Buon Natale! Happy Holidays, Italian Style

The holidays are by far my favorite time of year; the fresh smell of pine needles, the sweet sounds of carolers, and the blatant overuse of lighted decorations leading to temporary blindness. It doesn’t get much better than when Santa comes to town.

But what’s it like in Italy? Do they have pumpkin spice lattes and peppermint infused…well…everything? Do they celebrate Black Friday with discounts on their discounts? Are there therapy groups for Italians who get overwhelmed with shopping or depressed by the thought of 48 hours spent with close family? What are these magical days like for our European friends?

Sadly, I have never spent an actual Christmas day in Italy. The holidays always seemed to call me back home. I was however in Florence once very late into December (the 22nd…) due to some very poor planning. It was two years ago and Florence had one of its worst snowstorms ever. Ok…”storm” may be an exaggeration. Being from the east coast originally, a little white powder on the ground has never deterred me from my daily activities. However, I woke up that morning to a city that was literally shutdown. After walking down to my favorite coffee spot, I knew I was in trouble when I saw that almost every museum in town was closed. There was not a lost tourist or frantic Florentine to be seen. Continue reading…

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Michelangelo’s David: More Than Meets The Eye

As someone who lived in Florence for a number of years and lead countless students, tours, friends, and family to see Michelangelo’s David, I have been asked a variety of questions regarding this famous statue. Did Michelangelo model him after the real David? What was David’s last name? Why is his…ahem, you-know-what, so small? Why does he have a mullet? And, finally, the question that forever changed how I thought about the David…What makes him so important and special? The context surrounding this question, posed to me by a 16 year-old student on a study abroad program I was working for, may help set the scene.
It was a scorching day in the middle of July and it was my first time visiting the Accademia with a group of students…60 or so. Between the blazing heat, suffocating humidity, disgruntled teenagers, throngs of anxious tourists, and a “reservation line” that wrapped around the building, the experience was less than ideal to say the least.

The line at the Accademia can be scary.


As we were making our way through the entrance, Olivia – the sweet 16 year-old girl with a heart of gold and zero interest in art history – came to me with her question…What makes the David so special, so important? She quickly told me that she meant no disrespect and genuinely wanted to know why. I took a moment to look around and take in the hundreds and hundreds of people – tired and sweaty, yet eagerly waiting their turn to finally see Michelangelo’s famed David and knew it was a fair question to ask. So, I did my best to explain to her why I thought the David was special enough and important enough for countless visitors from around the world to include “him” on their must-see list while in Italy. I mean…the David is arguably the most famous statue by the most famous artist in the world and many people do not even know why. Well, without further adieu, here are just few of the countless reasons why… Continue reading…

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Florence on fire?! Nope. It’s just Easter.

It’s almost Easter! Hands down my favorite holiday after Christmas. I mean, some huge bunny hides chocolate for me? Who comes up with this stuff? AMAZING. So, in honor of this holiday I thought I would write a little something about Easter in Italy, which is really quite different.

There is chocolate, yes. It does come in an egg form, of course.
But, there is something so much better in addition. There is a 500 hundred year-old cart…ON FIRE!!!!
Read on.

EXPLODING CART!!!

Easter, according to the bible, is the day on which Christ rose from the dead, otherwise known as his Resurrection. If this is at all foggy to you (it can be so confusing!), let’s review. Christ is captured and sentenced to death. He is crucified on what is called Good Friday. He is then buried and is, for all intents and purposes, dead for three days. On the third day, the Sunday morning after Good Friday, he is resurrected.

The Jewish holiday of Passover falls at the same time as Easter, as they are symbolically linked through the bible. Jesus was eating Passover dinner – also known as the Last Supper- with the apostles, right before he was captured.

Now, what hidden chocolate eggs and huge bunnies have to do with the above-described biblical events is anybody’s guess. Whereas, lighting a huge antique cart on fire using a flaming dove as the spark and enjoying the ensuing fireworks display makes COMPLETE sense in light of the events surrounding a holiday celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. Am I right? You think I’m kidding? Here is what our friends at Wiki say:
“In Florence, Italy, the unique custom of the Scoppio del Carro is observed in which a holy fire lit from stone shards from the Holy Sepulchre are used to light a fire during the singing of the Gloria of the Easter Sunday mass, which is used to ignite a rocket in the form of a dove, representing peace and the holy spirit, which following a wire in turn lights a cart containing pyrotechnics in the small square before the Cathedral.”
(Don’t believe me? Check here.)
Ok ok. Sheesh. We’ll explain! Continue reading…

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The Bust of Cosimo I and Ben Affleck

Cellini's Bust of Cosimo I

Above all, Florence is a city of sculpture. Although certain works get more press than others (*cough*…*cough*…the David), the city houses some of the finest Renaissance marble and bronze works around. One of the greatest pieces (in this writer’s humble opinion) is a three foot tall bronze bust of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, created by the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini between 1545-1547. Now I know what you’re thinking: busts sound boring. But this thing is really something to behold. It sits in the bottom floor of the Bargello, tucked in a corner where few even notice it. For those who do, something particular captures their attention: a presence seen in few Renaissance works. Continue reading…

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Florentine cultural heritage November 2010

It was Florentine Cultural heritage week this past Novemebr (12th-20th) and people weren’t messing around. The star of the show was a replica of Michelangelo’s David (made of a mixture of fiberglass and marble dust) which was placed on top of the Duomo (see photo) to recreate the statue’s originally intended home. That’s right. When Michelangelo first put chisel to marble he thought he was making a work that would be one of many to adorn the base of the domes of Florence’s (already very well-decorated) cathedral. However, when Mike was finally done, the finished product was so beautiful they simply could not relocate it to that hard-to-see spot so far off the ground. So they got a group of important Florentines together –including Leonardo da Vinci– to discuss where the statue should be placed. Continue reading…

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