There’s a lot going on in the world right now. Trump is indicted, killer storms striking across the US, is Biden running again, and a crackdown on sex workers in Amsterdam. What’s the world coming to? If you need a break from all this calamitous news, keep reading. I’ll update you on what’s going on in eastern Tuscany, in my little corner of the world. We don’t make the headlines very often, so consider this a public service to keep everyone informed. You’re welcome.
First, The Weather
The weather here has been quite unsettled. Winter is not giving up easily here in eastern Tuscany. Of all the season changes, winter to spring is the most violent. It’s as if Mother Nature is going through menopause. One moment she’s all about spring, with bright sunshine that warms the earth. The next second she’s having a hot flash and unleashes that icy wind, the tramontana, to cool herself off. I must say that if I had had that as an option when hot flashes ruled my life, I would have done the same thing.
We are bracing for another cold front, moving in over the next few days. We hope this is the last one, but we doubt it. We’re ready with firewood and comfort foods. Our winter clothes are still getting regular use and every day I look at my short sleeve tops with longing. We walk around the house with layers. Millie sleeps curled into a ball and not sprawled out. We all try to stay warm. It will be over soon, this schizophrenic weather and the violent tramontana wind will tame into a gentle venticello breeze that will keep us cool during the hot summer. For now, we run outside when the wind allows and dream of those luscious summer days that stretch on forever. Here’s a clip of the wind at its worst.
Spring is coming, though. The lindens are getting heavy with buds and soon their heavenly fragrance will fill the air. Wildflowers, or weeds, depending on your perspective, are sprouting everywhere. Fields that haven’t yet been plowed and planted are carpets of yellows, pinks, whites, and lavenders. The rapeseed fields are starting to bloom out in that incredible yellow, punctuating the view over the valley with bold dots of color against the vibrant green. There’s promise of good things to come. Life beginning again after the blanket of winter has been lifted.
Work has started up again on the big city park at the end of our street. It’s been closed since December of 2021. It’s a complete renovation and they worked furiously for the first few weeks, then all work stopped. The mounds of earth that they moved sat in big piles and grass started growing on top of them. The fence that was erected to secure the area began to have holes pushed into it so that people could use the playground and basketball court that sat untouched. Finally, they opened a gate and you could go into those parts without having to shimmy through a small hole. Now, after 15 months they’ve started back with heavy machinery digging trenches and delivering piles of rock. The fences are back up and the whole thing is off-limits again. I’m not sure what the final product is going to look like, but it’s good to see some activity there. This is big news for us.
This is Holy Week and it’s a BIG deal here. It all started off with a concert in the main church, Propositura (which, by the way, is about 50 yards from our front door). This was on Saturday night, the lead-in to Palm Sunday. It started at 9:00 because in Italy nothing can interfere with the evening meal, which is at 8:00. This gave people enough time to hurry through dinner and get to the concert on time. It was a concert with a string chamber orchestra, a soprano, and a contralto. It was in a language I didn’t understand, but that could have been anything. I’m pretty sure it was Latin. Beautiful, haunting music that evoked the death and resurrection of Christ. I’m not an expert on music, but this was wonderful. Everything was perfect and the beautiful singers, perfectly dressed in their sleek, black evening gowns (I wonder how man of those they own?) made it so elegant. And I sat there in my jeans contemplating how they could provide such extraordinary musical riches for free. Yes, that’s right – completely free. I guess it’s a community service brought to your by your local Catholic church. Thanks, y’all. Don’t you love being able to walk in off the street and sit down in a 17th century church with an original Della Robbia terracotta and listen to world class (I guess) music for free? I do. And I think it goes a long way toward soothing your soul. And isn’t that what church is supposed to do?
On Palm Sunday, the day dawned bright and clear. It was a promise of a beautiful day that did not end up that way. But we enjoyed it while we could. There was a procession from the church (the same one that hosted the concert the night before – you have to be specific here because there are five that I can walk to) down the steep staircase that leads to the piazza. The congregation gathered alongside, lining the sloping street waving their olive branches. Here you get an olive branch on Palm Sunday instead of the palm fronds you get in the US. It’s olive pruning time here, so this is a nice ecological way to celebrate the path Christ took to his ultimate crucifixion. The branches are laid on a table outside the church and you can take as many as you want. Some people had one lone branch while others waved a bouquet of them. The priest, with his 21st century wireless microphone, led a prayer and delivered a brief message at the bottom of the hill, then walked up the street blessing everyone with holy water. Then the whole processional came back up and went into the church for mass. There’s a schedule posted on the church with all the events listed for the week. There is something every day until the culmination on Easter Sunday.
Earlier in the week we took a little day trip to Florence. This is something we like to do every few weeks, but it’s become a little more complicated with Millie’s heart condition. She just can’t tromp around Florence like she once did and with her medication schedule it’s hard to leave her for a long stretches. We finagled a plan that we thought was workable for her and took the train to Florence. Train travel is the way to go and there is nothing like it – when it works right. This trip was flawless, save for the sprint we had to do at the Florence train station to catch the train back to Arezzo (we missed it and had to take the next one). We decided to go to the Palazzo Vecchio, a major tourist destination that somehow we’ve never managed to visit.
The Palazzo Vecchio (this means Old Palace) was the seat of government for the republic of Florence and was built in 1299. In the 16th century, during the height of the Renaissance, Cosimo Medici decided it would make a mighty fine home, so he undertook major renovations and moved his family in and it was called the Palazzo Ducale. Later, Cosimo decided the Pitti Palace would make a better, bigger home, so they moved across the river. It was then that the name Palazzo Vecchio was used to describe it, the old palace of the Medici. They kept the seat of government there and used it for storing valuables because you can never have too much storage space.
We’ve been inside the free part of Palazzo before, which is the courtyard. Although beautiful, this is a mere teaser to what’s inside. When Cosimo renovated the palazzo, he worked with Vasari, who did most of the frescoes that we see there today. You enter into the impressive Hall of 500 which was designed in the 1490s as a meeting room for the 500 members of the Great Council of Florence. It was the biggest room in the world at the time (not sure how that was determined) and is said to be one of the largest rooms in Europe still today. It’s impressive, I’ll say that. Decorated with frescoes on the walls and ceiling, it’s an enormous space with a raised platform at one end and a Michelangelo sculpture adorning one side. It’s a very governmental looking space, with a Renaissance flair. It’s also the room where the da Vinci Battle of Anghiari fresco was to have been displayed. Is it there, underneath one of the Vasari frescoes, hidden for centuries? We’ll probably never know.
The rest of the palace is unbelievable. Not because of the ornate, conspicuous consumption of the Medici, but because of the incredible works of art that adorn every wall and ceiling. It looks as if it was painted last week – still so vibrant and rich – not almost 600 years ago. It’s amazing to me to look at those ceilings and imagine that’s exactly what the Medici and all those who came after them looked at. It doesn’t seem possible. Of course, you only see a fraction of the palace, but what you see is worth it. There are also secret passageways that ramble through the palace connecting rooms that are otherwise distances apart. I guess when you live in a palace like that, you get tired of all that walking down corridors and around rooms. So you have secret passages installed to cut down on some of those unnecessary steps. Guess they didn’t have fitness trackers in those days. There’s also a not-so-secret passageway that connects the Pitti Palace to the Palazzo Vecchio. It’s called the Vasari corridor and you can tour part of it now. That’s on our list for an upcoming trip to Florence. Fun fact – Vasari was from Arezzo, which is very near Anghiari. He designed a loggia on the main piazza for his hometown. And it is a wonderful space in one of the greatest piazzas around. Local boy made good.
News From Beyond the Imaginable
I can’t complete my listing of current events without mentioning a recent headline in the paper. The front page of the newspapers are displayed outside the news stands in National Enquirer-like fashion. This one got the attention of everyone. It seems a man went in the hospital for some procedure and by some unexplained twist of fate the doctor accidentally amputated his penis. Now, I have no idea how this could have happened. A foot I can see – you have two of those and the doctor could get confused on which one needed to come off. But a penis? How is that even possible? This is one of those times I wish I had a better working knowledge of Italian. That’s an article I would have loved to have read in its entirety. Suffice it to say it was the talk of every bar in town for quite a while.
Well, that about wraps up the news of the greater Anghiari area. Now wasn’t that a nice diversion from Chinese spy balloons and such?