Saturday, May 31, 2014


First impressions: The pastoral Alentejo plain, full of olive groves and vineyards, conifers, spanish broom awash in yellow blossoms, purple thistle, and a surprising number of rivers. Next to no cars on the highway, very peaceful.

Tourism wins: Our hotel, the Convento do Espinheiro, is solidly in the top 3 places I've ever stayed anywhere in the world. Simply put, it is exquisite. A repurposed 15th century convent, it has history, mysticism, stunning architecture, divine food, olive groves, a spa, and perfect service. It was not cheap, but truly was worth it and we would go back in a heartbeat. Shame we only stayed one night.

Fails: We encountered seriously frigid weather in Évora, a surprise for late May. I was totally unprepared and froze my butt off in the rain and wind as we wandered around the city.

If you go there do this: Visit the Capela dos Ossos. Words fail to describe the impact of this 16th century chapel whose walls are entirely covered in bones.

Food and drink highlights: A 3-course dinner at the Convento do Espinheiro, easily the best meal we had in Portugal. We had scallops, squid, cuttlefish, branzino, lamb, and an assortment of eggy desserts.

Interesting observations: There are stork nests everywhere! In small colonies on high voltage transmission towers, on church steeples, and yes, on top of people's chimneys (how else are babies delivered in the Alentejo, right?). The white stork has a massive migration range, extending from South Africa to India to Estonia to Portugal. You can read more about these fascinating birds here.

A selection of photos below...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Douro Valley

First impressions: Rural, quiet, the kind of place where it seems you've stepped back in time.

Tourism wins: Endless terraced vineyards, picturesque river views, all the good Portuguese port and wine the heart could desire.

Fails: A winding road that will make you wish for some dramamine. Also, beware that most wineries stop their tours for an extended lunchtime break, ending at noon and only resuming at 2:30pm.

If you go there do this: Visit Quinta da Pacheca winery, boutique hotel, and restaurant. It is a really stunning location and I would love to stay there next time we visit the region.

Food and drink highlights: The bacalhau (codfish) at Quinta da Pacheca.

Interesting observations: The Douro valley reminded me a lot of Peci, the little village where my family is from in Italy. Not so much in the scenery, but in the general feel of the place, the vegetation, the crumbling stone walls and old farmhouses, the persistent dampness in the air, the slow pace of seemingly everything.

A selection of photos below...

Monday, May 26, 2014


First impressions: Chaos. Craziness. Total disbelief at the route into Porto our GPS suggested, which took us over some train tracks, through what seemed like a pedestrian alleyway, and then down the narrowest, steepest road I've ever been on in my life (even for European standards). We went around a series of hairpin turns along a cliff, certain we'd have to deal with reversing up that nightmare because there was no possible way we were on the right street and turning around was out of the question...when suddenly, as if out of a James Bond film, that tiny road-path led onto a gigantic bridge and we crossed the Douro River into Porto.

Tourism wins: Incredible architecture...a hodgepodge of gothic, rococo, manueline, and modern. Vertical is the norm, as the city is built along a steep riverside canyon and space seems to be at a premium. Every available piece of land seems to be covered by churches, elevators, bridges, restaurants, apartments. It is a visual feast.

Fails: Crazy traffic, lots of construction, crumbling/forgotten buildings, and a general sense of chaos in Porto.

If you go there do this: Walk across the bridge, then take the teleférico aerial tram on the other side of the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. Do a port tasting/winery tour (we went to Ferreira and it was great).

Food and drink highlights: Dinner with Rico and Emilia's distant relatives at a fish restaurant in Matosinhos, near the port. This is not at all a touristy area, although it's pretty easy to reach. Lots of fresh seafood cooked to perfection on charcoal grills set up along the street outside each restaurant. We tried percêves/percebes aka goose neck barnacles, these strange dinosaur-like mollusks that you peel and then eat.

Interesting observations: While I absolutely loved Lisbon, I didn't have the same feelings about Porto...and I can't really pinpoint why. It was an interesting city and well worth the visit, but next time I'd spend less time in the city and more time in the wine country of the Douro valley.

A selection of photos below...

Saturday, May 24, 2014


It's our first time in Portugal, a welcome holiday after working intensely for the last several months on the gallery. Here are some of my thoughts, images, and feelings from the trip thus far...


First impressions: The city is incredibly calm. Wide streets, lots of trees, next to no traffic even at rush hour. Rico and I both came to the conclusion within several hours that Lisbon is a place we could easily imagine calling home...perhaps in retirement, because we're in no hurry to leave Casa Cali anytime soon.

Tourism wins: Walking around aimlessly, stopping at beer gardens in leafy plazas, admiring the architecture and the ubiquitous tiles, eating tapas. Lisbon is an exceedingly pleasant and easy city to navigate, and they are totally prepared for tourists. The city is multi-lingual and its inhabitants are very friendly.

Fails: I got offered drugs several times while walking around and minding my own business...sketchy dudes that rushed at me with outstretched hands and insistent voices (hash, marijuana, coke). Also, we had a horrid meal (bad food and service) in a super touristy spot in Rossio, but I think it was what you would expect from that type of establishment anywhere in the world, not anything particular to Lisbon.

If you go there do this: Hop on the Elétrico 28 trolley car and ride it to the end of the line, or get on and off as you please (go early so you don't stand in line). Also go see a Fado show, but make sure to get a reservation.

Food and drink highlights: Grilled octopus and caipirinha crème bruleè at Darwin's Café at the Chapamilaud Foundation, a colorful and modern spot on the shores of the Tejo River that we certainly would have never found on our own (we were taken to lunch by Rico and my mother-in-law's distant Portuguese relatives).

Interesting observations: Lisbon often felt exactly like the older parts of Rio's downtown (centro antigo) and Santa Teresa, as well as parts of Maputo. I have never felt so at home in a place I've never before visited. And the city is notably diverse...Europeans from all over the place, Africans, Indians, Chinese...seemingly a mix of residents/expats as well as visitors. Oh, and the hipster vibe is strong, but not overly annoying.

A selection of photos below...

Friday, May 09, 2014

My Latest Work

"You make me happy when skies are gray". 2"x2". Brooch made with repurposed treasures collected as a child and found in my grandmother's drawers, Brazilian golden grass (capim dourado), sterling silver, copper. Ali Amaro, 2014. photo by Mathew Furuta.

Back view of "You make me happy when skies are gray." I am especially happy with the way I attached the objects to the was a risk to ball up those wires with a torch, but I am so pleased with the patina and charred marks that were left behind. Photo by Mathew Furuta.
"Trade Bead and Texture Drops". 3"x0.5". Dried acrylic slices (made with leftover paint from murals created for the California Hotel in Oakland), Xing Dynasty Chinese enameled beads, Mozambique Island shipwreck trade beads (these particular blue beads are called "dutch donuts"), chrysocolla drops, 14k gold, sterling silver. Ali Amaro, 2014. Photo by Mathew Furuta.

Detail of "Trade Bead and Texture Drops". Photo by Mathew Furuta.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Point to Point Richmond

Lately I have been very involved in community organizing. New artists and businesses have teamed up with the old guard, and some fantastic grassroots ideas have come together. We all want to see something fresh, legitimately fun, and creative to celebrate our quirky community. After a series of brainstorming sessions, Point to Point Richmond was born.

The kickoff event is this Saturday, May 10th from 2-6pm. I will be hosting several performers and a booth at the Ali Amaro Gallery (which, I was excited to note, already has red dots happening in the decor!).

I am looking forward to the first Point to Point, and to the event evolving as we go forward. The plan is to have monthly celebrations: the next one will be on June 21st, the summer solstice. More soon!