Friday, December 30, 2022

A Farewell to 2022 in Florence & Tuscany, Part II

Well, 2022 was also the year that saw the return of the Antiques Biennale to Palazzo Corsini after a
 three-year hiatus.  There, I unexpectedly came face to face with an original Andy Warhol silkscreen of Queen Elizabeth II.  When did he create this? Obviously when she was young-ish.
The great lady herself passed on September 8 -- which in Italy is celebrated as the birthday of the 
Virgin Mary.  I attended part of the Queen's commemoration at 
the British Institute of Florence.

                               Much of 2022 seemed like an endless summer, so much so that after Vista magazine came out, appearing like the Antiques Biennale, as after a pause due to Covid -- I was was able to go to the beach several times for R&R.

Here I am in mid October (!) at Castiglioncello,  I was given a heroine's welcome at a seaside restaurant, La Lucciola, since they hadn't seen me all year, was given the best table, then took a swim and lay down to sun at the water's edge.  It was so gorgeous that I thought when I closed my eyes I would soar up into the endless blue sky.  Well, I didn't, but this is what I saw when I opened my eyes.

November brought the White Truffle Festival in San Minato near Pisa, to which I returned after
10 years, having visited with Rita Kungel, photographer Carly and Gabrielle Taylor.  The warm scent of truffle permeated all through the streets of San Miniato, which is one of only two areas in Tuscany where the culinary delicacy is unearthed in the fall.   Local restaurants offer a variety of dishes kept simple in order to highlight the delicious taste of white truffle shavings such as pasta, eggs, carpaccio (thinly sliced raw beef), and polenta. 

 I hadn't been back to San Minato since 2011, and I called the osteria we had dined at then, L'Upupu.  Roberto, the owner, remembered me but couldn't assure me of a reservation.  This year, when Helen, video maker Isabella and myself arrived, we stopped it across from a butcher shop which was serving meals on a counter in the front room adjacent to their meat display cases.  Helen had reserved there but when I saw the stools at the counter facing a stone wall, I popped my head into Roberto's tiny's establishment (which seats 20) and miracolo! - - there had been a last minute cancellation. We were invited in, given a table and greeted warmly by the owner and his son Ludovico, who spend most of their time in the kitchen.

The service is impeccable also given that Roberto, a Florentine, is also a devoted foodie who had worked at Gilli's in piazza Repubblica.

We ordered the classic tagliatelline al burro e tartufo bianco (thin egg noodles sauced with hot, melted butter and white truffle shavings).  I remembered the dish cost €25 in 2011, but it was €40 now, inflation coupled with a scarcity of truffles given the 2022's high temperatures and severe drought in Tuscany. 

Scrumptious was the word. Roberto also threw in a bottle of house wine, a deletable white at only €15 and a complimentary plate of polenta in cheese sauce once again topped by shavings of local white truffle, all served by his wife.

The Italy we knew and loved still exists.

When I walked into the British Institute before Christmas, I noticed this Christmas tree in a niche given even more depth by a scallop shell inset at the top.  This is really ancient, I thought, and I was right.  The decoration is characteristic of the High Renaissance of the late 1400s and early 1500s, a period for which Florence is renowned.  The motif can been seen in this Renaissance painting attributed to Renaissance master Filippo Lippi, in a private collection and for sale at the Antiques Biennale (!) along with 
Andy Warhol's Pop Art.

Looking back at Part 1 of my end-of-the-year blog, the memories are more dark while Part II comes out of the shadows into the light.  Isn't that life?  Back to the Renaissance, it was also a artistic technique, chiaroscuro, the play of light and shadow.

You can also see that my interests include art, nature, food and history. Italy is the perfect place for me.

I would like to end my 2022 reminisces by picturing my 90+-year-old neighbor Marisa in the years after World War II and share her words of wisdom.

Marisa lives on the ground floor where I have my home, and, due to her age, is there only three days a week especially to tend her garden, until daughter Paola comes to pick her up and take her away.  

Her roots here are strong. Besides gardening, she is a seamstress.  Sewing and gardening were respectively the livelihood and hobby of my father, an Italian tailor at West Point, who could also always be found 
in his vegetable patch after work.  He must have intuitively felt this since, at the end of his one visit to Florence, he said to her, a complete stranger to him on her knees on the ground, 
"you are a mother -- look after my daughter!"  
She always has.  Now I keep an eye on her, which Paola appreciates.

Marisa grew up in the Tuscan hills near Londa (Rufina).  Her father was a woodcutter.  There was no heat, electricity or running water in her childhood home.  Her uncle was killed by a German mine in 1944.

Yet, when I wished her Buon Anno as she was leaving again with Paola, she said simply:
"Health is what's important -- the rest come in small steps."
La salute è tutto - il resto a piccoli passi.

I will try to remember that in 2023.

Happy New Year!

                                                    reporting live from Beautiful Florence

Thursday, December 29, 2022

A Farewell to 2022 in Florence & Tuscany, Part 1

Well, 2022 was an adventure, un anno tosto (a tough year) as the daughter of my 90+ year old neighbor remarked to me on the phone the day after Christmas.  The mother is Marisa and her daughter Paola.  More about them later.  See Part II of this blog post.

After the Tuscan population was steamrolled by Omicron in early January, my friend Deborah and I, wearing masks as was everyone, made our annual getaway to the Tuscan ski resort Abetone.  Brilliantly cold and clear, the setting was the one we found below.

The trail through the woods is a ski run. Alas, this December, this image is a mirage.  Probably due to climate change, the temperatures are above freezing, there has been torrential rainfall.  No snow at a ski resort.  We're still hoping things will change by February at least...

The same month brought the annual International Holocaust Day of Remembrance on January 27, 2022. The Uffizi Gallery unveiled a new acquisition, a portrait of young woman with closed eyes entitled "Flame" by genocide victim German Expressionist art Rudolf Levy, who was deported from Florence. 

Raised in an Orthodox home, Levy faced opposition in his artistic career choice.  Born in Germany, he lived in Paris, Mallorca, New York, Dubrovnik and Ischia, seeking refuge.  He moved to Florence in 1940 and when the Nazis occupied Italy in 1943, he went underground in Florence.  Arrested by the Gestapo, imprisoned briefly in Le Murate, he was taken to Auschwitz and died there in 1944.

Stumbling stones ("pietre di inciampo in Italian) are square-shaped memorials placed in the sidewalks of the streets of Florence.

The stumbling stone located outside his hiding place -- a friend's apartment at piazza Santo Spirito no. 9 -- was placed there this year to ensure that posterity will not forget Rudolf Levy and others who suffered the same fate.

Well, World War II appeared in a July outing to Abetone in the company of Robert Shackelford and Harding University in Florence.  I had helped set up the trip months ahead of time (in terms of logistics, arranging for mountain bikes etc.) so of course I was invited to come along.  A real blessing since the summer of 2022 was one of the hottest on record -- unrelenting heat and no rain for months.
It was even warm in Abetone, and cool only at the very top of the ski lift.

On the way down from the mountain, Robbie, the student group and myself stopped at 
the Museum of the Gothic Line in Pianosinatico, six miles south of Abetone, which I had never heard of before.  The Gothic Line was a heavily guarded German line of defense during World War II designed to cut Italy in half from east to west, from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Adriatic coast. Pianosinatico was right on the Gothic Line, so the museum was opened in 2019.  There are also hikes of varying lengths
to WW2 bunkers that depart from the site.

Here we are at the entrance to the museum.  Robbie is on the far right, with the 
director of the museum, hand on her hip, to the left.

The museum is divided into four rooms, each devoted to a protagonist of the WW2 campaign: partisan resistance fighters, Italian fascists, American soldiers and their German counterparts.

I was amazed to find the military patch of the 10th Mountain Division, which had trained on skis at an altitude of 9,200 ft. at Camp Hale, Colorado, before arriving in the mountains around Abetone in 1944.
This was only six years before Abetone native Zeno Colò won the gold medal in the men's downhill and giant shalom skiing at the Aspen, Colorado world championships.

The Americans left their footprint on the Apennine mountains here, as you can see from the Coca Cola bottle and the packages of K rations and even Milk Duds (!).  .

They even left behind an Italian phrase book.

Unfortunately, a group of partisan resistance fighters attacked a car with German soldiers in Pianosinatico, killing an officer and an enlisted man on September 27, 1944.  The Nazis rounded up 11 men in the village on the same day and shot them in revenge.  Nine were over the age of 55 and one of them, Tullio Levi, was a Jew from Parma who thought he had found a safe and remote place to hide.

In the spirit of my photo taken along the walkway to the museum,
 rest in peace.

Flowers thrive in the pure mountain air.

As for Pianosinatico, there are currently more ghosts than residents; 
the population currently stands at 76.
Of these, according to info online, "24 are unmarried, 34 are married or separated, two are divorced and 16 are widowed.  The majority have gone to either elementary or middle school 
and one person is illiterate."
Times seems to have stood still in this tiny hamlet 3,000 ft. above sea level, whose destiny, evidently, is to be a guardian of history.

But as I am saying farewell to 2022 in Florence and Tuscany, 
there's still the second half of the year
 to report on.

                                                                         reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                                                -- Rosanna