Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Florence Straw Hat

      When I first started working as a professional journalist in Florence in the 1980s, for several years my office was a room in my home outside Porta Romana.  As most of my reporting was in the city center, before the era of café lunches, as I walked around, I was forced to take the bus home for lunch and to rely on the rest rooms of friends employed in downtown offices.
Young and carefree, I didn't mind.

     During those years I was asked to start Florence's first newspaper in English, Florenscape, which, due to popular request, was later transformed in a magazine as the precursor the of present Vista, Florence & Tuscany.  Photographer Andrea Pistolesi and I did an article on the "Florence Straw Hat,"  a craft which originated at Signa (province of Florence) in the 1700s.  It was there that a cottage industry started where women at home began to braid straw, creating a fashion classic.

       Andrea and I found a shop on via della Vigna Nuova which still carried hand-braided Florence straw hats, Paoli (now closed).  Upon assignment's end, Sig.ra Paoli gave me an authentic Florence straw hat.  When I finally opened an office between the Cathedral and Santa Croce, I symbolically found a place to "hang my hat,"  where it remains to the day.

    Again during that period, I reported on the performance of the operetta Florence Straw Hat, music by Nino Rota, at the Fiesole Summer Festival, although I actually did not attend the performance.  Several days ago, I finally saw it at the Teatro Comunale, Florence's Opera House (last performance tonight).

       At the press conference, I discovered that there is a Florence Straw Hat Consortium, a group of firms in and around Signa that still produce hand-crafted straw hats to this day.  The Consortium donated the hats used in the performance and set up an historical exhibition in the theater's foyer.

Scheduled in tribute to Nino Rota, Oscar winner for the movie score of The Godfather Part II as well as the composer of numerous other movies scores, many of which were commissioned by Federico Fellini, Florence Straw Hat on stage at the Comunale was a sheer delight to watch.

       The operetta was performed and staged by the promising young talents of 
Maggioformazione, the theater school.

After enjoying the beautiful production, there was a surprise waiting for the audience back outside in the theater's foyer.  For this special occasion, the craftsmen working for firms belonging to the Consortium created the world's largest Florence Straw Hat.

I don't know if anyone has yet notified
the Guinness Book of Records.

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