Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Piedmontese Language

Provinces in Piedmont
We were recently in Piedmont for several days visiting family. We spent all of our time in the Cuneo province of Piedmont. One of our mothers who had never been to Italy was with us. She could speak Piedmontese well, remembering it from her childhood when it was spoken by Piedmontese immigrants in and around the Los Angeles area. The relatives we visited were surprised that someone from America could speak this language.

The Piedmontese language is still considered by some to be a dialect of Italian. In any case, there are enough similarities to the Italian language that after a few days we were starting to get the hang of it. A characteristic which sticks out for me is an aspect officially called the velar nasal N-sound where words come out sounding like the “ing” in “going”. Also, in comparison to Italian, Piedmontese seems to leave off the lasts syllable many in words: “adesso” (now) is “adess” and “giusto” (correct; right) becomes “giust”. There is also a noticeable French influence; “buon” (good) becomes “bon” and “sorella” (sister) is “seur” (pretty close to French).

Mom would speak to relatives in Piemontese, relatives would speak to us in Italian, and we would speak to Mom in English. It was all a great workout for the brain. The relatives were able to even peg her accent as “southern” Piemontese as there is a high degree of variability within Piemonte in how the language is spoken.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Ethnographic Museum (Museo Etnografico) in Serra-Pamparato

Farm Equipment in the Serra-Pamaparato Museum 

The long title of the museum is “Museo Degli Usi e Dei Costumi Della Gente di Montagna”. The museum was created by the owners of the B&B Pietrabruna in 1987. Families in the area of Serra-Pomparato donated heirlooms to build the collection. It is always open by appointment. If you let Giovanna, the owner of Pietrabruna know a day in advance you can enjoy a personal tour of the museum with her the next morning. The museum is open in July and August without appointment. There is no charge to enter this museum, but donations are accepted.

The museum recreates typical rooms of houses of the 17th century including a kitchen, bedroom, and school room. There are rooms in the museum showing all sorts of typical everyday items and especially farming and household implements for working with chestnuts. Chestnuts were a main form of sustenance for the people of this area for a long time. Today the Fiera Regionale del Marrone (Chestnut Fair) marks this importance every Fall in Cuneo.

Another nice thing about the museum is that many items are labeled in both Italian and Piedmontese so in the least you can improve your vocabulary.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

L’Ostu d’r Chié – Restaurant in Prea

l’Ostu d’r Chié in Frazione Prea l’Ostu d’r Chié in Frazione Prea
We were treated to a sumptuous lunch at the l’Ostu d’r Chié in Frazione Prea – Via Fontana, Roccaforte. The location in the small town of Prea in Piemonte (Cuneo) is charming and the food was great. The town has a number of murals painted on buildings so before or after eating it’s definitely worth a walk through the town discovering all of them.
Prea Mural Appetizer at l’Ostu d’r Chié in Frazione Prea

Monday, May 26, 2008

Tuscan Villas and Gardens

Villa Marlia Grotto - Water Jokes 

Last week I took my last course at the British Institute called Tuscan Villas and Gardens. It’s a week long course focusing on villas and gardens in Tuscany. We focused on Villas in and around Florence except for Wednesday when we focused on three villas near Lucca. All transportation and entry fees were included in the course. Here’s a list of what we did:

-- Monday, Villa Medici Fiesole
-- Tuesday, Villa Castello (Medici) and Boboli Gardens
-- Wednesday, three villas in the Lucca area: Villa Garzoni, Villa Torrigiani, and Villa Marlia
-- Thursday, Villa Le Balze and Villa Gamberia
-- Friday, Villa La Pietra 

Interspersed with the tours were a couple of lectures back at the library of the British Institute. Standout visits for me were Le Balze (built by an American philosopher Charles Strong), Gamberia, and La Pietra. To be fair, all of the places we saw had something to recommend them. Probably the weakest was Villa Garzoni because it was a bit Disney-esque and really didn’t have that much to see. 

What’s interesting to note is that many of the most famous villas around Florence are currently owned by American universities. Also, many were bought, restored, and made famous the end of the 19th century by Brits. 

So why so much focus on the villa? There are many reasons, but one which stuck out for me was the concept of “otium” which translates to something like “leisure with dignity”. The villa was a place you got your otium on, so to speak. 

During the course we learned to recognize the typical elements which made a Renaissance villa; a kit per se consisting of limonaia (greenhouse for citrus), secret garden, grotto, walking paths, green theater, water jokes, and other features. Of these elements, water jokes are the one feature, which if still present, rarely work. It was with great surprise that we actually turned on the water jokes at Villa Marlia. We found the valves and let them rip. Everyone ran around wet and laughing – the purpose of the water jokes. A cell phone image shows the grotto at Villa Marlia where you can turn on the water. Water comes from all directions from little hidden tubes. Even when you run out of the grotto, a couple of water streams hit you. No escape.

Brochure for Tuscan Gardens and Villa Course

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Boboli Grotto – Grande Grotto Inside Scoop

Boboli Gardens - Grotto Grande Room 1 Boboli Gardens - Grotto Grande Wall Detail
Boboli Gardens - Vincenzo de Rossi - Paris and Helen Boboli Gardens - Giambologna Bathing Venus Boboli Gardens Grotto
By chance we learned that the Grande Grotto (or Grotto del Buontalenti) is now open in the Boboli Gardens – as in you can enter the grotto. At the top of the hour it is open for 15 minutes or so. (It might be wiser to not expect it to be open at lunch time….). We went around 4 pm and it was fun to walk in. We asked the guard what the plans were for water, because what’s a grotto without water? He said that there are plans to get the water running but first attempts revealed that there was something underneath the grotto (a nearby store’s storage we think) that was getting water damage after a couple of days. So, they have to address that issue first.

The grotto was constructed in the last half of the 1500s and has three rooms. In the main room there are copies of Michelangelo’s prisoners. In the second room there is the sculpture by Vincenzo de Rossi, Paris and Helen and in the third room there is a sculpture by Giambologna, Bathing Venus.

San Miniato and Triquetra Symbols

San Miniato and Triquetra Symbols 

Finally after a little probing around we were able to figure out that it is the triquetra symbol which is used often in the internal marble design of San Miniato, or officially the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte. The one used here is three overlapping vesica pisces – which has a significance going back as far as Pythagoras and is probably related to the Catch of 153 fish in Gospel of John. So much for a casual stroll out and not hoping to think too much. This is the wonderful curse of Florence for us: symbols and endless exploration of meaning and relating what we find across time and place.

San Miniato is a favorite of ours to spend time in and around. Today there was organ music for some time that we sat and listened to, and then the vespers (evening prayer service) started with the Gregorian chant which kept us lingering in the coolness of the basilica for another hour. Finally, released from the spell inside we stepped into the spell outside, the smell of jasmine wafting in the warm evening air and the city getting ready for evening.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Santa Rita de Cascia at Santo Spirito

Santo Spirito Main Aisle Santo Spirito Looking Outside Main Door to Piazza
Santo Spirito Cloister of the Dead Santo Spirito Cloister of the Dead
Santo Spirito Domes
Today was a festival for Santa Rita de Cascia at Santo Spirito. Santa Rita (1381 – 1457) is an important saint for the Augustinians. Her celebration date is the 22nd of May, the day she died. She is often represented holding a crown of thorns, holding roses and figs. In Santa Spirito the Cloister of the Dead (Chiostro dei Morti) was open (which is unusual) and you could go there and make a small donation and get roses so everyone was walking around with roses. Also, the big center doors of the church were thrown wide open, again unusual. I guess we’ve been here enough that we get excited when there is a small change in the state of affairs of one of our favorite churches.
Santa Rita

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Stinky Viburnum

Viburnum tinus

One of our favorite walks is from Porta Romana to Piazza Ferruccia, walking through the Bobolino, taking Viale Galileo to Piazzale Michelangelo, and then Viale Michelangelo to Piazza Ferruccia. It takes about an hour walking moderately. For several weeks now I kept noticing a less than pleasant smell, like dog crap. Finally after trial and error sniffing around I tracked it down to a shrub that is commonly used along the sidewalk, Viburnum tinus. After some searching it seems that this shrub emits “… an offensive smell in wet weather.” Okay, didn’t think there were that many dogs in Florence.

Viburnum tinus is also commonly called “laurustinus” and is native to the Mediterranean and Macaronesia regions. Here in Florence it is used extensively in hedges along sidewalks (outside the city) and in gardens like the Boboli. It is often mixed with Laurus nobilis (bay laurel) – which doesn’t smell bad.

The other thing is that the Viburnum seems to be under serious attack by viburnum leaf beetle. I wonder if this contributes to the smell, that is, when the plant is under serious attack it releases a smell or the beetles themselves are releasing a smell?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Artigianato e Palazzo

Florence in Pietre Dure by Roberto Marrucci
Palazzo e Giardino Corsini

The festival called Artigianato e Palazzo – botteghe artigiane e loro committenze, and took place from the 16th through the 18th of May 2008 at Giardino Corsini. This festival of artisans seems to focus heavily on local artisans though you also find artisans from other parts of Italy as well as Europe. In general, this event is a fraction of what the Mostra Internazionale dell’Artigianato was in size, but “seems” to be a bit more exclusive. We stopped by to see “maestro” Roberto Marrucci and the wonderful world of pietra dura, mosaici fiorentini. See photo attached.

The Giardino Corsini (satellite location) at Via della Scala, 115 is a 16th century garden that we hadn’t been in before. It seems faded on first glance but on closer inspection reveals itself to be an elegant space. The artisans were scattered all around the property. Some in the garden, some in the limonaie (citrus houses), some in open areas. It costs 7,50 euro to get in. There is place to buy a lunch and sit down and eat. Look for it again next May.

Friday, May 16, 2008

ET and the Vatican

Giordano Bruno and Democritus - Cosmic Pluralism 

After reading this article on the BBC about the Vatican’s statements about extraterrestrial life and even the mention that they are organizing a conference on the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, we just had to say: "woah". A step in the right direction (if not a little late) compared to some other religions and belief systems that are so patently backwards in thinking. 

On a related note, Travelmarx has nothing but praise for Microsoft’s (gulp) World Wide Telescope project. Truly awe-inspiring.

Permesso di Soggiorno – The Wait

Crowded Questura - Florence Ticket at Questura in Florence
From the last post on this subject, you might recall that today was our “correct” day to go back for our permesso di soggiorno/i. (We weren’t successful the first time because were not prepared to wait 4+ hours.) Today we arrived at about 9:10am and already the place was packed. There was some initial confusion about which line to get into but showing our letters (and the fact that we missed the first assigned date) put us in a line to get a “C” ticket. Last time it was a “B” ticket. But, oh, someone must pull the ticket from the machine and hand it to you. I guess it makes sense because there is so much pushing and shoving and confusion, people would just be taking one of every ticket to cover their options and the machine would probably break. So we got tickets C401 and C402. They were currently serving C318.

So we sat and read and chatted. Then around 1:15pm our number got called, we went together and the clerk was fine to process us at the same time. For us since we filled out the kit properly (I guess) the clerk only had to see 1) our letter summoning us 2) our passport and 3) 4 passport-sized photos. It’s odd because the letter summoning us made it sound like we were missing all sorts of information. Maybe that’s because people come to these appointments (a term used loosely here) without having filled out the yellow kit? Who knows?

After about 5-10 minutes for both of us the clerk sent us to window 17-18 around the corner to finish the processing. Silly us, we thought that we would get something like a card all laminated and stuff, hehehe. No such doings. We each got called up and they take all of your fingerprints electronically on this little glass surface, one-at-a-time. She kept yelling at me “schiacciate!” (press!) – ciao bella, I am pressing. Frustrated, she had me rub hands together. That seemed to work. Then you sign something attached to your photos and the big finale, drum roll please, you are handed a piece of paper telling you when to return for you card (see attached). For us it is August 20th. We’ll have been gone for several months. Oops.

We were wondering if we should have told them we were leaving soon. You can try it, but we were guessing it would not speed up anything. So that’s it.

-->Your letter is key, don’t lose it, and perhaps even make a photocopy of it.
-->Get there early (questura opens at 8:30am? – verify!), yes we knew that but were a bit leisurely with our breakfast and with restaurant hours (going to bed at 1:00am) we weren’t too eager to jump out of bed.
--> Bring work to do or books to read.
--> There are restrooms there but hope your quads are strong.
--> Numbers start going quicker later in the day so be careful leaving and thinking they won’t reach your number that quickly.
--> You can walk in and out of the place, but bring your ticket and letter to be on the safe side.
--> Remember it’s the journey not the soggiorno.
Letter Telling Us When to ReturnTypical Sportello - Now Serving C319

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Short History of Florence

A Short History of Florence - Front Cover A Short History of Florence - Back Cover
The book is A Short History of Florence is by Franco Cardini (see It’s a small book of less than 130 pages. It started out so good (first 30 pages) and then it just fell back to this family did this, then this family did that, etc. The story of Florence is partly of a succession of one family after another seizing control and then getting the boot. The Medici are just one, the most successful, of a long line of famous powerful families in Florence’s history. This is all fine and well, but telling the story seems to always fall apart in these smaller treatments of the history. I guess I'm looking for a overview of the meaning of the history, an interpretation that will stick in my mind longer than the name of this or that family and the dates of when they were in control.

Worse still is that the last half of the book is filled with spelling, grammar, and date-related errors. It’s like the English proof reader quit after a while. On the postivie side, if you can borrow this book. the first chapter called A River, a bridge, a road is a really nice overview of the geography of Florence and the founding of the Roman city which became Florence.

Schopenhauer, On Noise


One half of Travelmarx (the one hogging the electronic pen so-to-speak) is interested in noise and the seemingly plentiful abundance of it when it doesn’t seem necessary. Therefore it was with great pleasure I happened to stumble across an essay on noise by Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860). Honestly, I haven’t read all his positions or works and I can tell that some of his thoughts (e.g. on women) just seems plain strange and wrong. I do have to say though I like his essay On Noise which is part of a larger work called Studies in Pessimism (crushing-pessimism some might say) which are selections from yet another work. There is even a YouTube video that reads about 80% of this essay. The essay is quick read (10 minutes). Here is the text on Gutenberg. The quote I include here is dedicated to the famous via del Canneto green door (my emphasis added):

“It does not disturb them in reading or thinking, simply because they do not think; they only smoke, which is their substitute for thought. The general toleration of unnecessary noise -- the slamming of doors, for instance, a very unmannerly and ill-bred thing -- is direct evidence that the prevailing habit of the mind is dullness and lack of thought.”

Thank you, I think, Mr. Schopenhauer.

Via Del Canneto Blow Up - Noise

Via del Canneto Panorama From the Roof - Fall 2007 

It was like a time bomb waiting to explode, just that the fuse was not what I thought. The setup: young family in their small walled courtyard making a fair amount of noise past 10:30 pm. It’s warm, they are banging around, planting something in their courtyard, and their 2 year old is yelping with excitement. Via del Canneto (really more of an alley) is such that you can hear everything up and down it. 

I thought, Anna of the Green Door would be for sure the first out of the gate screaming “Che casino!”. But, it was the old man who leans out the second story window every morning (for a smoke) who was the first to crack. His window opens down into the alley near the courtyard. He started screaming and soon heated words were flying back and forth for about 10 minutes. I caught, “punch you in the nose”, “go ahead, call them” (the police?), “shame on him”, and others. Did I open the window to listen better? Why yes I did, it’s about the language after all. (I put Philosophy of Language on pause and darted upstairs for a look see and listen.) 

We hear the noise from this family (husband, wife, 2 year old) all the time since we are close, but it doesn’t bother us because we keep the same hours – plus it seems like “natural” noise (if you can define that). The noise of Anna of the Green Door and company is a different beast, an intentional, punctual and worst of all, slamming type of noise. 7:00 am door slam, son leaves. 7:30 am door slam, dad leaves. 8:00 am door slam, Anna's morning sweeping completed. 8:15 am swoosh and slam, a mysterious bucket of water is flung out followed by a resounding slam to make sure the door really shut well. 8:30 – 10:00 am random door slams depending on if Anna decides to accost a dog owner in the alley and if the dog left a present in the alley. If the dog owner retraces steps with no chance of getting accosted you can hear her muttering “Cane sporca” or something to that effect. Each of these door slams for me is like someone coming over and kicking me. (I know, it’s my problem.) At least the family with the kid sleeps to 10am. I can deal with that. 

I’m not glad someone else was irked at noise, but watching the situation helped me understand my own reactions and put them into perspective better.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bryan Magee, The Great Philosophers

Bryan Magee - The Great Philosophers

Has the sabbatical been that life-changing that we’ve turned to the Great Philosophers for guidance? (By the way, who are the Not-So-Great Philosophers?) Yes, the sabbatical has been great and larger questions are getting asked, but the real reason Travelmarx is reading this book is that the book was found by randomly browsing book stacks in the bowels of the British Institute’s library. I guess, in a way, the sabbatical is directly responsible because what other time would I be in the bowels of a 16th century palazzo in Florence browsing books?

The book The Great Philosophers by Bryan Magee is the transcript of a series of conversations that Magee, a noted British politician, author, and popularizer of philosophy, conducts with 15 contemporary (circa 1980s) writers and philosophers to chart a course through Western philosophy. The format actually works better than you might think. The conversations are well-scripted with each speaker getting ample time to develop ideas. Magee is less interviewing than conversing and he often contributes a lot to simplifying the discussion for the layperson which is something he is particularly good at. And, voilà, many of the conversations are on YouTube. Two conversations that aren’t covered in this book but are on YouTube are are TravelMarx favorites are The Philosophy of Language and The Philosophy of Science. After watching these we go to the park to watch the local dog, Giotto(*), chase his tennis ball for something easy on the brain.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Another Bike Ride in Florence

Route Followed for Florence Bike Ride 2

Okay, this is only our second bike ride (the first was discussed in a previous post) so we are by no means experts but we thought this was a very pleasant little ride. In total we road about 20 miles roundtrip in about 3 hours. We rode “city” bikes on bike lanes in the city which turned into dirt roads along the river as we got further from the city, and finally when the river trail came to an end, SS67 a state highway .

We basically headed east, staying on the north side of the river, riding along the river as far as we could until we had to take a surface road. To head out of the city, use the red bike lanes that follow the outline of the old city walls, making a ring around the city. Unfortunately, the path along the river eventually ends, rather suddenly, at what looks like an old mill on the river (near Girone shown with a green dot on the map included with this post). That’s it. You can’t go any farther. So we backtracked a little and got on SS 67 running east. We made it to Sieci and turned around. Riding on SS 67 can be a little nerve racking. But we had had a taste of what a pleasure it would be ride up river into the hills of Chianti. Next time it would be on a 'real' road bike with more than one gear, and of course helmets. Italians drivers seem to respect bikers, allowing a lot of room on the road when passing.

Le Volpi e l’Uva

Le Volpi e l'Uva
Le Volpi e l'Uva
The other day we went for a short bike ride and came back hungry and decided to try Le Volpi e l’Uva (the fox and the grapes) just a stone’s throw from our apartment. We’ve heard about it and heard about it, walked by it almost every day, but never went. Boy, we’re sorry we didn’t go sooner. What a treat.

Le Volpi e l’Uva specializes in lesser known wines served with a small menu including a cheese plate, a salumi plate, and crostone (a big piece of toasted bread with toppings). Everything was delicious and after three glasses a wine each and four different items off the menu, we were plenty full. We talked with one of the owners who was very nice and helpful and walked out with some nice wine (they sell bottles as well).

Le Volpi e l’Uva is located in Piazza dei Rossi which is a tiny piazza adjacent to Piazza San Felicita another tiny piazza. The Vasari corridor runs overhead between the two piazze.

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read - Book Cover 

The book is called How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard, translated from French to English. (How could one pass up a book with this title up on the "What’s New" shelf at the British Institute?) The subject is something alluded to in the post about primary and secondary sources, which is how can one possibly read everything one is “supposed” to read? This author puts us at ease and says that you can’t, so don’t try and by the way, “supposed to" is something we need to work on because it’s making us ashamed and flustered – not good. Furthermore, it is okay to not read a lot of books, but still talk about them with confidence. What’s important is to know where books fit into the larger scheme of what he calls the collective library of all books. 

The advice is a bit more subtle that it seems at first. Bayard’s real goal is to suggest that the highest goal is to transform your relationship with books from feeling burdensome (“I’m supposed to read this”) to being a source of inspiration for your own creativity. He states that talking about books itself is a highly creative activity and that it is important to do so to build your own story. A few sentences from the epilogue state this in so many words: “Becoming the creators of our own works is thus the logical and desirable extension of an apprenticeship in commenting on books we haven’t read. This creativity is one step along the path to self-conquest and to our liberation from the burden of culture, which may impede the existence of those who haven’t been trained in its mastery, and thus in the ability to bring life to their works.” An interesting concept.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Spanish Chapel – Take II

Art, Society and Religion - Front Cover Art, Society and Religion - Back Cover

We were talking the other day to the helpful librarians and instructors at the British Institute about the fresco in the Spanish chapel that we last posted on and they collectively said “oh, that fresco, it’s covered in this book….” Again TravelMarx is the last to know. We’ve updated the picture in that post with some additional information.

The book that has details on the fresco is called Siena, Florence, and Padua: Art, Society and Religion 1280 – 1300. Volume II: Case Studies. The book is edited by Diana Norman. The fresco is discussed in chapter 10 The art of Knowledge: two artistic schemes in Florence. In this chapter the Triumph fresco is discussed along with the sculpted reliefs on Giotto’s bell tower. Like the fresco, the reliefs provide an encyclopedic view of learning.

The Spanish Chapel and a Snapshot of Medieval Knowledge

A TravelMarx Diagram of a Fresco in the Spanish Chapel
Spanish Chapel Fresco

The other day we went back to Santa Maria Novella to visit the Spanish Chapel. You get to the chapel by entering the museum part of the church to the left of the main façade. It is a separate ticket from the ticket for entering the main church. (Welcome to the typical Florence tourist church. Take heart, ticket sales support restoration.)

The Dominican chapterhouse is where the order met to discuss the issues of the day or to pray. It was typically a semi-private space reserved for just the order. The Spanish Chapel is so called because Cosimo I “assigned” the chapel to his wife Eleonora di Toledo and her Spanish retinue so they could have a place of their own and, the name stuck. The chapel was frescoed by Andrea Bonaiuti (called Andrea da Firenze or translated literally Andrea ‘good help’) between 1365 and 1367.

The subject matter of the chapel is definitely about hammering home the finer points of the Dominican world view for those in the know, while for others, the frescoes are simply pretty, colorful scenes. One wall in particular struck our fancy and that’s the wall with the fresco called The Triumph of Saint Thomas and the Allegory of Sciences – it’s the wall on the left upon entering the chapel. The fresco is so orderly that you wonder what’s going on. After discussing the fresco on one tour with the British Institute and then talking with an art guide on another visit we were able to put together a reasonable interpretation of the fresco.

Why is this interesting? It’s interesting because it is a late medieval, early Renaissance snapshot of what the Dominicans thought the world of knowledge looked like, a map so to speak. Maps like this are interesting because they often condense many concepts in an artful way and call out to be deciphered.

The Dominicans were important in bringing systematic (as they knew it back then) education to bear on problems of the day. The rise of the religious orders (mostly in the 1200s) like the Dominicans and the Franciscans largely mirrored the influx of people from the country into medieval cities (especially in Italy). The influx of people brought physical and spiritual problems that the mendicant orders administered to. St. Thomas Aquinas is a key figure in the Dominican Order and the Catholic Church. His work Summa Theologica, completed about 100 years before the chapel was frescoed, was a compilation of all the theological teaching known at the time, so who else to be sitting on the throne in the fresco.

Santa Maria Novella Facade Detail

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Toscana Esclusiva – Firenze cortili e giardini aperti

Toscana Esclusiva - Firence cortili e giardini apertiToscana Esclusiva - Firence cortili e giardini aperti
We had heard that this happens once a year but it caught us by surprise: Toscana Esclusiva – Firenze cortili e giardini aperti. In a nutshell, one can see how the other ½ lives. Okay, less cynically, it means you get to enter for free into a number important palazzi and private villas. The event takes place in Florence and Fiesole on the 11th of May this year. Lucca, Pisa, and Siena open up their historical sites on the 18th, one week later. For details see Associazione Dimore Storiche Italiane.

When we walked by the first garden on the tour (Giardino Malenchini) and picked up the brochure, we knew we had to see as many as we could. The names and the buildings are so familiar to us by now that getting a chance to walk in through a gate and see the other side is a treat. In a city of walls and gates, like Florence, it can sometimes be frustrating that so much “seems” to be off limits. This is one time to explore even if it is for one day.

Travelmarx reviewed stops #1 through #14 on the attached map (the ones in our neighborhood). If some of the names sound like something you’ve seen on a wine bottle, the answer is you have: Frescobaldi, Torrigiani, and Antinori. The stops on the itinerary that are a definite stop if you should have the chance in the future are:

  • Giardino Malenchini, via de’Benci 1. It has a nice garden space that looks out on to the Arno. Satellite photo.

  • Palazzo Guicciardini, via Guicciardini 15. For being just steps away from the Palazzo Pitti and off the always crowded via Guicciardini this palazzo’s inner courtyard and garden is like in another world. Very nice. Satellite photo.

  • Palazzo Frescobaldi, via Santo Spirito 13. The garden is a huge open area with beautifully trained wisteria. As well, there are unusual views of the back of back of the church of Santo Spirito. Satellite photo.

  • Giardino pensile di Palazzo Guicciardini, via Santo Spirito 14. “pensile” means hanging or suspended as this garden is sort of suspended over the Arno on the south side. You enter the garden from the south and then climb a small hill to peek over the rail at the Arno. Satellite photo.

  • Giardino Torrigiani, via del Campuccio 53. Who doesn’t want to see this famous garden with the oddly shaped tower set in the middle of huge tract of land surrounded by high walls? Satellite photo.

  • Palazzo Corsini, Lungarno Corsini 10. No garden, but nice huge staircases and chandeliers to gawk at. Satellite photo.

  • Palazzo Antinori, Piazza Antinori 3. Nice little garden and courtyard with miniature models of the different estates that produce wine under this name. Satellite photo

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Paperback Exchange

Paperback Exchange Business Card - Florence
The Paperback Exchange is an Anglo-American Bookshop in the center of Florence, located at Via delle Oche, 4R (Street of Geese). When trying to look for an art history book or the latest English-language best seller, it’s easier and friendlier to shop at this bookstore. (Finding a book in Edison or someone to help you can be a frustrating experience! Though in fairness, Edison has good road maps and a decent travel section if you don’t mostly all Italian books.) The Paperback Exchange carries textbooks that are used in art history courses and these can be fun to browse through. They have both new and used books. If you are here in Florence or Italy for a period of time, picking up a copy of the classic text History of the Italian Renaissance by Hartt is probably a good idea – it’s a must - and the Paperback Exchange carries it. You could always sell it back.

Euro-Dollar Exchange Rate Help in Florence

Fiorino Effect Voucher Form
To encourage Americans to not be scared by the bad exchange rate, Florence has put in place a program called Fiorino Effect. Fiorino refers to the old Italian coin, the florin, sometimes called the “fiorino d’oro” or “little gold flower”. The program gives you:

* 10% discount on participating restaurants and hotels. See the list of participating businesses in first link above.

* 20% discount at exhibits at the Palazzo Strozzi. This is probably not that interesting for a short-time visitor. Palazzo Strozzi exhibits will be interesting if you have already exhausted all the other museum venues. Though, walking in to admire the courtyard of the Palazzo Strozzi is definitely recommended. There is a nice caffe inside the courtyard to grab refreshements.

* Free entrance to the Palazzo Medici. This could be interesting for a short-time visitor especially if the Magi Chapel is included.

* 15% discount on Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Travelmarx is ashamed to say that we’ve never been here, but may try with this promotion.

It looks like you have to bring this voucher with you and show it up front. No word on whether the forms will be available at participating businesses. Best bet would be to print a few out before coming.

Firenze Com’Era – Florence How it Was

Via del Canneto circa 1880 Via del Canneto 2008
There is a lesser known museum called the Museo Storico Topografico “Firenze Com’Era” which translates to the Historical Topographical Museum “Florence As it Was”. If you have been in Florence for a while or you are really interested in what Florence was like before what we see today this is the museum for you. The museum is located at Via dell’Oriuolo 24 – there is a courtyard with large trees that marks the entry point.

The museum has a couple of Etruscan items, but Florence wasn’t really an Etruscan settlement, nearby Fiesole was. The museum really starts with the original Roman town founded in c. 59. There is a nice scaled-down version of the first Roman settlement that really gives a sense of how it looked. The bulk of the museum is pictures of what Florence looked like during the ages. We found an old watercolor(?) of “our street” and the famous arches of Via del Canneto taken toward the end of the 19th century (a guess). Included is a recent photo. The view is looking west on Via Canneto.

Around town (in major bookstores and book stalls) you’ll find books similarly titled Firenze Com’Era. Each covers a different time period. For example Firenze, Com’Era – Dal Dopoguerra agli anni Settanta (Florence as it Was from After the War to the 1970s) or Com’Era – Firenze 100 Anni Fa (How it Was – Florence 100 Years Ago). Obviously the title is a common one, but look before you buy to make sure you are getting the time period you are interested in.

Firence Com'Era - DopoguerraCom'Era Firenze 100 Anni Fa