May this festive season sparkle and shine, may your wishes come true, and may the joy of it all continue throughout 2019. Merry Christmas from Florence …..which has been sparkling already for the past few weeks and delighting us as we wander amongst the Christmas lights and festive shop windows.
I think Via Tornabuoni, filled with designer shops takes the cake for its Xmas lights; long delicate strands interlaced with baubles creating a fairly like scene which the photos hardly do justice.
And while I dislike the cold, a freezing -4 degrees this morning….brrrr, I love the Christmas atmosphere, time for hot chocolates, panettone or my favorite – pandoro, lightly dusted with icing sugar.
And who could go past these Xmas boots?!
Or refuse an aperitif immersed inside this Xmas lit café?
I will be back in Oz for the Summer, catching up with family and friends, and finding some good Aussie stories to blog about next year.
So thank you all for following my blog and enjoy yourselves!
The sound of water flowing, amid digital images of Florence at the time of Leonard da Vinci welcome visitors into the stimulating exhibition of Da Vinci, The Scientist – ‘Water as Microscope of Nature’ The exhibition is a temporary one in the Uffizi Gallery till the end of January 2019, and one not to be missed.
The exhibition displays original pages of Da Vinci’s Codex Leicester written between 1504-1508 focusing on water – “investigating its elementary structure, vortex movements, and mechanical and optical properties, as well as the technical solutions for exploiting it to the benefit of humanity…….exploring the analogies between water and air, and between the movements of fish and birds.” (Info at Exhibition)
Pages from Codex Leicester
Scribbled in Da Vinci’s unmistakable left handed scrawl from right to left, that exudes an intensity of concentration and precision. Meticulous designs of water flows, rock stratifications, light reflections, birds in flight and more. Precise drawings of machines – an odometer to measure distance, a centrifugal pump for draining marshes, underwater foundations for bridges and weirs, solutions to regulate the quantity and velocity of water drawn from siphons, riverside constructions to combat erosion….the list was endless and fascinating.
Da Vinci’s Odometer
‘He takes the human body as the model for elucidation of the physiology and dynamics of the Earth…. he speculates on the dynamic balance of the earth’s gravity….and offers practical advice to seamen from his understanding of hydrodynamics’
The digital presentations of his various machinery are mesmerising in their originality and creativity, providing us with the basis of many modern machines. He was interested in, and obsessively drew, the bit by bit analysis of every moving part in the machine and its contribution to the transfer of motion. The man was a true genius!
His theatrical mechanisms for court pageants, ‘allowing actors to rise and descend and float as if they were flying’ (Walter Isaacson) and from his studies of physics he truly believed that it was possible to build a winged mechanism that would allow humans to fly.
He was known to always carry notebooks which hung from his belt, constantly collecting ideas and scribbling observations of his surroundings from a technical, scientific and artistic point of view. His notes were transferred to the various manuscripts – Codex – of which more than 7200 pages exist today, considered to be only one-quarter of what Leonardo actually wrote, and which he had intended to publishing. “The most astonishing testament to the powers of human observation and imagination ever set down on paper” (Toby Lester “Da Vinci’s Ghost”)
His paintings elicit his geological theories on rock stratification as seen in the background of the Mona Lisa, and his studies of the impact of solar rays on the tint of the sky or secondary light he uses on the cheeks of Ginevra de Benci and The Virgin.
Leonardo was known to be slow and methodical in his artistic life, leaving many works of art, as well as machines and instruments unfinished or never started beyond a few draft etchings in his notebooks. After all, he took 16 years to finish the Mona Lisa, carrying it with him on his travels outside of Florence and Italy, constantly adding finishing touches!
Uffizi proudly displays another masterpiece, his unfinished, ‘Adoration of the Magi’ 1481-1482
Having just finished reading Walter Isaccson‘s biography on “Leonardo Da Vinci” the exhibition was in perfect timing to explore more and see the real documents of the Codex Leicester. An exhilarating experience and a super presentation of the Scientific mind and genius of Leonardo da Vinci.
On a visit to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, my first in some years and to be one of many during the course, I took time out to visit the temporary Exhibition – Islam and Florence and bumped into my first giraffe – stuffed!
As I was about to take a photo, the staff leapt on me to say “No photos allowed” but to not leave you disappointed ‘this official video’has captured the giraffe together with many of the fabulous objects on display.
‘The Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, probably not unaware that a “camelopard” had taken part in Julius Caesar’s triumph in Rome, sent a giraffe as a gift to Lorenzo the Magnificent, which made a spectacular entry into Piazza della Signoria on 18 November 1487. The exotic beast is reported to have been so greatly admired and to have caused such a sensation that even the cloistered nuns were eager to see it. As portrayed in the affresco of Giorgio Vasari in palazzo Vecchio. Unfortunately the giraffe did not last long, breaking its neck in an accident in the stable specially built for it on 2 January, the following year. The second giraffe, also stuffed, came as a gift from Egypt in 1835, to Leopoldo II and lived in the Boboli gardens for about a year and a half.’ (Uffizi brochure). The photo above of the affresco shows a mixed reaction amongst the locals and one can only imagine their astonishment at seeing a giraffe in the piazza…..even today! The giraffes sadly came to a sorry end.
A drawing of Lorenzo’s giraffe – a watercolour of a Barbary Moor with a giraffe
Various generations of Medici‘s, from Lorenzo the Magnificent to the Grand Duke Cosimo I were known to be lovers of the exotic and major collectors of precious items from the Orient together with other private collectors and antiquarians. The exhibition was split between the Uffizi Gallery and the Bargellomuseum with a stunning range of exquisite carpets, gilded containers, magnificent jewelled ornaments and arms and delicately carved ivory chests. All beautifully displayed before a background of a thousand and one Oriental stars under soft lighting. ( This photo taken from the brochure does not do them justice).
In amongst the exhibits were also some paintings, indicating how much this exchange of culture influenced artists at the time. A period when Florence was powerful; economically, politically and culturally. A city of rich bankers and merchants ‘wheeling and dealing’ with the world and wanting to boast about their wealth and perhaps, book a place in paradise by commissioning works of art like this one.
Palla Strozzi, the richest banker of Florence commissioned Gentile da Fabriano to do ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ (1423) a theme often repeated, as many, including the Medici, identified themselves as ‘the Magi‘ of the time! Heavily dosed with gold and sumptuous costumes in a luxurious ambience with some cheeky non religious details – the page kneeling to remove the spurs, monkeys playing and Palla Strozzi and his father prominently featured in the red hat and with a falcon!
To show the Islamic influence you need to zoom in on the aureole to see Arabic scripts embossed in the gold.
In class we were told that the Roman elite delighted in eating exotic animals at their banquets, giraffes and zebras included….Possibly even the one in Julius Cesare’s triumphal return?
The ‘Adoration of the Magi’ by Domenico Ghirlandaio (right 1482-90)) and ‘Procession of Three Kings‘ by Andrea del Sarto (left 1510-11) show in the background, yet another giraffe as part of the procession. The fascination with these leopard style camels continues….!
As seen in the video, the exhibition had an eclectic mix, making a fascinating tour of past splendours and confirmation of the appreciation, consideration and integration of Islamic culture.
And to keep the kids interested the Uffizi provide a quiz and games of which I have stolen just a couple of examples which I thought you might like to try: Fit the colour to the country and …….how could I go past this join the dots!
The grape harvest is well over now as are the Wine Festivals in Italy for 2018, yet they are not solely an excuse to party:
The Cinque Terre can be proud as at each village festival the donations gathered raised enough money to buy a new ambulance, 4 x 4 wheel drive, BUT ….not for the Cinque Terre. In January 2019 it will be sent to a remote town of Senegal!
Tourists contributed enormously, maybe not fully understanding where the donation was going, but reassured by the sincere smiling faces. After all, with only a total population of 4500 residents in the Cinque Terre it would have been difficult to raise all the money from residents alone. Besides what a festival in Manarola! Glamorous mermaids and pirates came from the depths of the Mediterranean to join farmers with their ‘lively’ grapes and vines, parading together amidst lots of fun and laughter. Wine flowed as the band played and locals danced and sang all the way to the Church for the blessing, such a fruitful day.
Baby mermaids and baby vines
Volunteers from the “Just for a Smile” Association, who regularly serve on the local ambulance service, worked hard encouraging everyone to donate, no matter how small. They made good use of the party atmosphere and the tourist crowds explaining in their best ‘Italish’ the reason for the funds as well as their fundamental role in providing an emergency health service to both residents and tourists.
So when the final tally of donations is done, the “Gocce di Sorriso” Association hopes to also have enough to fill the ambulance with essential medicines, gauze dressings and disinfectant creams.The ambulance will be loaded onto a container in Genoa provided, almost free of charge, by the shipowner Messina, and sent to Senegal. A great show of solidarity and humanity by all.
Photo credits: Movimento Cinque Terre
While in Florence we were treated to the presence of the ‘Carro Matto’ – crazy cart from Rufina. A traditionthat goes back to the time of the Florentine Republic in the XII century when a huge pyramid was built on September 29th for the new wine. After receiving the blessing from the church the wine was brought to Palazzo Vecchio where the authority of the time toasted to the governors of the time – the Priori – and to the health of the Florentine people.
A crazy cart – carro matto loaded with 2000 fragile flasks of Chianti, masterly loaded and well strapped, pulled by oxen, and in this day and age aided by a truck! An unbelievable spectacle of balance and precision accompanied by an historic procession in the city.
Nothing like wine to bring out the best in us, Cin Cin!
This year’s exhibition at Forte Belvedere is Gong – “It is an almost shamanic exercise, aimed at exploring the sublime of the cosmos, the orbits of the planets and stars, the rhythms and geometries that belong to the infinite universe, so as to draw stellar maps that today, just like millions of years ago, also function in symbolic, ritualistic terms.” byArtistEliseo Mattiacci
Unfortunately the guardian of this enormous Gong did not allow the public to go wild and give it a good bash. It was definitely the best exhibit!
An unusual presentation of grand metal structures, which did not enthuse me as much as other exhibitions I had seen and posted about in years gone by. But then it’s always a good excuse to revisit one of the most peaceful and panoramic places of Florence during the Summer period of tourist crowds.
We waited for Aliens to land in the middle of ‘Cosmic Order‘….alas in vain, and then headed inside the Fortress to relax in the shade.
We were in for a treat later at sunset with a wine tasting from one of the historic vineyards of Tuscany – Frescobaldi. To be followed by an itinerant theatre performance from “LaCompagnia delle Seggiole” who regularly perform at historic sites, bringing to life tales of the place and characters that were part of its history. And what better time to see the Fortress, as the sun’s rays bathe Florence and fade into the city’s night lights.
Forte Belvedere is the second and largest fortress to be built in Florence in1590 – 1595, by order of Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici.
Fortifications were significant in the 16th century and at that period in Florence a demonstration of the Medici’s power and wealth. Its location is strategic as it overlooks almost the entire city and surrounding area. In addition to this, the fort served as a garrison for troops for over 100 years after its completion.
Our theatre performers are part of that garrison, ‘a garrison that awaits the enemies, the siege, the never ending wait, the miraculous hour that at least once touches everyone’.
Since the enemies do not arrive, and life passes inexorable, the garrison addresses us with what it sees every day, what is understood of that place and the city seen from up there’ A humorous mix of daily issues that confront the soldiers and demands of the Medici family to ensure their personal protection and the defence of their city.
Photo credits La Compagnia delle Seggiole
An entertaining insight into the characters that lived and defended our beautiful city of Florence from these ancient walls.
The Dragon Boat Festival in Florence of Breast Cancer Survivors has ended and we are dearly missing these wonderful women, so full of energy, courage and spirit. Living up to the motto of the IBCPC- International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission – ” Never stop trying, never stop believing, never give up and Paddles up!” Over 121 Teams and supporters made up the 4,000 participants from more than 18 countries with the Festival area a blaze of pink and colourful Team shirts and costumes.
Many Teams had a composite of members, sometimes not even from the same country, to guarantee there was a full boat of 22 as not everyone could afford the trip or time off from work and family commitments. But that never stopped their amazing comradeship and caring sisterhood. After all they were not here to win as they are already winners just by being alive! A mixed age group of young and old and some with obvious signs of post cancer or relapse and various disabilities associated with age, But there was no stopping them, even under the hot July sun and 33+ degrees heat.
It was an honour and loads of fun for us bilingual Ambassadors to be welcomed by the Teams with open arms, assisting them in wading through some of the logistics and daily issues that arose during the Festival,
And the City of Florence became aware of their presence as they paraded from the Pitti Palace across the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Vecchio in a lively multicoloured procession, chanting, singing and waving to the crowds.
The next day they were swapping Team pins and trinkets between the various stands. Participation was the key word rather than winning as they caught up with friends from previous Festivals and made new ones, even among some of us working as volunteers or Ambassadors for Teams. Their sense of humour was infectious and Team names were no exception in capturing their fighting spirit – ‘Missin’ Mammaries, Dambusters ( Dragons Abreast Melbourne), Mammoglams, Breast of Friends, Boobops, Wonder Woman’s Warriors….!!’ To name just a few.
Before the races many had the chance to paddle from the Private Canoe Club at the Uffizi under the Ponte Vecchio, giving them a whole new perspective of paddling the Arno river and a great photo opportunity since the races would be held way downstream. Afterwards they couldn’t resist a Team song and I couldn’t resist a paddle!
Then it was time to warm up for the races at the Cascine Park, each Team having it’s own style and often bopping along to the loudspeaker music.
Into the marshalling area and down to the embarkation pontoons. Five teams each race, paddling up to the start and racing down 500m. No easy feat steering and paddling and an absolute inspiration to watch and cheer them on! Two days of continual racing and these fabulous ‘Dragons’ never let up, with hugs of joy and encouragement, sharing the thrills and spills right till the end.
And then the most moving ceremony as closure to this wonderful Festival when the dragon boats locked together as a raft on the river and thousands of women and supporters lined the river bank and threw a flower in memory of those who never made it. Such an emotional farewell as they swayed to the music, arms locked together amid smiles and tears on tears…… Something that will remain in my heart forever.
As we all moved across to the Park for the final farewell speeches a French Team kept us entertained…..There is nothing that will stop these women and I have nothing but admiration for what they do and think I will need to take up paddling! The Dragon Boat Festival 2018 will live on in our memories and we wish all the best to these fantastic Dragons!
Dragon Fever has spread amongst the population of Florence as the place prepares for the Dragon Boat Festival2018. It’s the first International festival for breast cancer survivors to be held in Europe and the Florentine organizers from ‘Firenze in Rosa’ (Florence in Pink)have been working non-stop to coordinate preparations for the event.
Bilingual volunteers were called upon from the expat communities in January, which dragged loads of us out of the woodwork to be ‘Ambassadors‘ to a Team to ensure they have all the information and assistance they need to make their stay in Florence and their participation in the event a successful one. Meetings and emails have continued to circulate ever since as we begin to know our Team members and travelling supporters and answer their various queries. There was a bit of a kerfuffle when we saw the uniform included shorts…..as many mature age volunteers are not ‘shorts’ people!?
Another massive call to the general community for other volunteers to help at arrival/departure, registration time, people traffic control, assembling tents, manning Red Cross boats, medical services on land, embarkation and debarkation….the list is endless. And delighted to see a large group of African refugees volunteering and much appreciated since they are strong young men, speaking French, so can handle more of the physical jobs and translate for the French speakers.
Over 4000 participants from around the world – a major participation from Australia of 900, America, Canada, some South American countries –Argentina and Brazil, many European countries with single teams and 1 Team from Singapore.
I had never heard of it, nor even knew what a Dragon Boat looked like and it has been a fun time understanding what the Festival is all about. An amazing bunch of courageous women who have survived breast cancer and showing their strength and vitality in paddling Dragon Boats – that has to be an inspiration to us all!
There are 22 team members per boat – 20 paddlers, a drummer to keep the paddle rhythm and the ‘sweep’ or steerer standing at the rear of the boat.
Florentine Team members and supporters
Last Saturday Florence held it’s own Dragon boat festival which was something of a test run to the major event to be held in the first week of July. It was on the Arno river next to the Cascine Park which is the largest green area of the city and a favourite place for joggers, cyclists and dog walkers.
Dragon boats were off loaded and the various teams began warm up exercises before launching, somewhat precariously, these sleek long boats onto the Arno.
These teams were mixed sexes and not necessarily breast cancer survivors however the judges of the event were the pink ladies from LILT – Italian League for the Fight against Cancer, and it was a fun day. Lots of hilarity, the rhythmic ‘tum, tum, tum…’, a few lost paddles and a couple of wet paddlers!
I am excited about the coming Dragon Boat Festival and looking forward to meeting my ‘Dragons’ from Dragons Abreast Team Inspiration…..and of course will be doing a follow up blog after the event.
A rather ordinary exterior hides a magical paradise on the outskirts of Florence – the Asmana Wellness Centre. And while I rarely promote commercial activities think this place is an exception to the rule and rarely found by tourists. It is an enormous luxury complex of relaxation – warm pools indoor and out with spas,vortices and waterfalls, indoor relaxation rooms, sauna, foam baths, and Hamman with enriching wellness ceremonies.Who could ask for more?
And incredible as it may sound, no mobile phones are allowed…or only as far as the changing room wardrobe!! An enormous relief, no beeps, tings, pop song ringtones, disturb the enticing tranquil atmosphere. The calming ambience induces people to converse quietly, more frivolity in the pools as we all play like kids amongst the vortices and waterfalls while other areas, like the Hamman total silence is the norm.
I have always delighted in Hot Springs having discovered them first in Italy, my favourites being Bagno Vignoni and Rapolano Terme, south of Siena. A good soak in these Springs is a super way to de-stress, alleviate various aches and pains, increase blood circulation and generally lay back. After all populations world wide have been enjoying the therapeutic benefits for centuries.
The pools in the Asmana Wellness Centre are heated water only but still as beneficial and the Hamman brought back fond memories of my time in Iran. A similar design without the elaborate tiles typical of the ancient Hamman in Iran.
Ancient Hamman Shiraz and Kerman, Iran
Multi sensory experiences are offered by the Master of ceremonies in the Sauna and Hamman areas. As Asmana describes: ‘rituals of different origin, handed down over time from distant civilizations.Moments when time and space can dilate and allow you to enter a dimension of pure pleasure…..Only by recovering a balance between mind and body sensations and emotions can take you to distant worlds.’ We were already convinced and ready for the trip.
On return from our cultural voyage in the salt and cocoa ceremony we tour the relaxation rooms, like the Fire Room, Salt room, the Temple….with sumptuous cushions, water beds, hanging chairs and swinging lounges, inebriating aromas and lulling music delightfully lure us to explore till we lounge quietly in the Room of Nests to the sweet tweeting of birds.
Our four hours of sensory experiences and relaxation vanishes quickly and we need to face reality, find our wardrobe and embrace the night air of Florence.
The place is magic, accessible by bus from Florence and even being a tourist can be stressful so some time out is well deserved. For more details and photos check the Asmana Wellness Centre website
The Humans of 2015 are now just a skeleton this year in the ‘Ytalia’ Art Exhibitionat 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 get 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!
by Gino de Domincis
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.”
I have my doubts that the exhibition lived up to its promise but it was still well worth the visit.
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!
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…..
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!
I 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 Triumph “has 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.
TorArt machinery at work – Photo credits TorArt
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 in Trafalgar Square Photo credit Lucy Glasser
It 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 which I cherish “To lovely Susi, with admiration, Walter Danesi”
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!