The 2009 Program Thursday, Sep 17 2009 

The following are selected entries from our successful 2009 program!

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The Boboli Gardens Friday, Sep 11 2009 

After two individual conferences first thing this morning, we headed over to the PItti Palace and a visit to the Boboli Gardens, a multi-acre “park” that includes fountains, grottos, and fabulous grotesques. The weather was comfortable enough to make the visit entirely enjoyable.

The students were tasked with creating two separate works in the gardens: one utilizing color and the other, linear perspective. Colors in September are relegated to varying shades of green, but there were a few blooms to be found if you looked carefully.

As for perspective, the arbor-lined walks and architectural features of the garden provided numerous vistas.

More student conferences in the afternoon. The majority of the students are planning a day trip to the Cinqueterra tomorrow. The weekend begins!

Perspective — one point or two? Thursday, Sep 10 2009 

Today, the secret to illusionistic space was revealed, Through a series of drawing exercises, centered around string grids hung on the two windows of our classrooms, we wrapped our heads around the concept of the “Renaissance Window”.

Several hours later, there were a few “ah hah” moments and, at at the very least, a new appreciation for the challenges of creating illusionistic space on a two-dimensional plane.

We began individual student conferences this afternoon, a chance to meet one-on-one with each student to check-in, get some feedback and look at the work she/he has done thus far. The book arts class and the sketchbooks and journals that resulted have been especially popular.

In the evening, we headed out to Il Gatto e’ la Volpe (the Cat and the Fox) for dinner. Substantial portions of bruschetta, pasta and salad. A great end to a great day.

Florence as “home” – what a concept! Thursday, Sep 10 2009 

anderson ospitale entrance portalThe morning after the games was spent (for some) sleeping in and soaking up the ambiance of the Residence Mugello. After check-out, we left our bags at the hotel and had a few hours for some last minute shopping. Several knives were purchased as gifts as well as other assorted souvenirs.

We boarded a public bus and began the one-hour ride back to Florence. Once again, while we were not very far away in terms of miles, we all felt that we had journeyed far.

Back in the Ospitale, there was a general consensus that laundry needed to be done. We will keep tomorrow low-key as we recover from our excursion with some studio time and individual student conferences.

Back to Scarperia and the medieval games Thursday, Sep 10 2009 

After a hearty breakfast (prepared courtesy of several of our students), we packed up, cleaned up and trucked down the hill to meet our bus. Because of road construction, it was unable to make it up the hill to pick us up…

We arrived in Scarperia and the Residence Mugello, a hotel not from from the historic center of the town. What a contrast to our “primitive” accommodations of the last two days — suites of doubles, triples and quads with bathrooms ensuite and a swimming pool! We checked in and had several hours to shower, sit poolside or explore the town some more. Scarperia, by the way, is one of the four leading centers of traditional knife-making in Italy.

At 2:00, we met Cristina who works at the Palazzo di Vicari which houses Scarperia’s knife museum. She gave us a private, guided tour of the palazzo and included a great deal of information about the history of the town. The knife museum was fascinating.

We then gathered for dinner before heading over to the medieval games where we had amazing seats in the bleachers that surrounded the Piazza Vicari. Four neighborhoods compete in the games (there were previously semi-finals and finals to determine which neighborhoods compete in the final games.) Viola (purple), Rossa (pink), Bianchi (white) and Nero (black) were the final competitors. The remaining bleachers were divided into quarters to accommodate each of the teams’ passionate fans.

The events in the games are:
1) knife-throwing
2) brick-walking
3) barrel-racing
4) tug of way
5) pole climbing

Each team had 6 men, obviously chosen for their skills on each of the events. At the end of the competition, there was a three-way tie that was broken with a second round of knife-throwing. Viola was victorious!

Interspersed between the games were trumpets, horns and bandoliers (flag bearers) who performed precise drills. The games were witnessed by a stage full of “nobility” in astonishingly beautiful robes and dressed of velvet, pearls, and brocade.

The games were over by 12:30 and the town continued to celebrate into the night. These people have clearly been doing this for 7 centuries and have got it down. This was a event never to be forgotten!

Casale di Villore — what it is (and what it isn’t) Thursday, Sep 10 2009 

Two things you should know:

1) It is typical for the young people of Tuscany to go out in the countryside at various points of the year to contribute their labor to the efforts of the contadini (farmers) who continue to practice agricultural traditions that are centuries old.

2) This experience was to be completely unique from our experiences thus far in Florence.

The Casale di Villore is the brainchild of Simone, a man completely dedicated to restoring lives and restoring the agricultural traditions of the countryside. In cooperation with other social services organization, he oversaw the restoration of the Prior’s residence, a large home adjacent to a church somewhat remote in the area of Vicchio. The structure houses groups (students as well as other organizations) in return for providing labor on the farm. In addition, the Casale di Villore offers these experiences to other groups (people with mental illnesses, substance abuse problems, or prison records) in an attempt to provide them with new skills and the feeling of accomplishment. At the time we were in Villore, we were the only occupants of the house.

The house is rustic — there is no denying that we had to shift gears and accept that we were 22 people in an accommodations that had three toilets and four shower heads. There are also “critters” — spiders, bees, flies, lizards and, at least in one room, a scorpion. This may qualify as camping, with a “pack in, pack out” sort of feel.

After breakfast, we walked up the hill to where Simone lives with his girlfriend, two sweet dogs, two donkeys and 20 chickens (and a rooster). He told us about the history of the place and the mission of his organization. His connection to the land is palpable and his convictions admirable.

We broke up into two work groups — one that was charged with splitting and stacking wood. The other group trekked into the orchard and began the task of clearing the ground around the castagna (chestnut) trees. Armed with machetes, clippers and a saw, we chopped and hacked away the invasive growth that would impair the harvest of chestnuts.

The hill is steeply sloped and the chestnuts are gathered by hand. In late September, they string nets at the bottom of the hill and as the chestnuts fall of the trees, they tumble down the hillside and are collected in the nets. The areas around the trees must be cleared of brush to prevent the chestnuts from getting tangled up.

The work was vigorous (and definitely required some skill), but Simone was patient as he gave us direction.

After several hours, we wrapped up, admired the work we had accomplished, and went down to the Casale to make lunch. Pasta aglia olio with croutons and cheese was accompanied by a hearty green salad. The rest of the day was free to nap, draw, hike, or read.

A preparation crew was assembled to make dinner. We were expecting guests — Simone and his friends as well as our friends from the Ospitale — Mara, Tomaso and Caterina. Simone brought fresh figs, an amazing tomato salad and an incredible Italian salami. The appropriate way to eat the salami was wrapped around one of the fresh figs. Unbelievable. We prepared two types of risotto (one with pesto and the other with porcini mushrooms and leeks), grilled sausage, green salad and bread. The aromas in the kitchen were indescribable. Just like camping, there’s something special about food prepared this way!

Works inspired by our stay…

Offline and into the Tuscan countryside Thursday, Sep 10 2009 

Sunday morning began a three-day field trip that took us slightly north of Florence but seemed to transport us much farther, both temporally and geographically!

We boarded our charter bus in the morning and began the trip to Scarperia in the heart of the Mugello. Our goal is to participate in the festivities around “Diotto” — the celebration of the town’s birth as a point of protection on the road between Florence and Bologna. This was to be the 703rd festival and we were determined to take part.

On the way to Scarperia, we stopped at the Villa Medici in Pratolino — an immense property which once contained multiple fountains, water spectacles and grottos. The centerpiece of the estate is the Giant, an enormous sculpture by Buontalenti of a giant emerging from the rocks. We spent a good deal of time exploring the grounds before getting back on the bus for Scarperia.

Sunday in Scarperia was the medieval town — the streets are covered with straw and artisans set up their booths to demonstrate and sell traditional products (books, wood carvings, metalwork, foods, etc.) This medieval ambiance is further enhanced by the what seemed to be the entire populace of Scarperia dressed in authentic period costumes. Not just your typical “townspeople”, but also the more “colorful folk” — lepers, witches, prostitutes and fools. The concession stand produced spiedini (skewers) of chigale (wild boar) sausage, porcini soup, farro salad — all delicious.

We spent the afternoon there, then boarded our bus for the trip to Casale di Villore which was to be our lodging for the next two nights. More about the Casale in the next post.

On our way, we stopped at the market at Forteto to pick up food supplies for our stay in Villore. This is a farmers’ cooperative (20+ families) that offers the best of local produce — vegetables, fruits, cheese, meat, etc. With a few meal plans in mind, we checked out with three full shopping carts.

On a windy road, midway up the Tuscan hills, is Casale di Villore. We unloaded, got situated in our rooms, then began the preparation of dinner. Baked penne with some of the freshest ricotta known to mankind, focaccia, salad and cookies for dessert. A bonfire and bed. Out here, the nights are incredibly quiet and there is no ambient light to distract you from a quality sleep!

The weekend begins on Thursday afternoon, sometimes… Friday, Sep 4 2009 

Because of a three-day excursion to the Mugello coming up on Sunday, we have declared Thursday the new Friday! Several students are planning to travel to Rome for a few days, so we ended program activities at noon today to give them the opportunity to depart so they could have at least two nights there before coming back Saturday evening…

The morning began with a presentation on the topics of color, color theory, landscape painting and watercolors and pastels. The students then took their materials in hand and had at it — testing color intensities, hues, tints, saturation, etc.

The rest of the day was “libero” — departures for Rome, walking around the city of Florence, enjoying a brief downpour of much-needed rain.

Uffizi, panoramic charcoals and artisan workshops. Thursday, Sep 3 2009 

We booked out of the hostel early today to be nearly first in line at the Uffizi this morning. To make a reservation costs another 50% above the regular ticket price, so we took a chance and got there at 8:00. By 8:25 we were in the museum with hardly anyone else for the first 90 minutes. It is a luxury to be in a room of Botticelli with only a handful of your new friends.

Many hours later, we were back at the hostel. We gathered up the charcoal drawings made yesterday in the Campo of Siena. Each student identified a building on the campo to draw — we placed them in a circle on the floor of our studio and reproduced the 360-degree view that one would have if standing in the middle of the campo. The use of charcoal provided continuity between the different interpretations of the architecture and, although messy to use, everyone found the results to be satisfying.

Marzio and Caterina, both staff at our hostel, took us for a walk around our neighborhood, San Frediano. Marzio has lived here all of his life and is a walking history of the area. San Frediano is the locus for artisan workshops, some of which have been in continual use for generations if not centuries. We visited two: the furniture restorers (Fabio and Luca — third generations craftsmen) and the workshop of another restorer of wooden decorative objects.

We also learned that every stone that makes up the pavement of the streets and piazzas in Florence are numbered because they are of irregular pattern. When workmen come to take up the stones to dig under the streets, they can look underneath each of them to understand how to replace them correctly!

Back to the hostel for dinner. We ordered pizzas from our local rosticceria (pizza margarita, margarita with salsicce/sausage, and quattro stagione or “four seasons” with olives, mushrooms, ham and artichoke.) On our way back from picking them up, a few drops of rain fell, providing a slight sense of hope that the temperatures might drop a bit. The pizza was fantastic and a great ending to a busy day.

Siena – Our first field trip Tuesday, Sep 1 2009 

Up early and on the train to Siena, a perfect gem of medieval Italy. The one hour, twenty-minute train ride got us there by 10:45. A walk up the hill to the city and we found ourselves in the amazing campo, completely lined by incredible buildings, including the Torre de Mangia, the city tower.

We had a bit of a wait, but were able to climb the tower and view the haphazard streets of Siena as well as view our next stop, the Cathedral. For many students, this was an incredible experience as every square inch of the interior is decorated with marble, fresco, bronze and paint.

We then went back to the campo to draw — the idea was for everyone to pick a viewpoint from the middle and we will try and put together a panoramic from the 19 drawings.

Once back in Florence, it was only rational to stop by our gelato place for a bit of refreshment!

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