Blogging ABOUT Italy: Cortona

30 Mar

In 2011, blogginginitaly.com was born. Never could I have imagined then just how significant a two letter preposition in the middle of the title would become. The word, of course, is “in”, and denotes all of the posts and nearly 20,000 photos I have taken while documenting our adventures while in Italy.

Spring poppies ©Blogginginitaly.com

Today, March 30, 2020, we were to board our flight for our 14th extended Italian adventure. And although we are disconnected physically, we are in constant contact with our Italian friends. I’m actually texting some as I write! We also read Italian news and monitor the ups and downs as if we were there.

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So, although I can’t write while in Italy, I can still write about Italy. Perhaps more importantly, I can share photos from our many adventures to remind us all, at such a difficult time throughout the world, to stay connected and hold on to our dreams, whatever they may be.

This first post (of what I plan to be many) is dedicated to our Italian home, the town of Cortona. Because we have been fortunate to experience Cortona in all seasons, I have many pictures of Cortona that are virtually people free. I hope you enjoy the views. You can also click on any photo to enlarge.

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Cortona – ©Blogginginitaly.com

Parterre Cortona ©Blogginginitaly.com

Via Santucci view ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Rooftops Cortona ©Blogginginitaly.com

Chiesa di San Francesco, Cortona, ©Blogginginitaly.com

War Memorial ©Blogginginitaly.com

Parterre Cortona ©Blogginginitaly.com

Santa Margherita ©Blogginginitaly.com

Santa Maria Novella ©Blogginginitaly.com

Municipio Cortona ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Le Celle ©Blogginginitaly.com

As the sun casts a warm welcome on this beautiful ancient town, it will once again, hopefully soon. At that time, we, like so many others, will return for our next adventure.

July, 2011, Trip #1 to Cortona ©blogginginitaly.com

Till then, more posts to follow.

Ciao,
Judy

 

Thinking Local and Afar

18 Mar

If you happen to be like us, people of a certain age, you have probably been getting calls from your “not of a certain age” adult children/relatives. The “How are you?” conversation quickly turns to your current activities, or the limits they are “suggesting”: Order online, cancel unnecessary appointments, call for whatever you need, avoid social interactions, hunker down, etc., etc. Hardly before you can answer, the suggestions become quasi mandates, followed by a plea for rationality. You’re hooked, but you also know you are loved.

One suggestion, however, from our daughter who is an editor in the food industry, is not a restriction but a great suggestion: Don’t forget to Order Out! She loves her neighborhood and worries about the restaurants that might not survive, so she’s making it a habit of ordering out a few times a week. And she reminds us to do the same.

So we started last night. Our two usual “go to dine-in” restaurants in the neighborhood are Casati’s and Riccardos, both Italian and both delicious. Last night we ordered from Casati’s. Stefano, the owner, personally thanked us when we called in our order. We learned that in Illinois (and some other states), restaurants can deliver alcohol via in-house delivery, third-party delivery, drive-through, and curbside pick-up. As Stefano said, “For many, ordering wine will be much cheaper than seeing a divorce lawyer!” Touché! And so we will continue to support them and others in the neighborhood during our social distancing.

As for Italy, we should have been landing in la bella Italia next week, reconnecting, hugging, eating, drinking, walking, enjoying our second home, and sharing our adventures. Instead, our hearts are with the people, the country, and especially our friends with whom we are in regular contact. And like the sunflowers, we will be back, we will be back.

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Let’s hope the Italians are right when they say, Andrà tutto bene! Everything will be ok

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

Red Skies Over Chicago

8 Jan

I’ve never seen a sky quite like this before in Chicago. These photos were taken from our snowless deck at 4:40 pm, January 8. And while today was pretty chilly, you can see that the next few days are hardly wintery. 

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I’m not sure what about the weather is causing the incredible sunsets, but here’s what Mother Nature had in store for our viewing pleasure tonight…

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Hope you enjoy these incredible views!

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

A Very Merry Christmas – Buon Natale!

25 Dec

Wishing you and yours a very 

Merry Christmas/Buon Natale

                       🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄

and our beautiful daughter

a most Happy Birthday! 

Ciao, Judy 

 

 

 

Halloween TRICK or TREAT?

31 Oct

The last few days, we have been admiring the beautiful fall colors in Chicago. Today, we awoke to this Halloween TRICK…

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Even the remaining geraniums were confused…

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But by early evening, the TREAT was in sight. The snow had ceased, the skies were clear, and the costumed candy seekers were happily ringing doorbells.

Perhaps next year there will be a run on “snowperson” costumes!

☃️☃️❄️❄️☃☃❄️❄️❄️☃️❄️❄️☃☃❄️❄️☃❄️❄️☃☃❄️❄️☃❄️❄️☃❄️❄️

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

It’s a Wrap!

28 Oct

After our wonderful and relaxing trip to Liguria, we returned to Cortona for the hustle and bustle of our last few weeks.

Whether pool side or terrace sunsets, pizza parties, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, olive picking, day trips, wine tastings – there’s never a shortage of things to do or willing friends with whom to have fun. (Apologies to those for whom I don’t have photos.)

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Similar to the completion of filming a scene, I can’t help but think of the phrase: “It’s a wrap, folks!”

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Since it’s also the week of our anniversary, there were some fun surprises.

A whimsical print Len bought me from Ivan at Il Pozzo Galleria…

as well as a surprise and delightful anniversary celebration. (Intentional misspelling of Len’s name. Long story.)

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Our final night, as is customary, we headed to Tuscher Caffe knowing we would bump into friends, and so we did.

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Four other couples were also leaving the next morning so it was a bit of a challenge getting any group photos.

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After a bit, those of us remaining were hungry, so we called Alessandro at Il Cacciatore and he welcomed us with open arms as usual.

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And then it was time for some final goodbye hugs, after just a few more laughs.

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Saturday morning, we had one last cappuccino before departing. This coffee mug planter was on our table.

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With Cortona in the background, we headed to the town of Fiumicino, where we walked the pier by day and enjoyed the always incredible sun setting the night before flying home.

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So many ask me, “Which do you prefer more, Chicago or Cortona?” For me, the ending of each journey is the beginning of the next. I love them both.

And so, it is a wrap, our 13 trip to our second home.  Till we meet again…Abbracci and Arrivederci!

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

Liguria

17 Oct

The Italian Riviera, or Italy’s Liguria region, is a crescent-shaped strip of Mediterranean coastline straddling between the south of France and Tuscany.

Map from The Guardian

Unlike many who prefer the Cinque Terre, we headed west from Genoa to the less crowded villages along the Ligurian Sea. During the 19th century, these coastal towns were heavily populated by the British seeking moderate winter months. Today, the Brits seemed to have moved elsewhere, and the beautiful towns are less crowded, less hectic and more relaxing than many seaside “touristy” towns.

That said, these towns are not the easiest to reach. The average trip from Cortona includes three to four trains, and seven to eight hours. To shorten our departure, we spent the first night in Firenze, and then took an early morning train the next day.

Having an afternoon and evening in Firenze was lovely. We first headed over to Piazza Republicca, a place that holds happy memories for us. In 1997, we celebrated my parents 50th anniversary here. (Their room was the one with the beautiful balcony.)

As usual, a musician was playing, and this time he was an extremely talented classical and jazz violinist.

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We stopped for prosecco at Caffè Paszkowski, one of our favorite places in the piazza, and a good place from which to hear the musician.

©Caffè Paszkowski Website

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I have always believed that the best way to experience a town is to spend the night, and our stay in Firenze confirmed that once again. Take for example the Florence Cathedral, formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Begun in 1296 in the Gothic style, it was structurally completed by 1436, with the dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. In the evening, minus the large crowds, you can actually see the buildings from bottom to top.

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The next morning, after only two trains and 4.5 hours, we reached our destination.

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Two years ago, we were introduced to Liguria by friends Daniela and Massimo. This time, on our own, we chose Alassio as our base to celebrate our October anniversary. We were on vacation and the view from our balcony didn’t disappoint.

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Alassio is a town on the western coast of Liguria, approximately 80 kilometres or 50 miles from the French border. It is known for its natural beauty and scenic views along the sea, and for good reason. The sandy beaches go on forever,

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and walking and bike riding are easy along manicured stone paths that reach from town to town.

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The town centre, or Budello, just off the beachfront, is filled with bars, shops, cafès and restaurants.

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Len quickly made a friend during our first lunch at the beach,

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who persistently pecked at Len’s leg when the peanuts were gone!

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The second day, we walked to the next town, Laigueglia, enjoying the sea breezes and taking in the colorful sights.

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When we passed this villa high on a hill, I couldn’t help but wonder –when was it built, who had lived there, what had happened to them, why did they desert her?

Scenes like this, and the mesmerizing sounds of the sea, could surely be a writer’s inspiration.

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Before heading back to Alassio, we considered walking the 50 miles to France, ok, just kidding, but  local buses and trains do run between the towns and the border.

Speaking of writers, in the early 1950’s, Ernest Hemingway was a frequent visitor to Alassio, then an international jet-set location. One of Hemingway’s favorite spots was the famous Caffè Roma.  These photos are from their menu.

And this is the caffè today.

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As the story goes, Mario Berrino, one of the founders of the caffè, loved to show customers all the famous autographs and dedications he had collected over the years. As Hemingway was signing the guest book, Berrino shared with him his idea. He wanted to put each signature on a ceramic tile and create a colorful wall for all to enjoy. Hemingway was in total agreement. To avoid  bureaucratic obstacles, Berrino and a few friends put up the first three tiles, including Hemingway’s, early one morning. After no one complained, they added a few more. Apparently, the mayor liked the idea and turned a blind eye. Today, there are about 550 tiles that make up the Muretto di Alassio.

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In Alassio, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, offering a variety of dishes including pizza, pasta and seafood. And some even have music. Daniela suggested we head to Mezzaluna, one of her favorites, and we soon learned why. These guys had the house rockin’

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while the patrons enjoyed local dishes.

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We were fortunate to have perfect fall weather, warm sunny days and cool clear night. Sunsets were filled with painted skies

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followed by radiant moon glow.

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And when darkness set in, the pier and the paths were always well lit.

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Not to be outdone, however, was the constantly changing view from our balcony, this one before sunrise. With the temperate weather, we were able to leave our terrace doors open and fall asleep to the repetitive sound of the waves lapping against the shore.

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A few hours later, the sun was glistening on the sea. It was time for our next walk.

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With such beautiful scenery, it seemed to me a good idea to leave something personal behind, if only temporarily.

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And while my footprints have surely washed away, what will last forever are the great memories we have as we think about our time in Alassio.

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As I wrote when this blog began, 

Judy and Len
too young to be old 
and to old to be young
but just the right age to be 
traveling, exploring and sharing
our adventures.

May we continue to continue.

Happy Anniversary, Len, ti amo!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

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Funghi Feast: *Mushrooms*

13 Oct

With warm days, cool nights, and the moon just right, Tuscan mushroom seekers are busy, and that includes Carlo, our resident fungaiolo (mushroom hunter/seeker). He heads to the mountain forests, filled with a variety of trees including chestnut, pine, oak and beech, and the ideal habitat for funghi. If you ask, however, just know that a dedicated fungaiolo never reveals where he/she searches.

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While he headed off to the forest, Fernanda surprised us with one of Len’s favorite dishes, spaghetti alle vongole. At the local pescheria, or fish market, one can easily find the sweet, tender and tasty veraci, or tiny baby clams in the shell, as well as slightly larger clams which she combined for a delicious dish.

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Carlo finally returned with a smile on his face that spelled success. He proudly displayed his bounty of mushrooms, including the prized Porcini, Gallinaccio (Chanterelle), Ovuli (orange color, egg-shaped), Mazza di Tamburo, (drum mallet or stick shape), and a few miscellaneous stragglers. Knowing where to go, and having an aged Panda, both help in the hunt.

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In Italy, Len and I have planted and harvested vegetables and picked fruit, tomatoes and olives, but we had never really cleaned mushrooms, not ones freshly picked from the forest. And what a learning experience it was. Fernanda was anxious to get started cleaning.

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We had, of course, the same question most would ask:

“How do you know if they are poisonous?”

And the answer, as you might guess, is experience. Carlo accompanied his dad beginning at age seven. Fernanda’s parents both scoured the forest since she was a child. And now they just know, a skill passed from generation to generation. They know the varieties, where to look, what to pick, what to leave behind, how to clean, what to cut off, how to store, how to serve, and so on. And thus we began to learn, under the watchful eye of Fernanda’s mom and instructions per Fernanda and Carlo.

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Using the end of a knife, the dirt is removed by a quick but not too firm scraping.

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Many mushrooms are like sponges, so after the first cleaning, they are lightly rinsed, not soaked.

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And then on to others.

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Len and Carlo took the residue we had scraped off to the orto which will become compost for next year’s tomatoes. Remember, it’s Italy, and nothing is thrown out if possible.

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They even found a few more tomatoes on the vines.

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Then, Fernanda went to work, quickly and skillfully slicing the porcini for freezing.

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Her hands flew though the motions, and soon we had 14 packages of porcini ready to freeze for future pasta, risotto, and/or frying.

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Once the aromas began filling the house, we knew she had started cooking…

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But the “pièce de ré·sis·tance” was the fresh porcini risotto. Move over farm to table, this was mountain to mouth! The smell, the taste, the WOW. The best I have ever had.

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Complimenti to Carlo, our favorite fungaiolo,

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and to Fernanda, our talented cook!

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Thanks for the lessons, the food, the fun and your friendship!

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No matter the season, we continue building memories, each and every wonderful day.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Farm to Table and Friends

27 Sep

Restaurants these days tout farm to table, and diners love participating in this fresh approach to cooking and eating. But when the farm and table are your own, it’s extra special.

Italy is well known for many wonderful things, with food always ranking high on the list. Great food comes from quality ingredients, and in Italy, that’s a way of life. When we first started traveling through the Italian countryside, Len remarked that Italy is one big farm. How true that is. Not just grapes and olives, although they are in abundance, but hectares and hectares of fruits, vegetables, and grains as well. In addition, the fertile soil, topography and weather contribute to regional differences in product variety.

I have written a lot about the fun we have with “our” small orto, as well as the abundant fruits of our “collective” labor. And since the orto is surrounded on three sides by Fernanda’s relatives’ farms, we are rewarded in quadruple.

From picked:

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to this:

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Or these:

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to these:

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This crate:

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becomes Fernanda’s vegetable soup:

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During the fall, when the weather is perfect, Carlo “hunts” for mushrooms, 

©blogginginitaly.com PORCINI

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so we enjoy these:

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Then there was this just picked bundle,

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which produced these:

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Grapes, you ask, but of course:

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and figs? In abundance!

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All of which makes for a beautiful and bountiful apericena (appetizer/dinner)!

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And then there’s the fun, lots and lots of fun. Regarding the next photo, don’t ask as I won’t tell 😎.

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Sunshine, fresh food, a good red and loads of laughter – perfect ingredients for good health and good times.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

Leonardo: A True Genius

23 Sep

In honor of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, 500 years ago on May 2, his life and works are being celebrated throughout Italy this entire year.

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

Da Vinci was born in a small Tuscan village called Anchiano on April 15, 1452. He was a true polymath, a person whose expertise spanned a significant number of subject areas. Today, we celebrate this genius’ life as a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, musician, inventor, mathematician, anatomist, botanist, geologist, cartographer and writer.

While most people perhaps recognize da Vinci through some of his most famous paintings, such as the Mona Lisa and Last Supper, his study of so many things, including botany, was extensive.

This past week, we were fortunate to attend La Botanica di Leonardo (Leonardo’s Botany) at the incredible Santa Maria Novella complex in Firenze. Len has read the 600 page, Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson, (2017), not once but twice, and often out loud to me, so we were particularly interested in seeing any of da Vinci’s research and exploration.

We entered through the cloister, one of the oldest parts of the complex dating back to perhaps the early 1200s.

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We then entered the magnificent Capilla de los Españoles, or Spanish Chapel.

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From there, we followed the signs for the exhibit.

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Along the way, there were many interesting things to see, such as a mirror placed next to some of da Vinci’s words to make them legible. Da Vinci was left-handed, often wrote in a shorthand he invented for himself, and often mirrored his writing, starting at the right side of the page and moving to the left.

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He also designed furnaces and ovens for the production of medicines and perfumes, required for his alchemy research.

Leonardo Botanico Exhibit, 2019 Firenze ©blogginginitaly.com

We finally arrived at the elaborate and interesting mirrored entrance.

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From the exhibition website:

The Botanical exhibition outlines the philosophical and technological context of the time in which Leonardo da Vinci lived in order to explore his study of the forms and processes of the Plant world in greater depth, through his eyes as a “systemic” thinker, highlighting the connections between art, science and nature and the relationships between the different spheres of knowledge.

The long hall was filled with exhibits on both sides, depicting various aspects of da Vinci’s research. With this animation, we saw da Vinci’s research on the progression of plant formation, one leaf at a time.

While others had discovered that a tree’s age was could be determined by counting the rings, it was da Vinci who discovered that the growth rings told the story of the environmental conditions of each year. These are photos of an animation of the rings of a tree over time and a tree sample.

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There was also a large, two-sided screen depicting some of da Vinci’s notes, drawing and paintings.  Here’s a sampling:

And then this, some of his notes:

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Codex Atlanticus, folio 197 verso. Method for making a “positive” print; bottom, a sage leaf printed in negative. Copyright Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana/Mondadori Portfolio.

At the end of the hall, guests are invited to momentarily become like the Vitruvian man, who for da Vinci, was the proportional blend of math and art during the Renaissance, and a cornerstone of Leonardo’s attempts to relate man to nature.

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The final panels, titled Leonardo’s Legacy, leave us with a message worthy of consideration:

Leonardo Botanico Exhibit, 2019 Firenze

And so we see the reason why Leonardo’s legacy is even more relevant today: if our sciences and technologies are ever more restricted in their focus, if they are unable to understand the complexity of problems by taking an interdisciplinary approach and are dominated by companies that are more interested in financial revenue than the well-being of humanity, then we urgently need to return to a vision of science that honours and respects the unity of life as a whole, that recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all natural phenomena and reconnects us with the system of living things. Our needs today are exactly those outlined in the thinking of Leonardo da Vinci five hundred years ago.

Leonardo Botanico Exhibit, 2019 Firenze

Leonardo da Vinci, a true genius, spent a great deal of time in the Santa Maria Novella area in 1504 and 1505. Walking through the exhibit, you sometimes feel as though he just might walk by. 

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

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