Tag Archives: museums

Living history on Corfu

History is not about the past; it’s about the present.

UNESCO World Heritage Site, Corfu Town

We only remember yesterday because we’re alive today. We can only understand today if we dissect what occurred yesterday. It’s with that rubric a visitor to Corfu, if interested, can glean this Ionian island’s reality.

If the first time visitor is already familiar with the classical heartland of ancient Greece encircling the Aegean Sea than the beautiful streetscapes of Corfu Town are in an Italian city. The island’s premiere museum  perhaps belongs in London. The charming Casa Parlante offers insights into the daily life of the Venetian nobility.

The Governor olive oil, Corfu

Yet this is Corfu, and it’s just a short distance from the mainland of western Greece. The reason has everything to do with geography, which means it has to do with politics and trade. The regions that comprise Hellenic civilization for the past several thousands of years were the bridges and battlefields between Asia and Europe, and Corfu represents that reality.

Even olive oil, the gift of Athena to the Hellenic world, has a story. During its 400 year reign over Corfu (1383-1797) the Venetian Empire mass produced olive oil for international export.  As a result the island has over four and a half million trees, more than any other region in Greece.

If you watched the BBC series The Durrels in Corfu you may recognize the top photo as the house of the fictional character Sven. The 18th century stone building used to be an olive press and is surrounded by 400 year old trees in an idyllic setting. It’s currently for sale – history alive – and Sakis Gianniotis  of X Adventure Club will take you there to revel in its tranquility.

Casa Perlante

Fanny, docent at Casa Parlante (Corfu Living History)

Case Parlante, the multi story townhouse dating from 1620, details the life of a 19th century Venetian noble family. This was the social class that ruled Corfu for 400 years until  Napoleon conquered and ended the fabled Venetian Republic in the 1790s. Since 2013 the museum’s docents provide room by room tours bringing the family to life.

“To life” is almost real. From the patriarch to the cook, life-size animatronic figures bow, sip tea, read the news paper and chop vegetables. These entertaining figures were created by the Alaxouzi Brothers, Greeks whose business is based in London. As a guest in this noble house,  visitors are greeted with kumquat and rose  mint liquors – an homage to Corfiot’s Venetian inspired love of excessive sweets.

Drawing room at Casa Parlante

Several insights into life at that time are notable. An only daughter of a noble family could inherit wealth in her own right as well as arrange their own marriage, as long it was to another aristocrat. This was a particular freedom granted only to Corfu women.

The Count’s business office opening onto the main hallway

Mirrors and hallways were ingeniously positioned to keep eyes on the movements of the servants.

kitchen at Casa Parlante

Cooks in aristocratic houses were often at the top of servant status and trusted as “spies” for the owner.

The Palace of St. Michael and St. George

The Palace of St. Michael & St. George

The Corfu Museum of Asian Art  and the Municipal Gallery of Corfu are housed within the impressive neoclassical Palace of St. Michael and St. George. The history of the palace is as interesting as the art on display. The fall of Venice led to a brief period in Corfu of French control. Upon Napoleon’s defeat, Corfu was ceded to the United Kingdom and was administered by the British Empire for 50 years (the Greek nation did not exist at this point.)

Palace of St. Michael & St. George

Constructed in 1819, the palace served as the official residence of the British Lord High Commissioner.  After present day southern Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1830’s it was still not until the 1860’s that the United Kingdom ceded the Ionian Islands. Over the next century the palace served various functions including  a royal residence for the Greek monarchy.

The Corfu Museum of Asian Art

Corfu Museum of Asian Art

The transition of the palace into a world class museum started in 1928 with a vast donation by an avid Greek collector of Oriental art expanding over the years to include  southeast and central Asia. Today its collection numbers in the tens of thousands of objects, which, fortunately, are not all on display creating a tranquil setting to wander the quiet rooms without feeling overwhelmed.

Corfu Museum of Asian Art

 

Municipal Gallery of Corfu

Byzantine-Venetian Cretan School of Art greatly influenced Corfu

The Municipal Gallery of Corfu’s art collection ranges from priceless medieval Cretan works influenced while Crete was also under Venetian rule (15th – 17th centuries). The fall of Crete to the Ottomans in 1699 resulted in a flood of artist and intellectuals settling in Corfu.

“Arab Musician,” by P. Prossalendis

A sizable portion of the collection is of 18th through early 20th century artists inspired by the the Romantic and Impressionist movements expressing individual life and events developing into Corfu’s distinctive Ionian School of Art. 

 

 

 

 

Twenty-first century artists are well represented especially through special exhibits.

Corfu artist Kostas Tbros (b. 1975) with fellow journalist Janice Nieder

Encouraging artistic expression in the newest generations of Corfiots, the gallery sponsors “One Saturday, One fairytale” events for children to display their art and study the artist whose paintings are exhibited.  In honor of Greek Orthodox Easter the gallery recently displayed a special exhibit of photos taken by Corfu boy scouts. The quality was stunning!

photos of Easter celebrations taken by Corfu boy scouts

History is more than facts, and a nation is more than geography.  In his epic poem The People, Yes, the great American poet Carl Sandburg expressed it succinctly.  I am the history; I am the present; I am the culture. Go to Corfu and discover so much more than an island.

 

When you go: Corfu International Airport (CFU) serves direct flights from many European cities including London, Frankfurt and Rome. Frequent flights connect the island to Athens and Thessaloniki. Ferry and coach bus connections to major Greek cities are frequent as well.

Special thanks: to The Golden Butler, Safari Xperience and Ducas Tours & Travel for facilitating my tour of Corfu.

Where to sleep and dine in Corfu: 

Corfu magic at Villa 1870

Eat with your eyes: four stellar Corfu restaurants
the author in Corfu

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FIT makes a uniform statement

Although fashion design is not my element,  it is one of my wife’s great passions. Yet a recent visit to the Museum at FIT – the Fashion Institute of Technology – in New York City’s historic Chelsea neighborhood unexpectedly connected with my interest in history.

John Galliano camouflage evening gown at FIT, New York
John Galliano camouflage evening gown at FIT, New York

The Fashion Institute of Technology is  America’s premiere college for the business and art of fashion design. Its museum’s current exhibit, Uniformity, is an entertaining exploration that will change the way you perceive the entire notion of uniforms. The 200 year retrospective from military to sports uniforms goes beyond the obvious, detailing their influence on everyday fashion from beach to formal wear.

In John Galliano’s camouflage evening gown for Dior in 2001 (above, left) the influence is obvious. Yet I never gave it much thought that this trend is at least two centuries old. What was more surprising to me is that uniforms, clothing meant to make the wearer impersonal, for so long influenced fashion designed to be individualistic.

Fashion based on 19th century British & French naval uniforms
Fashion based on 19th century British & French naval uniforms
Chitose Abe, 2015
Chitose Abe, 2015

As early as the 1840s, a portrait of Queen Victoria’s four year old son, Prince Edward Albert, in a naval uniform made a fashion statement for affluent children’s clothing.  By the 1890s, summer fashion for women (above left) had a decided naval bent and the trend has never lost favor (above right)

Designer Chitose Abe in her 2015 collection for her Sacai label combines British and French naval elements in her cotton and silk ensemble.

 

Yet by the 1940s military uniforms themselves combined functionality and fashion.

(left) 1943 W.A.V.E.S. uniform & (right) fashion influence
(left) Main Rousseau Bocher 1943 W.A.V.E.S. uniform & (right) & later fashion influence
WW II W.A.C. uniform designed by a committee.
WW II W.A.C. uniform designed by a committee.

The World War II uniform designed for the Navy’s new W.A.V.E.S. division was hailed as a fashion success – functional yet feminine. It was also the first military uniform designed by a major American couturier, the House of Mainbocher founded by Main Rousseau Bocher in 1929. But  the Army’s new W.A.C. division uniform was the work of a committee. It was not only dubbed “olive drab,” but blamed for poor W.A.C. recruitment numbers compared to the Navy’s W.A.V.E.S. Even in war fashion made a statement!

1890s American baseball uniforms
1890s American baseball uniforms

Perhaps no genre of uniforms has had a greater fashion influence than sports. From the baseball cap to brand logos, America’s national sport has convinced well dressed people that being a walking advertisement for your favorite team and brands is desirable to one’s identity.

(left) Geoffrey Beene, 1967, Jersey evening gown
(left) Geoffrey Beene, 1967, Jersey evening gown

Of course football followed suit. According to FIT, Geoffrey Beene “shocked the fashion elite” in 1967 with his sequined even gown that’s simply an elongated 1930s football jersey.

FIT’s fine Uniformity exhibit doesn’t ignore the influence on fashion of maid, butler, waiter and waitress clothing.  In 2015 Karl Lagerfeld designed this evening dress for the House of Chanel using the typical uniform of waiters in Parisian brasseries.

Karl Lagerfeld, 2015, French brasserie evening gown.
Karl Lagerfeld, 2015, French brasserie evening gown.

The museum of the  Fashion Institute of Technology, part of the State University of New York, is open Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free. What was even more surprising was the knowledge and enthusiasm of the staff, especially the guards. They were eager to engage in conversation and added to the pleasure of the exhibit.

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When your only requirement is an internet connection

Dawn on Boca de Ciega Bay, St. Petersburg, FL
Dawn on Boca de Ciega Bay, St. Petersburg, FL

I’ve not posted on Travel with Pen and Palate since May.  After many years in Philadelphia a permanent move to a warm climate was the order from my very intelligent wife.  After all why not?

Maximo Seafood Shack, St. Petersburg, FL
Maximo Seafood Shack, St. Petersburg, FL

As a travel writer my only requirement is an internet connection. I’m not a stranger to living in a  warm climate. I spent nine years at the start of my career in Puerto Rico. I love traveling to warm climates, and on the USA mainland Florida is our tropics.

a silver afternoon on Boca de Ciega Bay
a silver afternoon on Boca de Ciega Bay

No doubt selling a house, packing up three decades of art and antiques and moving to St. Petersburg, FL, does disrupt a writing and traveling schedule. I’ve had to turn down several great press trip invitations including  El Salvador and Italy because my wife somehow thinks I should be involved in house hunting…yes, we moved without first knowing where we were going to live. Of course we had no way of knowing our house would sell in 6 days…but that’s all part of adventure.

Adventure for me as a culinary and culture travel writer is focusing on what makes a destination exciting for those who already call it home.  A tourist can always find the best beach,  the newest luxury hotel or today’s trendy restaurant by simply spending time on social media.

this cricket makes gardeners cringe in FL
this cricket makes gardeners cringe in FL

But will they discover the best cupcake? Will they think that discovery will be found in an art museum that features the glass work of Dale Chihuly? Or that an effusive city booster will be a Scot immigrant of 20 years who’s your server in a terrific cafe? I’ve discovered that and much more in my first three weeks in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Want to know about the cupcake…and Picasso’s lover…and a city that’s become a cultural mecca…with good beaches?

Please read more…

Cupcakes and fine art in St. Petersburg Florida

 

Cupcakes as edible art at the Morean Arts Center
Cupcakes as edible art at the Morean Arts Center

 

You can read all my articles and subscribe to my Examiner columns at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

Culinary Travel Examiner

 International Dining Examiner

International Travel Examiner

Philadelphia Fine Dining Examiner

Food & Recipes Examiner

Suite 101

 

Sunset over Boca de Ciega Bay, St. Petersburg, FL
Sunset over Boca de Ciega Bay, St. Petersburg, FL