
Blurb
mona lisa
red hat

Rome Street Art 

In Rome, we didn’t find any new public art or graffiti street art like Florence (though we did find a few Exit/Enter pieces). However, in the graffiti-filled streets of the San Lorenzo district near the university, we found the motherlode of street art. 

Along the retaining wall of a playing field in an elevated park are two block-long linear art galleries with works by various artists intertwined to create a powerful statement about the area’s sense of place. 

These are not the refined, pretty, decorative street art works you see in some cities, but rather the evolution of graffiti and tagging into expressionist paintings full of social and political protests.  In some places, it was hard to tell where the graffiti ended and the street art began.

A typical streetscape in San Lorenzo.

A typical streetscape in San Lorenzo.

One side of the street art wall.

One side of the street art wall.

Detail from art wall

Detail from art wall

Detail from art wall

Detail from art wall


The second side of street art wall is devoted to the work of one artist.

The second side of street art wall is devoted to the work of one artist.

Street art on the security doors of a shop.

Street art on the security doors of a shop.

PsychoLAB

PsychoLAB

Need food not football?

Need food not football?

Calgary Street Art

Earlier this year, Calgary experimented with some street art on the retaining walls of the busy pedestrian (4th and 14th Street SW) underpasses connecting 9th and 10th Avenues.  And although in most cities street art is painted without permission on public and private walls and is permanent, most of Calgary’s street art is approved and temporary.

For example, this past May, as part of the Beakerhead, program Michael Mateyko and Hans Theiseen (also known as Komboh) created a pair of 27-foot long murals on 4th Street and 12-foot murals on 14th Street. Eco-chalk graffiti, an environmentally-friendly product that can be easily removed was used.  The murals consisted of several cartoon robot-like figures that mimicked people walking to work. 

The spontaneity, surprise and fun-ness of the artwork that appeared overnight was dampened by a large text informing everyone, “This temporary public artwork is created with eco-calk and application and removal process approved by the City of Calgary.”

As well, in East Village, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation organized two interesting temporary street art projects. The first “I am the River” by Derek Besant and the current “The Field Manual: A compendium of local influence” by Calgary’s Light & Soul Collective, both using the new RiverWalk’s bridge abutments, storage sheds and robo-bathrooms as their canvas.  

 

4th Street Mural from the other side of the underpass.

4th Street Mural from the other side of the underpass.

The 4th Street mural pedestrian perspective.

The 4th Street mural pedestrian perspective.

Example of one of the fun and clever cartoon characters. 

Example of one of the fun and clever cartoon characters. 

Love this cartoon of a woman walking with her briefcase and plugged in to the sky aka icloud.

Love this cartoon of a woman walking with her briefcase and plugged in to the sky aka icloud.

Somehow I felt this signage took some of the fun and spontaneity out of the work.

Somehow I felt this signage took some of the fun and spontaneity out of the work.

Last Word 

One has to wonder if Calgary and other cities would be better served by encouraging more temporary street art, both approved and unapproved, than expensive permanent public art works.  Not only is street art cheaper, it doesn’t have any maintenance costs and if the public doesn’t like it, well, it will literally disappear in a few months or years.

Found the juxtaposition of the bike and the skeleton figure quite provocative. 

Found the juxtaposition of the bike and the skeleton figure quite provocative. 

Calgary's MAC attack

Over the next few months, Calgary’s planners and politicians are going to experience a “MAC attack” as developers present plans for new Major Activity Centers (MAC) on the west and north edges of the city. 

What is a MAC you ask?  The City of Calgary Municipal Development Plan defines it as an urban center for a sub-region of the city providing opportunities for people to work, live, shop, recreate, be entertained and meet their daily needs.  

MAC is not a new idea

In the early ‘90s, the City’s Go Plan called for “mini-downtowns” at the edge of the city and in many ways a MAC is like a small city downtown with a main street and offices surrounded by low rise residential development.  Then in the early 21st century, planners started using terms like “urban villages” and “transit-oriented development (TOD)” for mixed-use (residential, commercial) developments that incorporated live, work, play elements.

The problem with TOD was that in many cases Calgary’s new communities were getting developed years before the transit infrastructure was actually in place. For example, Quarry Park and SETON in the southeast are both being developed today along the future SE LRT route, but the trains won’t arrive for probably another 15+ years away.

TOD also had other limitations, as MACs are not always right next to major transit routes, but more oriented toward major roadways in the city. For example, the Currie Barracks has all of the attributes of MAC but no major transit connections. Its focus is more on Crowchild Trail and Glenmore Trail, with Mount Royal University and the Westmont Business Park and ATCO site redevelopment as its employment centre.   

Currie Barracks Mount Royal University is just one of several Major Activity Centres (MACs) identified by the City of Calgary as places where vibrant mixed-use urban density developments should take place. The numbers refer to various amenities like parks, schools, shopping etc.

Currie Barracks Mount Royal University is just one of several Major Activity Centres (MACs) identified by the City of Calgary as places where vibrant mixed-use urban density developments should take place. The numbers refer to various amenities like parks, schools, shopping etc.

An example of a street in Currie Barracks where attached houses are nestled together with shared front lawns, narrow sidewalks and alleys. 

An example of a street in Currie Barracks where attached houses are nestled together with shared front lawns, narrow sidewalks and alleys. 

MACs have a enhanced sidewalks leading to public spaces and shopping areas, which make for more pedestrian and wagon friendly streets. Also note the open storm water area which allows for natural water run off for vegetation. 

MACs have a enhanced sidewalks leading to public spaces and shopping areas, which make for more pedestrian and wagon friendly streets. Also note the open storm water area which allows for natural water run off for vegetation. 

This is a back alley in Currie Barracks with a mix of traditional garages and laneway housing. 

This is a back alley in Currie Barracks with a mix of traditional garages and laneway housing. 

MAC 101

The City’s Municipal Development Plan has some very specific guidelines when it comes to what is a MAC, these include:

  1.  200 jobs per gross developable hectare (a hectare is approximately the size of two CFL football fields including the end zones).
  2.  Provide a business centre/employment center; this could be an independent office buildings or office/medical space above retail.
  3.  Range of housing types – single-family, town and row housing, medium-density condos (under 6 floors), rental and affordable housing
  4.  Large format retail (big box) should be at the edge of the MAC to allow access from other communities
  5. Pedestrian/transit-friendly design i.e. pedestrians and transit have priority over cars. For example, vehicle parking should design to minimize impact on transit and pedestrian activities, ideally underground.
  6.  Diversity of public spaces i.e. plazas, playgrounds, pocket parks and pathways.  Sports fields should be located at the edge of the MAC as they take up large tracts of land and are only used seasonally.  Planners want to keep as many higher uses clustered together near the LRT or Main Street.

While these are useful guidelines, they should not be prescriptive, as each site must be allowed to develop based on its unique site opportunities and limitations - no two MACs are the same.

 

This is an early conceptual computer rendering of Brookfield Residential's SETON showing the South Health Campus in the background with low rise condos and office buildings and a pedestrian oriented main street with shops, cafes, restaurants and patios.  

This is an early conceptual computer rendering of Brookfield Residential's SETON showing the South Health Campus in the background with low rise condos and office buildings and a pedestrian oriented main street with shops, cafes, restaurants and patios.  

Early conceptual rendering of SETON pedestrian street. 

Early conceptual rendering of SETON pedestrian street. 

Conceptual rendering of a mixed-use street in SETON.

Conceptual rendering of a mixed-use street in SETON.

SETON at might with street patios. 

SETON at might with street patios. 

Coming Soon

Earlier this year the City approved land-use plans for the University of Calgary’s West Campus an inner city MAC that was developed after extensive community engagement. 

Up next for Council’s approval will be West District that links the west side communities of West Springs and Cougar Ridge and Brookfield Residential’s Livingston at the northern edge of the city, both of which will be topics for future blogs.  

This is an artist's sketch of the central retail area proposed for Currie Barracks. Surrounded by offices and condos, this public space is designed to allow for a diversity of uses by people day and night, weekdays and weekends. Also note that designers are also taking into account Calgary is a winter city. (rendering provided by Canada Land Corporation) 

This is an artist's sketch of the central retail area proposed for Currie Barracks. Surrounded by offices and condos, this public space is designed to allow for a diversity of uses by people day and night, weekdays and weekends. Also note that designers are also taking into account Calgary is a winter city. (rendering provided by Canada Land Corporation) 

West Campus' main street has been designed as the community's focal point with spaces appropriate for boutiques, cafes, restaurants, pubs, a hotel and cinema. It will be a place that appeals to Calgarians of all ages and be accessible by pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.  (computer rendering by RK Visuals provided by West Campus Development Trust 

West Campus' main street has been designed as the community's focal point with spaces appropriate for boutiques, cafes, restaurants, pubs, a hotel and cinema. It will be a place that appeals to Calgarians of all ages and be accessible by pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.  (computer rendering by RK Visuals provided by West Campus Development Trust 

Last Word

As Calgary evolves as a city, so does the glossary of terms used by planners and developers to describe their utopian vision of what Calgary could and should be in the future.

Calgary’s development community has enthusiastically taken up the concept and challenge of creating MACs; this is a good thing for two reasons.  One Calgary needs to speed up its residential development approval process if we want to create affordable and adequate housing for the next generation of Calgarians. Second, more and more new Calgarians are looking for walkable urban communities.

While in the past developers and planners didn’t always see “eye-to-eye” on how new communities should be planned, more and more there is a shared vision of how to create pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use and mixed-density communities.  

Calgary’s planning department use to have the motto “working together to make a great city better.”  I am thinking this would be a good motto for all of the city’s departments, as well as the development community and the citizens of Calgary. 

By Richard White, November 22, 2014

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, titled "Big hopes for mini-downtowns" on Saturday, November 22nd in the New Condos section. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Brookfield: Working together to make Calgary better!

District: Community Engagement Gone Wild 

West Campus: Calgary's first 24/7 community?

3Rs of walkable communities?

 

A Surprise Playground Lunch

After a fun day of exploring Rome’s hipster Trastevere district, we were getting hungry. So, as good flaneurs do, we started asking shopkeepers where to go to lunch with the locals. Following the suggestion to check out the restaurants along Via G.A. Bertani, we eventually ending up at triangular Piazza San Cosimato. 

 To our surprise, the piazza was animated with a pop-up farmers’ market and a few permanent food vendors.  We quickly spotted a butcher making some great looking fresh sandwiches.  We stood in line to get one.  When our turn arrived, we non-Italian speakers pointed and said “two.” A few minutes of charades later, we found out we needed to go to the bakery on the street behind the butcher to purchase the buns and then return to the butcher who would make us our sandwiches.

 Buns in hand, we were back at the butcher’s in a flash. While he was making our sandwiches, I realized I really wanted a beer, so in another round of charades, I asked if he had one.  At first he pointed back to the bakery/grocery store, but then he nodded, smiled, grabbed a beer out of the fridge (I expect it was his personal beer fridge) and handed it to me.

 After paying up, we went to find a place to sit and enjoy our big fat, paper-wrapped sandwiches.  The only obvious spot was the benches along the inside perimeter of the tiny playground at the tip of the piazza. 

 

Yes, Dads love to jump too.  This Dad is showing off his jumping skills to the entire family.

Yes, Dads love to jump too.  This Dad is showing off his jumping skills to the entire family.

One sister is keen, the other is not so sure.

One sister is keen, the other is not so sure.

Big brother helping sister.

Big brother helping sister.

Playground Fun 

It turned out to be the perfect spot, with dappled sunlight and a front row seat for the Cirque du Soleil-like performance by young children and their parents. As we ate, we were treated to a series of children hopping from one orange stationary, stool-like structure to another, spaced just far enough apart to make the jump difficult for younger children.  It was too much fun to watch as dads helped their kids and older siblings helped the younger ones.  We even had a couple of amazing performances by the dad – interesting to note that none of the moms gave it a try. It was amazing to watch how long the families jumped back and forth on this simple, low-tech playground equipment.

 The playground was also a great people-watching place. Locals of all ages and backgrounds came and went – it was a cast of characters.  I was even befriended by a little guy with a soccer ball who wanted somebody to kick it back and forth, which we did for few minutes until his Mom said they had to leave (or at least I think that is what she said as she smiled and said “thank you.”) As we left, I discovered what must be one of the largest blackboards in the world. Somebody had cleverly turned the concrete retaining wall along the edge of the piazza into a huge blackboard, probably close to 100 feet long.  I wish I had brought my sidewalk chalk.

 

The seven stepping stools, who would think they could be so much fun.

The seven stepping stools, who would think they could be so much fun.

The spectators bench. 

The spectators bench. 

The world's longest blackboard?

The world's longest blackboard?

A good public space attracts people of all ages. 

A good public space attracts people of all ages. 

Our friendly butcher, sandwich maker. 

Our friendly butcher, sandwich maker. 

Last Word

This was definitely a far cry from the $250,000+ mass-produced, mega colourful playgrounds being constructed in parks in communities throughout Calgary.  This playground was integrated into the community’s everyday pursuits with shops and restaurants surrounding it on all sides.  Yes, there was a fence around the park, but there were no Playground Zone signs and no isolating the playground in a park far away from pedestrian, bike, motorcycle and car traffic. Rather, it was an integrated part of the everyday activities of a community that embraced outdoor urban living.  It truly was a community meeting / hangout place.  

 We love urban surprises and the Piazza San Cosimato ranks high as one of the best surprise of our 7 days in Rome.

 If you like this blog, you might like:

Plaza design: Dos & Don'ts

Public Art vs Playgrounds in the 21st Century

Vegas' Crazy Container Park

Dublin: St. Stephen's Green vs St Patrick's Cathedral Park

I have always believed that great cities have great parks.  A recent visit to Dublin and its two urban parks reminded me or the importance of parks in creating attractive urban places for people of all ages and backgrounds. 

St. Stephen's Green 

Until 1663 St. Stephen's Green was a marshy common on the edge of Dublin, used for grazing. In that year Dublin Corporation, seeing an opportunity to raise much needed revenue, decided to enclose the centre of the common and to sell land around the perimeter for building. The park was enclosed with a wall in 1664. The houses built around the Green were rapidly replaced by new buildings in the Georgian style and by the end of the eighteenth century the Green was the urban playground for the city's rich and famous. Much of the present day streetscape around the Green comprises modern buildings (some in a replica Georgian style) with very little from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today St. Stephen's Green is a green oasis for people of all ages and backgrounds  in Dublin's bustling city centre. The current park was designed by William Sheppard in 1880.  The park is adjacent to one of Dublin's main shopping streets, Grafton Street, and to a shopping centre named for it, while on its surrounding streets are the offices of a number of government office and the city terminus of one of Dublin's LUAS tram lines.  At 22 acres, it is the largest of Dublin's Georgian garden squares, others include nearby Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square.

Map of St. Stephen's Green

Map of St. Stephen's Green

There is a wonderful calmness in the park that invites you to sit and relax. 

Parks are great places to sit, chat and people watch. 

Parks are great places to sit, chat and people watch. 

Fusilier's Arch is located at the entrance/exit to the park from Grafton Street. Built in 1907, it is dedicated to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who fought and died in the Second Boer War (1899 - 1902).

The Park's playground is very popular with the little people.. 

The Park's playground is very popular with the little people.. 

Stephen's Green has a wonderful pastoral ambience to it.

Stephen's Green has a wonderful pastoral ambience to it.

The park is surrounded by high dense hedges that serve as noise and sight barriers, which contributes to the sense of an oasis and privacy. 

The park is surrounded by high dense hedges that serve as noise and sight barriers, which contributes to the sense of an oasis and privacy. 

The Park is full of monuments, mostly formal statues, but this contemporary piece titled "Famine,"  by Edward Delaney caught our imagination.  Parks make great spaces for public art, as they allow people to contemplate the artwork and move around it.

St. Patrick's Cathedral Park 

I love that Baileys sponsored this information panel about the park and cathedral. 

I love that Baileys sponsored this information panel about the park and cathedral. 

The formal park is centred around a modest fountain. 

The formal park is centred around a modest fountain. 

Every park needs a playground. 

Every park needs a playground. 

Parks should appeal to people of all ages.  This little guy turned a ramp into his private playground.

Parks should appeal to people of all ages.  This little guy turned a ramp into his private playground.

Parks and public space should invite people to sit and linger.

Parks and public space should invite people to sit and linger.

Liberty Bell, by Vivienne Roche occupies a prominent spot in the park.

Liberty Bell, by Vivienne Roche occupies a prominent spot in the park.

At first I missed this peace of public art at is was so well integrated into the park I thought it was just another table and chairs. The location is perfect for looking out at the park or the cathedral. The piece is titled "Havel's Place" was designed by Borek Sipek and is dedicated to late Czech President and human rights advocate, Vaclav Havel. There are several of these monuments around the world. Click here for more info.

At first I missed this peace of public art at is was so well integrated into the park I thought it was just another table and chairs. The location is perfect for looking out at the park or the cathedral. The piece is titled "Havel's Place" was designed by Borek Sipek and is dedicated to late Czech President and human rights advocate, Vaclav Havel. There are several of these monuments around the world. Click here for more info.

Parade of Writers

Another fun element of the park an area set aside to recognize the tremendous contribution made by writers who have lived in Dublin. It is truly amazing that one city could be the home for so many influential writers over such a long period of time.

panel
famous writers
beckett

Last Word 

I am not sure if anyone has done the study, but I expect there is a direct correlation between the quality and quantity of urban parks and the vibrancy of the City's City Center. Think New York's  Central Park, Vancouver's Stanley Park or Montreal's Mount Royal Park.  

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: The City of Parks & Pathways

Public Art & Playgrounds in the 21st Century

Beautifying the Beltline

Florence BFFs: Best Flaneur Finds

Florence with its 10+ million visitors annually is full of touristy places to shop, eat and people watch. You really have to dig deep to find the “real” Florence.  As avid flaneurs, we are always on the lookout for locals who have a hipster, modern, funky or designer look about them, as they are good bets for having the best insights into the city’s true culture. 

Once you have sussed out such people, good questions to ask them beyond the usual “Where is a good place to eat or shop? “are:

  •  Is there a design or galley district in your city.
  • Are there any retro, second-hand, antique or used bookstores nearby?
  • Where do the locals like to hang out?” 

After 10 days of flaneuring in Florence, we found three streets that offer a more authentic Florence experience – Niccolo, Pinti and Macci.  Yes, there are still lots of tourist traps on these streets, but there are also great local hot spots.

Borgo Pinti District (from Via Egidio to Via dei Pilastri)

Even though this street was just a block away from where we were living, it took us a couple of days to find it.  As there are no cars, it is a popular pedestrian and cyclist route into the core from the edge of the City Centre.

Here you will find several upscale shops (from kids to high fashion), bakery and restaurants catering to locals and off-the-beaten path tourists.  We loved the three vintage/retro boutiques – Mrs. Macis (#38), SOqquadro (#13), Abiti Usati & Vintage (#24) and a funky hat and jewelry shop, Jesei che Volano (#33).  Note the numbers in brackets are the street numbers, but Florence has a strange way of numbering homes and shops with different coloured numbers; even by the end we were not sure we had figured it out.  

The big flaneur find on Pinti was FLY (Fashion Loves You), which looks like a high-end fashion store, but is in fact a boutique run by students from the fashion department of the Florence University of the Arts. FLY has very trendy, well-made designer purses, jewelry and clothing created by the students.  It also has some of the friendliest and knowledgeable staff we have ever encountered.  We were immediately given information about other places to check out including their cooking school/restaurant on Via de Macci (more below).

 

This wall of scarves at FLY had the feel of contemporary art exhibition. 

This wall of scarves at FLY had the feel of contemporary art exhibition. 

Mrs Macis is a colourful, playful vintage shop. 

Mrs Macis is a colourful, playful vintage shop. 

Jesei che Volano is dominated by wall of hats on fish head hooks.

Niccolo District

On the other side of the Arno River, away from the main tourist traps, is an up and coming area anchored by Via di Niccolo, at the base of the hill to the Plazzale Michelangelo.  Already home to several good restaurants and artisan studios, and lots of construction, it might be too late to call this a hidden gem, but it is definitely worth checking out.

Vivaldi Cioccolateri (Via dei Renai, 15r) has a “North American meets Florence” atmosphere. The high-ceiling back room salon with an eclectic assortment of big comfy antique chairs and couches and classic music oozes relaxation. I had perhaps one of the best chocolate desserts I have had here - an unbaked chocolate torte, garnished with thin chocolate leaves.  Though we didn’t taste the gelato, it sure looked good!  And, while sitting enjoying your coffee and dessert, you can also enjoy some voyeuristic fun as the pastry chef’s kitchen is in the loft space above the salon.

If you are into luxury and love shoes, a visit to the Stefano Bemer studio is a must.  Here they make custom shoes from scratch and promise a perfect fit for both of your feet (few people have both feet the same size or shape). The front of the shop is both a showroom and workshop where you can see young artisans at work and view some of their samples (mostly men’s shoes, but some women’s flats). Don’t expect to walk away with new shoes; there is a six-month waiting list. Rumor has it Salvatore Ferragamo’s son buys his shoes here. Note: Be prepared to shell out 3,000 euros of a new pair of shoes, but this also includes the one time molds.

We were amazed at how friendly all the artists in this district are. Don’t hesitate to go in and chat. They all speak some English, were happy to talk about their art and often had interesting tips on what to see and do in the area. 

Stefano Bemer's wall of foot moulds each with the names of the owner created a visual delight.

Vivaldi Cioccolateri's cozy back room oasis. 

CLET is a Florence street artist who creates these fun street signs around the city, especially in the Niccolo District where he has his studio. 

CLET is a Florence street artist who creates these fun street signs around the city, especially in the Niccolo District where he has his studio. 

Collage of CLET signs.

Collage of CLET signs.

Via de Macci District

We found this street after checking out the area’s Ghilberti Market. Here you will find interesting artisan shops like Ad’a’s Studio (#46) with a great selection of knitted and crocheted handbags, hats, mitts and scarfs made right on site.

Brenda loved the L’Aurora Onlus charity (thrift) shop (#11) located in the decommissioned San Francesco al Tempio hospital, church and convent complex built in 1335 (open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday). Part of the church space has been converted into the most amazing thrift store space we have ever encountered, with its intact cathedral ceilings with their religious paintings on them.  Unfortunately, the lighting is poor so you might have to use the flashlight on your phone to look at things. And the fitting room is a tiny, back storage room with poor light and no mirror. Brenda says, “it is like shopping in the twilight zone!”

At the I Mosaici di Lastrucci (#9) workshop and gallery, you can watch amazing artisans painstakingly create amazing realistic mosaic artworks from very thin slices of different coloured rocks.  The art of natural stone inlaid work dates back to 15th century Florence. This is truly is a walk back in time, when everything was handmade by local artisans.

Danda Necioni’s (#27) is an etching and map shop that is literally jam packed with historic works – a great source for a unique souvenir from Italy. All of the works come with documented authentication, making them real collector items.

Based on the hot tip from the staff at FLY, we lunched at GANZO (#85), the restaurant owned by the Florence University of the Arts and run by students.  If you are looking for a break from dark spaces and ancient architecture, its bright white walls, contemporary furnishings and large black and white student photography provides respite from the dark and decaying places outside.

The food is “stellar,” says Brenda.  Her tuna steak on polenta cake with autumn pesto had us both wanting more. I loved my pumpkin puree soup with floating candied pumpkin; mint scented ricotta and an olive powder. The desserts were a work of art; mine a pumpkin tartlet and Brenda’s Sorrento lemon, Sicilian orange and tangerine scent mousse on a chocolate cookie base.  Our sweet teeth were happy!

GANZO: pumpkin dessert combined with salted caramel and balanced by the creaminess of goat cheese. Served in a cinnamon-flavoured pastry tartlet. Looks like a work of art to me!

Ad’a’s Studio is a fun place to explore.  Check out the surprise at the back?

Can you believe this is charity/thrift store? 

Other Finds:

We found Trattoria Ciacco after a morning of strolling one of the world’s longest flea market (3+ kilometers) in Le Cascine Park on the far west side of the City Centre. We were hungry. So we crossed the river, as that is where most of the people seemed to be headed and were willing to take more or less the first place we found. Lucky us, it was Ciacco!  The place was full of locals but we were welcomed and took the only table available.  (Note: if you are looking for a good restaurant, we always find the busier they are the better.) Noticing what the couple (our age) next to us ordered, we thought it might be a good idea to do the same (the only Italian menu board wasn’t helpful to two non-Italian speaking tourists).  Again, lucky us, as it was pasta with fresh truffles and it was delectable.

When our lunch arrived, the couple smiled and said “good choice” and we continued chatting getting lots of hot tips, including the name of another good restaurant popular with locals near the Piazza Della Passera called il Magazzino.

The Florence University of the Arts also has a photography school which we visited thinking they would have a public gallery of student works. Wrong! But the staff was extremely friendly and we learned the university offers cooking classes for small groups. There we got two hot tips for restaurants – IL Santo Bevitore and Dilladarno.

 BFF (Best Flaneur Find)

One of the great things about Florence is the vibe of its thousands of young university students.  One of the first things you notice about Florence restaurants is that they cater to the students – many offering discounts.  Every night while roaming the streets and alleys for on our daily gelato fix, we would run into a street where there were dozens of students all eating sandwiches and drinking beer or wine on the street.  After a few nights we realized (yes, sometimes we are slow learners) this must be the place for sandwiches and indeed it was.  If you are ever in Florence you have to check out All’ antico Vinaio located at 65/R Via De’ Neri.

students
All' antico Vinaio

 Last Word

The golden rule of an everyday flaneur is “Look for a local and when you find one, don’t be afraid to ask.”

By Richard White, November 9, 2014

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Calgary's Hidden Gem Restaurants

Recently, I got what I thought would be an innocent email from George Brookman, CEO of West Canadian Digital Imaging Inc. which I do from time to time re: his many amazing community initiatives, but this one was different. 

Earlier this year, West Canadian Digital Imaging Inc. and Culinaire Magazine teamed up for a fun contest called “Hidden Gem YYC.”  They invited Calgarians to submit the names of their favourite hidden gem restaurants where you can get a great meal, but isn’t something most people know about.  The response was overwhelming with sixty-five different restaurant nominated. 

The prize for the winning restaurant is a $25,000.00 makeover from West Canadian, signage, logo, decorating and menus, as well as social media and a complete write-up in Culinaire Magazine.  

A panel of judges including John Gilchrist, Julie Van Rosendaal, Angela Knight, Nicole Gomes from Nicole’s Gourmet and Linda Garson were challenged to pick just one.

After a fun and sometimes heated discussion INTI Restaurant Peruvian Cuisine at #208 – 3132 – 26th Street N.E. was chosen. In the view of the judges the food is outstanding but the décor is….. something less than wonderful.

When Hans Puccinelli the young owner and both his parents were informed they had been chosen and what the prize was they were in shock. The mother started to cry and I am told big George Brookman was also close to tears. 

In the words of John Gilchrist of “My Favourite Restaurants Calgary, Banff, and beyond” fame and one of the judges, “Hidden Gem YYC, is an incredibly generous opportunity for restaurants that don’t have promotion budgets. INTI is a great little Peruvian restaurant, one of only two in Calgary, run by a talented, under-funded couple. Western Canadian’s package will help elevate them into the next level of restaurants. The food is already there. Now the look will match the cuisine.”

Hans Puccinelli with his Dad and Mom.

Hans Puccinelli with his Dad and Mom.

The backbone of any city is its small businesses.  A thriving city must have thriving small independent business, including restaurants.  Kudos to West Canadian and Culinare Magazine for taking this initiative to support a small restaurateur, as well as to collect a list of great new restaurants to try.

Last Word

As an everyday tourist, I am always looking for hidden gems both in Calgary and when visiting other cities.  I think I have my work cut out for me to visit some of the 50+  (I am working on getting the complete list and if I do I will add it to this blog) hidden gems nominated by Calgarians over the next year.  First up, INTI Restaurant Peruvian Cuisine. 

Footnote: Oct 13, 2014

Last night we did indeed visit INTI for dinner and we weren't disappointed. In addition to the great food (we did the buffet so we could sample everything), we had a great chat with Mrs. Puccinelli aka Mom.  She shared with us the touching family story of life in Peru, moving to Calgary, not knowing any English, having to take a job as dishwasher (she was lawyer in Peru) and how much she now loves Calgary. It was indeed, an "everyday tourist" experience.  

 

Here is the complete list of nominees (some perhaps more hiddent than others) :

  • Extreme Bean
  • 5 Rivers Indian Cuisine
  • Yummi Yogis
  • The Roasterie
  • Well Juicery
  • Kings
  • Amici Italian Restaurant
  • Boogies Burgers
  • Ho Won’s
  • Greco’s Pizza
  • Longview Steakhouse (Longview)
  • Portofino’s (Cochrane)
  • The Rice Bowl
  • Saffron Mantra (x4 nominations)
  • Nottingham’s Pub
  • John’s Breakfast & Lunch
  • Tu Tierra
  • Inti Peruvian Restaurant
  • Calgary Shawarma
  • Calgary Italian Bakery
  • Rustic Sourdough
  • LDV Pizza
  • Sweet Life Crepes & Waffle
  • Twisted Tortes
  • The Rock
  • Los Chilitos
  • The Himalayan
  • 500 Cucina
  • Carino
  • Vie Café (x2 nominations)
  • Chockolat
  • Oriental Palace
  • The Coup
  • Food Court@ Crossroads Market
  • Mad Rose Pub
  • Dell Café
  • Heaven Artisan Gluten Free (X4 nominations)
  • Sanoma Market Café
  • El Charrito
  • Vina Pizza & Steakhouse
  • Aidas Mediterranean
  • II Forno (Airdre)
  • Season’s Gift Shop (St. Albert)
  • Codo Vietnamese
  • Kaffeeklatsch
  • Blackfoot Truck Stop
  • Atlas Specialty - Persian Cuisine
  • Cornerstone Café
  • The Restaurant at Lougheed House
  •  Mugshotz
  • Cerezo Cafe & Bar
  • White Elephant
  • Jalapenos
  • Mirichi
  • Café Maurno
  • Naina’s Kitchen
  • Lougheed House

Hans, George Brookman and Leah Pearson, West Canadian, Marketing Manager

Hans, George Brookman and Leah Pearson, West Canadian, Marketing Manager

Flaneuring Florence's Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

By Richard White, November 5, 2014

Like most European cities, Florence's city centre has several markets, some are more focused on food, others on fashion and some even have a weekly or monthly flea market.  For example, when visiting Frankfurt, we always try to make sure we are there for their Saturday flea market along the Main River, as it is a great place to shop and people watch. In Florence, you have your choice of several different markets depending on the day of the week. 

Everyday Markets

Mercato Centrale is both and open air and indoor market. The open air area is full of vendors selling everything from socks to trinkets and like most Florence markets a plethora of leather goods.  The ornate two-story Mercato Centrale building was built in 1874, after the Mercato Vecchio was demolished to make way for the Piazza della Repubblicaa few blocks away.  Here you find lots of permanent vendors as well as upscale touristy restaurants and shops.  For those of you familar with Vancouver's Granville Island Market, or Seattle's Pike market there are many similarities.

Piazza Ghilberti Market (food and clothing) is also open everyday and given its location on the east side of the City Centre you get to mix a bit more with the locals than the Mercanto Centrale. It too has an outside stall area that is very animated and an indoor space.  Best to get there early, as it can get quite crowded later in the morning and most of the action is pretty much over by noon or 1 pm.

Specialty Markets

On your way to the Ghilberti Market you might want to stop by the small antique market on the Piazza del Ciompi which operates from Monday to Saturday opening about 10 am the best we can tell.  Seems like the vendors open whenever they like.  The entire piazza looks a bit ramshackled, but there is a good selection of second-hand stores to explore.  

The Flower Market takes place on Thursday morning under the colonnade of the Palace at the Piazza della Republic.  It is not a very large market, probably only a 15 to 20 minute "look see" for most people so combine it with some other activities that day.  It is very colourful and refreshing as Florence's City Centre has very little vegetation. 

On the third sunday of the month at the Piazza Santo Spirito is a craft and food market.  The crafts are very limited, but there are a few things you won't see at other markets, like the lady hand-weaving baskets or the hippy guy making hand-made shoes.  We were told this is where the local foodies shop.   

The third weekend of the month there is also an antique market at the Fortezza de Basso / garden.  Unfortunately, we didn't get there so can't comment on the quality of the experience.

World's Longest Flea Market

Every Tuesday from 7 am to 2 pm you will find the mother of all flea markets in Florence's Le Cascine Park along the Arno River. It is a linear market that goes for over 3 kilometres with vendors on both sides.  It took us almost two hours to do one side and we weren't looking at everything. While some vendors might stay there until 2 pm, we saw some beginning to pack up just after noon. There are a few food vendors, but it is most clothing vendors - not designer knockoffs, but rather mostly new cheap clothing, shoes, accessories, and kitchen products. This is not a "made in Italy" fashionista experience and not a place for vintage treasure hunters.  

That being said there were some treasures to be had if you were prepared to dig in the pile of scarfs. Brenda did manage to find two vintage scarves for 1 euro each and a modern Italian made sweater/coat for 40 euros.  

It was a great walk in the park, a chance to mingle with the locals and people watching. What more could you ask for? 

Postcards: Le Cascine Flea Market

The east entrance to the Le Cascine Park Flea Market is marked by this tear drop road marking. It was a drizzly day when we arrived, but the rain soon stopped and it was a very pleasant walk along the tree-lined market.  The linear market was easy to negotiate as you just go up one side and dow the other. 

Brenda checking out the racks of clothing.

I am looking for something for my sweet tooth.

I am looking for something for my sweet tooth.

Brenda had her eye on this cool dude for awhile. Yes that is his bike.

Brenda had her eye on this cool dude for awhile. Yes that is his bike.

Everyone loves a flea market

Everyone loves a flea market

Brenda spotted with pile of scarves and she was on it like a dog on a bone.

What's a flea market without The roasted chestnuts to enjoy.

What's a flea market without The roasted chestnuts to enjoy.

Postcards from Ghilberti Market 

The Bead Lady was doing a brisk business.

Inside the butcher was fun to watch. 

We loved the fact that people of all ages were enjoying the market.

Postcards from Piazza Ciompi Market 

Don't be put off by the appearance of the shops there are some treasures to be had.  

Postcards from Piazza Santo Spirito

This piazza dates back to 1252 when Augustinian monks built a monastery and church. Today it is a bohemian hang-out with restaurants, cafes and a market. 
 

We awarded this vendor the top prize for visual presentation. 

Shoe maker. 

Basket weaving. 

These bronze fragments are a war memorial.  German soldiers at the end of WWII conducting public killing of freedom fighters and political opponents in the piazza and streets surrounding it. 

Postcards from Mercanto Centrale

 

The indoor market is more like a food court in a mall or office building than a farmers' market. 

Looking down from the second floor restaurant you get a better sense that this isn't your quaint local farmer's market.  

Postcards from the Flower Market

 

The flower market has one of the prettiest spaces of any market I have ever seen.

Florence's flower market adds a burst of colour and plant life that is absent from most of the City Centre. 

Herb vendor

Last Word

One of the things all of Florence's markets have in common is that they are enjoyed by everyone from young children to seniors.  More and more urban planners and designers are cognizant of the 8/80 rule that states; if a place or space is attractive to kids 8 and younger, as well as 80 and older, it will be attractive to everyone in between.  While exploring the markets and streets of Florence, I have seen more seniors hobbling with canes along the busy and bumpy streets, sidewalks and piazzas than I have seen anywhere else in the world.  Kudos to them...I don't know how they do it.  

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Safety + Segregation + Space = Sterility

I have a theory. In fact, I’ve had it for some time. Simply stated, it is Safety + Segregation + Space = Sterility. I’m inspired to publicly share it after my recent conversation with Mel Foht, President and COO of Royop Development Corporation. Having just returned from his trip to Europe, we began talking about safety, segregation and public spaces as well as how Calgary differs from European cities in its approach to urban design. 

Street Safety

“Are Calgarians obsessed with safety? Are we making our urban spaces and places too safe?” These are questions I’ve often wondered. Though many readers may well disagree, I’d hazard a guess to say Mel and I aren’t the only ones who think we are correct.

If we want our streets to be safer, the first step might be to get all walkers, joggers, cyclists and drivers to unplug from their headphones.  We need to take a page from the peewee hockey players’ manual – “keep your head up if you don’t want to get hit.”  Whether on the sidewalk or street, we all need to look ahead and around to be aware of our environment.

Street safety is a shared responsibility.

In Salt Lake City, many of the cross walks have a reminder to look both ways. 

In Salt Lake City, many of the cross walks have a reminder to look both ways. 

Salt Lake City takes cross walk safety as step further by providing bright orange flags for pedestrians to use as they cross the street. Is this going too far?

Four-way stops are easier for pedestrians, cyclist and drivers to share the space and are a lot cheaper than round-abouts and speed bumps.  

Calgary roads for the most part have lots of room for pedestrians, cyclist and drivers if we respect each other and share the road. Share The Road signs are a good reminder that EVERYONE is responsible for sharing the road. 

Food Safety

And then there is food safety. Foht gives kudos to Mayor Nenshi and Council for fast tracking the licensing of food trucks a few years back. Calgary has about 45 food trucks (Portland, a city renowned for its street food culture, in comparison has over 500). It should be noted that Portland’s food carts are permanent street vendors (not trucks) and are often clustered on under-utilized parking lots. In fact, their downtown even has a block-long, surface parking lot ringed with food carts which creates a festival-like, outdoor food court. But as Portland, unlike Calgary, doesn’t have dozens of major office buildings each with their own food court, it is hard if not impossible to make any apple-to-apple comparison.

I am told Calgary once had the reputation for having some of the toughest food safety laws in North America. While on one hand that’s important and good, it basically restricted the food options by street food vendors to mostly hotdogs. If other cities can have rules that ensure food safety yet enable a wider variety of foods to be cooked and served on the street, we surely can too.

Portland has become a mecca for foodies partly as a result of the numerous food carts that transform surface parking and vacant lots into outdoor food courts - not just in the downtown but around the city.

Public Transit Safety

Safety also plays a key role when it come to the dominance of the car as the preferred form of transportation, not only in Calgary but I suspect in most North American cities. 

We experienced this firsthand in Memphis one morning this past winter when my wife Brenda planned to take a 20-minute bus ride from downtown to a shopping area. When ATM issues forced her to go into the nearby bank to talk to a teller, conversation ensued (which included an informal poll of all four tellers as to if she should take the bus or a cab) and a decision was made (solely by them) to call a cab - without Brenda’s permission and at her cost of 25 dollars! (Note: she took the bus back with no concern whatsoever re: her personal safety and at a cost of $3.)  This was not an isolated case – another day she was warned by locals (including a female tram driver nonetheless) to not take public transit alone. Clearly to us, whites in Memphis feel safer in their car than walking the streets or taking public transit. We also now better understand the current situation in Ferguson, Missouri. 

And safety is even shaping Calgary’s suburbs. The popularity of drive-thru coffee shops, ATMs and fast food stores is not only about convenience but also perceived safety.

Segregation

In many ways, by segregating the modes of traffic in Calgary’s downtown core - for example, 9th Avenue for cars, 8th Avenue for pedestrians and 7th Avenue for transit - we have virtually eliminated the urban vitality that comes from diversity and critical mass.  It is interesting to note that while in the early 20th Century, 8th Avenue accommodated street cars, vehicles and pedestrians, a century later we are arguing whether even pedestrians and cyclists can share the space.

 We have also segregated our activities in a way that chokes off vitality. Think about it. Most of Calgary’s cultural activities are clustered in the east end of downtown, creating a cultural ghetto away from the banks, offices, shops and restaurants. With most plays, concerts, shows, gallery events, festivals, etc happening on weekday evenings and weekends, there’s little need for most to go there during weekday days – other than to simply use it as a pass-through block to get to and from City Hall.

As well, most shops have been segregated to the +15 and +30 levels between the Hudson’s Bay and Holt Renfrew. Few small shops dot Stephen Avenue Walk itself. This stretch of 8th Avenue has become a restaurant ghetto, with vitality basically just around weekday noon hours. Recently, when touring a visiting architect from Holland and his family in the area, they couldn’t believe how the Walk changes at noon hour on weekdays. It is a phenomenon – not necessarily a great one though.

Early 20th century postcard of Stephen Avenue with street cars, vehicle and pedestrians sharing the space. 

Early 20th century postcard of Stephen Avenue with street cars, vehicle and pedestrians sharing the space. 

Salt Lake City allows cars, LRT and cyclist to share the road.

Salt Lake City allows cars, LRT and cyclist to share the road.

In Dublin, as in most European cities, the streets and sidewalks are shared by everyone. The sidewalks are narrow and the roads are crowded with pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles and cars all interacting at close quarters. 

In Dublin, as in most European cities, the streets and sidewalks are shared by everyone. The sidewalks are narrow and the roads are crowded with pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles and cars all interacting at close quarters. 

Space

Foht speaks of how Europe’s sidewalks and streets are animated with people doing lots of different things, going in lots of different directions and using lots of different modes of transportation.  It is not unusual, he says, “to see pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, trams, buses, cars and trucks all mixing and mingling on the same street at the same time.” Urban guru Jane Jacobs referred to this as “sidewalk ballet;” others call it “messy urbanism,” while yet others call it “critical mass.” Regardless of what you coin it, great urban spaces are crowded with people who access the space by a variety of transportation modes.

He also noticed that in Europe people were able to share the smallest space that allow “a zillion scooters and bikes to co-exist.” In Calgary, we can’t even seem to get the fact that the sidewalks on in the Peace Bridge are for pedestrians while the middle roadway is for cyclists.  And while European streets may look like a free-for-all to us, they in fact are very safe.

Does this mean they have more or better signage? Not necessarily. In fact, many European cities are experimenting with removing signs, allowing roads and public spaces to be self-governing. We seem to enact the polar opposite approach, ie. more signage and more complicated signage. Perhaps we are too busy trying to read and understand the signs instead of just having some basic signs and rules and then just using common sense.

For some reason, it seems that part of Calgarians’ psychological DNA includes the need for lots of space around us – big houses, big vehicles, big streets, etc. Granted, it is what we have had and in most cases, what we continue to have; it is what we are used to. For us, the extent of “crowded spaces” experience consists maybe of rush hour transit rides and at Stampede or major street festivals.

If we want to create street animation, we need to learn how to share our space. I am a big fan of “Share The Road” signs, four way stops and painted bike lanes as cost-effective traffic calming measures vs. speed bumps, roundabouts and separate bike lanes.  Why is it that Calgary always seems to find the most expensive way to manage the sharing of our streets? 

Last Word

If we really want urban vitality in Calgary, we can’t live in our own individual bubbles. If we really want a sense of community, we have to be aware of and connect with others, embrace sharing public spaces and avoid “safety-phobia.” Safety + Space + Segregation = Sterility – it’s definitely not an equation I want for Calgary.   

By Richard White, November 1st, 2014. An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on November 1st, 2014. 

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Casel: Paris on the "on ramp"

Calgary’s Nikles Group took a huge risk in developing Casel condo on the corner of 17th Avenue and 24th Street SW.  It is a strange corner as 24th Street heading south serves as the “on ramp” to Crowchild Trail; not exactly the most attractive place to live.  It is also up the hill and west of the 17th Avenue action so not the most attractive walk to those living to the east in Scarboro or Bankview who have to cross the Crowchild Trail Divide to get to the retail.  As well, it is not near a LRT station; though it does have good bus service to downtown. Despite the negatives, Nikles Group has made it work.

Casel looking southwest on 17th Ave SW.

Casel, opened in 2011, could very well be the prototype for future condos in many Calgary inner city communities. It is unique in that it is nine stories with ground floor retail, second floor commercial and concrete construction. In contrast most new condos in Bridgeland, Marda Loop, West Hillhurst or Montgomery are four floors, with main floor retail, three floors of residences and wood frame construction.

It is also unique in that the main floor retail is not your usual fast food joints, café and professional offices.  The Nikles group successfully created a European market- like atmosphere with the cluster of Cassis Bistro, Market 17, J.Webb Wines and Bros Dough.  Many of my retail colleagues had doubts that these upscale retailers would survive in this location, yet now three years later and they seem to be doing well.

J.Webb Wine Merchant is Calgary's oldest and one of its most respected independent wine merchants. 

J.Webb Wine Merchant is Calgary's oldest and one of its most respected independent wine merchants. 

The market at Casel.

The market at Casel.

The design of Casel is also unique in that the two-floor podium is set square to the corner block location, while the seven floor condo tower is turned 45 degrees to the street.  This clever positioning of the condo tower provides everyone with great views of either the mountain or the downtown. It also makes for a better pedestrian experience, as there is no nine-storey wall adjacent to the sidewalk.  And thirdly, it means those living on the lower floors are further away from the street making them quieter.

Casel looking from the navy base on the east side.

At first I was disappointed by the dull grey and sliver façade of the building as seen from Crowchild Trail.  Being a colourist, it seemed to me the addition of colour would have added to the visual appeal of the building. However, when I explored the area on foot I realized that the colour and material of the condo tower is similar to the HMCS Tecumseh Navy Base on the block to the east of Casel.

Back story: Perhaps one of the strangest things in land-locked Calgary is that we have a navy base. Yes, in 1943 the Calgary Navel Reserve division was formed and named after a Shawnee chief who fought with the British and Canadian military forces in the War of 1812.

The HMCS Tecumseh Navy Base has a similar facade as the Casel condominium building.

The HMCS Tecumseh Navy Base has a similar facade as the Casel condominium building.

As the City of Calgary looks at how best to evolve our inner city communities from primarily residential to mixed-use walkable communities, we can expect to see more projects like Casel along key transit corridors with major bus routes like 17th Avenue and Kensington Road.  

By Richard White, October 26, 2014

An edited version of this blog appeared in Condo Living Magazine, October edition.

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Fort Calgary: Our sacred ground

While everyone’s attention in the East Village mega makeover is focused on the new library ($245M), the National Music Centre ($135M) and the St Patrick’s Island revitalization and bridge ($70M), Fort Calgary’s makeover has been “flying under the radar.”  

Perhaps you’ve noticed the red cubes along the River Walk or the red glass sentinels recently installed at the corner of 9th Ave and 6th St SE wondering what these are.  Maybe you noticed Buffy the buffalo on a little manmade hill on 9th Ave just west of the Elbow River and wondered how it got there.  It is all part of a devious $36.3 million master plan that started with the Spring Creek wetlands at the northwest edge of the site back in 2009.

With the help of Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, the City, Province, Federal Government and the community, Fort Calgary has been quietly raising funds to enhance the site of Calgary’s birthplace, respecting the past but preparing it for the future when 40,000 people will be living in the communities surrounding it (currently about 15,000).

What we have been seeing lately is the Edges, project, which marks the edges of the original Fort Calgary site, west of the Elbow River. Note: The land east of the Elbow River (Deane House and Hunt House) wasn’t added until 1976.  The red cubes along the Bow River mark the north edge, of the original site, the long red benches along 6th Street mark the western edge and along with the sentinels at the corner of 9th Avenue, they demarcate the entrance to the site from its southwest. They all have a very distinctive bright red colour – “RCMP red” in fact. The red markers are all equipped with LED lighting, creating an eerie site at night which I am told can be seen from airplanes preparing to land at the Calgary International Airport. I love the horizontal ones along 6th Street - at night they have a surreal glow like a campfire. 

Story board columns

The Fort Calgary site is also sacred to the First Nations people as it was a summer gathering place.

Fly fisherman at the confluence of the Elbow and Bow Rivers near the northeast edge of Fort Calgary.

Fort Calgary site with log buildings and replica Barracks in the distance.

New entrance to Fort Calgary from the southwest with LED sentinels and benches.

The Barracks building.

Fort Calgary 101

Did you know that Fort Calgary is a National Historic District? I didn’t! In fact it was one of the first National Historic Districts created by the Federal Government in 1925. It received this designation for two reasons - the important role the site played in the evolution of the RCMP and the fact it is the birthplace of a city. Not many Canadian cities can lay claim to knowing exactly where its birthplace is.

Fort Calgary is unique in that it was never a defence fort; the walls were not created for protection (there was never a battle here), but to define the settlement acting as a landmark so new settlers and First Nation people could see it from a distance.  

In 1914 the site was decommissioned as a Fort and sold to Grand Trunk Pacific Railway who had plans to build a railway line to Prince Rupert that followed the route of the proposed Enbridge Gateway pipeline.  After, Grand Trunk went bankrupt, the site became Calgary’s first industrial warehouse district, home to businesses like MacCosham’s huge warehouse, Calgary Scrap Metal, a battery factory and a slaughterhouse.

After 10 years of lobbying by Calgarian John Ayre, and on the Centennial of the arrival of the RCMP in 1875, the site was purchased by the City for $1.8 million in 1975. All the buildings were removed and the contaminated site was cleaned up.

Then started the slow process of deciding what to do with the site.  It wasn’t until 2000 when Sara-Jane Gruetzner was hired as the President & CEO of Fort Calgary that a Master Plan was finalized.  She has stayed on to make sure that it gets implemented. Though the master plan didn’t call of an exact historical recreation of the buildings on the site, it does call for a mix of new buildings and monuments that will tell the story of Calgary’s birthplace.

Monument to Colonel Macleod.

Monument to Colonel Macleod.

Colonel Macleod historical plaque.

Current Work

Work is currently being completed on the land on the east side of the Elbow River with the restoration of the Deane House, built in1914 for Captain Deane, whose wife wouldn’t live in the Fort and demanded he build her a house next to the Fort.   Also under restoration is the Hunt House (built sometime between 1876 and 1881), the only original Hudson Bay post in its original location. A replica of the original Deane House garden is also to be created as Deane was good friends with William Reader (Calgary’s first Parks Superintendent) who believed you could garden on the prairie. It is believe that the Dean/Reader garden is where the Calgary Horticultural Society was established.

Recently completed is the Elbow River Traverse ($3M), which crosses the Elbow River just before it empties into the Bow River.  It creates an important link in the City’s Elbow and Bow River pathways, which are only going to get busier with more people living in the surrounding area and the new ENMAX Park just south of 9th Avenue along the Elbow River.

Future work includes a major glass gallery addition to the second floor of the current Fort Calgary Interpretive center. The gallery will be designed by Calgary architect Lorne Simpson (who specializes in historical restorations) and DIALOG (Calgary architectural firm working on new Central Library) will offer a spectacular 360 degree view of downtown, CPR rail yards, Stampede Park and the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

There are also plans for a carved wood interpretive feature on the site of the old fort by Vancouver artist Jill Anholt. The piece will allude to the structure of the old fort, while also referencing the layers of cultural memories of people and place in a clever and creative manner.

Elbow River Traverse aka bridge for cyclists and pedestrians.

Bow River promenade at Fort Calgary with the new St. Patrick's Island bridge in the background.  This will become a very busy area with the densification of the surrounding residential neighbourhoods.

The area around the Traverse is already becoming a popular meeting place.

Major Event Venue

While for most of the year, Fort Calgary perceived by many as a rather sleepy place it has evolved into a major concert venue. Annual events included the two Rotarian concerts during Stampede, while Chasing Summer and X Fest; each of these events attract over 15,000+ attendees. 

There are also a number of free events like WinterFest, Family Day, Heritage Day, Mountie Day (May long weekend to celebrate the anniversary of the formation of the RCMP in May 23, 1873) and of course Canada Day when 20,000 Calgarians invade the site for family fun activities.

Fort Calgary is also where the Calgary Stampede marshals the horses for the Stampede Parade.  I am told it is an amazing spectacle with 300 horses and floats calling Fort Calgary home for a night.  The public is invited to come down on the Thursday night and join in the fun with a free BBQ. Who knew there was a second “Sneak A Peak” event!

As far as hosting major events in our city, Fort Calgary is on par with Prince’s Island, Olympic Plaza and Shaw Millennium Park.

Last Word

In the words, of CEO President Sara-Jane Gruetzner “Fort Calgary is an old story with a new beginning; this is Calgary’s hallowed ground.”

 

By Richard White, October 25, 2014

An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald, titled "Fort Calgary makeover, respects the past, prepares for East Village's future," October, 24, 2014. 

Artist Jill Anholt's modern interpretation of Fort Calgary's original walls.  

Dublin: Iconic barracks makes for great museum

The National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts and History is located in the massive Collins Barracks built in 1702.  Architect Tomas Burgh, who also built the world famous library at Trinity College, designed this early neo-classical building. 

It makes for a perfect museum.  The four floors wrapping around a huge central parade square (the number of paces associated with the marching soldiers still exist on the walls above the colonnade arches) are easily divided up into over 30-flexible gallery spaces that accommodate exhibitions of silver, ceramics, glassware, weaponry, furniture, folklife, clothing, jewelry, coins and medals.  There is also a museum shop and quaint café with some very tempting pastries.

One of the many fascinating fashion exhibits. 

One of the many fascinating fashion exhibits. 

This hurdy-gurdy instrument is just one of the many exhibits of historical decorative arts and crafts in the museum.

This hurdy-gurdy instrument is just one of the many exhibits of historical decorative arts and crafts in the museum.

hurdy gurdy panel

Eileen Gray

For us, the highlight of the museum's numerous exhibitions was the Eileen Gray retrospective. It encompassed everything we love about mid-century modern design – its furniture, architecture and art.

Born in Enniscorthy, Ireland in 1878, Gray moved to Paris in 1906 where she spent most of her working life. In Paris, inspired to explore new ideas by the likes of Picasso and Modigliani, she was one of the first artists and furniture designers to employ lacquer techniques as part of her work.  She was interested in all aspects of design from furniture to architecture to interior design.

Gray loved to combine the opulence of Art Deco with the minimalism and clean lines of modernism as well as integrate the use of pure line and colour of the De Stijl artists.

Gray's iconic end table named E1027.

Gray's iconic end table named E1027.

An example of Gray's use of lacquer in her furniture.

Model of contemporary architectural designed by Gray.

Pebbledash

I was also fascinated by the “Beyond Pebbledash” installation, a celebration of domestic architecture and design.  The installation consisted of a single pebbledash house (a common small Dublin home with exterior walls made of pebbles mixed with stucco).  In the mid 20th century, this façade covered up poor construction and kept costs down for affordable homes in both Europe and North America. Back story: The early 1950s home I grew up in had pebbledash walls.  We just called it by it less glamorous term "stucco."

This life-size house sitting in the middle of the huge parade square has a real façade but only a steel skeleton frame of the walls, interior doors, chimney and roof.  The curatorial notes say the installation is intended to provoke questions like:

  • What have we built?
  • Why have we built it here?
  • What is the nature of house vs. home?
  • What makes a great liveable city?

More information at: http://www.dublincity.ie/you-are-invited-launch-beyond-pebbledash

My personal fascination was mostly around how the pebbledash house was rendered almost insignificant in the massive parade square  (the size of about two football fields) and the equally massive barracks building.  To me, the “pebbledash home” installation spoke of the insignificance and temporary nature of most houses versus the timelessness of iconic structures. I also don’t get the link to the liveable city movement as the home is situated in what I would consider the most desolate and inhospitable urban environment one could imagine.

While in the past, a house became a home as most people lived in them all their lives. Often too multiple generations would live in the same house. Today, for most people a house is just a commodity to be bought and sold as part of their evolving lifestyle – they never really become a home.

The pebbledash house located at the far corner from the entrance to the museum is dwarfed in the stark parade square.

While wandering the museum, you get several different perspectives of the house. 

A view of the back of the house and the cafe spilling out onto the plaza gives some life to the parade square.

Close up view of the house. I found the ropes around the installation very distracting. 

Side-view of the pebbledash house.

Side-view of the pebbledash house.

Last Word

Of all the National Museums we visited in Dublin, the Decorative Arts and History Museum was our favourite.  You could easily spend a few hours here.

The National Gallery unfortunately was under restoration and so the building and art did not meet expectations. The National Museum of Modern Art was also a bit of a disappointment as half of the gallery was closed for the installation of new exhibitions. 

On the good side, all of the Ireland’s national museums are FREE!  

 

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Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

One of the things I love to do when flanuering any downtown is take pictures of the reflections of buildings and people in the windows of the fashion boutique.  This works particularly well in cities where there is a strong fashion culture as the fashion boutique window are often like mini art exhibitions. In Florence, the Via de' Tornabuoni is the high street for fashions with the likes of Gucci, Salvatore Ferrogamo, Tiffany's, Enrico Coveri, Damiani, Bulgari and Buccalllati calling it home.

When Brenda said she wanted to go to the Salvatore Ferrogamo Museum, I secretly said "Yahoo" as it meant I would have some time to do some window licking on Via de' Tornabuoni.

Back story

The literal English translation of the french term for window shopping is "window licking," which I have adopted for my practice of window photography as I am often so close to the window that it looks like I could be licking it.

Window licking on Tornabuoni 

I have chosen these images as I feel they convey the diversity of visual imagery along Tornabuoni.  I have also chosen not to provide captions as I would prefer the reader to study each image without my influence.  I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did taking them and studying them afterwards. 

Reflections

I have tried window licking in my hometown Calgary many times, but I never seem to get the same quality of images. I don't know if it is the light, the lack of quality fashion windows or just my poor luck. 

Almost everyday, I like to take some time to look at and reflect on my travel photos. The ones I seem to gravitate to the most art the "window licking" ones. I'd love to hear from you which one was your favourite and why?

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Lyon sidewalk ballet

New Antinori Cellar: A Hidden Design Architectural Gem in Tuscany

You could easily drive by and not even know that the new Antinori Chianti Classico Winery and office are located in Bargino, just off the highway between Florence and Siena. Why? Because the Antinori family has so much respect for the beauty of the Tuscany landscape, they wanted to retain the integrity of it soC they built it almost entirely underground.

This was a huge task, as the building and cellars are almost 500,000 square feet, i.e. the size of a typical 30 or 40-floor office building.  First, the soil from the four-hectare site was removed and stored so the support structure, cellars and building could be built. Then the soil was placed back on top of the building and new vineyards were planted on top. 

Today, all you see from the road are two earth-tone, elongated arches that mirror the profile of a iconic Tuscan hills and a young two-year old vineyard. The visual impact is minimal to say the least. 

However, upon arriving at the the site and driving into the underground entrance, you are immediately struck by something special. An eerie light streams in from a huge hole in the ceiling illuminating two sets of human leg-like support beams and a grand, circular staircase. It is like walking into a James Bond movie or a surreal church. I have heard it referred to as "the cathedral in the desert." 

As you ascend the staircase, you notice each of the stairs is slightly different in size and rise and the railing has a distinct, vertical striation in a palette of earth tones. At the top of the staircase, you arrive at a plaza with a sweeping view of the vineyard and Tuscan hills. The pattern, rhythm and line of the railing and stairwell structure echo that of a vineyard. 

Once inside, the building is like a contemporary art gallery with large, open gallery-like spaces. The light and building continues to play games, creating interesting shadows, shapes and reflections that become art.

The following images illustrate better than any text could how the new, uber-chic Antinori Chianti Classico Winery design by Archea Associati architects is a work of art.   

The grand staircase rises out of the parking garage.

A view from the plaza  looking down the stairwell.

The lead architect Marco Casamonti of Archiea Associati Studio chose only Tuscan materials and colours to pay  homage to a land which has been kind to the Antinori family. Everything is linked to nature - from the terracotta tiles of the cellar to the rust-coloured alloy steel of the staircase. 

The young Antinori Chianti Classico Winery vineyard looking out from the ground level plaza. 

Staircase as sculpture, as seen from ground level leading up to plaza. 

At ground level, you can see how the colour, pattern and rhythm of the vineyard is reflected in the building's shape and in the staircase. The dramatic circles of the skylights mimic the base of a wine bottle. 

The huge, ground level plaza is made even more dramatic by the interplay of the roof and staircase with the windows.

The positive-negative space in this image near the restaurant could easily be a Magritte painting. 

Looking out at the Tuscan Hills from inside the building I found this vista.

Another of the strange reflections as the glass, sun, architecture and landscape interact to create surreal visual effects. 

The cellars have the same eerie, surreal interplay of colour, light, line, shape and pattern that strengthens the design statement and  sense of place. Together, they fulfill two of my key criteria for good  art and architecture - linking man and nature, and past and present. 

The cellars have the same eerie, surreal interplay of colour, light, line, shape and pattern that strengthens the design statement and  sense of place. Together, they fulfill two of my key criteria for good  art and architecture - linking man and nature, and past and present. 

About the Antinori Family

The Antinori family has been making wine since 1385 (no, that is not a typo). For 26 generations the family has been creating some of the best Chianti Classico wine from the Tuscany region. Today, the winery is  managed by Marquis Piero Antinori and his three daughters - Albiera, Allegra and Alessia. 

The family is known for its continuous experimentation, tradition, passion and innovation. Its mission is "to reconcile both new discoveries yet to be made and the patrimony of Tuscan wine.  A patrimony that includes, tradition, culture, agriculture, art and literature." The new Antinori Chianti Classico Winery perfectly expresses this vision.

Richard White, October 19, 2014

Reader Comments:

NP writes: 

Most of these kinds of amazing design things are illegal in Canada because our building code is designed to quash beauty and creativity, while adding huge expense. Mostly it is there to provide work for lawyers, protect property for insurance companies, and add huge costs so that contractors can make more money.

If I sound a little bitter, I am. Are Canadians the dumbest people on earth? They must have a built in urge to climb handrails, hurl themselves off balconies, set fire to things and hang out in smoke filled lobbies. We put sprinkler systems over swimming pools, spend millions on complex, highly technical fire alarm systems that do not operate properly and set off so many false alarms that no one actually believes them and exits the building.

I would love a beautiful stair with a giant speaker system available outside the building that can be used by someone to shout, “This is a real emergency. Get the hell out now, or you will burn”! This would cost less and also be available for karaoke at noon during the lunch breaks.

Enjoy good design. It’s hard to do in Canada.

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Dublin's Chester Beatty Library - Look but don't touch!

Can you imagine a library where you can’t touch the  books? The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland might just be the only library in the world where you can’t touch any of the books.  But don’t let that stop you from visiting. It is home to an amazing collection of books and book-related artifacts that will have your head exploding with information overload.

About Chester 

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty was an Irish-American mining magnate and millionaire. Born in New York City in 1875, he graduated from Columbia University as a mining engineer. He made his fortune mining in Cripple CreekColorado, and other mining operations around the world. Chester was  called the "King of Copper"

A collector from an early age beginning with stamps, he had, by the 1940s, built up a remarkable and impressive collection of Oriental art and books. He also owned 19 ancient Egyptian papyri that he gave to the British Museum. He moved his collections to Dublin, Ireland in 1950. 

Knighted  by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954, Beatty lived his later years in Dublin and was made honorary citizen of Ireland in 1957.  On his death in 1968, he was accorded a state funeral by the Irish government – one of the few private citizens in Irish history to receive such an honour. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Beatty saw collecting as “a great adventure." He obviously had a great eye for quality and loved books where the text and images formed a pleasing composition.  Fun back story: he could be considered an  early adopter of twitter acronyms using DCI for “don’t care for it” and NFE for “not fine enough” in correspondence and his own records.

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (photo credit: deartesethistoric.wordpress.com)

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (photo credit: deartesethistoric.wordpress.com)

No Touch Library

The Chester Beatty Library is really an art gallery where all the books are in well-lit display cases with  interesting didactic information and stories.  The depth and breath of the collection truly is mind-boggling. It doesn’t take long before your brain is saying “no more, no more!”

Perhaps the first hint that we were in for a brain freeze were the Chinese jade books at the beginning of the Art of Books exhibition; neither of us had seen anything like them. From there, we were presented the Great Encyclopedia commissioned by the Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle in 1403 and completed in 1408 – all 11,095 bound volumes.  Incredible!

Later we encountered Joan Blaeu’s Great Atlas of 1162, which consists of 600 beautifully bound, hand-coloured maps. Each of the bound volumes is about  20” high x 11” wide x 3” in depth; these are serious books.

There was even a small display of contemporary Chinese Ceramics that was definitely rooted in the 8,000 years of ceramic history in China.  Not sure how this fit in with the books but it was interesting nonetheless.

Jade books (photo credit:: www.commons.wikiimedia.org)

Jade books (photo credit:: www.commons.wikiimedia.org)

Yongle Great Encyclopedia (photo credit: www.lifo.gr)

Yongle Great Encyclopedia (photo credit: www.lifo.gr)

Joan Blaeu's Atlas (photo credit: www.swaen.com)

Joan Blaeu's Atlas (photo credit: www.swaen.com)

Suffering

The collection included a series of Goya etchings from the 1892 edition of Los Desastier de la Guerra and the 1855 and 1876 editions of La Tauromaquia and Los Proverbois.  The pain and suffering portrayed in these works still haunts me hours later as I write this. It made me realize I have never really suffered in my life. 

Back story: when you visit a place like Ireland, you realize what human suffering is all about given  the millions who died in the famine between 1845 and 1852, or those who died in the numerous independence rebellions and senseless religious bombings.  This is a country whose people know suffering.

Later in another exhibition “Sacred Traditions” (the history of religions around the world), I found a didactic panel about Siddhartha Gautama (563 – 483 BC) with the text “be aware of the human inability to escape suffering.” We are then told Gautama decided to leave his wealthy home to seek the causes of unhappiness and the way to relieve suffering.  Unfortunately, we didn’t find out if he was successful.

Another panel about Buddha states, “the world is a place of suffering…joys are fleeting…life ends in decay.”  

Goya, Los Desastier de la Guerra  (photo credit: www.wga.hu)

Goya, Los Desastier de la Guerra  (photo credit: www.wga.hu)

Last Word

The Chester Beatty Library is a “must-see” for anyone visiting Dublin.  I would suggest you give yourself at least two hours and probably three to explore the art and text.  There is a great cafe on site so you could take a break and have lunch or a coffee and then go back for more.

There is also a tranquil rooftop garden if you wish to take some time to contemplate and absorb the centuries of history.  Outside the Library is a larger green space with a fun narrow brick pathway, as well as a sculpture garden.  

The biggest negative is that you can’t take photos (you can view photos on the Library's website); on the other hand, admission is free. 

maze

Montana aka Nellie: What's in a name?

I always thought the name Montana, for a condo on the 800 block of 15th Avenue near the hub of the 17th Avenue shops and restaurants, was strange.  Perhaps it was called that because on a clear day looking south from the penthouse of this 27-storey condo you can see all the way to Montana. 

A more appropriate name might have been “Nellie”, given it sits on the same block as the Nellie McClung house. She was one of the “Famous Five” women who successfully lobbied the federal government in the early 20th century for women’s rights.  In fairness, the developer Pro Cura did recognize Montana’s proximity to Nellie’s birthplace by calling one of the condo designs Nellie. They also donated $1,000 from the sales of some of the units to the Famous Five Foundation.

Calling it “Nellie” might have seemed a bit strange back in the late ‘90s when Montana was conceived, before it became very popular to give condos a person’s name - two recent additions to the Beltline condo line-up being Smith and Drake by Grosvenor. I expect the trend will continue as developers scramble to find curious names with some cache and brand value for marketing purposes.

Montana’s design is an example of modified “wedding cake” architecture made popular in New York City in the early 20th century as a result of a 1916 zoning bylaw that forced developers to reduce a building’s shadows at street level.  To do this, architects created buildings that were narrower at the top than the bottom, by creating distinct tiers stacked upon each other like a “wedding cake.”  This gives the building a taller and slimmer profile so the upper floors casted a much smaller shadow.

The shape also creates a number of interesting corner opportunities which ProCura exploited, creating not one, but 35 penthouse suites.  Granted, the developer was a bit liberal in their interpretation of what is a penthouse, but hey, that’s marketing.  For Montana, a penthouse is defined as just a larger suite with a corner view and expanded balcony - not just the top floor.

Montana’s pyramid-like roof has been nicknamed by one of my colleagues as a “party hat” roof, as it has the same proportions as one of those silly conical-shaped hats people wear at birthday parties.  Personally, I like the roof. I think it enhances the building’s elegant profile and is much more visually interesting than the flat rooftops of most buildings in the Beltline.  I also think it enhances the building’s art deco character.

Designed by Calgary’s own BKDI architects (who recently merged with Zeidler in July to form Zeidler BKDI), Montana’s exterior is composed of brick and limestone, two of the most timeless construction materials. It enhances the building’s link to the past when most of the warehouse buildings south of the CPR tracks were brick with some accent stone, including limestone.  

Last Word:

Good urban design often builds on the past with a modern twist, which is exactly what Montana does. 

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Dublin: FAB fun in The Liberties

On some of the Dublin tourist maps you will see a large pink area titled "The Liberties / Antique Shop Quarter," but there is no information on where the shops are within the quarter.  The Dublin shopping map doesn't have any information about shopping in the area either.  But with a little digging, we found out that there are a dozen or so antique and vintage shops along Frances Street and just a block away on Meath, is the Liberty Market (Thursday to Saturday). 

The name ( Liberties) is derived from jurisdictions dating from the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century. They were town lands that were part of the City of Dublin, but still preserving their own jurisdiction.  Hence, "liberties." The most important of these liberties were the Liberty of St. Sepulchre, under the Archbishop of Dublin, and the Liberty of Thomas Court and Donore belonging to the Abbey of St. Thomas (later called the Earl of Meath's Liberty) - hence Meath and Thomas streets. The current Liberties quarter's  boundaries are between the river Liffey to the north, St. Patrick's Cathedral to the east, Warrenmount to the south and St. James's Hospital to the west.

We decided to check out The Liberties district on a sunny Saturday afternoon in October and had a FAB time.  Starting at the north end of Francis Street, we were surprised to find a large surface parking lot tucked away behind a building that was full of graffiti art reminding us of Boise, Idaho's popular tourist attraction - Freak Alley. 

Just one of a dozen or more graffiti murals at the north entrance to Dublin's Antique Row.

Just one of a dozen or more graffiti murals at the north entrance to Dublin's Antique Row.

Dublin's Antique Row

Walking just a bit further, we arrived at Dublin's  Antique Row beginning with O'Sullivan's Antiques - look for the building with the piano hanging off the side of the building.  This is the spot for serious antique collectors and the staff are very friendly and knowledgeable.  We  were surprised and impressed with the collection of 1950s whale bone vertebrae. 

A few doors down is Michael Mortell's impressive store of unique mid-century modern furniture and accessories. As you proceed down the block, proceed down  the block to discover more antique stores, second hand stores, a gallery and even a larger Oxfam Charity shop (what we call thrift stores).  We definitely enjoyed our stroll. 

At the end of Francis Street,  turn left and you are at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The afternoon sun provided us with a wonderful sun-drenched perspective.  We stopped for lunch at the tiny Cathedral Cafe with its six tables.  It was a busy place, the owner cooking and serving up the tasty meals - we were exhausted just watching her.

O'Sullivan's Antiques with funky delivery men climbing the wall with the dangling piano. 

O'Sullivan's Antiques with funky delivery men climbing the wall with the dangling piano. 

Inside Michael Mortell's exquisite mid-century modern boutique.

The antiques spill out onto the street. 

The antiques spill out onto the street. 

Cat Meow was full of shoppers searching for vintage fashion finds. 

Anonymous vintage / retro store is a must see.

Indeed we had a FAB time on Francis Street.

Meath Street Madness

Watered and fed, we were ready to tackle Meath Street, which we were told by one local is a bit gritty or in his terms "Dublin unpolished."  We turned the corner and were immediately hit by a wave of people and cars -  the street was like Costco at Christmas.  I think this is what Jane Jacobs (urban living '60s guru) was talking about when she coined the phrase sidewalk ballet. However, in this case it was a "street ballet" with cars, teens, seniors, couples, families and the odd horse sharing both the street and sidewalk space. 

In addition to the eclectic shops, bakeries, groceries and butchers was the Liberty Market with its cheesy flea market stalls selling everything from lamp shades to purses. It was urban chaos at its best. We loved mingling with the locals. 

There is also the historic St. Catherine's Church mid-block with the secret Our Lady of Immaculate Conception grotto at the back which we discovered by accident.  It is a wonderful place for a little solitude and reflection.  Here met Debbie, who comes often to light a candle and say a pray for her recently deceased husband. 

Just a block away, locals of all ages were shopping up a storm on Meath Street.

Just a block away, locals of all ages were shopping up a storm on Meath Street.

Liberty Market purse vendor's wares.

Somebody found some good deals.

Somebody found some good deals.

Our Lady of Immaculate conception grotto.

Horse History 

Once we got to the top of Meath Street at Thomas Street, we headed east (left) to find a pub. Just by chance, I looked up an alley (I like to do that) and saw a horse.  Curious, we wandered up the alley and got chatting with an older gent who, with his young sidekick, who were cleaning up. Happy to share the alley's history, he told us it has been home to stables for over 300 years. At present, the stables house 30 horses for the City Centre's horse-drawn buggies.  You won't find this on any tourist map.

Horse alley where horses and people have shared the space for over 300 years.

Little did we know this same two-year old male horse was a bit of a media celebrity for his unexpected visit to a local horse race betting establishment. 

Little did we know this same two-year old male horse was a bit of a media celebrity for his unexpected visit to a local horse race betting establishment. 

Last Word

We had a FAB Saturday afternoon hanging with the locals,  just a few blocks away from the hoards of tourists that invade Dublin's City Centre everyday. 

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Postcard Willie

It all started at age 12 when his parents took him on a vacation from Calgary to Austria -  the family’s homeland. Without any encouragement from his parents, wee Willie decided to send postcards back to his family and friends in Calgary. That was 43 years ago. Today Postcard Willie sends photos to over 300 family and friends from around the world, sometimes as many as 25 in one day.  To date, he estimates he has sent several thousands of postcards from over 50 different countries. Yes Postcard Willie is well travelled.

Depending on the length of the trip, Postcard Willie can send as many as 300 postcards on single trip costing him $500+ in cards and postage. One day while on our Ireland golf trip, Willie found time to find, write and send 12 cards in the hour between the end of the day’s round and getting on the bus back to the hotel.

“Everyone loves to get postcards; some love the images, some the stamps he says. They call it ‘happy mail. People often tell me they keep them for many years.” Needless-to-say, many of the postcards end up on fridges and he estimates that half of the recipients have several shoeboxes full of Willie’s postcards.

Willie doesn’t just buy any postcard either. He looks specifically for cards with lots of information about the place (city, province, country), maybe with some history. He also looks for postcards that relate to each person’s specific interests (for example, if a buddy likes beer he will look for a postcard of a local pub or brew; for another person who likes churches, he will send them a church postcard.

In one case, he knew a person really liked tea so he found a postcard about tea and put it in an envelope with a few local tea bags and mailed to his friend. He also makes a point of sending postcards to people he knows whose homeland he is visiting.  And he likes to use postcards as a thank you to people who have travelled with him and his wife.  Willie prides himself on being creative with his postcard selections.

Over the years, many of his family and friends have also taken up the habit of also sending postcards when travelling. Some, in fun, even send cards to Willie from exotic tourist places like Canmore and Banff, just a few kilometers from Calgary his hometown.

A beer and some postcards at the Bunratty Castle in Ireland.

A beer and some postcards at the Bunratty Castle in Ireland.

Over the years, Postcard Willie has some interesting observations and recommendations:

  • The most expensive stamps are in Austria, where it takes 1.75 euros to send a postcard (over $2.25 CDN).
  • The slowest postal service is in India where it can take a couple of months for a postcard to get to Canada.
  • He recommends to always dating your postcard so recipients can tell how long it has taken to get to them.

He also likes to research the stamps that are available and if possible make sure people get new stamps or stamps that have some significant meaning, as many of his recipients have become stamp collectors.

He also buys postcards for himself as they often have images the average photographer could never capture. His personal collection is well over two thousand postcards.

Postcard Willie writing postcards on the Dunbar Golf Tour bus between rounds. 

Flying out of Frankfurt Airport so often (it is his jumping off point for European adventures), Postcard Willie is on a first name basis with Reinhard the shopkeeper at his favourite postcard kiosk that he has been frequenting for over 20 years. He is often greeted with “Back again? Why don’t you move here?”  The same is true at the Munich Train Station where he is also a  frequent buyer.

In 2007 and 2008, Willie was working in India and so was sending lots of postcards home to his wife in Calgary.  One day when he was picking up his mail at the supermail box in the community of Panorama Hills he noticed a guy loitering around the boxes.  When he opened his mailbox the man he approached him asking “are you the guy who sends all the postcards from India?” Turns out he was the postal carrier for the area and his family was from India.  Long story short, he and Willie became friends, with Postcard Willie taking things to his family in India and bringing back things from India to Calgary - including a bolt of fabric, which was used to make a shirt and pants for Postcard Willie.

Postcard Willie writing some postcards in Casablanca, Morocco. And, yes Postcard Willie is always smiling, maybe there is something to sending people postcards and being happy, or perhaps it is because he is on vacation! 

Postcard Willie writing some postcards in Casablanca, Morocco. And, yes Postcard Willie is always smiling, maybe there is something to sending people postcards and being happy, or perhaps it is because he is on vacation! 

Last Word

Over the years, Postcard Willie estimates he has mailed over 10,000 cards to family and friends. His motto is “if they have a postcard, I will find it.”

While exploring the streets and alleys of Florence happened upon these girls writing a bunch of postcards. Thought Willie would be happy. 

While exploring the streets and alleys of Florence happened upon these girls writing a bunch of postcards. Thought Willie would be happy. 

Mass postcard writing by students in Florence. 

Mass postcard writing by students in Florence. 

Dublin: Newman University Church a hidden gem!

Found this church totally by accident when wandering back to my hotel from St. Stephen's Green. I was walking on the other side of the street when I spotted some strange architectural elements in the narrow space between the buildings and then noticed the ornate street entrance. Next thing you know I was running across the street to check it out.  As luck would have it the door was open and I had found another hidden gem.  

This is the block with the Newman University Church. Do you see a church on this street? If you guessed where the pillars are that would be wrong. 

This is the block with the Newman University Church. Do you see a church on this street? If you guessed where the pillars are that would be wrong. 

It is easy to miss the Church's narrow street entrance

It is easy to miss the Church's narrow street entrance

Wonderful light floods the church as you enter.

The grand altar

altar text

History

cuc
site
porch info

Ornamentation

Every pillar has a different message 

Ornamentation is everywhere

Ornamentation is everywhere

Found this gem in a dark corner

Ceiling of hallway entrance to the church

The actual church ceiling is very unique with is wall paper like decoration.

The actual church ceiling is very unique with is wall paper like decoration.

The walls of the church are like huge paintings

The walls of the church are like huge paintings

Close up of paintings

Close up of paintings

Newman Who?

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman was born in London on February 21, 1801 and died in Birmingham on August 11, 1890. He was a major figure in the Oxford Movement which exploited the possibility of bringing the Church of England back to its Catholic roots.

Ultimately his study of ecclesiastical history influenced him to become a Catholic in 1945. He later brought the Oratory of St. Philip Neri to England. He became the first Rector of the Catholic University in Dublin and was named a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. 

Through his extensive published writings and private correspondence, he created a greater understanding of the Catholic Church and its teachings, helping many with their religious difficulties. At his death, he was praised for his unworldliness, humility and prayer. He was declared Venerable on January 21, 1991 and on September 20, 2010 Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Henry Cardinal Newman.

Last Word

Dublin is well know for its churches, there seems to be on on every other block.  It even has a Cathedral District where St. Patrick's Cathedral is located and the Christ Church Cathedral in the Viking/Medieval area. But for my money (free) the Newman University Church, which isn't on any of my maps, is every bit as interesting and perhaps more unique then Dublin's famous duo.

By Richard White, October 8th 2014.

If you like this blog, you might like:

An Atheist's Look At Salt Lake City's Temple Square 

Meeting Creek: Ghost Town

San Miguel: A religious experience of  lifetime.

 

Calla: Linking past to future

Too often Calgary’s downtown and Beltline are negatively portrayed as a jungle of concrete and glass when in reality, there are numerous parks and gardens that make it a very attractive place to live.  Sometimes it takes outsiders see this. For example, Vancouver’s Qualex-Landmark saw the potential to create something special on a site just east of the historic Lougheed House and Beaulieu Gardens and just a nine iron from the century old Ranchman’s Club. The result a charming condo called Calla.

Calla looking from Lougheed House.

Located in the heart of the Beltline at 14th Avenue SW and 6th Street SW, Calla is in a residential enclave with a mix of old homes, small walk up apartments as well as mid-rise apartments and condos.  It sits on a quiet, tree-canopied street that could easily be a postcard for idyllic urban living.

It neighbour to the west the 1891 Lougheed House christened with the regal name Beaulieu or Beautiful Place inspired calla’s design.  The home was built on a 2.8-acre site on the southwest edge of downtown as a powerful symbol of Lougheed’s growing prestige and influence that would continue for the next 100 years. By the early 1900s, the estate included the residence, carriage house and stable, as well as a formal garden complete with swan sculpture fountain.

Backstory, Sir James and Lady Isabella Lougheed often entertained royal guests at Beaulieu, including the Duke and Duchess of Connaught (the community around Beaulieu was named Connaught until 2003 when Connaught and Victoria Park communities merged to form the Beltline community) and their daughter, Princess Patricia, as well as the Duke of Windsor (when he was the Prince of Wales). Beaulieu remains one of the finest and last remaining sandstone residences in Alberta.  If you haven’t yet been to the Lougheed house and gardens it is a “must see.”

Unlike most new Beltline condos which 18+ storeys, the 12-storey Calla fits right in with its mid-century 4 to 12-storey neighbour apartment and condos.  At the same time, it makes its own architectural statement, with its terraced massing (Beaulieu Gardens also are terraced), floor-to-ceiling windows and glass balconies, contrasting with the mostly brick and concrete facades of its neighbours.  Vancouver`s Rafii Architects have created a chic, clean, contemporary building that adds a new dimension to the streetscape, as well as the skyline for those living in the heart of the Beltline. It even has park homes (rather than townhomes) that open up right onto a 2.8-acre sanctuary of peace and tranquility in the middle of the Beltline.     

Calla streetscape

Calla is like a magnificent greenhouse, which is appropriate given it is adjacent to the beautiful historic Beaulieu Garden. The Garden is noteworthy for its plant material that is historically accurate to the 1891 to 1925 period.  It is no coincidence that the condo was named after the flower Calla Lily, “calla” derived from the Greek word meaning “magnificent beauty.”

Indeed, Calla serves to link the beauty and ambition of Calgary`s past to that of its future.

Calla at night