Category Archives: Burnt to a Crisp

Burnt to a Crisp – Love Padlocked to the Ponte Vecchio

In these hard economic times, the best business to have is the guy selling padlocks at the little cart on the Ponte Vecchio. It’s a return business that beats all others in Florence.

Locks of Love circle Benvenuto Cellini on the Ponte Vecchio
Locks of Love circle Benvenuto Cellini on the Ponte Vecchio

Locks of love, or lucchetti dell’amore, are the padlocks fixed by loving couples on to part of the Ponte Vecchio, usually to the fence around the statue of Cellini located in the center of the bridge, to symbolize their eternal love. The symbol is further enhanced by the fact that the bridge unites two sides of the city (unites/joins/attaches/holds together – get it?). The enamored twosome locks the padlock after inscribing their names or initials and/or the date on it and throws the key into the Arno so that their love is locked forever.

Lovers' Locks along the Great Wall of China
Lovers' Locks along the Great Wall of China

Some say the practice started in China where the Juyongguan, Sanbu and Badaling sections of the Great Wall (those closest to Beijing) are the most popular sections with thousands of locks of various sizes attached to the rows and rows of steel chains along the wall. (I’m not sure where they throw the key – an important part of the ritual.)

The lamp poles along Ponte Milvio in Rome can't take much more love
The lamp poles on Ponte Milvio in Rome can't take much more love

Reportedly the practice in Italy was born in Rome, when in 2006, a romantic movie based upon the novel “Ho Voglia di Te” was released. In the book a young man tries to win the heart of his true love by telling her that their love will last forever, preserved by the lock attached to Ponte Milvio and the key lost forever in the Tiber. Supposedly, the movie – not the book- started a wildly popular ritual among young Romans.

The Italian story I like the best about the lucchetti dell’amore also relates to attaching padlocks to bridges. It is said that the tradition began when young men had to leave their hometowns to do military service. They attached a lock to one of the local bridges before their departure as a promise to return home, essentially a promise to survive their enlistment.

Signed and date with hope of forever love
Signed and date with hope of forever love

But back to the mess of locks closing in around the venerable Benvenuto Cellini. About once every four months, a city worker with huge lock cutter arrives to denude the fence. One wonders what happens to the love of those now not so immortalized there. Do they feel a instantaneous heart pang when their lock is snipped? Do they suddenly look at each other for some unexplicable reason, realizing that their love is over/false/fading/mistaken/doomed?

The City battles lovers
The City of Florence battles lovers

The powers-that-be in Florence have called for more policing on the bridge to stop the locks, which some find unsightly and others claim are damaging historic artifacts. They hung a sign in front of poor Cellini that states in both Italian and English (why not also in Japanese, Russian, French and Spanish?) that the fine for attaching locks to the railing is 50 euros. The threat seemed to work for awhile, but love will not be denied. Also, they failed to stop the vendor on the Ponte Vecchio from selling cheap padlocks and felt-tipped pens.

Is Love recycled still Love?
Is Love recycled still Love?

I have a suggestion for that enterprising fellow: sell locks that come with two keys, but keep one key. With a little soapy water or, at most, a dab of benzine, and the shiny second key, you will be able to lure two sets of lovers to the fantasy of love everlasting, pocketing twice the price.

The Romans are working on a more high tech solution – Lucchetti dell’Amore Ponte Milvio Virtuale – virtual locks of love suitable for FaceBook – never in danger of the lock cutter.

Burnt to a Crisp – New Year in Florence is a Wash Out

The tourists and the Florentines always hope that the New Year will come in with a bang. For 2010 it came in with a wet whimper.

Fireworks in drier years
Fireworks in drier years

The 2010 fireworks were rained out.

To celebrate the end of 2009, the new mayor, who made a splash with the grand pedestrian zone around the Duomo (wrecking havoc with the bus system), wanted to have four concerts at various venues, including one that started at the train station in Bologna and then taking the 37 minute trip on the new Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) high speed train to Florence for the second half of the concert at the train station. Note: this train unfortunately spent 90 minutes in a tunnel the week before. On New Year’s Eve the train made a successful run, but the Florence concert was soggy.

It has been raining for a week. From 9am on the the 31st to 11am on the 1st the rain was non-stop. Thus, the river is rising…

Highest Arno in ten years
Highest Arno in ten years

The Arno, which flooded in 1966, was never adequately dredged or walled. Therefore, the Florentines are spending the first day of 2010 watching the bridges.

Ponte Vespucci can hardly span the roiling river
Ponte Vespucci can hardly span the roiling river

This is not a new pastime. Acqua Alta in Arno happens almost every winter. Books have been written about it.

 The Arno frozen - January 10, 1985
The Arno frozen - January 10, 1986

Another 24 hours of rain is expected and then the temperature is to drop below zero.  Maybe Florence will get the same ice rink it enjoyed in the Winter of ’85 -’86.

January 10, 1985 the Arno froze
Ice on the Arno in 1985

Burnt to a Crisp – or not – No more traffic around the Duomo

Dante exhausted after all of the celebrations
Dante after all of the celebrations

SUNDAY (October 25, 2009) Dante was worn out after all of the “A Passo Duomo” celebration around the cathedral.

Balloons for all of those young or not so young
Balloons for all of those young or not so young

The new mayor of Florence had decreed that the entire piazza surrounding the Duomo would become a pedestrian mall instead of a busy thoroughfare where over 500 buses and thousands of taxis round the Duomo every day. To mark the renaissance of the city center, the mayor threw a party.

There were balloons and hot chestnuts and free entrance to the Baptistry.

The other Dante was there also
The other Dante

Notable figures from history – Dante, Galileo, Leonardo Da Vinci – made an appearance and wandered the square.

Ancient ambulance good for new pedestrian walkways
Ancient ambulance

A parade of costumed flag-throwers, drummers and trumpeters escorted an ancient bus on one last ride down Via Martelli.

The Misericordia (the volunteer emergency medical service), located near the bell tower, displayed an antique ambulance.

The day ended with  Mozart, Bach and Mendelssohn echoing off the walls of the 600-year-old cathedral to a standing-room-only crowd, courtesy of the Maggio Musicale orchestra and chorus, directed by Seiji Ozawa.

Concert for Florence in the Duomo
Concert for Florence in the Duomo

MONDAY (October 26, 2009) is a different wonderful life for those wandering the historic center of Florence. For one block in every direction of the cathedral, the streets are filled with tourists (and a few locals), not traffic.

New pedestrian mall on Via Martelli
New pedestrian mall on Via Martelli

It has been suggested this will increase shopping in the historic center. It certainly makes it more inviting to linger rather than rush along.

No cars or busses to the Baptistry
No cars or busses to the Baptistry

Some have tried to quantify the environmental impact, saying that it will reduce the 450 kilos of fine particulate matter and the exceedingly high levels of carbon monoxide trapped between the buildings that line the piazza. Florence is one of the most polluted cities in Italy – so every little bit helps. However, with the drastic changes in the bus routes, there are now over 2,000 bus traveling through Piazza San Marco every day.

Temporary bus stop in Piazza San Marco
Temporary bus stop in Piazza San Marco

Maybe the mayor’s other decision to cancel the clean electric tramline routes throughout the city should be reconsidered. And now that the buses aren’t griming the Duomo, the bishop should consider steam-cleaning the back side of the cathedral.

Burnt to a Crisp – Space, a Flying Star, and a little Hospitality

The Sun Doesn't Find the Street  

The Sun Doesn't Find the Street

Often Florence can bring on an epic case of claustrophobia. When the Renaissance bankers built their McMansions, they did not widen the medieval streets. Although not many buildings in the historic center are much over ninety feet high (note: come visit soon – the Prime Minister is inviting everyone to add a floor or two to their buildings as one of his recession fixes), Florence often feels much more constricted than New York.  This is especially true to one who grew up in New Mexico. Or even to a claustrophobic Florentine who visited the Land of Enchantment for the first time last year.

Wide open geography is not the only reason a visitor feels light and free in New Mexico as opposed to Florence.  There is also the comfort and conviviality of Southwestern hospitality.  In Florence, both the residents and the tourists must gird themselves every day with armor to deflect the petty incivilities of shopkeepers, waiters, government workers, bank tellers and even people walking or driving the narrow streets.

An Italian in New Mexico

Here is one Florentine native’s story:

Big Sky Over the Arroyo
Big Sky Over the Arroyo

Mi chiamo Francesca. Probably others have written stuff like this before. I need to do it, so I can avoid paying Dr. Palma some euro to listen to it. I hope I can.

I was in the U.S. in [December 2008] – New York, Connecticut, New Mexico, and Washington D.C.
This is about kindness. This is about smiling.
In Albuquerque (N.M.) I was having a nice morning in a café called The Flying Star, looking at magazines (for free) and looking at people, and having brunch. Oh what’s better than brunch in the US?
But this is not about food, it’s about kindness and service with a smile.
When you get coffee in the U.S. you usually are entitled to have a free ‘refill’. I went over to the counter to ask for my refill and the nice smiling guy, while pouring fresh coffee in my cup, said to me, “Is the coffee finished in the pitcher over at that stand?” He made me understand that I could have done it myself, but still it was a pleasure for him to do it, for free, and in spite of the line behind me. I apologized. He said “no problem”, he smiled again, I smiled. I went to my table and cried.

Fill 'er Up!
Fill 'er Up!

Why? Because I had a whole movie of the same scene, had it happened in Florence, my hometown.

Same scene in Florence: “Come? La vole che gli riempia la tazza, oh la un lo vede che c’é una caraffa la’ sul tavolo per riempirsela da soli ? Se la vole il caffe’ la se lo versi! E la ringrazi iddio che la un lo paga! Fosse per me…”  

(Tuscan Traveler’s rough translation:  “What? You want me to refill your cup, don’t you see that a carafe is on the counter for you to do your own refilling? And you thank god that you are not paying for it! Were it for me …”)

Flying Star Cafe
Flying Star Cafe

Sometimes a little hospitality is all you need.

The Flying Star is certainly a special haven, not only for Francesca in December, but more recently for me.  Last month, I spent a year-long week watching my younger sister die. Each day, I would walk the half-mile along the arroyo, breathing in the crystal clear air, looking up at the distant mountains, making my way to the Flying Star Café for a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade, creamy mac and cheese, and/or a slice of cake with strawberries on top.

People Watching at the Flying Star
People Watching at the Flying Star

For an hour I could hide from the horrible reality in the company of friendly helpful strangers, who had no intent to turn tables, offered both healthy and comfort food (as well as Breakfast All Day), and even had snacks for four-legged friends. The magazine racks and the good people watching are extra pluses for those who needed distraction. I certainly did.

Treats for Everyone at the Flying Star
Treats for Everyone at the Flying Star

Tuscan Traveler is looking for a Flying Star in Florence.

Burnt to a Crisp – Grasping at Straws or Salemi

As Italy is sucked into the worldwide economic crisis, and the general attitude in the streets of Florence is that of cynical pessimism, it is refreshing to see a write-up in the NY Times about the small Sicilian town of Salemi that gave artists and intellectuals power to remake the historic center of the town that had been largely abandoned after a devastating earthquake.

Salemi in western Sicily
Salemi in western Sicily

Salemi sold destroyed ancient buildings for one euro to those who guaranteed to restore the structures within two years. The aldermen focused on art and culture to bring visitors to the off-the-beaten-track village.  And now Salemi has saved a collection of over 50,000 movies (videos and DVDs) from a classic shop in NYC’s East Village. The rest of Italy could learn something from Salemi about the type of ideas and idea-makers result in good governance.

Burnt to a Crisp! – Signage in Italy

A new sign went up in Florence on Via dello Studio two weeks ago. It messes up one of the the best photo vantage spots for shots of the Duomo. It points at the cathedral. It informs tourists that toilet facilities were in that direction.

With 5 million visitors each year – mostly day trekkers – wandering the cobblestones of Florence, such facilities are necessary, to say the least. And they are rare. And hard to find. So a sign is good. Toilets are good. Any tourist, who has been thrown out of the Savoy Hotel because a requirement for using the public restroom is that one has a room in the hotel (thus negating the need for the public toilet), knows that really public loos are good.

The sign went up because new facilities just opened on the edge of Piazza San Giovanni, across the street from the Baptistry. For a mere 80 cents there are seats for those who can find the door. Which brings us back to the sign on Via dello Studio. About 100 feet past the sign, the street ends at the cathedral. There the observant will look to the left and up and find another new directional WC indicator. To Giotto’s Bell Tower.

Following  along the side of the cathedral, the desperate will look in vain for the next sign. One theory some hold is that in Italy there will always be a sign until that moment when you actually need one. Having followed the sign in the direction of the bell tower, the path opens to the piazza between the Duomo and the Baptistry. There is no toilet there. And no sign.

The eagle-eyed will spot small signs across the piazza – on the corner across the road. Sure enough there is a WC sign. BUT it is an old sign and does not point to the new pay toilets. To follow that sign will lead the weary five long blocks (straight, left, right, left again and left again) to the old still-existing pay toilets on the corner of Via Taddea and Via della Stufa, which you will find eventually through no help of any additional signs.

The new facility is to the left of the old sign, through an unmarked doorway with a terracotta baby St. John (copy of statue by Michelozzo) above it, down a hallway where there (finally) sits a large sign to announce your success at finding the toilettes. Now you need change (80 cents) to buy a token to open the turnstile to enter the unisex hand-washing area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The building at Piazza San Giovanni, 7, is across the street from the entrance door to the Baptistry. It used to be the rectory of the Baptistry and may, at some time in the distant future, become a tourist information office and meeting space.  But now, it is just the place where a large number of new pay toilets are located.

Burnt to a Crisp – Train to Nowhere

One kilometer east of the Bologna station the Eurostar City train (a regular, not-so-fast locomotive pulling cars redecorated inside to look like the usually speedy Eurostar line), traveling from Bari (in the Achilles tendon of Italy) to Milan, slowed to a crawl. Those planning to get off in Bologna were already standing, suitcases at the ready, in the aisles to quickly debark. The train stopped, the lights went out, the air conditioning quit, and the emergency lights came on.  The station was not in sight.

Two minutes passed and so did the well-lit Alta Velocità train (Italy’s fastest) with small LED panels on each door informing the City train passengers that its route was from Rome to Milan. The intercom system squawked static.  “Cosa?” “Eh?” “Che dice?” echoed around the packed car.  The sharp of hearing answered, “Questo treno è guasto.” Guasto – a great word – sounds as broken as its meaning. Not delayed. Not waiting for some other train to clear the station. Broken. After six hours of steady forward motion, the Bari to Milan train had stopped, broken, with five dark tracks on one side and four on the other.

The debarkers turned as one, wheeling luggage back to their reserved seats, ejecting those who had thought to improve their positions for the last two hours to Milan. The lights flashed on along with air rushing through the ventilation system. Two minutes later both died again.

The speakers barked out another message with the words “trenta minuti” repeated twice.  Thirty minutes. Groans. Cell phones flipped open.

Rail Map of Italy
Rail Map of Italy

Three ganzo guys, dressed alla moda, with big laptops on which for the past three hours featured interactive calcio games and a film with Cameron Diaz dubbed in Italian, cracked jokes about “senza benzina.”  Another said this was like the Alitalia airline running out of gas. A frizzy-haired businesswoman from Milan popped in another fragrant wad of green apple bubblegum and resumed reading the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle in the dim light.

Thirty minutes passed.  Those going to Florence watched their train (the last connection scheduled for the night) zip past going the opposite direction. The air was growing warm and humid.  Someone started to smoke a forbidden cigarette in the foyer outside the toilette.  A man chewed on a panino con mortadella. A bologna sandwich outside of Bologna – there was a strange sort of symmetry.

Exactly one hour after the Eurostar City sputtered to a stop, it started to back up and then crept forward.  The lights came on and stale air blew through the car. “Come l’Italia,” said one person.  Another responded that to be truly Italy the train would have broken down for three hours in a tunnel with no lights or air conditioning, as had been reported just the month before in the newspapers.

The Bari-Milan Eurostar City pulled into the Bologna Central Station. 

The loudspeaker cackled.  The Milanese lady swore and others groaned. This train was going no further.  Everyone off. The Milan-bound passengers were directed to another platform.  All others were told to go to the Ufficio Assistenza Clienti.

More than one hundred grumpy people swarmed into a long room where a slender young woman in a dark green uniform peered at a computer, flipped through some tattered pages and then turned to stare at the blinking PARTENZE screen high on the wall behind her desk. The travelers became more insistent as it became clear that the last train leaving Bologna in any direction was departing in less than forty minutes. She did a heroic job. Soon the Florence-bound passengers were running to catch the night train to Calabria leaving on Track Three.

The train to Calabria was an old beat up regional train with broken fixtures, stained seats and the lingering odor of recent meals and long ago tobacco.  This was the train that inspired letters to the editor about lice and bedbugs (although the only beds were seats pulled together).  Groups of young toughs and tired illegal vendors paced through the corridors from car to car.  The few women sought out each other for company for the nightlong haul to the southern tip of Italy.

The train was forty minutes late pulling in to Florence and didn’t stop at Stazione Santa Maria Novella in the center of the city, but rather at a small squalid, brightly-lit station on the southern edge of town.

Nine and a half hours after leaving Bari even the periphery of Florence looked welcoming and the surly twitchy cab driver with the dirty ancient taxi was a gift.

Burnt to a Crisp – Outlaws on a Bench

Unwary tourists risk getting hefty fines in some Italian cities and villages for doing things that are perfectly legal everywhere in the world.

At Eraclea, near Venice, The Independent of London rightly reports, “parents need to keep a beady eye on their children: sandcastles are banned, as they ‘obstruct the passage’ along the beach.”

Illegal or Not?
Illegal or Not?

“Two people may sit down on a park bench in the city of Novara [Piedmont], but if a third person joins them and it’s after 11pm, all three are breaking the law. In Viareggio, the benches may contain as many people as care to squeeze on to them, but if one of them puts his feet up on it, he risks a fine.”

Can you sit on the Spanish Steps or in the Loggia di Lanzi of Piazza Signoria?  And if you can, are you allowed to eat a sandwich?  And if eating is against the law, can you drink from a can of soda?  And if not, is a bottle of water allowed?

In Florence, you can’t play Frisbee in the piazza or offer to wash windshields at the intersections.  Recently, Florence outlawed the use of the centuries-old Florentine gigllio (lilly) unless a royalty is paid to the city, but you are probably safe until they figure out how much the royalty will be.  

Beware! The vigili are watching!