How about Florence?

Of all the places we visited, Florence was the most familiar and brought back the most memories from prior visits — once during college and then with friends in the mid-nineties. We arrived late in the evening and took a quick walk to the Piazza del Duomo before walking back to our hotel.  To the left is Giotto’s Bell Tower a freestanding tower that is part of the Florence Cathedral.

Pandemic restrictions meant that when we visited the Galleria dell’Academia, we could see the David right up close.  No tourists ringed five deep jostling for a view and a photo. What can one say about this magnificent sculpture that hasn’t been said before?  I think no words at all. I will simply offer awe and gratitude that Michaelangelo Buonarotti was born and answered an unceasing call to create. That at the age of 26, he turned the world of sculpture on its head when his chisel met a new block of marble. That he lived to the age of 88 and up until nearly his final breath labored to wrench meaning and narrative from stone.

Our three hours in the Uffizi passed quicker than the Arno flows beneath the Ponte Vecchio.  The collections have been reorganized in such a way that a visitor can move through the entire museum methodically and easily. It also helped that, as with viewing the David, there were many fewer people than normal. The most poignant moment was watching a docent describe a statue to a sightless man who moved his (archivist gloved) hands over the statue as the docent spoke.  There are many ways to appreciate works of art.

I spent a lot of time in the portrait galleries, taking in the reality that the artists’ subjects had all lived once upon a time. I’ll share these two by the Italian artist Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo, 1503 – 1572). Centuries later, the subjects’ faces are still luminous; their clothes look as if they’ve just been taken from the wardrobe.

Little Bia (Bianca) de Medici, the illegitimate daughter of Cosimo I de’Medici, died soon after her portrait was painted. The use of the deep blue against her white dress takes my breath away. This shade of blue was often requested by those commissioning portraits and other paintings. The paint, made from crushed lapis lazuli, was quite costly, a detail recognized by the Joneses of the day and those trying to keep up with them.

In contrast to little Bia’s portrait, Bronzino placed his subject, Lucrezia Panciatichi, against a barely discernable background. To my eye, this choice “disembodies” her. She doesn’t seem anchored. But oh those sleeves…

 

In Florence, as everywhere else, we spent much of our days walking through history, crossing ancient bridges, passing under arches and marveling at how much that was old was also completely contemporary.

Strolling over the Ponte Vecchio.

Play “Where’s Debra” in this photo of the outdoor sculpture garden of Piazza della Signoria

Martin could tell you how many steps it took to reach this overlook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now let’s head to the Amalfi Coast!

Photo of Giotto’s Belltower courtesy of Martin Darvick.
Others on this page courtesy of Debra Darvick.

How was Venice?

A life-sized glass horse in Murano.

A nighttime gondola ride from the train station. The Bridge of Sighs. Getting lost from one canal to another. Gondoliers dressed in their striped shirts. Getting lost crossing another bridge. Watching a graduation ceremony in St. Mark’s Square. Bumping into graduates, still wearing crowns of flowers and leaves, all day and congratulatingthem. The Basilica of Saint Mark. Venice was magical. Venice was sensuous, all those feathered masks and mystery. A quick visit to Murano and then on to Burano, an island in the Venetian Lagoon.

Have you ever seen anything so delightful?

Burano was delightful. Every house is painted a different color, and now two neighboring homes can be the same color.  With its pinks, blues, oranges, reds, violets, yellows, Burano resembles a child’s drawing come to life. It’s also a dream come true to a color swooner like me. We walked round and round this island village sighing, exclaiming and smiling in delight.

Charming, sì?

As I photographed yet another irrestible scene, a man called out to me from his window.  “Buon giorno!” he said. “Buon giorno!” I replied. He launched into an explanation of his town. “There is no crime here because everyone is so happy.” I’m not sure if that’s what I really heard, but it sure makes sense. How could anyone be nefarious in such an effervescent place?

Here are a few more.  Enjoy!

This is the color I would choose.

Taking it to another level!

Something tells me Borano doesn’t know from tighty whities

I simply LOVED Borano!

 

On to Florence!

All photos courtesy of Debra Darvick.

 

How Was Milan?

 

Quite a heady bouquet

Milan felt quite sophisticated, as one might expect from a city known as a center for finances, couture and opera.  The men and the women were spectacularly dressed. It was as if every sidewalk was a runway.

Just a casual guy on the street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facade of the Milan Cathedral

A highpoint of Milan was our climb to the top of the roof of the Duomo di Milano, the Milan Cathedral. Begun in 1368, the catyhedral took six centuries to complete. It was a surprisingly easy climb considering we ascended 250 feet to reach the parapet. There is no better view of Milan. Martin and I circled the multiple levels again and agin and still there was no way to take in the 3,300 statues, gargoyles and spires

Just a few of the Cathedral’s thousands of sculptures.

 

NO better view of Milan!

 

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Museum of Rondanini Pietà, Sforza Castle, Milan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 This sculpture by Michaelangelo, his last, moved me greatly. He worked on it up until his dying days. This is the third iteration, Michelangelo having hacked at the marble block until nothing remained of the origial sculpture but Christ’s (disembodied) right arm. This is such a departure from others of his work. This was haunting. The facial features are blurry. It feel like a piece in progress, unfinished, hazy.

Naturally, one assumes that Mary is mourning her dead son’s body, and undoubtedly this is what inspired Michaelangelo. But what if she is being carried on her son’s back? What if she is so bereft she cannot manage to walk another step?  It got me thinking how, in one way or another, we all carry upon our backs the pain and tragedy of those who have come before us.

 

On to Venice!

 

Photos courtesy of Debra Darvick

 

 

 

Was Cinque Terre Wonderful?

 

Or should one say, “How were Cinque Terre?”

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s what I knew from friends’ descriptions of Cinque Terre — it was a string of  utterly charming villages perched high above the Mediterranean and connected by a terrifying, heart-stopping, non-insurable unguardrailed narrow path. Having now visited tre of the cinque, I utterly agree with the charming part and was thrilled that the paths were closed for repairs.

With the paths closed, we traveled between the villages by train and boat. There are no roads connection them. Thankfully, wise heads prevailed to preserve Cinque Terre’s unique charms. The entire area has been declared a national park as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The color of the water is mesmerizing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We visited Montarosso al Mare, Vernazza and Manarola. Montarossa, the largest of the villages was my favorite. Like its neighbors, Montarosso is built into a series of hills planted with olives, lemons and grapevines. Still today, the olives are harvested by hand (hands belong to sixty-, seventy- and eighty-year-olds!) and walked down the hills in large baskets where they are processed. Laundry hung from windows to dry. Fishing boats lined the quai and even in October plenty of sunbathers soaked up the rays and dashed into the crystal clear aqua water to cool off. Montarossa, has the only sizable sand beach of the five villages, earning it the nickname of the Ligurian Riviera.

I loved seeing this grandpa and his grandson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pastel-colored houses lining Montarosso’s medieval stone streets snake up the hills like lines of dominos. Hundreds of years ago, Montarossa and the other villages were regularly targeted by pirates. Up until the raids began, the homes had only a front door. In defense, backdoors were cut into the homes giving villagers an escape route by weaving front to back through the houses all the way up the hills and into hiding. Our guide grew up in Liguria where the houses follow much the same configuration. She told us that she and her friends would play hide and seek, going from house to house all the way up the mountain, in much the same way their ancestors ran from the pirates.

And now, on to Milan!

 

Two feet off the ground, I am so happy!

Photos courtesy of Martin Darvick

 

 

 

How Was The Food?

Enjoying trofie al pesto

You cannot have a bad meal in Italy. Period. From small cafes to the fanciest restaurant, every meal was prepared with fresh ingredients and was a delight to consume The house wines were smooth. The pasta dishes had body, a great “mouth feel.” The desserts were delizioso. Keeping kosher meant I stayed on the fish, pasta and vegetable side of the menu. Pure heaven.

Martin treyfs out!

Martin, while not hewing to the rules of kashrut, went to town enjoying the incredible seafood dishes Italy is known for.

This sweet man was at an adjoining table. I loved his face and how he spoke with his hands.

We had some great pizzas, amazing parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmesan) and my newfound fave — pepe e cacio, which is an Italian take on mac’n’cheese. Saying that, however, is akin to saying Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is a painting of a naked woman standing in a seashell. The pasta was light, the four cheeses (cacio) were smooth and the pepper (pepe) gave the dish a memorable kick. We tried each region’s specialty — trofie al pesto (from Liguria’s twists of handmade pasta) to carciofo alla guidia (artichoke the Jewish way) in Rome. It was good but not as rave worthy as we’d been told.

In Amalfi, we sampled the region’s beloved dessert Delizia al Limone — a mound-shaped spongecake filled with lemon cream, dolloped with limoncello-infused whipped cream and topped with a strawberry. I challenge you to look at a tray of these Delizia’s and not see breasts. This is not accidental as the cakes are a tribute to Saint Agatha. Hers was a pretty grim story but her suffering is celebrated with this delicious anatomical confection. (I don’t know what it is about Europeans and their penchant for creating desserts to honor nuns and their bodily parts and functions but there you have it. The French serve pets de nonne, nuns’ farts, akin to a beignet but smaller.  ) 

Soooo good!

Italian hotel breaksfasts were surprisingly ample and varied. They reminded me of Israeli breakfasts — fresh fruits and vegetables, salads, wonderful breads and cheeses — with the bonus of Italian pastries.  I even had a daily cappucino. (Those who know me well, know that I don’t drink coffee. But when in Rome…And Naples and Florence and Venice and Sorrento!)

You could see Mount Vesuvius from the breakfast room in Sorrento

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you will read elsewhere we enjoyed a daily gelato and sampled tiramisu from region to region. You can’t go to Italy and not indulge in the country’s gustatory pleasures. Besides, we were clocking close to seven miles each day. Surely that worked off a strand or two of pasta.
Buon Appetito!

 

Ready for some sightseeing? Next up…Rome.

 

 All photos courtesy of Martin Darvick.

 

What About Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast?

Forget about San Fran.  I left my heart in Sorrento. It was lush. We could see the Bay of Naples from our hotel room. Below us were lemon trees and olive trees, a beautiful pool and a pink-blooming tree I couldn’t identify.

We wove in and out of the the narrow cobblestoned streets, enjoying    a gelato here, some limoncello there. We walked to the waterfront to watch the fishing boats come in filled with the day’s catch.

The day of our Amalfi Coast drive was our one day of rain, but even that was a light drizzle that lasted only two hours. Unfortunately, the drizzle was falling on Positano, so we drove on to spend more time in Amalfi. Though we were in a van with six others, riding on a narrow road high above the sapphire sea, I felt like Audrey Hepburn. All              I needed was a white chiffon scarf wrapped around my hair, casually tied beneath my chin.

 

Beads and glass and amulets.

Before reaching Sorrento, we spent a half-day in Pompeii. So many thoughts ran through my mind. What a tragedy. What terror to have lived in the shadow of a mountain only to have it explode and kill you. As fascination as Pompeii was, it was also horrifying to see ash-preserved beds, bodies and the mere stuff of daily life in such good condition that it could have been plucked from glass cabinets and put to use once again. What a tragic twist – the ash that destroyed Pompeii preserved it to be discovered generations later.

Pots of colored powder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I met Rosie on an early morning walk down to the beach. She belongs to the proprietor of the little seaside cafe and bar  near our hotel. When we returned in early evening for drinks before dinner, Rosie was nowhere to be found. It seems that she is only there in the morning. Things get too hectic by lunchtime and so she goes home for some peace and quiet.

Well, that about wraps up our Italian adventure. It was indeed the trip of a lifetime. Just this evening   I learned that Italy has been placed on a do not travel list due to Covid-19. This saddens me a great deal. Doubtless many of the Italians we met – our guides, the restaurant owners, those working in the hotels, shops and museums – have not only suffered financially due to the lack of tourism, but may well have lost relatives in the first wave of cases in 2020. My heart goes out to them. Martin and I were so fortunate to have been able to travel during this narrow window.      I hope that you’ve enjoyed traveling with us.

Until next time,

Debra

 

Photos courtesy of Debra Darvick