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Steve McKenzie’s Abstract Painting Workshop at La Fortezza + Artist in residence announcement.

567F7AB6-8841-48B2-B15C-B6FE204B368F IMG_2712 IMG_2788 Ciao all!  by now you know we have been trying out a few different workshops and retreats here at La Fortezza. A few weeks ago, I had my dear friend and amazing artist Steve McKenzie here with students painting all over the place. Of course like with all workshops, we served local food and our own wine. It was 5 days of pure creative bliss. Our newly renovated out building, known as the “dependence,” worked perfectly and all guests were comfy and cozy.

Our farewell pizza party was a huge hit and visiting a local castle owned by artists was a big thrill. Thank you to Steve for making every minute count and every lesson so valuable. I even stopped my duties here to paint one morning, and it was divine. Steve is an amazing teacher. Oh and we picked a few grapes with our handsome vintner Manolo since our grape harvest was in full swing! The looks on their faces tells the story. They were all so happy!

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We also had a cooking lesson, as we do with every workshop, with retreat chef, Teri. Homemade pasta was so fun to make.

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This season we have been thinking about how to come up with a way to offer a more flexible workshop experience to folks. I have people that email us all the time asking if they can come during a visit to Italy, but we were bound to our workshop calendar. I think we have come up with the perfect solution. We have a new and exciting addition to our 2019 summer retreat roster. We will be starting a new creatives program, an “Artist in Residence” program here at La Fortezza the entire month of July.

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Steve will be the very first artist to spend a month here creating under the Tuscan sun. He will be starting here the 1st of July. If you are in Italy during the month of July, or planning a trip here in July, here’s how it will work:

You will be able to book as many days as you like based availability to assist or create art with Steve. He will be working on a collection that will be hung here end of July. He will have an opening exhibition party here at La Fortezza which will be another opportunity for you to come join us at his opening the last weekend of July. More details about Steve’s art opening to come.

Your stay at La Fortezza will include:

  • Accommodations
  • All Breakfasts
  • Some Lunches
  • Some Dinners
  • Aperitivo-( Italian Cocktail hour) with me, author of Cocktail Italiano
  • Excursions with Steve
  • Lessons with Steve
  • All Art Supplies

If you’re not a painter but want a creative experience, you will be able to assist and apprentice with Steve. This retreat is open to all levels. The rate will be $500 per day. We have 5 rooms available, so if you are coming to Italy in July, please sign up early as this experience will be first come, first serve.

There will be more information on the website mid-November when we plan to announce all the spring and summer creative workshops. So if you’ve always wanted to live in the Italian countryside, paint and co create with other artists, this opportunity might just be for you. As always feel free to email me at annette@annettejosephstyle.com for more information about July’s Artist in Residence Program with Steve McKenzie.

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Have a peek at Steve’s instagram to see the whole story of his week here teaching abstract painting to our great group!

xx Annette

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Preserving Italy Workshop with Domenica Marchetti

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Ciao Guys! I am thrilled to write about our first Fall Workshop here.

I have admired Domenica Marchetti from afar for a long time. She’s one of those awesome Instagram connections that has been so fantastic. When we met in real life last year, of course we found that we had tons of people in common in the media industry. If you don’t follow her on Instagram, you should; she’s amazing.

She has many books to her credit, but when we met, we cooked up the idea of teaching folks how to preserve. Her book, Preserving Italy, is filled with amazing recipes, and I was excited to have her here at La Fortezza this fall to preserve right from the garden. With tons of tomatoes in the kitchen garden, along with all of the strawberries, figs and herbs, we could pick and choose.

We had a lovely group that was so enthusiastic and hard working. They cooked and canned and picked over 30 pounds of tomatoes for sauce.  It was so satisfying. We now have lots of tomato sauce to use over the winter, and I am thrilled. Domenica is a fantastic instructor, and I can honestly say I learned so much. We are definitely having her back next year. Thank you Domenica for such a beautiful and inspiring, yummy, hands on experience!

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renovation update: our final phase the dependence, 3 bedrooms 3 bathrooms

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Before of the now main floor bathroom

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The last and final piece of our renovation was an out building, the dependence. It was a very fallen down structure when we bought the Fortress. Forgotten and neglected, I knew it would be make a fun and funky addition to our compound. We brought it back to life last summer by literally rebuilding the structure stone by stone. Reinforcing the structure, tying it together with earthquake bars and creating lofts and doorways. In many ways, it was one of my favorite projects, and the design possibilities were both endless and limited. Endless, because we could put anything into the space, limited because the size was finite, and we needed to house specific features: 3 bedrooms and 3 baths. I love when projects are so precise in nature.

We came up with a clever design for the smallest room: the bathroom would be on the main floor and the sleeping nook in the loft above. It turned out great with lots of character as I used an antique wooden and zinc tub as the vessel that would be the shower. I found a ready made vintage library staircase that fit perfectly into the space and leads to the sleeping loft. A Moroccan window shutter became the door, and we retrofitted an iron cage as a hanging lamp.

The other 2 bedrooms are situated in the room next door. We decided that the best thing was to make it an a joined room sharing the loft space. Although it is a shared space, there is a sense of privacy because of the half wall. The only shared space is the ceiling. Each room has its own bath and its own entrance.

The dependence has a wonderful outdoor seating area overlooking the vineyard which is a completely different view from the terrace that has mountain views. I am pretty pleased with the outcome.

The proof will be in the next weeks as fall workshops begin. I’ll keep you posted. x

Before

Before

Many thanks to my design partner Forrest. Although it’s come to an end, we will always be collaborating. x

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The artists that live in a Castle

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When you live in Italy in an ancient place, you never know what is around the corner. There are always surprises. However, quite honestly, sometimes the surprises are not that hot. Like your kitchen is flooded because of a faulty part, or bees have decided to build their nest on your window sill (twice).

But sometimes something magical happens that makes up for all the mishaps and unfortunate situations. Last week I had some darling visitors. Full disclosure we have a rating system at La Fortezza: 1-5 (yes, just like Uber, we figure if you’re rating us, we get to rate you). These guests were a 5. Why you might ask? They are pleasant, funny, flexible, and non-complaining. Plus, the reason for a 5 rating is that they were very helpful putting last touches on the new guest rooms. As a special treat, I drove them to a nearby village that features a local specialty restaurant and a beautiful quaint village with a big ass castle perched on top. After a lovely lunch, we decided a stroll was in order. I vaguely remembered that the castle was inhabited, but I did not fully remember by whom, until we swung around the corner after ascending to the top of the village wall.

There stood a middle aged man in a red sweater with droopy shorts and cascading curls on his forehead. He looked a little like a middle aged Little Lord Fauntleroy. He smiled, and then I remembered him: we had met at a local pizzeria. He was with a friend, and my friend Forrest had introduced us. “I remember you,” I said. “You do?” he replied. “Yes, we have met before do you know my friend Forrest,”I responded. “No”, he said. After a rather confusing exchange, I did remember that he lived in the castle; he was an artist, and he lived with his mother. His name was Jacabo. That’s about all I was told. So it did not seem odd when he asked, “Do you want a tour of the castle?” Without hesitation I said “YES”. My friends and I looked at each other, and all said yes again in unison.

We headed through a gate. Off to the right, there was another gate with a barking puppy, and off to the left his Cordelia von den Steinen (his ,other’s) art studio, a sturdy, a low stone building with windows all around. We walked past her studio and up a small ramp to the giant castle doors. Inside the vaulted room seemed to climb up up up. With our mouths agape, we looked all around to find stone sculptures everywhere. It was massive and impressive. We all looked and asked questions. There were studies of what would become huge important sculptures, commissioned from all over the world. Jacabo’s parents were very important artists, highly regarded, and very successful, as was his grandfather. He and his family grew up in the castle. His father had bought is from a wealthy American who had bought it and painstakingly renovated it. They had moved there in the 60s, so this place was his childhood home. We could not get over the ground floor with all the gorgeous pieces displayed. We followed Jacabo, up the massive stone stairs to the 1st floor living space. When we entered the space, it impressed me how massive it was, decorated with modern low slung sofas, draped with Moroccan textiles with all the family artwork on display. It took my breath away, I felt like I had stepped into the pages of World of Interiors magazine. All I could say was “Wow.”

We strolled through the living area like it was a museum – which it was in a way. Jacabo casually told us about his parents and his siblings that lived in Rome. He was the only one living with his mother. He too was an artist, a painter. His work was surreal and impeccably detailed. I must admit, he is quite a character, a little eccentric and little disheveled, his shorts kept falling down to reveal his plumber’s crack. His English was all over the place even though I said to speak in Italian, he continued in his own form of English. The castle was spectacular, impeccable, a dream.

Jacabo was sweet, and he was so pleased we loved his place. After about an hour, the tour was finished. We found out a few things, but Google did a much better job of explaining the history than Jacabo. We thanked him and he asked for a small donation for upkeep etc. When he pocketed the cash I gave him, he stuffed it into his wallet that was literally filled to capacity which made me laugh to myself. As we were walking back to the car, we were struck by how wild it must be to have living in castle be your reality. A fun surprise tour, something that could only happen in Italy. It’s why I love it here so much. People just living and creating in the family castle as they say in Italy “Normale”. x

Read about Jacabo’s Father here

Read about his Mother here

Read about the castle in Veruccola here

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A Weekend in Palermo, Sicily

Ciao everyone! As most of you know, I have spent most of July and August working on finishing our Italian house renovation. It’s been 2 years of lots of blood, sweat, tears and $$$$, but it is beautiful and worth all the effort. (Read about the renovation here).

Since I have not had a lot of time this year to travel to places I’ve not been in Italy, I decided, like many Italians, to take a weekend during holiday time known as Ferragosto. Most Italians take this time to travel and be with family mid-August. Since my family is not around, I thought that going with my workshop chef, Teri, would be fun, and we could eat our way through the large metropolis of Palermo, Sicily. Teri is Italian, and like many American Italians, she has roots in Sicily.

We rented an Air B&B. Full disclosure: this was not my choice, and I suggest if you’re only going for a weekend and not planning on cooking or buying groceries, a hotel is the way to go. Staying in a hotel also gives one the opportunity to use the concierge services, and if you’re not familiar with a city, it’s a great help. Since we were not familiar with Palermo, I had to do a lot of research about what to see and what was open and of interest in August.

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Of course we had to hit the markets. There are 3 main open air markets, and since it was August, they were smaller, so we could see them all in one morning and then head to lunch.

Ballarò: Located a few steps from the Martorana Church and Quattro Canti, the Ballarò market extends from Piazza Ballarò in the Albergheria district (near the medieval church of San Nicolò) along Via Ballarò past Piazza Carmine toward Corso Tukory, roughly parallel to Via Maqueda toward the main train station.

Capo: The Capo market, located behind the Teatro Massimo, extends from Via Porta Carini off Via Volturno near the old city wall toward Piazza Beati Paoli and can also be reached from Via Sant’Agostino, which runs off Via Maqueda, though this section includes various vendors of dry goods and articles rather than food. In many respects, this is the most “atmospheric” and “complete” of Palermo’s street markets.

Vucciria: The Vucciria (from the Norman French “boucherie”), perhaps the favorite Palermitan market for visitors, begins at Piazza San Domenico, off Via Roma, running parallel to Via Roma (from which it is hidden) along Via Maccheronai toward Piazza Caracciolo and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, branching off along Via Argenteria. It is much smaller than the other two markets, having lost many merchants in recent years, it is but a shadow of its former self.

I was so struck by how much the markets reminded me of Marrakech. The Arabic influence in Palermo, especially in the market, was so interesting and made it lively and colorful.

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For those of you who love flea markets, there is a great area not to be missed. It’s on Piazza Domenico Peranni and it’s delightful.

With the exception of some Norman-Arab architecture and a number of words in the Sicilian language, the markets are perhaps the best-preserved of Sicily’s Arab traditions. Following in the footsteps of their medieval predecessors, Sicily’s new North African immigrants — a growing presence in Palermo — feel perfectly at home here, and are beginning to establish businesses in the Palermitan “souks.” Palermo is truly a melting pot of not only flavors but cultures.


I suggest you take a tour around town in a surrey like vehicle called an Ape (pronounced Apae). Reserve yours here . I found it was a great way to get a sense of the city in an hour, and they are a blast! Palermo has gorgeous architecture from a fusion of Arab and Norman styles which makes the landscape ethnic and eclectic. Read more about the history here. Safe to say it was stunning.

A word about food: The markets have many street food vendors. They make a variety of Sicilan specialties, like fried chick pea cakes served as a sandwich, lots of offal fried as well. Along any street you can find Arancini the symbol of  Sicilian street food. An Arancino is a saffron rice ball stuffed with a filling like cheese, ragu or sausage breaded and fried. It’s basically Italian junk food. Katie Parla does a great job describing the offerings of offial, anancini, pastries and the rest read about it here.

Since it was August, the markets were downsized, so not a lot of street food was really available. However, we did find the most amazing place while walking to the Botanical Gardens our last day. Thanks to my eagle eye (when it comes to food and props:-)), I noticed all the locals holding a arancino the size of their head filled with piping hot ragu, I said to myself I gotta try one. Full disclosure: since we did not have the best introduction to arancino, even though our AirB&B host gave us a list of local favorites, the street food for me was underwhelming. And a little warning: if you’re not a fan of fried food or cheese filled desserts (which I am not), you may not love the food here. Although there is a great selection of seafood and yummy pastas for those not too keen on eating street food. Bar Touring serves the Arancino Bomba, and it is truly the bomb in every sense of the word. It was the best arancino I tried the entire weekend.

My suggestion is to have one, then walk it off it the beautiful Botanical Gardens, and in midday in the heat of the day, it is a lovely, shaded wander indeed.

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We did find a terrific place to perch to have an aperitivo or 2 in a very patina-ed part of the city. Bar Garabaldi has a lively crowd and great bar menu.

Note: taxis are not cheap, so if you dare, rent a car. It’s cheaper than taxis and is a great way to drive out of the heat of the city and to one of the many beach towns on the island. I did just that. I rented a car, and I drove us to Cefalu a gorgeous beach town about a 1 hour drive. Once you make your way out of Palermo, it’s quite a pleasant trip. Parking was quite easy, too. You just wind down to the boardwalk, and there is a big parking area. We grabbed lunch on the seaside, and then headed to one of the many beach clubs to enjoy the breeze and the sea. I highly recommend it.

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It’s safe to say I will go back. I really feel like I just dipped my baby toe into the Sicilian landscape and all it has to offer. A weekend trip is too little time to explore this beautiful island.

xx Annette

 

 

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