A Nun’s Smile

In these less structured days of mine, after my self-motivated daytime studies of Italian language, art and and various other subjects, I take my evening walk. Actually it is more of a walk-about Florence, for I have no time-frame, agenda or destination.  I just walk wherever my feet take me. At times, in these wanderings, I find myself entering a church to take a break and a bit of reprieve. It seems that every time I think that I have perhaps stumbled into just about every church in this city,  I stumble upon another. And that is just what happened yesterday evening. However this particular “stumbling upon a church” turned out to be, in fact, a rather magical moment.

I was off in a non-tourist area just doing my wandering and I looked upon a door.  The door had a simple entrance and exit side (push/pull)  and there were hours of opening posted upon it.  It was obviously a church and since my experience in Italy is that if  church doors are open, one is welcome to enter.  I did enter and what I found was a very small church–more like a chapel–with a rib-vaulted gothic ceiling, but a very modern stylised cross in the apse.  Seated amongst the pews were five elderly nuns dressed in full habits of varying shades of pale blues and greys. They were not seated together, but rather randomly dispersed among the pews. Between this section of pews and the smaller section of pews in the back, where I was seated, there was a gate.  I won’t go into too many details here, but I will mention that it was typical to delineate the worshipping masses (in this case just me) from the clergy in the front of the nave with a type of screen or gate. So I quietly took a seat in one of the back pews.  There was only one other woman in this back section of pews. She was on the opposite side of the aisle from me and a few pews back.  She wore a nun’s cloak, but no head cover as did the other nuns in the front pews. Those nuns were chanting the Ave Maria, but then suddenly the woman on my left began leading them in the chants.  Her voice was crystal clear and there was so much beauty in it and in the responses of the other nuns to each phrase that she chanted.

I felt somewhat out of place, so I just folded my hands and bowed my head.  After awhile though, I started to feel more awkward–as though I had intruded upon a private devotional moment.  I had sat for perhaps a half an hour savouring the  peace, but finally I decided it was time to get up and leave this place of  humble devotion.  As I stood and went toward the door to exit, I briefly turned back and the nun who was leading the chants bestowed upon me the most beautiful smile-the smile that gives peace and tells you that all is right, that you are blessed and forgiven.

I was actually a bit unhinged by the power of the experience, and I continued down the street in a bit of a haze for a few moments.  Then I thought to myself “I should remember this church so that I can return.” I wrote down the name of the piazza in which I was and then I turned around to find the door that so welcomed me and to write down the name of the church.  But the door that I had originally approached and entered with the hours posted and the welcoming feeling was no longer there.  There was only a solid wooden double door with so sign, no hours and no church name. In the brief time since I had exited, the door had been closed…or perhaps it was simply gone?

Advertisements

Back to my Blog

I find it a bit difficult to know where to begin writing my little blog again after so long. It has been an amazing year of studying, traveling, researching, writing my thesis and graduating with my Masters in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Italian Art History (always the practical one!).

An old corporate sales colleague of mine made a comment on Facebook about this particular photo from my graduationGraduationProfile; he wrote ,”so perfect for sales”. I know that he meant it tongue-in-cheek, but I immediately reacted with the reply “I am SO done with sales.” I think it was the first time I truly wrapped my head around that. I know to never say never, and that I might just wind up in some sales related position in the future, but I cannot ever imagine going back to a high pressure commission-based selling environment. I paid my dues there and fortunately that world was good to me for a long time and has given me the freedom that I have now. But I have traded for this freedom with much and now live a simpler life; I own no car, I own no house or condo–but I do own my life–and that is freedom for me.

I often tell people, when they ask about how I came to be here, that perhaps I would find it more difficult to be here and to have arrived here if I had not experienced a different life in the past. It was a blessed life in many ways, and this one is also blessed, but in many different ways. I once had beautiful cars, enjoyed expensive trips and big houses;  I entertained with holiday and birthday parties for which I prepared food for days, I presented lovely dinner parties, I shopped without much worry as to what I spent, and I worked for days decorating my houses for Christmas with trees that were at times a dozen or more feet tall and loaded with beautiful ornaments. That life was good, but it simply no longer exists for me. And yes, at times I do miss that life-don’t get me wrong. However, what I have come to realize is that having had that life at one time has helped me to arrive to the place in which I now find myself. If I had not been blessed to have experienced that life, I would perhaps always long for it. Although now at times I miss those luxuries, it is more with a nostalgia and appreciation, and sometimes a bit of disbelief that my life has changed so very much, as well as a touch of surrealism that I once lived such a different life. For this is the life that I have chosen and the life that in many ways has chosen me. It has been a long journey and a journey not yet come to closure, but here I am…at least for now.

A Woman or an Umbrella?

I have not written a blog post since last August.  Now that I am a full time graduate student, I simply do not have time.  I have much to write and I hope to do so again sometime in the near future.  For now, my mind and my writing efforts are immersed in Medieval and Renaissance thinking and art.

I was out for dinner with an Italian friend a few weeks ago though, and he asked me why I cannot put short stories or mentions on my blog, why do they always need to be like a chapter of a book?  Good point, I told him.

So, here is a short story–no photos and I am not taking an hour plus to write it.

I was in Padua last week with my professor and it started to rain. She was without an umbrella and she asked “Where are all the guys selling umbrellas?  If we were back in Florence, they would be all over!” And this is true.  In Florence, the very moment a raindrop falls, the umbrella sellers appear out of the woodwork selling their flimsy umbrellas that turn inside-out at the first little gust of wind.

Today, as I stepped out of one of my favourite bars in my favourite piazza (allow me to clarify–a bar in Italy is a coffee shop), it started to rain.  Of course, as usual, there was suddenly upon me a man offering umbrellas for sale.  “No grazie, ho un ombrello” I said as I pulled  my sturdy wind-resistant umbrella from my bag.  I proceeded through the piazza and he was just behind me.  As we passed a couple of construction workers, the umbrella man offered them “un ombrello”.  One of the construction workers replied “Voglio una donna, non voglio un ombrello”, which means “I want a woman, I don’t want an umbrella”.

I continued home in the rain laughing to myself !

Dreams on a Bar Napkin

Nearly two and a half years ago, on a day in April of 2013, I ran into an acquaintance of mine while having lunch at an outdoor bar here in Austin. His name is Kevin and he is the director of a local start-up business incubator. He does an amazing job of helping people who have a dream but need help and support bringing it to reality. I had met Kevin at his organization back in 2012 when I still thought I had to stay in the business world and find something there after my premature retirement.

Kevin was one of those people who I have mentioned in former posts who would ask me what my passion was. Passion??? The word sounded ridiculous to me when trying to associate it with the business world. I would just avoid the question and think to myself “Should I have a passion?  Is something wrong with me that I don’t seem to?”

After that period of time, my old company contracted me back as a sales coach and trainer. I stopped all the networking that I was doing and settled back into my comfort zone.  Comfort zone yes, but still no passion zone yet for me.

When I ran into Kevin on that spring day, I had only been to Florence alone once the previous November. I knew that I had to return, but I still had no idea to what measure.

Kevin and I were catching up and he grabbed a bar napkin. He asked me to write down what I wanted from life. Understand that Kevin is very talented at stimulating thoughts, dreams and ideas in others. It is what he does for a living. I was still hesitant to answer, but what I wanted from life was somehow easier to come up with than what the heck my passion was.

I thought for a bit and this is what I wrote on that bar nap…

image

Feel free to do what I want to

Full of grace

Surrounded by people with a world view

Be mobile

Live simply but richly

Please understand that I wrote these things down from my heart, not my head.  My heart always rules.  Therefore it was not in me to try to come up with a plan to make those things happen. Planner I am not.

I went home with my little bar nap of dreams, stuck it on the side of my fridge with a magnet and basically forgot about it.

I did return to Florence–and again, and again, and again.  With each visit I became closer and closer to uncovering my passion.  In a beautiful string of events and encounters, my mind began to break out of its prison of musts and cannots.

I met locals and ex-pats in Florence who were in the art world.  And art was certainly my passion.  Of course it was.  It had been as long as I could remember.  The chains of the corporate world had caused me to forget that. Or, perhaps I had hidden it away because I would have missed it too much or felt like too much of failure for having neglected it.

But now, thanks to my beloved Florence and a few wonderful and inspirational friends and acquaintances, I am about to venture off on the biggest adventure of my life.

I am going to live in Florence for over a year and obtain my Masters degree in Renaissance Art History.  I will be renting a tiny apartment in my favorite neighborhood from a friend in Florence and will be walking to and from school each day.  If someone had told me on that April day of 2013 that I would be doing this, I would have said “I wish, but it is impossible”.

Well, there is something  about that word “impossible”.  If you simply add one apostrophe and one space it becomes “I’m possible”.

As I prepare for my move, I have been cleaning my apartment here in Texas.  I was wiping the fridge down one day a few weeks ago and I noticed the bar nap of dreams.  I read it to myself and thought “Oh my Lord, that is exactly what I am doing!”

Feel free to do what I want to

Full of grace

Surrounded by people with a world view

Be mobile

Live simply but richly

Go figure….

Miss Italia and The Cocktails

Often in my conversations and in my stories, I say that “the travel gods smile upon me”.  I am not certain when exactly I started to use that term, but I do know that the blessing of those travel gods goes back to my first “real” overseas adventure which was a trek by car through much of Turkey some 17 years ago. i understand that Saint Christopher is the patron saint of safe travels and I must believe that he has been with me through the years as well. I have been blessed with safe travels all these years and I pray to continue to remain under St. Christopher’s watch and care.

But those little travelgods that I refer to-they are the ones who playfully bless you with unforgettable travel adventures and memories! I imagine them as being little Putti–the Cupid-like characters in many Renaissance and Baroque paintings. Here is a depiction of some putti…. .

image

A bit mischievous looking those putti, aren’t they?

This week, the travel gods were particularly mischievous. They, along with my dear Italian friends, ensured that I had quite a memorable adventure one recent day. One of the key components of being “smiled upon by the travel gods” is having experiences that could never be found in tourist guides.  Those experiences often occur based on friendships amongst locals. I had one of these experiences with my dear friends from Ferrara.  I was going to take the train from Florence for a weekend visit. Serenella suggested that I arrive in Bologna so that we could explore that city a bit and have dinner there.  She also suggested that I stay through Tuesday as her husband, Andrea was participating in a cocktail competition.  I knew a bit about what this was about as they had shown me photos of some of Andrea’s cocktail creations.  They were amazing.  Intricately carved flowers, birds, butterflies, etc. from fruits and vegetables-anything edible can be used.  I knew that the cocktail competition would be interesting.  I had no idea how much so!

We arrived in the seaside town of Riccione for the day of the cocktail competition.  Riccione is a town that wealthy Italians visit in the summer.  There are many high-end shops and a very pedestrian friendly promenade. It was a blessedly beautiful day and the walk down to the seaside was a wonderful surprise.  I had not seen the seaside in Italy since I had traveled to the Amalfi coast with my sister about seven years ago.

image

The cocktail competition was quite interesting and exciting.  The morning competition was among students.  The stage is setup with three fully equipped “mini bars”.  Three contestants compete at a time and they must conjure up three glasses of the same cocktail within seven minutes.  A huge electronic sign shows the countdown and an announcer lets the contestants know how much time they have remaining.  You could feel the jitters from some of the young people as for most, if not all, it was their first competition.  The recipes for cocktails must be their own, developed under the guidance of their teachers.  There are judges on stage who watch all the moves, handling of ingredients and measuring/mixing skills.  The cocktails are then carefully carried on trays to the Appearance  and Taste judges.  Not a bad job to have and the judge closest in the photo gave us a few sips as we watched! 

image It struck me what serious business this all was.  There was definitely a fun and interesting aspect to it as a spectator, but for the participants, winning was a very big deal for their education and careers. For in Italy becoming a professional barrister. bartender or wait person is a serious career.  You can see that in the way that these people treat and serve you every day here in Italy. Both young woman and young men competed.  The three winners were all young women. That was nice to see as I think previous generations were quite male dominated in this profession. The grand winner was a quite heavyset young woman. Everyone else in the contest was slim and  pretty. She was physically the “odd one out”, but her skill and talent was the BEST on that day.  She was so happy that she was crying and I felt so happy for her. It was a very nice moment. You are able see the winner in the photo below on the left in the first photo and with her award in the second photo   imageimage After a lunch of delicious panini, the afternoon adult competition was to begin.  I am told that not only would I be watching that, but that there was also a regional Miss Italia competition on the stage that afternoon  I knew this was going to be interesting! The adults, like the young students, competed in groups of three with the same type of judging.  Interestingly enough all the adult competitors were men, which rather indicated that I may be correct in thinking that it is changing with the generations. One could easily discern that the level of confidence, skill and professionalism increased greatly in the adult competition.

I was not surprised at this, since I have seen the pride and passion that Andrea has for what he does. Photos here are of Andrea preparing his cocktail and of the finished product   The beautiful radish flower garnished cocktail is Andrea’s creation.  He created and carved the flower the night before at home.  His wife and I helped to choose the most beautiful as he carved several radish flowers! Amazing and he was awarded a third place!

imageimage

That was all exciting enough, but then of course we had the bonus of the Miss Italia contest. The women were as expected, very beautiful, for there is certaintly no shortage of beautiful people in this beautiful country.

I had recently read that viewership is down dramatically for the Miss Italia contest, very much like the Miss America pageant in the United States.  Although I hesitate to buy into this as entertainment, I allowed myself to relax and just enjoy the moment.  I did note, however, that the judges pretty much all had silver hair and were all male!

I was surprised that most of the contestants had blonde hair, as most Americans envision the quintessential  Italian beauty as having dark hair.

They had a swimsuit competition and an evening dress competition.  

A few of them did talent competions.  This contestant was my favorite and she did win the talent portion. Surprisingly most of the women had frowns or were definitely not wearing smiles. I suppose it was supposed to be some kind of sexy look.  This woman wore a beautiful smile throughout the competition and she got my vote for what that was worth!

   So it was quite the day!  A beautiful day with great friends.  A very Italian  Day that I could never had found on the tourist map. A day blessed by the travel gods!

  

 

“The Lost Painting” and Forgetting the Map

I find myself once again in beautiful Florence, this time being somewhat of a “bonus” trip thanks to an American friend of mine,  who returned to Florence to continue work on a painting, and has been kind enough to share the rented apartment here,

This American friend, who I met in Florence two years ago and saw again last fall, is working on an oil painting here. Despite never having painted before, now, in retirement years, my friend is taking on the challenge. And a challenge it is to paint a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Leda and The Swan”. “Leda and The Swan” is also known as “The Lost Painting”. It is one of history’s great art losses. It is not known what happened to the painting nor how it disappeared.  Leonardo started the painting around 1503 in Florence.  It was recognized as a masterpiece and, therefore, was copied by most of the painters in Florence at the time.  Even Michelangelo did his own version.  Hence, there are many versions.  The one that my friend is copying is considered to be closest to the original and most in da Vinci’s style and technique and closest to his sketches still in existence.

Here is “Leda and The Swan”,,

image

One can easily imagine that this would be a challenge to copy!

This is the print of Leda on the left and my friend’s progress on the copy on the right.  Wonderful!

image

The painting’s title “Leda and the Swan” is based on a Greek myth. In the myth the god Zeus comes to Leda in the form of a swan and seduces her.  She bears two eggs from which hatch four human children, one of which will be the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Troy.  I guess you have a good chance of being beautiful if your father is a swan!  Strangely enough, the theme was popular in the sixteenth century because it was considered more appropriate to depict a woman in the act of copulation with an animal than with a man.

Leonardo da Vinci’s “Leda and The Swan” was not only often copied, but it was also often documented and written about.  The painting was last accounted for in 1625 when it was located in France at the Chateau Fontainebleau.  No one knows what became of it after that.  Some romantics believe that it still exists somewhere, but chances are that is destroyed and gone forever.

“Leda and The Swan” does live on, however, in the many copies and in the fact that, even today, my friend is honoring it by creating a copy.

So, thanks to the kindness of a friend and to Leda, I am lucky enough to be here in Florence again in this lovely springtime.

When I arrived at the airport in Florence, it dawned on me that I had not packed The Map.  I had never even thought about packing it this time around.  The Map has been my companion for three years during my stays in Florence. It is compact, laminated and I know it like the back of my hand.  The first year I was here, I remember wandering very far north.  When I looked at The Map to get my bearings I could not find the street that I had wandered onto. All of a sudden I said to myself “Oh no, I walked off the map!”  I laugh about that to this day.

Although I have needed the map less and less over the years, The Map is rather a security blanket for me.

My Security Blanket, The Map,,,

image\

The fact that my packing list did not include The Map was a bit of a surprise.  I cannot imagine traveling without a map to any city that I am going to walk extensively in. It kind of made me happy that I was feeling so comfortable and at home here that I had forgotten The Map.  Be that as it may, I still am apt to get lost here from time to time.  I can always wander until I see something I know, but I am not quite comfortable without my security blanket map.

So I purchased a map at the airport.  It seemed acceptable, but when I opened it at the apartment, it was about 2 1\2 X 3 feet.  No way was I going to stand on a corner in Florence, Italy trying to manage and read a billboard size map!  Luckily enough I found a new The Map at a bookstore.  I was rather ridiculously happy to find it.

I have The Map now,  and am secure and prepared to roam the streets of Florence, discovering new places and things and getting reaquainted with known ones.  The Map and I are going to have another wonderful Florentine adventure, and hopefully I will see the beautiful “Leda and The Swan” completed!

The Palace of Escape from Boredom

I love Italian Renaissance frescoes. I can neither see enough of them nor learn enough about them. Therefore, before my last trip to Florence, I did some research and put together a list of frescoes that I wanted to view in Florence and in surrounding towns.  I was able to visit many of them and loved them all, but some of the frescoes that I loved the most were never even on my list. Those are the frescoes that embellish the Salon Dei Mesi (the Room of Months) within the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, Italy.

I was visiting my dear friends in Ferrara for the weekend and they, knowing how much I love Renaissance art and frescoes, took me to this palace.  I had never heard of this place nor these frescoes.  The meaning of the palace name is fascinating.  It was the leisure and pleasure palace of the d’Este family, headed by Duke Borso d’Este. The d’Estes ruled over Ferrara during the Renaissance period. The palace name is thought to originate from “schivar la noia”, meaning literally to “escape from boredom”.  What a fantastic name!

When I entered the Room of Months in the Palace of Escape from Boredom, I felt as though I had walked into a fantasyland. No one could be bored in this room! The room was once completely frescoed on all four walls with a series of panels representing each month of the year.  Sadly, the west and south walls are extremely damaged and deteriorated to the point that one can only see fragments.  The north and east walls, however, are in very good condition.  The north wall portrays the months of June, July, August and September and is believed to have been painted by Cosimo Tura.  The east wall is attributed to Francesco del Cossa. The east wall was the one that most captured my imagination.

AprilWall Schifanoiajpg

These frescoes are one of the most remarkable surviving works of the Ferrarese Renaissance artists. What struck me is that they are pagan.  I was so used to seeing religious themes in frescoes.  The purely pagan frescoes consist of three tiers for each month.  The top tier depicts mythology-an ancient diety in procession. The second tier depicts the zodiac symbol appropriate to that month, and the bottom tier shows the courtly activities of the d’Este court during that month.

Francesco del Cossa was born around 1436 and passed away at a young age of plague around 1478.  A letter was discovered in the late 1800’s which he had written to the Duke d’Este asking for more money for his work. After being refused, he left for Bologna in 1470.  Perhaps he would have completed more of the walls of the Room of Months had this not occurred.

Del Cossa’s April fresco segment was the most captivating to me.  The top panel depicts Venus, the goddess of spring and rebirth, riding a carriage that looks to be made of Christmas ribbon candy.  Her carriage is drawn by swans guided with red ribbons. There is a suitor kneeling before her, and she appears to be holding an apple or some type of melon. Doves fly above her head, young lovers gather all about – some embracing, some holding instruments. Rabbits and fauna abound and magical castles loom in the distance.  In the upper right corner there are three naked figures who I assume to be the Graces, as we see in Boticelli’s Primavera approximately a decade later. The entire scene is like a fairytale that draws one in and sparks the imagination.

PalazzoSchivanoia

The middle panel of April depicts the Zodiac figure of Taurus the Bull.

The bottom panel of del Cossa’s April is the one that depicts the allegorical scene of every day life.  His choice here is the Ferrara Palio.  The Palio is a festival of parades and competitions, culminating in a bareback horserace.  Siena’s palio is the most famous, but Ferrara’s is the oldest. The race is occurring at the top of the panel and at the bottom, courtiers gather and converse. There is one delightful figure of a man who sits at the edge of the fresco with his legs “hanging” over the edge.  It is a whimsical touch that brings even more life to the fresco.

20141128_153840

AprilWallCourtiersSchifanoia

I hope to return to the Palace of Escape from Boredom on my next visit to Italy.  Certainly not that I need an escape from boredom when in Italy, but because the Palazzo Schifanoia and it’s amazing fantastical, pagan, humanistic fresco cycle are thoroughly enchanting and captivating!

The Crucifix of Cimabue-Symbol of Tragedy and of Hope

   

The first time that I stood beneath Cimabue’s powerful depiction of Christ on the cross in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy, I was overwhelmed.  I was overwhelmed with grief and with hope.

What could cause one to simultaneously feel these conflicting emotions?  Cimabue’s crucifix has an amazing story to tell.

Cimabue was one of the most important artists of the 13th century.  Born around 1240, he began to break away from the Italian Byzantine style that had dominated Christian art in prior decades.

His crucifix, which hangs in Santa Croce, was probably painted around 1272. It is a magnificent piece of tempera on wood measuring 14′ 3″ X 12′ 7″. Today it stands alone and powerful under dramatic lighting.

Prior Italian Byzantine depictions of Christ on the cross presented a flattened, abstract figure showing little emotion. Cimabue’s Santa Croce Christ appears more natural and human.  His body is softer and more fluid.  Blood flows from his hands and feet. His arms are stretched out straight rather that sagging as in other depictions, helping to give the appearance of a floating figure. His hip touches the apron of the frame of the cross, as do his feet, giving the figure dimension and life. There is an elegance to his pose and his face is completely at peace. How can a painting that evokes so much peaceful emotion come to be a sign of tragedy?

Cimabue’s crucifix had survived nearly 700 years of floods and war.  It had suffered some flood damage in 1333 and in 1557.  During World War II, it was removed from Florence for protection. But on November 4th, 1966 the Arno River swelled and exploded beyond its’ banks, pouring gushing water and muck onto the city of Florence.  It was the most devastating flood since Cimabue had painted the masterpiece crucifix. Thousands of pieces of art and manuscripts were destroyed or damaged in the mighty flood. The Crucifix of Cimabue was one of the most damaged, and – aside from the tragic loss of lives – was probably the most precious casualty of the flood.

Nearly twenty feet of water filled Santa Croce and the magnificent Christ was covered in the mixture of water, mud and oil up to the nimbus. The cross was so soaked that it grew by 3″ and doubled in weight. Over 60% of its’ paint was lost – washed away and peeling.  The wood was cracked and mold was growing.  Cimabue’s suffering Christ was now suffering what appeared to be nearly irreparable damage.

This is the tragedy-now where is the hope?  Enter gli Angeli dei Fango–the Mud Angels.  Because of the fact that Florence holds such a wealth of the world’s beautiful art, the world came together to help clean up and restore the city and its’ treasures. Volunteers poured into the city and they became known as the Mud Angels.  Some of them waded through the water around the crucifix and picked up pieces of paint with pliers.

There was much controversy over restoration techniques and which to use on the piece.  It was finally decided to repaint it using a technique known as trattegio – a kind of hatching technique using a fine brush. It took years for the crucifix to dry out and return to its’ original size and weight.  It was not returned to public viewing until ten years later in 1976.

While the tragedy of Cimabue’s crucifix is heartbreakingly evident, the hope lies in the fact that it represents the coming together of so many souls and minds in an effort to restore it to its’ original glory. Today, the damage is extremely visible, but the energy and beauty that the piece emits are undeniable.  It is a beautiful symbol of survival and a combination of the talent of a 13th century master with the technology of the modern era and the passion of people who love the art of Florence with all of their hearts.

Cimabue

 

Giving Thanks in Siena…

This past Thursday was the first Thanksgiving in my life that I spent alone. Well, at least alone in the sense of not being with anyone who I knew.  I was, however, certainly amongst people all day long.

The day was a good one.  Since that day, I have thought about the word “Thanksgiving” and what it means–as a word. “Thanksgiving” means so much in America.  It brings to mind family and wonderful food, football and full bellies, leftovers, time off work or school, and the beginning of the Christmas season. It is a specific day of the year that brings all these thoughts, expectations and memories.

Turn the word around and it reads “Giving Thanks”.  Now it is no longer a word associated with a specific day nor specific memories and traditions.  Now it is an act or state-of-mind that we can do or be in each and every day.

This is what I discovered on my first Thanksgiving alone.  I think, because I was alone, I was very aware that I should give thanks for what I did have on that day, in lieu of what I was expected to have on that particular day all of my life.

I decided to go to Siena on Thursday, not because it was Thanksgiving, but because I had read about an event at the Civic Museum in Siena held on Thursday nights for seven weeks at this time of year.  It was a classical performance in the Museo Civico. “Civic Museum” sounds rather boring, but not so in Siena, Italy. This is the building…

MuseoCuvicoSiena\

I almost chickened out. If I wanted to attend the event, I would have to spend the night in Siena.  That meant booking a hotel when I already have my apartment in Florence. Sounded like a hassle. Wouldn’t it just be easier to stay in my familiar neighborhood in Florence and hang out? Then the stubborn “never turn down the chance for adventure” side of me took over as usual.  I decided to just pack a light overnight bag, book the event, hop on the train to Siena, see if I could find a room, and take it from there.

I arrived in Siena.  To get to the old centre of Siena, one can take a bus or taxi, or one can walk.  I always choose walking if it is a viable option (please notice that I did not say “a reasonable option”!). I had walked to the centre of Siena last year though and I knew the way to do it.  You take a series of about six escalators that take you up and up and up until they dump you off a bit of a way away from the centre, but much closer than when you started to jump onto those moving stairways.

I walked to the centre, looking for hotels along the way.  Hmmm, was not seeing any.  Perhaps I should have booked something ahead?  All was well eventually though. Travel gods were with me once again (love them!), and I found a very nice hotel within walking distance of everything.  Great price and nice breakfast in the morning.

My concert was not until 9pm, so after checking into the hotel, I began to wander.

Siena is one of the most beautiful towns in Tuscany.  It has a history to tell, if you choose to look into it.  I hope to write more of it in another post, but too much to try to tell now without getting into Siena’s history.

To tell a bit for now, the centre of the city is very medieval and beautiful, and the Duomo is stunning. Siena and Florence were once huge rivals , but Siena was eventually defeated and that is why it has preserved so much of its’ medieval atmosphere. It simply never developed as Florence has. It is now a very, very precious place.

Sienastreet

SienaDuomo

20141127_112802

In my fresco studies, I had read about a museum located in the old hospital of Siena, Santa Maria Della Scala. it was once an important civic hospital dedicated to the care of abandoned children, the poor, the sick and pilgrims. It was one of Europe’s first hospitals and is one of the oldest still surviving in the world.

I found it located just across from the duomo. Turned out to be thrilled that I had! Some very important frescoes are found there.  This one is of particular interest because it illustrates how the hospital operated over 500 years ago.

20141126_153111

It was as a beautiful museum with three levels to explore.  At times I was down in dark caverns all alone, to turn a corner and see some beautiful sculpture or piece.

InteriorSantaMariadellaScala2

I enjoyed a dinner of grilled octopus and spinach in place of the traditional turkey!

After my italian Thanksgiving dinner I headed to the Civic Museum, to hear the concert and to see yet more famouse frescoes-these being The Allegory of Good and Bad Government painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in 1338-1339. They illustrate the effects of good vs. bad government on its’ citizens. Ironically the “bad” wall of frescoes is extremely damaged, not so the “good” side.

Good and Bad Government

The concert was wonderful with students from the local music academy performing Mozart and Brahms under the beautiful Maesta fresco of Simone di Martino, another fresco I had been hoping to see. Gorgeous.

20141126_223338-1

While walking back to my hotel room at about midnight, I was lured by the sound of completely different music and stopped to listen to some rock/blues before finally getting to my hotel and falling into bed.

20141126_230413

it was a full day in bella Siena filled with Giving Thanks!

Days Alone

This trip to Florence, as my entire life seems to have been, has not been as I expected. However, as my life has been, my trip has been filled with changes–some challenging, many surprising and gratifying. As I have relayed in earlier posts, my first week of this trip was unexpectedly filled with time great times spent amongst new and old friends. My high school era American friends left a week ago today.  Then my Florentine/American friends, Gary and Margaret, left this past Friday.

20141118_190147

This is Gary, Margaret and me at one of our favorite aperitivo meeting places.

So, I have been alone much more in my second week here. I still meet and talk with people every day, and my italian is improving.  I have had the time to take some of the day trips as I was hoping to.  It is so easy to take the train here.  If only we had trains like this in the U.S.  My first solo day journey was to Arezzo.  I have been studying renaissance frescoes and there are some amazing frescoes in a small cathedral in Arezzo.  It is off-season here, and also, this is not a place that attracts tourist groups.  La Basilica di San Francesco  was so peaceful and quiet.  Only a few other people were there.  I cannot tell you how touching and emotional it is to see beautiful art in peace and relative solitude.

20141118_145848-1

The main frescoes are those of Piero della Francesca painted in about 1458-1466.  They tell the tale of the Legend of the True Cross, which is an interesting Christian legend.  The very basic story is that the tree that became the wood that created the cross upon which Christ was crucified was planted by the son of Adam.  The Queen of Sheba informed Solomon that the Saviour would be crucified on the wood of this tree.  They apparently cut down the tree and buried it in hopes of changing that fate.  The legend goes on from there, and we all know that their hopes of changing that fate did not come to fruition. It is a non-biblical and very mystical Christian legend.

20141118_145409-1-120141118_143549

Even in my days here alone in Florence, they are never truly alone.  I know the lady at the little fruit and vegetable stand that I stop in every few days.  I know the beautiful bartender at my favourite little wine bar by the Duomo. I know the owner of the bar that is a favourite hangout of my dear friend, Angelo. I know a handful of other locals enough to say “Buon Giorno!” I am even starting to know the man who works in the little lighting shop near my apartment.  He always wears red shoes and his blonde cocker spaniel is always by his side wearing a matching red scarf around his neck.  I do not have any photos of the two of them yet, but I promise to try!

When I talk with people here, they allow me to imagine that I could live here. It is so simply stated. “Why do you not live here?”.  That question for me is similar to the question that I always was asked back in my Austin networking days.  The dreaded “What is your passion?” question.  Only this ever-repeated question is not dreaded–it is welcomed.  It seems so simple, the way that they ask it.  I have no delusions about that.  Moving here would be no simple matter.  It is a long-shot, and a long road. This evening. I met a young man from Athens, who now lives in Amsterdam.  He has never been to Florence before.  He had this amazing understanding of the Renaissance period, though. Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance and there simply is no other place on earth which can make that claim.  The young man who I met from Athens understood this deeply, and understood what that means –something which I already understood so thoroughly, but somehow, hearing it and the passion in his voice about it reinforced my awe for this beautiful city.