Monday, May 14, 2007

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.

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