Word of the Day – Buona Pasqua

Buona Pasqua: Happy Easter

We had a lovely day, although it didn’t end as we would have liked. After writing for about 4 hours last night, George read me his post on the Easter traditions in Florence. I laughed out loud several times. It was the funniest post he has written to date (and one of his rare writing stints for this blog, since he is so busy with school.) A few minutes later, he told me that he pressed the “save draft” button and lost nearly everything. What remains of his post is about a quarter of what he wrote. Makes me a little heart-sick because it was so good. He doesn’t want to post it until he can re-create what he wrote. In the meantime, I wanted to share a few pictures and a far more prosaic description of our Easter Sunday here in Florence.

The day started out with a few friends coming over to watch the Easter parade come right under the window of our apartment here on Borgo Ognissanti. We heard the drums at 9:00 and soon we saw people marching solemnly down the street in their medieval costumes. There was a drum and bugle corp, women in renaissance garb, and men dressed as soldiers who looked like they were straight out of the crusades (minus all the muck and grime from sacking and pillaging).

Next came the Renaissance cart, carefully rigged with fireworks to be exploded in front of the duomo after the Easter mass. This cart is pulled by 4 chianina bulls, the largest cattle breed in the world. These bulls can weigh up to 3500 pounds (nearly two tons) and their backs stand about 6 feet tall. They are absolutely enormous. They are decked out with flowers in their horns, celebrating spring. The cart is followed by women pulling small carts filled with flowers and eggs.

When this procession reaches the main square of town, the oxen are unhitched and led off for a nice breakfast in the neighboring Piazza della Republica. The cart is parked right outside the door of the duomo, and a wire is attached to it that goes inside the duomo. At the end of the mass, the bishop lights a mechanical dove on fire which then zips out the huge cathedral doors and comes into contact with the cart, starting the fireworks on the cart. While onlookers are waiting for this rigging up to be completed and for mass to end, they are entertained by traditional Tuscan flag throwers and music. This is also the time that lots are chosen for the mid-summer sporting classic – the calcio storico (historical soccer match) – in which men from the four quarters of Florence compete in a soccer match in which it is perfectly acceptable to tackle, throw punches, and brawl their way into position to score goals. The winning team receives a chianina bull (the huge ones that pull the cart) as a prize.

The fireworks display lasts about 10 minutes and at the end, 3 flags unfurl at the top of the cart. It looks and sounds like a battle scene, with smoke everywhere and the deep reverberations of gunfire (fireworks fire) echoing through the piazza. The procession then leaves the piazza to the sounds of drum and bugle.

It began to rain about 45 minutes before the fireworks were to begin, which thinned the crowd considerably. Several of our party went home to get warm, but the stouter souls stayed for the entirety. At the end of the fireworks display, the revelers in costume process out of the square, followed by squadrons of amazed onlookers. We found a group of Renaissance dudes hanging out on the corner and wandered over for a photo. They were happy to oblige. My friend, Diana, and I got into the middle of the big group of guys for photos. They began joking and laughing. When George tried to join in the photo opp, they said, “No, only women!”

A few of us returned back to our place to finish off the mimosas, fresh ricotta, deviled eggs, and other easter delights. This unique and colorful festival is one of the highlights of the spring season here in this city of history and art.

Here are few photos of highlights from the day:

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Word of the Day: Palazzo

For Wednesday, March 28.

Palazzo – (pa-LAH-ttso): Palace, large building, important building.

Today we went to the Palazzo Davanzati here in Florence. It isn’t visited by tourists all that much, so I thought I would write about it. You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside, so I have pulled a couple from the internet to show you.

This palazzo built in the late 1400s, is a fine example of what the home of a wealthy family might have looked like. Although the furnishings and paintaings aren’t necessarily from the renaissance, they are representative of furnishings in a home like this one. The palace has a ground floor entry area, leading up to 4 more floors of living space. The interior courtyard was open to the sky, so if you wanted to move from floor to floor of the house, you had to use stairways that were open to the elements. The ground floor of the courtyard has a big drain in the middle for catching rainwater and directing it to a cistern under ground.

On the first floor (just above ground level), there are wooden trap doors built into the floor so you could see who was coming, and, if it was an enemy you could pour hot oil or molten lead on him. There is a fireplace in this room for just such a purpose. Many of these rooms were covered with tapestries, lined with fur (usually squirrel fur), to keep the warm room. Some pieces of tapestries are on display.

Several of the rooms are decorated with murals of wall hangings, rather than actual tapestries. Above the paintings of wall hangings, they have painted a loggia with various trees, and above that, some Roman arches. Apparently, this was quite common in the Renaissance, but very few examples of this genre remain. The ceiling is beautifully carved and painted wood.










This home was one of the few that had its own well. A bucket on a pully goes down under ground to get water from the well, and then goes up through all 5 floors (including the ground floor) to service each level. It is hidden behind shuttered doors. It also has a bathroom on every floor, with exterior pipes made of clay to carry the waste away.. This was VERY advanced. We didn’t see a kitchen anywhere, which means it was either in the upper stories, or on the ground floor somewhere.

One of my favorite rooms was the “nuptial chamber”, a large bedroom not necessarily always occupied by the husband and wife, but certainly on their first night together. It has a fresco all the way around the top of the room that tells the soap-opera-like story of (I believe) French origin. In it, the king goes away to do whatever kings do while they’re away, leaving his queen at home alone. A young nobleman is visiting, and she decides to seduce him. They go for a walk in the woods where she tries to kiss him. He refuses because he is loyal to the king and besides, he’s in love with someone else. The queen then threatens the young man that if he doesn’t give in to her desires, she will get her revenge. He still refuses. When the king returns home, she tells her husband that the young man forced himself upon her. The king confronts the noble man and he says it isn’t so. In order to convince the king, he reveals that he is in love with a young woman and she is in love with him, too. In order to prove it, he has the king see him and his young lade in the garden together, necking. This is scandalous because nice young women aren’t supposed to be alone with a young man long enough to fall in love, let alone do any kissing. The girl’s family finds out about her love affair with the young man, and she is so ashamed that she kills herself. Her lover comes in and finds her dead and kills himself. The king is so angry with his wife, that he has her beheaded. Very sad story. It is painted on the bedroom wall as a warning to the wife about fidelity.

On the left, the queen threatens the young man. On the right, the young lovers meet in the garden.

Also in this room is a birthing salver, a painted tray given as a symbolic gift for a successful birth in Renaissance Florence. These were often commissioned by wealthy families from workshops around Florence. Only a few dozen remain and most of those are not in very good shape. The one in Palazzo Davanzati is in excellent shape, and it is so much fun. This isn’t a very good photo of it, but you can still see that it is a painting of two putti (cherubs) grabbing each other’s penises. The tray is about 2 feet across and made out of ceramic, I think.










There were also rooms with looms and lace, paintings, beautifully carved chairs, a locking “strongbox”, ceramic hand warmers in the shape of shoes, and many other interesting things. It’s worth a visit if you have the time, and it only costs €2 to get in with complimentary guided tours – one of the best deals in Florence.

We also had our second cooking class last night, but I have written so much about food, I thought I should write a little about art and culture for a change.