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Did I Ever Tell You About The Time An Italian Artist In Málaga, Spain Stole My Eyes And Sold Us The Ugliest Bird In The World?

I recently featured a guest post about Málaga, Spain, which covered all of the practical aspects of the bustling little coastal city. You know — museums, beaches, historical monuments — that sort of thing.

What it didn’t cover was the eye-stealing Italian artist, Valerio Arduino Gentile.

If you remember, about a year and a half ago, Justin and I visited his sister Becca and her boyfriend Brad, who were teaching English in Málaga. When we weren’t cruising around the island of Formentera on bicycles or getting grossed out at water parties on the island of Ibiza, we were in Málaga, exploring the intricate maze of smooth tiled streets by day, and crashing on Becca’s orange futon by night.

Typical Málaga tiled street.

One day, down one of the city’s numerous winding alleyways dotted with street vendors, artists, and the occasional gelato stand, we came across a set of balconies adorned with the most interesting, Da Vinci-esque, abstract art.

(If you happen to stumble across this particular gelato stand, turn around and look up.)

“There he is!” exclaimed Becca. “Or at least, there’s his work.” She’d been trying to remember down which unnamed artery she usually found her favorite street-side artist when suddenly, just across from a colorful gelato vendor’s window, there it was — a second-floor display of eye-catching art.

Down on the street was an artist — not her artist, but an artist selling lovely lithographs of Spanish dancers. When we stopped to admire his work, we learned his name was Aaron and that the artist we were searching for, Valerio, was out for lunch and would be back in a couple of hours.

“Come back later!” he urged and pointed up to the balconies. “Just up there. The gallery. Valerio will draw your eyes!”

We weren’t exactly sure what he was talking about, but we smiled, purchased some colorful ladies, and continued on our way.

Blurry shot of one of Aaron’s hand-painted lithographs.

Later that day, Justin and I ventured out alone. Curious, we found our way back to “Diagon Alley,” my nickname for the Harry Potter-like street with its crumbling buildings and interesting shops. Aaron was nowhere in sight, but the tiny door below the balconies indicated that the “gallery” was open. Glancing at each other, knowing only the few imperative words of Spanish between us which allowed us to find bathrooms and order red wine when our translator, aka. “Becca,” wasn’t around, we pulled open the door and crept up the narrow, winding stairway. Feeling like the clumsiest of intruders, we reached the top and entered the tiniest, one-room art gallery I’d ever seen.

The only patrons in sight, we must have looked sorely out-of-place as scruffy artists lounged on tattered sofas among a hodgepodge of tilting, colorful canvases and intricate sculptures.

It felt like the scene from a movie, when doe-eyed tourist wanders into the wrong biker bar and the music comes screeching to a halt.

Somehow, one word managed to peep from my mouth. “Valerio?”

Instantly, everyone relaxed — or rather, maybe they were relaxed all along and that was just when Justin and I started breathing again — when a smiling bald man with the friendliest eyes walked up and introduced himself as the artist we’d been searching for. We chatted with everyone as best we could with the various language barriers, and they welcomed us into their little colony, each excited to show off his work. Then Valerio, who it actually turns out is a fairly well-known artist from Italy, excitedly explained that he was drawing womens’ eyes for a mysterious collage project and asked if I’d be willing to pose. I quickly accepted and said we had to run back to Becca’s apartment to get another “model” and my camera.

When we returned, I half expected the place to be gone, like some magical shop that sells dragon eggs and unicorn horns. But it was there, and Valerio was waiting.

“To the balcony!” he said. “Where the light is better.”

(View from the balcony.)

And there, overlooking “Diagon Alley” and the bustling streets below, Valerio drew our eyes.

Models, Becca and I are not. It was hard not to laugh while trying to “look natural.” Still, it was kind of incredible knowing that our eyes, laugh lines and all, were captured on paper by the hands of an artist.

While Becca and I made our modeling debut, Justin met and fell in love with the ugliest bird in the world.

After he finished our eyes, Valerio explained that the bird’s name was Iago, after the two-faced Shakespearian character from Othello. “He has two faces, you see? You can hang him both ways!”

I was not convinced.

But, seeing the look on Justin’s face and realizing he’d caved to me adopting two living, breathing mongrels back home, I realized the least I could do was let him have his pet bird.

Besides, it’s not every day we have the chance to buy a numbered print with slight original alterations (please — like we could afford an original work) from the artist himself.

As Valerio painstakingly wrapped our new pet with bubble wrap scraps and tape he found around the studio, he explained that if Becca returned in a week, she could pick up post cards with our eyes on the front.

Unfortunately, the mysterious gallery was never open again when she walked past, and two weeks later Becca and Brad moved back to the ‘States.

Our eyes were never seen or heard from again.

But Iago, that creeptastic, two-beaked bird with the blank, bulbous stare, lives happily in our living room amongst our other travel treasures.

And I have to say — I kind of love him, too.

Becca, Valerio, Aaron, and Justin

(P.S. My giveaway is still going on! Don’t forget to enter!)


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That seals it. I’m taking Achebeyo to Malaga.


If you do, you MUST go to Ibiza and Formentera as well. It’s not an option. :)


We definitely got gelato from that stand… I remember looking up and seeing artwork on that balcony and being confused about what it was. I’m still sad we missed you guys!


Are you SERIOUS? Of all the gelato stands in all the world, you had to walk into mine?

We are all taking an out-of-country trip together one of these days. How do you feel about Peru?


As I told your husband this weekend, my first thought was, Uhhhhhhh…… Peru?

But I am definitely down for whatever one of these days. I’d love to see Machu Picchu! Though I’m also very partial to Argentina or Chile. For the wine of course. Let’s talk over Christmas!


I would NOT complain with Argentina or Chile. I’ve heard wonderful things about both. Or Brazil! Or maybe we can just take a tour through South America. ;)


You are SUCH a model! What are you talking about? I looooove that bird! Seriously, I need that bird in my life. :) What an awesome post!!!


Well of course look-wise we’re totally models – I just meant personality-wise. ;)

You should contact Valerio! He has a Facebook page! His works that are in color are incredible, too – so vibrant! And Iago is great, but his cows stole my heart as well.

Don't be shy... tell me what you think!