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!

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.

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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)

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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!

The sun also rises…

… and has made us self-sufficient in electricity generation!

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

The picture above, from our handy little photovoltaic monitoring app, shows that that today we have produced our first 10,000 kilowatt hours (10 MWh) of electricity from the sun. And we’ve also saved some seven tons of carbon dioxide production.

Our arrays of photovoltaic panels, hidden away on our south-facing roofs overlooking the river, make us self-sufficient in electricity generation, even powering the new air-conditioning units installed in all our bedrooms and public rooms.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Solar power to keep you cool. Some of our panel embedded in the roof of the 19th century Mill 2.

As you know, the Watermill is renowned for its inspiring teaching, its beautiful setting, its delicious food and wine, and its warm and welcoming hospitality. Now, whatever the weather, you will be Cool and Green with us.

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

Lockdown musings continued: a larger-than-life character who brought opera to the world

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
He ate the spaghetti and signed the photo. Luciano Pavarotti enjoying life. Picture: Getty Images

Continuing my occasional musings on art and music during quarantine in Florence, I’ve been thinking about Luciano Pavarotti, the larger-than-life character (in all senses of the word) who helped popularise opera, or at least bring to a larger audience many of the wonderful melodies of the great composers like Verdi and Puccini.

It was said that in Verdi’s day, Italian grocery delivery boys whistled the tunes of the latest arias as they peddled their bicycles, but in the last 50 years or so opera has become something of a cult, enjoyed by the few but spurned by the masses. I think that was particularly true in Britain.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Nessun dorma : Let no-one sleep!

There is one tune, however, that just about everybody knows, even in Britain, and that’s Nessun Dorma. Pavarotti’s version of this rousing Puccini aria was adopted by the BBC as the theme tune for its coverage of the 1990 World Cup (held in Italy) and became so popular that it reached number two in the hit parade. And the eve of the World Cup final saw the first of the Three Tenors concerts, which became the biggest selling classical record of all time. But it was Pavarotti’s smiling personality and captivating voice which really appealed to non-opera lovers and which frequently filled concert halls and open-air venues alike.

I was reminded of Pavarotti’s genius by watching a short YouTube video in which Antonio Pappano celebrates the tenor’s skills and explains why he is so good. You can see it by clicking here. Pappano’s knowledgeable comments add to the spine-tingling enjoyment.

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

Nessun Dorma comes from Puccini’s Turandot, the composer’s last, and unfinished, opera. There is a rickety plot with fantastic characters, but the opera enables Puccini, my favourite composer, to heighten our emotions and tug at our heartstrings. And heartstrings were definitely pulled at the opera’s debut performance in 1926, at La Scala in Milan, conducted by the incomparable Arturo Toscanini. In the middle of the last act, the orchestra paused, Toscanini put down his baton and turned to the audience. His precise words are now disputed, but I find this version the most satisfying. Toscanini said: “Here the opera ends, because at this point the Maestro laid down his pen.”  The curtain was lowered slowly.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Our 2020 creative courses: waiting to welcome you! Summer and autumn availability

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

Updated 30 March 2020

We hope this report finds you well and in good heart in these difficult times for all of us.

In view of the coronavirus situation, which seems to change daily if not hourly, we have postponed our early courses, pushing them back to later in the year when, hopefully, the situation will have been resolved.

We do hope you will be able to plan ahead for when we are through this difficult time and you are ready for a relaxing and inspiring break away from it all. Please come and join us.

Please 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 to later in the year or even until 2021. You can find out all about our coronavirus strategy by clicking here.

Below you will first find details of our rearranged inspiring painting courses, followed by information on our creative writing, knitting and Italian language weeks.

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

*** By the way, the Watermill is renowned for its inspiring teaching, its beautiful setting, its delicious food and wine, and its warm and welcoming hospitality. We are also Cool and Green, even in the summer: all the bedrooms and public rooms have air conditioning, powered by our hidden array of photovoltaic panels, harnessing the sun’s energy to makes us self-sufficient in electricity generation. So you will enjoy Tuscan sun and a cool watermill!

Our inspiring 2020 painting courses


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

Mark Warner
11 – 18 July 2020 – one or two places left
Colourful Acrylics, Drawing, Pen & Wash
To learn more about Mark and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


Carl March
18 – 25 July 2020 – three or four places left
Drawing and watercolours en plein air
To learn more about Carl and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page


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.


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

Rebecca de Mendonça
5 – 12 September 2020 – two or three places left
Pastels and Mixed media
To learn more about Rebecca and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


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

Maggie Renner Hellman
19–26 September 2020 – a few places left
Oils, acrylics, watercolours and pastels
To learn about Maggie’s courses, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Mary Padgett
26 September – 3 October 2020  – one place left
Pastels en plein air
To learn more about Mary and her course , please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


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

Milind Mulick
3 – 10 October 2020 –  fully booked, waiting list open
Colourful watercolours
To learn more about Milind and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.



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

Tim Wilmot
10 – 17 October 2020 –  fully booked, waiting list open
Watercolours
To learn more about Tim, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


Our enriching 2020 writing courses

Jo Parfitt
11– 18 July 2020 – one or two places left
Write the stories of your life
To learn more about Jo and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


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

Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran
8 – 15 August 2020 – two or three places left
Scriptwriting
To learn more about Laurence and Maurice and their course at the mill, please visit their 2020 Profile Page.


Our enticing knitting holidays

Louisa Harding
27 June – 4 July 2020 – two or three places
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about Louisa and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


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

Knitting Retreat
4 – 11 July 2020 – one or two places left
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about this retreat, please visit our 2020 Retreat Overview Page.


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

Renée Callahan
15 – 22 August 2020 – still a few places
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about Renée and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Our elevating Italian course

Langues Service and Francesca La Sala
22 – 29 August 2020 – still a few places
Italian from the Italians
To learn more about Federica and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


We do hope that you will be able to join us, taking a well earned rest from the troubles of the world and enjoying our inspiring teaching, our beautiful setting, our delicious food and wine, and our warm and welcoming hospitality. And be Cool and Green.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Away from it all: the Watermill riverside

A symbol of better times to come?

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

In this period of enforced incarceration, Lois and I are in our apartment in Florence, while Karsten is in solitary splendour of the Watermill, making sure everything is looking spruce and ready for our guests when our season eventually starts.

From time to time our gardener Flavio Terenzoni pops by to ensure that the millstream is behaving itself and the gardens are not getting unruly. Yesterday he gave the lawn a trim for the first time this year.

While he was checking the millstream, he took the picture above of the primroses blossoming there. We hope they are a symbol of better times to come.

I made one of those fun Facebook slideshows of these pictures and more, which you can see by clicking here.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Daffodils in the Watermill walled garden. Picture Flavio Terenzoni
The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
First trim of the season. Picture Flavio Terenzoni.
The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Spring is springing along the river. Picture Flavio Terenzoni

Raising a glass (or two) in virtual aperitivi

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Aperitivi and a Negroni: the real thing!

What we miss most in our enforced incarceration in our adopted home city of Florence is the evening passeggiata and aperitivo. We used to enjoy a Negroni and prosecco in our favourite bar and, of course, ‘laughter and the love of friends’.

We have made up for that loss in some way by having ‘virtual aperitivi’ on our computers. We set up Zoom or WhatsApp (or rather the young and technically savvy Lois does; it’s rather beyond Bill these days) and sit in front of our computer where we can see our friends raising a glass, and they can see us too. Then we have a chat for 40 minutes or so, trying to avoid the topic of the dratted c*****v****s, not always successfully, but there is much bonhomie and laughter. Ain’t it amazing, this international communications on what Bill calls the interweb?

On Friday we were talking to two friends, Nick and Vivienne, who live near the Watermill in Lunigiana. During our conversation, Nick’s phone rang and it was his daughter Lucy, calling from the West Coast of North America. So we had a five-way intercontinental conversation! In the picture below (sorry about the quality), Nick holds up his mobile phone showing Lucy, while in the small screen in the top right-hand corner Lois and Bill look on.

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

On Saturday night there was a three-way get-together, with two pairs of Florentine friends. It’s not quite as perfect as Negronis and prosecchi in the 19:26 bar, but is not a bad second-best.