Notes From Italy, Vol. 6: Botticelli’s Niece

Vol. 6 in my Notes From Italy series.

So, yeah, we were in Florence, visited the Uffizi Gallery, a massive and profound feast of art, and we had the great pleasure to stand right in front of this masterpiece, Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus

Birth_of_venus

… and the very first thought that popped into my mind was:

Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble
Ancient footprints are everywhere
You can almost think that you’re seein’ double
On a cold, dark night on the Spanish Stairs
Got to hurry on back to my hotel room
Where I’ve got me a date with Botticelli’s niece
She promised that she’d be right there with me
When I paint my masterpiece

–Bob Dylan, When I Paint My Masterpiece, 1971

It didn’t matter that Dylan speaks of Rome and this Venus is in Florence, and it didn’t matter — if it wasn’t creepy enough to think of the artist painting nudes of his brother’s or sister’s daughter– that art historians have firmly ruled out that the image of Venus is that of his niece.

Given that Birth of Venus is such an iconic piece, it seems a very good possibility that Dylan was referring to the painting and having a little fun.

So, you might ask, what thoughts did I have about Birth of Venus once the Dylan wore off?

Well, it had nothing to do with how beautiful the painting is, or the mythological story it tells, or what a wonderful composition, with the winds blowing Venus to shore and her handmaiden waiting and ready to clothe her.

No, instead, I thought of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Terry Gilliam’s brilliant animation:

I know, I’m so highbrow!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 7: How To Fake Speaking Italian

Notes From Italy, Vol. 5: Miscellaneous One Liners

castle-bolsena
Me and the lovely Mrs. preparing to storm the castle.

Vol. 5 in my Notes From Italy series.

In this installment, something a little different.

As I mentioned in my introductory post for Notes From Italy, my journaling method on this trip consisted of writing down bits and pieces of observations in a running list, rather than in an organized narrative or free writing.

While some of the list items proved ripe for expanding upon, as in the first four volumes of Notes From Italy, others are fun to just read as they are, one (or so) liners, in simple list format.

So, here we go!

1. Not all ragus are created equal. Namely, this:

ragu-commercial

… does NOT, in any way, shape, or form, equal this:

real-ragu

2. The combination of the beating sun and ubiquitous flowers means nearly ubiquitous fragrance wafting through the air, as if there was some machine somewhere pumping out the smell as a kind of tourist attraction.

3. The biggest exception to #2: Italians smoke like chimneys. I’m worried I might need a lung transplant at some point after this trip.

4. Gelato = ice cream, typically VERY good ice cream, but really just ice cream. Everyone loves gelato.

5. The back and side streets of Florence and the Tuscan and Umbrian hilltowns are quintessential old-world Europe in every thoroughly charming way one can imagine.

FullSizeRender(4)
The Mrs., wandering around Bolsena, Italy.

6. You don’t have to be religious to be grateful in the summertime for the old, stone churches, conveniently located nearly every other block or so, with their reliably cool interiors and benches to rest on.

7. Even very cheap wine tastes fantastic in Italy … because Italy.

Leisure Italia
Bottle of red, bottle of white, both about €5 and yummy!

There’s more one liners to come, so stay tuned.

Ciao!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 6: Botticelli’s Niece

Notes From Italy, Vol. 3: Food Highlight #1

Via Dei Neri
Via Dei Neri, with tower of Palazzo Vecchio in distance

Vol. 3 in my Notes From Italy series.

My favorite street in Florence, by far, was Via Dei Neri, a narrow, 4-block stretch, one block in from the north bank of the Arno River, lined with shops, trattorias, osterias, pizzerias, cafés, bars, gelaterias, bakeries…

…so yeah, mostly food, and only a block from the apartment we were staying in.

There are no major landmarks directly on Via Dei Neri — though you can look up and westward to see the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio — and this adds enormously to its off-the-beaten-tourist-path charm.

As mentioned in my Notes From Italy, Vol. 1:

As you stroll through the narrow, cobblestone streets, it seems that every other doorway is a café, bar, or restaurant with outdoor seating, even the tiniest hole-in-the-wall establishments have a handful of stools in the doorway or out on the narrow sidewalk, and Italians sit there with their espresso or glasses of wine in their hands, seemingly not a care in the world, fully relaxed, entertained by just being there.

The epitome of the tiniest hole-in-the-wall establishment is All’antico Vinaio:

All'Antico-Vinaio
Source: Halldis Discover

Though not shown in this photo, there is almost always a line out the door and into the street at this wonderful little osteria, and for a very good reason: for just €7, one can get the most delicious sandwich I ever had — prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato and arugula on rustic schiacciata bread with fantastically chewy crust — all washed down with an equally chewy glass of chianti.

Yes, wine with a sandwich, this is Italy, and this sandwich more than deserves the pairing:

All'Antico-Vinaio-sandwich

Molto delizioso, and WELL worth the wait in line!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 4: Naked In Church

Notes From Italy, Vol. 1: Italians & Leisure As Art

Leisure Italia
My lovely wife and I, attempting to emulate Italian leisure.

On our very first day in Florence, the first destination of our 2-week visit to Italy, the very first thing that dramatically stood out to me was:

Italians make hanging out, leisurely, look so utterly, authentically, natural, in a way that Americans only wish we could.

Put another way, it makes perfect sense that the same people who, for hundreds and hundreds of years, produced legendary artistic achievements — seen and heard around just about every corner, in the legendary art and architecture, in the very way, for instance, that Florence was sited on the banks of the Arno River, with it’s lovely string of bridges leading from the city center across the river to the Oltrarno District, where one can naturally start heading uphill to enjoy the perfect sunset view of the birthplace of the Renaissance from Piazzale Michelangelo — have made leisure an art form.

As you stroll through the narrow, cobblestone streets, it seems that every other doorway is a café, bar, or restaurant with outdoor seating, even the tiniest hole-in-the-wall establishments have a handful of stools in the doorway or out on the narrow sidewalk, and Italians sit there with their espresso or glasses of wine in their hands, seemingly not a care in the world, fully relaxed, entertained by just being there.

Back home in the U.S., most people seem to always be thinking about and concerned with where they aren’t or where they need to be next, constantly interacting with their mobile phones, even in the company of others, while in Florence there was hardly a phone in sight, and even then a brief glance and back into a pocket or purse it goes.

Of course, this does not in any way mean that Italians don’t work hard. They very much do, more times than not in less than desirable jobs, thanks to a weak economy.

It’s just that when they aren’t working, they REALLY know how to NOT work.

There was one glaring exception to this characterization of Italians as Zen-like artists of leisure, but you’ll have to wait for Vol. 2 of Notes From Italy for that!

Ciao!