Here are some of the latest Italy travel and news articles you may have missed: Florence, Italy, Undergoes a New Renaissance [L.A. Times] Just a Quick Bite With Leonardo [Visiting “The Last Supper” in Milan; New York Times] Florence, Italy: Best Place for Singles [Video; Slashfood] Where All Roads Lead – Book Review of Robert Hughes’ “Rome” [Sydney Morning Herald]…
Every year, as we approach the anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, I think back to what I was doing that day. In fact, I was in Florence. So this year I thought I would share my recollections of the event from the perspective of a tourist in Italy. This may not be all that interesting to you, but I felt it important to get it down on paper/screen before I forget.
The thing that I remember most about 9-11 was that it was a beautiful fall day in Florence. I was in Italy to do research for The Unofficial Guide to Central Italy, but was spending a good chunk of my time in Florence, staying in a different hotel almost every night and day-tripping to other towns. That Tuesday morning, I woke up early at the suburban hotel I had tested out for the evening, re-packed my bags, and hopped on a bus north to Florence, where I checked in at the Hotel Botticelli, a nice boutique hotel near the San Lorenzo Market (Mercato Centrale). I left my luggage in my room and went out to explore some more of Florence before I picked up my sister, a photographer, at the airport later that day.
I recall doing a number of hotel and B&B inspections that day, as well as some shopping and touring around the San Lorenzo district. It was a carefree day – remember, the time difference was six hours. I bought some boots and this corduroy number that seemed pretty chic at the time. I ate gelato. I strolled over to the Duomo, snapped photos, dodged motorini, and just enjoyed the sunny cool breezes and other autumnal goings on the city. There were certainly many tourists in Florence in mid-September, but fewer than I had spotted a year before during the summer. Life was good.
At about 2pm, I hopped in a cab and headed to Peretola Airport, where I was to pick up my sister when her flight arrived at 3pm (approximately 9am New York time). I hung out in the terminal, had an espresso. Her flight arrived about 15 minutes late. We hugged each other and proceeded to get in another cab to head back to Hotel Botticelli.
On the taxi ride back, the driver kept fiddling with the radio. We were hearing bits and pieces of English coming out of the radio…”World Trade Center”…”terrorism”…but couldn’t tell what was going on. The driver was obviously trying to find a station that wasn’t broadcasting the news, which was being translated simultaneously, thereby allowing bits of English to come through. My sister asked me what was going on in the news as she had been on a flight for hours and felt out of touch.
“Oh…I don’t know,” I said. “Last night I was watching the Miss Italia contest. Then there was something about the head of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan being assassinated. I don’t really know who that is but it was a big headline in the news over here.”
“Well, it sounds like something is going on at the World Trade Center in New York,” she said.
“Oh…I think that they’re just playing back the broadcast from when it was bombed in ’93. I think that Sheik’s trial is coming up or something.”
“No,” my sister said. “I think there’s something going on right now at the World Trade Center.”
By the time we thought to listen to the radio more diligently, we were already at our hotel. The driver, wiping sweat off his brow, eagerly helped us with our bags, took our money, and sped away.
As we entered the hotel, everyone was standing around the television in the lobby. The manager said to us, “I am so sorry. One of your towers is about to fall.” We didn’t understand what he meant until we watched the TV for ourselves. Sure enough the first tower did fall. After gawking silently for a good half-hour with the rest of the hotel’s clientele and nearby shopkeepers, we headed up to our room, plopped down on the bed, and turned on the TV, unable to move for hours.
But, we had to go to dinner eventually. Bleary-eyed from watching hours of the same footage and the new scroll ticker on CNN International, we slowly made our way out of the hotel to look for food. We ended up at Trattoria ZáZá, a congenial spot just steps from the hotel that specialized in Florentine and Tuscan home cooking. I remember I had the pappa al pomodoro (bread and tomato soup). ZáZá was the perfect speed for us that night – mostly heavy on other tourists, but extremely friendly. Our minds were focused on the food and service for a brief moment in time. Then we had to walk back to our hotel, where we watched another couple hours of TV before passing out into an uneasy (and, for my sister, jet-lagged) sleep.
The next morning, we scrambled to the newsstand to see if we could get an English-language newspaper. There was one USA Today left and we devoured it from cover to cover as we sipped cappuccinos at some unknown caffè. We became popular with other tourists, too, who wanted to borrow our paper or just chat with us about the day before’s catastrophic events.
I felt a definite camaraderie with my fellow Americans on September 12. In addition to feeling dumbstruck, all of us also felt a little guilty for being away from the U.S. and for being on vacation. We felt guilty about proceeding to go on our tours. And most of all, we were frustrated that we were unable to reach loved ones. Phone lines were clogged and it was almost impossible to get a terminal at an internet café.
The Italian people were incredibly gracious and warm on September 12, too. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. But it did my heart some good to see signs posted in English on the storefronts along the Ponte Vecchio that read, “We stand with our American brothers and sisters.” There was an incredible outpouring of sympathy from everyone we met, even though nothing had actually happened to us personally. Although I was far away from home, I felt comfort being in Italy. (I don’t think many American travelers realize it, but Italians and Americans have a special bond. It’s rare when I meet an Italian who doesn’t have a brother or a cousin living in the States.)
My sister and I spent September 12 getting on with our travels of Florence. To take our minds off of things, we hiked up to the beautiful church of San Miniato al Monte, where there is a spectacular view of the Duomo and the rooftops of Florence.
That evening, a candlelight vigil in Piazza della Signoria drew thousands. I can’t remember much of the service other than that the head of the Jewish community in Florence spoke. Some woman from the English community sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” It seemed as if the whole city was in mourning that night and were gathering around travelers and expats for support.
Let’s face it. Just about every spot in Italy is a lovely place to take a photograph. But there are some spots that are truly special, places that make friends and family go “Wow!” when they see the photos on Facebook or in the picture frame on the mantle piece. Far beyond the hokey photographs of “holding up” the Leaning Tower of Pisa or posing with modern-day gladiators in Rome, here are some lovely places to record some memories.
The Faraglioni Rocks, Capri
I have to admit that I got the idea for this post from looking at my friend Laura’s photo on her Ciao Amalfi blog. Take a look at her blog and her profile pic and you’ll see exactly why I picked this location as one of Italy’s most beautiful places for a photo op. The Faraglioni Rocks are a group of three mini rock islands that have been known since Roman times. I Faraglioni, which are named Stella, Faraglione di Mezzo, and Faraglione di Fuori (Scopolo), are some of the most photographed features in southern Italy and you can even get up-close photographs of the rocks on a boat tour around the Bay of Naples. Faraglione di Mezzo even has a natural arch in it, which is a thrill to go through.
From San Miniato al Monte, Florence
The typical place that tourists go to take photos of Florence – with the giant Duomo dome in the background – is Piazzale Michelangelo, a hill high above the city that is accessible by motor coach and has a huge parking lot buzzing with postcard vendors and “professional” photographers. Don’t get me wrong – this is a lovely place for a photo op. But even better is in front of the church of San Miniato al Monte, which is only about a five minute walk from Piazzale Michelangelo. San Miniato itself is a beautiful, medieval, green-and-white-marble church with spectacular interior mosaics where you’ll sometimes hear Gregorian chanting. If you enjoy getting out an about rather than hopping on board a motorized tour, you can hike a small path from the Lungarno along the city walls up to San Miniato. It can be a bit of a challenge, but the views are so much more rewarding once you make it to the top.
Atop the Duomo, Milan
You can scale the heights of the Duomo in Florence, the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome, and go up into the domes and attics of countless churches and bell towers in Italy. But none of these locations give you the kind of fabulous backdrop that you get from the top of the Duomo in Milan. The gorgeous Gothic church in the heart of Milan is a great photographic subject in itself and you can certainly capture some lovely pics of the whole cathedral while standing in the vast Piazza del Duomo. But take a trip to the Duomo’s roof and it’s as if you’re walking atop an intricately decorated wedding cake. A trip to the top also affords you nearer views of the church’s spires, statues, and gargoyles as well as a panorama of the Alps. Book your tickets to the Duomo rooftop.
Rome – the Bocca della Verità and Tomb of Cecilia Metella
When you’re in Rome, there is pressure to get that perfect shot with either the Colosseum or St. Peter’s Basilica in the background. Indeed, you should get those shots – for the Colosseum go up to Colle Oppio Park for a good angle and for St. Peter’s, the perch of the Pincio Park above Piazza del Popolo can’t be beat. But I like to suggest two classic places for a Roman photo op.
The first is the Bocca della Verità (the Mouth of Truth), an ancient manhole cover that is located in the entryway of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin around the corner from the Campidoglio. You may remember this landmark if you’ve seen the film Roman Holiday which starred Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. The legend is that if you place your hand inside the mouth of the god/monster depicted on the cover that your hand will be chopped off if you haven’t been telling the truth. A photo in front of the Mouth of Truth is a fun diversion. And if it’s good enough for Audrey Hepburn, then it’s good enough for you.
Another great locale to have your photo snapped is among the ruins along the Appia Antica. In the days of the Grand Tour it was de rigueur to have your portrait painted among the remnants of antiquity. One of the most evocative portraits of this kind is of the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who lived in Rome in the late 18C. The artist Johann Tischbein painted Goethe in the Countryside with the distinctive tomb of Cecilia Metella in the background. This is still a major monument in the Appia Antica park, and you can still enjoy a nice hike to the tomb on the weekend when the thru-ways are closed to traffic. While you won’t get the completely uncluttered panorama that Goethe enjoyed when he sat for his portrait, you will have a unique shot for the mantle. Kudos if you can also strike the same leggy pose!
The pastel houses of Portofino, a fishing village turned wealthy tourist haven in the region of Liguria so lovely that developers in Orlando, Florida, had to replicate it, make for a romantic backdrop for an Italy travel memory. Ideally, you want to get a photo of yourself in front of Portofino’s colorful port while on board a yacht. But if you can’t make that happen, there are a couple of options. One overlook is from the grounds of Castello Brown, a fortress located high above the bay. This ancient castle (some hypothesize that its foundations have been there since Roman times), however, is typically rented out for private events like weddings and conferences. It’s also a little high up for my liking. Another even better place to go to get a shot of the picturesque bay is to the church of San Giorgio, located on the Salita San Giorgio. Of course, there are also plenty of hotels located along this street where you can pay to see that bay view from your window every morning.
So these are just a handful of some of my favorite Italy photo locations. Where else would you suggest? Please comment below or find me on Twitter @italofileblog.
Roaming Rome, in a Martini Mood [L.A. Times]
Do the Splits on the Swiss and Italian Ski Slopes [The Independent]
Sicily’s Secret South [The Guardian]
Italy in Full (Palermo, Sicily) [Conde Nast Traveler]
Artists Lead the Way in the Oltrarno District of Florence [New York Times]
The Best Way to Travel in Tuscany [CN Traveler’s Perrin Post]
Photo © ventofreddo
Italy’s modern art museums are often overlooked by the masses, who prefer, not surprisingly, to examine the country’s ancient and Renaissance-era treasures. But with the debut of Rome’s new, Zaha Hadid-designed MAXXI Museum, the capital now has a very high profile exhibition space that is itself a work of art.
New York Times’ The Moment magazine describes the museum, which is dedicated to exhibitions on 21st century art, this way:
[It is a] series of sky-lighted concrete canyons that tilt and swell, swerve like a velodrome and twist into what appears from the exterior to be a monumental hard-shelled calla lily, a pliable mausoleum that seems to play the sobriety of a de Chirico off the cooling, warping effects of a work by Anish Kapoor. Otherworldly in some respects, the museum also resonates with the character of Rome. The MAXXI could easily be a composite sketch of Rome’s contradictory but fluid, theatrical, and sweeping architectural personality — which is not unlike its architect’s.
Such excitement over a new building in the Eternal City made me think that others may wish to know more about some other modern art museums in Italy. Here’s a brief list:
Rome and Lazio
Before the MAXXI, Rome had the National Gallery of Modern Art. This museum is housed in a late 19th century building in the Villa Borghese and features art from Pirandello, De Chirico, Kandinsky, and more. There’s also the MACRO, a museum occupying two reclaimed buildings (and a new wing in 2010) in the Porta Pia neighborhood. It features “some of the most significant expressions characterizing the Italian art scene since the 1960s.” Other places in Rome to see modern art include the PalaExpo in the Quirinale district (which has, by the way, a great cafeteria); the Auditorium Parco della Musica, a music hall and occasional exhibition space in Flaminio which was designed by the celebrated architect Renzo Piano and opened in 2002; and the Giorgio de Chirico House-Museum near Piazza di Spagna.
Elsewhere in Rome’s region of Lazio, check out the town of Anticoli Corrado, located about 40 km northeast of the capital and featuring a trove of artist studios and the Civic Gallery of Modern Art. The best write-up about this little town can be found on the Vagabondo-Italy website.
Venice is on this list for one museum only: the Guggenheim. Located in Peggy Guggenheim’s former palazzo on the Grand Canal, the museum “is the most important museum in Italy for European and American art of the first half of the 20th century.” What does that include? Some of the famous names in Mrs. Guggenheim’s collection include Braque, Duchamp, Modrian, and Giacometti. Ernst, Pollock, and Magritte. Calder, Brancusi, Klee, and Picasso. Just about anyone you can think of from the world of contemporary art is there. The Guggenheim also attracts numerous big-name exhibits. Currently, it is hosting the Masterpieces of Futurism (through Dec. 31, 2009). See my article on Planning a Visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for About.com.
Of course, Venice also is the host city for the Biennale. Despite its name, this celebration of contemporary art is happening almost all of the time. This year (2009), saw the Venice Biennale of Art, Cinema, Theatre, and Music. However, in August 2010, the 12th Biennale for Architecture will kick off in the Lion City.
Florence and Tuscany
Finding modern art in Renaissance-heavy Tuscany is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. But modern art is there. In Florence, try the Marino Marini museum, which features the Italian artist’s works, including numerous sculptures of horses. Also, what could be more modern than fashion? Even if you can’t afford to shop until you drop, you can enjoy looking back – and forward – at the styles created by Florentine Salvatore Ferragamo in the Museo Ferragamo. (As of this writing, the Museo Ferragamo is sponsoring a shoe design contest for artists. Deadline Dec. 10, 2009!)
There are several more opportunities in Tuscany to enjoy modern art. Just north of Florence, in the city of Prato, is the Luigi Pecci Contemporary Art Museum. It features mid- to late-20C art, including photography, from Italian and international artists. If you’re in Pisa, you can savor some pop art with Keith Haring’s Tuttomondo mural. It’s one of the last works ever created by the American artist. Two more outdoor modern art spaces in Tuscany are gardens. In Chianti, check out the Chianti Sculpture Park, whose name says it all, and the Tarot Garden (Il Giardino dei Tarocchi), an unusual project of sculptures based on tarot cards that was the vision of artist Niki de Saint Phalle. The Tarot Garden is located in Capalbio in the province of Grosseto.
Our final stop on this modern art tour of Italy is in Torino (Turin), whose skyline is a work of contemporary art. The spire of the Mole Antonelliana, gives Torino its distinctive look and today houses Italy’s National Museum of Cinema (Museo Nazionale del Cinema). The moving image is, to some, the ultimate in contemporary art, and the MNC contains a vast collection of archival film footage, books and magazines about film, scripts, costumes, and a cinema. Among the masterpieces in the collection are an 18C movie camera (the first?), Peter O’Toole’s costume from Lawrence of Arabia, an original poster from the Rita Hayworth classic Gilda, storyboards from Star Wars, and a script of the Italian dialogues from the 1933 version of King Kong.
While Venice has the Biennale, Torino has the Torino Triennale Tremusei, a triennial exhibition of emerging artists at three of Torino’s contemporary art spaces: the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, the Castello di Rivoli, and the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, also known as the GAM. The last Triennale in Torino was in 2008 (the 2nd incarnation). So, if my calendar and math serve me right, T3 will take place in 2011. Stay tuned.
I know I’ve missed a ton of other fine contemporary art museums in Italy. So if you have suggestions for what else should be on this list, please add your comments below.