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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Beauty beyond Limits, Forte Belvedere, Florence

Iron Ore Hills Siena provinceBack to one of my favourite places in Florence, Forte Belvedere to see what will be the last of outdoor exhibitions this year. The ‘Beauty beyond Limits‘ photographic exhibition by photo reporter Massimo Sestini. Twenty monumental photographic works reproduced in a 5 x 3 metre format, capturing glimpses of Tuscany portrayed from an aerial perspective. Fantastic images full of colour and texture, idealizing our love of geometric order. All part of various initiatives around the concept of ‘Tuscany, Renaissance without End’, promoted  by The Tuscan Tourism Board.

As  the curator Sergio Risaliti says “Sestini wants to show us how photography transforms the landscape into a picture, in pictorial language, with its contents returned to the gaze in terms of structures and figurative terms. The landscape as a work of art is born from the union between the artist, the photographer , the technological tool, the performing gesture decided upstream “,

Aerial view on Florence

Florence, aerial view and the real thing

And he has taken shots of some beloved places, that I never get tired of seeing no matter from what perspective – Florence, Cathedral, the Palio of Siena,  the countryside of Val d’Orcia,….

Landscape of Val d'Orcia, Siena

Val d’Orcia

 

Bike race, dirt roads, Siena

Bike race, dirt roads, Siena

The incredible texture of the landscape shots from 600m or so above is powerful.

 

 

 

 

Sestini also managed to include in the exhibition one of his personal passions whichRolling Stone concert, Lucca started his career in photography, taking photos at rock concerts before he moved onto newspaper reporting. Rolling Stones concert in Lucca 2017.

And of course in the setting of Forte Belvedere it’s a pleasure to wander amongst the photos as well as savour the fantastic view over Florence.View of Florence

While the view and exhibition would normally attract thousands of visitors, this year Covid 19 has sadly left the bar empty and only a few wander the grounds. Still I am sure they are already planning next year’s exhibition at  Forte Belvedere as it has hosted many stunning ones over the years – Gormley ‘Humans’, ‘Sounding of the Gong’, Zhang Huan ‘Soul and Matter‘, Folon and more…

Massimo Sestini continues with an exhibition indoors in Santa Maria Novella church complex that will continue into 2021 with photos related to Dante Alighieri as  it will be 700years since his death. Dante 700.I hope to get to see that, since lockdown is still permitting Museums to remain open….so far.

Florence will have its Renaissance after Covid 19 leaves us!                                          For those coming out of lockdown – Be careful, for those slipping into lockdown – Be patient and everybody Stay Safe!

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A Bird’s eye view on Florence – Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio FlorenceWant a bird’s eye view of Florence? While the options are many – Brunelleschi’s Dome, the Cathedral bell tower or the magnificent panorama from Piazzale Michelangelo, I had never seen Florence from the Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio. It was time to go and I was lucky enough to go up just before a storm rolled in and it teemed down on the city.

The Arnolfi Tower takes its name from the architect Arnolfo di Cambio who began construction of the building in 1299. However the tower was already present and incorporated into the Palazzo, hence its decentralized  position. At that time it was known as the ‘della Vacca‘ or ‘cow’ tower owned by the Foraboschi family. ‘Della Vacca’ as cattle usually passed through the streets towards the butchers’ shops, located in Borgo Santi Apostoli and in Via delle Terme. Can you imagine that?! The piazza was in fact not a piazza, but streets, alleyways and housing belonging to families loyal to the Ghibellines. On the defeat of the Ghibellines their houses were expropriated and demolished by the victorious Guelphs, all except for the tower. The Palace of ‘Priors‘ was built to house the Florentine government. A military Palace boasting the power of the city, a fortified building complete with battlements, the square based Guelph and swallow tailed Ghibelline battlements on the tower. An appropriate setting for its governors (Priors) who were locked inside for their two months in office, to avoid corruption and distraction from the outside world!Arnolfo Tower, Palazzo Vecchio

The tower visit has 3 viewing areas, the parapet walkway, and two access points at the top. A narrow staircase taken with enthusiasm by tourists, both local and foreign eager to see the first view over the city. Note the covered holes in the floor of the parapet walkway where liquid lime, stones and other hazardous materials could be launched on besiegers. The 360 degree view on Florence is awesome and this was just the beginning….

Tower of palazzo VecchjioMore stairs as we climb to the top, 95m above the city, almost to the same height as Brunelleschi’s dome on the Cathedral at 116.5m but then that’s including the gold ball and cross. Past the cell ironically called ‘Alberghetto’ – ‘Little Hotel‘ where Cosimo the Elder was imprisoned in 1433 and also the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola before being burned at the stake in Piazza Signoria.

The view of Florence takes everyone’s breath away, it is inebriating! Mobile phones click furiously as we circulate between the battlements to get the best shot.

Florence Cathedral from top of the tower

View on Santa Croce church as the storm rolls inIt’s a long way downIt's a long way down Tower palazzo Vecchio

And of course the obligatory selfie….proof of the visit!View from the top

 

Weather vane Palazzo Vecchio

Photo credit Ron Reznick www.digital-images.net

The last curiosity is that we are just below the wonderful golden weather vane, consisting of a sphere, a rampant lion (the Marzocco) and the Lily of Florence. And as the local proverb goes “if the lion pees in the Arno river then it’s going to rain!” Florentines still heed its warning.

The Palazzo of Priors became the old palace – Palazzo Vecchio from the end of the 16th century when the Medici family moved to the Pitti Palace. It continues today to be the Town Hall of Florence, much admired and respected and highly recommended to visit both inside and up the Arnolfo tower.

 

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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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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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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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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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Phase 2 after Lockdown, Florence

Flornence view form piazzal MichelangeloAfter a long two months of lockdown, Freedom at last! We have  finally moved into Phase 2 in Florence and elsewhere. Which for many means back to work as usual, for others continuing ‘smart working’ from home and for many more, especially in the tourist trade not much happening. Shops, bars, restaurants and museums have re opened, although not all, assessing whether it will be worth their while or not. And some businesses are still in the preparation stage of reorganizing their floor plan, putting up Plexiglass screens, or setting up a new outdoor area donated by the Council to restaurants and bars. But at least I can get a haircut now!

Masks are obligatory in public and social distancing a must. Shops supply sanitizer and gloves and mega stores are taking your temperature as you enter. No permit is required now unless you want to move outside of your region. Cross regions should be allowed on June 3. And it was a big treat for me to finally go downtown and just wander and savour this beautufl city

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Scudieri cafe FlorenceSome Florentines are already complaining that the price of their espresso has gone up, maybe 20c. While another man walked into his local bar and slapped €50 on the counter and said that’s for all the espressos he had missed! I noticed there was a queue including Council Police outside one of the old Florentine favourite bars, Scudieri.’Florence bride in Covid times

And a wedding party of only 4 celebrating in front of the Palazzo Vecchio getting some words of comfort and congratulations from the Mayor as a wedding in Covid times is very quiet indeed.

Ponte Vecchio, FlorenceThe gold shops that line the Ponte Vecchio remain closed ‘On Strike‘ possibly till June said one shopkeeper I spoke to. And while seriously affected by the lack of tourism am not sure what the Council or Government is expected to do about that. He also muttered something about the shops being particularly small so difficult to accommodate the new social distancing regulations. I am not that convinced since the merchandise is so expensive and exclusive many of them let only one client in at a time anyway and only after you ring the bell!

As I wandered there was a sense of having reclaimed the city from the usual tourist crowds which meant a photo of the ‘Paradise doors‘ of the Baptistery was easy, rather than the usual elbowing that goes on to get close.  And a very quiet Piazzale Michelangelo with the best view over the city.

Piazzale MichelangeloYet it still feels a little sad as there seemed to be few real shoppers, mostly locals doing a wander and enjoying their city for now. Shop assistants looking bored in empty shops, if they weren’t still busy sanitizing clothing, counters and shop fittings. Not a lot of money is going around.Florence Palazzo Vecchio

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The night life took off with a bang and there have been grumbles from local mayors and it seems hard to control social distancing and masks, particularly at happy hour and amongst the younger generation. Even Florence has been caught out with the crowd along the River while Padua and Milan have again been ‘misbehaving’ and they are the hot spot zones! So our now dearly beloved Prime Minister Conte publicly wrapped them over the knuckles and said “no party“….not ‘no martini no party like Clooney‘ but he was just as convincing!

It ‘s not going to be an easy Summer learning to live with Covid 19 and following restrictions.

Florence restaurantBack to my parking spot beside one of the oldest pizzerias in town ‘Beppa Fioraia‘,  which is a blaze of colourful flowers and inebriating jasmine perfume. It could be one of the better options for dining this Summer as it has an enormous garden, lawn and secular  trees so plenty of space for social distancing in Phase 2 Florence.


 

 

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Stories of Italian plagues

The DecameronWith not a lot to do during lockdown but read, I have been reading about Italian plagues over the centuries. A new book – ‘Florence under Siege’ and re reading an old time favourite – ‘The Decameron’, of when the plague hit Florence in the 13th century. Interesting to discover many similarities with our current crisis, in preparing for the plague, the use of quarantine and isolation, the need to sanitize the poor housing areas and the dilemma over which will be worse, the plague or the economic hardship from lack of work.

Imposing restrictions on the population which were obeyed to varying degrees. After all, it has always been difficult to control Italians, who forever question a regulation before complying to it, assessing the pros and cons, and needing to make it a little more flexible with creative and innovative interpretations.

This time round Italians have been surprisingly compliant, recognizing the seriousness of the situation even if it took some time for that to sink in.

‘The Decameron’  for those who toured with me will remember well, as I read some of the stories while on our coach to pass the time, to entertain, and to help foreign visitors understand Italian life as it describes hunting, artisan trades, religious practises and more. It shows a lot about Italian character, their flexibility in dealing with reality, and their great sense of humour.

For those unfamiliar with the book – ‘The Decameron‘ was written in the time of the plague of 1300’s by Giovanni Boccaccio (a Tuscan). He outlines the options in dealing with the plague – 1) by leading a sober and abstemious mode of living   2) or the opposite; drinking heavily, enjoying life to the full, gratifying all of one’s cravings and  shrugging the whole thing off as one enormous joke   3) or by steering a middle course between the two  4) or a safer alternative, was to run away from it. He tells of the 10 young people from a wealthy background in Florence who take the fourth option and distance themselves to one of their Villas in the nearby countryside. Villa CetinaleTo entertain themselves they tell stories, based on a theme of the day – 10 stories for 10 days. One hundred intriguing, cheeky, bawdy and even tragic stories. My favorite theme day was how to get out of a difficult situation with a witty response – like Chichibio explaining whether a crane has one or two legs, or how Madonna Filippa avoids death for adultery with a shrewd manoeuvre that even leads to the changing of the law.

While I cannot recount the stories here, I highly recommend the book, a classic of Italian literature, very entertaining and particularly forward thinking for its time.

Florence under SiegeThe second book is a recently published one by John Henderson ‘Florence under Siege‘ which I only discovered via an article published in ‘The Age‘. A vivid recreation of the plague in Florence in 1630’s amongst the poorer class and how they were treated. It describes the dreaded ‘Lazzaretti‘ the hospitals created for those infected, of dubious quality with dire conditions while recognizing the need to isolate those infected. San Miniato church used as a lazarettoThe understanding that the plague travelled through the air and possibly on cloth to the detriment of the silk workers and the risky practice of stealing used clothing. The idea ‘that God was angry with mankind and sought to punish its sins’, therefore the need to continue services with appropriate restrictions as ‘by conquering fear, religion protected a person medically from the plague’.

It contains descriptions of the creativeness of Italians, breaking isolation regulations by visiting family and friends across rooftops, pleading innocence at imposed fines with inventive excuses and the governing bodies being compassionate enough to alleviate the fines or prison internamente since this would only lead to future hardship for the families involved. All in all it makes a fascinating read about Italian plague time in Florence.

Italian storytelling continues profusely today, particularly on social networks, keeping spirits up and offering a good laugh. A current example – as lockdown restrictions eased Congiunto sospesoand we are allowed to visit family, relatives and loved ones ‘congiunti stabile‘, Neapolitans offered ‘congiunti sospesi‘ following their tradition of offering a ‘caffé sospeso’ –meaning buy a coffee and leave one paid for. There has been a rush on demand for these congiunti sospesi for the singles in need of an excuse to get out of the house!

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