Tuesday, June 21, 2011


The village of Manarola is located on cliffs of black rock. The pastel colored buildings seem to tumble down the cliff in a geometric jumble. The town is surrounded by ancient terraces of vineyards and olive groves above. It is the region's leading supplier of wine and olive oil. The cove below is clear turquois and swimmers dot the surrounding black rocks below. Simply stunning!

Cinque Terre

June 16

We are in Manarola one of 5 tiny villages in the Cinque Terre. This is the Italian Riviera: quaint, casual and utterly relaxing.

It is pedestrian only, no motorized vehicles and we haven't seen any bicycles either. It is built on the side of a cliff overlooking the Ligurean Sea. Below is a view from our hotel room. Note the boats "parked" in the narrow streets.

The water is crystal clear, cool and refreshing. We arrived yesterday evening and will stay until the 18th. I will fill in more details each day.

Leonardo da Vinci

June 15

Today I got to experience one of my dreams and visited the Last Supper in Milan. And what an experience it was!! We entered the Convent of Sta. Maria delle Grazie with our group through a series of mysteriously opening doors. We were allowed only 15 minutes of viewing time. When we arrived in the white room where the masterpiece hangs it appeared dreamy and delicate. Even though it has been restored it still appears quite fragile. Since Leonardo used an experimental technique, mixing oils with the plaster fresco, it sadly began to deteriorate within 6 years of his finish. Nonetheless, this is a lifetime memory for me.

As with Botticell's Birth of Venus they have a plaster casting of the artwork so blind people can enjoy it as well.


June 14

We arrived in Milan this afternoon. What a change from the canals of Venice! Milan is definitely the big city! High fashion and hustle and bustle! We are staying just off Duomo (city center) plaza.

The grand Cathedral is the focus. It truly is magnificent! It is a fantasyland of spires and marble. This is the fourth largest church in the world.

Looking forward to tomorrow and our city tour including Leonardo's Last Supper!


June 13

We were fortunate to be in Venice for the Venice Biennale, an art festival that occurs on odd years. Today we went over to Muran, an island that specializes in glass. There we happened upon a glass show that was spectacular. It was installed in a very old (hundreds of years) glass factory, complete with the old kilns, implements, etc. Of course this made for a stunning backdrop with impact for the glass pieces. The work ranged from traditional bottles to contemporary in the extreme. We were so impressed with the quality and depth of the show. One titled "Inside Out" was a suspended clear glass skeleton sporting magnificent feathered wings with a smaller skeleton above.

Salvadore Dali

June 12

Salvador Dali, from Spain was a Surrealist artist. Today we had the pleasure of seeing a special exhibition of his work in Venice: The Dali Universe. We happened on a great collection of paintings, etchings, lithographs and sculpture at the Museo do S. Apollonia. Interspersed with the work were quotes and thoughts by Dali. I particularly liked his views on time, "Man believes he is in charge of the voyage, but it is always time who is the ultimate rider." Several versions of Dali's "soft clocks" from his most famous painting Persistence of Memory were included in the display, numerous bronze sculptures, and illustrations from his edition of The Holy Bible.


June 11

Ok, Rick Steves is correct in his description of Venice, "Soak all day in this puddle of elegant decay." This is incredible! We spent our afternoon getting acclimated. We are staying all the way down the Grand Canal at Salute. There is just palace after palace and all are gorgeously decadent...but melting!

But for the art: saw an interesting installation of Ukranian eggs. The artist had 3 million eggs painted by people from various walks of life and then arranged them in greatly enlarged sections from a Van Eyck painting. These are installed in two places...we saw 4 sections today. Stunning!

Uffizi Gallery

June 11

Uffizi Gallery, Florence, is an incredible collection of Italian paintings. It is laid out in chronological order so very easy to follow and understand (I bought the guide after we were through, to have the memories and information for later). We purchased tickets in advance to avoid the long lines, but encountered a "strike" Italian for "delay"...maybe they had a staff meeting and opened late, still, we entered at 10:15 and our tickets were for 10am, not bad! But it was worth the wait! My favorites were, of course the Botticellis, which I will talk about in a moment, but there were also others worth a note: Michelangelo's only surviving canvas painting, a tondo, painting in the round, of the Holy Family, a couple of Rembrandt self-portraits I have been teaching my students about for years, one in his youth and the other aged, and Titian's Venus of Urbino. Wow!

But the dreamy, allegorical Botticellis were my favorites. I have never really studied Botticelli much, but when I stood before these it was possible to get lost. First, The Birth of Venus. Note, please the breath of life blown her way.  Curious that Botticelli chose to paint in a 2-dimensional flat style so out of synch with current Renaissance art of the time, but the setting seems appropriate for the subject, Venus rises mysteriously from the sea.

File:Sandro Botticelli - La nascita di Venere - Google Art Project.jpg

Perhaps as much or more, I was impressed with La Primavera 1482 (The Spring) by Botticelli. Venus (center) represents the fertile growth of Spring. Cupid hovers above the Three Graces. Note the center figure has her attention on the male in the lefthand corner, Mercury. The woman in the flowered dress is Primavera or the personification of Spring. There are at least 500 plant species represented in the painting, with about 190 flowers.


June 9

We made it to Florence today and after checking in to the Hotel
Enza, went right out to see what we could see. We lucked out because I had not reserved tickets for the Accademia (to see Michelangelo's David) but we stood in line only for 20 minutes and got in!!  Was it ever spectacular!! Just incredible. It is displayed under a skylight dome and of course you are able to walk all around it.

We saw the Duoma Cathedral which is an ornate Gothic building of Tuscan marble, green, white and rose. This has a dome (by Brunelleschi). Michelangelo is reported to have said he could make one bigger, but not as beautiful! Behind it is the Baptistry which has the Ghiberti doors unifyng art and math with perhaps one of the first uses of perspective in relief form. These are bronze and truly amazing.


June 8

After cooking an incredible meal of Bruschetta, Gnocchi with Pesto, Rolled Chicken with Ham and Sage and finally Chocolate Cake with Pears,

we met our guide on the ancient city of Perugia. Apparently the city has existed since c300BC! Impossible really to describe what we experienced as we walked through ancient streets including a section underground.

Hard to explain the wonder in viewing an artwork in St Peter's depicting the plague that hit Europe in the Middle Ages and there stood the city of Perugia, recognizable by it's belltowers and other buildings. The joy on our guide's face as he considered his town aptly represented so many centuries ago...priceless! We have truly loved all aspects of our stay at la volpe e l' uva, the farm in Perugia!!

The view from the patio outside our room on the farm.

St. Francis of Assisi

June 7

Today we prepared a four course "simple" lunch (with a couple from England) of Ricotta Roll with Marjoram, Pork Loin with White Grapes, Fettucine with Cherry Tomatoes and Crostata with Cherry Jam. Wow!! This was served with a local wine. Delicious!!

In the picture below,  My instructor Steff and I "shake out" the linguine just after cutting.

We were fortunate today to see many Holy places related to St. Francis of Assisi. After our cooking lesson, we were taken first to St Damian's Church, where St Francis was first given the message to restore the church. This is a humble stone sanctuary. From there we visited the Hermitage, a sacred retreat where St Francis sought peace and tranquility. Next we were able to tour the Basilica of St Clare which was finished in 1265 and houses the remains of St Clare. The Temple of Minerva at one time was the centerpiece of the city, dating from at least 800, the interior is 17th century Baroque today. We continued through the narrow streets to finally reach the Basilica of St Francis, two overlapping churches, the lower from 1228-1230 and the upper dating 1230-1253. In the lower rests the remains of St Francis surrounded by niches holding his four companions. Frescoes by Giotto grace the walls of the upper church. Finally we ended our afternoon with a charming surprise of the Basilica of Santa Maria Degliangeli. Built in 1569, this is said to be one of the largest Christian sanctuaries with a grand dome. Inside, however, is the treat, enclosed within is the tiny Porziuncola, a quaint, rustic church, where in 1205, St Francis made his home. My, what a day, hard to take it all in!


June 6

Good Morning!! Today we leave Rome for Umbria, on the train, via Perugia. There we will be having a "Cooking Experience" as we stay on a farm and learn to cook (and eat) various dishes of the region. If you would like more information about Raffaella and her farm, pease visit her site at http://www.cookinumbria.it/ We will be doing some tours as well...so I will keep you posted!

The picture posted is of our teacher: Steff. I have captured her favorite statement of the cooking experience: "You canna never have to mucha olive oil!"

Monday, June 20, 2011

Forum and Colosseum

June 5

Today we walked to the Forum and then the Colosseum...This is layer upon layer of antiquity. It is just mind boggling, the history that has taken place here! To think a prison still exists that imprisoned St. Peter and Paul! But even earlier than that...I can hardly fathom it! The Forum is the birthplace of Ancient Rome.

The Colonna Trajan marks one end of the area. This is a 40 meter high white marble column carved in relief with a narration in history comprising of 2500 figures coiling around top to bottom. The other end is capped with the Arch of Constantine, commemorating the acceptance of Christianity into the Roman Empire.

The Colosseum is the largest ampitheater built in antiquity, large enough to accommodate 55,000 spectators.


June 4...We are in Italy. I am having such a time accessing my research for the "birthday artists" that I have decided to forego them for the time being and post information about the artists and historical/cultural things I experience. When we return at the end of June I will upload the birthday information for each day http://www.famousartistsbirthdays2.blogspot.com/ in case anyone is interested in going back and reading that. SO...about today...

We set out early on the subway for Vatican City. Got to see two of my dreams, the Sistine Chapel ceiling (Michelangelo) and The School of Athens (Raphael). The ceiling is breathtaking! The work is so clear, even from below, the restoration has made such an improvement in the color clarity. The section I love the most is still the Creation of Man, where God brings Adam to life with the touch of a finger.

I was also very excited when Craig pointed out Michelangelo's self portrait in the rag clutched in the Last Judgement above the altar.

The Raphael Room was amazing as well. I did not realize The School of Athens was a fresco and not a canvas painting.

A fresco is the application of pigment on wet plaster, creating a bond that makes the painting actually part of the wall. It is newly restored and quite captivating. The room depicts 4 themes (one on each wall) Philosophy (School of Athens), Theology, Judgement, and Poetry. Each theme was distinct and fairly recognizable once you really studied the content. Of course various minds are represented in The School of Athens: Socrates, Plato, Copernicus, Goethe, etc...he even included his great rival Michelangelo!

Taking the subway back to our hotel, we got off on a whim to see the Piazza di Spagna, Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. The fountain is fed by aqueducts and the force of the flowing water allows it to spew out of the spouts without aid of pumps or electricity or anything. Of course as legend goes you must throw 2 coins over your shoulder to ensure your return...so I did!

The amazing end to our day was later when we finally found the Pantheon, just in time to experience Mass just starting as we entered. We sat down and enjoyed a Spiritual event that was truly inspiring! The choir echoed throughout the enormous dome, incense wafted in the air surrounding us, and we felt surely blest as we passed the Peace to fellow Christians around us. What a day!

June 3  We arrived in Rome today and after settling into our hotel we went out to explore. We found a charming church...the Chapel of San Vitale. After going inside to see the paintings of the Stages of the Cross and some very realistically painted columns, we lit a candle for Shane and left, only to be stopped by the caretaker, who gave us more information. The chapel originally faced the opposite direction, and was built in 400AD. The road (now Via Nationale) was built 400 years later and swooped down to the church level, but now after so many years have passed, the road has steadily been raised up, necessitating a steep set of stairs that lead down 30-40 feet to the present entrance.