Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Pedaling" Art

Florence draws artists from all over the world, but this amusing little man is a humble local who literally pedals his art with a passion. I've seen him from a distance a few times, but never really looked to see just what he was doing. With the Uffizi only 10 meters away, he doesn't draw much attention from the crowds perhaps because he appears bizarre from a distance, but he is always peacefully absorbed and working in his own space and solitude.

Today coming out of the Uffizi after a short visit, I saw him on the river and my curiosity drew me to take a closer look. His name is Fabio and he lives outside of Florence with his mother, who darned and designed his hat in the motif of the Duomo! Unemployed, he lives his passion with art on two wheels. His bicycle is set up as a portable art studio. The components for his art supplies are primitively rigged up to his bike with string, glue and ropes. He uses an old piece of metal cantilevered over the saddle as his easel to support the tiny rocks that he paints with miniature images of Florence's monuments. He had an IPod set up with speakers, playing soft music. He was simple, passionate and happily engrossed in his art.

I spent some time watching him playfully painting and singing, and he explained his technique to me, using acrylic paint, which was interesting albeit simple. I selected a rock with a painting of the Duomo and handed him 20 Euro. He said that it was a "regalo"....(a gift). I insisted on paying him, and he said that it was only 1 Euro. I put the 20 Euro in his pocket and promised to visit him again.

I continue to find more and more reasons why I love Florence, one being because it draws such a diverse population of people who are tied by one common passion. The passion for expression and art.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Giovanni Allevi at Teatro Verdi

An extraordinary evening at Teatro Verdi enjoying the stunning, breathtaking performance of the young musical genius, Giovanni Allevi.

I never expected Florence would quench my passion for opera, classical music and my thirst for music in general. Because Florence is reputed primarily as an art-history rather than a music destination, its rich, musical repetoire goes relatively overlooked and unnoticed in comparison.

That is, except by the locals. And perhaps that is what makes musical events in Florence so special, because they retain their neighborhood identity and don't tend to attract tourists. The theaters are perfectly small, located on side-streets and overwhelmingly ttended by residents. Among these theaters are Teatro Verdi, Teatro della Pergola, Teatro Goldoni and Teatro Puccini. Each one has a unique history, all are small scale, intimate but characteristically ornate venues that feel more like cozy informal social halls for the neighborhood residents.

There is alot to be said about the audience. There is a special spiritual dynamic that reveals itself within a musically cultured audience. And this is where I find that Italy stands out. Nowhere have I seen audiences that have such a tight knowledge and appreciation for the artist and his music. I feel it here even in the smallest of Italian theaters, moreso than at grand operatic venues such as The Met. Here it emanates from the very gut of the culture.

But tonight's performance was all about this beyond-human being, this phenomenal prodigy Giovanni Allevi, who blew the audience away with his mind-boggling musical genius.

Why would I need to go to Milan, Vienna, Prague, Verona, Naples for music when I have this right around the corner?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Loving my Job

Hard to believe even now that I went from a Wall Street career to guiding bike tours in Tuscany.

Some photos from the first 3 weeks of the 2011 season with "I Bike Italy".


Monday, March 21, 2011

A Stroll in Boboli

Today was a day off from work. It is Monday, so all of the museums are closed. After spending the morning at the market, I walked several miles through Boboli Gardens and got a hopefully final glimpse of of winter which I captured in my photos below. The gardens are ready to burst with new life. Hello and welcome, spring!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

First Ride of the Year with the Girls

Last minute change of riding plans had me spending a fantastic morning ride with Rebecca, Natascha, Rafaella and Mia. It was a brisk and windy but sunny day in paradise, and so great to do our first ride of the year with the girls!

We started in Florence and took the classic Chianti route to Panzano, where we took this photo, and then climbed Testa del Lepre in the wind, nearly getting knocked down by some fierce gusts!

Then on to San Casciano and back to Florence. Looking forward to many more of these rides with a lovely group of ladies in the months to come!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Italy

Yesterday, Italy celebrated its 150th birthday. Like a starry-eyed child, I took part in the extravagant celebrations that swept the country off its feet and into the streets of its largest cities. The festivities which lasted for 2 whole days, were super-spectacular, beyond exhilirating, full of music, color, noise, flags, happy faces, parades, lights, fireworks, balloons. The major monuments were illuminated with the colors of the Italian flag. It was the greatest party that I've seen since the celebration of America's Bicentennial in New York City. Click here to see my photos

A record 80,000 people came into Florence from all over Tuscany on the vigilia, to take part in this magnificent party. The streets were flooded with people, the stores stayed open all night....even the museums were open until midnight. The whole city took the day off to join in the stunning display of pomp and circumstance recognizing the "unifcation" of Italy in 1861. But how many of them showed up to demonstrate their patriotism, and how many of them were following their Italian instinct to "festeggiare"?

I staked out my spot on the Loggia dei Lanzi an hour before the fireworks display to ensure my view of Palazzo Vecchio. As I waited for the show to begin, I thought of how lucky I am to have "re-found" Italy. How lucky I am to be here in Piazza Signoria, gazing up at my town hall on this momentus evening.

But at the same time, I had mixed emotions about the celebration of Italy's 150th birthday. Although the crowds were captivated by the excitement of the festivities, the sense of patriotism appeared to be absent, or superficial at the most. As the orchestra played Il Canto degli Italiani, almost nobody sang, though the fireworks and glitz really dazzled. I am sad that many Italians do not share my pride. The Italian-American experience is diametrically different than the present-day Italian experience, and this really affects our relative perception and appreciation of Italy's greatness. The current political regime unfortunately contributes to this negative pride.

Italians have made countless contributions to the development of America's history, economy, culture and politics without which America would not be what it is today. What the Italians did for America they can do for Italy. Italy's destiny depends on its youth to make changes, as the older generation is tired and apathetic about its situation. This is one of the reasons why I have so much belief in young politicians such as Matteo Renzi, who instead of being criticized for his recent dallying in national and international politics, should be encouraged to bring his local success to the next level.

I am proud of my Italian heritage to the point of deciding to "reverse-immigrate" from the U.S. to Italy. I am equally proud of being American, although I think that America's obsession with material and economic gain has backfired and has caused Americans to lose sight of certain values and attitudes that still thrive at the core of the Italian culture.

I am sorry that Italy remains in many ways as divided as it has ever been. I do not believe that Italy can survive only through the hope of remaining happily regionalist, or that being disunited is "okay, too". Italians lack solidarity because they don't believe they can change things, but also partly because they fear the loss of their local identity. Clinging to this myopic view may be comfortable, but can dangerously inhibit the country from addressing the gargantuan issues on its plate. It doesn't need to be "Black or White". The goal should be to simultaneously preserve the local cultures while contributing to the betterment and strength of the whole.

I pray that Italy will cultivate new young leaders who can help it overcome its division while still maintaining the flavor, diversity and customs of its many pieces, in order to confront the domestic and international challenges that it faces today. I think the celebration of its 150th birthday is a positive step towards the realization of this goal. Viva l'Italia!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

First Signs of Spring in Florence

As winter and spring continue to jockey for position, spring is insidiously winning out. Soon I will be guding tours on my bike again. In fact, in just a couple of days.

Today, departing from home on my basket-bedecked single gear bike, I allowed the verve of the city to draw me wherever it would. I had no particular destination in mind. I just followed the energy, the smells and the walking patterns of the people. For me, a big part of the mystique of Florence is that one doesn't need to be going somewhere to get somewhere. Here, when you leave it to chance, something fascinating and out of the ordinary will draw you in. This is the essence of the never-ending excitement of Florence. Like a rainbow appearing spontaneously in the sky, you see it differently with even the slightest change of angle. Thus the endless perspectives. Florence is always throwing out rainbows.

The streets were swarming with people again. Residents, tourists, students are waking up the city from its winter sleep, allowing little space to navigate the narrow streets on a bike. Within a few minutes I found myself heading for the Arno, then across Ponte alle Grazie, which provided some relief from the crowds. Although I am a city girl and thrive on crowds, I also love the fact that Florence is so full of contrasts. One minute I can be high on the buzz of people, bells, voices, motorini, and the next minute I can be high on the top of Florence, looking out at heaven, from heaven.

Before I knew it, I was enticed up to the top of the Bardini Gardens, which were peacefully disconnected from the sounds of the city, and observed a secret backstage performance of spring bursting out all over. Not a soul was there. It was another rainbow that Florence threw my way. Here are my photos.