Monday, March 21, 2011

Italy Celebrated 150 Years of Unity on 17th March 2011

We often forget what a young country Italy is. The Unification happened on 17th March on 1861 when the first parliament met, even if Rome eventually joined the country in 1870. This fulfilled a long dream that the Italian people had had seen the time of Dante. However despite this aspiration Italians are very loyal to their regions and guard their local traditions and culture with pride. The Unification has further been brought into question with the uprising of the Lega Nord, which wants more autonomy for the North. Italy is such a long country that in parts of the North for example in Alto Adige-South Tyrol, German is the first language spoken and the influences are German while as in the South the population descends from the Greeks and the Normans and there is an Arab influence in Sciliy. These different cultures make for a country unified but very diverse. If a Sicilian film is on the television there will be subtitles.

Italy like the rest of Europe is facing a difficult crisis not only financial but also political.  Despite this, Italians including the young remain passionate about their country and lifestyle. Here are just fifteen reasons why I love Italy with all its emotions and colour even though it sometimes truly frustrates me.

1.     Food and wine here is certainly the divine gift of the Gods.
2.     President Napolitano – the sane Grandfather of the nation
3.     Mealtimes are sacred.
4.     The country that gave us Latin and still has schools devoted to the teaching of ancient Greek and Latin.
5.     The country of the Renaissance and where the sonnet was invented.
6.     Architecture that makes you draw breath.
7.     A landscape that has everything from high mountains to a spectacular coast.
8.     A language that is perfect for love.
9.     Music form Palestrina, through Verdi to Puccini and folk songs.
10.   The country that gave us Ballet and Opera and made football into an art form .
11.   Sunlight and sensuality.
12.   The Italian Mamma and the family.
13.   The best-looking men (yes my man is Italian!).
14.   Dolce far niente- the ability to do nothing and not feel guilty.
15.   Aesthetics - beautiful clothes, cars.

In another entry I will write fifteen reasons why Italy irritates me but for now l will celebrate my adopted land and yes I was proud when I was given my citizenship a few years ago and presented with a flag that I was proud to hang out of my window.
Therefore Auguri Italia and take your brake off because you are a Ferrari that can go very fast!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rocca Del Brunelleschi or Fortification at Vicopisano.

My daughter’s teacher in her first year at middle school first attracted the children’s attention by looking like a professor from Hogwarts. He dressed only in black and white, had slightly longer than average black Renaissance curls (and carried a wonderful leather satchel). It was obvious this man was going to inspire these pre-teens as they sat in their cold but beautiful 500-year-old classroom. The first thing he did was open their minds and than he began to share his passion for history and his restoration project of the extraordinary Brunelleschi’s fortress at Vicopisano.

On arriving at this sleeping Tuscan hill town tucked between Lucca and Pisa on the lower slopes of Mont Pisano, it is hard to image while this imposing piece of military engineering was built here by one of the greatest Renaissance architects and engineers.  The castle is open to the public and Giovanni Ranieri Fascetti, our daughter’s teacher greeted us and her friend’s family on a cold but startlingly bright Sunday morning in November to explain the history and bring to life those classroom discussions for the girls. 

If we had been standing on this hill before 1560 we would have noted a very different landscape. The great Tuscan river the Arno formed a lake and met the Serchio in the valley below. These rivers were the transport routes for carrying goods particularly Marble to the port of Pisa. However by the mid 16th century not only had Pisa lost its power to Florence but also the change in the course of the Arno meant that Vicopisano was no longer strategically placed for the protection of Pisa from Florence and Lucca. The strong feelings between these three ancient rivals still exists but today thank goodness are only fought out on the football pitch.
Vicopisano therefore was a rich and important power long before the Florentines strengthened the fortification. The settlement goes back to Etruscan times but most of the towers and palazzi date back to the early 1100 when the Pisan Maritime Republic was at its height. It was after the Florentines finally won power that Brunelleschi in 1434 started to remodel the castle or Rocca, creating a system using walls and towers, which meant that a few men could defend the fort. We visited the central guard tower where Giovanni described how the soldiers and prisoners lived. 

Noticeably the torture room was empty because as our Tuscan schoolgirls had learnt in 1786 under Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, Tuscany became the first state in the world to outlaw capital punishment. Every year Giovanni leads a small group to lay a reeve on his statue in Pisa to remember this forward thinking man.
The climb onto the battlements was up a wooden ladder but the view was incredible and the moment in the bright sunshine brought to life by Giovanni sounding his trumpet over the ancient Pisan Republic.

Tourist Information:

The castle doesn’t have wheelchair access

Geographic coordinates:
43.6869 - 10.5825
050 796117 (Comune di Vicopisano); 050 796276 (Ufficio Turismo)
050 796540
Opening Hours:
From April to July and from September to November, Saturday: 3.30 p.m.-7.30 p.m.; Sunday: 10.00 a.m.-12.30 a.m. and 3.30 p.m.-7.30 p.m.
Full price (including guided visit): € 4,60; half price: € 2,60
Comune website:
Medieval Festival September

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Carnival in Tuscany

The most famous carnival in Tuscany takes place in Viareggio. Ever since it was started in 1873 the carnival has used political satire and comment on the personages and stories of the moment as its theme. The procession is made up of floats with huge papier-mâché moving sculptures. These amazing structures are incredibly clever but for me it is the local carnival celebrations in the piazzas and villages where the children dress up and throw coriandoli/confetti while eating what the bars provide free making for wonderful impromptu street parties. 

Carnival Viareggio by Amaniero flickr
Animal prints were fashionable this year
As pretty as a bee
Even carnival has a medieval edge
Coriandoli gets everywhere
Puccini joins in the Fun 
The opera comes alive
One must adjust one headress
May You All Be Blessed
Watch Out Tiger and Croc on Board
Busy as a Bee
The Bikes must look good too
Zorro comes to the rescue
Would you like a drink?