Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The terracotta potteries of Impruneta II

Mario Mariani Artigiano Terrecotte

Mario Mariani's kiln and workshop stand out from the others for two principal reasons. First, his is the only kiln left at Impruneta which adheres to certain old techniques and styles: the workshop displays the traditional design with the furnace on the ground floor, the raised loggia leading to the oven or kiln on the first floor, the courtyard outside and the pile of raw earth out back; plus, and this is the most significant: the kiln is wood-fired instead of gas-fired.

entrance to Mariani's workshop

The terracotta potteries of Impruneta I

Fornace Masini

Masini's address, 57-59 via Fornaci: Kiln Street

When we began restoring Le Ripe our master builder told me in serious tones that we could choose whatever tiling we wanted for inside, but for outside it would have to be either from the local firm in Radda or from 'Ferrone', as he put it.
Any other material would simply not withstand our winter frosts.

That was when I first realized the importance of both the local raw material and the local producers. Just the other day friends took us to two historic but very different and distinctive potteries or kilns in the Ferrone area, at Impruneta to be precise.

Masini potter at work, photo from Masini archive

The town of Impruneta is a 45 minute drive from Le Ripe, towards Florence. Impruneta and surrounds have been famous for centuries for their terracotta works which, large and small, are dotted all around the area. Some produce bricks and tiles, others produce pots, many produce both as well as garden statues, ornaments, signs, even furniture: anything that can be made in terracotta.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Perigee Moon

Moon over Radda

It is the very error of the moon,
She comes more nearer earth than she was wont
And makes men mad.

Othello, Act V Scene II

Mad with excitement in this case. 

The perigee moon: the closest the moon has been to the earth this year. It looks 14% bigger than usual and its proximity affects tides and who knows what else. As it rose above Radda we were astounded by the size. Unfortunately the photo does not render its deep golden hue...

Panzano Market

The bounty from Panzano this morning

Panzano's weekly market is a small affair, but specially in summer it can yield a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, even mozzarella and good cheeses, roast chickens and fresh bread.  This week we bought four types of tomato, radishes, sweet Tropea onions, fresh cannellini beans, friggitelle or small sweet peppers to braise in olive oil and garlic, melons to eat with prosciutto, white peaches, black cherries, red plums and small, tasty apricots. And fresh mozzarella, as good as in Naples.

The market is held every Sunday from early morning until about 1300. There are a few other stalls but the food is the thing. Every first Sunday of the month it is brightened and augmented by the Mercato Aprilante with its crafts, local produce and flea market.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A fledgling

  A small incident in the garden
The magpie chick that wasn't

adult  Eurasian jay
We thought it was a magpie nest. Large and conical, built in the centre of a cluster of field maples not far from the main house; it seemed to fit the description. As it turned out, we were wrong. One evening as we ate outside, we spied a bird wobbling up and down on a branch of one of the field maples as if it were standing on a diving board. Suddenly it launched itself to fly. Rather than fly, it fluttered earthwards where it made something of a crash landing. 

just landed

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Nightingale

A Nightingale Sang 

Luscinia megarhynchos

A small, modest, brown and beige bird, the nightingale, thanks to his song (for only the male sings), has inspired authors and composers from Homer to T.S Eliot and counting. So you're curious? Here's a partial list: Homer, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Ovid, Virgil, Chrétien de Troyes, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, George Gascoigne, Shakespeare, Milton, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Beethoven, Hans Christian Andersen, Joseph Lamb and T.S. Eliot have all either mentioned the nightingale or the myth of Philomena and Procne associated with the bird. Keats's Ode to a Nightingale is the poem which first springs to mind, but to quote another particularly apt example, here is Shelley in his A Defence of Poetry:  

A poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why.
sheet music for Lamb's Nightingale Rag - which is attractive but bears little resemblance to a nightingale's warbling

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Firefly nights

Fairy lights 

The yearly firefly show is upon us again. After dark, dozens of tiny creatures with lights in their bellies zig-zag over the grass and near the rivers searching for mates.
They are all the more charming for the nature of their flight: as they flash on and off and fly about, their flight-paths appear syncopated and random.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Biscotti di Prato or Cantucci

A biscuit by any other name...

Informative wikipedia tells us that the word biscotto which means simply twice-cooked (bis called at the end of a performance means encore and a bisnonno is a great grandfather) has its origins in the crunchy, almond-filled biscuits from Prato which can trace their roots back at least as far as the 18th century. Hence the cantuccis' correct name is biscotti di Prato; the Anglo shortened version is not so far off. However around our parts they are called cantuccini or cantucci, (double cs are soft, ch as in chew) which means little corners.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Nesting Dove

Our Collared Doves start a family

an improbably sloppy nest spied, once a collared dove was seen to be favouring this perch over some days, in the oak tree near the house...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Roses are Pink, Violets are Purple

 Presenting Le Ripe's Roses

My favourite colour for roses is pink, preferably palest pink. Many modern romantic clichés are connected to the red rose. Do we have Robbie Burns to thank for that, or is the source medieval, cf. the Roman de la Rose and the earlier cultivation of red and white roses in Europe?

illuminated manuscript of Roman de la Rose: note red roses in border; red and white roses were de rigueur in the medieval garden

Despite this, pink has to be the rose colour par excellence and by definition: rosa in Latin and Italian means rose, rosea in Latin is 'rosey' and in Italian rosa or color rosa means pink. The first recorded use of rose as a colour in English was in 1382.

More from Wikipedia: "The etymology of the color name rose is the same as that of the name of the rose flower. The name originates from Latin rosa, borrowed through Oscan from colonial Greek in southern Italy: rhodon (Aeolic form: wrodon), from Aramaic wurrdā, from Assyrian wurtinnu, from Old Iranian *warda (cf. Avestan warda, Sogdian ward, Parthian wâr)."

At Le Ripe we have mostly pale pink, white and some yellow/pale apricot roses. There is also a raspberry-pink intruder which may be relegated to a far corner of the orchard one day.

Here are some examples from our garden, flowering right now:

This is a David Austin, may be 'Shepherdess': pale apricot pink, wonderful fragrance

our beloved Nahema

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bees at Le Ripe

an Embarassment of Bees

I once read an article in the New York Times about a young entomologist doing research in northwestern Mongolia. He was carrying out comparative research on plants and pollinators, and sang the praises of the wide variety of bees in that part of the world. As I read, I wondered idly why the student had to go all the way to northern Mongolia, which may not be the easiest nor the most comfortable place in the world to carry out fieldwork. So I wrote a letter to the newspaper suggesting that the young researcher visit us at Le Ripe instead. He could have a pleasant stay in a beautiful, historically interesting environment and study our very own wide variety of bees and pollinators to his heart's content. Of course I received no reply, but am now taking this opportunity to propose to any entomologists or bee-lovers out there that Le Ripe would be an ideal base for the study of these fascinating, industrious insects. Look what we have to offer:

earth bumblebee on savory

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Le Ripe from Afar and Farther

Le Ripe Views

We often tell our guests to explore the high unsealed ridge road which leads from Panzano to Volpaia. 
Because you can see the San Leolino Church along the way, because Panzano and Volpaia are both worth a visit and because it offers beautiful views. 
One of these views is of Le Ripe. 
Actually Le Ripe is pretty hard to discern from afar unless you are very familiar with it and the terrain. 
Here are two photos which show our property from the ridge road.

Le Ripe is identified by the tiny beige blob on the hill just above and slightly to the right of the telegraph pole seen in the middle distance. With a bit of imagination you can even see the cypresses.