Savoring the Creativity of Italy's Tuscany



A report, with many links

by
James C. Mancuso


This account of a guided exploration of the great creativity of Tuscany is totally the responsibility of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the views of any of the organizations associated with the tour and this world wide web site.

For the convenience of the readers, many hypertext links eventually will be built into the text of this account. By clicking the mouse on any of the links, the reader may connect to those world wide web sites that give more information on the topic that is linked. Some of the sites to which the links connect provide excellent photos of the locations under discussion. In some cases, more than one site contains relevant information. In such instances, the same term is linked more than once.



Savoring the Creativity of Italy's Tuscany - Table of Contents
Click on the topic to jump to that section
Tuesday, March 9, 1999: Travel and Acclimatization
Thursday, March 11, 1999: Lucca, 1998
Friday, March 12, 1999: Firenze
Saturday, March 13, 1999: More of Lucca; Villa Torrigiani
Sunday, March 14, 1999: Barga and Viareggio
Monday, March 15, 1999: Siena and San Gimignano
Tuesday, March 16, 1999: Pisa


Motivation for our Trip to Tuscany

For a variety of reasons, we found ourselves scheduling several trips to Italy over the course of the past year. Our trip to Tuscany fit, almost as a side trip, between other, more extensive trips.

Having traveled with the tour to Sicily that had been arranged by The National Italian American Foundation ( NIAF), and having found that trip to be very worthwhile; we could not resist when we had to opportunity to reserve places on the NIAF-sponsored tour of Tuscany (Click to see map of Tuscany).



Tuesday & Wednesday, March 9-10, 1999: Travel and Acclimatization

Our party left Albany at noon, on Tuesday March 9. Though the connecting accommodations to J. F. Kennedy Airport, New York City's major airport, are reasonably adequate, we needed to take an early flight to JFK in order to avoid the possibility that a delay in the connecting flight would complicate making connections to the flight to Milan. A long wait in an airport is not our favorite way of spending time. How grateful we are for reasonably good literature!!!

As will happen, our flight to Milan was late in getting underway from JFK. We arrived in Milan about an hour late, but we made our way to gate in time to catch our domestic flight to Florence. Other members of our tour were not as fortunate. They had been booked for a domestic flight to Pisa, but they arrived too late to board that flight. They needed to wait for a later flight to Pisa. Our travel complications occurred on account of the inability of the airport personnel at Milan to load our luggage on the Florence flight in the time frame between our flight's arrival in and our departure from that airport. We signed documents to assure that the bags would be searched out, inspected by customs officials, and then forwarded to our hotel. We remained rather unfazed by this inconvenience. In an era when one can travel 4,000 miles in 7 or 8 hours, pursuing tight schedules, we must expect that a small glitch in the system will turn into an inconvenience. No major catastrophe!!!

Our tour hostess and our bus were waiting for us in Florence, and we were carried comfortably to Lucca, allowing ourselves to believe that, as had been promised, our baggage would arrive on the next Milan to Florence flight and would be delivered to Grande Hotel Guinigi

Grande Hotel Guinigi was recently constructed, under the banner of a hotel chain familiar in The United States. The builders sited the hotel outside of the fabled walls of Lucca, on a busy road leading eastward from the city.

We followed our usual practice of taking a nap after traveling into the noon of Italy (which is "actually" the early morning of our Eastern United States time). After our nap we took a short walk along Via Romana, the road on which The Hotel is located. While on our walk, the bus carrying our less fortunate tour mates arrived from the airport at Pisa.

After the members of our tour group had settled in, we assembled in The Hotel's Café/Bar for an orientation by our tour hostess. The spumante and snacks served as a nice prelude to dinner. For our first dinner at the hotel we were served pennete (small tubular pasta, taking its name from having the appearance of the tip of a quill pen) with a simple red sauce, nicely herbed. Il secondo was roast loin of pork. A salad was served with the meat course; rather than after the meat course, as is the usual practice in Italian restaurants. The dessert: panna cotta ("cooked cream" nicely done) with a caramel sauce. At this dinner, our table mates discovered that the bread in the Lucca area oftern lacks the salt that is present in the breads to which were accustomed. Though some of us had took up the practice of sprinkling salt over our bread, others were satisfied to dip the bread in olive oil -- a condiment for which the Lucca region is justly famous. And of course, being in Tuscany, the meal was accompanied by acqua minerale and a bottle of house red wine - very tasty, a good Tuscan red - a beverage that adds immensely to the quality of the meal.

The festivity of the first dinner was heightened by the desk clerk of The Hotel visiting our table to hand us a slip indicating that our luggage had arrived and that we would find it in our rooms.

Considering the usual effects of jet lag, a surprisingly comfortable night's sleep prepared us for the day's busy schedule.



Thursday, March 11, 1999: Lucca

Our bus took us to Lucca's Piazza G. Verdi, the location of Lucca's Tourist Information Center. The Information Center, is worth visiting for reasons other than to gather information, maps, etc. The building had been the barracks for military personnel who served on the walls that surrounded the city before they were replaced by the immense, cannon-resistant walls that are now meticulously preserved as a symbol of the city's long, long history of independence from the many powers that conquered and reconquered the other cities of Tuscany.

Gabriele, our guide for our morning walking tour, superbly (and with appropriate enthusiasm) talked us into appreciating Lucca's history. Gabriele nicely illustrated Lucca's importance as a bastion for Roman expansion toward Gaul and as a way station on the route of the pilgrims traveling from the north toward Rome. Gabriele compared the city's role in the region to that of modern Switzerland among Europe's modern nation states. Lucca, itself a city that enjoyed prosperity on the basis of its silk and textile trade, provided a safe place for bankers and entrepreneurs.

As we walk toward the Piazza San Michele - the heart of Lucca, and the location of its second most important church, San Michele in Foro - we stop to take photos before a newly erected, modern statue portraying Lucca's famous son; Giacomo Puccini.

As we stood in front of San Michele, Gabriele inspired us to contemplate the history of the extraordinary creativity by which were surrounded. He asked us to imagine ourselves as a party of 14th century pilgrims who had stopped over in Lucca as they traveled from France to Rome. "Imagine," he said, "that you had never seen anything like this church. You have never seen TV images of such buildings. You have never seen paintings or drawings of such a building. Try to conjure up what those pilgrims might have experienced as they looked up at this magnificent facade - the columns, the carvings of all kinds of fantastic creatures, the height of the building - knowing that the surrounding piazza was once the forum of an important Roman city." With the guide's verbal instructions, we found it easy to increase the awe that we already were experiencing as we contemplated our surroundings. We knew that our sense of inspiration in the presence of creativity could exceed that of the 14th century pilgrim, for we could also imagine Giaccomo Puccini, as an adolescent, crossing the piazza to and from his family's nearby home

Inside the church Gabriele continued to prompt us to consider how impressed we would have been were we to have entered the church, never having seen such imagery, to step before the great crucifix whose golden background would have reflected the dim light of the few lighted candles inside the church.

Gabriele's discussion of the crucifix stimulated some reflection about the varieties of crucifixes we have seen. He noted that the figure of Christ was not the figure of a bloody corpse of a person who had suffered as he had died. Instead, the figure seemed to reflect a calm repose. I thought of other crucifixes we had seen, particularly in places that had been influenced by Spanish theology. In contemplating the gruesome, bloody, grimacing Christ figures of many crucifixion scenes, I often have wondered why the artists emphasized the gory, pain-infused images of that sort. Indeed, I have often wondered about the frequency of portrayals of gruesome martyrdoms: Saint Lawrence being roasted alive; Saint Bartholomew being skinned alive; Saint Sebastian, tied to a post, with arrows protruding from numerous bloody puncture wounds all over his body; Saint Stephen dying in agony under blows of the stones being hurled by a vicious mob. Why did the supporters of the arts commission so many works showing the suffering of those who professed the Christian faith? How could those works inspire faith? Was not faith supported sufficiently by portraying the positive consequences of such faith: curing the sick, driving out demons, raising the dead? Was the support of faith not sufficiently supplemented by showing the horrors which were to be visited in afterlife on those who did not abide by that faith. Why did some cultures emphasize the suffering of martyrs more than did other cultures? Perhaps I could find explanations for these questions if I were to do some extensive research into the politics of theologically inspired art. In the meanwhile, I will satisfy myself with my own hypothesis. I believe that the gruesome representations of martyrdom are meant to convince the observer of the intensity of the suffering experienced by those who bravely and resolutely - even in the presence of threats of such suffering - maintained and preached the faith that the viewer was also expected to profess. Those representations, in effect, posed this question for the observer: How could you reject a belief system that was brought to you by a person who suffered so intensely?

While in San Michele, I found my way to a painting by the protégée of Filippino Lippi (1457 - 1504) - showing Saints Helen, Rocco, Sebastian, and Jerome Looking at this painting one can readily detect, as the guidebooks (following the art historian, Giorgio Vasari) routinely point out, that Filippino grew up in the florid artistic ambience nurtured by Lorenzo de Medici (1449 - 1492). Lippi, the son of a once-monk turned painter and convent-girl seducing sensualist (Fra Lippo Lippi [1406 - 1469]) -- took special pains to portray his faith in Rinascimento ideals while giving lesser effort to portray the spiritual ideals of Christian faith.

At the Piazza Anfiteatro, Gabriele once again treated us to an inspired discussion of the way in which the designer of the Piazza had capitalized on the remnants of a 2nd Century A. D. Roman arena to create an appealing urban space. Taking a tangle of buildings that had been incorporated into the remains of the Roman arena, the architect, Lorenzo Nottolino opened the interior of what had been the oval of the arena, while preserving the buildings that formed the perimeter of the oval. Even at the late morning hour at which we visited the Piazza Anfiteatro, the relaxing ambience of the piazza was in evidence. It was difficult to resist taking a chair at one of the outdoor tables to enjoy a foamy cappuccino.

As we passed the Lucca's Palazzo Ducale (The provincial capital building) we were introduced to another delight that we would encounter during other phases of our visit to Tuscany. The Palazzo, like so many other historic buildings in Italy, is being renovated and restored. Usually a rather unattractive scaffolding hides the facade of the building being renovated. The people of Lucca turned the scaffolding into an art display. A competition was held, and the young artists of Lucca were asked to submit plans for a painting that reflected their perspective on the historic and/or current art of Lucca. A number of the submissions were then selected and the winning artists were commissioned to paint very large versions of their projects on to a plastic sheathing that was draped over the scaffolding. The results, of course, add a delightful, whimsical character to a large expanse of scaffolding that one would have judged to be unappealing.

Unfortunately, during the limited time during which we could command the exceptionally fine service of Gabriele we could not cover the fine details of many of the other highlights to be visited as one tours Lucca. Besides, passing all those salumerie (delicatessen shops??), pasticcerie, and tavole calde (hot tables) inspired our palate. At the end of our tour, we found a salumeria whose personnel graciously accommodated our party of five persons by filling crusty pannini with one or another variety of prepared meats, wrapping a slice of one or another of the numerous appealing cheeses displayed profusely in the case, and directing us to the cartons of fruit juices that would accompany our lunch. My choice of sandwich filling was culatello; a local variety of cured pork resembling the ham-like delicacy known as prosciutto parmigiano . We ate our lunch seated on a sunny set of steps outside of the historic church of San Frediano.

We spent part of the afternoon going through the Palazzo Mansi - now quite totally an art gallery. In light of the kind of creativity one finds in the visual arts expressed in the works of painters nurtured all over Tuscany - Arezzo, Siena, Florence, Prato - one is surprised to at the relative paucity of examples of such creativity in this gallery. Observing the interior of Palazzo Mansi one does not doubt that immense wealth was expended in creating the palace. If one is impressed by ostentation, the palace must be judged to be impressive. Otherwise, the time spent in the palace might serve as a reminder of how the wealthy classes consumed the capital that they accrued while the peasants on their country holdings labored to cultivate the rich soil of Tuscany.

A winery tour: During the afternoon of our first day in Lucca, we visited the Fattoria del Teso -- an agricultural processing center. An explanation of the production of vin santo (blessed wine) provided a special highlight for our visit. As they are harvested in the fall, bunches of white grapes (such as Trebbiano Toscano, Grechetto, etc.) are laid out on cane racks in the upper story of the winery. The are left to dry until the holiday season; that is, until they become raisin-like. The grapes are then hand-sorted, to discard those infested by mold or insects; and are then lightly pressed. The resulting rich, very sweet mosto is then added to 50 or 100 litre barrels which contain the dregs and lees of previous pressings. The barrels are then sealed with plugs that are then cemented over, and the kegs are then stored in the unheated, ventilated upper stories of the winery. During the next four or five years the mosto becomes warmed and chilled while it ferments in fits and starts. The end result is a honey-sweet, spicy wine of a clear amber color.

At the end of our tour, we were served a variety of red and white wines made by Fattoria del Teso. We had enjoyed a bottle of the fattoria's denominazione di origine controllata table red wine with our dinner during the previous evening. For my tastes, I found that same wine to be the most enjoyable of the several red wines which we tasted during our visit to the winery. A white, made with Trebbiano, came very close to matching a fine chardonnay wine. The fattoria generously shared two varieties of their cheese -- pecorino toscano type -- one of which was dressed with some olive oil and herbs. The capstone of the tasting session was provided by complying with the following prescription for depression: Pour out a glassful of vin santo; pick up a crisp, almond-laden biscotto, e. g., a cantuncino di Prato; dip the biscotto into the vin santo until it is slightly softened, crunch the end of the biscotto so that the combination of vin santo and biscotto flavors spread over every one of the mouth's taste buds, intersperse the crunching with sips of vin santo and conversation, repeat until the depression dissipates.

It is guaranteed that this prescription will continue to have positive effects throughout a slow bus ride through the lovely Tuscan countryside.

Indeed, I can assure that it will continue to work its effects throughout a dinner with lively company. I know that it works throughout a dinner at which one is served cream of asparagus soup, a creamy risotto, a rich beef stew laced with Barolo wine, roast fennel, herbed mashed potatoes, and red wine, followed by a desert of fruit.



Friday, March 12, 1999: Firenze

As much as I hate to do so, I must admit that this day, largely spent in visiting Florence, was a major disappointment.

It was a day in which I was subjected to having: (1)to listen to a barrage of complaints about the Italian government and bureaucracy, high taxes, the influx of immigrants who compete for jobs; the high costs of trying to get an advanced education, the high costs of housing, etc.; (2) to listen to putatively titillating stories told by a guide who believed that those stories provided special entertainment to those of us in his charge; (3) to finding the museums closed for two hours while workers held a meeting to determine whether or not they would go on strike for the next day; (4) being totally frustrated by my failure to make telephone contact with an old friend who works in Firenze.

Despite all of this, we did try to contemplate and to enjoy a sampling of the variety of fabled examples of creativity which we could visit in fabled Firenze.

Our first opportunity to observe the creativity of the Tuscan people allowed us to witness the extent to which they have extended their long-time mastery of agricultural technology. For at least 2,500 years, grapes and olives have been a major base of the economy of the region. As one travels in any direction in Tuscany, he/she can enjoy the sights of acre on acre of land planted in long straight rows of vines. One must experience pleasure upon observing those vineyards blanketing the rolling Tuscan hills, and thinking of the final products of the laborers who maintain those vines. Similarly, a person's taste buds must be stimulated as he/she views of the expanses of grey-green orchards in which grow the olives that provide the world-famous, golden, savory oils - particularly the famed Luccan oils.

In recent years the area between Lucca and Firenze has become the site of an extension of Tuscan agricultural skills. Our tour hostess explained that that section of Tuscany now rivaled The Netherlands in terms of exports of plant nursery products. While the agribusiness of The Netherlands centers around plant bulbs and annual plants, the agribusiness of the Firenze/Lucca region centers around shrubs, hedges, and trees. The extent of that sector of Tuscany's agricultural economy is clearly evident as one observes row after row of young plants that line the miles of highway along the route from Lucca to Firenze.

The trip along the Lucca/Firenze highway also gives evidence of the kind of industrialization that has made Italy the fifth-ranking industrial nation. All variety of manufacturing facilities are interspersed between the fields of nursery plantings. The frequency of the comings and goings of huge trucks, loaded with bales of scrap paper, gives evidence of the number of paper processing plants that have developed in the area. The region has become a center for the production of carta igienica - which we know as "toilet paper."

Upon arriving in Firenze our tour group did a brief walk around past some of the major sites that one must see during a suitably extended visit to the city.

We stopped at The Santa Croce Church for a fast tour of the interior. The church has become something of a shrine to the outstanding creative persons who have been associated with Firenze - with a bit of borrowing of the fame of non-Fiorentines. The Church is the site in which one finds the tombs of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 - 1564), Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378 - 1455), Galileo Galilei, and others. The proud Fiorentines, of course, would not want to pass up the opportunity to honor other creators who have been associated with Firenze, despite the unavailability of their earthly remains. Thus, appropriately lavish cenotaphs celebrate the associations that the city had had with Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519) and Dante Alighieri (1265 - 1321). More modern creators, whose associations with Firenze might have been a bit less intense than those of Ghiberti or da Vinci, are also celebrated. Wall plaques recognize Guglielmo Marconi (1874 - 1937) and Enrico Fermi. A grand tomb in the church recognizes the ingeniousness of the creativity of Gioachino Rossini (1792 - 1868).

Our guide, quite knowledgeable about political science, told us a great deal about Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 - 1527). He also shared with our tour group some of the rumor-based tales about the sex life of Leonardo da Vinci. The guide stopped for a period at the tomb of Michelangelo, giving information that can be found in any guide-book. The famous revolutionary frescoes painted on the walls of several chapels in The Church by Giotto di Bondone (c1266 - 1337) were given a passing mention.

On our walk from The Church of Santa Croce to Firenze's "city hall," known variously as Palazzo della Signoria or Palazzo Vecchio, our guide stopped to discuss the significance of the statuary in the niches of the building known as Orsanmichele. This secular building, whose decoration and elaboration had been sponsored by laypersons rather than clergy, has been associated with some of the most significant of Firenze's great creators - Orcagna (Andrea di Cione, c. 1308-c. 1368), Donatello (Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, 1386?-1466), Lorenzo Ghiberti, etc. The statuary in the niches of Orsanmichele deserves particular attention. When one views the statues that presently occupy the niches, he/she must realize that he/she is looking at replicas of the original statues. The original statues, like many of Firenze's great statues, have been moved indoors to halt the weathering processes that have been intensified by air-borne pollutants. Nevertheless, the sense of beauty stimulated by the intricate architecture of the building's facades cannot be diminished - replicas or no!!

The Palazzo della Signoria, located on the Piazza della Signoria, though not as clear a symbol of architectural beauty as is Orsanmichele, clearly projects its symbolic attributes - power, lavish expenditure of resources, support of great creativity, and civic pride. After having taken in the impressions created by the imposing, fortress-like Palazzo della Signoria, a tourist must immediately focus on Michelangelo's superlative representation of David (in replica, of course) - a statue that has become a standard symbol for the Rinascimento spirit of Firenze. Donatello's statue of Judith and Holofernes, an equally symbolic, but less noted work; aptly portrays the way in which a of a less-powerful person, guided by virtuous intent, can triumph over arrogant power. A third highly symbolic statue that we had expected to find on the Loggia dei Lanzi (designed by Orcagna) was not in its usual place. Benvenuto Cellini's (1500-1571) statue of Perseus with the head of Medusa - a striking symbol of wiliness triumphing over evil - has been removed from the Loggia in order to completely restore the statue. Our guide informed us that the statue, after over four centuries of standing with its weight over its right leg, had begun to collapse at the ankle. A less apparent symbol of one of Firenze's most shameful moments is to be found by looking down at a large bronze medallion located on the pavement, several yards from the corner of Palazzo della Signoria. The plaque commemorates the burning of Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498). Among his many mistakes: He denounced in powerful sermons the corruption of secular life, the licentiousness of ruling classes, and the worldliness of clergy. He openly defied Pope Alexander VI. He aided in driving Piero de' Medici from power. As a result of his mistakes, he was excommunicated and then tried and convicted for sedition and heresy.

Equestrian statues have become common enough in cities throughout the world so that a tourist intent on viewing the significant artistic creations by which he/she is surrounded while standing in Piazza della Signoria might easily overlook the significance and symbolism of the statue of Cosimo de Medici (1519 - 1574) that stands off to the left of the faux statue of Michelangelo's David. In 1537 Cosimo, the great grandson of Lorenzo "the Magnificent," was elevated to the position of Duke of Florence, thus beginning an illustrious political career during which he consolidated control of the region of Tuscany, and acquired the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany. Among other achievements, he led the conquest of Siena, after which he commanded the building of the massive Medici Fortress. During his period of power Florence had its final burst of Medici-sponsored creativity. His legacy as an efficient, if autocratic, ruler and patron of the arts may be enjoyed by any modern tourist who admires Benvenuto Cellini's statue of Perseus; the landscaping of the Boboli Gardens that lie behind The Pitti Palace; and Giorgio Vasari's architecture, as executed in the buildings of The Uffizi, and in .

Having led us from the Signoria to the Piazza del Duomo, our guide provided an overview of the architectural creativity represented by the three buildings on the Piazza - The Duomo itself, the Baptistery, and the tower. The works of three of Firenze's great architects Giotto, Arnolfo di Cambio (c. 1245 - c.1302) Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) are represented on The Piazza - Giotto's Campanile, Arnolfo's Duomo, and Brunelleschi's astounding dome.

At the ultra-famous bronze doors of The Duomo's Baptistery (San Giovanni) one meets the usual cluster of sight-seers admiring the intricacy of the scenes which Lorenzo Ghiberti created for the sections of the bronze doors of the building.

After our guide took his leave, we found our way through the long rows of street vendors to Firenze's very lively modern market. There we had the personnel at one of the stalls prepare our noonday sandwiches, and then purchased our drinks. A short distance from the market, we seated ourselves comfortably on some park benches and once again enjoyed our outdoors refreshments. My sandwich - a slab of focaccio filled with salame toscano.

After our lunch stop, we made our way back to The Baptistery, and spent some time studying the scenes, created in intricate mosaic work, which cover the domed ceiling of the building. As one contemplates the mosaic work - showing scenes that were of great importance to the theology of the late Middle ages - one becomes aware that he/she is in a building which can stand as a symbol of the beginnings of Firenze's break into a new world of creativity. (Tradition has it that the Baptistery was once a Roman Temple. ). As in many of the monumental religious buildings decorated during the 13th Century, The Baptistery's overhead mosaic work features a huge, central representation of Christ as Judge sending the souls of the departed to their rightful place in eternity. The work gives indication that the Fiorentines, at the time of the completion of the scenes, had amassed the wealth to finance the artists who executed the elaborate judgment scene and the other scenes representing, among other stories, stories from The Book of Genesis and from the life of the mother of Christ. The work gives no hint of the explosion of the techniques of visual artistry that would take place in the city over the 14th and 15th Centuries. Indeed, the mosaics were no doubt executed by artists imported from Italy's Adriatic cities, where artists had adopted and used Byzantine artistic styles.

It was The Baptistery to which Dante Alighieri referred when he wistfully discussed his expulsion (in 1302, when he was 37 years old) and exile from his native city. And surely, the architecture of The Baptistery and its art work would have been an inspiration to Giotto di Bondone, whose revolutionary, naturalistic style of painting stands as a major turning point of Italian visual art as Dante's use of the Italian vernacular stands as a turning point in Italian literary art.

The major disappointments of our visit to Firenze began after we had made our way from The Baptistery back to The Piazza della Signoria and the adjacent Uffizi. We had visited the Uffizi many years ago, and I relished the opportunity to visit it once again. I had visited the Uffizi's WWW site, and had noted the layout of the gallery's holdings, noting with particular relish how pleasing it would be to go through the gallery to enjoy a review of the history of the development of the visual arts.

When we arrived at The Uffizi, we found a long waiting line. Puzzled by the length of the line at that hour of the day, we searched out an explanation. A notice proclaimed that the gallery would be closed during the hours 1:00 P. M to 3:00 P. M. Disappointed, we made our way to a second choice gallery - The Museo delle Opere del Duomo. After our time-consuming walk to that museum, we had our second disappointment. The gallery is under total renovation (Another of the works being completed with hopes of having a first rate exhibition space for the visitors who will flood into Italy during the Year 2000!!)

We returned to the Uffizi, hoping to spend our two remaining hours in Firenze at that gallery. There the line wound around for several hundred yards, awaiting the 3:00 P. M. reopening. Rather than spend our time in the waiting line, we visited the Ponte Vecchio (Originally built before the year 1175), to allow the shoppers in our group an opportunity to observe and to participate in the commerce which takes place on this ancient bridge across the Arno River. Thereupon, we returned to the area at which we were to meet our tour hostess, and then wandered around the interior of the The Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore, to observe its rather bare interior and the way in which Brunelleschi's great dome is situated over the lower portion of the building.

Despite the disappointments and the inconveniences we experienced on this busy day - inability to visit places we had anticipated visiting, the noise of thousands of the young people intent on having their version of "fun" regardless of where they are, the inability to connect with a friend whom I had promised to telephone - the joys of visiting Firenze continued to insert themselves to convince us that we had spent the day well. A special kind of thrilling awe must accompany one's viewing of the city spread below the hillside belvedere at which we stopped on our way into the city. How can one fail to be inspired by stopping before two statues built into the wall on the street across from The Duomo. One statue represents the architect of the lower portion of The Duomo, Arnolfo di Cambio and the other represents the architect who designed the dome of The Duomo, Filippo Brunelleschi. How fitting that an appreciative posterity should celebrate these geniuses with statues which show them gazing at their impressive creations?? What delight one experiences at seeing attached to the outer walls of buildings the brilliant ceramic roundels created by the della Robbia family (Luca and his nephew Andrea)! Every corner turned opens another vista of one or another example of stunning architecture associated with climactic historic events - the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, designed by Michelozzi di Bartolomeo (1396 - 1472) for Cosimo de Medici; The Uffizi Gallery designed as offices for La Signoria by the painter, architect, art historian Giorgio Vasari; The Palazzo Strozzi, designed by Benedetto da Maiano, for Filippo Strozzi, a supporter of Lorenzo de Medici; The Bargello, built as seat for government functions in the mid-1200s, now serving as a museum containing some of the most notable of the works of Firenze's great sculptors; and so on. (Reviewing our having seen so many of these masterful works allows the disappointments to become less accessible to my remembering!!!)

Saturday, March 13, 1999: More of Lucca: Villa Torrigiani

Though we had had an excellent guide during our first morning in Lucca, we had yet to visit and to absorb some of the highlights of the city's treasures.

We first returned to Lucca's duomo, The Church of San Martino. We had wanted to view more carefully several of the great creations located in The Duomo. Among those creations, we wished to take another look at the crucifix of the "true Christ," Il Volto Santo (apparently a 13th Century work). The usual tales of miraculous doings have accumulated around this representation of Christ's crucifixion. One tale has it that this is the work of the biblical Nicodemus who attempted to carve a scene representing the crucifixion. He did not complete the face, deeming himself unworthy of representing the face. The face appeared miraculously - clearly a semitic face, with a long beard. The crucifix somehow made its way to the shores of Italy, and to Lucca, where it has been an object of veneration. The crucifix is mounted within a "tempietto" designed by Matteo Civitali, (1436-1501), the architect of San Michele in Foro.

The stories associated with his shrine stimulated me to wonder about the extent to which those who fostered and promoted such myths became convinced of their authenticity. Did Dante understand that he was solidifying mythology when he wrote the texts which described his version of The Inferno? Did the church officials of Lucca understand that the prime purpose of creating mythology around a representation of Christ's crucifixion might be to attract pilgrims to pass through the city on their way to Rome? Did the sponsors of the art depicting Noah's shame in his drunkenness commission those works because they wanted to keep before the public the inappropriateness of excessive use of alcohol? When a bishop commissioned a painting showing himself in the presence of Mary being crowned the queen of heaven, was he attempting to solidify in the person-in-the-street the belief that the bishop, who supported the ostentatious nobility, had a direct line of communication with the powers in heaven? In short, how much did the support of these artistic ventures represent conviction, and how much of that support represent conscious propaganda.

A painting done by the Venetian artistic superstar, Jacopo Robusti, (known as Tintoretto, c.1518-1594) hangs on the wall of San Martino. This fine painting, a superb example of Tintoretto's mannerist style, depicts The Last Supper. We had not planned to do so, but while wandering about the interior of San Martino, we found that we could also visit the sacristy to view the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, carved by Jacopo della Quercia (c.1374-1438.) in 1405 - 1406. della Quercia's representation would easily lead me to believe that he, and perhaps Ilaria's husband, Paolo Guinigi (who was the tryant of Lucca until 1430, when it was discovered that he had attempted to sell the city to Firenze) experienced very tender feelings toward that very beautiful young woman. While in the sacristy, we also had the opportunity to view a painting of Madonna and saints by Domenico di Tommaso Bigordi Ghirlandaio. (1449-94), who earns a large part of his fame on account of his having been an instructor of Michelangelo Buonarotti.

Adjacent to The Church of San Martino, one finds the Museo dell'Opere del Duomo - an exceptionally well done museum, occupying space that was once the archbishop's palace, a small church, and another building. The material displayed represents a treasure of artistic work - statues, reliquaries, paintings, etc. The design of the museum engenders admiration of the ingeniousness of the architectural solution of making a display space of the interiors. Apparently, the buildings were stripped back to bare walls and floors, and then reconstructed so that stairs, walkways, etc. make maximum use of the display space that was carved out of the buildings.

While the shoppers took several minutes to satisfy their shopping needs, I stopped in to one of Lucca's ubiquitous bars -- the combination coffee shop, pastry shop, drink stop, etc. which are conducive to the kind of short, relaxing interludes one needs while touring. I ordered and thoroughly enjoyed a cappuccino and a sfogliatella alla neapolitana - a flaky, fan-shaped pastry which is filled with a creamy lemon-flavored pudding. That particular combination at that particular bar proved to be a true combination of the very best. Both were excellent.

One of my companions agreed that he would accompany me on a climb to the top of the Guinigi tower. Such towers were built by the noble families to serve as havens in time of violent outbursts associated with the rivalries of the powerful families. The Guinigi family, being among the most powerful of Lucca's families, had built an exceptionally fine tower. The Guinigi tower has a special distinction, in that on its top one finds seven trees, planted in large planters. (The top was braced with turnbuckles, apparently - despite the arch-vaulted structure of the top level, the architects had misjudged the effect of the weight of the trees and the planters, and needed to brace the walls against the outward pressure of the weight.)

The scene from the top truly compensated the effort of the climb. The views of Lucca's many gardens - gardens which tend to be hidden from street level viewing - revealed the extent of the green spaces dotting the city. The gardens and the lovely terraces were, as one Italian said to his three companions, incantevole. Having overheard him saying this about one particularly attractive terrace, I interjected, "That's my apartment," to which he responded, in kind, "Complimenti." Also from that height, the outline of The Piazza Anfiteatro was apparent.

Our party proceeded to the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi. This grandiose building was once the summer home, outside the walls which then surrounded Lucca, of the Guinigi family. The museum, once again, is beautifully laid out. Following the floor layout one can follow and distinguish the trends in painting, through pre-Rinascimento, Rinascimento, Mannerist, and Baroque styles. The guidebooks say that many of the paintings are by minor local artists What a treasure of "minor artists!!!" Now I could understand why the collection at Palazzo Mansi did not impress me. The best of Lucca's paintings are located in Museo Nazionale. Among the most impressive were the paintings done by Baccio della Porta, known as Fra Bartolommeo (1472-1517). The fine collection of marquetry work, depicting views of the city, are amazing in their detail, and in their skillful rendering of perspective.

I had never had the opportunity to view a collection of bells as I did at Lucca's Museo Nazionale. I found that some of the bells vibrated for a long time after being slapped, and if slapped repeatedly until vibrating continuously, they went on vibrating for some time. Each bell had a distinct tone, and the largest, with the deepest tone, went on vibrating longest. The vibration of that bell actually were visible at the top of the bell!

One bell had on it a lizard... the guide explained that the lucertola was a good luck talisman. He advised us to observe, if we traveled to Pisa, that each portone had a lizard on the side jamb, and that the lizard was usually very shiny, from people rubbing it as they went in and out the door.

On the way we stopped in to a tavola calda to pick up some quick "lunch." I ordered a salad made of faro - a grain that seems to be making a comeback in Italy. It is said that this grain - a kind of a cross between barley and wheat - was the grain that powered the Roman army. The salad - with red onions and tuna - accompanied by plump, slightly bitter olives, was a superb midday carryover.

Villa Torrigiani. Our tour then took us to Villa Torrigiani - a sumptuous, pretentious villa, built as a summer home for one of the grand families of Lucca - the Buonvisi family. The estate went over to the Santini family in 1636. Nicolao Santini was Lucca's ambassador to the court of Louis XIV, and he tried to emulate, as best he could, Versailles. The ostentation is immense, and the decay is equally evident. Percy Bysse Shelley, would find it appropriate if a visitor would recall his poem, Ozymandius while visiting this villa.

One of the "delights" which the Santini family could offer to their guests was explained as we visited a "secret garden" and an associated grotto. Apparently unsuspecting guests were led into the grotto, and once they were enclosed inside, a shower of water sprayed the unsuspecting guests.

In all the discussion of the results of the lavish expenditure that the owners had devoted to creating this villa, the guides made no mention of the workers and peasants who created the wealth that was poured into estate. All the effort that was needed to create the gardens, masonry, woodwork, etc., go unsung by the guides and by the people who write the guidebooks, etc.

The ignoring of the efforts of the workers and the peasantry becomes particularly ironic when one considers that most of the members of this tour group were the descendants of the workers and peasants who left Italy during the great avventura which prompted millions of Italians to leave the country of their birth. True, a relatively small portion of those avventurieri emigrated to The USA from the estates of the Tuscan nobility. It would have been valuable, however, to have had some idea of the lives of those, like Angelo Pellegrini (1904-1992), who did leave the area of Lucca to make a new life in The USA. The tour members whose forebears originated in Sicily might have been interested in knowing that Garibaldi and his Thousand had embarked from Livorno - some 40 kilometers from Lucca - when they left for Sicily in order to help to achieve the unification of Italy that was much to the benefit of the Santini, Torrigiani, Colonna families whose lineage still owns the villa. (and gets the tax write-offs that accrue to their having made it a place to be visited by the people). It was that unification that allowed the south of Italy to send its overpopulation to the labor-hungry USA, where they could engage in strenuous toil, undergo privation, save their money, and send that money into the economy of Italy, thereby bolstering the then-fragile economy of the country that now stands as the fifth major economy of the world economies.



Sunday, March 14, 1999: Barga and Viareggio

As we traveled to the town of Barga we followed Lucca's river - River Serchio. Traveling through the narrow valley we became aware of the importance of water power to Italy's economy. A string of industrial establishments line the valley. Many of the industries are devoted to the manufacture of paper products. Overall, the industrial plants do not add to the beauty of what must have been, not too long ago, a dramatically beautiful valley.

On our way to Barga we stopped to explore a bridge known as The Devil's Bridge. One must admire the engineering that went into the construction of the bridge. The bridge gives the appearance of a bridge that was built in medieval times. The center arch is very high and the roadway is steeply inclined toward the top. A small arch at each end of the center arch joins the main arch to land.

As with many ancient structures, a mythology has been engendered by the bridge, and the bridge takes its name from that mythology. It is said that citizens of the area wished to have a bridge, but that it appeared to be impossible to build one at that location. A devil interceded, agreeing that he would build a bridge if he could take the first soul that crossed the bridge. The bridge appeared, and the citizens then sent a dog across the bridge - and it promptly disappeared in a flash of fire and smoke.

Our visit to Barga could have extended through the whole day. Unfortunately, it had been determined that the eating establishments in the town would not be able toaccommodate the number of persons on our tour. Barga is a classic medieval hilltop town Its impressive duomo perched at the highest point, fronted by a large piazza from which one has a dramatic view of the valley and high mountains that surround the town.

On the day of our visit, a fair featuring all variety of items was being held throughout the town. The presence of tables at which were being shown crafts of all kinds, local food specialties, collectibles, etc. lent a special ambience of joviality and comradery to the steep narrow streets through which we explored the town.

Our explorations of the town took us to the local tourist office, where we found a display of photos taken during the reconstruction of the local theater -- Il Teatro dei Differenti., The photos were done by the photographer, Angelo Pellegrini, during the nine-year-long restoration of the 17th Century theater. I noted the coincidence of the photographer having the same name as the famed Italian-American writer, Angelo Pellegrini, who had left the Tuscan town of Casabianca in 1913, when he was nine years old.

We found the renovated theater to be closed, and did not have time to investigate the possibility of visiting the building. We were impressed by the events which have taken place in the theater over the past season. How does a tiny hillside town in the rugged Appenine mountains attract the audiences to support such a schedule?

Aside from the theater's renovation providing an obvious sign of the town's interest in its history of creativity, we also found many signs of the town's veneration of Italy's famed, turn-of-the-century lyric poet, Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912). Pascoli, already a world-famous poet, chose to live his last years in a most attractive villa near the town. Il Teatro dei Differenti, of course, displays on its facade a plaque of generous proportions that celebrates Pascoli's reading, in the theater, from one of his most noted poem cycles.

Our all too short visit to the town ended with a visit to a salumeria, where we picked up a small wedge of a very pleasant local soft cheese and a bottle of spring water. Thus, we were supplied with a pleasing snack to be enjoyed on the long ride to Viareggio.

My own reactions to Viareggio are screened through my general displeasure with "resort towns" of this type. Viareggio is clearly the kind of "resort town" which I do not find to be restoring. The town is famous as a site of one of the most grandiose carnivals in the world. The festivities preceding the lenten season are said to rival those of Rio de Janiero. Additionally, the town is bordered by a deep beach on the stretch of the Tyrrhenian Sea fronting the town. In the late part of the 19th Century, a promenade was constructed along the stretch of beach. Such promenades, of course, were aimed at the tastes of the small portion of the population that could then afford to leave the interior regions of the area to spend time at the cooler seaside. Today, of course, such promenades are lined with businesses, restaurants, etc., that cater to the tens of thousands of visitors who drive their autos down the autostradas to compete for the limited parking spaces in the town so that they can join the crowds who jostle their way along the pedestrian thoroughfare. Then, after undergoing such ritualistic "fun," the visitors climb into their autos to return to the relative tranquility of their homes - being sure to leave early in the expectation of finding traffic congestion on the autostradas. It would happen that on our return trip, the police were diverting all traffic to the ancient routes along the hilly roads and through the hilltop towns between Viareggio and Lucca. We were informed that a major accident had forced the closing of the autostrada.

Viareggio also features another symbol of the most undesirable (in my view) aspects of the efforts that people make to become mobile. A huge marina provides a harbor for thousands of fuel-devouring, pollution-creating sea craft of all sizes, shapes and forms. Many of the craft which we were able to see from the walkway along the road bordering the marina appeared to be the kind of yacht that would satisfy the most ostentatious Mediterranean potentate. My thoughts, unhappily, drifted over the diminution of the sea's fish population and the superb sea food dinners that one could once enjoy in Italy - before Italy became known as a prime manufacturing site of lavishly equipped "pleasure" craft.



Monday, March 15, 1999: Siena and San Gimignano

Our day began with another long ride through the eye-pleasing Tuscan landscape, to Siena. When we arrived in Siena our bus was parked in a lot near the Fortezza Medicea, a huge fortress built in 1560, after Cosimo de Medici had brought Siena under the domination of Firenze. Our walk around the huge walls allowed us to contemplate how the proud people of finally-conquered Siena must have detested the de Medici coat of arms that is mounted on the bulwark that thrusts prominently toward the city. Today the Fortezza serves as a city park and as the site of Enoteca Italiana - a very pleasant atmosphere at which one can sample some of the products of Tuscany's prime vineyards.

Crossing over the ramp that connects two of Siena's hills, we arrived at The Basilica of San Domenico, where we met the guide who would take us on a walking tour of the city. Several works by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, (known as Il Sodoma, 1477-1549) draw one attention to the Chapel of Saint Catherine. Sodoma's paintings nicely illustrate the transition from the painting styles of High Renaissance to effusive expressiveness of the Mannerist style. The frescos surround the reliquary in the center alter of the chapel, that contains the remains of the head of Saint Catherine. Unfortunately, this brief visit to this chapel allowed only perfunctory consideration of the achievements of Caterina Benincasa (1347 - 1380) who became one of the most influential persons of her era and was proclaimed as the patron saint of Italy in 1939.

Our very effective guide led us through an informative and efficient tour of this most alluring city. Along the way we stopped at Piazza Salimbeni, which is surrounded by offices of the Monte dei Paschi di Siena - a bank that has been in operation since 1471, making it the oldest continuously operating bank in the world. There, again, we were treated to a view of the very creative use of plastic sheathing to cover the scaffolding that has been erected in order to restore the facade of the Salimbeni Palace, a stunning gothic building that is now the seat of the bank. As I looked at the computer generated replication of the building that had been impressed on the huge expanse of plastic that covered the scaffolding, I could believe that I was looking at the building through a rather clear plastic covering.

In the Piazza Tolomei our guide pointed out the pillar on which was mounted a statue of two infants suckling at the breasts of a wolf - an image that is usually associated with the city of Rome. (Two similar pillars flank the facade of Siena's cathedral.) The guide then gave a very lively account of the myth that attributes the founding of the city to the sons of Remus, who had left Rome because of threat posed by Romulus after he had killed their father. Siena's effort to collect some of the prestige of Rome has an amusing aspect, considering the attractiveness and vivacity of Siena. None of the monuments to human creativity that survive in Siena need be taken as secondary to those existing in any other city.

In our all too brief walking tour of the city we could give only cursory attention to masterpieces such as The Chigi-Saraceni Palazzo; The Loggia dei Mercanti; the facade of Siena's cathedral, the lower part of which was designed by Giovanni Pisano (c. 1250-c. 1314), on which are mounted replicas of powerfully expressive statues that Pisano carved to fit into the facade's niches; the unique incised marble illustrations on the floor of the cathedral; and the cathedral's pulpit, which was sculpted by Giovanni and his father, Nicola Pisano (c. 1220-c. 1284), with the help of Arnolfo di Cambio.

Our guide did an excellent job of explaining the incomplete construction of what was to have been the apse of the final cathedral dedicated to Our Lady. Work on that part of the planned building was discontinued after the town's population was reduced to about one-third of the size it had been when the bubonic plague swept Europe at the end of the first half of the 14th Century. Considering the opulence of the current cathedral, which was to have been the final cathedral's transept, one has a difficult time imagining the final effect of the projected building had the work continued until the plans were completed.

After our exploration of the interior of Siena's cathedral, we descended the hill to visit one of the most enticing spaces ever constructed by human labor - Siena's Piazza del Campo. Few pleasures exceed that of spending some time seated at one of the outdoor tables of one of the cafes located on The Piazza, surrounded by the delightfully human copper-red brick buildings and the vivacious crowds of people who are sharing the pleasures of the space. At the Piazza, our guide gave us instructions about where we were to meet after our lunch break.

We wandered to the piazza off the city's market, found a restaurant at which we could enjoy a helping of pasta and a glass of wine during the short interval between departing from our guide and rejoining our group to board the bus that would take us to the next stop on our tour. I chose a dish of broad pasta, paparadelle, with a heavy, meat-infused sugo, while my companions chose dishes such as ravioli and a fine homemade pasta dressed with a dressing made with truffles.

We did manage to purchase several items that we believed would be items that the young people back home would enjoy - (1) The banners of the contrade --The Contrade Oca -- which not only has won more of the palio races than has any other contrade, but also won the palio in 1998, and (2) The lusciously sweet, spicy confection, panforte, that always evokes memories of Siena.

As I wander around a city as stimulating as is Siena, I particularly enjoy discerning evidences of creativity that I am able to discern as a result of bits of information that ties together some of my previous experience. For example, when we stopped to view the interior courtyard of the Chigi-Saraceni Palace, now the seat of the Chigi Musical Academy, I noted a plaque commemorating the revival of interest in the music of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). In the decades preceding the revival, which was effected by one of the professors at the music school, little attention was given to the now-famous music of Vivaldi.

I also re-experienced my lack of enthusiasm about the graphic arts of the pre-Rinascimento Siena. Though the work is exuberant and colorful, I am not highly stimulated by the Byzantine elements that the Sienese painters persisted in using in their work. I wondered why Giovanni Pisano and Giotto, by the end of the 13th Century, had succeeded in breaking away from the use of those elements; whereas Duccio DiBuoninsegna (1255?-1319) and his students (Pietro Lorenzetti, [1280-1348] and Ambrogio. Lorenzetti [1290-1348]) used the Byzantine elements well into the 14th Century. Could the constant political and military rivalry between Firenze and Siena have influenced the Sienese painters to resist using the naturalistic elements that were fully evident in the paintings of Giotto in the early part of the 13th Century?

San Gimignano. During our visit to San Gimignano we managed to take a hasty tour of the Museo Civico's painting gallery and to climb to the top of Torre Grosse, which is attached to the town hall -- Il Palazzo Popolo. The tower is one of the fourteen towers that have survived in San Gimignano, which once had 70 such towers. Such towers were a standard feature of many of the cities of northern Italy, having been built by the medieval families as places of refuge for use during wars and family feuds -- particularly during those conflicts which accompanied the rivalries between Guelph (supporters of the papal supremacy) and Ghibelline (supporters of temporal supremacy) factions. Most cities eventually outlawed such towers and they were ordered destroyed. As in Lucca, one or two towers were spared destruction in some of Italy's cities. To the great benefit of San Gimignano's tourist trade, one can today have some idea of the dramatic skyline that such towers produced, particularly in towns perched on high hills, as is San Gimignano

The climb to top of Torre Grosse put us at the highest point in the town, giving us an opportunity to view a panoramic view that cannot be equaled anywhere in Italy -- the towered town occupying a relatively small area of the standard, luxurious Tuscan landscape. We were, after all, standing atop a tower whose height would match that of a 15-story tall building!

On account of our haste to make a quick sweep through the highlights of San Gimignano we were forced to postpone our sampling of the most prestigious white wine of Tuscany, Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Though Tuscany's wine supremacy has been established through the reputation of its red wines - Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Nobile di Montepulciano (based principally on the Sangiovese grapes) - Vernaccia has long been a deservedly prestigious white wine. On our way to meet our bus, I did buy some local pecorino cheese so that I could have it available as I made notes on my laptop computer and sipped from the bottle of Vernaccia that I purchased in Lucca.



Tuesday, March 16, 1999: Pisa

On the last morning of our touring of Tuscany our bus took us on the 40-50 minute drive from Lucca to Pisa. Our morning visit to Pisa gave us an opportunity to visit briefly the immensely impressive Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) -- the Baptistery-Tower-Duomo area -- an itinerary that, under more favorable circumstances, would require weeks.

This enclave, in which the sculpted works of the Pisano family dominate, was built at a time when Pisan ships vied with Venice, Genoa, and Amalfi for domination of the Mediterranean's trade routes. During the 12th and 13th Century building boom in Tuscany, the Pisans attempted, also, to build a duomo that would exceed in opulence the cathedrals of its rival Tuscan cities. In that the Pisans managed to set their duomo into a wide-open expanse, and in that they had the services of several of the most gifted architects of the era, one can justifiably judge the final effect to be superior to any similar grouping in Italy.

The duomo, a dazzling white marble edifice, reflects the Romanesque style -- the principal architectural style used in Tuscany when the building was begun in 1063.. The baptistery, begun in 1153, is a circular building in the Romanesque style crowned with a great dome. The exterior of the baptistery was lavishly ornamented, during the 14th century, in the Gothic style. In 1174 construction began on the bell tower, the famed Torre Pendante - The Leaning Tower of Pisa. During the building of the bell tower, the builders became fully aware of the great flaw of the site on which these monuments were being built. The flat site was the result of the Arno River having brought down sand and gravel which was deposited at the river's mouth to form a loose amalgam of soil. As the tower was being built, it became apparent that its shallow foundation would not provide proper support in this soft soil. Nevertheless, the construction of the cylindrical tower was completed by the second half of the 14th century. The superb harmony of the tower's architectural design, as well as its famous lean, have made it a symbol of the architectural tourist attractions of Italy - to the great profit of the dozens of tourist-oriented stalls that line the way from the parking area to the piazza.

The pulpit, sculpted by Giovanni Pisano in 1310, remains a main attraction inside the duomo. The panels, which would have surrounded the preacher, show scenes from the life of Christ - the nativity, the flight into Egypt, the massacre of the innocents, the crucifixion, etc. And, in the last panel, a scene of the last judgment. It is easy to imagine a preacher basing his sermon on one these scenes as he preaches. An auditor viewing these vividly portrayed scenes would need to be awed by the conviction that these scenes represented incontrovertible truth and reality. And, in case he/she would begin to lose faith in that truth and reality, he/she would need to contemplate the scene of the last judgment to consider facing the wrath of the son of the god who had designed the whole universe and who currently guided the destinies of princes and peasants alike.

During our visit to the duomo complex it also was easy to observe the tremendous cost and responsibilities that are associated with the stewardship of the artistic patrimony of Italy. Workers were engaged in restoring every aspect of the artistic features of the complex - cleaning and maintenance of the dome and the facade of the baptistery and the facade of the duomo, cleaning, repairing and improving the accessibility to the huge paintings and the impressive marquetry and wooden benches that line the walls of the cathedral, and so on. The scope and pace of this kind of restoration has been enhanced and accelerated, we were informed, by the currently effective tax relief that is offered to those bearing the costs of such reclamation and preservation. These enhancements, one may expect, will prove especially satisfying to the tourists who will swarm through Italy during the year 2000.

I especially valued the opportunity to observe the engineering feat involved in attempting to arrest (and possibly to reverse partially) the continued tipping of The Leaning Tower. By a combination of methods, the engineers judge, the leaning has been abated. Many tons of lead have been placed on the footing built on the opposite side of "the lean." Very long cables attached to the "straps" wound around the tower's central column stretch out to a distant anchor point. The cable system provides slight tension "against the lean." The strap consists of cables wound around the central column of the tower at a point about one-third the way to the top of the 180 foot tower. Those corrective mechanisms do, of course, detract from the column's architectural beauty, but they do represent a tribute to the engineering ingenuity that must be put into effect in order to assure that that beauty will be available to future generations.



Finale

I herewith abruptly conclude this report - hoping to leave the reader with thoughts about the ways in which our offspring will be assured of having the opportunity to view and to relish the awe-inspiring results of human creativity that one can see in Italy.

This essay was developed as a part of the effort of The Albany (NY) Area Lodge of The Sons of Italy to make available material that will develop an appreciation and understanding of The Italy-to-USA Avventura. The writers of this essay and other text found on this world wide web site claim sole responsibility for the content of their productions.

       


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. The author, Jim Mancuso died on June 10th, 2005. We maintain this site in memory of all the things that he did for us.

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