Tuscany in flowers

I love camellias.  They are my favorite flower along with peonies, penstemen, roses, lily-of-the-valley, violets, marigolds, lilac, viburnum, geranium, anything vining and specifically wisteria, iris, carnations, pinks….I could go on and on.

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But, my all-time favorite is the camellia.  Look whats happening in Tuscany this spring!

Lemon tree, so very pretty!

If I were still living my old and easy life, back in the USA, I would never write this kind of post.  However, as you know, I’m in Florence, building a new life from the ground up.  It takes time (ci vuole tempo) and a lot of perseverance and just plain hard work to build a new life in a new country, no matter how many times you were in that country on vacation.

I’m not complaining!  I love this challenge.  But my little daily victories might not seem like much of anything, but to me they are ginormous.  And that brings me to my new lemon tree!

Here it is in all of its new splendor on my Florentine terrazzo.  Isn’t she pretty?  I think she will have a name and I’m considering the possibilities, but in the meantime, let me share my small win.

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So, first of all, I never dreamed in my life that I would ever be able to grow a lemon tree! And it remains to be seen if I can.  But, here I am, living in a place where it is possible to do!  That right there is a big victory for me.

She has two large lemons already (can you see them, hanging near the bottom–the so-called “low lying fruit” that are so easy to pick when discussing politics) and I think I spotted a bud for a 3rd.

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Another aspect of this small win is that I spotted my tree in a forgotten corner of my local supermarket, a place I go at least every other day.  Don’t forget I carry all my supplies and groceries home, bag by bag, and you know I only have the two hands!

My lonely lemon tree was sitting next to one friend, who, I must say, was not as attractive as mine.  And it only had one lemon hanging.  I looked and looked, turning both pots around and around, looking for the price.  Not found.  So, I summoned up my courage and said mi scusi to the store manager, who is often to be seen sitting in his tiny cage of an office near the front door of the store.  He turned and I asked him, in my best student Italiano, “how much are the lemon trees?”

He looked confused (was it my accent, or my murdering of Italian?), then he asked me, in italiano, “what lemon trees?”

I replied that I would show him and he went with me to the outside corner of the store and he turned the two pots around and around and he couldn’t find a price for them either.  But he had a resource!  I followed him into his office and he looked the price up on the computer.

He told me that the trees were 24.99 Euro oggi (Wednesday), but he leaked some valuable info to me.  And here is where my victory begins!  I understood what he was telling me.  So, I casually asked, in Italian, “well, what will the price be tomorrow?”  The truth is I would have happily paid 25 Euro to become a lemon tree grower.

He smiled (Florentines are thrifty people) at me and said domani the price will be 19 Euro, but you have to have a Conad loyalty card!  I smiled back and said “I have a loyalty card” in italiano and I added, in italian, that I was afraid that if I waited until tomorrow my tree would be gone, someone else will buy it.  He hear and understood me and he offered me a solution. He said he would hold the tree for me!!

He got some paper and asked for my name.  Now, here is another virtue, for me personally, of living in Italia.  In every other place I have ever lived or visited, I have had to spell my long, unusual name.  Not a big deal, but it gets tiresome.  People usually misspell it anyway and so I typically, in the USA, say my name is Laura.  That’s the root of my name anyhow and much easier for people to navigate.

But, I’m living in Italia now and, by some quirk of destiny, I have an Italian name! How I came by my name is a long story, but just know that I have no Italian heritage and my grandmother had my name before me in a similar fluke history.

So, Wednesday, with the store manager in Florence, I proudly pronounced my name the correct way and he wrote it down without one missing letter!  and he didn’t turn any of the letters around either!  These are always very satisfying moments!

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So, I watched him write my name, tape it to the pot, and pick up and carry my tree to the back room.  I waited anxiously because the truth is that I didn’t know if he wanted me to pay for it then and pick it up tomorrow or if I was supposed to come back tomorrow.

I quickly decided to stop looking so needy and do what I’d do if I were at home in the states.  I left the store, planning to arrive the next day to pay and pick up my plant.

And, that’s what I did.  And it worked perfectly! And I got my new tree for 19.99Euro with my Conad card!

I’ll just add that yesterday, when I went to pick up my tree, it was pouring rain and the store was almost empty.  I have never seen it so deserted.  So, when I carried my lovely up to the cassa there were two bored cashier ladies, and their eyes lit up when they saw my beautiful tree come around the corner.  They kept remarking how “bellina” my tree is and asked me if I had a place outdoors to grow it.  I happily assured them that I did!  They seemed genuinely happy for me and my tree!

And, now my lovely little lemon tree is sitting in a place of honor my living room, waiting for warmer weather and the opportunity to grow as nature intended, in the heat and sun of a Tuscan summer!

Wish me luck! In bocca al lupo!

Piazza della Libertà, Firenze

Chances are, you don’t know this Florentine piazza, even though it’s right in the city.  Unless you live near this particular neighborhood, you probably wouldn’t have reason to ramble over to it.

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But, maybe you should!  The Piazza della Libertà.

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I happened to be there on a recent evening, on my way to meet a friend for dinner at a great neighborhood trattoria, and the sky was particularly dramatic as I walked by the piazza’s centerpiece, the neoclassical arch pictured above.

Piazza della Libertà is, in fact, the northernmost point of Florence’s historic center, at the end of Via Cavour. The piazza was created in the 19th century when the Viali di Circonvallazione was constructed around the city.   You can find the piazza in the center of this Google map.

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The most recognizable aspect of the piazza is the neoclassical Arco di Trionfo dei Lorena, or the Triumphal Arch of the Lorraine, which was constructed on this spot in the 1730s to celebrate the arrival of the new rulers of Tuscany, the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty.

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The arch was begun after 1737 in order to be finished in time for the January 1739 arrival of Francis Stephen of Lorraine, Holy Roman Emperor and Grand Duke of Tuscany.  Francis traveled to Florence with his wife, Maria Theresa, and his brother Charles.  They arrived on 20 January 1739 and stayed 3 months. Tuscany was governed by a viceroy, Marc de Beauvau-Craon, for the entire reign of Francis.

220px-Maria_Theresia_Familie Francis I and his family, by Martin van Meytens

The arch is attributed to Jean Nicolas Jadot, who was sent to Florence in anticipation of the arrival of the new ruler.  It is likely that Francesco Schamant of Lorraine also helped design the arch.  The statuary was added later, in 1744.

To celebrate the arrival of the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty, the newly-constructed arch would have been decorated with many ephemeral elements, including tapestries, to greet the new rulers as they processed along the Via San Gallo and into Florence in January 1739.  Below are the Grand Duchy of Tuscany’s flag and coat-of-arms.

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 The Arch was constructed just outside of the walls of Florence and in particular just outside the 14th-century Porto San Gallo, the main northern gate of the city. The gate is shown below.
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The arch itself has 3 openings, a larger central one flanked by two smaller ones.  Ten classical columns with Corinthian capitals are attached to the arch. Most of the sculpture on the arch were added later, after the entry of the Habsburg rulers.  The sculptural program was probably produced locally.  They include bas-reliefs and depictions of flags and arms. The southern facade has two double-headed ages, which were the symbol of the Habsburg dynasty.  An equestrian statue is mounted on top of the arch; it is supposed to depict King Francis.

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Six allegorical figures perch along the plinth, appearing to cringe as they are besieged by the swirling traffic that zooms around the piazza.

As for the rest of the elliptical shaped piazza, it was designed by architect Giuseppe Poggi in the 1860s and 70s; it is surrounded by palazzi Poggi designed, and has a pool with fountains in the center of the tree-lined park.

The square was originally named Piazza Camillo Cavour; it was changed in 1930 to Piazza Costanzo Ciano, in 1944 to Piazza Muti, and in the 1945 to Piazza della Libertà.