Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas 2013 in Florence

Just before the holidays, I was walking down via de' Lamberti for the nth time, looked up, and suddenly saw the incarnation of Beautiful Florence's Christmas card to the world.
This sculpture composition is located in a niche on the church of Orsanmichele near via Calziauoli.

The Orsanmichele was initially a monastery with a vegetable garden (orto), rebuilt as a grain market and finally as a grain warehouse and church in the 14th century.  It is a perfect synthesis of the two omnipresent sides of Florence's soul--sacred and the commercial.

In the late 1390s, Florence was a self governing republic under the direction of the city guilds.
The Orsanmichele was given to the guilds, which commissioned statues of protector saints to represent each one individually on the facade.  The works were completed by artists as important as
Donatello, Verrocchio and Giambologna.

The above scene, as I discovered, however, was assigned to a relatively obscure sculptor, Pietro di Giovanni Tedesco, who is best known for his marble statues on the facade of the Cathedral (Duomo) now found in the Cathedral (Opera del Duomo) museum.  He completed his original vision of
The Madonna of the Rose in 1399.

What you see above is an exact copy in the original niche, with the Tedesco's work now inside the Orsanmichele church. This fact does not detract from the beauty and power of the work, which typifies the moment in artistic history, the transition from Gothic to early Renaissance values.  The Madonna mother, while realistically depicted, has the austere countenance and tiara of a Gothic queen, which she is, albeit a spiritual one.  Looking ahead to the Renaissance, the Christ is a child with a humanistic face, curls, a smile and all.  He is playfully reaching for the roses that his Mother is holding.

The group is seven ft. high, and while in marble, and the figures and drapery folds so beautifully done as to appear preserved in stone for posterity.

An interesting note:  The Madonna of the Rose was chosen by the medieval Physicians and Apothecaries guild.  Healers, with strong roots in the earth.  The Child is holding a bird, a symbol of
freedom and space, and is reaching for the flowers, which stand for nature, beauty and intuition.

Sculptor Pietro di Giovanni Tedesco is believed to be an oriundo, born of Italian parents in either Germany or Flanders, as evidenced by the "Tedesco" (German) tacked on to his name.
It took another oriundo, born in America and author of
Beautiful Florence, to recognize a
paseano.

 Faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer Janelle Piva recorded this image which portrays
 the physical and the divine aspects of the Virgin and Child.

And isn't that what Christmas is all about?
...and universal love of course.

Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                    --Rose Anna Maria aka Rosanna

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tuscan Truffles for a Cause, 2013

What is Princess Giorgiana Corsini of Florence sniffing?  It is a white truffle, one of 30 recently auctioned for charity.  The event, called "Tartufile," held at the beautiful estate Fattoria Dianelli close to Vinci, in the countryside where Leonardo da Vinci grew up.
It marked the inauguration of the annual Tuscan Truffle Fair at San Miniato.

As white truffles leave no presence above ground, special dogs employed by tartufai (truffle hunters) use their nose to find the treasure beneath their feet.

These truffles, found by dogs in the area around San Miniato and ranging from 40 - 203 grams were ceremoniously weighed, labeled and placed on view before the auction.

These rare specimens of Tuber magnatum were donated by the organizers of the Mostra Mercato del Tartufo Bianco (Truffle Fair), held the last three weekends in November.

The label next to each bears the acronym "F.I.L.E., the beneficiary of the fundraiser:  a Florentine foundation dedicated to the home care of the terminally ill as well as hospice care. (I always give special attention to this nonprofit organization as my own Italian mother died in a hospice in the U.S.).
Over 350 guests came from Florence to help the charity, each paying a 25 euro admission fee.

After a close look at the display table, guests were called the to the auction hall.
Each truffle was carried individually by groups of children, almost like bridesmaids,
to the auctioneer, Massimo Bartolozzi, a noted Florentine antique dealer.
He was lent for the occasion by his wife, Donatella Carmi, president of the FILE association.

Between entrance fees and the auction, 35.000 euro was raised to assist FILE's patients.
A 140 g truffle, called "un mostro" by auctioneer Bartolozzi, alone went for 2500 euro.

This being Italy, of course a complementary dinner was offered at the end.
The Fattoria Dianelli generously prepared bruschetta with their own olive oil, an assortment of farm products, mainly cold cuts such as prosciutto and soprassata, Tuscan bread with sliced truffles and a selection of estate red, rosé and white wines.  I drank the rosé, which was light and fruity.

Renowned chef Fulvio Pierangelini of Florence's Savoy Hotel, along with his staff
(pictured above) prepared a special treat:  shrimp risotto served with shavings of white truffle.
It was delicious.

San Miniato may be an unfamiliar name to some--except to those who have seen the film Le Notti di San Lorenzo ("The Night of the Shooting Stars"), which recounts the town's shelling during the Second World War--while to others it may be known for its celebrated, award winning truffles.  Rita Kungel, Gabrielle Taylor and I in the company of the then-faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer Carly Vickers filed a complete report as an earlier blog post: Truffles, San Miniato and More Truffles (11/24/11, www.beautifulflorence.blogspot.com).

The photos in this post were taken by soon-to-be faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer Janelle Piva.   This special evening also proved that we journalists work hard but eat well.  Always.  Sempre.



Thursday, October 10, 2013

2013 Florence Antiques Biennial Show & Giuseppe Tornatore

Where can a Renaissance sculpture such as the one pictured above be not only on display but for sale?
The answer is the current Florence Biennial International Antiques Show.
The event, which will continue through 8 pm Sunday, October 13 in Palazzo Corsini
showcases mainly 16th - 19th century Italian antiques exhibited by European and New York dealers.
This wooden and decorated Bust of a Young Woman is by no other than a master as Antonio del Pollaiolo, completed upon commission between 1465 and 1470.
She reminded of a serene painted Piero della Francesca figure come to life.

Think about adding that to your shopping cart!
I first covered the Antiques Biennial event in 2001 with a article in the International Herald Tribune giving the sensational news that a small drawing by Michelangelo (from a private collection in England:
no, it was not the Queen's) was for sale.
It was surrounded by guards brandishing an impressive array of firearms.

Also exhibited at Palazzo Corsini are the 19th century Tuscan macchiaolo works--its exponents Giovanni Fattori and Telemaco Signorini were the predecessors of the French impressionism school.
Like their fellow French artists, the brushwork is loose, with few precise details and definite lines.
This style also influenced early 20th century Italian artists such as Giovanni Boldini.
The work above is exhibited at a collateral show,
Ritorni (Return), which the Florence Antiques Biennale show committee organized at
the Bardini museum.  It consists of antiques come back to Italy thanks to acquisitions from private and foreign museum collections over the years.
This luminous watercolor of a young women seated on a park bench holding a poodle has traveled from California.
The show's organizers also arranged for the screening of Giuseppe Tornatore's latest film
The Best Offer -- a look at the world of antique dealing and auctions starring Geoffrey Rush.
Being Italians are fond of prizes on any occasion, the committee gave the director
the Lorenzo d'Oro (The Golden Lorenzo) award, in a ceremony covered by the local press
(above).  I guess Florentine Renaissance humanist and ruler Lorenzo de'Medici is already well known by his unofficial title "Lorenzo the Magnificent," so there was no other choice than
to make Tornatore's tribute synonymous with gold.

(N.B. After completing this post, I looked at the presentation program and read that a small gold bust of Lorenzo the Magnificent--recognizable by his pug nose--the symbol of the presentation, was actually handed to Tornatore).

A Renaissance man from Sicily, Tornatore was delighted to accept the honor.
It was an honor for me to on hand at an event starring the director of Cinema Paradiso,
which I viewed at the home of my heart-sister. Mary Louise, in Montgomery, New York
(Hudson Valley).

Here in Italy, I was too shy to ask for an autograph.

      Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
   -- Rosanna

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Last Day of a Tuscan Summer, 2013

In 2011 I wrote a post called "The Last Day of Summer," recounting my adventures in Monterosso in Liguria on the last beach day before unexpected flooding.
Well, on Sunday, Sept. 22, I headed to Follonica way down on the Tuscan coast for 
another last day of summer.  There must be an unwritten law that these occasions are always special, as indeed this day again was.

As seen through my beach umbrella, the sun radiated gentle warmth.  The beach was not crowded.  There were mainly locals on the silk-textured sand, the water absolutely crystal clear and not too cold.
Glorious.

I went swimming around noon, with the idea of drying off, maintaining my tan, and having lunch
under the umbrella.
Well, the first strange thing happened while I was in the water.  I could see all the umbrellas were suddenly shut where I was hanging out, at the Orchidea (Orchid) establishment, right below a modest hotel on the beach that had closed the previous week.  "Hey, that's funny," I thought, "the wind is not even blowing."

By the time I got back, all the locals had abandoned the sun beds (above),
presumably having gone home to have lunch.
The lifeguards had disappeared as well--which I had never seen before.
I hadn't even paid for the sun bed and beach umbrella, wondered was was going on, but wasn't too worried.  My mood was mellow, like the day.

The hotel café was closed, so I walked along Follonica's shoreline and found a seafood
restaurant.  I was actually looking for a cold beer to go along with my sandwich.
The kind owner, a complete stranger, sold me a bottle, and when I asked for a plastic cup, handed me
a fine crystal wine goblet.
"You won't be far, and I'm sure you'll bring it back."
Later I did, of course, and had a stand-up espresso at the rustic wooden counter next to the dining room.

When I returned to my umbrella, the empty sun beds had been commandeered by a young, obviously local crowd.  Is everything practically free the last day of summer, I wondered?
The sun beds were again abandoned at 4 o'clock, as everyone but me obviously knew
that the lifeguards would be coming back to pack everything away.

I asked Marco, the one lifeguard I had met, what I owed.
"10 euro," he said--I handed him a 20.
"I have no change," he replied, and took what change I had--6 euro, and put it in his pocket.
Ci si rifa un'altro anno, he said.
"You'll be back."

"Look, it is so clear you can see Corsica," he said, pointing to the horizon.
All Tuscans are sure that they are sighting Corsica when they see
land in the distance framing a seascape.

Being American, later I looked a map and realized it was probably Elba.
My last day of summer 2013 was certainly less of an adventure than the October 14, 2011 post.
Instead, the day had such a soft quality about it, as you can seen from the picture (all were taken spontaneously with my I phone).

Back in Florence, at the end of the 10 pm news, I couldn't believe my ears when
the solemn newscaster announced:
"In two hours, it will be September 23.  Today is the last day of summer."
(Oggi è l'ultimo giorno d'estate).

Do Italians ever take notice of the calendar?--no, that's that point of living in this country.
The fall equinox was on Sept. 21, but obviously the newscaster, like all natives,
knew better and simply stated the obvious.








Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Michelangelo's David, the Art Cocktail & 9/11

Today is the 12th anniversary of 9/11 and then as now I am here in Florence.  It is also Wednesday, when during the warm weather months, the Academy Gallery, home to David, holds its
"Art Cocktail" (Aperitivo ad Arte) from 7 - 10 pm.  With a wonderful memory of the Art Cocktail last year on the Uffici atop the Loggia dei Lanzi (see last year's post  Uffizi Terrace Cocktail Hour, Sept. 17) comprising a visit to several rooms in the museum as well as an incomparable, close-up  view of Florence's major monuments), the office staff looked forward to an encore.

Well, there were a few differences.  First of all,
although I am exempt from paying because I have a press pass, admission to the Art Cocktail is now 15 euro as compared to the 12 euro charged a year ago.  Mind you, the admission price to the Academy in the same time span has gone up to 11 euro from 10 euro.

The office staff noticed another difference:  there were lots of dips (above), chips and nuts (below), but the fresh fruit salad had disappeared.  As American would say, 'less bang for your buck.'
What there was, however, was plentiful.  To be fair, a new entry appeared on Art Cocktail buffet table:   finger sandwiches, mercifully minus the mayonnaise so dear
to Americans.  Unfortunate to report, the selection of pasta dishes and rice salads had vanished as well.

We can report that at least one main course was offered, and a Tuscan specialty at that:
panzanella or bread salad (above).  Raised parsimoniously, Tuscans soak their day-old unsalted bread with the result resembling couscous.  To this base they add tomato, sliced cucumber and onion as well as basil, dressing the panzanella with olive oil and a dash of vinegar.  Served chilled or at room temperature, the dish is refreshing on a hot day (keep in mind it is still 80° and sunny in Florence).

The Art Cocktail comes with an accompanying drink of choice:  sangria for those with a sweet tooth,
red wine, white wine or a cocktail of course.
I chose a Spritz (above) -- chilled spumante and aperol.
As I and the office staff sipped our drinks and ate the food, nicely set up in
the Academy Gallery courtyard which afforded a breath of air and a place to sit, thoughts of the
9/11 anniversary surfaced.  To my mind, the world had become then (and still is) more and more materialistic, characterized by an increasing emphasis on speed and greed, with an ever-less 'bang for the buck.'  There seems to be ever-growing extremism, visible in the violence of 9/11, whether of a consumeristic or a fanatic religious kind.

The antidote stood before me.

Michelangelo's David in all his glory, bathed in the golden light of sunset.
(The picture was sneaked as no photos are allowed in the Academy).

This icon of Western civilization was sculpted between 1501 and 1504, in the days of no indoor heating or plumbing.
For a brief season, Florence had returned to being a self-governing republic:  David the giant slayer had defeated the Goliath, with only a slingshot no less.

Frozen in Carrara marble from Tuscany, and in time, David represents the free, immortal soul of man
minus the trappings, not even a wardrobe.
Our potential.
People come from far and wide to be reminded.

Hey, maybe I saw the glass half empty instead of half full:  the average visitor only pays 4 euro extra for a cocktail, a pre-dinner--instead of a dinner--buffet, no standing in line, and an
almost private visit with David.

That alone is almost worth the plane ticket.

Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
      -- Rosanna

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cold Coffee & Company in Florence

It's August in Florence, and 100° in the shade.  It also happens to be your (lately) less-than-faithful Beautiful Florence blogger's birthday.  Where has she been?  Well, launching the publishing company
website (www.magentaflorence.com), getting out a summer issue of our English-language magazine,
Vista, Florence & Tuscany, and returning to having an English language column ('Day')
on Florence's local edition of the daily La Repubblica, this time on the web site
(www.firenzerepubblica.it).  What better way to celebrate that with an "ice cappucino,"
at one of our office hangouts, Chiarscuro on nearby via del Corso?

Chiaroscuro invented "ice cappuccino" a few years ago, and it was copied--spelling and all-- by a number of cafés in Florence.  As I do not like knock-offs, with my ideas and words at times imitated or downright plagerized, in this case I returned to the source.  The Chiaroscuro "ice cappucino," consisting of cold espresso, frothy milk and sugar, is served with straws, but is so thick that it can be scooped with a spoon like a dessert.
Marguerite Mannix, author of the photos, compared it to a frosty at Wendy's,
if I am reading my notes correctly.

Our host, Massimo, exemplifying Italian hospitality, insisted that we try one of the café's latest creations, an iced mango-lemon granite (below).

Well, I hesitated in publishing this picture because it clearly shows how tired I am.  Taking notes in my Beautiful Florence hand-made diary, after the first sip, I wrote, "Oh my God."
Massimo explained that the his Chiaroscuro partner, Franco, has been abroad and come back to Florence with the idea of heating lemon juice, lemon rind and sugar together (which sounds like homemade lemonade to me), cooling it and adding it to cold mango tea.  I leave the taste sensation to your imagination--my comment said it all.

Massimo was so pleased at my reaction and as well as those who were present from the office, that he came out with something else, always on an iced beverage theme, a strawberry granite.
Again characterized by a chilled lemonade base, it is topped with froth, a dash of whipped cream,
strawberry purée and strawberries.

Alto che Starbucks
(this is:  forget Starbucks).
I have only been at this American non-competitor once,
on a business trip to Boston, for what purported to be a cappuccino, weak coffee topped by
 a lot of airy foam...




In an earlier post "Comfort Food:  Neapolitan Pizza in Florence," my partner in crime was no other than Emilia Gambardella (right), an American student at the Smith College study center in Florence, whose father is a Neapolitan immigrant waiter and restaurant owner turned
Wall Street stockbroker.

She was present on this occasion, and with Neapolitan savvy, decided to try something else at Chiaroscuro,
ice mocaccino.
When choosing cold espresso, we found the ice mocaccino the clear winner at Chiaroscuro on a hot summer's day, less sweet, more densely coffee-flavored and less thick than the ice cappuccino,
which, to our mind,
is a great dessert.

For the record, Emilia ordered this off the menu without having tried it first.
Morale della favola, food-wise, Neapolitans--even American ones--always know best.
Buon Ferragosto!

Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
              --Rosanna


Monday, June 17, 2013

Dan Brown's Inferno and Florence

Dan Brown (above right) was in Florence recently to participate in a forum
dedicated to the topic "Our Need for Mystery."  While this subject never came up during an interview conducted by Vittorio Zucconi of Repubblica and translated by a simultaneous interpreter (left), a number of interesting things were said on either side.  While you are reading this post, keep in mind that your faithful Beautiful Florence blogger has never read a single word of Dan Brown's works.  He writes fiction, which, Brown said on this occasion, "is life with the boring parts taken out."

(N.B. Today, June 30, a reader of Beautiful Florence sent me a message to say that in the above quote Dan Brown paraphrased Alfred Hitchcock, who said the same thing many years ago, 
referring to movies instead of fiction).

Brown's latest best seller is Inferno, influenced by Dante's last book in his Divine Comedy trilogy.  It is Brown's belief that "Dante invented the modern vision of hell."
Looking at Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes,
 it would be difficult not to agree.

When Zucconi pointed out that Dante wrote in volgare, vulgate that became the Italian language and supplanted Latin, and that Brown's books could be categorized as popular reading, the author responded, "Language is not show, it must be transparent.  I write a book the way I would like to read it."  He also noted that, for those writing a novel,
"if you start without an ending, you're in trouble."

Brown also commented that Tom Hanks was also in trouble during the filming
of Angels and Demons on location in Italy.  "Tom had to stay fit during the shooting, so that meant
no pasta and no indulging in
Italian food in general until the end," he said.

 What turned out to be a question and answer session took place in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio during the Republic of Ideas festival, organized by La Repubblica, an Italian daily.  The initiative was designed as a gathering of thinkers, journalists, scientists, writers and musicians, offering discussions, interviews and events throughout the city.  This large "R," in the Repubblica typeface or font, proudly stood in piazza Signoria as a sort of "X" marks the spot, "this is where the program takes place."

Rita Kungel and I gave details on the festival for Magenta Publishing's English language column "Day" on Repubblica's Florence website, www.firenzerepubblica.it, and she wanted to hear what Dan Brown had to say despite the fact that she, too, had never read his bestsellers.  When I asked for press accreditation, I was requested to send an email to the L'Espresso, Repubblica's publisher in Rome,
which sent a two word reply:"Va bene" (OK).

Armed with a photocopy of the message, Rita and I hurried up the stairs to Palazzo Vecchio's Salone dei Cinquecento just before the door closed on the overflow crowd waiting to enter the room.
I could have auctioned this piece of paper to the highest bidder.
Once inside, we sat in the back, except for when Rita walked up front to take the picture which appears at the beginning of this post.

Back to Brown.  During the encounter, he said, "creative people are driven by passion, which often comes from oppression.  I am lucky to live in a country where I can write about religion and share it with the world without danger."
He also invited Roberto Benigni, the Tuscan actor/director and Oscar winner for
Life is Beautiful to accept a part in the movie version of Inferno.
On his part, Benigni, who has never met Brown, invited the author to his public readings of Dante's
Inferno, scheduled in Florence's piazza Santa Croce from July 20 - August 6.

Brown's parting words were clear, yet cryptic.
"There is an unfinished pyramid on the dollar bill--it is a Masonic symbol meaning there is work to finish.  There is stuff left to do--never stop trying."

Between Zucconi's complicated questions, each lasting five minutes, and Brown's concise, to the point answers, the winner was the interpreter, who didn't miss a comma, and the audience.
Although "Our Need for Mystery" remained a mystery, whatever Brown's intentions were in writing his books and whether they will ever end up on mandatory reading lists of a future generation,
there was no mistaking one thing:
his authentic passion for Dante and the city of Florence.
Reporting live from Beautiful Florence -- Rosanna 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The 2013 Florence Gelato Festival Saga

A gelato festival is clearly for kids of all ages.  The 2013 edition of the Florence Gelato Festival, however, ruffled the feathers of more serious grown-ups.
As announced by this events poster (below), published by the Florence's town hall (Palazzo Vecchio),
the fourth annual Gelato Festival, hosted in three central squares--Piazza Santa Maria Novella,
Piazza Repubblica and Piazza Strozzi--was scheduled to take place for an unprecedented 10 days instead of the usual four days.

The news of the Festival is visible on the left on the official events calendar compiled and
published by the city of Florence--forgive the reflection of the glass case.
The dates--May 17 - 26--are, however, clearly visible.

Well, only several days before the opening, Florence's city council announced that the Gelato Festival could only be held for the first four days, and the remainder CANCELED.  The reason given was that, according to tradition, a commercial event involving the sale of products normally occupies
Florence's historic squares over a long weekend.
Why no one thought of this before is a mystery....

As I had posted a long article on the Gelato Festival on our new website (www.magentaflorence.com),
which would be re-posted in our English column on Florence's Repubblica newspaper site
(www.firenze.repubblica.it), I gave the organizers a call.
"The festival will close at midnight on Sunday, May 19," I was told.
Of course, I hurriedly substituted the article, and like most Americans, believed what I was told.

But, this is Italy, of course.  On Monday evening I walked through one of the event venues and found the stands still up (below).
"What's going on?" I asked, and was handed a free cup of creamy Italian gelato.
"We were ordered to close down.  But since we can't take the ice cream,
 all of it is being given away," replied the vendor.
While witnessing one visitor inelegantly scrambling to find a container to walk away with as much ice cream booty as possible, I enjoyed my dinner antipasto and opted to go home.  After all, I had stumbled upon a complimentary treat to mark the festival's end--or so I thought.

On Tuesday, in piazza Repubblica, I found people once again lined up at the admission booth (above).
What is going on? -- I thought.  I stepped up and was told thanks to a court order issued that day at
11 am, the Gelato Festival would continue through its originally-announced end date, that is,
until midnight, May 26.

But there was only one problem...
all the gelato had been handed out to unsuspecting passersby the night before!
The woman at the cash desk assured me that more gelato would arrive by that evening.

Later on, in the office, intern Annalise Kapusta was trying to update the Puccini summer opera festival write-up.  She noticed, however, on the official 2013 program, that the actual dates did not correspond to the days of the week listed (!).  I quickly moved to a computer and found an online ticket sales site.
"Look at their calendar, it must be correct," I said.

Of  course it was.  At least this time I was operating according to the Italian time-honored tradition of the arte di arrangarsi -- the art of getting by.

The entire country runs according to this unwritten law,
 stronger than those actually on the books.

 I complained about the wrong dates being on opera site, and an Italian friend, Mario, commented
"Don't be so German."

German, indeed!  As a full-blooded Italian-American, my American side was miffed by the incorrect information, but my Italian side found a way to get around the problem.

So did the Gelato Festival organizers--thanks to filing a court complaint,
with city council overruled
and supplies rushed in,
ice cream, Italian style, is now being served.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Comfort Food: Neapolitan Pizza in Florence

Today is a legal holiday, marking the liberation of Italy from Nazi occupation and the end of the Fascist regime, thanks the combined efforts of the Allied armies and Italian Resistance partisan fighters.
As reported by Beautiful Florence's previous post, a violent act of private war had caused deaths at the Boston Marathon just as I was about to write on a Da Vinci restoration.  The city holds many memories for me.  As I write, in the office I can turn my head to view my framed master's degree from Boston University.  I was unprepared, however, to see the following e-mail message on my I phone.
Emilia Gambardella, one of the interns at our English-language publishing house (www.magentaflorence.com), arrived in the office similarly upset.  Her sister is a student at Boston's Northeastern University.  "The city is in a lockdown, it's difficult to get news," she said.
"Well, look at this on my phone," I replied.  "A grad student at BU was one of the three victims in the marathon bombing."

"Well, the suspects killed a cop on the MIT campus and the police are searching everywhere in Watertown," she informed me.  This is getting worse and worse, I thought.  MIT is between Kendall and Central squares, the latter close to Harvard Square, Cambridge, where my last home was located before moving to Florence.  I wrote that I had also lived in the Fresh Pond neighborhood in Cambridge.  In actual fact, Fresh Pond was behind my apartment, which was situated off of Mt. Auburn St. on a little road just before the Watertown-Belmont line.  Watertown, that most anonymous of Boston suburbs, and rightly so, 
 had just lost its anonymity to participate in a tragedy.

Emilia was in the office to discuss researching her upcoming article on Neapolitan pizza in Florence for Vista, Florence & Tuscany.  As her father, a former waiter-turned-Wall Street-stockbroker, was born in Naples, it was an obvious choice.  On this occasion, I told Emilia that the day after 9/11, another writer in my office, Stella Fiore (also a BU alumna), and I sought refuge in the good, genuine food made by Carmine, Florence's original Neapolitan pizzaiuolo
(pizza chef).  Later, in 2008, a group of friends took me to lunch right after my mother's death at Carmine's new trattoria, Vico del Carmine.
When my friends asked for the check, Carmine informed them that the meal was on the house.

Let's go and see if Osteria del Caffè Italiano still has a Neapolitan pizza annex," (left) I said, "and set up when to go back for a meal and interview.  It is but five minutes from the office on via Isola delle Stinche."
We walked in and found pizza chef Vincenzo on the job.  "You're lucky," he said, "the owner is right outside."
Osteria del Caffè Italiano's proprietor, Umberto Montana, came to embrace me despite the fact that I had not seen him since 2006, when working on another story.  He called for spumante (Italian sparkling wine) for Emilia and myself.  He apologized for having to dine with a theatre troupe who were to go on stage at that evening at the nearby Teatro Verdi, and asked the pizzaiuolo to prepare a pizza for us to share as aperitivo
(pre-dinner drinks and snack).
Goodness, these are all the faces of my possible ancestors and paesani, I thought when looking at the placemat.  After all, Umberto Montana hails originally from the region natives know as Lucania
(re-christened Basilicata by fascist leader Mussolini, who came to a bad end as remembered at the beginning of this article).  Umberto is from the province of Potenza in Lucania, both my late parents from the 
province of Matera.
Meanwhile, our pizza was baking in an authentic wood-burning brick oven.
As he was shredding mozzarella cheese with his hands, Vincenzo informed us all the ingredients came from the south, or more precisely, vengono da giù.

Chi non la conosce, non capisce, chi l'assaggia, la comprende said Vincenzo.
"Who is unfamiliar with [Neapolitan pizza] doesn't understand, who tastes it will comprehend."
Below Emilia (left) and your distraught Beautiful Florence blogger are about to receive,
as unseen tradition would hold, the ultimate comfort food, Neapolitan pizza.
Again, unbelievably, on the house.
Pizza è come la donna, è amore, said Vincenzo
(Pizza is like a woman, it is love).
He  told us he hails from downtown Naples, the Sanità neighborhood. With music by the Neapolitan 
Pino Daniele playing softly in the background, we began to relax.
Emilia and I were treated to an authentic Margherita, comprising tomato, cheese & basil.
The crust was thin, crispy and chewy, the flavors flavorful and as the ultimate critic, Emilia, observed, 
subtle and perfectly balanced.  

Much more relaxed, but still on the job, I addressed the following remark to Vincenzo,
who happened also to be suffering from a bad cold.
"The important thing," I said, and was about to say
that the expert Emilia tasted the pizza, when he finished my sentence...
.

"is to be well."  (è stare bene)

There was nothing more to say, but to be well again.

All pictures in this post, except for the very last, were taken by faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer 
Bree Chun.  Emilia recorded this image of Vincenzo at work.

In the meantime, the BU alumni association has sent me another e-mail.  It has already raised over 700,000 dollars in memory of the graduate student who lost her life watching the Boston Marathon.  
And life with all its surprises continues from my vantage point in 
Beautiful Florence.



Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Spring, Heartbreak & Da Vinci

Sun and warmth finally arrived in Florence & Tuscany this past Sunday, April 14.
Yesterday I caught librarian Joanna June in the act of taking a picture of our now blossoming wisteria vine (see previous post) in the Borgo Albizi courtyard.  Joanna, who has kindly allowed Beautiful Florence to publish her photo, works at the Florence campus of Florida State University, which is located in the same building as our office.
All sweetness and light after a long, chilly and record-breaking
 wet and never-ending winter it would seem.
It was... until an event turned the blood in my veins into ice.
"Bombs on the Marathon," screamed the Repubblica headline.
Oh, my God, the Boston marathon.

If I turn my head, I can see my framed masters degree from Boston University, where I commuted from 
where I was living in Cambridge, initially Fresh Pond, then behind Harvard Yard.
The marathon finish line is on Boylston St. close to Copley
and the venue of my first job, on Park Street.

Participants tackled Heartbreak Hill near the end, only to run down to face real heartbreak.
Boston and Florence are living examples of the world's intellectual capacities and freedom, accompanied by a good dose of heart.

Besides showing that spring has finally sprung in Florence, I meant to write about the 
current restoration of a 1480 Leonardo da Vinci work.  This report is timed to coincide with the airing of an historical fantasy,"Da Vinci Demons," based on the early life of the Renaissance genius
 later this month on the Fox channel.
According to Dr. Maurizio Seracini, Leonardo completed the underdrawing for the Adoration of the Magi which did not win the favor of the commissioning San Donato a Scopeto monastery.  Da Vinci departed for Milan, other artists added color, glue and retouches on top before the oil on panel disappeared into the monastery storeroom.  Resurrected by the Uffizi Gallery in 1670, the Adoration of the Magi remained on public view before disappearing again into the hands of restorers at the Fortezza da Basso laboratory of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.
Out of view, that is, except to professional journalists, including your faithful Beautiful Florence blogger, who were called in to hear restorers pronounce the diagnosis above.  They also mentioned that the wooden support was not in great shape either, causing pigment to detach.
The restoration was announced to be conservative, that is, a cleaning plus strengthening the support.
When the monochrome masterpiece returns to the Uffizi, visitors will be able to better admire such details as the magnificent horse's head clearly drawn by no other than Leonardo da Vinci.
Part of the reason possibly why the nascent work failed to find favor 
is that behind the serene Virgin Mary and Child is a battle scene!
Leonardo da Vinci is remembered for his unique brand of three-dimensional realism, given depth by a play of chiaroscuro (light and shadow).   In the Adoration of the Magi (photos courtesy of the Fine Arts Ministry, Florence), didn't da Vinci simply give a sublime summary of the human condition?
In the foreground, the Three Kings, form a triangular composition around the Virgin Mary and Child they are adoring.  After all, this is their reward for listening to their hearts and following a star
to the ultimate Redeemer.

The rest is just strife, conflict and bloodshed...just like that found at the bottom of Boston's
 Heartbreak Hill.

Over six centuries later, Leonardo da Vinci's encapsulation of the life's peace and drama 
remain contemporary and timeless.
No need for color, the painting as it appears can be considered finished--there is no more to say...

     Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                -- Rosanna

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spring 2013 in Florence

Into each life, some rain must fall.
Agreed, but thanks to the precipitation of this past winter and early spring, 2013 has been the year with the most rainfall in Florence for the past 50 years.  In my just-previous Easter blog, I predicted it might stop raining on the day of the Resurrection.
 It actually did--and on the following day, Easter Monday, as well.
Then it started again.  Above is the scene in our Borgo Albizi courtyard from the office window.
Thanks to gray, overcast skies, the wisteria has only produced a few, timid blossoms,
 and the fig tree it is wrapped around, just one leaf!

Faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer Bree Chun and I decided to take a stroll around downtown Florence in search of some color, and warmth.
We found it on the new pedestrian-only zone comprising the sidewalk and road in front of the
designer shops on via Tornabuoni.
The medieval palace in the background is no other than the Ferragamo flagship store.
Via Tornabuoni also hosts the pricey boutiques of Prada, Armani, Gucci and Tods, just to name a few.

If this is how these shops are using the mark-ups on their astronomically prized clothes,
I applaud their efforts.  The rose pink and magenta colors stand out against a backdrop of silver gray light and matching sidewalks.

Walking back to Borgo degli Albizi, Bree and I turned into via Porta Rossa,
where a surprise awaited us--an imaginative, cheerful window display.
No, it was not the usual show of shoes, handbags and pastel spring clothes...
...it was a celebration of the new Pope!  Papa Nuovo in Italian, and popping out of an Easter egg to greet and bless the world.  Mind you, this is Florence, not Rome and the shop in question sells objects in silver.  The eggs in the silver holders--creative advertising--below the papal poster are inscribed with the member names of the college of cardinals who were in the running for the top job.


 Papanuovo is also a clever play on words since
  ovo means egg in Italian.
Easter eggs are traditional fertility symbols, so one can only hope that...
April showers will bring May flowers.



As a contrast to the scene outside our window, here is a May preview--provided by a vase of freesias on the office table.
Maybe spring is merely a state of mind.

Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
    -- Rosanna