Happy Festive Season

Christmas lights FlorenceHow time flies, it’s almost Christmas again!

May this festive season sparkle and shine, may your wishes come true, and may the joy of it all continue throughout 2019. Merry Christmas from Florence …..which has been sparkling already for the past few weeks and delighting us as we wander amongst the Christmas lights and festive shop windows.

I think Via Tornabuoni, filled with designer shops takes the cake for its Xmas lights; long delicate strands interlaced with baubles creating a fairly like scene which the photos hardly do justice.

 

And while I dislike the cold, a freezing -4 degrees this morning….brrrr, I love the Christmas atmosphere, time for hot chocolates, Xmas bootspanettone or my favorite – pandoro, lightly dusted with icing sugar.

And who could go past these Xmas boots?!

Or refuse an aperitif immersed inside this Xmas lit café?Florence Xmas lights

 

 

 

I will be back in Oz for the Summer, catching up with family and friends, and  finding some good Aussie stories to blog about next year.

Xmas David

So thank you all for following my blog and enjoy yourselves!

Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo!

 

 

 

 

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Da Vinci’s CodeX in Florence

Florence at the time of Da VinciThe sound of water flowing, amid digital images of Florence at the time of Leonard da Vinci welcome visitors into the stimulating exhibition of Da Vinci, The Scientist – ‘Water as Microscope of Nature’ The exhibition is a temporary one in the Uffizi Gallery  till the end of January 2019, and one not to be missed.Leonardo da Vinci studies the manuscripts of san Marco convent

The exhibition displays original pages of Da Vinci’s Codex Leicester written between 1504-1508 focusing on water – “investigating its elementary structure, vortex movements, and mechanical and optical properties, as well as the technical solutions for exploiting it to the benefit of humanity…….exploring the analogies between water and air, and between the movements of fish and birds.” (Info at Exhibition)

Scribbled in Da Vinci’s unmistakable left handed scrawl from right to left, that exudes an intensity of concentration and precision. Meticulous designs of water flows, rock stratifications, light reflections, birds in flight and more.  Precise drawings of machines – Da Vinci's invention to dig canalsan odometer to measure distance, a centrifugal pump for draining marshes, underwater foundations for bridges and weirs, solutions to regulate the quantity and velocity of water drawn from siphons,  riverside constructions to combat erosion….the list was endless and fascinating.

He takes the human body as the model for elucidation of the physiology and dynamics of water and blood observationsthe Earth…. he speculates on the dynamic balance of the earth’s gravity….and offers practical advice to seamen from his understanding of hydrodynamics’

The digital presentations of his various machinery are mesmerising in their originality and creativity, providing us with the basis of many modern machines. He was interested in, and obsessively drew, the bit by bit analysis of every moving part in the machine and its contribution to the transfer of motion. The man was a true genius!

He invented a centrifugal pump for draining marshes, a man-saving device for digging canals, studied bird flight and wind currents to create our precursor to flight machines….

His theatrical mechanisms for court pageants, ‘allowing actors to rise and descend and float as if they were flying’ (Walter Isaacson) and from his studies of physics he truly believed that it was possible to build a winged mechanism that would allow humans to fly.

He was known to always carry notebooks which hung from his belt, constantly collecting ideas and scribbling observations of his surroundings from a technical, scientific and artistic point of view. His notes were transferred to the various manuscripts – Codex – of which more than 7200 pages exist today, considered to be only one-quarter of what Leonardo actually wrote, and which he had intended to publishing. “The most astonishing testament to the powers of human observation and imagination ever set down on paper” (Toby Lester “Da Vinci’s Ghost”)

Da Vinci's studies influence his artHis paintings elicit his geological theories on rock stratification as seen in the background of the Mona Lisa, and his studies of the impact of solar rays on the tint of the sky or secondary light he uses on the cheeks of Ginevra de Benci and The Virgin.

Leonardo was known to be slow and methodical in his artistic life, leaving many works of art, as well as machines and instruments unfinished or never started beyond a few draft etchings in his notebooks. After all, he took 16 years to finish the Mona Lisa, carrying it with him on his travels outside of Florence and Italy, constantly adding finishing touches!

Uffizi proudly displays another masterpiece, his unfinished, ‘Adoration of the Magi’ 1481-1482

Da Vinci Adoration of the Magi

Having just finished reading Walter Isaccson‘s biography on “Leonardo Da Vinci” the exhibition was in perfect timing to explore more and see the real documents of the Codex Leicester. An exhilarating experience and a super presentation of the Scientific mind and genius of Leonardo da Vinci.


 

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Getting the Good Oil

It’s one of my favourite times of year – picking olives and more importantly savouring the new extra virgin olive oil. A time to catch up with old friends and share our aches and pains as the days pass and the garage fills with crates of olives.

Besides I am lucky enough to be picking olives in Pienza in Val d’Orcia which in any season boasts fabulous views, rolling hills and cypress lanes, and towers guarding valleys filled with fluffy clouds and evocative morning mist.

Picking olives - Aleardo Paolucci designStaying with my artist friend – Enrico Paolucci, is always a pleasure and despite his father’s passing in 2013, Aleardo’s presence is still strong. From the muraled garage wall denoting country life, and the house filled with Aleardo’s works of art, to Isabella’s fond memories recounted as we pick olives together.Aleardo Paolucci - painting

We have been lucky with the weather, unlike some areas in Italy still battling flood levels and muddy landslides. A few brief showers gave us reprieve over lunchtime and the light breeze dried the trees and olives quickly so we could continue the picking.Picking with battery operated rake

An ingenious local, Giuliano, developed a home made version of ‘leaf and olive separator’ (seen in action here), in recycled material, even including the fan. A true Maker! Since we are not all hand picking, the battery powered raking system pulls more leaves and twigs with olives still attached and the less leaves in the pressing the better. The Olive mill also has their own similar separator system but in the meantime we are doing our best to send them to the mill in the best condition possible.
Separator - leaves from olivesOlives ready for the mill

 

 

 

 

Blessed with some sunshine, and spreading even larger olive nets under the trees meant we were soon down to T shirts only…..and my beloved overalls! The garage quickly filled with crates of Olives ready for the Mill – Frantoio Simonelli Santi in the nearby town of San Quirico d’Orcia. 

Surprisingly the mill is in the historic centre of the town using the traditional method of pressing – stone grinders pressing olives, pips and all, automated machines spreading the olive paste on mats, mats stacked into the presser which is raised, pressing out the liquid – oil and water and finally the centrifuge to separate the water from liquid gold extra virgin olive oil. Strictly cold press and bio!

 

Extra virgin oilive oilThe air is filled with a buzz of the various rake and shake systems as batteries power along until sunset, and our backs say they need a rest. Gloves are worn thin between the thumb and forefinger as we strip the branches of their produce.

In a week we picked 761 kilos of olives and came home from the Olive Mill with 125 litres of fabulous liquid gold. What could be more satisfying!

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Nature gives us another belting

 

Rapallo, Liguria

Photo credit: Regione Liguria

Two days of dramatic storms has brought Italy to it’s knees again, with terrible damage from North to South and miraculously only 14 people killed. The Cinque Terre and the whole coastline of Liguria has suffered and there may still be repercussions with landslides as the heavy rains soak in. The weather forecast remains gloomy and Liguria and Veneto regions are still under ‘Alert’, as we slide into the normal November rainy period.

And while Italy is not the only place taking a belting, it seemed appropriate to remember the flood of 25 October, 2011 in Vernazza and Monterosso and even the distant 1966 flood, 4 November  as the Mayor of Venice is saying the high water level may reach the same peak of 1.90 cm!

Vernazza sea storm

Photo credit: Paolo Lazzarotti

Unlike the flood of 2011, caused by an exaggerated downpour, on Monday/Tuesday  the storm provoked colossal sea swells with waves leaping over the entire village of Vernazza. As you can see in the video here the water in the main street is battling in both directions, from the sea and the rain!Cinque Terre Mud Angel

Locals are already doing the clean up of the sludge and mess that has flooded in, their own Mud Angelsas the clean up, at least in Vernazza, is not at the level of 2011.

Tourists were caught by surprise and made hurried exits of the coastal villages, dragging drenched trolleys to trains before various railway lines were closed.

I still wait with bated breath to return to my holiday haven at San Bernardino where I hear the wind was so strong the rain came horizontally. However it is not wise to travel over by car for the moment, if it can be avoided, at least until the weather settles and the weather alert is off. The road from San Bernardino to Vernazza is off limits for the moment, with access only by train or on foot.

The Cinque Terre is such a fragile territory, it breaks my heart to see it ‘battling’ yet again, especially in the current climate of stringent political and economic policies that limit resources and organisational capacity to recover quickly. Locals take it in their stride, fully aware that these natural disasters are just part and parcel of living on the coast…..and after all it could be worse!

Is this yet another message from Mother Nature to say we have gone beyond the limits? It certainly comes as a great reminder of who is really in control, demonstrating how vulnerable we really are.

Some of you may well remember enjoying Santa Margherita Ligure on tour and  this video of the recent storms…. ends with a positive “It will come back to being wonderful”.                            These Ligurians are a tough lot, and hard to beat!

Rapallo, Liguria

Photo credit: Regione Liguria

 

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The Giraffes of Florence

giraffe gift to MediciOn a visit to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, my first in some years and to be one of many during the course, I took time out to visit the temporary  Exhibition – Islam and Florence and bumped into my first giraffe – stuffed!

As I was about to take a photo, the staff leapt on me to say “No photos allowed” but to not leave you disappointed ‘this official video’ has captured the giraffe together with many of the fabulous objects on display.

The Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, probably not unaware that a “camelopard” had taken part in Julius Caesar’s triumph in Rome, sent a giraffe as a gift to Lorenzo the Magnificent, which made a spectacular entry into Piazza della Signoria on 18 November 1487. The exotic beast is reported to have been so greatly admired and to have caused such a sensation that even the cloistered nuns were eager to see it. As portrayed in the affresco of Giorgio Vasari in palazzo Vecchio. Unfortunately the giraffe did not last long, breaking its neck in an accident in the stable specially built for it on 2 January, the following year.
The second giraffe, also stuffed, came as a gift from Egypt in 1835, to Leopoldo II and lived in the Boboli gardens for about a year and a half.’ (Uffizi  brochure). The photo above of the affresco shows a mixed reaction amongst the locals and one can only imagine their astonishment at seeing a giraffe in the piazza…..even today! The giraffes sadly came to a sorry end.

Various generations of Medici‘s, from Lorenzo the Magnificent to the Islamic objectsGrand Duke Cosimo I were known to be lovers of the exotic and major collectors of precious items from the Orient together with other private collectors and  antiquarians. The exhibition was split between the Uffizi Gallery and the Bargello museum with a stunning range of exquisite carpets, gilded containers, magnificent jewelled ornaments and arms and delicately carved ivory chests. All beautifully displayed before a background of a thousand and one Oriental stars under soft lighting. ( This photo taken from the brochure does not do them justice).

In amongst the exhibits were also some paintings, indicating how much this exchange of culture influenced artists at the time. A period when Florence was powerful; economically, politically and culturally. A city of rich bankers and merchants ‘wheeling and dealing’ with the world and wanting to boast about their wealth and perhaps, book a place in paradise by commissioning works of art like this one.Gentile Fabriano Adoration of the Magi

Palla Strozzi,  the richest banker of Florence commissioned Gentile da Fabriano to do The Adoration of the Magi’  (1423) a theme often repeated, as many, including the Medici, identified themselves as ‘the Magi‘ of the time!  Heavily dosed with gold and sumptuous costumes in a luxurious ambience with some cheeky non religious details – the page kneeling to remove the spurs, monkeys playing and Palla Strozzi and his father prominently featured in the red hat and with a falcon!

Aureale Arabic Gentile da FabrianoTo show the Islamic influence you need to zoom in on the aureole to see Arabic scripts embossed in the gold.

In class we were told that the Roman elite delighted in eating exotic animals at their banquets, giraffes and zebras included….Possibly even the one in Julius Cesare’s triumphal return?

The ‘Adoration of the Magi’  by
Domenico Ghirlandaio (right 1482-90)) and ‘Procession of Three Kings‘ by Andrea del Sarto (left 1510-11) show in the background, yet  another giraffe as part of the procession. The fascination with these leopard style camels continues….!

As seen in the video, the exhibition had an eclectic mix, making a fascinating tour of past splendours and confirmation of the appreciation, consideration and integration of Islamic culture.

And to keep the kids interested the Uffizi provide a quiz and games of which I have stolen just a couple of examples which I thought you might like to tryCountries of the Orient: Fit the colour to the country and …….how could I go past this join the dots!Kid's stuff

 

 

 

 

 

So enjoy yourselves!


 

 

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Wine, all for a good cause

The grape harvest is well over now as are the Wine Festivals in Italy for 2018, yet they are not solely an excuse to party:

Manarola volunteer Associatiom

The Cinque Terre can be proud  as at each village festival the donations gathered raised enough money to buy a new ambulance, 4 x 4 wheel drive, BUT ….not for the Cinque Terre. In January 2019 it will be sent to a remote town of Senegal!

Grape Harvest festival Cinque Terre

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tourists contributed enormously, maybe not fully understanding where the donation was going, but reassured by the sincere smiling faces. After all, with only a total population of 4500 residents in the Cinque Terre it would have been difficult to raise all the money from residents alone. Besides what a festival in Manarola! Glamorous mermaids and pirates came from the depths of the Mediterranean to join farmers with their  ‘lively’ grapes and vines, parading together amidst lots of fun and laughter. Wine flowed as the band played and locals danced and sang all the way to the Church for the blessing, such a fruitful day.

Volunteers from the “Just for a Smile” Association, who regularly serve on the local ambulance service, worked hard encouraging everyone to donate, no matter how small. They made good use of the party atmosphere and the tourist crowds explaining in their best ‘Italish’ the reason for the funds as well as their fundamental role in providing an emergency health service to both residents and tourists.

So when the final tally of donations is done, the “Gocce di Sorriso” Association hopes to also have enough to fill the ambulance with essential medicines, gauze dressings and disinfectant creams.The ambulance will be loaded onto a container in Genoa provided, almost free of charge, by the shipowner Messina, and sent to Senegal. A great show of solidarity and humanity by all.

While in Florence  we were treated to the presence of the ‘Carro Matto’ – crazy cart  from Rufina. A tradition that goes back to the time of the Florentine Republic in the XII century when a huge pyramid was built on September 29th for the new wine. After receiving the blessing from the church the wine was brought to Palazzo Vecchio where the authority of the time toasted to the governors of the time – the Priori – and to the health of the Florentine people.

A  crazy cart – carro matto  loaded with 2000 fragile flasks of Chianti, masterly loaded and well strapped, pulled by oxen, and in this day and age aided by a truck! An unbelievable spectacle of balance and precision accompanied by an historic procession in the city.Chianti Wine cart on its way home

Crazy Wine Cart RufinaNothing like wine to bring out the best in us, Cin Cin!

Photo Credits: Francesco Zagli

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Standing room only

Lunchtime queues FlorenceFlorence council has issued new legislation to deal with the ‘continuing degradation‘ of the city from mass tourism. Action has been taken and, in particular, aimed at the top rated snack bar ‘All’Antico Vinaio‘ in Via dei Neri just behind the Uffizi Gallery. Over the past 5 years it has seen a boom in trade, largely produced via social networks. It rates so highly on TripAdvisor that tourists queue for up to an hour for the scrumptious  ‘schiacciata’ (Florentine salted and oiled flat bread) filled with delicious local produce of salami, prosciutto, vegetable and cheese assortments. Lunch

But having finally acquired the sandwich, tourists line the entire street sitting on the footpath. All’Antico Vinaio has 2 snack bars and 1 restaurant enjoying a roaring trade, while the remaining shops that line the street are suffering as food scraps lie about, pigeons swoop in, tourists visually block their passing trade, turning the street into a pretty disgusting site most of the day. Florence lunchtime police patrolSo it’s now standing room only! Council police are on patrol for a few hours each day and evening but I think it will be a lost battle. The retailers in via dei Neri were already paying for 4 vigilante to dissuade tourists from sitting along the street but it had proved largely ineffectual.

Antico Vinaio has now placed staff outside to advise clients where they may find a public bench to sit on to avoid the €500 fine, although they are relatively sparse. As my hairdresser is in the same street I did a quick reconnaissance of the area and found a lot of tourists sitting now on the steps in front of the Old Courthouse or uncomfortably standing in a grotty side street. A pity since there are loads of places to eat sandwiches in Florence but obviously not with such a high profile that social  networks have created of All’Antico Vinaio.

Previously the same Florentine Mayor, Dario Nardella, had introduced washing the steps of the churches at lunchtime to dissuade tourists from lunching at the church and to restore some sort of ‘decorum’. As the temperatures rose in the Summer the steps soon dried out and the tourists returned! No more Street food licenses are being issued in the city and none can be revoked, so the problem will continue.

The solution? Who knows? It is something of a clash of cultures as well, since Tripe stand FlorenceItalians don’t usually eat on the street, even in a hurry they sit on a stool at the tripe stand (when tourists haven’t beaten them to it!) or stand inside their lunchtime bar/cafe. Social networks have created a totally new phenomenon and the obligatory ‘selfie’ of lunch or dinner.

The mass tourism of today is difficult to manage, not just in Florence. Cinque Terre, Venice and other major cities are overwhelmed and all struggling to find solutions. I fear many tourists have now gone ‘feral’, treating Italy like a Disneyland, behaving in a way they would probably never do at home….or maybe they do!

We have had monuments and statues damaged, fountains being used for a cool dip, and recently a tourist leapt from the vaporetta in Venice into the Grand Canal as she had no ticket when Inspectors got on board! In the Cinque Terre tourists Olive tree nets 5 Terre
treated olive tree nets used for picking as hammocks, unfortunately tearing the nets as they are not meant for 80 kilo bodies! Climbing in the same fragile territory has often caused rock slides and/or injuries to the same to be saved by a voluntary health service and sometimes employing helicopter rescue services at Italian expense. Florence Council police

 

I suspect many tourists are oblivious to the damage they cause, and Italy incapable of visualizing and implementing measures for sustainable tourism.Florence dinnertime

 

 

 

 

So be warned and avoid the fine as the Council Police are out on patrol now so it’s standing room only!  And while I can highly recommend the schiacciata sandwiches from All’Antica Vinaio I don’t think any meal deserves to be queued for….

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Badged and Badgered

The Tourist guideIt’s time to get badged again! After much thought and procrastination I have decided at this ripe (old) age to get another badge as an Italian historian tourist guide. Which means a year course and lots of art history studies, starting next week. So blog posts may become erratic or worse still I may take you all along with my studies, bit by bit, to the most beautiful monuments and art of Florence!

You may well ask, do you need a badge, or more appropriately, do you need Tourist Escort badgea license? In fact it’s true and any time you have had an art historian guide in a city like Florence you may have noticed their badge dangling conspicuously around their necks. For those who have travelled on tour with me may remember my badge, but if you looked closely it was a Tourist Escort  (Accompagnatrice Turistica) badge easily gained for anyone who has an Arts/ Humanities degree (like me) and for those that don’t attendance on the Tourist Escort course.

Mother henIn classic Italian style, loads of jobs require a license and justifiably so, to show you have a minimum of skill and expertise in the area.  Although I always felt my Social work background was a bonus in being a good ‘Mother Hen’ of my delightful ‘chics’

A Tourist guide is usually quite jealous of their license and ever on the look out to defend their status against unlicensed intruders or even against Tour Escorts.

I have vivid memories of a Tourist guide in Padua shouting at me for being a ‘guide’ and threatening police intervention when she saw me with my group. All of which could have meant a hefty fine if I was ‘guiding‘ but then I was just doing my usual Tourist Escort job  – pointing out the toilets and where we would meet again after the group’s free time. So no risk of any fine but she was adamant, as well as very flashy, parading around with an enormous flower as her guide banner. An unpleasant incident which ended in a shouting match.

The badgering did not impress my group who were Alternative Guide badgeso protective that they made me a ‘new badge’ and at the end of the tour gave me this beautiful whirly whirly to use in future! Wow, what a lovely My Guiding flowergroup that was!

My whirly whirly unfortunately has never left the house as I know how much  groups, especially Aussies, hate to be herded, and I forever tried to be discreet when we were out and about. At best…or worst I made do with one of my colorful umbrellas that I have not lost and continue to use.Guide umbrellas

Still the gift was much appreciated as was their ‘official tourist guide’ badge which sticks in my cork board, yellowing a little with age now.

I will be honest and say I am not sure if I am going to get this badge, but I will be giving it my best shot and have already been doing preliminary studies. Naturally it’s going to be all in Italian so after 30+ years here, it will be good to brush up on my Italian and boost my vocabulary!

Agrigento guide LorenzoTourist guides have always fascinated me, they are true story tellers, making ancient monuments come alive, bringing the past into our laps.Such an art in story telling and not something that everyone can do. Many of my Tourist guides (chosen personally) have kept my groups spellbound and entertained without being overwhelming.

And when on holidays I always use a local tourist  guide – from Darwin to Cuba to Matera, my last experience! At the same time I never regret my Tourist Escort time as that really is another job altogether, which Tourist guides experience rarely.  Spending days and weeks together with people is another art in itself and keeping that large family happy not always an easy task.

So wish me luck…and I will keep you posted on my progress!

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The Sounding of the Gong – Florence


Sounding of the gongThis year’s exhibition at Forte Belvedere is Gong – “It is an almost shamanic exercise, aimed at exploring the sublime of the cosmos, the orbits of the planets and stars, the rhythms and geometries that belong to the infinite universe, so as to draw stellar maps that today, just like millions of years ago, also function in symbolic, ritualistic terms.” by Artist Eliseo Mattiacci

Unfortunately the guardian of this enormous Gong did not allow the public to go wild and give it a good bash. It was definitely the best exhibit!

An unusual presentation of grand metal structures, which did not enthuse me as much as other exhibitions I had seen and posted about in years gone by. But then it’s always a good excuse to revisit one of the most peaceful and panoramic places of Florence during the Summer period of tourist crowds.

We waited for Aliens to land in the middle of Cosmic Order‘….alas in vain, and then Cosmic orderheaded  inside the Fortress to relax in the shade.

We were in for a treat later at sunset with a wine tasting from one of the historic vineyards of Tuscany – Frescobaldi. To be followed by an itinerant theatre performance from “La Compagnia delle Seggiole” who regularly perform at historic sites, bringing to life tales of the place and characters that were part of its history. And what better time to see the Fortress, as the sun’s rays bathe Florence and fade into the city’s night lights.

Theatre Forte Belvedere FlorenceForte Belvedere is the second and largest fortress to be built in Florence in1590 – 1595, by order of Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici.
Fortifications were significant in the 16th century and at that period in Florence a demonstration of the Medici’s power and wealth. Its location is strategic as it overlooks almost the entire city and surrounding area.  In addition to this, the fort served as a garrison for troops for over 100 years after its completion.

Our theatre performers are part of that garrison, ‘a garrison that awaits the enemies, the siege, the never ending wait, the miraculous hour that at least once touches everyone’.

Since the enemies do not arrive, and life passes inexorable, the garrison addresses us with what it sees every day, what is understood of that place and the city seen from up there’   A humorous mix of daily issues that confront the soldiers and demands of the Medici family to ensure their personal protection and the defence of their city.

An entertaining insight into the characters that lived and defended our beautiful city of Florence from these ancient walls. Florence, Theatre Foret Belvedere

 

 

 

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It goes without saying-Italian proverbs

It goes without saying that Italians are creative and very expressive, and over the years I have delighted in the various ‘sayings’ and proverbs that are still commonly used in the language. Also in translating some common English proverbs found the references used quite different. After all “a proverb is a short pithy saying that expresses a traditionally held truth or piece of advice, based on common sense or experience” (www.phrases.org.uk)*

wet bride‘Una sposa bagnata, una sposa fortunata’ – ‘A wet bride is a lucky bride’, is the first thing that springs to mind when any friend is to marry and the weather forecast predicts rain. It sounds like a comforting thought for what could be a disaster on the day, although it does relate to the old farming culture – rain guarantees abundance, and hence the wish for fertility to the wet bride.

Italians always have a comforting word for other small disasters – like when hit by a pigeon plop they say that’s lucky too. Which is reassuring when you are trying to clean the mess off a jacket or out of your hair! Since the tales of Boccacio’s ‘The Decameron’ Italians have known how to get out of tricky situations with creative flair and more often than not a cheeky smile.

Montalcino wineryAnd then there are the constant references to Italian staples – Bread and WineYou can’t have your cake and eat it too in Italian is translated to You can’t have the wine barrel full and your wife drunk! “Non si può avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca“!

“Nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono” – Translated reads as good wine comes from the small barrel – Good things come in small packages.

Il vino rende lieti e fa svelare i segreti” – Wine makes you happy and likely to reveal hidden secrets. Or as a response to a revelation some ask if it came out over a glass of wine – “vino veritas” a Latin phrase meaning ‘in wine, is truth’

The classic English proverb ‘call a spade a spade’ in Italian translates as call bread as bread and wine as wine “di pane al pane e vino a vino“. Or another common one is “chi ha i denti non ha pane e chi ha pane non ha i denti“, those who have teeth don’t have bread and vice versa, meaning those who have the means but not the know-how.

Other translations clearly reflect the farming background when times were tough as Tuscan Countrysidenothing defines a culture as distinctly as its language and the element of language that best encapsulates a society’s values and beliefs is its proverbs.* A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush translates as It’s better to have an egg today than a chicken tomorrow  ” Meglio un uovo oggi che una gallina domani”                                              You can’t get blood out of a stone is interpreted in Italian as You can’t get blood out of a turnip, “Non si può cavar sangue da una rapa”

Another rather curious saying that I often use in response to Italians noting my Florentine accent in Italian – “chi va con lo zoppo impara a zoppicare” If you frequent one who limps you will learn to limp too, meaning you will pick up their good/bad habits. And I must say I am proud of my Anglo Florentine accent!

Andrea della Robbia Museum of InnocentsHowever while the expression probably relates to ancient crippling diseases no longer present, it brought to mind the old tradition during the times of the ‘mezzadro‘ or sharecropping farm system, of swaddling babies from the armpits down to straighten their legs and keep them safe in the house while the women went out to work the fields. Unfortunately a practice that left many Tuscans hobbling, as the practice used in the first 18months of their existence frequently distorted their hips.

On the other side Italians would never say ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’, they are far too parochial, so instead say “paese che vai, usanza che trovi” meaning in ‘whichever place you go, do as the locals do’.

And are still traditional enough to follow the common expression of “A Natale con i tuoi, a Pasqua con chi vuoi”  – Christmas stay with family, at Easter go with whoever you like. Traditions die hard in Italy so if you have ever been invited to a traditional Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas lunch be prepared…….it will fill you up for days!.

Understandably many proverbs translate in the same way and have the same links to a pre industrialized time. And some appear to reflect more the current situation than to the past “chi ruba poco va in galera, chi ruba tanto fa carriera” Who steals a little goes to jail, who steals a lot makes a career!

Language is such a beautiful thing, solid in its persistence yet fluid in its adaption to change and a constant joy to bilinguals who flirt, flaunt, joke and stumble between the two…..eliciting great laughs along the way.

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