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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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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A breath of Spring in Lockdown – Tuscany

Hiking trailAs Spring perfumes fill the air and a warm sun beckons, the temptation is too strong to resist. Surrounded by Nature is the biggest advantage of living in the country during 45 days of lockdown. Even more so when I am fortunate enough to live on the border of an enormous private property – Villa Bagnani. Villa BagnaniA noble Villa built  around a watchtower considered to be from the Lombard period (8thC). Originally property of the Bagnani family it was sold over the centuries to various wealthy noble families, extending its territory which are now a mix of vineyards, olive groves, agricultural fields, woods and streams. Its territory branches out to other farmhouses still property of the Villa and housing many of its farm workers, and I have explored them all which makes for a very pleasant couple of hours hike.

Like Alice in Wonderland I felt I had stepped through the looking glass leaving quarantine and Corona virus far behind. The sensation was exhilarating and still is!

Wild daisesA  mix or tractor trails, dirt roads, hiking paths, abundant wildflowers and no road blocks. I delicately tread my way through wild daisy patches thinking it a tragedy to have squashed even one. Wild boars had not treaded so lightly and left their imprints in their mud holes, one of which had dried up, while the other still had enough water to get a good slosh around.

Danger Ferocious BullWhile I have no real concern that I will see any boar at this time of day, I startle a ‘capriolo’ – bambi deer, with the white fluffy butt quietly grazing but which scampers quickly out of sight. Onto the dirt road I am more worried about the ‘Danger ferocious bull’  sign on a rickety fence with an enormous hole in it!  Later I discover from locals that the bull has long since gone, together with the rest of the cattle which explains the empty cattle sheds further The old cattle shedsalong.

Past the vineyards just starting to sprout, slowing winding my way to the chequered fields and the woods in the distance.

 

I continue up and down dale, trailing a quiet stream, enjoying the freshness of the woods and enticed by the side roads that branch to other farm houses, veggie patches and pig sties.

WildflowersNature at its best, wildflowers sprouting everywhere, lots of lichen on the trees a sign of clean air, and superb views back to my little village across recently toiled fields.

Lockdown isolation is a million miles away.  A cheery wave to the tractor driver and today things almost seem back to normal. A good 10kms hike and not a foot outside Villa Bagnani‘s property safely protected in Nature’s wonderland – Spring in Tuscany, it could not get better than this!View to Palazzolo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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Raffaello, 500 years after his death

Self portrait 1506 Uffizi GalleryIn the midst of Covid19 Lockdown is the celebration of Raffaello, the great Renaissance painter and architect, 500 years after his death on the 6th April 1520.

A grand exhibition  ‘Raffaello’  has been organised in the Quirinal Stables in Rome to open on the 5 March until 20 June. However Covid 19 changed all that, although the exhibition may still be extended.  Over 100 paintings and designs are in the exhibition from all over the world, 40 of which have come from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence which has an extensive collection of Raffaello‘s work.

In such a brief lifespan (1483-1520) Raffaello produced some remarkable and beautiful masterpieces, in paintings, frescoes and designs. Born in Urbino ( Le Marche) he lost his mother at 8 years and was orphaned at 11 when his father died. His father had been a painter and recognised the potential in his son, introducing him to the well known painter Perugino where Raffaello completed his apprenticeship. At 17 he had already surpassed his master in technique and skill in composition, perspective and sensitivity to his subject.

The Engagement of the Virgin Mary 1504

 

Raffaello’sThe Engagement of the Virgin Mary’ 1504   (Pinoteca Gallery Brera, Milan)  has definite similarities to his master, Perugino‘s work ‘The Marriage of the Virgin’ yet if you compare the two the pupil has outclassed his master in perspective and naturalness in the figures.

In 1504 he arrived in Florence, which at the time was experiencing a moment of great creativity with artistic masters such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Raffaello studied their work and develops his own ‘in which naturalness of gesture and idealized beauty are in perfect balance.’

He still remains very attached to his birthplace and is sought after for his talents, producing many portraits of important members of society – like the Duke and Duchess of Urbino (Uffizi Gallery)Duke and Duchess of Urbino

and an important Florentine couple – the merchant Agnolo Doni and his wife Maddalena Strozzi 1506 (Uffizi Gallery)Agnolo Doni and wife Maddalena Strozzi 1506

 

Madonna of the goldfinch 1505/06He works on some variations on the theme of the Virgin, a subject which will accompany him throughout his life, like the Madonna of the Goldfinch also part of the Uffizi Gallery collection.

His fame reaches Rome, where he moved to in 1508 to become the official painter of Pope Julius II and his successor Leo X. In 1508 he began the frescoes in the Vatican Rooms and papal apartments. He was also called upon to continue the frescoes of legendary figures and mythological episodes in the grandiose Villa Farnesina, home to a wealthy Sienese banker, Agostino Chigi.

This is definitely on my list of places to visit next time I am in Rome as his ‘Triumph of Galatea’  a nymph standing on a shell drawn by dolphins fleeing from the amorous advances of the dreaded Polyphemus, has to been seen in real life.

The Veiled Woman 1516

Raffaello was officially engaged to married but seemed reluctant, and is known to have had many affairs. The great love of his life being the baker’s daughter Margherita Luti ‘La Fornarina‘ depicted here by Raffaello (Palazzo Pitti, Florence)

His bride to be died in 1520 and Raffaello suddenly on his 37th birthday. Giorgio Vasari, painter and historian of the time wrote it was from ‘exhaustion and excessive passion’ and historians today believe it was from some mysterious illness.

His last commissioned and unfinished work the  ‘Transfiguration’ was placed on his coffin. There was a grand funeral, attended by large crowds and important people of the day. Raffaello‘s body was carried by four Cardinals and buried in the Pantheon in Rome with an extraordinary epitaph:

‘To the memory of Raffaello, son of Giovanni Sanzio of Urbino, the most eminent painter and rival of the Ancients. Behold his almost breathing images and you will easily see the alliance of Nature and Art. With his works of painting and architecture he swelled the glory of Popes Julius II and Leo X. He lived 37 virtuous years and died on the day of his birth, April 6 1520.

This is Raffaello, in his life great Mother Nature feared defeat and in his death she feared herself to die.’

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Lockdown Italian style -Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

ducks go to the pharmacy

Photo credit Florinda Noka

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

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

Cuban Medical team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craggy peaks Reggello in snow

Photo credit – Giuseppe Taras

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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