Archive for June 2009

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Katarina Ivanovska PhotoKatarina Ivanovska Photo

Katarina Ivanovska PhotoKatarina Ivanovska Photo

Katarina Ivanovska PhotoKatarina Ivanovska Photo

Katarina Ivanovska PhotoKatarina Ivanovska Photo

Katarina Ivanovska PhotoKatarina Ivanovska Photo

Katarina Ivanovska PhotoKatarina Ivanovska Photo

Katarina Ivanovska PhotoKatarina Ivanovska Photo

Model: Katarina Ivanovska
Photographer: David Burton
Magazine: Elle - Italy (June, 2009)
Editorial: "Temptation Island"

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Slikite se izbrisani po baranje na Ana Danchevska
The photos have been removed at the request of the model

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I've got a little time now, people, before I go out for the evening, so I thought I'd try to write a bit about Milan before I get too backed up in my writings.

Today is my third and final day here. I arrived on Saturday afternoon after a two and a half hour train ride from Venice. I had never visited Milan before, but as the train rolled into Milano Centrale station, I had to remind myself that I had rolled into the station before - not once, but twice. That was on my first visit to Italy in 1990, when I arrived from Germany and changed trains to go to Turin, and then when I left Italy, arriving from Venice and changing for a train to Zurich.

Now I was going to actually spend some time in the city. I suppose I can call Milan something of an Italian equivalent of New York City - a large commercial center with a lot of activity, especially in the world of fashion. It's an elegant city, with many beautiful old buildings, though not seemingly as old as the oldest parts of Rome, Florence or Venice..

[The owner of the hotel here just changed the channel on the TV and the original Star Trek is on. It's strange hearing Kirk and Spock speak Italian!]

Back to Milan, it's also a city that doesn't seem flooded with tourists. Oh, it has its visitors, but not anywhere near the amount Rome, Florence and Venice get. On my trains to Florence and Venice, my rail car was pretty much close to full each time. Coming here to Milan, the car was nearly empty. Also, in the two restaurants where I've had dinner here, I think the only language spoken by the other patrons was Italian. No English, French, German, etc. Food prices seem lower here, too.

Anyway, after my train arrived and I dragged my luggage through the streets to my hotel, I checked in and got organized. The hotel occupies the fourth floor of a building here and it thankfully has an elevator. However, it's one of those elevators that was installed in the midst of the staircase some time after the building was built, and this elevator is small - about five feet wide but only about two feet deep. (Seriously. Look at the photo with my foot among the red elevator walls.) It reminds me of the elevator in the film "The Producers" that Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom squeeze into with Roger Debris' assistant, Carmine Guilla, only they would never have fit into the one here.

After settling in and resting a bit, I took a walk into the center of town, seeing the great Gothic spires of the Duomo (cathedral), walking through the Galleria Vittore Emmanuelle (a series of four five-story buildings with the area between them covered by a glass and metal structure built in the 1800s) and the famous La Scala opera house.

After exiting the Galleria into the Piazza della Scala, across the street from the opera house, I came upon an example of Milan's being the fashion capital of Italy: a rehearsal for a fashion show was going on, with lights and TV cameras set up. As I didn't have any other plans, I stayed around for a while and watched the girls girate through rehearsals of their dance numbers. I took a few photos, too. I didn't feel like waiting around an hour and a half for the show to start for real, so I just walked back to my hotel, stopping by for some pizza (prepared by Italians) on the way.

Yesterday was down on my schedule as a day to hit the museums here. I was not planning to go to one of Milan's main attractions - The Last Supper, painted by Leonardo da Vinci - as a reserved ticket is required and I was unable to get one before I left home, even though I tried to book one online over a month ago. (Only 25 people are allowed in at a time, for a total of 15 minutes.) Still, the hotel manager suggested that I might be able to get in on a Sunday, so I figured I had nothing to lose by trying.

When I got there, next to a church in a quiet part of town, I saw a sign inside that all of the tickets were sold out. Still, I told the woman at the desk that I had tried to book over a month ago without success and had travelled a long way to be here. She said she couldn't help me, other than to suggest that next time I try to book a ticket not online but via the phone. If one tries to book online now, she said, the soonest they can get a ticket is for September, but by phone, one can get a ticket for only two weeks from now.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. If I had phoned instead of using the website to book the ticket, I could be going in now? I mean, what kind of bullshit is this? Of the 25 alloted tickets per session, do they only allot five for online booking but 20 for phone orders??? If that's the case, why not tell people about it?

Still, it gets worse. As I couldn't get in to see the Da Vinci painting, I walked over to the Castello Sforzesco, a huge fortress built centuries ago that houses a number of museums. In the outer courtyard, I was speaking with a fellow from Buenoa Aires who also tried to get in to see The Last Supper without an advance ticket. He said that he counted the number of people on one tour group going in and it was only 15. He then asked if he could go in, as there was space for ten more. The answer he got (according to him): "Sorry, but we don't actually have the tickets here, so you can't go in." Again, what kind of an asshole has set up this system? This painting is a world treasure and they're doing everything they can to make it as difficult as possible to see it!

I spent several hours at the Castello, going through the collections. The highlight was the Pieta Rondandini, an incomplete sculpture by Michelangelo that was apparently one of the last pieces he worked on during his life (see photo) There was also a medieval carving of a bearded fellow who looks a lot like a good friend of mine. (If you're reading this, you know who you are.)

After that, I walked on over to the Pinacotecca Abrosiana - the Ambrosian Gallery - a nice collection of paintings in a beautiful old villa. Among its highlights were paintings by Da Vinci, Botticelli, Titian and Caravaggio - plus Raphael's life size preparatory drawing for his painting, The School of Athens, which I saw in the Vatican.

I still had some time left before heading back to the hotel, so I walked to and through the Quadrilatero D'oro - the Golden Quadrilateral - or Milan's fashion district. All of the high end designers seem to represented here, some with more than one store. Armani, Versace, Gucci, Pucci, Rolex, Cartier, YSL, Bruno Magli, Salvatore Ferragamo - the list goes on. One of the streets in this area is named Via Gesu - Jesus Street - which is appropriate because after seeing the prices, you'll want to exclaim, "Jesus!!!" I walked around looking at the window displays, my favorite being one that had seven Snow Whites with one Dwarf.

After taking the tram back to my hotel, I thought of eating at a Chinese restaurant nearby. After looking at the menu, I decided to stick to Italian food, so I went to the osteria in the building next to the hotel - only to find that this Italian restaurant was run by Chinese people, too! I know that Little Italy in New York has been eaten up by an expanding Chinatown over the years, but could the Chinese be trying to take over Big Italy, too?

Today, finally, I didn't have much planned. I've only got three granola bars left that I brought from New York and I'll be saving them for tomorrow (as I need to leave very early, before any restaurants are open), so I went to a snack bar down the block to get something to eat for breakfast. The people working there were, of course, Chinese - but the chocolate and cream pastries were good. After that, I took the tram into the town center, where the first thing I did was to visit the museuym of the La Scala opera house. It was interesting, dealing mostly with old days of opera. Among the paintings of famous singers (Maria Malibran, Giuditta Pasta, Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi) and composers (Verdi, Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini, Puccini) were Rossini's eyeglasses, Verdi's piano and a sword presented to Ms. Pasta by Napoleon. (Judging by this and the total number of paintings of her, she must have been one hell of a singer.)

Then I walked over to the cathedral, went inside to look at its soaring interior, and then walked up to the roof. I could have taken the elevator up there, and despite my left leg still bothering me, I still walked. I saw that it was a climb of only 250 steps - a pittance compared to the 414 I walked to get to the top of Giotto's tower and the 436 to get to the top of Brunnelleschi's dome, both in Florence.

So, that pretty much brings things up to date. I got a special night planned, and I'll write about that next time. Until then, be well, everyone.



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Hello again, dear readers. I have moved on to another Italian city - this time, Milan. The football (soccer) game between Italy and Brazil just ended with Brazil winning 3-0, so I guess there are a lot of disappointed people around here. Still, life must go one.

I guess I should finish writing about my time in Venice before moving on to writing about Milan. When I wrote last time, I was just finishing up my second day out of the four I spent there. On the third, I decided to take to the water, buying a 48-hour water bus pass for 28 Euros. (That's over 40 dollars, but hey - a single ride costs about ten!).

My first goal was the island of Murano, known for its glass blowing industry. On the way to the Fondamenta Nova - part of Venice's northern edge, so to speak - to get the boat, I came across a young Russian/Ukranian couple, Oleg and Ludmilla, who I had met in Florence several days earlier while climbing down from the top of Giotto's tower. After talking with them for a little while, it was on to the boat and Murano. What did I find there?

Mostly shops selling glass - not surprising considering that glass-blowing is (apparently) the island's major industry. There were some beautiful things on display, for sure, but also a ot of kitschy little stuff. I did attend one glass-blowing demonstration, but otherwise just walked around. Some of the waterfront views were quite nice, but I didn't stay terribly long.

From Murano, I had thought of taking a boat to Burano (known for its lace-making) and perhaps even to the island of Torcello (which is even further out in the lagoon), but I decided to head back to Venice to use the water bus system once more to visit the Giudecca. This is a long island that makes up Venice's southern part (not including the Lido), separated from the rest of Venice by the 400 meter wide Giudecca Canal. I had read that it's mostly residential, and that seemed to be true. It was certainly very quiet, though there does also seem to be a significant industrial content there.

After returning to the hotel for a short time to take care of a few things, I headed out again with the intention of doing something I had not done before - go to the Punto Dogana, the pointy tip of the Dorsoduro section.. I had wondered what it was like out there, so I set out to find out - and I did. When I got there, I was surprised to find a statue about 7 feet high of a nude boy holding a frog. This I did not expect to see, especially since I thought the building next to the point was a church building. Instead, it belongs to an arts foundation, and the statue is part of an arts display, apparently. As I had an unlimited boat pass, I took the water bus back when I saw one coming up to stop.

I used my pass once again the following day, this time to take a boat up the Grand Canal to the railway station. I got off there, did a little souvenir shopping, and then crossed over the bridge to the other side of the Grand Canal to do some exploring. I didn't have any plan in mind. My goal was to just wander, eventually working my way down to the Accademia Bridge.

I was planning to go to the Ghetto that night for dinner, having been invited earlier in the week to attend the weekly Sabbath dinner at the kosher restaurant, but I thought I'd get something to eat earlier. I wrote last time about how I had pizza at a place run by Chinese people. Well, looking around, I saw a lot of pizza places in Venice run by Chinese. This time, I went into another such place and asked for pizza bianca - white pizza, or pizza without tomato sauce. I tried to explain to the girl what I wanted, but she didn't seem to understand, so I moved on to the next pizza place - also run by Chinese.

Again, I asked for white pizza. She didn't seem to understand at first, but then I made some headway. "Pizza con mozzarella, funghi e tonno - ma no salsa di pomodoro. Si?" Finally I got the message across and got what I wanted, but as I wrote before, Venice seems to be changing demographically.

After walking around a bit more to take some final photos of Venice, I took the #52 boat to the Ghetto, just a stop or two after the railway station. This was to be the boat I would take from my hotel to the railway station to depart from Venice, so I was also interested in finding out how long the ride there would be, too. Dinner was nice, and I met people from around the world, but the tone was a bit more celebratory than usual, perhaps, as about half a dozen rabbinical students (mostly American) who had been studying in Venice had just been their rabbinical exams this weeks, so there was a lot of singing going on.

I had planned to leave around 10 or 10:30, but the older rabbi in charge asked me to stay for the second dinner seating. I didn't want to eat any more, but as I had no reason not to stay, I did. That gave me a chance to talk some more with the students, but I didn't leave until after 11:30 - about 15 minutes after the last boat to my hotel had left. I had originally planned to walk back, it being my final night in Venice, but as it had rained that evening and threatened to do so again, I was really counting on taking the boat back.

Still, I had no choice buy to walk, and although lightning flashes lit up the sky and thunder rumbled, it didn't rain. As was the case three nights before, I got totally lost once the main street Strada Nova came to an end, so again I followed the signs through the quiet, mostly empty streets to San Marco. In St. Mark's Square, two six piece orchestras were taking their turns playing as I had seen before. On my last night in Venice, I stood there spellbound as one group played the theme song to the film "Titanic," and for that moment, all seemed right with the world.

As I wrote before, I am now in Milan. Coming to this busy city from Venice feels a bit like waking up from a dream. I was going to write a little about it tonight, but as it's late and I'm feeling tired, I think I'll end it here.

Be well, everyone.



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Here I am now in Venice, the city on the water. How does it feel for me to be here again?

Rome is a city for the ages - the Eternal City. Florence, with its art and imposing buildings, is the great city of the Renaissance. Yet Venice....Venice....Venice is beautiful. Venice is lyrical. Venice is entrancing. Most of all, Venice is quiet. In the past, Venice was known as La Serenissima - the Most Serene Republic. Its great days of empire and control over the eastern Mediterranean are gone, but Venice remains serene.

That's not to say that Venice is silent. In the touristy areas like San Marco and on commercial streets, there's lots of noise. Go away from those places and you might feel like you're alone in the world. One can still hear sounds - of people talking, of shoes walking on the pavement, of an occasional boat going by on a canal. What you won't hear are the sounds of cars here. No buses . No motorcycles.

Of course, one need not worry about crossing the street and getting hit by a car, either. Still, Venice does have its unique challenges, such as getting around by boat when not walking (a challenge of its own, as you'll read).

I arrived here yesterday morning on a train from Florence. I stepped out from Venice's Santa Lucia station and there, across the Grand Canal, was the green domed church that I remembered from my last visit here. My hotel is way too far from the station to walk it, so I bought a ticket for the vaporetto, or water bus. I boarded line #51 as the ticket seller had advised, and I thought it would wind its way down the Grand Canal to my stop, San Zaccaria.

That's not what happened. Instead, the boat moved off in the opposite direction, taking a major side canal and then turning left onto the very wide Giudecca canal. On the left, we passed a very large, four deck yacht. Then a cruise ship (the West Wind, registered in Nassau), followed by some catamaran ferries. At last, some domes became visible - the church of Santa Maria della Salute - followed by the tower in St, Mark's Square. I was indeed back in Venice.

Once I got off at the San Zaccaria stop, it was my turn to drag my bags through the narrow streets (and over one bridge) to my hotel on a street called Ruga Giuffa. It's a nice place here, the Hotel Al Piave - the best on my trip. (I decided to splurge a little here.) After checking in and getting settled a bit (the woman at the desk was amazed that any American visitor can speak any Italian) , I head out to go to the Jewish Ghetto section - the first Ghetto in Europe. I had looked over the map and felt confident I knew exactly how to walk there.

Yeah, right. Within five minutes of leaving the hotel I was completely and totally lost. In Venice, getting lost is inevitable, so I might as well have done so right from the start. Of course, that's one of the joys of Venice - getting lost, wandering around and discovering things you may never have found otherwise. On the (wrong) way to the Ghetto, I came across a shop where a woman was painting ceramic carnival masks. There are plenty of shops selling such things, but not many where they're actually painted by the artist.

I did make it to the Ghetto eventually, visiting the Jewish Museum along with the area's three old, unused synagogues on a tour. The German synagogue in particular is a real gem - like a mini Venetian theater. After having dinner in the area, it was my turn to try my luck in getting back to my hotel. The first part was easy, walking along some main streets, but then I got to the part where I had gotten lost - and got lost again.

So, I did the next best thing: I followed the signs to Piazza San Marco - St. Mark's Square.
I knew how to get to the hotel from there, as it's close to the stop where I had gotten off the boat, and I also wanted to see the square. The signs did leave me there, and I found it to be a lively place. On one side of the square, in front of a large section of outdoor cafe seating, two four- or five-piece orchestras were playing musical favorites - one playing one the other one rested. They played music from Carmen, Swan Lake, Hungarian and gypsy music, and one of my favorites - "Mambo Italiano" - and it was all very entertaining. On my way back to the hotel, a jazz band was playing in front of a cafe opposite the Doge's Palace, too.

Today was a day for more art, but first I had a good breakfast for my first time here. The hotels in Rome and Florence didn't serve breakfast, but this one has a nice little buffet, plus eggs made to order. After that, I crossed the wooden Accademia Bridge to visit the Accademia Gallery, Venice's largest art museum. Then it was on to modern art at the Peggy Guggenheim collection.

Following that, on the way back to the hotel, I did something special: I paid a visit to the Teatro della Fenice, one of the world's great opera houses where some of the greatest operas had their premieres. The theater is open to visits with an audio guide (available in several languages), and it's a gem, though having only about 1,000 seats (compared to about 3,600 at the Met in New York). The theater was destroyed by fire in 1833 and then again in 1993, but each time it was rebuilt as it was before, showing that the theater lives up to its name, which means "the phoenix." Though no performance is scheduled while I'm here, the people there today were treated to seeing part of a rehearsal in full costume (though with a pianist rather than an orchestra) for an upcoming performance of Wagner's "Goetterdamerung" - the last opera in his Ring Cycle and one that I've not seen before.

After that, I went back to the hotel to get my big camera and went out to take some photos. On my way later to the Rialto Bridge, I found that I was passing my hotel - and I didn't even try to do it. That's part of the beauty of Venice - not being able to find something when you want it and then finding it when you don't. Like I said before, it's also nice to wander around making discoveries in the least likely places.

On the way back here, I stopped to get some pizza for dinner. The placed was staffed up front totally by Chinese girls. Some things may change here, but I don't think the charm of Venice will.

Be well,


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Here I am, folks, back in Florence - but this time in a different internet cafe (or 'internet point,' as they call it here) on the other side of the river Arno, near the Pitti Palace. I just had dinner a little while ago, but before that, after a day on my feet, I was feeling tired and thirsty, my right foot was killing me and my left leg was hurting, too. Do I want to call it quits and go back home? Not a chance!!!

Tonight will be my fourth night staying in Florence, but I've pretty much just written about Rome so far. Now it's this city's turn.

After I checked into my hotel in the old, central part of the city, I rested a bit and went out for a walk. I headed first for the river Arno which subdivides the city and walked across the 'old bridge' - the Ponte Vecchio. There are shops on both sides of the span, and while they were once the domain of butchers and the like, now it's jewelry stores (and one necktie and shirt store) that occupy it. It's like Florence's version of New York's 47th Street. If you like bling, this is the place.

The only thing I had planned for the first day was to do something I did not do last time I was here 19 years ago - climb to the top of the cathedral's dome. I waited until my last day in Florence to do it back in 1990, excpet that the last day was a Sunday and it was not closed. Not to repeat that error, I decided to do it on the very first day.

There are 436 steps to climb to get to the top, or so the sign at the entrance said (and who am I to dispute it?) I'd been climbing the steps at home to get back into shape lately, though without carrying about 20 pounds of camera gear with me. Still, I made it without any difficulty.

After walking up a very tight spiral staircase, one reaches the gallery inside the church. At this point, one is at the base of the dome on the interior, and you're afforded a great view of the church floor way way down below (through the plastic wall) and of the painted dome ceiling. The walkway, though, is not more than two feet wide (if it's even that much) so I was barely able to walk it with my camera bag strapped to me.

Then comes the ascent through the dome to the viewing platform on top. When I was up there, a young American fellow said of the beautiful view of Florence, "This is what makes it all worthwhile." Well, he may have gone up for the view from the outside, but I went up for the view of the inside!

Why? A Chinese friend of mine at my office who loves Italian art and has made the climb up puts it this way: "Every step is history." When the Duomo (cathedral) was designed by Arnolfo de Cambio in the late 13th/early 14th Century, he designed it with a huge space to be covered with a dome. There was just one problem: nobody knew how to build a dome. The ancient Romans did, but that knowledge was lost in the Dark Ages. Finally, an artist named Filippo Brunelleschi figured out a way to do it using interlocking bricks and designed outer and inner domes so the workman could live up there in between the two.

So, walking up inside, seeing those bricks, putting my hands on them, seeing the dome curve was all fantastic. Every step is indeed history - and I would just add, every brick, too.

I spent most of the following day on an inside mission of another variety. I went to the Uffizi Gallery, one of the world's great art museums. I had read that the line to buy tickets can be very long, so I decided to spend an extra 4 euros and buy one in advance the day before. When I got to the museum at 9:15 am - my reserved entry time - there was indeed a very long line of people without tickets. I thought I'd stay there for a few hours, then see another museum in the afternoon, but I didn't leave until (yikes!) 3:30 pm - over 6 hours later!!!

Why so long? Well, if you've been there you'd know. This museum has so many great and famous paintings, that having to chance to see the originals in the paint I was not about to rush through. The galleries start off with gothic/very early Renaissance Christian religious paintings (not my favorite genre, by any means), but when it gets further into the Renaissance it's one gem after another. Among the highlights - "The Birth of Venus" and "La Primavera" by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci's "Annunciation," Michelangelo's round "Holy Family," "The Venus of Urbino" by Titian, and on and on. There are also works by non-Italians like Rembrandt, Goya, Rubens, Chardin, etc.

Again, it is a joy to be able to see these masterworks in the original paint after looking at them for so long as reproductions. To see the grain of the canvas under the paint. To see the brushstrokes the artist made.

I had only one gripe - and I met some people from the UK who had the same thoughts: Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" is behind a thick pane of protective glass. Unfortunately, given the world we live in, I can understand why the museum wants to protect it's greatest treasures. That, however, isn't my complaint. "La Primavera" has the same type of glass in front of it but it doesn't suffer so much. Why? The "Primavera" is not opposite a wall with large windows, but some idiot decided to put "The Birth of Venus" in just such a spot. When you try to see the painting, you see the reflection of the light coming through the windows behind you instead. Didn't anybody bother to look at this?

When I left the museum, I was asked to take a few minutes to fill out a survey form. I told the fellow my complaint, and he said that I should write it on the form, so I did. Who knows? Maybe if enough people write this it might change. I'm not betting on it, but hey - you never know.

Yesterday, as I briefly wrote, I went on a day trip to Lucca, a beautiful Tuscan city about an hour and a half from Florence by rail. I was there 19 years ago and it was nice to be back for several hours. The buildings are beautiful, the streets are quiet and life seems to move at a slower pace. One of the highlights was walking to the top of the Torre Guinigi - a medieval building with a tower that has trees on top. It affords a beautiful view of the city and you get shaded by the trees, too.

From up there one can also see the Piazza Anfiteatro. This is an oval shaped piazza that was once an amphitheater in ancient Roman times. People built on top of the ruins over the years and the square still maintains the amphitheater's oval shape, even though there are no ruins to be seen anymore.

I did have a couple of disappointments in Lucca, though. The first was that I went on a Saturday when there's a morning flea market, but I couldn't find it in time. When the people at the tourist office pointed it out to me, it was too late. Missing it wasn't such a great loss, but I remember coming across it last time and seeing (I think) some old photos for sale that looked interesting.

The other disappointment was the the Casa Puccini museum was closed. Giacomo Puccini, the great opera composer, was born in Lucca and his birth place is now a museum. I went there on my last visit and went to the museum, so I was looking forward to going back, knowing more about his music now than then. At first I thought I missed it because it closed early on Saturday, but at the tourist office I was told that it's closed indefinitely for some reason.

More disappointment was to follow, however. From Lucca, I took the train to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. It is still there and it is still leaning, but unfortunately parts of it are covered be scaffolding and a part near the top is wrapped up with some kind of material. In other words, no good photos were to be had. The scaffolding is on the lower half, so I tried to use my telephoto lens to get just the top half, but the wrapping material will probably ruin that, too. Oh well. Sometimes surprises are good, sometimes thery're bad.

On the plus side, I had a couple of good surprises this morning. I got up early to go the the Accademia gallery to see Michelangelo's famous statue of David. I got there around 8:30 am and nearly walked past it, so nonedescript is the building. I didn't have an advanced ticket like I had at the Uffizi, and like the Uffizi I expected to see a long line to have to wait on. Instead, there was none. I just walked right in.

The other nice surprise was to find that the Accademia is having a special exhibit of black & white photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, comparing his work and how he used form to that of Michelangelo - Mapplethorpe's favorite artist, according to what I read. While making my obligatory look through the early religious paintings, I couldn't get the expectation of seeing David out of my mind. When I entered the Mapplethorpe exhibit, I forgot all about it.
The silver prints (and one platinum) in the exhibit were beautiful, and featured mostly nudes, a lot of men but also of bodybuilder Lisa Lyon and some other women. Thankfully, none of Mapplethorpe's more extreme images were included - I don't think Michelangelo used a bull whip in any of his portraits - but the oddest photo was a self portrait of a seated Mapplethorpe holding a cane topped by a miniature skull. It reminded me of none other than Barnabas Collins.

As for Michelangelo's David - well, what can words say about it. I'd already seen the replica of it in the Piazza della Signoria here in Florence (in the spot where the original used to stand), but it was nothing like seeing the original. It is simply a stunning work of art, and to see the quality Michelangelo gave to the marble is stunning. Taking photos of it is prohibited, but unlike the Sistine Chapel where the guards don't bother to stop anyone, at the Accademia they do - especially one female guard with long red hair, wearing a short skirt and high heels.

Still, my museum day was just starting. Tomorrow is my final day in Florence, but it's a Monday, when most museums are closed. So, today was the day to get my art viewing in. Next stop was the sculpture museum, the Bargello. There are actually three statues of David here. The two most interesting are by the great sculptor Donatello. The first one, made in 1408, is a stone sculpture done in an almost gothic style. It could not be more different than the one he made about thirty years later - a bronze sculpture of a nude (very) young man standing with one foot on the head of Goliath. (The text says that it was the very first nude sculpture of the Renaissance.) Like the one by Michelangelo, this one is breathtaking in its own way - and unlike the Michelangelo, you can get within an inch of it if you want.

The other David, by the way, is non-nude bronze by Leonardo da Vinci's teacher, Verrochio. When I was there, I heard a guide say that it is thought that the model for this David actually was the 14 year old da Vinci. She said that, while people know Leonardo to have been an artistic and scientific genius, few people know that he was also an exeptionally good looking man.

I finished off the afternoon by walking across the Arno to the Pitti Palace to see the paintings by Raphael, among others, there. The Pitti was a palace, so the building is a work of art in and of itself. Still, going there was probably too much. Walking around from place to place most of the day had not left my bad foot hurting so far on this trip, but today, spending a lot of time standing relatively still to look at art work, was just too much. I guess I'll have to be careful what I do from now on.

Tomorrow I had thought of making a day trip to Siena or Bologna, but I'll probably stay in town as I need to change money, do some laundry and stuff like that. There are also some things here in town that I want to do, like climb the tower next to the cathedral to get some good photos of the dome. Whatever I do, I will not be setting my alarm clock!

So, now that I've run down my day to day activities, here are a few other thoughts.

Hotels: I'm staying at the same place in Florence that I stayed at 19 years ago. Not only that, I'm in the same room! I just felt a little weird about that, like (as Shirley Bassey sang) a little bit of history repeating. I told this to a young woman from Montreal I met on the train back to Florence yesterday, and she said that maybe I'll meet myself.

Crossing the street: Yes, Italy does have traffic lights, but most street crossings (including some very busy intersections) are at black and white 'zebra' crosswalks. This would be fine if it were San Francisco, where people stop to let you go by if you're six feet from the curb. Here, even if you're on the curb - or even in the street - cars won't stop. You have to make the first move and hope that they'll stop for you. If this weren't bad enough, I was hit by a car two years ago, so that makes it even worse. So far I have survived, but I also put my hand up to let the drivers know of my intention to cross.

Gypsies: Last time here in Florence, the gypsies tried to rob me twice in one day. I saw lots of them in Rome, too - kids running around, shoving papers in your face to distract you while they go for your valuables. I think that's one reason why it's taken me so long to come back. The good news? I haven't seen any such kids running around. None in Rome - just a couple of older women begging. I mentioned that to the woman at my hotel here, and she said yes, there are a lot less than there used to be, but there are still some around, so she advised caution. So far it has not been a problem - and I hope it will stay that way.

Food: Naturally, I've been eating Italian food, but avoiding tomato sauce as it's not good for my stomach. I have had insalata caprese - mozarella and tomatoes - several times, though. Last night I had a Tuscan type of pasta called pici. It's like a thick spaghetti. I had it at my photo workshop in another part of Tuscany in 1998, but not since then. All of the Italian people I mentioned it to in New York had never even heard of it, so I guess only Tuscan people know of it and offer it. Tonight, instead of having pasta or pizza again, I had a calzone with ricotta cheese.

Gelato: Ice cream. As I overheard one American woman say, there seems to be a gelateria on every corner. She left out the ones in between the corners. Yes, gelato is everywhere it seems. I think today will be first day in a while I haven't had any - but then there's still tomorrow.

Well, that's it for now. I'll try to write again from my next destination.
Until next time, be well.



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