Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bon appetite en France !

Scrumptious French meal at the Bistrot Jul in Lyon. Very possibly the finest meal of the Rome to Geneva Tour, though there are other rivals...

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Fine Time in Florence part 2

Two glorious days in Florence, charming historic place to stay, great local Italian food and delightfully humorous and cheerful Andrea owner of the trattoria where we ate our meals--Loved our stay in Florence!

Here's from chapter one of Girolamo Savonarola, Heart Aflame (lots more pictures below):

Man on Fire
Siamo perduti!” The cry echoed off the marble statues and fine stonework of the streets and plazas of Florence, Italy. “We are ruined!” What Florentines feared had come upon them. It was September 21, 1494 and the birthplace of the Renaissance was paralyzed with dread. Greedy for blood, the army of the king of France had crossed the Alps and was on the march to Florence. In a matter of days Charles VIII’s soldiers would be thundering at the gates of the city.
"The expedition of Charles VIII into Italy," wrote Edward Gibbon, "changed the face of Europe." In those gut-wrenching days, Florentine mothers and children cared little for what happened to the face of Europe. But they were horrified for their own lives. In despair, they crowded into the cathedral church of Santa Maria del Fiore, long-awaited innovation of the architectural genius, Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). The Duomo had become the virtual symbol of the Renaissance. Since its completion in 1436, the cathedral’s dome remains the largest masonry dome in the world, the grand marvel not only of the city but of the entire cultural movement. One awed contemporary said the Duomo was "vast enough to cover the entire Tuscan population with its shadow."
With lecherous French soldiers slavering at her gates, terrified Florentines sought refuge under that vast dome. They had gathered to hear the prior of San Marco, the fiery preacher who had expelled the Medicis and their tyrannies. That man was Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498).
When Savonarola ascended the high pulpit, his congregation—numb with fear—longed for some words of comfort from his lips. He looked out on their upturned faces. “For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth,” the Dominican friar gave out his text, “to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 6:17). The somber manner in which he read the sacred words sent a shudder through every man, woman, and child that stood before him. Eyewitness to the sermon, philosopher Pico della Mirandola said that Savonarola’s terrifying words made his hair to stand on end. And with the preacher’s every word, the French army came on to their destruction—just as he had prophesied.
Savonarola’s world reads like the guest list at a royal banquet, a veritable who’s who of celebrated personages. He breathed the air of the famous and the infamous, the notable and the notorious, the gifted and the great.
Born in Ferrara in 1452, he shared a birth year with Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci. As Savonarola’s mother labored to deliver her son, Ghiberti was completing the bronze doors of the Florentine baptistery, dubbed the “Gates of Paradise” by Michelangelo.
When Savonarola was taking his first halting steps, Johann Gutenberg was casting the final type for his printing press in Mainz, and when he was in his terrible twos, first editions of the Gutenberg Bible were available for purchase. Then, when peach fuzz was showing on Savonarola’s upper lip, the “Prince of Humanists,” Erasmus of Rotterdam, was born. Banking tycoon Lorenzo de Medici began his lavish rule of Florence when Savonarola would have been old enough to get his driver’s license. Significantly, 1469 also marked the birth of the Florentine codifier of pragmatic politics, Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527).
A medical student at Bologna when Copernicus was born in 1473, Savonarola was twenty-five when Caxton printed Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in England; author of Utopia, Sir Thomas More, was born a year later. While Savonarola delivered his first halting sermons in Florence, Botticelli was painting frescoes in Rome. In 1483, when Savonarola was thirty-one, Martin Luther was born in Eisleben. Preaching through Genesis in Florence in 1492, Savonarola may have gotten wind of Columbus’s first voyage of discovery to the New World, though the death of Lorenzo de Medici and the transfer of power to his son may have kept him from giving the event much thought.
Two years later, according to Savonarola’s prophecy, Charles VIII of France invaded Italy, Pope Alexander VI fleeing for his life. In Savonarola’s final years in Florence, da Vinci was busy painting his masterpiece, The Last Supper. And while Savonarola wrote his Prison Meditations in the tower of Palazzo Vecchio, Michelangelo was chiseling the final details on his Pieta in Rome.

Heart Aflame in Florence part 1

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, a bridge over which Savonarola would have walked many times (as well as Botticelli, Donatello, Ghiberti, and many other Renaissance greats). We stayed in a two hundred plus year old convent with spacious high ceilings, many salons and a gorgeous walled garden. It was a hospital during WW I and protected Jews during WW II. Weather blue sky, lots of sunshine, and warm. Our dinner was served to us by Andrea and his wife at the trattoria Club Paradiso. He was a character and made me a partner in the business but then fired me when I didn't show up early to wait tables. We talked about r purpose for being on this tour which led to a witness for Christ. His reply: "Protestantism isn't a disease, you know." And when I told him I didn't think he looked as old as 66, he replied, "That's because I am not a Protestant."

We traced Savonarola's steps, preaching in the Duomo, San Marco's priory, his room, his cloak and hair shirt, his prison cell in Tower Vecchio where he wrote his Prison Meditations, later translated by Luther and published in 1533 in Wittenberg, and the inauspicious marker in Piazza Signoria where he was burned in 1497. Next Florence post will include an excerpt from my book on Savonarola...

Friday, June 19, 2015

Rome: Rivetingly Fascinating

 Rich in history, to be sure, but Rome is also a multifarious and sometimes humorous tapestry of human life

Rome: Chaos With Charm and Style

See excerpt below from THE ACCIDENTAL VOYAGE, with Mr Pipes in Rome
THE ACCIDENTAL VOYAGE (Excerpt from chapter one, Mr Pipes and Annie and Drew in Rome)

“ Pizza !” thought Drew, breathing in the savory aroma of herbs, tomatoes, fresh-baked pizza crust, and heaps of melting mozzarella cheese. He licked his lips and rolled his eyes in anticipation as he raced—rather, putted—along the Via di Borgo on his blue moped. He inhaled again, and promptly sputtered and coughed as his lungs filled with the diesel fumes of a passing bus. Steadying his moped, he blinked several times, trying to see Mr. Pipes and Annie riding ahead of him through the smoky gray haze.
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“Hey! Wait up!” he called, trying to coax more speed out of the tiny electric motor. They raced on, unable to hear above the din of the city and the frantic buzzing of the electric bicycles. Drew pedaled furiously. He must have slowed down back there at the pizzeria. Glancing back over his shoulder, he decided it had to be pizza— pepperoni pizza. A new scent filled Drew’s nostrils as he raced around the next corner, still trying to catch up. Lining the streets under cover of rows of white canvas awnings, vendors waved bunches of colorful flowers and shouted at people to stop and buy. Though eager to catch up, Drew slowed down for a better look. Without warning, a yellow Fiat coughed past him on the left, and with a squealing of tires and a sharp blast of his horn, the driver cut Drew off, narrowly missing his front tire. Drew clawed at the brakes on the handlebars and swerved. His eyes wide with fright, he desperately tried to avoid a large bucket of carnations in his waggling path. With a crash! and a sploosh! , water from the bucket drenched him from head to toe, and he landed in a sodden heap surrounded by limp flowers, an empty bucket, his crashed moped, and a stomping-mad Italian woman. “ Imbecilio! ” cried the woman, her black hair tied back in a red scarf, and her brawny arms on her hips. Drew sat up and cleared a mangle of soggy pink petals from his face. In spite of the language barrier, he detected from her bulging eyes and expressive hands that the woman was less than happy with him. Something about her reminded him of an Italian opera he’d once seen on television. Had he understood the spoken part of Italian, he would have heard the following: “Do I look like somebody who can afford to have a bucket of flowers wasted? No! My precious, precious flowers. What on earth are you doing in Rome, anyway? You came for the driving, no? I know, I know, you’re a tourist—probably American.” Drew caught the word “American.” But it had an “o” at the end; in fact, it sounded like most of her words had an “o” at the end.
 Bond, Accidental Voyage   9/19/07  6:41 PM  Page 14
“Whatever, whatever, I don’t have to like the way you drive your moped. All right all right, anyway: I know, in Rome tourists are our bread and Gorgonzola. La, la, la. You come to see all our old stuff—we have the best crumbling old stuff in the world! And you come to eat our food—we have the best food in the world! And I had— had , mind you—the best flowers in the world until you smashed them into this heap of rubbish! Anyway, we have the best everything else in the world, right here in Rome (well, maybe not the best tourists)! Do you think I don’t know all this? No. But why did you have to ruin my flowers? Why? Why not Luigi’s or Signora Pellagrino’s? Why me? Why?” Drew stared dumbly back at the woman and wondered how she could say all that without taking a breath. She probably wouldn’t understand if he apologized. But maybe if he spoke really slowly— “I a-m s-o s-o-r-r-y,” said Drew, speaking as loudly as he could. She just stared. He tried again, this time holding his hands, palms up, and shaking them for emphasis with each word. The hands seemed to help. She answered in Italian: “Yeah, yeah. So sorry, are you? Lot of good that does my poor flowers, no?” Drew wished he could make her understand, but after another pleading look into her angry face, he fumbled in his pocket for a handful of lire—Mr. Pipes had told them that it took lots of lire to buy anything. He thrust the money into the flower lady’s fist and disentangled himself and the moped from the flowers and bucket. Dripping wet, he yanked red carnations out of the handlebars and spokes, clambered back onto his moped, and urged it after Mr. Pipes and his sister. So this is Rome , he thought, frowning and wiping a flower petal off his wet cheek. He strained to see Mr. Pipes and Annie through the weaving traffic. His sister’s blond hair flashed in the sunlight as it streamed from under her helmet. He thought back on Mr. Pipes’s first letter outlining his plan for an adventure in
 Bond, Accidental Voyage   9/19/07  6:41 PM  Page 15
Italy. Drew wasn’t so sure about Italy; why not just go back to Olney and have another summer of adventures on The Great Ouse, sailing and fishing and exploring the countryside with Mr. Pipes and the Howard children? He did miss Bentley and even his sister Clara. Ah, but then Mr. Pipes had mentioned Italian food. It’d better be really good , he thought, after all this . Then he remembered the wonderful smells of that pizza. Give Italy a chance, give it a chance , he told himself. Meanwhile, Annie held on tightly behind Mr. Pipes and gazed from left to right at the bustling city. Her imagination raced back in time at the sight of an ancient arch or crumbling column, and the next moment she felt a smothering uneasiness at the chaos of surging, perspiring bodies and impatient motorists blaring their horns and hammering with their arms out open windows against the sides of their cars. Everyone seemed to be talking and gesturing at once, and traffic seemed to go round and round without ever getting anywhere. The racket was deafening. Mr. Pipes had said that Italy involved some inconvenience to the foreign adventurer, but he assured Annie that they would not be disappointed and that perhaps the greatest adventure ever awaited them in the land of the early Christian saints—and martyrs. Mr. Pipes rounded a corner, and Annie closed her eyes and breathed in the fragrant scents of carnations, gardenias, and a variety of roses. Row upon row of flower stalls lined the narrow street. She nearly turned all the way around on the back of the moped, taking in the heavenly panoply of color as she and Mr. Pipes rode past the flower market. She caught sight of Drew at the far end of the street and tapped on Mr. Pipes’s shoulder. “Drew’s pretty far back!” she shouted next to the old man’s helmet. She hoped he’d slow down or even stop so that she could look at the flowers—and Drew could catch up.
 Bond, Accidental Voyage   9/19/07  6:41 PM  Page 16
Annie felt their moped sputter to a stop as Mr. Pipes parked at the far end of the flower market. She hopped off and admired the rows of buckets overflowing with yellow, red, green, and white. “I wish Rome was all like this; I could stay here all day,” she said over her shoulder to Mr. Pipes. “I understand perfectly, my dear,” said the old man, his white hair glowing in the sunshine as he took off his helmet. “The Campo de’ Fiori, or field of flowers market, is a refreshing relief from the otherwise rather sooty, gray stones and concrete jumbled about. It is like that in Rome, one-time capital of Western Civilization: dust, sweat, and general messiness give way around the next corner to beauty of the most extraordinary magnificence.”