Prato, Florence’s industrial alter ego, and Albina Gori-Pacini, Prato’s poet

Here’s a reprint of a 1988 article in the New York Times about Prato:
By ANNE MARSHALL ZWACKFEB. 7, 1988

PRATO is Florence’s industrial alter ego, the milling ants to Florence’s blithe cricket, as in the fables of La Fontaine. But when it comes to play, it is Prato that does the chirping. Porsches from Prato are parked outside the expensive restaurants of Florence, and it is the matrons of Prato who patronize the fashionable boutiques and jewelers of Florence. Indeed, not without a pinch of envy, the more parsimonious Florentines consider the Pratesi ostentatious.

In the 13th century Prato – 12 miles northwest of Florence – was an important center for the spinning, weaving, carding and dyeing of wool. In the 19th century the cenciaioli (rag men) of Prato started recycling wool on a vast scale. Today the city is said to be the biggest wool-producing center in the world, with 2,000 firms and 60,000 people involved mostly in the recycling of wool, but in every other facet of the wool trade as well. (Recycled wool becomes the short-fiber, carded wool that, for instance, pea jackets are made of, as opposed to long-fiber or combed wool.)

The first merchant of Prato was Francesco di Marco Datini of Iris Origo’s biography, who waited for his ships to come in during the 14th century, and who at a time when accountancy was in its infancy invented the letter of credit. Today Pratese merchants sponsor the arts – a Henry Moore statue dominates one of the main squares and the Pecci Museum of Modern Art will soon be completed.

It is hardly surprising then that the narrow streets of old Prato are full of stores selling cloth and knitting wool. The city has always been known for its scampolai, stores that collect end pieces of material, the leftover stock or spoiled lengths from which they cut away flawed parts, and then sell as samples.

The scampolai are mostly in a network of streets to one side of the cathedral square, and they sell not only local wool but also silk, cotton and velvet. Fabric by the yard (in 36- and 60-inch widths) and sample pieces are available at excellent prices.

In Via Magnolfi every other store is selling samples and cloth by the yard. At No. 25, Bruno Franchi (telephone 38400) has been a scampolaio since 1958 and threatens to close his shop because of his age, but this evidently depends on his wife, Rita, whom he calls la padrona, the boss. The stock is a constantly changing spectrum of wools, silks, striped cotton for shirts, taffeta, toweling and so on, at prices that start at $2.50 a yard for cotton and anything from $4 to $40 for the silks, One item carried all the time is tartan blanketing, very soft and warm-looking wool that sells at $5 for a single-bed size and $11.50 a double.

CENTRO Scampoli (44-46 Via Magnolfi) is a large store selling every possible kind of material as a sample or by the yard. The real bargains are, of course, the samples (24 to 80 inches in length usually) but the material sold by the yard is also remarkably inexpensive. Cotton can be found for $7.75 a yard, linen mixed with rayon at around $14 in lilac, turquoise, lemon yellow and Nile green. There is quilted material for robes or bedspreads at $11.50 to $15, while the panno for which Prato is famous – the wool cloth in colors such as bright blue, geranium red, turtledove gray and muted emerald – retails at $12. If you dig around among the bolts of cloth, you can find silks by Valentino or Galitzine for $27 to $31 a yard, and pure silk Gucci unhemmed scarves – with a defect such as a smudge of color or a blurred outline – that cost less than $20.

At 83 Via Magnolfi there is a store (telephone 20667) that is worth a visit more for the owners than for the shelves of samples. Albina Gori-Pacini is a poet, and one wall is lined with cups and medals and literary awards, while her eight volumes of poetry are kept in an antique chest in an adjoining room. Albina Gori-Pacini and her husband, Dino, have been scampolai since 1933 in a period piece of a store that was once a hotel dining room with fat stone columns and a vaulted ceiling frescoed with vine leaves.

Around the corner to the right, in Via San Giorgio, Franco and Anna Polichetti have a rambling store (telephone 26311) redolent of mothballs with several rooms where you can browse undisturbed. Particularly attractive were the printed velvets retailing from $11.50 to $34.50 and the crushed velvets at $29.

Another street parallel to Via Magnolfi is Via del Serraglio, where, at No. 83, there is a tiny store – with materials spilling out onto the street – called Ditta Marmino. They have a good selection of furnishing materials such as 60-inch-wide Gobelin-style tapestry designs selling at $35 a yard in addition to rasatello, a cotton satin featuring large flowers, English country house-style, for $15 a yard; they also had the same kind of floral designs in cotton for $5 or in a linen mixture for $11.50 a yard. Bold deck-chair striped heavy cotton in blue and white or red and sand sells for $5 a yard.

The largest store with the biggest choice is Renzo Rosati at Nos. 56 and 60 in Via del Serraglio (telephone 24267). Six family members work in the street store and in the warehouse next door; the courtyard of the warehouse is dominated by a large olea fragrans tree that in autumn fills the drab little street with a haunting scent. Mr. Rosati has been in the fabric business since he was 15, and his daughter, Laura, who has been to the United States, speaks English. He sells any length of pure silk in plain colors, prints or Jacquards for $17 a yard. Soft wools in luminous white, deep purple and fuchsia cost $24. Men’s suiting materials signed Ermenegildo Zegna cost $50, while similar cloth in what Mr. Rosati calls ”super merino’‘ is $27. Harris tweed and Scottish-made kilt materials in clan tartans cost $18 a yard, while various shades of soft German-made velvet are priced at $19. This is the store where more enterprising members of the Florentine aristocracy might come to shop, whether to cover a sofa or to make party frocks for their junior jeunesse doree.

It should be stressed that in none of these stores are the materials inexpensive because they are shoddy; the choice and the quality are excellent.

In the Piazza San Antonio, at No. 12, tucked away behind the churches of San Francesco and Santa Maria delle Carceri is a store called L’Angolino del Tessuto di Sorello Scarlini (telephone 21149) owned by sisters named Scarlini. While I was there a group of Pratese ladies-who-lunch were buying materials for evening dresses: pure silks at $15 to $19 a yard, satin at $24 and Lurex at $28 while silk goffering started at $11, crepe de chine silk mixtures at $19; higher priced were chiffons covered in sequins at $43 a yard and silk velvet that looked like astrakhan fur at $32. PRATO: A TOWN FOR FABRICS The Scampolai

The stores mentioned (called scampolai) are open 9 A.M. to 1 P.M. and 3:30 to 7:30 P.M. (They are closed Monday morning and Saturday afternoon.) No credit cards are accepted. Lodgings

At the Villa Santa Cristina (Via Poggio Secco 58, 50047 Prato; telephone 595951) – which also has an excellent restaurant – a double room costs $73 and a single $49. The hotel is closed during August. In the dining room a meal for two with wine costs about $80; it is closed Sunday evening and all day Monday. Dining Out

One of Italy’s better fish restaurants is Il Pirana (Via Valentini 110; telephone 25746), in a less lovely part of the city a short taxi ride from the center. The spaghetti with lobster is a first and second course in one. The restaurant is closed Saturday, Sunday and during August. A meal for two with wine costs about $95. A. M. Z.

 

A note about Albina Gori Pacini, La Poetessa di Prato. Time marches on and Signora Pacini has died since the Times published the article above.

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Charting my progress, for the record

How’s my goal of living in Italy working out?  Pretty well.  It hasn’t been easy or fast, but it has been steady.

I came to Florence at the end of November in 2016.  I arrived with a student Visa, which let me live in Italy beyond the 90 days any American can stay in Europe as a tourist.  I stayed in Florence for 11 months and successfully obtained the all important Permesso di Soggiorno with that Visa.  The Permesso expired after 8 months, regardless of the fact that I had already paid for Italian language school for 12 months.  Lesson 1: there is no logic.

I returned to the states in October of 2017, going from Florence to Chicago where it was necessary for me to go to the Italian Consulate to apply for an elective residency Visa.  Such a Visa allows Americans like me, if we are fortunate enough to receive the Visa, to live in Italy under certain circumstances.  Chicago was necessary for me because my home is in Denver and that’s the way that cookie is divided.  I filed the myriad documents needed to show my eligibility for the elective residency Visa, and then went to Denver to wait its hoped-for arrival.

Fortunately, I received the Visa.  But, it has certain conditions. I won’t enumerate them all, but one of the most important ones is that I am not allowed to have gainful employment in Italy.  I cannot receive any payment from anyone in Italy.  Doing so could result not only in my Visa being revoked, but the Italian government could prohibit me from ever setting foot in Italy again.  It’s a powerful rule.

I returned to Florence in December of 2017, armed with my new elective residency Visa. The first step, then, once within the country, is that within 8 days, one must apply for the Permesso di Soggiorno.  I applied for this before Christmas in 2017 and then began to wait for its arrival.

Some people will receive their Permesso within a month, or so they say.  Others, like me, are not so lucky.  I waited for 8 months to receive word that my new Permesso was ready for me to pick up at the police station, or the dreaded Questura.

In July of 2018, I received a text message telling me to appear at the Questura on a certain date in early August, at a certain time.  I did as I was asked.  I turned in my old, expired, student-based Permesso, and received my new one.  Unfortunately, my new Permesso was already expired when I received it.  You read that right.  Welcome to Italy.

The true impact of this situation on my daily life was nil.  As long as one re-applies for a new Permesso within a short period, and keeps the receipt of that application with them at all times, typically no problems will result.  Fortunately, I have never been stopped by the police in Italy and asked to show my documents.  Theoretically, even if the police did stop me and ask for my documents, the receipt of the new Permesso application would suffice.

I filed my new application for a new Permesso in late September of 2018.  Of course I kept a copy of the receipt for fees paid for that application with me at all times.

And then I began the wait for my new Permesso.

So, what is the importance of this waiting period on my life?  Again, on a daily basis it is unnoticeable.  However, there are other steps that one needs to do to truly function in present day Italy after one receives the Permesso.

For example, I tried to open a bank account in Italy in the winter of 2017, while I had my student Visa and my related Permesso.  With the assistance of an Italian friend, we could not find a bank that was willing to open an account for me.  I suppose I was considered to be too transient to bother with.

At that time, I was warned about opening an Italian bank account in any case.  Still not having one, I cannot tell you exactly why people recommended I NOT open an account, should I ever find a bank that was willing to let me.  Why? As I understand it, bank accounts here are very different from what I’m used to in the USA.  For starters, it is quite costly to maintain an account here.  In any case, no bank would open an account for me if I didn’t have a current Permesso di Soggiorno.  Although I never tried to open an account with just my receipt, perhaps I could have done so.  It just didn’t seem worthwhile to try, so I didn’t.  For months I expected to receive my new Permesso and then I would try. That was my plan

Once I received my elective residency Visa and had an actual, unexpired Permesso di Soggiorno, I could follow other steps. First among these is applying for a Certificato di Residenza.  I still don’t understand why this is important to have, but it is.  There are certain things I just accept here and just accept that it makes no sense to me.  The Serenity Prayer comes in handy.

After obtaining the Certificato di Residenza, one can apply for the Carta d’ Identita, which is necessary to have before applying for an Italian health care card which would allow me to seek medical treatment in Italy should the need arise. Up until such time, it is incumbent upon me to maintain a private traveler’s health insurance policy to cover unforseen events.  As a matter of fact, proof of such a policy is a necessary document needed to apply for both the elective residency Visa and also for the Permesso di Soggiorno.

So, I’ve been waiting since last September (2018), for my new Permesso di Soggiorno.  Six months went by, 7 months, 8 months, 9 months, 10 months and then, finally, I received a text message telling me my new Permesso would be ready for me to pick up at the Questura last week.  I went with baited breath, wondering if it would already be expired again.

This time, I got lucky.  True, I had to wait 11.5 months for the thing, but at least I got one that does not expire for 12 months!  I’m suddenly completely legal, not needing any receipts for anything, at least for a year!  Then I get to do the whole thing over again.

So, how did I celebrate?  I did so by immediately (the next week) applying for my Certificato di Residenza.  I was informed by knowledgeable people and blogs that this would arrive 45 days after I applied for it.  Then I could apply for the Carta d’ Identita.

Imagine my surprise, after going to the correct government office in Florence, when the clerk told me she could produce and give it to me that same day!  She asked me if I wanted to apply for the Carta d’ Identita and I mostly certainly did.  She gave me the forms to sign and submitted them.  She said I should receive it within a week (I’ll expect it within a month, if I’m lucky).

Once I have that in hand, I intend to apply for the Italian health care card which, if I understand things correctly, will allow me to seek medical assistance if the need were to arise, which I obviously hope it will not!

And, bonus, in the meantime I met an Italian who works with a lot of English speakers, and she told me that she thought I could apply for a “bank account” with the Italian postal system.  Say what?

It turned out, she was correct.  I went into the Post Office in Florence last week and opened an account that seems to be something like a bank account…even if it is with the postal system.  I have a new debit card and the ability to wire money into this account from the US.  For the first time since I arrived in Italy in November of 2016, I will be able to pay my rent to my landlord’s bank account.  Up until now, I’ve had to take cash out of the ATM over the period of a few days to get enough money together to pay my rent.

All of a sudden, I feel like I’m living in the 21st century again.  However, I’ve been in Italy long enough to know that any number of things could and may still go wrong.  I’ll check in again once money has successfully been wired from the states to my post office bank account and I’ve paid my rent.  Fingers crossed.

And, next week, I’ll apply for a health insurance card.  Step by slow step, my life in Italy is becoming complete.

Arrividerla, L

 

 

 

 

The Textile Museum, Prato

Prato, just a short distance from Florence, has a long and celebrated history of textile manufacture.

In honor of this long local tradition, Prato is also home to a fine textile museum, the Museo del Tessuto, dedicated to the city’s historical and contemporary textile production and art.

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Even today, Prato is one of the largest industrial districts in Italy, the largest textile center in Europe and one of the most important centers in the world for the production of woolen yarns and fabrics.

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The Museo is the largest cultural center of its kind in Italy. It celebrates the Prato district, which has been identified with textile production since the Middle Ages. Today the district boasts over 7,000 companies operating in this sector.

The Museum was founded in 1975 within the “Tullio Buzzi” Industrial Technical Textile Institute, as the result of an initial donation of approximately 600 historical textile fragments.

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These were added to examples which had been gathered over the years by the Institute’s professors for students to consult and study. Since then, the collection has  grown thanks to the contribution of the Buzzi Institute Alumni Association and other important civic institutions, such as the Municipality of Prato, Cariprato and the Pratese Industrial Union.

In 2003, the new, permanent home of the museum was inaugurated in the restored spaces of the former Campolmi factory, a precious jewel of industrial archaeology situated within Prato’s old city walls.

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Prato began to specialize in textiles in the 12th century, when garment manufacturing was regulated by the Wool Merchants’ Guild.

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The political and economic decline experienced in Italy during the 16th and 17th centuries caused a drop in textile activities, but it resumed in the late 18th century with the production of knitted caps made for Arabian markets.

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In the Prato area, industrial activities got under way at the end of the 19th century, with the introduction of mechanization (to which the brilliant local inventor Giovan Battista Mazzoni made important contributions) and with the intensification of textile working processes. The industrial take-off was also supported by foreign investors such as the Koessler and Mayer families of Austria, who created a company that lasted for decades and became locally known as the fabbricone, the big factory.

The lower costs of carded wool processing, caused by the gradually increasing production of recovered wool obtained from shredding old clothes and industrial scraps (“combings”).

Basically, up to World War II the Prato textile industry was divided in two production circuits: one based on large vertically integrated companies with generally low-level standard productions (rugs, military blankets, etc.) made for export to the poorer markets (Africa, India, etc.); the other based on groups of firms carrying out subcontract work for the production of articles designed for the clothing markets.

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Between the postwar period and the early 1950s, the outlets towards low-level standard production markets rapidly disappeared. The production system underwent a rapid evolution, and the result was not so much the decentralization of subcontract work but an original form of reorganization largely based on the widespread distribution of work among small-scale enterprises (the so-called “industrial district”). The two dynamic factors of the new system were: (a) the subcontracting firms, which carried out the actual production and (b) the front-end firms, which were involved in product design.

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Below, some miscellaneous shots of the museum.

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Il Duomo, Prato

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The Prato Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Stefano) is a handsome Roman Catholic Church in Prato, Tuscany, Central Italy. It is one of the most ancient churches in the city, already in existence in the 10th century. It was built in several successive stages in the Romanesque style. The church contains a number of notable works of art, in particular fine sculpture.

 

Prato’s church of Saint Stephen was built in a green meadow (in Italian: prato) after an appearance of the Virgin Mary near the village of Borgo al Cornio (the present center of Prato). The first building was a small parish church. which the earliest document dates to AD 994.

The expansion of the church began in the 15th century and transformed the modest building into one of the most lovely Gothic-Romanesque buildings in Tuscany.

The video below shows the annual celebration during which the relic, the so-called “sacred belt or girdle” of the Virgin Mary is shown.

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The church we see today dates from the Romanesque period of the 12th century: the nave, side walls and greater part of the bell tower remain from this date. The upper stage of the bell tower was constructed in 1356.
The church’s exterior pulpit by Donatello and Michelozzo:

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In the 14th century, the cathedral obtained a relic, the so-called Sacra Cintola or “Holy Belt” of the Virgin Mary and the church was re-envisioned.  The 2nd facade was built, allowing a transept to be constructed between the old facade and the new one. This space gives way to a new, exterior pulpit, built by Michelozzo and decorated by Donatello, between 1428 and 1438.

The exterior pulpit was constructed on the right front corner of the facade.

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The seven original reliefs of the parapet were removed from the pulpit in 1967 and can be seen today in Prato’s cathedral museum.  Here they are, photographed inside the museum:

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The church was built with a Latin cross ground plan in Romanesque style.  The aisles are separated from the nave by elegant columns of green serpentine, the capitals being attributed to Guidetto. The vaults, designed by Ferdinando Tacca, were added in the 17th century.

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The north aisle houses a notable Renaissance pulpit in white marble (1469–1473). The base is decorated with sphinxes. The parapet has reliefs by Antonio Rossellino, portraying the Assumption and the Stories of St. Stephen, and by Mino da Fiesole portraying the Stories of St. John the Baptist.

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The Assumption Chapel in the transept was frescoed in 1435-1436 by the so-called Master of Prato and by a young Paolo Uccello, who painted the Stories of the Virgin and St. Stephen. They show a bizarre fantasy of enchanted figures caught in a wide range of brilliant colors, and surrounded by Brunelleschi-like architectures.

In the main chapel, or chancel, Filippo Lippi and Fra Diamante painted the Stories of St. Stephen and St. John the Baptist.

On the lower north wall are depicted the Obsequies of St. Stephen, in which Lippi portrayed Pope Pius II, set in a Palaeo-Christian basilica, as an imposing figure in scarlet costume. On the right is the artist’s self-portrait. On the opposite wall is Herod’s Banquet, showing a large hall in which Salome is performing her ballet, and the handing over of the head of John the Baptist to Herodias. The altar is by Ferdinando Tacca (1653).

The Manassei Chapel was frescoed by a pupil of Agnolo Gaddi in the early 15th century with Stories of St. Margaret and St. James. The last chapel on the left, the Chapel of the Inghirami, houses a funerary monument attributed to Benedetto da Maiano and a stained glass window from the early 16th century.

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August 12, 1944, in the mountains outside of Lucca

The Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre was a Nazi German war crime, committed in the hill village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema in Tuscan, in the course of an operation against the Italian resistance movement during the Italian Campaign of World War II.

On the morning of August 12, 1944, the German troops entered the mountain village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema, accompanied by some fascists of the 36th Brigata Nera Benito Mussolini based in Lucca, who were dressed in German uniforms.

The soldiers immediately proceeded to round up villagers and refugees, locking up hundreds of them in several barns and stables, before systematically executing them. The killings were done mostly by shooting groups of people with machine guns or by herding them into basements and other enclosed spaces and tossing in hand grenades.

At the 16th-century local church, the priest Fiore Menguzzo (awarded the Medal for Civil Valor posthumously in 1999) was shot at point-blank range, after which machine guns were then turned on some 100 people gathered there. In all, the victims included at least 107 children (the youngest of whom, Anna Pardini, was only 20 days old), as well as eight pregnant women (one of whom, Evelina Berretti, had her stomach cut with a bayonet and her baby pulled out and killed separately).

After other people were killed through the village, their corpses were set on fire (at the church, the soldiers used its pews for a bonfire to dispose of the bodies). The livestock were also exterminated and the whole village was burnted down.

All of this was accomplished in three hours. The SS men then sat down outside the burning Sant’Anna and ate lunch.

These crimes have been defined as voluntary and organized acts of terrorism by the Military Tribunal of La Spezia and the highest Italian court of appeal.

However, extradition requests from Italy were rejected by Germany. In 2012, German prosecutors shelved their investigation of 17 unnamed former SS soldiers (eight of whom were still alive) who were part of the unit involved in the massacre because of a lack of evidence.

The statement said: “Belonging to a Waffen-SS unit that was deployed to Sant’Anna di Stazzema cannot replace the need to prove individual guilt. Rather, for every defendant it must be proven that he took part in the massacre, and in which form.”

The mayor of the village, Michele Silicani (a survivor who was 10 when the raid occurred), called the verdict “a scandal” and said he would urge Italy’s justice minister to lobby Germany to reopen the case. German deputy foreign minister Michael Georg Link commented that “while respecting the independence of the German justice system,” it was not possible “to ignore that such a decision causes deep dismay and renewed suffering to Italians, not just survivors and relatives of the victims.”

Sources, Wikipedia and http://paradiseofexiles.com/liberation-day-in-italy/

The 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death

2019 is the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci and Italy is doing it up right to mark the occasion.  All over Italy, but especially in Tuscany and Florence in particular, and in Milan, exhibitions are celebrating his art and life.

I love the comic relief one get’s from a poster like the one below.  At least we can have a little fun with the fact that he often wrote backwards!

 

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Busatti, fine Italian textiles

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What does it take to become a member of the Italian Historical Businesses Union? (the UISI in Italian: Unione Imprese Storiche Italiane)?  This art association was begun in Florence and allows as members only companies that make items of great Italian tradition and excellence and have been owned by the same family for more than 150 years.

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The Busatti company, producers of fine Italian textiles, is a proud member.

I recently visited the Busatti showroom in the Oltrarno section of Florence.  I’d been hunting for some of the beautiful cotton towels known as nido d’api (bee’s nest) in Italian, or waffle weave in English.  This fine company had the towels I was hunting, in a beautiful array of hues.  I chose the color I call “French blue, ” even though these are obviously Italian made!

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Since 1842 the Busatti family has been weaving textiles in the cellars of the Palazzo Morgalanti in Anghiari, a Tuscan village.  The company can actually trace it’s ancestry further back than that: they had the first machines in Italy that could card wool in the late 18th century. When Napoleon invaded, his troops started producing uniforms for the Grande Armee in Anghiari.  To dye them the blue they wanted, they restarted cultivating a flower known in Italian as guado.  This is “woad” in English, a yellow-flowered European plant of the cabbage family. It was once widely grown, especially in Britain, as a source of blue dye, which was extracted from the leaves after they had been dried, powdered, and fermented.

In 1842 Busatti established itself as a producer of fine cotton textiles, using steam-powered machinery.  In the 1930s, the electric versions of the same looms were first utilized.  It was in the 1930s that the company acquired its current structure and look.

Busatti is still synonymous with quality and tradition, but also of innovation.  They can customize any of their production of tablecloths, draperies and toweling, and can make use of their exclusive embroideries when desired.

The Busatti business can trace its unique history starting with the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (Gran Ducato di Toscana), the contribution to Italian unification with a Garibaldi family member, through 2 World Wars and many economic crises. Fortunately, the company just keeps chugging along in Anghiari. As you wind through wooded hills to visit the ancient, walled town, it seems that nothing has changed there for hundreds of years. The illusion persists in the vaulted 16th-century showrooms of Busatti (www.busatti.com), where linens are still woven on 19th- and early-20th-century looms.

Clients include Miuccia Prada and Valentino, who order made-to-measure table sets in linen and cotton and me, who chooses ready-made, but still gorgeous, towel sets.