Lockdown Italian style -Part 2

A friend ready to go shoppingNow into our fourth week of lockdown in Italy due to the dreadful corona virus and just beginning to see some signs of a slow down, thank goodness! My local car park is full as we stay home ‘smart working’ or just pottering about filling in our time. Italy registered its lowest number in new cases (4050) in 13 days on Monday 30th and its highest number of recoveries (1590). However in the closed cases so far only 56% have recovered and 44% have died.

In Tuscany the numbers continue to rise with 4608 cases @ 31/3/2020, although unlikely to get out of control, as it has done in the Northern regions.

Yesterday at noon we commemorated the victims, offered condolences to their families and gave thanks to all those working to save us with a minute silence – medical staff, police, carabinieri, volunteers and those still working in essential services. A very sad silence for over 12,000 victims, including 66 doctors and medical staff.

After that dramatic introduction I would like to share some of the lighter moments of the past few weeks which may never hit International news –

It became clear we had to respect the lockdown and as stricter regulations were imposed, we were more informed about the scale and seriousness of the virus. Mayors were seen shouting at their local citizens, threatening flame throwers, drone surveillance and more….which we took as a sign of affection for their ‘brood‘!

Movement was further confined to only our local Council areas unless for an emergency reason and fines for disobedience increased from € 200 to €400 min/€3000max and possible confiscation of the car or scooter. The penal record imposed previously was retracted.

We went back to gardening, cleaning out the garage/storeroom, and generally driving the garbos to desperation for the never ending rubbish that was being thrown out in the clean up.

 

We now have a wealth of facts and figures to study and I think we are already looking to what happens ‘after’. Grave concerns for the future, doubts about the competence of our leaders, and lack of collaboration from the European Union. Emergency financial measures are being put into place, while discussion continues about the longer term measures to take.

ducks go to the pharmacy

Photo credit Florinda Noka

The quiet streets have enticed some wild animals to move in – In Milan hares were seen in the park. In a suburb of Florence a mother duck and her ducklings marched into the pharmacy from the nearby park and pond. Florinda Noka, the owner offered them food but they seemed uninterested and she spent the next hour catching them so they could be safely returned to their habitat.

The high tech ‘Makers’ discovered that the full face scuba mask, that has been popular over the past few years, could be successfully readapted as an oxygen mask and called on us all to get them out of the cupboard and donate them. With 3D printers and new technology they patented the concept ‘open source’ so it will remain free of charge as an idea and can never be a money spinner. Fantastic Makers!

Cuban Medical team

photo credit Fabrizio Casari – Altrenotizie.org 22/3/2020

Some Companies have managed to convert their production to masks and other medical equipment although we are still far short of what we need. Cuban, Russian, Chinese and Albanian medical teams arrived in the past week bringing supplies as well, a very welcome sight for the local medical teams. Many Doctors and medical staff have returned from retirement to assist as well as newly trained staff begin work. When the call went out from the North for 700 volunteer nurses and doctors over 7,000 people applied!

Airbnb asked all hosts in the area to offer their homes and apartments to those medical and volunteer teams free of charge and thousands came to the call, while Airbnb managed to connect the homes with the Civil Protection Base and Hospitals.

Major companies like – Mutti canned tomatoes, Rana pasta, Scotti rice have given a 25% pay rise to all workers continuing to work through the lockdown.

My WIFI went into lockdown as there has been an enormous increase in consumption, and urgent warnings and advice went out from the satellite company to avoid it happening again.

So the days pass, at a slow pace, and the radio continues to entertain me most of the time with the weird and wonderful stories to brighten the day:

– like the marathon runner continuing his training at home running 21kms in 3hrs 50mins doing 840 laps of his balcony!

-102yr old Nonna Lina ( Italica Grondona) nominated ‘La Highlander’ by medical staff as she recovered from corona virus, beating the previous record of 95yr Grandma Alma Corsini. Nonna Lina comes from Genoa and I can certainly vouch for the Ligurians as being a tough lot!

– many supermarkets are out of yeast now as people take on baking bread and delicious cakes at home.

Craggy peaks Reggello in snow

Photo credit – Giuseppe Taras

As we face reality, we have come to appreciate the little things, neighbourly gestures of help or just a friendly wave from afar. The swallows have returned to their nests in the corridor under my place. We had the first and only snow for the entire winter, the day after we were in T-shirts and shorts. snow next door

Lots of online meet ups and exercise classes, cooking lessons, hobby classes, so we all have an opportunity to try something new.

I did my first radio interview on Australian Radio Luke Grant show 2GB after they found my blog and for those who didn’t hear it on 22/3/20 you can have listen here to the podcast. After all it was 5am in Sydney! The interview begins at time 3.29.10

When the weather is nice I stick to gardening, wash the car inside and out which is a rarity, catch up on my reading and was reduced to cleaning the silver!

I think this will be my last post on the lockdown since we are all in the same boat and dealing in our various ways with the emergency created by the corona virus. Some ‘boats‘ are travelling a little more sluggishly than others but we will all come out of this in the end. Tentative suggestions are that Italy will come out of lockdown around the end of April.

Comments are welcome.                                                                                                             I wish you all well and Stay safe!


 

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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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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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Badged and Badgered

The Tourist guideIt’s time to get badged again! After much thought and procrastination I have decided at this ripe (old) age to get another badge as an Italian historian tourist guide. Which means a year course and lots of art history studies, starting next week. So blog posts may become erratic or worse still I may take you all along with my studies, bit by bit, to the most beautiful monuments and art of Florence!

You may well ask, do you need a badge, or more appropriately, do you need Tourist Escort badgea license? In fact it’s true and any time you have had an art historian guide in a city like Florence you may have noticed their badge dangling conspicuously around their necks. For those who have travelled on tour with me may remember my badge, but if you looked closely it was a Tourist Escort  (Accompagnatrice Turistica) badge easily gained for anyone who has an Arts/ Humanities degree (like me) and for those that don’t attendance on the Tourist Escort course.

Mother henIn classic Italian style, loads of jobs require a license and justifiably so, to show you have a minimum of skill and expertise in the area.  Although I always felt my Social work background was a bonus in being a good ‘Mother Hen’ of my delightful ‘chics’

A Tourist guide is usually quite jealous of their license and ever on the look out to defend their status against unlicensed intruders or even against Tour Escorts.

I have vivid memories of a Tourist guide in Padua shouting at me for being a ‘guide’ and threatening police intervention when she saw me with my group. All of which could have meant a hefty fine if I was ‘guiding‘ but then I was just doing my usual Tourist Escort job  – pointing out the toilets and where we would meet again after the group’s free time. So no risk of any fine but she was adamant, as well as very flashy, parading around with an enormous flower as her guide banner. An unpleasant incident which ended in a shouting match.

The badgering did not impress my group who were Alternative Guide badgeso protective that they made me a ‘new badge’ and at the end of the tour gave me this beautiful whirly whirly to use in future! Wow, what a lovely My Guiding flowergroup that was!

My whirly whirly unfortunately has never left the house as I know how much  groups, especially Aussies, hate to be herded, and I forever tried to be discreet when we were out and about. At best…or worst I made do with one of my colorful umbrellas that I have not lost and continue to use.Guide umbrellas

Still the gift was much appreciated as was their ‘official tourist guide’ badge which sticks in my cork board, yellowing a little with age now.

I will be honest and say I am not sure if I am going to get this badge, but I will be giving it my best shot and have already been doing preliminary studies. Naturally it’s going to be all in Italian so after 30+ years here, it will be good to brush up on my Italian and boost my vocabulary!

Agrigento guide LorenzoTourist guides have always fascinated me, they are true story tellers, making ancient monuments come alive, bringing the past into our laps.Such an art in story telling and not something that everyone can do. Many of my Tourist guides (chosen personally) have kept my groups spellbound and entertained without being overwhelming.

And when on holidays I always use a local tourist  guide – from Darwin to Cuba to Matera, my last experience! At the same time I never regret my Tourist Escort time as that really is another job altogether, which Tourist guides experience rarely.  Spending days and weeks together with people is another art in itself and keeping that large family happy not always an easy task.

So wish me luck…and I will keep you posted on my progress!

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Out of the woodwork – Back on tour!

 

Rome Piazza Navona

Rome- Piazza Navona

I have been enticed out of retirement and will be back on tour in April 2017….oh my!?!     But not on my own fortunately, as it has been Angus Stewart, the ABC garden expert, who has lured me out of the woodwork to be his Tour manager on a proposed Garden tour around Rome and Southern Italy.  The tour leaves Australia on the 17th April and returns the 5th May, 2017.

Wow, I’m already excited!

Map Garden tour

 

As the tour brochure blurb reads:The Amalfi Coast is an area of coast line a couple of hundred kilometres south of Rome. The largest city is Naples (Napoli) whose landscape is dominated by the famous volcano, Mt Vesuvius, and of course Pompeii is a ‘must see’ attraction nearby. For gardeners the area to the south of Naples is the real attraction, with smaller towns such as Sorrento, being the places to spend your long lunches around visits to landmark gardens.

There are a couple of ‘must see’ gardens that showcase perfectly the borrowed landscape of the plunging cliffs and slopes that border the spectacular sea views. We visit Villa Cimbrone, the picturesque village of Ravello, the volcanic island Ischia filled with beautiful villas and gardens and home to a botanically themed garden called La Mortella. This tour offers a rich and inspiring window into the art of Mediterranean gardening……..

Angus Stewart is a professional horticulturist and plantsman. He has turned his lifetime Taormina gardensof horticultural experiences to good use to lead tours to some of the great gardens of the world. Angus is perhaps best known for his work as a gardening presenter on the ABC, both with Gardening Australia for the last 11 years, and on ABC 702 radio station in Sydney where he has been answering gardening talkback questions for around 25 years.” 

 

As you can imagine it’s not just a tour about gardens, but an immersion into the culture and specialities of Southern Italy’s cosmopolitan melting pot in fabulous Spring weather. To tempt you – the over-the-top stunning baroque of Ortigia-Syracuse, Sicily

Taormina

Taormina theatre

 

 

And fabulous Taormina – Sicily, with spectacular views, staying in the magnificent San Domenico Palace hotel a 13th century ex monastery! Not to be missed!

 

For the itinerary and cost click here on Opulent Journeys

So it will be “Buongiorno Possums” all over again, without of course stealing Angus’s thunder and sunshine as Tour leader!

Sorrento

View of Sorrento

 

I’m looking forward to the tour despite having been so many times to the Amalfi coast and Sicily as there will be new gardens for me to see as well as some old time favourites like La Mortella and Ninfa gardens.

 

 

 

Come join us and don’t forget to tell Opulent Journeys you are clients of mine!             For info and bookings contact Tony Phone: 1300 219 885                                         Email: tony@opulentjourneys.com.au

Positano

Positano – Amalfi Coast


 

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Summer in full spin – Florence

And Summer is in full spin in Florence as around 500 cyclists braved the 30+degree heat to do a marathon cycle in one of the most panoramic piazzas of Florence – Piazzale Michelangelo.

 

Michelangelo’s David was aghast and had to turn away before he fainted, while us lazy onlookers enjoyed the tension, the rousing cries, and the stamina of the cyclists pounding away to the beat of the music. What a way to go!

Florence Merry-go-round

 

For the families there’s the classic Merry-Go-Round in Piazza della Repubblica that never seems to go out of fashion. And the wonderful bubble maker who delights the kids from the world over.

Florence rickshaw

To take you on a tour around town is Matteo ( and others) with his electric rickshaw from Velotours, for a quick jaunt of 20mins or a full immersion in the labyrinth of Florence while hearing its history and legends.

Past popular pork snack bars, now an all time favourite for tourists in Via dei Neri – All’ Antica Vinaio or La Prosciutteria, although I cannot understand why one would queue for a sandwich and wine to eat sitting on the pavement! Or rest tired feet under one of Florence’s most dramatic statues – Perseus while listening to a sentimental busker.

Then as dusk falls look for a place to have an aperitif – a spritz is still the most popular cocktail, although on a hot Summer day a chilled beer or wine goes down well too.

Florence Reale Cafe

Florence boasts new bars this season, one of which is right next to the train station and looking very snazzy. – Reale Firenze. I understand it’s run by the promoters of the Central Market food mall and soft music wafts across the fountains as the sun goes down.

A contrast along the Arno river is the Wood bar with recycled warehouse crates and benches, and the music is lively.

And nearby, still on the river, is the open air dance venue of Summer Suites, so if you are around on Tuesdays that’s salsa night! Free dance workshops and it rocks on until dawn.

And while some clubs are new, some things never change – like the Red Garter club, which has been the haunt of American students ever since I came to Florence 30 years ago and is still going strong by the looks of the crowd spilling out onto the street. I have to admit I have never been inside as under 21yrs pour down alcohol like water enjoying the freedom of Italian regulations….not like back home!Florence Re Garter clubHowever if you’re after some peace and quite, head for the hills outside Florence as it’s been shooting Summer moonstar time, and quite dreamy waiting to make a wish on the forever elusive meteoroid burning up on it’s way to earth!

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Walking on water- Christo!

Christo Floating piers

Christo’s Floating Piers had to be seen to be believed and we were not to be put off by the thousands of visitors which increased steadily until the last days. Besides it was our chance to ‘walk on water’ and the experience was not to be missed!

 

 

Christo had invaded Lake Iseo, Northern Italy with a rather unusual project – 90,000 Floating Piers Christo sketchsquare meters of yellow fabric sewn into panels and stretched across 220,000 polyethylene cubes covered with a 70,000sqm of felt to form a Floating Pier. A 3km walkway from the mainland to the large Island of Monte Isola, across and around the tiny (privately owned)  Island  of San Paolo and another 2.5 kms of fabric lining the streets in the villages of Peschiera Maraglio and Sulzano.

The experience was fantastic! Walking across the enormous expanse of silky gold, the gentle rocking beneath our bare feet, the rhythmic undulating rolling of the waves massaging the pier and us into a magic sunset.

 

Floating PiersThe Art Installation was literally taken by assault as soon as it opened on June 18th averaging around 75,000 visitors in a day, and the enthusiasm did not wane despite the blazing heat and the queues and general chaos to get there. On a reassuring note 120 lifesavers and 150 assistants monitored the walkway, although with the record crowds they were a mere drop in the ocean….or should I say Lake!?

However there were no tragic incidents and the crowds enjoyed strolling across the floating pier, and those fortunate enough like us sat and bathed in the sunset over the Lake.Floating Piers

Christo decided that the installation should open during the period in the year when there were more daylight hours, to maximize the light effects on the fabric: “On the lake the humidity is constant and the colour of the fabric reacts and changes constantly. It is red in the morning and goes to yellow and gold in the day. ”  So true.

The Floating Piers has cost $15 million and was financed by the artist through the sale of his works. As all installations of Christo and Jeanne-Claude it was temporary and is being dismantled today and the materials to be recycled.

Weird as it may seem it was a great event, an amazing experience and a delight to be softly rolling with the vibes of Lake Iseo!.Christo Floating Piers

Christo wrao Sydney coastine

I had vague memories of Christo‘s previous works – wrapping buildings and a very early one wrapping the Sydney coastline in the late 1960’s! His famous work wrapping the Riechstag in Berlin, together with many other awe inspiring projects, details of which were on display in the Museum of Santa Giulia in nearby Brescia.

For more about Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s bio, works, up-to-date exhibition listings, check out Artsy’s Christo and Jeanne-Claude page

 


 

 

 

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The curtain falls on Milan Expo

Expo has closed after entertaining us for 6 months, with its exotic world pavilions, dramatic displays and superb presentations. “Feeding the planet, Energy for life” was the theme and I am only able to publish photos now as every ticket holder was bound to a ‘no publicity’ agreement. Not that they were likely to find my little blog….but you just never know?!

It has been a great success, with 21.5 million visitors, and a 140 countries represented. I was one of the early birds to go in May and it definitely had a WOW factor. An architects paradise inside and out: stylish, avant-garde, a smidge bizarre, technologically impressive, reflecting the heart and soul of each country.
Pavilions designed around the concept of sustainability, low impact energy systems using recyclable materials. External green spaces were important and a blessing to the eye and tired feet, a well earned place to stretch out and relax, lulled to the music of water fountains.

Turkey pavilionThailand

 

 

Italian pavilion

Italy’s pavilion, while looking like squirted paint gone wrong, was actually made of smog ‘eating’ concrete, and inside a full immersion in mirrors.Italy pavilion expo
 Expo Italy pavilio
 Expo Mexico
Expo French pavilion
French pavilion
   The French pavilion had laser cut undulating wood panelling while Mexico was encased in husk leaves.

Expo UAE

 

Sand dunes lead the way into the United Arab Emirates, the rice food cluster reflected the public doing yoga in its mirror walls, and solar trees lit up the German pavilion.

 

 

 

 

Expo rice cluster

 

 

Each country proudly told it’s own story of climate change, harnessing new energies, converting sea water to sweet, new and ancient customs and the move away from monoculture industrial agriculture.

 

You could feel like a bee humming in the hive in the UK, bounce into Brazil along the interlaced cord, be absorbed in incredible 3D movies in Israel and UAE, or spin off on a Coca-Cola seat.

Expo Brazil

Expo Kazakhstan
The Kazakhstan sand painting  introduction was fantastic as was the rest of their very sophisticated exhibition, definitely my favourite!  And in a moment of relax, we were entertained by Bielorussia performers
I was disappointed to see no sign of Australia nor think Australians even knew of Expo‘s existence!

My enthusiasm never wanes and I went back for a second visit with the crowds in October as I found the pavilions remarkable, both inside and out, and a wonderful opportunity to learn about gastronomic traditions and the new technologies being employed to increase sustainability.

Expo China

 

China Expo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expo Slow FoodSlow Food Biodiversity park

 

 

The Slow Food exhibition offered much food for thought – like our inappropriate industrial food chain that is leaving the land scarred and barren, doused in chemicals as we continue to eat more processed foods. The contradiction of millions still remaining undernourished while others die of ailments from too much food. It made me feel guilty about eating quinoa seeing the changes it has made to Bolivian farmers!  On a lighter note, we were treated to a sensory display, sniffing and feeling into boxes to guess what food….a lot of laughs there, and then rested amongst the cabbages and tomatoes in the biodiversity park outside.

Time will tell if the Milan charter signed by millions will reach its goal, but it has certainly raised people’s consciousness,  produced hours of global discussions and we can only hope it will make positive changes to this tired old world submerged in problems and daily dramas which we see only too close in Europe.

Expo entrance

 

Expo Israel

 

 

 

 

 

The Italian pavilion will remain (eating smog) together with some of the other pavilions, and the Tree of life will be our Eiffel Tower. The rest is to be dismantled, returned to each country or auctioned to the highest bidders, while the remaining area will most likely to turn into a University campus, research centre and Red Cross headquarters.Expo Cezch Republic

Expo Tree of Life

Tree of Life

 

 

For more info see this Expo site

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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Being a bookworm at Mantua

 

Mantua

The Renaissance charm of Mantua  is the perfect setting for a 5 day literature festivalpalatial buildings, cobble stoned streets, elegant porticos and spacious piazzas. It becomes a abuzz during the festival with people attracted worldwide to listen to words of wisdom, heated discussions, poetic readings and relaxing music.

  Mantua residenceA mini Verona, where it would not be a surprise to find Romeo and Giulietta hand in hand gliding across the piazza or furtively meeting in a secluded garden declaring their long lost love.

Are you bored? Open twitter. Are you bored? Open facebook. Are you bored? Open the fridge. Are you bored? Open a book. You'll not be bored anymore

Are you bored? Open twitter. Are you bored? Open facebook. Are you bored? Open the fridge. Are you bored? Open a book. You’ll not be bored anymore

 

 

 

 

 

Mantua

 

 

 

 

There is something for everyone; bookworms meeting their favourite writers expounding the virtues of their latest book, to seminars discussing more current issues like immigration, the sharing economy, world hunger, and climate change to name just a few. Even something for the kids!Child's playRichard Flanagan

Joseph O'Connor

 

 

 

 

 

As my godfather said recently, “Curiosity is the Noblest form of Intellect, and the best way to keep the brain stimulated.” My 5 days at Mantua were a constant stimulation, a teasing out of ideas, a confrontation of opinions,  a dialogue between experts and the public and  a marvellous opportunity to meet one of my old time favourite writers – Richard Flanagan. The program was extensive, and interpreters  translated with artistic perfection, giving due emphasis even to the asides. Beautiful palazzi, churches and courtyards for the presentations, regular book readings in the garden and crooning music in the piazzas to relax to at the end of the day.

Ducal palace

Ducal Palace

Standing in the queue for the presentation on the ‘System of Corruption’ a fellow ticket holder politely asked me in English if I was in the ‘right’ queue as the presentation was very much an ‘in-house’ argument! When I responded in Italian and explained my years of stay in Italy, he added “Well then, you know we have some real experts here!”Mantua

Nonetheless I was not deterred nor disappointed. Each of the various socio – political – economic presentations that I had selected gave food for thought on a positive note, rather than wallowing and going nowhere with problems that seem unresolvable. And a varied international and well informed audience had their own questions and contributions to share at each workshop.

Mantua piazza

Wole Soyinka

 

 

 

 

 

The power of the African voice came from Okey Ndibe talking of the stories that must be told. Wole Soyinka Nigerian playwright, poet, and political activist spoke of the need for global policies which recognise the ‘Dignity of Existence’ to avoid the tragic deaths during immigration.

 

A revered Stefano Rodota`, University professor, jurist and politician with Luigi Zoja, psychoanalyst and writer, discussed ‘Solidariety’ which Europe appears to have put aside, and how the new social networks have anaesthetised our sensitivity to the current dramas in the world.

Acclaimed scientists and researchers on atmospheric changes, debated the increasing efficiency of renewable energy and the need for the decarbonisation of society. Naomi Klein and Jeremy Rifkin had been here in 2014 to present their new books (both of whom I follow with great interest) and some of their protégés were present, continuing their line of thought.

But it was not all intellectual stuff, although I crave that sort of intelligent debate, I was also very entertained by a sleazy crime book reading by author Massimo Carlotta accompanied by a blues guitarist/vocalist and jazz saxophonist/flautist. Massimo CarlottoCarlotta had made good use of his time in prison to write florid accounts of eccentric characters using ‘The Alligator’ private detective to delve into rather dodgy stories.Mantua theatre

 

 

 

And then there was Mantua to explore: a theatrical tour of the old and new theatres,  and a must do visit to the Ducal palace, the prestigious residence of the Gonzaga family.

And Prince Gonzaga’s ‘playhouse‘ ,Palazzo del Te, where he found ‘intellectual restoration’  offering lavish banquets and recreational activities! And last but not least, a personal tour by the Gallery Director of the Ligabue exhibition.

 

I came home from Mantua with a stack of  treasured books with personal dedications and a new yearly appointment to pursue so I never lose my curiosity.

Mantua bus

“Better crazy than boring!” Written on the side of the bus.

 

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Folon, the man with magic in his hands

Belgian artist FolonI promised, a post on the Belgian artist Folon, who fell in love with Florence and provided us with the most magic images in his last exhibition in 2005, in Forte Belvedere. While that was 10 years ago many of his works still adorn the city and his spirit lives on here.Fort Entrance

At the exhibition it was a delight to wander past pastel watercolours of fantasy figures, or bronze sculptures of characters – bookworms, clock heads, where fish may fly, business men carry dreams and circus figures perform….we had walked through the looking glass into Folon’s wonderland! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFolon Fountain

Folon statuesStatuesAnd I did it with kids who just adored it, playing amongst the characters creating their own fantasies till dusk fell and we collapsed on the storytellers lap to hear the last tale of the day.With friends

Folon was born in 1934 in Belgium, a great traveller and an ardent creator of murals, collages, etchings, animated films and finally sculptures. He thought Florence was a magical place and would be more than happy to know that after his death his wife donated many of his sculptures to Italy, mostly to Florence. Folon was always very particular about  where and how his work was displayed believing that “sculpting never finds its completion, the seasons will continue the work and will give it the colour of time”.( www.fondationfolon.be )

Fish man fountain

Fish man fountain

Man with dream case

Man with dream case

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am sure he would be pleased with the location of the 12 sculptures now permanently displayed in the Rose garden of Florence, just below Piazzale Michelangelo, with a fabulous panorama of the city.  It’s an ideal place to take time out, relax on the grass, and avoid the crowds in the square. It’s open all day and it’s free!

I don’t get the chance to go there much but am lucky to drive past my favourite fountain ‘umbrella man’ almost every day. And any tourist staying at the Hilton Hotel at Rome airport will see another of his statues there and many elsewhere in the world.Folon fountainView from Fort

Not long after the Folon exhibition was the first tragic accident which closed Forte Belvedere until 2013. It reopened with a fantastic exhibition “Soul and Matter” by Zhang Huan «Art cannot change the world but it can raise the questions and help more people to think about the future in a wider contest»

 

 

 

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