The Liberty of Poetry

Posted July 28th, 2006 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Civics 101, Trip reports, Tuscanophilia

OK, I’m back in Muddy Spring so, catching up on a few things I didn’t have time to blog while I was away, this picture is of a statue I had go to see with my own eyes. If it has been in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence all these years, I must have seen it before… at least a few times during art history class field trips in middle school. As have many other people. Titled, “The Liberty of Poetry,” it sits just inside the church between the middle and right hand main doors, on top of the tomb of Giovanni Battista Niccolini – a professor of history and mythology and also a poet and playwright whose main theme was the ideal of freedom. In her raised hand is a broken chain, which represents the defeat of tyranny through artistic expression and other forms of creative genius – which, of course, includes real science. On either side of the doors are the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo, and not far, the empty tomb of Dante whose bones remain in his place of exile. And some other well-known figures. Since it carries the mark of the water the 1966 flood, it had to have been there. Like the tombs and statues, that water line is also noted with a plaque, which makes it now an official part of Florentine history and which makes me feel old. But sometime in the past couple of years, the Tuscan-American Association, which was looking to demonstrate relationships between Tuscany and America, pointed to an obvious resemblance to the Statue of Liberty, and made a case that it was most likely its inspiration. What is known is that, although not completed until 1877, the sculptor, Pio Fedi, had completed a plaster cast for itby 1872, and that the drawings had been in circulation before that. It is also known that Bartholdi, who sculpted the Statue of Liberty, was in Italy in those early years of Italian unification, and got around in artistic and intellectual circles. More and better pictures can be found here. You can read more details at the site of the Tuscan-American Association, which also used an image of this statue for the cover of a book.

Petrified irreverence

Posted July 20th, 2006 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Paradox, Trip reports, Tuscanophilia

If you have ever been to Florence, here is a detail you might have missed, that is right smack on the front of the main cathedral. This picture is the final in a series of carvings of angels that surround the main doors. As the story goes, the first in the series (pictured below the jump), holds a tax bill in his hands and passes it on up to the next angel, who passes in on to the next, who points to the next… until it gets to a few who can’t seem to hear, until it gets to the last one, who dismisses it with this infamous gesture. According to Maurizio Ranieri, a Florentine who brought it to my attention, the series is the story of Florence – which you really can’t separate from the Florentines themselves, without whom the place would not exist. A place where miracles, like the construction of that dome that sits on top of the cathedral, according to Malaparte, are not performed by saints.
I have added a few more of these angels below the jump so they don’t slow down the loading of the page any further. I am on a high speed connection at the moment but, while on travel these past few weeks, I was reminded just how slow dial-up internet can be – particularly when there are pictures… And prices for high-speed wireless access in hotels that have it is highway robbery.

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Posted July 9th, 2006 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Living in Post-Normal Times, Trip reports, Tuscanophilia

This time I started drinking coffee earlier in the game – it didn’t keep it from going into penalty kicks but they earned this one. Once I venture out of the house, I’ll try to get some pictures of the madness that is sure to be going on for the next several weeks. Last time Italy won the world cup (1982), I arrived here a few days later….
These last few posts have been somewhat of a digression from environmental science and policy – the main subject of this blog – but not entirely. As a geographer, I am intrigued by places and what makes them special. This is a source of conflict between science and policy because science is fixated on finding generalizations that can be applied anywhere. This also has a lot to do with European reluctance to accept genetically modified organisms, and might just become the subject of another book about Tuscany, but not like anything you might have read or heard about. This one will have to pass the laugh test in Tuscany – a high bar. According to the writer Curzio Malaparte, who wrote a book called “Those Cursed Tuscans,” (1958) Mussolini never could have come to power had he tried to make those speeches from a balcony in Piazza Signoria in Florence rather than from the Palazzo Venezia in Rome because he could not have said those things and kept a straight face before an audience of Florentines (like Oriana Fallaci for example…) What makes this particular place special is a question I have been asking myself since long before I became a geographer. It all started when my father burst into uncontrollable laughter while reading that book. He tried to explain what was so funny but I was only about 7 or 8 years old at the time. He grew up dodging the draft under Mussolini and American bombs at the same time, and then got the hell out of Italy with a scholarship but sent me here to school. I’m not sure if anyone here actually read Under the Tuscan Sun but the film drew guffaws for using outdated stereotypes from other regions of the country.

On the trail of real formaggio

Posted July 9th, 2006 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Living in Post-Normal Times, Trip reports, Tuscanophilia

Last summer about this time, Arianna Huffington wrote a post about cheese-gate and the trail of phony formaggio that I always intended to blog something about. Now I’m hot on the trail of real formaggio, here is my two cents. A few days ago, on a day trip north with a few relatives, we stopped in Parma for the real thing and I learned the difference in taste between parmesan made from the milk of cows grazed in the mountains from that made from cows grazed in the valley and in the hills. But if it isn’t from Parma, it isn’t Parmigiano. There are big signs on the road that let you know when you are entering into the zone of origin of Parmigiano Reggiano. Cheeses from neighboring regions made in the same way, are not called Parmesan. Instead, the proper name for the type of cheese is “grana” as in Grana Padano and Trentin Grana.

Now I’m sitting by a window that looks out over a grove of olive trees at the base of the Pisan Hills, said to be inhabited by wild boars, but I haven’t seen any yet myself. I also ate a few plums, right from a plum tree, and two days ago, in the nearby town of San Piero, picked up a big bag of the pine nuts for which this place is also known, because they come from a species of pine that can be found only along this narrow coastal region and are tastier than any you can find anywhere else.