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What’s On in Italy: August 2008

Lots of summer festivals are winding up this month. Then, after Ferragosto on August 15, most Italians head for the hills…or the beach. Stay tuned for a full slate of fall events beginning next month.

Puccini Festival. This festival in Torre del Lago (near Lucca, Tuscany) is a must for opera buffs. It runs through August 23.

A Palio or Two. If you are unable to make it to the second installment (August 16) of this year’s Palio in Siena, check out the Race of the Terzieri in Citta delle Pieve, Umbria, from August 13-24.

Tuscan Sun Festival. Does Frances Mayes hear the sound “ca-ching” every time this arts festival takes place in Cortona? Anyhow, it runs through August 10.

Art in Rome. There are plenty of opportunities to cool off indoors at Rome’s many art exhibits in August: The Renaissance of the Arts from Donatello to Perugino at Museo del Corso (through Sept. 7); 15th Rome Quadriennale at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, which showcases 100 contemporary Italian artists and highlights the sculptures of Luciano Fabro (through Sept. 14); City Life 1930-2007 at the Museo di Roma Palazzo Braschi is a collection of 200 photos of Rome street life through the years (through Sept. 21); Coreggio and the Artists of Ancient Times is a comparative study of Coreggio paintings and the artists from ancient times at the Galleria Borghese (though Sept. 14); Vietnam photographs from Italian photographer Ennio Iacobucci at the Museo di Roma in Trastevere (through Sept. 14); and many, many more exhibitions.

Summer 2008 Cell Phone Deal

Gone are the days when you needed a gettone, or token, to make a phone call in Italy. In fact, Italians have been using cell phones since way before they became “necessities” for Americans.

Thanks to locked phones, roaming restrictions, and myriad other technological and corporate roadblocks, it has always been hard – and outrageously expensive – to use an American cell phone abroad. But this summer, TravelCell, an international cell phone service and rental company, is making it easier for travelers to Italy and a 150 other countries by offering free incoming calls and 50% off cell phone rental fees.

Another feature that we like is that TravelCell offers permanent international numbers for frequent travelers. So if you’re going back and forth to Rome for business – and, who isn’t? – this could be a reasonable way for family and business associates to stay in touch.

And, just so it doesn’t seem like we’re playing cell phone favorites, we should mention a couple of cell phone companies that we recommend in the Unofficial Guide to Central Italy. Check out companies and, for their latest rates and deals.

What’s On in Italy: July 2008

As we noted today in an earlier post, tomorrow, July 2, will be the first of this year’s Palio races in Siena. But, that’s not all that’s happening in Italy this month. Here’s the rundown:

Music and Performance Festivals: Roma Estate 2008 continues with various music, comedy, and sports events. Throughout July, Rome will also hold the Rome Jazz Festival in Villa Celimontana, the Parco della Musica, and the Casa del Jazz. Meanwhile, the Spoleto Festival will end on July 13 with a performance by the London Symphony Orchestra. As we mentioned last month, you won’t want to miss the Verona Opera Festival. But, if you’re in Le Marche – Macerata, to be exact – consider a visit to the Sferisterio, Macerata’s grand outdoor arena, which will put on its own opera festival from July 24 through August 12. Even more opera is available for your enjoyment at the annual Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago, Tuscany. Modern music fans will be headed to Livorno July 16-19 for the Italia Wave Love Festival. This year’s festival will feature an impressive lineup, including The Raveonettes, The Verve, Gnarls Barkley, The Chemical Brothers, and dozens of other acts from Italy, Europe, and as far flung as Ethiopia and Brazil. Jazz enthusiasts will want to check out Pistoia Blues Festival, which will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s first album.

AltaRoma – High Fashion in Rome: From July 6-10 at Rome’s National Museum of 21st Century Art (MAXXI), lucky visitors will get to watch gorgeous models walk the runways in the latest haute couture creations.

Christmas in July: Snowboarding in July? In Italy, it is possible at the Big A Snow and Skateboard Camp in Val Senales near Bolzano through July 19. Park entry will be free until then, and the camp will give snow and skateboarders a chance to perfect their craft and mingle with Italian pro riders.

Art Shows: Palermo will feature a large retrospective of 50 years of Spanish art at its exhibit España 1957-2007. Among the many works will be those by Dali, Miro, and Picasso. In Florence, curators at the Palazzo Strozzi have tried to uncover the mysteries behind Impressionist paintings with Painting Light: The Hidden Techniques of the Impressionists, which begins on July 11. Through the end of August, the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, also in Florence, has Leonardo and Raphael, For Example, an exhibit featuring sketches and drawings from the masters’ studios.

Be sure to click on our Tourism Boards page and check out other local happenings throughout Italy.

What’s On in Italy: June 2008

Sorry, folks – we missed Italy’s first big event of June, Republic Day on June 2. (Guess these warm summer days had us daydreaming!) But, there are still plenty of other events to catch this month. Notice, too, that from now on we’re going to differentiate our “What’s On” monthly posts with the year, even though June 2008’s calendar looks very similar to June 2007. We hope this will be helpful to all of you.

Roma Estate 2008: This year’s installment of of Rome’s summer festival, which includes outdoor concerts, theater performances, sporting events, and more, will begin tomorrow, June 5, and run through August 10. Admission is free from Sunday to Thursday and €6 on the weekend.

Giotto’s Heritage, Florence: The works of one of Italy’s best known pre-Renaissance painters Giotto will be curated into a special exhibit in the Uffizi from June 10 until November 2. According to the Italian Tourism Board, “this exhibit aims to document the artistic developments of a period lesser known to the public.”

Music Festivals: Spoleto’s world famous Festival dei Due Mondi begins its 51st edition on June 27 and runs through July 13. As always, the festival will feature opera, ballet, and musical performances from some of the best Italian and international acts. The Opera Festival of Verona, itself a famed festival because of its setting in the city’s ancient Arena, will debut on June 20 with Aida, and will also stage the operas Tosca, Nabucco, Carmen, and Rigoletto during its run through August 31. Other big musical events this month include the Sanremo Festival in Liguria; the Heineken Jammin’ Festival in Venice, which will feature such acts as Linkin Park and The Police; Bruce Springsteen at Milan’s San Siro Stadium on June 25; and the Gods of Metal Tour featuring Iron Maiden, Slayer, Judas Priest, and others in Bologna June 27-29.

Genzano Flower Festival: The Infiorata of Genzano takes place June 14-16. For a preview of the flowers, food, and festivities, check out this video from the 2006 Festival.

Medieval Pageantry: The annual Regata of the Martime Republics (which included Genoa, Venice, Amalfi, and Pisa) will be held this year in Amalfi on June 8. Though this boat race has only been in existence since the 1950s, a procession leading up to the regata features locals in medieval dress. Tuscany’s main medieval events – the Giostro del Saracino in Arezzo and the Gioco del Ponte in Pisa – will take place on June 21 and June 29, respectively. Further, San Gimignano, which is the poster-child for medieval Tuscany, will hold its Medieval Festival June 13-15. Finally, the Umbrian town of Foligno’s Giostro della Quintana, which is similar to the joust tournament in Arezzo, takes place on June 13-14 (and again on the same dates in September).

And more! Check out the Italian Tourism Board’s website or local tourism board websites for more information on events. You can also check out for events in Italy and around the world.

Renaissance Florence According to Rushdie

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

I was browsing a bookstore on the Upper East Side yesterday when I saw that one of the store employees had highlighted Salman Rushdie’s new work The Enchantress of Florence. Yes, the Nobel-prize winning author of Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses is now trying his hand at spinning a tale about Florence during the time of the Medici and combines this story with settings in India and the near East. Here’s a short clip from Michael Dirda’s review in The Washington Post (this review is also on

Set during the 16th century, The Enchantress of Florence is altogether ramshackle as a novel — oddly structured, blithely mixing history and legend and distinctly minor compared to such masterworks as The Moor’s Last Sigh and Midnight’s Children — and it is really not a novel at all. It is a romance, and only a dry-hearted critic would dwell on the flaws in so delightful an homage to Renaissance magic and wonder.

In these languid, languorous pages, the Emperor Akbar the Great dreams his ideal mistress into existence, a Florentine orphan rises to become the military champion of Islam, and a black-eyed beauty casts a spell on every man who sees her. Other characters include Machiavelli and Botticelli, Amerigo Vespucci, Adm. Andrea Doria and Vlad the Impaler (a.k.a. Dracula), not to discount various Medicis and the principal members of the Mughal court of Sikri, India. The action itself covers half the known world: the seacoast of Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the battlefields of the Middle East, Renaissance Italy and the newly discovered New World.

Yet whatever the locale, The Enchantress of Florence is bathed throughout in Mediterranean sunlight and Oriental sensuousness. Its atmosphere derives from the Italian Renaissance epic, especially Ariosto’s magic-filled Orlando Furioso, and from such latter-day reveries of Eastern splendor as Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (which features Marco Polo and Akbar’s grandfather Kublai Khan).

Here, then, is a gorgeous 16th century that never quite was, except in operas, masques and ballets.

Could this be the summer’s big beach read?

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