Adventures in #Italy

Thursday, October 9, 2014 | Category: Travel Stories

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You may have the universe if I may have italy. — Guiseppe Verdi

 

The time is near.

Tim and I and our friends, Louis and Victoria (and their daughter, Ana, who probably thinks her parents and their friends are nuts),

Arrividerci, Roma and Ciao, Sulmona!

Arrividerci, Roma and Ciao, Sulmona!

are about to depart for JFK, then Fiumicino, then hop on the Pronto bus to Torre de Passeri where we will be met by our new Italian family.

I have brought all kinds of things for the kitchen and the bathroom to make the apartment more comfortable for our future renters. They seem important now, but will probably turn out to be irrelevant. English language books and travel guides, towels, salt and pepper grinders, binoculars, cold medicines, naproxen, bandages, ear swabs, color-safe shampoo, toothpaste. Oh my God, what the hell am I doing? Buying things I can’t say in Italian, which I somehow think will be cheaper over here. I am a wreck. On the other hand, I have to do something.

Last week it was raining in #Sulmona. Over the weekend, it turned back to summer, with temps in the 80s. But being Sulmona, it could snow while we’re there. How to pack? I haven’t a clue. I’m going with what I’ve laid out on the bed, minus a few things I already took away. Tim, of course, has not thought about packing yet . . .

I will be posting our adventures on my Facebook page, so follow me if you like. I’m hoping to have a surprise every day.

 Buon viaggio a tutti!

Defying Gravity: Calder at the #PEM

Saturday, September 13, 2014 | Category: Uncategorized

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I wish I had thought of that. — Albert Einstein, upon viewing the synthesis of science and poetry, pattern and balance, chance and humor in Calder’s work in 1943  

 

When I lived in New York City in the ‘80s, I often walked up to the Whitney Museum at Madison and 75th just to spend some time with Calder’s astonishing Circus. An act of pure imagination, the Circus was wrought from all manner of materials — yarn, wire, cloth, buttons, string — and was, for me, the epitome of Calder’s playfulness. I would watch the documentary running in the background (shot by Jean Painleve in 1955) over and over, which showed Calder unpacking the elements from two large black suitcases, setting up the rings, carefully putting the head of the lion tamer into the lion’s mouth, ushering the elephants and dog-laden horse around the ring, spotting the trapeze artists and generally acting like a big, galoompfy kid.

Little Face, 1962 (c) 2014 Calder Foundation

Little Face, 1962 (c) 2014 Calder Foundation

What I didn’t know then was that Calder was actually a trained mechanical engineer and that all of his works — no matter how playful and simplistic they seem — are serious statements about his interpretation of the avant-garde movement of the day. For him, that meant objects in motion, combined with technical skill and an uncanny understanding of performance, shadow and position and how they all operate in space. By doing what he did, he absolutely revolutionized the concept of public sculpture.

When I was invited to attend a press preview recently for the new exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum (#PEM) in Salem, MA, I jumped at the chance. Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic opened on September 6 and will run through January 4, 2015. The PEM is the exclusive East Coast venue for this major Calder exhibition and was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in collaboration with the Calder Foundation. It brings together 40 sculptures by this most influential and innovative artist and includes mobiles (which hang from above and move), stabiles (which are anchored from the bottom and sometimes move) and maquettes (models for larger pieces) made between the 1930s and the late 1960s. These curvilinear creations can alternately be stirred into motion by air currents (or water) or stand strong but gracefully in public places.

Alexander Calder, who was in Paris when it was the best time to be in Paris (in

La Grande vitesse, 1969 (c) 2014 Calder Foundation Grand Rapids, MI

La Grande vitesse, 1969 (c) 2014 Calder Foundation
Grand Rapids, MI

the 1920s), was influenced by some of the (now) great avant-gardists. In fact, it was Marcel Duchamp who coined the word “mobile” and the Dadist Jean Arp who created “stabile.” The words simply didn’t exist before. And, following the lead of Piet Mondrian, you will not find any green in any of Calder’s sculptural works. Ever!

Calder was born in Pennsylvania to a family of accomplished sculptors. After earning a degree in mechanical engineering, he went to Paris as a young man and came back to the United States shortly after the outbreak of WWII in Europe. But what he learned there in the epicenter of the Abstract-Constructivist movement changed him forever.

In the ‘40s and ‘50s, Calder produced some of his most career-defining work, wherein linear elements and open shapes replaced solid volumes, and flat planes replaced three-dimensional volumes. Through the innovative use of sheet metal and wire, Calder created pieces both small and monumental, with recurring themes such as linearity, dimensionality, biomorphic forms and the tension between mass and weightlessness. From the mid-‘50s on until his death in 1976, Calder worked with 1/4” steel in order to construct larger, more durable and ambitious stabiles that were frequently commissioned for public spaces.

This is en eye-popping exhibit that I urge you to see — even if you think Calder is pure puffery. He isn’t. The show has been beautifully curated to allow for space and time to contemplate each piece. The way you look at a piece the first time is not the way you will see it after it moves a bit. Things are constantly changing, as in life.

Southern Cross, 1963. (c) 2014, Calder Foundation

Southern Cross, 1963. (c) 2014, Calder Foundation

Calder apparently named his pieces after they were completed and created them without deep philosophical intention. The names are merely evocative, not literal descriptions. His works are genius pieces of engineering and beautiful theatrical performances, presented with a backdrop of perfectly suited music.

 

So go, and don’t miss the shadows . . . revel in the science of what he’s created . . . experience the guilty pleasure of liking Calder. It’s revolutionary.

Click here for more information about the PEM show.

Buon viaggio!

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Know David Sisco!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 | Category: Travel Tips

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Save the Date: Friday, November 14 @ 8 pm

Carnegie Hall. No, really!

 

Announcing an evening of American Song by David Sisco, which will lead off with a suite of poems called “Italianate”  written by somebody named Linda Dini Jenkins and sung by Baritone Michael Kelly. You won’t want to miss this spectacular evening of music.

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David Sisco’s works have been heard at concerts  produced by Friends & Enemies of New Music, New  Music New York, Joy in Singing, Lyric Fest, SongFest,  and SongFusion. An award-winning composer, he has  been commissioned by the Manhattan Girls Chorus and the Mirari Brass Quintet. This concert includes the premiere of four song cycles, including texts by three living poets: Danita Geltner, Linda Dini Jenkins, and Jeff Walt. It is presented in loving memory of Mary Schroyer.

Tickets can be purchased at carnegiehall.org / CarnegieCharge 212-247-7800 / Box Office at 57th and Seventh.

Tickets are $30, $40, $50

 

Hope to see you there!

 

Buon viaggio!

Perfect Summer Days/Memories of #Italy

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | Category: Reflections, Travel Stories

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Ed. note: We’ve been having a lot of them lately here in New England. Reminds me of a perfect day in Italy not so long ago . . .

 

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Abbondanza

 

We sit at the kitchen table in the morning

Drinking the juice of mangoes and blood oranges

Eating creamy yogurt out of chipped white porcelain  cups

Planning our day, as if we needed anything more than this

 

The early sun and strong black coffee are enough

The easy laughter and deep breathing are enough

Flowering magnolias and the scent of wild jasmine are enough

Anticipation and memory are enough

 

Today, we agree, we will go nowhere

Because for now, everything we need is right here

In the warm June breezes of plenty

Laundry dancing in the yard

 

(c) Linda Dini jenkins, 2009, Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband

 

Buon viaggio!

 

Tags: Italy

House Hunters International Not: Our Adventure in #Sulmona

Thursday, June 26, 2014 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Tips, Travel Writing

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Sulmo Mihi Patria Est. — Ovid, some time after 43 BC

OMG — we bought a place in Italy! — The four of us, May 2014

 

 

Dove siamo . . . c. James Martin, Europe for Visitors

Dove siamo . . . c. James Martin, Europe for Visitors

First, Hannibal devastated the region around Sulmona, a tidy historical community of some 20,000+ residents tucked into the center of Italy’s Abruzzo region. That was back in 211 BC. Now — not to bury the lead too much — we’re about to. Well, not devastate it so much as take up residence there for a few weeks every year.

Those of you who know us know that Tim and I have been making empty threats about moving to Italy for years. As a full-time move is in no way practical at this point in our lives, we did the next best thing: threw in with some good friends and bought an apartment in a small city that we have all come to love.

Gentle reader, it has taken me more time to buy shoes than it took me to consent to this purchase. The four of us went thinking that this was just a shopping trip. No way would we buy. Our specs were firm: 2 – 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, center of the city . . . And then our friend Novelia happened. In fact, it is Novelia’s fault that we ever came back to Sulmona.

We traveled together to the city of Ovid and confetti four years ago. Our host made some

The famous confetti, candy coated almonds in dazzling arrangements

The famous confetti, candy coated almonds in dazzling arrangements

suggestions about what to see in the region for a day trip and said we should go to the nearby Abbey (Badia Di S Spirito Al Morronese). And so we piled into three cars (there were 12 of us) and drove to the Abbey. Once there, I went to the office and asked for an English-speaking guide. She could just as easily have been on a coffee break, but out came the force of nature named Novelia Giannantonio and the rest, as they say, is history.

Novelia gave us an unbelievable tour of the Abbey and then she and I kept in touch via e-mail and telephone over the years. Something just struck between us and we both knew we’d be fast friends. But it was when she started to talk about her lasagna and her spaghetti alla chitarra (“guitar”), a specialty of Abruzzo, that I started to yearn to go back.

Novelia, with her magic chitarra

Novelia, with her magic chitarra

Novelia rents out an apartment on the top floor of her palazzo, which is just on the edge of town behind the Cattedrale di San Panfilo. La Casa del Cuore is a comfortable two bedroom, two bath apartment with a good kitchen and lots of space for relaxing or for extra guests. So we stayed with her this Spring and she made some introductions to properties that were not broker-represented. For one insane moment, we considered buying two of them in the same building. Then, coming to our senses, we decided the next day that one (the larger of the two) was probably just fine for our first toe-dipping experience into the joys and responsibilities of foreign home ownership. It is a testament to the apartment’s owner and renovator — Novelia’s architect brother-in-law, Evangelista Carlo Alberto — that we bought something that did not exactly meet our specifications. But it was too beautifully finished, too finely crafted with local wood and stone — not to mention those vaulted ceilings and that great front door — that we decided to opt for quality and craftsmanship over the American ideal of what a two bedroom apartment should be. So, just one bathroom, and a “living room” that is not big enough to swing a cat in, but Italians live in their piazze, anyway, so we will adjust.

The main piazza, Piazza Garibaldi, was actually restored by Carlo and was featured in

Piazza Garibaldi, among the mountains

Piazza Garibaldi, among the mountains

the George Clooney movie The American. In fact, the entire pivotal scene takes place there during Sulmona’s famous Easter event, La Madonna Che Scappa (the Madonna who runs, when she sees her risen son across the piazza). Lots of drama here, folks!

So I can hear you all now: why Sulmona? Why not Florence or Rome or Venice or Milan or Lake Como or . . . Well, because you did not contribute, my friends. No, seriously, prices in the north are much higher than in central or southern Italy, for one thing. But for another, we are on a mission to introduce Americans to Abruzzo and, therefore, to Sulmona. L’Aquila, the capital of Abruzzo, was once a beautiful city and will, God willing, be resurrected by the promised contributions of the Italian government which to date have not been forthcoming. So Sulmona is, I believe, the premier city in the region for now.

Casa Dolce Casa — we're on the second floor with the balconies!

Casa Dolce Casa — we’re on the second floor with the balconies!

The nearest beach is Pescara, on the Adriatic Coast and is reachable in 50 minutes. The nearest ski resort is Roccaraso, 25 minutes from the center of Sulmona. It is the largest ski resort in Italy outside of the Alps, with over 100 km of ski slopes. And how can you not love a city with a Roman aqueduct that dates back to 1256 running through it? Or that hosts a medieval Giostra (jousting competition) in the main square? There are music festivals year-round and in November, a film festival. They are famous for candy, for heaven’s sake. The Abruzzesse food is second to none. And the Wikitravel site says there are “plenty of shoe shops.” What’s not to love?

Better put Sulmona on your list. The Australians and New Zealanders have already discovered it and are moving in. The Dutch travel down the Adriatic Coast and both Le Marche and Abruzzo are regular destinations. We feel a bit like pioneers here, and are in incredibly good hands with Novelia and her family. We are lucky.

You’ll hear a lot more from me about Sulmona and its environs in these pages. We go back in a few months to close and get set up. I long to be there next Easter, too. In a few years maybe, we’ll make a plan to spend several months at a time there. For now, though, we’ll be offering it for rent when we’re not there. Stay tuned for details. And be prepared for something very special if you go.

 

Buon viaggio!

 

 

 

 

 

Foodie Poetry: With Apologies to Ogden Nash

Tuesday, May 27, 2014 | Category: Reflections

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No man is lonely while eating spaghetti: It requires so much attention. — Christopher Marley

When I attended the Massachusetts Poetry Festival recently, I  took a class on writing poetry about food. I’m off to Italy soon. What else did you think would happen?

c. 2010 J.H-M and CultureChoc

c. 2010 J.H-M and CultureChoc

‘Talian Food

I would not eat the sauteed eel

Not the calamari, not the scungil’

I never knew why clams were food

And oysters never seemed that good

Mackerel, a dark and oily fish,

Like trippa, never graced my dish

What kind of ‘talian can I be

when slimy things repulses me?

I crave the pasta, fichi, rice

And melanzane’s always nice

Gorgonzola makes me happy

While nociola turns me sappy

Blood orange juice is great to start

A day at the porchetta cart

Rich prosciutto, macchiato

You eat slime — I’d rather not-o.

Buon viaggio!

 

 

 

La Bella Figura

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 | Category: Travel Tips

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Never wear anything that panics the cat.  — P.J. O’Rourke

 

The dress was sleeveless, a melon peach color with yellow polka dots the size of dimes all over it. Drop waisted, with a slight flair at the bottom. I felt like a princess in it. I wore it to New York City when I went with my girlfriends when I was 15. I wore black patent leather mid-high heels and wrist-length white gloves. I can’t remember if I wore a hat, but we still did that back then when we went into the city, so I might have.

I do remember wearing Yardley foundation in a very light shade to offset the jet black mascara and white-ish lipstick applied just the way Mary Quant told us to do it. I also remember that when I came back home, all the soot from the city had stuck to the foundation, making me look like some kind of peppered freak.

It was this teenager’s version of la bella figura — the Italian concept that you must always look and act your best in every situation — but of course, I didn’t know that then.

Nothing to do with how to dress, but it's a hysterical book about Italy, anyway. And what a great title!

Nothing to do with how to dress, but it’s a hysterical book about Italy, anyway. And what a great title!

I think of this now as I am packing for my upcoming trip to Italy. I think of how times have changed. I wouldn’t dream of wearing high heels on a vacation now (unless a wedding or other formal event was involved, and somehow they never are) and dresses — if they come at all — are knit things that can be rolled up into a ball and basically forgotten in the suitcase.

This time, I’m bringing a black denim knee-length skirt, 2 pairs of black pants and a bunch of tops. A knit jacket and a rain jacket. A pair of flats and my favorite Crocs wedges, which is probably all I’ll really wear, anyway. But heck, the other shoes are light. A bathing suit in case I dare to go into the pool. Sleep shirt, toiletries, naughty bits. A pared-down make-up kit. That’s about it. Hairdryers are provided, as are converters. I’ll bring a few adapter plugs. Big deal.

Oh, a hat. I must have a hat. Not the pillbox-with-a-veil kind we wore on our day-long escapes to New York, but a crushable one to keep the sun from doing its damage.

So how do we maintain la bella figura in this casual society? I cringe when I see how some Americans show up abroad: all white sneakers, ill-fitting too-short shorts, sleeveless tops, fanny packs. You’ve seen them, and you know what I mean. And like me, you’ve probably been them at one point in your travels. But we are ambassadors when we travel, and so I take this stuff seriously, especially now that I take groups to Italy. God knows, our politicians have done enough to give us a bad name abroad – we don’t need to dress badly, too! And dressing a la la bella figura has nothing to do with money, so that’s not an excuse.

Someone once said this about packing: “Lay all your clothes and money out on the bed. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” Not too far off the mark.

If we were touring with travel pundit Rick Steves, he would only allow us one carry-on bag each, and a purse or backpack. I’m not that strict, but I do have three simple packing rules to be heeded when you travel with me. Here goes:

  • Shiny white sneakers will be marched to the pool and drowned.
  • Fanny packs will be sacrificed in the outdoor firepit.
  • Ripped or distressed jeans will be buried in the yard until it’s time to leave.

There are fashionable ways to be both comfortable and respectful and it only takes a little effort to be both. A few carefully chosen, neutral items that coordinate with each other is all you need. Some comfortable shoes (ladies, check out Naots, Walking Cradles, Dansko, Hotter, etc.) and a handbag (cross-body bags are especially good) or day pack. A colorful scarf goes a long way as an accessory — best of all, you can buy them very reasonably at the local markets and they make great souvenirs.

Next time you travel, try this concept out: fewer but more adaptable items. Look at (an adult) local you admire and see how he/she dresses. Then go and do likewise!

 

Buon viaggio!

 

 

 

 

California Design, 1930 – 1965: Living in a Modern Way

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Writing

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Dean’s California  wild, sweaty, important, the land of lonely and exiled and eccentric lovers come to forgather like birds, and the land where everybody somehow looked like broken-down, handsome, decadent movie actors. Jack Kerouac

 

I went to California last Wednesday, in something of a time warp. A delightful time warp spanning the years between the big wars all the way until we began to lose our innocence and our optimism in the mid-60s.

Get past the cool blue Avanti, and you're in!

Get past the cool blue Avanti, and you’re in!

California Design, 1930 – 1965: Living in a Modern Way is the newest installation put on by the remarkable Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in #SALEMMA. Really, sometimes I have to pinch myself to realize that I’m back here in this creative community.

The  PEM, founded in 1799, presents outstanding works of artistic and cultural creativity in ways that transform people’s lives. And while the 250+ mid-century modern works on display in this exhibit are certainly artistic, they speak to the shifting cultural creativity that was exploding on the California scene during this period.

Think textiles, automobiles, furniture, fashion — even where we live and how we lived,

The Eames chairs

The Eames chairs

as in glass houses with indoor-outdoor living. Think Ray and Charles Eames, Richard Neutra and R.M. Schindler. Think Spandex and Barbie and kidney-shaped swimming pools and the ever-present fear of the mushroom cloud that even found its way into a children’s board game called Boom!

Those were the days, my friends, eh? Happy Days, with an undercurrent of annihilation.

The show, organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), is the first major study of California design, and PEM’s presentation is its only East Coast venue. Millions of new residents poured into California during the economic boom of the 1920s, creating a demand for modern housing and furnishings. The boom continued with the post World War II prosperity, giving a whole new consumer class the opportunity to furnish and decorate their homes a la the Good Life (no doubt influenced by an exploding Hollywood) with items made by the state’s designers and craftspeople.

The "Swoon Suit," made entirely of parachute material.

The “Swoon Suit,” made entirely of parachute material.

The buzzword for California today is technology, but it was the same back then, only “technology” meant something different. It meant pure innovation; it was the shaping, making, living and selling done by a group of designer craftspeople who took over for a time to bring new forms, materials and, ultimately, a new lifestyle to the burgeoning middle class. In the words of Charles Eames, they were trying to bring “The best for the most for the least.”

It didn’t always work out that way. For instance, only a handful of the Case Study homes proposed in 1945 were fully realized, and Eames’ famous molded plywood chair, created with Eero Saarinen — the one that won first prize in the 1941 MoMA competion — would have cost $75 at the time. Not a price for the middle class, to be sure.

But forget price. Come for the beauty of the modern forms, for the creative use of war-

I love this cutie!

I love this cutie!

time material (like the “Swoon Suit” made of parachute nylon, completely without metal of any kind), for the bold experimentation of shape, color, typeface and technology. This is the time of icons — the 1930s Airstream Clipper trailer, the 1959 Barbie doll, the 1964 Studebaker Avanti — many of which survive in some form or another even today. I guess we can’t all be California girls, but this exhibit can put a smile on all our faces and remind us of a time that was, in our lifetime, a remarkably creative place to be.

So get yourself to the PEM before July 6th to catch a glimpse of the exhilirating innovation and the need to build a better, brighter and more modern world that existed in this special time and in this special place.

 

Buon viaggio!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GUEST POST: Off the Beaten Path in Florence

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 | Category: GUEST POSTS

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Ed. note: There’s so much to see in Florence that it can be overwhelming to travelers. Here’s what Prisilla Sciano, Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, recommends.

 

Anyone who’s ever been to Florence knows just how easy it is to be overwhelmed by its immense grandeur. In fact, the sensory experience of being surrounded by the city’s art and architecture is so overpowering for some people that they develop Stendhal syndrome, a condition that can cause dizziness, rapid heartbeat and even fainting. Also known as Florence syndrome, the disorder was named after a 19th century French writer who was left awestruck and light-headed after visiting Florence in 1817 — well before the age of globalization and the long queues of tourists coming in from Toronto, Tokyo and other distant places Fiorentinis could never have imagined.

Indeed, while most visitors nowadays survive Florence without passing out before its many wonders, braving through the flood of people in its well-known tourist spots can be a daunting task for many. Fortunately, there are still quite a few spaces in the city that are not yet as crowded as museums like the Galleria degli Uffizi or the Accademia. Here, you can experience the quieter side of Florence, but that doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on the good stuff that the city has to offer!

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio means “old bridge” in English, an understatement considering its history dates as far back to the Roman times. The current bridge is a beautiful Medieval-period stone structure that spans the Arno river and is known for the vibrant collection of shops built on it.

In the Middle Ages, the bridge was populated by butchers, fishmongers, tanners, and greengrocers, but a 1593 edict of the Medici Grand Dukes aimed at making the bridge more appealing swiftly replaced them with goldsmiths and jewellers. Today, these shops are still around, standing cheek by jowl with dealers of art, antiques, and souvenirs.

Until recently, there was also a tradition among visiting couples to place padlocks along the bridge railings and afterwards throwing the keys into the river as a symbol of their eternal love. Since this practice is now prohibited by the city council due to the damage it was causing the bridge, lovestruck visitors are advised to just use their padlocks symbolically and to enjoy the romantic sights and sounds of the district instead.

Ponte Vecchio is still beautiful despite gray skies in the background

Ponte Vecchio is still beautiful despite gray skies in the background

 

 

Bargello 

Another surviving structure from the Middle Ages is the Bargello Palace, Florence’s oldest public building, which originally served as a barracks and prison, and then as a residence for city magistrates. Built in 1255, the Bargello is now formally known as Museo Nazionale del Bargello, a museum which houses an impressive collection of Italian Renaissance sculptures.

Quite unknown to the hordes visiting the city’s more famous art galleries, the Bargello features sculptures from Michelangelo, Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi, Benvenuto Cellini, Jacopo Sansovino, Giambologna, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Vincenzo Gemito.

Aside from sculptures, the museum also houses a wide collection of ceramics, tapestries, armors, coins, and art pieces made from ivory and silver.        

The tower of Bargello on the right is one of the most noticeable features of the Florence skyline

The tower of Bargello on the right is one of the most noticeable features of the Florence skyline

 

Museo dell’Opera del Duomo

It’s surprising how this museum escapes so many people’s radars when it is located just east of the famed Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or Florence Cathedral.

Inaugurated in 1891, the museum houses some of the most beautiful original works of art from the cathedral, which include: the Florence Pietà, a marble sculpture made by Michelangelo originally as a decoration for his own tomb; the Penitent Magdalene, a wooden sculpture by Donatello; and the original Gates of Paradise, the ornate doors created by Lorenzo Ghiberti for the Florence Baptistery. The five-century-old doors were moved into the museum in 1990 for restoration, and the baptistery was fitted with replicas.

Il Museo Horne

The Horne Museum takes its name from a Victorian-age English scholar Herbert P. Horne, who settled in Florence in the late 19th century to study its Renaissance culture. Horne later donated his home and collections to the Italian government, which has since turned the small palazzo into a museum.

Horne’s palazzo boasts of an elegant yet simple facade and an interior bedecked with art, furniture, ornamental pieces, and everyday objects from the Renaissance period. As you can imagine, it’s a great place to check out if you want to see a well-appointed home as it would have looked during that period.

Of particular interest are the 14th and 15th century Florentine and Sienese paintings and sculptures, as well as original cutlery, ceramics, silver and ivory ornaments, andirons, mirrors, and leather pieces from the same era. Some of the artists represented in the collection include Giambologna, Desiderio da Settignano, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Hidden Florentine history

If you’re into hunting for hidden pieces of history that represent the more commonplace facets of past Florentine life, then take heed — they’re often found in nondescript locations.

Take for example the old religious tabernacles found on many street corners in Florence. Usually featuring images or sculptures of saints, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ, these tabernacles continue to attract devotees even today. Or how about those peculiar little arched windows that look like small doors found on the walls of large palazzo? In the old days, these porte del vino or wine doors were used by wealthy families to display agricultural products like wine, which they sell to passers-by.

All around Florence, there are curiosities such as these — some of which were made for more particular purposes. For instance, at the Ospedale degli Innocenti or Hospital of the Innocents in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, there is a beautifully decorated window where people used to leave infants anonymously to be cared for by the nuns running the orphanage.  And at the nearby Palazzo Pucci, there is another window, which, unlike the others all around it, appears to have been completely walled up. Cosimo I, a member of the powerful Medici family of the 1500s, supposedly ordered it to be permanently bricked up after finding out that Pandolfo Pucci of the rival Pucci family had ordered assassins to kill him through this otherwise innocent-looking window.

Some “hidden” historical artifacts can also be found in more famous locations. Back at the Piazza del Duomo, you might find a large circular marble tile on the piazza’s stone floor. It wasn’t put there randomly because it marks the spot where the large copper ball from the dome of the Florence Cathedral landed when it fell after being hit by a strong lightning bolt in 1600.  

The tower of Bargello on the right is one of the most noticeable features of the Florence skyline

The tower of Bargello on the right is one of the most noticeable features of the Florence skyline

 

The Giardino delle Rose and the Giardino dell’Iris

How about ending a tiring day of exploring Florence relaxing in one of the city’s best hidden secrets, the Giardino delle Rose or the Rose Garden? Nestled in the San Miniato Hill, this 25-acre garden used to be open only during spring. However, since 2011, people have been able to enjoy the grounds all year long. It does not only provide refuge from the hustle and bustle of busy tourist routes, the garden also provides some of the best views of Florence and its city walls.

If you’re visiting between the 2nd and the 20th of May, you might want also drop by the nearby Giardino dell’Iris or Iris Garden, which is devoted almost entirely to the cultivation of irises and hosts a yearly worldwide iris breeders’ competition.  Iris, as you may already know, is an official emblem of the city of Florence, so what better way to appreciate the beauty of the city than beholding row upon row of these flowering plants in bloom?

About the Author

Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of TourItaly Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She’s a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients. For more on Priscila and her work, connect with her on Google+.

Buon viaggio!

Why Not Paris?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Tips, Travel Writing

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A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life. — Thomas Jefferson

 

It may surprise people who know me, and who know how much I adore Italy and how frankly miserable I am when I’m not in Italy, that my very favorite city is not on the boot. No, my very favorite city in the world (as much of the world as I’ve seen, at least) is Paris. Apologies to Florence, Milan and Venice.

Place Vendome. We strolled along here one dark evening, so I pushed the light on this one quite a bit. How many $100,000+ watches were bering sold in the shops here? I can't begin to say . . .

Place Vendome. We strolled along here one dark evening, so I pushed the light on this one quite a bit. How many $100,000+ watches were being sold in the shops here? I can’t begin to say . . .

Those Parisian skies seem to hold something special, seem to hold me in thrall when I’m there, even though I’m neither local, skinny, a French-speaker nor adept at remaining vertical while walking on five-inch-heels on cobblestones like the native women do. I love Paris even when it drizzles, as the song goes. Even when you have to climb up four ridiculously badly lit flights of stairs to get to your 300-square-foot mini apartment which, when you get there, seems as grand and important as Versailles because it is yours for the week and you almost feel like you belong there.

We were invited to attend a wedding in

The Roue de Paris, through the gates of the Tuileries Garden. A whopping 200 feet tall, and made for the 2000 Millenium celebration. What a thrilling view of the Place de la Concorde!

The Roue de Paris, through the gates of the Tuileries Garden. A whopping 200 feet tall, and made for the 2000 Millenium celebration. What a thrilling view of the Place de la Concorde!

Paris at the end of January and — even though we are scheduled to be in Umbria in June — decided that we dearly needed a break and said a totally irresponsible Yes to the trip. And then we remembered that it is never irresponsible to go to Paris on a whim because the city will always welcome you warmly and most everything else is bullshit, anyway.

Proust's resting place in Pere Lachaise, the largest cemetery in the city of Paris. Visitors leave their metro tickets there to indicate that they'll be returning. We will, too!

Proust’s resting place in Pere Lachaise, the largest cemetery in the city of Paris. Visitors leave their metro tickets there to indicate that they’ll be returning. We will, too!

We stayed in the 10th arrondissement along the Canal Saint-Martin and, except for the wedding activities on the Rive Gauche, stayed close to this part of town and got to explore it and the bordering Marais district like locals. We spent a rainy day in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery with a mad guide named Rafael. We devoured croissant and pains au chocolat and found pretty decent wine at the local Carrefour market and bought arguably the world’s most expensive cheese, which was incredibly good.

I will write more about the trip, the people and the main character — Paris herself — at a later time. But for now, here are a few photos to whet your appetite.

Buon viaggio!