Thursday, December 25, 2014

85 Years at Casa dei Tessuti

It's Christmastime and everyone loves a party.  But what are those bolts of fabric doing behind the
hors d'oeuvres?  As a tailor's daughter who appreciates fabric, without ever learning to sew, I was glad to be invited to the 85th anniversary bash of Florence's House of Fabrics,
Casa dei Tessuti, on via de'Pecori,
along with faithful blog photographer Lakota Gamill.
This is one of the window displays with an alluring evening gown
made from one of the bolts of fabric displayed within the shop and for sale.
Any takers for New Year's?

Even the unsuspecting visitor could see that tradition reigns at the Casa dei Tessuti.
These are present-day representatives of the militia of the glorious Republic of Florence, hired for the
celebration to welcome guests.  Normally they are on duty during city ceremonies as well as for the
parade preceding the yearly Calcio Storico (in semifinals and finals, representatives from four Florentine neighborhood compete against each other in a Renaissance sport combining rugby, soccer and occasional brute violence).

Casa dei Tessuti was founded in 1929 by Egisto Romoli.  His sons Romano and Romolo Romoli still run the shop today. The brothers believe that the store is carrying on the tradition of Florence's glorious Wool and Silk Guilds.  Artisan guilds were so important to Florence that delegates from each formed the ruling city council during the medieval times in the republic that eventually gave way to three centuries of control by the Medici family.
Above left is Romano Romoli next to Kathy Knippel, director of Studio Fuji Art Studio, a Florence school of textile design, silkscreening and fashion. She created the soft sculpture above the antique cash register depicting the workers of the wool guild and gave it the Casa dei Tessuti as a gift.

Romano's father, Egisto, decreed that all the personnel hired by Casa Tessuti for posterity would be men.  So it was, and continues to be: to the right is Andrea Spulcioni, who accepted an offer of employment at the shop at the tender age of 15, in 1974.

"I have seen the world without leaving Florence," says Andrea. "I've served the queens of Holland and Denmark, Bedouins in their native dress, bejeweled women with no credit left on their cards, and people who appeared down and out (straccioni, literally: dressed in tatters: Maybe they needed a new wardrobe!) who purchased 7,000 euro worth of fabric." Buying habits have changed, he notes, the locals who would make small purchases have diminished, giving way to the "well-to-do tourist who spend a bundle and takes away bundles and bundles."

All have the option to have clothes made to measure by tailors and seamstresses.  My father would have been content.

My heart-sister, Mary Louise, calls me "the hand," for my ability to touch and assess fabrics and textiles, my father's legacy.  Well, "the hand," reached out to touch cashmere, wool, alpaca, linen, cotton in addition to silk prints, gorgeous brocades and damasks.
The store carries original fabrics by Valentino, Ungaro, Dior, Pucci and Cavalli
as well as textiles inspired by the designs of Chanel.
My heart-sister recalls, on a visit to Florence, that Romano showed her
a small swatch of "fabric"
made with woven peacock feather strands.

On a more modest note, Andrea is especially proud of the selection of
English fabrics and genuine Scottish tweeds,
including Harris tweed, which, because of the loom, can be no wider than 70 cm (27 1/2 inches).

I asked Andrea why Egisto preferred to have men only at the service of customers.
"He believed that a women could not, in complete honesty, advise another woman on the choice of fabric and color.  Egisto felt there was always a touch of
hidden jealousy in dealings between the gentle sex.
Since men and women are not competitive in regards to fashion, a man can be counted on to be completely honest on what best suits a client."

I wonder what Egisto would have thought of his grandson Alessandro, Romano's son, and his companion Sibilla,
who are pictured below with the celebratory anniversary cake.

Rest in peace, Egisto, for again in keeping with tradition, Sibilla has set foot in Casa dei Tessuti to participate in 85th anniversary bash; career-wise she is a Florence tour guide.
At present, Alessandro flanks Andrea in customer care.  He will carry the fabrics and unmuted, unchanging tradition of the Casa dei Tessuti into the future.

Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
      -- Rosanna

Sunday, September 14, 2014

George Clooney, Florence & the Local Press

George Clooney was in Florence recently to participate in the first-ever 'Celebrity Fight Night.'
He along with celebrity peers such as Lionel Richie, Sophie Loren, multiple Grammy award winner David Foster, and of course, Andrea Boccelli, made guest appearances at a number of events designed to raise money for the Muhammed Ali Parkinson Center.

Blue bloods and fashion designers of Florentine high society were the hosts,
opening palaces and museums.
As for what the Florentine in the street thought of the event,
gentle readers only needed to take a look at the headlines of the local newspapers.

Clooney of course was accompanied by his fiancée Amal Alamuddin
the "signora," or lady in the above title from the Florence edition of La Repubblica.
Despite my fluent Italian, I needed to check the work "delirio" out.
This is what I found, "stato di esaltazione, fanatismo" (an exalted state or
fanatasism) translating correctly to "frenzy or fury."
Taken literally, the headline says that the city was in a state of delirium for Clooney and lady.
Or, in simple English, Clooney's local fans, the entire population of Florence,
was overcome with excitement.

Interestingly enough, the Florence edition of Corriere della Sera, the Corriere Fiorentino, flipped the order of the day's two main stories:  local soccer first, then Clooney.
Again, the Corriere reported that the local residents were deliriously happy by Clooney's visit
(Firenze in Delirio).
La signora (Amal), is mentioned as Clooney's "girlfriend," which, despite the similarity to "fiancée," is the correct translation of "fidanzata" from Italian into English.

Below is the front page of the most local of the local Florence newspapers, La Nazione.
Surprisingly, unlike the competitors, no mention at all of the local soccer team, La Fiorentina; "rificolona," is a local annual festivity, for which according to La Nazione, thousands of people crowded into the local squares (migliaia in piazza).

Clooney is again the top story, even if alluded to indirectly.  The first line says that there was a VIP party in Palazzo Vecchio (a medieval building with tower home to Florence's City Hall)
and, once again, there was an outpouring of emotion from fans bordering on hysteria (delirio).

Undoubtedly not for city mayor Dario Nardella, but but for George Clooney who took the mike to announce that he had met his bride-to-be in Italy, and that they would tie the knot in Italy,
in Venice.
The mayor expressed his disappointment -- and the city's -- that Florence was not to be the venue for the wedding--if not the century--of the decade.

As those who travel to Italy know, the front pages of the local papers are displayed next to newsstands to inform and to entice people to buy and learn the details.
 I saw these three front pages side by side, united by the Clooney
story and the agreement that emotion surrounding his visit was at fever pitch.
No mention anywhere of how much money was raised.

In all my years as a English language reporter in Florence, I had never seen before 
unanimous agreement among competing mastheads of major news outlets.  Unimaginable.
That is what an American movie superstar in odore di nozze (so close getting married that 
the excitement is palpable) can accomplish.

Along the lines of Tyrone Power in Rome and Grace Kelley in Montecarlo.
For a day, we had George Clooney, and high hopes...
 Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                  -- Rosanna

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tuscan Summer Herbs

Despite all the rain of this unusually wet Tuscan summer, the heat has finally arrived.
While traditional Tuscan crops, from grain to grapes, have suffered damage from the unusual humidity, the herbs that add color and perfume to the Tuscan landscape, have thrived.
One of these is the ubiquitous Tuscan lavender plant (above).
While traditionally used in making scented sachets to add to drawers of clothing,
a cottage industry in the area produces essential oil from the local lavender.  Added to bath water, it is calming and soothing, reputedly acting as a sedative.
I can attest that it works.
Lavender flowers gathered is also used in a time-honored recipe
l'aceto dei setti ladri, which is still sold in Florence.
Composed of camphor, garlic, mint, cinnamon, cloves, absinthe placed in alcohol.
l'aceto dei setti ladri is a popular folk remedy thought to ward off as well as treat many maladies.
The name, "the vinegar of the seven thieves," comes from the fact that burglars in medieval Florence came up with the concoction, which saved them from the plague, or Black Death, allowing them to work undisturbed.

Today, lavender bushes in the Tuscan landscape as pictured above, attract not thieves but beautiful multi-colored butterflies and bees who feed on the flower nectar.

By the way, basil is not a traditional part of the Tuscan summerscape.  Generally grown in pots here to be snipped and added to tomato & mozzarella salad (with Tuscan olive oil of course),
 the herb is strongly identified with the neighboring region
of Liguria, the kingdom of pesto.
A another friend on the summer Tuscan herb landscape is rosemary (above).
It, too, is an ingredient in the l'aceto dei setti ladri.  Growing to bush size when found outdoor and not in a pot in my terrace, small branches of rosemary is utilized to flavor roasts of delicious Tuscan meat.

Rosemary also is prized for its anti-oxidant proprieties, great for skin care, and in combating memory loss and the possible onset of Alzeheimer's disease.
Well, Tuscans, even seniors, have naturally smooth skin and few wrinkles
(keep in mind that plastic surgery is uncommon here),
and in all my time here, have never heard of anyone suffering from
Alzeheimers.  Lifestyle? Diet?  Who knows.
Both are healthy, and incorporate herbs.

Below is a photo of Tuscan sage growing in the wild.
Again part of the recipe of the  l'aceto dei setti ladri,
(still sold in the Santa Maria Novella pharmacy as a remedy for feeling faint), the herb's best known use in the Tuscan kitchen is in a dish of hot ricotta and spinach ravioli,
sauced with the customary melted butter and sage leaves.
Sage is chopped up to add to meat stuffing, while a popular Tuscan antipasto is composed of  just-fried, tender sage leaves.

While tramping through Tuscan fields, I came across a snail shell.  Unlike the French,
the Tuscans do not eat snails, and shudder at the thought, although there are plenty of them around as close as the backyard.

The snail had done a good thing to take refuge in a cool, shaded underbrush, away from the blazing Tuscan heat and light so dear to fields of sunflowers.
I found the snail shell to be poetic.  It also reminded that, under il sole leone (the August sun of Leo), one does best to slow down and seek shade, and get away from the daily routine...
The spiral symbolizes to me life (someone said, "life and energy move in a spiral"), but above all eternity represented by continuity, day in and day out, year after year.

Speaking of continuity, summer is also tax time in Italy.  While on my way to to visit an accountant who prepares all my returns, while crossing the intersection at Piazza Beccaria in Florence to get to
Via Scaloia, I found
landscapers cutting the lavender in neighboring city flower beds.
On my way back, I joined passersby -- all women -- in gathering some of it.
"Why are you doing this?," I asked the gardeners, who smiled and informed me that the lavender plant needs a good pruning in order to flower next year.

I rescued some fragrant lavender to bring to the office.  The first picture is of a clump of flowers against the ubiquitous yellow plaster intonaco of the office courtyard located in Borgo degli Albizi.  The second is some more in a vase, again in the courtyard, taken on an ancient doorstep and old door which happens to be the entrance to premises of an avant-garde arts festival.

The vase is of gold-flecked Murano glass, which I happened to buy in the Galluzzo market many years ago for 30,000 lire (15 euro)!

What I love best about life here is the timelessness
which is priceless
(or costs very little).

reporting live from beautiful Tuscany
                                                              -- Rosanna

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Girl and A Man with a Pearl Earring

Art lover and bon vivant Rita Kungel accompanied your Beautiful Florence blogger to nearby Bologna (1/2 hour from Florence by train) to visit Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring.  The signature work of this Dutch artist, who lived during the 1600s and lived only to the age of 43, is on loan in Emilia Romagna through May 25 from the Mauritshuis museum in the Hague,
currently closed for restoration. 

During our adventure, which continued in Florence, we found three more period paintings featuring subjects -- both female and male -- wearing earrings, and some little-known facts about their iconic forerunner, the original, luminous Girl.

At the press conference, curators told the audience that "99% sure" that the Girl was a figment of Vermeer's imagination.  After all, he and his wife had at least a dozen children, and apart
from earning a living as an artist,
 perhaps Vermeer needed to go off and paint as a respite from the cares of daily life.
Who knows?  Art historians hold, however, that the Girl with a Pearl Earring is an example of the
"tronie" genre diffuse in Holland during this period.  A "tronie" is defined as a painted head or bust of an imaginary figure often wearing exotic costume."

The exhibition in Bologna also displays pieces by Vermeer's contemporaries, including Rembrandt, who is represented by another "tronie," a painted head of an imaginary sitter, also wearing an earring.

The ornament in Rembrandt's depiction is identified as a horn-shaped earring.
Notice Rembrandt's masterly use of light and shadow.
In the title of this post, I did promise the gentle reader a man with a pearl earring.
I did find one, but once back in Florence.
But before Rita and I left the press preview, we came across yet another
woman with a pearl earring exhibited at the Bologna show.
She is the subject of "Woman Writing a Letter," by another of Vermeer's fellow artists,
Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681).  The catalogue explains that during this period Holland was the most literate society in Europe and because the woman is young and attractive, it is supposed that she is writing a love letter (with a quill pen!)

Another fact that was revealed to journalists is that pearls during this era were freshwater, and that large pearls were often made of Venetian glass and painted.  Whether this was the case with the Girl
and "Woman Writing a Letter," I personally like to believe it was not -- and that the pearl is real.
After all, thanks to Vemeer's timeless poetic realism, one would almost expect the Vermeer's Girl to
step out of the canvas and draw a breath...

Though her rarely left his home in Delft, Vermeer's masterful style, even during his lifetime, proved to be far-reaching, down to Italy, influencing the Florentine Baroque artist
 Alessandro Rosi (1627-1707).

How did we find Florence's male counterpart to the Girl with a Pearl Earring?
Sipping an espresso in a café close to the office one day, I perused a local paper and found an article on an acquisition by the renowned, local antique dealer Giovanni Pratesi.

I have known Sig. Pratesi for many years, since he became the head of
Florence's prestigious Antiques Biennale.
I originally met him in 2001 when I wrote about a Michelangelo drawing belonging to a collection in England on display and on sale at the Antiques Biennale for the International Herald Tribune
(now the New York Times International).
.  Sig. Pratesi has a propitious, time-honored custom of purchasing a work for New Year's, as recorded below by Beautiful Florence faithful 
blog photographer Kori Endo.  This year he went to Padua to identify and buy Rosi's
Man with a Pearl Earring. 
Yes, it is pearl earring he is wearing, but he is not an imaginary figure.
Thanks to his fancy dress, the young man is believed to be the paramour of
Antonio de' Medici, a married man and father.
 Antonio, who lived in the shadow of his own powerful father, was the son of Florence's ruler
Francesco de' Medici and his second wife, Bianca Cappello, but born before their marriage.
Francesco and Bianca came to a bad end at the Medici villa Poggio a Caiano, both poisoned by his son  by his first marriage, who succeeded him.

When I asked Sig. Pratesi why he bought the painting, he responded:
 "la bellezza era un motivo valido"
(its beauty was reason enough).  He told me that a pearl was at that time identified with aristocracy in Florence, hence the Medici connection.

The young man's pearl, however, is as dark as his story--that of a love slave--
The Man with a Pearl Earring, was, and even now, is for sale.

A marked contrast to the idealized and light-filled Girl and her Pearl.
She just is.

Even now, during her Italian sojourn,
she currently attracts 3,000 paying visitors a day--5,000 on Sunday.
reporting on assignment from Beautiful Florence
                                                                                                    -- Rosanna

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Camellia Towns--Pieve & Sant'Andrea di Compito

Dear readers--Beautiful Florence is back.

After a long winter, burrowed in working on Magenta Publishing's soon-to-launched new web site,
updating our English-language column on Florence's La Repubblica web site, looking ahead to the publication of Vista magazine, and a trip to visit my Italo-Argentinian cousin Alejandro in Barcelona
your less-than-faithful blog team discovered beauty once again.
Vista staff writer Rita Kungel, myself and faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer Kori Endo ventured to the hills above Lucca to visit the Antique Camellia Festival.

I would like to dedicate this post to my late mother, Vittoria Palmina, whose birthday is today,
April 5.  She was born near Monte Pollino in a small hill town much like the ones we were heading to visit.  In fact, ours was a trip back in time.
Winding around the curves up the hills of Tuscany to our destination, Rita at the driver's wheel, suddenly said, "Look, donkeys!"

We met Gina (above) and her caregiver Giovanni next to a Tuscan stone farmhouse.
Giovanni remembers when the donkey was a work animal and a means of transport, as familiar with this past reality as I know my mother was.  Close to Gina was her son Zurigo (Zurich).  Why the name?   Giovanni revealed that he had 17 donkeys in all, many of them named for Swiss towns in honor of his brother who emigrated to Bern.

We went down to a pasture to see the rest, who were having breakfast.
Giovanni remembers when the donkey was a work animal and means of transport on the farm, surely as my mother had.  But what prompted him today to provide a home for a multitude of donkeys as well as a pregnant pony?  "They're so docile," he revealed.  Even at mealtime.

Continuing on our way, close to the entrance to the Camellia Towns we found a brook, the Visona.
The gurgling sound reminded me of the brook I grew up next to in the village of
 Highland Falls, New York.

The cool, clear water in these parts is one reason why the camellia thrives in this part of Tuscany.
 That and the clean air, and an elevated habitat not far from the sea,
 hence temperate, yet sheltered by mountains.

From medieval times to the Renaissance, silk was spun into textiles in the city below, Lucca.  Merchants had a thriving business in the Orient, eventually importing camellias for their homes and villas in the 1800s.  The plants would find their ideal home in the surrounding hills.

Yet their origin was clearly visible in the scientific display that opens the Camellia Festival: the genus and species was labeled Camellia Japonica.
Our Japanese-American photographer, Kori Endo, remarked,
"It's a long way from home."

Back outside, everywhere we looked,
camellias lined the side of the road,
which were filled--by not overcrowded--with hikers stopping to photograph.

Around a bend, we saw the medieval town of Sant'Andrea di Compito (below).

Settled by the Lombards, Germanic invaders who arrived before the year 1000, Sant' Andrea
and neighboring
Pieve di Compito passed under the domination of Lucca.

The tower is a watchtower; a
bonfire would be lit to signal the
in Lucca.

Like many medieval settlements in Tuscany, spaces inside would be remodeled over the centuries.  In the case of Sant'Andrea, the church acquired a Baroque interior (right).

Once inside, we discovered a shrine dedicated to St. Rocco, who also happens to be the patron saint of my mother's town, San Giorgio Lucano, in the hills of the province of Matera.
St. Rocco was immediately identifiable by his staff and the shells pinned on his mantle.

In fact, the villages are located on an ancient pilgrim road--even older than the via Francigiana--
called the via di San Colombano.  I am sure that donkeys have trodden these trails...

Walking down,
we saw a sign advertising the sale of tea.

Little did we know-- at least up to now-- that the world's tea is derived from the leaves of camellia plants.
A local plantation has an annual production of 12 kilos (26 lbs) of green, prize-winning oolong and black tea--we drank a cup at Villa Borri.

Our next stop was another villa called Torregrosso (big tower), which I'm existed at one time.
Now it is a historical home (right) still inhabited in summertime.  
The generous owners had the door open to visitors; no entry fee.

As beautiful as the house was, with it period furnishings, a treat
awaited us in the garden:  the oldest camellia in 
Sant'Andrea del Compito (above), planted by family ancestors in the second half of the 1800s. 

There was yet more to explore in the Camellia Towns.  Our last stop was a Camellia nature reserve.
Next to our old acquaintance, the Visona brook, are over 1000 camellia plants, trails and picnic areas.
Areas of the reserve are poetically designated for Tuscan composers such as Mascagni and Puccini, although they have never visited.

With the sun shining on an early spring day, we were as happy as this bee nestled in the heart
of a camellia

and our hopes for the future as shiny as this camellia below.

After all,
it is is finally spring.

Reporting live in Tuscany for
Beautiful Florence -- Rosanna

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Florence's 2014 Winter Pitti Fashion Shows

As usual in early January, energy in Florence is at maximum voltage thanks to the Pitti Immagine fashion trade fairs at the Fortezza da Basso and the Stazione Leopolda.  The first events, Pitti Uomo
(men's collections for fall/winter 2014-5) and Pitti W (women's pre-collection again for fall/winter 2014/5) attracted a record 21,000 buyers and an additional 9,000 visitors (including the press).
All had access to stands featuring 1000 labels in menswear and an exclusive 70 brands of the women's pre-collection (for the record, your faithful Beautiful Florence blogger
 has never quite understood the term 'pre-collection').

Events spilled out into Florence's shop windows and streets, as well as historic palaces and exclusive locations (the National Library and the British Institute Library to name just two) that hosted gala events and runway shows.  On our part, we put out a special fashion issue of Vista and provided coverage in our English-language column 'Day' for the Florence section of La Repubblica.   Above is a display of designers from Holland in a happening called 'The Dutch Touch,' which took place in the five star Savoy Hotel.

Dressed in total black with showy gold earrings, I attended, along with Beautiful Florence's faithful blog photographer Janelle Piva, who took the photo above, and our fashionista Elizabeth La Barbera,
author of the articles in La Repubblica.  The event was so crowded that we were advised to come back in a half hour.  I had read that another new Prada boutique was having its opening, so we decided to head over there.  Below, again taken by Janelle, is one of the Prada bags displayed.
En route over there, I reminisced about the good old days when not only were journalists were invited to the inauguration of fashion boutiques, but were given bags containing small gifts on their way out,  Thanks to this custom, I am the proud owner of a Prada cosmetics bag (the only Prada I possess), a pair of Giorgio Armani sage green silk pillows accented by discreet lilac stripes, and until it broke,
a leather Trussardi key chain.  That custom has gone by the wayside, leaving only the delectable food
and drink provided.  That is, if you can get in.  We had not been officially invited this time around (it depends on the coordinating press office's list), so I simply pulled out my professional press pass,
which as Elizabeth noted, "is like gold."  Then, seeing the security armed with I pads, I simply invited them to view Elizabeth's article posted on the Repubblica web site.  They didn't bother, and just motioned us to enter the fashion temple.

chilling on ice
in a
silver bowl,
poured in flutes
and served by
elegantly dressed
wait staff

But alas,
unlike at the
'Dutch Touch'
we were to attend later,
no miniature course servings
in sight,
not even
 hors d'oeuvres.

The following week,
Elizabeth, thanks to previously-arranged
attended 'Pitti Immagine Bimbo'
where pint-size trendsetters
took to the catwalk, modeling 450 fall/winter
fall/winter collections for 2014-5.

Each brand was also exhibited at individual stands,
just as in Pitti Uomo.

This edition of
Pitti Bimbo attracted
7,000 buyers
and 3,000 other visitors.

Not in Janelle's company
on this occasion,
Elizabeth herself
took this picture
of a Pitti Bimbo stand.

Encouraged by our positive experiences at Pitti Uomo's special events,
Elizabeth and I decided for an encore at the presentations of Pitti Bimbo.
With the 'What's Hot Today' Pitti newsletter visible on our I phones,
we decided to stop at LuisaViaRoma's 'Milk'
thinking it was a creative name for a children's event.

Sure, there were tots posing in outfits, more champagne (with finger food),
photographers shooting on prepared sets but the hilarious thing was...
we had no idea it was the 10th anniversary party of the famous French children's clothing magazine
'Milk' (why not Lait?...).  The answer is...the magazine is in English.  Go figure.

From there it was to the opening of Dolce & Gabbana's children's boutique,
next door to Emilio Pucci.
There we found a shop window filled with southern Italian specialties--true to Dolce & Gabbana's Sicilian origins..fruit-shaped marzipan, miniature cannoli, and almond nut brittle.

What surprised us that it was not only for show, but were the refreshments.
I ate two cannoli (this was 6 pm) and called it dinner...

...and walked around admiring 
Dolce & Gabbana's fashion statements for children.

Some Italian parents were having their kids try on outfits--I guess their wallets were not affected by the current recession...

With Janelle hard at work in the office writing an article on a fashion photography show, new arrival
Marilyn Malara from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, was pressed into service to take pictures.
She, rightly so, received one of the rare glasses of champagne served by sporadically-appearing waiters.

Then I spotted what I hadn't seen in ages--gift bags!
Excited, each of us took one.
But when we arrived back at the office, we discovered
that we were now the proud owners of a
Dolce & Gabbana shopping bag, a catalogue
of their children's fashion...and
a complimentary giant lollipop.

Sign of the times.

Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                                            -- Rosanna