Phase 2 after Lockdown, Florence

Flornence view form piazzal MichelangeloAfter a long two months of lockdown, Freedom at last! We have  finally moved into Phase 2 in Florence and elsewhere. Which for many means back to work as usual, for others continuing ‘smart working’ from home and for many more, especially in the tourist trade not much happening. Shops, bars, restaurants and museums have re opened, although not all, assessing whether it will be worth their while or not. And some businesses are still in the preparation stage of reorganizing their floor plan, putting up Plexiglass screens, or setting up a new outdoor area donated by the Council to restaurants and bars. But at least I can get a haircut now!

Masks are obligatory in public and social distancing a must. Shops supply sanitizer and gloves and mega stores are taking your temperature as you enter. No permit is required now unless you want to move outside of your region. Cross regions should be allowed on June 3. And it was a big treat for me to finally go downtown and just wander and savour this beautufl city

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Scudieri cafe FlorenceSome Florentines are already complaining that the price of their espresso has gone up, maybe 20c. While another man walked into his local bar and slapped €50 on the counter and said that’s for all the espressos he had missed! I noticed there was a queue including Council Police outside one of the old Florentine favourite bars, Scudieri.’Florence bride in Covid times

And a wedding party of only 4 celebrating in front of the Palazzo Vecchio getting some words of comfort and congratulations from the Mayor as a wedding in Covid times is very quiet indeed.

Ponte Vecchio, FlorenceThe gold shops that line the Ponte Vecchio remain closed ‘On Strike‘ possibly till June said one shopkeeper I spoke to. And while seriously affected by the lack of tourism am not sure what the Council or Government is expected to do about that. He also muttered something about the shops being particularly small so difficult to accommodate the new social distancing regulations. I am not that convinced since the merchandise is so expensive and exclusive many of them let only one client in at a time anyway and only after you ring the bell!

As I wandered there was a sense of having reclaimed the city from the usual tourist crowds which meant a photo of the ‘Paradise doors‘ of the Baptistery was easy, rather than the usual elbowing that goes on to get close.  And a very quiet Piazzale Michelangelo with the best view over the city.

Piazzale MichelangeloYet it still feels a little sad as there seemed to be few real shoppers, mostly locals doing a wander and enjoying their city for now. Shop assistants looking bored in empty shops, if they weren’t still busy sanitizing clothing, counters and shop fittings. Not a lot of money is going around.Florence Palazzo Vecchio

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The night life took off with a bang and there have been grumbles from local mayors and it seems hard to control social distancing and masks, particularly at happy hour and amongst the younger generation. Even Florence has been caught out with the crowd along the River while Padua and Milan have again been ‘misbehaving’ and they are the hot spot zones! So our now dearly beloved Prime Minister Conte publicly wrapped them over the knuckles and said “no party“….not ‘no martini no party like Clooney‘ but he was just as convincing!

It ‘s not going to be an easy Summer learning to live with Covid 19 and following restrictions.

Florence restaurantBack to my parking spot beside one of the oldest pizzerias in town ‘Beppa Fioraia‘,  which is a blaze of colourful flowers and inebriating jasmine perfume. It could be one of the better options for dining this Summer as it has an enormous garden, lawn and secular  trees so plenty of space for social distancing in Phase 2 Florence.


 

 

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Stories of Italian plagues

The DecameronWith not a lot to do during lockdown but read, I have been reading about Italian plagues over the centuries. A new book – ‘Florence under Siege’ and re reading an old time favourite – ‘The Decameron’, of when the plague hit Florence in the 13th century. Interesting to discover many similarities with our current crisis, in preparing for the plague, the use of quarantine and isolation, the need to sanitize the poor housing areas and the dilemma over which will be worse, the plague or the economic hardship from lack of work.

Imposing restrictions on the population which were obeyed to varying degrees. After all, it has always been difficult to control Italians, who forever question a regulation before complying to it, assessing the pros and cons, and needing to make it a little more flexible with creative and innovative interpretations.

This time round Italians have been surprisingly compliant, recognizing the seriousness of the situation even if it took some time for that to sink in.

‘The Decameron’  for those who toured with me will remember well, as I read some of the stories while on our coach to pass the time, to entertain, and to help foreign visitors understand Italian life as it describes hunting, artisan trades, religious practises and more. It shows a lot about Italian character, their flexibility in dealing with reality, and their great sense of humour.

For those unfamiliar with the book – ‘The Decameron‘ was written in the time of the plague of 1300’s by Giovanni Boccaccio (a Tuscan). He outlines the options in dealing with the plague – 1) by leading a sober and abstemious mode of living   2) or the opposite; drinking heavily, enjoying life to the full, gratifying all of one’s cravings and  shrugging the whole thing off as one enormous joke   3) or by steering a middle course between the two  4) or a safer alternative, was to run away from it. He tells of the 10 young people from a wealthy background in Florence who take the fourth option and distance themselves to one of their Villas in the nearby countryside. Villa CetinaleTo entertain themselves they tell stories, based on a theme of the day – 10 stories for 10 days. One hundred intriguing, cheeky, bawdy and even tragic stories. My favorite theme day was how to get out of a difficult situation with a witty response – like Chichibio explaining whether a crane has one or two legs, or how Madonna Filippa avoids death for adultery with a shrewd manoeuvre that even leads to the changing of the law.

While I cannot recount the stories here, I highly recommend the book, a classic of Italian literature, very entertaining and particularly forward thinking for its time.

Florence under SiegeThe second book is a recently published one by John Henderson ‘Florence under Siege‘ which I only discovered via an article published in ‘The Age‘. A vivid recreation of the plague in Florence in 1630’s amongst the poorer class and how they were treated. It describes the dreaded ‘Lazzaretti‘ the hospitals created for those infected, of dubious quality with dire conditions while recognizing the need to isolate those infected. San Miniato church used as a lazarettoThe understanding that the plague travelled through the air and possibly on cloth to the detriment of the silk workers and the risky practice of stealing used clothing. The idea ‘that God was angry with mankind and sought to punish its sins’, therefore the need to continue services with appropriate restrictions as ‘by conquering fear, religion protected a person medically from the plague’.

It contains descriptions of the creativeness of Italians, breaking isolation regulations by visiting family and friends across rooftops, pleading innocence at imposed fines with inventive excuses and the governing bodies being compassionate enough to alleviate the fines or prison internamente since this would only lead to future hardship for the families involved. All in all it makes a fascinating read about Italian plague time in Florence.

Italian storytelling continues profusely today, particularly on social networks, keeping spirits up and offering a good laugh. A current example – as lockdown restrictions eased Congiunto sospesoand we are allowed to visit family, relatives and loved ones ‘congiunti stabile‘, Neapolitans offered ‘congiunti sospesi‘ following their tradition of offering a ‘caffé sospeso’ –meaning buy a coffee and leave one paid for. There has been a rush on demand for these congiunti sospesi for the singles in need of an excuse to get out of the house!

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A breath of Spring in Lockdown – Tuscany

Hiking trailAs Spring perfumes fill the air and a warm sun beckons, the temptation is too strong to resist. Surrounded by Nature is the biggest advantage of living in the country during 45 days of lockdown. Even more so when I am fortunate enough to live on the border of an enormous private property – Villa Bagnani. Villa BagnaniA noble Villa built  around a watchtower considered to be from the Lombard period (8thC). Originally property of the Bagnani family it was sold over the centuries to various wealthy noble families, extending its territory which are now a mix of vineyards, olive groves, agricultural fields, woods and streams. Its territory branches out to other farmhouses still property of the Villa and housing many of its farm workers, and I have explored them all which makes for a very pleasant couple of hours hike.

Like Alice in Wonderland I felt I had stepped through the looking glass leaving quarantine and Corona virus far behind. The sensation was exhilarating and still is!

Wild daisesA  mix or tractor trails, dirt roads, hiking paths, abundant wildflowers and no road blocks. I delicately tread my way through wild daisy patches thinking it a tragedy to have squashed even one. Wild boars had not treaded so lightly and left their imprints in their mud holes, one of which had dried up, while the other still had enough water to get a good slosh around.

Danger Ferocious BullWhile I have no real concern that I will see any boar at this time of day, I startle a ‘capriolo’ – bambi deer, with the white fluffy butt quietly grazing but which scampers quickly out of sight. Onto the dirt road I am more worried about the ‘Danger ferocious bull’  sign on a rickety fence with an enormous hole in it!  Later I discover from locals that the bull has long since gone, together with the rest of the cattle which explains the empty cattle sheds further The old cattle shedsalong.

Past the vineyards just starting to sprout, slowing winding my way to the chequered fields and the woods in the distance.

 

I continue up and down dale, trailing a quiet stream, enjoying the freshness of the woods and enticed by the side roads that branch to other farm houses, veggie patches and pig sties.

WildflowersNature at its best, wildflowers sprouting everywhere, lots of lichen on the trees a sign of clean air, and superb views back to my little village across recently toiled fields.

Lockdown isolation is a million miles away.  A cheery wave to the tractor driver and today things almost seem back to normal. A good 10kms hike and not a foot outside Villa Bagnani‘s property safely protected in Nature’s wonderland – Spring in Tuscany, it could not get better than this!View to Palazzolo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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Raffaello, 500 years after his death

Self portrait 1506 Uffizi GalleryIn the midst of Covid19 Lockdown is the celebration of Raffaello, the great Renaissance painter and architect, 500 years after his death on the 6th April 1520.

A grand exhibition  ‘Raffaello’  has been organised in the Quirinal Stables in Rome to open on the 5 March until 20 June. However Covid 19 changed all that, although the exhibition may still be extended.  Over 100 paintings and designs are in the exhibition from all over the world, 40 of which have come from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence which has an extensive collection of Raffaello‘s work.

In such a brief lifespan (1483-1520) Raffaello produced some remarkable and beautiful masterpieces, in paintings, frescoes and designs. Born in Urbino ( Le Marche) he lost his mother at 8 years and was orphaned at 11 when his father died. His father had been a painter and recognised the potential in his son, introducing him to the well known painter Perugino where Raffaello completed his apprenticeship. At 17 he had already surpassed his master in technique and skill in composition, perspective and sensitivity to his subject.

The Engagement of the Virgin Mary 1504

 

Raffaello’sThe Engagement of the Virgin Mary’ 1504   (Pinoteca Gallery Brera, Milan)  has definite similarities to his master, Perugino‘s work ‘The Marriage of the Virgin’ yet if you compare the two the pupil has outclassed his master in perspective and naturalness in the figures.

In 1504 he arrived in Florence, which at the time was experiencing a moment of great creativity with artistic masters such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Raffaello studied their work and develops his own ‘in which naturalness of gesture and idealized beauty are in perfect balance.’

He still remains very attached to his birthplace and is sought after for his talents, producing many portraits of important members of society – like the Duke and Duchess of Urbino (Uffizi Gallery)Duke and Duchess of Urbino

and an important Florentine couple – the merchant Agnolo Doni and his wife Maddalena Strozzi 1506 (Uffizi Gallery)Agnolo Doni and wife Maddalena Strozzi 1506

 

Madonna of the goldfinch 1505/06He works on some variations on the theme of the Virgin, a subject which will accompany him throughout his life, like the Madonna of the Goldfinch also part of the Uffizi Gallery collection.

His fame reaches Rome, where he moved to in 1508 to become the official painter of Pope Julius II and his successor Leo X. In 1508 he began the frescoes in the Vatican Rooms and papal apartments. He was also called upon to continue the frescoes of legendary figures and mythological episodes in the grandiose Villa Farnesina, home to a wealthy Sienese banker, Agostino Chigi.

This is definitely on my list of places to visit next time I am in Rome as his ‘Triumph of Galatea’  a nymph standing on a shell drawn by dolphins fleeing from the amorous advances of the dreaded Polyphemus, has to been seen in real life.

The Veiled Woman 1516

Raffaello was officially engaged to married but seemed reluctant, and is known to have had many affairs. The great love of his life being the baker’s daughter Margherita Luti ‘La Fornarina‘ depicted here by Raffaello (Palazzo Pitti, Florence)

His bride to be died in 1520 and Raffaello suddenly on his 37th birthday. Giorgio Vasari, painter and historian of the time wrote it was from ‘exhaustion and excessive passion’ and historians today believe it was from some mysterious illness.

His last commissioned and unfinished work the  ‘Transfiguration’ was placed on his coffin. There was a grand funeral, attended by large crowds and important people of the day. Raffaello‘s body was carried by four Cardinals and buried in the Pantheon in Rome with an extraordinary epitaph:

‘To the memory of Raffaello, son of Giovanni Sanzio of Urbino, the most eminent painter and rival of the Ancients. Behold his almost breathing images and you will easily see the alliance of Nature and Art. With his works of painting and architecture he swelled the glory of Popes Julius II and Leo X. He lived 37 virtuous years and died on the day of his birth, April 6 1520.

This is Raffaello, in his life great Mother Nature feared defeat and in his death she feared herself to die.’

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Lockdown Italian style -Part 2

A friend ready to go shoppingNow into our fourth week of lockdown in Italy due to the dreadful corona virus and just beginning to see some signs of a slow down, thank goodness! My local car park is full as we stay home ‘smart working’ or just pottering about filling in our time. Italy registered its lowest number in new cases (4050) in 13 days on Monday 30th and its highest number of recoveries (1590). However in the closed cases so far only 56% have recovered and 44% have died.

In Tuscany the numbers continue to rise with 4608 cases @ 31/3/2020, although unlikely to get out of control, as it has done in the Northern regions.

Yesterday at noon we commemorated the victims, offered condolences to their families and gave thanks to all those working to save us with a minute silence – medical staff, police, carabinieri, volunteers and those still working in essential services. A very sad silence for over 12,000 victims, including 66 doctors and medical staff.

After that dramatic introduction I would like to share some of the lighter moments of the past few weeks which may never hit International news –

It became clear we had to respect the lockdown and as stricter regulations were imposed, we were more informed about the scale and seriousness of the virus. Mayors were seen shouting at their local citizens, threatening flame throwers, drone surveillance and more….which we took as a sign of affection for their ‘brood‘!

Movement was further confined to only our local Council areas unless for an emergency reason and fines for disobedience increased from € 200 to €400 min/€3000max and possible confiscation of the car or scooter. The penal record imposed previously was retracted.

We went back to gardening, cleaning out the garage/storeroom, and generally driving the garbos to desperation for the never ending rubbish that was being thrown out in the clean up.

 

We now have a wealth of facts and figures to study and I think we are already looking to what happens ‘after’. Grave concerns for the future, doubts about the competence of our leaders, and lack of collaboration from the European Union. Emergency financial measures are being put into place, while discussion continues about the longer term measures to take.

ducks go to the pharmacy

Photo credit Florinda Noka

The quiet streets have enticed some wild animals to move in – In Milan hares were seen in the park. In a suburb of Florence a mother duck and her ducklings marched into the pharmacy from the nearby park and pond. Florinda Noka, the owner offered them food but they seemed uninterested and she spent the next hour catching them so they could be safely returned to their habitat.

The high tech ‘Makers’ discovered that the full face scuba mask, that has been popular over the past few years, could be successfully readapted as an oxygen mask and called on us all to get them out of the cupboard and donate them. With 3D printers and new technology they patented the concept ‘open source’ so it will remain free of charge as an idea and can never be a money spinner. Fantastic Makers!

Cuban Medical team

photo credit Fabrizio Casari – Altrenotizie.org 22/3/2020

Some Companies have managed to convert their production to masks and other medical equipment although we are still far short of what we need. Cuban, Russian, Chinese and Albanian medical teams arrived in the past week bringing supplies as well, a very welcome sight for the local medical teams. Many Doctors and medical staff have returned from retirement to assist as well as newly trained staff begin work. When the call went out from the North for 700 volunteer nurses and doctors over 7,000 people applied!

Airbnb asked all hosts in the area to offer their homes and apartments to those medical and volunteer teams free of charge and thousands came to the call, while Airbnb managed to connect the homes with the Civil Protection Base and Hospitals.

Major companies like – Mutti canned tomatoes, Rana pasta, Scotti rice have given a 25% pay rise to all workers continuing to work through the lockdown.

My WIFI went into lockdown as there has been an enormous increase in consumption, and urgent warnings and advice went out from the satellite company to avoid it happening again.

So the days pass, at a slow pace, and the radio continues to entertain me most of the time with the weird and wonderful stories to brighten the day:

– like the marathon runner continuing his training at home running 21kms in 3hrs 50mins doing 840 laps of his balcony!

-102yr old Nonna Lina ( Italica Grondona) nominated ‘La Highlander’ by medical staff as she recovered from corona virus, beating the previous record of 95yr Grandma Alma Corsini. Nonna Lina comes from Genoa and I can certainly vouch for the Ligurians as being a tough lot!

– many supermarkets are out of yeast now as people take on baking bread and delicious cakes at home.

Craggy peaks Reggello in snow

Photo credit – Giuseppe Taras

As we face reality, we have come to appreciate the little things, neighbourly gestures of help or just a friendly wave from afar. The swallows have returned to their nests in the corridor under my place. We had the first and only snow for the entire winter, the day after we were in T-shirts and shorts. snow next door

Lots of online meet ups and exercise classes, cooking lessons, hobby classes, so we all have an opportunity to try something new.

I did my first radio interview on Australian Radio Luke Grant show 2GB after they found my blog and for those who didn’t hear it on 22/3/20 you can have listen here to the podcast. After all it was 5am in Sydney! The interview begins at time 3.29.10

When the weather is nice I stick to gardening, wash the car inside and out which is a rarity, catch up on my reading and was reduced to cleaning the silver!

I think this will be my last post on the lockdown since we are all in the same boat and dealing in our various ways with the emergency created by the corona virus. Some ‘boats‘ are travelling a little more sluggishly than others but we will all come out of this in the end. Tentative suggestions are that Italy will come out of lockdown around the end of April.

Comments are welcome.                                                                                                             I wish you all well and Stay safe!


 

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Lockdown Italian style

Ponte Vecchio

Foto credit: Francesco Spighi www.francescospighi.com

Military take bodies out of the city

Foto credit: L’Adige.it

Almost two weeks into Lockdown in Italy for the terrible corona virus  and more weeks to go. At the moment lockdown was due to end on the 3rd April but the situation is still critical, numbers continue to rise and it is likely for weeks more.  Deaths are now more than China and the military have been called in to set up temporary hospitals at Milan Fair and here in Florence, and control the streets in some areas. A grim scene of military trucks taking away bodies as there was no more room in the cemetery at Bergamo for them to be cremated has shocked us all.

So what else can I write about? For those of you living in a country fortunate enough not to have critical numbers may never experience a lockdown so I thought I could explain what it means…at least for us in Italy.

Lockdown means home isolation, a type of quarantine with permission to go out only for essentials, emergencies and/or work, for those still working.The only shops open are deli’s, supermarkets, pharmacies, parapharmacies, tobacco shops (also where bills are paid, mobiles recharged postal service and lottery tickets) and some hardware shops. Work environments can operate respecting the hygiene precautions – distance between employees, disinfectant, masks are not obligatory although not all firms have guaranteed the precautionary measures so far.

But this is not a blog about information which can be easily found on the news, as the situation is dramatic and journalists worldwide a covering stories and developments.

It’s a personal comment on what lockdown means at a local level:

– the radio is on immediately on the mornings to get an update on numbers as well as a quick look at  world numbers.

– the days are long, and there is no rush to do anyway. Time is on hold, everything is in slow motion

– I can sit and watch the frost melt in the garden over my morning coffee or read a book in the sunshine in the afternoon.Paint job on balcony railing

– there is no need to worry about what to wear each day. I have spent most days in my beloved overalls as have many of my neighbors. There has been a hive of activity going on here as we – garden, fix the shutters, paint railings, clean up the garden furniture, redo fencing and generally potter about. The  sounds of whippersnippers, sanding machines, clippers, saws and hammers are comforting. The advantage of living in the country where we can wave and chat across fences.

– it feels like we are all on holidays, days melt into days till it’s hard to remember what day it is.

– my young nextdoor neighbor is pleased he is still able to work, and laughs at himself as he never thought he’d say that! Otherwise he’d be bored to tears at home.

Riders working during Lockdown

Foto credit Francesco Spighi

– it’s all selfies now in the sense of self haircuts, home gym or yoga routines, home schooling, digital libraries, home deliveries and massive amounts of social networking. Sharing info, advice, resources ‘virtual’ and good and bad jokes.

– using the new technology of 3D printers to reproduce broken valves in the essential ventilators. Unfortunately the Company that has the patent is threatening to sue the young lads StartUp firm for doing so!

– being resourceful and making masks at home since they are largely unavailable andHome n=made masks more needed by hospital staff than us.

– a time of solidarity, volunteers caring for those who don’t have a home to be quarantined in. A reorganization of charity/church associations to still cater within the hygiene precautions

 

Supermarket queue

Foto credit: Andrea Contini

– standing in a queue in an eerie silence, with a shopping trolley and face mask, waiting to go into the supermarket. That was a bit distressing, somewhat surreal,  although inside both shoppers and cashiers had a kind word of encouragement to each other.

– the need to communicate is strong amongst Italians, so there are daily flash mobs from balconies mostly in the cities, singing, and playing music or just banging saucepan lids! Heart rendering stuff with old time favourites like – ‘Volare’, ‘Azzurro, or tear jerking renditions of the National Anthem! My little village managed the noon applause for all the health workers, a sign of appreciation and encouragement to keep battling for us. But we are a little too embarrassed to sing!

– an appreciation for the solidarity being shown from the rest of the worldChina sent medical teams and an enormous amount of ventilators, masks and important equipment on a private plane. Others let us know by lighting monuments in Italian colours from Sarajevo to Dubai.

– it will make or break families, and flatmates, as 24hr isolation together is a trial

– a high consumption of hand cream from the washing

– it’s a time of reflection, on how we lived up to now and how this will change us forever.

It may be lockdown now but we have not lost the key and will reopen, resurface and recharge as will you all when this corona virus nightmare is over.

Andra tutto bene’!

It's going to be alright

Foto credit Francesco Spighi www.francescosighi.com


 

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The black and white of Pistoia

San Giovanni Fuoricivitas church, PistoiaWhat a great way to explore a rather lesser known beauty, Pistoia,  only half an hour or so from Florence and even better when the exploration is with a group of friends of which two are Art Historian guides. It’s a journey through time, from Romanesque to Renaissance, Baroque to Neoclassic to Contemporary Art.Detail of Church San Giovanni Fuoricivitas

We are bowled over first by the dual tone stripes of the 12th Century Romanesque Church – San Giovanni Fuoricivitas. It’s splendid facade and geometric pattern clearly Pisan style with a touch of Iberian Arabic since the town is on the pilgrims route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The portal is heavily decorated and a wealth of stories – a Last Supper adorns the architrave with Judas on the outer and John resting on Jesus’ shoulder, and lions protecting humans and fighting off monsters above.

It’s already time for a coffee before we see the splendours inside and how could we go past the fabulous Caffe’ Valiani next door, in an ancient chapel transformed into a Caffe’ in  the 19th Century. Tempting cakes and pastries line the window and the aroma of coffee fills the air. It has been tastefully decorated, with a mix of contemporary artworks that do not detract from the frescoed walls and vaulted ceilings.

Luca della Robbia The VisitationBack inside San Giovanni Fuoricivitas the sight of Luca della Robbia‘s ‘Visitation‘ a milky white glazed terracotta has us in awe, seeing the delicate gaze of Mary to Elizabeth, and the touch of her hand to Elizabeth’s shoulder. An early Renaissance masterpiece, considered one of the greatest of its time and the earliest large freestanding statue group. And there is more – the Gothic style pulpit carved by Fra Gugliemo da Pisa, and the Holy water font probably made by Giovanni Pisano ( who carved the pulpit in the Cathedral of Pisa).

The black and white stripes continue in the impressive main square which houses the beautiful Cathedral and Baptistery, Town Hall and ancient Bishop’s Palace now the Court House. And while centuries separate the construction of each there is a stunning harmony between them.

Baptistery and Court houseThe black and white stripes are misleading as the black is really the ‘green‘ serpentine marble from Prato and the white from Carrara. Locals flock to the Piazza for the weekly market as well as attracting tourists to its famous Palio race – Joust of the Bear ( with no bears allowed!)  and Pistoia Blues Festival which has seen B B King, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Blues Brothers and many more perform over the years. Church of Saint Andrea                      The last but not least important of the black and white Pistoia is the pretty church of Sant’ Andrea, found along the pilgrims route to Rome and serving as a church for baptisms. Inside it has an important pulpit, considered a masterpiece of 1301 by Giovanni Pisano and restoration work was just being completed on it.

Daily market Piazza della SalaBut Pistoia is not just about historical monuments, it has a very cute medieval market square with lively fruit and veggie stands and intimate bars and restaurants surrounding it. The Medici coat of arms and lion, adorn the Leoncino Well, symbols of Florentine dominion over the city so locals do not forget. Fortunately today it contains clean water whereas in the mid 1400’s when slaughter of animals took place outdoors most of the scraps were thrown into the well.  And in the nearby street one of the most typical,  and delicious restaurants for lunch – Locanda del Capitano del Popolo. A menu full of local specialities and delicacies – ‘prisoner’s’ soup, polenta with truffles, black cabbage, Florentine beef steak and tripe, and loads more in an eclectic atmosphere with a very humorous owner – Checco Bugiani

And to top off the day after lunch we round the corner to a big surprise – the medieval Ospedale del Ceppo with its elegant Renaissance loggia with a magnificent  frieze by Giovanni della Robbia and Santi Buglioni in polychrome glazed terracotta. Each section depicting an Act of Mercy – attending the sick, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, feeding the poor….Hospital del Ceppo, della Robbia Frieze

 

And Vasari‘s majestic dome on the Basilica of the Madonna dell’ Umilità the 3rd largest dome in Italy after Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence and St Peter’s in Rome.

Pistoia is an absolute gem, and there were so many stories and legends attached to each place we visited. So much so that I am saving them for day tours which I am proposing on a new website to start soon GimmeGuides.net. So spread the word to anyone who may be thinking of coming over……after the virus has left us!

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Who was Natalia Goncharova?

Self Portrait with yellow lillies 1907-08It’s always a pleasure to discover a new artist, and Natalia Goncharova was totally new to me and a delightful discovery. Intriguing because she was Russian, unconventional and painted in my favourite period of Contemporary Art, the same time as Picasso, Gaugin. Balla, Matisse and others. Multitalented as she designed sets and costumes for the Russian ballet and continued painting and illustrating right up until her death in 1962.

Palazzo Strozzi in Florence housed the exhibition and her paintings were a fabulous blast of colour, a unique mix of artistic styles, ‘forging her own unique fusion of tradition and innovation of East and West’ having spent a considerable part of her life in Paris mixing with various European artists and styles.

Born in 1881 in the Tula Province of Russia, Goncharova spent many of her Summers Goncharova in traditional peasant dresson her family’s estate and photos show her in traditional costumes of Tula with her mother and cousin.

In 1901 she meets her lifelong partner Mikhail Larionov, also an artist, and despite their ‘open‘ relationship their creative partnership lasts for their entire lifetime.

Her work is exhibited in Paris and they are both influenced by the Parisian artists and styles, Cezanne, Gauguin and les Fauves ‘the wild beasts‘ like Matisse.

There was an ample description of her life which included her Avant-garde approach – 1910 she is the first woman artist to show nudes in Russia and is arrested and charged with pornography and offending public morality but fortunately acquitted at her trial!

Goncharova Futurist body Art‘In 1913, together with Larionov and Ilia Zdanevich, Goncharova holds body painting performances and they saunter down the most elegant streets of Moscow with their faces painted with images, uttering offensive words intended to shock conservative passers-by in accordance with the principles of futurist body art‘!The Harvest (5 of 9 parts) 1911-12

 

 

 

 

All part of the development of a distinct Russian style of Futurist painting which they  call Rayonism, a new way to express energy and movement incorporating Russian folklore and traditions in a pre-revolutionary Russia.

Such a fascinating life story and such a complex artist and not only as she moves into designing sets and costumes for the Russian ballet – on religious themes, influenced by the byzantine mosaics in Ravenna, Italy and early Tuscan  Renaissance artists,

and Spanish dress when the Russian ballet performs in Spain. Intricate and delicate designs yet bold in their portrayal.

The selection of works exhibited gave a wonderful overview of Natalia Goncharova‘s artistic career and enticed me to find out more and hopefully to see again in a future exhibition. As she said “The art of my country is incomparably deeper than anything that I have come to know in the West”

 

And what you see here is only a part of what was on display!

After living together for over 50 years Natalia and Mikhail marry in 1955, to ensure that the surviving partner can inherit the other’s paintings. In 1962 Natalia Goncharova dies and her work is left to Mikhail Larionov. He remarries in 1963 to Alexandra Tomilina and dies in 1964. In 1985 Tomilina leaves their entire collection to the Soviet Government, but there is a legal tussle from the French Government during 1988-89 who claim several of Goncharova’s works in lieu of death duties!


 

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Fish are jumping – Cinque Terre

5 Terre view to MonterossoHiking Cinque Terre in winter with hardly a soul about under a gorgeous winter sun is my idea of heaven. And since our current winter has been relatively mild there has been ample opportunity. Besides with the coastal trails ( Corniglia-Vernazza-Monterosso) still closed it’s a great time to do the high trail from my little village San BernardinoManarola via Volastra.

 

The views are fantastic, no matter how many times I have seen them, an exhilarating challenge through woodlands and vineyards and vegetable gardens tilled over ready for planting. It’s a time for pruning and cleaning up, restoring facades battered by sea winds in preparation for the Spring.

So quiet, it’s a pleasure to hear the crunch of leaves underfoot, which was enough to scare 3 little ‘ caprioli’ – bambi deer from their feeding. Their white little fluffy butts darting into the undergrowth. A crispness in the air and the scent of Nature quietly resting.View on Manarola

Fish are jumpingAnd as I circle down towards Manarola, I can see the fish are still jumping of Mario Andreolis Christmas lights! The entire hillside above Manarola covered with Nativity scene figures, animals and marine life that when lit, dance and leap about to the delight of spectators. To see them now is still a reassuring joy that the tradition continues with the many volunteer helpers.

While the hiking trails are quiet, and many of the shops and restaurants are closed for holidays in the main villages, the cruise ships are still coming. Passengers disembark and wander the empty streets lured to the water’s edge to get the best photo shot.

Manarola

 

Depending on the day the sea can be a milk pond……

or drumming up a storm

 

 

 

Manarola rough seasThe coastal trails are under repair and the National Park has helicoptered in the bags of stones to rebuild the drystone walls that have crumbled. Nothing too serious between Corniglia and Vernazza still it takes time for the work to be completed. Encouraging to see the new foot bridge is done along the trail

and almost completed across the canal in Vernazza. That has taken since the flood of 2011 to be replaced! Essential to the vineyard owners who have been crossing the canal when the water flow is low enough. Such a hardy lot these Ligurians!New footbridge over canal at Vernazza

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter sun on VernazzaAnd such a lovely time for locals now to enjoy their village and do what they enjoy most, drop a line with the grandkids and see if the fish are still jumping!

Time for fishing

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A raging hell – Australian bushfires

Kangaroo in firesHow can I start the year without recognising the tragedy of the Australian bushfires, still so vivid in many people’s minds…..even as far away as Italy!  And still burning in some areas from what we hear. The apocalyptic images that flashed on Tv screens and social networks over the past months seemed surreal and unbelievable. Distressing to watch from afar, tragic beyond words for anyone living there. An horrific raging hell.

Australian firefighters, Nowra NSWLots of stories of solidarity and generosity, communities helping each other as well as animals found badly burned. Firefighter heroes continuing the battle beyond exhaustion amid locals and tourists all helping out.

My dear old friend Robert Wade – well known Watercolour artist, doing his bit in fundraising for the Bushfire victims, is only one example alongside many others, showing the generosity and caring that is part of the ‘Aussie‘ community.

My heart goes out to those who lost their loved ones, their homes, their community and natural surroundings. I know a lot of solidarity has been shown worldwide with donations, petitions and actions – like the 400 koala mittens flown in from Holland. It has shaken us all and certainly expats have been watching events closely.

 

The bushfires will remain an indelible black memory in Australian history.  May we have learnt something from it and be able to make the appropriate changes to deter any future episodes of this scale.

Ps Apologies for the lack of photo credits but photos of the fires were taken from newspaper reports and the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital website.

 

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