Thursday, December 15, 2016

Monday, December 12, 2016

Coming Home

 Autumn Clearing

After some weeks' absence we return to a changed scene: although according to the calendar it is still strictly autumn, it is picturesque autumn no longer: rain, wind and lack of sunlight have drained the colour from the land. Nature is resting. 
the bronze and copper leaves of the hortensia quercifolia, a gift of autumn

Yet the garden is greener, bushier, leggier than when we left. And since our return the sun has been shining every day, which makes for tingling, beaming mornings in which to work outside.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Autumn in the Campi di Sotto at Le Ripe

Quiet Prospects

a handsome hawthorn tree in berry
 Clearing the lower meadows at Le Ripe is a yearly job, as described in 2013. It keeps the brambles and bamboo down, encourages grass and makes for pleasant walks. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Abbadia San Salvatore, on the slopes of Monte Amiata

 A Town Full of Surprises
Monte Amiata
It is not where most tourists stop on their way around Monte Amiata in southern Tuscany. Abbadia San Salvatore is a township of 6000 souls on the northern slopes of Tuscany's most easily identifiable mountain. Unassuming and ordinary, it is the sort of place you drive through hurriedly, on your way to somewhere interesting.

And yet we stopped: was it that lunch beckoned, or was it that we noticed a sign proclaiming Abbadia San Salvatore as the home of an ancient Bible? Somehow the quest for lunch and our curiosity combined to make us stop. We would discover that this seemingly dull, grey town held several surprises.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Garden at Villa La Foce

Foreigners in Val d'Orcia
Cecil Pinsent's closed green garden at La Foce with its crisp hedges. Monte Amiata is palely visible to the south-east
If you look at the historical black and white photographs on the Villa La Foce website, as backdrop to the depictions of hardworking and celebrating sharecropping farmers, you will see a lunar landscape: harsh, barren-looking hills, and stretches of empty terrain succumbing to the plough for the first time. Today's intensely-cultivated, ordered and verdant sweep of valley and hills with the famous cypress-lined road winding up the hill opposite La Foce were unimaginable 100 years ago. 
Val d'Orcia before the new owners of La Foce intervened

This ostensibly timeless scene has come to symbolise Tuscany, despite the fact that it represents only the area south of Siena, that it is completely man-made and of recent creation, and that its creators were a British garden designer, a British-American woman and her Florentine husband.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Drought in Chianti

Where is the rain?

the parched earth; grass non-existent; dead leaves from tired trees
even the St John's Wort looks exhausted
It has been many weeks since our part of Chianti has seen rain. It is still summer of course and summer means heat, dry grass and watering each evening.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Art in the Wilds of Chianti

Sculptures in the Forest

Hidden in the hills about 14 kilometres north of Siena, is a small but interesting sculpture park. Privately-owned and run by a cultural association, the park was opened in 2004. Its founders, Rosalba and Piero Giadrossi, bought and converted seven hectares of wood formerly fenced for raising wild boar.

horribly kitsch, this installation does raise a smile at the park entrance
Except for the amphitheatre area near the entrance, the park is really a wilderness; which makes it all the more interesting. Evergreen oak (quercus ilex) and other oaks, cistus and broom provide a shady and sometimes colourful setting for thirty-odd sculptures and installations.

the Mondrian-influenced ticket-office and shop; even the parking area has a hint of artfulness about it

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Villa Poggio Torselli

The Queen of Villas and her Garden

Villa Torselli seen from its cypress-lined avenue, a perspective visible when driving along the road from San Casciano north towards Ospitaletto. Apparently dubbed the Queen of Villas (although when and by whom is unclear)
the austere facade is surmounted by terracotta sculptures of the four seasons, a theme reiterated throughout the villa and the leitmotif of the garden, not surprisingly
Yes, that is Florence 8 kilometres to the north and yes, that is the Duomo, barely perceptible right of centre, although to the eye it was quite distinct

Monday, May 30, 2016

Museum of the Works of the Cathedral, Florence

The Latest Reincarnation of the Flower of Florence

The Romans called Florence Florentia. Since the 11th century the city's crest has been the giglio or lily (fleur-de-lis but in fact a stylised iris). Struck in Florence in 1252, the first commercially important gold coin in Europe was called the fiorino -florin- for this reason, and bore the fiordaliso on its obverse side, with Saint John the Baptist, Florence's patron saint, on the reverse. Florence's imposing and iconic Cathedral (or as it is called here, Duomo), is dedicated to Saint Mary of the Flower while the Baptistery is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. All this is just a roundabout way of underlining the symbolic potency of the flower to Florence's story.
Sculptures in the brand-new light-filled atrium
Santa Maria del Fiore was commissioned in 1294 by the Commune of Florence to replace Santa Maria Reparata (a church which, in my view, occupied the available space far more appropriately than its successor). Initially the 'Opera' referred to the institution which financed and oversaw the construction of the Duomo; over time the Opera evolved to oversee the Cathedral's continual conservation and decoration and incorporate the Baptistery (completed in 1128), Giotto's Belltower (begun in 1334) and the Museum. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Palazzo Corsini and the Artisans

Artigianato e Palazzo
 A high-end craft fair in a special setting

the loggia of Palazzo Corsini, a former casinò or hunting lodge which was in fact a villa surrounded by a garden; the many Greek, Latin and Etruscan plaques on the villa wall were collected by an 18th century Corsini
the setting for the annual craft fair: in the 17th century the sculptures were placed on pedestals of decreasing height to give a greater sense of depth and perspective from the loggia. Some of the original sculptures are now housed in the Bargello while others are at either end of the bridge of the Santa Trinità.
one of the barn-like limonaie or lemonaries where 130-plus citrus trees overwinter in their huge terracotta pots
For the past 22 years, each May, in the middle of the month, a unique range of arts and crafts is on display in a unique Florentine location.
the parterre: neat box hedging is filled with sumptuous peonies; teucrium, cistus, roses and lavender abound - recent departures from the original purely baroque setting

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Orchids in the field

...and a small mystery to solve

Last May we discovered and discussed an unusual orchid, Ophrys apifera which had appeared in our garden. This year, in mid-April different specimens of orchid, glimpsed in the past but now more abundant, probably thanks to the Lack of Deer, are sprouting and budding in the lengthening grass of the more field-like areas of the garden.

This orchid might belong to the pyramidalis species of the Anacamptis genus of the Orchidaceae family, but doubts persist about colour and scent. I quote: The colour of the flower varies from pink to purple, or rarely white, and the scent is described as "foxy". 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Springtime in Chianti

A Glorious April

Sparkling, sun-filled with light breezes and clear skies. This April we have been blessed with fine weather, early and abundant flowering and mild to warm weather.
More rain would not have been amiss (whatever happened to April showers?) but it seems churlish to complain. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Of Monks and Forests

The Casentino Forests and Camaldoli

Our jaunt to the Casentino was largely motivated by a practical question. How best to care for, safeguard, sustain and conserve the woodland at Le Ripe? The guardians of the Casentine Forests might have some answers. We had also heard that the forests are well worth a visit.

The Casentine Forests, a national park covering 36,800 hectares, are renowned for their extension, beauty and age - and for enjoying, for at least eight centuries, the guardianship of various communities of monks. Saint Francis of Assisi chose La Verna as a place of prayer in 1224 and two centuries earlier, in 1012, the Benedictine Saint Romuald, who spent most of his life founding hermitages all over Italy, chose a south-facing hillside in the heart of beech and fir forests in the southern Casentino as one of his last works. 
Saint Romuald, detail from Fra Angelico's Crucifixion and Saints,St Mark's Florence, 1441-2
The territory, known as Campus Maldoli, after its landowner, became Camaldoli over time. Here Romualdo built five cells for hermits and, further down the hillside, founded a monastery to offer hospitality for travellers and those in search of spiritual peace. This double function persists today, with 8 monks leading their life of prayer and work in the hermitage and 22 monks taking care of hospitality and the more material aspects of life in the monastery below. There is a flourishing commercial aspect to the complex, which sells elegantly-packaged cosmetics, edibles and ceramics.

Antica Farmacia and its products recall the more famous one in Florence: but this is possibly older

The 'Casentino' denominates a broad valley in the province of Arezzo, east and north of Florence, through which the infant river Arno flows. The Casentino is separated from the upper Valdarno by the massif of Pratomagno. Soci, Stia, Poppi and Bibbiena lie in the valley and are still famous for their centuries-old production of panno feltrato or felted wool cloth  which was first created for the Camaldolese monks. But behind and above these towns rise the forested hills and mountains we had come to visit. The best is almost invariably in the hills.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Birdfeeders and Italian Birds

The Avian Learning Curve 
British blue tits, already wise to feeders
At Le Ripe we have always been keen to feed our birds. In winter, when it is frosty and cold, the small migratory birds which stop at Le Ripe, as well as those which are resident,  can generally be assured of a square meal each day.

Friday, February 26, 2016

It's Springing

Another Early Spring  

Should we be worried?
Or just accept it, together with Emily Dickinson?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Big Kitchen at the Pitti Palace

A Kitchen for Kings

Before the guided tour to the newly-renovated Medicean Cucinone or Big Kitchen started, there was time to explore the Royal Apartments of the Pitti Palace.

the divine right to luxury
The Royal Apartments are perfect examples of the much-money-little-taste syndrome: magnificent workmanship and raw materials, to be sure, in the brocades, the gilt mouldings around doors and windows, the damask wall coverings, the tassels and fringes and folderols, but the final effect is heavy and ostentatious in the extreme. Buone cose di pessimo gusto as the poet Guido Gozzano wrote.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Coming Home

 Back to Le Ripe in Winter

We have been absent, in the southern hemisphere, for some weeks. In the meantime winter has set in and changes have taken place.