No bones about it – Florence exhibition

View of FlorenceThe Humans of 2015 are now just a skeleton this year in the ‘Ytalia’ Art Exhibition at Forte di Belvedere, Florence! No bones about it Florence never fails to surprise me!

As I wandered up to the Fort  I thought of the other exhibitions that had fired my passion or uninspired me, yet I always return to this fantastic location and never Spritual Guard jan Fabreget tired of the fabulous panorama.

Last year’s Jan Fabre Spiritual Guards’ had an overdose of beetles and crosses for my taste. Although I did like the gold turtle in the main square of Florence. While the Zhang Huan‘s exhibition of Buddhas ‘Soul and Matter’ had been a startling reopening to the fortress in 2013.

This year we are treated to polystyrene fiberglass bones covered in gypsum which precariously sway in the breeze and for safety and security reasons have to be tied down!

The Ytalia exhibition – presented 100 Contemporary Italian works of Art about Energy, Thoughts and Beauty to demonstrate, as the pamphlet blurb read: “how Italian Art has strongly influenced the international artistic community and has been a model to admire the perfect balance between classicism and anticlassicality, eclecticism and purism, invention and citation, immanence and transcendence.” 

Forte Belvedere entranceI have my doubts that the exhibition lived up to its promise but it was still well worth the visit.Art Exhibit Florence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lots of beautiful marble alongside rusty iron and the geometric nature of the exhibits  lures the eye into labyrinths and techno prints reflecting Fibonacci’s sequence.

A splash of colour inside the building seems totally unconnected….

and other weird to the absurd exhibits leave me pretty flat!

Skeleton Florence

 

I am constantly drawn back to the panorama of Brunelleschi’s dome seen between oscillating bleached ribs and lassoed toes, or about to be blow-dried…..

 

Art Exhibit Florence

 

And the typical Tuscan view of cypress trees, olive groves and a stray castle tower at the back of the fortress, while stumbling through marble blocks much to the disdain of the Fort custodian!

So just in case you are in Florence, there is still time to see the  ‘Ytalia’ exhibition as it remains open until the 1st Oct and there are more exhibits dotted about town – the Basilica of Santa Croce, Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti.  I would suggest Forte Belvedere any year you may be over for the view, the relaxing alfresco wine and café bar and the cheap entrance fee!

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Hot as Hell, Devil’s country

When it’s as hot as Hell there is no better place than the natural Canyon of Orrido di Botri, in the mountains 40kms above Lucca.

The area, known as Garfagnana, part of the Province of Lucca, encompasses some of the most beautiful natural woods and mountains of Tuscany. Orrido di Botri is one such place, and only accessible during the Summer months as the hike entails wading in and out of the River Pelago, hugging the rock face till the end of the trail at the natural “swimming pool”

Home to the Devil and Devilish legends add to the already mystical air as we set off early to wind our way up the mountain to Ponte a Gaio (740mt) the meeting point and entrance to the National Park area.

Ponte della Maddalena or Devil's BridgeOn the way we have our first encounter with the Devil at the ancient Ponte della Maddalena commonly known as the ‘Devil’s Bridge’Legend has it that a master builder was commissioned to build the bridge but could not get it finished on time and asked the Devil to help him. The Devil made a pact with him that he would finish the bridge in one night and as recompense would take the soul of the first person who crossed the bridge. The builder agreed to the pact but later, filled with remorse confessed to a priest who advised him to send a pig over the bridge first. The Devil, infuriated at being made a fool of, and not knowing what to do with the pig, disappeared into the river Serchio leaving behind a cloud of sulphur.

On arrival at the Forest rangers office we need to be equipped with helmets and our hike shoes as we’ll be wading in areas up to our thighs, through the canyon with rock walls of up to 200m high. The hairnets under the helmets get a giggle and gives us a rather incongruous look as Cristina explains the logistics of the 4hr hike.- River temperature around 10 degrees, and the canyon only a few degrees warmer, with a warning that it’s easier to wade than risk slipping on the rocks. To avoid any rocks falling on our heads we should place our hands on the rock at the entrance in homage to ‘Botri’. Legend of Botri

Botri being the ugly crippled shepherd who found shelter in the canyon with his flock after being driven out by his compatriots for his terrible appearance. Famine struck and the same citizens pleaded with Botri to allow their flocks to feed in the Canyon but Botri offended and angered threw rocks at them to drive them away. Unfortunately during the fight he slipped and fell, breaking his neck in the Canyon, where his ghost still reigns! So we are only too happy to place both hands on the entrance rock so Botri won’t be offended.

Rain was forecast, surprisingly the only day in the entire Summer, as we set off into this majestic wild beauty of ferns and moss alongside crystal clear water. The Devil is considered a regular visitor to the Canyon and parents often frightened their children from venturing into the Canyon alone, describing an enormous winged monster that would swoop down and take them away in his claw – a large shiny orange mark imprinted high on the rocks is said to be the burn mark from his tail!? And there is a Devil’s garden and the Devil’s claw mark.

While amused by the various horrific tales we stick close to our two qualified guides, heeding their warnings along the way. As the thunder rolled in and it began to pour,  small stones bounced off two helmets and the atmosphere took on a more sinister feel. Cristina was quick to reassure that wild goats tend to wander along the edge of the cliffs above and the shrapnel is probably from them……not Botri?! Royal Eagles and falcons also nest in the area but are rarely sighted and the more timid animals like capriole ( bambi deer) are unlikely to venture out while we are around.

The thunder passed and the air cleared so we managed to complete the hike to the end, becoming quite used to wading in the river or clinging to ropes that line some of the rock face. In the swimming pool

The photos do not do it justice and are marred by my waterproof holder, but I hope to have enticed some of you into this treasure chest of uncontaminated Nature near Lucca.

 

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Master Gardeners, Italian style

Vegetable garden next doorIf you have ever lived next door to an Italian you will know how prolific they are in producing vegetables – front garden or back, it makes no difference.

My next door neighbour is constantly passing me generous bags of veggies, so despite my lack of a veggie garden, am munching my way through oodles of zucchini recipes as they sprout overnight and never cease! Or he leaves me home grown peaches and apples on my terrace at dawn, not to wake me up. Being a vegetarian makes him even more keen to be sure I have plenty…..meaning enough to feed an army of friends!

Nowadays all the talk is about, 0 kilometre produce, eco sustainability, the sharing economy, recycling, seasonal choices of vegetables when Italians have been well ahead of the times with this approach to life….if they have any square inch to cultivate.

The farmers have come a long way from the dangerous pesticides of the past and spraying sulphur till they came home looking like a green Martian! Now enclosed tractors and masks are the norm and many of the dangerous pesticides are no longer available in Italy or in Europe.Cinque terre vegetable garden

When hydroponics seemed fashionable for producing a lot in a small space without soil, Italians have been true Masters in producing quality and quantity in confined spaces for centuries and continue to do so.

The terraces at the Cinque Terre boast many a good veggie patch in the most confined spaces.

From master gardeners to farmers, this Italian Summer has been a real struggle with drought conditions and consistent heatwave temperatures of more than not 40+C  since the beginning of June.

Olive trees have lost their fruit and their leaves point skyward to lessen their heat exposure in an effort to stay alive, and while they are very resistant trees it is an extreme test for them. Grapevines also look haggard although for some it may be a top quality year, low on production but high on quality. Grape picking started early and up North in the Pinot Grigio area it has already finished. Bees are producing less honey, fig trees are losing their leaves and their fruit remains undeveloped and as the drought continues many crops are ruined.

Fires have broken out throughout Italy, creating enormous damage to farmers with loss of livestock and crops. National Parks have come under threat both from natural fires and dreadful pyromaniacs, with close to 89,000 hectares ( 220,000acres) of land burnt, an equivalent of ‘124,000 football stadiums’ as they said on the TV News!

City folk look at the news as they turn up their air conditioning or fan themselves under the shade, incredulous that the heat does not wane and sceptical of the possibility of water rationing, more expensive fruit and vegetables and no new Extra Virgin Olive Oil in November!

So it’s a tough old time this Italian Summer, one that is not unfamiliar to other countries as climatic change persists and we fail to find solutions.

Basil in a barrow

 

Still if you are coming over and would like to be an Italian gardener, do join us in the Cinque Terre on the Tourist in the Wild project – Save Vernazza as “Even paradise needs a Gardener”

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Poetry, exotic wine and Bolgheri castle

Continuing our wine research takes us to the area of Bolgheri, sometimes described as the  ‘snobby area’ of Tuscan wine production since it has imported grape varieties from Bordeaux, France – cabernet sauvignon, merlot. Quite a change from the other famous Tuscan wines produced from San Giovese grapes – Brunello, Chianti, Vino Nobile.Bolgheri avenue of cypress

 

 

 

It’s a great day as we drive along the Tuscan coastline and surprisingly through ‘La California’ , not quite the California I was expecting, but an indicator that the turn off for Bolgheri is close by. It cannot be missed as it is flanked by over 2500 cypress trees for the entire 5km that lead to the enchanting hamlet of the Castle of Bolgheri. Rendered famous in the poem of Giosuè Carducci.

Bolgheri castleThe origins of Bolgheri Castle date back to 1500. Since then, it has been the property of the Counts of Gherardesca family. In the second half of the 1700s, restoration work and improvements were made to the building, and the cellars were built. In 1895, the castle’s façade was modified, with the construction of the tower and merlons as we still see them today. Bolgheri Castle and its surrounding lands were transferred by hereditary succession to the current family of the Counts Zileri Dal Verme.”

The grounds of the Castle boast wine and handcraft shops and cute Enoteca’s for a light snack or restaurants tucked inside the cool ancient walls offering welcome relief from the heat of the day.

Every nook and cranny has been tastefully refurbished to accommodate the flow of tourists, yet retain the contours of the Castle buildings and cellars.

Wine is everywhere and we head off to explore some of the local wineries and learn about the local production. Our first two attempts to visit were greeted with a rather cool reception and polite refusal at the gate intercom, either because they no longer open for public visits or only by prior appointment. We persist and fortunately find some very welcoming family run wineries keen to explain the development of Bolgheri wines.

Sassicaia winesIn the 1920s the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta dreamt of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine and for him, as for all the aristocracy of the time, the ideal was Bordeaux. His great grandfather had experimented with these grape varieties in the Piedmont area and seeing the similarity of terrain in the area of Bolgheri Mario planted cabernet sauvignon and merlot on his property –Tenuto di San Guido. In 1930 he married Clarice della Gherardesca consolidating his wealth and interest in top quality horse breeding. Initially critics were not enthusiastic about the wine, being more accustomed to the lighter local wines, and  the vineyard did not release any wine commercially until 1968 – Bolgheri Sassicaia. Now the Sassicaia is ‘The’ wine of Bolgheri together with Bolgheri DOC where the grape varieties are not mentioned on the labels as the Terroir: the grape-growing conditions of the area, are considered more important.

As described by local experts : ‘The wines from this area are incredibly compact, dark and ruby red in color, which suggests great ageing potential. The heady bouquets are reminiscent of ripe berries, with hints of Mediterranean maquis (the main vegetation along the Mediterranean coastline) and spicy oak. They are characterized by their powerful structure, elegant poise and smooth, rounded natures. A sweetness of fruit on the palate is backed by layers of velvety tannins, a lively, fresh acidity and a long, lingering finish.’Bogheri winery

The area has other villages of interest like Castagneto Carducci, as well as a great stretch of sandy beaches, so something for everyone.Bolgheri souvenir

 

We finished the day with a glass of wine back in the square at Bolgheri noting some  words of wisdom on a shopping bag:

” We are all mortal until our first kiss and second glass of wine”


 

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Shooting the rapids on the Arno – Florence

Rafting on the Arno riverA couple of hours late afternoon ‘soft’ Rafting the Arno River in Florence sounded super inviting with the heatwave we have been experiencing. Combined with the fact that it would be an historical tour of the old Mills and Wool factories that had thrived for centuries on its shores, made it even more enticing. The organisers were keen to reassure clients that it would be ‘soft’, nothing strenuous and little chance we would finish in the River, although a second pair of shoes could be handy! I had visions of shooting the rapids over the weir breaks and quite hoping for an adrenaline rush of ‘hard rafting’ and ready for the big splash.

T-Rafting organized the event and we were lucky to have both guides , Enrico and Sebastian – expert rafters, kayakers, and lifeguards with an impressive list of skills from rescue technicians to teachers of freshwater ecology and river restoration. So we were in for a real treat.

A brief explanation of what was in store and life jackets for us all as well as the waterproof bin for all our personal things so nothing could get wet. I was already getting excited….Down to the riverside and into the rubber dingy, paddles for everyone and we were ready. “Let’s try to synchronise paddles….go…go…go” was the instruction and while there were only 6 of us I could see we would not be winning any medals for our coordination. Fortunately Sebastian steered our way out of trouble as we may have gone round in circles and never left home base!?!

Rafting on footAs we drew closer to our first ‘rapid’  and old Mill I began to understand the meaning of  ‘soft‘, as in the current heatwave and drought, the level of the River is far too low to cruise across the weir breaks. “Everybody out!” My dream was crushed and my feet wet!

Still we could at least climb the steps up to the Old converted Mill, now a sweet Bed & Breakfast, and realise the importance of the Mills and later the Medieval Wool factories – Le Gualchiere, strategically placed along the Arno’s banks.

The Arno had been essential for transporting goods, like wood from Casentino to build the Cathedral and Palaces, with navigation possible, at least in the winter months, all the way to Pisa and Livorno. Enrico delighted in relating the old latin expression still used in Florence ‘a ufo’ meaning free/gratis as A.U.F.O ( ad usum Florentinae  Operae) was stamped onto the beams to be used in the Church as they were allowed through ‘duty free’!

I love these quaint tales and connections to historic details which over time get lost and no one really remembers the origins.

Trusty Guides working hard

Our trusty guides worked hard hauling the dinghy across the various weirs and then it was back to rowing, one.. two…three…. each to our own beat but at least we went forward! We passed more mills and wool factories now converted to hotels or divided into apartments or more unfortunately abandoned.

 

Wool was traded from all over Europe to be ‘worked‘ in Florence in the medieval factories harnessing the hydraulic energy of the river. The most prized being English wool for its long fibres that were cleaned and combed, entwined and then pressed with the enormous wooden hammers powered by the river, belting this woollen fabric to make it tough, waterproof  and sought after by the wealthy far and wide. A tough smelly job, the continual noisy banging, and damp and dirty amid lime and urine used for cleaning and vegetal products for colouring.

I was so fascinated by the Wool fabrication that on hearing there was to be a theatrical performance at one of the largest Wool factories, ‘Le Gualchiere di Remole’ my name was first on the list for a ticket. A video in Italian here gives an idea of the process.

Medieval Wool factoryBuilt in the 14th century, now unfortunately abandoned and in ruins after centuries of production of these fabulous ‘blanket-style’ mantels. The ghosts of the Gualchiere recounted their lives, their loves, their hopes and dreams, and their sufferings as  workers in the factory. The terrible floods – 1333, 1547, 1740…..Ghost of the wool factory

My vision of the Arno River and Rafting in Florence had certainly changed after these experiences, while my appetite for ‘real rapids’ remain and Enrico and Sebastian have left me with an open invite for one of their many rafting experiences on www.t-rafting.com. 

Check them out: White water Red wine rafting, Sieve Bridges and Tortelli Rafting, Florence Ponte Vecchio Rafting with an aperitif at sunset,….. to name just a few!

 

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A knight’s legend – San Galgano

Vineyards and Olive Groves in MaremmaOn a return trip from the wineries in the Southern area of Tuscany realized we would be passing by a place of legends – San Galgano. It has been years since I had been here and it conjured up images of the Kingdom of Camelot: King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table. Why?

…..Because San Galgano houses the sword in the rock!

Reaching the Abbey at sundown only to see the heavy wooden doors close on a private wedding party inside, and no positive response to our pleas of “We came all the way from Australia to see this! was disappointing. Although the custodian did suggest we hurry as we would still be in time to see the sword in the stone at the hermitage above.

Still the Abbey, built between 1218 and 1288 by Cistercian monks, is impressive from the outside, sitting proudly in the middle of nowhere. And a sneak peek through the side bars gave just a glimpse of its ancient grandeur. Cypress trees line the entrance and despite it being without a roof, it looks in great condition and not surprising a bride would like to celebrate in its evocative ambience.San Galgano Abbey

The Monks abandoned the Abbey in the 15th century, retiring to Siena after years of famine and plague and it has since been deconsecrated.

 

Hermiatge of Montesiepi

On the hill nearby is the Hermitage of Montesiepi, with a small circular chapel which houses the sword in the stone of San Galgano. As the legend goes he was a young knight from Siena born in 1147 who had a vision whereby the Archangel Michael convinced him to give up his life of war and violence and pursue the divine wish of God. Sometime after the vision riding through the woods his horse stopped and refused to proceed and Galgano recognized the hill of Montesiepi to be that of his vision. At that point he drove his sword deeply into the stone, gave up all his earthly possessions and spent the rest of his life living as a hermit at Montesiepi. He died a year later at the age of 33 and was made a Saint 4 years later in 1185.

Carbon-dating by the University of Padua in 2001, has revealed the sword to be from that period and confirmed that the two mummified hands in the same chapel were also from the 12th century. Legend has it that anyone who tried to remove the sword had their arms ripped out!

Perhaps Italy is still waiting for a wise ruler, like King Arthur, to pull the sword from the rock at San Galgano …or our current unwise rulers to try anyway and get their just dessert?!Map of San Galgano


 

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De-Tours in Tuscany and Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, MonterossoAs the Garden tour in Southern Italy never ran this Spring, I was rather disappointed and thought there is nothing for it but to go out and find additional work to my day tours in the Cinque Terre. So after my wonderful trip in Cuba I revamped my CV, scouted the list of jobs and sent off various applications.

A whole new world opened up again: new trends, novel ideas, and varied responses, from “awesome….but over experienced, …. consider your application and contact you,” together with no reply and two interviews! Which in the end I thought was pretty good going, in a climate of heavy competition and economic pressures.

The new trends seem to be “Food guides” or anything to do with food. Day tours, in Florence, taking tourists for tastings at the market and local delicatessens, providing them with a real Tuscan insight on the local specialities. Maybe they found out I am vegetarian… as I didn’t get an interview even though I was sure I could win hands down talking about Tuscan food despite not eating all of it!

No interview either for the day tours in the fabulous 500 Fiat ‘bambino’ as the tour guide was required to have mechanical experience and to know how to double clutch. Double clutching I was sure I could manage but had to admit I wasn’t sure if the engine was in the back or the front, let alone fix it if we broke down on a country road!

A friend and long standing lover of Florence, Penny Howard, has been doing special tours/workshops and kindly offered to promote my day tours in the Cinque Terre so I now feature on her website: Beyond the Yalla dog. She does some very interesting workshops with local experts – on fresco painting, mask making as well as beautiful day trips to gardens and villas like La Foce. So check out her website and get in touch if you are interested in any of her activities. Thanks again Penny!

Tourist Eco cartI did get an interview for driving tourists around the centre of Florence in an electric golf buggy, but fortunately declined as the pay was a pittance and with the crowds in the city these days I thought I could be ‘dangerous’! Worse still they were keen to Florence rickshawsencourage the 6 of us to drive their newly acquired rickshaws – power assisted bicycles – where I thought I would be even ‘more dangerous’ and potential tourists would take one look at me and think ‘she won’t get us very far!” So no go.

Finally I fell across a new Aussie/Italian tour agency called Tuscany Untouched who are offering day tours, weekly tours and customized tours with the slogan “Live like a local, with a local” So here I am, their new ‘local’, taking day tours and potentially weekly tours when Matteo is not available. So spread the word as we are both looking forward to a busy season ahead and you know how much I like working with tourists.

My first tour was to the Natural hot Springs at Bagni San Filippo in the gorgeous area of Val d’Orcia, near Pienza. A truly relaxing day for all of us.

Contact me directly especially if you or friends are interested in a tour in the Cinque   Terre or fill out Tuscany Untouched booking form for anything that takes your fancy or you would like us to develop for you.


 

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The unexplored treasures of Casentino in Tuscany

Porciano CastleThe area of Casentino in Tuscany is rarely explored by tourists, yet it is home to ancient monasteries and parish churches, centuries old forests,  medieval castles and traditional handicrafts. A place where Dante Alighieri, father of the Italian language, found refuge after his exile from Florence, and the birthplace of Michelangelo.

The valley was once a prehistoric lake as fossil traces have shown, later home to the Etruscans and if you look into the Arno river as it flows under the Ponte Vecchio you will see a part of Casentino float by as the Arno originates on Mount Falterona.

And its not the only thing in Florence that comes from the Casentino area – as the beams inside Brunelleschi’s Dome on the Cathedral come from the forest cultivated by the monks of Camaldoli, floated down on the Arno River.

Castle at PoppiThe place is full of legends and plots against the Florentines, mostly organized by the Count Guidi family who had castles not only throughout Casentino but all the way to Northern Italy. Legend has it that they could get a message from their Castle in Poppi to the border of France in less than 8 hours using a system of flames and mirrors from tower to tower.Poppi- Castello di Conti Guidi

 

 

 

At their Castle di Romena the Guidi family hired Maestro Adamo to make counterfeit florins with the idea of flooding the market with inferior coins bringing the ruling Florentine families to their knees. But the Florentines found out and Adamo was burnt at the stake while the Guidi’s got off scot free! They were known as a blood thirsty lot, which their nicknames indicated – Guido Guerra ( the war maker), Guido Bevesangue (the blood drinker), and housed Dante at the Castle for a period of 5 years after his exile from Florence.

 

Locals and pilgrims pass through the area stopping at the ancient parish churches like – Pieve di San Pietro a Romena……

continuing on their way to the Monastery of La Verna, that sits on a spectacular rocky outcrop. Count Orlando Cattani captivated by Saint Francis’ oratory on love and forgiveness, donated the mountain to him as a hermitage for those in need. Saint Francis loved the wilderness and spent many years in retreat here. It had a bustling atmosphere when we passed through and the friars were very welcoming.

 

 

Casentino woolCasentino also boasts traditional handicrafts that are sort after to this day. Panno CasentinoCasentino wool has been around since the Etruscans, quite distinctive for its frayed ringlets that make the wool both warmer and more durable. Originally the effect was made by

Casentino jacket

Photo credit: Jane Telford

 

beating the cloth with a stick, a process now which is done by machine. In the Middle ages the monks wore robes of Casentino wool and the House of Savoy ( the royal family of Italy) in the 19th century used the bright orange cloth as a decorative and warming cloth on their horses. The bright orange became the tradition on overcoats and jackets although not always the colour chosen, as seen here on my workshop colleague.

Stia is well know for its wrought iron work, and anyone searching for quality wooden furniture can find it here. The forests produce the most beautiful wood together with chestnuts which have been ground in old flour mills like the one below for centuries.Mulino Grifoni Open to visitors as a tourist attraction, the miller gives a great explanation on the process and the changing nature of grains, working on the reintroduction of old grain types known to be healthier for us.

Mulino Grifoni AD 1696 inscribed over the entrance!

So just when you think you have seen all of Tuscany, make sure you have incuded Casentino on that list.

 

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Spring fever in beautiful Pienza

View of PienzaAs Pablo Neruda said “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming”. I have just spent a few days at my artist friend in Pienza bathed in glorious Spring weather and fields of wild tulips and cherry blossoms. The gently rolling hills of Tuscany can not get any better than this area of Val D’Orcia and I am always pleased to be back.

The area has UNESCO World Heritage status: as it is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was re-written in Renaissance times to reflect the ideals of good Val d'Orciagovernance and to create an aesthetically pleasing pictures. The landscape of the Val d’Orcia was celebrated by painters from the Siennese School, which flourished during the Renaissance. Images of the Val d’Orcia, and particularly depictions of landscapes where people are depicted as living in harmony with nature, have come to be seen as icons of the Renaissance and have profoundly influenced the development of landscape thinking.

PienzaThat sense of harmony prevails and I could spend hours along the walls of Pienza absorbing these views in the changing sunlight. Or, as we did, take a stroll to the ancient Church of Corsignano with its decorative monsters above the doorway from the 12th Century, although parts of the church date back even to the 7th Century!

Complete harmony in nature. Pienza too is an absolute delight with its elegant Renaissance square and harmonious buildings, as Pope Pius Piccolomini had the money and power to transform his birthplace (Corsignano) into a Utopian dream city.

But that’s not all as the strong scent of the local food speciality, namely the pecorino cheese, wafts along the street and the delicatessens display other tempting delicacies like pici pasta, dry porcini mushrooms, salamis, local honey and extra virgin olive oil.

The quaintness of the place continues with unique shops selling exquisite linen ware, and the kitchenware shop is full of copper pots and pans, basket ware, handmade knives and unusual olive oil servers.

My artist friend Enrico Paolucci is hard at work on a special ‘owl’ commissioned for a birthday surprise so I am left to wander the studio taking photos of his new work ( a homage to his father, Aleardo) and make the most of his hospitality.

After work, dinner in a quiet spot in Pienza and a late night stroll to catch the magic of the moment. Pienza never loses its charm nor the Val d’Orcia, Tuscany, its harmony with Nature.

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Something to be proud of – Palmyra Arch

Palmyra ArchI could not contain my delight on hearing the Arch of Triumph, the copy made  for Palmyra, Syria was on display in Florence for a month. In timing with the first ever G7 Ministers Summit on Culture which Italy promoted on taking over the presidency of the G7.

With the premise “Culture as a tool for dialogue between the people…The international community will thus reaffirm its commitment to recover and preserve the heritage of mankind damaged by natural disasters, hit during conflict and attacked by terrorism and in combating illicit trafficking of cultural property. Among the objectives of the summit is the need for agreement on  a cultural component in peacekeeping missions promoted by the United Nations and to make the summit of Ministers of Culture permanent at the next G7.”

Florence is the perfect setting for such an event and the Palmyra Arch of Triumphhas become a true global symbol of the triumph of cooperation over conflict, optimism over despair and human ingenuity over senseless destruction.”

I am provincial enough to say I am so very Tuscan proud of the Italian capacity to conceive the idea and the craftsmanship that built it….it’s been in their DNA for centuries!

I leave you with more details from my post of 24/4/2016:

As I watched the building of the antique marble arch of Palmyra in Syria I could not be more impressed by Italian creativity and talent in using the most update technology of 3D printers to recreate a work of art destroyed in the civil conflict in Syria. While never to replace the original it is still heartening to see the use of the current technology in recreating such a masterpiece. Congratulations to the company -TorArt- which has succeeded in the project, working together with the Institute of Digital Archeology.
Fascinated as I am by the new technology ( see my previous blog on Makers) I am even more impressed by seeing it used to enormous benefits of us all.

And to think it is on my doorstep, by workers from Fantascritti quarry in Carrara, Tuscany, adds an extra note of pride for their ingenuity and craftsmanship. The arch went on display in Trafalgar Square London 19th April, and will go to New York, Dubai and then home to Syria.

Arch Trafalgar Square

Arch in Trafalgar Square Photo credit Lucy Glasser

Fantascritti quarry museumIt also brought back fond memories of various tours I had taken to the quarry of Fantascritti where a retiree of the quarry –Walter Danesi, had created an outstanding museum dedicated to the difficulties and hardships involved in extracting the most beautiful marble in the world. Marble that has created masterpieces, like Michelangelo’s David and more.

The difficulties can be seen here in the photos from the quarry museum, where many have risked their lives over the centuries and continue to do so. The last unfortunate accident on site was but 10 days ago when two workers were crushed under tons of marble and a third rescued as he remained suspended in the air. Not surprisingly the area of Carrara has been known to be a strong anarchist haunt as Man challenges the elements of Nature and the ongoing pressure of extraction to meet today’s demands.

Walter Danesi always had lots of stories to tell of his time as a quarry worker and gave a warm welcome to my tour groups and my family. He wrote a dedication in his book Walter Danesiwhich I cherish “To lovely Susi, with admiration, Walter Danesi”Walter Danesi book

 

 

 

 

 

 

So if you are ever in the area of Carrara, about an hour from Pisa or Lucca, drive up to the Fantascritti Quarry to see for yourselves the marvel of marble and the incredible effort that has gone into it’s extraction and sculpting. Be warned though, it is still a working Quarry and the truck drivers don’t take kindly to visitors on the long windy road…..understandably!

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