Carnevale a Firenze

In ancient times, the Carnevale of Florence was among the most brilliant and noisy on the Italian peninsula.  From the Medici times forward, members of the same noble families wore the same kind of masks and went through the city until all hours, singing and carrying so many torches it was “as if it were full day.”

The carriages courses had not yet been invented, but the revelry and the noise that was made in the streets in those days made Florence the most carefree and gay city in the world.

Carnival goers would go to the Mercato Nuovo (where the silk merchants and drapery shops were located) with flasks, and also to the Mercato Vecchio, between ferrivecchi and pannilani sellers. The young of all the leading families all took part in this gazzarra of the ball, going around disguised in creative ways and playing pranks on the unsuspecting.

More than anything, however, they tried to throw big balls into the shops so that the merchants were forced to close and send their workers out to have fun too. As long as the matter remained within these limits, people enjoyed at it, especially when in the Old Market they were throwing a ball into the workshop of a iron smith, bringing down pans, tripods and jugs, with a deafening noise.

But, over time, the revelry became excessive and caused riots. When the young nobles threw out balloons that had been soaked in mota, they ruined the fabrics and drapes of the merchants, creating great economic damages.

Hence, quarrels arose and the people objected. If the nobles were creating such problems, the plebs wanted to give them a taste of their own medicine. The commoners  used bunches of rags that were drenched in pools and rivulets. These filthy bundles dirtied everything. Violence ensued in retribution.

After hundreds of arrests, the Eight of Guardia and Balìa issued a ban ordering, with the threat of severe penalties, that no one could get out with the ball before 10 pm and before the trumpets of the City had gone on the streets playing the trumpets to warn the merchants.

(Taken from Old Florence by Giuseppe Conti).

This and that in Paris, January 2020; the Folies Bergère

The French start training early for the enjoyment of the outdoor cafe life:




Many of the city’s grocery stores currently have these enticing cases of Little Moons Japanese mochi at the front.  I never did try any.  It is January, after all. Plus, my hands are almost always full. But, I am intrigued, see below the pix:



From the Little Moon website:

Brother and sister, Howard & Vivien Wong, launched Little Moons in 2010 on a mission to bring Japanese mochi with a delicious, modern twist to the masses.

Having grown up eating traditional mochi in their parent’s bakery they knew the potential these little balls had to deliver a moment of total happiness to whoever ate them.

It took them two years to master the mochi making process and perfect the ice cream recipes, working with top chefs and using quality ingredients to create the perfect flavour combinations.

With a Little Moons now eaten every second we felt the time was right to introduce our next bite sized adventure and so in 2019 we launched our Cookie Dough Ice Cream Bites.

Big Flavours, Little Moons.

What is mochi?

Mochi is a rice flour dough that has been steamed and pounded to give it its distinctive soft and chewy texture. We wrap a thin layer of mochi around our ice cream balls to make our Little Moons mochis.

It is so unique that in Asia the distinctive glutinous texture of mochi has its own name and is known as the Q texture.


Ok, back to Paris!

I swoon over the architecture:





The famous Folies Bergère. Art Deco all the way home.







Even the animals were dressed for winter:



You cannot help loving these Metro entrance markers by Hector Guimard, even if most of the (darn) stations were closed during my visit (for the longest strike in French history):



A shop dedicated to cat designs?




The classic French Galette Des Rois is for sale in almost every pâtisserie.



I love the aged patina on this gorgeous door below.




I never made it into the Louvre on this trip (a long story, told here), even though I had tickets for a special exhibition, but I did get to see the Louvre’s ultra modern subway station on the automated Metro Line #1:



Much more to come, probably for another month!

Teatro della Pergola, Florence

The riches of Florence continue to amaze me.  Every week brings a new discovery.  Some things are hidden, others are hiding in plain sight.

The Teatro della Pergola is one of the obvious places one intrinsically knows will be a delight.  One only needs the time to explore.

For me, that time arrived in mid November.  I was fortunate to have a guided tour of the theater with one of the key people in the organization, Claudia. It was easy to set up as 1, 2, 3.  You email Claudia at, or check this website: Soon you will be time traveling in a beautiful space ship: a 17th century Baroque theater in the heart of Florence. The street is Via della Pergola, a 5 minute walk from the Duomo.

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For those who can’t get to Florence to view this fantastic place, thank your lucky stars that we are living in the 21st century! You can take a virtual tour of the theater on Google’s Art and Culture platform.

The Teatro della Pergola in Florence was the first theater in Italy, and the third overall after the Opéra in Paris and the National Theater in London, to be virtually hosted on the Google Cultural platform,making the vast European artistic heritage virtually accessible for aall the world to enjoy.

So, first things first:

Where did the name of the theater come from? Pergola means trellis, or a structure on which climbing or trailing plants can grow. The front of the theater is covered with ivy, which trails down over the small projecting metal and glass canopy over the entrance and lends a pastoral feel to the theater. Claudia told me that when the original building was constructed here, there was already a small vineyard planted, which undoubtedly had some sort of pergola. The name stuck.

A self-formed group of Florentines, calling themselves the Accademia degli Immobili, were dedicated to the cultivation of the arts in their city. While there was already a theater in Florence (the Teatro del Cocomero, later replaced and renamed by the still extant Teatro Niccolini), it was too small for the Accademia’s needs.

They commissioned Ferdinando Tacca (son of Pietro Tacca, who designed the two fountains in Piazza SS. Annunziata), to build them a theater. It was probably inspired by  the courtyards of Renaissance palaces. One possible model is the Cortile Ammannati at Palazzo Pitti. The functionality of these courtyards was in part that they allowed spectators (noble and aristocratic of course) to view all kinds of shows in the square or rectangular spaces within the palazzi.  They could watch games, mock battles and all manner of entertainment, without mixing with the entertainers, one imagines.

The theater commission proved to be notable opportunity for the architect, Tacca.  What he designed for the Accademicians was no less than the first “Italian theater,” whose design, with its incredible acoustics, served as the basis for later theaters built throughout Europe and the world.

Tacca took the basic horseshoe design which the Greeks and Romans had already established as the ideal shape for watching theatrical performances. He constructed the floor of the theater in a spoon shape, with rises at the back of the orchestra and the stage.

One of the most notable aspects of Tacca’s design were the boxes that surround the outline of the theater on 3 levels, with a gallery on the 4th level.  This was the birth of this particular feature of classic Italian theater design.  For the first time, small separate spaces allowed each noble family to admire the show, and to be admired by the fellow theater-goers, from a privileged position.

The boxes are worthy of their own post. Claudia told me that all manner of things happened in these separate spaces, whose doors could be locked from the inside and whose heavy draperies at the front of the box could be drawn closed. Florentines were proverbially argumentative and territorial, and it was hoped that by assigning a box to each family, the continual feuds could be managed. Unfortunately, along with the food, wine, sexual exploits that took place in the boxes, we know that even murders were perpetrated.

The coats-of-arms of the various noble families announced the ownership of each box.  When the theater was renovated in subsequent centuries, the shields were taken down; the extant ones hang in the lobby of the theater.




There are 25 boxes on each level and, currently, there are only two restricted boxes: the number 1 of the first level, which remained reserved for the last heirs of the founding members of the Accademia, and the box on the opposite side. This box is the 25th on the first level, and is reserved for the theater director. You can see it in the photo below: It is the first box on the first level, just to the right of the stage.  It has pink marble facing it, unlike the other boxes which have white stucco facing.


The photo below was taken from the stage.  You can see the Royal Box in the center taking up the 2nd and 3rd level spaces in the center.  The size of this theater is small and intimate.  I can see how it would be ideal for theatrical or musical performances and I am eager to experience them soon.


Together with the large stage, and the boxes and gallery, another distinctive feature of the Pergola are the incredible acoustics. Tacca created a perfect space for hosting theater and music; the voices of the great actors are enhanced, thanks to the horseshoe outline.

One thing Claudia explained to me is that the only things made from metal allowed in the theater design are the necessary brackets for holding electrical stuff, such as the house lights and the stage lights.  Everything else is stone or wood, because metal changes the sound waves in the theater.

The theater was completed in 1661. The inaugural production was the comic opera Il podestà di Colognole by Giovanni Andrea Moniglia.

Once upon a time:

The stage set was hidden from view at the beginning of performances with a large painted curtain depicting Florence and the Arno. The curtain that covers the stage today is itself quite grand.

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Why a windmill?


The Accademia degli Immobili, or the founders of the theater, took for themselves the rather incongruous (to me) Dutch windmill as their theater symbol.  I could not understand this choice until Claudia explained that Florence’s riches were at the time based upon the trade with the north and, I suppose, especially the Netherlands.  The windmill is used throughout the theater in subtle design features. It even appears on the knobs on the box door handles:



Initially reserved for the court and aristocracy, the theater was reopened from 1718 to the paying public. The operatic works of the great composers, such as Antonio Vivaldi, were staged.

Below are photos of the to-scale model of the theater as it would have originally appeared.  You can see the coats-of-arms over each first level box.  Claudia told me that the benches with backs and cushions were reserved for women, and the benches without backs were for me.



The neoclassical lobby was a later addition.  It provides a grand welcome to all visitors.

The building of La Pergola was remodeled several times. It was enriched with new decorative schemes and enlarged with all of the crafts and skills of the stage art.

In 1801 the Saloncino, a large room with stuccos dedicated to music and dance, was opened on the first floor by architect Luca Ristorini (completely restored in 2000; it is the second hall of the theater).  Ristorini had also,  in 1789, had renovated the great hall, changing the box design to create a very large royal box at the far end of the theater, directly opposite the stage.

The period between 1823 and 1855 were great years for the Pergola, for it was managed by the impresario Alessandro Lanari. Under his direction, Florence became one of the most important stages of Italian classic opera. The most important composers, beginning with Bellini, made important appearances on Via della Pergola and Florentines first hear the music of Giuseppe Verdi when he made his renowned Macbeth debut in 1847. The museum under the main hall has a wooden chair built especially for Verdi to sit upon while directing rehearsals.  He was having problems with his legs and the chair made life better for him.


In 1826, Gasparo Martellini painted the historical curtain depicting the coronation of Petrarca in Campidoglio which is still used at galas. The machinist, Cesare Canovetti, designed and constructed an ingenious wooden machine for lifting the stalls which forms the basis for the museum under the hall. It was used when the hall was converted into a ballroom,  to make the floor a single plane with the stage. The architect, Baccani,  modernized the theater, designing the the “Atrium of the Columns.” And, very notably, a young stage apprentice, Antonio Meucci, experimented with a voice communication system between the attic where the curtains and sets were managed from above and the the stage. Meucci’s invention was the ancestor of the telephone, which Meucci perfected, when he emigrated to the United States.  According to Claudia, Meucci sold the design of his invention to Alexander Graham Bell who went on to produce the first telephone.

In the 19th century:

The theater’s illumination was upgraded to gas lights, and Florence enjoys the rank of capital of Italy. The theater board sells a share of the Academy to the King Vittorio Emanuele II. Later financial problems encountered by the theater were partially solved by the intervention of the Commune.

Electric lighting was incorporated in 1898. The theater underwent drastic changes along with the lighting: plays were substituted for the opera (which moved to the larger Florentine theaters, the Politeama and Pagliano). 

In December 1906, Eleonora Duse arrives at the Pergola with the legendary Rosmersholm by Ibsen. This play was directed by Edward Gordon Craig and a dressing room was designed for the grand dame. This Primo Camerino, is still in use, conveniently located right next to the stage.


In 1925, the Pergola became a national monument. During WWII, the theater was  managed by Aladino Tofanelli. Ownership was ceded to the state in 1942 and it soon became a part of the newly created Ente Teatrale Italiano.

When Tofanelli died, the young, brilliant and innovative Alfonso Spadoni, arrived and revitalized the Pergola, primarily with great dramas. The Pergola is seamlessly woven into the urban fabric of Florence, providing a setting for important cultural events.

Another brilliant young man, Marco Giorgetti, is at the helm now. Since 1999 Giorgetti has been hard at work, reestablishing the ties between the theater and the city.

Today the Pergola is much more than a theater. At the epicenter of the Teatro della Toscana Foundation and a theater of national importance, the Pergola is  a living cultural center, using its history and prestige. It maintains very active programming. The brightest stars in the theater firmament shine at the Pergola. 

Walking in the corridors of the theater is like reading a book sprinkled with immortal names. All the objects tell a story, the individual fibers of fabric or wood particles bear witness to memorable events.


Below: the neoclassical painting on the ceiling of the grand hall.


Backstage at the Pergola:


The stage as it appeared the day I visited:



Some vintage posters in the museum:













Sforzesco Castle, Milan

Wow. Just wow.  I don’t know why I never paid a visit to this astounding place before now!






































































And, last, but certainly not least, you don’t see a lot of elephants in Italian art, but here is a big exception to the rule.


The Misericordia of Florence and its great museum

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The Venerabile Arciconfraternita della Misericordia di Firenze (La Misericordia) is a lay confraternity founded in Florence in the 13th century by St. Peter Martyr (St. Peter of Verona) with the aim of extending evangelical mercy to the needy.

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It is the oldest Brotherhood in Florence dedicated to caring for the sick and, in general, the oldest private voluntary institution in the world still active since its foundation (1244). Its lay members, called brothers, still continue to provide part of the transport of the infirm in the city.

To preserve the egalitarian spirit of the company, all of its members wore long black robes (during the Middle Ages the garments were red) and black peaked hoods that cover the face with two holes for the eyes. With this disguise patients never knew if they were being carried to the hospital by a count or a cobbler. It was only in 2006 that the traditional black dress was relegated for use only in ceremonies, due to national regulations.


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For a century or so, the confraternity shared space with the Compagnia del Bigallo. In 1525the Misericordia moved elsewhere; but in 1576 it moved to the corner of Via Calzaiuoli, where it has remained ever since.

The Venerable Archconfraternity of Mercy, which has never known a single break in its charity work since its foundation, was established “for the purpose of assisting and accompanying the sick and the accident-prone to hospital and removing bodies from the street”. The latter role was crucial during such disasters as flooding or the plague. The company also collected alms to help poor girls marry and to the bury the dead.

When the association was founded in the 13th century, it was a time when family feuds and plagues were leaving a high number of disabled and dying people in the streets. This group of volunteers banded together to carry the wounded to hospitals and the dead to cemeteries.


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The headquarters for the Misericordia is in Piazza del Duomo 20 across the street and to the right of the Cathedral. Even if you’re not in need of any medical attention, you’re welcome to visit the headquarters and the church. It’s customary to leave a small donation. But, whatever you do, don’t fail to visit the museum.  It’s hardly known and here, in the heart of Florence, where the hordes of tourists congest the city, you’ll be almost alone.

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I highly recommend a visit of at least an hour to this interesting place; you will learn all kinds of things about the history of Florence and medicine here.

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Christian Dior in Venice; current photography exhibit at Villa Pisani

This lovely little exhibition, entitled Timeless Elegance, Dior in Venice in the Cameraphoto Archives, is currently on display at Villa Pisani, in Stra, on the Brenta Canal in the Veneto. I enjoyed seeing it very much.





From the website of the Villa:

1951 was a magical year for Venice. Some of the most intriguing views of the city co-starred in the campaign that publicised the creations of the couturier who was capturing all the world’s headlines at the time: Christian Dior.

On 3 September of that same year, Palazzo Labia hosted the “Ball of the Century”: the Bal Oriental, organised by Don Carlos de Beistegui y de Yturbe, attracted around a thousand glittering jetsetters from all five continents. This masked ball saw Dior, Dalí, a very young Cardin, Nina Ricci and others engaged as creators of costumes for the illustrious guests, in an event that made the splendour of eighteenth-century Venice reverberate around the world.

Silent witnesses of both of these events were the photographers of Cameraphoto, the photography agency founded in 1946 by Dino Jarach, who covered and recorded everything special that happened in Venice and beyond during those years.

We have Vittorio Pavan, the current conservator of the imposing Cameraphoto Archives (the historical section alone has more than 300,000 negatives on file) and Daniele Ferrara, Director of the Veneto Museums Hub, to thank for the project to show the photographs of those two historical events to the general public. The location chosen for them to re-emerge into the light of day is one of extraordinary significance: Villa Nazionale Pisani in Stra is the Queen of the Villas of the Veneto and it is no coincidence that it is adorned with marvellous frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo, the same artist whose work also gazed down on the unforgettable masked ball in 1951 from the ceilings of Palazzo Labia.

For this exhibition, Pavan has chosen 40 photographs of the collection shown in Venice by Christian Dior.

In those days, every fashion show would present just under 200 models, calculated carefully to achieve the right balance between items that would be easy to wear and others that made more of a statement. Dior was the undisputed master of fashion in those post-war years. The whole world looked forward to his collections and discussed them hotly. No fewer than 25,000 people are estimated to have crossed the Atlantic every year, just to see (and to buy) his collections. Every time he changed a line (and every new season brought such a change), it was accepted with both enthusiasm and ferocious criticism: the former from his clan of admirers, the latter from those who opposed him.

In any case, no woman who aspired to keep abreast of fashion could afford to ignore the dictates issued by the couturier from his Parisian maison in Avenue Montaigne, where he already employed a staff of more than one thousand, despite having being established only five years before. Dior’s New look evolved with every passing season.

In 1950, he introduced the Vertical Line, in 1951 – as the photographs on show in Villa Pisani illustrate – no woman could avoid wearing his Oval Look: rounded shoulders and raglan sleeves, the fabrics modelled until they clung like a second skin. The essential accessory was of course the hat, for which Dior that year drew his inspiration from the kind traditionally worn by Chinese coolies.

For that autumn, though, he created the Princess line, which gave the illusion of extending below the breast.

In the breathtaking photographs from the Cameraphoto Archives, beautiful Dior-clad models perform a virtual duet with Venice, whose canals, churches and palaces are never a mere backdrop, but co-stars on a par with the great designer’s creations.

The second nucleus of this fascinating exhibition is devoted to the Grand Ball at Palazzo Labia, possibly the most glittering social event of the century.

All the bel monde flocked to Venice on that legendary 3 September. Don Carlos, popularly known as the Count of Monte Cristo, sent personal invitations to a thousand people. Dior, together with a veritable army of young tailors and accompanied by Dalí, was engaged to create the most alluring costumes, all designed to refer to the eighteenth century when Goldoni and Casanova lived here. There were costumes for men and women, but also for the greyhounds and other dogs that often accompanied their owners.

The torches that on that legendary evening illuminated the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, several Grandees of Spain, the Aga Khan, King Farouk of Egypt, Winston Churchill, many crowned heads, princes and princesses, a host of millionaires, such artists as Fabrizio Clerici and Leonor Fini, fashion designers of the calibre of Balenciaga and Elsa Schiapparelli and leading jetsetters Barbara Hutton, Lady Diana Cooper, Orson Welles, Daisy Fellowes, Cecil Beaton (whose photographs, published in Life magazine, gave the world something to dream about), the Polignacs and the Rothschilds.

Welcoming them in the midst of clouds of ballerinas and harlequins was the master of the house and host, who dominated the scene as he promenaded back and forth dressed as the Sun King on a 40 cm high platform. The heir of an immense fortune created in Mexico, Don Carlos spent some of his time living in Paris, where he owned a house designed by Le Corbusier and decorated by Salvador Dalí, and the rest at a chateau in the country. He had bought Palazzo Labia and restored it and was now offering it to his friends.

The aim of this exhibition is therefore to contribute to improving the appreciation and value of the Cameraphoto photography archives, which have been declared to be of exceptional cultural interest by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, since they constitute an inestimable legacy for the wealth and variety of images.

It was with this in mind that the curators chose this nucleus of photographs depicting the clothing designed by one of the most ingenious and iconic fashion designers in history, who in his turn, through his creations, enabled a spotlight to be focused on a tiny fragment of the more than one thousand years of history of the city of Venice, helping us reconstruct the collective memory on which our present day is based.

Curated by Vittorio Pavan and Luca Del Prete, the exhibition is organised by the Veneto Museums Hub e Munus.


































































Villa Pisani: Cruising the Brenta Canal from Padua to Venice, part 2

I recently posted about this day-long cruise here (here, here and here) and now I pick up where I left off. Our first stop on the cruise after leaving Padua was in Stra at Villa Pisani.  This incredible villa is now a state museum and very much work a visit.  It was built by a very popular Venetian Doge.

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The facade of the Villa is decorated with enormous statues and the interior was painted by some of the greatest artists of the 18th century.


Villa Pisani at Stra refers is a monumental, late-Baroque rural palace located along the Brenta Canal (Riviera del Brenta) at Via Doge Pisani 7 near the town of Stra, on the mainland of the Veneto, northern Italy. This villa is one of the largest examples of Villa Veneta located in the Riviera del Brenta, the canal linking Venice to Padua. It is to be noted that the patrician Pisani family of Venice commissioned a number of villas, also known as Villa Pisani across the Venetian mainland. The villa and gardens now operate as a national museum, and the site sponsors art exhibitions.

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Construction of this palace began in the early 18th century for Alvise Pisani, the most prominent member of the Pisani family, who was appointed doge in 1735.

The initial models of the palace by Paduan architect Girolamo Frigimelica still exist, but the design of the main building was ultimately completed by Francesco Maria Preti. When it was completed, the building had 114 rooms, in honor of its owner, the 114th Doge of Venice Alvise Pisani.

In 1807 it was bought by Napoleon from the Pisani Family, now in poverty due to great losses in gambling. In 1814 the building became the property of the House of Habsburg who transformed the villa into a place of vacation for the European aristocracy of that period. In 1934 it was partially restored to host the first meeting of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, after the riots in Austria.


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From the outside, the facade of the oversized palace appears to command the site, facing the Brenta River some 30 kilometers from Venice. The villa is of many villas along the canal, which the Venetian noble families and merchants started to build as early as the 15th century. The broad façade is topped with statuary, and presents an exuberantly decorated center entrance with monumental columns shouldered by caryatids. It shelters a large complex with two inner courts and acres of gardens, stables, and a garden maze.

The largest room is the ballroom, where the 18th-century painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo frescoed the two-story ceiling with a massive allegorical depiction of the Apotheosis or Glory of the Pisani family (painted 1760–1762).[2] Tiepolo’s son Gian Domenico Tiepolo, Crostato, Jacopo Guarana, Jacopo Amigoni, P.A. Novelli, and Gaspare Diziani also completed frescoes for various rooms in the villa. Another room of importance in the villa is now known as the “Napoleon Room” (after his occupant), furnished with pieces from the Napoleonic and Habsburg periods and others from when the house was lived by the Pisani.

The most riotously splendid Tiepolo ceiling would influence his later depiction of the Glory of Spain for the throne room of the Royal Palace of Madrid; however, the grandeur and bombastic ambitions of the ceiling echo now contrast with the mainly uninhabited shell of a palace. The remainder of its nearly 100 rooms are now empty. The Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni described the palace in its day as a place of great fun, served meals, dance and shows.





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Check out this sunken bathtub below:




























































































Bear with me: in the next few photos I am trying out all of the fancy settings on my new camera:




























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To be continued.