God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Cinque Terre

Nestled along the coast of the Ligure di Levante Riviera are the villages which have been known since the middle ages as Cinque Terre--The Five Lands. These small, doll house like villages are totally picturesque and lovely and today are the scene of mass tourism. Those that live in the villages still fish the sea and carry on age-old traditions--as well as manning businesses that cater to needs and whims of countless visitors--day in and day out.
The largest of the villages is Monterosso--which seems to be cleverly modeled after the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney Land--or is that vice versa? Really--only one thing comes to mind upon entering the narrow streets with their tall, vibrantly colored, narrow buildings--pirates--this must be where they pillaged and hung-out between forays on the open seas. It is so "piratey."
Lemons in Monterosso
Each of the villages is a little different while being the same. For all of them, except Monterosso which is the largest and most developed, the mystery is "why?" Why are they there? Why were they created in the first place, centuries gone by? They must have been self-sustaining as contact to the "outside" was difficult at best, impossible much of the time. The obvious answer is for fishing--but then, for whom did they fish? Where were the markets? Most certainly people did not drop by to buy the day's catch. Today the idea of totally closed, self-contained groupings of people is most often seen in strange sects and cults, making it difficult for the rest of us in the third millennium to understand places such as the Cinque Terre.
There are three ways to experience these villages--hiking the trail that runs between them, taking the ferry or riding the train. But--for the beauty and uniqueness of the villages to be realized, they must be seen from below as they inch up from the sea to the mountain.

My suggestion is to take the ferry from a starting point in either Levanto or Porto Venere, stay on the ferry the entire way to the last of the villages so that you can have an uninterrupted introduction to them. After that you can backtrack via the trail, the ferry or the train to each of the other four.

It pretty much takes all day to explore these villages--even though they are small. Of course, you will lunch at one of them, have gelato on another, enjoy their ambience as you stroll the lanes, maybe shop for some gifts or souvenirs and then have the timelines of ferry and train schedules. While lunching, you can watch fishing boats being hoisted in the water or ripples lapping the rocks and stones of the beaches.

Good Gelateria in Vernazza
I had cinnamon and banana-kiwi--delicious!
Another thought I had as we enjoyed the day is that it would be fun to spend a night in either Monterosso or Vernazza--to experience these villages at the close of the day when all of the rest of us tourists are gone, would be nice. We stayed in Levanto at a lovely place--Villa Margherita--but, if we go again, one night will be earmarked for a night with the pirates.

If you have never been to Cinque Terre and find the literature to be confusing as to how you visit the villages, know that it is very easy to do. It is not any more strenuous than visiting hill towns of Tuscany--less so than for many of them. It is not necessary to hike if that is not your thing. You disembark either the train or the ferry at the foot or in the middle of a village.

One caveat is that the ferry does not stop at Corniglia--you have the option to hike there or to take the train. If you take the train and don't want to walk up 300+ stairs, there is a park bus that will make it much easier on the legs--so even this highest of the villages is easy to reach.

We found Levanto to be a perfect staging point for the Cinque Terre. It is easy to get to--no city traffic to fight in order to get to its heart. It's easy to walk around in; there are good restaurants and a free beach--along with the regular European type beach clubs where you rent lounges and umbrellas. The Villa Margherita is very nice, away from noise and traffic, has its own parking, serves breakfast and is owned by very nice people. I would go back there in a heartbeat.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

...And Time Passes

Tomorrow is the last day of school here in Greve. Yesterday it started. And in between, time passed as it does--day by day. Some of those days I have chronicled; the vast majority have been unrecorded, left to the flashes of memory that promise to come over the years.

Casey is a year older--almost. He speaks two languages--getting them confused sometimes. He speaks and thinks and dreams in Italian. Willl it be hard to readjust to his mother tongue next year? Will it be hard to retain his new language? These are thoughts that fill our minds.

He doesn't want to leave--says he's a country boy, not a city boy. He thinks Italy is beautiful--rightly so.

Today I have 4297 pictures. Sort of sorted--thanks to Photoshop Organizer. They will make a screen saver that never repeats. Digital memories that don't need storage boxes--how fantastic is our modern technology! A year can become a lifetime in photographs.

Yes--nostalgia is seeping in as time closes--already I know what my last post will be because I know what I will miss.

There won't be many postings between now and then as starting next week, we travel. "No school" opens opportunities wished for during the year.

Tomorrow Casey is having a birthday celebration--buon compleanno; although his real date isn't for another month. He wants to host his classmates to a pool and barbecue party--as he does at home in San Diego. The weather man says the storms will stop tonight and tomorrow will be sunny and hot. I hope so!

Monday we drive to the Cinque Terre--a lovely part of coastal Italy that we have driven by but never explored. Rather an amazing neglect in all of our travels to Italy as for many it is a "must stop" place on a first trip.

At the end of the week we return for two days to have a special dinner at a special place (Solo Ciccia) with some special friends from Canada--a good friend from the world of the internet. This will be our first face-to-face encounter but there are no worries attached to that. We know each other well already.

Then we leave again for 5 days in the Maremma with Camilla and her family, a stop-over night in Pisa and then a flight to Sicily for a week at a friend's villa---facing Mt. Etna, hopefully with flowing lava.

That will round out June in its entirety as we return on the 30th.

July will be a little calmer but there will be a trip to an oasis in Piemonte--belonging to another friend--and tagged on to that a couple days in Turin. The only other away time before we leave on the 29th of July--364 days after leaving the United States--will be two days in Umbria to attend a big party with many friends from Slow Travel--the premier website for travel in Italy.

The rest of the month, we will again stay pretty close to home--enjoying Casey and Camilla and our friends here....and packing things up that are going home with us. Thank goodness it won't be as much as we brought. And.........saying good-byes.

So--friends--I'll try to do some short "this is what's happening" posts but we are nearing the end of our time together. There will be a finale--that's a promise!

Photo of the Week

Sorano At Night

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Masters and The Master

Last Fall Ken and I stumbled on a wonderful exhibition called The Valley of the Treasures held in various Sacred Art Museums in the Empoli Valdelsa area of Tuscany. This was part of the project Little Big Museums of Tuscany. Each venue displayed a famous piece of art housed in that museum side by side with a similar art work from one of the major museums within Italy. Sometimes it was a comparison of one master, some times it was a comparison of form or subject. This opportunity was one of the highlights of our year.

So, we were more than excited when we came upon Rinascimento in Valdarno--another in the Little Big Museums series. Again five sacred art museums are displaying their works with works from larger museums. We now had some day trips to look forward to.

We began at the Museum of Sacred Art of the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria in Figline where Giotto's Madonna col Bambino e Angeli and the Madonna col Bambino e Santi by Giotto's contemporary and rival, the Maestro of Figline were on view. We were the only people there as we stood inches away from these great works, studying each expression, color and the imperfections caused by the centuries between execution and now. It felt almost as if we were communicating with these men of the past.

Giotto has a special place in our hearts because of a wonderful gift Casey received a few weeks ago. A gift which adds to his budding art appreciation and, thus, will enrich his entire life. This is a link to his blog entry where he tells about this--KZ in Toscana.

A few days ago we drove to the small mountain villages of Reggello and Vallombrosa--not places one stumbles upon in the course of a normal drive or where one would go looking for great art.
But--as it seems with most of the Sacred Art Museums in Tuscany--tucked away in small rooms are incredible treasures. They remain there to be seen by the people in quiet, out-of-the-way places which seem very fitting.

At the Masaccio Museum of Sacred Art in Cascia di Reggello were two wonderful pieces by Masaccio--the Casini Madonna (normally in the Uffizi) and the Triptych of San Giovenale which is Masaccio's first known work and the one which "officially initiated Renaissance painting."

Masaccio is the artist who gave us the incredible frescos in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria della Carmine in Florence. He was the opening volley in the incredible art of the fourteenth century, impacted the history of art in monumental ways and yet died at the young age of 26.

But--it was in the new Museum of Sacred Art of the Vallombrosa Abbey where I stood most transfixed. Here was the wonderfully beautiful Nativity and the Adoration of the Shepherds by Domenico Ghirlandaio--normally found in the Sassetti Chapel in the Basilica of Santa Trinita in Florence. But in this museum the room was light, the painting was at an easily seen level and the rope separated us from the painting by a mere inches. I could have spent hours just studying its detail and beauty--things such as the angel in the sky (which at first I thought was a demon) which Joseph is staring at, the marvelous expressions on the faces of the shepherds and the exquisite face of young Mary. It was memorizing in both detail and the whole.

Coupled with this was Ghirlandaio's Madonna Enthroned with Child and Four Saints. Of course, this is wonderful--as is everything of Ghirlandaio's but, somehow it paled when juxtaposed with the complexity of the Nativity and Adoration.

The final venue we visited was the Museum of the Basilica of Santa Maria in San Giovanni Valdarno. Here we found the incomparable Fra Angelico--he of the fragile, gentle faces. Displayed were the panel of the Tabernacle of the Linen Guild Predella from the San Marco museum in Florence and the San Giovanni Museu
m's Annunciation.

Last week when we went to the Uffizi to visit just 2 rooms--Lippi and Botticelli--I spent long minutes just studying the faces of Mary. Too often Mary is so formalized or older than she should be--she does not draw you to her. But these artists give us a Mary who is lovely in her introverted portrayals. There is a longing in her face--a transcendence. A gentleness and humility that speaks of love.

Fra Angelico gives the same beauty--not only to Mary but to many of his portraits. The San Marco museum should be visited at least once just to spend time searching the faces rather than the whole.

Now we have one more Little Big Museum to search out--the Sacred Art Museum in Montevarchi where two Luca della Robbia pieces are displayed. I am looking forward to that day.

And, finally--The Greatest Master of All
The Great I Am