Monthly Archives: December 2010

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Emily Dickinson Celebrated in Florence

Emily Dickinson’s 180th birthday was celebrated in Florence by a fine series of lectures, musical events, and, of course, poetry readings – Emily Dickinson: “Ho sentito la vita con entrambe le mani” (Emily Dickinson: “I felt my life with both of my hands”).

Emily Dickinson - "I felt my life with both of my hands"
Emily Dickinson - "I felt my life with both of my hands"

The program – the brainchild of Domenico De Martino of Accademia della Crusca and poet Elisa Biagini– used, among other venues, the Casa Guidi, home of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, her husband Robert Browning, and their son Pen.

The connection between Barrett Browning, a homebound consumptive, and Dickinson, a sickly agoraphobic, proves that even in the mid-1800s, the world of ideas and poetry was a small place.

Corner of the study in Barrett Browning's apartment - Casa Guidi
Corner of the study in Barrett Browning's apartment - Casa Guidi

Dickinson did not publish much before her death in 1886, so it is unclear if Barrett Browning ever knew of her existence. Dickinson, however, had three portraits (postcard drawing, photograph or daguerreotype) of Barrett Browning – one of which was framed and hung on the wall of her bedroom-sanctuary.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her son Pen
Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her son Pen

Dickinson also reportedly wore her hair looped over her ears and knotted in back “because it was the way Elizabeth Barrett Browning did” (quote attributed to Dickinson’s sister Lavinia). There are few pictures of Dickenson. In the one or two widely known, she was certainly less flamboyant in her coiffure than Barrett Browning.

Dining Room in Casa Guidi
Dining Room in Casa Guidi

Dickinson also borrowed from Barrett Browning in the poems Tie the Strings to my Life, My Lord and The Soul selects her own Society. In the year following Barrett Browning’s death (1861), Dickinson wrote a poem about her:

I think I was enchanted

When first a sombre Girl —

I read that Foreign Lady —

The Dark — felt beautiful —

And whether it was noon at night —

Or only Heaven — at Noon —

For very Lunacy of Light

I had not power to tell –

Poem 593 (1862)

Etching of Barrett Browning's tomb from 1861 Harper's Magazine
Etching of Barrett Browning's tomb from 1861 Harper's Magazine

A picture of Barrett Browning’s tomb in the English Cemetery of Florence – perhaps a postcard or cut from Harper’s Magazine -was among Dickinson’s possessions.

I try to imagine afternoon tea shared these Victorian women of prodigious talent– Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning – a true meeting of the minds.

Dove Vai? – Uffizi Exhibit of Self-Portraits of “Invisible Women”

At the Uffizi Gallery’s free exhibition space, Sala delle Reali Poste, an exciting exhibit has just opened. Called Autoritratte: ‘Artiste di capriccioso e destrissimo ingegno’’  (Women Artists Self-Portraits: “Women artists of wit and great ingenuity”), offers a rare opportunity to view eighty of the museum’s historic collection of self-portraits that range from the 16th century to the late 1800s. The quotation in the title is from Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, in which he mentions only one woman, the 16th century sculptor Properzia de’Rossi, whom he praises for her inventiveness and technical skill in being able to carve the entire passion of Christ on a peach stone.

1790 "mirror" self-portrait by Elisabeth Louise Vigee-LeBrun
1790 "mirror" self-portrait by Elisabeth Louise Vigee-LeBrun

Many of the portraits on display at the Sala delle Reali Poste are from the Uffizi’s storerooms and have never been hung in the museum.

Starting with the “self in the mirror” style of portrait that women painted to dispel the notion that their paintings were “from the brush of a man and of high merit, rather than from that of a woman” (Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni), the exhibit moves in chronological order to encompass self-portraits executed in a variety of media.

British artist Lynne Curran's tapestry portrait in a box (2010)
British artist Lynne Curran's tapestry portrait in a box (2010)

Curator of the exhibition, Giovanna Giusti, director of nineteenth- and twentieth-century art at the Uffizi, has been preparing the show for the last three years. An interview with her in The Florentine sheds light on her choices and motivations.

Late 19th century Florentine ceramic of painter Angelica Kauffman
Late 19th century Florentine ceramic of British painter Angelica Kauffman

Jane Fortune, author of Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence, tells us, “The Vasari Corridor … has a collection that includes 1,630 self portraits, yet only 400 are exhibited. The collection was started in the seventeenth century by Cardinal Leopoldo, and only 10 of the displayed works were created after 1900. Self portraiture, one of the most easily accessible themes for female painters, was a well-respected genre in Florence and many women have been honored by the coveted invitation to paint their own image for the Medici collection. However, only 6.5 percent of the works on display are by women, a statistic that translates into 27 exhibited works by 21 women.”

1968 serigraph by Nikki de Saint Phalle - Why Don't You Love Me?
1968 serigraph by Nikki de Saint Phalle - Why Don't You Love Me?

Giovanna Giusti made a special request of modern female artists to donate self-portraits to the exhibition, resulting in twenty self-portraits by women to be included forever in the Uffizi’s (Vasari Corridor) collection; including those by Vanessa Beecroft, Lynne Curran, Elisa Montessori, Patti Smith, and Tinca Stegovec. We can only hope that some of these will be hung in the Vasari Corridor after this exhibit

Elisa Montessori (Genova) with her self-portrait photo collage (1977)
Elisa Montessori (Genova) with her self-portrait photo collage (1977)

At the opening, both Italian artist, Elisa Montessori and Tinca Stegovec, a Slovenian graphic artist, were present and mingled with the over-flow crowd.

Curator Giovanna Giusti with Tinca Stegovec by two of the artist's works
Curator Giovanna Giusti with Tinca Stegovec by two of the artist's self-portraits

Autoritratte: Artiste ‘di capriccioso e destrissimo ingegno’

Reali Poste, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

December 15, 2010 to January 30, 2011

Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm; closed December 25 and January 1.

Free entrance.

Workshops for children on Mondays.

Self-portrait of Vanessa Beecroft and her adopted babies (2006)
Self-portrait of Vanessa Beecroft and her adopted babies (2006)

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Following the Aqueducts Near Lucca & Pisa

I’m embarrassed to say that I have misrepresented an historical fact to friends and family when I pointed out the aqueduct near Lucca and exclaimed, “Isn’t it amazing that those Romans could build something so wonderful, which could last 2,000 years.” It was only a ten-fold mistake, but I should have known better than to guess.

Lucca's aqueduct designed by Nottolini in 1823
Lucca's aqueduct designed by Nottolini in 1823

It was in the early 1700s that the Lucchesi realized it was necessary to build a large aqueduct to supply the city with water of good quality, replacing water from oft-contaminated wells. From that time, not being ancient Roman hydrologists who had solved the problem hundreds of times throughout Europe, Tuscan mathematicians and hydraulic engineers engaged in lengthy discussions, elaborating various projects that did not lead to concrete results for almost 150 years.

The aqueduct was built only in the following century when Luccese architect Lorenzo Nottolini took into consideration several earlier hypotheses and came up with the best solution. Work began in 1823 and, following several interruptions, the project was completed in 1851. The water was drawn from several springs on the northern slope of Mount Pisano, passed through several layers of stones and gravel to become pure and clear. A large part of its conveyance works, built between 1825 and 1840, are still visible today in the parkland of the Monumental Aqueduct of Guamo.

Temple-cistern at the beginning of Nottolini Aqueduct at Guamo, Capannori
Temple-cistern at the beginning of Nottolini Aqueduct at Guamo, Capannori

Built in an elegant neoclassical style, the little temple-cistern of Guamo collected water from the springs. Inside, it has a basin divided into two parts. Water was channeled inside the conduit that passed over a row of more than 400 arches in brick and masonry for a length of about 3,250 meters, the series of which is today interrupted by the A11 motorway, the road I travel, pointing out the fascinating structure.

Aqueducts not just for Romans
Aqueducts - Not just for Romans

The water arrived at another temple-cistern – San Concordio – a circular-plan building in the neoclassical style. The water poured from the conduit into a large marble basin; from here it fell into two tunnels containing very large smelted iron tubes, which conveyed the water about 2,000 meters underground into the city and a large fountain in the square beside the cathedral. By making the tubes moveable, Nottolini provided for the effects of the metal lengthening and shortening due to heat and cold, so as to avoid the ruptures that had occurred in other aqueducts. The hydraulic system of the aqueduct was completed by a system of fountains that furnished the urban center.

Other Aqueducts in the Lucca Region

Older aqueducts can be found both north and south of Lucca. They are not Roman either, but they pre-date the Nottolini aqueduct.

Aqueduct crosses the moat into Barga's historic center
Aqueduct crosses the moat into Barga's historic center


Built in the 15th century, the aqueduct of Barga is of stone construction (differing from those made of terracotta bricks) that assured water to the fountains in the historical center. Today, a spectacular series of arches can be found in the Parco Fratelli Kennedy (Kennedy Brothers Park), also the site of the medieval moat of the village of Barga.

Medici Aqueduct of Asciano

The project for an aqueduct capable of supplying the city of Pisa with the water of the Pisan Mountains near Lucca was ordered by Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, but credit must go to his son, Ferdinando I, however, for the construction of the long aqueduct, which reach the walls of Pisa from Bottino di San Rocco in the Fonti Valley.

Grand Duke Ferdinand I visiting the aqueduct work-in-progress
Grand Duke Ferdinand I visiting the work-in-progress

Begun in 1592, designed by architect Raffaello di Zanobi di Pagno, who was succeeded by Andrea Sandrini from Siena, it had more than 900 arches and wound along a course of six kilometers. In the 1597 treatise, Dei Bagni di Pisa, famous physician Girolamo Mercuriale considered the aqueduct of Asciano to be among “the almost divine works of Ferdinando I”. The engraver Jacques Callot depicted the Visita di Ferdinando I ad Asciano in an engraving created in the 1620s, documenting the Grand Duke’s direct interest in the works.

Portions of the Medici Aqueduct cross the countryside north of Pisa
The Medici Aqueduct in the countryside north of Pisa

Today, portions of the Medicean aqueduct still stand in the countryside between Asciano and Pisa, providing a picturesque route for walks and cycling.

Only Slightly Burnt to a Crisp: Florence’s Taxi Service, Again

I don’t know why, but when I truly get burnt to a crisp by the often not-so-sunny life in Tuscany, I think of taxi cabs. I’ve done it before and I will do it again.

Maybe it helps me realize this too will pass.

Right now, we are waiting for the P.M. to ride off into history despite the propping up Hillary Clinton was forced by Wikileaks to do this last week.

So I cheer myself up by the realization that the taxi situation in Florence has, hopefully forever, been changed for the better by a new cooperative of all-female taxi drivers – inTaxiFirenze.

InTaxiFirenze - Florence's new Women-owned Taxi Service
inTaxiFirenze - Florence's new Women-owned Taxi Service

As most visitors to Florence know taxi rides are quite expensive. However, they are also one of the only ways to get home if you’re out past bus hours and far away. Going in groups is one way to cut the cost, but night time rates include an extra fee.

Also, in most instances you can’t just flag down a cab; you must call by phone for one or go to a taxi stand (in front of the train station, in Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza San Marco, Porta Romana, behind the Duomo, etc.).

Two months ago, I had to call for cabs for ten clients in the rain. To call, you give the address where you need to be picked up to a phone operator and wait for the dispatcher to give the name of the taxi which is coming to pick you up (e.g., “Parigi 23”). The dispatcher will also tell you how long before the taxi arrives, which usually is within three to five minutes. To get three cabs, I had to call three times.  On the second call the dispatcher, who had caller i.d., argued with me about whether this was the first cab or an extra. On the third call the operator refused to answer.

Taxi Stand behind the Duomo
Taxi Stand behind the Duomo

Supposedly, women traveling alone in a taxi are entitled to a 10% discount between the hours of 9pm to 2am. There is also a discount of 15% for hospital destinations between the visiting hours of 1pm-3pm and 7-9pm. These discounts will not be applied unless you insist on them.

But back to the good news. There are nine women who have formed an all-female taxi service in Florence that operates from 5am to 11pm daily. All of the drivers in this new taxi cooperative speak English. Word is that they are becoming quite popular and are getting a lot of negative pressure from the good-ol’-boy network in the taxi union. More information about this service (in Italian) can be found at:, Their telephone number is longer and not as easy to remember as those for regular cabs, but  in a cell phone’s memory it is just a click away:  055 200 1326.

Frequent Rider Card for InTaxi Service
Frequent Rider Card for inTaxi Service

InTaxiFirenze also offers a frequent-rider program. After ten rides you get a discount of 5 euro off the fare for the next trip. “Service with a smile” has never been a thought that entered my head when I entered a Florentine taxi until I met the ladies at inTaxi.