Sue Jane: An Aussie in Italy - Cinque Terre, Florence, Tuscany

Nothing like the Santo Spirito church

Brunelleschi ranted and raved as he led us personally to the Altar in the Santo Spirito church in Florence – just one of the personalities we were to meet from the itinerant Theatre group – La Compagnia delle Seggiole. This genius who had designed the Dome on the Cathedral of Florence some years earlier, was grumbling about how his plans for this church had been modified after his death. He vent his frustration on his local patrons who had not permitted the destruction of the dwellings facing the Arno river, as he had rather boldly designed the church to face the river! While he had begun designs for the project around 1428, work did not commence until 1444 and since he died 2 years after he never saw the completion…..at least not until his return this evening!Santa Spirito church Florence

Monna Giovanna  (the voce of the local people) swept past and told him to stop grumbling as she recounted life in the area amidst  the wool workers and dyers.

I love storytellers and this theatre group has taken me through many monumental buildings in Florence and historical events like the dreadful flood in 1966.

The church is in Oltrano – the opposite side of the Arno river a less touristy area with the most beautiful plain façade (again not how Brunelleschi had planned). The Renaissance elegance so evident inside, and a rather lay back tree lined piazza outside created to eliminate the squalor that surrounded the church in the past. Even today it still has a hangover from its seedy past of drug dealing and alcoholics, replaced now by American students and hip bars and hangouts.

In1980 Mario Mariotti projected hundreds of outlandish slides on the façade, a ‘happening‘ considered advanced for its time and certainly Florentines remained impressed by the display. They were still talking about it in 1985 when I arrived and took me to a café in the piazza where oodles of photos of the slides almost completely covered the walls.

This evening instead was a step into the minds of the great artists of the time. A young Michelangelo appeared praising his recently departed patron Lorenzo the Magnificent for having left him under the protection of the Convent of Santo Spirito. Here he could deepen his studies of anatomy by studying the corpses from the hospital and in thanks he carved the crucifix for the church, at the tender age of 18.

 

Florence Santa Spirito church

An entertaining experience as we wandered through the Cloisters of the Dead, accompanied by Giuliano da Sangallo, the architect of the octagonal Sacristy  which houses Michelangelo’s crucifix. A stop to admire the frescoes of the refectory and later welcomed into the Vestibule by an Augustinian monk with more stories to tell.Frescoe in Refectory

 

 

 

Then it was time to say goodnight to our illustrious  company and Monna Giovanna was quick to remind us that she will be taking us through the Museum of the Innocents as “Una Donna Innocente” next month!Theatre performers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sue Jane: An Aussie in Italy - Cinque Terre, Florence, Tuscany

Prevo – the halfway point, Cinque Terre

Prevo Cinque TerreMy little village of San Bernardino sits directly above Prevo in the Cinque Terre. A sparse group of houses at the halfway point on the coastal trail between Corniglia and Vernazza. I can’t quite see it from my terrace but I am sure the builders can who are currently redoing my roof. I did promise them a job with a sea view and they are indulging in it….perhaps just a little too long for my liking. But then builders are builders the same the world over, nothing ever seems to run to schedule!San Bernardino

 

Prevo is where I sneak into the coastal trail, on my way down to either village and surprise most hikers by looking fresh and energetic still, when they have just panted there way up the hill on countless steps. It is the highest point on the trail (208m above sea level) but most tourists don’t know that and look relieved to hear that it is all downhill thereafter.

Prevo cafeFrom Corniglia the hike up is a little less as Corniglia is already 100m above sea level, nevertheless it is with some relief that tourists find the bar Il Gabbiano at Prevo where they can catch their breath and enjoy a great fresh fruit juice and fantastic view. Tourists from Vernazza appreciate it even more!

All the locals know that it is easier to follow the trails from Corniglia to Vernazza and Monterosso than vice versa, so bear that in mind if you are over here.

For those who choose to stay here in Prevo, as many of the houses rent out on Airbnb, they are in for a quiet retreat, a full immersion in the Mediterranean flora, fabulous sea views…….and a long walk back from dining out! But forewarned they usually love being away from the crowds in the villages.

It’s still pre tourist season, a time to indulge in the late winter and early Spring flowers – like the Mimosa whose yellow blooms make a striking contrast against the turquoise sea. Purple pig face hang along walls which has me thinking what an Aussie mix of flora. Hardy rosemary is in bloom, and the red stalk flowers of the aloe vera are readily seen along the trail tucked in amongst the prickly pear. Officially the coastal trail is Trail closed Vernazza Cornigliaclosed, meaning those who use it hike are at their own risk. When it reopens late March the Cinque Terre Card will be required for entry at a fee of €7.50 or €13 per day including trains. The rest of the hiking trails, known as the high trails are all free…..and I might add just as good if not better!

Trail damage Vernazza

 

I see that another portion of the dry stone wall along the coastal trail has collapsed, a pretty common  occurrence and the National Park will probably try to fix it. Other areas have had major steel nets and cables extending the more volatile slopes and they appear to be holding up well and a great security for hikers and local landowners. It remains a fragile territory and any new landslide or collapsed wall is like a wound in our sides.  The  dry stone walls, that keep this territory together and gained it Unesco Heritage status, if put together are twice the length of The Great Wall of China! It’s a pity we don’t have a Chinese army of people to keep tending them and the terraces!

It is good to see some new trail railing has been put into place by the National park, and very welcomed at the favourite place for the panoramic shot of Corniglia where it was on such a wobble I thought the next tourist that leans was going to do a long gravel rash slide down to the beach below!

Prevo 5 TerreNothing that I ever write about the Cinque Terre is sensational as my aim is for those who visit to understand the complexities of this unique and beautiful area and respect its frailties. While man labours hard to remain in control, it is never enough for the work required and Mother Nature knows who is really ruling the roost!Corniglia to Monterosso

Sue Jane: An Aussie in Italy - Cinque Terre, Florence, Tuscany

Nothing beats a Moka pot

Moka coffee pot

My new Moka pot for one

In a moment of distraction, I burnt out my Moka coffee pot….Oh No!!!

The handle literally melted off the side and while the rest was still intact, it was definitely time to buy a new one. No replacement base would do as it would ruin the coffee flavour since it had gurgled out of water for far too long. So as I popped down to the shop to get my new one, I thought how Italian I have become!

My Moka pot has been my coffee maker at home ever since I arrived in Italy and it is definitely my favourite coffee machine. No new fangle dangle devices can compete, not even a flashy George Clooney Nespresso model….unless it comes with George!?!

While the rest of the world, and a large part of the Italian world, has embraced coffee machines so they can enjoy an espresso or cappuccino at home, quite a few of us have clung to our Moka. Why?

It makes a great espresso, or added to hot milk a wonderful breakfast caffé latte. Comes in various sizes from, just for one, for 3, 6, 9 and a mega 12 person Moka which I have only seen in the Bialetti shop. Takes 5 mins to make on a gas or electric stove, and for the most part the Moka is indestructible, with easy to find replacement parts like filters, and gaskets etc.

Moka Bialetti 1940's cartoon

Bialetti’s 1940’s cartoon on how to use a Moka

Bialetti would have to be biggest brand, and in fact is the inventor, which in the Italian post-war depression was a great convenience for all people who could no longer afford to go out. Renato Bialetti is the  moustached cartoon figure that appears on their logo.

 

There is still an Art in the Making’, as in everything Italians do.

Fill the base with water to just below the heat valve, heap the coffee in the funnel just a touch, squeeze tight and place on a low flame not bigger than the pot and turn it off just as it starts to gurgle. If sharing the larger pots it’s best to give a quick stir in the top so the coffee consistency is uniform for everyone. Use only warm water, NO SOAP, to clean it and it will serve you forever.

Florentine Moka pot

Just about everyone now has a modern coffee machine, which I found out the hard way when I went to my friends wedding in Finland. I took, what I thought to be, the perfect gift: a Florentine (Brunelleschi style dome top) Moka pot with trendy illy coffee cups. I was very happy with myself until I walked into their home and was offered a cappuccino from their coffee maker!

In fact at the Milan Expo on food in 2015 I discovered that the Finns are the highest consumers of coffee, followed by Germans, Brazilians with Italians only rating fourth! Although that should come as no surprise since I think Italians do most things in moderation and think they own the coffee legend.

And while I do love a cappuccino and a good espresso, I save that desire to when I am out at the bar or restaurant as something of a special treat. Now that’s Italian!

I have already seasoned my new little Moka pot, working it through 3 coffee rounds before taking a first sip. Ahhh, just lovely! I will treat it with due respect and continue to enjoy this fabulous Italian invention and great tradition.

My Moka pots

My Moka pots for 1, 3 and 6

And if Italy is in your next travel plans, check out my post on Italian Coffee etiquette so you too can feel like a local when you get here!


 

 

Sue Jane: An Aussie in Italy - Cinque Terre, Florence, Tuscany

Winter Solace at Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre dawnA mild Winter sun peaks from around the promontory, as dawn breaks on the Cinque Terre. Night lights still twinkle in Corniglia  welcoming the new dawn and another peaceful day.

At risk of being boringly repetitive, I say again, it is a favourite time for me to be here. No one on the trails hardly, so you can here Nature talking, caressing the foliage, sweeping the leaves into another pile while waves massage the rocks smooth.

Vernazza Downtown in Vernazza the washing is already out and there’s a strong aroma of freshly baked bread and pastries. I imagine many a grandma is busy making pasta or baking a cake for the family at lunch later. Vernazza cafe

 

 

 

 

 

My favourite bar the Blue Marlin is still closed, as are many of the tourist shops, restaurants and gelaterias. And the flood barriers in doorways are a permanent fixture during the winter since the flood of 2011.

Only locals on the main street, and so good to see kids and young parents, amongst the elderly,  as most of the population is definitely 60+. It’s great to see the fishing boats parked again in the main square, their flashy striped covers a cute contrast to the sea lashed pink of the building behind. Such a sense of belonging is reassuring, as is the peeling façade that battles timelessly against the salt spray, yet loses the fight each year. Nature quietly reminding us who is in control.

Burgus bar, VernazzaThe Burgus wine bar is one of the few places open with 90’s music blaring from the night before, not quite what you might expect or appreciate over a morning caffè latte!

In the nearby terraces, farmers prune their olives or paint their fruit trees against disease while others do the necessary renovations and maintenance required before the tourist season starts. And while I don’t have any terraced land, I have still pruned the fig trees that sprout from my wall and cleared the blackberries from around my fabulous agave cactus.Agave

The National Park volunteer hunters are out in their iridescent vests, rifles at the ready and walky talky radios transmitting where the wild boar have moved to. Such an impossible hunt,  as the boar invariably slips away into rampant  blackberries and thumps down from terrace to terrace. Such a lot of damage caused by the boar, an imported race that has run riot, breeding profusely, rooting out food at the base of the dry stone walls causing them to fall or remain precariously unstable. Another never ending battle. Although the hunters seem as pleased just to be out together, and to have another story to tell back home of the one that got away.Vernazza Madonna + child

As I head back to the car park  I see the Madonna has had a new coat of paint on her frame, keeping a trusty eye on locals and visitors as they enter the village of Vernazza or take a walk to her sanctuary at Madonna del Reggio.Vernazza

 

Sue Jane: An Aussie in Italy - Cinque Terre, Florence, Tuscany

Rum and chocolate in exotic Cuba

Drinking Rum

Leaving Havana to explore the rest of Cuba, starts with a good shot of rum at our first stop! The Forbidden Fruit  tourists seek, along with cigars, is produced from sugar cane introduced in Cuba by Columbus. And while the sugar cane production is now heavily reduced there is still sufficient to produce the famous Cuban Rumrum!

We did manage to crunch on some cane to savour the succulent juice in the Valley of Los Ingenios ( near Trinidad) and see the ruins of the sugar mills, slave quarters and watchtowers now an area with Unesco Heritage status.

 

Bailing dry riceOn the way, rather caught by surprise to see bales of rice lining the road ready for loading, the rice having spent the day spread out along the road for drying. The mind boggles to think of how the traffic manoeuvres in one lane….they must drive like Italians!! Let alone the flavour the asphalt may give to the rice!?

From Havana, our first stop was the Bay of Pigs – Playa Girón, and the museum dedicated to the disastrous invasion by USA of Cuba. An interesting video of the invasion from the Cuban point of view and other artefacts associated with the Revolution – the uniform of the volunteers teaching illiterate farmers, and the white shoes – symbol of what the Revolution brought to a teenager, whose mother was shot dead while protecting her during invasion.

Playa Girón Cuba

 

After that, a moment of relax, swimming at the nearby waterhole and in crystal clear water at the coral beach.

Cienfuegos - Palacio de Valle

 

 

Cienfuegos our next stop, a colonial town with neo classical architecture and wide avenues where we were treated to a cocktail on the roof terrace of the rather bizarre Palacio de Valle, an ornate Spanish, Moroccan, Italian mix.

 

Che Guevara museum - Santa Clara

On to Santa Clara the next day, to be immersed in the dramatic story of  Che Guevara in his Memorial and Mausoleum. Documents, photos and various memorabilia makes it a fascinating visit but unfortunately no photos allowed inside.

 

 

The next base is Trinidad, the most touristic of the cities outside of Havana and with good reason. A perfectly preserved Spanish settlement built on the wealth amassed in the past from the nearby sugar cane fields. Colonial mansions and cobbled stone streets lined with multi coloured houses. Salsa music every evening on the steps beside the Cathedral and traditional African dance performances. A Cuba -Trinidad Cowbay Cubanoteworthy Art gallery in the main square and  women in garish lycra chat in the streets or saunter past more classic car beauties or stray cowboys.

Waterfall Trinidad

A local hike to the waterfall in lush countryside provides a welcome break from the tourists on another day.

Camaguey instead had a much more local feel and a sweet grandma ran my homestay. Known as the city of clay pots for water collection and easily visited in bicycle rickshaws to see more colonial mansions,  artist galleries and the local market with food stalls and herbal medicines. Yet again Nightclubs and salsa venues for locals and tourists to add pizazz to their evenings.

Dancing Santiago

 

On to the chaos of Santiago the second largest city in Cuba and our home stays bounce to the blaring street music that only ceased with the electricity black out! And if you can’t beat’em it’s best to join in! Fidel's tomb - Santiago

 

 

 

A more sombre moment in front of Fidel’s tomb.

 

 

 

Travelling on through beautiful lush terrain and velvet mountains, bring us to the chocolate capital of Cuba – Baracoa, for our last few relaxing days. We can still see the damage left by the hurricane of November, with skinned Royal palms sprouting new growth and some roofs still to be replaced.

The atmosphere is layback, as is the music, and the place is exotic in both artwork and people.

Our cacao plantation visit is a highlight as we pile into another classic car ( a little less chic than those of Havana) with an erotic gear stick change that had to be photographed to be believed and a mad driver who has us laughing all the way!

The cacao plantation is a women’s cooperative and they are proud to explain the plant and process to produce some mouth watering chocolate that we are able to sample, oddly wrapped in leftover alfoil from the pharmaceutical company!

Baracoa beachThere is so much to tell about Cuba, a simple blog post cannot do it justice. 17 days of continuous stimulation and enjoyment, I loved it!

My head is still full of the music, the colour, the warmth, the vibrant atmosphere and fond memories of great laughs with wonderful travel companions.Cuba map

For those interested, I found the tour via www.responsibletravel.com  which linked to www.locallysourcedcuba.com and am very happy with both agencies.

Beach Trinidad

Cuba just do it….before it’s too late!

Sue Jane: An Aussie in Italy - Cinque Terre, Florence, Tuscany

Music, colour and classic cars – Havana Cuba

Havana street

Cuba – vibrant, colourful, exotic, brash and unabashed, a fantastic trip of the expected and unexpected, full of laughs and a joy to the senses!

The biggest difficulty has been sorting my 900 photos and to present a selection which renders a complete picture of Cuba: its warmth, humanity, starkness and contrasts.

So this is only part 1 on Havana and part 2 will focus on touring the island.

 

Classic cars from pre Revolution days abound on the avenues, filled with Classic car tourtourists waving and filming like VIP’s, or sit patiently waiting the next client in a quiet elegance. Exteriors and interiors are exquisite; hand stitching on sumptuous leather, some complete with a bar, and gleaming bodies in brash colours. Gorgeous, even to a non car enthusiast like me, and the drive a definite highlight of our tour. To think they have continued to maintain, restore and repair these old carcasses, despite the embargo, demonstrates Cuban ingenuity, resourcefulness and patience.

Havana Malecon - waterfront We soar past beautiful buildings from colonial days, elegant monuments to heroes of the past in stylish piazzas, luscious parks, fortresses that protected the city and housed the gold, before cruising the Malecon – waterfront.

In the old centre, an afro/salsa beat draws me along streets and past characters in colourful garb who pose or waylay tourists for a fee.

The air is full of energy and the place chaotic, where locals continue their lives amidst tourists squatting at a wifi hot spot or queuing for a bank, while they shop on the street, queue outside the pharmacy or pick up their monthly ration quota.

Havana street scene

In stark contrast to the elegant Colonial buildings, everyday housing is dilapidated although our various Case particolares – homestays, were comfortable, clean and gave a little insight into what lay beyond the crumbling facades.

Havana University

Amidst the chaos is the impressive University building, with a mix of old and new architecture and likewise the Contemporary Cuban Art Gallery housing a sophisticated selection of superb art works, rather unexpected. The Cuban Classical  ballet Company entertained us with a performance of The Nutcracker in the glorious Grand Theatre and we left spellbound by the atmosphere and costumes.

A testimony to the investment made in Health, Education and Culture during the Revolution, on which the country continues to survive by exporting its scientific expertise to Latin America and Africa. Over 30,000 Doctors in Venezuela still today.

Havana souvenir shopTourism obviously remains the second major income for Cuba with over 3million tourists per year and cruise ships were seen regularly in various ports. And while many have the idea Cuba will change in the post Castro era, so best to be seen now, my impression is that it will take years! So you still have plenty of time yet!Havana street art

 

 

The music will still be playing, the facades still crumbling and the classic cars still cruising. There may be more Coco taxi HavanaCoco taxis to take tourists around town, a cute recycled coconut chassis with a motorbike motor and 3 wheels as tourists seek cheaper options, while locals use the bicycle rickshaw.

I continue to savour memories of my coconut ice and churrito snack as I lapped up the sunshine  before returning home to below zero temperatures in Italy.

Part 2 Cuba on tour to follow……


 

 

Sue Jane: An Aussie in Italy - Cinque Terre, Florence, Tuscany

Merry Xmas and Happy New Year!

Xmas FirenzeIt’s that time of year again, and the days seem to disappear in a rush.

There is just a smidge of snow on the mountains near home, not really enough for Santa and Rudolf to sleigh down on, but I think he arrives via a smartphone App these days! And while I have seen a few letters to Santa publicized I think the rest are probably emailing or whatsapping! How the world changes. We are also hoping Santa may have solution in his sack to our current government crisis….??

Yet Florence still has its reassuring traditions – the Nativity Scene is back beside thenativity scene Florence Duomo along with the Xmas tree and Xmas lights adorn most of the streets in the centre giving the place that special magic.

The wonderful panettone and pandoro cakes have been in the supermarkets  now for ages – which makes me wonder how much preservatives must be in them? But I succumb every year and my pandoro star will get it’s good shake of icing sugar and a little warming in the oven when my first Xmas guests drop by.

And the faithful guardians of our city keep a watchful vigil on us all.

So I thank you all for reading my posts and am open to any suggestions you may have or things you may be curious about in Italy but didn’t know who to ask. Ask me via the comments box or email anytime.

Gourmet cooking school and foostoreFor any Melbourne readers I add a little plug for my niece’s Gourmet kitchen cooking school. If you’re stuck for a gift idea she has lots of interesting kits, gourmet delicatessen items, Xmas hampers with a difference, recipe books and gift vouchers for doing a cooking class on all sorts of wonderful foods – Thai, Spanish, Pasta making, Japanese etc and currently helping many make delicious macaroons for Xmas. Check the website here or drop by at 20 Margaret St, opposite Moonee Ponds Station.

I hope this year has been a good year for you all and wish you a Very Merry Xmas and a Happy, Serene and Healthy 2017!

I am off to Cuba in January for a few weeks so will leave you with just a taste of what the atmosphere may be like in the video below…….you never get too old to dance!!!

Gente di Zona with Marc Anthony – La Gozadera

 

 

Sue Jane: An Aussie in Italy - Cinque Terre, Florence, Tuscany

Off peak at the Cinque Terre

Dawn beams gently over the Cinque Terre and after days of rain it looks like it will be a great day. Not a sound aside from the waves lapping over the rocks as even they seem to be in off peak mode.

The  Cinque Terre is ‘ours’ again, after another hectic season. The last ferry stopped at the beginning of November and only local fishing boats bob about now

Cinque Terre trailNot a soul to be seen on the trail from Corniglia to Vernazza despite it being Saturday and no sign of a drink or rest stop halfway either as the Bar Gabbiano is closed.la Gabbiano cafe closed

 

 

 

 

 

Corniglia Vernazza trail

 

 

Autumn colors dot the rugged terrain enhancing the beauty of the moment. It’s a great time to hike and even free as the check point on the coastal track is closed for the season!Cinque Terre trail check point

 

 

 

A menacing danger sign and ‘forbidden transit’ indicates you enter at your own risk, since the trail can never be completely closed off as it is the only access some locals have to their private land.

Vernazza Autumn day

My favourite beach at Vemazza looks tempting but I guess it would be a little too fresh in and out of the water.

 

 

 

Vernazza main streetLocals catch up on the gossip on the Main Street and only a few stray tourists wheel trolleys from the station in downtown Vernazza. Kids play in the main square under grandparents watchful eye, tricycling amongst the boats pulled out of the water in the recent storm alert.Vernazza main square

 

 

 

 

Vernazza Santa Margherita di Antiochio church

What is usually the prime restaurant area in the season becomes the winter boat park.

Some people soak up the warm autumn rays relaxing like lizards on a rock outside the church.

 

 

Fisherman

 

Another local casts a line from a super rod and while he had not been successful ( yet there was still half a day to go) said he ‘likes the challenge’!

There is still a mix of shops, bars and restaurants open although as each week passes they become less till eventually the tourist venues close altogether. For those that have Flood barrier Vernazzatheir flood protection barriers are in place as no one wants to see a repeat of the damage from the 2011 flood. Cruise ships still dock at la Spezia but less frequently during the off peak season and tourists always look a little shocked to see so little open to tempt them into spending money.

Vernazzans make the most of the sunshine as laundry flaps from terrace to terrace, a reassuring sign of normality. While in the surrounding hills maintenance work goes on to rebuild fallen walls and bit by bit recover abandoned land.  I take the trail back home to San Bernardino.

Yet another season over at the Cinque Terre and we can soak up the peace and quiet for the next few months.Sunset Vernazza

 


 

Sue Jane: An Aussie in Italy - Cinque Terre, Florence, Tuscany

50 years on – Florence flood

On the 4th Nov, Florence called for the Mud Angels of the tragic flood of 1966  to return to Florence to participate in the Anniversary commemorations. The most dramatic flood to hit Italy since 1557 with flood levels reaching 5m high. Level signs along many streets and above shop windows remind us of the drama.

A flood that no one had expected or could imagine. Santa Croce was the worst hit area and the wooden crucifix by Cimabue (c1265), while restored, still bears massive scars from the flood.

A symbol of the 50th anniversary was the restoration of another masterpiece – Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari ( 1546) only just finished in time for the local and overseas visitors to admire. Paula Deitz, now an Editor of an Arts Journal, and curiously in Florence at the time of the flood, gives details of her experience and the restoration process here.

35 people died, 17 in Florence, 18 in Province, 70 horses at the race course and a favoured dromedary from the local zoo. Around 5,000 people remained homeless and  6,000 business were damaged. Prisoners in the city prison were released and housed by locals in upper floors of buildings, most of whom returned on their own volition to local authorities after the flood subsided!

Florence was without electricity, telephones went down and the city remained isolated for 3 days. Florentines had to rely on each other for assistance and passed requests along by shouting from window to window  ” in via di Fico” all the way to the Town Hall for the Mayor to respond back, ” Received Palazzo Vecchio, Over ”  Emergency supplies and teams gathered in the Soccer stadium and with whatever means – rubber dinghies, fishing waders, shutters laced together with paddles, brought basic supplies to those afflicted. For months after the city was nothing but slime and sludge with a disgusting smell of naphtha and sewage.

It mobilized the biggest international volunteer movement to save the city and its artistic heritage. Mud Angels, poured in from everywhere, personalities, clergy, art lovers and thousands of young students from the rest of Europe came to clean up the sludge from books and documents, and move artworks to safer abodes. It became a catalyst for new techniques in restoration, of which Florence is now famous.

Theatre performance on Florence Flood

‘Sotto una Gran Piova d’Acqua” Theatre

I relived the experience of the flood at a performance by an Itinerant theatre group – Teatro delle Seggiole who read from 3 diaries of the period: the Mayor of Florence, Piero Bargellini; a 16yr old lad; and the Director of a national newspaper, Enrico Matteo. It was a gripping account of the reality faced by Florentines before the arrival of outside assistance.

An excerpt:

The Lad looks on from his window:  “4.30am a crash. The course of the Arno, shortly after is in Piazza Mentana , curves right and rushes under the Ponte Vecchio. The lights of the Old Bridge are low. The current and its overflow has dragged tree trunks and rubbish which transforms the bridge into a dam. The violent water finds vent on the right, causing the collapse of the parapet and the road. Now the furious Arno pours throughout our part of town.”

The Mayor announces to his city by radio. “At this time I have been informed of the sad news that the Arno water has arrived in Piazza del Duomo. In some areas the flood reaches the first floor. And it is that area that needs our most urgent help. I invite everyone to stay calm and minimize your circulation. Any owners of rubber boats and amphibious vehicles, even in plastic, please make your way to the Palazzo Vecchio, to assist with immediate sanitary, food and rescue relief ”. In the days following he continued to protest loudly to the TV and newspapers indicating the gravity of the situation seemingly underestimated, and to the political institutions with a special plea to the Prime Minister to understand the scale of the tragedy “the damage is immense”. 

The Journalist: “On arrival I found along with the Florentines who were not affected – that unforgettable night spent in mournful vigil on the edges of the another city, a city that water had separated from us, mysterious, inaccessible like a world inhabited on another planet, and that touched us with its breath, with  a dank breath – a scene of total despair ”  It was largely due to his reporting of the dramatic tragedy to Rome, together with the Mayor, that forced the mobilization of military and others to the aid of Florence.

Also completed just in time  for the 50th Anniversary was the road alongside the Arno which had collapsed in May due to a burst water pipe,  devouring a number of parked cars in the process!. The worksite was operative 24hrs a day and only asphalted in time for the President of the Republic to walk down it on 4 Nov 2016. The next day following days of rain, the Arno level rose to alarming levels again and equipment from the worksite had to be hurriedly craned up.

Which just goes to show we should never take it for granted, and keep an eye on the Arno and Mother Nature! Having been involved in the Vernazza  flood of 2011, the drama of Florence 1966 seemed even more credible.


 

 

Sue Jane: An Aussie in Italy - Cinque Terre, Florence, Tuscany

It’s raining sweets in Cinque Terre

Bridal couple toss benediga

Foto credit www.fotografi-matrimonio.com

I was rather intrigued by a recent post from the Mayor of Vernazza – Cinque Terre about an old custom that started around the 1800’s – the benediga. It appears to be almost unique to Vernazza, and I remember some years back being surprised by sweets that rained from the heavens onto the Main Street of Vernazza as a bridal couple tossed them from a balcony above.

Enzo Resasco ( Mayor) writes : “This is one of many traditions that has remained unchanged in Vernazza and it would be nice to tell the many tourists who visiit here.When there is a wedding or a baptism, after the religious ceremony, the bride and groom or the godparents, from a balcony that overlooks either the square or along the main street of the village, throw “the benediga”…..

Often, the many tourists are suddenly caught up in the middle of a crowd of children, women and men from the village who bend down to pick up candies, chocolates, nuts, confetti raining down in torrents from the sky. Immediately it is difficult for them to understand what is happening. In their eyes you can see the wonder and perhaps a hint of fear, of seeing people gather, shouting and shoving, for this manna from the sky.”

Tourists gather confetti

Tourists gathering the loot!

Foto credit: http://vernazza-corniglia.com

Investigating further another Italian, Guido Allegrezza writes:
“A benediga worthy of respect, must “weigh” a total of at least 45 kg, evenly distributed between sweets, chocolates and confetti ( sugared almonds). In the past, when poverty was a daily reality, the benediga saw the launch of nuts and almonds festively wrapped…..Throwing  45 kilos of candy and confetti can take 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the skill of the couple or godparents parents…..” and if ever caught up in this melee  he suggests to be wary of the elderly who while not at a soccer match tend to fight for the sweets with almighty fury, elbows out and baskets and sacks on the ready. Locals scream and wave their arms then dive on the goodies as they fall – something of a pagan ritual, a homage ….,”he benediga gives concrete expression to the sense of belonging to the community,” a festive celebration of a key moment in the community….and a temporary belonging to the tourists surprised by the event!

The Mayor is very concerned about maintaining traditions and not letting economic interests of tourism override the social fibre of the community. He writes:

“The biggest mistake we can make with our tourists is to make them feel as if they were still in their own country. Street signs type Fast Food, Take Away, Sangria, Happy Hour. This is not what they want.

They want Italian spirit. They want to live the rhythms of Italian life and our rhythms are special. Sit on a bench or at a table in a bar along the main street or square or the Ventega, in the evening at sunset with a Cinque Terre Doc. They do not want the supermarket, do not look for any “Gardaland” effect. They want the small shop or the weekly market knowing that to be served will mean a queue and maybe waiting for the seller to finish his conversation with the old lady of the place.”

The Mayor is fighting something of an uphill battle to retain the authenticity and uniqueness of Vernazza overrun with mass tourism and slowly depopulating, changing its face…or at least putting new make up on.

 

Foto credit for Yesterday: www.vernazza-corniglia.com