Tuesday, May 3, 2016

From Momentary Art to Permanent Pleasure

"You never know what new artistic surprises are going to pop out in front of you in Florence." These are the words I wrote on that cold winter night 5 years ago when I first discovered Clet's statue while taking a walk across the Arno. And blogged about it here: Momentary Art.

Today I couldn't believe my eyes, as I caught sight of him "hanging out" on the Ponte alle Grazie as if he never left home.

A sense of joy and homecoming overwhelmed me.  He's back where he belongs!

It was a cold winter night in January 2011 when I first discovered Clet's now internationally famous Florentine masterpiece. On that night the statue had been illegally installed only hours before I first spotted it.

Since then, the installation was not only legally challenged but sadly battered, spray painted, pissed on and vandalized until finally, the old man died and I thought he would never be resurrected again. Florence mourned his death.

To me, the statue's resurrection represents resilience and change in the style and feel of Florence where now, people visit more than live.

Today I smiled as I watched tourists snapping shots of the statue who don't know his history just like regardless of how much I study I will never know the history of the art which surrounds me in Florence because I did not live through it.  How exciting it must have been to live here during the Renaissance watching art coming alive in front of you every single day.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

From Brooklyn to Greve

Did you know that 490 years ago today on April 17, 1524, Florentine Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered New York Harbor. His legacy lives on not only in navigational history, but close to the hearts of Italian-Americans who grew up in New York City. I was one of them, who growing up in Brooklyn along the waterfront, spent my childhood playing in what became the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and watched the mysterious structure emerging from the water as it was being built over the course of 5 years.

Since the bridge was such a monumental neighborhood icon, the story of Verrazzano was an essential component of our historic tutelage. For us as kids, Verrazzano was the man who allowed us to travel between Brooklyn (the city)and Staten Island (the country!) via car instead of ferryboat. Today I live only miles from his birthplace near Greve-in-Chianti, where his statue dominates the main piazza and his memory lives on.

Verrazzano was born in a beautiful castle on the Chianti road, a quick ride from Florence on the way to Greve. The castle claims a daunting position on a hill surrounded by magnificent vineyards which produce a well-known Chianti Classico. The castle changed hands to the Ridolfi and then the Cappellini Family after the death of Verrazzano’s last descendent. His family also lived part time in their Florentine home on Via Ghibellina.

Verrazzano’s navigational career was inspired by his family who encouraged and schooled him to sail. His dream was to discover the shortest route to Asia and in 1522 he transferred to France where King Francesco I set him asail to discover a passageway. It was his first voyage during which he discovered New York Harbor, but did not succeed in finding the dreamed-of passageway.

In 1528, several voyages later, he anchored at a Caribbean island where he met his unfortunate death, being captured, killed and eaten by a cannibalistic Indian tribe. That story was psychologically difficult for us 5th graders to accept, and gave rise to nightmares I had of Verrazano resurrecting from the waters under his bridge!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


I am a cycling enthusiast, but also an opera aficionado, art, music lover and hopelessly Italiana.   I used to teethe on raw calamari rings.  Florence is the only place in the world that affords me the environment to arrange all my loves into one great tapestry of art.

Riding in the country and descending back into Florence to see the sun glistening on the Arno, then spending the rest of the day at an art exhibit or classical music concert. Or just going to the market or stopping by my church for vespers, or taking a passeggiata in my piazza or along the river...I have never known a place on earth which affords me this sense of balance. 

Even watching cultural channels on Italian TV is so entertaining.  And what beats recovering from a Sunday morning bike ride while downing a beer and watching Papa Francesco's Angelus?  Or walking out of my apartment to see a musical quartet or a flute or violin player on the streets. Or absorbing the tranquility of my apartment, watching from my window an old lady hanging clothes out on the line. Or watching from my home the excited tourists standing on the balcony of the duomo like I used to see tourists standing on the crown of the Statue of Liberty from my window in NYC. What a contrast, but what a balance.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


In America, as a couple, we trashed 2-3 60 gallon designer cans of garbage twice per week. The garbage cans were big enough to fit 3 kids in each.  I personally generated an estimated 100 gallons of weekly crap. And that doesn't include the leftover foodstuff that went down the garbage disposal in the sink.  Here we use our throats.

Today I discard an average of two 4-gallon garbage bags of waste per week plus two containing wine and water bottles. Add a cardboard box or two per month.  This means that I carry four tiny bags of refuse to the cassonetti each week on my way to the market. Nulla. This equates to 16 gallons of trash per week versus 100 per week in California.

In America I thought of garbage differently. In fact I didn't really think of it at all.  It's just a part of the American hoard-it-in, dump-it-out routine. You stuff the SUV with over rated, oversized crap from COSTCO, Big Lots and Sam's Club and then you roll out the gargantuan garbage cans on Monday and Thursday nights.  Clockwork. That's how you get to know your neighbors.  Over garbage.
In America garbage customs vary depending on if you live in the city or suburbs. Since all of my Italian friends would like to die and go to California, I will address the garbage customs in California.

In California, you buy a house depending on the number of cars, bikes and garbage cans, not the number of human beings in your household.  Easy formula: If you have 2 cars, you buy a house with a 3 car garage, 2 spaces for the cars and one space for the garbage cans.

Is that the American mentality?  I never realized that I was one of "them".  When I came here, I perceived my endearing Italian ancestors to be overly-anal about conserving, packing, storing and avoiding waste of any sort. Mamma mia, I am now one of these "them", not those "them" anymore! Most people here don't even buy garbage bags, we use the bags that our merchants give us at the daily market.

The last time I was in New York, my brother sent me to the supermarket to help with the shopping and asked me to pick up some large garbage bags. I was aghast to see the overwhelming array of choices. When I returned, he proceeded to give me a lecture on garbage bag characteristics. I quickly told him to quit, I don't give a damn.

So what's to blame?  Obviously American garbage is the result of American consumerism. We "have to have".  More stuff, more is better, until we quickly tire of it and have to dump it and replace it with new stuff.  For me it was an illness. Spoiled by my own success, I perceived consumerism as a positive result of my labors...after all, I was entitled.  I have happily overcome this compulsion. I buy less, use less and discard less.  I spend the money and the time stroking myself by being with the people and doing the things that I love.  What a sense of freedom!