Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Half Day in Florence, Italy

Firenze, Italia

My friend Skye returned from visiting close friends in Perugia, Italia yesterday and called me en route to Firenze to see if I could join her with some new friends in walking around the city. Turns out that brothers Jim and John only had one afternoon in my cherished Italian city, but I was not able to meet them until after 17:00. We met at the High Bar where Luigi was exchanging a paper 20 euro bill for a lot of my madonnara coins from yesterday. [I was rained out again and thus, I was not able to earn much.]

I took this image of the Ponte alle Grazie (Bridge of Thanks) before we made our way over it to Via dei Neri to one of our favorite gelaterie (gelato shops). My new friends were kind enough to treat me to a cioccolato con pepperoncino (chocolate with red pepper) gelato.

After that, we headed over towards the Piazza della Signoria by way of la Chiesa di San Remigio (the Church of Saint Remigio). Next, we showed them the restaurant near the Straw Market where the “Hannibal” film was made and, in the mercato, actor Anthony Hopkins, as Hannibal Lecter, stabs a man to death after he sees that this man is following him. (What we call the “Straw Market” is officially the Mercato del Porcellino, market of the piglet, where the bronze statue of the boar is. Jim and John got to rub the nose of this bronze, which means that they will return to Firenze.)

Next to this are my madonnari friends on Via Calimala and the three squares we are allotted were filled with 3-D art on this day. Since I forgot to ask Jim and John if I had their permission to post their images on my blog, I am sharing with you this image of me standing over Laura’s disegno (drawing). Also, Giovanni is creating a dolphin emerging from a hole in the street.

As dusk was approaching, we entered La Rinascente, a department store facing Piazza della Repubblica. If you take the escalators to the top floor, cross the floor to a staircase and go up again, you will enter the terrazza, a beautiful terrace and coffee shop that overlooks Florence. I took these two images, one overlooking Piazza della Repubblica, with its lovely arched porta and the carousel; the other is of the ever gorgeous Duomo of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and Campanile (bell tower). I loved the night-lights on this!

But time was running out for our American friends and we headed to the Stazione di Santa Maria Novella to retrieve their luggage and get them over to the correct station for their overnight ride to Paris. I took this image of one of my favorite intersections near the Palazzo Strozzi (Strozzi Palace).

Skye and I then headed over to her house, where she whipped up a fabulous Thai rice dish for us before we heading back al centro. Skye has a job handing out flyers for a bar in town and sometimes I accompany her because I love to walk around Florence at night and she is a trip to spend time with.

During our cruising of the tourist district, we stopped by the madonnari again and I took this image of Tomo creating his 3-D drawing on Via Calimala. Monday, 31 Marzo 2008, is the last day that we madonnari will be permitted to draw in the streets, so the organizer Claudio wants for all of us to do a group drawing insieme (together).

In closing, I wanted to say that although I love creating this blog and sharing my images with you, I have come to realize that I spend so much time doing it that I have not been creating art or earning income. I cannot keep up my life as an artist if I earn nothing so I have added some PayPal links to the online blog to allow anyone interested in making a donation of any amount to be able to do so. Of course, I am also happy to accept commissions that are in line with the kind of art I create. Thank you so much for your interest and support!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Restoration of Donatello’s David Florence Italy

Here in Firenze (Florence, Italy), the Museo Nazionale del Bargello is conducting a thorough cleaning and restoration of Donatello’s most famous sculpture “David” (of the Bible story with Goliath) and they are doing it right inside the museum for visitors to see! It is happening upstairs immediately next to the place where the “David” is normally exhibited. The “David,” a bronze measuring 158 cm high x 51 cm wide, is the most well-known and admired of works by Donatello and was created sometime between 1427 and 1443.

I hope you enjoy my little images of the restorer at work. Note the microscope. The restorer is also using a scalpel to scrape away encrusted materials on the bronze. To quote the brochure:

“The previous maintenance work [done more than 100 years ago] has been carried out using unsuitable methods and materials which have caused uneven and quite large encrustations, to be formed on the surface. This has been caused because of ‘waxings’ mineralized and mixed with dust, forming layers over the numerous dark glazes which it was customary to apply to sculpture during the 18th and 19th centuries.”

“. . . Furthermore, localized use of the special laser, constantly readjusted as necessary (by consultancy with scientific experts) will be made to clean the gilded parts.”

I saw the restorer scraping at the metal with a scalpel and then daubing a cotton ball dipped in what was labelled as “White Spirit.” [yes, in English] This laborious work is expected to take 18 months, from June 2007 through all of 2008.

My friends and I also visited the Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure (Museum of the Factory of the Hard Stone) on Via Alfani. One can see around town, especially near the Pitti Palace, images that look like paintings but in fact are a stone mosaic of sorts. In-laid stones of the most amazing colors and patterns and fantastically well done.

The most fascinating pieces to me were the flower petals with gradated colors. They were probably hand-chosen and very carefully cut. They make the subject (often flowers or birds) look surprisingly 3-dimensional. They also showed some landscapes and sea scapes, with people and animals. Our favorites were waves made of what looked like petrified wood with tails and other body parts of sea creatures penetrating the ocean’s surfaces.

I hope you enjoy these images – remember, there is no painting done on these and I never noticed any kind of rock filler. They are quite lovely to behold and I recommend everyone visit this museum when you can. One of my clear favorites was the table with the sea shell patterns. I cannot image the time an artisan would have taken to even choose the stone!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cantante Couch Surfing and La Dolci Vita

Cari Amici,
Today in Florence, I met an 18-year-old Miriam Léah. I spent an enjoyable day with friends today. First, I met Hélène and Kieran at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello. From there we made our way to il Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure, since it is free museum week and all. I hope to write about those experiences tomorrow.

During this time, my friend Simone, a Florentine, called and invited me to see a free classical music (organ) concert. So, the four of us arranged to meet in front of the fake David (yes, Michelangelo’s David) in Piazza della Signoria at 20:30. Only, while I was out and about in centro, I visited my madonnari friends on Via Calimala. Abdu, who is part of the couch-surfing network, told me about his most amazing and current couch surfer: Miriam Léah.

Abdu invited me to come to see her sing in the Uffizi corridor nearby. I texted the others to meet there at 20:00 tonight instead of 20:30. Well, it was raining and everyone was late. But Miriam arrived with my friend James and I heard her ever so briefly before I saw her. I called out to them and introduced myself. They climbed up over the wall into the Loggia and Miriam’s clear and angelic operatic voice filled the entire space and then some! In fact, most of my friends heard her as they entered Piazza della Signoria – and that is a large square! [James used my camera to make a video of her performance tonight, but I am unsure of how to add that here . . . ]

Even the guard on duty told Abdu that normally he is not permitted to allow such activity, but how could he resist a voice such as this? It was fantastic! And the first song I requested was sung in Italian almost directly to me. She is really sweet and beautiful and gifted.

Above, group shot (L-R): Kieran, Hélène, Kelly, Miriam, Abdu, and Joseph. Photo by James.

After we parted, my smaller group of friends went to our concerto. While we stayed for most of it, frankly we were a bit bored with the organ music. After calling it a night (shortly after mezzanotte), I was walking home by way of Via della Condotta. And I heard a wee bit of that distinctive voice. So, I turned towards Piazza della Signoria and yup, Miriam was surrounded by men and singing off and on.

When she saw me, she immediately came up to wrap her arms around my big black coat and rest her head on my chest. So, we all got a few more images and then Abdu needed to get her out of this cold and drizzly weather. (These images were taken by Abdu.)

I do hope to see her again before she leaves Firenze. And I invited them all to see me tomorrow on Via Calimala doing the street painting if the rain would go away. My friend Inga usually draws on Thursday, but she is on holiday and out of town, so I asked to take over her permit for the day. And so, I bid you arrivederci e buona notte.

Miriam Léah’s MySpace page (to hear her singing) less expensive and more personal than hosteling

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Medici Chapel Cappelle Medicee Florence Italy

Cari Amici,
I had a good day yesterday. It is the start of free museum week (properly known as Cultural Heritage Week) in Firenze. I started off by showing up at the Cappelle Medicee. This is one of my favorite places in all of Florence, since Michelangelo’s hand is everywhere. And it was rather peaceful until about 9:30 when the students from local superior (high) schools began to arrive.

In the Cappella dei Principi (Main Chapel) there is much construction going on and one can see stones laid out on the floor and arranged in their patterns before they will be polished. It is amazing to me to consider that stone mosaics were created in the days before electricity. I mean, granite and some marbles are very hard stones. Today we used diamond blades and various power tools to cut and shape stone. With these tools, the work is still tremendous. Without them, the work seems miraculous.

The images that I include here of decorative color patterns and or “paintings” are actually stone mosaics! One is on the floor and the others are on the side of the altar. This place is so beautiful and serene. It will be even more lovely once the restoration is completed and the scaffolding removed. As I left the chapel, I was amused by the little jokes the boys made to each other as some accidentally set off the alarms during security check at the entrance. And also the way the guard tolerated them as harmless silly boys. This interchange diminished for a moment the serious reason that we need to have such controls in place.

I then walked around the building to enter the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. I had never been inside this Basilica di San Lorenzo, in which the biblioteca (library) resides. On the far side of the garden in the square-shaped courtyard, I overheard a mass taking place. I leaned against the wall near the barely open window to listen. I think that there were only men inside because their deep voices speaking Italian in unison reminded me of when I was a child and the Catholic mass was spoken in Latin. While I have not been a Catholic for a great many years, as I child I was fascinated and somehow comforted by the mysterious ritual in the church services. I remember being horribly disappointed when English replaced the Latin. Somehow understanding the words removed too much mystery for me and I became less aware of the beauty of many voices in a melodic speech.

But I digress – again. On my way home, I stopped by the Bargello, a beautiful sculpture museo near my home. I will write of this tomorrow, I think. And later, I took the bus to the zona Careggi to see my friend Hafiza in the hospital. She had knee surgery last week. During my visit we moved her to another room two flights up. I joked with her that she thinks she is getting better (and she is), but she might beware since they are moving her closer to heaven. In return she fed me some gelled sugar candies that our friend Ernesto had brought her last week. She said that I needed some sweetening up.

I went home to paint a little bit and later my friend Lisa and I went grocery shopping before meeting Anna at Lisa’s house to watch a movie. A nice day, although not much work done. Sometimes I wonder if I can keep up the 12-hour plus pace that I have had for months now.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cultural Heritage Week in Florence, Italy

Cari Amici,
I must apologize for being a bit dull today. Today was just one of those days in which too much sadness just punched me full-on. It did not help that it was raining this morning. While I normally am enchanted by rain, today was one of my potentially last days to work as a madonnara, or street painter. And earning income is one of my largest weaknesses.

However, it stopped raining around 1:30 this afternoon and I looked out over Via Ghibellina to see if the streets were becoming dry enough to draw on. I decided to take a chance and at least try to earn back my permit fee for today. I include a photo here to show you how far I got before the loud thunder strike and more rain hit Florence. I had only just begun the face of the Madonna and her child.

I am not sure if I was just feeling desperate or blue. Or perhaps I felt optimistic that this would just blow over, but at some point, I pulled out my umbrella (after having put all of my belongings under a plastic bag) and kept trying to make some kind of beauty out of chalk that was quickly acting like mud. A few people dropped coins into my little buckets. I vacillated between feeling grateful for the generosity of strangers and feeling pathetic. I mean: I am a 43-year-old broke artist working in the street in the rain to make art for a living. Is this really what I wanted for myself?

At some point, I just stopped. The other artist had given up minutes before and washed away his quickly drawn face. Another madonnaro (not working that day) came up and spoke to me a bit. A wee bit later, I decided that the rains were not going away and took my broom to scrub my drawing off of the street. I noticed that each raindrop turned white as it hit the stone. Whaaaaa??? I looked at the sleeve of my jean jacket and realized that it was snowing! Fantastic, but mamma mia, I was not dressed for this.

Anyway, I packed up and arrived home soaked and decided to try to paint something. But the depression felt too great and so, I began to read to get my mind in a more positive frame.

The good news is that Cultural Heritage Week starts tomorrow and runs through 31 March. Translation: All state- and city-run museums, galleries, and archaeological sites in Florence, Italy, are free to enter on these days, including lectures and guided tours. For more information, visit: or call 06/67232635.

And thank you for reading.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter in Florence, Italy

Cari Amici,
Well, I started off my morning watching men in tights throwing flags around in Piazza della Repubblica in Florence, Italy. Not a bad way to go. Buona Pasqua!

Another artist friend Martinho joined the Florentine flag wavers, so some of my friends and I went to go watch him. And after we “had a coffee” at Donnini, we headed out to the Duomo to watch the festivities there.

Apparently, each Easter, a cart drawn by oxen is paraded through the streets of the city centro until they reach the Duomo. They stop in front, between the Duomo and the Baptistry. [The animals are led away shortly thereafter.] Il Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart) dates back to the First Crusade. A Florentine soldier Pazzino de’ Pazzi was the first person to climb the walls of the city of Jerusalem. He was rewarded for his bravery with a piece of stone from the Holy Sepulcher (the burial site of Jesus).

[An aside here: pazzo is italian for ‘mad’ or ‘insane’ and usually an ‘i’ is plural for a masculine adjective. I wonder if this soldier earned his name AFTER his brave act. Forse (maybe) Pazzino de’ Pazzi means “the little crazy one of the crazies.”]

Pazzino returned to Florence and decided to start a ‘holy fire’ during Holy Week, using these stones. The fire was carried throughout the city until around 1300, when the Fiorentines constructed an elaborate cart to carry the flame. Today, the cart is attached to a wire that hangs from either side of the piazza. At the proper time (11:00 this morning), a sculpted colombina (little dove) holding an olive branch swoops down this wire into the cart, setting her off. Firecrackers abound and a perfect explosion indicates a positive year ahead. I think it should be one this year! We were quite lucky that the day was overcast because the lighting was better for the fireworks. And the rain hit afterwards for extra safety (and visual stimuli, from my point of view).

The crowd could have been worse, but the first image at the Duomo I took was because a man held me up on the edge of a bench full of standing viewers. He was rather funny. He said, “I will hold your elbow, not your waist. But do realize that I will be taking your wallet while you are busy taking your photograph.” I just laughed and responded, “I do not have a wallet.” I snapped off as much as I could, not seeing a thing as my camera was held high over my head. This first shot was one of these. The rest were taken from another vantage point, but I still could see very little.

I was amazed that they would set off fireworks so close to such significant and cherished historical artworks, but then, as one friend pointed out, the Duomo and Baptistry survived World War II bombings on Florence, so . . .

Dopo, five of my friends – one newly met on the street – came over to my flat for Easter lunch. It was sort of planned, but only Anna and I were from the original bunch. The other four accepted our invitation this morning. We had a great time – and I had help cooking (which is always appreciated). It was a good Italian lunch. Not the food, but the atmosphere: sitting around for hours enjoying good company. Lunch was over around le ora18:00.

I have tried to include a video here, but not sure if it will work. But I do hope that you enjoy the images.

Allora, happy Easter. I must go out now and see this charming city at night! Ciao, ciao.