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


 

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

Electronic Innovators get it together – Makers Faire Rome

water purifier

Water Purifier

High tech ‘Makers’ and ‘Innovators’ have me captivated, and for my third year in a row I toured the five pavilions at the Makers Faire in Rome . Why you may ask?  Because it’s an opportunity to see new developments and understand how vast this land of Inventors is and the potential of the new technology. It’s astounding!

At risk of being repetitive I say for creativity Italians have it hands down, and the place was swarming with young, passionate, enthusiasts and smart designers eager to explain their new idea and keen to find support for funding the project, often via crowd funding. The Makers movement incorporates the idea of sharing knowledge, creating new, tinkering with the old and recycling to avoid waste, using the new technology at its best.

I headed directly to the ‘Life’ pavilion filled with new projects, particularly aimed at disabled. Too Wheels bowled me over – a wheelchair designed in a FAbLab inTurin with recycled bike wheels, pipes, plywood and instruction manual on how to DIY or buy the package…..accessible to anyone in the world!

 

The young Talking Hands designers won the first prize of €100,000 at the Fair which  hopefully will get the project developed. A technological glove, that on the hands of a deaf person can translate sign language into voice to enable communication with people like us. The guys can be proud of themselves.

Noon talk phone

Or the Noon Care Talk project that allows our smartphone to communicate to our loved ones, who may not be super technological, on a simple Talk phone: sending reminders of pills to be taken AND confirmation, Dr’s appointments etc, with GPS location, direct contact and emergency call button so you always feel in touch.

Then there were various alternative energy projects for lighting using a plastic water bottle, solar energy powering old kerosene lamps (liter of light) to slick wind turbines.

ono 3D printer smartphone

Objects printed by Ono

A rush on the Smartphone 3D Printer- Ono….Oh No!!! and various other devices for cleaning and sterilising smartphone screens.

3D printer smartphone

 

 

 

clean hero

smatphone wiper

 

 

 

 

 

Not exactly essential in life and curious to see the presentation of the wiper being done by a robot!?

 

 

An unusual selection of new machines like the multidimensional electrical bike, 3D printed monuments that can show the weather, and lightweight sculptures reproduced by 3D scanning to create a mobile museum of important artworks.

 

And a superb array of artisan work  in furnishings – Wally 3D printed lamp

cardboard stools and chipboard furniture

fashion design like the coffee bags by girls from Bologna – Re-Find  of interlaced polylaminate coffee bean packaging

and digital fabrication and much more…….

I love it all; the creativity that sees no boundaries, the clever presentation, the smart use of lingo, the enthusiasm, the educational aspects, the philosophy behind it and the thousands of visitors of all ages looking on in awe at what can be made. Wow!ifixit T shirt

So if this has inspired you, you may need to update your toolkit and I highly recommend ifixit.com On my next order I need this Tshirt!

After all, I fixed my washing machine, brought my iPhone back to life after it finished in the washing machine and installed my new car radio….so I consider myself part of the Makers movement!

 

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

I did it my Wei and Never Sorry

Florence Palazzo StrozziSome of you may think the title is about me but it is actually taken from Ai Wei Wei’s film called ‘Never Sorry’!

The Wei Wei exhibition ‘Libero’ (Freedom) is in Florence now until the 22 Jan 2017 and I was keen to go early having seen his exhibition in Melbourne in Jan 2016.  There has been quite a lot of comments and some hefty criticisms as the orange rubber dinghies used by refugees, were hung around the majestic Palazzo Strozzi housing the exhibition.

The ‘Huffington Post’  was huffing heaps in an article by Luca Rossi published 5 days before the opening, to give you an idea with an excerpt since the article was in Italian:

‘Ai Weiwei has not done anything politically significant, if not taken advantage of the misfortunes and injustices of the world to increase his fame and the price of his works. Showing the rafts on the facade of the Palazzo Strozzi shows us the refugee problem? As if I did not know that there is a problem, as if the problem did not pass every day on the news. What can an artist do? A lot, but Ai Weiwei does nothing.

If he was born in Viterbo, and  was not “exotic” to the Western world he would not have had the exposure of which he and his gallery owners can enjoy; it is a new form of colonialism, aimed at creating expensive trinkets for the rich to show in some apartment in New York and London. And here are the remains of an earthquake in China in an exhibition in London, and here are the rafts and life jackets hanging of refugees in the city of Berlin and soon (now) in Florence. I would like to see one of those rafts in a living room of Park Avenue.’

wei wei solar cookers

Solar cookers on a wing to freedom

I don’t have the same impression, and believe artworks exist to provoke thought and reflection and as a result, can mean a range of things to different people, and Ai Wei Wei’s exhibits are definitely thought provoking. Many Florentines have never heard of him before so it is a great opportunity for them to discover his works as well as encourage others and tourists from all Italy to visit the exhibition.

 

The impact of the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 which killed roughly 70,000 people is still present with his ‘Snake Bag’ exhibit of 360 kids backpacks sewn together alongside coffins, in memory of over 5,000 children crushed beneath school buildings. In the film ‘Never Sorry’ the list of children’s names, gathered by Wei Wei’s volunteers is papered on the wall of his studio and on the anniversary of this tragic event the public are invited to read a name out loud, continuing the condemnation of the inadequate building materials and structure.

While his career took off after his bird nest stadium for the Chinese Olympics in 2004, Wei Wei has since regretted the building and snubbed the Olympics as being purely party propaganda. Fellow Chinese artists consider him different from those who normally graduate from the Art Academy as he persists with a ‘slap in the face’ style that continues to irritate the Chinese government. His love of his own culture yet his need to break from tradition and conceive images and projects of social significance have set him apart.

wei wei Renaissance men

 

His use of Lego continues in his series on political dissidents, curiously I think taken from Renaissance Italy.

The delicate bamboo and silk figures from Chinese culture – the Birdman, Flying Fish and the Great Wind inspired by kites from his childhood adorn another room.

ai wei wei selfies

Wei Wei selfies

The film shows a very personal side – as a great foodie (which shows!), his love of cats, (keeping around 40 cats and dogs at his studio), his playful side as a father, his organisation of craftsmen, artists and volunteers involved in his projects,  and his constant filming. All gave me a clearer picture of where this artist is coming from.

Free speech puzzle

Free speech puzzle

 

His brand of liberal thinking and use of social media will continue to raise criticisms both inside and out of China and while Wei Wei may be more insecure than what he appears he sure knows what he wants to say with his Art. Wei wei leg gun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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

Grape harvest and wine festivals

Vernazza grape pickingIt’s that time of year again and the intoxicating bouquet of squashed grapes lingers in the air. Pickers complain of back aches yet sport a satisfied grin when the picking is all done.
In the Cinque Terre the harvest is over and most managed to get it done before a few stormy days menaced the area. But then if they avoided damage from the weather there were still some disgruntled comments of how wild boar had crashed through wire fences and run amok amongst the vines, a never ending battle.

 

Save Vernazza harnessed the help of its Busabout tourists who worked hard assisting local landowners, having fun and at times eating more grapes than what they put into crates, but no one was really fussed. ( Photo credits: Save Vernazza)

Cinque Terre Social Cellar

 

Many landowners produce only a ‘damigiana’ demijohn from a few strips of terraced land which they keep for themselves, while others sell to the local Agricultural Cooperative who readily produce the Cinque Terre white wine from a mix of bosco, alberola, and vermentino grapes.

 

Or leave the grapes to dry until November to produce the sciacchetrà desert wine, which slips down very easily after dinner.

In Tuscany the grape harvest continues under an Autumn sun and a lazy sky.


Cities and  villages celebrate with wine festivals, entertaining locals and tourists with elaborate processions, ornate costumes and traditional customs, and of course lots of wine to add even more gaiety to the day. In Florence the traditional ‘crazy‘ wine cart ‘carro matto’ of raffia Italian wine cartcoated flasks is slowly drawn along the main street by patient bullocks with proud locals from the Chianti Rufina area keeping a watchful eye on its stability as it leans and lurches rather precariously. Not a bottle lost or a drop of wine spilled!

 

Florence wine festival

 

So reassuring to see the timeless Festivals and the younger generations now taking on the ceremonial roles, ensuring that the age old customs and traditions continue in a festive spirit.

We look forward to the new drop….Cin cin!Flat bead with grapes and  as always my favourite ‘schiacciata all’uva’ – flat bread with grapes!Florence wine festival

 

Photo credit for Wine festival: Angela Magnelli