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.

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