April 20, 2014

Leaning Tower of Pisa

First glimpse of Pisa!  It's in a cathedral complex,
in which the actual leaning tower is only a small
 part. A lucrative epic architectural failure!
Construction of the tower started in 1174.  It was
built on poor soil, and started to lean after only a
few stories were built.  Then funds ran out, and it
sat for several hundred years before construction
started again.  This view is the hollow interior
of the bell tower.

The magnificent view from the top!  Worth the
climb, we were lucky to have a very short line
as entry tickets are timed.
Climbing to the top was odd - narrow marble steps,
sometimes where you felt no effort when the building
was leaning with you,
and more effort when it was leaning against you.

Galileo famously used the Leaning
Tower of Pisa to demonstrate his
theory that the speed of a falling
object is independent of its weight.
Multinational architects and engineers
have studied the tower for stability.
It has leaned up to a max of 5.5 degrees,
and now, with stabilization, leans at
3.9 degrees.  I'm just doing my part to
hold it up. 

April 18, 2014

Under the Tuscan Sun

Anyone over the age of 16 can buy tobacco
 in Italy.  Smoking rates are higher than
the US - about 24% vs. our 20%.
Different toys for the little ones!  The
lack of Disney merchandise is noticeable.
Marionettes are far more popular.

Beautiful bronze at Santa Maria della Scala in Siena,
holding a candle up to St. John the Baptist.
Angels lighting the way.  The
black and white striped marble
represents the colors of the coat
of arms for the city, and the black
and white horses of the city founders.

Classic Tuscan landscape, with the tall cypress
trees.  Rich soil for vineyards, this is where grapes
are grown for classic Italian Chianti wine.
Flags representing the neighborhoods in Siena, who
have each had their own proud design since
medieval times. 

Strolling through San Gimignano, with walls dating
back to the 12th and 13th century.  
Tuscan ham and salami are famous worldwide,
 best enjoyed with unsalted Tuscan bread. 

Under the Tuscan Sun!  One of my favorite quotes
from that movie: "Never lose your childish enthusiasm
and things will come your way."
Palm Sunday in Italy, without enough palm leaves
to go around?  Nessun problema!  They use olive
branches instead.

Torre del Mangia (Tower of the Eater) Bell Tower in Siena,
 so called because the original bell ringer was known
 as a heavy eater in the local restaurants. He must have worked
 it off climbing the 400 steps several times a day. 
The Adventures of Pinocchio were originally written
in 1883 an Italian author, Collodi.  In the original story,
Pinocchio is obnoxious, bratty and selfish.  Disney
played that down in their 1940 version, making him a much
more innocent and likeable little liar.  

Can't argue with World Champion status for gelato!
  What's the difference between gelato and ice cream?
  Fat and air (ice cream has more of both), and
 temperature (gelato is served slightly warmer,
 so it has a softer texture).   Eat fast!  Rapidamente!

April 16, 2014

New Florence

Leather goods abound in Florence, although not
all bags that say "Made in Italy" are made by
Italian craftsmen.  The Chinese have set up huge
mass production factories in Italy.  Caveat emptor.
The woman with the laurel wreath (as opposed to
a mortar board) is a recent college graduate,

posing here with her friends. Celebrations are
 subdued, due to Italy's worsening economic woes.  
Youth unemployment is at a record 42%.  
Total unemployment of 12.7% is at a 37 year high.  

Born out of wedlock to a Florentine
notary, Leonardo da Vinci is known as
the quintessential Rennaisance man.  Painter,
sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician,
inventor and live sculpture poser.  He
spent his last years in Florence.

Mike demonstrating the latest in garbage collection.
Each of these operate by foot pedal.  One for
trash, glass and plastic.  They are easily picked
up and emptied by a high tech truck. 

Italians are known to eat all parts of the animal.
These are not meatballs.
Spinach pasta spins off stainless steel at the
farmer's market... so much faster than the old
rolling pin method.

Live music in the church plaza.
The Godfather, or il Padrino as he
is known in Italy.  Just last month

it was reported that the Italian mafia
earned more money in one year 
than McDonalds worldwide.

Plates of the day in Italian
Old palaces in Florence have been
repurposed into swanky apartment
buildings.  Note the iron horse
hitches on either side of the door.

Dinner at Buca Mario:  grilled polenta,
grilled veggies and asparagus with lemon.
Mike is digging into his steak "bistecca alla
Florentine" which comes from the
famous white Tuscan Chianina oxen.
Street art, which is washed away
with water and scrub brushes at
the end of the day.

April 15, 2014

Old Florence

A detail of a panel (one of 20?) that make up a huge bronze
door in the "baptistry" across from the Duomo,
where baptisms took place so people could attend
church (in the Middle Ages, people weren't allowed
to set foot in the Catholic church unless they
were baptized).  At the bottom of the panel is

 David slaying Goliath.

Michelangelo's spectacular "David",
poised with sling in hand, staring
down Goliath in the moment before
the fight.  He was carved from a single

block of marble weighing 6 tons -
marble that had been rejected by
other sculptors for flaws.  His right
hand is intentionally large, because
David was considered to be "manu
forte", of strong hand.  He is gorgeous!

Florence's famous "Duomo" or dome, was not the work of
 an architect, but a watchmaker.  Brunelleschi left behind
 no notes on his life's work, the largest unsupported
 masonry dome in the world.  No flying
 buttresses on this 150 ft. span.  Modern architects have
 been unable to replicate the design on a small scale
 without having it crumble.  All this with no GPS,
no laser and no CAD!

Bas-relief of the workers in Florence, from left:
mortaring the bricks, using levers to move timbers,
sculpting in clay, and chiseling marble.  Imagine
what solid work this was for generations.
Dante, a famous Florentine,
wrote the Divine Comedy,
an exciting book (lust! greed!
gluttony!) detailing purgatory,
hell and heaven. Written in the
 Florentine dialect, its popularity
cemented what we now know as
the Italian language.
Florence is considered the birth of
the Rennaisance movement, where
a nostalgia for classical antiquity
blossomed into a new art form.  

Artists fueled by each other's
creativity made contributions in
sculpture, painting, poetry and
music that still amaze as a body
 of work, generations later.  

Galileo was not only an astronomer,
but a physicist, mathematician and
philosopher.  Most famous for his
theory that the earth revolved around
the sun, he was tried in the 17th century
and found "vehemently suspect of heresy".
In 1965, the Catholic church finally

 revoked its condemnation of Galileo.  
The Ponte Vecchio, or "old bridge" is the most famous
of Florence's bridges.  Hitler thought it so beautiful

 that despite bombing all the other bridges in Florence,
he left this one intact.  Note the upper enclosed walkway,
added in the middle ages by the wealthy Medici
family (bankers to the pope), so they wouldn't have
to mix with the riff raff when walking from their
estate on one side of the river to the other. 
Another Medici family change
to the Ponte Vecchio was the
replacement of smelly butchers
with goldsmiths.  To this day,
the finest jewelry in Florence is
found on the Ponte Vecchio bridge.
This bridge is the origin of the word
When a money changer was unable
 to pay his debts, his table "banko"
 was broken "rotto" by the police so
he would no longer be able to sell.
Final resting place of Michelangelo.
Considered to be the greatest living
artist in his lifetime, he was called
"Il Divino", the divine one.  The
sculptures for his tomb were done
by other artists - I love how the
angel looks despondent at the death
of the master, as no one remains

to sculpt future angels with such
skill and passion.

April 14, 2014

Rome - Appian Way, Catacombs and Pizza

Roman street musicians are always playing to
sidewalks full of wine and coffee drinkers.  In
this case, "Funiculi Funicula"!
Dar Poeta Pizzeria, down a little alley in the Trastevere
 neighborhood, is in a gritty part of town... we were
 about to give up when we found the best pizza in Rome. 

The emblem of Rome.  Legend has it that Romulus
 (for whom Rome is named) and Remus, twin boys born
 of the gods, were abandoned and raised by a she-wolf.
"Boy with Thorn" is a famous sculpture (no photos
 allowed of the original in bronze) from possibly
50 B.C. of a diligent Roman messenger who would
 not be deterred from his mission to deliver a
 message before removing a thorn in his foot.

Just for a sense of scale, imagine
how large the rest of this statue
King Neptune and I, relaxing by the pool,
right before the museum guard chewed me out
for sitting on a piece of art.  "Mama mia!  Basta!"

Until about 450 B.C., Roman law was centered around
 religion.  As priests were members of rich families,
the wealthy class had an enormous advantage over the
 working class.  When the "Plebians" rebelled, a code of laws
 called the Twelve Tables was drawn up and presented.
  Later adopted, the Twelve Tables were displayed in the Roman
 Forum.  From this we have such concepts as innocent
 until proven guilty, minimum legal age for a female
 to marry (12), and that if a father puts his son up for
 sale 3 times, the son no longer belongs to the father!
The lively Spanish Steps in Rome, where people gather
 to talk and sing.  Many a vendor tried to "give" me a long
 stemmed rose, quite a scam as they show up 5 minutes later
 asking for money.  A live band was trying to cover the
 "Happy" song, which didn't work too well
 with amateur clapping!

The famous Roman sandal, worn by
 soldiers, specifically designed to
 reduce blisters on long forced marches.
Many versions of today's sandal are available at
little Italian merchants like Gucci, Prada, Versace
and Armani.

Roman ruins along the Appian Way are now a
playground for children with Frisbees and soccer balls.
"All roads lead to Rome" is not only a common
catch phrase.  During the Roman Empire, every
road in the empire either led directly to Rome or
to another arterial that led to Rome, in a hub
and spoke pattern.  Trade routes could move
effectively and troops could move efficiently.

Pagan custom had been to incinerate the dead,
 but Christians wanted to bury the body to prepare
 for resurrection.  Thus the secret catacombs, where one's
socially ostracized minority religious practice could
 take place.  Vast underground passages held
 thousands of crude graves.

San Sebastiano Catacombs held not only graves,
but underground areas for funereal banquets.
All catacombs in Rome are the property of the
Catholic church.  Legend has it that the Holy
Grail (the chalice from the Last Supper) is buried
somewhere deep in the catacombs.