Wednesday, December 26, 2012


It has been warm enough that spring was fooled and thought it time to start, and then surprise! A blizzard passes nearby and leaves us snow and cold.

A Christmas paradoxical gift, to have both flowers and snow within less than a week. Seems very appropriate for a holiday celebrating the extreme of the Maker of the Cosmos entering it in the skin of a helpless baby dependent on the hospitality of a cave.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Snail Mail

A lovely mailbox I passed while walking down the street in Florence. "La Sorgente" means "The Source" or "The Spring." I have no idea what significance that had in this case, but it was so cute, I took a picture.

It seems that my sorgente has about dried up, but I assure anyone reading this that it has not. I constantly think of things I would like to write about. It's just a matter of time, i.e., my time is very limited. Well, that's not true, is it? We all have the same amount of time. My time is very much filled with other activities right now.

It hardly seems fair, though, that I could turn in a 20-page research paper and not have time to write  a paragraph or two for my blog.

So, on the theme of mailboxes, this is more like a postcard than a letter, but at least I know my blog still exists, and any remaining readers will know that I still exist.

And tomorrow I take the exam, and next week I will finish the project, and then for at least a little while, I will have a bit of time in the evenings not spoken for. Maybe my Christmas present to myself will be to reminisce and write about the rest of this Italy trip.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Left Hanging

Almost a month since I've added anything here, wow. It was not my intent to start the story of my travel and then just leave it hanging, as I have.

Those who know me know that the past month has included an intensive graduate-level course and the lengthy hospitalization and subsequent death of a very, very dear friend. These things take time and energy.

Interestingly, just as the class ended and the funeral was over, I began a streak of getting more referrals for my work than I've ever had before. They say word of mouth is the best marketing, and somehow word of mouth has been getting around a lot lately. So I've been working more than usual and am thankful for that.

And so my blog has been neglected once again. Often in the evenings I feel that I just need to study, or get dishes done, or prepare documents for work the next day.

Another factor is that I began reading a book called Younger Next Year that deepend my resolve to exercise more frequently, so I find myself refusing to stay up late for the blog, because I want to be able to get up to walk in the mornings. Not a bad thing at all! (A funny note about the book: I bought it on impulse when I saw it on sale at the bookstore. It wasn't until I was a few pages into it that I realized it was written specifically for men. While it has been very motivating for me, it hasn't been because I could feel my chick appeal lessening....I learned later that they also wrote a version for women and am hoping to get that soon.)

Even so, I am determined to get more of my Italy trip on here. Even if all readers have lost interest by now, I have not, and I want the time to savor and remember those experiences.

The photo above was the view out my window in the morning on Saturday. Laundry is a much more public part of life in countries where dryers are still not the norm. I love seeing clothes and other pieces hanging out on a line. I love the scent and the feel of clothes and especially towels that have been hung out to dry in the air.

But I don't love leaving my blog hanging for so long. When I realized the date of my last post, I just had to write something tonight.

I'll try to be back sooner. I shall persevere.

Of course, now that I think of it, I am writing about Italy, no? The land where clocks don't matter the same way they do over here. Where you live life fully in the moment. I've been living very much in the moment lately. But I do intend to look back on earlier moments and share some more.

Wish me well. Arrivederci!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sunset over the Arno

So, we left San Miniato, walked down the 50 or so steps to the street below, the aforementioned Viale Michelangelo--but not before taking a few photos, of course.


 Did I mention two years ago that Franco Zeffirelli's family has burial space up here? I just find that rather fascinating, such a blend of the old and the new.
And I loved this moment, when I just happened to notice that I could see the church from this perspective down nearer the street. You can see here how the gold shines as the sun heads further into the western sky.
We decided to stay and watch the sun set, so we went for a snack at the lower-priced restaurant near the Piazzale, as the sun wasn't due to set until fairly late. I think we had bruschetti and a caprese salad, maybe even gelato? Not sure. But it staved off our hunger and gave Fratello Sole time to warm up for the big moment.
Quite a crowd gathers each summer evening for the event, and this evening was no exception. The Watkins family (above, in case you didn't guess it) and I were actually near the top of the steps, as I recall, so there were even more people below us.

Fratello Sole did not disappoint, as I don't suppose he has in his entire existence....and how often do I take him for granted? He cast golden light along the river,

turning the city into an enchanted rosy kingdom,

and at the final moment as he slipped out of view, he was rewarded with applause from his enthralled, enthusiastic audience.
We walked all the way down the hill again, to a trattoria I discovered two years with other friends, Beppino's. Believe it or not Beppino is a nickname for the Italian version of Joseph. I guess it would be kind of like going to Joey's Bistro.
They have really cute placemats. (Was going to put a picture of this, but can't find the placemat.)
And a beautiful basket of fruit on the table.
And so ended my first day in Florence!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Not My Typical Friday Night

Thanks to the amazing if sometimes annoying phonomenon known as Facebook, I was able to meet up with some friends.....without even using a cellphone, believe it or not!

We had agreed days before via Facebook messaging that if I got to Florence on time, I would meet them at the Piazzale Michelango at 5pm, below the David statue replica. Having this appointment made me give Google Maps a try, to see if I could get a reasonable estimate of whether I could make it or not. And in doing so, I found a shortcut that halved the time it took me to walk from the guesthouse to the piazzale.

It meant acting counter-intuitively, walking back down toward town and then making a left onto via  dei Bastioni, and then taking this little street that I'd not known about before.

Not to the right, which would go down toward the Arno River,

but instead to the left, which meant going up, and up, and up.

My eyes thanked my calves and quads once I made it to the viale and had views like that below as I walked along.

I knew the Watkins family mainly via choral connections, so it had seemed like a good idea to see if they'd like to attend the chanted vespers mass at 5:30 at the church of San Miniato, one of my favorite places in the world. They said yes. I actually did make it up the hill (and, yes, the whole fifteen minutes was uphill) by 5, we found each other, and we got ourselves to the church on time.

It turned out there were only four monks present for the service, which meant each voice played an important part. If I were a chant expert, I could say more about it. What I can say is that I love liturgy, because even if you don't know a language well, or it is hard to understand because of being sung and having very resonant acoustics down in a crypt, you know what is being said and done. And at a certain point, the "Alleluia" was sung to the very same tune used at a church I sometimes attend in my own neighborhood. I'm guessing it's an ancient setting for the Alleluia, but again, I just don't know the history enough to say. What I do know is that it was joyful to be able to sing along.

It was also joyful to witness the passionate singing of an elderly monk of the group, who unfortunately tended to pitch the sections he led too high, leading another in the group to work hard to bring the chant back down to a more singable pitch. I loved this, just the homespun nature of it, the spontaneity of centuries-old chant being sung in this centuries-old church. Of course I didn't take pictures during the worship, but here are some pictures from inside the church.

This is where we were for the chanted mass, in the crypt down below, where it was much darker than it is in this photo, which was obviously taken in the morning hours because of the light shining in these eastern windows. I did not take this photo, but found it on a website. The rest are from our evening there.

It's one of the simpler churches, in Florence, spacious and without a lot of side chapels and decorative tombs and statues that came later in history. The high walls and ceiling are the "fanciest" part. I read that the ceiling decoration was completed by 1322, the construction of the church itself having ended in 1207. It began in 1018. That's almost 200 years for the construction alone.

[The only people I know who come close to this kind of patience in building are the folks over in the Ozarks, building a castle using medieval tools and techniques. If you aren't aware of that project, you should have a look (not right now, of course!):   Update: sadly that project has been discontinued. You can read about it here.)

The arched tabernacle was added later, in the 1390's-1400's. An art historian I once met at San Miniato said the tabernacle was not part of the original plan and actually messes up the highly symbolic construction of the church, which I won't go into in detail but will say more about in a moment. Of course, the wonderful part of the tabernacle is the way the gilded walls catch the sun coming in in the evenings. That is what you're seeing, sun reflected on the gold. There were no artificial lights on in the church.

I like the way these churches help you remember how small you really are. That ceiling is way, way  up there!

St. John, the Evangelist. I include his name here because he represents well what I learned from the art historian, a Professor Fred Gettings, who was, at the time I met him, writing a book about the church and its symbolism. It was my first time ever in San Miniato; I could hardly believe I got to meet someone writing about it. He even came and lectured to our class about his research, in exchange for having us participate in some research for him, which involved staring for hours at the ceiling panels of the Uffizi museum. I don't find the San Miniato book on Amazon, or I'd refer you there, but I know it was published, because I have a copy. I see his book on cats, which we helped out with, is on Amazon.

In brief, symbols and placement of various structures within and without the church, according to Prof. Getting, were done just as they were in order to symbolically refute a gnostic heresy going around at the time the church was being built, denying the foundational Christian belief that Jesus was both human and divine. I include St. John's name above, since he is known for having written "and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us...." and many other such words emphasizing the dual nature of the Jesus Christ.

And that is part of what I love of the memory of the monks chanting the liturgy. They were singing such spirit-oriented words, ideas and beliefs that I believe could not have come from man all on his own, and yet even in that ancient place, with that ancient, other-wordly text and music, they were completely human, struggling with the pitch of the chant, and perhaps with the hard realities of age, hearing loss, who knows what. And even as we sang "alleluia" and were caught up in beauty and awe, we also were distracted and had to stifle the impulse to giggle a little.

It was a wonderfully incarnational, joyful moment and a blessing.

 Walking out into the late afternoon light.....

which at that time of day creates such contrasts.....

and makes you want to see everything, really see it......

...and then we were outside again, where you can see the brass eagle, St. John's symbol, shining in the sun, atop the church. And if the photo were larger and I had more time, I would explain more of the symbolism and how it relates to incarnation, eucharist, and God with us.

Or perhaps you can go there yourself and buy the book and see the real thing someday, if you're interested. Or we could go together, and I could save you the trouble of buying the book.

So, this was a part of my atypical Friday night, and it's not even night yet. But the rest will have to wait, as it really is night as I'm writing, and I need to get out of these words and move my flesh into other activiites.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A Shadow of My Former Self

I shall return, I promise. Meanwhile, here's my shadow up at the ristorante on the top of the hill. Story to come later.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Home Away from Home

After a short walk up the tree-lined Viale Michelangelo, I arrived at my destination: the home of the Suore di Sant' Elisabetta, a convent and guesthouse where I have now stayed on three separate visits to Florence. My suitcase was happy to be there again!

I have loved staying here. The rooms are nice, the cost is relatively low, the breakfast room is spacious and sunny and always filled with pleasant, interesting guests. But most of all I love the sisters who live here and run the place. They are hospitality personified and full of joy. I've been here enough to recognize some, and they recognize me, and it's just so nice to go far away from home and feel right at home.

I rang the bell, and the large green gate opened. A couple of steps and I felt far away from the traffic on the busy viale. Hmm, don't know how I managed to make this picture blurry. Must be that I didn't have my glasses on, or that I was pretty tired by the time I got there?

The past two times I stayed here, I was given a very large room that opened onto a large terrace. The space was nice, and the terrace was lovely, but it faced the viale, which made for traffic noise at night. So this year I asked for a room "on the garden side," and here is what I got. A delightful small room, perfect for one person.

And the bedspread even matched my bag.

The phone quickly went on the floor, as I had no need of it, but did intend to use the desk.

The little red and white thing you see is a thingamajig that plugs in to an outlet and heats up to activate these little blue thingamajigs that you place on the top section of it. I have no idea what the little blue things consist of. Probably some chemicals, because the purpose of it is to keep mosquitoes away. The brand name is VAPE.

Mosquitoes are pretty bad in Florence. I still remember when I first moved to live in Florence, there were signs on our door reminding people to close the doors to the stairway "per via delle zanzare."  Zanzare are Italian mosquitoes. That phrase has stayed with me twenty-plus years, I suppose because I saw it multiple times every day for two years.

The fan was essential, as it did get pretty hot during my days spent here!

The image that hung above my bed.

And the wonderful, wonderful floor that I woke up to each morning!

So, I settled into my lovely little room, but not for long. I had just arrived, but I had a "date" to make pretty quickly....

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


If you are waiitng for a sign that I will continue writing, this is it! But not much for tonight. Circumstances today brought up conversation about looking for signs, interpreting signs, etc., and I remembered this that I'd seen in a shop in Florence. Thought it was hilarious and had to take a picture.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Friday in Florence: Views from a Bus

I had originally imagined titling this simply "Friday in Florence." Then I opened my folder of photos and realized that I had 56 photos taken in the six or so hours of that first day in Florence.

Thus the subtitle. This post is limited to photos taken from the bus and a very few others.

I was smart this year and did not have a carry-on bag apart from my purse and another bag about the same size as my purse. So that meant all I had to drag around was my suitcase. Wheels make all the difference, and I still wonder why it took so many years for someone to come up with the idea of putting suitcases on wheels. At any rate, they are wonderful, those wheels. Even so, wheeling around both a larger suitcase and a smaller carry-on was a pain when I did it, so I was glad not to this time.

And it allowed me to consider the possibility of taking the bus from the train station rather than feeling like I needed a taxi.

And so I did.

Anyway, as I walked out of the station I got a nice picture of the Italian flag . . .

. . . and its accompanying electrical wire companions.

The first day I came to Florence, as a college student, our professor/director, Terry Edwards, mentioned while giving us the basic downtown tour that we might as well give up on the idea of getting a photograph with very much of the city in it, if we thought we could manage not to have a crane somewhere in the picture. Work is always going on somewhere in a city with so many older buildings to be taken care of.

So it seemed like a funny little welcome to see a crane not a minute after stepping out of the station!

Before taking the bus I did something I had never done in the 25 years I have been visiting or living in Italy-- I went to the Tourist Information Office to see what they might have. It's near the train station, but I'd never felt the need to stop in there. I'm not even sure I knew what it was, though I imagine we were told back in college.

This is what I saw as I stood in line and waited. I wish I had a view like that every time I wait in a line.

Tourist brochures in hand, I headed back toward the station, found the stop for Bus D, I believe it was. The lettered bus system is new since last time I took a bus. I didn't exactly hop on the bus, but with only the one suitcase, getting on wasn't too bad, and soon I was seated in a new-fangled air-conditioned Florence bus and enjoying the views from my window.

I hope you'll enjoy them, too.


Going down one side of the Arno after having crossed over.

And then crossing back over to the other side.

We just don't have big walls like this in Memphis.

Or big city gates like this! It amazes me that they built these so many years ago and that we just ride right by them, and under them.

I'm amazed this turned out as well as it did. We must have really slowed down turning a curve.

Yes, Roberto Benigni was in town, so I saw these signs here, there, and everywhere throughout my time there. I didn't pay to go see Benigni, however. He was performing on the square of Santa Croce church, by the way, which is why I have no pictures from that square. Normally one of my favorite places, it was covered in stadium seats, electrical wiring, staging, etc. Uglissimo! But I digress.

Because on that first Friday, I was still enchanted by the city's beauty. And surprised that my bus went right in front of the Palazzo Pitti!

Not certain, but I believe this is part if the exterior walls of the Uffizi, seen from across the river.

I was just pondering the walls and how far away from Memphis and America I felt. I was still in a city, but a very different kind of city in some ways.

And finally the bus stopped at Piazza Ferrucci, and it was time to really feel far away from home and walk the distance to my home away from home, about a quarter mile, perhaps a little more. Again I was struck by the difference in lifestyles. A quarter mile is nothing, and yet in many parts of America, we would never walk that far because our cars are in parking lots much closer than that. We hardly get the chance.

As you can see, it was a pleasant walk along Viale Michelangelo, a tree-lined avenue that goes up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. But that will wait for another post.