Archives for February 2013

Mountain biking down the dome

Florence dome mountain bike

It’s been a busy weekend for the Breckon family, with our new pastime of mountain biking down the wonderful dome of the cathedral in Florence. Bill was very glad his brakes worked when he got to the end of the nave!

They say the camera can’t lie, but if you believe the above, you’ll believe anything, but it’s a great photo, isn’t it!



Steady as you go! An Italian Prince Charming might be crossing the road.

Frogs crossing

Ever romantic, these Italians. Here’s a road sign I discovered on the FirenzeToday website ( Iit’s a warning that frogs (rospi) might be crossing. Slowly, please,” the sign continues. They could be you future Princes Charming.”

I am not sure my daughters would get out of the car to kiss a passing frog, potential Prince Charming or not!

girl frog

Are these the true faces of Leonardo da Vinci?

Do you look at  It was recommended to me by my dear friend and business guru Ken Kerman.  Basically there are thousands of riveting talks by remarkable people on ‘ideas worth spreading’. Each is only a few minutes long – and I am hooked on a daily dose of at least one TED talk.

One of the most intriguing is that by Dutch illustrator Siegfried Woldhek, who has used some clever image analysis techniques to reveal what he believes is the true face of Leonardo da Vinci.

It’s a curious fact that we have few if any authenticated self-portraits of Leonardo, despite the fact that he made hundreds of drawings of almost every subject under the Renaissance sun. Woldhek found there were some 120 male portraits and analysed them all. Working on the principle that a self-portrait would be full or three-quarter face and that it would be detailed, together with the fact that contemporary sources say that Leonardo was a handsome man, he eliminated all but three of them. Here they are.


The bottom one is often taken to be the only known self-portrait we have of Leonardo and even so, some art historians dispute that claim.  The one top right is the famous Homus vitruvianus, Vitruvian man, which must be almost as well known as the Mona Lisa. At top left is an earlier Leonardo painting, known as The Musician.  But are they really Leonardo self-portraits? Woldhek thinks so, pointing out that they all have the same broad forehead, horizontal eyebrows, long nose, curved lips and small, well-developed chin. And he should know about faces: he reckons he’s drawn more than 1,100 of them in his 30-year career drawing political and literary figures in the Netherlands and around the world.

And he thinks he has a reference portrait to prove his case: Verrocchio’s bronze statue of David (below), made between 1473 and 1475. It is widely thought that the 15-year-old Leonardo, a pupil of Verrocchio’s, was the model for the statue. And yes, he has the same feature as the other three ‘self-portraits’. The paintings above are also in the right chronological order: The Musician is from 1485, when Leonardo was 33; Vitruvian man is from 1490, when he was 38; and the old man dates from 1513, when Leonardo was 63.

Fascinating stuff.  See what you think: have a look at Siegfried Woldhek’s talk yourself by clicking here.

And you can learn more about TED talks in general by clicking here. I’d highly recommend it.



Camillo Negroni, another Italian genius

Here’s a picture of one of my heroes, a man by the name of Camillo Negroni. Count Negroni to you – and the genius who invented the wonderful cocktail that bears his name.

It was around 1919/20 that the count, a frequenter of the Caffé Casoni in Via Tornabuoni here in Florence, told the barman, one Fosco Scarselli, that he was tired of the usual Americano and suggested something different.

You’ll recollect that the Americano was invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari, producer of the great bitters drink, and consists of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water. It was originally known as Milano-Torino, since the Campari came from the former and the vermouth, originally Cinzano, from Turin. It was said that in the 1900s it became known as the Americano because the Italians noticed a surge of Americans enjoying it, but it’s more likely it derived from amaro meaning ‘bitter’ in Italian.

Anyway, tiring of the Americano, Camillo Negroni suggested that instead of the soda water, a slug of gin would add a bit of ‘oomph’ to the cocktail and barman Scarselli duly obliged. He also added an orange garnish rather than the typical lemon one in the Americano. The rest is history.

Orson Welles was a fan. He wrote of the Negroni from Rome in 1947: “The bitters are excellent for your liver; the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”

Nowadays Italian barmen tend to use Martini Rosso instead of Cinzano, but it’s of little consequence. The better class of establishment also offers you a choice of gin: mine is Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire.

The Negroni, with one third of each component (gin, vermouth, bitters), well iced and with a sliver of orange, is the ideal drink after a long hard day and a perfect component of the Florentine aperitivi, served in bars and caffés in the early evening as we make our passeggiata before dinner.

So, your health, salute!, and here’s to another Italian genius to stand alongside Michelangelo, Leonardo, Galileo, Marconi and the like. Tante grazie Camillo Negroni.

Aperitivi and a Negroni: the perfect combination