Sunday, October 26, 2008

An unsuccessful sightseeing trip

It was another unseasonably warm and sunny day today (24 degrees), so again we rode our bikes into town to do some sightseeing. We wanted to visit the San Lorenzo church, but when we got there it was closed for the day. So we walked on to Santissima Annunziata, which I hadn't seen yet, but even after waiting for 10 minutes after the stated opening time, the church was not opened. So we decided to see if the baptistry of the Duomo was open and walked in that direction. Once there, we realized that the Duomo was decorated with flags and fruit garlands. It turned out that the new archbishop of Florence was being introduced today in a festive mass, so we assume that was why the other churches were closed. Needless to say, the baptistry also wasn't open, so we'll have to come back to see that some other day. On the way home through Cascine park, it seemed like the half of Florence that wasn't downtown for the mass in the Duomo was on bikes, inline skates, or just on foot to enjoy the last (?) warm day before winter sets in for good.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Yes, You Can!

If you can vote in the upcoming U.S. election, and are possibly even undecided, please read this.

Never in living memory has an election been more critical than the one fast approaching—that’s the quadrennial cliché, as expected as the balloons and the bombast. And yet when has it ever felt so urgently true? When have so many Americans had so clear a sense that a Presidency has—at the levels of competence, vision, and integrity—undermined the country and its ideals?
At a moment of economic calamity, international perplexity, political failure, and battered morale, America needs both uplift and realism, both change and steadiness. It needs a leader temperamentally, intellectually, and emotionally attuned to the complexities of our troubled globe. That leader’s name is Barack Obama.

On a lighter, yet related note, check out the pumpkins and babies.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Report on Classes

The restoration classes started Oct. 6. I guess I never posted anything about the Italian for Restoration class I took in September. So, about that, the teacher wrote literally everything he said on the board (in Italian), which was helpful for comprehension, albeit a slow way to cover material.* My current schedule consists of restoration of ceramics, restoration of stone, restoration of archaeological finds, technical drawing/painting, documentation and photography, chemistry, art history, Italian for restoration (same teacher as Sept.), and history as it relates to archaeology or history of archaeology? (this class starts in November). The nationality of the students in my class is: 4 Italians (Rimini, Siena, Messina (also, her last name is Messina), Sardinia), 1 from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, 1 from Spain (Barthelona), 1 from South Korea, 1 from Japan (Tokyo), 1 from Cyprus, and 2 from the U.S. (NY and me). There's one guy (one of the Italians) and ten girls, and they're all within about 6 years of my age. The classes are entirely in Italian. The teachers speak in normal language (unlike the way people write in newspapers and books), so I can often understand most of what they say.

* I think this is the first time I've ever used the word "albeit."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Santa Maria Novella

In addition to being the name of the main train station in Florence, Santa Maria Novella is an old church that we visited today. The weather has been pretty warm the last week or so, and today was another beautiful, sunny fall day, so we took our bikes and rode into town to visit SMN, which we hadn't been to before. Unfortunately, you can't take pictures inside, so I can't illustrate this post, but there were several beautiful frescoes, among others by Lippi and Ghirlandaio, to be seen here, as well as a Holy Trinity by Masaccio, one of the first Renaissance works using the new technique of perspective. Other than that we had (and are having) a nice lazy day, recovering from the busy last few weeks, and soaking up the sun and warm weather while they're still here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Strange and Weird, part 1

Just some random pictures of oddities and curiosities we've encountered so far on our travels in Italy:Body of Santa Zita, Basilica di San Frediano, Lucca

Fresco with a depiction of hell in the Camposanto, Pisa

Marble mosaic in the floor of the Duomo, Siena

Triptych with Santa Agata in Pienza. Notice how she's carrying her breasts on a platter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Weekend Recap

My parents were here for a few days, and over the weekend they rented a car so we could see some of the surrounding area together. On Saturday, we drove to Riccione, on the Adriatic coast to the east of Florence. My mom had gone there 40 years ago on holiday, and she wanted to see what had changed in the meantime. Since it was October, and the bathing season had ended, there weren't very many people there (the same can't be said for the summer), and those that were there did the same thing we did: stroll along the beach and go have lunch in the pedestrian area (I had a very good combination of seafood pastas).
On the way back to Florence, we stopped by San Marino, one of the smallest countries in the world, perched on top of a mountain surrounded by Italy (and yes, Italian cell phones are in foreign roaming in San Marino). Unfortunately, we were in a bit of a rush to get back to Florence, since we had opera tickets for that evening, so we did a half-hour "Europe in two weeks"-style tour of the city. Still, the city was quite nice (though very touristy), and the views from the top of the rock would have been breathtaking had it not been for the extremely hazy day. In the end, we made it back to Florence in time and enjoyed a decent performance of "Tosca" at the Teatro Comunale.
The next day, we got up early again and drove into the Tuscan hillside south of Siena. Our first stop here was Montepulciano, old hill town and famous for its wines. Here we walked up (always up!) to the cathedral, with famous triptych and della Robbia altar, and old town hall and were rewarded with some great views into the countryside. On the way back to the car, we picked up some bread, cheese, cured meats, and of course local wine, and then drove a few minutes to the church of San Biagio on the outskirts of the town. After viewing this Renaissance masterpiece, we set up our picnic in the olive groves overlooking the church and enjoyed our lunch.
Sufficiently strenthened, we continued our tour to the town of Pienza, a few kilometers further. In this town, on the UNESCO World Heritage list, we admired the Renaissance center with its cathedral and palazzi, designed by Rossellino for Pope Pius II (he of the Piccolomini library in the Duomo of Siena). In addition, we bought some of the famous Pienza pecorino, which really is a cut above the usual Tuscan pecorino.
Finally, we continued through beautiful countryside to the Abbey of Sant'Antimo, a Benedictine monastery near Montalcino. A fabulous romanesque church from the 12th century with some nice stonework inside, the late afternoon light was perfect for our visit. From here it was only a short drive to Montalcino, another hill town famous for its wines (especially the excellent - and expensive - Brunello di Montalcino). Since it was already dusk, we didn't see everything of this town before driving back to Florence, but perhaps we'll be back again for the sights and the wine.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Today, we continued our series of day trips to surrounding areas with a visit to Siena, one hour south of Florence by bus. We were joined by Stefan, a German Ph.D. student working in my lab for a few months. Near the bus station in Siena, we visited the church of San Domenico, where the main attraction is the head of St. Catherine of Siena. Apparently, displaying body parts of saints in churches is pretty popular around here, and if a severed mummified head isn't enough for you, you can also see a mummified finger of hers. After this curiosity, we walked into the city center, where the centerpiece is the beautiful Piazza del Campo, one of the largest town squares in Italy, and site of the yearly Palio horse race. At this point we were quite hungry, so we went out in search of a restaurant. After all the tables in the first one we tried were reserved, we went to a pizzeria, in which we were told to come back 15 minutes later when they were open. In the end, the food was pretty good, but as so often in Italy, the service was horrible -- our order wasn't taken for at least 20 minutes, and when Stefan's lasagna came out after Kristen and I had already finished our meal, it was only lukewarm.
Nevertheless, we continued our sightseeing tour with a climb up to the Duomo, a giant cathedral, which was slated to be turned into an even larger church by using it as the transept for the new church (the outbreak of the Black Plague hindered that plan...). For about two months a year, the beautiful marble mosaics in the floor are uncovered, and we were lucky enough to visit during this time. Also fabulous were the frescoes in the Piccolomini Library, built for Pope Pius II. After this, we also went to the baptistry, crypt (only discovered in 1999!), and museum, after which we climbed up inside a wall of the uncompleted church for an impressive panoramic view of the city. Finally, we made our way back to the bus station for the trip back to Florence, and actually managed to get seats on the bus back (lots of daytrippers on a Sunday).