26 December 2013

21 May 2013

Salvatore Ferragamo, Shoemaker of Dreams

If you're in Florence, Italy, I recommend you visit the Ferragamo Museum. It is a gem of a museum and small enough that, when you  finish viewing the exhibit, you will still feel fresh.   

The current exhibit is on Salvatore Ferragamo himself, which I found interesting and fun.  Salvatore began his career as a 9-year old making shoes for his sisters' confirmation.  He was a visionary and shoemaker to the stars.  He believed there was no limit to beauty, yet he also believed shoes should be comfortable.

The above two pair do not look very comfy to me 

To learn more about Ferragamo, click here and also click to watch the trailer here of one creative aspect of the current exhibit.

Museo Salvatore Ferragamo
Palazzo Spini Feroni
Piazza Santa Trinita, 5/r
Firenze, Italia
(6 euro entrance fee)

06 May 2013

What Do You Have in Your Checked Bags?

This article and video are shocking.  The video shows baggage handlers at Italian airports stealing from people's luggage.  This reality does not completely surprise me.  What stops people from the temptation?  Until now, they could get away with it.  Luckily, I have never been a victim to this crime. The article and video have targeted Alitalia across the country of Italy, but I am sure other airline employees around the world behave similarly.

What can we do about it? I don't know about you, but I tend to be pretty attached to my things. I do not like having to relinquish anything.  If I had my way, all I travel with would go on the plane with me. I am not exactly a light traveler, but I dread the thought of losing anything.  Nowadays with so many restrictions on what we can take on board with us, it becomes even more challenging not to pack in cargo some of our valuables.  But really?  Cash?  On the video, I saw these people pocketing money found in the suitcases.  The only reason I could think to send cash through cargo is if I were carrying more than the amount allowed without having to declare it, which I think is $10,000 US.  So far carrying too much cash is a burden I have yet to be concerned with.

If we could all travel lighter, everything would be simpler.  I realize it is not always possible to travel light especially when traveling to different climates, for extended periods of travel, and a mix of activities from sports to business.

The point of this blog post is simply to bring it to your attention that stealing does go on.  If you value your valuables, please be mindful of what you choose to place in your checked bags. Perhaps even go a step further and ask yourself if it's really necessary to travel with that item.  

Safe travels.  Buon viaggio!

29 April 2013

Playdate with Watercolor Paint

I had the pleasure of meeting Nancy from Indiana a couple months back. Nancy is a creative and energetic retired schoolteacher, who spends most of the year abroad. Somehow in our conversation that first meeting she told me about her watercolor project: She paints her travelogues on postcard-sized paper! Nancy shows me a sample of her work, and I fall in love with the concept.  I think it a creative way to imprint lasting memories.

Maestro Nancy

Watercolor has always been the paint medium I prefer; my artistic talent is sorely lacking, never graduating from stick figure drawings.  Nancy insists her approach is so simple and easy that even I can do it. I ask Nancy to show me her technique. I challenge her to teach me.

Nancy's work in progress based on Villa La Petraia visit

Today is our playdate. Lucy and her daughter, Elizabeth, and I traipse on over to Nancy's home for our painting lesson. Nancy tells us this is a new art form for her which she incorporated only a few months ago when she returned to Europe. As she explains her techniques, we follow our maestro's guidance. The first thing we do is section our postcard-size paper into at least five sections. That way the blank page is less daunting. Nancy makes a postcard for each side trip she takes. I choose Italian subjects that require minimal skill to sketch. We have scheduled an hour for our playdate, but we stay five. We each go home with our own miniature capolavoro ("masterpiece") after also sharing ideas, laughs, and getting to know one another a bit more.

Elizabeth has talent

Notice the detail in Elizabeth's first masterpiece

Nancy shared with me an entire book filled with her miniature paintings. Each one is priceless.  Because I doubt my artistic ability, her point was to show me the evolution of her skill in poco tempo (little time). I do have hope. Even I could see the evolution of her style and technique as she grew confident in her newfound skill and learned how to handle the brushes and paints. Thank you, Nancy, for sharing with us. 


My creation.  Um, can you recognize any objects???

A picture is worth a thousand words; each miniature picture here tells many, many stories.

Lucy's creation

Many stories

Keep an eye on your mailbox. You just might receive an original piece of artwork in the mail from me one day soon.

27 April 2013

Villa della Petraia, Florence, Italy

April 25th was another holiday here in Italy, Liberation Day, which marks the end of Mussolini's regime. Five American women chose this holiday for a field trip. From Stazione Santa Maria Novella, we took one of two ATAF buses, the   No. 2 or 28, to visit one of more than 25 Medici family villas throughout Tuscany. We visited La Petraia.

The bus arrives about 15 minutes after leaving the station. A short walk up the hill past another Medici villa, the Villa di Castello, and past the onetime home of Collodi, the author of Pinocchio, will land you at the entrance of La Petraia. Free admittance and a free guided tour. Our tour was in Italian. I did my best to follow along, grasping 60 to 70 percent, enough to fascinate me to discover more. The villa previously belonged to the Brunelleschi family, the architect who built the dome on Santa Maria del Fiore ("the Duomo"). The villa is worth the visit for its frescoed courtyard .

However, what particularly interests me are the gardens. Italian gardens are not quite what we think of as gardens in the U.S. A few hundred years ago, they were rarely full of flowers, though flowers were included. Instead, they were about order and beauty, geometric designs of landscape architecture. They were designed to impress, and they were about power. The larger the garden, the more power the family had. The Italian-style gardens were later copied throughout Europe (French Renaissance Gardens and English Gardens). One more art form to be appreciated in this city, the birthplace of the Renaissance (thanks to the Medici family).

Villa della Petraia
via della Petraia, 40
Castello, Firenze, Italia

14 April 2013

Humanities 101 (Notes from a Recent Trip to Los Angeles)

More than two months ago, on 2 February, I left Florence in a hurry ... and arrived to Los Angeles with a sad and heavy heart under a cloud of unpleasant circumstances.  This trip home was not planned, but sudden.

The generosity of my friends and family overwhelmed me then, and now, when I look back, still overwhelms me. Each and every one of you played a part in my feeling loved and cared for at a time when that was precisely what I needed. Many of you went out of your way to be available for me in one form or another. Words alone cannot adequately describe my gratitude for your kindnesses. Nonetheless...

In a short month's time, I had the opportunity to see so many old friends, and family, which helped restore my faith in humanity during a crucial personal crisis. During our too brief time together, we enjoyed plenty of laughs, tears, stories, love shared, love lost, bonding, re-bonding, meals, and even a bit of shopping.  (Needed that!)

A big THANK YOU to all of you.

With love from Florence, Italy

26 December 2012

A Real Italian Christmas

This year represents my fourth holiday season in Italy, and tonight, Christmas Eve, is the first time I spent it with an Italian family. Many similarities, a few differences. The real joy of the evening, for me, were the 7-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy who believe in Babbo Natale (Santa Clause).

The tradition in Italy is Santa Clause arrives at mezzanotte (midnight) of Christmas Eve to bring the gifts. Christmas Day is a day to relax and have another large meal. (More food!)  No TV, no calcio (Italian soccer), and no football (American-style) is watched on the 25th.  Fat old Santa, I thought, would never fit down the chimney because the flue is pretty narrow and Santa's bacino (pelvis) is a bit wide.  It turns out, Santa rang the doorbell at right about midnight. Babbo Natale arrived with armfuls of gifts.  The little girl is rather furba (clever, smart, sharp), and she immediately called Babbo Natale on it.  "E'  babbo!"  (It's Dad!)  "It's Dad's face, Dad's shoes!"  And then she commented, "Your belt is made of paper.  It's not a real belt."

I do not know if these kids believe in Santa or have already learned how to play the game, but all those doubts about Babbo Natale were soon replaced with the excitement of the gifts.  Just like everywhere, the wrappings and ribbons did not last long while the children clawed to get at the hidden treasures.

Meanwhile, the evening proceeded.  Good food was prepared and eaten.  Lots of Italian was spoken.  I tried to keep up.  I even tried to joke in Italian. Everyone said my Italian is very good.  I believed none of them until Andrea, the 9-year-old, piped in and said, "E' vero" (It's true). For me, the ultimate compliment is for a child to tell me my Italian is excellent. Finally, I believe and accept that my Italian just might be better than I think. I value kids' opinions (especially in this regard) because kids are usually straight up. I have often wondered what do children not necessarily old enough to "understand" that Italian is my second language think when they encounter someone like me.  It was the way Andrea piped up with "E' vero" that convinced me.  It was as if he knew better than anyone else, and his compliment was not patronizing like often the adults who say I speak well might be.  My Christmas present.

After the festivities -- the food, the conversations, the smiles, and the gifts -- I descended the 89 steps back to the street with a belly overstuffed from too much indulgence, where, to my surprise, I saw many people out on the street with perhaps no real purpose but to amble about with everyone else.  And then it hit me.  Inside or outside, everyone was with someone...even if they were with everyone.  During my short walk home, I overheard many kids speaking with their parents about Babbo Natale and observed the knowing smiles of their parents as they replied.  A few winks here and there, and I finally understood.  English is my mother tongue; Italian, my adopted language.  But universal is people.  Even if we do not speak the other person's language well or at all, we still (can) communicate.

The kids taught me that. Christmas suddenly took on a new meaning.  A fun evening to see it through the eyes of young children and their parents. And what presents I received!

Merry Christmas

-- Giosalina 
    Firenze, Italia

05 October 2012

Museo di San Marco and Cenacolo di Sant'Apollonia, Florence, Italy

San Marco is a 15th century church and convent, previously the home of two medieval convents.  The convent is now the Museum of San Marco.  In 1436 the Dominicans of Fiesole took over the convent.  Fra Angelico from Fiesole moved into the convent, had his own "cell," and painted the majority of the freschi you see there today.

Museum of San Marco
Buildings are always being restored

A year later Cosimo de' Medici took on the financial burdens for the reconstruction of a new church and convent, which were desiged by Michelozzo.  Even Cosimo de' Medici had his own private cell here even though he lived just down the road at the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi.

Many of the freschi we see have been removed from their original location and placed in museums elsewhere and are often severely damaged from the elements and time.  Most freschi at San Marco are still on the wall and in near-pristine condition.

 The Miracle of the Lost Key Found Inside the Belly of the Fish

 Various rescued freschi

Looks almost Salvador Dali-ish  to me
Juxtaposed? Blindfolded? Crystal ball? Free-floating hands? 

 Fra Angelico's "Annunziata"

Girolamo Savonarola also had a cell at San Marco.  He gave many of his speeches during his brief reign of power from the pulpit of San Marco.  He was first hanged and then burned at the stake in Piazza della Signoria in 1498 not long after Savonarola ordered the second Bonfire of the Vanities.

 Inside one of the courtyards

Another, smaller courtyard

After leaving San Marco and having a hearty soup for lunch, my friend and I strolled back in the direction of  home when we decided to pop into the Cenacolo di Sant'Apollonia.  I have passed by the nondescript building dozens of times but never felt a pull to visit.  The term "cenacolo" originally referred to where the monks and nuns ate meals; today it refers to "The Last Supper."  Leonardo da Vinci is not the only artist who painted a famous cenacolo (located in the church in Milan). There are more than a few around town. The cenacolo located in this building was painted by Andrea del Castagno in 1447.  It is an important piece of work for Florence because it was the first Renaissance cenacolo in Florence and represents a fundamental moment in Florentine painting with his expert use of perspective.  I saw immediately, even to my untrained eye, that the table linen looked three-dimensional, and I wanted to reach over to touch the linen.  My friend commented that she wanted to "pull the wrinkles out of the tablecloth."

 The room in which "The Last Supper" is housed

 Close-up sectional

 Another section of the cenacolo

Just what is this bimbo reaching for?

You know how you visit places only when on holiday, but never your hometown?  (Even though other people come from elsewhere to see the things you never get around to seeing?)  We all likely believe that those sites will always be there, and eventually we will get to them, but usually we never do make the time to go.  I have visited Florence, Italy, many times over the years -- and live here for the past three years -- and still there are many places I have yet to see.  Today, though, I finally made my way over to the Museum at San Marco in Piazza San Marco and to the Cenacolo di Sant'Apollonia. Each is a lovely way to see a little more of Florence, learn a little more of this town's history.  And with an Amici Degli Uffizi membership, you get to visit each site for the best price, free.