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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

 

 

 

Weekend in Review

26 Aug

So much happening in Cortona over the weekend…

Since 1963, Cortona has been the host city of the national antique market knows as Cortonantiquaria, held in the rooms and hallways of the beautiful 18th century Palazzo Vagnotti.

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You couldn’t help but know that the exhibit was coming as a giant slide show lights up the Municipio each night.

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For two weeks beginning August 24, exhibitors throughout Italy display a variety of certified antiques including paintings, china, jewelry, statuary and furniture.

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A very special exhibit this year is Catrosse Ceramiche. I had no idea that from 1796-1910,  the noble Venuti family was responsible for bringing techniques learned in other parts of Italy to a new porcelain production facility near Cortona.


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©blogginginitaly.com

Did you ever wonder how some of the very large pieces are hoisted up to the top floor of the Palazzo? Well, wonder no more…

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Weekend strolls brought the usual delightful sights, including this “watch cat”,

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nature blooming through stone ledges,

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and artifacts attached to the old city walls.

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The last Sunday of each month brings the traveling antique market to Cortona. Unlike the one in the Palazzo, this one is held in the piazzas or parterre (park) and is filled with a lot of old (lovely and not), interesting and/or odd things. As I wander the stalls, I am reminded of the saying: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, or so the vendors hope. But it’s always fun to wander.

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Sunday is also a great day for strolling, as everyone seems to be smiling and saying Buona Domenica, or Good Sunday, as you pass. And it’s easy to feel good when listening to a talented violinist,

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people watching,

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enjoying a prosecco,

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or a great cappuccino!

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As my friend’s shirt says,

Make Days Good Days!

And so we do.

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

Lecce

8 May

Lecce, our last of the three-city trip south, is a town of over 95,000 people located in Puglia. It is well-known for its Baroque architecture, a style that began in the late 16th century and is often characterized by large proportions, twisting columns, theatrical effects, bronze and gilding, and extensive use of tromp-l’oeil. 

We entered the historical center via Porta San Biagio (St. Blaise Gate).

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and were immediately met with visions of baroque architecture.

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The Chiesa di Santa Croce, (the Basilica), was begun in 1353 and eventually completed by 1695.

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The church has a richly decorated façade with animals, statues, grotesque figures and vegetables, and a large rose window.

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Side altars are adorned with an abundance of Baroque columns and theatrical effects,

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while the chapel of St. Antonio is a great example of gilding.

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Lecce is a city where old meets “new”:

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The Roman 2nd century amphitheater was able to seat more than 25,000 people. It is now half-buried because other monuments were built above it over the centuries. The theatre is currently used for different religious and arts events.

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The biggest surprise came when we found out our hotel, Torre del Parco, is one of the medieval symbols of Lecce. It was erected in 1419 by the then-18 year old prince of Lecce, Giovanni Antonio Del Balzo Orsini.

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The tower, standing more than 75 feet, is surrounded by a ditch in which bears (the heraldic symbol of the Orsini del Balzo) were reared.

The whole complex was the seat of Orsini’s tribunal and of a mint, and after Giovanni Antonio’s death, it became a residence for the Spanish viceroys. Over the intervening years, and with the addition of acreage, it functioned as many historical places, including a grand tribunal, a palazzo, and even a prison.

From 1992 – 2006, the current restoration took place and it was reopened as a small private hotel, banquet facility, spa, meeting center, and just wonderful place to relax.

We visited the tower and were surprised by what we found…

a chapel,

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modern meeting space,

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small banquet rooms,

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and an interesting antique carriage. (Thanks, Susan, for posing.)

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The bridge from the tower to the hotel facilities crosses one of the main roads in town,

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and provides several spaces for relaxing and wine sipping.

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The hotel grounds, complete with palms and flowers everywhere, were a total surprise.

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After sight-seeing all day, and since it was our last night, we decided to “eat in” and enjoy the surroundings.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the spa, but the made-to-order breakfast and freshly squeezed blood orange juice were perfect for our last morning.

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Alberobello Trulli, Matera Caves, and the loveliness of Lecce, three amazing locations in southern Italy offering thousands of years of history, beauty and intrigue – so very worth a visit.

Ciao,
Judy

 

2016 Chicago Open House – Case Bonita

14 Oct

Three years ago, I began an amazing adventure to learn more about my paternal grandfather, Alexander Capraro. As mentioned in my first post dated 10/2/13:

Through His Words: Reflections From and About My Grandfather

My grandfather was small in stature but large in accomplishment. He was the first Italian-American architect licensed in the state of Illinois and fortunately, a few of his buildings still stand for us to admire.

This weekend, the Chicago Architecture Foundation hosts its Open House Chicago.

200 COOL PLACES.
48 HOURS. GO.
IT’S FREE.
OCTOBER 15-16, 2016

I am so proud that for the 6th time, Casa Bonita, designed in 1928 by my grandfather Alex and his partner Morris, is included in the festival. Quite an accomplishment for a man who, at the age of four, emigrated to America in 1899 with his parents.

Casa Bonita is considered a Spanish-Renaissance Revival apartment building.

Casa Bonita ©Photo by Charlene Ferguson

Casa Bonita ©Photo by Charlene Ferguson

There are 66 units in the U-shaped white terra-cotta building that surround a beautiful garden. The attention to detail can be seen everywhere.

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MTMattucci

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MMattucci

Besides its incredible structure, Casa Bonita has amenities including a library, a billiards room, and a large indoor pool.

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MTMattucci

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MMattucci

 

When it was built, I have been told, there was even a driving range on the roof.

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MTMattucci

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MMattucci

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MTMattucci

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MMattucci

If you are in or near Chicago this weekend, this is a unique opportunity to visit incredible historic landmarks, including Casa Bonita – all for free. Residents will be available to answer questions, give tours, and share their passion about this very special Chicago treasure.

http://openhousechicago.org/sites/site/casa-bonita/

My thanks to Mary, Linda and Charlene for rapid assistance with photos.

For more on Alex’s story, see below. And one last thought – When I began writing about my grandfather, I used the phrase: Through his Words... Now I can say,  Through his Words and Works…

Ciao,
Judy – a very proud granddaughter

 

Opening of Original Post 10/2/13

Through His Words: Reflections From and About My Grandfather (10/2/13)

I am about to begin an incredible adventure with my paternal grandfather. We will venture to Europe, via ship, and spend a month together touring Italy. During our stay, we will visit his birthplace, Pietrabbondante, a town he left with his parents when he was four years old to emigrate to the United States.

To continue reading, please click below:

 

San Francesco d’Assisi

4 Oct

Saint Francis of Assisi, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, is one of the most venerated religious figures in history. He lived from 1182 – 1226, and during his lifetime, founded several orders including the men’s Order of Friars Minor and the women’s Order of Saint Clare. He was canonized on July 16, 1228, by Pope Gregory IX. He, along with Saint Catherine of Siena, are the patron saints of Italy.

The feast of St. Francis of Assisi is celebrated today, October 4. Throughout Italy, and in particular the central parts of Italy where St. Francis lived, there are many celebrations in his honor. Unlike so many of the gold and ornate churches and monasteries, those of St. Francis tend to be simple in design and without pretense.

Chiesa di San Francesco, Cortona, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Chiesa di San Francesco, Cortona, ©Blogginginitaly.com

From our front door, it is 115 steps, mostly up, to San Francesco in Cortona, and it is well worth the climb. The sparse interior holds many treasures and is our favorite among Cortona churches.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

According to Cortona history, the Church was built over the ruins of a Roman bath. The area, which was a municipal property, had been donated to Friar Elia, Francis’ successor, who had the church built in honor of St. Francis. The facade, the large door, and the entire left wall are part of the original church which was dedicated in 1254. Friar Elia is buried in the choir area behind the altar.

The interior underwent renovations in the 16th and 17th centuries. During that time, several incredible original frescoes from the school of Buffalmacco, dating back to 1382, were rediscovered behind paintings.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

On the altar, in a large marble baroque tabernacle dating from 1619, is a relic from the Holy Cross, donated to Friar Elia by the Constantine Emperor.

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And finally, to the left of the main altar is the statue of St. Francis and some items as described below.

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As I write, the bells from the church are ringing. Three of the five are electric, but of the original two, one was cast in 1250 and the second in 1267.

In addition to this beautiful church, Cortona is home to Le Celle, an incredible monastery and sanctuary which developed both during and after St. Francis’ life.

It is here that you can see the room, or cell, where St. Francis slept.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Every time I visit either the San Francesco Church or Le Celle, I find myself caught up in the tranquility each has to offer. And while Cortona can sometimes be a bustling town, each of these remains an oasis of serenity – a wonderful place to reflect, meditate, pray, or simply take in the moment.

For more on Le Celle, click on a previous post: Franciscan Hermitage of Le Celle, Cortona.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Il Pozzo “Tabacchi” Cortona

29 Sep

When you spend time in Italy, you quickly learn the value of a Tabacchi. It is a place to buy bus and train tickets, stamps, postcards, gum, candy, lozenges, etc.

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You can recharge a phone card, buy a lottery ticket, often send a fax, and at most tabacchis, sort through various dollar store types of souvenirs. And yes, the word Tabacchi means tobacco, so, that too.

But when is a tabacchi much more than a tabacchi? When you find this large  “T” sign and awning on Via Nazionale in Cortona. Then it’s a destination.

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No matter how often I visit, there is always something new and creative to see. And the best news? Most items are actually Made in Italy, many from local and nearby artisans. Here are some examples.

These purses, ornaments and wallets are made from old sheet music, newsprint and/or comic pages, formed into shapes, laminated, and then woven together.

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There are numerous prints of familiar Tuscan scenes, towns, buildings and monuments, available in many shapes and sizes, 

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as well as whimsical pieces of art.

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Sara Lovari©Blogginginitaly.com

Sara Lovari©Blogginginitaly.com

As for me, I can never have enough kitchen towels, especially when they depict places I’ve visited or recipes I want to remember.

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Planning to attend Carnevale in Venice or a Mardi Gras party? They’ve got you covered.

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There is beautiful pastel stationery, as well as bound journals, all hand-made with 100% cotton paper, and each journal is individually embossed.

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Traditional Florentine notecards and ornamental angels come in a rainbow of colors.

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Need a birthday or anniversary card? There’s an abundance to choose from.

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Italians love beautifully fragranced soaps, especially Campostrini soaps that have been produced  in Firenze since 1894.

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Like so many businesses in Cortona, Il Pozzo Artisan’s Gallery and Tabacchi is family owned and operated, and generally open daily. If you’ve been to Cortona, you probably recognize these faces. 

Marta, Ivan, Loriana, Thomas©Blogginginitaly.com

(L-R) Marta, Ivan, Loriana, Thomas©Blogginginitaly.com

Ivan speaks English well and is an incredible resource for most questions, whether about an artist, a painting, the Etruscans, or local antiquities. It’s no wonder many of us consider him Cortona’s ambassador. 

If you are heading to Cortona, be sure to add this wonderful place to your list. You’ll be so happy you did!

And one last note: At the back of the tabacchi, take the winding staircase down one flight to visit the beautiful Il Pozzo Galleria. In addition to seeing many more interesting and beautiful works of art, you will also see an ancient well, or pozzo, hence the name Il Pozzo. Ivan actually uncovered the well during excavation, but I’ll leave that story to him.

For more info and photos on Il Pozzo Galleria, please click below:

https://blogginginitaly.com/2013/09/14/il-pozzo/

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Lucignano Tuscany

10 Apr

Yesterday, Len and I took a ride to the lovely town of Lucignano with friends. It was a nice spring day and I think we were the only visitors in town. In fact, it seemed as though we were the only people in town.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

When we parked the car, I realized we had briefly visited here 5 years ago. This post includes some of the research from my original post, with some updates and some new photos.

Lucignano, a remarkably preserved medieval walled village, is laid out in elliptical rings.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

This beautiful town sits 414 metres above sea level and offers its visitors a trip back in time.

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Although Lucignano sits between Siena and Arezzo, it came under Florentine control in the 1500s, when a great deal of construction ensued. Today, one can still see the Puccini’s Fortress; Vasari’s 1568 sanctuary of Madonna della Querca; the Cappucini convent, c.1580; and several churches including Piazza S. Francesco with the church of S. Francesco in the background, and

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Chiesa della Collegiata, c.1594.

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In addition, the Museo Civico, left, offers many artistic treasures including the L’albero della vita, or tree of life, a gilded and jeweled tree holding a crucified figure.

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©www.comune.lucignano.ar.it

©www.comune.lucignano.ar.it

On the village’s website, http://www.comune.lucignano.ar.it,  Lucignano is described as “a pearl of the valdichiana, a small village that represents one of the more extraordinary examples of medieval urban planning for its system of elliptic rings…” Today, the village continues its agricultural and artisan traditions and produces products ranging from olive oil and honey to ceramics and gold jewelry. In addition, should you wish to purchase inlaid furniture or have a piece in need of repair, the skilled artists of Lucignano are ready to oblige.

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Five years ago, we saw this written on the window of a wine shop, and I was happy to see it again.

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Wine is the poetry of the earth

And five years ago, we found this sign, but not the restaurant.

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This time, we found the restaurant, and although it was closed, we found the nice people.

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A wonderful way to spend the afternoon, strolling with friends through a beautiful ancient city, rich with history and culture…

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making new friends,

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and not even needing to close the door on our way out.

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Ciao,
Judy

Trapani, Sicilia

30 Mar

For me, Trapani is a tale of two cities. The centro storico, or historic center, is lovely, filled with beautiful buildings, interesting architecture, and wide, clean marble/granite streets.

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At this time of year, it resembles more of a movie set than a city, as it is often quite empty,

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and appears to be bustling with people only when the directors are ready to shoot, (in reality, when the locals are taking their evening walk).

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Tourism is a big part of the economy, especially in the summer and early fall. The historic center is filled with many bars, restaurants, designer shops and lovely window displays.

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It is also a cruise ship destination. Really???

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Because of its location, Trapani is an important ferry port to the Egadi Islands, so the port is large and active.

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The “other” Trapani in my tale of two cities, however, is a fishing city, as much of Trapani’s economy still depends on the sea. For me, this was actually the lovelier part – seeing man depend on nature, as he has done for generations.

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There are the sole proprietor old pescatore as well as large commercial vessels, and I loved watching them all go about their daily work. Out at 4am, if the seas are calm (ok, I took their world for this part), and back between 7-8 am to unload.

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While fishing and canning are the main local industries, salt is also an important export, along with marble and Marsala wine. They also produce several delicious types of green olives.

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Because of the crescent-shaped coastline, one is never far from one of Trapani’s colorful water views, nice in any weather,

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but especially nice in the sunshine.

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From Trapani, enjoying a bit of water view, vino, and sunshine ourselves.

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Ciao,
Judy

Misteri Trapani

27 Mar

The Processione dei Misteri di Trapani is a day-long passion procession featuring twenty platforms of lifelike wood, canvas and glue sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion of Christ. The Misteri are amongst the oldest continuously running religious events in Europe, having been performed every Good Friday since before the Easter of 1612, and running for at least 16 continuous hours. In Trapani, the procession runs 24 hours.

We were fortunate to view the procession from our balcony.

Every group in the procession is represented by a local tradesmen/craftsmen, e.g., fishermen, tailors, carpenters. Each carries a scene with statues and is usually accompanied by a marching band as well was flag bearers, candle holders, etc.

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There can be as many as 12 men in front and another 12 in back, and they link arms with each other to maintain balance.

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Our position was about one hour into the procession, with 23 more hours to go.

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Truly, there was a cast of thousands involved.

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The movement of the statues requires incredible coordination and stamina, and it was evident it was quite an honor among the carriers.

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Each team is responsible for its own decorations and costumes and raises funds well in advance.

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The bands come from the various provinces around Trapani.

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As the lit urn passed, the mood was quite solemn.

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If you look carefully, you can see the body of Christ in the urn.

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A candle lit procession preceded Our Lady of Sorrows.

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Here are two short videos I took with music that really represents the tone and mood of the procession. The swaying is part of the pageantry, and the clapper you hear is what is used to stop and start the movement of the platforms, which happens about every 30 to 50 feet.

The day before the procession, we were able to see all of the life-size statues as the final preparations were made at the Church of the Purgatorio.

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As you can imagine, it was quite a spectacle to behold.

Best wishes and Happy Easter. Auguri e Buona Pasqua!

Judy

Seeing a Man’s Soul

23 Mar

No matter what saying speaks to you,

  • A picture is worth a thousand words
  • Dress for Success
  • Picture Perfect
  • A man’s work defines him

this picture seems to say it all.

Meet Signore Matranga. He has been the proud proprietor of this Monreale fruit and vegetable market for 51 years. We bought delicious fresh strawberries from him.

blogginginitaly.com

blogginginitaly.com

But later I wondered, what was it about him that drew me in so?

According to Ted Grant, father of Canadian Photojournalism:

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

Thank you, Mr. Grant, I’m quite sure that is what I saw when I met Signore Matranga and what I want to long remember about our brief encounter.

blogginginitaly.com

blogginginitaly.com

Click on the picture to enlarge.

Ciao,
Judy

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