Friday, November 25, 2011

Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano


Today, we met as a group at Santa Maria Novella and then walked to the bus station to buy tickets to Poggio a Caiano. For our last excursion and guided tour we are going to see a Medici country house built by Lorenzo il Magnifico!

I was nearly late to class, but then I cannot start the day without...

Pastry (with cream filling) and a cappuccino! Man am I going to miss these!

The day was crazy hot. There has been a killer heatwave in Tuscany the last few days and the countryside is rumored to be buzzing with mosquitoes. I haven't been bitten that often, but to be safe I wore long sleeves (groan) and brought water. But hot weather or not, the Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano was beautiful!

The Villa Medici facade. Everything is original except for the two sets of stairs which were added later. You can easily see how the stairs break up the austere geometry of the original design. For art history -which is our reason for coming to an even hotter and mosquito filled place- the villa is very important as it is the first country house that was built in the cutting edge,"Renaissance" style, just as the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi was the first Renaissance house.

Professor Junkerman explaining the significance of the Medici Villa...

For today's lecture we had Professor Junkerman, who is lead professor from San Jose State University here in Florence. She is AWESOME! Talk about a walking encyclopedia of the Renaissance and Italian cultural history. She is a brilliant mind and a very engaging lecturer. Without our usual headphone contraptions, we gathered close to hear her speak. She has a soft, calm and very intelligent voice. Like every other lecture :) she spoke with reverence and awe about what we were looking at and how this place- the first villa in Italy to be "designed in the Renaissance (or Medici) style" - is significant within the broader narrative of Italian Renaissance art and architecture.

This porch on the second floor is greatly influenced by Roman architecture. It almost looks like a temple set into the facade of the villa. Beneath the Medici crest, there is even an ancient Roman temple inspired frieze.

Clock on the top of the facade. What time is it? Medici time for sure! :P

Near the entrance to the villa there were Roman marble coffins with depictions of mythic battles.

Here is a bit of detail:

Inside I snapped a few quick shots of the foyer which were the last non-sneaky pictures I took before the guards yelled "no photo!":

Barrel vaulted ceiling with grotesques

Some detail.

The majority of the house was either remodeled or redecorated long after Lorenzo the Magnificent died, but one room remains of the period. A giant gallery with paintings by Andrea del Sarto (the painter who doesn't make mistakes), Franciabigio and Pontormo. According to my Eyewitness Guidebook (I forgot to take notes), this villa was remodeled by Pope Leo X: "The villa's barrel-vaulted salone contains 16th century frescoes by Andrea del Sarto and Franciabigio. They were commissioned by the future Leo X, the Medici pope, to portray his family as great statesmen in the manner of ancient Roman figures."

I did snap some pictures. My apologies for any funny angles. Sneaky sneak that I have become, the pictures were taken covertly from the inside of my backpack!

View of the Great Hall of Leo X. Ceiling and fresco cycle by Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo and Franciabigio.In the middle you have Leo X's Medici crest!

Frescoes at an angle :(

Detail of the top of the frescoes, you can see the trompe l'œil features. The column appears three dimensional when you view the frescoes head on. The colors are spectacularly brilliant! Here you can also see the detailed carving of the ceiling. 

 Another gorgeous ceiling- the dining room! I've been hunting for the name of the artist but can't be sure.


No longer in the Renaissance, these rooms are a beautiful example of Neoclassical provincial luxury!

The entrance of the villa. The double stairwells, that were installed much later, show up in other country residences in Europe. I saw similar ones last summer at Fontainebleau.

Close up of the portico with the frieze above it!

On the way back to the bus station I took pictures of the grounds

Like the Boboli gardens, the ones here at Poggio a Caiano are manicured and deliberately designed!

Exiting through the gate that faces the front entrance


Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano entrance

The exterior walls of the Villa Medici

The corner of the walls with a side gate

Heading back I also took pictures of Poggio a Caino itself:

Ciao for now!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Gala Concert at Fiesole!

6/29 La Fine!

What an amazing, amazing night. I ventured out on my own to see a free classical concert at the Roman amphitheater in Fiesole!!!

This was easily one of the best nights I've had here in Florence. It made me very happy, but also a little sad that the people I love weren't here to see it with me.

I arrived home from the Pitti quite tired, but after dinner and a brief rest I decided to keep going. I had asked my new friends at lunch if they would like to come to the concert and although they had said yes, a nap did them in. Thus, I ventured into Fiesole on my own.

The trip there was seamless. I walked to the San Marco transit area, which is near my hostel, carrying my camera (with a picture of Botticelli's St. Barnabas Altarpiece on it) and my bus ticket. The #7 bus I needed came only a minute later, and after boarding I sat in the empty bus with a family of Americans (parents and two boys), while the bus driver had a smoke and we waited for the route to start. I listened to my mp3 player and meditated on my Madonna painting (I took a picture of it from my laptop screen) while waiting. My final presentation at the Uffizzi is tomorrow and the paper is due this Friday!

While empty at the beginning of the route, the bus quickly filled up on the way to Fiesole and became near to overflowing with passengers.I was definitely not the only person going to hear live music in a Roman amphitheater for free.

It was fun to get out of the city. It felt like a mini break away from CSU Summer Arts. Plus, on this trip to Fiesole, I could photograph the countryside to my heart's content!
The train tracks leading out from Florence! The Tuscan landscape in the hills leading to Fiesole. You can see some of the villas peeking out between the trees!

Upon arriving, I found restaurants open all around the central piazza, but I opted to get dinner from a kiosk and eat in the theater beneath the fading light of day. My 5 Euros bought a delicious, freshly cut prosciutto sandwich and an acqua gassata. After smiling and saying "Grazie!" to the sandwich guy, I went to stand in the line of people waiting to enter the Roman amphitheater.

As always, there is a feeling of excitement among live music audiences and there was this feeling in Fiesole. The audience was a fine mix of Fiesole and Florentine natives: some retired, some married, some couples, some young families, and also some tourists- American, Asian, European, and strangely, but unsurprisingly Russian.

Having come early, I got an excellent seat and was soon joined by two adorable, babbling, elderly, Italian couples. One sat next to me (non parla inglese) and one on the steps above us (the wife did speak some English). Being at this venue at night was a vastly different experience than seeing it with Marco on my first day with CSU Summer Arts. The night bugs were humming, camera people were setting up, a stage had been built. Slowly, but surely, the amphitheater began to fill.

Setting up. You can see some of the amphitheater, the stage that was built, and the brochures laid out. 
The projected Estate Fiesolana sign. Estate Fiesola is a series of concerts and events that take place at the Roman amphitheater in the summer. In the back you can see the steps and one of the camera people setting up.

For me this night concert was very special. Not only was it a concert in a Roman amphitheater, but it was a RUSSIAN concert in a Roman amphitheater in Fiesole! Finally, I could actually read the program and maybe understand some of what was going to go on!

The Program: (translation) Memoirs of Florence: a gala concert.

The Program: For those of you who read Russian

As it happened, I understood quite a bit and the concert was special for several other reasons. It was a celebration of two famous Russians who lived for a time in Florence: writer Fyodor Dostoevsky and composer Peter Tchaikovsky. The concert was also an official collaboration between the city of St. Petersberg, Russia and the city of Florence, Italy. After years of cultural separation, the two cities hoped to begin a partnership in cultural exchange. This performance and the Kremlin Exhibit were meant to be the start of these!

You can read a bit more about Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsy in the Florentine:

Just before the concert started: the people directly in front of me = Russian. It looked like they were there "officially."

Here is how it all went down!

The Tuscany Regional orchestra played Tchaikovsky's "Memories of Florence," opus 70,  beautifully!

After the initial piece, a translator and two ministers of culture from both St. Petersburg and Florence came out to give an "official" speech:

Video of the two representatives of culture from St. Petersburg and Florence.

Official cultural ambassadors. The one on the left is from Russia, the one on the right is from Florence.

After the official representatives were finished talking, the members of the St. Petersburg orchestra came out. They played scene #10 from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, with the Tuscany regional orchestra accompanying them. It warmed my heart to see the musicians joking around with each other. 

Two played Balalaika-like instruments (far left and far right), one the Bass and one the Accordion. The sound they added was very "Russian." 

Close ups of the Russian folk musicians!

Next came two actors; one Russian (right) and one Italian (left). They traded off reading passages from Dostoyevsky's "Writer's Journal," that included personal letters with anecdotes about life in Florence, which he sent to his friends and family in St. Petersburg.

The letters were heartfelt and funny. It was incredibly entertaining to understand what was being said- in at least one language- and then be able to hear the translated portions and witness what parts Italians found funny. I listened to the Russian, then the Italian translation and waited for....sudden laughter!

Here is a video of the actors reading Dostoevsky's letters! (In Russian and Italian)

One such moment of hilarity, was Dostoevsky's description of the miserable heat in Florence. In one of his letters home, he describes how a lack of funds meant-

"living in a tiny room- where we caught two despicable tarantulas- for three months. The windows, of our tiny room, overlook a market under porticoes, with beautiful granite columns and arches, and a fountain to the city- a giant bronze boar- the jaws of which pour water. It is a masterpiece of Classical art! But imagine! All this enormous mass of stone and arcades, occupying almost the entire market, becomes heated every day, like a stove in a sauna. That's the air we live in. This heat... that is hell! For me, who is imprisoned in Florence by my circumstances, it is bizarre to witness foreigners on the loose- and many of them are very wealthy people- remaining in Florence, and even newly arrived!!! I cannot understand-- walking around town and meeting well-dressed Englishwomen and Frenchwomen-- how can anyone with money to travel elsewhere freely chose to live in this hell." -Dostoevsky (1866) 

This set off a fit of Italian giggles. Perhaps because Firenze is currently experiencing a huge influx of tourists and a horrid heatwave...

The Tuscany Regional Orchestra took the stage on its own again as well.  Playing Tchaikovsky's Serenade for a String Orchestra. The conductor was very charismatic and funny as well!

Accompanying the Tuscany orchestra and the Russian musicians from St. Petersburg was a classical choir. I'm not sure if the choir was Russian or not, but they did sing, Cimarosa's "Requiem" Largo, Allegro, beautifully.

Russian Quartet with the Classical Choir and Tuscany Regional Orchestra!

Here is a video of the Classical Choir with the Orchestra! No Russian needed to understand if you're interested. If you're wondering why the video is in Black and White, I'll lie and say it was a deliberate choice for dramatic effect. ;P 

Along with the orchestra, actors, and choir were two special guest Russian singers. They were classically trained and were beautifully accompanied by the musicians, orchestra and and/or choir. A woman sang Caccini's "Ave Maria":

Here is a video where you can hear "Ave Maria."

Another video of the Tuscany Regional Orchestra 
Playing Rossini's Overture from Barber of Seville

The orchestra taking their bows!

The Finale. A Classical Tenor from Russia singing an Old-Russian (Imperial) song called "Evening Bell"

Here you can watch it!

Back home, in a century-old theater, a concert like this would cost an arm and a leg, but here it was free and I was lucky to be able to experience it. Maybe it's possible to see a Russian concert in Fiesole again, but there was something very special about this particular one.

And that was not all! Because I didn't have a watch, I asked the couple next to me what time it was, just before the finale began. I was a little worried about getting stuck in Fiesole overnight and, from what I knew of the schedule from other people, the last bus left at midnight. It felt quite close to that.

To clarify my worry: in Italy, time schedules and punctuality seem to be more of an estimation than a sure thing. When the non parla inglese wife of the couple next to me understood what I was asking her she quickly started talking to the couple sitting behind her and to her husband in Italian. She pointed to me and to her watch and said "Autobus?!" then looked at me and shook her head. The two couples talked to each other and then the wife switched seats with her husband and he offered me a ride back to the city.

At first I was hesitant, but they seemed very sweet and I had chatted with them during the intermission. It turns out that they- the two couples- have been going to this free Estate Fiesolana opening concert for many, many years.

I walked with the couple to their car; we had decided that they would drop me off just outside the "old walls" of the city. I wasn't entirely sure where these "old walls" were, but I trusted that they knew the city better than I did. It turns out that Florence and Fiesole natives don't like driving into the old city center. I don't blame them. I wouldn't like to navigate the Medieval streets either.

The ride back to Florence was lovely and fast and the couple was adorable! When we walked up to the car, the husband showed me the car seat in the back for their bambina. In broken Italian I asked whether it was a boy or girl. It was a little girl- their granddaughter.

I talked a little bit with the husband. He said that he and his wife had family in Santa Monica, and that they had visited America before. They were so nice! It was a shame that I didn't speak more Italian. When I tried to talk with them, the husband said "I learned English very long time. I can speak little, but no understand you." :(

They were so, so nice and dropped me off just outside my neighborhood. I quickly walked in the direction they pointed me to: up a half block along the "old walls" (which are the ruins of the walls that were demolished in the 19th century), turned down a well-lit street which lead through the park by my hostel, made a left turn on my street, walked a block and a half and was home, long before the #7 left Fiesole!!! What more can I say. I -Heart-this day and Italy!

Ciao for now,

  ~~~~~~Dostoevsky's Letters for any interested Russian Readers~~~~~~~~

Letter 1
Теперь прошу Вас, милый мой друг, прибегнуть к силе Вашего воображения и представить себе, каково нам было оставаться во Флоренции июнь, июль и 1/2 августа (нов<ого> стиля)! Я никогда еще в моей жизни ничему подобному не подвергался! В гидах объявлено, что Флоренция, по положению своему, зимой - один из самых холодных городов Италии (то есть настоящей Италии, разумеется буквально полуостров); летом же один из самых горячих пунктов всего полуострова и даже всего Средиземного моря, (1) и только разве некоторые пункты Сицилии и Алжира могут равняться с нею постоянством, упорством и размером жара. Ну вот это-то пекло мы и вынесли на себе, как русские люди, которые всё выносить способны. Прибавлю, что в последние полтора месяца во Флоренции наши финансы очень истощились. Правда, недостатка мы решительно ни в чем не терпели и, напротив, были всюду и во всем на прекрасной ноге; но квартира наша была довольно плоха. Мы прежнюю зимнюю нашу квартиру принуждены были оставить по одному независящему случаю в мае месяце и (ожидая скоро денег) переехали к одним знакомым хозяевам, где и заняли, на самое короткое время (то есть так рассчитывая), крошечное помещение. Но так как денег не присылали, то мы и принуждены были оставаться в этом крошечном помещении (в котором мы поймали двух подлейших тарантулов) три месяца. Окна наши выходили на рынок под портиками, с прекрасными гранитными колоннами и аркадами, и с городским фонтаном в виде исполинского бронзового кабана, из пасти которого бьет вода (классическое произведение, красоты необыкновенной); но представьте себе, что вся эта громадная масса камня и аркад, занимавшая почти весь рынок, накаливалась каждый день, как печка в бане (буквально), и в этом-то воздухе мы и жили. Настоящей жары, то есть пекла, мы захватили шесть недель (прежде еще можно было вынести), доходило до 34-х и до 35 градусов реомюра (!!) в тени, и это почти постоянно. К ночи сбывало до 28, к утру, к 4-м часам пополуночи, бывало и 26, а затем опять начинало подыматься. И представьте, в этакой жаре, без капли дождя, воздух, при всей своей сухости и накаленности, был чрезвычайно легок; зелень в садах (которых во Флоренции до безобразия мало - всё один камень), - зелень не увядала, не желтела, а напротив, казалось, еще пуще тучнела и зеленела; цветы и лимоны, казалось, только и ждали этого солнца. Но что для меня, арестованного во Флоренции обстоятельствами, было всего страннее, так это то, что шатающиеся иностранцы (а из них много народу очень богатого) наполовину остались во Флоренции и даже вновь приезжали; тогда как почти все, со всей Европы, хлынули с наступлением жаров на воды в Германию. Я не понимал, ходя по городу и встречая нарядных англичанок и даже француженок: как можно жить добровольно в таком аде, имея деньги на выезд.

Letter 2:
Флоренция, 12/24 декабря/68.

Вы меня много обрадовали, дорогой Николай Николаевич, во-первых, письмом, а во-вторых, добрыми известиями в письме. На первое письмо Ваше я не ответил уже по тому одному, что Вы адресса Вашего не приложили, хотя письмо то «заключил в моем сердце*. Буквально говорю: такие письма, как от Вас, от Майкова, — для меня здесь как манна небесная. Теперь сижу во Флоренции уже недели с две, и, кажется, долго придется просидеть, всю зиму, по крайней мере, и часть весны. А помните, как мы с Вами сиживали по вечерам, за бутылками, во Флоренции (причем Вы были каждый раз запасливее меня: Вы приготовляли себе 2 бутылки на вечер, а я только одну, и, выпив свою, добирался до Вашей, чем, конечно, не хвалюсь)? Но все-таки те 5 дней во Флоренции мы провели недурно. Теперь Флоренция несколько шумнее и пестрее, давка на улицах страшная. Много народу привалило, как в столицу; жить гораздо дороже, чем прежде, но сравнительно с Петербургом все-таки сильно дешевле. И все-таки все мечты мои устремлены к Вам, в Россию, в Петербург, да, видно, бодливой корове Бог рог не дает. Но какая же, однако, я бодливая корова, помилуйте! Я, может быть, глупая корова, во многих делах — это правда, согласен, но если бодливая, то разве нечаянно.

Letter 3