Dec 092013
 

When one thinks of knights, it’s likely that spaghetti sauce on shining armor is not what first comes to mind. There is a unique museum here in Florence that may cause you to think again.

In truth, Italy was always part of that restlessness that is the human condition. Conflicting cultures and ambitious men (and not a few women) trod the well-worn roads that all led to Rome and right back out.

Florence, by virtue of mountain passes and a fordable river, was in fact one of those places that acted as a regulating valve along this conduit of historical events. And if it could regulate the flow of armies, so too could it capitalize on the flow of commerce. Actually, Florence became so prosperous that, rather than bother with the messiness of having a standing army just, well, standing around, it could simply hire one as the needs arose. That is a tale for another time. Let us return to this little Knight-time story at hand.

In 1859, 21 year old Frederick Stibbert inherited his family’s rather vast fortune. Clearly one of his passions was medieval armor. The results of his next half century of collecting can be seen in his villa in the northern slopes of Florence. As with any collecting addict, he kept expanding his home to accommodate. 55 rooms and nearly a quarter mile of road frontage later, the current museum took shape, not to mention the multi acre backyard formal garden. Here is but a glimpse of the private entrance in the back.

But it is what is inside that goes from astounding to out and out mind boggling.

See that very life-looking guy in the bottom right? Here is another view of him, just to give you some sense of scale of his entourage.

Those are full-sized horses, and I mean full-sized. They would have had to be to carry the weight of their fully-armored rider plus their own not so little armor plating themselves. Keep in mind, this is but one room out of many! There is so much hammered metal armor and sharpened spears, that there becomes the sense of walking through an ancient wrecking and salvage yard. I mean, just look at all this stuff neatly piled along the corridors.

Well, this is but a glimpse, a little behind the scenes look at one of the many smaller museums so seldom seen by those who understandably throng the Uffici and Academia.

http://www.museostibbert.it/en

Do keep in mind the facilities are available for weddings…

…and Bar Mitzvahs.

brueghel divertimenti di carnevale in casa di contadini

Black tie and mail, optional.

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Nov 292013
 

Traveling to Florence in the early 1800’s, a French writer using the pseudonym Stendhal, described the overwhelming sensations upon viewing the great works of the masters.

 He said his racing heart and increasing sense of confusion robbed him of his composure. Ultimately he surrendered to this state of “delusions” which made him feel as though he were “at the side of a beloved woman.”

His description gave birth to what is now known as the “Stendhal Syndrome”; an affliction of which Cynthia and I are chronic sufferers.
As a Post Script, the source of this article, “Florence Art and Architecture” cryptically noted that over an eight year period, 107 cases of individuals suffering from this debilitating Stendahl Syndrome were treated in the psychiatric ward of S. Maria Nuova. The book went on to say that treatment was focused on the resulting manic and euphoric states. “The victims are generally single, middle-aged people traveling alone.”
The German author of the book also noted, “No Italians have ever been affected.”
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Nov 262013
 

Anyone interested in the arts, and particularly the renaissance masters, knows about the flooding of Florence in 1966. The damage to the treasures of this city, itself a treasure, was enormous.

  

When Cynthia and I lived here, some four years after, there had sprung up a huge restoration industry. It fostered a whole industry dedicated to preserving the arts that remains to this day. Barely a day goes by that we don’t come across a workshop or even an institute devoted to teaching and restoring of art from many ages, not just the renaissance, and not just what we consider to be the great masters. Across the street from our apartment is Santissima Annuciata. Here in the entrance room, a man works in cloistered isolation, his camel hair brush as fine as a pencil tip.

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Cloistered he may be, but never really alone.

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He has remained ever watchful over the comings and goings of saints and sinners, artists and those who would preserve their works of faith for generations. This vigil has been kept since before Columbus set sail for the new world.

It is hard to really grasp just how deep the water was in places until you come  across the occasional little sign, “Qui Arriva Il Arno”. These signs indicated how deep the water was can be seen at eyelevel as you sit having a meal in a restaurant, or sometimes even above your head on some street corners.

The memory of seeing these signs around town over forty years ago came back to us the other day. Lost, we call it making new discoveries, we came across a tarnished little plaque on the wall. After much squinting and speculating, its meaning finally became evident.

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Yep. You guessed it. “Here came the water of the Arno, on the 3rd of November, 1844”. And while you are guessing dates, can you guess on what day of the month the flooding began in 1966?

Now what was that old saying about learning the lessons of history? but then I would be repeating myself.

 

In another post it was pointed out that the over 800 year old palazzo headquarters of Ferragamo was started on property acquired just after the flood of 1286.  And of course, who could forget the flood of 1333?

That Ferragamo property I mentioned; it is right along the road that borders the Arno River. Here is a photo taken in that neighborhood in 1966. Now you know why Ferragamo designs so many really high, high heels.

And while on the topic of a flood of memories, I leave you with this last one, taken quite by coincidence very close to the anniversary of the flood.

Just don’t ask me which one.

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Nov 192013
 

I popped over to see an old neighbor today. No, not that young upstart, Dante Alighieri, whose society dedicated to his study is housed in the little 16th century church of Ex Oratorio di San Pietro, nestled up against the east side of my apartment building, I mean my really old neighbors on the other side, the Etruscans.

I walk by them nearly every day on my way to the super neggozio, a “super” market scarcely the size of a 7-Eleven. The old couple can be seen, every day, just inside their front porch, smiling as they always have, for the past 2500 years.

Coperchio di sarcofago etrusco

They appear to be really nice, quiet folks, but once inside, evidence of many a wild party can be seen all over the place. Broken vases and terracotta cups seem hastily replaced on the shelves. Bronze pots and pans, long worn thin by repeated use, remain dented and no longer polished. Several lamps, once hung by intricate chain fixtures, now lie limply on their side in a case.

And all those miniatures of people, horses, and deities, look like so many toy tin soldiers left on a display case by their owners, now too old to even recall they ever had them. These and many more are remnants of the Etruscans, an uncelebrated society that itself clearly celebrated life itself.

 

Sala del museo archeologico di Firenze

http://www.archeotoscana.beniculturali.it/index.php?it/146/firenze-museo-archeologico-nazionale

http://www.mysteriousetruscans.com/

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Nov 162013
 

A late autumn sun angled in and warmed a young Florentine couple seated opposite each other at a little sidewalk café on Piazza dei Ciompi. As they talked, it was clear that the young woman felt an affection for her companion. So how could he remain hunched over a bowl of rigatoni, elbows firmly planted on the table, and not look up at her? Was he really so lacking in the common graces, or merely unable to remain long in her warm admiration?

Piazza dei Ciompi

Piazza dei Ciompi

The clatterings and smells of the nearby open market continued as the couple conversed, he with his head low over the bowl, she seemingly unperturbed. Their conversation continued thus for a while. Softly, without interruption, she placed her left elbow on the small table, then lowered her arm so she could touch his right hand. Soon they were gently caressing each other’s arms almost in rhythm to the conversation. Presently, he had moved around the corner of the table, sitting now very close to her, their hands meeting under the table, still moving slightly as if to emphasize a word or a phrase.

It was only as they began to gather up their belongings and rise from the table that this little vignette of life took on its full meaning; the young man was totally blind. A chair began to tip as his coat brushed by. A kindly patron quietly and unobtrusively moved it out of the way as the couple stepped onto the sidewalk and into the flow of pedestrians. Arm in arm they walked on up the street; he now switching sides with her, in a gentleman’s position on the curbside of her, and always the two were touching, they were smiling, they were happy.

And then it struck me: what would it be like, blind, Italian, and in Florence? So much of what Italians say is communicated with their hands. Florence itself is the very celebration of the arts and architecture, of sweeping panoramas of a skyline made famous by countless old etchings, fading postcards, and gigabytes of cellphone pixels.  What kind of purgatory out of Dante’s imaginings must it be like to be in Florence and be blind to its beauty.

I remained seated at my table, not ten feet from where this little scene had played out. Sipping my glass of the house red wine but not really tasting, I closed my eyes for a moment. Much of what I have not been seeing, not have been sensing here in Florence began to come to me. Bit by bit, the individual sounds and scents from a busy marketplace began to reach my senses: merchants announcing their fresh produce, steel-wheeled carts moving over ancient cobble stones, the scent of frying tomatoes and garlic.

What lies in those courtyards, glimpsed only through a decorative iron gate. What gardens of delight are hidden by that high stone wall, only hinted at by those higher branches, now beginning to shed the autumn-tinged leaves on the sidewalk below?

Florence is far more than just the beauty of its arts and edifices. Florence is a dream, a vision of how life can be, how life is to those who would open and explore what life has to offer, to sense so much that is really here.

EPILOGUE:

There is, in the Piazza della Republica, a remarkable bronze sculpture, this in a city known for its bronzes and marbles. My attention was drawn to it one evening when I saw a lady with a boy, leaning over a tall bronze rectangle, a seeming pedestal awaiting another work of art. The woman was placing the boys hands on various parts of the tectured surface. My curiosity aroused, I waited a few discreet moments after they had left, to exam the source of their interest.

There on the one yard square surface were a cluster of squares, rectangles and rounded shapes. Upon closer examination, it suddenly became clear there was a high bas relief of an aerial view of the Centro Istorico, the historic center of Florence. Each street and building were there as if erected by some master Lilliputan architect. The Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, even a Ponte Vecchio, crossing over the River Arno, now frozen into hardened bronze.

Piazza della Republica

Piazza della Republica

Each major landmark building had a polished bronze highlight, its comapritive brightness in relationship to its prominence of importance to generations past and of present day admirers. But this architectural rating was not made by the makers of this interesting little bronze map, but by the many hands of the blind, gaining a better appreciation of the wonders surrounding them, and all of us.

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Nov 142013
 

Here is a link to a very short, very sweet, and very professionally done video. It is on the website for the Palazzo Strozzi, a center for cultural exhibitions here in Florence. I’m sure you will enjoy this brief respite and also get a sense of the dream Cynthia and I are still sleep-walking in.

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The title is, “Florence. Isn’t it time you came back”. So have your favorite airline ticket website online and credit card at the ready, as you rediscover the heart-longing that is the Florentine experience.

http://www.palazzostrozzi.org/returntoflorence

By  the way, this photo is looking down Via Tornobuoni as in “Rodeo Drive”. At the far end is the mecca towards which so many ladies’ shoes have trod, the House of Ferragamo.

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Nov 132013
 
Venice seeks improvements in safety
(The Florentine/ November 7, 2013)
Gondolas operating in the Grand Canal will be equipped with GPS tracking systems, registration plates and reflective patches as part of a set of measures introduced to increase safety on the city’s canals.

The measures, which became effective on November 4, are part of the city council’s 26-point plan to reduce congestion and crashes. The move comes after a German tourist, Joachim Vogel, died in an accident on the Grand Canal in August 2013, when his gondola was involved in a collision with a waterbus near the Rialto Bridge.

The reform includes stricter regulations on passing as well as breathalyser and drugs tests for boat handlers.

All gondolas will sport a unique identification number and reflective patches to enable night-time visibility. All motor vehicles, gondolas and sculls must be equipped with GPS devices so that their speed and position can be tracked.

Boat owners must cover the costs for the installation of the new equipment.

http://www.theflorentine.net/articles/article-view.asp?issuetocId=8866&browse-by=News&level=National-News

 

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Nov 112013
 

Cher got the Academy award in the movie of the same name. The reality of seeing a full moon over one of the world’s great landmarks really does take the prize.

Dante Alighieri was baptized here in Florence, within a few steps of this moonlit Duomo, later to be banished beyond the city’s wall. Perhaps on nights like this he could view the city from a surrounding hill as so many do now from Piazzale Michelangelo. There under the glow of this same full moon’s light, Dante could see this same Duomo, this same beloved city, this home from which he was banished and a love for Beatrice, forever unrequited.

Photo: MOONSTRUCK</p>
<p>Cher got the Academy award in the movie of the same name. The reality of seeing a full moon over one of the world’s great landmarks really does take the prize.</p>
<p>Dante Alighieri was baptized here in Florence, within a few steps of this moonlit Duomo, later to be banished beyond the city’s wall. Perhaps on nights like this he could view the city from a surrounding hill as so many do now from Piazzale Michelangelo. There under the glow of this same full moon’s light, Dante could see this same Duomo, this same beloved city, this home from which he was banished and a love for Beatrice, forever unrequited. </p>
<p>Some forty years ago, I practiced dentistry in an office only steps away from the Duomo. The siren call of the future lured us away, back to California, to bear and raise the three blessings of our life. Still, in a real sense, we too have felt a banishment, a self-imposed, life-imposed exile, an unrequited love for the city of our youthful love, Florence.</p>
<p>Dante, deprived of ever returning to Florence was left to describe a journey into hell. "Lasciate ogne spernaza voi ch'entrate!"<br />
No, we did not abandon hope, and we have entered into another hopeful phase of life. Cynthia and I have but to write another chapter in a life blessed by love and now in the city we love, Florence.
Some forty years ago, I practiced dentistry in an office only steps away from the Duomo. The siren call of the future lured us away, back to California, to bear and raise the three blessings of our life. Still, in a real sense, we too have felt a banishment, a self-imposed, life-imposed exile, an unrequited love for the city of our youthful love, Florence.

Dante, deprived of ever returning to Florence was left to describe a journey into hell. “Lasciate ogne spernaza voi ch’entrate!” No, my wife and I did not abandon hope, and we have entered into another hopeful phase of life. Cynthia and I have but to write another chapter in a life blessed by love and now in the city we love, Florence.

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Nov 112013
 

In the early post war years, my early pre-worries ones, I heard the voice of God. Actually, I heard many voices. It, they, were spread across the airways. I know you heard them too.  One had only to walk into a movie theater or tune into the late night movie to experience the deep sonorous rumblings of John Huston, Orson Wells, or Charlton Hesston; the timbre of the spoken word right out of central casting. Those voices are now stilled by time, but there remains another source of paradise-invoking sounds, and it begins at 7:00 every morning in Florence.

Photo: Before there was a John Huston</p>
<p>In the early post war years, my early pre-worries ones, I heard the voice of God. Actually, I heard many voices. It, they, were spread across the airways. I know you heard them too.  One had only to walk into a movie theater or tune into the late night movie to experience the deep sonorous rumblings of John Huston, Orson Wells, or Charlton Hesston, the timbre of the spoken word right out of central casting. </p>
<p>Those voices are now stilled by time, but there remains another source of paradise-invoking sounds, and it begins at 7:00 every morning in Florence. As if by seniority, or perhaps by lowest octave, the bells of the Duomo’s Campanile di Giotto slowly begin to shake off their slumber and tune to each other in succession, as if in a choir. There are seven bells in all, each with its own name and pitched to a specific tone. They are: Campanone ("biggest bell") note A2, La Misericordia ("mercy bell") note C3, Apostolica: 1957, note D3, Annunziata: note E3, Mater Dei ("God's Mother bell"), note G3, L'Assunta, note A3, L'Immacolata, note B3.</p>
<p>Their seniority now properly respected, the rest of the city’s bells and pigeons now arise as one to greet the dawn, and I to toast this ageless performance with the day’s first cappuccino.

As if by seniority, or perhaps by lowest octave, the bells of the Duomo’s Campanile di Giotto slowly begin to shake off their slumber and tune to each other in succession. There are seven bells in all, each with its own name and pitched to a specific tone. They are: Campanone (“biggest bell”) note A2, La Misericordia (“mercy bell”) note C3, Apostolica: note D3, Annunziata: note E3, Mater Dei (“God’s Mother bell”), note G3, L’Assunta, note A3, L’Immacolata, note B3.

Their seniority now properly respected, the rest of the city’s bells and pigeons arise as one to greet the dawn, and I to toast this ageless performance with the day’s first cappuccino.

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Nov 112013
 
18 Oct 2013 Out a window of my Florence apartment, a harvest moon, slyly peering through a Turneresque swirl,  hangs suspended on the western horizon above the cypress trees and olive branches of Bellosquardo, a reveler reluctant to leave in this predawn darkness, the Duomo’s unrequited suitor; reluctant to share her charms once again with the stirring multitude. But then, who could resist her, this brightly lit jewel, so beautifully framed in the opposite window? Who would leave her and this romantic hamlet over which she presides but to answer to the urgencies of another day’s, another life’s promises?
 Photo: 18 Oct 2013<br />
Out a window of my apartment, a harvest moon, slyly peering through a Turneresque swirl,  hangs suspended on the western horizon above the cypress trees and olive branches of Bellosquardo, a reveler reluctant to leave in this predawn darkness, the Duomo's unrequited suitor; reluctant to share her charms once again with the stirring multitude. But then, who could resist her, this brightly lit jewel, so beautifully framed in the opposite window? Who would leave her and this romantic hamlet over which she presides but to answer to the urgencies of another day's, another life's promises?
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