sienamystic: (commedia)
So recently I've started studying Italian again. Before I left on my recent trip, I used Duolingo and my old textbook (from mumble-years ago) and a great podcast called Coffee Break Italian. Since Italians are, in general, about a billion times more fluent in English than I am in Italian, I didn't actually get the chance to practice much. I told my sister that we were doing Italy on Twenty Words, but most of the words were the right one. Mostly.

So when I got back home I looked up the website I had marked about three years ago, which was of a local man who taught Italian. (The university axed its program years ago, meaning no free lessons for me as a university employee. Woe.)

I went ahead and scheduled my first lesson, and in between the scheduling and the actual attending, I discovered that the instructor, a Florentine who married an American and is now resident in Lincoln, is actually the uncle of my coworker, which was funny. He runs tours to Italy, does wine tastings, prepares meals for people who want authentic food, and also gives lessons. So I've been showing up once a week to ruthlessly slaughter grammar and pet the family's tiny excitable dog.

There is nothing as excruciating as the moment when a language instructor asks you a question and you go blank because you realize that while you know a word here and there, you didn't follow it entirely, and you have no idea how to respond...but I'm having fun anyway. It activates a different corner of my brain, and even if I never attain a level of conversational Italian, I enjoy slowly developing more facility with the language.
sienamystic: (Default)
Nuns making a gelato run

Nuns in Rome know where to get the good gelato. I'm sure we were paying twice as much because this was the fancy artisinal whatevers chain but oh my god, their flavors were incredible.

There are actually more than seven hills in Rome )

I'm already trying to figure out how to get back.
sienamystic: (commedia)
We left Florence and hopped back on another Freccia to Rome. I had heard that Termini, Rome's main train station, had been turned into a mall, and it's true - there were now shops everywhere, including a branch of our now beloved Grom, which sold artisinal gelato. (The torrone flavor...omg. And the fiordilatte, which I kept returning to. We ate a lot of gelato, you guys.)

After some puttering around back home which never resulted in a decision, we finally opted for staying at The Beehive, a place that has been in business since 1999. They've always had positive reviews and I was interested in staying with them even though they were only a few blocks from the train station, which is noisy and can feature an interesting and sometimes intimidating parade of humanity. We walked one block out - still a little uncertain. Second block - huh, things were quieter now. We reached the Beehive and buzzed in and found ourselves in a cute little courtyard.

Roma )

At the risk of prolonging things, I think I'll stop here and wrap up the trip in another entry. More Rome and some Perugia.
sienamystic: (horse)
From Ravenna, we hopped back on the train and got to Florence at about 9 that evening, after a slightly delayed train. Our apartment was literally on the square of the Signoria, which still kind of boggles me. Thankfully the window was facing towards the back of the building and was four flights up, and even more thankfully there was a teeny European elevator built into the stairwell. We couldn't all fit in the elevator, mind you, but we could take turns. Every once in a while an intrepid soul would just decide to walk up.

My sister knew she wanted to shop for some specific things in Florence, namely leather gloves, but she had also done research on other goods which is how we found ourselves awash in gorgeous colors at Valmar, a shop that said they sold upholstery and other home decorating goods, but really seemed only to sell dizzying array of tassels and cushions. My sister and I promptly became awash in a sea of greed and had to talk ourselves out of not buying one of each despite our lack of giant windows curtained in luxurious brocade which needed only an insouciant little tassel to finish off the scheme.

tassels in Valmar

Leather gloves were acquired, as were a pair of Ponte Vecchio gold earrings. My contribution to the shopping festivities was bringing us to the pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella, which was once upon a time run by monks but is now a fancy perfume, candle, and lotions establishment. I dithered a lot and finally ended up spending a whole heck of a lot on a room spray fragrance that I absolutely adore - it's technically a Christmas scent, but it's orange and cinnamon and a little clove maybe? And it's sort of lovely and a little bit medicinal but also like a cinnamon stick in a mulled wine and it's a Christmas fragrance that I've come across before but it hard to find in the US and I love it to pieces.

A few more photos )

One of my biggest disappointments is that we missed by about a week the reopening of the museum holding the works of the Duomo, which has a heartbreaking Michelangelo Pieta and also Donatello's Mary Magdalene, a sculpture guaranteed to make me cry like an idiot. The Bargello is some consolation, and I did get to see my friend Niccolo da Uzzzano, who has been put in a new spot since I saw him last but who retains his dignified but friendly mien.

Bust of Niccolò da Uzzano, 1430s
sienamystic: (commedia)
Guys, guys, my sister's photos came out really great! Well, I'm responsible for some of them (uh, many blurry ones, as far as I can tell. Sheesh. I'm apparently Cap'n Shaky Hands. Anyway, here are six photos of Ravenna mosaics.

Read more... )
sienamystic: (Venice)
Well, she said, I'm back.

I've been back a little over a week. The trip was pretty great, went differently than I expected (but don't they always?), and seemed to pass so quickly that I'm vaguely startled that I have proof that I actually was there, and I'm already wondering how and when I can get back.

I keep thinking that lots of stuff has changed, but I don't know if that's true or not. English certainly is more present there. 15 years ago, I think even in the big cities you encountered people with little to no English, and here it was just everywhere. My scant handful of Italian helped on a few occasions, but most of the people we encountered spoke English that was lightyears ahead of my Italian.

There seemed to be more street vendors - or maybe my frustration at having to decline the purchase of a selfie stick every five minutes just made it feel that way. There were moments that I was just worn out by them. There also were just as many people there - if not more - as in the height of July, which surprised me. I suppose everyone's figured out that if you can visit when the weather is a little cooler, you should do it. Venice was particularly overstuffed, even past the "well of course Venice is crowded standards (partly by, I think, some Italian tourists there for a breast cancer awareness group parade) and because of how things worked out we didn't get to push past the main streets and off into the more appealing less populated zones. I think my sister was a bit shocked by the graffiti we found everywhere (and perhaps it just looks more startling in elegant Venice) but you also get the impression that Venice is really struggling to keep up against the tide of tourists and their trash. I know there are concerns with turning Venice into some sort of artificial Disneyland by limiting the amount of tourists permitted per day, but let's just say that I have different feelings now than I had previously.


So. Lots of photos below. )

I think I'll post this and then do Florence, Perugia and Rome in another entry.
sienamystic: (Venice)
It's fun planning the two weeks my sister and her husband and I are going to spend in Italy in October. But my brain is weird - although I'm still in the happy anticipations stage of things, I opened up the spreadsheet of days and put in the date and time of my return flight and immediately got sad that the trip was over even though it hasn't begun yet. Yeesh.

We'll have roughly two weeks, starting in Venice and moving down to Rome. Most of the places are new to her although not to me, but I've asked for an overnight in Bologna so I can see the terracotta Lamentation group and perhaps the anatomy theater. A friend came back from a long trip and used Bologna as her base and was really enthusiastic about it, and then I watched the BBC's Italy Unpacked show on it, and now a city I never really thought much about before has been put into the trip. It'll also make it easier to get to Ravenna, where we all plan to wallow in mosaics.

The hope was to spend some time in the countryside, but not renting a car is making that more difficult. So we're just hope for a day trip or two from Florence to help with that.

It's been 15 years since I was last in Italy and I'm really eager to go. I'm trying to recapture whatever paltry scraps of the language I had via Duolingo and an old textbook, but I've never been much of a linguist.
sienamystic: (flowermachine)
I am drinking red wine out of a little tetra pack. This is possibly a new low. In my defense, I bought it mostly to put in the beef and barley stew, and it was delicious and I can't let the rest of it go bad, right? Also, my wine glasses are on the high shelf and I don't feel like lugging over a step stool to get them.

My feet hurt from lots of standing at work, but the project that requires standing is really productive so I guess it's still a win. Also, it snowed today and was really pretty, and then it all melted off so I got to enjoy it and then not worry about slogging through it to get home.

I am tempted by all of the delighted people talking about Jupiter Ascending to maybe go see it. I'm hearing that it's a downright goofy and silly and fun space opera with pretty visuals and it sounds like it's worth at least a matinee.

What I really have to say right now is OMG Peggy Carter I love this show and it's almost over and that makes me sad. My fingers are crossed that they'll do another little, tight run like this and keep plopping them in-between Agents of SHIELD. (Also, because I keep tripping over people who are like PEGGY CARTER I LOVE YOU AGENTS OF SHIELD IS SHIT, let me say that Agents of SHIELD is pretty great and lots of fun and actually you don't need to keep pitting the two of them against each other.) Anyway, I don't know how they manage to keep doing such wonderful things with character and banter and plot and people being awesome and interesting and novel ways to descend staircases, but I need more.

In book news, I'm finally getting around to reading Rebecca, and I'm also reading a book about another mystic Italian saint from the early 1900s. The book is by Rudolph Bell and Cristina Mazzoni. Bell wrote the very interesting Holy Anorexia (which I read in conjunction with Holy Fest, Holy Fast by Caroline Walker Bynum,) while I was writing my thesis on Catherine of Siena, and that business is what got me interested in female mystic saints. I've only just begun, but it looks promising. Will also be getting an interlibrary loan of a book about women and greensickness. What triggered all this orgy of rereading was a comment I read by someone who was wanting more Tudor info while they read Wolf Hall, and linked an article by Hilary Mantel to a review of the Bell and Mazzoni book. Since I'm currently stalled on Wolf Hall, I was interested...and, well, here we are.

I think I'm going to go take my box of wine and go watch Face Off now, thank you.
sienamystic: (Venice)
The mailbox has presented me with Hawkeye Vol. 1 My Life As A Weapon, which is glorious. The art and the storytelling, just...mwah. So good. My tolerance for the type of canon you end up with in comics has definitely lessened over the years, but it's nice to have one book to read with a tight focus.

Also, I love Kate, even if I don't know her from anywhere else.

The mailbox has also presented me with a nightgown/robe thingy from my mother-in-law (purchased at the Vermont Country Store, purveyor of my husband's beloved ski pyjamas) that would look really fetching if I were about 86 years old. But, hey. It's warm. The weather this weekend has been snowy but not cold enough to stick, so while it was pretty for a while to see the big, feathery flakes come down it quickly turned into a slushy blah. The weekend has mostly been spent on the sofa under a quilt. At least I got a trip to the gym in.

In non-mailbox news, I'm bored with all my clothing. I feel like I could reinvent my very bland wardrobe if it weren't for my giant feet, which make it hard for me to find shoes to pull an outfit together. It's not a problem that needs to be solved right away or anything, but I think I need to start looking for a cute pair of sandals and then maybe find some flirty little skirts I can wear with t-shirts, to get some sort of a new take on a summer wardrobe.

Also, I am getting travel-sickness like crazy. I want to go somewhere, take a big trip. Not going to happen anytime soon due to money, but perhaps I can start planning.

Oh, also. So, I'm bad at learning languages in a structured environment, but even worse at the few attempts I've made at studying on my own. I have a ton of Italian textbooks and collections of verbs and flashcards, and I'm wondering if now is the time to just have done with it all. It feels like letting go of something important, which is irrational, but true. They just take up space on my bookshelf at the moment. The university doesn't have an Italian department (they axed it years ago) and the only way I could take a class is through a tutor who does small groups and charges quite a lot for it. Bah. At least I'm not buying the textbooks anymore. I kept talking myself into them and using them for a few days before they went onto the bookshelf and started gathering dust.
sienamystic: (Joan)
I am late to the Elementary party, but glad I got there.

In other news, this video has been making me so happy recently. It's like all of Italy, encapsulated in one four minute video.

sienamystic: (Venice)
No, seriously. Let's go.

See Italy First 1957
sienamystic: (bosch sienamystic)
One of the photos I snapped ten years while on a study abroad program in Italy is apparently going to be part of a display in Langley Abbey, Norfolk, UK. I am a bit boggled, for several reasons.

The people who are doing the display saw a photo I have on Flickr (under a Creative Commons license, as most of them on there are) of a facade of San Fortunato, a church in Todi that has a tiny little naked nun and monk on separate parts of the facade and then, a little higher up in some ornamentation underneath a sculpture, engaging in some, ahem, non-sanctioned recreation. The company creating the display wants it an an example of "what they got up to then."

It's not a great photo, and the scan is nothing to write home about either, but my offer to rescan it and send them a better high res version was politely declined, mostly because they have to create the panels by...tomorrow. Hee. I know from tight deadlines, and I assume that trawling Flickr saves them some money as well as time by not having to fill out a raft of forms or permissions (all part of my daily job at the museum) in order to get their image.

They'll credit me under my real name, although I'm wondering if that was the right decision because getting credit for a point-and-shoot photo seems almost pretentious. I'm not sure if that reaction is entirely rational on my part, but there it is.

So, there's that, then.
sienamystic: (skeleton)
A sculptor from Venice during the High Renaissance.

Tullio Lombardo, sculpture of a warrior saint

Sculpture of a Warrior Saint

detail, Tullio Lombardo sculpture

I love his lion armor.
sienamystic: (Italy signpost)
I'm not a hard-core true crime reader, but I do dip into the genre occasionally, and when I came across a book titled The Monster of Florence, about a serial killer who operated in Tuscany, I went ahead and picked it up. Interestingly, the timing of my reading the book coincided with the Amanda Knox case (which I hadn't followed due to somehow not seeing any news about the story until recently) - the link between the two is that not only is it a murder case set in the same general Italian locale, but the same Italian prosecutor figures in both cases.

Between 1968 and 1985, seven couples were murdered in the vicinity of Florence. They were young couples out parking, or camping, and the murderer would shoot them and then mutilate the woman's body. Over the years, new suspects, new theories, and wildly implausible theories on Satanic rituals would spring up. Eventually, the Italian journalist who covered the case for most of his career, Mario Spezi, would be accused of being the murderer, and Douglas Preston, an American crime/thriller writer, would be accused of helping him plant evidence, obstructing justice, and other assorted crimes. Preston was eventually told to leave and never come back, under threat of prosecution. Here's a little book-trailer that gives a bit of an overview about the story. Here's the wiki entry on the topic.



Since I wrote this post about reading police procedurals set in Italy, I haven't really returned to my stray thoughts about justice, police, and society in Italy. I did read several Andrea Camilleri books to finally get a perspective on how Italians themselves enjoy police procedurals, and perhaps a clue into how they view a policeman as the hero of the story. It confirms a lot of what I already thought - that Italians prize cunning and the ability to bend departmental power-games and bureaucracy to achieve their goals, which in this case results in solving the crime. The stories are less bleak than the ones written by foreigners seem to be, or at least that's my perception of them - there's a strand of hope that as long as these good, smart people are out there surreptitiously gaming the system for good, and not personal gain, that things will be ok.

With this book, detailing real investigations of a real case, I was interested to see how it compared to fiction. I'm not qualified to do any heavy lifting on the topic, for a variety of reasons - I'm not Italian, I haven't even been immersed in the society for long periods of time (two summer stays, and a lot of reading, that's it), and I'm no cultural scholar. But a part of me is still fascinated - and was really saddened - by the book and the light it sheds on the Italian justice system, the Monster of Florence crimes, and also the Amanda Knox case (which a newly-added afterword to the book discusses). It essentially confirms the most cynical view of Italy as a modern, first-world society but where, if you turn the wrong corner, you find yourself face to face with entrenched attitudes about power, justice, and the law that are purely medieval and less interested in finding the guilty and preventing them from doing any more damage. It's pretty shocking to an American, because no matter how cynical we get about our justice system, we don't believe corruption on these levels truly exists here, and we tend to think of Italy in the same ways as we do the rest of Europe (probably for us, Europe=England, which is wrongheaded but tempting to do). American law has more built-in protections to help the accused, and seeing a justice system without those things in place makes us blink and do a double-take. Set this story just about anywhere else in the world, and it becomes less shocking, rightly or wrongly.

Like I said earlier, I came away from this book very saddened. I have a special love for the city of Perugia, which is where I lived for my first visit (Amanda Knox was a student at the same university where I took classes. Thinking so badly of it hurts me - how bad must it be for the citizens who live there, and who see this sort of thing go on?

The book itself is fascinating, particularly for those who are interested in true crime. But it's also immensely frustrating, because there is no tidy resolution, there is no killer behind bars at the end of the book. He's still out there.
sienamystic: (Medici one hour)
Lorenzo de' Medici portrait bust

One of my favorite pieces of art ev-ah. Il Magnifico himself, wonky nose and all. (He had no sense of smell, interestingly enough.) I visit this sculpture every time I'm anywhere near the National Gallery. It's terracotta, and likely made after the wax sculptures crafted by Benitendi and designed by Verrochio, which were placed in various churches to offer thanks that he escaped the Pazzi murder plot.

Giuliano de' Medici portrait bust

This is Lorenzo's hottie younger brother, Giuliano, who didn't make it out of the Duomo alive.

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