Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Norcia Earthquake & Siena: Goodby to 2016

This gilded wooden Madonna, originally found in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Argentea in Norcia, is currently on display in a art show divided between Siena's Cathedral crypt and Santa Maria della Scala.  The statue is part of the Bellezza Ferita (Wounded Beauty) exhibition of artworks rescued in the October 30, 2016 earthquake that devastated
a town in Umbria.

Originally part of an Assumption, in this setting she is raising her eyes upward, not to heaven, but to the semi-destroyed church from she was rescued.  Arms flung outwards, Mary seems to be supplicating help and mercy for Norcia.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Argentea in Norcia,
(above), was originally built in the 3rd century A.D. on the site of a Rome temple dedicated to Athena in her guise of the goddess of good fortune, with the "argentea" denoting one of her attributes:
a "shining" goddess.  The ancient church, which embraced Christianity but preserved the memory of Athena in its official name, was restructured in the 11th century in the Romanesque style, torn down in the 16th century and was rebuilt between the 16th and 18th centuries in what is been variously described as Renaissance (mirroring when it was begun) and
Neoclassical (reflecting when it was finished).

One can only hope that, seeing what is left of Santa Maria Argentea, that it will rise again from the rubble, along with rest of Norcia.

I covered the 1993 Uffizi bomb blast for BBC World Service, the result of an explosive set off in by the Mafia, killing five people, including an infant carried out lifeless by a fireman.  Looking at this image at the exhibition, which shows another fireman carrying out a Christ child sculpture from the church of San Pellegrino in Norcia, I couldn't help being reminded of another tragedy,
which damaged downtown Florence.

The panels already brought to safety and leaning on wall depict St. Benedict and his sister, St. Scholastica.

Both are exhibited, so that visitors can figuratively touch the cultural identity of the
earthquake area, and contribute to its rebirth, along with that of Siena.  The Tuscan city is financially troubled due to the near collapse of its signature bank, the Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded before Colombus discovered America, in 1472!

For centuries, Santa Maria della Scala, located directly across from the steps of Siena's Cathedral, gave rest and shelter to pilgrims walking the via Francigena to Rome.  It is a fitting place to host Bellezza Ferita.

It is the wish of Beautiful Florence's less than faithful blogger on this New Year's Eve,
that humanity absorb the heartbreaking scenarios that 2016 unfolded and
commence 2017 with hope, looking forward to
rejuvenation and reconstruction,
 built on the
cornerstone of true
fraternity & sisterhood.

Buon Anno from
Beautiful Florence
                                           -- Rosanna

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Scaperia's 'Infiorata' Flower Festival

A well-known Italian song has as its theme, "to make anything, you only need a flower"
(per fare tutto ci vuole un fiore).

The lyrics of this children's song comes alive every year in Scarperia, a village north of Florence in the Mugello valley, which hosts a flower-painting festival, the "Infiorata," the last weekend in May.
At the base of the mountain pass leading to Romagna, Scaperia is one of the last towns in the province of Florence.
Here, residents color up the main streets and celebrate their community.

Frugal Tuscans are known for not throwing away anything, and reutilizing whenever possible. This includes stale bread which is the basis of their signature soups pappa al pomodoro and ribollita.  Here we are at the end of May, where flowers in a number of small town festivals are separated into petals, stems and buds, destined to be
re-used in the flower paintings.

For a day, Scarperia forgets its medieval origins mirrored in austere medieval architecture, and the streets and squares bloom.  Drawings by local elementary school children (Piazza Clasio), middle school students (Piazza dei Vicari) and shop owners who access their inner child (via Roma) on a theme are chosen, faithfully recreated as patterns and
outlined by the teachers or the artistically talented
directly on the cobblestone pavement.

The locations come alive with people -- children, parent and residents -- decorating the designs, which come alive in 2D and sometimes 3D thanks to papier maché and flower installations.

Petals lend the vividness, and with the mixture of colors and texture, the participant can create almost any shade he or she wants to see in the picture.  Dark colors such as brown and black
are applied with seeds and soil.

The 2016 theme was animals in literature.

An eagerly-awaited moment of the event is the climb to the top of Palazzo dei Vicari.
This is no Disney recreation, the building was the originally the headquarters of the military rulers, later turned into the bishop's palace in the late 16th century.
Great place for putting things into perspective: here is an overall view of the 
fox petal painting.

The eye-catching designs are a heart-warming manifestation of the local community.
When the sun goes down, everyone, including the children, pitches in to dissemble their creations.

Beauty is fleeting -- here it lasts the space of a day.

But the "T" in Tuscany also stands for tradition, and next year
the "Infiorata" will once again blossom
and grace the streets and squares of Scarperia.

Per fare tutto ci vuole un fiore -
To make anything, you only need a flower.
               reporting live for Beautiful Florence
                              -- Rosanna 
                                                       & Greta Szabó 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Poli & Teatro Niccolini: Death & Resurrection

Life, death and rebirth: the Easter story in three words.
Easter 2016 in Florence was no exception.

All the world's a stage," wrote William Shakespeare in "As You Like It."
Florence in 2016 saw the rebirth of its oldest stage, the Teatro Niccolini in early January, and right before Easter, the death of the actor who was invited to perform on opening night:
 Paolo Poli.

The origins of the theatre date back to the 1600s.  Amplified to its current size between 1711 and 1764, its original name "Teatro del Cocomero" (Watermelon Theatre") merely mirrored its location on via del Cocomero" (Watermelon Street).  In 1860, it was re-christened in honor of Giovanni Battisti Niccolini, a playwright from the Tuscan town of Livorno who had the honor of seeing his works on stage there. The road, now the present-day via dei Ricasoli leading from Florence's Cathedral to San Marco, was renamed for the second Prime Minister of a united Italian kingdom, Bettino Ricasoli.  The statesman was a Florentine.

Florence was also the birthplace of the acclaimed stage actor Paolo Poli.  He starred in 12 plays at the Niccolini in the 1980s until the early 1990s, when the theatre was closed.  Graciously coming out of retirement at age 86 just for the occasion, his performance re-inaugurated the space after  restoration and renovation which lasted exactly 10 years, from 2006 to 2016.

I met Poli at the event's press conference on January 9.  He praised local publisher and entrepreneur Mauro Pagliai who purchased the building.  Pagliai found financing to so the theatre could maintain its 18th century architecture with modern wiring, lighting and security and Poli thanked him
"for giving the Niccolini back to the city."

Then he unexpectedly expressed his desire "to die in exile, like Dante."
"Florence is a city of merchants with closed hearts, who as described in his 'Divine Comedy' are
ungenerous and miserly, prideful and envious," he added.
Poli's wish was granted: he passed away in Rome.  Dapper and elegant, I was not surprised to discover that he had a degree in French literature.  Since I studied French and French literature for a number of years, even acting in a college production of "The Bourgeois Gentleman" by Molière (who knew I would move to Italy?), his style brought to mind the attitude of my teachers.
Although they were "Québécois" (French-Canadians), they were careful
to instill in us a Parisian accent and knowledge
of France and French manners.

Back to Poli, he entered a new life on March 25.  The date also happens to be Florentine New Year, the Feast of the Annunciation (Gabriel appearing to Mary). It was the first day on the calendar up to 1750 in Florence, where it is still  celebrated with traditional events.  Like it or not,
Florence was Poli's final resting place.

In true Florentine style, the actual birth of of Teatro Niccolini had its roots in conflict.  Members of the theatre company founded the "Accademia degli Immobili" on the premises of the present-day Niccolini in 1650.  A year later, the group split:  half went to establish the Teatro della Pergola, and those who remained renamed their company "Accademia degli Infuocati" (The Ardent Actors Academy).  Their coat-of-arms, visible in the newly renovated theatre (right), is of a fiery time bomb beginning to explode.

A speaker at the event said that Pagliai (which means haystacks in Italian, notably combustible) was the right person to to reopen the Niccolini!

The Niccolini's fiery beginning was to continue throughout its history.  After hosting notable productions and actors such as Poli and Vittorio Gassman, it closed in 1995.  The theatre suffered abandonment, the ravages of time, even severe damage caused
by a student sit-in which happened in 2002.
At the press preview, I was sitting one seat over from another extremely famous Italian stage actor, Gabriele Lavia.  I  surreptitiously aimed my Iphone camera towards him, and luckily, he didn't notice.
I did, however, hear him comment that Pagliai's gamble was one of "incosciente follia" (pure madness, not taking risks into account).

In his "fool's paradise" Mauro Pagliai (above), found a bank foundation, the Ente Cassa di Risparmio, as a partial sponsor in the rebirth of the Niccolini.  Knowing that the box office receipts from 406 seats plus boxes of a theatre prose season would probably not cover costs, he decided to turn the
Niccolini into a "multipurpose cultural space."
Sounds like a man with vision.

In the 2 1/2 months of its newfound existence, the Teatro Niccolini has hosted a designer's event during Florence Fashion Week, a concert, and a performance of traditional and contemporary dance marking the close of the Korea Film Festival.  Sunday evening chamber concerts, regularly held in 
Teatro della Pergola's intimate Saloncino, have found a new home.  Starting in May, to avoid waiting in lines, from 9 am - 5 pm, visitors to the Cathedral complex and museum have the option of viewing a video that provides background information on the landmarks.  A bookshop and a café have been added to the ground floor.

Next door is a modest trattoria/pizzeria, which has been there for many years.  The "Buca," in the title means that it is underground, probably in a former wine cellar.  During my first year in Florence, in the '80s, I had a pizza there with my friend Marjorie Coeyman, who was working towards her masters at Florence's Middlebury College study center.
I remember Marjorie and I discovering pizza "capricciosa" (capricious pizza, a tomato base topped with a mixture of mozzarella, artichoke hearts, baked ham and mushrooms as well as the "quattro stagioni," which had the same ingredients neatly divided neatly into four sections.  I believe that I ordered the former and  Marjorie the latter, which surely reflected our personalities.
We did not go downstairs, but dined on the streetfront patio.

Although I enjoyed the pizza, for now I never managed to go back.  There will surely be an opportunity given the upcoming program at the Teatro Niccolini.

I initially meant to post this blog entry the weekend immediately following the re-opening, specifically after a Saturday afternoon meeting at Florence's La Repubblica.  When I arrived at 5 pm, the meeting was postponed.  "We are in the midst of covering a murder of an American --
 do you know her?" I was asked.

I did not personally know Ashley Olsen, although she was to change my life.  Two days later I was asked to write a story on the case that was posted on the homepage of the national Repubblica web site  -- a first for a piece in English, by a American no less.
This led to five days of coverage on my part, relaunching my international career.

And the Niccolini?  When would I write about the Niccolini?

You see, I had a second chance, during a weekend highlighting death and resurrection.

Below is a perspective from the seat where Paolo Poli sat on opening night, representing 3 1/2 centuries of passionate "theatre," reborn and destined to live on, portraying the dramas and comedies of life.

Happy Easter/ Buona Pasqua!

--reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                                                 -- Rosanna