Run out of Steam

Arrivederci Possums!

This will be my last post as I think it’s time to say goodbye and close the website – An Aussie in Italy. The pandemic has changed my life as I am sure yours, pushing mePainting by Numbers back to study online and paint by numbers! Understandably it has restricted my interests and curtailed my travels so I have little to recount now in a blog post. I have learnt a lot from the blog and it has been great to share it with you.

Italy is beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel as restrictions are being lifted, restaurants, theatres and museums reopen and possibly pools and gyms in June. Vaccinations continue and currently around 22% of the population have been done up to date, but it will still be a long haul before life returns to ‘normal’

So this Aussie in Italy sincerely thanks you all for following my journey over the years. A special thank you to those who traveled with me, and with whom I have traveled, they were such fun times.                                                                                                Wishing you all the best and happy travels in the future.

Stay Covid safe                                                                                                              Kind Regards                                                                                                                      SueFlorence sunset

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Burning hay in the Tuscan hills

Sometimes old methods are the best for Tuscan vineyards! Having enjoyed unexpected warm weather late March to Easter, warm enough to garden in shorts or laze on a lounge in bikini, we were hit by sudden change and bitter frost. A blanket of white and out came the woollen clothing yet again.

Photo credit Consorzio del vino Brunello di Montalcino

photo credit Consortium Brunello wine Montalcino

The Brunello di Montalcino Wine Consortium was not to be beat and brought out the hay bales, dampened them down and set them alight in the vineyards. An old remedy to warm up the air as temperatures dropped to -9º. As Tommaso Cortonesi, director of the Brunello wine consortium explained “ the straw does not generate fire but smoke that remains low to the ground and thus allows the air to be heated. In addition, the straw burns slowly and we decided to wet it on top in order to produce more smoke and  a slower fire”.

Tuscan vineyards burning hay against unseasonal cold temperatures

Photo credit Brunello di Montalcino Wine Consortium

An ancient technique of conservation and care of the vines handed down from generation to generation and used not only in Montalcino but in some Chianti areas as well. It is still to be seen if it was enough to save the vines which had sprouted early, like so many plants and fruit trees conned into thinking the Winter had passed and Spring was in the air.

Montalcino vineyards burning hay against frost

Photo credit Brunello Wine Consortium Montalcino

Unfortunately I was slow to think it would create any damage to my plants and failed miserably as I discovered my wisteria flower buds burnt to a crisp and looking very sad indeed. My neighbor also saddened to see his geranium plants which were already in flower devastated while mine had hardly even started to enjoy being outside.

You live and learn, and I will have to cut back my wisteria and wait till next year to see any blooms if the frost hasn’t knocked out the plant totally. To cheer me up after 20 years of geranium window boxes I will be off to the nursery for new flowering plants next week when these cold mornings have passed.

In the meantime the swallows have returned to their nests which is always a reassuring sign,

solaria - Montalcino winery

cellar at Solaria vineyard Montalcino

 

and we do hope the  Tuscan vineyards are safe so you can still enjoy a drop of Brunello or Chianti in the years to come.

 

 

 

 

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Cinque Terre in Disneyland

The beauty of Cinque Terre will feature as the stunning backdrop to Luca’, a new animated movie by Disney and Pixar due for release in June. The animation is by Italian artist Enrico Casarosa, from Genoa who dedicates his first feature film as director to his childhood holidays in Liguria. And locals at Vernazza were all abuzz with the news!

Luca shares summer adventures with his newfound best friend Alberto but all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: he is a sea monster from another world just below the water’s surface”.

In the meantime maintenance work continues, the boat slip is finished and dredging has begun in the bay in Vernazza. While another landslide at the beginning of the trail to Monterosso needs to be attended to unfortunately.Cinque Terre, Vernazza

On other trail areas – Vernazza to Corniglia,  Park maintenance has progressed and another fallen wall has been repaired and new steps over the marshy area are almost complete.

Cinque Terre hike trail safety ropeCloser to home the National Park has bolted a safety rope into the rockface on the narrow part of the trail leading into San Bernardino to help hikers who are less surefooted.

Spring flowers are abundant and some locals haveSpring flowers Cinque Terre cleared new areas for vegetable gardens and new vineyards. All it needs is a little sunshine and Nature’s colours warm the heart and brighten our spirits.

 

 

Due to Covid 19 the Cinque Terre remains quiet, bereft of tourists, an opportune time for repairs and maintenance to this fragile territory while looking forward to better times to come.Cinque Terre Springtime

 

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Uffizi Gallery aiming high on social networks

Uffizi Gallery, FlorenceWhether it be for work or play social networks have become an integral part of our lives and in many cases helping us to survive the trauma of Covid 19. Uffizi Gallery in Florence is no exception and having plunged into social networks only 2 years ago it is rating very high on them and in fact the most followed Museum of Italy.

Since Eike Schmidt took over as Director in 2015, there have been some major changes in the layout and presentation of the works of art, the launch into social networks and the use of popular ‘influencers’ to attract a new audience and increase curiosity and interest. While we may not all agree with the changes he is certainly following his idea of making the Uffizi Gallerypop, cool and a little rock“! Take a look at the recent video on Uffizi’s Instagram as an example of catching the interest of a younger audience, together with placing some works of art at kid’s height.

Uffizi Gallery, Masterpieces at kid's height

Photo credit: www.corriere.it

And for us bigger kids, following uffizigalleries on facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter the posts are a constant delight and a wealth of information. Not just a passive presence but also an opportunity for dialogue and debate. A series of cooking lessons – Uffizi on the plate– based on still life masterpieces by some of our local chefs kept many of us entertained this winter

And we celebrated the arrival of Spring live from the  Botticelli room, 23 March with an intense explanation of the history, mystery and intrigue behind the painting, and the symbolism associated with the over 500 plants and flowers featured.Anenomes Boboli GardensThe impression this year is that of seeing them for the first time, on the green and pristine expanses of the Boboli Gardens, still not open to the public. Anemones are fragile and very delicate flowers, “animated by the wind”, as the word itself, derived from the Greek ἄνεμος (anemos) = wind, says. In fact, they are born on wind-swept meadows at the end of winter, among the blades of grass, with tremulous corollas that the slightest breeze “animates”, shakes, shakes and easily knocks down. A transient and glorious flower, the anemone has always announced Spring. It goes without saying that every day at the Uffizi is Spring.                                                                             The most famous is that of 1482, by Sandro Botticelli.                                                 May the season of Rebirth be for everyone!”Spring by Botticelli

The five most popular works so far from Uffizi Gallery on social media have been dedicated to – Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni, the Laocoonte by Baccio Bandinelli, Pallas and the Centaur by Botticelli, and the Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci, and the Gaddi Torso.

The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci

Chiara Ferragni at Uffizi Gallery

Photo credit – www.forbes.it

The influencer who made an appearance was Chiara Ferragni, who has over 20m followers and who Schmidt described as our ‘modern day Venus‘ but I will leave you to judge that. And while many, including me, did not approve of her presence she supposedly increased Uffizi Gallery followers on social networks by 27%, so may have opened up a whole new world to a younger age group, and that’s very encouraging.

Uffizi Gallery also does rather cheeky clips on ‘TikTok’ the one here shows Venus shouting to keep a 1m social distance during Covid 19.

So there is something for everyone from Uffizi Gallery on social networks and it has certainly been a boom for the Museum and an enormous benefit for all of us. Do take a look if you are not already a follower – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok…..

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Fairytale images of Cinque Terre

Dreaming of some time out from the current reality, Mother Nature put on a special show for me (and others) at the Cinque Terre, at least for those of us who live above the main villages. Probably due to the unseasonal warm weather we are having despite it still being Winter, a reaction between the sea and land temperature….whatever it was, it was truly magic!Cinque Terre under the cloudsThree days of clouds rolling in and up and slowly dissipating during the day, to rollback in again the next day and the one after. Locals call it “il caligo” – meaning fog, but it is rare to see it at this time of year and to continue as such for days. For us above it all, it was a fairytale blanket of clouds, inviting and enticing us to take a plunge into its soft fluffy texture.

As it slowly dispersed the village of Corniglia would reappear in a dreamlike stateCorniglia in clouds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Damaged wall on hike path

 

Time to explore what it was like down inside the fog, and see how the villages were coping with Covid restrictions and hear the news. Hiking down I found a couple of dry stone walls collapsed but no major landslide fortunately and Vernazza looking beautiful as usual.

Rumour has it Via dell Amore will reopen this year, but that has been promised before so we will just have to wait and see.

View on Vernazza

 

 

Vernazza’s main street was very quiet, just a few shoppers waiting their turn outside the mini supermarket, and the table soccer game waiting for the kids to return from school.

But they were busy on the beach rebuilding the boat slipway before the weather warms up.

The water in the bay looking crystal clear…..Vernazza Cinque Terreand the view across to Monterosso a peaceful one.View to MonterossoCorniglia was the same, hardly a soul about apart from a group of friends enjoying  the sunshine with a picnic at the panoramic point.

Picnic at CornigliaUnfortunately another wall down on the way in to Corniglia  while  a new drystone wall has gone up in my little village.  A stonemason’s artistic masterpiece  showing the skill  and talent required.

Clouds roll in Cinque Terre

 

As the fog rolls in I hike back up to enjoy the view and wait for another fairytale beginning on the Cinque Terre.

 

Cinque Terre under the clouds 3

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Twentieth Century Art – Alberto della Ragione Collection, Florence

Florence Art museums open and close according to Covid 19 restrictions, and many have kept us entertained and informed with online presentations.Museo Novecento, Florence

One such Museum is Museo Novecento (Twentieth Century Art Museum) of Florence which is often ignored except for passionate art lovers of the 1900’s like me. Housed in the old hospital of Saint Paolo behind the beautiful Renaissance loggia by Michelozzi. The Museum’s collection is impressive and an important representation of the period. When open the Museum also holds some interesting temporary exhibitions of International artists. However the Alberto della Ragione collection has been the major contribution to the Museum with some of Italy’s well known artists of the time.

An online presentation gave an insight into this fascinating man and somewhat unlikely art collector, Alberto della Ragione. He was a newcomer to Art,  who followed his feelings and often ignored comments from art critics of the time, buying what he liked while delving into the lives of the artists who produced the work.

Born in 1892 in Piano di Sorrento near Naples, he transferred to Genoa for his profession as a naval engineer. He was highly esteemed in his profession, traveling widely around Italy to port cities where he specialized in recuperating sunken vessels. A lover of music and books he ventured into Art buying his first painting in 1928 a Still Life for his dining room. The joy it gave him, started what would become a lifetime passion for Art and a great distraction from his work.

Fortunato Depero 1932 Nitrite in Speed

Fortunato Depero 1932

His spare time became consumed studying Art, visiting exhibitions, being disappointed in some and wanting to understand more about the actual artists active at the time, particularly those not approved of by the fascist regime.

The major part of his collection was bought between 1932-45 crucial years of political turmoil, racial discrimination and World War. In the end he cultivated great friendships with his group of artists, playing an important role as Patron in their development as well as offering refuge to some fearing prosecution for their anti-fascist views and/or Jewish heritage. He bought a Gallery in Milan, offering contracts to the artists thereby giving them a permanent income so they could concentrate on painting.

Renato Guttuso 25.7.43 Portrai of Alberto della Ragione Renato Guttuso, one of the artists in his group and with whom he had a great friendship, rang him on hearing that Mussolini and the fascist regime had fallen. and went immediately to Genoa to celebrate with him. Guttuso insisted on painting his portrait as record of that important day 25/7/1943, including another of his own paintings in the background.

His collection is a wonderful  mix of futurists work – Fortunato Depero, Gino Severini, portraits – Renato Guttuso, Virgilio Guidi, Ottone Rosai: still life – Mario Mafei, Antonio Donghi and landscapes particularly connected to his love of the sea – Filippo de Pisis, Carlo Carra` to name just a few.

Museum Novecento Twentieth Century ArtThe collection is displayed in various sections under themes – Cavalry, Gestures, Suspended Poses; The artist and his world; Still Life; Nudes, the Female; Landscape; Sculpted Paintings, painted Sculptures; Farces; and Faces, Portraits. Here you see only a small selection of  the 250 works of Art that make up the collection.

Gino Severini The Window with Doves 1931In the end the Milan Gallery closed in debt and della Ragione looked for a solution for his collection, drawn to Florence and his Florentine friends as the ideal artistic city. In 1970 he donated his collection to the Council of Florence but unfortunately it never became visible to the public until its inclusion in the Museo Novecento in 2014 when the Museum first opened. . Alberto della Ragione died in 1973, so fortunately never knew of the years delay before his collection could be fully appreciated. The Museum certainly deserves to be included in the list of Florence Art Museums to visit  when life returns to ‘normal.’Francesco Menzio Head of a Woman 1933


 

 

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A new year and new projects – Florence

Florence CathedralA new year has begun and we are still in the midst of Covid19, slowly mulling our way through. On a positive note vaccinations have started, most of our medical staff have been vaccinated and a large number of residents in aged care as a priority. It will be a long process.

Florence has been relatively lucky although the English and Brazilian variants have also appeared recently and we now face additional restrictions as we downgrade into an ‘Orange’ region.  From Monday restaurants and museums will close, more limitations on shopping and restrictions on moving outside Council areas. Already the Piazzas seem unbelievably quiet.Florence Palazzo Vecchio

But this is not to be a post about Covid 19, as I am sure you are all dealing with it in various ways in your own countries and hopefully seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

It has been a time for new project approvals which I thought may be of interest. In Florence approval has been given for the redevelopment of the St Orsola Convent – an enormous complex in a derelict state as long as I have been here! Centrally located behind the Food Market it has had a chequered existence since its foundation as a Convent in 1326, to Monastery, Tobacco Factory in the 1800’s, to Finance Police barracks in the 1980’s when the final destruction to the original architectural feature was done.St Orsola Complex

The Complex is to be developed by a French group Artea and to house a mix of activities and uses – ‘a higher education school, convention center and co-working space, museum / event space housing the grave of Mona Lisa, urban garden that can accommodate permaculture workshops, Artist workshops, café-library, Shops and craft workshops, guest house, fitness and well-being area, and toy library.’Project design Sant'Orsola

The curiosities of its past include the possible grave of the Mona Lisa – Lisa Gheradini considered to be Da Vinci’s model and buried in the convent in 1542. (See my earlier post of 2013)

The second curiosity being the production of the famous Florentine cigar – ‘i Toscani’ which happened by accident in St Orsola when a downpour in August 1815, drenched a large batch of Kentucky tobacco in the convent now a Tobacco Factory. The accident risked turning into a disaster but management decided to produce cigars with the wet tobacco to sell at cost to locals. What no one took into account was that the fermentation initiated by contact with water gave the cigars an unmistakable taste making them famous and  sought after. Production continued in St Orsola until around 1945 when the factory moved to the outskirts of Florence. And here again those buildings are now being used for artistic/cultural events.

The second project is the new bike path between Florence and Prato ( a major city to the North of Florence) The tweet below by the Florence mayor – Dario Nardella indicates “a path of 12km illuminated with recycled asphalt. We will have 600 tons of Co2 less per year. The only time in Italy that two cities of this size have been connected. The work will start within the year, and finish in 2022″Bike Path project Florence-Prato

The project is considered to be a super cycle path of high-capacity, a long-distance cycling infrastructure of European standard, and the first in Italy. The track is to be 4 meters wide equipped with Led lighting and sensors to increase light intensity when people pass and video cameras in strategic points. The project is to also redevelopment  the green areas crossed and shade the runway….. in line with the Green mobility and the EU Green New Deal.

Great to see both projects approved and ready to go, at a time when there has been little to look forward to. Now all we need is to get Covid19 under control and we can fill our Piazzas in Florence again!San Lorenzo church

 

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Buone Feste, Happy Festive season

With something of a sigh of relief we have almost come to the end of this traumatic year Christmasand it’s time to wish you all a Happy Festive Season!

Hoping that wherever you may be in the world you are able to celebrate it in good company amongst family and friends. I am dreaming of spending the Summer in Oz  but will have to sit out the winter here in Italy amongst Florence Christmas lights.  

May the New Year bring you all health, happiness and serenity.

Thank you for following my blogposts.          Till Next Year,

Buone Feste and Stay safe!       SueHappy Festive season Florence

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On Cloud Nine – Picking olives

As Tuscany slid rapidly from a ‘Yellow’ low risk Covid 19 region to ‘Orange’ and then ‘Red high risk’ within in a week I was lucky to be able to still pick olives. It’s time for the new Olive Oil – strictly Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sieve valley under cloud

Sieve valley under cloud

In fact am on Cloud Nine‘ as you can see in the photo. The Sieve valley area completely encased in cloud while we were lucky happily above it all and ready to start by 9.30am. If the property was down in the valley pickers would be unable to start till very late morning as the olives are still damp from the fog and low clouds.The riding school next door amongst the clouds

This year I was picking in an area above Rufina  about 35kms East  from Florence.

Being now in a Red region lockdown travel is only allowed outside of our Council area for work, health or necessity reasons and with a permit. Fortunately Tuscany decreed that only families (not friends) could continue to pick olives on private farms. So it was just as well I could still be included as family even as an ‘ex-wife‘ and continue the tradition of picking which I love so much. Olive pickers in action

In two days of picking, 4 hand pickers and one with a machine we managed to pick  27 crates.  Each crate holds around 24kgs of Olives and on average you need 5-6kg of olives for a litre of extra virgin olive oil. Some trees can produce up to 2 crates, sometimes more, depending on the season and the variety of olives. This year the trees are beautifully healthy, no nasty bugs like last year and laden with wholesome olives. A delight to feel between the fingers.

Temperatures have dropped to cold mornings, around 3-4°C but we have been lucky to have sunshine, and dragging out olive nets, shifting ladders and picking, warms you up pretty quickly. By lunchtime we were soaking up a warm 14-15°C as we ate sausages, oops they ate sausages from the BBQ and I feasted on my veggie pie and of course Fettunta toasted bread with the new oil drizzled on.

At the end of the day we tally up the crates and congratulate ourselves on a good day’s Tow days picking 27 olive crateswork.

On the rainy days we don’t pick so the picking has spread over 3 weeks. We have been to the mill three times already and the last time was last Sunday.

Covid 19 has put pressure on the normal mill activities as many panicked thinking lockdown may limit the possibility of picking so started earlier than usual. And many inundated the mill with more olives than what they had booked in so the mills were often running behind schedule. Our last picking in fact had to be slowed down to accommodate a late booking at the mill, unable to accommodate us earlier. Still it was worth it as the local mill – La Corte uses upmarket equipment in slicer/crushers, temperature control  thus producing a healthier extra virgin olive oil which tastes fantastic….especially if you have picked and crushed immediately after two or three days of picking.

The old wheel grinders of the past are still used in some Mills but the contamination between each producers olives is a high risk as the paste spreads out onto mats to be pressed. You can see that process here.

The information printed on my tin of oil describes its fabulous Nutritional characteristics, and together with its gorgeous green colour and just a touch spicy in flavour when its freshly pressed is why Extra Virgin Olive Oil remains such a part of our daily diet. And love it!

My gloves

 

My new gloves show the signs of the picking and now it’s back into Covid 19 lockdown….who knows for how long? With a possibility of relaxing restrictions 4 December to allow Christmas shopping!Sunset at the end of a day's work

 

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A lockdown that’s not a lockdown

Ponte Vecchio, FlorenceItaly is now in a lockdown that’s not a lockdown, at least not in every Region. And there will be no more singing from the balconies this time! Heavy restrictions continue as Covid 19 numbers explode and medical staff fear it will turn into a Tsnunami. We face a long grim winter ahead and people’s moods have definitely changed as we have absorbed a wealth of information about Covid 19, together with about the same fake news turning many into denial.

The economic situation has never been easy since the GFC of which Italy never fully recovered and the ordinary citizen is finding it difficult to make ends meet. While financial assistance has been offered by the government it hardly covers the losses incurred in businesses. Work continues, often at home what we call ‘smart working’, and factories and retail stores remain open in ‘Moderate Alert ‘ Regions. Hardest hit are restaurants and bars, those involved in the tourist industry, while gyms, fairs, congresses, theatres, cinemas closed at the end of October and museums now at the beginning of November. Even for those still open – retail shops, hairdressers, beauty centres etc are suffering anyway as there is little money circulating and many had spent a lot on readapting their premises with plexiglass, disinfectants, temperature measuring gadgets and various social distancing measures.

Kids have suffered enormously after being relegated to home for 6 months and greeted the new year starting in September with enthusiasm. Now many, especially the teenagers are again back home doing lessons online.

Our public transport system on the reopening could hardly cope with social distancing and reduced clientele, creating swarms of students on buses to and from school and likewise with workers having little option but public transport for their return to work.

Testing has highlighted an enormous quantity of non symptomatic cases, still potentially contagious yet living in small houses/apartments makes self quarantine from the rest of the family not always possible and the virus spread.

Florence bookshopHardest hit have been the regions with the highest density of populations in cities and strained hospital services – Lombardy – Milan, Piedmont -Turin, Campania – Naples, Calabria – Catanzaro. As well as regions in the Alps – Valle D’Aosta,  which initially had a major flow of tourists eager to participate in the snow season. Most of these regions now are considered High Risk areas and have a total lockdown to ensure no entry or exit from the regions apart from work or health motives, and only essential shops remain open. Bookshops unexpectedly have been exempted from closure!. Campania for some reason was classified in the ‘Yellow/Moderate Regional list and their “flame throwing” regional president De Luca is definitely not happy about that having pleaded for a lockdown for the past month. However  Regional classifications towards a lockdown can now become automatic  when their hospital capacity is reduced to a critical level and other health criteria. ‘Orange/Medium to High alert’ regions for now are  Puglia and Sicily which means limited entrance and exit from those regions and other restrictions. All the remaining Regions are considered ‘Moderate Risk”

All I can say is that many are unhappy with the new restrictions. We are learning to live with the virus and strongly advised to limit our contacts and visits to those outside of our families where possible and have a National curfew from 10pm to 5am.

We definitely partied in the Summer and rejoiced at the freedom, and I guess we pay the consequences now. Europe is so interconnected it was difficult to remain in isolation. I was certainly surprised to find two Swiss tourists in my little village in the Cinque Terre in November, wanting to enjoy a quiet holiday, and a bus load of Germans from a Cruise ship doing the same! Italian cruise ships are now stopped and foreign cruise ships will not be allowed to disembark.

It does make my blogging difficult as I would like to continue to show you all the beauty of this wonderful country, be it an exhibition or a delightful place to visit but in these times I am limited to what I can see and do despite being in the ‘Moderate’ classified Region of Tuscany. At least I am surrounded by beautiful Autumn colours.Autumn vineyards Tuscany

For those of you enjoying your new freedom from lockdown, I admit I am jealous yet hope you make the most of it with the appropriate caution. We will come out of it in the end, hopefully with not too much ‘collateral damage’.

Stay safe!

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