Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Birthdays and Tiles – A San Francisco/Sicily Connection

This past weekend we celebrated Nancy’s birthday. Happily the entire clan was able to make it home, including the newlyweds, Andrew and Connie, fresh from their recent elopement to Buenos Aires.

Our evening started with a round of drinks at
Wellingtons, our favorite Sausalito wine bar...

...then proceeded into San Francisco for a wonderful dinner at Boulevard, one of Nancy's favorite restaurants...

...and finally ended up with a tropical flair at the Tonga Room in the Fairmont atop Nob Hill!

During our trip to Sicily last year Nancy and I had seen a set of beautiful tiles ("piastrelle") at the Baglio Oneto Resort on the outskirts of Marsala depicting various animals.

After we got back to California I did some sleuthing around and finally, just a couple of weeks before Nancy's birthday, tracked down the maker of the tiles - a well-known Sicilian ceramicist named Giaccomo Alessi who lives in the town of Caltagirone in the middle of Sicily.

Through the assistance of Tiziana Manzetti, one of the founders of, a distributor of Italian art work, I was able to get the exact Alessi tiles we had seen in Sicily just in time for Nancy's birthday. Thanks again Tiziana!

Caltagirone is a beautiful city which has long been famous for the production of pottery, particularly maiolica and terra-cotta wares.

Like many of the towns in that area of Sicily – the Val di Noto – it is built on a hill. There is a long staircase - la Scala di Santa Maria del Monte –originally built in 1608, that links the lower city, where the Cathedral is located, to the upper city, where the government had its buildings. The steps were rebuilt in 1953 at which time each riser was decorated with majolica tiles to celebrate the city's ceramic heritage. Each year the steps are the centerpiece of both a Festival of Flowers and a Festival of Lights. Giacomo Alessi’s shop is at the bottom of the stairs.

In doing my research I also learned that San Francisco has its very own set of tiled stairs, located on Moraga Street between 15th and 16th Avenues, that were developed as a community project and dedicated in August 2005 at a ceremony attended by Professor Francesco Pignataro, the Mayor of Caltagirone (on the right below).

A close up of some of the tiles is at the very beginning of this post. The two tiled stairs are a very nice connection between San Francisco and Caltagirone.

1 comment:

Takako Osawa said...

Beautiful tiles..., especially I like the color, green, which is similar to Oribe ware in Japan.