Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Cliched Doors of Florence

Ok, I know - there is probably already a calendar out there called "The Doors of Florence". Whatever...I like doorways. And as this is my final day in Florence (on this trip only!) I am looking at my photos, recalling the sweet time passed here. And I thought I would post a few of my favorites. I get a little sad when I am leaving this city like the parting of lovers who won't see each other for awhile. I guess, honestly, it is the same feeling I have when Lee and I are saying goodbye, heading off to our respective cities. I linger on images - the slipcovered chairs here in the Library at the British Institute, the stained stucco on the Corsini Palazzo across the street. I smile at the lilt in the voice of the Librarian here. It is as if she is singing the Italian language instead of speaking it. Oh, there is little more to say - just come to Florence.

Potpourri - don't groan.


With a little time on my hands, I am able to continue my "meandering" through Florence. I realize I say "through," not "around." It is a bit of a maze and with the curving streets and tall (well, 4+ story) Renaissance buildings, I feel as if I am moving "through" the city. It is so in place, of the ground on which it sits. It isn't going anywhere so I move through it.

I wiggled my way to one of my favorite spots in Florence - Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. It was founded in 1221. Let’s see….that would be almost 800 years ago…by the Domenican monks shortly after their arrival in Florence. By growing medicinal herbs in the monastic gardens, they were able to make medications, balms and remedies for the monks’ infirmary. In the 1612, the pharmacy was opened to the public and during the 18th century, travelers from as far away as Russia, the Indies and China were purchasing its products. By now, I sound like an advertisement, but it really is something.

The products are still produced using the procedures originated by the monks and grown locally in the hills surrounding Florence. They carry skin care, soaps, perfumes, hair care, and a range of perfumes with the most charming stories attached – like the Acqua di Santa Maria Novella first developed for controlling hysterics and the Acqua della Regina perfume created for Caterina de’Medici, the Queen of France.

My personal favorite is (now don’t groan)…the potpourri called Santa Maria Novella. It is the most exotic, oily mixture of herbs I have ever smelled. The packages I carried back from my trip last year are still pungent. Holly bought an earthy bottle of Vetiver, a scent that has been used since the 17th Century by both men and women – and very sexy.

The shop itself is a little bit like Horst gone Italian Baroque – if you ever saw the Aveda Spa in Wisconsin or even his new place on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. It is divine. I suppose that is no accident, considering its origins. The website: www.smnovella.com. You can buy some of the products locally at Michael Sydney Odegard Rugs in Minneapolis.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

and a few more....

Don't you just love the woman on the bike in her heels????

La Moda Fiorentina (The Florentine Style)

It is Saturday and I am out and about - meandering in Florence - it is heavenly to have all this time with nothing to do but look, write, walk, eat drink and daydream.
The class ended on Friday with a bang - I still have a few images to share with you from the final day - and Holly, Laurel and I all felt like our legs were pegs - just stiff and tired from all the walking. I dropped into bed like a 10-year old after a long day of summer play at 9:30! So much for the night life in Florence.

So back to the images here.... I am so taken by the fact that both men and women express themselves through clothing here. All ages. I can imagine a scenario like this: a couple is going out for the day and they stand together in the dressing room and decide what to wear together, to compliment the other, playing with the colors, the formality of the outfit, the right accessories. Couples look so chic TOGETHER. I don't remember the last time Lee and I coordinated our outfits! Do we have coordinating outfits???? Well, we will when I return from this trip! These are all from one street in Florence - Tournabuoni - which is known for its Gucci, Pucci, Armani, Ferragmo, Prada - you get the idea. So much fun to watch and window shop as the Italians are masters of design AND display. Enjoy and see if you can pick up a few ideas for "la moda Minneapolis." Good luck.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Pictures worth a thousand words.

I have discovered two things that I wouldn't have known about myself. My favorite buildings are those most decayed, often the out buildings rather than the main villa. And that my favorite gardens are those that are completely green except for the lemons. It gets back to one of Edith Wharton's six principles of a successful garden - that it be simple in design. The busiest ones looked like patchwork quilts and made me tired to look at them. The simple green ones are like a womb - you just want to crawl in and never leave.

So, here we have one villa (which really means the whole of the home, gardens, agricultural areas if there are any and the out buildings.) It is called Villa Reale, the "royal villa" and is privately owned. The owners live here part of the year but in a small apartment above the stables which was my favorite building - the building with the amazing ochre doors. The main villa is rather obvious here. Every thing else is practically abandoned and left in the most beautiful decaying state. I did my best to capture the colors of the stucco, plaster, stone and paint. I think this villa could stand alone as a course in color palettes for architects and designers of all kinds. It turned out to be my favorite villa of the week for that reason. the materials were just delicious.

Well, I have some catching up to do. It is not so easy to get to an internet point with our days filled from 9 - 6 with tours, but complain, complain....it has been an amazing couple of days. The photos here are of two different villas. The white one I referred to earlier, but simply didn't get it downloaded properly. It is important because it was the first villa ever built (in the mid 1400's by the Medici) for pure pleasure and for a place to get away from the city to relax. (Our modern day cabin???!! Well, that's a stretch.) Before this, the villa was a fortress against either a real or potential enemy and/or a source of income - usually agriculture - animals, wine, olives, etc. For the Medici at this villa, there was no wall for fortification - only an exqisite view of the city of Florence below. It was also one of the first gardens to heavily develop the use of citrus - especially lemon, which we see in almost every garden and was quite rare and exotic. It is often the only color in the Italian garden except greens. And one of my favorite buildings at all of the villas is the "Limonia" - the out building used to store the citrus over the winter months. Both of these villas were owned by Medicis - cousins. Quite the dynasty.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Lunch in the Country

Yesterday, our class was treated to lunch outside of Lucca between villa and garden tours. We arrived about 2:00 and were seated at a long family-style table for 22, under a roof, but with 3 open sides, surrounded by olive trees. the day was perfect at 70 degrees and a blue, blue sky the likes of which I have only seen in California. We were served vino, an anitpasto which I show you here, then soup and dessert with cafe. this took 1.5 hours and cost 18 euro! The restaurant is a member of the Slow Food movement and I think I honestly experienced my first truly "Slow Food" meal. The olives we ate were grown on the property. the service couldn't have been more well-paced and we all just wanted a nap after, but had another villa and garden to see - the best one yet, which will be part of another blog. Here's to slow food, slow love and slow living.

for now, ciao.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Oh, just some pretty pictures.

Iconic images of Florence. the Ponte Vecchio at night, a view from Piazzale Michaelangelo and night time in an Italian restaurant.

Day 4: Monday at the British Institute

We met at the British Institute at 9:00 a.m. - an early start for us - and were met by a circle of students from Britain, Australia, the United States and Italy. There were about 20, most older and interested in gardening. A couple of architects, Holly and I the interior designers in the bunch and a couple or two who just were up for learning something together. The professor was an American who married an Italian several years ago. She went to grad school at University of Virginia in Landscape Architecture (one of the best in the country) and then on to Berkeley to teach. She now teaches for New York University in Florence and her office is in one of the villas outside Florence. I am thinking this is a good life! She is passionate about villas and gardens and marvelously opinionated. Don't you just love someone who takes a position? She loves the decay and grandeur of the old Italian garden and it shows. After an hour lecture, we boarded a comfy little private bus and made our way to Fiesole to see the "Villa Medici" - the first villa ever built for pure pleasure. It is called "OTIUM" in Latin - and means the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure's sake. This is not a Bacchalian orgy. It is for health, relaxation, study and conversation, reading and writing poetry, gardening. Before this villas were built to produce income - wine, olive oil, for example or as a fortification against an enemy - with a wall and a watchtower (which we saw later in the day). This was built by Cosimo the Elder (Medici) and he was kind of the big daddy of the whole Medici bunch. He was the one who made all the money - as banker to the Pope (THE church)- and his children and grandchildren were the beneficiaries.

After this we took a break, had a little Nicoise salad and overpriced iced cafe in Fiesole (a small town above Florence, the home of Villa Medici.) We then went by bus on what seemed to be a cross country tour (literally) of the Magello region - the woods between Florence and Bologna. The villa is Trebbiano - which apparently means "Crossroads" and it was set on a hilltop that looked out on the "crossroad" of this region - a strategic spot for sighting the enemy. During WWII, the Germans took it over because of its prime location. It was without question the most memorable place I have ever been or seen. The trip itself involved winding our way to a mountain top over rutted, unpaved terrain. At one point, the bus had to stop, back up and get up steam to make it up the steep incline. But all worth the drama. The villa and gardens were impeccable in their simplicity. This is the lesson of Trebbiano. So...all my design clients out there...I come home with the memory that less is best. The gardens were simple green plantings of boxwood, lemon trees in pots, fig trees, a magical pergola covered in rose, the vegetable gardens that had been tended for a couple hundred years by Domenican monks and lawn. Glorious, gracious lawn.

I'm now going to try to download photos from today - but I haven't been so good at this so bear with me. The white villa is the Villa Medici from the later 1400s. Trebbiano looks like the castle (it was!) and was built in the 1100's and remodeled in the 1400's by the Medicis. "Remodeled." Gives it a new meaning, no? Lots of sun. Vin Santo (wine of the saints) served to us at Trebbiano by the cook at the end of the afternoon, which made the harrowing ride down the mountain slightly more bearable.

Now, sleep is in order as we have another long day tomorrow. Ciao.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

May 11: The Perfect Man

After a walk toward the Uffizi and Pizza della Signoria, where the David (now a copy and the photo I include here) was placed as a symbol of Florentine resilience and quiet strength, we went to the Accademia. This is where the original David stands in all its perfection. I don’t know what other word to use. “Perfect” is not a word I would use regularly as an adjective for anything – and yet this seems perfect to me.

The experience of viewing the David is simply profound; I don’t know how else to describe it. There is now an amazing photo in the exit area of the Accademia – blown up to 8’ x 6,’ of visitors – about 20 of them – at the Accademia – looking up. We do not see what they are looking at. But, we know, by the expression on their faces and the experience we have just had – they are looking, in awe, every one of them, ages 8 – 80, at the David. Some have their mouths open. Some stand reverently with hands together. Some have their hands on their hips, almost shaking their heads in disbelief. But all are moved by the experience of an amazingly good-looking dude from 500 years ago. It is mind-boggling that, after all this time, we still collectively recognize the beauty of the human form in this way and they myth it carries for us. Looking at the David AND seeing the faces of others looking at the David is a religious goose bump experience for me.

May 10 and 11-A Garden of Eden

10 Maggio 2007

We arrived. And I have now been fundamentally awake for 33 hours straight. The drooling I may have done on the train from Milano hardly counts as sleep. And the proof is in this “typing.” It has taken me three hours to type the previous two sentences without error.

11 Maggio 2007

I always make up for lost sleep. It is simply impossible for me to go without my sleep – so whatever I miss I make up the next night. I proclaim this to be true but rarely have such impressive proof; last night, Thursday – our first night in Florence, Holly and I went to bed at 9:00 p.m. and woke up at noon on Friday. That is a stunning 15 hours of sleep. We rushed to get our clothes on – anything – because we realized we had missed the “cappuccino” hour. You simply cannot have a cappuccino in the afternoon without looking like a ridiculous tourist! So, we ran to Mercato Centrale and ordered one anyway at 12:40. They kindly did not roll their eyes at us.

I took Holly on a tour of Mercato Centrale. The smell of the raw meat at this early hour of the day (well, early only for us!) made her a little sick. So, we went to the second floor with the psychedelic display of vegetables, fruits, herbs and nuts. She was so moved; she was ready to start her own organic vegetable farm in Wisconsin and single-handedly promote a farmer’s market there. We picked up a little pack of fresh strawberries for .80 euro. They were brilliant red, looked like real strawberries, not the fake kind I realize I have gotten used to. I recall real ones from my grandmother’s garden when I see these.

Images from Mercato Centrale

Where in the World is Wireless?

Because it only took me three days to find wireless in the city of Florence this first post will seem more like a novel than a tidy little post. I have been writing every day, but couldn't get it online. So...sit back with a glass of vino - well, more like a bottle as long as this is and I'll take you around Florence Days 1, 2 an 3 in separae postings. Ciao.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Counting the Days

My sister and I are talking about the pounds we should have lost before traipsing off to Italy. All those beautiful Italians! She is up at 5:30, going for a run. It is 8:15 a.m. and I am writing this blog and drinking coffee. I am slow to wake up - what can I say?

The most wonderful part of this trip, for me, is the anticipation of seeing Holly's face when we first walk the streets of Florence, toward the Arno, crossing its banks with a view of the Ponte Vecchio (which means "old bridge" in Italian - I am wondering when it was given that name - it seems like quite the adjective in a place as old as Florence!) I recall seeing the Arno for the first time and my breath was literally taken away. I had never seen anything so beautiful and soft and old.

Now, I rush to finish my Italian Language CD's. I think I know just enough to make it worse than knowing nothing. I will speak as much as I can, but when they reply, I won't understand a word they say. It is all okay. They are so friendly for the most part. I will never forget last summer as I tried to buy a bottle of tonic for Lee - I found the small, individual bottles, but wanted a large one. I asked for a "tonica grosso" and the little Italian grocer looked at me and laughed, tilting, then shaking her head like she had no idea what I meant. I used my hands to indicate a "large" size. This time she got it. She laughed again - "Oh - grande. Grande."

I started laughing so hard I had the tears in my eyes thing. "Si, tonica grande. Non grosso." I had asked for "fat tonic" instead of "large tonic". I have some studying to do.