With a sense of unreality, we left Rome behind and traveled by bus, just 3 hours north to Siena, a small town about the size of Corvallis, but very different with its hillside, winding, medievally narrow streets, tall buildings, and tucked around the corner, piazzas filled with light. Here the famous paolio is run. Ten riders race their horses around a very large piazza, as fast as they can -- and often violently. The only rule: You can't grab the reins of another horse. Everything else is OK. In fact, the winning horse just has to cross the finish line first. The rider doesn't have to be present!
Here in Siena, we visited a massive Gothic cathedral, nearly as rich as the Vatican, with pink, white and green marble everywhere. The floors were impressive, all inlaid marble with the most elaborate pictures. My favorite was the Liberia Piccolomini, intended to be a library but books were never stored here. Instead, imagine wall to wall murals, painted by Pinturicchio, in pure Renaissance style -- vivid colors, historical motif, and compelling figures. Here in the Liberia we also saw some lovley illuminated manuscripts, some for music scores (play on, musicians!). Could we not admire the mostly Renaissance sculpture, sliding to the Baroque, of Michelangelo, Donatello, and Bernini? The awkward part about visiting churches as a museum is for some, these places are places of prayer, yet hordes of tourists pour through as well.
After two days at the Bernini Hotel, where I got to pet the resident fat cat, a big black and white kitty, we hit the road again for 10 days in Florence, and that's where we are now, just off the Pitti Palace. We spent this morning touring this massive, 3 story palace, one wing is now a museum, and the other wing still in the apartments that the Medici began. The history is bloody, full of intrigue, murders, betrayals, men with great egos, and ruthless women -- but one redeeming feature is their civic pride that led them to support a court of artists, philosophers, and musicians. So, we saw hundreds of paintings today -- the delicate ephemeral beauty of Botticelli, the anguish and darkness of Caravaggio, the power of Gentileshi, Artemesia that is; and the early Renaissance masters as well, especially Fra Filippo Lippi, with gorgeous reds and blues, a sharp contrast to the darker vision of the Northern Renaissance. Keeping an eye out for links to other countries and cultures, I spotted one Renaissance painting by Reubens (that featured his self-portrait), also featured tulips and carpet from Turkey, helping to popularize the middle class desire for such luxuries. And, the Renaissance didn't cut any corners when it came to showing opulence. No wonder the Baroque was next.
Pam always says don't include too much history, so my one social note is that the women here in Florence, a high fashion capital, are amazingly well dressed (I mean the locals). Think basic black and basic beige for women of a certain age, with just one color, a scarf draped oh-so-casually, and young women wear all the colors of the rainbow. But I think few could afford these fashions; I priced one outfit at Euros 350. Whew! More immediately, appreciate your towels! Here, we have these sheet like cloths, something like a bed sheet, but with a slight waffle texture. They work. They're light weight and quick drying. Did I mention gelato? Home-made ice cream. Very rich. Very good. Ah, time to study. I'm very aware of the term winding down. That means too much work for teachers, but perhaps some time for gelato.
Warm thoughts from Florence.