Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On the Road (Europe 2010): Florence

Arrived in Florence last night after dark. Saw the Duomo, with its campanile and dome--all lighted and looking like a decorated cake--for the first time in many years. Much of it has been cleaned since I was last here. The campanile, the main facade, and much of one side of the Duomo have been cleaned. The white marble is white, the pink marble pink, the green marble green. In contrast, the rest (as well as the adjacent Baptistery) looks quite dirty—as if covered with a layer of ash.

Went up in the dome today then walked around the city some and saw the Basilica of San Croce, which I’d never visited before. The church itself isn’t that interesting, but this is where Michelangelo, Gallileo, Machiavelli, Danté, and Rossini are buried—along with about 250 others, mostly under marble panels set into the terra cotta tile floor. Some of the panels have simple inscriptions with coats of arms, others have full figures carved in marble, but these have mostly been worn away by hundreds of years of foot traffic.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Gallileo’s tomb. Why are the resting places of the illustrious fascinating? I don’t know. Visiting a grave like that of Gallileo gives a sense of being in the presence of greatness, even if nothing is there but bones hundreds of years old—if the bones really are there.

There are some good paintings inside the church, for example, a good Bronzino pietá and another large Bronzino that I rather liked. There is also a very simple but interesting chapel, the Pazzi Chapel, designed by Brunelleschi, that is decorated with roundels by Luca della Robbia. According to my guide book (Blue Guide Concise Italy, Somerset, 2009). This is an early Renaissance use of the central plan (which refers to a round, square, or octagonal space topped by a dome) that was common in Roman architecture. It became part of the Christian architectural repertoire in the form of baptisteries and pilgrimage chapels. Brunelleschi is credited with introducing it to Florence. The latin tradition had hitherto favored the rectangular basilica form.

Visiting the main dome was a bit of a disappointment. Since I was last here they have raised a thick plastic barrier above the railings on the interior walkways, which obscures all views downward, obscures about half of the views up into the inside of the dome (the paintings have been restored since I last visited, too), and removes all sense of freedom; the walk around the interior of the dome used to be quite scary as the railing is no more than waist high and the drop below is a very big one. Still, it was nice to see the panoramic view of Florence from the top of the dome, to see the interesting brickwork inside the dome, and to see some of the timbers in the chain of large oak trunks that helps to hold the dome together.

Later, took a walk down to the Uffizzi to get advance tickets for tomorrow, which will avoid a wait in line. Took a detour down to the Arno to look at the Ponte Vecchio. When I was last here, the approach from the Uffizi side was closed because there had just been a bombing at the Uffizi (when was that? 1994  or so?). I wanted to see it from the Uffizi side as my photographer grandfather shot it from this side in the late 1920s or early 1930s. I walked along the bridge, looking at all the gold and jewels for sale. Hot, tired tourists were everywhere,  taking pictures of themselves, the sights, and seeking out cold water, sodas, gelato—anything cool. Now I remember why I always used to come to Europe in late September or  early October….

Walking home at the end of the day, I came across a red Alfa Romeo Spider parked in the street. Owning a 1978 Spider myself, I stopped to have a look. In the three or four minutes I spent looking at the car, about six people stopped to take pictures of it. A small crowd formed at one point. This appears to have been an earlier seventies car than mine, but it had a few anachronistic modifications (newer seat belts, newer antenna, missing something around the headlights). Still a very snappy-looking design, after all these years. 

On the Road (Europe 2010): Corsica to Livorno and Florence

On Corsica, visited the house where Napoleon was born, in Ajaccio. He lived there until he was nine and stayed there many times over the years. It isn’t clear exactly where Napoleon came into the world (in which room, that is), but it was interesting to see the place, although little of it remains as it was when he lived there. His mother completely refurbished and refurnished it once. Some of her furniture remains. It was later completely redone by Napoleon III and the house changed hands many times before becoming the national museum it is today. There are a few interesting paintings preserved (not least of which is a wall-sized map of Corsica), but it’s probably not worth a major detour unless you’re a serious Napoleon fan or just want to say you’ve been there. Having seen Napoleon’s tomb a few weeks ago in Paris, I feel like I should now go to Elba and St. Helena.

Corsica was impressive mainly for its mountainous scenery and the little villages clinging to the sides of the mountain roads in the center of the island, between Ajaccio and Rivosto. Stopped to cool off in the fast, cold waters of the Grevono river, where I soaked my feet for an hour or so while the rest of the family attempted to dam the river with the big rounded rocks everywhere.

Stopped in Bocognano, one of the picturesque mountain villages with a particularly good view. Much of the population appeared to be in the main café or watching a petanque match across the street. Two teams of women were competing. The men were all in the gallery following the action, occasionally offering advice or applauding a particularly good shot.

There was a delicious cold spring in the center of town pouring from a pair of brass faucets. People kept coming by to fill up water bottles. We filled ours and enjoyed a supply for a couple of days. It reminded me of Yellow Springs, Ohio. I don’t think I’ve tasted water so good from the source since then.

Saw three new birds in Corsica—or three that I was able to identify. One was the Greenfinch, the golden-green bird I had seen also in Spain and on Sardinia but not well enough to identify. Another was the Red Kite--a fairly large raptor with a distinctive trapezoidal red tail and pale “windows” in its wings near the base of the primaries. The third was the Blue Tit, a pretty, nervous little bird bigger than the Coal Tit but smaller than the Great Tit. I missed seeing a Corsican Citril Finch, which is to be found only in the mountains of Corsica, but the three new birds I did identify on the island brought my total of new birds so far on the trip to 43. I actually got four new birds if you count the Corsican race of the Spanish sparrow, which I also saw.

Crossed to Livorno from Bastia, in the northeastern corner of Corsica. It was a four-hour crossing, but it took nearly an hour to get off the ship because someone's trailer got stuck unloading from the boat. From Livorno, it was an hour's drive to Florence.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wines I'm drinking: Cantina del Vermentino 2007 Vermentino di Gallura "Funtanaliras"

I am now in Corsica. Beautiful, rugged, mountainous terrain. There has been little time to sample the local wines, and it remains so hot that only well-chilled whites and rosés make any sense, but I did try a Corsican Vermentino that was tasty (although a little less crisp and higher in alcohol than the Sardinian examples I've had).

The best Vermentino I've tasted while traveling remains the 2007 Funatanaliras. I'm still enjoying (in memory) its exceptional perfume and excellent balance between fruitiness and fresh acidity. When I visited the producer in the little town of Monti (the local cooperative, the Cantina del Vermentino), they told me they have representation in New York and that the wine is distributed in California and other places. It may be available near you. Highly recommended. I paid only €5.9 euros (less than $7) a bottle at the producer (having seen it on menus for as much as around €20), but
it is likely to be considerably more expensive in the US.

On the drive to Monti, I passed a cork processing plant. There was a big warehouse with piles of cork outside and a truck or two piled absurdly high with cork.
Related Posts with Thumbnails