Nel blu dipinto di blu – Vernazza, Cinque Terre

View of VernazzaNel blu, dipinto di blu” – ‘In the blue, painted blue’  the famous song commonly known as ‘Volare‘ is what I find myself humming as I make my way down to Vernazza for probably the last swim of the season.

Colours have mellowed and the Cinque Terre has endless shades of blue to soak up as Summer comes to an Fishing with the kidsend. Still tourists around during the weekends while during the week numbers are slowly dwindling now as many have returned to work. The only positive aspect of the Covid pandemic has been the sustainable number of tourists, no cruise ships or daily bus tours, has made an enormous difference. The locals have been able to enjoy their villages, almost as there own. To see a Dad fishing with his kids along the walkway would not have been possible in other years. The main square has at times been quiet enough for the kids to kick a soccer ball about or late afternoon on the beach they have set up their goal post nests.

Vernazza

All in all it’s been a lay back season, not a good one economically for many, but a good ‘time out‘ for most. A welcome change for the tourists as well to feel the villages belong to locals, and they are just visiting.

No crowds or queues waiting for a ferry so the kids can jump off the quayside between  ferry arrivals.  View to Monterosso, Cinque Terre The allure of the blue draws me through the rocky archway to my favourite beach at Vernazza, where the waves tumble in, the sea is instantly deep and it’s away from the motorboats and ferry.Vernazza, Cinque Terre

The sea still reminds us of the dreadful flood of Oct 2011 by tossing up remnants of the Vernazza reminder of the 2011 flood141 cars and vans that were washed out to sea. Always a good ideas to wear protective shoes!

Yet the blue is impossible to resist and this season the water has been particularly limpid….even more sightings of dolphins than usual, not that I have been lucky to see any. Yachts lazily cruise past and I make the most of a gorgeous day at the Cinque Terre!

 

Volare, oh, oh  Cantare, oh, oh, oh, oh  Nel blu, dipinto di blu  Felice di stare lassù!’  (Fly, oh, oh, Sing, oh,oh,oh,oh, In the blue , painted blue, Happy to be up there!’

Ps For those Aussies still in lockdown, keep up the good work and you will soon be singing as well! Stay safe everyone.

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Florence frescoes in Brancacci chapel

Santa Maria del Carmine church, Florence church.While it’s still hot, the other best place to get cool is hiding in museums or churches, and Florence has no lack of either. A favourite and lesser known church, very unassuming with an unfinished facade is the Santa Maria del Carmine church.  It houses one of the most important frescoe cycles of the early Renaissance period in the Brancacci chapel. So called, as it was commissioned by Felice Brancacci, a wealthy Florentine Andrea Verga cultural mediator guidewool and silk merchant and politician, to illustrate the life of St Peter in honour of his grandfather Peter who had made the family’s fortune. Also in recognition that the  Great Western schism of the church had been resolved in 1417.

To get the best out of my visit. Andrea Verga, a young enthusiastic ‘cultural mediator’ employed by Muse was my delightful storyteller.

The frescoes make a fascinating story, and as appropriate in educating the population of today as they served to educate the population in the past. They illustrate the artistic developments of the three artists involved, and the political climate with portraits of friends and important statesmen featuring in episodes..

Miraculously the frescoes were spared by the great fire of 1771 that devastated the rest of the church, covering the frescoes with smoke. They were brush cleaned in 1904 but it was not until the late 1980’s that a thorough restoration returned the frescoes to their vivid colours.

Painted between 1424 and 1428 by  Masolino da Panicale and his young pupil Masaccio. Masaccio being considered the first great artist of the early Renaissance and associating with other such greats as Brunelleschi and Donatello. However, the frescoes remained unfinished due to his premature death at only 26 years in 1428, and were completed some 50 years later between 1481 and 1483 by Filippino Lippi.

The Original Sin by MasolinoFrom the fairytale figures af Adam and Eve in ‘The Original Sin‘ by Masolino to the more innovative style of Massaccio who uses light and shade to give more realism to the scene, and more consistency and solidity to the figures as in ‘The Tribute Money’.  Three scenes in one, where Christ shows St Peter  how to get coins from a fish to pay the city entrance tax as the Roman tax collector (in the short orange tunic in the foreground) demands, and St Peter, always in a yellow robe, pays (on the right).The Tribute Money by Masaccio

St Peter preaches and converts the thousands‘ by Masolino (on the upper left) to ‘The Baptism of the Neophytes‘ by Masaccio (on the right). Note the transparent water and the figure shivering as he waits his turn to be baptized. Below left ‘Healing the sick‘ by Masaccio where St Peter on passing has healed a lame man and another two wait to be healed.

Distribution of Alms and death of Ananias by Masaccio In the ‘Distribution of alms‘ my trusty guide Andrea,  tells us that Masaccio came from a very poor family and was easily able to portray the poverty of the time in the mother holding the child wearing a dress too small. It also highlighted the lesson to be learnt as the rich had been encouraged to share their wealth but Ananias had kept some of his share apart and St Peter knowing that he lied calls him out. Ananias fell dead at his feet from shame.

In the ‘Healing of the Cripple‘ and the ‘Raising of Tabitha‘ by both Masolino and Masaccio ( top frescoe below) we were to note the scene of everyday Florentine life in the background – washing hanging out, a monkey sneaking along the facade, a child tugging at his mother’s skirt. The two elegant figures in the centre, one dressed in wool and ermine fur trim, typical of the 13th century (on the right), the other in damask silk customary in the 14th century with velvet turbans indicating the fruitfulness of Oriental trade.Brancacci chapel frescoes

‘The Crucifixion of St Peter‘ and ‘St Peter and Simon Magus before Nero‘ were painted by Filippino Lippi. St Peter crucified upside down as a sign of humility to Christ, as in death we return to our birth position. In the archway staring at us is a portrait of Sandro Botticelli, Filippino’s friend and teacher, and probably a self portrait of Filippino St Peter Enthroned by Masacciowith the beret on the extreme right .behind the blue robe

We can see other famous portraits in ‘St Peter’s Enthronement‘ by Masaccio – in the right corner hardly visible is tiny Masolino beside a self portrait of Masaccio in red robe next to Brunelleschi with the black hat, and Leon Alberto Battista ( humanist and architect) in black robe.
St Peter Raising Theophilus from the dead by Masaccio and Filippino Lippi

The last curiosity I will share is the elaborate ‘photoshop’ that occurred in the scene ‘Raising of Theophilus Son from the Dead‘ Here Theophilus (in pink on elevated stage) is a portrait of Florence’s bitter enemy the Milan tyrant Visconti and in the crowd around the son the Brancacci family had been featured. However as the Brancacci family were exiled from Florence in 1436 for being anti Medici, Filippino Lippi had to redo the heads!

To think such a tiny chapel holds a wealth of information in these frescoes of which one could write about for pages; the political significance, the religious symbolism, the personal differences.  Funnily enough  Masolino and Masaccio are nicknames as they were both officially named Tommaso but nicknamed ‘little Tom’ for Masolino and ‘clumsy or messy Tom’ for Masaccio. I am forever enchanted by the ‘mess‘, particularly of a youngster only in his 20’s!


 

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Covid creativity Italian style

An impromptu blog post as I only discovered this amazing project yesterday and wanted to share it with you all. Besides you may want to contribute to it as it is a crowdfunding project on Kickstarter.com – Just5 self sanitizing Jacket Can you believe it?

Just5 jacket

Photo credit: Kickstarter.com Just5Jacket

In such stressful times as Covid 19 people are working behind the scenes to come up with solutions that will help contribute to our future safety. A strategic mix of Swiss technology with Italian style and design. I am so enthusiastic about it, as if you read all the info it is certainly catering to my line of thinking environmentally and ethically. And there is even a good Aussie contribution to its development!

To stimulate your curiosity I will give you some details taken from the kickstarter.com website but best to see their videos on site which explain it better.

“All the components of JUST5 jacket – Fabrics, Sewing Threads and even the Zippers – are 100% self-sanitizing thanks to the world’s most advanced hygiene preserving  technology for textiles: HeiQ V-Block.

Any surface we touch and any garment we wear can be dirty or contaminated by contaminants floating around in the air. The JUST5 jacket will keep you sheltered from your surroundings and safe when touching outside surfaces on the go. Its hygienic surface is restored within just 5 minutes so that it stays usable forever.

Just5 Strategic Partners

Photo credit: Kickerstarter.com Just5 Jacket

JUST5 is like a multi-functional isolation gown, just more fashionable and full of practical features. It is an initiative by 5 leading material manufacturers and features 5 life-enhancing gadgets.

Made from “Sustainable materials                                                                    All the synthetic parts will be made of Recycled polymers. Specifically all the polyester parts will be made of REPREVE-UNIFI from post-consumer recycled bottles. The Nylon parts will be made of ECONYL from post-consumer recycled fishing nets and carpet fluff and also REPREVE-UNIFI post industrial recycled fabric scraps.”

Environmentally friendly factories

All the factories involved will have to be BSCI compliant .( ie respecting Universal and ethical working conditions) All the fabrics will have to be Blue Sign and OEKOTEX compliant (ie textile products with the least possible environmental impact, offering greater safety to workers and consumers)

Take a look at the HEIQ Scientific board members

HEIQ Scientific board

HEIQ Scientific board Photo credit: Kickstarter.com Just5 Jacket

 

and hear on the video that the material “has been tested and verified by the Doherty Institute of Melbourne, Australia’s leader in contaminated micro elements studies”

The Kickstarter crowdfunding project continues until Oct 5 so think about it. I am looking forward to being wrapped in carpet fluff, tied up with fishing nets and rolled in plastic bottles in my new Just5 jacket.!

What can I say….Italians do it better!?!

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Tuscan coastline – Castiglione della Pescaia

Tuscany mapAs the blazing heat continues it’s time to explore another favourite beach area along the Tuscan coastline at Castiglione della Pescaia. Roughly a 2 hour drive from Florence down south, Castiglione della Pescaia is beautifully placed in an area known as the Maremma offering long sandy beaches, a medieval historic centre, woodlands for hiking, and even Etruscan tombs nearby at Vetulonia. You always know when you have arrived in the Maremma by lines of umbrella pine trees separating agricultural land or lining the driveway entrance to a property.Castiglione della Pescaia pine trees

View from Buriano castle ruinsWe are staying in a little hilltop village, Buriano, 20kms before Castiglione della Pescaia immersed in woodlands for good morning hikes and where the views are endless and the evenings catch a fresh breeze.

Afternoons spent on the long sandy beaches stretching either side of Castiglione dellla Pescaia. While there are a choice of exotic bathing complexes with Caribbean style umbrellas, business looks bad as many opt, like we do, for the ample free beach areas where there is no problem about social distancing.

Beach traders are back

It’s encouraging to see the boys are back trading along the beach, although I think business is pretty dismal for them as well, as it’s financially a tough time for everyone these days. Still it’s something of a return to ‘normal‘ which is reassuring. The water is warm and enticing and its a delight to laze away the afternoon till sunset.

While Castiglione is well known to Italians and some Europeans it is a little off the beaten track for most tourists visiting Florence. Certainly at the moment it is full of Italian tourists enjoying a Summer break

View of Castiglione della Pescaia fortress

View of fortress Photo Credit: Stefano Ferrari

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The historic medieval town was well guarded by its fortress which sits above the main town of today, offering the best views and some delightful bars and restaurants.

From Castiglione view to Elba islandWithin view from Castiglione is the Island of Elba, another favourite Summer spot for Tuscans, and only one of many in the Tuscan Archipelago. Private boat trips leave from Castiglione to explore the more secluded, while the public ferry for Elba has to be taken from Piombino.Castiglione della Pescaia sunset from the fortress

For us there is more than enough to keep us entertained and to while away the week than take a boat ride. A late evening stroll along the waterfront past the bathing complexes closed for the day and no crazy nightime discos, as in the past due to Covid 19 restrictions, is the perfect end to a great holiday.Castiglione della Pescaia end of the day

For a more bird’s eye of Castiglione della Pescaia see the video here

 

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The coastal walk at Framura – Liguria

Vallà beach breakwaterWith blazing Summer temperatures, there is no better place to be than at the beach and exploring further the coastal walks in Liguria. We were off to explore the Via del mare the coastal pathway from Framura that takes you to more beautiful surf beaches. Not like Australian surf of course but sufficient enough to have created breakwaters and even install a ‘lifesaver’!

Besides it was an extension to the day we cycled from Levanto to Framura through the ex railway tunnel that are so enticingly cool and a welcome relief from the heat of the day. We were definitely opting to cycle again as we wanted to get to the beaches asap.

Framura hike or bike path

Hike or bike path Photo credit Framura Turismo

Bonassola - LiguriaLeaving Levanto after 3kms we were already at Bonassola and the beach looked pretty full, although social distancing between umbrellas was in full force. On past last year’s favourite  beach of Porto del Pidocchio which was closed this year for maintenance work to the bike parking area.

From here on it’s by foot under, over and around the railway station to the Torsei beach with an alluring turquoise sea tempting us already. But we were not to be dissuaded from our mission of ‘via del mare‘.Torsei beach Framura

The pathway starts from Torsei and hugs the coastline over stunning crystal clear water, leading up and over to the last beaches of La Vallà and Arena.

Ligurai coastline walkway

A short picturesque walk to our final destination for a day of sun and surf…..surf Italian style! We are almost on the run in our eagerness to plunge in!

Surf's up

Lifesaver

 

 

 

The small swim area which gets deep quickly, is protected by breakwaters as the sea can be rough and a current drags between the two breakwaters which makes the lifesaver very anxious. The sea is so refreshing after the ride and walk and it’s surprisingly busy at La Vallà. The Council hired a lifesaver which people seem to appreciate…..although he’d have to be one of the biggest I have seen and not looking particularly fit for the job!?

Arena beach - FramuraIf you are after a quieter area and confident you don’t need a lifesaver the pathway continues onto the last beach of Arena. A long wide stretch of pebble beach, tucked into the last cove of the Framura coastline. Just bliss!                                                                                                                           Framura Arena beach

Some do the coastal walk by bike although it’s not really allowed, but the video gives you a better idea of what the pathway looks like.


 

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Take it with a pinch of salt – popular idioms

Expanding my historical reading I came across this on popular idioms and lifestyles which I thought worth sharing for those of you that may not have seen it already –Old world map“Here are some facts about the 1500’s:

They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot & then once a day it was taken & Sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were “Piss Poor” But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot, they “didn’t have a pot to pee in” & were the lowest of the low

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell, Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting Married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the Bath water!”

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof… Hence the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, “Dirt poor.” The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire.. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old. Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would Sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial.. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse theImages of the poor grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer.”

I would take it with a pinch of salt but it makes for a fun read!

By the way the last popular idiom  is attributed to Roman times when  Pliny the Elder wrote in his Natural History, from the first century BC, that an antidote to poison was fasting and a pinch a salt!

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Slow return to normal – Florence

Florence Cathedral squareSummer rolls along and Florence slowly returns to life as ‘normal’, or should I say the new normal. It is certainly a different city without the tourist crowds, the city has returned to being ‘ours’ and we are all making the most of it. It so easy and enjoyable to wander the main piazzas and streets, when used to wandering the quieter back street to avoid the crowds.

Florence Palazzo VecchioLocals are being encouraged to visit museums and galleries that they may not have seen for years, bookings essential to ensure social distancing, and if you need to find a carpark there are a range of choices these days.

European tourists have started to return and the border opened up to non Europeans on the first of July, although USA, Russia and Brazil are still off the list for their high Covid 19 numbers. Even so the influx of tourists is unlikely to be high as there are still flight difficulties and some non European countries are still advising to stay away for the moment.

San Lorenzo leather marketOn the way to my first outdoor cinema for the year, I was wandering the centre of Florence around dinner time  to capture these photos. Still a mix of empty and full restaurants depending on the location and easy to find a seat in an outdoor café for an aperitif. Monuments bathed in the sunset, showing off their historic beauty at its best. The San Lorenzo leather market already closed and most stalls hauled to their garage for the night, when it would normally have been abuzz with sales to last customers.Florence, lone 'drumming' busker'Florence, piazza della Repubblica

Lone buskers hoping for a crowd and a few coins thrown in, played just to a handful of passersby. Kids enjoyed the merry go round as Mums watched on, more like at a local village fair than in a main square of Florence.

A sense of slowdown,  no need to rush or hassle, a slower pace generally. A time to reflect on how we spend our time, how our world has changed and perhaps time for a change in priorities. All of which would be highlighted no doubt in the film I was about to see – Ken Loach “Sorry we missed you.” Santa Maria Novella church

Although on entering the Sant Maria Novella church 14th century cloister where the outdoor cinema is programmed, the beauty of the place in the evening light is magical and seems very out of place for Ken Loach! . The frescoed loggia depicting scenes of the Creation, Noah’s ark and the Great flood by a Renaissance master, Paolo Uccello. Santa Maria Novella cloisterIt was so good to be out and back doing some normal things. Social distancing in the Cinema Santa Maria Novella cloisterseating, mosquito spray on, masks temporarily off and time to relax on a pleasant Summer’s night.

Have heard the news of lockdown on again in Melbourne and send a special ‘Stay safe’ message to my Melbournite followers.
Green cloister, Florence


 

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Keep your distance – Cinque Terre

Historis centre MonterossoThe first weekend of Summer at the Cinque Terre and time to test social distancing along the beach front. Not an easy feat to organize since most of the villages have tiny beach areas, or little more than rocky outcrops or concrete Marine jetties. The biggest and longest pebbled beach is at Monterosso al Mare well known for its stretch of bathing establishments lined with umbrellas in front of the station. We set off to explore how social distance and free beach access was going to be for the season.

The day began with great weather and a slow walk down from the free parking area 4kms above the village. Splendid views, lush vineyards and a beckoning sea made the walk an enjoyable one.     View down to Monterosso al Mare

During the week the Cinque Terre had been quiet but judging form the cars parked the weekend was to be a busy one. A beeline for the first bar on the beach and a close up view of social distancing under the umbrellas.  At least 1 metre between each pair of  sun lounges, a spaciousness previously unheard of was certainly attractive. A waiter with mask to serve us, while most clients under umbrellas had put their masks away for the  day. Time to relax.Umbrellas Monterosso al Mare

But we were headed for the free beach area to find out how new rules applied there. One of my favourite areas being in front of the historic centre of Monterosso. Large signs welcomed us in, but blocked us in our tracks as this free beach area was ‘just for residents or second home owners with a booking’! Unfortunately the rule applied only to second home owners of Monterosso so we had to move back to the free beach area in front of the station. Again another sign and another booking required – residents or second home owners only, with a booking online linked to a numbered pole strategically placed 1 metre apart.

Monterosso free beachOn the advice from a local we went on further, past ‘the giant‘ statue under restoration to the last free beach space ‘Portiglione‘ which was very quiet  and open to all. Numbered sandbags indicated where to sit, although no one was likely to check on our booking voucher, since trying to access the website for a booking had proved unsuccessful! The link is now working, allowing for a booking 1 day prior either 9am-2pm or 2pm -7pm with a voucher sent to email. It does ask you to print?? voucher which seems a little inappropriate and am sure showing the receipt on your mobile will be accepted.Free beach Monterosso

It will certainly keep the tourists numbers down to a very ‘sustainable level’ and so far listening to voices it was mostly Italians enjoying the first of the Summer heat, a few Germans and French and a stray American accent who probably lives in Italy or Europe.Monterosso beach

Monterosso main street

We had already noticed that at least two of the bathing establishments were full since they can only cater for about half of their usual number of clients.

After a pleasant afternoon spent bathing and sunbaking in the quiet of Portiglione it was time for an ice-cream and stroll in the historic centre of Monterosso. Most of the shops and restaurants were open although they were surely unhappy for the lack of tourists that they normally catered to.Monterosso old centre

 

 

For us it was relaxing to be without the crowds and to really enjoy Cinque Terre being on holidays like us!View of Cinque Terre coastline

 

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Cinque Terre on holidays

Cinque Terre view to MonterossoFinally it’s Phase 3 after lockdown and we can cross regional borders and begin to welcome in the first tourists. I was so excited to get back to the Cinque Terre I left late at night to cross the border just after midnight on the 3rd June, like a thief in the night!

It was so good to wake that morning to the sound of the waves, and breathe the fresh sea air. A leisurely late breakfast on my terrace to savour view that I never get tired of. It had certainly been a long 3 months absence.Cornigla view to San Bernardino

I was keen to get out and hike down to the main villages – Vernazza and Corniglia to see what state the trails were in and how much the villages had returned to normal…or not. The coastal trail is in good condition, some maintenance had been done and so far no new wall collapses or landslides. The surrounding terrain is so enticingly lush you could dive into its green carpet and just wallow in Nature.  Hardly a soul walking the trail.Cinque terre vineyards

Vernazza time for fishingVernazza had the tranquility we normally experience in Wintertime but with warmer weather. Kids kicking a soccer ball under the loggia or fishing from the quay. Grandparents keeping a watchful eye on the younger ones playing hide and seek amongst the boats still parked in the piazza.Vernazza main square

Only half the restaurants and shops are open and it seems almost exclusively locals wandering about or chatting together in the café. The main square is missing a good portion of its multi coloured umbrellas but they will return by July.

 

For the moment there are no cruise ships, no crowds and only the beginning of the first tourists. I met a Swiss couple who wanted to get here before the rush and had left immediately to cross the border the day Italy ended the lockdown, although I think it will be a while before the rush returns!

Vernazza harbourSo it’s a very pleasant time to enjoy the Cinque Terre, obviously not so good for shopkeepers, restaurants and the various services linked with tourism which will take some time to recover.Cinque terre vineyards, Vernazza

Reminds me of the I980’s when I first came to the Cinque Terre when the villages were without all the razzmatazz of the recent years of mass tourism.

Corniglia was even quieter, the narrow streets adorned with spring flowers while most of the shops and restaurants are still closed.

The Cinque Terre is ‘on holidays’, taking a well needed break, recuperating its energy to face the new challenges of after Covid 19. Its a hikers paradise at the moment, or a welcome retreat for a romantic few days.Cinque Terre, Corniglia

 

 


 

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Helping hands in Florence – The Misericordia

Florence Under Siege by John HendersonThe importance of all the volunteer associations in Florence and elsewhere during the Covid 19 crisis has been critical to our survival, and will continue to be so in facing the difficult years ahead. And my avid reading during this time has also been useful in understanding why ancient words like ‘lazzaretto  reappear. June 3 – Phase 3 we can move across regions and welcome in the first tourists from Europe and plan our holidays outside of Italy, although we want to support our local tourism. In the excitement of this news Greece initially banned Italians from visiting and our Foreign Affairs Minister, di Maio responded with ‘We are not a ‘lazaretto’!” Visions of Italy being considered one big dreadful quarantine hospital full of infected people was certainly not a pleasant thought, and fortunately Greece has reneged. Or at least only thinking of quarantine for Italians from the North!

But how many people know that Florence was one of the first places in Europe to introduce  volunteer services to assist those in need way back in the Middle Ages. The first established by a Dominican Friar San Pietro from Verona – The ‘Misericordia di Santa Maria’  – the Brotherhood of Mercy in 1244 at a time when Florence was one the biggest cities in Europe and a magnet to outsiders.

Florence volunteer ambulance serviceMany of the wealthy donated funds to the Brotherhood as well as their time and by 1321 the Brotherhood was able to buy a property opposite the Cathedral where it remains until today. Easy to see with a line of Ambulances parked ready to go.Florence Misericordia Museum

Or more precisely it has moved out of the frescoed Bigallo home which is now the Tourist Information office across the road to its operational base and Museum. The great charitable work, helped plague victims and buried the countless corpses as well as managed a ‘lazzaretto‘ outside the walls of Florence. It provided a dowry for poor young girls, helped prisoners and their families, in general attended to the health and  welfare needs of society.

Charity by BBrotherhood of Mercy Florence.

Credit to Misericordia di Firenze Museum

Hooded buffa Misericordia

Hooded ‘buffa’ and today’s uniform Credit – Misericordia di Viareggio

Curiously the volunteers were to remain anonymous and wore a black robe with a hood, called a ‘buffa‘, a rather fearsome looking garb. For years they carried the sick and corpses in a huge cane basket on their backs until the stretcher ‘cataletto‘ was introduced in 1478 as seen on the cover of Henderson’s book above.

And the Misericordia continues today to provide an essential service for us all, as well as tourists. It has expanded and more have developed with medical clinics all over the territory that allow specialist visits at a discount price, as the specialists volunteer their services and the clinics are mostly staffed by volunteers.  It manages rehabilitation services for disabled, takes care of elderly, and is also our Civil Protection service setting up many camps for earthquake victims both in and outside of Italy. It has been supplying those in need with food parcels and essential services during Covid 19 lockdown and distributing the anti virus masks, Their assistance is endless and essential and the volunteer network is enormous, creating solidarity and companionship in the community. We are so lucky to have them.

Horse and carriages outside Loggia di Bigallo

Horse and carriages outside Loggia di Bigallo – original office Misericordia

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