Monthly Archives: August 2011

Pitti Palace and other delights…

Yesterday, Jorge and I (advance tickets in hand) made our way along the Arno River, over Ponte Veccio to the Pitti Palace. This was the home of Cosimo I and his wife Leonore and their numerous children.

Like the Uffizi, the Palazzo Veccio, and La Academia this museum is so full of art, it is absolutely impossible to see it all. We made a great effort, but after five full hours, we were all but comatose.

Unfortunately I have no photos of the museum because it is forbidden to take them (even without flash) but if you like, go to this link for a virtual tour.                                                                         

Adjacent to the palace are the gardens which offer spectacular views of Florence:

After a restorative 4 hour siesta, Jorge and I were back on the streets and found MORE terra cotta that (regrettably) you won’t be seeing in our home. The proprietress of “Migliori” allowed me to take these photos:

Then my eyes landed on THIS beauty… If anyone knows of someone in Mexico who could replicate this ultra-wonderful outdoor stove, please let me know …

We wandered back down the shore of the Arno about 9 pm and heard     music… en español!  There below, right at the river’s edge was a laid back club serving nachos, mojitos, margaritas… the works! We stayed ‘til “Club Salamanca” closed and then weaved back across the river and into bed…                                


Filed under Family and Friends

Silver and Gold

The topic of today’s post was suggested to me by Steve Cotton, whose blog is mexpatriate – in the key of steve. He wondered about the pathways taken by Mexican silver and gold en route to Europe during the colonial period…

In 1492, Spain was ruled by the iron fist of a Catholic Spanish king and queen:  Isabel de Castilla and Fernando de Aragón. When America was discovered, Spain had a highly trained, ambitious army that was anxious for new battles and conquests and the society hungered for wealth and opportunities. The Catholic Church’s power, as well as that of  the royals were unifying strengths in the country.

From the outset, late medieval Castile shaped society and stamped its culture on Latin America. It imposed a   set of values that were the product of Spain’s long Re-conquest of its territories from the Moors, completed in 1492, the same year that Columbus “discovered” Hispaniola. They were Conquistador values, which stressed the role of the warrior in the name of the Church, and assumed the inherent right of European rule over people of unknown culture, and pagan beliefs.

When it was discovered that gold, silver and other precious objects were to be had in the newly conquered territories, there was no compunction whatsoever about taking the bounty. Large land holdings were awarded to the heroes of the Crown and the Church. The Colony established itself quickly, and the military presence focused on keeping other nations out of “New Spain.” The Catholic clergy put their full efforts into evangelizing the entire indigenous population, and the Crown instituted a strong commercial monopoly that reigned supreme for three centuries.

It was said that the sun never set over the Spanish domain – the empire was that vast. The economic activity centered on mining, agriculture and trade, which were, of course, completely controlled by the Spanish monarchs.

The Crown appointed an institution that managed trade and commerce between the new colonies and Europe; it was called, “La Casa de Contratación de Sevilla.” One of the activities was the transport of Mexican silver aboard the Spanish controlled shipping line, whose fleet (called La Nao de China) made an annual round trip voyage from Acapulco to Manila. The principal cargo carried to the Philippines was silver coin. There it was purchased by various nations who stamped the doubloons with their country’s seal and affixed a value. On the return voyage the fleet carried spices, silks and other items that were much esteemed by both the Europeans and the colonials in México.

Gold from México also made its way to Europe through Veracruz and across the Atlantic. Many of the gilded altarpieces and the ornamentation in the fine mansions of Europe used gold from México. The precious metal was also shipped to Europe from Peru. Both were in demand for their high quality.

The influx of Mexican silver often caused inflation in Europe which was devastating for the lower classes. And when the Independence movements throughout Latin American began in the early 1800s, the silver trade was interrupted, provoking a worldwide economic crisis not unlike the modern day recessions caused by fluctuations in the petro industry.

I guess that one could say that, “The more things change… the more they stay the same.



Photo credits: I found the images for this post on Google Images.

  • Image of La Nao de China from:

  • Image of Fernando and Isabela from:

  • Image of map from:

  • Image of coins from:


Filed under Vida Latina

Terra Cotta

Among the many mediums found in Florentine art is glazed terra cotta. Since the 15th century, it has been used to fashion portrait busts and wall ornaments, and other decorative items.

When exposed to firing temperatures in excess of 600°C, terra cotta            increases its durability and, although still porous, becomes somewhat waterproof. Terra cotta can be compared to earthenware. Earthenware is composed of sedimentary clays, which contain many organic and mineral impurities. It is these that determine the characteristic color of the clay. The color most commonly associated with terra cotta is a rich red-brown, due to the presence of iron oxide, and when fired in an oxygen-rich atmosphere, produces the distinctive red color. The presence of other minerals, the firing temperature and the atmosphere in the kiln all contribute to the final shade of terracotta, which can range from dark brown to pink, buff, tan, orange or even green.

Sculptors are attracted to terra cotta as a medium because it can be worked with great speed, often resulting in a spontaneity that can be lost in the more laborious processes involved in bronze casting or carving stone. Clay also permits an extraordinarily fine degree of detail.

The most widespread technique for finishing terracotta sculpture has always been polychrome. Color is applied, usually over an initial gesso layer, by the modeler himself or by a specialized painter. Sometimes gilding is added, giving the piece a richly extravagant effect. Terracotta finishes can also simulate precious materials such as bronze, marble or gold. The glazed terracotta technique, first applied to sculpture by Luca della Robbia in the 1440s is still widely imitated up until the present day.

As I walk past the many shops that offer these pieces for sale, I think, “It’s not THAT big… I could carry that plaque / vase / bust …” Jorge reminds me of the other items that will also require hand carrying during the return trip to Mexico – on the train, a couple of taxis, through three BIG airports… and I restrain myself. But the lovely Florentine terra cotta will continue to feature prominently in my dreams…


Filed under Family and Friends