Category Archives: Tuscan Traveler’s Tales

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Happy New Year in Florence

New Year's Celebration in Florence
New Year’s Celebration in Florence

Tuscan Traveler believes that 2014 is going to be the best year yet in Florence. So now we need to get 2013 to give up the ghost and move on.

Time to visit the classics
Time to visit the classics

Everybody, especially the Chinese and Russians tourists, are coming to visit. As the U.S. economy climbs to the top again, we look forward to Americans giving up their “staycations” and coming back to where the food and views are the best in the world! Florence and Tuscany!

Snow on the Florence Duomo
Snow on the Florence Duomo

We are ambivalent about snow in Florence, but for a day or two in January it gives us something to talk about. And the museums are empty so we will catch up on the new exhibits.

Fireworks in Florence at the New Year
Fireworks in Florence at the New Year

So be sure to check into what Tuscan Traveler has to offer in the coming year. If you or friends and family are coming for a visit, visit Friend In Florence for tours and services.

Danta & Guido send best wishes for 2014
Dante & Guido send best wishes for 2014

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Italian Life Rules (the book) is coming in Summer 2014. Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Italian Food Rules: The BookAmazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – The Monument to a Tragedy

Twenty years ago, in the night between 26 and 27 May 1993, a bomb exploded in Via dei Georgofili, which killed five people, wounded nearly fifty and damaged a part of the heritage of the Uffizi Gallery. (See the posting below.)

The crater left inside the Accademia die Georgofili
The crater left inside the Accademia dei Georgofili

Three paintings were lost, while in total about 200 were damaged (150 paintings and 50 sculptures), between those exposed in the museum, those in the hallway of the Vasari Corridor, and those in storage.

Paintings from the Renaissance destroyed in 1993
Paintings from the Renaissance destroyed in 1993

In 2004, a hundred-year-old olive tree was placed in front of the Accademia dei Georgofili as a living memorial to the victims of the massacre.The tree bears a plaque in Italian and 10 other languages, wishing that “all passersby will remember the barbaric act that took place on May 27, 1993 and all those that suffered will be in our minds and hearts.”

Olive tree placed in 2004 in honor of the victims
Olive tree placed in 2004 in honor of the victims

The tree has not weathered the years in the alley behind the Uffizi well. It is now bandaged and bare.

In 2008, the City of Florence placed a bronze piece depicting the blast was placed on the wall across from the Accademia.

Monument placed in 2008 by the City of Florence
Monument placed in 2008 by the City of Florence

In 2011, President Napolitano came to commemorate a plaque on the wall of the Accademia dei Georgofili with the names of the victims inscribed.

Placed in 2011 on the Accademia dei Georgofili where the victims lived
Placed in 2011 on the Accademia dei Georgofili where the victims lived

This year on May 26, the Uffizi Gallery, together with the Friends of Florence, unveiled a specially commissioned statue, which is placed some 20 meters above ground on the wall of the Uffizi Gallery facing Via dei Georgofili. Made by Tuscan artist Roberto Barni, the 2-meter tall statue in bronze is entitled “I Passi d’Oro” (The Golden Strides). It was presented to the public in the Salone de’ Cinquecento of the Palazzo Vecchio by president of the Italian Senate, Pietro Grasso, with members of the Association of Relatives of the Victims of via dei Georgofili in attendance.

I Passi d'Oro by Roberto Barni
I Passi d'Oro by Roberto Barni

This is the first time the non-profit Friends of Florence Foundation, chaired by Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda, supported the creation of a sculpture dedicated to the commemoration of a tragic episode in Italian history, rather than its usual work of restoration of Renaissance sculpture and paintings in Florence. (The Friends of Florence were instrumental in the restoration of most of the sculptures on the Loggia dei Lanzi.)

Statue by Roberto Barni stands on a stone plinth
Statue by Roberto Barni stands on a stone plinth

The six-foot statue of bronze, covered in gold leaf, depicts a striding golden figure of a man with five small attached figures (representing each of the victims) on a blade of stone. See the video of the unveiling in situ.

The memorial statue walks 60 feet up above the street
The memorial statue walks 60 feet up above the street

Perhaps only the powers that be of the Uffizi Gallery can explain why the impressive six-foot sculpture by Barni is placed so high on the museum’s exterior wall that it can barely be seen. Is this the age-old problem that Florence has displaying modern art where people can actually see it or is it the difficulty of attaching a heavy bronze to the medieval Torre dei Pulci, where there was the most loss of life, or is there some other reason? I, for one, would support the repositioning of I Passi d’Oro.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Twenty Years Ago A Terrorist Bomb Shook Florence

The Uffizi Is Targeted By A Terrorist Bomb

Twenty years ago, a little more than one hour after midnight, May 27, 1993, a massive explosion echoed throughout Florence. It was a true case of domestic terrorism.

Today an olive tree marks the place where the bomb detonated in 1993
Today an olive tree stands where the bomb detonated in 1993

A stolen white Fiat Fiorino van, loaded with explosives, was driven into the city center and parked under the Torre dei Pulci in Via dei Georgofili. The car bomb (280 kilograms of Pentrite and T4 (both components of Semtex) mixed with a small quantity of TNT) was detonated blasting a crater ten feet wide and six feet deep. Fragments of metal debris landed as far away as Via dei Calzaiuoli.

The terrorists were the members Cosa Nostra in Sicily. This was an act of intimidation.

The explosion killed five people: municipal police inspector Fabrizio Nencioni; his wife Angela, the live-in custodian at the Accademia dei Georgofili; their daughters, nine-year-old Nadia and seven-week-old Caterina; and a 22-year-old architecture student Dario Capolicchio, who lived in a nearby apartment. Another 33 people were hospitalized for injuries.

Apartment of the Nencioni family
Apartment of the Nencioni family

To the mafia the dead were just ancillary damage. The Uffizi Gallery was the main target of the blast. The structural damage to the museum cost more than a million dollars to repair. Although the reinforced window glass of the museum shattered, it protected most of the artworks from the full force of the blast. Three paintings were completely destroyed, thirty-three others were damaged and three statues were broken.

The damage was far greater to the fifteenth-century Torre dei Pulci, home since 1933 to the Accademia dei Georgofili, established in 1735, the world’s first learned society of agronomy and scientific agriculture. The building imploded and crumbled to the ground, completely destroying the apartment of the Nencioni family. Over one thousand of the Accademia’s 40,000 rare books, manuscripts and historic archives were irretrievably lost.

Damage in the Uffizi Gallery from the bomb blast
Damage in the Uffizi Gallery from the bomb blast

The Florentines pulled together as they had after the extensive damage in World War II and the Arno Flood in 1966. A month later a memorial for the dead filled the Piazza della Signoria where the orchestra and chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino played in concert. It took three years to reopen the Accademia dei Georgofili. Work on parts of the Uffizi Gallery and the Vasari Corridor took much longer.

This year, on May 26, the twentieth anniversary brings a number of events and presentations about the events in the early morning of May 27, 1993, including the presentation of a permanent memorial to the victims, a statue by sculptor Roberto Barni, commissioned by the Friends of Florence, the Associazione tra i Familiari delle Vittime della Strage di Via dei Georgofili, and the Uffizi Gallery organizations. The sculpture is called I Passi d’Oro (The Golden Steps).

Sketch of Roberto Barni's memorial statue
Sketch of Roberto Barni's memorial statue

Domestic Terror Planned and Carried Out By the Mafia

The attack on the Uffizi and Accademia dei Georgofili bore similarities to a bomb targeting anti-mafia campaigner and television host (The Maurizio Costanzo Show) Maurizio Costanzo, which had exploded in the fashionable Roman neighborhood of Parioli 13 days earlier, injuring 23 people.

Terrorist Bomb 5/27/93The Cosa Nostra’s involvement in the bombing was confirmed a month later, in July 1993, when three bombs were detonated, almost simultaneously: one in Milan (at the Pavilion of Contemporary Art, where five people died) and two in Rome (at the cathedral of San Giovanni in Laterano and at the church of San Giorgio in Velabro).

Evidence was soon found suggesting that the bombs were placed by Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian organized crime syndicate. These terrorist attacks were meant not only to deter, by way of warning, its members from turning state’s witness, but also to force the over-ruling of Art. 41 (bis) of the Penitentiary Law of August 1992, which imposed harsh living conditions on prisoners, especially those accused of being members of mafia organizations, severely curtailing their contact with those outside prison.

Words by anti-mafia prosecutor Govanni Falcone on Georgofili olive tree
Words by anti-mafia prosecutor Govanni Falcone on Georgofili olive tree

After the arrest of mafia boss Totò Riina from Corleone in January 1993, the remaining bosses, among them Giuseppe Graviano, Matteo Messina Denaro, Giovanni Brusca, Leoluca Bagarella, Antonino Gioè and Gioacchino La Barbera came together a few times (often in the Santa Flavia area in Bagheria, on an estate owned by the mafioso Leonardo Greco). They decided on a strategy to force the Italian state to retreat in its pressure on the Cosa Nostra. The Graviano brothers were seen as the organizers of the operation, in particular to select the men who would carry out the bombings.

Terrorist Bomb 5/27/93It was nearly ten years before some of the perpetrators were brought to justice. In 2002, for ordering the bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan, bosses Giuseppe and Filippo Graviano each received a life sentence for the bombings. For their part, Leoluca Bagarella, Totò Riina, Bernardo Provenzano and Matteo Messina Denaro (still a fugitive), along with another ten members of the clan were also sentenced to life imprisonment.

Finally, this month, two decades after the horrific acts, Sicilian fisherman Cosimo D’Amato, 68, was sentenced to life imprisonment for supplying explosives for Mafia massacres in Rome, Florence and Milan. He was convicted on testimony from a former mafia member Gaspare Spatuzza. Police say that D’Amato recovered large amounts of TNT, later used in several mafia bombings, from World War II remains he found in the sea. D’Amato is related to other members of the mafia involved in the Falcone and Borsellino slayings.

Terrorist Bomb 5/27/93D’Amato is also being probed for a role in supplying the dynamite used in a massive explosion that killed anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca, and three bodyguards in May 1992. That explosion occurred on the motorway near the town of Capaci near Sicily’s regional capital. Falcone is considered a national hero. The 21st anniversary of Falcone’s murder was marked with ceremonies in Palermo Thursday.

Italian Life Rules – The Dreaded Draft or a Blast of Air

In no other part of the world is the air as dangerous as it is in Italy. Not because of pollution, although cities like Florence have some of the most polluted air in Europe, but because of the air itself — throughout the country — inside and outside. In fact, it seems to be more risky inside than out. And air conditioned air is the worst of all.

Beauty and protection - Italian women always carry a scarf
Beauty and protection – Italian women always carry a scarf

Tell an Italian that you have any of the following symptoms: headache, sore throat, indigestion, chest pain, toothache, earache, stiff neck; and the diagnosis will be the same — you have been attacked by air. Specifically you have experienced a blast of air or colpo d’aria. The incident of exposure could have lasted for seconds or hours, but must have occurred within the last week to cause your present malady.

The result of the dreaded draft will be a cervicale (sore cervical spine), torcicollo (stiff neck), mal di testa (headache), raffreddore (head cold), or congestione (stomach cramp). These relatively mild ailments could lead to pneumonia indigestion or death.

Even Italian dogs are protected from the dreaded draft
Italian dogs are protected from the dreaded draft

Not being Italian, the tourist is not in danger of contracting any of these ailments from the colpo d’aria. The tourist, instead, will be merely hot because the air conditioning will be off in the car, the train, or the restaurant, or suffocating because the windows cannot be open at night, or in a car, or in a train. Alone in a restaurant, trying to cool down on a sweltering hot August day, it is guaranteed that a group of Italians will arrive and within five minutes ask the waiter to turn off the AC “for their health.” Refrigerated air is considered more peril-filled than fresh air, but night air can claim the unwary sleeper.

Even the political candidates are subject to a colpo d'aria
Even the political candidates are subject to a colpo d’aria

Sweaty bodies are especially at risk, as are children emerging from the ocean onto a blistering hot beach. An Italian mother will always have a sweater, scarf, and socks (cotton in summer, wool in winter) in her humongous purse in case her treasured only child is threatened by air. Any part of the body (knees, liver, hips, gall bladder, heart and lungs), but especially the head and neck, is subject to the dangerous air

Only tourists will risk drying their hair au naturel, either inside or on the street (also a violation of the hair styling rules). Only tourists expose their tummies and shoulders to the errant breeze.

British designer Sibling will not sell well in Italy
British designer Sibling will not sell well in Italy

The benefit, of course, is that Italy produces the most beautiful scarves, sweaters, wraps, shawls, and other apparel in silks, cottons, cashmere and wool to protect the delicate neck and shoulders from the dreaded draft.

But it doesn’t end here. Ask your Italian friends about the saying: Sole di vetro e vento di fessura mandano l’uomo in sepoltura. It seems that sun through window glass and the dreaded draft will send a man to his grave. Beware!

 

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Life Rules (the book) is coming in Summer 2014. Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

Friend In Florence Gets a Nod From Dream of Italy

A favorite Italian-interest website (and newsletter), Dream of Italy, just named Friend In Florence and yours truly as one of Italy’s Best Local Tour Guides for 2013. A big GRAZIE to both founder Kathy McCabe and contributing editor Rebecca Winke (also of the fabulous Agriturismo Brigolante Guest Apartments in Umbria).

best-tour-guide-badge-largeOver ten years ago, Kathy McCabe had the brilliant idea of starting one of the first subscription travel newsletter on the Internet. She was passionate about all things Italy so it became Dream of Italy, The Insider’s Guide to Undiscovered Italy. The newsletter was awarded “Best Consumer Subscription Newsletter 2007” and has been recommended by USA TODAY, National Geographic Traveler, U.S News & World Report and BusinessWeek, among other major media outlets.

Kathy McCabe
Kathy McCabe

Through her newsletter and media appearances, Kathy has become well known as the travel expert for Italy. She has helped thousands of travelers “be Italian” for a day, a week, or a month. She was recently voted one of the “12 Top Travel Twitter Personalities for 2012.” She was also the editor for the recently released mobile app – Rome: Dream of Italy.

Kathy’s first-hand Italy reporting has included assisting in the production of buffalo mozzarella in Campania, partaking in truffle hunts in Piedmont and Umbria, soaking in magical hot springs in Tuscany, watching open-air opera in Verona, visiting ancient caves in Basilicata and reviewing Italy’s newest restaurants and hotels. She recently wrote about her visit to Francis Ford Coppola’s new venture, the exclusive hotel Palazzo Margherita in the Basilicata region, for The Huffington Post.

Rebecca’s blog is one of the wryest (and truest) looks at an expat’s life in Italy. When is she going to write that book?

Agriturismo Brigolante Guest Apartments
Agriturismo Brigolante Guest Apartments

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Last Post from the Atacama Desert

Sandstone bluffs are the doors to the Valley of the Moon
Sandstone bluffs are the doors to the Valley of the Moon

Florence in January and February is mostly gray – gray medieval or renaissance stone palazzos, gray cobblestone streets, gray rain, gray skies, gray clothes – so it warms me up to think back to hot days on the high, high, high Atacama Desert of Chile with its rose and peach wind-shaped bluffs, its white-silver salt flats with pink flamingos, its blue-black midnight skies with a moon hanging within reach.

The Valley of the Dead leads to an ancient volcano
Death Valley leads to an ancient volcano

Before I arrived at the Calama airport, I thought I knew deserts, but the Atacama is unique with geysers at altitudes that steal your breath, volcanos – both active and sleeping, and salt flats, curdled hard after centuries of sun, surrounding saline pools teeming with flamingos.

El Tatio Geyser Basin at 12,500 feet above sea level in the Atacama Desert
El Tatio Geyser Basin at 12,500 feet above sea level in Atacama

I thought the desert might provide the peace I needed after the chaotic Santiago streets, but debated whether Patagonia might be more a more interesting escape. What I found in the Atacama Desert made me wish I had two weeks rather than four days to explore its variety. On my next visit I fantasize that I will try sand surfing, but probably not.

A sleeping volcano known as Licancabur
A sleeping volcano known as Licancabur

Florence is not know for its wildlife (or even as a place for a wild life). There are a lot of gray pigeons and at home, Dante and Guido – they are gray-furred, too.

A lone vicuna, one of twenty at the geyser basin
A lone vicuña, one of twenty at the geyser basin

I didn’t think the “dead” Atacama Desert would have many colorful birds or animals, but it does – vicuñas, llamas, alpacas, and guanacos, as well as flamingos, Andean geese, Andean gulls, grebes and condors.

Hundreds of flamingos spend months on the Salar de Atacama
Hundreds of flamingos spend months on the Salar de Atacama

Florence feels closed in during January and February. It’s cold, but not too cold. It’s damp, but without the excitement of a thunderstorm. I am encouraged to hibernation. At the Hotel Atacama I found that just listening to the wind move along the sand was invigorating. I can almost still hear it now.

Week-old llama gets a kiss from his mother at the Hotel Alto Atacama
Week-old llama gets a kiss from his mother at the Hotel Alto Atacama

The Atacama Desert stretches on forever with all its space, variety and color. The  memories will get me to March when the crocus and iris will greet a pale sun in the Tuscan countryside and promise an April bursting with color.

Alto Atacama Hotel
Alto Atacama Hotel

 

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Life Rules (the book) is coming in Summer 2014. Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

 

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Seeking Stars at La Silla in Chile

Sometimes Tuscan Traveler wants to go someplace out of this world. La Silla Observatory run by the European Southern Observatory seemed to be the best place to start.

Nebula Carina seen from the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at La Silla Observatory
Nebula Carina seen from the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at La Silla Observatory

ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in the Atacama Desert region of Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. ESO’s first site is at La Silla, a high desert mountain 600 kilometers north of Santiago, Chile. It is equipped with several optical telescopes with mirror diameters of up to 3.6 meters. La Silla has been an ESO stronghold since the 1960s.

The La Silla Observatory seen from the road beyond the entry gate
The La Silla Observatory seen from the road beyond the entry gate

And, among other things, they are looking for earth-like planets, which may be important two days from now.

The La Silla Observatory is located at an altitude of 2400 meters (about 6,250 feet). Like other observatories in this geographical area, La Silla is sited far from sources of light pollution. It has one of the darkest night skies on the Earth. Unfortunately, folks like us can only visit during the daytime.

So we rented a Suzuki compact (first mistake) in Santiago and headed north on Highway 5 toward La Serena. We overnighted at Hacienda Santa Cristina (great choice) near Ovalle. The next day, despite the fact that we had a strict 1:30pm appointment at the La Silla entry gate, we decided to take in the fish market at Coquimbo (second mistake) where we were so intrigued by the swords made out of swordfish blades, we dropped an hour behind our schedule.

North of Las Serena, Highway 5 becomes a two-lane winding road full of long-haul carriers climbing over 6,000 feet from sea level to the high desert. No place to pass.

Finally off Highway 5 our driver refused to go another kilometer
Finally off Highway 5 our driver refused to go another kilometer

But there is worse to come. Once on La Silla’s private road you really need an SUV. For over five miles the washboard road shook the Suzuki to bits.

The sign does not tell you how bad the road is for 10 kilometers
The sign does not tell you how bad the road is for 10 kilometers

But having started out from the fish market an hour behind schedule, we arrived only 15 minutes late, just about the time 50 Chilean schoolchildren in two rickety buses, a young couple in another Suzuki, and a older pair of Swiss nationals in a four-wheel-drive (you can count on the Swiss to be prepared) arrived. The caravan, duly checked in, wound up the last 1,200 feet in altitude (losing the buses to overheating) to the observatory. A burro mother and child made better time than we did.

Semi-wild burros graze on slim picking at over 6,250 feet above sea level
Semi-wild burros graze on slim picking at over 6,250 feet above sea level

At La Silla, ESO operates some of the most productive 4-meter class telescopes in the world. The 3.58-meter New Technology Telescope (NTT) broke new ground for telescope engineering and design and was the first in the world to have a computer-controlled main mirror (active optics), a technology developed at ESO and now applied to most of the world’s current large telescopes.

View of La Silla from the top of the largest telescope - ESO 3.6 meter
View of La Silla from the top of the largest telescope – ESO 3.6 meter

The ESO 3.6-meter telescope is now home to the world’s foremost extra-solar planet hunter: High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), a spectrograph with unrivalled precision.

The telescope attached to the
The view from the ground of the buildings housing the ESO 3.6 meter telescope

The infrastructure of La Silla is also used by many of the ESO member states for targeted projects such as the Swiss 1.2-metre Leonhard Euler Telescope, the Rapid Eye Mount telescope (REM) and the TAROT Telescope gamma-ray burst chaser, as well as more common user facilities such as the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre and the Danish 1.54-metre telescopes. The 67-million pixel Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre Telescope has taken many amazing images of celestial objects, some of which have now become icons in their own right.

Carlos Corco knew all of the history, facts and figures in two languages
Carlos Corco knew all of the history, facts and figures

We toured with Carlos Corco, an excellent guide (speaking both English and Spanish), who is a graduate student in Astronomy and Physics at the university in La Serena. Three other students, who corralled the 50 school children with great skill, assisted him. For three hours we saw most of the facilities on the mountaintop, including the dormitories (scientists stay from Monday to Friday), the research offices (full of computers , but empty of personnel on Saturday) and the two main telescopes, the NTT and the ESO 3.6 meter.

The ESO telescope with a 3.6 meter lens constructed in 1970
The ESO telescope with a 3.6 meter lens constructed in 1970

Not only did we tour the outside of the facility , but we entered the freezing inner sanctum of the ESO 3.6 meter telescope and then climbed to the narrow observation walkway clinging to the side of the dome.

Silvia endures the wind to enjoy the view of the Atacama Desert north of La Silla
Silvia endures the wind to enjoy the view of the Atacama Desert north of La Silla

Just as we were getting ready to leave the manager of the facility arrived to give us the extra treat of a 360-degree ride on the NTT telescope.

Dormitory for scientists who stay 24 hours a day/5 days a week
Dormitory for scientists who stay 24 hours a day/5 days a week

With about 300 publications in scientific journals attributable to the work of the observatory per year, La Silla remains at the forefront of astronomy. It now takes about a year in the waiting line for a scientist to get their project on the night’s list for time on the appropriate telescope.

Lightening up about lightning strikes at La Silla - scientist humor
Lightening up about lightning strikes at La Silla – scientist humor

La Silla has led to an enormous number of scientific discoveries, including several “firsts”. The HARPS spectrograph is the undisputed champion at finding low-mass extra-solar planets. It detected the system around Gliese 581, which contains what may be the first known rocky planet in a habitable zone, outside the Solar System. Several telescopes at La Silla played a crucial role in linking gamma-ray bursts – the most energetic explosions in the Universe since the Big Bang – with the explosions of massive stars.

Swedish telescope - my favorite, but decommissioned
Swedish telescope – my favorite, but decommissioned

Since 1987, the ESO La Silla Observatory has also played an important role in the study and follow-up of the nearest recent supernova, SN 1987A. On February 2, 2011, astronomers using the Wide Field Imager on the 2.2m telescope discovered an unusual pure disk galaxy christened NGC 3621.

Time lapse photo from the top of the larges telescope on a moonlit night
Time lapse photo from the top of the larges telescope on a moonlit night

Although the tour is in the daytime when nary a star is seen, the experience of being high above the Atacama desert with panoramic views in all directions make this an out of the world experience.

Alma, just open for business, looking for the beginnings of the universe
Alma, just open for business, looking for the beginnings of the universe

Next time I am in the Atacama Desert I want to go to visit Alma, which had its official opening two weeks ago. Alma is located at 16,000 feet in altitude hundreds of miles north of La Silla. Read about Alma here. This time I will fly in for the visit.

 

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Life Rules (the book) is coming in Summer 2014. Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Arno is Still Rising with the Bomba D’Acqua

Florentines always think that the river to watch after days of rain is the Arno. But this week with incredible downpours – known as bombe d’acqua (bombs of water) – a small creek, the Mugnone, threatened to overflow its banks in parts of the city.

Arno rising after bomba d'acqua
Arno rising after bomba d'acqua

The Arno also continues to rise. The Mugnone is a tributary to the Arno.

Ponte Vecchio lights up the rising river
Ponte Vecchio lights up the rising river

Residents located along the Mugnone were told to head to higher floors and parking garages warned car owners to move their vehicles to higher ground.

The Mugnone is usually a sleeping stream busy breeding misquitoes
The Mugnone is usually a sleeping stream busy breeding mosquitoes

The over-taxed freshwater sewer system flooded streets and piazzas in parts of Florence. The storm has been nicknamed “Medusa.”

A combination of the rising Mungnone tributary and the flooded sewer system in Florence.
Results of the rising Mugnone tributary and the flooded sewer system in Florence.

In Tuscany Massa Carrara, on the coast, took the brunt of the flooding with cars being swept off the streets and roads being destroyed.

Tromba d'aria off the Tuscan coast - a rare sight.
Tromba d'aria off the Tuscan coast - a rare sight.

The southern coast of Tuscany had a different kind of excitement when a rare tromba d’aria (trumpet of air), or water spout, touched down in the sea near Rosignano.

St. Mark's Square is awash with debris.
St. Mark's Square is awash with debris.

Venice is still under more and more meters of acqua alta (high water), which the Venetians are used to, but getting very tired of this winter. Fewer gag shots by tourists are turning up on the blogs.

Hard to serve lunch in Venice these days.
Hard to serve lunch in Venice these days.

But hope is in sight. It’s drier today in Tuscany and the forecast for the next week is, if not sunny, at least without the bombe d’aqua.

Even the walkways are washing away in Venice.
Even the walkways are washing away in Venice.

And my friend Giorgio (see post from two weeks ago) is heading for London, where they are used to rain. My cats, of course, will miss him.

Not much space left.
Not much space left.

But perhaps the Italians would like him to visit again only during a summer drought.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales: High Water in Italy

They say a combination of heavy rain, strong winds and warmer than usual temperatures have put Italy under water this week. But I know the truth. My friend – let’s call him Giorgio – arrived in Florence this week after causing that wet thing called Sandy a couple of weeks ago in his hometown of Washington, DC and his other place out in Virginia.

Remember how low the Arno was in August?
Remember how low the Arno was in August?

Now the Arno is getting to the highest level since the flood of 1966 (nobody knows where Giorgio was that November). Be warned! Giorgio plans to stay in Florence until December. He’s also scheduling a side trip to Rome for the Vermeers (luckily the Scuderie del Quirinale are on a hill).

Now when were we going to dredge the Arno channel?
Now when were we going to dredge the Arno channel?

Giorgio has lived many places. One of which was Florence, a decade ago, where his apartment was below the water table, cut into a hill in the Oltrarno. To add to the problem, his upstairs neighbor’s 100-year-old pipes broke and leaked through the bedroom ceiling.

Time to get the gold and silver out of the Ponte Vecchio shops?
Time to get the gold and silver out of the Ponte Vecchio shops?

Something similar happened in his apartment in London and although they blamed it on climate change, the rain in central England during the years of Giorgio’s sojourn there reached record levels. He sold up and moved. In Washington, he lives in a once-famous place with an H2O name. There, his plumber broke the pipe to his bathroom sink causing the building to have its water cut off for repairs. (I may not be remembering this accurately, but somebody, besides Giorgio, was very angry.)

Near the northern Tuscan coast
Near the northern Tuscan coast

When he left Florence for London, he kindly gave me his sisal area rug. Two months later, the workers repairing my roof failed to cover it properly on a weekend when it rained continuously. The livingroom ceiling (200-years-old, made of terracotta bricks, plaster and insulated with straw – thus, yellow- and siena-colored water poured through) caved in, ruining Grigorio’s carpet.

A vacation of a lifetime.
A vacation of a lifetime.

I have posited the theory that in a past life Grigorio got on the wrong side of Neptune and he has been paying for it since. Just two days before the recent rains brought the high water in Florence, the residential water was turned off (ostensibly for for street repairs) in a two block radius around the apartment building he is staying in near the Duomo  Now the Arno, which still has a riverbed as shallow as it was in 1966, is rising.

Need a gondola?
Need a gondola?

In Venice, visitors expect to see water – but not this much of it. This past week tourists have been wading through waterlogged cafes and swimming across St. Mark’s Square after heavy rainfall caused some of the famous Italian city’s worst floods in years.

Waves in the Venice canals
Waves in the Venice canals

Authorities say 70 percent of Venice was underwater this week. Water levels rose as much as 5ft above average in the past few days, which makes it the city’s sixth-worst flood on record.

Can you say "Waterborne disease?"
Can you say "Waterborne disease?"

Even before the storm (and to be fair, before Giorgio arrived in Italy), Venetian waters have been higher than normal for more than two weeks now. The seasonal “acqua alta,” or high water, periodically occurs when high tides coincide with strong prevailing winds.

Most widely posted shot of two idiot tourists
Most widely posted shot of two idiot tourists

The same bad weather caused floods and mudslides across northern Italy, with some 200 people evacuated from parts of Tuscany, including the neighborhood below Orvieto and in the Maremma region.

Near the train line passing Orvieto
Near the train line passing Orvieto

Italy is the country that found the scientists guilty of manslaughter for failing to predict the earthquake in 2008 that leveled L’Aquila. Giorgio, or whatever his name really is, should be worried if the Arno continues to rise. (I should be worried because he is taking care of my cats.)

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise on the Move

On September 8th this year, in honor of the 716th anniversary of the Duomo, the original Florence Baptistery’s Gates of Paradise will return to public view in the museum of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore (behind the Duomo), after a restoration lasting 27 years.

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Coincidentally, 27 years is the same amount of time it took Lorenzo Ghiberti to achieve the originals. Without equal in complexity, the restoration saved the legendary gold-leafed bronze doors from certain destruction.

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Directed and performed by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence, commissioned by the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, the restoration was made possible thanks to funding from the Ministry of Heritage and Culture and the contribution of the Friends of Florence, based in the United States.

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The Gates of Paradise – named by Michelangelo, created by Ghiberti – were installed in the Florence Baptistery in 1452. In what is considered to be the first autobiography by a European artist, known as I Commentarii, Ghiberti recalled the creation of what he rightly judged to be “the most outstanding” of all his works. For the assignment, he wrote, he was “given a free hand to execute it in whatever way I thought it would turn out most perfect and most ornate and richest.” With that mandate, he dispensed with traditional quatrefoils—four-lobed configurations—and instead divided the doors into ten square panels, which he surrounded with 24 figures and 24 heads. Read more about the creation of the panels in an excellent article in The Smithsonian.

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It took Ghiberti 12 years to model and cast the main reliefs and another 15 to finish them. Not so much time, really, when you consider that along with the arduous work of detailing the surface of the cast bronze—the punching, hammering, incising and polishing that, collectively, is known as “chasing”—he had to come up with a new syntax for portraying a narrative. But still, 27 years on one project is an act of true dedication.

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Last night (June 27) the Gates of Paradise – weighing 8 tons, 15 feet (5 meters) high and 9 feet (3 meters) wide, with a thickness of just over 4 inches (11 centimeters) – took two trips, one for each door, from the restoration studio at the Opificio di Pietre Dure on Via Alfani to the Museum in Piazza Duomo. Added to the four tons of each door was the added weight of the cage of metal designed to support and protect it during transport, for a total of about 7 tons. The delicate operation required six hours.

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The doors will never go back to their original position outside, but will become part of the Baptistery exhibition at the Museum. They will be shown inside a specially designed display case, necessary to preserve them under conditions of low humidity and constant temperature to prevent formation of salts between the unstable surface of the bronze and the layer of gold leaf, in the covered courtyard entrance of the Museum, until 2015 when a new wing of the museum to be created specially for the Baptistery collection is scheduled to be finished.

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The doors, seen by millions, are a copy created after the disastrous flood in 1966. See Tuscan Traveler’s Tale about the fascinating story of the replacement of the Gates of Paradise.