Friday, March 20, 2009

The sexiest prison

In the center of Florence you'll find the sexiest prison you'll ever see.  It didn't start out that way though.  It used to be the center of the government.  It didn't turn into a prison until the 16th century when the police headquarters were moved here and prison cells added.

It is now one of the best museums in Florence; The Bargello.  The exterior is divine.  The courtyard perfect.  The collections are amazing and contain masterpieces from some of Italy's most famous artists like Michelangelo, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Giambologna, Cellini, and Verrocchio.  

You can see a Michelangelo's Drunk Bacchus, Donatello's naked David that kicked off the Renaissance, the competitive panels for the Gates of Paradise the spurred on the creation of the most famous Duomo in Italy, Cellini's Ganymede who became the cup-bearer to the gods of Olympus, the world's most famous depiction of the god Mercury by Giambologna, St. George...well, you get the picture.  

This rarely busy museum in the heart of Florence is one of Italy's finest and shouldn't be overlooked on any itinerary.  Very near it you'll find some of the best restaurants in Florence. My favorite B & B (aptly named Il Bargello B & B) that has a superb rooftop patio with a view of that will make you weep, it's right around the corner from Dante's house and Beatrice's tomb, has a great cafe on the opposite corner for a refreshing espresso, and the list goes on and on.

Be sure to listen to next week's radio show for more details.  Touch base on the Unabellavista Fan Page for more write ups this week on the Bargello and the great details behind what makes her collections great like why Michelangelo's Bacchus is different and tipsy, Why Donatello's Naked David is such a big deal, the difference in the competitive panels (let's see if you pick the winner), and much more cool stuff.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is one day in Siena enough?

Absolutely not!  

It is a city that has a totally different soul at night than during the day.  Daytime is wonderful, but it can be a little overrun with tourists.  That's ok though.  Just enjoy the streets, walk around away from Campo or the Duomo (after you enjoy them of course) and you'll be able to experience the quiet corners of one of Tuscany's most beautiful cities.  The key is to get lost...really lost.  Pack a bottle of water, a few batteries for your camera, a couple of memory cards so you don't have to delete a single image, and off you go.

By staying in Siena for a couple of days you can enjoy her at night.  The people of Siena are out, the streets are much more quiet, the Campo gets filled with people enjoying a glass of wine under the stars, and the Palazzo and Duomo reflect the moonlight in a way that cannot be described only gazed at.  Be sure the grab a bottle of wine at the little wine shop on the Campo.  She'll open your bottle and give you plastic cups, they offer limoncello, and bottles of beer if you what you want doesn't grow on a vine.  Be sure to clean up after yourself so Siena doesn't restrict use of the Piazza and prohibit drinking a nice glass of wine.

There is so much to enjoy in Siena that one day is certainly not enough.  Spend time, stay in a small B&B or little hotel, if you go for the Palio go the week before and enjoy the build-up to the race, take an Italian class, have a Guiness at the Irish pub in Piazza Gramsci, let Siena seep into your soul and that takes more than a day trip.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Siena, Siena, and more Siena next week on the show

Next week's radio show will cover all things Siena.  We'll start with the best sights.  Discuss the history of the founding of Siena and how the city is tied to Rome.  Then, we'll cover, what is in my opinion, the best lunch spot in Tuscany.  If God came to Siena he would eat here.  The Palio and where to see it.  How to really enjoy the Palio like a local.  Where to study Italian and get the most out of the classroom.  It'll be a great show.  Please tune-in on Thursday from 11:00 - 12:00 in the afternoon on  If you miss it grab it as a podcast on iTunes.

Dante and his living hell

Dante Alighieri has become Italy's most revered poet, but it took a while.  He was exiled from his beloved Florence due to his political association with the losing team, the White Guelphs. (The details of the political struggle is for another day...suffice it so say, as most fights occurred then, it was between the Pope and Power base of Florence.

To be exiled was a living torture.  Dante writes of it in Paradiso Canto XVII

"This is the arrow that the bow of exile shoots first.  You are to know the bitter taste of other's bread, how salty it is, and know how hard a path it is for one who goes ascending and descending other's stairs."

Close your eyes and think of what it would be like to never be allowed to go home again...ever.  You'll never see your family, friends, or the barista who knows just how you like your morning coffee on Saturday.  You'll never walk into your home to that comfortable, familiar smell that is your comforting home.  Dante's Italy wasn't like Italy of today where people get around on the trains and visit other cities.  Many lived their lives without ever leaving home...ever.  Exile was living hell.  Especially for Dante who loved his Florence so.

Dante's hell didn't even start with his exile.  His unrequited love was the stuff of legend.  In fact he loved his Beatrice so much that he made her his guide in Paradiso (Heaven).  She only spoke to him in life a couple of times.  His love was mostly from a distance.  He yearned for her and his love was never returned.  In fact, she barely knew who he was.  The best way to put yourself in Dante's shoes is to think back to high school when you were eating lunch on the uncool table and never thought to even speak to him or her for fear of rejection.  That burning love that never seems to go away even today.  That was Dante's love for Beatrice.

Near Dante's home in Florence is a little church that Beatrice and her family attended.  She is buried there.  It is worth a visit, unlike Dante's home which isn't.  At Beatrice's tomb you'll find baskets of letters written to Beatrice for her divine help in love.  There are letters from school children, teenagers, young adults...even those in their golden years.  It's amazing.  That fact of the matter is that Beatrice was the object of love and didn't really do anything to return love to Dante.  She has been immortalized as the divine guide in the Paradiso, but only because Dante's love for her never dwindled.

I think Dante would be happy to know that a monument in his honor is in Santa Croce and that he is "buried" (He's actually buried in Ravenna) with some of Italy's most famous sons like Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Ghiberti, and Galileo.  I think Dante would be happy to know that his statue is standing in the corridor of fame at the Uffizi.  I think Dante would love to know that his Beatrice is honored today because of his love for her.  

Throughtout his life he lived with and endured torment.  Torment from his local Florentines, torment from his government, torment from his church, and worst of all torment from his beloved Beatrice.  To get a taste of his agony read the Inferno.  To understand his complexity read Purgatorio.  The get a glimpse of his soul read Paradiso.  

Friday, March 6, 2009

Happy Birthday Michelangelo

Today is a great day.  It's sunny and warm in Chicago and it's Michelangelo's Birthday.  I won't be rude and tell you how old he is, but suffice it to say...we'll need a pretty big cake to get all of his candles on it.  Nonetheless, no birthday would be complete without a little discussion about the birthday boy.

1.  Today is his birthday.
2.  Thought his nursemaid gave him his love of sculpture.
3.  Didn't like painting at all.
4.  Considered himself a sculpture first and foremost.
5.  Refused the Pope three times for the job in the Sistine Chapel.
6.  Lorenzo Medici took him in to hone his artistic skill and ability.
7.  Beaten by his uncle and father to dissuade him from pursuing art as a career.
8.  Didn't trust anyone.
9.  Rarely changed clothes.
10.  Didn't eat or drink much.
11.  Was a little grumpy all the time.
12.  Some of his most famous work: David, Pieta, Pieta Ultima, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Sistine Chapel Altar Wall, Medici Chapel, St. Peter's Dome, Moses, and Pope Julius II's tomb.
13.  Would hate his current's not up to his standards.
14.  Motivation was the Belvedere Torso in the Vatican Musuem.
15.  His Risen Christ in Rome is rarely crowded to visit and you can get right up to it.  
17.  The How to Tour Italy Radio show segment with Angela is a great way to celebrate Mike's Birthday.
19.  Read the Agony and Ecstasy of Michelangelo for a great fictional and historical read.
20.  Michelangelo died in Rome.
21.  He was smuggled back to Florence after his death by his nephew.
22.  He was laid in state in Santa Croce in the Sacristy on the Main, Central Cabinet.
23.  You can see his unfinished tomb in Florence at the Duomo Museum.
24.  His nose was broken by a fellow artist after Mike criticized his artwork.