Florence Biennale Diary

    (comments on Biennale at end)

    PART ONE: (sketches  to come and the first thing I do when I read about someone’s trip is find a map on line that shows streets and squares. Also there is a much shorter version under the Archive of my old site)

    FLORENCE MEMORIES for armchair travelers


    Nov 30, 2003
    Saint John 4:30 pm., damp but good weather.

    We  arrive at the Saint John airport,  see  Rosi and David arrive, then Mark and Peggy; they join us at our table, take photos, chat, introduce Kim and Jeff. No problems with luggage. We  leave,  Gerry talking with Jeff  Matheson (of  39 Toes )(Kim is on plane), that was the last I saw of him until we returned, thought we could wave from the plane but wings (wheel wells?) were in the way…couldn’t see a thing! Gerry tells me he stayed until the plane was out of sight, I knew he would.

    We waited for the feeling of lift off.  Peggy and I looked at each other and grinned, we are on our way. A bit bumpy, flew over Loch Lomond, then over University Avenue and Rosi’s house. About 20,000 ft. Everything goes well, we meet Laura at Montreal. We follow Rosi to “#5”, then she runs to customs to have her form signed. Back in jig time, she was a bit worried I think, good that she is in  shape.

    The 747 Air Canada is crowded, no room for legs but man behind us said it was better than most planes….in this case it pays to be short.  No-one of any girth would be comfortable.  No problems getting the poster bag on and stored overhead in either plane.  Thanks to Laura being a little taller… in it goes, behind everything on the way to Frankfurt.

    DEC 1, 1003 It’s now 11am in Frankfurt. We follow Rosi again through the huge airport. The sky is reddish in the east, must be a lot of industrial crap in the air. The first thing to hit us is the smoke. The airport is blue with it. Hard toilet paper too, needs to be softened between the knuckles like Pop taught me when I was little. We all tried sleeping but Rosi couldn’t, me either. Peggy and Laura said they may have a dozed a few minutes…no sofas to lay on, separate attached seats but try to curl up and be comfortable.

    Sun is breaking through the clouds , we are sitting looking through the windows in the lounge at the airport. Looks like a Richard Scarrey   children’s book, lots of little trucks and big equipment, lots of people in various uniforms or state of dress doing official looking business, going to and fro, buses, taxis and planes being taxied, etc… all while we wait for the flight to be announced.

    Plane arrived in Florence 10 min early. Has been raining, not cold. Good flight. I had a window seat. Great view of the land, the shapes of the fields, not many trees, those that I can see look planted, a lot of city and villages, we start to see snow, then  mountains …. one range in particular with a wide valley and river… can’t find out exactly where or which river (Po River I’m told, named by celtish people who moved into Lombardy after the Etruscans, says my expert),  see the Alps in the distance,then complete cloud cover.   My first “business card” went to young man beside me returning home to Florence. He asked if I was on holiday and I told him my story… short version… I almost forget my poster bag on the plane, Laura runs back and gets it. Disaster averted!  If I had missed it, I would have  spent a lot more time at the Biennale drawing on a piece of canvas.

    Rosi is off to have her papers signed for her wall hanging. Taxi from airport, 5km away, E18. for  three and luggage… Peggy and Rosi paid E15 I think.

    Rang bell at #13 Via Scalla, shock on opening the door! It STUNK!!!! Sewage backup  they said because of the rain. Apartment fine, good seal on door. No odors!!!! We hoped the smell would clear. I felt bad,  I took a chance using the internet… but unless you waited until you arrived and started knocking on doors, how would anyone know?

    No one complained because inside was fine, great apt, clean, organized, new bathroom this spring, wonderful old beam ceiling, grotto outside full of plants. We pay the girls, Antonelle and Simone’s niece,  get three keys, there are five of us (Peggy buys one later on.)  Enough room, I tell Rosi and Peggy they should have bedroom with twin beds, I take the double pullout with Laura.

    We get settled and go out to find supper, (down the fifty steps…VERY FAST!!!) not fussy where, just very, very hungry. We (I) ooohh and aaahh at every niche on the sides of corner buildings, some contain Madonna and child sculptures or part of a fresco, at every excessively trimmed large wooden door, most  with brass or iron ring- knockers, at every archway  in various shapes, some are part of  truly ancient sections of old walls. The stone (?)bust of a man over a second floor window who sports a rusty iron hallo  becomes a marker, one I watch for so that I know I am on the right street… and to turn right after getting groceries at the UPAC.  Realizing that  the SMN Statione would still be open, we  eat at a spot where you buy salad by  weight. Mostly different kinds of beans, Peggy happy, Rosi has soft cheese and bread, I try the lasagna. It’s ok, not salty, looked dry but wasn’t. Bread cheese and piece of fruit would have been better. It’s a noisy, busy place with a variety of small eateries.

    Laura and Chris took off, she needed a place that served soup (no milk products) (station looked (was) too fast food for her). They found one, had “Tuscany” old style traditional soup with dried bread in it. Served hot . It became a staple for her. Via Scala has lots of hotels and restaurants… with names like Montreal, and  Byron.

    Back to the apartment,  giddy, WE WERE IN FLORENCE!!!! lots of talk/ chatter /laughter. Rosi bought wine…can’t remember where. We move table from kitchen cupboards over to window, move what will be Chris’s bed over by door wall, right angle to kitchen. He is then out of the way of traffic to and from bathroom for our 2pm  trips.

    Rosi and I go to Santa Maria  Novella  square and use the phone, feels like 11:30 but only about 8pm, everything is so dark. Gerry not home, five hours difference, 2 pm in NB.. Rosi calls David and he says he will call Gerry. We are all safe.

    Laura and our friend Chris ( L&C from here on)  come home and we took turns getting ready for bed, about 2pm  (9 in the evening  at home)  we had more wine. Up more than 24 hours and none of us can sleep. I go sit on Peggy’s bed, puff around my shoulders, my feet under the covers, we drink more wine and laugh like school children. Like camping Rosi says. None of us sleep well, and we didn’t get out the next morning until 11am. Poor Chris, in a room on a narrow cot sharing one washroom with four women. I am sure he’ll never forget the experience. But he was a sweetie and never complained.

    Dec2, 2003 , da Basso, Arte Studio and then SANTA CROCE-…P, R & Carol out by 10am this morning.

    Slightly cloudy day, warm enough, fall jacket weather.. Walk past the Stationione,  the hedges are bay leaves, ( Laura discovered), smell wonderful, we find them along the enclosed and gated park…have to pay to get in. (Not many green spaces in the old section on  the Duomo side of the Arno). Pick a couple, plus tiny oak leaves like in the Giotto paintings. Continue toward Fortezzo  da  Basso to see where it is (Harbour Station would fit easily inside the walls), Tourist Convention going on; leave and  walk  to Arte Studio office, ring bell and we walk up, burst in on them… totally  surprised them, not sure who they were expecting. Rosi gets her dinner ticket, a receipt, uses their computer, we use the washroom and away we go, I’m afraid they will remember us forever. We’ll get all the info on the 5th… or the 6th whenever we are scheduled to hang our work.

    We walk, find a Market at Piazza della Repubblica, buy bread, mine with olives  baked on the top, cheese,  antipasto, water, eat outside on a bench. Gypsy beggers around…they swear at us under their breath and call us Americans!!!! when we don’t give them money.  (Peggy and I decide if we have time and get back here, we will draw them and then give them money. We never make it.)

    We explore the area, find the Duomo ( Santa Marie del Fiore) with Giotto’s Tower and the Baptistery,   Uffizi,  see David,  a copy in the courtyard, then  across the Ponte Vecciho for the first time…(shop windows on both sides of the bridge filed with gold and silver jewellery), find the Piazza Pitti on the Boboli Garden side of the Arno.

    Rosi wanders of to explore on her own , we go home for the bathroom and then out again. On the corner of our Via Scala block is a gilter with two young girls working for him, Peggy asks and receives  permission to film  them before we leave to go home) ,we  come across husband and wife run  book shop where they design and make books right there, very traditional. Peggy would like to film them, but it’s closing time. We walk by a tiny Chinese spot, go in have noodles with veggies (very little) and spring rolls…in ITALY. Students come and go, young man from Canada studying art and Italian, we sit on stools and eat. Buy water. Go home.

    DEC 3rd, 2003, Out by eleven again. The hotels lining one side of Santa Marie Novelle Square are trimmed for Christmas with green wreaths, and red cyclmen in pots. Peggy, Rosi and I go to the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio ( a Market.) nearer Santa Croce

    We eat at the first real restaurant, the Cibreo,  recommended to her.  Had American coffee (cafe americano)… espresso with hot water added, had to ask for milk.  Pricey lunch but enjoyed it very much.  It is considered a reasonable price to pay.

    (add photo of ceiling)

    The three of us walk  to Santa Croce….a fair ways, closer to the Arno.

    My first traumatic experience….perhaps because the stress of getting  here? Not sure.   An evening and into a 2nd day of walking around exploring …and here before me was all the reasons  I had come!!! We go in the  dark cathedral,  I move slowly along the wall to my left and I find myself in tears. Shaking. On the walls the first Giotto fresco I’ve seen, funny flat rocks, stylized trees and very real people. It seemed unreal to be standing in front of the pages from Fred’s book that he loaned me. We are there a long time.

    Later Peggy drew the pillars sitting on the wide stone cover on the wall of the “verandah” looking past the Michelangelo/Brunelleschi.Chapel with work by  Giotto/ Robbia  and I drew her. Rosi is waiting by the  fountain in the courtyard, grass is brilliant green, peaceful, modern Moore piece “the warrior”  looks out of place. Under us, old tombs, lovely carved marble… completely detailed, including lace . Took a quick look at the leather workshop & book shop areas, inner garden with cyclamen and a few roses.  Small daisy like flower from the lawn area where Rosi patiently waited. Gift shop. Camera problems.

    We then  walked the de Vecchio again, found Santa Maria del Carmine & San Spirito churches, no time to go in , walked way off track by at least a km, walked back from the busy street, through some of the old wall and archways  via Santa Rosa Lungarino, the street along the Arno over Ponte Vespucci and home.

    Dec 4 Rosi and Peggy on their own.  First time out with Laura and Chris.  First we visit Santa Maria Novella at the end of our street, Giotto cross hanging in the centre. We love  it.

    We walk the Vecchio to Santa Spirito lovely old church , rough walls  outside; being  used, as all the churches & cathedrals are, candles lit, close to 12 o’clock a priest chases us out for Noon Mass, “out Madame out, out”…he says to Laura, arms waving. We have lunch at a place down from the Pitti Palace.

    The Pitti is divided into several museums, we went to the Palentine Galleries, a maze of large rooms, found two Artemisia painting, (I missed the “mother & child” in another room) the Judith (with the gold dress) is high over another painting, can’t see it very well for the glare. So many great and famous artists.  The Royal Suites, a glimpse of 500 years ago, fabulous draperies, furniture and inlay tables. Not crowded, we take our time, go back and look at the Artemesia’s again.

    After we walk down the sloping front stone courtyard to the “Netty Web” internet café, leave message for Gerry, nearly get lost on my own when I go out to buy a few vegetables, had to ask directions twice to find Laura and Chris.

    Home for a glass of wine/cheese and Peggy’s Italian cookies and bed. (see Midnight Drinkers above:Rosi & Carol…don’t believe the tea cup!!)

    Dec 5 Rosi and Peggy on their own. Laura, Chris and I  start for the Fortrezzo, almost walk  past Rosi  on her way back from there; she says nothing going on yet. Gallery not ready. (I wonder at that, opening the next evening.) A waste of time to go, we try the market, not open , we go to San Lorenza close by .. The Medici Chapel designed by Michlangelo with the “flowing stairs” is closed, big disappointment, Laura especially wanted to see them.

    “Consecrated by St. Ambrose in 393, it is the oldest church in the city.
    It was then  rebuilt along Romanesque lines in 1060. The present
    building dates to 1423 and was designed and built by Brunelleschi.
    The simple bare facade lacks the marble revetment; Michelangelo’s
    design was never carried out. The internal facade which Michelangelo
    also designed is comprised of three doors between two pilasters
    with garlands of oak and laurel and a balcony on two corinthian columns.” http://www.arca.net/db/chiese/lorenzo.htm

    Walk to the Duomo,  walk around and around, the long building with the  highest dome in the city of Florence; Brunelleschi´s dome is visible wherever you walk… on both sides of the Arno… and is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in Italy; the bell-tower, begun by Giotto in 1334, rises to 85 metres high with 414 steps to the top.

    The Baptistry one of the oldest.  (Laura did we go in? and is this where you and Chris explored the basement  with the previous foundation?)

    A day in Fiesole, cold, windy, marble slabs blowing over in the market.
    from my Florence sketchbook

    Dec6: The  BIENNALE OPENING  : coming soon

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