Archives for 0

An unchanging Florence: a view or two from Zocchi

One of the things that really amazes me about the historical centre of Florence is how little things have changed in the main piazzas for hundreds of years. There are superficial changes of course, from street lighting to shop fronts, but the essential look of our squares and many of the buildings around them seems much the same.

I was struck by this when looking at a painting of the Piazza della Signoria by the 18th century painter Giuseppe Zocchi, of whom I confess I had not heard before, although he is famous for his vedute, views, of Florence. Engravings of these were great hits with the Grand Tourists.

Another thing that fascinates me is the people and the activities in the square. You can learn so much about their dress and their pastimes. That looks like a small stage show at the back  — and I wonder what the stall in the foreground is selling?

Here’s another Zocchi veduta, this time of the city from the Arno.

If you want to see timeless Florence, you could do no better than the watermill’s unique Florence Add-on and you can learn more about it by clicking here.

Thanks to Freya, the scene is captured: a magnificent Winter day in the Piazza SS Annunziata

With the exception of Lara, the Breckon family are not very good at photography. I don’t mean we lack the capacity to recognise a good picture opportunity when we see one, nor that we don’t have the artistic ability to frame the shot. No rather, we usually leave our cameras behind.

So it as last Sunday when Lois and I went to the Archaeological Museum by the Piazza SS Annunziata in the centre of Florence, to see the Etruscan pottery and bronzes. It was a wonderful Winter day, cold but sunny, and in the piazza itself there was a market, concentrating of homemade artefacts, from socks to stone paintings (and some beautiful baskets with sinuous designs: we were tempted to buy one for the mill, but wondered exactly what we would do with it if we did.) There were also food stalls with cheeses, breads, oil, wine, fresh vegetables and so on.  All in all, a beautiful scene. “If only we’d brought our camera,” we moaned.

Happily for us, and unbeknownst to us, our friend Freya Middleton, the official Florence tour guide who organises personal tours for our guests taking the watermill’s Florence Add-on*, was also there and, unlike us, she brought her camera.  She posted some wonderful pictures of the market on her Facebook page, which enables us to re-live our memories and to show you how magnificent Florence can look in the Winter sunshine. So thank you Freya — and just look at the blue of that sky.

Incidentally, in the background you can see one of my favourite Florence buildings, Brunelleschi’s Foundlings Hospital, with the amusing terracotta tondi on its facade of babes in swaddling clothes by Andrea della Robbia.

We bought some very ripe organic cheeses at the market and enjoyed them pre-dinner on Sunday evening with a drop or two of Tuscan red wine. No photograph of that, I’m afraid: it’s all disappeared!

*You can find out more about the Florence Add-on by clicking here.

My wife and Thomas Edison

  My wife Lois is a patient person, normally equable, but she sees red if someone puts salt on a dish she has prepared for them without tasting it first. It seems that in this she is at one with Thomas Alva Edison. The great inventor, innovator and entrepreneur would always take those he was thinking about hiring out to dinner and ensure that the first course was soup.

Anyone who added salt to the soup without first tasting it was not taken on. The great man said he didn’t want anyone working with him taking decisions based on unfounded assumptions. “Quite right”, says Lois.

For goodnesss sake, taste it first!

Better a death in the family than a Pisan at the door!

Lois took Lara to the Conservatorio Pietro Mascagni*  in Livorno yesterday for her regular trumpet workshop with Professor Giorgio Lopardo there and it reminded me that there’s going to be a big shake-up of Italy’s regional administration system in 2014, which has already ruffled many feathers and is now leading to lots of horse trading, if you don’t mind me mixing my agricultural metaphors.

In Italy we have regions, like Tuscany, Piedmont and so on, and beneath them a tier of 86 provinces, responsible for things like planning, police, fire, roads and transport. The watermill is in the Tuscan province of Massa-Carrara. The plan now is to reduce the provinces to 31 and to amalgamate Massa-Carrara into a new province of Livorno-Lucca-Massa-Carrara-Pisa. (I guess it’s going to have a snappier name come the amalgamation.)

There have been lots of protests of course, as such amalgamations inflame old local rivalries – and nowhere is that more true than in Tuscany. The Livornese and the Pisanese, for example, have for centuries had a relationship of ‘cordial loathing.’ The Livornese have a saying:  “Better a death in the house than a Pisan at the door.” And the Lucchese seem to feel the same way, with mothers in Lucca threatening their recalcitrant children with “The Pisans are coming.” This saying originated after the invasion of Lucca by Pisa in 1314, which is the day before yesterday by Italian standards.

Nonetheless, Pisa, Livorno, Lucca, Massa and Carrara are going to have to get it together and get together, whether they like it or not. The new decree also stipulates that the capital of the mega-province should be its largest city, in our case Livorno, but it also allows local politicians to stitch up deals, prompting fears of horse-trading. Lucca, for example, might bid for capital status with the backing of Massa and Carrara. Machiavelli, thou shoulds’t be living in this hour!



Pisa, Livorno, Lussa, Massa, Carrara: time to get together chaps!

We’ll let you know how it all turns out.

*Composer of the sublime Intermezzo from Cavalliera Rusticana – and here’s a link to a wonderful performance by a Chinese orchestra. Please just click here.


The three great domes of Florence: how the synagogue survived

When we lived in our old flat in Borgo La Croce in the centre of Florence we could see from our upper roof terrace the three great domes of Florence: Brunelleschi’s magnificent cupola of the cathedral and beyond it, much smaller, the dome of the Cappella dei Principi, part of the complex of the church of San Lorenzo, the Medici’s own parish church. But much nearer to us was the large green dome of the Great Synagogue of Florence or Tempio Maggiore. I tried to find a picture of all three domes, but most people cut off the synagogue from their photos and concentrate on the cathedral, like this:

That’s the cathedral dome to the right and, just to the left of Giotto’s bell-tower and the the right of the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, the dome of San Lorenzo. What you can’t see, to the right of the cathedral cupola, is the dome of the synagogue. Here it is:

During the Second World War Fascist forces used the building as a garage and, as the Allies advanced up the peninsula in 1944, retreating German troops and their Italian Fascist allies determined to destroy the synagogue, just as they had tried to exterminate the Jewish race. Explosives were placed in the building, waiting to be detonated.  Italian resistance fighters managed to find and defuse most of them and in the end only a limited amount of damage was done. The synagogue was restored after the war – and again after being damaged in the disastrous Florence flood of 1966.

How wonderful that all three domes survive, including that of the newest of the three, that of the synagogue, built in the late 19th century.

When you come to Florence (perhaps as part of the Watermill’s Florence Add-on package: please click here for details) it is well worthwhile, when you’ve seen the cathedral and marvelled at Michelangelo’s masterpieces in San Lorenzo, to have a look at the synagogue, too. Its design integrates both Italian and Middle Eastern architectural traditions and with wonderful Moorish-type patterned designs all over the interior.

And you might also try the great vegetarian Jewish restaurant, Ruth’s, close by, where you’ll be sure of a warm welcome and tasty, interesting Jewish food . Click here for more. It’s about time the Breckons wen’t back for more: we particularly like the falafel!


Alberto’s inspired by Georgia’s cocktail

Alberto Gallego, from Spain, has already been on two painting holidays at the watermill and he obviously has a lovely time.  His latest painting, inspired by the fun-filled, sun-filled, inspiring weeks he’s spent with us, looks like this: Yes it’s the famous watermill cocktail, which we serve every evening on the vine verandah at half-past-six. We call it Georgia’s cocktail’ after the charming young waitress who mixed and served it for us last year. (Georgia’s now at college, so you’ll get me serving it these days, more often than not.) It’s a lovely mixture of Aperol (one of those Italian Campari-like drinks, only orange- coloured), white wine and tonic water, with slices of oranges and lemons and served well-iced. Just the thing after a hard day painting or writing and to enliven your taste buds in preparation for one of Lois’ or Mirella’s marvellous dinners. Alberto says the picture is “specially dedicated to dear colleagues and hosts at Posara.”  Thank you, Alberto and we hope to see you again soon.

Are you a dangerous artist? Come and join us!

We thought this poster, issued by the notorious Senator Jo McCarthy, instigator of Communist witch-hunts America in the 1950s, might be of interest to those of you contemplating a painting holiday or creative writing course with us next year.  Did you know you were dangerous?

Far from saying ‘Beware of Artists’, we welcome them here with open arms for dangerously inspired tuition, dangerously amiable conversation and dangerously delicious food.

So why not live dangerously and join us for one of our fun-filled, sun-filled dangerous painting holidays or creative writing courses at the watermill?

Warming old Labradog bones in the Posara sun

Lois and I aren’t the only ones to enjoy the wonderful display of roses on our pergola. Our younger daughter Lara and our older Labradog Bella played on the lawn in the sunshine last weekend.  And here they are, roses and all.

Bella’s beginning to feel her age – she’s nearly 12, so getting on a bit in doggy years and feeling a bit stiff – so she likes nothing better than lying in the sun and having a bit of tender loving stroking.