Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter 2013 in Florence

Right at the end of the Uffizi line, through a doorway between the statues of Lorenzo the Magnificent and his father Cosimo the Elder de' Medici, is an Easter gift
 to residents and visitors to Florence alike.
Past the entrance and a room with 20th sculptures by Marino Marini and Venturini
is the crypt of the former church of San Pier Scheraggio and a display of three medieval crucifix panels
(open 9 am - 8 pm, free admission!) for the Easter holidays.
The most expressive one, in the center of the crypt, is the above 13th century Crucifix from Pisa.  With resplendent gold work framing a tranquil, wide-eyed Christ and Stories from the His Passion--including the Betrayal and the Deposition--the tempera on panel work displays a variety of influences.  Since Pisa was a seaport at that time, the town absorbed the visual languages of Mediterranean lands as varied as Syria and Palestine to Sicily, famed for its mosaics of Arab inspiration.

While this tranquil Christ, with wavy hair coiling on his shoulders, seems to have transcended his suffering,
this cannot be said for the another Crucifix panel displayed in the same room.
Head bowed, eyes closed and hands oozing blood, this Christ was also created in the first half
of the 13th century in and around Lucca, not far from Pisa.  The scenes from the Passion surrounding the figure  depict Christ in various mournful scenes, from the Judgement before Pilate, to carrying the cross, to the Deposition, the Entombment and finally and an angel standing between an empty tomb and the
three Marys
who seek Christ on Easter morning.

This Crucifix is attributed to the so-called "Master of the Cross," who in turn was to inspire Coppo di Marcovaldo, the artistic precursor to Cimabue and Giotto, who was to introduce the
revolutionary Renaissance style.
Recently restored thanks to funding by the Amici degli Uffizi (Friends of the Uffizi),
the works displayed in San Pier Scheraggio will be moved to Room 2 of the Uffizi,
in the company of the the two above-mentioned crucifix panels and another by Duccio.
Christ is KO in the third exhibit, a diptyph (a smaller, two panel piece); in fact Mary in the scene below His armpit has fainted.  Again created in Lucca early 13th century, Christ's elongated body seems to 
presage the distinctive figures in the paintings of the Renaissance artists El Greco.

Looking at this work, it is clearly Good Friday in Passion Week, which today actually is.
With rain non-stop since Christmas, no government formed as a result of the February elections and problems stemming from a deep recession, Italy can be said to be currently experiencing its own
Via Crucis,
Stations of the Cross before the Crucifixion.
But guess what?  Easter is around the corner--that means Resurrection and a new start.
Maybe it is no coincidence that the other part of the diptych panel portrays
 Mary and a newborn Christ.

There is even an angel in a pink rose robe holding a globe with feet firmly on a dragon devil.
Evil will be overcome, life goes on.

Maybe it will even stop raining.

Buona Pasqua 
from Beautiful Florence

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rufina: Finding Old Acquaintances in a Tuscan Villa

This past weekend, Beautiful Florence blog photographer Emilia Gambardella and myself
were invited guests at an event hosted at Villa il Petroio.  Upon arrival, after going up the Tuscan hills near Florence between Rufina and Pontassieve, I recognized host Eduardo Robiglio (left). whom
I had interviewed in Florence seven years ago.  He introduced me to his mother, Carole Bolton (right).
I discovered that Carole and I had studied, in different years, at Florence's UniversitĂ  per Stranieri
(University for Foreigners).  She told me that right before she was to leave, she met her future husband,
Eduardo's father.

Why did I talk to Eduardo in 2006?   I am best known as an art writer, if not art,
then food.
The dessert that was served to the guests at lunch, chocolate truffles, gives the idea of the subject of
our talk, which was hot chocolate.  I reported that the premium Italian hot chocolate served at the Robiglio cafĂ© on via de' Servi "represents a family tradition spanning 75 years."
Just a year later Eduardo sold the business and they started a new chapter in life.

The Robiglio had renovation work done on their weekend home in the Tuscan countryside.
This is the view from Villa Petroio on a variable March day.
The Robiglio family now rents the villa, guest wing and medieval village to host weddings or family reunions as well as producing estate-bottled olive oil and wine.
Speaking of wine, above are bottles of Villa Petroio wine, a blend of Tuscan Sangiovese and Canaiolo grapes with Merlot, on the lunch table.  As you can see, the floral arrangements matched the furniture.

Ever curious, I wandered into the kitchen for another surprise.

One of the cooks was a family friend just giving a hand.
"I've known Eduardo since he was a child," said Anna Bini (above).

The surprises continued.  Holding up eight fingers to represents decades, she confided her age.
Initially working in fashion in Florence, she moved to Paris to open a restaurant in order to legally employ her three sons.  "With a work contract abroad, this meant they were exempt from the draft,"
she told me.  "And one of my sons liked Paris so much that he is still there today
to manage the Casa Bini restaurant," she added.

Anna's proud demeanor was a mix between Parisian and Tuscan.
Pointing to the risotto with Tuscan porcini mushrooms that she had prepared,
Anna said in a whisper, "the rice is parboiled."

It was delicious.  I explained to Anna that parboiled rice is common in the U.S., which was
after all Carole Robiglio's homeland.

The hospitality continued with a concert of Florentine folk songs.

The group sang traditional stornelli which they heard as children.
The instruments ranged from the accordion, guitar and tamborine to
(surprise again), a saxophone.

The group's name is Gli Amici del Chianti, but talking to them I discovered the musicians hailed from the nearby Valdarno area, only part of which could be loosely defined as "Chianti."
Maybe the fact that Disney has also hired them to entertain Americans on tour in Tuscany
inspired their name.

The accordion player, named Simone, told me that he comes from
a village of 100 residents named

"But I have been there!" I exclaimed.  "During my first summer here during the '80s, I was hosted by a family in a remote area called 'Marnia' in the woods near Rignano.  One hot August evening, we drove over to Bombone, as we found out, the place were artist Ardengo Soffici was born, to attend
a donut festival.  Townswomen wearing comfy slippers were frying and serving
donuts (bombolone) on the streets of Bombone at midnight.
As usual, I was the only American in sight.

Simone was dumbfounded, and highly amused.

"Bombone is near Rignano sull'Arno, the home of Florence's mayor
Matteo Renzi," he said.

"And did you know him?" I asked.
"Of course, I remember him as a child walking down the street with the newspaper under his arm,
a sure sign of his future calling," he replied.

"And now?"
"Well, I voted for him...and he disappeared, a true politician," he told me.

"Let's drink to that," said everyone else within earshot.

Reporting live from Villa il Petroio
for Beautiful Florence.
                                              --- Rosanna

Monday, March 11, 2013

Italian Elections in Florence, Part 2

Who are all these cameramen and journalists crowding around in Piazza Signoria?
As recorded by faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer Bree Chun, 
the sought-after gentleman found just behind the tripod is
no other than Florence's mayor, Matteo Renzi.
Renzi is just trying to report for a day's work in Palazzo Vecchio (city hall).

The excitement stems from the fact that although Renzi lost the Democratic primary for prime minister,
the candidate, Pierluigi Bersani, did not win enough votes to form a government.
There may be a new election, and before that, a new Democratic primary.
Renzi is aiming to win the eventual rematch with Bersani and become Prime Minister.
Here we are back during the February mock election in which both Italian and American university students participated at the Florence campus of Pepperdine University.
 Professor Alessandro Chiaramonte is explaining possible post-election alliances.
Perhaps he did not take into account that the Movimento Cinque Stelle founded by Beppe Grillo
 could win an unexpected 25% of the vote, and refuse to ally with any existing political party.

What is especially interesting is that the vote tallied at Pepperdine (see previous post, Italian Elections, the American and Italian 'Vote') corresponded to the write-in vote of Italian living overseas--with the coalizione di sinistra (the center-left alliance including Bersani's Democratic Party and Vendola's Left, Ecology and Liberty movements) winning a clear majority, and the rest of the parties (the center coalition headed by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, the right wing coalition run by Silvio Berlusconi ) winning a nearly equal number of votes.
The exception overseas was the Movimento Cinque Stelle, which finished last, not third as back home in Italy.  There are fewer angry Italian residents abroad who wished to cast
 a protest vote, it would seem.
The result at Pepperdine was also remarkably similar to the actual election results in the city of Florence.   The voters here are strongly left of center.

Where does Italy go from here?  Good question.
Media reporting to the contrary,
life goes on.

After the political conference and mock election at Pepperdine,
the Italian and American students and faculty adjourned to the nearby countryside,
where they prepared homemade pizzas, which were placed into a outdoor brick oven to bake.

Besides wondering what will happen politically--whether Italians will return to the polls or if another interim government composed of technocrats will be formed--preparing food and sharing a meal is still big on the country's agenda.  Here it also provided a chance for Pepperdine students to become acquainted with and make friends with fellow students from their host country.

And what do Italians, as well as these students, occasionally do after lunch?
Play bocce of course, especially on the weekend.