Dove Vai? – Historic Shop in Florence

It’s nearly impossible to find a store in the U.S. that has been in business for 130 years.  And it is getting more and more difficult to find a multi-generational family business in Florence.  But tucked across from the back side of the Duomo is one such place – Nante, a shop of timbri (rubber or ink stamps), cornici (picture frames) and targhe (signs). Mario Nante, grandson of the founder, displays a large sign from his grandfather’s first shop in Rome.  It’s dated 1879 – just after Italy became unified as a country and the capital moved from Florence to … Read More

Dove Vai? – American World War II Cemetery Near Florence

When a visitor tires of the noisy teeming crowds amid the gray stones of Florence, he or she should board the SITA bus or travel by car to the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial, located south on the roads to Siena and Greve. In the green silence, this historic location is a place to learn about the importance of the American sacrifice in World War II and the reason most Italians still hold the U.S. in high esteem, as well as it is a spot to contemplate the beauty of the Tuscan countryside while thinking of its turbulent past.

Don’t … Read More

Dove Vai? – The Castle Town of Montefioralle

The village of Montefioralle is one of the most well-preserved medieval villages in all of Tuscany. Originally a walled castle, it is located in the heart of the Chianti Classico region on a low ridge above the town of Greve.

Castello di Montefioralle, first mentioned in 1085, was built with two parallel octagonal walls. The stone walls still exist, but the outer defensive wall evolved through the ages as houses were built against it, using the existing structure.  Now a ring of homes and a narrow circular cobblestone street fills the space between the original walls. The four original gates … Read More

Dove Vai? – To the Arno during Acqua Alta

This past summer the Arno was so low that water plants were creeping across the river, strangling the flow. Three months later the plants are history, swept away by a torrent of cafféllatte water that is lapping half way up the lawn of the rowing club near the Ponte Vecchio.

Although the situation is not as dire as the floods in Venice or the present scare that the Tiber will crest its banks in Rome, Florence has done less that most Italian cities to prevent a repeat of the 1966 Alluvione. (On November 4, 1966, the Arno broke over … Read More

Dove Vai? – Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden

This garden was made with difficulties, love, wild enthusiasm, obsession, and most of all, faith. Nothing could have stopped me. 

As in all fairy tales, before finding the treasure, I met on my path dragons, sorcerers, magicians and the Angel of Temperance.

Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002)

Rising on low hills of southern Tuscany, not far from the sea, Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden is a village of sculpture that defies time and reality.  The sculptures are architectural – stairs to climb, courtyards to discover, and even a home (used at one time by the artist) to explore (The … Read More

Dove Vai? – Go to Matera for the Best European Writers’ Conference

Europe is not known for its conferences for writers.  There are many great gatherings for readers, including those in Edinburgh, Wales and Turin.  But only the small town of Matera hosts a great symposium for writers and, despite its name, Women’s Fiction Festival (WFF), it’s not just for women anymore.  This year the speakers included Nick Hornby (About A Boy) and his editor, Penguin UK’s Publishing Director Tony Lacey.

The roots of WFF are in romantic fiction – Harlequin Mondadori and Book Cents Literary Agency are sponsors. One story has it that Elizabeth Jennings, founder of the festival, … Read More

Dove Vai – Colonnata, Village of Anarchists, Lardo and Marble

To think of marble is to think of the town of Carrara in the Italian Apuan Alps.  But a more interesting place to visit is the nearby village of Colonnata, which also has a heart of stone, un’anima anarchica (a soul of anarchy), and a palate for lardo

The Colonnata basin constitutes the eastern part of the Carrara marble region and holds about seventy quarries, forty-four of which are still active.  Arrive via a narrow winding road that goes up the valley cut by the Carrione river.  On the other side of the canyon it is still possible to … Read More

Dove Vai? – The Fix-It Shop for the Cathedral

The Florentine Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore (St. Mary of the Flower) recently celebrated the 712th anniversary of the laying of the first stone on September 8, 1296.  The day was marked by the ringing of the bells in Giotto’s campanile, the annual opening of the mid-level terrace to visitors, and the open-house of the La Bottega dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore — the fix-it shop of the cathedral.

On Via dello Studio, half a block from Piazza del Duomo, Claudio, a stone-cutter, works with about ten other men to keep the Duomo in repair.  Usually passersby look … Read More

Dove Vai? – Refuge in a Bookshop

Whenever I can’t leave town, but I want to escape the Renaissance Disneyland that Florence has become, I go to Paperback Exchange to hide out for an hour or two.

Established almost 30 years ago as a second-hand, trade-in, English bookshop, Paperback Exchange began life as a tiny store, on a busy, dusty corner, crammed with jumbled piles of books. In 2005, Maurizio and Emily moved the shop to a tranquil street in the heart of the city, less than a block from the Duomo.  

The new place has two expansive rooms with large windows, comfortable reading chairs and well-organized … Read More