Sunday, November 28, 2010

Foulup at Fiumicino

When I stepped into the taxi at 4 a.m., I thought to myself, "this is more like it!" Lidia had arranged the early morning taxi ride through a private company, which was not only punctual, but quite comfortable. Transportation to Rome's Fiumicino is difficult to arrange between midnight and 6 a.m., and taxi fares can run high: this one charged 48 euros. However, the car was not the usual service-type vehicle: instead, it was more of a luxury car, feeling more like a limousine than a taxi. A handsome, well-dressed young Italian drove quickly through the empty streets of Rome, and it seemed a lovely way to end my soggiorno (stay) in Italy. Uh, hold that thought.

When we arrived at terminal 5, the terminal designated for departing American flights, we found it was closed. The driver told me I was there too early. However, my flight was at 6:30, and the standard advice for international flights as to arrive 2 hours early, so I was right on schedule. He said he had to pick up another fare, then left me standing outside the terminal with my baggage. Terminal 5 stands apart from the other terminals, and I could not see them or even guess where they were. I had my cell phone, but had no idea where to call for information.

I had once arrived at the Florence airport around the same time, only to discover the airport didn't open until 5:30 a.m. to accommodate 6:30 a.m. flights. With that in mind, I assumed it would be the same in Rome, and I just needed to wait. I saw a few people entering nearby buildings, but no one came near terminal 5. I wondered why there were no other passengers showing up: did they know something I did not?

I waited outside in the cold for 45 minutes, when two Americans, father and son, arrived for their 7 a.m. flight. By now it was 5:20 a.m. I noticed a woman going towards the employee entrance, and asked her what time the terminal opened. Her answer: 6 a.m. "But my flight leaves at 6:30!" I was starting to feel a bit panicky. She found another employee who spoke English, and he told me that we were at the wrong terminal. Terminal 5 is only for international flights, and since I was flying to Amsterdam for the first leg of my journey, I should be at Terminal 2. Likewise the other Americans, whose first flight went to Paris.

I asked how to get to Terminal 2? There were no shuttles at this time. I could call a taxi, but didn't know what number to call. The Italian man was no help. His comment: "I don't know the number. Italians don't use taxis: only the tourists." (Not true, but no point in arguing.) Then I asked him if we could walk there, and how long it would take. "Yes: 15 minutes." And so, lugging our baggage behind us, we three began our trek along the street leading back to the main terminal complex. The panic was building, but what could I do but keep moving forward?

It was a bit hairy walking along the street while cars and buses whizzed by, but thankfully, there were only a few so early in the morning. I was thankful to have some company, though the two men were of little help to me. When we arrived at Terminal 2, there was no evidence of our airlines. Exasperated, I flagged down several carbinieri (military police) who were in the terminal chatting. They informed me that we should be at Terminal 1. By now, I was beyond panic, but not yet ready to concede to defeat.

At Terminal 1, all the counters were the same: Alitalia. The Americans wished me goodbye and good luck, and I made a tour of the counters, looking for one with a Delta/KLM flight, finally finding it in the last row. By now, it was after 6 a.m. and I still had to check in, go through security and find the proper departure gate. But somehow, I made it, and just in time.

My error was in assuming that I needed to go to Terminal 5. My previous flights at Fiumicino have all been international, to or from the U.S., so it didn't occur to me that things would be different this time. When I bought my ticket, I had arranged for a flight from Rome to Atlanta. But Delta changed the flight plan, adding an extra connection in Amsterdam.

Once on the plane, we had to wait 30 minutes for other delayed passengers to arrive...wouldn't you know it? I was just thankful I 'd made it and was settled in my seat. The connecting flights in Amsterdam and Detroit were uneventful, though time-consuming. In Amsterdam one has to go through Passport Control, an interview and then a Security check; in Detroit, it's necessary to claim your bags, go through Customs, recheck your bags and go through another Security check. It was more of a hassle for me than most passengers, as I had two computers to pull out and put back into my carry on bags. On the flight to Rome, I'd only had to go through security once, so it was a much simpler process. With each country you pass through, another security check is necessary. But it's for everyone's safety, so I have no complaints.

Since I was traveling on Thanksgiving Day, the airports in Detroit and Kansas City were nearly empty. The flight to KC arrived 20 minutes early, so I had time to retrieve my bags and was ready to leave the airport when my son arrived. As we drove west to Lawrence, blue sky greeted us in all directions, and a vivid, colorful sunset welcomed me home. And truly, I was thankful to be in sunny Kansas again.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Roma: Sunshine and Van Gogh

My departure from Firenze was uncomplicated. I took a last stroll around centro storico about 9 am and left the apartment about 10. I caught the 23 bus at Piazza Salvemini, literally due passi (a few steps) from the apartment. Several people helped me lug my two bags onto the bus, and 15 minutes later, I arrived at the train station, Santa Maria Novella. Again, I was helped with my luggage by a sturdy young man, and settled in for the fast, 90- minute trip to Rome on the Eurostar.

Carlo met me at Termini, Rome's train station, and we drove to the EUR district where he and Lidia live. It was a warm and sunny day in Rome, and I was happy to be there. It felt like a good transition between my two worlds: Florence, Italy and Lawrence, Kansas, USA. After eating a quick lunch, Lidia and I headed out to an interesting museum called Centrale Montemarini, where we saw the exhibit Gli Dei e Le Macchine e (Gods and Machines).

Statue of a Muse, 2nd century B.C.

The exhibition is located in the former John Montemartini Thermal Power Station, which was converted into a museum in 1997 when hundreds of sculptures were moved there during the restructuring of large sections of the Capitoline museum complex. It was a striking contrast to see sculptures in this setting, but I enjoyed it.

Roman statues, modern machines

Lidia also took me to the Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura, (Saint Paul Outside the Walls), a magnificent and unusual church near their flat. Monks were singing vespers when we entered the church, and it added another dimension to the experience. You can get an idea of the place by visiting the following site, which has a virtual tour, complete with the sound of the monks in the background. This was by far my favorite of all the churches I visited this fall.

basiclica di sanpaolo virtual tour

The next day, both Carlo and Lidia had other engagements, so I was on my own to explore the city. I rode the metro with Lidia into town, then took a bus to Piazza Navona, one of my favorite spots in Rome. It was sunny and the piazza was filled with artists, street performers and several musicians, entertaining the tourists strolling by.

Piazza Navona

The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or "Fountain of the Four Rivers," by Bernini, stands at the center of the Piazza, and commands everyone's attention. I spent more than an hour walking around the Piazza, enjoying the sunny weather and the talented musicians, and I shared the experience by phone with my friend Luigi. It was delightful being in a sunny piazza listening to music on my last day in Italy.

Fountain of the Four Rivers

I strolled over to the Pantheon, another favorite spot, and then visited the Fontana Trevi (Trevi Fountain), always crowded with tourists.

Piazza della Rotonda, with the Pantheon in the background

Trevi Fountain

In the afternoon, I went to several art exhibits. The first was I Grandi Veneti (The Great Venetians), which included works by Bellini, Tiepolo, Titian, Tintoretto, Canaletto, Gaudi and Veronese and other famous Venetian artists.

However, the second exhibit was even better "Vincent Van Gogh: Campagna senza tempo e città moderna" (Vincent Van Gogh: Timeless Countryside and Modern City). 70 works of art were on view, including paintings, watercolors and sketches on paper by Van Gogh, as well as 30 works by artists who inspired him, including Millet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Gauguin and Seurat. This exhibit is by far the best one I have ever seen. In addition to the paintings, one can view letters that Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, which often included sketches of his ideas. Books that inspired him were also on view, as well as newspaper articles that were written about Van Gogh during his lifetime. This was a truly amazing and powerful exhibit, and I'm so thankful I had the chance to see it.

While I was at the Van Gogh exhibit, the weather changed: storm clouds blew in and there was a good downpour while I was in the museum. But it blew over by the time I came out, and I strolled down via dei Fori Imperiali toward the Colosseo.

Foro Romano

Viewing these Roman ruins is impressive, even from a distance. I went on a tour of them with Carlo last year, so I was content to just pass by them this time on my way to the metro. It's always a thrill to see the Colosseo, an immense tribute to the Roman empire, providing an unusual contrast to modern city life. While cars whiz by, buses queue up for passengers across the street, and people rush in and out of the metro entrance, the Colosseo stands solidly serene in the midst of it all. Though I'm happy to visit Rome, and enjoy knowing my way around the Eternal City, it doesn't affect me as Florence does, and after a few days, I'm ready to leave.

A view of the Colosseo amidst the Marine Pines

Back at the Spighi flat, Lidia prepared dinner, and I packed my bags in preparation for my departure early the next morning. Little did I know what an adventure it would be getting to my flight! I'll explain in the next post...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Magic


A parting thought: life can be magical
when we let go of daily habits and fears
and reach for the stars.

Let the magic begin!

Monday, November 22, 2010

L'ultimo giorno

Ponte Vecchio

It's my last day in Florence, and it was a pleasant one, with hours of sun, which encouraged me to spend most of the day walking around town.

In the morning, Nic came from the rental agency to check me out, and I discovered that the utilities were not as bad as I anticipated. In fact, I could have easily been more comfortable if I had used more heat and electricity. Since I had no idea what the cost would be, I was extremely conservative in my use of water, gas and electricity. I'd paid a 300 euro deposit to cover the utilities, and received half of it back! That means I spent an average of only 50 euros a month on all my utilities. Brava! Next time I'll know better and make myself more comfortable while I'm here!

The Duomo reflected in puddles in Piazza del Duomo

City workers were checking out the lights on via Corso today, so I got a glimpse of what they will look like, though it was too light to really see them well.

via Corso

With the money I got back from the agency, I was able to do some more shopping, and enjoyed being out and about again in the city. Even with intervals of rain, I had a pleasant time shopping and walking around.

A view of Ponte della Trinità

Tomorrow morning, I leave for Rome, where I'll spend a few days with my friend Lidia before my flight home on Thursday. It will be a bit warmer in Rome, and chissà (who knows), perhaps we'll even see some sun while I'm there. Speriamo! (let's hope so!)

Tonight the sky is clear, with an almost-full moon, and I'm wishing I didn't have to leave! But I'll be back in the spring, for more adventures. I still haven't made it to Verona, Volterra, and I'd love to see Venezia again. And to be here in spring...that will be an adventure of its own.

I'm not sure I'll have a chance to post again until I get home. Stay tuned for more stories of my adventures in Italy. Since my old blog seems permanently lost, I plan to recreate some of my previous travel stories on this blog while I'm in the States. It's one way to stay connected to life in Italy.

ciao a tutti!

p.s. The rental agency told me my apartment might not be available in the spring, which was a big disappointment. However, a friend has offered me an apartment that she rents to university students during the year, as it will be free from May through August. It's twice the size of the one I've had this time, has 2 bedrooms and a large yard with trees. It's not as close to my favorite places, but the price will be the same for much more comfort, and I can plant a vegetable garden. This is good news on my last night in Florence!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Melancholy evening

Christmas lights, 2006

It's a melancholy evening as I stroll through the wet streets, one of my last evenings in Florence this year. For the moment, it's not raining, but few people are out and about, and most businesses are closed. It seems quite unusual at 8 pm, but the rain and the cold weather has chased everyone indoors this weekend.

I walk the "square,'' as I call it, from my apartment to the Duomo, then along via Calziuouli to Piazza Signoria, down Borgo dei Greci to Santa Croce, and back to my apartment along the vacant side streets. It hardly takes 30 minutes along the empty streets. It's odd to see the piazzas devoid of people, and hard to believe that just last weekend this same route was crowded with people late into the night.

City workers have been putting up strings of Christmas lights on many of the streets; I'd hoped to see them before I leave, but they remain still and lifeless in the dark. Purtroppo, the Christmas season won't be initiated here until next weekend, after I'm back home in Kansas.

I'm eager to leave the cold and rain, but leaving Florence is another matter; it's become like a second home to me. And even though I'll return in the spring, I hate to think of all that I'll be leaving behind, especially the friends who have opened their hearts and their homes to me. Fortunately, by way of Skype, we can continue to share our lives every week. Only a few days left of my stay here...che peccato!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Modena

Piazza Roma

Earlier this week, I took the train to Modena to visit my friends Marco and Marvi. I met Marco through a language exchange website, and I had dinner with them last year when I was in Parma, about 30 minutes from Modena. This year they invited me to stay in their home for a few days so they could show me around their city. I had been to Modena in 2008 for a day trip, but really didn't know much about the city, except that it's famous for its balsamic vinegar and it is the birthplace of Pavarotti.

Marco is a busy man, even in retirement, so I felt fortunate that he was able to carve out a few days of his schedule to give me a tour of Modena and the nearby towns of Nonantola, Vignola, and Borgo Serravale. He picked me up at the train station and when I arrived at their home, Marvi had prepared colazione (breakfast), with homemade marmalade-filled pastries and cafè.


Marvi, la buona cuoca

While Marvi stayed home to fix lunch, Marco took me on a tour of downtown Modena. One thing I love about Modena is the colors of the buildings: various shades of ochre. After walking around the town center, we visited the Duomo. It was a rainy day and dark inside the Duomo, so I didn't take any photos: instead, these are from my visit there in 2oo8.

A photo showing the apses of the Duomo

Mosaics inside the Duomo

An extraordinary pulpit, carved out of marble

For lunch, Marvi prepared a wonderful feast that include lasagna, cotoletta (meat cutlet) and zuppa inglese, a dessert made with chocolate and vanilla pudding, and a layer of red flavored with the liqueur Alchemes. (I read on Wikipedia that this dessert first appeared in Italy during the 16th century as an effort to recreate English Trifle.) For an antipasto, we had slivers of parmagiano-reggiano cheese dipped in the family's 30 year-old aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar), a truly delicious combination. We drank Lambrusco, the local sparkling wine, and Nocino, a liqueur Marvi's aunt makes from walnuts.

Nocino, Zuppa Inglese e Lambrusco

When I have eaten in the homes of my Italian friends, I forget that that pasta is only one of many courses. Marvi's lasagna was delicious (made with bechamel sauce rather than a tomato sauce), prompting me to eat too much of it, and by the time the meal was over, I felt uncomfortably full for the rest of the day.

That evening we drove to Nonantola, a nearby town. The main sight in Nonantola is the Abbey of San Silvestro, a Romanesque basilica from the eighth century that was part of a Benedictine monastery. It was unusual in that it was very large, but also very empty of decorations and statues. Back in Modena, they took me to one of their favorite trattorias, one that features typical Modenese food. I'm afraid I wasn't able to enjoy it much, as I was still full from lunch. I hope I'll have another chance in the future!

The next day Marco drove me into the hills south of Modena to Vignola where we were able to visit a well-maintained castle called Rocca di Vignola. As we arrived in Vignola, the sun came out and we had a lovely view of the countryside from the towers of the castle. Other than one other woman, we were the only visitors to the castle that day, and we took our time wandering through every room of the expansive structure, including the prison cells!

Rocca di Vignola

Marco admiring the view

A view of the countryside

We also stopped at another small castle called Castello di Serravale. We could only see it from the outside, as it is privately owned. The wind started picking up as we made our way back to Modena, and it was cloudy again when we arrived back at their house. Marvi had fixed another wonderful meal, a risotto followed by a Modenese meat dish and pureed (mashed) potatoes . This time I was careful to pace myself with each course, instead of eating too much of it.

After the meal, Marco went to university for his Latin class, and Marvi and I took a walk in Ferrari park. The park began as a landing area for small planes and gliders. The area was also used as a race track, until 1976. Along the walking path, there are busts of famous piloti, race car drivers. I learned that Modena is also known as Terra dei Motori (Land of Motors), because it is the home of not only Ferrari automobiles, but Lamborghini, Maserati and other sports cars were either founded, headquartered or built within a few kilometers from the city.

By the time we got back to their flat, it was time for me to head to the station to catch my train back to Florence. I had a good visit with Marco and Marvi and hope to see more of them next spring.

For more photos:

Modena 2010


Modena 2008

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Slow Food vs White Truffles in San Miniato

The view from San Miniato

Last Saturday I took a short train ride to San Miniato, a small town west of Florence, near Pisa. On the last three weekends in November, San Miniato hosts their annual Tartuffo Bianco (White Truffle) Festival, and people come from all over Europe to buy these parasite-like funghi, considered the pinnacle of gourmet eating. It is only in Northern Italy and Umbria that white truffles are found, and I decided to see what all the fuss was about. The area around San Miniato produces 25% of Italy's annual white truffle crop.

Once I arrived in San Miniato, I had to take a bus from the train station to the town at the top of a hill, a 15-minute ride. I arrived in the town itself by 10:30 a.m., but not much was going on and few people were in the streets. Quite a contrast to the sagra in Marradi of a few weeks ago. The town itself, described as "picturesque," was not impressive, except for the views of the countryside.


Another reason I was interested in San Minitao is because of its desgination as a Slow City, described by Wikipedia as:

"Cittaslow (literally Slow City) is a movement founded in Italy in October of 1999. The inspiration of Cittaslow was the Slow Food organization. Cittaslow's goals include improving the quality of life in towns while resisting "the fast-lane, homogenized world so often seen in other cities throughout the world" – as the official slowmovement.com description puts it. Celebrating and supporting diversity of culture and the specialties of a town and its hinterland are core Cittaslow values."

Here is the Slow Food information booth. There were also vendors selling some SlowFood produce, including meat, cheese, breads, etc. Again, Wikipedia offers an explanation:

"Slow Food is an international movement founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986. Promoted as an alternative to fast food, it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem. It was the first established part of the broader Slow movement. The movement has since expanded globally to over 100,000 members in 132 countries. Its goals of sustainable foods and promotion of local small businesses are paralleled by a political agenda directed against globalization of agricultural products."

A view of San Miniato with vendor tents filling the piazza.

From SlowFood to White Truffles provided quite a contrast! More similar to the Eurochocolate festival than the Marradi Sagra, there was a line of booths selling expensive food items; mostly meats, cheeses and chocolate. There was also one tent where vendors sold truffles and truffle products at one end, and wine at the other end. I'm not a big fan of truffles, but bought a small jar of Crema di Carciofi e Tartuffi Bianchi (an Artichoke and White Truffle spread), for 5 euros. There was also a tent where one could eat truffle dishes, but at 20 euros an item, I passed on the opportunity.

Truffles, anyone?

By noon, the town was starting to fill with people. Unlike the Marradi sagra, it seemed that the majority of participants were non-Italians: many Germans and Brits, even French people were in abundance. Most people came in cars and were well-dressed. This was more of a "posh" affair, frequented by people who could afford to buy the expensive products on sale. (FYI: White truffles are selling this year for $160 per gram (or $72,575 per pound), down from last year's high price of $180 per gram.) Definitely not my style. But I'm glad I had the chance to check it out. Now I know that I prefer sagras to fancy festivals like this one. Funny thing....when I arrived back in Florence, there was a "fancy food" fair going on in Piazza della Repubblica, with many of the same food products I'd seen in San Miniato, including truffles!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

David strolls through Florence

Il David
 
Today, the replica of Michelangelo's statue of David took a stroll in Florence, from the Piazza del Duomo through the centro storico to Piazza della Signoria. The procession was lead by a cavalcade of men in medieval costumes, and I was there from beginning to end. It was quite spectacular!

The event started in the morning, but it took all day for the statue to travel from Piazza del Duomo to Piazza Signoria, as it was slowww going. I can usually walk the same distance in five minutes. 

First, they created a stand for him to ride on, then stabilized the statue with wooden scaffolding.

A view from behind

Mayor Renzi arrives (the young guy in the middle), along with crowds of onlookers.

Then the parade started. Step by slow step, they accompanied David on his journey.
Arrival in Piazza Signoria. The crowd goes wild!
A memorable night in Piazza Signoria
It's hard to describe the impact this event had on me. In fact the entire weekend was an experience I will long remember as a call to creativity and finding the courage and determination to follow your heart.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

David, seconda parte

Last night, while most people were tucked away in their beds, a miracle happened here in Florence. Or so it seems: overnight, the area between the Duomo and the Baptistery became a field of grass. As the second part of the exhibit David: The Force of Beauty, city employees worked through the night to transform the street into a field of green. That is to say, they laid sod over the stone pavement: real grass! And they did such a good job, you would never know it wasn't there to begin with: the placement was seamless! They also relocated the replica of David, moving it from the top of the Duomo to the front steps.

The idea behind the event recalls the miracle of San Zanobi: it is said that an elm tree near the Baptistery flourished after coming in contact with the hearse that carried the mortal remains of the saint. I didn't get a photo of the tree, but it's shown in one of the albums below. The first collection of photos offers some great shots of the area from above, and offers a wonderful perspective on the enormity of these buildings.

This kind of event is one of the reasons I love Florence. At any given moment, phenomenal - sometimes outrageous - creative exhibits are going on: mind-blowing events that seem to pop up out of nowhere, the kind of events that lead one to feel AWE and JOY at being able to witness them. What really excites me about this is that having studied creativity for many years, and knowing its power to transform people - both those who create and those who appreciate the creations - I know that these events are transforming the lives of millions of people who pass through Florence every year. Is it any wonder that so many great artists have flourished here over the centuries?

One can only wonder where David will show up next!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

David, the Force of Beauty

«David, la Forza della Bellezza»

One of the events going on this week is Florens 2010, with many exhibits going on around the city. One of the most interesting is the «David, the Force of Beauty», which has a replica of Michelangelo's famous sculpture, made from the same Carraran marble as the original statue, being placed in four different spots on succeeding days, to highlight the controversy over the years about where the statue should be placed.

The goal is to make visible what Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, and Giuliano da Sangallo had envisioned with the location of the work in different places.

I'll write more about it after Il David has made his rounds of the city, but in the meantime, you can watch a video of how the statue landed on the Duomo, or view photos of that process. The video is in Italian, but it gives you an idea of the streets that I walk each day, as well as the immensity of the Duomo and the wonder of tourists as they view it. (Just watching the first few minutes will be sufficient.)

video of David on the Duomo

photos of David on the Duomo



Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Il Cielo Michelangelesco

One of the many perks of my apartment is that I have a great view of the sky, and today I watched the clouds roll by throughout the afternoon while I was working. Great heaps of clouds marched across the sky, as if they were in a hurry to pass over the city as quickly as possible, eager to reach the sea. Every so often, a patch of blue would appear, but within a short time the sky would be dark again with ominous-looking clouds. At times, there were rumbles of thunder, and it even hailed tiny bits of ice all over the terrazza for a while.

I was mesmerized by the cloud formations, the different levels of them, and the many colors that were visible. While I was talking to my friend Marco in Modena on Skype, I was trying to describe my view of the sky out my window. He said "diciamo il cielo Michelangelesco" (we call that a sky by Michelangelo). Perfetto! Che bellissimo! Sometimes il maltempo (lousy weather) creates beautiful visions that makes it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rain, rain, go away

It's raining....again. Heavy rain, for hours at at time. Uffa! I feel sorry for the folks who have come here for a special vacation and have to deal with pouring rain most of the day. When there's a lull, I grab my umbrella and hit the streets for an hour or two to see what's going on in the city. But the steady rain has certainly put a halt to any traveling plans I might be doing. Instead, I'm working more hours as a way of passing the time. I'm doing an online project that allows flexibility in how many hours I work, so I can work more hours than my original commitment (5 hours/day) if I want, and the more I work, the more I earn. The project ends this week, so it's a reasonable solution while I'm stuck indoors. And the weather forecast does not look promising for the next few weeks. UFFA! Not sure when I'll be able to do laundry again, either.

I've been making good use of the termosifoni (radiators) to heat my clothes in the morning and my pajamas at night before putting them on. I also use them to warm my towels before using them. But laundry is another matter. Without the sun, or a stendino (drying rack), it's pretty impossible to dry clothes in this apartment. I will probably hold out until I leave, only washing the necessities that dry quickly when the heat is on.

All too soon, I will be leaving Italy, heading home for the winter months, then returning to Firenze in the spring for another long stay. My apartment here is drafty, and spending the winter in Florence would be costly (to heat the apartment) and very uncomfortable. With the weather as it is, it's helping to ease the pain of leaving...I'm looking forward to my warm house, my bathtub and sunny Kansas skies.

acero (sugar maple)

My son has been sending photos of the trees in my yard as they change colors. I have several sugar maples that are stunning in autumn and a tiny Japanese maple that he gave me as a gift last year. This is its first fall season, and I'm missing the transformation.

acero giapponese (Japanese maple)

But then there's the reality of leaving what now feels like my new home. Only two weeks left in Firenze. Sob! I'll be flying home Thanksgiving day. Jesse has planned a welcome home meal for me...a thoughtful gesture!

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll be able to have a few more adventures before I leave, to Modena and Cremona and then to San Miniato for the truffle festival. If only it would stop raining!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Serene green

Yesterday I woke up with the images of the green trees filling my mind, so I decided to return to the forest path behind San Miniato. It was another sunny day, perhaps the last warm, clear day that we'll have for awhile, and I wanted to see more of my new safe haven.

I often feel a longing to be alone in nature, something that was initiated back in 1994, when I traveled to Ireland. While I was there, I became enchanted by a certain tree and spent a week in Killarney National Park. It was the first time I experienced nature as a sacred space. There was a cathedral near that park, but I felt more at home in the park than I did in the church, and it seemed they both radiated a similar energy that one might refer to as " sacred space." Since that time, I've often felt the need to be alone in nature.

My initial trip to Italy in 2006 was planned around locations where I would be able to experience nature: Le Cinque Terre, Lucca and San Gimignano, in particular. In le Cinque Terre, I hiked alone along the Ligurian Coast; in Lucca, I spent time with the trees and the botanical garden; in San Gimignano, I discovered a path outside the city wall that offered stunning views of the countryside, and spent much of my time there, alone with the trees.

Even though I now have many Italian friends in various parts of Italy, and a more active social life while I'm here, at times I still have a longing to be alone in nature. This longing has been partially satisfied by visits to Lucca, Cortona, Segonzano and other places I've gone this year. But finding a sacred space in Firenze has been difficult, and I've gone north, south, east and west around the city looking for one!

I enjoy the park in Piazza D'Azeglio, but it's not really a sacred space. Nor is Parco delle Cascine: though grand and large, it doesn't fit the bill. Il Giardino di Boboli is vast and lovely, but again, not a sacred space. (Besides, there's a charge for entry and it's only open certain hours.) And though I enjoyed the formal gardens at the villas last week, they didn't do the trick for me. But the forest path behind San Miniato is "just right." I can get there within 10 minutes by bus, riding uphill along the lovely tree-lined Viale Michelangelo. The area seems to have few visitors, and once I cross the threshold into the forest, the city noises recede and I'm in paradise. Only the sounds of nature permeate this wooded area, and yesterday I heard many happy birds in the marine pines on the hills below.

I walked along the path, back and forth, and lingered in the sun to view the valley below. Encantevole! (enchanting)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

San Miniato al Monte

San Miniato al Monte

After many cool and rainy days, today we were blessed with sunny skies and 70 degree (22C) weather. I decided to head to the hills again to make the most of a beautiful day. I'm getting to know the bus system, and always make sure to carry several bus tickets on me, just in case. Today I decided to visit San Miniato, the church on the hill above Piazzale Michelangelo. I'd seen it once before, in 2006, but hadn't made my way back there since. The other day I rode the bus to the Piazzale and enjoyed the tree-lined winding street along the bus route. The fall colors were dazzling, and the image of the trees has been "calling" me all week to return and explore the area more.

I walked up to Piazza Beccaria and took the Number 13 bus to the Piazzale, enjoying the view along way, an easy 10-minute ride. Not sure where the stop for San Miniato was, I went further than the Piazzale bus stop, then walked back along the tree-lined path until I saw the sign for the church. There were two paths ahead of me: a paved street or old stone steps leading up to a forest. Beckoned by the green vision ahead of me, I chose the old stone steps, and climbed my way up to a dense wooded area. I couldn't see San Miniato, but I was entranced by the trees, so continued walking through the forest.


To my right, I could see olive trees down the hill, and I could hear birds singing. I'd found a quiet space to enjoy the day, away from the city. There were a few people along the forest path: a woman doing yoga asanas, a man walking his dog, another man by himself. But we all seemed reverent, as if we were in a sacred space, with tall fir trees offering a serene presence.

The forest wound around a medieval wall that surrounds San Miniato and il Cimitero delle Porte Sante, a large cemetery. A steep staircase leads up the hill to the church, which has a commanding presence, with its Byzantine facade.



After the serene beauty of the forest, the church seemed dark and cold, so I didn't spend much time inside. But I hope to return some week for Sunday Mass that is accompanied by Gregorian chant.

Inside San Miniato

The view of the city from this height was spectacular.


Now that I know the way, I feel certain I'll return to this quiet green space again and again, away from the crowds and the city, where I feel restored by the serenity of the wise old trees.