Andrea del Verrocchio – The Master of Da Vinci

Verrocchio Exhibition brochureFlorence continues to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci with an exhibition of his MasterAndrea del Verrocchio at the Palazzo Strozzi. I must admit I am not a real fan of religious art and totally ignorant of who Verrocchio was so I had left my visit to the exhibition to the last week. I was however beguiled by the gentle serenity of the ‘Madonna’ in the publicity boards around town, her gaze lowered, her hair drawn back beneath a transparent veil so delicately embroidered as was the bodice of her gown, it had to be seen for real. The style was typical of many Renaissance painters that I did know like Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Perugino and of course Leonardo da Vinci all of whom painted the Madonna showing enormous tenderness towards her child, an earthly maternal love.

After the exhibition I explored further and discovered that Verrocchio was born in Florence around 1434-37, originally Andrea di Cione, the son of a construction worker in a family where the money was scarce. After his father’s death he had to support his mother and eight brothers and possibly for this reason never married. He became an apprentice goldsmith in the workshop of Giuliano Verrocchio and later took his name. As an artist with his own workshop Andrea del Verrocchio had such illustrious pupils as Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico del Ghirlandaio and Perugino.
No one shaped Florentine Art in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent more than Verrocchio. Trained as a goldsmith, he discovered a bent for sculpture, emerging as the greatest bronze sculpture of his day. He practised drawing and eventually turned to painting. By c 1470, barely over thirty, he had become a beacon in his own right and with his lively workshop.” (Palazzo Strozzi info)

The bust evokes the ideal of female beauty in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent, merging aristocratic grace with moral values…..and Leonardo drew inspiration from the innovative addition of arms and hands

David Victorious - VerrocchioMarble reliefs and bronze statues of heroes and heroines of the classical world were particularly popular with patrons of the time and it was interesting to see the developments in style and expressions and the attention  to detail was impressive.Alexander the Great - Verrocchio

 

 

 

 

Verrocchio came late to painting yet impressed his fellow artists with his detail on precious jewels, elaborate costumes and drapery bathed in light. His ‘window ledge’ baby Jesus became a new fashion and was copied by many. He studied innovative techniques with Leonardo on the ‘chiaroscuro” effects of light experimenting by painting on fine linen cloth reproducing true drapery soaked in wax or liquid earth modelled on dummies.

In the painting –The Baptism of Christ Vasari tells us “he was assisted by Leonardo da Vinci, his disciple, then quite young, who painted the angels, which was much better than the other parts of the work: and for this reason Verrocchio resolved never again to touch a brush“! Art historians however are not convinced about the legitimacy of the comment as Verrocchio left many works unfinished, being prolific in so many different fields.

He created outdoor sculptures based on classical models, popular in the Winged Boy with DolphinRenaissance and helped forge the fashion for monumental marble fountains, decorated with bronze statues like The Winged boy with Dolphin. He created metal candelabras, equestrian monuments and his work as a goldsmith could be as varied as the small Dove of the Holy Spirit to the gilded copper ball placed on top of the Brunelleschi Dome.

 

 

 

 

Verocchio's gilded copper ball

 

 

Da Vinci-The Virgin with the Laughing Child

 

 

 

And as a surprise finale we were introduced to Leonardo Da Vinci’s only known work of sculpture when he was still a young man, perhaps only 20, modeled in his master’s workshop. The Virgin with the Laughing Child. We have all learnt so much about Da Vinci’s master.

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Hooves clicking on Black Marble

Hiking in the National ParkOut in the heat hiking not far from Siena we are exploring an area of Italian marbleblack marble or commonly known here as Serpentine marble. And while we are no longer able to see the quarries where the ‘marble‘ came from, we are conscious that every step we take is on this precious material. Officially it is not really ‘marble’ but a serpentinite, “a metamorphic rock derived from the rock of magmatic origin that formed about 200 million years ago on the bottom of the ancient Ocean Tetide, where it underwent a process of hydration by interaction with sea water.” The name originates from the similarity of the texture of the rock to that of the skin of a snake, easily seen here in the village wall. Serpentine marble in village wall

The territory of Murlo is rich in outcrops of this rock and it was used to create the black and white dichromy in the Sienese Cathedral. Not an easy feat considering we are hiking amongst tough Tuscan hills around 27kms from Siena.


We are also lucky to be hiking with a mix of experts                                                          – our faithful Environmental guide Grazia, to give us all the info on the local flora, fauna and terrain underfoot                                                                                                          – a geologist Andrea, eager to explain the difference in the formation of marble and serpentinite i.e.  “Marble being rocks that having undergone a process of metamorphism at high temperatures and pressures that has made the minerals recrystallize.”                                                                                                                      – and Grazia’s father Ivo, who was born in the area, now a National Park, and keen to recount old farming techniques and memories of times past.

Cathedral SienaAt the time of the construction of the Cathedral, begun in 1215,  the ‘Opera del Duomo‘ responsable for the construction bought or rented land with quarries or rich in building stones,  vineyards and fields to obtain wine and bread for the workers, water for making mortar, and woods for work timber. Historical records show that the serpentine stones were partially worked in the quarry and each block of black marble weighed approx 80-100 kg and was carted by mules Siena Cathedralacross this rather rugged terrain. Unlike Florence there was no substantial river course to use as an easier alternative. In the end transport became so expensive and difficult that the black marble was used less and abandoned by the 14th Century.

We hike through typical Mediterranean vegetation dominated by holm oaks up and down hills, past some vineyards along trails that linked communities, ancient parish churches and monasteries. We are on our way to the Hermitage of Montespecchio, thinking of the poor mules that carted up to 20 tons of marble to Siena each 6 months and in this heat we are hard pressed to cart our small back packs laden only with bottles of water and lunch!

Now only the ruins of the church remain of the Hermitage, which was in its heyday a large complex and a wealthy one both from donations not only of money but also land and a healthy income to the Augustinian friars from the sale and transport of the black marble. The welcome shade renew our energy as we exlore the ruins from the 12th Century and despite the striped walls so typical of Romanesque architecture the place has an exotic almost Asian feel to it.

We are now close to Ivo’s birthplace and he delights in telling us that he was often here, looking for his pigs that sometimes went astray and enjoyed Old Tuscan schoolforaging in the woods. In the past there were large fields of grain and cereals cultivated on rotation, and each family depended on that and their livestock to survive. We pass the farmhouse, converted school, that he walked 3kms to each day with his 8 brothers and sisters, now a private residence used probably only on holidays.

Then next to the delapidated buildings where he’s was born he calls us onto the overgrown area which was once the paved ‘aia’ or piazza, where they would tie a horse in the centre and with his continuous circling thresh the grain with his hooves. They would gather the grain on enormous sieves and toss it into the area to separate the grain from the kernels. At the end of harvesting there would be a big dinner on long trestle tables in the piazza where all the families would meet and party.

Ivo's childhood home

 

The buildings and land were left to the Forestry department which has sadly left the buildings go to ruin and the local vegetation has taken over. There is a definite hint of nostalgia as Ivo reminisces, yet satisfied as we are appreciative of his stories of times gone by.                                                           So next time you are in Siena and enjoying its splendour you can appreciate even more the hard work that went into trasporting the black marble.

Farming tales

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Heat and Humidity on the High trail to Vernazza

Cinque Terre trail 581 San B to VernazzaThe heat and high humidity of the past week encouraged us to take the high trail from San Bernardino across the valley and down to Vernazza. The Cinque Terre trails are innumerable and crisscross the whole area of the National Park offering breathtaking views, cool shaded woodlands, terraced vineyards and quiet streams that trickle down to the villages below. Besides, the high trails are free, so you can hike as much or as little in a day without paying a cent.

The heavy cloud almost eclipsed our distant view of the Sanctuary of the Our Lady of Reggio which sits above Vernazza, as we set off in the morning for what should be around a 1 1/2hr hike. It took us a little longer with photo stops, rest stops after the uphill stretches and continuous cherry picking or rather cherry stealing along the way!vineyards along the trail

The trail is a pretty one as it meanders in and out of woodlands, through terraced vineyards and across streams and gives distant views of San Bernardino almost disappearing in the clouds.View to San Bernardino

 

 

A  local farmer was out working in his vineyards, and gave a welcome wave together with a shout to make sure we closed the gate against the wild boar! Rarely seen in the day, the boar do a lot of damage as they root around at the base of the dry stone walls and render them unstable. Wherever they can, farmers fence in the terraces against the beasts, but are not always successful in the venture. The boar will slide, even fall, from one terrace down to the next without flinching as they are very tough animals. So we wave back and relatch the gate and head into the cool of the woodlands.

It’s so pleasant to climb up and around and cross crystal clear streams without getting our feet wet. Someone even planted a ‘sculpture‘ along the way which keeps an eye on us.

Santuary Madonna del ReggioJust a few more up and down dales and we see the striped tower of the Sanctuary peeking out from the trees. The church was first mentioned in 1248 with its Romanesque façade and built over an existing cemetery. Inside it houses an image of the Virgin which legend attributed to St Luke, but has been identified as belonging to the 14th Century Genovese school of artists.Santuary Our Lady of Reggio

The area is deliciously cool as century old Oak, Cedar and Horse chestnut trees shade the church. In the grounds is the oldest cypress tree of Liguria, 800 years, and fountains that tap into the Spring water. A great place to practice martial arts!

Every year there is the procession from the Vernazza St Margherita church up the old paved path to the Sanctuary and locals bring a picnic on the national holiday 15th August. From here it’s all down hill for us and the beginning of sea views and Vernazza.

While my favourite high trail is still the one to Manarola as I love the views, this trail is also a very pleasant one and Vernazza a welcome sight.

Vernazz, Cinque Terre

 

Time to wander the main street almost tripping over a basket weaver propped on the steps, a rare sight these days and a skill soon to be lost. Basket weaver

 

 

 

…and then we sit on the waters edge and people watch, eavesdropping on tourist tales with a thirst quenching drink in hand.Vernazza cafe

 

 

 

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Searching for Venus, Portovenere

Portovenere, St Peter's ChurchPortovenere is yet another beautiful town on the Ligurian coastline, close enough to the Cinque Terre to almost feel a part of it, yet secluded enough to avoid the tourist crowds. On a good day it is only a 35mins ferry ride away from the first village of the Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore otherwise a bus ride from the centre of La Spezia.

Portovenere

Photo Shutterstock – Mare

It is a romantic, picturesque fishing village, lined with tall colourful buildings and quaint alleyways that wind and climb up to the Dorian Castle giving a spectacular view.

It was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997 for its outstanding architecture, and landscape and its exceptional example of human interaction with the environment. This includes the nearby Islands of Palmaria, popular for its beach and two tiny islands with the lighthouse Tino and Tinetto

We were here to find Venus, after all it is the Port of Venus  named as such from the middle of the 1st century BC as supposedly there was a Temple dedicated to the goddess Venus at the tip of the promontory on the site where the Church of St Peter now stands. According to tradition Venus was born from the foam of the surf below!    So far historical diggings have only shown a pre existing 5th century Church under the Church seen today which was consecrated in 1198. Cleverly the later addition of the 13th century is identified by the black and white stripes creating a complex mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles and an incredible landmark for the town.

From every angle the views are amazing – back towards the Cinque Terre, across the bay to the Dorian Castle or over towards Lerici on the mainland or to the Island of Palmaria. Craggy rock formations, hidden caves, and a wild impervious terrain abound, although not sufficiently dangerous to put off raids by the Normans and later Saracen pirates.

The name may be instead from St Venerius – a hermit monk who lived between 550-630 on a monastery built on the Island of Tino. Each year in September the town celebrates the Saint, taking his statue across to the Island to be blessed.

Portovenere view to LericiLord Byron was inspired by the beauty of the place and a frequent visitor, so much so that they named the bay after him. He was known to have swum across the gulf of La Spezia, around 7kms, to Lerici to visit Shelley in 1822, not a mean feat!

Entrance door Potovenere

We explore the main street being tempted by local specialities, like pesto which is out of this world as I have bought it before, and peer through the pasta curtain into the local bakery! Quaint doorways, cute shops, and narrow stairways are tucked in  between multi coloured tower houses.

Slowly we climb the winding steps that lead past the Sanctuary of the White Madonna  with the San Lorenzo church up to the austere Dorian Castle.

The Castle and its walls that surround the historic centre were built by Genoa in the 12th century to protect the town against invasions as it was an important outpost for the Republic of Genoa and the white flag with the red cross of the Republica are still flying throughout the place.

But we were still in search of our Venus and make our way back down to the Church of Mother NatureSt Peter, only to find instead ‘Mother Nature’ a rather plump bronze statue of a woman in a petticoat staring out to sea. A rather melancholy gaze across Byron’s bay. Locals believe she depicts, not Mother Nature, but a woman who lost her husband, a fisherman at sea, and waits undeterred for his return.

Dorian castle overlooking Byroin bay                                                        We may not have found Venus but we have explored another magical place in Liguria and only a few hours hike away from the Cinque Terre, or ferry or train and bus ride. Whichever way Portovenere is definitely worth a visit.Map PortovenereView of St Peter's Church form Dorian Castle

 

 

 

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Hiking San Bernardino to Manarola

Spring flowers on the trailThe Cinque Terre trails are forever enticing whether they be across the valleys, over the mountain or down to an alluring blue sea.  I have my favourite trails and now is a good time to really enjoy the Spring flowers and the new vine shoots and take a hike along the high trail from San Bernardino to Manarola, via Fornacchi and La Cigoletta.

Fornacchi is the tiniest of villages, only 5 houses but with an important laundry service that provides bed linens to the numerousMadonna of Fornacchi apartments and bed and breakfast places in the area. The view is stunning of San Bernardino below and the coastline to Monterosso as a sweet little Madonna indicates the path through to the woods.View from Fornacchi There are no other hikers just the sounds of Nature; rustling leaves from the light breeze and as tiny lizards run out of sight.

Crossroads indicate the trail across the mountain ridge round to Drignano or down towards Corniglia across to Manarola which I prefer as am more fond of coastal views. On the high trail between Corniglia and Manarola I meet lots of hikers since the coastal trail between Corniglia and Manarola is closed now more tourists are obliged to try the high trail.

It’s a great time of year as the vines have sprouted and the views over the famous terraced landscape are compelling. Besides a large part of the trail walks through the vineyards. A total immersion in an ancient farming method where vines are trellised over wire frames to protect them from the strong winds and allow more air circulation underneath to avoid mould from the humidity later in the season.

And of course the thousands of kilometers of drystone walls that make this area a Unesco World Heritage site and a twin site with the Great Wall of China! They say if you put all the drystone walls together they would be twice as long as the Great Wall…..but it’s a saying and I cannot guarantee that as fact.Vines on trellis

Little would most tourists realize how hard it is to maintain these terraces, cultivate these vineyards or even grape pick…..as our volunteers experienced at harvest time.Grape picking Cinque Terre

 

 

The trail leaves the vineyards in time for a coffee stop in the village of Volastra, perched high above the sea. This sweet semi circular village, immersed in olive groves features a lovely Romanesque church sitting on a shaded piazza with plenty of seats for hikers to have a break.Volastra church

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vinew back to San Bernardino

From there it’s downhill all the way with breathtaking views along the coast till Manarola appears in view.

Blessed with sunshine on the descent  enhances the beauty of Manarola as I meander through gorgeous irises and wildflowers and am beckoned on by the aquamarine sea.

Manarola main streetAnd Manarola never disappoints, today the rough seas play on the rocks in the cove, the fishing boats are hauled up and tourists and locals enjoy the fabulous scenery. Manarola bay

Manarola, Cinque Terr


 

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Leonardo Da Vinci and the Battle of Anghiari

Since it is 500 years after the death of Leonardo Da Vinci, Italy is celebrating the anniversary with exhibitions, pageants, and local theatrical performances. The country is floooded with events and is encouraging all of us to explore new places and lesser known facts about Leonardo.Anghiari

Photo credit- Museo della Battaglia e di Anghiari.

 

I had taken up the opportunity to combine my love of hiking on an easy trail between Anghiari and Sansepolcro to follow the itinerary of the Florentine soldiers in the crucial Battle of Anghiari of 29 June, 1440. The Battle, played out on the plain between the two towns, was to be colorfully recounted by various local actors along the trail. Unfortunately the performance was cancelled due to stormy weather predictions.

However curiosity had got the better of me and I drove to Anghiari early morning well before the storm and spent a very pleasant few hours exploring the nooks and crannies of this beautiful medieval village. Along the way to set the mood I stopped at Ponte Buriano bridge to contemplate the scene with Da Vinci, since it is this bridge which features in the background of the Mona Lisa.

Garibaldi at AnghiariGaribaldi welcomed me into the historical centre of Anghiari, a popular statue in towns all over Italy. Shortly after I was to cross the moat, or where it was once, through the drawbridge gateway that protected it from foreign invaders.Anghiari Moat Gate

 

 

 

 

I had stepped back in time; winding alleyways, opened onto intimate piazzas, overlooked by medieval buildings now incorporated into Renaissance palaces. It was beautiful!

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Basta Pasta for a quick meal


Fresh pastaItalian pasta – thinking of what to cook for dinner, I had a craving for spaghetti! It crossed my mind how Italian I have become, as being an avid pasta eater my stomach was being selective about which pasta it was to be tonight.

Amazing how much there is to learn about such a simple fast food product, and I am certainly not an expert…..but love the stuff! I have my favorites and my special combo’s, trying to be faithful to the subtle rules about which pasta goes best with which sauce.  ie. short pasta with ridges holds the sauce better, smooth pasta is ideal for seafood sauces as the sauce wraps around it and concave, shell types hold nice chunkier sauces be it vegetable, meat or seafood.

Fresh, dry or filled pasta are a mainstay of an Italian diet, and please don’t blame the pasta if you are putting on weight, it’s more likely to be the sauce, if the volume of pasta is not overabundant. (The general principle suggests 80-100gm per person)

It was already in existence in Ancient Greek and Etruscan civilizations and first historical references to it are made by an Arab geographer in 1154 writing about “food of flour in the form of threads” he found in Sicily, well before Marco Polo returned from China (1294) with the Chinese version!

The Arabs initiated the treatment of drying the pasta, since their Nomad style of life did not allow for constant water supplies so they pierced the small dough cylinders in the middle to allow for rapid drying.

Later in Italy, the dry and windy climate of Liguria, Sicily and Campania favored the production of pasta, which for centuries was left to dry by simple exposure to air. And each region developed it’s own special pasta shapes best suited to the region’s food specialities, culture and traditions.Typical Tuscan pasta - Pici

Pici – large hand rolled spaghetti typical in Siena and Southern Tuscany. Commonly served ‘cacio e pepe’ – pecorino cheese and pepper  or ‘all’aglione’ – garlic tomato sauce.

Casarecce – short twisted rolls from Sicily that go well with Sicilian pesto, meat sauces or ‘alla Norma’ with eggplant, tomato and ricotta

Orecchiette PuglieseOrecchiette – concave little ears from Puglia and the Basilicata. Typically served with turnip tops ‘cime di rape’

Bucatini – big thick hollow spaghetti typical in the  Central regions of  Lazio, Umbria, and Le Marche. ‘All’ Amatriciana’ is tomato sauce with a touch of hot pepper, and made in abundance as the fund raising dish for the earthquake victims of 2016  in Amatrice, Norcia, Cascia and surrounding areas.

Strozzapreti  typical in Emilia Romagna or known as Strangozzi in Umbria translates as ‘choke or strangle priests’!? As legends go ‘strozzapreti’ were prepared by housewives mainly as a gift for the village priest. They did it for their husbands of anti-clerical beliefs, who hoped the priest would choke themselves! A sweeter legend  says the pasta owes its name to its form, so particular, that it could strangle even the clergy, notorious for their over indulgences at the table!

Artisan dry pastaThese are only some of the lesser known shapes as most of the pasta sold is either, spaghetti, penne, fusilli or rigatoni. Whatever the shape, (I hear they are customizing and producing designer shape pasta with 3D printers now!) it is the major product associated with Italy, together with pizza.

More than half of the production is exported and has grown significantly – 1914 70,000 tons were exported mostly to USA, and figures in 2018 show export reaching 1.9m tons. Bear in mind that not all of that pasta is produced with Italian flour and if you check the label you will find a mix of Australian, Canadian, USA and some EU wheat in most pastas. They say the quality of imported wheat is higher than the Italian one and for this reason costs more. But if you want to support the Italian economy you can choose labels like Agnese or Voiello as they are using 100% Italian flour.

For what I had intended as a light blog on pasta has highlighted more information than I can account for here as I haven’t even touched on the fresh pastas, and the regional differences of the filled pastas. Next time….

Just remember to boil the water well, before you drop in the pasta and cook it till it is ‘al dente’ as that makes it easier to digest, apart from tasting better! And please no spoon and fork to eat those spaghetti strands, cover yourself well with a napkin and eat it with a fork only. It takes practice and be reassured that even the best of us spaghetti eaters rarely gets away without a flick or two on that special tie or dress!Tourist pasta

And please try to avoid buying the multi colored tourist pastas!

Buon appetito!

 

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Tuscan Spring(s)

It’s that gorgeous time of year when Nature bursts back to life and everything begins to sprout, infinite green on greens as if every plant wants to show off its uniqueness. There is no chance of ever getting tired of the Tuscan landscape and traveling around in the past weeks has been a delight.Tuscany in Spring

Even on just a short walk from home the surroundings are enticing as the vines begin a new season and the iris, the symbol of Florence since 1252, start popping up all over the place.
At San Polo in Chianti there is the Associazione Toscana Gaggiolo of over 200 farmers who continue the tradition of cultivation of the iris as its delicate essence, derived from the root, is used in the production of perfumes, creams and herbal medicines. In fact it was of great economic importance in Tuscany between the 1800’s and the last century, exporting the major part of the production to France.

Iris Garden Florence

photo credit Iris Garden association, Florence

While in Florence publicity is already up, reminding people to visit the Iris garden just below Piazzale Michelangelo “where you can admire over 1,500 varieties of iris from all over the world in full bloom.” Free entrance and opening for only a month from 25th April – 20th May.

Hot Springs San Giovanni TermeSpringtime is also another favorite time for me to visit the Hot Springs, for a relaxing day of total indulgence for body, mind and soul. Just driving through the rolling velvet hills of Southern Tuscany intermittently broken by the grey of ‘Le Crete’ clay pits is so pleasing to the eye. I must have seen it a thousand times, but every year it has the same uplifting effect. We are on our way to the San Giovanni Hot Springs in Rapolano Terme. It’s a glorious day of sunshine and going to be a pleasant 19 degrees and by the time we get there I am thinking I should have packed the sun cream!
Bathing in any of these Hot Spring establishments feels like living in the lap of luxury.

The Romans knew how to spoil themselves bathing in natural hot springs or their sophisticated bath houses progressing from the warm to hot, steamy room and cleansing off with a massage in the cool room. We like to keep that tradition going!

We pass through the relaxation area, specially signposted with no mobile phones allowed, thank goodness, and slip into the coolest pool. While being invitingly quiet we are View of Internal Hot poolsoon dripping our way up the stairs to soak in the warm pool. Delicious squelchy white mud coats the bottom of the pool, the sulfurous sediments from the Natural Spring. As the blurb goes we are sitting in water “rich in sulphur and calcium bicarbonate…to combat ailments relating to muscular and skeletal system and respiratory disorders…in up to 39 degree water”. So you can see why we are here to soothe our muscles, wash away our aches and pains and simply relax. As the day is so warm the indoor ‘hot pool’ is less inviting and besides the surrounding landscape too good to miss!

San Giovanni Terme Some time out on the lounge chairs and then as the sun starts to set we need to make a move for home. Reluctantly we drag ourselves out of the pool, comforted by the knowledge that we will be back again….and again!

So whatever you may be doing over Easter, I hope you all have fun and a relaxing time somewhere special. Buona Pasqua!Easter


 

 

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Cinque Terre is open for business

A combination of great Spring weather, putting the clocks back to Summertime and being the last weekend  in March could only mean one thing….the tourist season at Cinque Terre is open for business!

First ferry of the seasonI spotted the first ferry for the season somewhat sleepily slipping across a millpond sea from Riomaggiore on its way to Manarola. There was hardly a wisp of breeze and the warmth of the sun was just coming through. I could see it was already going to be a T-shirt day.

Work is still progressing on the coastal trail Corniglia-Vernazza with a new bridge built Cinque Terre trail Corniglia Vernazza in one of the worst landslide prone spots. It will allow space for slides to flow below it to the sea putting less stress on the steel barriers and the drystone walls either side. It’s a constant battle to find solutions so we hope this will be a successful one and completed quickly as the trail is still officially closed.

Bar Il Gabbiano coastal trail PrevoNot such a good sign for the Il Gabbiano bar already open at the halfway mark at Prevo and waiting on the stream of hikers that will eventually return when the maintenance work is done. An ideal spot to savour their fabulous refreshing juice of sweet lemon and orange, and enjoy a moment of relax in front of an awesome view.

Wildflowers peek from every nook and cranny, and wild garlic flowers create a lush carpet under the olives. It’s such a gorgeous time of year.

Vernazza, Cinque TerreBy the time I reach Vernazza it is basking in the sun and beckoning seductively. I can already anticipate the piazza covered in its fabulous multi-coloured umbrellas on tables, so typical of the village, welcoming tourists and locals alike to taste the specialities on offer. I am not disappointed and together with the fishing boats still parked in the main square the scene is very cheerful.Vernazza, Gianni Franzi restaurantCorniglia main square

The same is also the case at Corniglia as cafes and restaurants set up their outdoor areas in the main square, although daily tourists here are also less and the atmosphere is pleasantly quiet. The view from behind the church to Manarola is captivating and often missed by tourists. St Peter’s cross made of local sandstone is dedicated to “all the men and women who, digging with their hands, reshaped a harsh, arduous territory, making it fertile and habitable.” 

As tourists begin to arrive for lunch I hike back up to my little retreat at San Bernardino. For the Cinque Terre another season has begun.View to San Bernardino


 

 

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Banksy in Florence

 

Banksy Love is in the air

Painted on the wall built to separate Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank

Banksy artworks exploded with abrasive truths in Florence’s elegant Medici Riccardi Palace, an early residence of the Medici family. Such a contrast to Banksy’s urban walls of London or crumbling war torn walls of Palestine and, as far as I know, we have no Banksy street art anywhere round town.  The exhibition has been a great success and in fact extended its closure by a month so we were fortunately still in time to see it.

The story of this artist is unique, his identity still unknown, at best thought to be English, Tiger Barcodeborn around 1973 and still continuing to surprise, shock and delight audiences with his predominantly stencil style artwork.

I read of his early installations, that brought Banksy to world attention -like ‘Turf War’ 2003 which included pigs painted in police colours, sheep painted in concentration camp stripes and a cow covered in images of Andy Warhol’s face. It created something of a furore as ‘animal activists chained themselves to the entrance and just prior to the opening Banksy had left a message to say there were 40 lousy bottles of red wine available but it was best if spectators brought their own’!

At ‘Barely Legal’ in 2006 he stunned audiences with his live painted elephant blending into the décor. A statement on world poverty….although “the meaning of the stunt appeared to be lost on some observers.” (BBC news comment)

We bounced from slogan to slogan:

amidst  satirical and brazen statements against authority :

Banksy’s monkey produced in 2002  ‘attests to the arrogance of humanity towards other Laugh Nowspecies’ and dare I twist that to be a relevant statement on our world of today! Grannies

 

 

 

 

And take a closer look at what his ‘Grannies’ are knitting!

There were also some of his more dramatic pieces as potent in their message today as when they were originally painted.Can't beat that feeling

Inspired by a famous photograph  during the Vietnam war of the 9yr old girl burnt by American napalm bombs running from her village. Banksy is showing ‘the contrast between reality and perception, how the US perceives itself and how it is perceived by others.’Banksy weston super mare

 

The elderly person unaware that death is so close in the form of a gigantic circular saw, is interpreted as Banksy’s unhappy childhood memories by the seaside or an invitation to make the most of every moment?

Other images less dramatic yet as powerful in their message and gathering some embarrassed laughs from the present audience. We were loving it and we had not come to the final shock…….

Girl with BalloonBanksy’s most popular work  ‘Girl with Balloon’  took pride of place, an image known to us all. Even recently it was used on a poster for Climate Change at last Fridays for Future march, the balloon substituted with mother earth. And I am sure Banksy would be supportive of the change.

But the final shock was still to come. We watched the video of ‘Girl with Balloon’ being auctioned at Sotheby’s for the grand price of £860,000 and were as staggered as those present to see it slowly shredded as soon as the Auctioneers hammer came down!

Banksy’s final word on capitalism? He is certainly determined to get his message across but the stunt seemingly backfired. The shredder got stuck and only half of the work was shredded and the Art world is now saying it is probably worth twice as much!?

His works are endless, stimulating, sensational and forever thought provoking, so if you would like to see more, check this video.

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