Street art, poetry on the vie of Florence

Graffiti is an unending spectacle on the walls of the streets in Florence.  Then there is Clet and all the other recognizable signmakers and graffiti artists who “decorate” our streets here.

While these things are to be seen all over many urban landscapes, one thing I see here often that I’ve never seen anywhere else is the literal postings of newly minted poetry.  See here:


Amici della Musica e il Teatro della Pergola

Amici-della-Musica-Firenze-440x240Amici Della Musica

Founded in 1920, the Amici della Musica or Friends of Music is one of the oldest and most prestigious concert groups in Florence. The group presents some of the best works and performers on the international scene. And its home is the beautiful Teatro della Pergola, Florence’s oldest theater built in in 1656, so you can enjoy a wonderful Florentine evening from boxes once maintained for the private entertainment of the city’s aristocracy and social elite.

There is surely also much scope, now that Italian performers have become experts in this field, for further exploration of the Baroque repertoire, not to mention the grandsopéras of Meyerbeer, which were staged for the first time in Italy at the Pergola in the mid-nineteenth century and have been absent from the Maggio Musicale since the 1971 production of L’Africaine with Jessye Norman. The neglect of the French repertoire in general has been one of the weaknesses of operatic programming in Florence. It is hoped that the galvanizing presence of the new general manager will succeed in breaking down this barrier, too. spacer

For more, see

When you think of Dante, do you think of Longfellow too?

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882) was an American poet and educator whose works include “Paul Revere’s Ride“, The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline. He was also the first American to translate Dante Alighieri‘s Divine Comedy.
Longfellow spent several years translating Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. To aid him in perfecting the translation and reviewing proofs, he invited friends to weekly meetings every Wednesday starting in 1864. The “Dante Club”, as it was called, regularly included William Dean Howells, James Russell Lowell, Charles Eliot Norton and other occasional guests. The full 3-volume translation was published in the spring of 1867, though Longfellow would continue to revise it, and went through four printings in its first year.

He was also important as a translator; his translation of Dante became a required possession for those who wanted to be a part of high culture. He also encouraged and supported other translators.

Is Longfellow’s translation of Dante the best?


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s translation finds a new champion in Joseph Luzzi, in “How to Read Dante in the 21st Century” in the online edition of The American Scholar:


… one of the few truly successful English translations comes from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a professor of Italian at Harvard and an acclaimed poet. He produced one of the first complete, and in many respects still the best, English translations of The Divine Comedy in 1867. It did not hurt that Longfellow had also experienced the kind of traumatic loss—the death of his young wife after her dress caught fire—that brought him closer to the melancholy spirit of Dante’s writing, shaped by the lacerating exile from his beloved Florence in 1302. Longfellow succeeded in capturing the original brilliance of Dante’s lines with a close, sometimes awkwardly literal translation that allows the Tuscan to shine through the English, as though this “foreign” veneer were merely a protective layer added over the still-visible source. The critic Walter Benjamin wrote that a great translation calls our attention to a work’s original language even when we don’t speak that foreign tongue. Such extreme faithfulness can make the language of the translation feel unnatural—as though the source were shaping the translation into its own alien image.


Longfellow’s English indeed comes across as Italianate: in surrendering to the letter and spirit of Dante’s Tuscan, he loses the quirks and perks of his mother tongue. For example, he translates Dante’s beautifully compact Paradiso 2.7

L’acqua ch’io prendo già mai non si corse;

with an equally concise and evocative

The sea I sail has never yet been passed:

Emulating Dante’s talent for internal rhymes laced with hypnotic sonic patterns, Longfellow expertly repeats the s’s to give his line a sinuous, propulsive feel, which is exactly what Dante aims for in his line, as he gestures toward the originality and joy of embarking on the final leg of a divinely sanctioned journey. Thus, Longfellow demonstrates the scholarly chops necessary to convey Dante’s encyclopedic learning, and the poetic talent needed to reproduce the sound and spirit—the respiro, breath—of the original Tuscan.

Read the whole essay here – it’s fairly short and very interesting.

Purely Tuscan words: mesticheria

I posted about this great shop recently, and want to dig in a little deeper on the roots of such a business in Florence.  Let’s focus for a minute on just exactly what kind of “paint store” is being advertised here and in a few other Florentine businesses.


From Wiktionary ( we learn that the word mesticheria in italiano is a feminine singular noun and means the following:


mesticheria f sing

  1. termine prettamente toscano, indica una bottega dove si vende l’occorrente per dipingere o verniciare, e piccoli utensili per la manutenzione della casa (è molto frequente però trovarci le cose più svariate, come prodotti di giardinaggio o prodotti tessili)   A rough English translation: a purely Tuscan work indicating a shop wherein one can buy paints and small tools needed to maintain a home.


mesticherìa s. f. [der. di mestica], region. – Bottega di colori già preparati, di vernici e di tutto ciò che occorre a pittori, verniciatori, imbianchini, e sim.  Rough English translation:  Shop selling prepared colors, paints, and all that is needed for both.

The latter definition speaks more clearly of the ancestry of these Tuscan shops: for a flourishing fresco tradition to exist and develop, extensive site preparations are necessary.  In order to prepare for a fresco, certain agents are needed to make the colored paints adhere to and chemically interact with the plastered wall below them.

I recently had a conversation with Jeremy Boudreau, the head of the art history department at the British Institute in Florence, and he said that only in Florence does one find this kind of shop, or a meticheria, selling the materials needed to create frescoes.

My guess, though, is that if you walked into one of these shops, they would be hard pressed to provide you with the materials needed to prepare a surface for the art of fresco.  It has been a while, I would imagine, since the likes of Giotto or Michelangelo needed paint supplies for this specific art form!

And, again…call me crazy, but I wonder where artists and their assistants purchased these materials in say Padua or Roma?  Did someone have to go to Florence to buy artistic materials for frescoes?!