Monday, December 25, 2023

Christmas 2023 in Florence: Discovering a Mannerist Masterwork

A sculpture attributed to Tribolo in the loggiato of Borgo degli Albizi 15

 Well, the old doorman at Borgo degli Albizi, Alberico, would place illumination in the shape of a shooting star every Christmas on this sculpture in the covered courtyard of a Renaissance building where my office is located.  He identified the author of the work as no less than Michelangelo.

I always took that attribution with a grain of salt; however, a visit by art historian Jonathan Nelson earlier this year solved the mystery.  "There's a Tribolo near the entrance," he stated authoritatively.
The name sounded familiar: indeed Tribolo (aka Niccolò di Raffaello, 1500-1550) was a Florentine artist, sculptor and architect, most famous for the initial design of the Boboli Gardens and for his layout of the Medici Villa di Castello, with its terraces, fountains and grottoes.  He was also an assistant to Renaissance artist Andrea Sansovino (1467 - 1529), the name that Andrea Contucci was known by since he came from the Tuscan village of Monte San Savino.  Funnily enough, that was also Alberico's home town before coming to Florence

What was Tribolo's connection, if any, to Michelangelo?

A court artist of Grand Duke Cosimo de' Medici, he was sent by his employer to Rome to try to persuade the Renaissance genius to return to Florence and finish his work on the Laurentian Library, to no avail.  The commission was completed by Tribolo himself, together with Vasari and Ammannati, based on Michelangelo's project sketches.

Some of Tribolo's drawings were to be erroneously identified as being by Michelangelo by art historians in the 17th and 18th centuries, a sure sign of his influence.

So Alberico wasn't so far off.  After Dr. Nelson shed light on the centuries-old mystery, the current person at the door, Rosie, finally took up his old tradition of illuminating the sculpture, this time at its base.

Buon Natale!

reporting live from Beautiful Florence

                                                                 -- Rosanna

Friday, May 26, 2023

The 1993 Florence Bomb Blast: A Memoir

Florence was experiencing a precocious heat wave in late May, 1993, so much so that I was outside on my home terrace on at 1:04 am on May 27 when a bomb planted in a car went off on via dei Georgofili near the Uffizi Gallery.  Living just beyond the historic center past Porta Romana, I did not hear the explosion, but artist Charles Cecil on via Pandolfini did, remembering that it was followed by the sound 
of sirens screaming all night long.

When dawn broke, the Torre dei Pulci (Pulci Tower) on via dei Georgofili was heavily devastated, and five of its inhabitants -- the Nencioni family: mother, father, their nine-year-old daughter Nadia in addition to daughter Caterina, less than two months old -- plus a neighbor who lived across the street, 
student Dario Capolicchio -- were dead.
Also damaged was the library and archives of the Georgofili Academy (Accademia dei Georgofili), an institution devoted to the study of agriculture and the science of soil management and crop production since its establishment at that location in 1753.  Not to mention the 173 paintings and 56 sculptures at the Uffizi Gallery, the near destruction of the Antica Fattore trattoria on via Lambertesca, and the slivers of glass shattered from windows that lodged in the works on display at Ken's Art Gallery on the same street.

It was assumed that that the cause of the tragedy was a gas leak.  It was not until 12 noon on May 27 that word spread throughout Florence that what triggered the tragedy was a bomb.  As I well remember, 
the atmosphere in Florence turned into one of lead, gray and weighty.

In this surreal moment, I reported to work as usual to La Repubblica's editorial offices (then on via Maggio) at 6 pm, to write my daily column in English published by the newspaper.
I received two phone calls:  one from the BBC in London, and the other by a Sunday Telegraph journalist who had just arrived in town, like others of the international press.

The upshot was that at 8 pm, first I did a rehearsal then a one-minute live broadcast on the bomb blast for BBC World Service.  A surprise question at the end threw me off but I kept my composure to answer it.
"Who was responsible?"  
As always, I spoke the truth: "it is believed to be the Mafia."
I was immensely relieved later when it was revealed that indeed was the case.

Those at the BBC news service kindly sent me a cassette of my coverage.
I have always kept it in the office, but never, have brought myself to listen to it: it is too harrowing to listen to my voice narrating a tragedy.

After a quick dinner, I met the Sunday Telegraph reporter for what I assumed would be a quick drink at Harry's Bar in order to be his source for the article.

Well, the talk lasted nearly an hour and a half.  The English journalist, living up the reputation of press from the UK, knocked back four doubles in front of my incredulous eyes.  
While answering his questions, I slowly drank two gin and tonics. The barman, who was Lio at that time, was impassible, continuing to mix drinks.
At the end of our conversation, the journalist said; "I am going back to my hotel room as I need to send in the story by 4 am."  I thought, "buddy, in your hotel room 
you are going to fall on your face."

I'm not sure whether he made the 4 am deadline, but in any case the article ran the following Sunday, May 30, 1993, in the Telegraph.  It was impeccable reporting; in addition, I was quoted accurately.  
I should know -- he sent me a copy.  

On the 30th anniversary of the bomb blast, Florence is hosting many events to remember the tragedy triggered by the Mafia's desire to destabilize the government, which had organized
unrelentless investigations and arrests.

My homage to the 30th anniversary of the Georgofili bomb blast is to show my gentle readers 
an all-too-prophetic poem written by nine-year-old Nadia Nencioni in school a few short weeks before her death:


The afternoon is on its way

Sunset is approaching

– a moment of wonder

The sun is heading to bed

It is already night, all is finished

                        -- reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                                -- Rosanna



Monday, February 13, 2023

A Valentine's Surprise


Despite the state of the world, love is alive and well in Florence, Italy, as can be seen in this 
 piece of wall graffiti, unsigned, in the Monte Oliveto neighborhood.

In English it reads

(or more poetically)


Well, I came across this romantic inscription after having walked unintentionally for miles.  I simply meant to renew my car insurance at the Unipol Sai office across from Piazza Tasso.  I had forgotten, however, that the 36 and 36 bus lines had been rerouted since Christmas due to a sinkhole in Borgo San Frediano.
So I walked there from Porta Romana. After signing the appropriate documents, I asked how to get to my office in downtown Florence located between the Cathedral and Santa Croce.  Walk straight ahead, I was told, hang a left at the Esselunga supermarket on via Pisana, and continue to the Paolo Uccello tram stop.
The tram would take me to the Station, not exactly the best solution, but it seemed the only option.

Like everything in Italy, it was not.
This is the land where the art of arrangarsi (finding an alternative)
reigns supreme.

Lo and behold, I saw a #6 bus roll by.

I quickly asked information of a random person walking by who told me to keep bearing left.  Past the road leading up to Villa Strozzi, once the home of Polimoda, a long way before the Paolo Uccello tram stop, I found a #6 bus stop.

I also found the romantic writing on the wall, obviously intended for Elena to lay eyes on every day.
I barely had time to register the loving message when I saw a #6 turning a corner.  I only had 
a split second to take the picture 
and managed not to drop my I phone before jumping on the bus.
And no time to check the bus route.  So I asked the good looking, 35ish bus driver, where 
bus #6 was heading.

Al manicomio (the insane asylum) he answered.
Say again, I said.
Same answer.

Figuring he was having a bad day, I then asked where I could get off in downtown Florence.
Via Vecchietti, near Piazza Repubblica, was his answer.

Upon arrival in the office, I repeated this anecdote to Magenta Publishing intern Parker Hurley, 
who, being a newcomer, was deeply intrigued by the mysterious ways of Italians.

Well, the mystery was revealed later that week by my hairdresser, Federico of BZ on via Senese.
The hair salon is located near Porta Romana, so the story goes full circle.

"The end of the line of the #6 is the former insane asylum at San Salvi," he told me.
He thought me not understanding the bus driver's answer hilarious, as you can seen from his smile.

San Salvi slowly closed, like all psychiatric hospitals in Italy, between 1978 and the 1998 thanks to the Basaglia law.
In fact, in the '80s I lived in the adjacent Bellariva neighborhood and clearly remember former inmates aimlessly walking the streets trying to bum a cigarette from residents.

San Salvi is now home to a theatre group, Chille de la Balanza, whose members reside in one of the pavilions. Chille de la Balanza's mission, funded by the Municipality of Florence, is to create performances and community projects that keep the sad history of San Salvi -- once home to 5,000 inmates -- from slipping from mind.

Indelible, like the message to Elena.

Well, the visit to the hairdresser brought two other revelations, furnished by Federico's mother, Laura, who does the shampoo before the cut and blow dry styling.

She reminded me of what I already knew, that many of the buildings at San Salvi today host offices of the  Health Department, the Asl.

"San Salvi where you go to get your physical and eye exam to in order to have your driver's license renewed at age 80 and up," she said.  

Federico and I burst out laughing, and I said I would keep this piece of information in mind.

Returning to the photo of the romantic message on the wall next to the bus stop, which sparked the conversation, I said, "but it had no signature," which I thought strange.

"Of course not, said Laura, ever practical.  "Graffiti is illegal.  If signed, the police would track down the author, and he would be fined."

Later I learned, from a Repubblica article, that the fine ranges from 5,000 to 15,000 euro and
the anonymous poet also risked up to five years in jail.

Once again, the art of arrangarsi!  Hence the silence.

True love, however, overcomes every obstacle.

The message is loud and clear, despite the law.

"You are my first thought every day."

Happy Valentine's Day!

                                               reporting live from Beautiful Florence


Friday, December 30, 2022

A Farewell to 2022 in Florence & Tuscany, Part II

Well, 2022 was also the year that saw the return of the Antiques Biennale to Palazzo Corsini after a
 three-year hiatus.  There, I unexpectedly came face to face with an original Andy Warhol silkscreen of Queen Elizabeth II.  When did he create this? Obviously when she was young-ish.
The great lady herself passed on September 8 -- which in Italy is celebrated as the birthday of the 
Virgin Mary.  I attended part of the Queen's commemoration at 
the British Institute of Florence.

                               Much of 2022 seemed like an endless summer, so much so that after Vista magazine came out, appearing like the Antiques Biennale, as after a pause due to Covid -- I was was able to go to the beach several times for R&R.

Here I am in mid October (!) at Castiglioncello,  I was given a heroine's welcome at a seaside restaurant, La Lucciola, since they hadn't seen me all year, was given the best table, then took a swim and lay down to sun at the water's edge.  It was so gorgeous that I thought when I closed my eyes I would soar up into the endless blue sky.  Well, I didn't, but this is what I saw when I opened my eyes.

November brought the White Truffle Festival in San Minato near Pisa, to which I returned after
10 years, having visited with Rita Kungel, photographer Carly and Gabrielle Taylor.  The warm scent of truffle permeated all through the streets of San Miniato, which is one of only two areas in Tuscany where the culinary delicacy is unearthed in the fall.   Local restaurants offer a variety of dishes kept simple in order to highlight the delicious taste of white truffle shavings such as pasta, eggs, carpaccio (thinly sliced raw beef), and polenta. 

 I hadn't been back to San Minato since 2011, and I called the osteria we had dined at then, L'Upupu.  Roberto, the owner, remembered me but couldn't assure me of a reservation.  This year, when Helen, video maker Isabella and myself arrived, we stopped it across from a butcher shop which was serving meals on a counter in the front room adjacent to their meat display cases.  Helen had reserved there but when I saw the stools at the counter facing a stone wall, I popped my head into Roberto's tiny's establishment (which seats 20) and miracolo! - - there had been a last minute cancellation. We were invited in, given a table and greeted warmly by the owner and his son Ludovico, who spend most of their time in the kitchen.

The service is impeccable also given that Roberto, a Florentine, is also a devoted foodie who had worked at Gilli's in piazza Repubblica.

We ordered the classic tagliatelline al burro e tartufo bianco (thin egg noodles sauced with hot, melted butter and white truffle shavings).  I remembered the dish cost €25 in 2011, but it was €40 now, inflation coupled with a scarcity of truffles given the 2022's high temperatures and severe drought in Tuscany. 

Scrumptious was the word. Roberto also threw in a bottle of house wine, a deletable white at only €15 and a complimentary plate of polenta in cheese sauce once again topped by shavings of local white truffle, all served by his wife.

The Italy we knew and loved still exists.

When I walked into the British Institute before Christmas, I noticed this Christmas tree in a niche given even more depth by a scallop shell inset at the top.  This is really ancient, I thought, and I was right.  The decoration is characteristic of the High Renaissance of the late 1400s and early 1500s, a period for which Florence is renowned.  The motif can been seen in this Renaissance painting attributed to Renaissance master Filippo Lippi, in a private collection and for sale at the Antiques Biennale (!) along with 
Andy Warhol's Pop Art.

Looking back at Part 1 of my end-of-the-year blog, the memories are more dark while Part II comes out of the shadows into the light.  Isn't that life?  Back to the Renaissance, it was also a artistic technique, chiaroscuro, the play of light and shadow.

You can also see that my interests include art, nature, food and history. Italy is the perfect place for me.

I would like to end my 2022 reminisces by picturing my 90+-year-old neighbor Marisa in the years after World War II and share her words of wisdom.

Marisa lives on the ground floor where I have my home, and, due to her age, is there only three days a week especially to tend her garden, until daughter Paola comes to pick her up and take her away.  

Her roots here are strong. Besides gardening, she is a seamstress.  Sewing and gardening were respectively the livelihood and hobby of my father, an Italian tailor at West Point, who could also always be found 
in his vegetable patch after work.  He must have intuitively felt this since, at the end of his one visit to Florence, he said to her, a complete stranger to him on her knees on the ground, 
"you are a mother -- look after my daughter!"  
She always has.  Now I keep an eye on her, which Paola appreciates.

Marisa grew up in the Tuscan hills near Londa (Rufina).  Her father was a woodcutter.  There was no heat, electricity or running water in her childhood home.  Her uncle was killed by a German mine in 1944.

Yet, when I wished her Buon Anno as she was leaving again with Paola, she said simply:
"Health is what's important -- the rest come in small steps."
La salute è tutto - il resto a piccoli passi.

I will try to remember that in 2023.

Happy New Year!

                                                    reporting live from Beautiful Florence

Thursday, December 29, 2022

A Farewell to 2022 in Florence & Tuscany, Part 1

Well, 2022 was an adventure, un anno tosto (a tough year) as the daughter of my 90+ year old neighbor remarked to me on the phone the day after Christmas.  The mother is Marisa and her daughter Paola.  More about them later.  See Part II of this blog post.

After the Tuscan population was steamrolled by Omicron in early January, my friend Deborah and I, wearing masks as was everyone, made our annual getaway to the Tuscan ski resort Abetone.  Brilliantly cold and clear, the setting was the one we found below.

The trail through the woods is a ski run. Alas, this December, this image is a mirage.  Probably due to climate change, the temperatures are above freezing, there has been torrential rainfall.  No snow at a ski resort.  We're still hoping things will change by February at least...

The same month brought the annual International Holocaust Day of Remembrance on January 27, 2022. The Uffizi Gallery unveiled a new acquisition, a portrait of young woman with closed eyes entitled "Flame" by genocide victim German Expressionist art Rudolf Levy, who was deported from Florence. 

Raised in an Orthodox home, Levy faced opposition in his artistic career choice.  Born in Germany, he lived in Paris, Mallorca, New York, Dubrovnik and Ischia, seeking refuge.  He moved to Florence in 1940 and when the Nazis occupied Italy in 1943, he went underground in Florence.  Arrested by the Gestapo, imprisoned briefly in Le Murate, he was taken to Auschwitz and died there in 1944.

Stumbling stones ("pietre di inciampo in Italian) are square-shaped memorials placed in the sidewalks of the streets of Florence.

The stumbling stone located outside his hiding place -- a friend's apartment at piazza Santo Spirito no. 9 -- was placed there this year to ensure that posterity will not forget Rudolf Levy and others who suffered the same fate.

Well, World War II appeared in a July outing to Abetone in the company of Robert Shackelford and Harding University in Florence.  I had helped set up the trip months ahead of time (in terms of logistics, arranging for mountain bikes etc.) so of course I was invited to come along.  A real blessing since the summer of 2022 was one of the hottest on record -- unrelenting heat and no rain for months.
It was even warm in Abetone, and cool only at the very top of the ski lift.

On the way down from the mountain, Robbie, the student group and myself stopped at 
the Museum of the Gothic Line in Pianosinatico, six miles south of Abetone, which I had never heard of before.  The Gothic Line was a heavily guarded German line of defense during World War II designed to cut Italy in half from east to west, from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Adriatic coast. Pianosinatico was right on the Gothic Line, so the museum was opened in 2019.  There are also hikes of varying lengths
to WW2 bunkers that depart from the site.

Here we are at the entrance to the museum.  Robbie is on the far right, with the 
director of the museum, hand on her hip, to the left.

The museum is divided into four rooms, each devoted to a protagonist of the WW2 campaign: partisan resistance fighters, Italian fascists, American soldiers and their German counterparts.

I was amazed to find the military patch of the 10th Mountain Division, which had trained on skis at an altitude of 9,200 ft. at Camp Hale, Colorado, before arriving in the mountains around Abetone in 1944.
This was only six years before Abetone native Zeno Colò won the gold medal in the men's downhill and giant shalom skiing at the Aspen, Colorado world championships.

The Americans left their footprint on the Apennine mountains here, as you can see from the Coca Cola bottle and the packages of K rations and even Milk Duds (!).  .

They even left behind an Italian phrase book.

Unfortunately, a group of partisan resistance fighters attacked a car with German soldiers in Pianosinatico, killing an officer and an enlisted man on September 27, 1944.  The Nazis rounded up 11 men in the village on the same day and shot them in revenge.  Nine were over the age of 55 and one of them, Tullio Levi, was a Jew from Parma who thought he had found a safe and remote place to hide.

In the spirit of my photo taken along the walkway to the museum,
 rest in peace.

Flowers thrive in the pure mountain air.

As for Pianosinatico, there are currently more ghosts than residents; 
the population currently stands at 76.
Of these, according to info online, "24 are unmarried, 34 are married or separated, two are divorced and 16 are widowed.  The majority have gone to either elementary or middle school 
and one person is illiterate."
Times seems to have stood still in this tiny hamlet 3,000 ft. above sea level, whose destiny, evidently, is to be a guardian of history.

But as I am saying farewell to 2022 in Florence and Tuscany, 
there's still the second half of the year
 to report on.

                                                                         reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                                                -- Rosanna

Friday, December 31, 2021

Looking Back on Tuscany, 2021


Well, this blog is called "Beautiful Florence -- Tuscan Living, from Rosanna's perspective," so as an end of the year post, I will concentrate on memories from this year in Tuscany.

These recollections began in July, as the first half of the year Tuscany was either in the "red" or "orange" zone.  Designed to contain COVID contagions, residents were not allowed to travel outside their town or city of residence, except for work, health or emergency reasons.  Now, as a journalist with a press pass, I could have faked it, but chose not to.  Hence, apart from press conferences in Prato and Montalcino in June, my first trip for pleasure was in July.  Robert Shackelford invited me on a Harding school trip to the Casentino.

Casentino is an area of wooded hills and mountains, interspersed with a lush valley and scattered hamlets.  It is also the source of the Arno River, and is also known for its authentic medieval castles. 

The photo above is of Romena Castle, built on its present site in 1152 atop a previous fortification from 1008 A.D.   Dante Alighieri was a guest at this castle, which belonged in the Guidi counts, and cites a village in the immediate surroundings in the Divine Comedy's Inferno.  Unlike Inferno (or: Hell), it was a cool place on a hot summer's day.  The castle can be visited from April 1 to October 31 for the modest price of €3.  Obviously the owner, Niccolò Goretti de' Flamini is not interested in exploiting history for $$$ unlike Disney World.

My next trip, this time for a week in early September, was to Seccheto on the island of Elba.  A small village on the sea situated between Cavoli and Fetovaia, it has been my vacation retreat for over 20 years.  This year I was able to go a little later than usual as interns were not arriving in the office until at least mid-September due to the chaos generated by COVID.

To say I was bone tired when I arrived would be about right.  I revived on the shore of the sea.

Now, this looks like an ad for Acqua dell'Elba cologne but I actually took the photo with my I phone.

I stayed seven nights, two of which were paid by the Italian government under the bonus vacanza program as a compensation to hotel owners and clients whose earnings took a nosedive thanks to the pandemic.  The entire bill, after the deduction, taking into account a hearty breakfast, a full Italian dinner (mainly fish) was around €550.  This included a patio outside the room with a lounger, a table and chairs (useful at lunchtime) and a drying rack.  It also comprised a beach umbrella, which I promptly went down and planted on the shore just before breakfast.

The lone open white beach umbrella and orange chair is mine.  Now you know why I was able to get the beautiful picture of the transparent water.

As the autumn was incredibly mild, and I was inspired to go the beach again, this time in Castiglioncello. which is closer to Florence, because of a bad fall.

I slipped over the edge of a stone sidewalk on my bad knee (injured in a 2008 fall), came down on that knee and my lower back went smack against the stone curb in Florence's historical center.  OUCH! 

This happened outside the pharmacy across from the "Straw Market" under the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo.  The market is best know for its "Porcellino" statue (which is actually a wild boar, not a pig), that one rubs for good luck and to return to Florence.  Here, my manicured hand on the bronze snout is posing for photographer Andrea Pistolesi.

While the Porcellino surveyed my fall, unmoved, I was in pain.  This propelled me to Castiglioncello to dive into 62°- 60° Fahrenheit degree water (freezing by Italian standards, but not by the standards of beaches I've frequented on Long Island, Massachusetts and certainly not Maine, the absolute coldest) to relieve the pain.  I went twice, on the 16th and the 30th of October!  I was desperate, but it turned out to be a blessing as you can see below.  And, yes, it was warm enough that my bathing suit dried in the soft sun light.

Wearing rubber sandals because of the rocky bottom -- a must in Castiglioncello -- according to my doctor, upon contact with the crystal water my system went into thermal shock.  I'm not kidding -- that's what he said.  I like to think he meant that it was like applying an ice pack (although it wasn't that cold) to the injury.  So much for pharmaceuticals, which I don't take (except when absolutely necessary). Cold water did the trick: the dip instantly alleviated the pain, especially the first time. 

The only other persons in the water was a man in wet suit and a grandfather and his grandson, swimming like fish.

Now, my 2021 adventures in Tuscany were not limited to the sea.  In early November, the weather still beautiful, thanks to my friend Helen Burroughs, we spent a day in Chianti.

We began by driving around the gorgeous countryside, filled with fall colors, around Lamole.
The we headed for lunch in a quintessential Tuscan hill town (or in this case, village): Montefioralle, above Greve.  Tiny, hard to find parking, but wonderfully and authentically medieval as you can see by the photo below.
As my dear high school friend Angie would say, "this is Tuscany."

Montefioralle happens to be designated as one of the 308 loveliest villages in Italy.  Who wouldn't like to live here?  The places is so so small that only 79 residents call it home, and two of them are sitting outside their home on a bench as you can see.

It was time for lunch, and we discovered "Alberto's Home Restaurant."  I am not joking, there is an Alberto, resident no. 3 of Montefioralle.  He and his partner (#4 but not introduced to us although she was the server) prepare lunch in their kitchen and bring it out to guests on their patio.
Meet owner and chef Alberto.

Now, who wouldn't be happy in such a setting?
And the food!  Genuine Tuscan country food.  The menu, a surprise, that is just brought to us without choice, consisted of a wooden platter of tasty Chianti cold cuts, sweet pepper spread and homemade bread, creamy pumpkin soup with strips of crunchy bacon and croutons, and local wine in a flask made down the road
(as you can see):

followed by a terracotta dish filled with Tuscan white beans in a sauce flavored by tomatoes, topped with sausages and sage, with bread in a basket.  Homemade almond biscotti and Vin Santo dessert wine came next, and the meal ended with espresso coffee.  The actual stovetop pot arrived along with milk, sugar and an enamel espresso cup.

The entire tab came to €25 per person (and there was not even a service charge!).  Truth in advertising: a home restaurant indeed, but outside only (perfect for COVID times) with an incredible vista.

As I wrote in my intro to this blog, which I opened 10 years ago (!) in 2011, after a trip to St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, where my heart sister, Mary Louise has a vacation home, this was my intention in starting Beautiful Florence.

This is from my intro to the blog, which you can also access by clicking the book on the home page:

"Back in the ‘80s, in the sunlight, the soul of Florence—which was the soul of humanity as expressed through the Renaissance—was completely visible.  

     At that time, as an artisan friend Agostino Dessi said, “Firenze era la più bella città del mondo” (Florence was the most beautiful city in the world).  Sadly, over the past decades, with its adaptation to mass tourism, the soul of Florence is less apparent.  Rain or shine,  Beautiful Florence does exist, and you can still find it—I am here to help you look.

       I will also help you discover the Tuscan soul in the countryside, cities, villages and coast, where it still strongly evident."

The last line, especially in this difficult moment of the pandemic, is what inspired me to look back
 on times in Tuscany 2021.  Hopefully, beautiful Tuscany will be safer to visit thanks to new rules and regulations to fight the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant which will go into effect in 
10 days time.

While experiencing change, Tuscany is unchanging as you can see from the view of the Chianti countryside from "Alberto's Home Restaurant" in Montefioralle, a hill town, which, despite my work, was somewhere I had never been to before in Tuscany.

Isn't that something?  One of the many reasons I fell in love with region is that in some places, as in the view of the hills above, the landscape (minus the olive trees) is reminiscent of the Hudson Valley, where I grew up.

This moment, too, will pass.  And Tuscany will be waiting for us.

                                                      -- reporting live from Beautiful Florence


Saturday, December 25, 2021

Looking Back on 2021 in Florence Through Street Art


It's the Christmas season in Florence: one that is the usual shiny and bright, mirrored by the installation and decorations above on via Tornabuoni.  After six months of Covid restrictions (December 2020 - May 2021), for the holidays the city was luminous, basking in light.  The atmosphere was positive -- that is, until the Omicron variant hit Italy 
this week.

Yet, the month had started out so well.  Tuscans flocked in ever-increasing numbers for the booster shot, but also flocked at markets, holiday events, Christmas villages and shopping.  On December 8, Patrick Zaki, an Egyptian college student at the University of Bologna, was finally freed from pre-trial detention in Cairo on trumped-up charges of subversion (i.e. freedom of thought) thanks to support by the international community and especially in Italy.

Readers of Beautiful Florence may remember that, reported in last December's Christmas blog, I came across a cardboard cutout Nativity scene at Villa Arrivabene created by Gruppo Donatello artists.   As you can see below, "Freedom for Patrick Zaky" (sic) is written on the T-shirt of the activist, with the depiction inspired by Amnesty International's poster.  

So, hope was in the air.  There was even hope for Dante Alighieri, who was finally freed from endless commemorative events, including historic exhibitions -- ostensibly designed to honor the poet and author of the Divine Comedy.  In many, if not all cases, the program was meant to attract the public and sell tickets.  Florence at a certain point even asked once more for Dante's remains back from Ravenna, where he died in exile.  Ravenna, of course, refused, much as city fathers had in 1519, when a Tuscan delegation arrived to take what was left of Alighieri back to Florence.  They found an empty sarcophagus thanks to the prompt intervention of Franciscan fathers, who had temporarily moved his bones.

Unlike what is depicted in the above piece of Florence street art, Dante was never arrested.  He chose exile as an alternative to being burnt at the stake in Florence, a punishment for being on the wrong side of the political fence.

So, until the next anniversary at least, Dante is a free citizen again.

A modern-day Dante, if not in literature but equally as influential as an environmental activist is 
Greta Thunberg, honored in Florence in 2021 as a Superwoman winking at the skeptical.  The sticker reads "the time is now! -- put your heart into it."  It, being of course, the cause to halt and even reverse climate change.

Set in a secluded spot in downtown Florence, the work is framed almost in the manner of medieval street tabernacles (still visible today) where citizens would stop, pause, and pray.  Greta herself would surely approve that the work -- seemingly a modern day fresco -- is brushed by oxygen-creating nature, 
the branch of an olive tree.

With over 50,000 new Covid cases reported in Italy on December 25 -- an all time record but with 
fewer hospitalizations and deaths that period of the pandemic before the vaccine -- the times suddenly look uncertain again.  What will the future hold?

Times are such that one may be tempted to put a life jacket around one's heart, like this piece of street art near my office, on via Verdi.  The street leads to the piazza and church Santa Croce (which also contains an empty sarcophagus and monument to Dante Alighieri, waiting for the day (over Ravenna's dead body), that the poet's remains return to Florence.  For the record, the stone sign is used to disaster -- it was nearly submerged by the waters of the great flood of Florence in 1966, when the Arno burst its banks, reaching a level of 21 ft (6.7 meters) in the historical city center.

One can also turn to history for solace. This is a fact that I discovered when researching a current mega-project spanning WWII to the pandemic in Florence. As it noted, the retreating Germans blew up every single bridge except Ponte Vecchio in and around Florence in the summer of 1944 to slow 
the Allies' advance and liberation of Tuscany.

Or so it is believed.  Actually, there is another (tiny) bridge that the Germans did not manage to destroy.  It is located in Mantignano, an old neighborhood just past Isolotto on Florence's left bank facing Ponte all'Indiano on the other side of the Arno.  Known locally as the "Ponte dei Cazzotti" (the bridge of blows, thanks to memorable fistfights, the diminutive span over the Greve river was heroically defended by partisan resistance fighters and saved.  When the soldiers of the U.S. 442nd Infantry Regiment -- a segregated and highly decorated unit comprised entirely of volunteer second generation Japanese Americans, many of whose parents were in internment camps in the U.S. for the duration of the war -- arrived, 
to create the first known graffiti in the Florence metropolitan area, still visible today.

Reputedly familiar with the 1943 Cary Grant film, "Destination Tokyo," the soldiers left their mark on the "Ponte dei Cazzotti":  Los Angeles City Limits, then underneath (partially hidden by plastic), 
Aug. '44, and to the left, their I.D:
the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (of the Infantry).

While the bridge is closed, the writing is visible to this day.  I took this photo with my I phone (as all others in this blog post), in November 2021.

Exile, war, flood -- Florence has seen it all and survived to eventually prosper 
in the brutal ups and downs 
of the cycle of life.

While the pandemic resembles a roller coaster, we can take solace in the fact that feelings as well as the physical world have survived.  Like this tower, the Torre di Pagliazzi
in via Sant'Elisabetta in the old city center of Florence, on the right of the below photo.

It was constructed between the 6th and 7th centuries A.D. on the ruins of a preexisting Roman building, either by the Longobards, a Germanic tribe, or Byzantine invaders, all of whom had dominions in modern-day Italy during that period.  Look at that stone work -- now that is patience.  

Patience enough to withstand the trials of time -- 13 centuries worth!  

Featuring a holiday glow, the tower and the adjacent building now hosts a luxury hotel 
and two-star Michelin restaurant.

We, too, shall overcome this challenging moment.

                           -- Reporting live from Beautiful Florence