Monthly Archives: August 2011

Arrivederci Roma!

The view of the Arno River from our balcony

Could the title of my last post from Italy be anything but: Arrivederci  Roma!

We have enjoyed this holiday so much but after a month away, getting home to Mérida is all Jorge and I can think about. The last leg of our journey is getting closer, and we are feeling excited to see our daughter and friends… I can’t wait to swim in my pool and sleep in my own bed.

But I also know that once we have settled back into our routines, memories of this time will often saunter into our hearts and minds.

One of the best things about staying here in Florence has been our apartment. We are located on the right bank of the Arno River; our view is of the old city, perched above swaying cyprus and birch trees. We never tire of watching the water birds and otter feeding on the banks. There’s so much going on all day long, and in the evenings the music carries downwind from the small bars that line the shore.

For the past five days, there has been the excitement of 17 delegations competing for top catch in the “International Pole Fishing Tournament” to be held here over the weekend.  We’ve watched them positioning and practicing across the water  and to think… we’ll miss seeing which country wins!

“Costco” won’t cut it for us anymore… we’ll mourn the fact that we can no longer shop at Florence’s mammoth mercato, nor in the small neighborhood negozio de alimentari.  We have found the most delectable and sometimes mysterious edibles… We easily identified the olive oil, truffles, and porcini mushrooms, but a couple of days ago we figured out that the “pate” we’ve been scarfing down is actually tripe.

We know it’s time to detox from the daily bottle (sometimes plural) of vino and the limoncello every night…   My cholesterol will certainly lower once I stop my daily intake of seafood, rich cheeses and spicy sausage. But oh, it has all tasted so deliizioso!

The confusion between the Italian language and our familiar español will no longer leave me looking aghast at what I THINK I’ve heard. The funniest example being the Florentine word for “cherubs”… it is “putti,” which sure doesn’t mean plump baby angels in our corner of the world!

And the Florentine sense of style! Everything here is chic. The men and women both dress with gauzy, gutsy flair. Their lustrous long hair flows out behind them as they dash through traffic on their Vespas or teensy-weensy Fiats. Even the babies look fashionable in their 60 Euro blue suede shoes… Si, si, si … Italians spend A LOT of money to look as good as they do.

I’ll miss the churches where I’ve felt blessed (“G.R. –  grazia ricevuta” is the term the Italians use to describe having received the grace of God.) The powerful symbolism, gold and centuries of incrementing adornment are a sight to behold.

As is all the art. It is EVERYWHERE in Italy! Sculptures, paintings, terracotta, frescos, architecture… Turn yourself around in a circle and your eyes will take in 360 degrees of beauty.

The sunlight, especially in Tuscany is bright but at the same time, soft… everything glows. Flowers are   profuse – tumbling out of courtyards and artfully designed in stupendous Murano and Venetian vases…

Italy is a country where earthiness and élan co-exist. I love it here… there’s no denying that. And yet, the fusion of Mexico’s pre-Columbian, colonial and contemporary Latin America charm is hard to top.

We are sad to leave… we’ll miss Italy. Yet we’re happy to be homeward bound.  Arrivederci  Roma!

¡Hasta pronto Mérida!

Photos: Some are mine, the rest were taken by Colleen Leonard


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The Mud Angels

“The Arno River reached this hight on Nov. 4, 1966

All over Florence, you can see small plaques that mark the level reached by the devastating flood of the Arno River on November 4, 1966.

The River Arno is approximately 240 km long and a part of it runs through Florence. On the fateful day, after a long period of steady rain, engineers feared that the Valdarno Dam would burst, so at 4 am they discharged a mass of water that rushed towards the city at a rate of 37 miles per hour.

The narrow streets within city limits funneled floodwaters, increasing their height and velocity. By 9:45am, the Piazza del Duomo was flooded. The powerful waters ruptured central heating oil tanks, and the oil mixed with the water and mud. At its highest, the water reached over 22 feet (6.7 m) in the Santa Croce area.

The flood devastated Florence, economically and culturally. City officials and citizens were totally unprepared for the storm and the widespread destruction it caused. There were virtually no emergency measures in place because Florence is located in an area where the danger of flooding is relatively low.

5,000 families were left homeless by the flood, and 6,000 businesses were forced to close. 101 people lost their lives when approximately 600,000 tons of mud, rubble and sewage swept them away.  It is estimated that between 3 and 4 million books and manuscripts were damaged, as well as 14,000 movable works of art. Among the most famous were: The Cross by Giovanni Cimabue, The Doors of Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti and The Magdalene by Donatello

Immediately, individuals and organizations from many countries made their way to Florence to help with the rescue and conservation. International committees were formed and supervised by a central committee in Rome. Additional funding came from various governments and UNESCO and Charity auctions were also organized. In a show of support for the Florentine art community, Pablo Picasso auctioned one of his paintings, Recumbent Woman Reading.

But the hearts of the Florentine people were won by a group of individuals who travelled to Italy completely at their own expense to aid in the restoration. There were fine arts students and aficionados, librarians and lots of “young people with strong backs”. Collectively, these people became known as the Gli Angeli del Fango or the Mud Angels.  They worked under deplorable conditions and without them, even more irreplaceable treasures would have been lost.

The Angels cleaned the city of refuse, mud and oil, and retrieved works of art, books and other materials from flooded rooms; the Mud Angels felt compelled to help: a concern for future generations, a feeling of international unity and a pervasive sense of solidarity.

Yet sadly, even forty years later, a significant amount of restorative work remains to be done in          Florence. Due to a lack of awareness, funding, and manpower, a great number of works of art and books lie in storage, dirty and damaged.

The photos of the mud angels were selected from Google Images files. The one of the marker is mine and the final “angel” … while not one of the mud, was adorable nonetheless…

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The Arno River at Sundown

Sh-sh-sh-sh… don’t wake anybody up!  Our friends Colleen and Lance have arrived in Florence after a grueling two day journey from Merida. Heading for the airport at a quarter to four, last Friday morning… they finally got here at 3 am, this Sunday morning. There is of course, a seven hour time difference, but still… it is a l-o-n-g time on the road (or in the sky or wherever)                                                                                                                                                           

Travel is certainly not what it used to be. I worked for an airline during the 1970s, and believe me, we had to do everything in our power to make our passengers feel comfortable, safe and yes… pampered. (Imagine!)

Now, being bumped, delayed, shuffled around, and re-routed are par for the course and anyone who embarks on a long trip should be prepared for whatever.  And don’t even think about being compensated for inconvenience.  The days of complementary meals, hotel rooms, and other bribes are long gone.

This summer, our own odyssey on planes, trains, buses, metros, boats and taxis has been far from easy, but… and all inconvenience aside, the four of us feel lucky to be spending the last days of August in such splendid company!

I haven’t blogged the past couple of days because Jorge and I have been doing lots of sightseeing… This building is the original “Academia”, where Micaelangelo learned to sculpt!

We’ve been to the  shops                                                                                                                                                                                                           

And continue rating the restaurants…

We’ve done some cooking too. I made the famous Tuscan bread soup called “Ribollita”…                                                                                                                          

As well, we now know where one can get Italy’s finest tiramisu and seafood pasta dishes…

The Chiantis of the country have been amply consumed, as have the espressos and cappuccinos. We can also give very informed opinion on the nation’s chocolate and gelato.

We’ve been reading too; my current afternoon treat is Amy Tan’s lyrical “Saving Fish From Drowning.”

To get from one place to another, we take long walks, and so that we can enjoy the sensational evenings, we sleep siestas during the heat of the day.

If a picture paints a thousand words…


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