Monday, February 28, 2011

MY ITALIAN ADVENTURE SAGA 8:

ED VISITS

Ed, my roommate, flew over to visit for the last two weeks of June, before the beginning of my art and architecture course. The day of his arrival, I awoke even earlier than usual, making the appartamento perfect--even washing the windows and cleaning the foyer and hallways. He called from the train station and I directed him to get a taxi right to my Palazzo. I stood outside and when he drove up I was so excited that I'm sure the taxi driver wondered what was going on. As we progressed up the stairs, Ed marveled at the various aspects of the Palazzo. We sent his suitcases, by themselves, up in the elevator. He was very tired but couldn't resist checking out the appartamento to see for himself all I had written him about.  He loved it, too! What a difference, coming to my home instead of to a hotel room. Little did I know that he had been very sick with a horrible case of shingles affecting a large area of his back and stomach. He had kept it a secret from me so as not to spoil my trip in any way. As it turned out, the deep tub was excellent for helping hasten the healing process and he found himself taking a soaking, oatmeal bath twice a day. Italy was a welcome tonic to him and his shingles improved greatly.

Since I had been researching ristoranti and eating outside is also one of Ed's favorite things, I wanted Ed to enjoy some of them. After his nap and soak, I took him to Sasso de Dante to enjoy an outdoor ristorante. It's on the Piazza del Duomo in the shadow of the cathedral. It was a pristine day and a very special way to begin his Firenze vacation.  

I had searched many places especially for our favorite Italian dish, Vitello al Limone. (TOUGH Duty!) It was especially good at one of my favorite ristoranti, Il Paiolo where we dined the next evening.

On the third night of Ed's visit, June 24, I took him to a bridge at the base of the Piazzale (very large piazza) Michelangelo for a fire-works show. We liked to think it was in honor of his visit even though someone explained that it is an annual event to celebrate St. John the Baptist's Day. Several thousand people turned out to help welcome him!! The pyrotechnics were non-stop, getting more and more spectacular and culminating in a grand barrage of shells. Ed counted 253 bursts without a pause. The show lasted a whole hour and was
  ---MAGNIFICO !

Ed's a real good tourist and shopper. We immediately set out for sights and sounds with a few espressos and some gelato along the way. I couldn't wait to show Ed several places I had found that had already become my special favorites including the Palazzo Davanzati, the Bargello and the Pazzi chapel.

I had sent Ed a postcard of the courtyard of the Palazzo Davanzati and it was on his 'must see' list. This mid-14th Century palazzo is an excellent surviving example of a medieval nobleman's house. It is particularly interesting as an illustration of Florentine life in the Middle Ages, even being furnished with 14th Century furniture. The house is organized around a tall, six-story, open-air interior courtyard that could be completely cut-off from the street in times of trouble.  The courtyard's like a stage set, with dramatic forms and beautiful background patterns.

A lion newel post of carved stone at the base of the staircase is notable.
Me petting the Lion
The piano terra contained the servants; the piano noble and piano secondi had the nobleman's rooms and above that, on the top floor was located the kitchen to help prevent fire from spreading too easily. There were even 'necessaries' upstairs with the toilets (flushed with a bucket of water) having waste pipes to the River Arno--very 'modern' for the 14th Century.

Also on Ed's and my 'must see' list was the Casa Buonarroti, a house built by Michelangelo's son to his father's specifications. In 1858, the last member of the Buonarroti family turned it into a museum of Michelangelo's time and works. In the collection are the “Madonna of the Steps” and “The Battle of the Centaurs”, carved when he was about fifteen; an unfinished “Torso of a River God” intended for the Medici Chapel; and the most beautiful “Crucifix” I have ever experienced. I say 'experienced' for it literally sent chills through me. I had sent a card to Ed discussing ONLY this carving. He was anxious to see it. The “Crucifix” was lost for many years and was just found in 1963. This painted, popular wood carving shows a slim Christ about four feet high. The figure is carved in an, up to that time, unique position. From that time on, many artists have chosen to portray Christ in this 'contrapposto' position. It is

  ---EXQUISITE!

Next, ED VISITS 2

MOM'S THREE WISHES SAGA:

"I want to go to Hawaii". I guess I've heard that a dozen times from Mom while growing up in Oklahoma. I think her generation of Americans is infatuated with the South Seas part of our world. So when I saw an Hawaiian vacation contest in my local city magazine  (The Washingtonian, December 1980), I thought I'd like to try to win a trip for her.


Well, it was right up my alley since I'm a Washingtonianphile and an architect and the contest required identifying 15 pictures of locations in and around Washington, D. C. A few were easy, such as a corner of Dulles International Airport. Others were very difficult, like part of a statue or a fencepost! Of the 15 pictures, I definitely new five, had a pretty good idea of four more but didn't know the other six. First prize was an all expense paid trip for two including hotels to Oahu and Maui plus $500; second prize was a trip for one and $250.


Having only two weeks before the deadline, I began a systematic search, carrying with me at all times the pictures of as yet unidentified places. I got my roommate, Ed Crowley, to help in the search.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

MY ITALIAN ADVENTURE SAGA 7:

EXPLORING FIRENZE

Firenze lies in the hills of the Arno (River) Valley, a

  --JEWEL SET IN AN AMPHITHEATER OF NATURE!

       Perhaps nowhere else on earth has the right ingredients of nature, timing, ruling powers and artisans come together so well as to create such a beautiful, interesting and livable city. Firenze's red-tiled roofs set off the towering example of Romanesque and Renaissance architectural confections. It was the birthplace of the Renaissance--man's break away from the Middle Ages into an age of intellectual thought and humanism.

In my search for mio appartimento, I had taken a few opportunities to see some of the famous sights of Firenze. But now, my exploration began in earnest. I loved walking in Firenze. An interesting view, an exciting adventure or a peaceful respite awaits one at every turn.

While browsing in an English language bookstore, I had found a copy of “The Agony and the Ecstasy”. But this time as I read through this book of Michelangelo Buonarroti's life and work, I would go see each sculpture, painting or architectural masterpiece as it was discussed! Unlike the movie, which dwelt only on his time in Rome, this book gives an account of his entire life. So, when his first two sculptures that were done for the most famous Medici: Lorenzo “Il Magnifico” “Madonna of the Steps” and “Battle of the Centaurs” were described in the book, I went to see them!  I was able to continue to do this almost chronologically throughout his life in both Firenze and Rome. It was like

  ---LIVING IN HIS TIME!
Battle of the Centaurs

Another main event was exploring restaurants (ristoranti) and cafes (trattorie).  For me, eating out is one of the most pleasurable of activities. I especially enjoy dining 'al fresco'.  In fact, I relish it! I had first learned how wonderful sidewalk cafes were on my first trip to Europe, where it's a tradition to sit outside and eat or just drink coffee and watch the passers-by. Most of Europe's weather is well suited to this pleasure. Italians make such frequent use of these outdoor ristoranti and trattorie that they have become a social extension. If one buys even so much as an espresso, one has the table--or more typically, part of it--for as long as one wishes, without being rushed. (Washington D.C., my home, was just beginning to get sidewalk cafes in the late 1970s; Oklahoma City, where I grew up, is generally too hot for them,)

Firenze is famous for its excellent Tuscan cuisine and Chianti wines.  Minestrone is a well-known Tuscan soup. Florentine steak, as well as tripe and dishes made with white beans, are also well known. Since Italians invented ice cream, it's only fitting that what some believe is the finest gelato store in the world is in Firenze—at the Vivoli. The ubiquitous pasta has several Tuscan sauces that are special, such as rich basil and tomato sauce, a special four-cheese sauce, and of course, anything al florentine is with spinach (spinaci).
My favorite treats became Vitella al Limone (egg-battered veal cooked with lemon and butter); Florentine pizza (thicker and meatier than in America); Insalata Caprese (A delicious salad consisting simply of sliced tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, topped with olive oil and fresh basil. That's right, buffalo! When Naples entered into a diplomatic relationship with the Saracens in the 9th Century, the Saracens brought with them the water buffalo--which to this day are kept in the Neapolitan region of Italy.); 
Insalata Caprese
Paglio e Fieno ('straw' and 'hay'--white and green (spinach) pasta with a rich cream sauce, bits of ham and peas), my fragile con vino rosso; Chianti Classico--the best of the local wines not generally imported to America--and, of course, espresso and gelato.

At the straw and souvenir market, called the New Market because it replaced an older market-place in 1551, there is a famous and popular fountain, Il Porcellino (little wild boar. It is said that if a visitor rubs his snout; he will return to Firenze. I rubbed it in 1971, and I rubbed it soon after arriving to ensure my return again. Its brass snout has been rubbed to a bright sheen.


While walking up my street one day, I noticed that one of the Palazzi had an ornate, free-standing sign out on the sidewalk; advertising an estate sale. Curious about the building, I climbed to the third floor to find both an interesting old home and a phenomenal assortment of 18th and 19th Century artifacts. I was looking around when I realized that there were many beautiful Oriental rugs. I got interested in checking them out, because recently I had been looking for a larger one for my dining room in Washington, D.C. Then I found it: It was a beautiful, multiple reds with black tracery Afghan that was the perfect colors and size, about 9 X 11. After some deliberation at the Rivoire, I decided to go for it.

The rugs were not scheduled to come up for auction for three days. I went every day though, because I had never bid on anything before and more importantly, the entire proceedings were in Italiano!  Oh-oh. I quickie realized that I had better learn numbers in Italian and big ones as they were speaking in the millions! I looked through my trusty Berlitz “Italian for Travelers” and discovered a concise page of numbers. I practiced for two days listening to the numbers and learning to simultaneously (well almost) translate them--but only in Lira you understand, not Dollars. (Although by then, that conversion had already become a somewhat second sense.) On the day of the rug auction, I got very excited. When the rug came up for sale, I could feel my heart racing. The bidding rapidly got into the long numbers.  When it was still in my acceptable range, I signaled the auctioneer. An old Italian woman then raised the bid; I raised mine. Then two more bidding rounds and it became mine for only unmilionenovamilaquattromillequattrocento (1,094,400 Lira, or 684 Dollars). I carried it home, lugged it up those stairs, placed it in the middle of the furniture group and viola:

  ---PERFECTO!

While wandering around Firenze, I noticed stain marks high up on many of the buildings. Also, there were little dated signs placed at various heights on the side of several buildings. I soon discovered that they denoted the date and height of the various floods Firenze has suffered throughout the centuries. In November of 1966, the Arno overflowed its banks to the highest point in recorded history and severely damaged her buildings and many works of art. This disaster brought together people from all over the world to help restore Firenze. Some works were lost forever, but many have been restored to better condition than before. Thank goodness the Uffizi's galleries begin on the piano second, just high enough to have been safe. Other places weren't so lucky. Unfortunately, it seems that precautions still have not been taken to protect against future floods.

While exploring Firenze, I became intrigued by the enormous door knockers on most of the palazzi--a great variety of sizes and types. I decided to start a photographic essay. Since there are so many, I specialized in those depicting the cat family. (I've always been crazy about cats.  Having Liza, my Abyssinian cat, as a roommate, had made me adore them even more.  Liza is very unique and personable; I missed her.) I photographed lions, panthers and even a few griffins and other mystical felines. Sometimes, when I didn't have my camera with me, I'd have to go back just for a shot of a special gatto.

In my wanderings, I began to appreciate the restorative feature of espresso after a long walk.  I knew how strong espresso was and liked it very much. But sometimes I wanted a brew more like our American coffee. I learned that if you asked for an espresso lungo or a molto lungo, it was more like our coffee. I later found out the name was derived from the fact that if the cup is left under the steam machine for a long time, then more water dilutes the dink.

Another favorite place, besides, of course, the entire Piazza della Signoria, is the Orasanmichele, a 14th Century granary turned into a strange, very vertical, rectangular church. The outside is noted for its famous sculptures. There are masterworks from a two hundred year period (15 to 17C) when the government-controlling guilds commissioned statues of their patron saints including “St. John the Baptist” and “St. Matthew” by Ghiberti; “St. Thomas” and “St. Louis of Toulouse” by Verrocchio; “St. George” by Donatello; “St. Luke” by Giambologna; and several terracottas by Luca della Robbia. The originals are kept at the Palazzo de Bargello.

The Bargello fascinates anyone who stumbles into it; it's not located on the beaten track. A massive medieval fortress (1250-1350), the Bargello is the oldest surviving government building. Today it contains a superb museum of Florentine Renaissance sculpture. If you are a sculpture buff

  ---YOU'LL FREAK OUT!

       A few of the masterpieces are: four Michelangelo's, including his special drunken “Bacchus”, Donatello's “David”, and a colossal bust of “Cosimo I” by Cellini. Giambologna's “Mercury” was a surprise because another version stands in the center of the rotunda of our National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.  Originals from the Orsanmichele are here for protection as is the original of the delightful “Marzocco” by Donatello. I went out and bought a small marble copy of this famous lion for my cat collection. I took it back to the Bargello and compared them.  


It's not an exact copy but pretty good. Some other sculptors represented include: Ammannati, Bandinelli, Verrocchio, Cellini, Ghiberti and Luca della Robbia. There is a furniture collection: You may have heard of a flame-like stitchery pattern called Bargello, well, a single, very old chair was found at this museum with this pattern on the seat, hence its name. Also there is a fine collection of ancient Green and Roman bronze miniatures and a collection of armor.

About six blocks from the Palazzo Vecchio is Santa Croco (1294-1442), the Westminster Abbey of Firenze. 


It had no facade until the 19th Century when an Englishman had a facade constructed because he loved Firenze so! For five hundred years it has been the custom to bury or build monuments to notable Florentine citizens there; it is the burial place of Ghiberti, Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo. Michelangelo's tomb is an over-wrought baroque extravaganza. I suspect he's still turning over in his grave. 
On two occasions, I left a flower as an honorarium to him. After my second visit, I stumbled upon a delightful little ristorante just off the Piazza Santa Croce, the Ristorante degli Antoinelli. It's food was delicious, service perfect, and its frescoed walls and ceiling lent an air of majesty. A wall full of double-doors opened into a pretty courtyard containing a bodacious shell-covered wall fountain.

Across the Arno from the main historical district is the Pitti Palace, an enormous palazzo originally built by the Pitti family to try to outdo the Medici. Soon after completion in 1549 however, Cosimo I of the Medici bought it to provide larger and grander living quarters! (The Pitti family had gone bankrupt building it. [Pity the poor Pitti].) It now houses several extensive art collections; Raphael, Rubens, Botticelli, Tintoretto, Filippino Lippi, Caravaggio, Titian and Giorgione. All have major works there. While strolling among the eighty or so rooms, I rounded a corner and saw the original painting of a picture that hung in my family’s home while I was growing up in Oklahoma City. It was Murillo's “Madonna and Child”. It was about two by three feet; ours was four by five inches.  What a surprise! I purchased a postcard and sent it to my Mother, explaining that I had just seen the original.

Next, ED VISITS

APPLE SAGA:

MACINTOSHES

Ever since I got the first 128K Macintosh, I've been in love with Apple products. They are beautifully designed, intuitive and "they just work". 

I shall always remember when my first Macintosh arrived in March of 1984. I had seen the famous Macintosh ad during the Super Bowl and was fascinated. 

I eagerly set it up on the dining room table, plugged it in, turned it on and magically the word "h e l l o." wrote itself across the black and white screen. I was hooked. 


The original sits on the shelf above my current 21" iMac desktop.


I've had seven Macintoshes since. Each one an increase in speed, efficiency, design and delightfulness. I want to emphasize this last aspect. Steve Jobs is quoted as saying, "We want our products to delight". And they certainly do. They stand apart from all others in the computer world.

I've become an aficionado and a teacher. I currently have ten people I'm involved with, teaching four intensively. Plus, helping another three casually. I'm a MacAddict, MacTeacher and a MacProselytizer. I've been directly responsible for four conversions over to the Macintosh and I don't know how many indirectly.




I've also had/have four iPods, an iPad and three iPhones. I'm currently intensely enjoying the iPhone 4—utilizing 147 apps!


Next, iPhone!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

MY ITALIAN ADVENTURE SAGA 6:

SETTLING IN

Nowhere have I ever been that it was such a thrill just being there. Even when waking up in the morning I could hardly believe I was living in Firenze! My daily routine began to be set. I would wake up with the sunrise, fix espresso then get dressed and have breakfast. As soon as the stores opened, I would go on my daily rounds, such as dropping off the laundry, food shopping and getting the mail.

Mid-mornings, you would find me touring. Firenze has so many unique places to see and special things to do, that one could spend years. My lunch break also included a nap. I soon found out that this convention really revived me for the rest of the day. Boy, do I wish we could do that in America! The afternoons were whatever came to mind: sightseeing, sometimes shopping, sometimes an adventure.

In the early evening, I would often take some reading and go to the Piazza della Signoria. I had found a delightful outdoor bar (bar) called the Rivoire, directly across the Piazza from the Palazzo Vecchio. It served drinks, small sandwiches and desserts. The Rivoire is not French, but the owner liked the name when he was traveling there. About 80 people could sit outside; another 30 inside. Being on the piano terra of an old palazzo, the Rivoire had large arched doorways opening into a high-ceilinged collection of grand rooms that had lots of mirrors and carved marble. The Rivoire always bustled, but evenings and nights were the most interesting for watching both the patrons and the crowds in the Piazza. Most evenings I would be sitting at a table and 'drinking' it all in. 




Even after morning sight-seeing, I would sometime stop at the Rivoire. I would usually sip an iced tea and dilute it with sparkling (con gas) mineral water to make it last longer. If I felt daring, I might have strawberries drenched in red wine (fragile con vino rosso). Every afternoon at around five, a woman would feed the pigeons on her roof garden on the north side of the Piazza. The birds would flock from miles around for this daily event.  Evenings found an assortment of entertainers on the Piazza. Sometimes there would be jugglers, musicians, tumblers, singers, pan-handlers and throngs of tourists in the square, maybe even all at the same time; all entertaining. This doesn't mean I wouldn't go to the other places, but the Rivoire was definitely my favorite watching-post in Firenze.

In addition to the crowds and live entertainment, the Piazza della Signoria has a treasure trove of notable buildings and statues. The Piazza has been the political center of the city since the Middle Ages. Festivals and pageants as well as hangings and bonfires have taken place there. The Piazza is dominated by the imposing Palazzo Vecchio. The tower is over 300 feet tall, an engineering feat even today, let alone in 1310! The Medici lived there during their time in power. (In fact, the reason it's called vecchio (old) is when the Medici moved to their new country Palazzo Pitti across the river, the Palazzo Vecchio got its moniker, 'old'.) The Palazzo Pitti - residence - and Vecchio--offices--were connected by a raised, enclosed corridor over the rooftops of the famous Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) in order to protect the Medici during unsettled times.

There are very fine paintings lining this half-mile long corridor. (Supposedly, tours are available twice a week. But, alas, it has been closed during all three of my visits to Firenze.)

During the time of the Medici family control, the Piazza underwent many architectural changes. The Palazzo deli Uffizi, the palace of the official offices (1560-1574), was ordered built by Cosimo I. This marvel, the Uffizi, was designed buy Vasari to further enlarge the Piazza by extending a 'U'-shaped plaza to the River Arno. Originally, the Uffizi housed the Medici government. Now it contains the most important art collection in Italy and ranks among the three best museums in the world, along with the Louvre and the Prado. There are so many masterpieces, one could stay for a week.

The Church was the major patron of the arts during the Middle Ages and on into the start of the Renaissance. Therefore, most art works depicted religious themes. I got interested in the paintings depicting the 'Annunciation' (the angel announcing to Mary she had been chosen to bear the Son of God). I decided to study them chronologically! I would go see one or two, studying the changing style; then leave and go back and see another one on another day. I became so acutely aware of 'Annunciations' that I began got see them everywhere; in other museums, on posters, in shop windows and even on the label of a packaged ham.

 
Next to the Uffizi on the Piazza is the Loggia della Signoria, a large three-arched ceremonial stage. It now contains an outstanding collection of monumental sculptures. Michelangelo's “David” (1501-1504) stood before the doors of the Palazzo Vecchio until the 19th Century when the original was moved inside for safe-keeping  and protection from the weather. A copy now stands in the Piazza.  
My copy.
(During a war between two competing government factions in the 16th Century, a desk was thrown out of the Palazzo and broke off one of David's arms!; luckily they were able to repair it.) Now the original can be viewed with the crowds in the Accademia. Also in the Piazza in front of the Palazzo, are Donatello's bronze “Judith and Holofernes” and his “Marzocco” (the famous, ubiquitous sitting lion with the shield of Firenze under a raised paw). 


Bandinelli sculpted the large “Hercules and Casus” as well as the colossal “Neptune Fountain”. A fine bronze equestrian statue of “Cosimo I” by Giambologna (1595) rounds out the array. This Piazza certainly is a

  ---FASCINATING SPACE!

The Italians have several conventions that are quite different from ours. Stores and businesses are generally open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a lunch and rest break between 1 and 3 p.m.--although their rest usually consists of simply enjoying the largest meal of the day. Museums and most churches, however, do not re-open after lunch! Ed remarked while visiting, that they should be open in the afternoon so that the tourists can see more wonders in their usually short stay in Firenze, and so that they could take in more badly needed revenue. But I think it's so typically Italian, that it would be a shame to change their tradition. Ed's reaction is so practical and so American. It's a clash of the two cultures. (I like being in a foresight country and learning--and getting used to--the local customs.)

Another convention that I find charming is that there aren't supermarkets and shopping centers. Instead you go to a particular store for the article you're interested in, like a poultry store for eggs, a butcher for veal, a greengrocer for fruit, a linens store for towels. It was greet fun trying to figure out the riddle of what you would buy where. Although when in a bind for time, there was a small 'combined market' about three blocks away--creeping modernism!

Firenze, however, is generally very protective of its heritage. Both the city and national governments have laws governing its development or rather, its non-development. No skyscrapers can be built within view of the historic district, and now, no new buildings within the walls of the old city. Remodeling must be done in the strictest preservationist sense. This causes renovation to be very expensive and time-consuming. While I was there I watched the work being done on a palazzo four doors from my home and was amazed at the old, painstaking techniques being used. Every day there were workmen on the rickety scaffolding chipping away carefully at old plaster, followed by plasterers carefully replacing the exact form for a new surface, to be painted in the old manner.  Slow but precise!  Being in Firenze, is in some ways, like traveling back in time. Firenze is truly a

  ---LIVING, RENAISSANCE CITY!


Next, EXPLORING FIRENZE

MEMPHIS SAGA 3:

MEMPHIS IMPROVING!


She's gaining weight: up to 3.8# from 3.1. Her hair is growing back (slowly). Her appetite is much better. She actually has a little tummy. Her bones are not sticking out so far. And she's becoming very active! Awakes at 4am to play and jump around—in short she's acting like a kitten. I attribute this solely to the antibiotic she's on. (AND THE TLC.)

Of course, there's the underlying problem of the congenital disease she has with the short life expectancy. But she'll have the best life she possibly can.

This morning, I was on FaceTime talking to my friend, Ron, on my iPhone and Memphis came up to investigate.
CURIOSITY

Friday, February 25, 2011

2011 SPRING SAGA:

SPRING HAS SPRUNG!!! (almost?)
Just look at my Witch Hazel.


















Of course, It's always the first, so it's a HERALD !
WELCOME, SPRING to Milton in Southern Delaware!!!

MY ITALIAN ADVENTURE SAGA 5:

MY FLORENTINE HOME

    was in the 15th Century Palazzzo Altoviti, built in 1426 (a lifetime before Columbus set sail going west to find India but found our ‘Indians’ instead)! Eighteen Borgo degli Albizi was not on a back street at all but on an extension of the Corso, the 1st Century B.C. road of Roman times when it was the main east/west axis of Florence. (Let’s call Florence, ‘Firenze’ (fir-ren-za) from now on. Why do we change the names of places when we say them in English?) The Borgo degli Albizi twists and turns, is paved with stone and is lined with extraordinary, old Tuscan buildings.  Palazzo Altoviti’s façade has sculpted faces of visages of celebrated Florentine citizens and is therefore alternately called the Palazzo dei Visacci. (I found this out in the "Blue Guide". How exciting that my new home was described in the famous English guidebook!)

You entered the palazzo through the 25 foot-high wood carriage doors, which were open during the day but locked after about 1 a.m. You also passed through huge, ornate iron gates that protected the back half of the ground floor or the piano terra.  (The ground floor of a palazzo housed horses, storage and the servants’ quarters. Living quarters for the nobility began on the next floor—piano nobile, our second floor—hence the convention of counting floors beginning with the first one above ground level, which became standard throughout Europe.) My apartment was up two grand flights of stairs. On the piano nobile, there was a pair of fifteen foot-high wood doors going into an apartment. Surrounding these doors was a phenomenal, carved sculpture of cupids and drapery, down to the floor!  


The third floor, their piano secondo, contained my apartment and five or six others.  There was a small elevator that had recently been installed by being sandwiched, somehow, among the inner structural supports of the ancient building. Albeit, it was only large enough for two people or a person with a single suitcase.

The apartment was stark and modern, yet ‘beachy’—in the sense of white walls, light-colored pine wood floors, sparsely furnished and with big shuttered windows.  The apartment was ‘L’-shaped with a fifteen foot-high ceiling and fitted with all the functions into a delightful package. Upon entering double doors from the foyer, you were in the main room. Directly ahead in the opposite wall was a large window that opened onto a busy courtyard—a microcosm of Italian life.(If you leaned out of that wonderful window, you could view part of Brunelleschi’s cathedral dome!) Toward the back of the main room on the left wall sat a white Formica and wood cabinet. I couldn’t figure out what it was at first, but it turned out to be the sharpest ‘invention’—the entire cucina (kitchen). The kitchen-in-a-cabinet contained a small refrigerator, two gas burners, a mini-sink, and a shelf with a light and an exhaust fan underneath. A tiny trashcan fit neatly under the sink. Those Italians! What designers! I’ve never seen anything like that before or since. It became a favorite thing (used to fix strong espresso in the morning or to keep my finocchiona (spicy, fennel, summer sausage), fresh tomatoes and mozzarella).  

Turning right into the ‘L’ you came upon two levels: above was a study loft with an extra bed and below was the bathroom and a hallway leading to the bedroom which was, again, the full height. The high ceiling seemed to float above the entire apartment.  It was the original very dark, wood planking and somewhat carved beams—556 years old!  A perfect and very distinctive arrangement.
  ---A 20th Century space in a 15th Century building.

After sleeping on a bare mattress, I went shopping first thing the next morning.  Practically everything was required including sheets, towels and condiments.  There were, however, some dishes, a few pots and pans and, or course, that ubiquitous Italian kitchen device—the espresso maker. Much fun! –molto fun.  Next, I moved the furniture around. All of it was unimaginatively lining the walls.  There were three identical slip-covered chairs, a modern wood and plaid cloth two-seater, a small dining table with four of those very nicely designed Italian clear-plastic and chrome folding chairs, and an old bureau. I grouped the furniture in the middle of the room but banished the bureau to the bedroom closet. Molto bene! There were 18 funny old (not neat old) pictures hanging on the walls along with a couple of maps stapled onto the beautiful white walls. I removed them all except for a watercolor print of Montecatine Terme over the desk up in the study loft and vowed to keep fresh flowers in the large, pretty vase on the desk.

Then I took a long, luxurious bath in the wonderfully big, deep bathtub. That’s something we did not adopt in the New World, and I’ve often wondered why. I spent more time in a bathtub over there in four months that I had during my last sixteen years in Washington D.C. I wrote in my sketchy diary that I felt so great in that bath that I thought I should go to Firenze every year. Right! Uh huh. I had kept a small expense diary, but before long I found myself also jotting down my experiences in it, so I soon added a warning note to myself, not to write so much or I would run out of room!??! (Too bad it’s so sketchy. But it sure comes in handy for writing this.)

(Italian windows—but more on that later.)

Now, I thought, my apartment was complete except for a sorely needed plant.  I was visiting the beautiful Boboli Gardens which overlook Firenze. These gardens were installed by the Medici at their ‘country’ escape palazzo, the Pitti Palace, but which is now surrounded by the city. Across the road, I discovered a nursery that had indoor plants.  There it stood, a large, beautiful Kentia Palm—my favorite plant.  The next day a big workman appeared with it in his arms and lugged it up the stairs, for neither he nor the palm would fit in that elevator. Mio appartamento was now complete~!
      ---Bellissimo!


Next, SETTLING IN

Thursday, February 24, 2011

MULTITUDE NAMES SAGA:

I collect MULTITUDE NAMES for groups of animals! I've been doing this for years.
Here's my list:

Herd of Cows
Gaggle of Geese
Flock of Sparrows
  of Sheep
School of Fish
Den of Wolves
Creche of Eagles
Nest of Vipers
  of Cardinals
Group of Humans
Crowd of Men
Pod of Whales:













Pack of Wolves
Swarm of Bees
Brood of Chickens
Town of Prairie Dogs:













Team of Horses
Army of Ants
Cloud of Locusts:















Drove of Cattle 
Flight of Hummingbirds
Covey of Doves
Litter of Kittens
Farrow of Pigs
Pride of Lions
Exaltation of Doves
Murder of Crows

Please HELP me in discovering more!