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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Merry Christmas

Christmas lights ponte Vecchio FlorenceIt’s that time of year again, how soon it comes around. I hope you have all had a lovely year and wish you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year to come full of joy and laughter, new ventures and old, delightful surprises and a healthy and safe one for us all.

For a change from Florence, and since I was working at the antique market in Arezzo, I have included Arezzo’s Council Christmas videos championing its local heroes – Petrarca, Michelangelo, Massaccio, Vasari among others and highlighting the city’s fame as the ‘City of Gold’ since the 14th Century, as well as the delicate ‘Nativity scene’ on the façade of the Cathedral.

 

Thank you all for following my blog and all the best for 2020Xmas David….Tanti Auguri Sue

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The Botany of Leonardo da Vinci

Santa Maria Novella church, Florence

It seems appropriate to finish the year with a post on Leonardo Da Vinci since we have been commemorating 500th anniversary of his death with all sorts of events. Besides it’s fascinating to learn more about his genius as a Scientist, Botanist, Biologist and more; his holistic approach and prolific notes and designs crammed onto every page of the Codes.

This time the exhibition – The Botany of Leonardo  focused on ‘the philosophical and technical content of the time in which Leonardo Da Vinci lived in order to explore his study of the forms and Leonardo Atlanticus codeprocesses of the plant world in greater depth, through his outlook as a “systemic” thinker, highlighting the connections between art, science and nature’ ( Exhibition Notes). 

I was fortunate to be taken through the exhibition with a guide who added a little more spice in the introduction to Leonardo sharing details essential to understanding his scribblings since he was left handed and wrote from right to left. At that time left Leonardo's left handed scripthandedness was considered the devil’s hand and children were punished severely. Leonardo instead had been rather pampered by his paternal grandfather who indulges his left handedness and encourages his studies with a private teacher so he never comes under the stricter teachings of the classics and humanities. As a child born out of wedlock, the freedom allowed in his grandfather’s care means he is spared from the dogmas of the time developing a ‘freethinking attitude full of experience and experiment that foreshadows the scientific methods developed more than a century later by Bacon and Galileo.’  (Walter Isaacson “Leonardo da Vinci”). Examples of Leonardo’s writing are only easily read in a mirror reflection.

Model of furnaces used for chemical and pharmaceutical productionThe guide continued to emphasize Leonardo‘s respect of Nature as he experimented with alchemical processes, studying the cause and effect, and despising anyone who tried to replace Nature and break its laws, manipulating it for their own end. Two model furnaces were on display from St Mark’s Foundry similar to what Leonardo designed having recognized the power of fire in transforming materials, in particular metals.

The Refactory housed the main exhibits and we are welcomed immediately by a live plant wall with a projected ceiling decoration of Leonardo‘s from the Sforza

Castle in Milan where he had spent many years in the service of Ludovico il Moro. His codes cover extensive scientific studies on light, perspective, urban planning and architecture, engineering, mechanics, human and animal anatomy, an endless search to understand the complexities of his surroundings with an interdisciplinary perspective.

He sees similarities between processes, structures and patterns e.g. his study of the human body and blood circulation is compared to the vital sap that nourishes trees, or tributary branches of a river.

Building on ancient Roman theories Leonardo discovered the principles of what we nowPhyllotactic tower call phyllotaxis – the set of rules governing the arrangement of leaves along a branch, explaining how this arrangement helps the plant to receive air, light and water. Used in green architecture today.

He understands that plants respond to environmental stimuli, growing towards the light and the extent to which they are effected by gravity. Plants on a slowly turning wheel had been planted at various angles and only those upright were doing well, and those upside down were in a very sorry state.

And of course Leonardo, the artist, wrote endless recipes on preparing pigments, dyes and oils from the plant world for paintings and drawings.Leonardo's plants in The Annunciation

His meticulous studies being reproduced in his paintings and drawings of plants.

 

 

 

da Vinci's vitruvian treeThe exhibition was truly fascinating with so much more than can be described here. And catering to today’s world, ended with an invite to do a ‘Selfie‘ inside the ‘Vitruvian Tree’  one of Leonardo da Vinci‘s most famous drawings – ‘focusing on the measured relationships of the natural world, in search of the divine proportion between man and the living system’ ( exhibition notes). An invite to place ourselves within the regular forms of geometry and the equally perfect forms of Nature.Leonardo's vitruvian man

 

 

 

The man was a genius. His attention to detail is incredible, with such an advanced scientific approach that makes me think we are moving backwards while he was way ahead of us!


 

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Machiavelli – the Prince’s exile

Hiking around San CascianoOn a rare day without rain and in solidarity for the humanitarian Onlus Emergency my hike group explored the hills, vineyards and villas once belonging to ‘The Prince – Machiavelli’. It was by no means a tough hike, not our usual style, but for a worthy cause, and we were in for some real treats!

Starting from San Casciano Val di Pesa, which is only a hop skip and jump from Florence (18kms) towards Siena, in the Chianti Classico wine area we were headed for Sant’ Andrea in Percussina, home to Machiavelli’s villas. A carpet of cloud covered the valley between the towns and the rolling hills blessed with vines now looking rather straggly as there autumn colours slowly fade. Still it was a relief to be out under sunshine and in good company.

A guided tour of Machiavelli’s villa was promised, and we were to delve into his tormented story. He had been considered the rising star of the new Florentine Republic, a brilliant civil servant and head of the Second Chancery, a post that placed him in charge of the Republic’s foreign affairs after the expulsion of the Medici in 1494. But when the Republic fell and the Medici returned to power he was arrested, tortured and expelled from the city. He retreated to his farmhouse ‘Albergaccio‘ ( meaning bad hotel) as it linked to the tavern across the road often filled with dubious characters.

The Albergaccio restaurant today and tour of the farmhouse:

 

Machiavelli wrote “Here, in Sant’Andrea in Percussina, where I tend to my vines and family matters, I, Niccolo’ Machiavelli, have found refuge from events in Florence, fatal for me. Hikers breakNext door there’s the Hosteria, a continual source of refreshment for me, for the labours borne in my long office, tasting that which the land has made into marvellous fruit.”

And we enjoyed tasting a refreshing prosecco from his land before the tour!

Inside we passed through the rather simple rooms of the farmhouse including his study where he wrote his famous book ‘The Prince’ , his notorious political tract advising dynasties, like the Medici, how Machiavelli's studyto combat the vicissitudes of fortune and stay in power. Considered a key intellectual figure of the Florentine Renaissance his isolation from Florence was under sufferance, especially since he had a clear view of Brunelleschi’s Dome from his garden daily. Most historians now emphasise the much greater importance of his later writings in Discourses on Livy and the History of Florence, where it becomes clear that his preferred political model was one based on freedom and democracy, a world without tyrannical kings and princes.

From the cellar we could see yet another of his villas – Villa Mangiacane thought to be designed by Michelangelo and where we had been promised our lunch break.

A brief stop at the Machiavelli store to peruse the gadgets and gift ideas and then back to hiking before we got too distracted by the alluring aromas coming from the restaurant kitchen, or tempted by another prosecco!

Down the valley, through the vineyards and with stomachs rumbling we trooped past the Villa Mangiacanefile of Tuscan cypress to the entrance of Villa Mangiacane to enjoy lunch on the garden steps. Fortunately for us the luxury resort was closed so no one to object. The villas remained in the Machiavelli family for centuries and only recently have been sold to an Italian Wine Cooperative.Machiavelli family tree

For us it had been a fun day out, a good fundraising day for Emergency and a very easy hike in the lovely area of Chianti Classico.Hikers trail home

 

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Cycling Lake Garda

Entrance to Lake GardaDefying bleak weather forecasts on the long weekend of November I headed up North to test the new bike path overhanging Lake Garda. The lake is stunning in its ruggedness, steep rocky mountains that slide into the lakeside and with the misty clouds around it had almost a sinister air. In contrast to Lake Como and Lake Maggiore it’s beguiling in a dramatic way, with enticing villages to explore along the shoreline. The largest of the Italian lakes with a long list of interesting Museums and Villas to visit and hot Springs to relax in.

But cycling Lake Garda was our objective even if only for a short distance, and we Limone sul Garda beachwere headed for Limone sul Garda to find the new bike/footpath that clings to the steep rock face. Having taken our time to get there we were disappointed as there were no bikes left! But we were not to be beat and searching high and low discovered another rental place back on the top road. High in spirits and energy we swooped back down to the shoreline at a reckless pace to begin the tour through the village and onto the new trail.

Limone sul Garda

Cycling through the tourists wandering the sidewalk, in and out of shops and restaurants not an easy feat as the main street turned into a pretty alleyway adorned with bougainvillea and tiny piazzas filled with fishing boats.

 

The surprise to come were the steep ascents through the outskirts of the village, the wobbly stone pavement on the descents, and the surprising quantity of pedestrians on the same route making manoeuvring difficult. Now we understood the offer of an e-bike at the rentals! But we were not to be dissuaded from our target and finally we were there!New bike path

It’s a short, (2km) flat, magnificent experience, opened only last year with the hope that other Councils will take up the initiative and continue the trail further along the  lake. Lake Garda bike - footpath

 

Bike - Footpath

 

 

 

 

Views of the lake even more spectacular and a sense of satisfaction and relief that the rain held off and the ride certainly kept us warm.

Besides it’s so much safer than riding along the rather narrow road that hugs the Cycling Lake Gardacoastline amongst the professional cyclists. Accessible to everyone, even wheelchairs and prams and a definitely well worth the ride. If you want to do more serious biking check out these suggestions. And this is only a small part of what Lake Garda has to offer.Lake Garda view


 

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Florence’s renewed Flea Market

Florence Flea MarketFinally the Florence Flea Market has opened in its new permanent structure, after years of indecision and protests. Not everyone will be happy about the changed appearance but from an insiders point of view I can guarantee the traders are happier. They have a bigger and warmer covered space that will protect them, their clients and their merchandise against variable weather conditions.New Flea Market Florence

 

In fact the Council of Florence is doing quite a lot about cleaning up areas and making them more people friendly, even greener when the opportunity arises, as well as restoring monuments and fountains as funds become available.

Loggia dei pesci in front of original Flea market

Old Flea market and Loggia dei Pesci

For those unfamiliar with the Florence Flea market, it has lived most of its life in front of the beautiful late Renaissance loggia designed by Vasari for the fish mongers, in Piazza dei Ciompi. The stands were rather fragile with plastic ripple coverings plyboard thin walls and possibly some asbestos thrown in as well. Years of weathering brought them to a sad and sorry state and the Council decided to move the market out and restore the famous ‘Loggia dei Pesci‘ to its former glory, green up the piazza and make it into a relaxing place for locals and tourists and the occasional flower market.

The Loggia itself has a rather interesting history, designed by Vasari in 1568/9 at the request of Cosimo I who had decided to move the Fish market located near the Ponte Vecchio because of its bad odour and dirtiness. The market was moved to the Old market area in Piazza della Repubblica leaving ample space now for Vasari’s famous corridor to be built linking the Town Hall to the Medici’s residence at Palazzo Pitti. The compensation to the fish mongers was a beautiful loggia under which they could sell their wares.  But when Florence became the Capital of Italy 1865-1871 a clean up campaign moved the old Market out of the piazza and the Loggia dei Pesci was dismantled and stored in the San Marco museum until 1955. Local citizens protested and persisted until a local bank donated funds and the Loggia was reassembled and placed in piazza dei Ciompi and the Florence Flea market grew up under its watchful gaze for over 50years.

But plans to restore the Loggia to its former splendour and revamp the Piazza saw the removal of the Flea market to an alternative abode, temporary tent accommodation in a nearby Piazza – Largo Pietro Annigoni next door to the Saint Ambrogio food market. Not a very pleasant experience for traders nor customers.

Then finally the new Flea market in a permanent building, larger stands, a covered walkway and two weeks for stand owners to create their own exhibit space with individual furnishings and lighting. So it was all hands on deck and I helped my friend with her stand specializing in Sheffield and silver from the U.K.

Playing cards Flea MarketAnd while we, and others, were busy painting, putting up curtains, moving stock, stumbling over boxes and working around electricians and carpenters, the usual group of Flea marketeers were already happily playing cards as they have always done!

The inauguration on 26 October came with all the pomp and ceremony that only Florence can provide with the Mayor puffing out his chest in Mayoral garb.

Opening day was a great success and Catherine Glasser’s stand the best of them…..but then maybe I am biased!? If you are in the area do drop by to see them all and see what you think of the new market structure.

ps  I hate to say that the new Florence Flea Market complex has a definite Parisienne air but c’est la vie!

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Our Italian Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty, New Yorik

Photo credit: Museo Opera del Duomo

The Statue of Liberty is such an icon, the symbol of America, which has welcomed millions of migrants and visitors to the New York harbour. Yet the statue perhaps is not so unique and to prove the point the current ‘Sisters of Liberty’ exhibition in New York will surprise many American visitors. Our Liberty of Poetry statue by Pio Fedi, placed in the Santa Croce church in 1883, is considered to have inspired Frederic Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty inaugurated in 1886. In fact Bartholdi was in Italy at the time fighting alongside Garibaldi in the ranks of the Frankish soldiers during the Franco Prussian war. And its thought very likely that he saw the draft design if not the completed statue.

The Liberty of Poetry statue was placed over the tomb of Giovanni Battista Santa Croce churchNiccolini, in the Santa Croce church in Florence. He was a playwriter of dramas related to national redemption and the freedom of the people, and an avid supporter of the Unification of Italy. The statue is enormous, even bigger than Michelangelo’s David and for this reason in fact cannot be moved. But a replica has been made and sent to New York where “visitors will discover and interact with the symbols, voices, and heroes that have defined our modern concept of liberty” (excerpt from brochure)

So compare for yourselves here:

Italian and American Sisters of Liberty

photo credit: Museo del Opera del Duomo, Firenze

Staue of Poetry

The idea for the project came from the U.S. Consulate General of Florence which celebrates 200 years of diplomatic relations and wanted to demonstrate the long standing cultural ties between Italy and the United States. Generous contributions for the exhibition came from American Express and our luxury Four Seasons Hotel Florence

When the exhibition was confirmed it caused a flurry of activity amongst the Friends of Florence  organisation who paid for the restoration of the Liberty of Poetry.  So newcomers to the Santa Croce church can now see it in its original splendour alongside the other famous tombs of Tuscan greats – Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Ghiberti and the tribute to Dante Alighieri.

In fact the Santa Croce church is one of the oldest and largest Franciscan basilicas in the world and considered by far the most magnificent, for its architecture by Brunelleschi and Donatelli, frescoes by Giotto and Agnolo Gaddi and it houses more skeletons of Renaissance masters than any other church in Italy! Definitely worth a visit. The piazza is also a favourite one for Florentines and hosts the historic football match ‘calcio storico’.

Another statue by Pio Fedi is on display in the Loggio dei Lanzi in front of the Palazzo Vecchio the Town Hall of Florence – The Rape of Polyxena of 1865. Although largely ignored as it sits behind the famous bronze statue by CelliniPerseus with the Head of Medusa.

But our Italian Statue of Liberty….of Poetry I think takes the cake!Liberty of Poetry


 

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Wine is sunlight and water, grape harvest 5 Terre

Cinque Terre Vermentino grapesGalileo Galilei said “wine is sunlight held together with water” and certainly the vineyards of the Cinque Terre have had an ample dose of sunlight this season. The grape harvest is well and truly over and they say it will be a good year, perhaps not for quantity but at least quality of the grapes harvested. Endless hot weather and sunshine blessed us all after the rather cold bleak month of May.Grape harvesting Vernazza

 

 

Harvesting is a still a back breaking process, particularly if the vines are draped over a pergola. Often the case on terraces more exposed to high winds. Just getting to the terraced vineyards is a hike itself! Many tourists have wandered the gorgeous high trail from Corniglia to Manarola passing through the vineyards ‘a pergola’ probably unaware as to why and how the grapes will be harvested.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-Px7ItyxUiQ

And then the crates overflowing with grapes need to be loaded and unloaded and if you are lucky enough you will have the Farmer’s Cooperative mono rail running nearby. Cheo vineyard owner , BartoloMost locals sell all or at least a major part of their harvest to the Cantine Sociale – the Farmer’s Cooperative. The wine produced is a crisp dry white from a mix of vermentino, bosco and albarolo grapes.

In Vernazza the only commercial wine producer is Bartalo of Cheo vineyards. A retired University Professor with vision, a mission and a lot of hard work to reach his goal. Bartalo and his wife Lise have been very active in the community promoting involvement of students and assisting in the development of the Save Vernazza voluntourism project. He is now President of the Consortium Cinque Terre Sciacchetra’ the delicious liquid gold sweet wine of the area.

The tourist crowds are slowly beginning to wane, although there is still time to souvenir shop and enjoy a last gelati.

 

Mono rail Cinque TerreThe mono rail trains lie idle and its time for the last swim for the season as the Sun settles early and no longer has the hot sting of July. Autumn is moving in and soon to envelope us in its golden glow.

Cinque Terre Corniglia Marina


 

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A Handmaidens Tale at Mantua


Mantua, Piazza Erbe
How could I go past seeing Margaret Atwood at the Mantua Literary Festival? She was such a drawcard that I booked her event early and lucky I did as on the day there were no extra tickets available. It had been a few years since I had been back to the Festival although each year I was tempted as the list of writers from all over the world is exciting and Mantua is a such a picturesque Renaissance city, with fluted merlins on many of its historic Palaces. Besides it’s so lovely just to wander or bike as the locals do under the warm sunshine as Summer comes to an end.

As the Organisation  says: “The Festival plays host to world-famous writers and poets, some of the most interesting voices from emerging literatures, essayists, musicians, artists and scientists who foster a more complex and unusual notion of literature that includes unconventional literary domains and languages.” The choice of events was awesome – Margaret Atwood, Elif Shafak, Joshua Cohen, Nadeem Aslam, Ali Smith, Valeria Luiselli  together with economists and political writers like – Domenico Quirico,  Felwine Starr from Senegal, Gilles Kepel,  Mariana Mazzucato, Amin Maalouf and Donald Sassoon. Only some of whom I managed to see.

I bounced between meetings on the European Union  Crisis,  Civil wars and Immigration, Economic Alternatives to the current Inequality and how to put value before profit, Words we use and abuse, Post Colonialism and the new developments in Africa, Antidotes to our current Dilemmas and more. It was easy to become totally engrossed in arguments, enlightened by some positive prospects, challenged by the global issues knowing we are all in the same boat….if only we all paddled in the same direction.

Margaret AtwoodMargaret Atwood rather than discuss her new book talked mostly of how relevant ‘The Handmaidens’ Tale’ relates to today, the regression we have seen in women’s rights, the challenge we face to restore what we have lost and move forward. To her delight the audience greeted her wearing handmaiden’s caps which the organisation had supplied and which we clumsily put together and clung on to on her entrance. Margaret Atwood haindmaiden audienceAnd at the end of the event a flash mob of ‘handmaidens’ appeared with placards regarding female homicides and women’s rights as ‘Everything is political when you’re a woman‘ and the queue for signing her book wound right around the courtyard.

In between events the piazzas overflowed with book stands, poetry readings, quiet courtyards to relax in and shady parks for time out. An open air ‘free’ event caught my attention as the audience was spellbound, like babes listening to a fairytale, as Antonello Vanoli recounted a sentimental voyage on the roads that made our history – the Nile, the Mediterranean, the Silk Road, the Orient Express to Route 66. An hour’s journey through the centuries with this fascinating storyteller. We were all on board and loving it!

This year I had a bike on loan which was especially handy since I stayed across the causeway and discovered the most beautiful bike path that cruised alongside the lake.

A delightful start to every day

The Historic centre is charming with its majestic buildings, beautiful parks and courtyards and an impressive Cathedral and of an evening the place glowed and flowed with wine and aperitif spritzs!

Mantua Liteary Festival

 

The Mantua Literary festival is truly a magic experience. The only drawback maybe – How do the locals manage to walk on the pavement stones every day…..even in heels??Mantua Pavement

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