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Bill’s marathon progress — stand clear of the doors please!

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

I’d like to keep you up to date on my progress towards the World’s Slowest Marathon – 422 100-metre laps around our Florence apartment. I’ve been at it for 19 days now, at 20 laps a day, so that’s 38 km under my belt.

I had an email from Mo Farah (only joking) asking if I had hit the Wall yet. I was able to tell him that I hadn’t hit the wall, but occasionally bumped into the French windows leading to our balconies.

The big moment will come during the Easter weekend – and we’ve already bought a large Italian Easter egg to celebrate. We’ll keep you posted as the finish line approaches.

Whatever you are doing to keep fit and add some fun to your enforced incarceration, we wish you well. Keep safe and keep smiling. We hope to see you at the Watermill before too long.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
For the winner, the prize.

Blue sky and buds. What more could a serin want?

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

This good-looking creature, photographed recently at the Watermill by our gardener Flavio Terenzoni, looks like he (or she; I think it’s a male but I’m no expert) is having a good time. Not surprisingly, because he likes eating buds and it’s a budding time of year.

He’s a European Serin, verzellino in Italian, and one of rural Italy’s commonest birds. A relative of the canary, the serin’s trilling song is part of the background to the marvellous dawn chorus we enjoy at the Watermill on spring mornings.

Or we would do, if only we were there: we are locked down in Florence, with cooing pigeons, a magpie or two and the odd sparrow flitting about outside our apartment. We are, however, beginning to look out for the swifts, who should be with us in another couple of weeks.

No sign yet.

Traditionally they arrive in Rome, on 21 March the feast day of St Benedict: (San Benedetto, rondini sotto il tetto, Saint Benedict, swifts under the eaves). There is no sign of them yet in Florence…

Their raucous screeches as they swoop around the rooftops may not be as pleasant as the serins’ song, but they are harbingers of summer, so their arrival will be welcome. Unlike us, they’re free to travel. We will let you know when they make their appearance, after their long journey from the south of Africa.

They are on their way!

No need for Lisztomania: you can enjoy this exhilarating piano-playing quietly at home!

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

In my lockdown musings on Florentine and Italian art, architecture and music, I would like to introduce you today to a Ukrainian-American pianist playing music by Hungarian composer, recorded in Holland!

It is Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 2, played by Valentina Lisitsa, and you can see it by clicking here.

There is (very) tenuous links to Florence, in that I’ve seen a grand piano played by Liszt in the Palazzo Capponi, the Florence home of Stanford University, but I must confess that’s pushing it!

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
The tenuous link: Palazzo Capponi in Florence.

My excuse is that Valentina’s playing will amaze and inspire you by its sheer virtuosity. Just under ten minutes of extraordinary piano-playing that will invigorate your day. You can admire it quietly, in the privacy of your own home, unlike the earlier performances by the composer himself.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Plenty of locks to choose from!

Liszt was an old musical show-off, of course, and his composing and his piano concerts played unashamedly to the gallery. Lisztomania, the hysterical ecstasy of his female fans, preceded Beatlemania by more than a century. His fans would wear his portrait on brooches, and some would try to grab his handkerchief and gloves. A lock of his hair was as gold dust.

And not just his hair: some women carried around glass phials, into which they poured his coffee dregs and according to another report: “Liszt once threw away an old cigar stump in the street under the watchful eyes of an infatuated lady-in-waiting, who reverently picked the offensive weed out of the gutter, had it encased in a locket and surrounded with the monogram “F.L.” in diamonds, and went about her courtly duties unaware of the sickly odour it gave forth.” I don’t recollect the fans of John, Paul, George and Ringo go to quite such lengths!

So, make yourself a cup of coffee, click on the YouTube link and enjoy an exhilarating ten minutes. It might just make your day! And you can keep the coffee dregs!

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Exhilarating!

A breath of fresh air about those coronavirus statistics

Anyone with the merest smattering of knowledge of basic science and mathematics will know that those coronavirus figures on new cases and deaths poured out every day are bunkum and balderdash.

Take the case of Italy, at the forefront of the spreading coronavirus pandemic. The latest figures (3 April) suggest that there have been 192,827 cases in the country, and 14,681 deaths, or a fatality rate of about 7.6%. These figures seem to be beginning to plateau, so hopefully we are over the worst. There have been suggestions, however, that the very high number Italian deaths has, in fact been under-reported, because tests were not made on those who died in nursing homes or at home.

A casual glance at the current statistics shows that the death rate in Italy coronavirus is 243 people for every 1 million of the population, the highest currently recorded in the world. It compares with 53 per million in the UK at 22 per million in the US. These figures are clearly bunkum and balderdash too. It is highly unlikely that five times as many people in Italy are dying from coronavirus as in the UK, or 10 times as many as in the USA. Italy has one of the most highly developed health systems in the world and the Italians are, in general, among the healthiest, even if there are more old people here than elsewhere.

So thank goodness for Carlo La Vecchia, Professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at the Statale di Milano University (but be prepared for some colossal figures). Prof La Vecchia analysed a study of people with coronavirus symptoms who have not been tested. He has calculated that the true number of cases in the country could be 5 million, and might even be as high as 10 or 20 million!

Colossal numbers, but actually good news: if these figures are true, the mortality rate in Italy from coronavirus will be much, much lower than it appears, in fact possibly as much as 25 times less than the fatality rate based solely on laboratory-confirmed cases and deaths. The current figures could be underestimating the number of cases by a factor of up to 1/100. The official statistics on deaths would only be underestimating the true number by a factor of ¼. Put it another way, with, say, 10 million cases and, say, 60,000 deaths, the mortality rate would be 0.6%. Or, if 20 million Italians have been infected, the mortality rate would be 0.3%. So 99.4% or 99.7% of those infected would have survived.

(Even the large numbers proposed by Prof La Vecchia wouldn’t be enough to establish herd immunity in Italy, which would probably require some two thirds of the population to have been infected by the virus. Italy has a population of 60 million or so, so herd immunity would need around 40 million people infected. But we are well on the way and the new vaccine could complete the job.)

All these figures are a breath of fresh air and should be put in front of doom-mongering journalists and over-zealous administrators, both in Italy and in your own countries.

Phew! That’s better. I can breathe more easily.

The genius of Giambologna: bringing bronze and marble to life

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Yesterday in another of my musings about art, architecture and music in Florence, I talked about Giambologna’s bronze equestrian statue of Grand Duke Ferdinando I, and of the bemusing bees at its base. (See http://www.watermill.uk.net/blog/?p=18449)

The monumental bronze equestrian statue was the last of Giambologna’s works (it was finished by his pupil Pietro Tacca) and the Grand Duke’s horse has its feet firmly on the ground. But in some of Giambologna’s earlier masterpieces he can almost make bronze – and marble too – take flight.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Take Mercury, the messenger of the gods, for example. You can see him in the Bargello, my favourite museum in Florence, and that’s him above. Giambologna completed the bronze in 1580 and it started life as a figure in a fountain in the Villa Medici in Rome.

Mercury is delicately balanced on the toes of one foot, on a breath of wind from the mouth of Zephyr. He is performing an elegant arabesque and pointing towards the heavens. Giambologna’s skill in balancing the weight of the sculpture is incredible: you believe that Mercury is hardly touching the ground and at any moment he will take off.

The second outstanding statue by Giambologna (a stab by the Florentines at pronouncing his real name, Jean de Boulogne) is the Rape of the Sabine Women, to be seen a few dozen paces away in the Loggia dei Lanzi, in the piazza signoria.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

It commemorates an incident when the ancient Romans attacked nearby tribes and abducted their women in a non-pc attempt to bolster their birthrate. A better translation of the original Latin would be The Abduction of the Sabine Women, but ‘rape’ seems to have stuck, although Livy claims there was no sexual assault, merely an abduction (!) to gather in potential wives. Be that as it may, Giambologna’s work is a technical and creative masterpiece, classicism and dynamism rolled into one.

Carved from a single block of stone, the statue is exciting from any angle. First you view the three bodies tangled together; from another angle you can see the woman’s face and the anguish on it; from the third, watch the Roman’s hand sink into her flesh. With her arm raised to the heavens, it seems that at any moment she might wriggle free.

The art historians will tell you that the Mannerist sculpture, completed in 1582, perfectly expresses the deep uncertainties of the late 16th century, compared with the calm confidence of the Renaissance, as seen in Michelangelo’s David across the way. All I can say every time I see the statue is “Wow!”

Oh! And here’s another bonus. A marvellous photograph of the ‘Rape’, with the shadow of Celllini’s Perseus in the background.

The Grand Duke’s statue continues to intrigue the children of Florence (me, too)

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

The Grand Duke Ferdinando I of Tuscany, although he’s been dead for 400 years or so, still has the capacity to keep unruly Florentine children under control, for a few moments at least. He is the subject of my latest musing during our enforced incarceration. If we can’t go to see him at least we can think about him.

It’s not the Grand Duke himself, of course, who keeps the kids in check, but rather his bronze equestrian statue. Sitting motionless in the elegant square of Santissima Annunziata, Ferdinando has a grand view of the dome of Florence Cathedral, while to his left is Brunelleschi’s graceful colonnade of the Ospedale degli Innocenti, echoed in the measured classicism of Caccini’s façade of the church of Santissima Annunziata behind him.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
The Grand Duke’s view.

And it’s not the Grand Duke’s look of stern command that awes the children, either. But rather, bees. Yes, in a bronze plaque on the pedestal of the statue, there is a multitude of bees surrounding their Queen. The aim is to reinforce the Medici message: the rule of one over many; happy and busy Florentine bees surrounding their monarch.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Because of the way the bees are arranged, however, it’s extremely difficult to count them. So that’s the task generations of Florentine mums have set their unruly children. It keeps them quiet for ages!

The answer, by the way, is 91. Or is it 92? Next time you’re free, have a go yourselves.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
I’m not telling!

More lockdown musings: a fishy tribute to Vasari’s genius

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

It is not often that fishmongers are the spur to architectural genius, but this is certainly the case in Florence. One of my favourite buildings (after the Duomo, of course, and Brunelleschi’s ospedale degli innocenti, and Giotto’s belltower, and…) is the loggia del pesce, the fish market, designed by that quintessential Renaissance man Giorgio Vasari: painter, architect, writer, historian.

We used regularly to pass it on our walks about the city, before we were confined to barracks, a graceful, rhythmic architectural space; a simple, friendly building that never fails to raise a smile. It is now in the piazza dei ciompi, but it had quite a few adventures getting there!

It all began with what we now call the Vasari Corridor, commissioned in 1565 by the Grand Duke Cosimo I, so he could walk from the palazzo vecchio to the Pitti palace, and not have to mix with the hoi polloi on his way home. So, the fishmongers, selling tench, carp and eel in their market near the ponte vecchio, had to go (as did the butchers on the bridge itself, who were replaced by less-smelly goldsmiths). Vasari’s new loggia del pesce for them was erected in 1568/9 in the old marketplace of Florence, now the piazza della repubblica.

Originally there was a double row of eight arches (increased to nine by Cosimo III in 1699) on alternating pairs of square and round columns enclosing canopied vaults. And around the outside, there are wonderfully colourful tondi celebrating fish and fishing, with flamboyant coats of arms at the corners.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

The loggia remained in the old market until the late 19th century. In the major urban renovation of the city following the unification of Italy, the old market was razed to the ground and the fish loggia haphazardly dismantled, piece by piece. That might have been the end of the story, had it not been for the perspicacity of the director of the San Marco museum, who rescued many of the pieces, and stored them for possible future use. It was to be another 60 years, however, before funds were raised to rebuild the loggia in the piazza dei ciompi in 1955/6.

Although we can’t get out to see it at the moment, we are content to know that it will still be there when we resume our passeggiate in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, let’s raise a cool glass of dry white wine (to go with the fish) to Giorgio’s lovely masterpiece.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
The fish loggia at night, Targetti lighting

Another Watermill guest revives his memories with a painting

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

We are delighted when previous guests send us pictures of the Watermill they have painted on their return home, reviving pleasant memories of their stay with us. The latest comes from Chris Franklin and shows the southern façade of the Watermill, with the river Rosaro tumbling beside it. Thank you very much for sharing it with this Chris. We look forward to welcoming you here again very soon.

Come and make your own memories of the Watermill. We are still running our famous creative courses – painting, creative writing, knitting and Italian language – in late summer and autumn. And our coronavirus pledge means your well-being is our concern and we will postpone courses if the situation means we are unable to run them or you are unable to come. Find out more about everything by clicking here.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

A colourful bouquet to you from Mike Willdridge

Painting by Mike Willdridge, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

In his daily quest to find beauty in simplicity, our friend and Watermill painting tutor Mike Willdridge sends us a Sunday bouquet. It’s all part of his lockdown project to explore the Japanese concept ‘shibusa’, beauty in everydayness, and make a new drawing on this theme every day.

Mike says: “Here is a bouquet of tulips purchased today at the supermarket. The rush of colour into our home seemed even more welcome in these difficult times and sent me straight away to the studio to respond with this collage.”

And when all these troubles are hopefully resolved later in the year, you can join Mike to enjoy the colourful beauty of the Watermill and its surroundings. His course, in watercolours and drawing (and gouache and acrylics) will run from Saturday 29 August to Saturday 5 September. Details and link below.

Why not give yourself something to look forward to and join Mike here? We think things will be back to normal by then, but don’t forget the Watermill’s coronavirus promise:

  • Rest assured that if travel restrictions in your own country or in Italy mean that the course cannot run on these dates, or that appropriate flights are not available, we will postpone your course again to later in the year or even until 2021.
  • If a workshop is cancelled, rather than just being postponed, we will refund any payment in full.
  • If a workshop is postponed and you cannot make the new dates for the tutor you have chosen, we will offer you alternative courses with others inspiring tutors, either this year or next.

Below is Mike’s beautiful but simple demonstration painting of the nearby church at Pognana. Come and see for yourself. We would love to welcome you here.

Painting by Mike Willdridge, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

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Mike Willdridge
29 August – 5 September 2020 – three or four places left
Watercolour and drawing (also gouache and acrylics)
To learn more about Mike and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


Painting by Mike Willdridge, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

The world’s slowest Marathon: a progress report

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Rounding Balcony Corner and into Sitting Room Straight.

Those of you who have been following my efforts to complete the world’s slowest Marathon (and the sporting world talks of little else) will be pleased to know that I have now completed no fewer than 16 km, well over one-third of the total distance.

You will recollect that I started this challenge a week or so ago, to help keep fit and relieve the boredom of our compulsory lockdown here in Italy. I was inspired by a man in France who ran a marathon up and down the 7-metre balcony of his apartment. I set up a walk around our Florence apartment, in and out of our balconies and round the sitting room, kitchen and bedrooms. The circuit, including Balcony Corner, Bathroom Bend and Sitting Room Straight, is 100+ metres, and I have been doing 20 laps a day.

Anyone seen Bill?

Since the Marathon is a mere 42.195 kilometres, I’ll knock it off in 422 laps or so, to be achieved in a breath-taking 21.1 days. Twenty laps take about 40 minutes, so in total the running time will be some 13 hours 20 minutes. Eat dirt Mo Farah and all those skinny Ethiopian long-distance runners. You have heard of the tortoise and the hare, so watch out, I’m just behind you. Well, a long, long way behind you.

Watch this space for more up-to-the-minute reports.