Lois Reynolds Mead

Art and a pink monkeyflower in a native plant garden…

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Where have…

Where have you been? Sorry, blog, traveling again, but with weak access to the internet, so my plans to blog were scuttled when the iPad wouldn’t save and I only managed a few flics on Facebook the whole time.

We went to Italy (not a big surprise) and for eight days we were in an agriturismo in the Chianti region of Tuscany near Florence. After that we took the train to Venice and stayed for two weeks in an Untours apartment. This was the general outline…

The People…


From the left: Marcie (also known as Marcella when in Italy), I have known since our thirty-year-old sons were in third grade. Around ten years ago she left Northern California and moved to Florence. She now lives in Toronto, but she still has masses of friends in Italy and she was the spark behind the first eight days of the trip. Next to her is Carol who has been on the same shift at the Lindsay Wildlife Hospital with Terry for years and years. (Carol’s husband is not retired, yet, so he did not join us.) Giovanni who owns the agriturismo where we stayed, (also, he drove the van). Bill and M’Liss are on the far side of the table. M’Liss I have known since the thirty-year-olds were three and we were in a baby-sitting co-op together.


Giovanni by the van (maybe the greatest host ever!)

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The agriturismo had skies like you wouldn’t believe and we were supplied with olive oil and wine from the fields surrounding our farmhouse.

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Nobody actually went in the pool. (No time, we were off seeing the sights!)

The places…

First morning (we got there on Monday and our first full day was Tuesday)…some went horseback riding at the Vecchio Texas Horseranch in the direction of Sting’s property and vineyards. (If you pay Sting enough money you can harvest his grapes for him!) The rest of us went to the market in Figline.

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That afternoon, (after a great lunch that included pici pasta (long and thick) and cinghiale ragu over tagliarini) we headed to the Chianti Cashmere Goat Farm. Three hundred goats are guarded against wolves by twelve Pyrenees-like dogs.)


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Great sky there, too…and then a quick stop in a lovely little town called Radda in Chianti.



Then on Wednesday, there was wine tasting in Panzano and a cooking class in Greve.


Oh, yes, there was a lot of eating, too…

On Thursday, we drove to a nature preserve at Montepulciano and then spent late afternoon walking through the hill town of Montepulciano.


There was a group that went off on a bike ride (or maybe it should be admitted that they got lost on a bike ride…)


The clock tower in Montepulciano.

Friday was our first day in Florence with a hike up to Fiesole where Leonardo is thought to have tested his flying machines and then while most of the group toured the Uffizi with Marci’s friend Anna, Terry and I visited the Brancacci Chapel in search of frescoes. That evening we had aperitivos with more of Marci’s friends (Christina and Luca) in two different places. One a converted prison and the other the top of a hotel with a 360° view of Florence.


Saturday we harvested grapes for Giovanni and his family and they gave us a fabulous al fresco lunch.


Dinner that night was Christina and Luca serving us venison and polenta…


Sunday was a hike with another friend, Malo, who is a basket maker and artist. She led us over to her house where she gave us a “snack” under her grape arbor…

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That is a fabulous candle holder made out of two wine bottles…


Dinner was in the local restaurant…

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Monday was the big day! We climbed the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo…Carol got her portrait done by Kelly the street artist…and we visited Piazzale Michelangelo for some great panoramic views of Florence (cold wind, though)…

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Our last day, in this part of Italy, we spent visiting another hill town, Volterra. That night there was a big BBQ cooked by Giovanni and attended by lots of Marci’s friends from different parts of the world. Much toasting to the great week.

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The next day (Wednesday) we were on the train to Venice for two more weeks of adventures, more great skies, and meet-ups with friends.

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This is the outline and I plan more posts with greater detail. If you want to see the week in Chianti from Marci’s perspective you can go here for her blog.

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Under the Tuscan sun…

Terry and I, with the support and help of our friend Marcie Beyatte, are making plans for a sojourn in the Tuscan countryside (25 minutes from Florence) next September. If you would like more information or to join us, Marcie has posted information on her blog site here: http://prontomarcella.com/2014/04/11/join-me-in-italy-in-september-2015-for-nature-and-art/

She includes pictures and descriptions of accommodations, activities, and excursions as well as contact information.

Very exciting!


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Charmed, I am sure…

Our last day in Florence was filled with a visit to Museo di San Marco to see Fra Angelico’s frescoes. Couldn’t take photos inside (a series of small cells for monks, each with its own fresco), but it was a beautiful experience. The outdoor courtyard was a beautiful place, too.



In process restoration of a fresco.





We visited a cafe afterward to await the time of our reservation at the Academia (tour books recommend making the reservations here and at the Uffizi before leaving home). Love the way they do shutters here.

And as we waited in line we enjoyed the roof lines…



First we saw an exhibit of sculptures by Lorenzo Bartolini. Some were marble and some were gesso which gave me a new appreciation for that material.
Like so much during our week in Florence, the Academia was overwhelming. As we walked into the entry corridor to the area where David stands, the corridor created a sight line to the tall statute under a domed skylight and my breath was taken away.
Pages from my travel journal since I couldn’t get shots inside.


I was thinking about David and my reaction to seeing it for the first time. At first I assumed it was so special because it is an iconic image in every history book. Then one night last week I woke up in the middle of the night and remembered that there was something else. I dug down in my jewelry box and found that I still had the bracelet I had gotten in high school when my great aunt took a European vacation and brought me a silver charm from each place she visited. There was the half inch tall David. Back in the day, I am sure I wondered if I would ever see it in person. I’m thinking I should use the bracelet as a guide. Oh, look there is the Eiffel Tower…a Spanish flamenco player…a Venice gondola…a Dutch windmill…a Greek shoe…and my new Euro bracelet stamped with the Florentine lily. I move my arm and it makes music.


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Pitti Palace…

A very short history of Florence: Cosimo I wanted to live here:

(Palazzo Vecchio)
His wife, Eleonora di Toledo did not like it much so she bought this:

Pitti Palace

became the seat of government and is still called the old (vecchio) palace.

became the Medici residence but Eleonora never got to live in it because she died of malaria shortly after the work was begun.

became the symbol for the il Marzocco espresso machine headquartered in Florence. Notice the heraldic lion that symbolizes Florence and the Florentine fleur de lis synonymous with victory and conquest.
Now, this Pitti Palace houses art, but you cannot use cameras inside so my images are out the windows of the view and of the building itself. The Boboli Gardens are also part of the Palace.














Good read: a series of mysteries by Magdalen Nabb featuring Marshal Guarnaccia of the Italian Carabinieri. My favorite so far is “Marshal and the Madwoman” set in and around the Pitti Palace and its neighborhood.

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South of the Arno River is the Oltrarno Neighborhood, a little less touristy than the middle of Florence. Although the Ponte Vecchio doesn’t classify as less touristy, there are other bridges on which to walk across the river.
Ponte Vecchio



This is the way to go to the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. But if you go to the next bridge down (Ponte Santa Trinita) you can skirt all that.
A view from the bridge


We liked the Untours trip that we were on. Besides taking care of the lodging and our arriving in Florence it gave us an orientation meeting and dinner which occurred over in the Oltrarno. Our leader, Mary Jane Poole, walked us through taking the #12 bus over there, which was invaluable info later in the week. Our dinner also included an art walk led by Marta Mandolini an art student who also works for Florence Design Week
It was a great tour even though I could not get very good pictures due to no light, but I did have reference points for later in the week when we went back to the district.



I loved that there was this paper dress in a window

And this art on the barricade around a construction sight




We also signed up for a walking tour of artisan shops with Context Travel.
Our tour guide was Luca Santiccioli

He is an art historian and a super fast translator…fun to watch him in action. First he took us to the studio of silversmith (argenteria) Donato Zaccaro.








The next artisan was Carlo Cecchi who does metal work. If you walked into Gumps in San Francisco and bought a silver business card case he would have made it here in Florence. (No web site, you will just have to go to Gumps or the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella where his pierced metal potpourri containers reside.)


Pressing a euro to make bracelets for those of us on the tour


Lost wax casting


Metal stamping


We passed by Santo Spirito Church





So plain, you ask? It just never could be decided what kind of facade to put on it. Inside, however,
(no pictures allowed) is the most amazing Brunelleschi interior with column after column of serene stone-the grey-blue stone makes it look like a grey-blue forest. Also a crucifix made by Michelangelo at seventeen. His thank you gift because the mortuary allowed him to dissect bodies and learn anatomy. And a spectacular trompe l’oeil ceiling in order to save money.
Over to our third artisan, Gianni Raffaelli, a copperplate etcher at L’Ippogrifo.




The copper plate

Warmed up ink being added (his wife does the printing)








Well done!

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Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore

This building was chosen to be the workshop of the Duomo in the 15th century and in its courtyard Michelangelo sculpted his David. Since 1891 it has housed works removed from the cathedral and it’s collection includes outdoor sculpture. The original panels from the “Gates of Paradise” are on display here after restoration. (The gates I photographed on the Baptistry are copies substituted after the originals had had 500 years of weathering.)
A centerpiece sculpture is this Pieta by Michelangelo c. 1550. It is thought that it was intended for his own tomb and that the hooded figure is a self-portrait. Damage on the left leg and arm is thought to have been inflicted by him in frustration with his failing skills.

These sculptures by Vincenzo Danti from 1569-71 show the beheading of John the Baptist and were originally above the south door of the Baptistry.

My favorite pieces were from the cantoria by Luca della Robbia from 1431-38. He was only 30 at the time and it was his masterpiece. After this, he confined himself to the terra cotta he is more famous for. The sculptures are a celebration of music, song and dance performed by children. The cantoria once was in the Duomo near the organ and it held singers.



For conservation reasons the entire sculptural decoration of the campanile by Giotto is inside the museum. Sixteen statues from the third level and the lozenge shaped panels on the first and second levels. This marble on blue majolica glistened.

This photo shows where the copies are now located. (At the bottom)

Other lovely objects

Tiny, tiny pieces of mosaic.



This museum was renovated in 1999 and includes a wonderful display of drawings and models of suggestions for the facade. Also, pullies, tools, brick forms, and scaffolding from the building of Brunelleschi’s dome and Brunelleschi’s death mask.
Up on the third floor a state of the art restoration laboratory.

A museum not to be missed.

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The paper chase…

Before I went to Italy I posted a list of paper stores that I hoped to visit while I was there. Here is my revised list. First the bad news, said with deep sorrow in Gianni’s voice, Pineider is closed. He said it like a death of a friend. Maybe it was, the country has such a deep respect for handmade craft and there was something about three sons must have been the reverence for family businesses, also. All of the other stores were there, however.
Beginning and ending with Johnson and Relatives. My first and last paper stores I went in while there, they have many branches in Florence and I even went in the branch in Orvieto. They have Il Papiro papers as well as marbling demonstrations.

The paper on top is the one I marbled. It got a little creased in the suitcase. They also had packages of a variety of papers, 5 that were 8×10 and 5 that were 5×7 in each package. Good for collages.


One branch is near the Duomo another on Via Cavour.
Over near the Pitti Palace

At Piazza Pitti 37 is Gianni e figlio.
This is a piece from them and their variety packages.



I was really glad that we decided to go looking for Il Torchio. Over the Ponte Vecchio and up a side street. This side of the Arno River is called the Oltrano and is very dynamic. It was a beautiful walk.

The paper here (Via dei Bardi 17) had more metallic pigment in it (I love glitz) although it doesn’t show up in photos so well.

One not on my original list was Lo Scrittoio at Via Nazionale 126. These have a lot of metallic, also.

A surprise was in the museum store of the Duomo Museum where there was a stack of folded papers that were printed in Italy.


I loved this map.
There was also Carteria Tassotti at Via dei Servi 9/11. These are printed papers, file folders, and small prints.

I had to go in this store on multiple occasions because the silver envelopes at the bottom were actually their packaging for small items. They have beautiful script on them.
The only store we missed was Et Cetera at Via della Vigna Nuova 82 because we never got to that side of the city. From my point of view, this was a successful  paper trail.