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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