The Moulin Rouge, Paris

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I’ve never been to a performance at the Moulin Rouge, and it is unlikely I ever will go.  Nevertheless, on my recent trip to gay Paree, I took a guided tour through the area of Montmartre and this is where we started.

It threw me right back to late 19th century French painting, especially with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  How I do love his posters of this genre!  Before I add some of them, please enjoy these candid shots taken on a cold December morning in 2018.

 

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And now, the real thing(s):

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The history of the American consulate in Florence and #Insieme200

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The American Consulate in Florence is part of the United States Mission to Italy and is located at Lungarno Vespucci 38, in the former Palazzo Calcagnini (built 1876-77). This palazzo was purchased in 1949 by the American government, to serve as the site of the Consulate General.

Long before the United States acquired the palazzo however, its presence was already in Tuscany.  The first American consulate to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was established in Livorno (then known in English as Leghorn), with consular agent Phillip Felicchi being appointed on 29 May 1794.

For some reason, Tuscany would not recognize any consulates posted in Florence, so the first U.S. Consular Agent to serve Florence was Vice Consular Agent James Ombrosi, who was under mandate from the U.S. Consulate at Leghorn (Livorno). Ombrosi was accredited on May 15, 1819.

In the years after the U.S. Civil War and the transition of the capital of the Kingdom of Italy from Florence to Rome, the U.S. Consul General was James Lorimer Graham. Graham was a New York banker and art collector; he and his wife Josephine lived in a building that is now known the Palazzo dei Congressi.

In the early 1870s, Florence was suffering the grave economic consequences of the sudden transfer of the capital, a move that left the city deeply in debt and had bankrupted many investors when boom turned to bust in “Firenze Capitale.”

Resulting higher taxes and slower growth led to widespread poverty. Mrs. Graham was a committed philanthropist back in New York, and so responded to this situation in a way familiar to her. She rallied members of the “American Colony” and started selling mistletoe baskets and Christmas trees to raise funds for the poor.

Then there was the more fraught holiday season of December of 1944. Though Florence had been liberated by the Allied Forces in August of that year, there was little rejoicing along the Gothic Line—the German defensive line that stretched from Carrara to Pesaro—as fighting raged and civilian and combatant casualties mounted.

In the early morning hours of a bitterly cold December 26, Axis forces launched a counter-offensive in the Garfagnana region of Lucca province, focused on and around the town of Barga.

The first target was the hilltop village of Sommocolonia, garrisoned by several hundred African-American “Buffalo Soldiers” and a handful of local partigiani.

During the fighting, German forces drove the Allied troops back. To avoid a complete rout, Army Lieutenant John R. Fox remained in his position in the Sommocolonia bell tower, calling in artillery strikes on the town and finally on his own position in order to slow the Axis advance. For Fox’s bravery and self-sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the U.S.’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.

Today the American International League of Florence (AILO), organizes annual events to collect thousands of euro each year that are then donated to local charitable organizations.

Incidentally, the United States also has 5 other representations in Italy: American Consulate in Palermo; American Consulate in Naples; American Consulate in Milan;
American Consulate in Genoa; and the American Embassy in Rome.

The American Consulate in Florence represents one of 402 foreign consular and diplomatic representations from around the world in Italy.

 

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2019 marks 200 years of American presence in Florence

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Do you have personal experiences or stories that were passed on to you about historic events that occurred in Tuscany, Emilia Romagna or the Republic of San Marino? Were you a Mud Angel? Did you have relatives who worked with the American Red Cross during World War I or witnessed the 5th Army’s fight along the Gothic Line in World War II? Are you doing something now that is strengthening the U.S.-Italy partnership? If so, the U.S. Consulate General in Florence would love to hear from you!

The Florence American consulate is collecting stories in anticipation of the bicentennial of its diplomatic presence in Florence in 2019.

Throughout that year, we hope to see a series of events across Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and the Republic of San Marino exploring all facets of our past, present, and future together.

These commemorative events and related information will be highlighted on the Consulate’s social media platforms with the #Insieme200 (#Together200) hashtag.

Our 200 years here are built on a foundation of millions of personal and organizational ties, so we need your help to properly celebrate our bicentennial!

If your organization has an idea for a 200th anniversary commemorative event—large or small—or wants to get involved with the events being organized by the Consulate, please let us know:CGFIProtocol@state.gov.

To receive updates on the Consulate’s 200th anniversary and more, join the Consulate’s community by liking its Facebook page @USCGFlorence or following on Twitter!

Have you ever considered the invention of the train and how it revolutionized the world?

I never have.  But, consider this:

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On a hot August day in 1837, Queen Marie-Amélie—wife of the French King Louis-Philippe—two of her daughters, assorted ministers, and other dignitaries gathered at the newly built embarcadère de Tivoli, at the northern limits of Paris….[They boarded a train and] the train pulled away from the platform and out of Paris, soon speeding through the countryside on the 13 mile, 26 minute journey to Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

It was the maiden voyage of France’s first passenger railway line, the most visible sign that the Industrial Revolution had come to Paris. Those on board were fascinated by the experience.

Each of the travelers in the car in which we were sitting expressed his impressions in his own way.

One was surprised that, despite such speed, it was as easy to breathe as if we were walking slowly on the ground; another was in ecstasy at the idea that he sensed no movement and felt as though he were sitting in his bedroom; yet another noted that it was impossible to have the time to distinguish, from three feet, on the sand, an insect of the size of a bee, or to recognize the face of a friend; and finally another noted with glee the surprised attitude of the country people upon the passing of this column of smoke and this long succession of cars without horses, sliding along with a slight buzz, and disappearing in the distance almost immediately.

Others, more grave, declared that the good that would come of this invention was incalculable.

The first major intercity lines, from Paris to the city of Rouen, in Normandy, and to Orléans, south of Paris, were inaugurated on two successive days in May of1842.

 

 

Kirkland, Stephane. Paris Reborn, St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.

The waterlilies of Claude Monet

Yesterday I saw the new film, The Waterlilies of Monet, at the Odeon theater in Florence.  I didn’t know much about the film, just that it featured Monet and his waterlily paintings.  That was enough to get me there.  I’m happy I saw it.

The film is a bit strange, part mystical, part historical.  I don’t think it will have wide appeal, but it appealed to me.  Here’s info from the press release, in first Italian and then a rough translation. And the film’s trailer.

Milano – Per soli tre giorni, il 26, 27 e 28 novembre, in esclusiva nei cinema LE NINFEE DI MONET. UN INCANTESIMO DI ACQUA E DI LUCE. Un percorso, narrato da Elisa Lasowski de Il trono di spade, che ci porta alla scoperta del più grande progetto pittorico di Claude Monet: le Grandes Décorations, le ninfee.

For just three days, on November 26th, 27th and 28th, exclusively at MONET’s WATERLILIES cinemas. A SPELL OF WATER AND LIGHT. A journey, narrated by Elisa Lasowski of The Game of Thrones, leads us on a discovery of Claude Monet’s greatest pictorial project: the Grandes Décorations, the water lilies.


Il film, prodotto da Ballandi Arts e Nexo Digital, condurrà il pubblico a Parigi, tra il Musée Marmottan, il Musée de l’Orangerie e il Musée D’Orsay, a Giverny con la Fondation Monet, la casa e il giardino dell’artista, e tra i magnifici panorami di Étretat. A guidare gli spettatori alla scoperta dei luoghi, delle opere e delle vicende del maestro, ci sarà Elisa Lasowski, attrice ne Il Trono di Spade, mentre la consulenza scientifica sarà affidata allo storico e scrittore Ross King, autore del best seller Il mistero delle ninfee. Monet e la rivoluzione della pittura moderna, edito in Italia da Rizzoli.


The film, produced by Ballandi Arts and Nexo Digital, takes the public from  Paris, between the Musée Marmottan, the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Musée D’Orsay, to Giverny with the Fondation Monet, the artist’s house and garden, and shows the magnificent views of Étretat. Guiding the audience’s discovery of the places, works and events of the master, is Elisa Lasowski, actress in The Game of Thrones, while the scientific advice will be entrusted to the historian and writer Ross King, author of the best seller The mystery of water lilies; Monet and the revolution of modern painting, published in Italy by Rizzoli.

Il grande progetto di Monet
Seguendo il percorso della Senna, il film prende le mosse da Le Havre, dove Monet trascorre il primo periodo della sua vita artistica, e risale il fiume verso gli altri paesi dove ha dimorato: Poissy, Argenteuil, Vétheuil, e infine Giverny. Qui, a 70 anni di età e ormai quasi cieco a causa della cataratta, mentre piovono le bombe della Prima Guerra Mondiale, Monet concepisce il progetto di dipinti di enormi dimensioni, nei quali lo spettatore possa immergersi completamente. Il soggetto, le sue amate nymphéas. Dopo dieci anni, nel Musée de l’Orangerie di Parigi, la sua speranza trova finalmente il giusto compimento, nelle magnifiche sale ovali da lui stesso disegnate. Nel maggio del 1927, l’amico George Clemenceau inaugura finalmente il museo dedicato alla Grand Décoration.

The great project by Monet
Following the route of the Seine, the film starts from Le Havre, where Monet spends the first period of his artistic life, and goes up the river to the other areas where he lived: Poissy, Argenteuil, Vétheuil, and finally Giverny. Here, at 70 years of age and now almost blind because of the cataract, while the bombs of the First World War are raining down, Monet conceives the project of paintings of enormous dimensions, in which the viewer can immerse himself completely. The subject, his beloved waterlilies. After ten years, in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, his paintings find superb fulfillment, in the magnificent oval rooms he himself designed. In May 1927, his friend George Clemenceau finally inaugurated the museum dedicated to Grand Décoration.

19th century Florence

Here are wonderful images of how Florence looked as late as 1870s:

 

 

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The façade was then left bare until the 19th century.
In 1864, a competition held to design a new façade was won by Emilio De Fabris (1808–1883) in 1871. Work began in 1876 and was completed in 1887. This neo-gothic façade in white, green and red marble forms a harmonious entity with the cathedral, Giotto’s bell tower and the Baptistery, but some think it is excessively decorated. The whole façade is dedicated to the Mother of Christ.

 

 

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This is an oil painting of La Porta di San Gallo by Odoardo Borrani, c. 1880.  I admire it for its flavour and for showing us how the medieval walls around Florence still looked.   

The city walls surrounding Florence were widened and rebuilt many times over the millennia .

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  1. In the 2nd century A.D. Florence had 10,000 inhabitants and was surrounded by a 1st wall

2. After the fall of the Western Roman empire, the city suffered deeply and in the 6th century it had only 1000 inhabitants: a 2nd city wall was built, protecting a smaller area than the earlier Roman one.

3. Florence flourished again, and, at the beginning of 10th century the city was surrounded by a wider 3rd wall, which for the first time extended itself to the river Arno.

4. The building of the 4th wall was begun in 1078: Florence was a 20,000 inhabitants city and the Duke of Tuscany had moved his capital from Lucca to Florence. The new city walls surrounded also Piazza del Duomo, but the quarters of Oltrarno remained still unprotected.

5. In the years 1173-1175, the city built a 5th city wall: for the first time a defence wall was built also in Oltrarno, due to the increasing importance of the dwellings around the churches of San Felice, San Jacopo in Soprarno and Santa Felicita. Three city gates were built in Oltrarno (near today’s Piazza San Felice, Costa de’ Magnoli and Piazza Frescobaldi), but a real stone wall was not built: the protection consisted of palisades connecting the gates and houses whose outer façades were built without windows in order to offer more protection.

6.  A 6th wall was planned by at least 1284 (possibly under direction of Arnolfo di Cambio). These walls enclosed a very wide area and protected the whole city with all its newer and outer dwellings. The gates were 35 meters tall, and were decorated with religious frescoes (the Madonna and Saints); originally, on the square in front of each gate was also a statue of a famous Florentine writer or poet. The building of the walls was completed in 1333 – and finally the quarters of Oltrarno received a complete protection.
In 16th century, the city prepared to face the army of the German emporer, Charles V, and in 1530 new fortifications were added around San Miniato al Monte. After that, Grand-duke Ferdinando I commissioned Bernardo Buontalenti to build a fortress; it was completed in the years 1590-1595 near the gate of San Giorgio and was named Fortress of Santa Maria, but became rapidly known as Fortezza Belvedere.

Between 1865 and 1871 Florence was provisory Capital of Italy: the city walls were demolished in order to build the new ring road. Only the walls in Oltrarno survived, with all their towers.

In 1998 a part of the wall between the gate of Porta Romana and Piazza Tasso has been restored and opened to visitors.

Facciata del Duomo in costruzione, 1871 circa.

I finally go to the insane asylum

It finally happened.  I snapped, and needed to get to the asylum asap!

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Actually, I’m kidding.  But for a while yesterday I thought I might lose my marbles.  I was joining a very sophisticated Florentine educational institution for a guided tour of the old grounds of Florence’s historic psychiatric hospital and it seemed as if fate was against my plan.  (Maybe she thought they would keep me if I got there?). It took 2 buses and a taxi to get me to a place I could have walked to easier and faster. I made it just in time to join the tour.  Live and learn; next time I’ll walk.

So, the place: as you can see in the plaque above, I was about to enter the Manicomio di Firenze, ospedale psichiatrico. Founded by Vincenzo Chiarugi, the psychiatric hospital was opened in 1890 (an earlier hospital was on Via San Gallo).

Almost 100 years later, in 1968, this hospital located on Via di San Salvi #12, was shuttered.  The city has been attempting to refill the site with various cultural and non-profit organisations ever since.  It would be a shame not to use this large campus, composed of 32 hectares and housed in 20 buildings, for something.  It is prime property on the outer eastern edge of the city. You can find it with the big red pin below:

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Below is a map of the San Salvi grounds, showing how the buildings are laid out and a key to how they are/will be used:

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Here’s how the guided tour was advertised to an erudite audience:

“Come with us to walk along the tree-lined avenues of (hospital) San Salvi, a unique place immersed in the city and at the same time quite isolated. Here, in what was once a very active psychiatric hospital– the “crazy” poet Dino Campana was here for a while–as well as important and respected people involved with the field of psychiatry.   Today – among the various cultural associations that have a home here – La Tinaia cooperative and the Chille della Balanza theatrical group make it a social and artistic destination, thanks to shows, events and meetings.”

Yesterday was a beautiful fall day in Florence, following a week of continual rain, and we viewed the campus in this amazing autumn sunlight:

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Two well-known Italian photographers, Carla Cerati and Gianni Berengo Gardin, documented, in chilling photographs, the story of San Salvi and its inmates, with “harsh images of women and men prisoners, jailed, bound, punished, humiliated, reduced to suffering and need.” If you Google Manicomio Firenze, you can find vintage photographs of the hospital and the patients.  It was gruesome.

As I was leaving the campus, this old rusted iron gate seemed to sum up the history of the place for me.  The key hole especially records the memory of patients locked in.

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