Photo of the Week: Milan’s Cathedral Facade

Photo of the Week: Milan’s Cathedral Facade

Last week I took a train to Milan for the day to see some friends who were visiting. Neither had been to Milan before and while site-seeing was not their top priority, I insisted we at least see the cathedral. “It’s one of the largest cathedrals in the world and the only Gothic cathedral in Italy!” I told them. But I didn’t follow the very advice I have given students hundreds of times for countless summers. It was so nice that day that I left my shawl at my friend’s hotel and arrived at the cathedral in a skirt with nothing to cover my legs. Milan is rather strict about who enters their cathedral (a police guard checks each person’s attire before letting them in). Unlike other churches, however, they do not provide a little cape to wear (the cape or poncho of shame, as we call it). So I walked up to the door, got the look over, and that was it. I couldn’t go in. I sent my friend inside and stood outside to wait. Then a funny thing happened: I looked up at the facade. And I mean really looked, maybe for the first time.
 
While the building itself was begun at the end of the 14th century, the facade, like many church facades in Italy, was not started until much later. Though a series of attempts and design competitions were held, the final version was not begun until the 17th century and wasn’t finished until the 19th, and only then by order of Napoleon. Due to the extensive length of time it took to complete this building and its facade, there were many architectural visions involved that, at times, also clashed. For example, under the archbishop Carlo Borromeo in the 16th century, there was an attempt at a Classical Roman redesign of the gothic structure. A Baroque design for the facade was begun but quickly interrupted by the archbishop’s death. The new patron and his chosen architect opted to return it to its original Gothic splendor. As late as the 20th century, some of these less Gothic elements on the facade were replaced to make it fit more accurately within traditional Gothic style. However, in this photograph we continue to see the unusual blend of Gothic architectural details, as seen in the pointed arches and decorative elements, with figures, such as the two men supporting the base of the two piers, that are clearly Baroque. It may be this uncommon combination of styles over centuries that give the facade such an enduringly unique appearance. One that I am so glad I had the opportunity to fully take in.
 
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What is in Season: Zucchini Flowers (Fiori di Zucca)

This month I tackle: Zucchini Flowers.
Before moving to Italy I had never even heard of zucchini flowers (aka fiori di zucca), let alone seen one. Perhaps I missed them at the grocery store. Perhaps they were in a special aisle. Perhaps they were too implausible for me to comprehend. Or, more likely, I thought they were simply decorative and not edible and conveniently designed for stuffing with cheese. Had I known this, I assure you, I would have made every effort to find them. Luckily, once I moved to Italy, these decorative AND delicious treats became a reality and one that I looked forward to every late spring and summer.
These yellow and green flowers grow out of the side of the zucchini like enormous claws. When they’re in season, you can either buy the zucchinis with their flowers still intact or, at certain stores and markets, just the flowers. Since I cannot imagine getting through the quantity of zucchini required to yield the quantity of flowers I desire on a daily basis, I usually go for the pre-separated flowers. Quality-wise they are roughly the same and cost less without all the extra zucchini attached. Once you’ve found them, purchased them, and brought them home, the question is, of course, how to make these beautiful blossoms into a delicious dinner.
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Photo of the Week: Lucca & Alfredo Catalani

Photo of the Week: Lucca & Alfredo Catalani

While this may look like a dream, it is in fact a real place. A place that feels a little like a dream every time I go there. A place called Lucca. This photo was taken from atop the city’s 16th-century walls that are now home to a park/promenade that circles the city. A park on top of a wall, you ask? Well these are not just any walls. They are more than 10 meters (almost 33 feet) tall, and up to 30 meters (almost 100 feet) thick at the base. On top of all those fun measurements, this massive defensive structure is almost 2.5 miles long. There is a whole other world happening on top of these walls. You can walk on them, ride bikes around them, take a nap in the grass that grows on them, or just enjoy the view from 33 feet above the stunning city of Lucca.
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Finding Florence in London

In a week we will be taking a much-awaited trip to London. I have been looking forward to it for months and, of course, getting slowly overwhelmed by how many things I want to see. If it wasn’t obvious already, I have a bit of an obsession with Italy and Italian Renaissance art. So of course, I am going to England, but everything I want to see is Italian. I know, I know. But it’s just one of those ridiculous things (I blame 19th century art dealers) that in going to London, I will get to see some of the most important works of art from Renaissance Florence. So, instead of fighting it, I thought it would be fun to try and recreate Florence in London: what to see, where to eat, and where to sleep to make me feel at home, away from home.
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Photo of the Week: Notte Bianca

Photo of the Week: Notte Bianca

This is not photoshopped.
 
On April 30th, the city of Florence celebrated Notte Bianca, an all-night event with performances, exhibitions, and late opening hours for stores and museums all over the city. The night leads up to May 1st, the day of the worker, a holiday from work for almost the entire city. Each year the Notte Bianca events focus around a theme that plays out all over the city’s main piazzas and public buildings. The theme this year was “Volare,” to fly, and it included incredible displays on tightropes, dances the sides of buildings, opera singers hoisted into the air by cranes, and enormous sculptures floating overhead, such as the one pictured above in Piazza Santa Croce.
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