Friday, November 30, 2012

30 November 2012, Tour of Vasari Corridor

This afternoon at 2.45 I was on time at the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazzia della Signoria, in front of the statue Perseus for a tour of the Corridoio Vasari, the Vasari Corridor.

It all started with an email response earlier this week:

Ok, last spot is yours! See below for payment and meeting time/place info. All the best, Alexandra Thank for your interest in the Vasari tour. We are really looking forward to it and it would be great to have you join us. Reservations and payment can be made at The Florentine's office in Via dei Banchi 4 (just off of Piazza Santa Maria Novella). The office is open weekdays from 10am to 6.30pm. Spots can only be guaranteed once payment is made. Because of the tour's popularity, I really encourage you to secure your spot as soon as possible. When you reserve at the office, you'll receive a 'coupon' for your tour. Participants will receive their books, and museum admission tickets on the day of the event. With regards to logistics, we will be meeting at 2.45pm at Piazza della Signoria's Loggia dei Lanzi, in front the Perseus. Please be punctual. We're under a very tight time limit for entrance. We will head over to the Uffizi/Vasari entrance together. If you have mobility issues, we ask that you let us know in advance. As a contact number, feel free to call 3338689458. Thanks again, I look forward to seeing you at the event. Alexandra Lawrence
 A little history:
The Corridoio Vasari is a kilometer long, elevated hall designed by Giorgio Vasari and constructed by the Grand Duke Cosimo de’Medici in 1564. It enabled safe travel by horse from Palazzo Pitti, the family home, to Palazzo Vecchio, the Duke's workplace.

Palazzo Vecchio

Chiesa di Santa Felicità

A part of the hallway overlays a portion of the facade of Chiesa di Santa Felicità. The corridor then extends over Ponte Vecchio and makes two turns toward the Uffizi.

Vasari Corridor

As one walks through the corridor, it is possible to look out to various views from small round portal windows. There are several large windows, located right over the Arno River. Mussolini ordered these larger windows to be cut, to enable Hitler to have a better view of the river.

I arrived early for the tour named:  Women Artists in the Vasari Corridor

Also early, from "The Florentine Press,"  was Alexandra Lawrence editor-at-large and a licensed tour guide.

I recognized Linda Falcone, who has a column in the same newspaper. She arrived in Italy from the California Bay area twenty years ago and never left.

Linda Falcone and Jane Fortune, together have written and published Art by Women in Florence, A Guide through Five Hundred Years.

Although the Corridoio Vasari (Vasari Corridor) is advertised as closed, according to Alexandra, it is actually open, but only to guided tours.

Two young men arrived with our supplies. Each of us were given a book, issued a name tag, an Uffizi entrance ticket and an around the neck halyard, with an attached device for hearing directly into the ear, Alexandra and Linda as they speak.

Isabella Dusii, in grey

Our group is limited to 25 by Uffizi regulations. As we waited for late arrivals, Alexandra suggested we socialize. I looked to the lady standing next to me and read her name tag! Oh my gosh. I was standing next to author Isabella Dusii. Her last book, Bel Vino: A Year of Sun Drenched Pleasure Among the Vines of Tuscany, is on my night stand. I had finished it, but it was so good, I had decided to read it again.

I held my hand out and said, "Oh what a nice surprise to see you in person. I have your book on my night stand." Then I thanked her for her work to document and save the history of Montalcino, her adopted hill town. Isabella departed Australia many years ago and now is an accepted member of her Italian quartiere.

She responded with, "It does so fascinate us." I mentioned I had seen her YouTube video when she was collecting donations in the USA to save their local church. She told me the church restoration has just been completed.

I didn't want to monopolize her time, but no one else was speaking to her. I started to make one last comment, but was interrupted by Alexandra making an announcement. We are still waiting for one last participant, who is already 30 minutes late, but in route.

I was surprised, because Isabella turned to me and said, "You were saying?" I told her of a conversation I had had with Alessandro, wondering why he had no family genealogy work documented. His response was: “I don’t need to know where I came from. My family has always been from right here.” Yes, it's true, but now how much family history was lost with his passing? She agreed, this is the same attitude she has encountered here in Italy.

I did not talk to her again because I saw she was busy taking notes in a small notebook. I'll have to just watch for her next book and maybe send an email. This trip seems to be giving itself a theme of friendship or of new acquaintances.

The tour began, as we waited briefly at the tour entrance of the Uffizi. The first room contains security, similar to an airport. No water allowed. Check large umbrellas in the cloak room. No photos are allowed to be taken of any works of art. Photos of views from the windows are ok.

One smart lady opted for the elevator. We climbed four groups of those deep, grey, hard Florentine stone steps and arrived breathless at the gallery entrance.

We paused at the top landing, to listen to a short talk by Alexandra about the Medici family portraits. The Uffizi was built by Giorgio Vasari in 1560 for Cosimo I de' Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, specifically to house all this art. Yes, it also housed his offices but mainly he wanted to show off the art. Each guild was required to pay for their part of the building. Construction therefore was done by many subcontractors. Just recently, Friends of Florence, an American non-profit, finished restoring an entire room, right down to the wall coverings and drapery.

Passing by all the gallery rooms, we stopped again at the point where the Uffizi hall turns right and overlooks the river Arno and Ponte Vecchio. A magnificent gorgeous view. Photographs are allowed here.

Right and left hallways of the Uffizi (Palazzo Vecchio in rear)

We turned to walk down the parallel left hall of the Uffizi.  Just a few steps and we stopped in front of an unassuming door. A plain door which could be leading into a closet. Not fancy at all. But, to its sides, two very stern guards were waiting for us.

They looked us over. I've seen expressions like theirs only once, at the airport in London, when Israeli security looked over the passenger waiting area. These anti- terrorist officers are of a very high caliber. One of the officers looked as if he could have been a classic police character from a book or film. In addition to his facial expression, he had a long scar, slashing down his cheek. Certainly he had survived a real conflict.

The door was opened and we could see descending stairs, with a frescoed rounded ceiling. We had entered the Corridoio Vasari.

Looking back to the entrance door. (Photo from Internet)

 We stopped at a spot just before the corridor turns to the left. On the right, with a view to the street below, there is a grated large window.
On May 28, 1993 a mafia car bomb exploded early in the morning, just below this window. Six people were killed and 26 injured. Much of the damage inside the museum was caused by broken glass in 20 of the 45 galleries, and the corridoio itself sustained structural damage. Later it was determined over 90 pieces of art were damaged by either glass shards or from the force of the blast. In addition, the Uffizi archives were totally destroyed.
List of Works Destroyed or Damaged in Uffizi Bombing With PM-Italy Explosion
The Associated Press , Associated Press
May. 28, 1993 11:03 AM ET
UNDATED Undated (AP) _ A list supplied by the Uffizi Gallery in Florence of artworks destroyed or damaged in the car bombing Thursday.
--- Paintings Destroyed:
Gherardo Delle Notti, ''Birth of Christ.''
Bartolomeo Manfredi, ''Card Players'' (also known as ''La Buona Ventura'') and Concert.''

--- Paintings Damaged:
Sebastiano del Piombo, ''Death of Adonis.''
Gregorio Pagani, ''Piramo and Tisbe.''
Peter Paul Rubens, ''Henry IV at the Battle of Ivry'' and ''Portrait of Philippe IV of Spain.''
C. Lorrain, ''Port with the Villa Medici.''
Bernini, ''Head of an Angel.''
Cristofano dell'Altissimo, ''Portrait of Giovanni Della Casa.''
Delle Notti, ''Adoration of Child,'' ''La Buona Ventura'' and ''Supper with the Lute Players.''
Manfredi, ''Tribute to Ceasa,'' ''Dispute with the Doctors.''
F. Rustici, ''Death of Lucrezia.''
Gentileschi, ''Judith and Holofernes,'' ''Saint Catherine.''
Guido Reni, ''David with the Head of Goliath.''
Bern Strozzi ''Parable of the Wedding Gift.''
Empoli, ''Still-life'' and ''Still-life.''
Rutilio Manetti, ''Massinissa and Sofonisba.''
G. B. Spinelli, ''David Celebrated by the Children'' and ''David Placates the Wrath of Saul.''
Renier, ''Scene of a Game.''
School of the Caravaggio, ''Disbelief of Saint Thomas'' and ''Liberation of Saint Peter.''
Valentine, ''Dice Players.''
Borgognone, ''Battle of Radicofani.''
M. Caffi, two paintings entitled ''Flowers.''
Van Der Weyden, ''Disposizione nel Sepolcro.''

--- Statues Damaged:
Hellenic Art, ''Dying Niobe.''
Roman works, ''Head of a Young Man.''
Copy of Roman era statue of ''The Discus Thrower of Mirone.''
So this event will never be forgotten, what is left of the oil painting “Concert” by Bartolomeo Manfredi is displayed on the wall opposite the window. The canvas stands newly framed, but the picture is presented in its destroyed state. Blocks of color and specs of what it once was, glued onto a black, empty background.

Destroyed "Concert"  See below for fragments which remain.
Photo from Internet.  On the right, pieces of the Concert are glued to a black background.
One look at this and my emotions started flowing tears. I read this damaged masterpiece will stand as a reminder of the vulnerability of art, on public display. But I saw it as ghostly remnants of beauty and culture, devoured and spit out by an evil force.
The Corridor houses the world’s largest collection of artists’ self-portraits.
This tour focused only on women painters. Their names as well as their art still remains mostly hidden. In the past, society frowned upon women painting or writing. Many of these women worked in their father's studios and their father's names are on their art. Some women were forbidden to paint after arranged marriages. Others were lucky to have had enlightened husbands who supported their work.
A surprising fact Linda Falcone left with us as we viewed some women's self portraits: Often a woman's painting skills were judged by her own physical appearance. Many of these women's self portraits were not actually true to life.

Linda Falcone and Jane Fortune

I took photos as I walked through the Corridoio, although we were not allowed to take pictures of paintings or sculptures.  Our guard escorts followed closely behind us, never relaxing their attentiveness, until we reached the exit in the Boboli Gardens.  We found ourselves outside, in the dark night, on ground level in the Boboli Gardens, just to the left of the Boboli Grotto.

Looking into Chiesa di Santa Felicità

The exit door of the Corridoio (Boboli Gardens Grotto)

30 November 2012, morning. Last day of school

My last day at school! I won't be able to take the exam with the class because it's next Friday, but the course material is very good and I can finish on my own. The levels are two weeks in length, but it is possible to attend for just one week. We had a Norwegian fellow arrive yesterday and the talented and clever Chinese student transferred out, because our class was too easy.
The  instructors who remember me all gave me hugs and hoped I'd come back next year. This school is just so excellent and I heard it's known widely now for its excellence.
The text booklets are now printed. I started with the school in its early years when the materials were Xeroxed and bound with plastic spirals. Free WiFi is now available.  All the students are carrying iPhones or iPads.
Sara, a younger substitute teacher on Tuesday told us class teaching assignments are given out by time of tenure. During the busy months she has her own classes. Nov and Dec with its Christmas break are slower months and the older teachers have the classes. So, since I normally have attended in the fall, my teachers have always been from the pool of 5 or 6 teachers with longer tenure.

I learned a lot of grammar this time. It was really review, but without the language barrier, now I can just learn. The classroom, with the Duomo right outside the wall of windows, is warm and comfortable.

I went to lunch with my new friend Maria.  First we stopped at the palazzo where she is boarding for several weeks. This housing is arranged through the school. In the past I have also boarded, although this time I decided to stay in my hotel.

I waited in the entry hall where there was a real well, blocked now.   I imagined what it must have been like in this spot several hundred years ago.

For lunch Maria led me to Trattoria Palle d'oro, located behind Borgo San Lorenzo.  Her landlady introduced her to this wonderful eating location. The panini are made to order.  One chooses from the selection of breads, cheeses, salame and condiments. 

We stood at the counter to eat. So delicious. So much more than a "sandwich."  The tourists were just steps away, but we didn't see any in this trattoria.


My boots were fine almost all day but later in the evening,  I started feeling sick to my stomach because of those new boots. I wore thicker socks today, hoping to stretch the boots a bit. I even stepped in water puddles.

I saw UGGs in a shop window yesterday and today I bought them. I had to pay a fortune.  Too much, but I'm thinking of it as a medical necessity. I was hardly able to walk.   Note to self, don't try to break in new shoes during a short trip.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

28 November 2012 -- Palazzo Strozzi in Firenze

I feel almost normal today after sleeping all night. There are several pesky mosquitoes nibbling away at me during the night. I can feel the flutter of their wings. How do they survive in this heavy rain?

I left for school early to check on the level of the River Arno. It was higher but not alarmingly. Today it rained all day but stopped around 4.00.  

The streets in the center of Firenze are normally closed to most traffic, with the exception of taxis and police. At 8.30 in the morning it's a different city! One big traffic jam of delivery trucks. They are bumper to bumper stopped, everyone making deliveries. Yesterday I saw specialty trucks stacked with firewood. dairy, meat, fruit, laundry and product. In the piazzas, street cleaning trucks whirl away. And, it's quiet as people quickly do their work. I heard no horns honking in impatience nor did I see anyone hanging out talking.  No cigarette breaks.  The restricted access is strictly enforced and the workmen use their time wisely. 

School is fantastic. Wish I could extend my stay to months. I asked my teacher Patrizia for help today. I need to buy both a deck of Tarot and Scopa cards. She called around for me and gave me directions. They carry these items in Tabaccheria shops. I bought two decks of Florentine style Scopa. One is a gift for Michele my Roman Italian teacher. Still looking for the Venetian Tarot cards. 

Anna Maria, from Spain, passed me note today and asked to meet for coffee at Gilli in Piazza della Republica at 4. I took pictures of sweets in their windows.

She must have misjudged her time, because I didn't see her there. We'll have to try again. She is someone I could be friends with. As I stood outside waiting I saw a rainbow forming over the Battistero (Baptistry).  The lighting here is gorgeous. I did get a picture, but it had almost faded by the time I walked down to the Piazza del Duomo.

Each trip, I attend Palazzo Strozzi's  current exhibition.  Each normally run 6 months. I took a few moments this time to read over the history of this palazzo.

Possible portraits of Palla Strozzi and his son Lorenzo (Adoration of the Magi, Gentile da Fabriano)

At 5.30 I had a reservation at Palazzo Strozzi for 'Let's Talk Art.'  I was paired with a young Florentine woman who wanted to practice her English and I could try my Italian. Together, she and I toured the exhibit 'The thirties. The Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism.'   Exhibition information

I paid 5€ for the event which was half the price of a normal ticket.

I would not have attended this particular show because of its topic. It was a unique experience to share with a stranger. We both enjoyed two hours conversing about art in two languages. 

At 7.30 I headed home, ready to call it a night. But 10 minutes later, I decided to make another trip to the laundromat. Clothes take forever to dry in the rain. 

The boots I brought with me are older and so uncomfortable. I keep looking to see if I can find soft Uggs. Maybe tomorrow. Then I'm tossing these old boots. 

The outside shutters are closed on my room window tonight. Now I can open my window wider without worry of it raining in the room.

Borgo SS. Apostoli, from the door of Hotel Cestelli

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

27 November 2012, Tuesday in Arezzo

 I'm on the 12.13 train toward Arezzo. I left school a few minutes early today.  There's a light rain falling outside.

I had a sleepless night, after eating too too much at dinner. Really people should not pressure one to eat. Plus I gave in to keep some kind of peace. The atmosphere last night was a tiny bit combative. But then I am way too sensitive.

We spoke of being careful what one wishes for and of following one's dream. I commented that to follow one's dream meant to take responsibility for following that dream. Sometimes we don't realize where a dream will actually take us. My example was my dream of having a family. One thinks of the snuggling baby and not of the hard times of having a teenager...or doing the whole thing as a single parent. The dream we choose takes us down a path.

My goal is to be available without any strings attached.
 "You cannot dream yourself into a character: you must hammer and forge yourself into one." Henry D. Thoreau

At 3am this morning, I reset my alarm to 10, resigned to missing class at 9. When I woke up at 8.30 I rushed to sponge bathe and get dressed. I was only 5 minutes late for school. I love love school. I was mortified when my alarm went off during class and I could not find my iPhone. I had to step out of class with both purse and book bag to locate it.

I decided the only way to get to Arezzo today would be to sacrifice the second class. I packed up and left during the 15 minute pause between classes. So cool...we have old fashioned school bells to keep everyone on schedule. 

The jeweler was open so now I'm wearing my Florentine florin coin ring again. I felt naked without it. €15 to enlarge it two sizes. It felt a little loose when the jeweler slipped it onto my finger. I've never spoken English in that shop. No communication problems either.

Some of the younger commesse (shop clerk) have attitudes. Jobs here are so difficult for the young to find and they only have contracts to work for a limited run. Also the pay is low. After studying for a University degree, it's a blow to the ego to be waiting on tourists. Waiters on the other hand are well paid and long term. Those beautiful young women at Ferragamo or Gucci or Zara work for free to have the prestige of the brand name on their resumes. Even these internships have limited contracts but do include a discount on clothes or shoes. 

Sara after two years of being available 24/7 at her prestigious position, is being let go on Friday. With the new economic laws in place, she cannot get a third contract at that place. She worked her heart out, event scheduling (including one involving the Pope), writing web articles and being available to help foreign participants in their world famous program. She still needs to live with her parents. She looks forward to the day both she and her fiancé can afford to be married and live independently.

It's a widespread problem amongst the 30 something group. Without paying jobs, they are stuck. Simone, her fiancé has three different jobs he juggles as he pursues his journalism dream. He free-lances in writing, photography and radio work. These young people are not lazy. 

10.30 With my ring..oh no..slipping around on my right ring finger, I decided I needed to go back to the hotel and take a quick shower to wash my hair. Because of skin sensitivity, without clean un-worn clothes and freshly washed hair, I start to feel slightly crazed. 

In clean clothes with wet hair, 11.30 I arrived at Santa Maria Novella Stazione and bought a 12.13 train ticket for Arezzo. Cost 7.30€, travel time: 1 hour. I used the automated ticket dispensers, which have gone quiet. The Russian accented woman attendant was in place last May. I wonder why she is gone. 

The train is for Fologno, the name of the city at the end of the line or capolinea. It works just like our freeway  signs. Use the posted schedule to determine which to find your train. 

I asked a very cranky man in an assistance service booth for help when I couldn't find the binario (Platform). He responded to my Italian question in English: I don't KNOW. 

With a little patience and research I found binario 14 and safely made the trip to Arezzo. 15 minutes before arrival I checked my last evening's chat with Sara. I was one hour early!! 1.13 was when I should have left, not 12.13.   With wet hair in a pony tail, I had plenty of time to air dry in the waiting room in Arezzo

I saw Sara and Laura arrive at 2. They were 15 minutes early and surprised to see me waiting for them. We walked through the rain to a small family restaurant. The girls both ordered spaghetti alla carbonara. It looked so good. Made with real pancetta and homemade pasta which was long like dried spaghetti but lighter looking.

I was hungry for salad and had a Greek salad very similar in taste and look as we make it. Butter lettuce, fresh feta, tomatoes, Greek olives, olive oil and lots of oregano. Very delicious. We each ate every morsel off our plates. We shared a bottle of mineral water, natural.

In Italy, one comes to the table hungry.  There is no grazing and snacking throughout the day.

The owner of the restaurant came out front to sit, as we were the last customers of the day for lunch. She was a very heavyset woman. Her son, who waited on us, was thin as a rail. Apparently they are in transition. The son is taking over as she begins to retire. They received a bad write up on-line and she was talking about that. The food is wonderful, but the unsmiling face of the son caused someone to complain. Sara said 'we want to see a smiling friendly face when we're eating'.

All three of us are working in fields where customer satisfaction is important and it's important to look friendly, even if you 're having a bad day. We need to go talk to that stocking commessa I met yesterday!

They both commented that my Italian has improved since last November. I also have noticed I just seem to understand's a very strange sensation to be relaxed and listening with comprehension. But it doesn't happened every time.  Often, I'm finding it best to ignore or rather act like I don't understand, any words spoken to me in English. The speakers switch right back to Italian. I see puzzlement as they try to determine my nationality.

We walked up up to the hill top of Arezzo to the Piazza where the bicycle scene was filmed. La Bella Vita film sites

 Walking back down I wanted to purchase Riso con Tartufo (Rice with truffle) but the shop door was locked.  Outside on the sidewalk, pasta and cookies were neatly displayed in baskets. We waited 5 minutes for the shop keeper to return. Just a few feet away we had been asked repeatedly for spare change by a man, who Sara said, approaches her everyday. This is Italy.

I bought cookies, Brutti ma Buoni (ugly but yummy) for breakfast. They're made only of crushed hazel nuts, egg whites and sugar. Just one is perfect with milk and a tangerine.

While walking, I switched my ring to my middle right finger. I must have unconsciously seen Sara's ring in the same location. My ring fits perfectly there and is comfortable. I'm going to try it this way. 

Laura took a phone call. She's scheduled for minor surgery on Friday. Now it seems Friday will be a day of strikes everywhere. Her doctor called to say the surgery is still on for Friday. I need to make sure I have my shopping list items all done before then. 

Sara decided we should take a break from the rain. We entered the Arezzo Public Library. It obviously once was a huge castle. High ceilings, brick walls, leaded windows, thick shutters of wood. The rooms were bright. the entry room upstairs contained wooden lockers, available to leave personal items. I saw a room filled with scholarly looking people studying old old bound books. Near the librarian, computers and some American films on DVDs for checkout. What contrasts.

As we left, I again heard music, but this time I stopped. I asked the girls if this felt magical or normal. Magical they agreed. We're standing in the rain, at the top of a hill town, surrounded by medieval buildings and through an upstairs window high above us, delicate music drops down over us. We heard them stop and restart.  It wasn't a recording but a group practicing. A violin or two and a piano playing renaissance music. I did not want to leave. I need a stronger word than magical. Time travel?

Music flowed from this window

It was close to 5pm. Time for a tea break. Sara had caffè, Laura orange juice and for me a cup of hot chocolate. I love trying hot chocolate wherever I am. It's never the same.

A little room off to the side contains tiny tables each, with four velvet cushioned chairs. This is relaxing as Italians are good at doing. The stress is released with a little break.

I saw Sara take a phone call. A few minutes later we were joined by Simone her fidanzata. We had had an earlier discussion of this word. It tends to be translated by Americans to fiancé. But Sara explained it's really intending to be engaged. There is a difference shown by the lack of a RING on the correct finger. Hers she points out is on the middle finger.  

We had been talking off and on all afternoon about Alessandro. He had a gift to match people together for friendship and research...and here we three sit, strong in friendship. We agreed FaceBook is very much responsible for our ability to stay in touch.  As we talked someone carried a tray of hot Bombalone (creme filled raised donut) from the kitchen.  They all agreed I needed one. I think Simone bought it. Alessandro loved those pastries. Grazie amore!

I caught the 6.15 train home and did my homework, but it was not easy to stay awake. 

There is some concern about flooding tonight. I was in bed by 9.00.  I could hear hard rain falling outside.