Saturday, June 30, 2012

Thirty-two days in Italy...

...has come to an end. Barbara, Chris, Alex, Jamie, and Lawrence are either heading home as I write or readying to leave soon. As for Heather and I, we are traveling to parts north and west to begin a stint of 19 days with Italy's creditors. We hope to post some pictures as Internet access allows. Hope all is well with our tens of loyal blog followers.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Poseur's Guide to Art: Lesson #6

Or, Art History Made Easy.  They laughed when I first posited a connection between late Medieval baby Jesuses and mid-20th century Richard Nixons.  (See, e.g., "A Poseur's Guide to Art: Lesson #3.")  I comfort myself with the knowledge that your Marie Curies, your Charles Darwins, your Leonardo da Vincis, your Albert Einsteins, your Issac Newtons, and, of course, your Abner Doubledays also suffered a snicker or two in their times.

Well, Q.E.D.

Tough to see, I know, but you're going to have to trust me on this.  The definitive, setting-the-art-historical-world-on-its-ear link is the victory sign being flashed across the centuries by both bambinos and both Nixons.  

Finally, as a testament to the lengths to which I will go in pursuit of knowledge, the top left Madonna and Child is in the Bargello Museum in Florence, which is a strict no photo zone.  The reason the composition of that photo is just, um, a tad off, is that I shot it while holding my camera at my hip while three museum guards stood about 10 feet behind me.  Apparently I'm far better at shooting from the hip rhetorically as the above was my best effort among:

I imagine the guards, if they were paying any attention at all, were starting to become a little suspicious upon my fifth or sixth pass by this piece, attributed generically to an Umbrian artist, in a museum that also included works by Michelangelo, Donatello, and Giambologna.

In any case, look for my paradigm-shifting article in a 2013 issue of Art Bulletin.

Stimulus 2, Austerity 1

In a match that served as something of an existential debate between John Maynard Keynes and his detractors, score one for Keynes.  The Azzurri triumphed 2-1 over Europe's overlords.  Even from our protected inner courtyard, Heather and I could hear the celebration well into the evening.  The winner of Sunday's Spain-Italy tilt should receive both a trophy and a few billion in debt relief.

Above Florence

My first trip to Florence was in 1988.  I was a mere 7 years old then and shooting pictures like crazy.  My favorite shots were of narrow street scenes with big payoffs in the distance, such as this. 

I took hundreds of these, and I mean that literally.  Above is the Campanile, or bell tower, which was designed by Giotto and stands next to the Duomo.  When you come from Chicago and its environs and you're used to streets on a grid pattern, Florence, which is laid out much like a plate of spaghetti, is endlessly fascinating.  (Greensboro's streets aren't on a grid either...not quite so fascinating, although there's that nice vista of the Battleground Ave. Biscuitville.)

In any case, my goal for this day was to climb to the top of the Campanile and reprise a picture I took in 1988, the last time I marched to the top.  (Remember, Alex?)  The stairway is narrow, includes 408 steps, and necessitates frequent pauses to allow those heading in the opposite direction to pass by.


As you can see a little better from the following,
the balcony, which if memory serves used to be wide open, is now enveloped in a protective cage.  I don't know how many Campanile leapers it took to convince the powers-that-be to resort to chain link, but for those of us wanting to take pictures, this was a potential problem.  Would I be able to recapture the magic of '88?  

Short answer: no.
In '88, I took this picture of San Lorenzo framed by the decoration in the Campanile's marble balcony.  Two problems this time around: 1) the lens I used in '88 allowed me to achieve similar framing, but zoom in closer on the dome, and 2) every single decoration in the balcony around the entire tower is partially obscured by two metal bars, which hold the protective cage in place.  There would be no digital picture to match my old-fashioned one from 20+ years ago.

But I still took some pretty nice shots.  And unlike '88, when I was aiming randomly at a city I hardly knew, three visits later, I actually understood where I was and what I was after.

Due west from the bell tower is Santa Maria Novella, which includes the Brunelleschi-designed pulpit from which Galileo was first denounced as a heretic.  This occurred in the early 17th century.  I must say that it's so comforting to know that we've progressed to the point where religion is no longer used by the weak, frightened, and addled as a ruse to deny universally held scientific consensuses...Whew!  Dodged that bullet.

This is a clear shot of San Lorenzo, which is west and just a tad north of the tower.  Among its many treasures is a Bronzino (The Martyrdom of San Lorenzo, no less) and two bronze "pulpits" by Donatello.

Santa Croce stands southeast of the tower.  The picture, unfortunately, is a little bleached out because of the morning sun. In any case, Santa Croce is known not only for its artwork, but its tombs. There's a funerary monument to Dante, and Galileo, Michelangelo, and Florence's foremost political scientist, Macchiavelli, are buried here. 

Due west from Santa Croce is the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's town hall, which is the tower on the right side of the picture.  The long, low building obscured by the crane and scaffolding further right is the Uffizi.  Barely visible on the left, up in the hills is San Miniato al Monte.

The Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens are south of the tower and on the oltrarno, or other, non-Duomo side of the Arno River. 

Moving west from the Pitti is Santo Spirito, yet another Brunelleschi design.  Our apartment on Via Maggio is basically equidistant from these two landmarks.  One of our favorite local restaurants, Borgo Antico, is in the piazza outside Santo Spirito.  Another interesting note about Piazza Santo Spirito is that it apparently hosts a public intoxication convention on most afternoons and evenings.

Finally, the rest of the cathedral complex, or at least, what I could shoot of it given my point of view...

Two shots of Brunelleschi's dome, one from the top of the Campanile and one from the highest of the bell tower's two landings.
The Baptistery of St. John (get it?), which predates the completion of the dome by about three centuries.  The Campanile is casting the shadow.
The side of the cathedral's façade, which stands right next to the bell tower.  The relief sculpture is of Joe DiMaggio in commemoration of his 56-game hit streak.  Zoom in and you can just barely make out the "NY" on his cap.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More cool street (sign) art...

These two photos--posted thanks to the quick cell phone cameras of Dave and Lawrence--come from Florence and Rome respectively.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

At the Accademia today...

...I found myself feeling quite uncomfortable viewing Michelangelo's masterpiece. The resemblance from the neck down is so astonishing that I felt as if this vast tourist mélange were staring at me naked. (Cue Heather, nodding politely.)

Italian Landscapes

We have seen some amazing landscapes since arriving in Italy. Many I have already posted, but here I choose a handful of some of my favorite natural vistas not yet posted. (Bill, this one is for you).

Florence from the Boboli Gardens.

 Florentine countryside to the south from the Boboli Gardens.
Part of the old Florentine city wall on the southwestern most edge of the Boboli Gardens.

 More from the Boboli

Naples, en route to the Capodimonte Museum

 Sienese rooftops and the rolling hills of Tuscany beyond

 Another view of Siena from above

Monday, June 25, 2012

Neopolitans while away a Saturday morning

Top o' the mornin' from my new best friends, the McCready boys.

From left: Paddy, Cian, Seamus, Liam, and Cormac.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Poseur's Guide to Art: Lesson #5

or "Proof of Reincarnation" ... or "Separated at Birth" ... or ... "What Happens When Your Mind Wanders at a Museum"

The Museo Archeologico is in Naples; it houses most of the recovered treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  A number of the works were truly amazing -- the Doryphoros (which included an excellent lecture by my spouse), Weary HerculesThe Farnese Bull, and The Battle of Issus to name a few.  

But the following stopped me in my tracks.  The whole James Naismith thing may well be a myth.

(Freaky, no?)

Fyi, Larry Bird is on the right in both cases.  The statue (on the left) wasn't commissioned by Red Auerbach. Nor, given the hairdo and the fact that this was a woman's portrait bust slapped onto the body of Aprhrodite, was it paid for by Jerry Buss as a bit of a joke.  Nor was it excavated on the outskirts of French Lick, IN. Rather, it dates from the 1st century AD. 

Crechè Cacaphony in Naples

Dave, Lawrence and I just returned from Naples and a longer post/report is forthcoming. However, in the meantime, I wanted to post a couple of images from a street sprouting off of Piazza San Gaetano, the square where our comfortable bed&breakfast was located within the city's old historic center.

One thing Naples is known for besides pizza is nativity crechès and we were at "ground zero" for such items and all the attendant accoutrement, of which there is--as I learned--an unbelievable amount. This cultural desire for visual abundance, to which I will return later, was a constant thread throughout our entire, fascinating 3-day visit to Naples.

Italian crechè scenes aren't just for the three Wisemen and Shepherds. Above, Dave points out German Chancellor Angela Merkel's statuette, which depicts her smiling and oozing Euros from her pockets and suit collar. (Three figures to her left is Pres. Obama, with his arms crossed) Incidentally, figurines of the former prime minister of Italy (and world-class letch), Silvio Berlusconi, were available at a steep discount.

Another stand's accoutrement...who knew that during their first nights together the Holy Family also had baskets of fruit, bags of legumes, trays of baguettes and crates of sardines?! It's either blasphemy or brilliance! I choose the latter.

A detail of 1 1/2" baskets from the pile-o-plenty above. The little girl in me that once owned a dollhouse wanted one of each!

The stalls that sold these items were endlessly fascinating...and visually overwhelming all at once.

Now you see you don't

Last week in Florence we enjoyed one of the city's great culinary specialties--bistecca fiorentina. This steak, which comes only from white Chiana cattle, is ordered by the hunk (based upon your group's size) and then prepared simply with a rub of salt and pepper. Slightly grilled to rare at the center and medium rare on the edges, it is then served table side. No fuss and no frills, but none of them are necessary. This is an amazing delight.

Here Dave, Lawrence and I demolish one at an Oltr'arno restaurant with out of town guests, Beth and Aldo, (who took the top two images).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Walking to see what we can see

Sometimes we like to take walks in the evenings--just to see what we can see.  I find Florence to be full of little, interesting moments, and when Chris has his camera, we gather these moments up to marvel (or even laugh, yes those dogs really were hugging each other) over later.  

Italian Everyday (plus one for the grandparents....)