Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas 2012 in Florence

It is Christmas Eve day here in Florence, a moment when your faithful
  Beautiful Florence reporter sends greetings of the season and personally delivers them
to friends in downtown Florence.

As I am about to lock the office tight, here is a special Christmas card from our Borgo Albizi
address.  During the holiday season, the above Nativity scene graces the window of the small antique shop directly across the entrance to the Renaissance building where we are located.
Owner Vittorio Lombardini explained to me that the scene is a
18th century presepio (Nativity) from Lucca, an hour and a half from Florence.
The fact that Lucca was a flourishing center for silk production from the 12th to the 18th centuries
is reflected in the rich garb of a crowned Mary and a more humble Joseph.
Golden stars twinkle on a soft, early night sky backdrop,
the same color as Baby Jesus's silken blanket, perhaps indicating His divine origins.
Many thanks to Beautiful Florence's faithful blog photographer Bree Chun and...

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

Buon Natale!

Friday, November 23, 2012

50 Giorni Festival--Art on Film

50 Giorni di Cinema Internazionale a Firenze is exactly that--
50  Days of International Film screened at the Cinema Odeon.
Comprising numerous festivals dedicated to various film genres, 50 Days includes
new French releases (France Odeon) and documentaries (Festival dei Popoli),
as well as movies focusing on women and women's issues
(Festival Internazionale di Cinema e Donne).
Above is the cocktail party which inaugurated 50 Giorni in piazza Strozzi.
Pictures of this event were taken by faithful Beautiful Florence 
photographer Avigayil Kelman.
Through Sunday, 50 Giorni is showcases Lo Schermo dell'Arte
(Art on Film), examining the relationship between cinema and contemporary art, with a specific
focus on artists and artistic films.

Art on Film features events and screenings categorized in different sections, including:
Sguardi (Viewpoints), international films on contemporary art;
Cinema d'Artista, artistic documentaries by artists; and
Mobiles, works by an international artist who works with moving images and new media.  The latter is
set at the Cango--Cantieri Goldonetta in via Santa Maria,
Above is not the part of the Mobiles installation but another event within
50 Giorni's inaugural party.  Students from Florence's photography school
Studio Marangoni were taking pictures of invited guests on an open set
in the Odeon facing piazza Strozzi.  If the man to the right look familiar, it is because
he is Giorgio Bonsanti, an art historian formerly the head of Florence's world-renowned restoration laboratories at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.

Tomorrow (Nov. 24), Focus on, a new section of Art on Film will debut
 (6 pm)spotlighting the cinema of Isaac Julien, who will be present.
Above is a shot from one of the works that will be screened:  Baltimore (2003).
The recipient of an award at the Cologne Biennale, Baltimore is a tribute to African-American
actor and movie director Melvin Van Peebles, who in the film follows in the footsteps of an
Afro-Cyborg (pictured)
through museum spaces in Baltimore.
This image is from another of Julien's short films on Saturday's program.
True North (2004) is the story of the African-American Matthew Henson,
among one of the first to reach the North Pole along with Robert E. Peary.

On Sunday (Nov. 25), the recipient of the 2011 Schermo dell'Arte award will be shown at
the Odeon at 9:45 pm.  Titled Per troppo amore:  Incompiuto Siciliano (For Too Much Love, Unfinished in Sicily), it examines the impact of 
too many construction projects on Italy's environment.
Another problem Per troppo amore takes a look at are the many unfinished and abandoned building sites that deface the Italian countryside.  The phenomenon is notoriously most evident in Sicily (see Mt. Etna blowing steam in the picture?).  I, too, remember seeing many "eco monsters"
driving through Sicily years ago with my heart family, the D'Orazio-Pergolizzis, who were visiting from the States.

Beautiful Florence has give you an antipasto; for the full 50 Giorni program (through mid-December), visit

Buona visione!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Devil & Angels, Halloween 2012 in Florence

Even Italians know that today is Halloween.  Accessing the automatic vending machine in the Florence station, a jack o' lantern glowed under the Italian for "Buy your ticket here," and a witch's hat 
suddenly appeared, placed atop the usual self service ticket symbol.

Italians haven't always known today is Halloween.
The festivities accompanying the original Celtic holiday All Hallows Eve,
when the dead visit their former haunts on earth,
have gradually become familiar only in the last 10 years or so.
I wrote the first Halloween column in Italian for the local Florence section
of La Repubblica during the '90s.  It was a real challenge to translate
"trick or treat."  I finally decided on dammi un dolcetto o ti faccio uno scherzetto
(give me a treat or I'll play a trick on you).
Looking at articles published later, I found that I was close to the mark--
my Italian colleagues now write dolcetto o scherzetto?

It is trick or treat time at the Children's Lending Library's
 annual Halloween party, a pure piece of America in Florence.
Above is Kathy Procissi, one of the library volunteers,
epitomizing an appropriate wicked party spirit in the company of her vampire grandchildren.
They are posing in front of the Haunted House.

This good witch is Karene Moser, who made the spectacular ghost cupcakes.  The spider and pumpkin themed cupcakes are the work of Sally Thompson...

...much appreciated by these angelic witch guests.

Besides refreshments and the Haunted House, there were also games for children.

Tinker Bell, aka Charlotte Kerignan, is playing one.

Towards the back of the party room, faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer 
Emilia and myself walked into the actual library.
Founded in 1973 by a group of mothers, the Children's Lending Library is a primary source of
books in English for expatriate resident families.  Volunteers staff the library (open 10 am to 12 noon on Wednesdays, 4 pm to 6 pm on Thursdays, 10 - 10:45 am and 12 noon to 1 pm on Sundays).
It is located in a section of the St. James Episcopal Church undercroft (via B. Rucellai, near the train station).  Volunteers make donations to the church for the space, hold readings, and buy children's books and games.  The necessary revenue comes from annual membership fees (15 euro per year), fundraisers such as the Christmas party, the Easter egg hunt and the Halloween party.
This is why volunteers Alice Kenney, Ann Young and Barbara Maraventano
are collecting a 4 euro admission fee at the door.
They were also selling raffle tickets for the Welcome Great Pumpkin Cake 
(inspired by the Charlie Brownie TV special),
made by Italian volunteer Maurizia Pizzi.

The admission didn't deter devilish Hilary Scott and her angelic 17-month daughter
Ellie Calonaci from attending the Halloween bash.
Both were attracted to probably the only authentic
jack o' lantern in all Florence.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Florence's International Market

Faithful readers of Beautiful Florence probably notice that many of the posts are about food and art.
Together with fashion, that's what Italian culture is about.
Those familiar with Florence are probably also familiar with the city's food markets,
Sant'Ambrogio and San Lorenzo, each specializing in 0 km farm produce.
But for a taste sensation a little more exotic to the palate,
those in the know as well as passing tourists, flock to the
International Market, held every two years in Piazza Santa Croce (above).
The International Market opened today, and will run through Sunday, October 7
(hours 10 am - 10 pm).

Beautiful Florence blog photographer Avigaykil Kelman and I headed over today at high noon.
Temperatures are still summer-like in Florence, but not hot enough to melt the chocolate
displayed by this proud chocolate artisan.

His speciality is cremino, he explained, white chocolate and milk chocolate  
layered with chocolate hazelnut cream.  
He gave us a sample.  Wow!
The only puzzling thing was the chocolate master's name is Fabrizio, and he comes from a town near the northern Italy city of Verona.  Perhaps Florence already considers Verona as "international."

Fabrizio was actually the only Italian we found, except for David, who is noticeable thanks to his 
"I love Finland" tee shirt.  He is in charge of a booth with  Finnish crafts,
 including woolen hand-knit woolen sweaters, scarves and hats.

David also showed us pukki, steel blade knives with raindeer bone or moose antler handles, as well as 
kuksi, handmade carved cups of silver birch that Lapps traditionally use.

"The winters are cold and dark, but the summers with their 'white nights' are one big festival," said David, who admitted living near Helsinki but wouldn't tell us how he ended up there from Italy.

Next, we came across Robert from Amsterdam, with his handcrafted briefcases and wallets.

"I didn't know that the Dutch created leather goods," I commented.
"Ah, yes, many," said Robert, "especially in South Holland."
"It is a strong industry since we have so many cows."
Ah yes, Dutch cheese, I thought.

"Florence is a city of leather," he said, "but our specialty and trademark is natural cowhide."


Next, Avigaykil and I came across a Frenchman who could not speak a word of Italian or English.
From the reaches of my memory, I accessed my high school French.  He understood enough to tell us  he was from Gascony, in southwest France,
 a culinary haven.

"My onions are the violet variety, easier for 
 digestion, the red peppers are biting hot, and 
French garlic is marvelous," he told me.
Viva la cuisine francaise!

I wonder if any of the Frenchman's garlic and onions ended up in this authentic Spanish paella.

Looking closely, I saw mussels, shrimp, pieces of squid and peas in this version from 
Besides the option of take out, nearby tables and benches offer a place to sit down and savor 
the national dish of Spain.

From pungent southern Europe to cool northern Europe, I thought, 
when catching a glimpse of this fairytale stand. 
 Italian, English and French left this attractive couple mute.
Finally, the artisan handed a ceramic token engraved with his name--Romas McKisa--and 
country of origin, Lithuania. 
 All of their crafts are made of the lightest and most delicate ceramic
 that I have had the pleasure to come across.

My high school French came in handy once again with Thierry from Savoy.
Ever the careful journalist, I asked Thierry if the cheese for sale at his stand came from his dairy farm.
Mai non, this honest vendor answered, communicating that he was the proud maker of various French salamis and sausages displayed alongside the cheese.
Salami made from asino, donkey meat?!  A delicacy, Thierry assured me.
I began to wonder what attraction, beyond ceramics, that the self-proclaimed International Market--
which did not wander beyond the borders of Europe--could offer the vegetarian and the vegan.

The answer came from an explosion of color....
Dutch flowers and bulbs in bloom.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Uffizi Terrace Cocktail Hour

With a current temperature of 68° Fahrenheit, and a high close to 80°,
al fresco activities are still popular in Florence this September.
After a hiatus for August, Apertivo ad Arte returns every Thursday evening on the Uffizi Gallery terrace, which provides a closeup view of Palazzo Vecchio, the Bargello, the Badia and the Cathedral.  For 12 euro, the participant is entitled to a drink, and has access to a buffet, followed by a self-guided tour of the Uffizi's new "foreign painters section."
These rooms display masterpieces by illustrious non-Italians such as Goya, Velasquez,
Van Dyck, El Greco and Rubens.

There is a beautiful, soft light at 7 pm, the hour signaling the start of the "Art Cocktail."
Before that, I recommend stopping at the Cathedral Museum (Opera del Duomo) to view
the just-returned Ghiberti's gilded bronze Baptistery doors, aka The Gates of Paradise
(see previous post) from 9 to 6:30, or until 1 on Sunday, admission 6 euro.

After three decades away for restoration, the magnificent work, rightly defined at the press conference as "a mirror of antique and early Renaissance contemporary art," is back on public view in piazza del Duomo, at the Cathedral Museum (Opera del Duomo).  Above is a detail of the Creation,
Eve rising out of Adam's rib.
 The relief shimmers thanks to its pure gold outer layer.

Speaking of piazza del Duomo, it is visible during the Apertivo ad Arte from the Uffizi terrace
(above:  the Cupola, or dome of Cathedral, close to Giotto's pink, white and green marble bell tower).
Although the Art Cocktail continues until 10 pm, I recommend getting there early to avoid the crowds and see the rose-colored sunset behind the skyline of Florence's historic monuments.

The buffet table features rice salad, cold pasta, spinach and cheese flan,
assorted Italian cheeses, prosciutto and salame, foccaccia and toasted bread round with liver paté

The crowd the evening I went was mixed, both Italian and foreign.
The buffet is set up as eat as much as you want, comprised in the price along with a cocktail, a glass of wine and access to part of the Uffizi.  A second drink is an additional 5 euro.

The dessert section features fresh fruit salad, which Italians eat last.

To participate in Aperitivo ad Arte for Thursday evening until the end of September, reserve a spot by calling (country code) 055-294883.  After dessert, I walked downstairs and admired historic realist works by Flemish, Spanish, French and Dutch artists, including an El Greco, a personal favorite.  Security was tight;  we were not allowed to take photos.

I saw this lovely lady, the Spanish Countess of Chinchon, oil on canvas (1801) by Francesco Goya that  seemed almost
impressionist in style.
And to think, that this, like all the other paintings in these rooms, were formerly out of sight in the Uffizi storerooms due to lack of exhibition space.
If the subject looks familiar, it is because there is another version of the painting at
Madrid's Prado museum.

Back at the Uffizi, the countess
has been chosen as the emblem of Un Apertivo ad Arte.  She appears on the reserved ticket that allows entry, which must be picked up at the entrance.

What better way to end a September day in Florence?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise: The Return

This morning, after 30+ years of analysis and restoration,
Lorenzo Ghiberti's East Doors of the Florence
Baptistery in piazza del Duomo,
were unveiled to the press at the Cathedral Museum
(L'Opera del Duomo).

In honor of the Catholic feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary,
tomorrow (September 8), no admission will be charged to view the Gates of Paradise as well as the rest of the Cathedral Museum from 3 to 6 pm.
Later that evening, Andrea Bocelli will give a free concert of sacred music to celebrate,
but unfortunately there are no more tickets.
Keep in mind that the Cathedral across from where the Gates of Paradise were originally collocated is
dedicated to the Virgin, specifically as Santa Maria del Fiore (St. Mary of the Flower).

When I first came to Florence, I wished to see the gilded bronze doors
depicting stories from the Old Testament so beautiful that Michelangelo himself
dubbed them worthy enough to be "The Gates of Paradise."  These were the third set of doors commissioned for the Baptistery.  The first, by Andrea Pisano, have scenes from the life of
St. John the Baptist;  the second, by Ghiberti, illustrate stories from the New Testament.

The Gates of Paradise, created by Ghiberti between 1436 and 1452, are composed of eight panels, each weighing 7700 pounds and dedicated to a group of episodes.  The panel above has as its
 theme, the Stories of Jacob.

The Gates of Paradise reflect the vicissitudes of history.   They were dismantled and hidden in a train tunnel near Incisa Val d'Arno during WWII.  They underwent an abrasive cleaning, in line with the canons of the time, in 1948.  Later, several reliefs detached thanks to the fury of the 1966 Florence flood.  Still later, panels were removed in order to diagnose a thorough restoration.
This is how I viewed them when I arrived in Florence during the '80s.

They were no longer reflecting the light of the original gilded bronze.

Then, a copy of the entire set was installed and the originals went to Florence's state restoration laboratory, the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.
Thre, restorers first removed the accumulation of dirt (until recently, buses rolled by Piazza del Duomo, the Cathedral square) with a bath of New Rochelle salts.  This method, however, failed to prevent the crystallization of salts below the surface due to humidity.

Above are the restorers at work.  Together with collaborating state restoration institutes,
a new technique--the use of laser at brief intervals--was devised to dissolve the grimy film without harming the original work underneath.  The door was dismantled panel by panel, given the laser treatment, and put back together, a process that took months and years.

There was still another problem:  the formation of salt crystals would continue to form even in the protected environment of the Cathedral Museum (L'Opera del Duomo).
The solution is an enormous glass case encompassing the entire set of the Gates of Paradise, with filtered nitrogen, placed on the museum's ground floor.

Ghiberti (this is the artist's self portrait that is part of the work's freize)
surely would have been pleased.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Beach Day at Castiglioncello (Part II)

Well, unfortunately Italy lost to Spain in the European soccer championship finals.
The heat has abated somewhat, but according to the forecast, the temperatures will rise to sizzling once more by the weekend.  The only remedy for this is to continue a beach day at Castiglioncello.
After colazione (breakfast) at Bar Ginori (see previous post), my companion and I headed for the water.
We saw what appeared to be a neo-Gothic castle in the distance (see above).
The "castle"-- formerly film star Marcello Mastroianni's beach villa --
in actual fact is a hotel.

This is what the beach looks like on the way to the castle.

Very pretty, but beach chairs and umbrellas too close together.
I had actually called ahead the day before and reserved an umbrella and sunbeds on the extreme end of the promontory, right below the castle.  A surprise lay in wait:
my name was posted right below the beach umbrella.

The beach club is called the Baia del Sorriso
(the Bay of Smiles).
We were greeted by the friendly proprietors,
Luca and Gloria.

Luca had originally studied horticulture and Gloria languages.  After work experience in Australia and Tuscany's Montalcino wine producing area, they seized the opportunity in 2008 to renovate an abandoned boathouse below a hotel 
and turn it into their Baia del Sorriso.

In terms of decor, Luca and Gloria were inspired by the vivid hues they saw during their travels in Florida, Central and South America--hence the sunny yellow chairs and sea blue umbrellas.

There is no room at the Baia del Sorriso to set up tables and chairs, so the pair prepare lunch and take it directly on a tray to the sunbeds.  Better than room service.

That day, my companion ordered ravioli stuffed with sea bass (branzino) and a beer.

I decided to opt for fruit salad.

Even the neighboring boxes of flowers reflected the chosen color scheme.

These flowers soak up the sun.  So did we.  As the sun climbed in the sky and the heat became fiercer
(after all Castiglioncello faces west),

there was no place else to seek relief than in the crystal sea of which the beach town is so proud.

This is why, at work in Florence, I often dream of a beach day at Castiglioncello....