Friday, December 25, 2015

A Florence 2015 Christmas Card

Your Beautiful Florence blogger returned from an eventful trip from the south of Italy regarding family matters on December 18, and on the morning of the 19th, attended a press conference connected with the Uffizi.  The event was to present Florence's annual Christmas gift, a free exhibition called "The Never Seen" (I Mai Visti) with works coming from the gallery's storerooms.

This year's theme, the mythological and archetypal story of Hercules as portrayed in sculpture and paintings from the Roman times to the 17th century, was gorgeous but apart from the gemlike glow of some of the pigments, not particularly in synch with the season.  The event, however, was the prelude of my discovery of Beautiful Florence's 2015 Christmas card.

Drinks and finger food were offered to the journalists on the Uffizi terrace.
The medieval Palazzo Vecchio, loomed nearby--the building seemed so close that one could almost reach out and touch the stonework. 

Finished at the end of the 13th century, Palazzo Vecchio, originally called the Palazzo dei Priori, was constructed as the headquarters of the Florentine republic.  Half fortress, half city hall, it was the seat of a European powerhouse--by the 1290s Florence was one of Europe's five largest cities, with a population of about 100,000.  Commerce and a booming textile industry also made it one of Europe's wealthiest.  The rich merchants and nobles who governed Florence (has much changed eight centuries later?) wanted a building that would communicate the power of their republic, governed at that time by the Florentine people.

After the respite in the tepid winter sun, to exit, I had to walk down an endless corridor encompassing half of the Uffizi.  Chronologically organized according to theme, I stumbled upon Room 71 (of 93!!)

My feet were beginning to feel weary, but however, the rich collection of paintings beckoned me to stop and look.

Then, I saw it.

Correggio's Madonna and Child Between Two Angel Musicians (1515-16).

Antonio Allegri da Correggio (from Correggio, a town in nearby region of Emilia) created this work early in his career.  The background is pure gold, a throwback to earlier Italian primitive  fondo oro masterpieces without a realist background; here, however, the figures are completely naturalistic.
Correggio's birthplace was absorbed into the Duchy of Modena, a sweeter, gentler place than Florence, also evidence by the local cuisine.  The artist Correggio's depiction of the Madonna and Child is, in fact, tender.  The lessons of the Renaissance are evident in the play of light and shadow (chiaroscuro), as seen in the left angels's wing with the lighting obscured by Mary's veil.

Correggio worked at the court of Mantua, which place a great emphasis on music.  When looking at the painting, on can almost hear the celestial Christmas music from the harp and violin.

The Madonna and Child Between Two Angel Musicians is believed to have belonged to the last Medici ruler, Anna Maria Luisa, who prized it so much that she took it with her when she left Florence to marry a German prince.  Upon his death, it returned to the city, and later became part of the Uffizi collection that she willed to Florence for posterity.

Mary is wearing a robe of dark pink rose draped in lapis lazzuli, the Child reaches toward an angel, other-worldly seraphim adore from above and below, sense of stillness and peace pervades all in a precious setting of gold.

Light, color and sound, beauty and balance: 
a Child is born this day.

Buon Natale from
Beautiful Florence
                  -- Rosanna

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Nov. 2015 in Florence: Pope Francis & the Paris Tragedy

     It was a little over a week ago, although it seems an eternity given what happened in Paris immediately afterwards, that Pope Francis visited Florence.  Like a rock star, the Pope arrived in a helicopter which landed in nearby Prato, an industrial city where he publicly condemned the problem of thousands of illegal Chinese immigrants who are employed in textile factory sweatshops.  

     Another helicopter ride and he was in Florence, where he had lunch at the Caritas soup kitchen staffed by volunteers.  Pope Francis was served the simple, yet hearty, meal of the day given to the poor on the usual plastic plate, with plastic utensils. After an after-lunch siesta in the Curia headquarters, he visited the newly renovated, state-of-the art Cathedral museum and then went to the Florence stadium in the Popemobile.  Here Sua Sanctità (as Italians call him) is in Piazza del Duomo, Florence's cathedral square, in the company of Cardinal Betori.

At the stadium he said, "I would like the Church not to rest easy but rather be anxious, in order to get close to the those whose are abandoned, forgotten and imperfect.  I would like the Church to have the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies and caresses.  I would like you to share the same dream of a Church just like this, to believe in it and be able to innovative in complete freedom."

  The aura of peace that Pope Francis left Florence (even traffic jams disappeared for a day) was shattered by the Friday the 13th massacre of innocent civilians in Paris clubs and restaurants.  But (who knows!) his words helped to inspire the gesture decided by Florence's city council pictured below:
the open-air copy of Michelangelo's David, that ultimate symbol of freedom wearing a black armband with the French flag draped at his feet.

  This strong message from David can be seen in front of city hall in front of 
Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza Signoria.

The photo of the Pope is by faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer Cathleen Guerrero.
Reporting live from Beautiful Florence -- Rosanna

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Tuscan Summer of 2015 & 1944

Today is August 11, marking the 72nd anniversary of Florence & Tuscany's liberation from Nazi and Fascist forces thanks to the efforts of the Allies who proceeded northward from Rome, aided by local partigiani (Italian resistance fighters).  

2015 is also the hottest Tuscan summer since records were kept, with daytime temperatures hitting 102°F.  

Even for a die-hard beach aficionado like me,
the heat was too much to head to the coast on weekends.

I abandoned my spot under a beach umbrella 
(left) along the Mediterranean, and began to dream of a picture I published in the magazine Vista, Florence & Tuscany.  Taken by my work soul mate Andrea Pistolesi, it depicted a waterfall somewhere near the Tuscan border with 
Emilia Romagna.

That picture haunted me.  An alternative image popped into my mind's eye: a cool, clear river I bathed in many years ago.  With only my memory to go on, I decided to find it, and to return.

In the search, friends Erin (mother of a toddler and six months pregnant), husband Chris and myself, took a trip back to the tumultuous liberation of Tuscany as well as to the timeless beauty of the countryside.

I called old friend, Andrea Politi, remembering having been invited to a convivial lunch at his family country home near Pelago, and indeed, he identified the river as the Vicano, which follows its course close by, eventually flowing into the Arno.

One Sunday morning, Erin, little Elise, Chris and myself went up to the mountain pass of the Consuma (3000 ft), hosting a village renowned for its schiacciata, the Tuscan variant of the focaccia, which comes topped or filled with a choice of vine-ripened tomatoes, porcini mushrooms from the local woods, onions, ham, cheese etc.  We had a mid-morning merenda (snack), accompanied by espresso, but had so enjoyed our authentic Italian moment in a non-touristy location that we neglected to take pictures.

Chris drove us down the mountain to an altitude of 1500 ft, to Diacceto, where we made a turn-off to Ferrano.  As per Andrea's directions, Chris drove to the end of paved road, and continued to on a dirt road (strada bianca) to the end, until we saw a small chapel.

"This is Andrea's property!," I said, and indeed later on he confirmed that that his rustic country home and chapel were originally part of a larger estate and that his ancestors were originally tenant farmers.

It was Erin who spotted the plaque on the house first.

It says that a Jewish family found refuge within its walls thanks to the big-heartedness of Giuseppe Politi, Andrea's father.  Their lives were saved in the wilderness of Ferrano, and the marker commemorates this fact for posterity.

"They were the Navarro family from Rome," Andrea told us later, "who had friends in Diacceto, just down the road, on the way to Pelago."

It was Andrea's late father, a partisan fighter known as
Braccioforte (Strong Arm) who sheltered them.  He headed a group of 200 men, the Perseo brigade, who sabotaged the German's mean's of communications and routes, also to help defend the
local population.

In retaliation, the Nazis rounded up 19 locals, including women and children, who were the victims of a massacre.  For their anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist stance and actions, the village of Pelago was awarded a silver medal at WW2's end.

The house itself is from the 1700s, a quintessential slice of true Tuscany.
Andrea's sister lives here in the summer, while Andrea himself and wife Nicole, of Polish-Jewish heritage whom he met on a trip to Paris, arrive from Florence on the weekends.

After a picnic lunch among the olive groves, it was time to find the river.

Indeed refreshing, but only one to three ft. deep because of the drought, alas! we did not go swimming.
Sitting on cool rocks, we put our legs and feet in.  The Vicano indeed pristine as the nature surrounding it, and full of fish and crayfish.  NB:  from a subsequent Internet search, I discovered that the place to bathe in the Vicano river is at Fontisterni, several miles away, where German tourists have been even reported to dive in the river's pools recklessly headfirst.

Another memory flooded in my head: that of a stone church dating back from 1100 CE (or AD).
Andrea obliged us and led the way in his vintage Vespa scooter, from 1984.

Isn't it a beauty?

As timeless as the original Fiat 500.

In any case, we were traveling in a red Opel Corsa, half-German, half U.S. General Motors car, bought new in

It was an uphill drive -- great for a spring or fall hike -- but now I was glad to be in the car.

Suddenly, after parking, we were in the presence of a perfectly preserved stone Romanesque church.

Its antiquity is testified to by the open bell tower and the
single rose window.

The church's name is Santa Maria a Ferrano
(St. Mary of Ferrano), and is located at 1800 ft.  For the record, it was built in the 11th century, and belonged to the Albizi family
(my office in Florence happens to be on Borgo degli Albizi, and the descendants of the family still live in the Renaissance section of the palazzo).

Santa Maria a Ferrano has been more or less abandoned since 1574, occasionally serving as a barn, before becoming recuperated by a religious community headed by a German monk.  He has apparently taken to Italian habits and was away on vacation.

Hence the door was locked.

Years ago, once inside, I saw a wood beam ceiling and a ray of setting sun come in through the bare rose window, to strike the stone altar.
Indelible memory.

This is the view of the hills around Ferrano and Santa Maria a Ferrano, woods filled with chestnut, beech and fir trees.

Driving back, I saw a sign for Rufina, which provided an adventure for the following weekend for me, Erin & family:  a visit to Petrognano, a farm bed-and-breakfast w/pool (we swam at last!) belonging to friends Enrico Lagorio of the La Toraia Chianina burger food truck fame, and his wife Antonella.

Here Chris, Erin and Elise are going into lunch and meeting another family.
In a twist of fate, Petrognano is situated right below Pomino, which was for centuries an Albizi wine estate.  The family coat-of-arms still graces the then (19th century) innovative white wine blend, Pomino Bianco.

It would appear that I have a karmic link with this historic Florentine family, although my family is originally (and proudly) from the hills of Lucania, province of Matera, near Pollino.

As for me and Andrea, as pictured, we continue the long trail of our friendship.
It dates back to when I first arrived in Beautiful Florence as a young girl, when I became friends with his neighbor, Mariangela Bortolani, introduced to me by art historians Lucia Monaci Moran and Gordon Moran.  Older than us -- I  learned during our adventure that Andrea was born to Bracciaforte (Strong Arm) and his wife at the beginning of peacetime, the end of 1945.

He has always been to Mariangela, an art conservator who is from the mountains of Emilia and who would probably recognize Andrea Pistolesi's waterfall photo -- and I,
nothing less than a Tuscan big brother.

    Reporting live-- 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Italian Health Care & A Personal Resurrection

Today is Easter, and with no disrespect intended to Christ, I would like to write about a personal resurrection in part engineered by the Italian nationalized health care system (free for everyone, even tourists, no need for insurance).

This year, I was one of the many laid low by a particularly nasty form of flu.  Laid low is a compliment, knocked out is a better description.  It started as a cold and stuffed sinuses and progressed from there.  I had to take a cab home from work after emailing La Repubblica -- for whom I write a column -- 
that I was ill.

The next morning, with practically no voice, I called my family M.D., Dr. Carlo Ressel (pictured above in his office at Due Strade).  He is available for phone consultations twice a day -- again at no charge.  When he heard me croaking, Dr. Ressel immediately asked if I had a fever (Italians are obsessed with la febbre as a symptom).  I don't think so, I replied.  "I will be in your neighborhood tomorrow afternoon, and if I don't see you at the clinic, I will make a house call," was his reply.

In Italy, a house call doesn't cost a dime.

The next day, despite chills, aches and pains, I managed to get dressed and walk down the block to his office.   He examined me and again asked if I had had a fever.  "Well, I don't know," I replied.
"I couldn't find the thermometer, and really....I don't get this bit about sticking it under the armpit 
like everyone here does and not in my mouth.  
Plus, the temperature is in Centigrade or Celsius, not Fahrenheit."

Ressel laughed and proceeded to measure it.  Despite his name, he is indeed an Italian 
-- a Florentine he would specify -- M.D.  
He is descended from Josef Ressel, of Austrian-Czech origin, who emigrated to Trieste and invented both the ship propeller and steamship.  His great-grandson has inherited Josef's love of the sea.
 On duty 11 months a year, Dr. Carlo Ressel takes a month's vacation
(as all Italians did pre-recession)
in July on the island of Elba.  As state-subsidized health care is available year-round,
a substitute takes his place.

Here and now, he told me to come back in a few days and wrote a prescription.  
As in most clinics in Italy, the pharmacy is practically next door.

Well, I believe in natural remedies and holistic medicine but I was in no shape to go to downtown Florence.  I was grateful for what I was given (above), which helped me greatly, along with throat remedies and the Italian version of Vicks Vaporub.

After displaying my tessera sanitaria (Italian national health care card), I pulled out my wallet.
Guess what?  I didn't pay anything, not a single euro.
 I turned the above box around and read (as the gentle reader can see)
Confezione dispensata dal SSN -- medicine courtesy of the Servizio Sanitaria Italiana
--the Italian Health Care System.  
I will take that over an HMO or Blue Cross any day.
After spending three more days in bed, somewhat better, with a hint of appetite returning,
I had breakfast on Monday morning and returned to the office.
Despite the fact I had sent an article to Repubblica written by a collaborator, 
I noticed the old column was still online.  There was only one possible thing to do:
invent an option.  I communicated this via email, specifying that I wasn't completely well,
and astonishingly (my editor is rarely in contact, simply too busy)
received this reply:

"Ciao Rosanna, just tell us what we can put.  A big hug.
lm" (= Laura Montanari)

Thanks to to that message, I entered into a quiet interior space.
It reminded me of 20 years ago, when I wrote a column for the print version of Florence's La Repubblica, that I reported for work once more with the flu, this time with a fever.  I sought a free computer, and found one, next to executive editor Claudio Giua's office,
 at the desk of the late Paolo Vagheggi.

Again, I was in the eye of the storm, the tempest being a deadline I was really too ill to meet.
I went beyond time and space and did it in just under two hours.

Fast forward to the present, then as now, I made it.
The next day, again in bed, with Arlene, the faithful Filippino cleaner (since '96!) hovering over me instead of ironing, the congratulatory phone calls began.
The column I wrote in a comatose yet calm state was a huge success:

Well, I had managed to get home the day not by cab but on my own power.
Luckily, I didn't need an ambulance.  And -- guess what -- if
I had (like this one pictured above at the Santa Maria Nuovo hospital close to my office)
it, too, is FREE.  The vehicle is supplied by the Italian health care system.  The drivers and paramedics -- all specially trained -- belong to a completely volunteer ambulance service,
the Misericordia (literally: mercy or compassion for others in misery, to be helped with heart).

The Misericordia had been helping the the sick and injured in Tuscany since the times of the plague,
that is, 1244.  

But that's another story.

Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                             -- Rosanna