Lockdown Italian style

Ponte Vecchio

Foto credit: Francesco Spighi www.francescospighi.com

Military take bodies out of the city

Foto credit: L’Adige.it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riders working during Lockdown

Foto credit Francesco Spighi

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

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

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

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

 

Supermarket queue

Foto credit: Andrea Contini

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

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

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

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

– a high consumption of hand cream from the washing

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

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

Andra tutto bene’!

It's going to be alright

Foto credit Francesco Spighi www.francescosighi.com


 

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The black and white of Pistoia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Who was Natalia Goncharova?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


 

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Fish are jumping – Cinque Terre

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

 

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

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

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

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

Manarola

 

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

or drumming up a storm

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Time for fishing

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A raging hell – Australian bushfires

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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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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