Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas 2011 in Florence

     After months of amazing, unseasonably warm weather, it finally turned seasonably cold in Florence this morning, registering a temperature of 0° Centigrade (32° Farenheit).  Just last week, near the historic flea market (Mercato delle Pulci) close to the Sant'Ambrogio market, Carly took this picture of an iris blooming in Florence the second week of December.

This gives you the idea of temperatures up to now.
The iris is the official flower of Florence, and the Iris Garden, located near Piazzale Michelangelo and featuring a profusion of varieties of this lovely flower, is open to the public every year from the last week in April through mid-May (!)

At Christmastime, thoughts naturally gravitate towards the
 less fortunate.
Probably Italy's oldest orphanage, the Istituto degli Innocenti, was founded in Piazza Santissima Annunziata in 1444.  The children left there were given the last name of "Innocenti," (the innocent ones), and Innocenti is still a common last name in Florence today.

  Above is a short history of the Istituto degli Innocenti that
Michelle Hilt photographed at a benefit fair.
The signature logo was designed by Renaissance master architect Brunelleschi.
The trademark child in swaddling clothes still crowns the portico
of the entrance to the Istituto degli Innocenti.

In the spririt of Christmas cheer, the Compagnia dei Babbi Natale (the Company of Santa Clauses), comprised of no less that 57 Santas plus one Mrs. Santa descended on the Istituto degli Innocenti to
sing carols and give gifts to parent-less children or children placed at the institute by social workers.
Carly and I were there.

They are singing "White Christmas" in decent English!
"and may all your Christmases be whi--te."
The lady in the middle is Alessandra Maggi, president of the Istituto.

This rendition was followed by "Silent Night" in Italian...
then, a 59th Santa appeared, no other than Cesare Prandelli, the beloved, former coach of the local Fiorentina soccer team and now the coach of the national Italian team.

A fellow Santa is passing sheet music to Prandelli (center), so he can join in the songfest.
The coach's arrival triggered activity by a flurry of cameramen and photographers who were on hand to immortalized the event.

A diminutive Carly had trouble jostling to find space to take photos.
One Santa noticed this and offered her refuge on his knee.

The Santa who kindly offered his knee is no other than Michael Brod of Palazzo Tornabuoni,
an exclusive private residence club in the heart of Florence.
He is the sole American in the Compagnia dei Babbi Natale, a group comprised of
surgeons, lawyers, notaries, fashion designers, artists, businessmen, craftsmen and
 one Mrs. or Lady Santa...

who in real life happens to be Lucia Caponi.  She and her mother are the heart and soul of Loretta Caponi, known for hand-made and hand-embroidered nightwear and linens that uphold an Italian tradition.

Accompanying the group was Caterina, the cheerful proprietor of the Milano 25 taxi.  After she lost her partner to cancer, Caterina took over his taxi and has ever since taken
 sick children to the hospital free of charge.
She dresses the part (see below).

She is next to Wanny de Filippo, a handbag designer and craftsman who arrived
 bearing some of his company's products as presents.

After a rousing rendition of "Jingle Bells" in English,
the  Compagnia dei Babbi Natale
went inside to offer their gifts to the children resident at the Istituto degli Innocenti.

The door was firmly shut in everyone else's face
(including the press).
"This is a safe house--we don't want fathers to come looking for their kids,"
a representative of the Innocenti explained.

So, there was nowhere else for Carly and I to go but outside, in Piazza Santissima Annunziata.
There we found the fairy-tale-like taxi Milano 25 parked, waiting for its owner.

Caterina decorated the taxi so that sick children would feel comfortable en route to the hospital, but obviously it is
child-friendly, even off-duty...

Buon Natale!
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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