Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Art of Food…Italian Style

I can't leave this blog post about Florence without mentioning the food. One of life's greatest pleasures and greatest art forms is food...from growing, cooking, presenting, and eating. When I think about my memory of the food in Florence, it would be more about the "experience" than anything else. Not to say that the homemade pasta made from the finest semolina, with spaghetti as thick as a tender small rope wasn't remarkable in itself, but it was more the care and pride that went into it that left an impression.

The food itself was simple, basic food...kind of like food used to be. Like my mother used to make. Honest, simple and unpretentious. Pizza that was light, delicately layered with the perfect amount of toppings. The Tiramisu hardly had to try at all.

One of our more memorable meals in Italy, oddly enough, was a steak. Whenever most of us think of Italian food, we think 'pasta'. But the steaks we had in Italy were quite a surprise. A grilled steak would be marinated simply in olive oil and fresh lemon...simple and distinctly different.  The steak we had above, was our favorite... thinly cut, cooked to perfection, with a mustard cream sauce that had something that resembled capers in it. We later learned from the waiter that they were fresh green peppercorns. The combination of flavors plus the feeling of the peppercorns popping in your mouth was about as full an experience as you can get. (Searching out the perfect recipe to re-create this meal, we did a pretty decent job of making it at home just recently.)

Back to the "experience" of Italian food…Italians are proud. They are proud of their families, their culture and their country. They know why people flock to their homeland, and they are excited to share the complete experience with you. We found this wherever we travelled in Italy.

A great example of this "experience" was the B&B we stayed at in Florence. Katti House B&B was one of two hotels that were family owned and managed. In addition, they owned an adjoining restaurant, (also Katti House), named after their daughter, Katarina. Katarina, along with her father and mother Maria, ran the restaurant and B&B from morning to midnight, 7 days a week. From fresh pasta daily, to homemade desserts, Katti House was packed with customers every night we were there. Katarina scurrying around waiting on customers, and Maria waltzing between tables, making sure everyone was happy. It was clear why people were waiting in line every night.

We became quick friends with Maria, loving her attentiveness and pride in her businesses and love for her family. Each morning she would invite us into the not-yet-opened restaurant and make us cappuccino and let us sample amazing pastries such as this apple tart.

In the end, we began to get an understanding of what Italian food was really about. It came from hard work, loving care and pride...Italian style. Grazie mille Maria!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Magnitude of Art

Florence, Italy, where it all began…the birthplace of the Renaissance, where art became a vital part of culture. And today was the day, the first time on our trip that I would see the art that had been etched into my heart and mind for over 50 years. We would go to the Uffizi and the Accademia--museums that would house some of the finest collections of art in the world: the Statue of David, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, the list goes on and on. 

How would I feel, I often wondered, upon seeing the grand statue of David for the first time? Having been tutored about the Masters of art since I was 12 years old, I quickly fell in love with the art of Michelangelo. The Statue of David, the Pieta and the Sistine Chapel had only been in books for me, and now I was finally going to witness their magnitude in person.

The Accademia had a serene, luminous feel. With no photography allowed (thank you Wikipedia for the photo below!) we entered the galleries of white marble that were lined with opalescent sculptures at every corner. As I turned, there it was, under a rotunda at the end of the hall, the Statue of David.

Now I knew why his hands were so large compared to the rest of his body. Now I understood his stance of completion, of utter self-confidence and heroics. Now I felt the story of David and Goliath. I knew why the wind knocked out of me when I stood beneath this 17 foot tall sculpture carved out of one piece of marble. Michelangelo had created emotion in stone, all at the age of 26.

We then walked the streets of Florence on to the Uffizi, one of the oldest and most famous art museums of the Western world. With a textbook piece of architecture around every corner, the walks were like being in a museum itself. Here’s a classic sculpture for us tourists, that we saw while waiting in line...

The Uffizi was a display place for many of the paintings and sculpture collected or commissioned by the Medici family and was filled with (what seemed like forever), long hallways and rooms filled with the religious art of da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, to name a few. If the art was there to impress, it accomplished the mission.

Not wanting to stop our exploration, we searched out the Boboli Gardens, a park of 16th century Italian gardens in Florence that is behind the Pitti Palace, the main seat of the Medici grand dukes of Tuscany at Florence.

The view of Florence was breathtaking, the experience of art all around us.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Eyes Wide Open in Florence

The richness of Italy shows up, when you realize how art is so much a part of their culture. We had our checklist of all of the museums we wanted to visit, filled with all of the great art you could ever imagine, but the greatest museums were the cities themselves: ancient buildings beautifully designed and preserved, narrow cobblestone walking streets peppered with geraniums in doorways, outdoor markets exploding with colorful displays of produce, and cafes filled with spectators sitting back with a cappuccino, marveling at it all.

Upon venturing out into the city of Florence, nose in our maps, we traced the route to go find the Duomo, one of Italy’s largest churches built in the 1200s. Glancing up, I felt the wind knock out of me, as I gasped in surprise...

There it was looming in the distance at the end of the street, a luminous green, pink and white marbled cathedral, with ornate columns and stained glass windows leading up to the magnificent dome. This was the Duomo, Florence's main cathedral housing the largest brick dome ever constructed.

We entered into the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (or the Duomo, as it was originally called), the main church in Florence. 

The spiraling Gothic architecture was impressive, but we wanted to climb the dome.

Our challenge was seeing if we had the stamina to hike up over 463 narrow, winding and steep marble steps to the top. Probably the most difficult tower we climbed in Italy proved to be the most magnificent. 

The climb initially took you to the inside of the dome, where you could view the painting of the Last Judgement up close. Frescos of torture, with sinners going to hell, made me want leave quickly and continue the hike to the top.

Knees shaking, the views breathtaking, here we were at the top of the Duomo.

Tomorrow, the Uffizi and the Accademia, where art I've only seen in books, comes alive.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Venice Heartstrings

Who can say what art is? What is beautiful or interesting to one person may not be to another. All I know as an artist, is what it feels like when something pulls me in, draws me closer, sends a spark down my back. I just know it when I see it.

From the day I set foot in Venice, it was like entering into a museum filled with colors that felt like home to me. Ones that make me want to paint--clear bright reds, rich burnt siennas and that beautiful opaque turquoise color that is like a celadon glaze on pottery. The painting was the city itself. Now heading to Florence, I thought a good summary would be some of my favorite shots of this beautiful oasis called Venice.