Tuesday, March 1, 2011



We made two attempts to see the Pazzi Chapel, adjacent to Santa Croce, but it was always closed. As a consolation prize, I took Ed to that wonderful restaurant on the Piazza Santa Croce, the Ristorante degli Antoinelli. It was a rainy day and the gray light made it seem even more like a time warp. The same excellent waiter was there.  He suggested a bottle of a Chianti Classico called Brolio Riserva, 1976. It was fantastic. (Please forget the name; it's our favorite wine, difficult to find in the States and we want it all for ourselves!) Among other delicious dishes, the restaurant had a wonderful wild-greens salad. Four American ladies were there.  They asked us what was good. I suggested they try that different salad. They did and were kind for not saying anything, but they left it uneaten. Oh, well.

Not on our list were the two Medici chapels in San Lorenzo Church.  One is the “Chapel of the Princes” which is horribly over-decorated.  It is remarkable for its large scale and the hundreds of colors of stone used in inlaid designs—very over-done. The other, “The New Sacristy” (1520-1533), is the memorial chapel Michelangelo designed for a son and a grandson of Lorenzo “il Magnifico”,  (Lorenzo's body was moved there a hundred years later.) The chapel contains the largest number of Michelangelo's works in any one place.  (I'm sure you would recognize the famous works: “Dawn & Dusk”, “Night & Day” and his “Madonna and Child”.) 

In 1975, because of the flood restoration work, an underground room was discovered which seems to have been the place Michelangelo hid during his time of non-favor with the Medici. I had read how one has to make special arrangements at the entrance to San Lorenzo to see it. I saved this treat until Ed's visit. The room is only opened 2 or 3 times a day. We got our tickets and milled around wondering where the entrance was. All of a sudden out of nowhere, a grizzled old monk appeared and pulled open a trapdoor near a corner of the Chapel. The small underground space is like a bigger-than-life sketchbook presenting a treasure-trove of Michelangelo’s free-hand charcoal drawings:  horses, hands, feet, profiles—all in huge scale.

Firenze is known for its leather, straw, gold and shoe stores. Spanning the Arno is the delightful Ponte Vecchio. It is lined with goldsmith shops with their owners' dwellings above; they hang on the ancient bridge (1218) like colorful birdcages. There's even a store near the Piazza della Signoria, that has only Marilyn Monroe memorabilia. (Italians are still crazy about Marilyn.)

Ed takes to shopping like a duck takes to water. By the 7 p.m. store closing time of the second day, we had covered the main section of Firenze's shops. Many days later, I mentioned something I had seen and now wanted to buy. He not only knew which store it was in, but on which counter it was located. His shopping talents are


In the maze of streets surrounding San Lorenzo was a large open market selling everything imaginable--clothes, food, leather goods, jewelry, etc. We wandered around just 'window shopping'. Ed became fascinated with the many varieties of leather briefcases. He wanted to splurge on one to remember his trip by, but we were overwhelmed by the large variety available. Ed decided he would maybe come back later and buy one. He went back that very afternoon and picked out a beautiful, burgundy, cowhide briefcase, lined in beige pigskin. By the end of Ed's visit, he had scouted all stores and markets and had done a thorough search for anything he might want.

Reluctantly, Ed and I took off for Rome (Roma) four days before my course began, so we could tour the city and scout a hotel for me to stay in for a week and a half during my course.

I had been to Roma about six weeks earlier on a three-day side trip because I had never been there. Ed had been there several times when he lived in Europe with his folks during the 1960s. Roma had impressed me all right, but not in the way you might think. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing some of the major sights, but the confused traffic, the hurley-burly of the big city, and the pollution made me glad to return to Firenze. Besides, the sights in Roma are very far apart and require taxis or buses to get to. I had been spoiled by Firenze where everything is within walking distance! Additionally, Roman food didn't have the variety nor the quality of Florentine food. Ed, too, didn't think Roma held a lot of charms; but, while we were there, we both enjoyed the Vatican Museums, the Forum, and a day trip we took to Tivoli.

The Vatican Museums contained treasures from all over the world. Twenty-three museums and galleries make up the Vatican Museums with over fourteen hundred rooms, halls and chapels! Our favorites were the “Sistine Chapel” (beyond compare),

the “Pio-Clementino Museum” for its sculpture, the Raphael Rooms and the “Gregorian Museum of Pagan Antiquities”. We liked the “Pagan” not only for its art works (which were very fine), but for the intriguing display system: Artifacts were attached to scaffolding or embedded in walls at their original height for accurate viewing. Very clever! On our Tivoli bus trip we saw Hadrian's Villa, which was unbelievably huge - a perimeter of three! miles. We marveled at the underground passages for the 3000 servants. It was undoubtedly the most magnificent group of buildings in Antiquity. It is now terribly decayed but you could still get a feel for how grand it must have been.  And we saw the Villa d'Este—famous for its waterworks. They were created by diverting an entire river through the seven-acre, hillside garden.
Ed at the Villa d'Este
The hotel we found was in the center of Roma near the Quirinale Pallazio. (A former summer residence of the popes. Now the president's home.) The Marcello Hotel was simple but very pleasant. We discovered it had a roof garden that afforded a nice view of Roma including the dome of St. Peter's on clear days.

We asked the barman if he knew any special mixed drinks containing Campari, since both Ed and I had grown to like this bitter aperitif. He suggested the Negroni, which is composed of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Doesn't sound particularly good, but it is! (Sometimes when we're after something unusual to drink in a restaurant, we order a Negroni.  Some places know about it; others don't.)

My course was called a 'History of Italian Architecture and Contemporary Trends in Italian Design' given by the Parsons School of Design of New York City. It was given during the month of July with one and a half weeks each in Roma, Firenze, and Venice. (Almost had them all translated for you!  Next time all the way:  Roma, Firenze and Venezia!) My first class was a gathering of the teachers and students at the University of Roma on Friday, July 2. Since Ed was still in town, he went along. I'm sure glad he did, for he got to see the students and teachers and to hear the organizational and concept lecture. It was a diverse group of students ranging from mostly Parsons' students to housewives, vacationing teachers, two old spinsters and, of course, me. The professors were: a Roman, Massimo Cardillo, an architectural professor at Parsons; a Florentine, Giuliano Fiorenzoli, an architectural professor from Pratt Institute; and an American, Cornelia Danielson, with a Ph.D. in art history from Columbia University. They each made introductory statements: Massimo emphasized that Roma has been a living city for 3000 years! Giuliano wanted us to become aware of the 'time-layering' of this ancient city and what effect that has on the residents of the city. As they talked, I picked the one I wanted to have as my teacher: Giuliano. They drew names. Happily, I was assigned to Giuliano.

There would be two classes a day, Monday through Thursday. The 9 a.m. classes would consist of actually seeing the art and architecture and the  5 p.m. classes would be lectures often by Italian architects or artists. Fridays and the weekends were left for us to see other suggested sites and to 'absorb'.

For the first class on Monday morning, we were to meet at the base of the Victor Emmanuel II Monument (1885-1911) at the foot of the Capitoline. Our homework over the weekend was to prepare a paragraph explaining an individual 'interest theme' for the course. We were to keep a journal for the entire course, elucidating our interest theme. In it we were to do five sketches of each of the three cities. We would be graded on the basis of our writing and sketches. Oh, oh! I draw lousily.

Ed flew home that weekend. We were both sorry to part, but he had to work, and I was going to be very busy.



Ron said...

Gorgeous pictures!

Don Voth said...

Thanks. It's truly thrilling to relive my times in Italia!!!!!!

Caliban said...

Negroni! Remember La Tomate for Thanksgiving 2010.

Don Voth said...

YES, my first Negroni for a long, long time. It refreshed my taste. I've had one since!