Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Folon’s Over the Rainbow to See the Stars

The imagination and whimsy of Jean-Michel Folon’s sculpture gift to the Rose Garden in Florence (February 8 post) led me to discover more about this extraordinary artist. A quirky story about an 80-year-old yacht saved by Folon at the end of his own life caught my attention..

Folon said, “I’ve spent all my life trying to fly and I assure you that I can’t, I’ve spent my life drawing blue men who flew, and during my life, I’ve also drawn many rainbows.” In 2001, he found a  tangible rainbow.

He told this story: Some years ago I was in Roma Read More

Master Designer in Glass & Crystal Beads – Ornella Aprosio

In a magical oasis on the edge of the noise and bustle of Florence’s historic center, you can find a glittering green-blue seahorse hanging on a ribbon just a foot away from a pink calla lily lapel pin. Fiery chili pepper necklaces vie with ruby red cherry earrings and spotted ladybug pins. On the upholstered “husband” bench, beaded needlepoint pillows provide support for the viewing of one after another of the jewel-toned purses and evening clutches.

This is the world of the Aprosio & Co., the dream child of designer Ornella Aprosio, master artisan of the tiniest of crystal and … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Artisan Woodworker of Cortona

Fifteen years ago on my second visit to Italy, I went to Cortona. Why? To have tea with Frances Mayes, of course. I planned to spend the following year under the Tuscan sun – a sabbatical from my law firm life. Who else would be the best source of info?

We did not sip tea under the shady arbor of grapevines, near the fragrant lavender patch, behind the golden and peach-colored walls of the restored Bramasole villa. No, we sat in the back of the Caffe Bar Signorelli in the main square of Cortona for two hours over countless cups … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Easter Egg Extravaganza!

As holidays go, Italy shines the brightest in the Spring when Easter approaches. Florence goes all out with flowers, but it is the chocolate eggs that are most impressive. Throughout the city shop windows bloom with vibrantly-wrapped chocolate treats from creamy white to mild ganache to darker fondente to extra noir.

Long before the Easter Bunny started delivering sugary eggs, the ancient Romans believed that “omne vivum ex ovo” – all life comes from the egg – and it was commonly a symbol of new birth after the winter when everything has lain dormant.

There is some evidence that … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Artusi at 100, Italy Honors its Culinary Father

Pellegrino Artusi, author of the famous Italian cookbook La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiare Bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well), is the father of Italian cuisine. This year – the 100th anniversary of his death – will be remembered with special events and celebrations, especially in Forlimpopoli, Artusi’s birth place, and Florence, the city where Artusi spent his life.

Artusi made his fortune as a silk merchant, but after retiring he devoted himself to fine dining. In 1891, at the age of 71, he completed the 600+ page tome in which he included … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Italy’s 150th Anniversary, Garibaldi & Lincoln

Giuseppe Garibaldi resigned his commission of leader of the army of Unification (I Mille) on September 18, 1860 and retired to his home on the island of Caprera off the coast of Sardinia. He was 53  years old and recovering from a battle wound.

In 1861, at the outbreak of the American Civil War, Garibaldi was approached by a representative of the United States Government, reportedly on behalf of President Abraham Lincoln. The Union Army was in disarray and Lincoln was unhappy with those in command. He needed a proven military leader.

As Herbert Mitgang wrote in his … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Happy 150th Anniversary Italy!

Italy will spend 2011 celebrating the 150th anniversary of its unification – known as the Risorgimento (Resurgence). From a land of city-states, many under foreign domination, Italy became a country in 1861.

Most historians agree that the unification of Italy started in 1815 with the end of Napoleonic rule, but it took a tortuous path through the insurrections of the 1820s and 1830s and the abortive revolutions of 1848-1849. The War of 1859 created the Kingdom of Sardinia that encompassed most of northwestern and central Italy, including Tuscany. But the move to unify the peninsula stalled there. The rich north … Read More

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”).

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 … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Fake Doors of Paradise, Would Ghiberti Approve?

Are they still the Doors of Paradise when they are fakes, facsimiles, copies? Is a masterpiece unique when there are exact replicas other cities, states, or countries?

There are the original, plus two, Davids in Florence and at least four others in the United States. Many tourists are heard to say, “I saw the copy in Piazza Signoria. Why should I stand three hours in line to see the original?”

The Doors of Paradise – tradition tells us a young Michelangelo was so impressed by them that he described the doors as worthy to be the Gates of Paradise – … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Have You Seen Arnie & Soot?

Within the historic center of Florence, the Arno River, the islands supporting its bridges and the intermittent riverbanks abound with wildlife. The observant and patient visitor can see carp, catfish and mullet under the Ponte Vecchio and from the balconies of the Lungarno Hotel. Midway on the Carraia Bridge and on the Rowing Club lawn, a family of nutria (kind of a cross between a mouse and a beaver) searches for scraps. Rats and mice pop up everywhere. Herons, ducks, gulls egrets and pigeons are not hard to find.

But there aren’t many cats.

Feral cats hang out in the … Read More