Watch Your Steps: Fascinating Italian Floors and Roads

Traveling through Italy, I have had a hard time paying attention to all the details; there is just too much to take in (and I do not know whether that is just the richness of Italy or whether I have learned to notice more details on my travels over the last few months). As if it was not enough to have fascinating ceilings (see previous post), or small details such as enticing doorways and small decorative details (see another previous post),  or street art that one could overlook (see still another previous post), Italy also has amazing floors and roads. That may sound absurd and you may wonder how a road can be that amazing – especially when considering American roads. However, the roads and floors are fascinating – partially because of their age and significance and partially because of their beauty.  It is difficult to figure out how to pay attention to ceilings above, art at eye level, and floors under your feet often at the same place.

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Interior of Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence

One way is to spend plenty of time and to pause to take in all elements; another way is to acknowledge all but focus on one element. I have to admit for example that I remember the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel but have no clue anymore what the floor looks like (I looked it up online and it is actually a very pretty, mostly black-and-white mosaic floor).

Over the last few months, plenty of floors and roads have stood out to me – some because of their beauty, some because of their historical significance or age, and some even for all reasons.

Some roads are not pretty or very artistic but they make an impact because of their age. Imagine who has already wandered these roadways; think about how many people have walked on these paving stones over the centuries!

Path Forum

Road in the Roman Forum

 

Section

A Section of Original Brick in the Colosseum

Some pathways include details that might be overlooked at first glance:

Pompeii

A “Road Sign” Carved in the Paving Stones in Pompeii Points in the Direction of the Brothel

Mosaic Pompeii

Small Pieces of Original Mosaic Floor in Pompeii

Many of the surfaces are beautiful and already well-known:

Cave Canem

The Famous Cave Canem Mosaic Floor in Pompeii

 

Others fascinate with their intricate details:

Floor Vatican

Mosaic Floor in the Vatican

 

Marble Floor Milan

Marble Floor in the Cathedral in Milan

 

Many of the surfaces also serve additional functions such as displaying astrological signs on a sort of calendar or support a superstition:

Astrology Detail

Astrology Detail in the Marble Floor in the Cathedral in Milan

Coat of Arms Milan

Coat of Arms of Turin in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan – Legend has it brings good luck to put your right heel in the hole and turn three times around your axis.

And even ordinary streets become beautiful because of their surroundings:

Palazzo Vecchio

A Reflection of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

I know I have overlooked plenty of gorgeous floors and important roads in Italy while I was looking at or taking pictures of other elements, but at least that gives me a reason to visit again. Are there any additional floors and/or roads that you think are memorable and noteworthy?

How to Describe Florence: Henry James’ Impressions

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A Small Street in Florence

Italy, especially Florence, has always inspired authors. To prepare myself for my travels to Florence, I browsed the travel notes of several authors and especially enjoyed Henry James’ Italian Hours (available for free on Gutenberg.org). James visited Italy 14 times between 1869 and 1907, and his writing shows deep appreciation for the Italian people, places, and art. Even though the descriptions were interesting and enjoyable to read before I left for Italy, they were more poignant once I actually had seen what James described. I was able to value the beauty of his comparisons and specific details once I was impressed by the same details. I was moved but was not able to describe the impression as effectively as James. Here are some of my favorite views and descriptions (all from the chapters “Florentine Notes”):

“The street is narrow and dusky and filled with misty shadows, and at its opposite end rises the vast bright-coloured side of the Cathedral.”

Via dei Servi

View of the Duomo at the End of Via dei Servi

“…the white walls of Milan must be likened to snow and ice from their base, while those of the Duomo of Florence may be the image of some mighty hillside enameled with blooming flowers.”

Milan

Top of the Cathedral in Milan

 

 

“The place is the great Florentine Valhalla, the final home or memorial harbour of the native illustrious dead, but that consideration of it would take me far.”

Santa Croce Outside

Basilica di Santa Croce

 

 

“…the large, quiet, distributed town-garden, with the vague hum of big grudging boundaries all about it, but with everything worse excluded, being of course the most insolently-pleasant thing in the world…”

Boboli Garden

Giardino di Boboli

 

Boboli2

Boboli Garden with the Pitti Palace and Florence in the Background

 

“And the Medici were great people! But what remains of it all now is a mere tone in the air, a faint sigh in the breeze, a vague expression in things, a passive—or call it rather, perhaps, to be fair, a shyly, pathetically responsive—accessibility to the yearning guess. … Time has devoured the doers and their doings, but there still hangs about some effect of their passage.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Beauty of Imperfection: Sculptures in Florence

Sure, absolute perfection is astonishing but it is also a little bit boring. Over the last few months, I have seen plenty of “perfect” masterpieces here in Florence, and I have noticed that even though I appreciate perfection, I am much more enthralled by imperfections. This applies especially when it comes to marble sculptures here in Florence. By the way, if you have a low saturation point when it comes to white marble sculptures and/or busts, you will get your fill VERY quickly here. White marble definitely dominates many of the rooms of museums as well as churches and chapels (closely followed by depictions of Mary with gold leaf and bronze statues).

When one thinks of perfection in connection with white marble, Michelangelo’s David most likely comes to mind. And you might wonder, “So what about the David; isn’t he perfect and isn’t he beautiful?!” Yes, the sculpture is absolutely breathtaking ( so much so that it seems odd to use the lifeless pronoun “it” and not the more human “he”). And no, none of the replicas can do the original justice as it seems to be alive with visible tendons and even blood vessels.

Michelangelo's David

Michelangelo’s David in Galleria dell’ Accademia

And even with this sculpture that many would see as the perfect illustration for perfection, it is the imperfections that fascinate me. There are, for example, the mangled toes of his left foot when Piero Cannata struck the statue with a hammer in 1991 (read more about it here).

David's Foot that Was Damaged

David’s Foot that Was Damaged

Also often overlooked but fascinating are the initials MN that are engraved on the right calf. The guide mentioned the story behind it, but I am not clear about the details anymore and online sites do not mention this much.

MM

If you look carefully, you will see the letters “MN” carved into the the right calf of the original David by Michelangelo in Galleria dell’ Accademia

Even though Michelangelo’s David dominates the Galleria dell’ Accademia in Florence, the unfinished pieces by Michelangelo in the same museum are to a certain degree even more intriguing because they are unfinished and thus also not perfect. The opposition of rough and unfinished stone versus the smooth sculpture emerging  creates beauty  and fascination.

Prisoner2

Another unfinished Prisoner by Michelangelo in Galleria dell’ Accademia

Another exhibition in Florence, however, highlights the beauty and draw of imperfections even more. This exhibition is the collection of marble Roman busts in Palazzo Medici Riccardi. Since the busts are mostly from the second century, they are often slightly damaged. Many of them are missing the nose, but I find them even more fascinating because of that. For example, Emperor Caracalla appears more volatile and dangerous because his bust is missing the nose. The profile is rather intriguing without the complete nose.

 

Even the Riaccardi Athlete beguiles because of its imperfections. At first glance, it seems to depict an idealized and perfect human, but a closer look reveals not only amazing details such as the hint of teeth behind slightly parted lips (it seems that marble is actually flesh that could move at any moment) but also little nicks and faults.

 

Close-up Athlete

Close-up of the Bust of a Young Athlete in Palazzo Medici Riccardi

If you are in Florence, do not forget to check out the slight imperfections of David in the Accademia (see this website for more details) and do not overlook the marble Roman busts in Palazzo Medici Riccardi – even though this palazzo is more famous for its Chapel of Magi (see this website for more details on the palazzo).

Pigeons in Italy: Entertainment, Menace, and Food

In my Italian language course, I learned the word for pigeon on a field trip to the food market in Florence. We were asked to write down all the names of fruits, vegetables, fish, and meats that we saw at the market. And there they were next to the chickens and ducks – several plucked pigeons otherwise still completely intact with feet and opened beaks (I am not including a photo). The Italian word for pigeon is “piccione” in case you are wondering. You may come across it on a Tuscan traditional menu.

Pigeons have fascinated and entertained me ever since I have come to Italy as they are everywhere and seem to annoy and destroy based on the many signs as well as spikes and nets to keep pigeons off buildings and art work. The efforts are not always successful as pigeons have recently closed down a part of the Uffizi in Florence because of a tick infestation that was believed to have been brought in by pigeons (see the article here). And they can still be found on ledges, overhangs, and more importantly statues.

Pigeon

A Pigeon at the Entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

 

Pigeons on Statue

Pigeons on the Statues of the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence

Sometimes it is difficult to get a picture without a pigeon on the sculpture since they are not really fazed by people. They also feel comfortable flying or wandering through open doors and windows to hang out in indoor cafes and restaurants.

Pigeon Sign

A Sign Warning of Pigeons in an Interior Room in a Hotel in Venice

However, pigeons also seem to be appreciated. Even though I was told it is illegal to feed the pigeons on the Piazza San Marco in Venice, I still saw plenty of tourists attracting the birds with seeds and taking the obligatory photo of themselves with pigeons on their shoulders, head, and arms in the famous square. Artists also pay attention to pigeons. This street art about a pigeon in Venice made me smile:

Street Art Pigeon

Street Art of a Pigeon Wearing a Mask in Venice

But pigeons are also the subject of more traditional art forms:

I am not sure why pigeons seem to have such a bad reputation in towns. Are they really the only birds that create havoc in cities? After all, seagulls dominate the landscape in the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum in Rome and herons can be found in the Giardino di Boboli in the city center of Florence:

Pigeons in Italy come in a variety of shapes (missing foot, broken wing, missing eye for example) and colors (pigeon blue, steel grey, cream white, cappuccino brown, and white-and-brown “cow pattern”).

Venice Pigeons

Pigeons Resting on a Streetlight in Venice

I watch them while I wait in lines to get into a museum or for a friend to show up for a dinner date. And over the last few days I have watched a couple of pigeons trying to decide whether to nest in a spot on the glass roof of my apartment where I can here the clicking of their peaks against the glass as soon as the sun rises. So pigeons have been a little menace and plenty of entertainment but not yet food for me.

Angels’ Wings: Details in Paintings in Florence

I cannot even attempt to count how many depictions of the Virgin Mary I have seen over the last few weeks here in Florence. I have a tendency to enter any open church to see what is inside, and yes there is most likely a depiction of Mary or two or five or twenty depictions. The same applies to nearly any of the major museums in Florence. So it is tough for me to still get as excited about a portrayal of Mary as the importance of the art piece or the talent of the artist really deserves.Many of the depictions also seem to become very similar after viewing a few (at least for me) – a lot of golden halos and background.

Another Mary

Another Depiction of Mary and Child in the Uffizi

Lippi Angel

“Martelli Annunciation” by Filippo Lippi in Basilica di San Lorenzo

It is thus easy to start to quickly glance at these pieces and consider them as just another version of a similar piece. However, I have realized that I can still get excited about seeing another depiction of Mary when I start focusing and comparing details. One of the details that stands out to me are the angels’ wings. I am fascinated by the variety in color and the unexpected (at least for me) color combination.

Giotto Painting Uffizi

Painting of Virgin Mary in the Uffizi (Room 3) by Giotto

Close-Up Uffizi

Close-Up of the Angel’s Wings in the Painting “Ognissanti Madonna” by Giotto

Who knew that angels would have striped wings in vibrant hues of blue, red, and even black. Some painters also include intricate patterns in gold on the individual feathers of the wings. And since Italian museums do allow one to get pretty close to even the most important pieces, it is fascinating to observe the smallest details, and often without the big crowds of the visitors, who focus on the more famous pieces such as Michelangelo’s David or Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.

Monaco Uffizi

Painting “Incoronazione della Vergine” by Lorenzo Monaco in the Uffizi (1414)

Close-Up Angels Monaco Ufiizi

Close-Up of the Angels in Lorenzo Monaco’s Painting in the Uffizi

Once I started paying attention to the intricate details of the angels’ wings (I am fascinated by the gold swirls in the wings in the painting below), I also noticed additional details such as the elegant folds of a dress and the intricate gold border or the colorful background behind an angel.

Wings Monaco

Close-Up of the Wings in the Triptych “Annunciation and Saints” by Lorenzo Monaco; 1410-1415

Now, when I see a painting of a Virgin (and especially when the theme is the Annunciation), I get excited and look for the wings of the angels to see what color combination and pattern the artist has decided on. With this focus over the last few weeks here in Florence, I have also learned that I especially like the wings painted by Lorenzo Monaco, Lorenzo the Monk. Who would have thought that I have a favorite painter when it comes to angels’ wings!? So if someone ever asks me about my favorite painter of wings, and in particular of angels’ wings, I have a definite and well-researched answer.

Underwhelming: The Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence

Wall of Shoes

A Small Section of Wall of Ferragamo Shoes

I have a tendency to wander around without a guidebook or map or clear plan and just be surprised by what I discover. And usually Florence is a wonderful town to approach this way -especially if one has a lot of time. I have found plenty of gems that I would have mostly likely not chosen to visit if I had used a guidebook (sometimes the descriptions are less than exciting for my interests or the guidebook does not mention the items that actually ended up interesting me the most). I usually check the guidebook after I have visited a place to learn more about the details or see what the book highlights.

View from the Palazzo

View towards the Arno from the Museum in the Palazzo Spini Feroni

So I was ready for another pleasant museum visit when I decided to pop into the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence on a recent walk. The museum was mentioned as one of four museums connected to fashion in a recent fashion and design lecture I attended. I was hoping for plenty of great shoes, explanations on design and/or shoe making, overview of the history of the brand with plenty of examples, and much more, but the museum was rather underwhelming. A good coffeetable book about the brand or a glance at the brand’s website provides more of all that than the museum.

Close-Up Shoes

Close-Up of Shoes in the Ferragamo Museum

A lot of space of the museum is currently (till April 3) dedicated to the history of the building itself, the  Palazzo Spini Feroni, which actually could be pretty interesting but does not contain much to look at and more to read about the building.The 13th-century palazzo was owned by a succession of several wealthy families, also was a luxury hotel, served  as seat for the Municipality, and was bought by Salvatore Ferragamo in the 20th century. The most memorable part is that the scientist Girolamo Segato had a lab in the palazzo in which he practiced to “petrify” human cadavers (it is not clear how exactly he did that). I actually had more fun browsing the museum’s website, which is very detailed and has photos of all the pieces that stood out to me.

Silk Scarf

Silk Ferragamo Scarf Showing the Palazzo Spini Feroni

I did enjoy the displayed photos showing Ferragamo at work, fashion shoots from the 50s, or Florence being rebuilt after WWII, but there were not enough of them.

Model

Photo from 1958

Ferragamo

Salvatore Ferragamo and One of His Designs in 1956

Destruction of Bridges

Photo Showing the Rebuilding Florence after WWII – Of All the Bridges, Only the Ponte Vecchio Survived the Bombing

Maybe I have become spoilt by the many outstanding museums in Florence hat I have unrealistic expectations because surprisingly the museum has received 4 out of 5 stars on Tripadvisor. And I really like fashion museums and have enjoyed two of them in Florence (see a previous and another previous post). It seems that a lot of the pieces shown in this museum change based on the theme of the temporary exhibition and currently, the focus is not on the shoes but on the building. But I am still wondering whether I have maybe overlooked a whole section of the museum.

Shoe Forms

Shoe Forms in the Ferragamo Museum for Celebrities

Shoe Form

Shoe Forms for Making Shoes for Michael Jordan

If you are interested in visiting, the museum is on Piazza Santa Trinita 5/R, 50123 Florence and a full-price ticket was 6 Euro. The museum is open from 10 am to 7:30 pm everyday;
except 1 January, 1 May, 15 August and 25 December. For more details, see the excellent website.

Have you been to the museum and do you feel there is something I am overlooking?

Unexpected Parade on a Saturday Afternoon in Florence

Today was supposed to be a lazy Saturday afternoon with no clear plans for me in Florence – just a day to do some laundry, food shopping, and maybe a walk while the weather was holding. But then I started to hear drums and trumpets outside my window on the Piazza Santa Croce, and a quick look outside showed a large group of musicians and flag bearers in Renaissance costumes and a large gaggle of tourists already swarming the piazza to take pictures and shoot videos. This is what is great about Florence: something exciting and visually stunning is always around the corner even if you do not expect it.

Parade

Parade in front of the Basilica di Santa Croce

Once I joined the group of onlookers on the piazza, I figured out that RAI – Italy’s National Broadcasting Company – was shooting a segment about Florence’s Calcio Storico, also called Historical Soccer (see previous post for more details). The games in summer usually start with a parade of musicians and more in Renaissance costume through town. The matches take place on the Piazza Santa Croce, and one of the calcio teams was actually on hand for the filming as well today. The white team from the Santo Spirito neighborhood of Florence was posing for the TV crew and tourists (especially groups of young women) on the steps leading up to the Basilica di Santa Croce.

Calcio Storico White

The White Team from Santo Spirito

Parade Members

Participants of the Parade Posing in front of the Basilica di Santa Croce

Flag

Flags Thrown into the Air during a Performance

Since filming always takes a while and different shots need to be set up, the participants spent minutes at a time just standing around and unintentionally acting as perfect photo opportunities for tourists. Since this event was unannounced as far as I could figure out, the crowd was still relatively thin, and I had a chance to take plenty of close-ups that I would not be able to take during a parade before a match.

I loved the colorful costumes and flags in front of the white facade of the basilica, and the drums and cheers of the group still followed me as I crossed the river for a walk into the hills overlooking the city center.

Santa Croce

Basilica di Santa Croce and Renaissance Parade

Underrated Museum in Florence: The Bargello

When the words “museum” and “Florence” are combined, most think of the Uffizi and/or the Academia. But very few seem to think of the Bargello, also called the Museo Nazionale del Bargello – just a few minutes north-east of the Uffizi and much cheaper and much less crowded. It has quickly become one of my favorite museums in Florence and the only one I have visited twice since I have been here.

Window

Window of the Bargello from the Outside – Facing the Piazza San Firenze

It seems to be a little underrated by tourists (based on lack of crowds in March even when there are lines for the Uffizi) and more popular with Italian school classes. But it has much to offer. The building is from 1255, when it was the city’s town hall, and thus the oldest seat of government surviving in present-day Florence. The look is very similar to the Palazzo Vecchio on the outside, but smaller. The building was also used as the residence for the chief of police and a prison. In 1865, it became one of the first national museums of Italy. The building itself with its courtyard and painted ceilings is worth a quick visit but the sculptures are the reason to linger and appreciate it as museum.

Courtyard

Courtyard of the Bargello

Sculpture and Ceiling in the Courtyard of the Bargello

Sculpture and Ceiling in the Courtyard of the Bargello

The Bargello houses the sculpture entitled “Bacchus” by Michelangelo (from 1497 and thus his first major work). Sure, his “David” is amazing, but this sculpture also has incredible details and with the lack of crowds, it is possible to actually get close, sit down and spend some time observing the details. I was especially fascinated by the small details of the skin folds on the heel of the sculpture and the seemingly rougher callouses on the bottom of the heel.

Bacchus

Bacchus by Michelangelo

Bacchus Foot

Close-up of Foot of Michelnagelo’s Bacchus and the Satyr

The same room also houses several more works by Michelangelo as well as the bronze “Mercury” by Giambologna from 1564. The courtyard includes several sculptures such as a reconstructed large fountain that was designed for the Room of 500 in the Palazzo Vecchio but was never installed there.

Other highlights of the museum include the bronze “David” by Donatello from 1450, the first nude statue by a Western artist since Classical times. It is a very different portrayal of David compared to Michelangelo’s. Just as there are several sculptures of David, there ar also several portrayals of Bacchus, the god of wine, and it is fascinating to see how the portrayal of the same character changes based on artist and time but also what elements or traits seem to be more permanently associated with this character.

DAVID

David – Famous Bronze by Donatello

In addition to sculptures, the museum includes the competition panel by Brunelleschi for the Baptistry as well as arms, porcelain, religious items, and much more on three floors.

One of the reasons the museum might be overlooked by some is because of its opening hours: 8:15 AM – 1:50 PM daily but closed on some Sundays and some Mondays as well. Some websites mention that the museum is open till 4 or 5, but that is not true it seems. The Bargello has one of the cheapest entrance fees with 4 Euro (2 Euro reduced) and is thus cheaper than many museums and churches that house much less important work but also seem to be more crowded. For more information, see the museum’s website. I still have not come close to seeing everything in Florence, but I am still tempted to come back to the Bargello before I return to the Uffizi.

First Floor

The Donatello Room on the First Floor of the Museum

Where Is the Grass in Florence?

Florence city center does not have many trees or live plants, not even a small weed or a few blades of grass. Now that it is March, a few shops and restaurants have put out pots with (sometimes fake) bushes and flowers, but unless an inner courtyard has a few trees (most likely also in pots), there is not much plant life. For the first weeks, I had not noticed it much – too many views of the Duomo peaking through an opening, another alley that could be out of a movie, or another large sculpture. But whether I noticed it consciously or not – I did miss (and still miss) plants – especially large trees and grass. Why is there no grass? Back home in California, grass (wild grass) is stubbornly pushing its way through little cracks in the driveway and makes use of any half-inch of dirt next to a road. Here – nothing.

If you want green and plants, you have to visit one of the gardens in Florence or at least get on the “other” side of Florence, where some houses actually have a backyard.

Mozzi

Wall with the Mozzi Family Emblem out of Colorful Rocks in the Bardini Garden

I visited one of these gardens – Giardino Bardini – on a rainy Sunday early afternoon, which meant that I had the grounds mostly to myself. A few couples were risking the walk under threatening rain clouds, but I would not see a person for half an hour at a time (which is nearly impossible in Florence outside one’s apartment). The garden offers a great view over the city with of course the Duomo as its focal points, but also a view to the hills surrounding Florence as well as the Basilica San Miniato del Monte (supposedly San Miniato was beheaded in the center of Florence but then decided to pick up his head and walk up into the hills to rest there – and that is where the basilica was built).

View Mineato

View of Basilica San Miniato al Monte from the Bardini Garden

View over Florence

View over Florence from the Bardini Garden

I am sure in spring and summer the orchards, rose gardens, and Wisteria pergolas are beautiful, but I was just excited to see grass, a few daffodils, and a few bushes that were blooming. And there were birds chirping and the water of the Dragon Canal rushing! I was ready to hug a tree (maybe I am more West Coast than I realized), but at a minimum I had to touch the grass and smell the crisp green scent of broken blades of grass. Who knew that one could miss the smell of grass (after only five weeks).

Dragon Canal

Dragon Canal in Bardini Garden

Bardini Garden Grass

Daffodils are starting to bloom in the Bardini Garden.

The entrance to the gardens with the museum in the villa on the grounds (see previous post) is 8 Euro. The opening hours on the website were not the ones I was told when I bought the ticket (the gardens closed much earlier), so keep this in mind, but it might have been because of the rainy weather. For more details, see the official website.

Staris Brandini

Stairs Going up through the Flower Garden of the Bardini Garden

Brandini Garden

Brandini Garden – Statues of Vertumnus and Pomona

 

Fashion Meets Modern Art: Exhibit at La Villa Bardini in Florence, Italy

I was actually just looking for a quiet walk in a park in the few hours of break from the rain on a Sunday afternoon, but I found an exhibit that has just opened and pairs an Italian fashion brand with an Italian contemporary artist, and the results are surprising.

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I chose the Bardini Garden for an early Sunday stroll because I needed some time away from the tourists and hustle and noise of Florence center; and I needed to see some green, hear the birds, and not be nearly run over by a scooter or bike. The ticket to the Bardini Garden (8 Euro) also includes entrance to the Villa Bardini, which houses art exhibits. Never one to waste an already-paid  entrance fee, I visited the exhibit even though I was not in the mood for “another” museum (yes, there are plenty in Florence). In addition, the woman selling me the ticket was extremely excited about the exhibit and mentioned several times how wonderful it is that I am one of the first to see the exhibit since it just opened today.

I did not know what to expect; the poster showed fabric and not much else and the names did not ring a bell I had to admit – “Mariani chez Capucci.” However, I was hooked as soon as I entered the first room and saw the first display.

Capucci Blue

A Capucci Evening Gown in front of a Corresponding Mariani Piece

I am assuming I am supposed to recognize Capucci as the Italian fashion designer  Roberto Capucci famous for his dresses that seem to be sculpted; each one appears more fantastic and dream-like than the last. Pleats, folds, and strong colors seem to be the concept.

The same principle was used by Umberto Mariani in his art pieces that complement the dresses. Mariani is a contemporary Italian artist born in Milan in 1936. The pieces by Mariani vary in color and size but all play with light and dark created by pleats and folds. At first glance, the pieces seem to be fabric, but the pleats are created in lead foil that is painted or covered in gold leaf and some also seem to include sand or another coarse material under the paint.

 

Close-Up Folds

Close-up of the folds of a piece by Mariani. The folds look like fabric but are actually lead sheets.

The pieces by Mariani are fascinating by themselves – the simplicity, the feeling of movement and energy, the strong contrast of light and dark created by the folds. The gowns by Capucci are worth an exhibit just by themselves as well, but the combination of the pieces by these two artists creates an exciting interplay.

Capucci 3 back

Capucci Evening Gown from the Back and Mariani Art on Display to the Left

I doubt that I would have ever visited the exhibit just for its own sake; after all, there are still so many museums and churches and so much more I have not seen yet in Florence, but I am glad that I stumbled upon this exhibit by accident. And it is good to see that modern art in Florence can be something that is newer than the 16th century. The visit today also reminded me that sometimes it is best to explore a city without clear itinerary or a checklist of the top-ten sights. One never knows what one will find. Instead of fighting long lines at the larger museums on a rainy Sunday, I had this museum nearly to myself (I saw five more visitors in the hour I spent there) and the bright colors created a much-needed counterpoint to the grey Florentine sky .

Capucci 5

A Colorful Capucci Dress – One of My Favorites

The exhibit is still open till May 1, 2016. See the villa’s website for more details.

Venice Vs. Florence

I did not know that I had started to tire a little of Florence (yes, that is indeed possible) until I left for a trip to Venice and came back more relaxed and with an extra spring in my step. Much of my needed break from Florence had to do with the weeks and weeks of rain we have had; and even if it had not been raining in Florence, it had been grey and gloomy. I am used to bright sunshine in February in California, and the grey moody weather was taking its toll on my energy. Florence’s old center is also dominated by hard surfaces – all stone with not even the tiniest lawn or even trampled earth around the roots of a tree in the middle of a square or squished between a house and the road.

Venice Sunshine

Sunshine Reflecting Off the Water in Venice

Venice in contrast felt like a spa weekend: not only was it sunny but the sun was also reflected off the water – twice the sparkle and brightness after weeks of grey. Florence for me is the noise of tourist groups wandering below my apartment, scooters rattling over the cobblestones at neckbreaking speed, and drunken partygoers bellowing in echoing alleys. Venice, however, was the sound of lapping waves and seagulls. It took me a while to figure out the relative silence – no cars, no large city buses, and no scooters. Not even any bikes! And February meant fewer tourists, which meant even more peace and quiet.

Venice February

Few tourists visit Venice during the week in mid-February.

Instead of the cobblestones of Florentine roads, the shimmering waves of the canals created a soft surface and with their movement seemingly alive. Taking a vaporetto (water bus) reminded me of holidays on the seaside, and the gleaming wooden motorboats and gondolas created the impression that everyone here was on holiday. Gliding nearly completely noiselessly along in a gondola through small empty back canals felt like meditation. The waves rocked the gondola soothingly while our gondolier hummed Italian folk tunes (no, we did not pay extra for the singing; some people whistle while they work, and I guess our gondolier liked to hum).

 

Florentines and tourists alike are not willing to make room on the tiny sidewalks in Florence. A walk home on busy evenings often seems like a game of chicken – who is willing to get out of the way before we actually run into each other? Pedestrians in Venice seemed more relaxed and willing to make room; since there were no cars or bikes, even smaller alleys seemed large enough to hold pedestrians (at least during off-season). In Florence, even the smallest alley is a passageway for at least scooters and bikes.

Venice 2

Another Quiet Canal in Venice

In Florence, the dominant building color is ocher, or maybe better called a Tuscan brownish yellow. Venice seemed brighter. That may have a lot to do with the weather since it was actually sunny, but a lot also with the reflective surface of the many waterways. Buildings were also brighter – many more white accents on the outside, bright red and orange walls, seaside-green shutters, and red-and-white or azure-and-white striped mooring poles.

Venice Canal

Quiet Side-Canal in Venice

While Florence seems to have party dwellers till early into the morning, Venice seemed to fall asleep a few hours after sunset as very few people were walking the streets at night as the full moon rose and the cold wind from the Grand Canal whipped open coats and jackets.

Venice Sunset

Sunset in Venice from a Vaporetto (Waterbus)

Back from Venice, I can still feel the rocking motion of imaginary waves when I close my eyes as my body has adjusted to the motion of rocking boats over the last few days. I feel more mellow, and even the Florentine sidewalk congestion did not bother me on my walk back from the train station to my apartment; I feel like I just returned from a spa weekend as my sun-kissed cheeks glow and as I move through the throng of people with zen-like calmness (lets see how many days that will last).

 

 

 

Calcio Storico in Florence: Historical Soccer

Over the last few days, workers had transformed the Piazza Santa Croce and covered it with a deep layer of sand surrounded by haystacks and fencing. Even though it was in the middle of February, a match of Calcio Storico, “Historical Soccer”, was planned. Italians really are not too bothered by dates and punctuality; supposedly, these famous games usually take place in June only but for some reason that I still have not figured out, a game was surprisingly scheduled in February. Since I would not be here anymore in June and did not expect  to be able to watch a game, I was happy about this change in schedule.

Calcio Storico is also called Calcio Fiorentino and was created in the 16th century. It is a mixture of rugby, American football, wrestling, and to some degree soccer. Both hands and feet can be used to pass the ball, but it actually did not remind me much of soccer but much more of rugby. The goal is to score a point by getting the ball into the narrow goal that runs the width of each end of the playing field. A team consists of 27 players and there are no substitutions, so any injured players just means fewer players on that team. A half point can be scored if the opposing team tries to score a goal but kicks the ball over the goal. The game lasts 50 minutes with no halftime or break. In addition, tackling players even if they do not have the ball is perfectly acceptable and actually good strategy it seems.

The game I watched was played by the Bianchi (Whites) of the Santo Spirito neighborhood of Florence and the Verdi (Greens) of the San Giovanni neighborhood. The Verdi won by 5 points (or 6 points – I cannot remember) to 2.5 points, so yes, the Green Team tried a to kick a goal and missed the net.

Here is what amused me during the game and/or here is what I learned: The players are blessed inside the Basilica di Santa Croce before the game starts (this reminded me a lot of the prayers in the locker rooms that are always shown in Hollywood sport movies).

The uniforms of the referees at the Calcio Storico are even more ridiculous than the “zebra uniforms” of the American Football umpires and Footlocker employees.

Line Judge

Outfit of the Line Judge at the Calcio – And here I thought the “zebra uniforms” of the referees in American Football were hilarious.

The best defense seems to be to just tackle the best players of the other team and sit or lie on them. Seriously, this seems to be allowed and practiced. Even if the play is whistled dead, these interlocked pairs are still fighting for dominance.

There are no personal penalties; it seems normal to walk past an opponent and hit him on the back of the head with one’s elbow if the opponent is not paying attention; this can also happen away from the ball and does not trigger any penalties. I am not even sure there are penalties – just a ball out of play is called it seemed to me.

Calcio 9

The players wear odd Renaissance-style puffy pants and regular T-shirts that also seem to be of very poor quality since many of the T-shirts get torn a few minutes into the game. It seems like no shirts at all would make more sense and is preferred by the players.

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Calcio Player

All the music played before and after the game is Renaissance-style music – no hip new top-of-the-chart hits for this game.

I am wondering what costumes any cheerleaders would wear – if they had cheerleaders.

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Calcio Players after the Game

The game is pretty entertaining to watch and easy to figure out especially if you are familiar with rugby and/or American Football rules. The 50-minute game passes quickly since there are no timeouts. If you are in Florence during the time Calcio is on the calendar (or even if there is a surprise unscheduled match),  I hope you have a chance to check it out.

Gucci Museo in Florence

In 1921, Guccio Gucci (love the name) founded the Gucci company in Florence, so it makes sense for the city to have its own Gucci Museum. The museum is housed in the Palazzo della Mercanzia overlooking the famous Piazza della Signoria with its Neptune Fountain and copy of Michelangelo’s David and close to the much more famous Uffizi Gallery. The museum also includes a very popular cafe on that square.

View from Museum

View from the Gucci Museo over Piazza dell Signoria

The collection is an interesting overview of the brand’s items from luggage to car to clothes and handbags. Unfortunately, it does not include any jewelry and watches and could also use more examples of scarves.

At the beginning, the company specialized in travelware and accessories, so it makes sense that the collection includes a lot of suitcases and and travel sets, many in exotic leathers such as crocodile or ostrich and of course, the famous logo.

I was surprised to see that Gucci worked with Cadillac in the 70s to create a Gucci model, also on display in the museum.

Gucci Car

The Gucci Model of Cadillac

Most of the evening dresses on display are not behind glass, so it is possible to take a very close look at the craftsmanship of the amazing gowns adorned with feathers, crystals, and more. The dark rooms with black walls and floors let the gowns shine in the spotlights:

Gucci Evening Dresses

Gucci Evening Dresses

One room highlights the Flora print, first created for Princess Grace of Monaco; another room focuses on bags with the famous curved bamboo handle. And of course, a whole room is devoted to fashion showcasing the brand’s famous double-G logo.

Gucci

GG Monogram Fashion

I was the only visitor on a late weekday afternoon at the beginning of February, which is quite different to a lot of other museums in Florence that are busy even now in winter. The museum is rather small (1,715 square meters of exhibition space) and is definitely limited in its offering.  I was more impressed by the design of the display space to showcase the items than the items themselves actually. If the entrance fee were cheaper (it is usually 7 Euro but only 5 Euro on Fridays after 8PM), I could recommend it more wholeheartedly. But the museum has exceptional opening hours (Fridays till 11PM and on other days till 8PM) that it is a great choice if you still feel like seeing another museum but most other museums in Florence are already closed.

For more information, see the museum’s website.

 

 

Don’t Forget to Look Up: Ceilings in Florence

It is easy to walk through Florence without looking up – too many famous sculptures and paintings, too many chic items in the shop windows, too many wonky cobblestones ready to turn your ankle, too many tourist groups to pass. But do stop and look up. Looking up is worth the effort and holds rewards here in Florence – the ceilings are sometimes as enchanting if not more so than everything else closer to the ground.

Since many museums are in sometimes very grand palazzi, the ceilings in museums are especially worth a look. One perfect example is the Museo del Bargello in Florence. It houses sculptures (for example Michelangelo’s Bacchus as well as Donatello’s David), china, weapons, and also religious icons. And the sculptures are impressive, but the ceilings are also noteworthy I find:

The Museo Stefano Bardini is not the most famous museum Florence has to offer and has an interesting mix of items from sculptures, to columns, to carpets, to religious icons, but it also features fascinating ceilings since it is also housed in a palazzo:

Of course, churches always offer impressive ceilings:

San Miniato al Monte

Interior of San Miniato al Monte

But the motto of always looking up also applies outdoors:

Loggia dei Lanzi

Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence

Even in the classrooms where I teach, the ceiling surprised me (and I think back to the white dropped ceiling tiles common in American office buildings and shudder – after all, a fresco in an office seems perfectly normal):

Even a meal or aperitivo in a restaurant or bar means a ceiling worth looking up to:

The famous sculptures and paintings I expected of Florence, but the gorgeous and varied ceilings were a nice surprise.