Tuesday, 25 January 2011

First Bargue drawing finished

I’ve finished the first of 3 Bargue drawings that we’ll be doing this term and into the next. They are painstaking and exacting, teaching the eye to ‘see’ better. Each one will be more difficult than the last. We work on these drawings in the morning session and in the afternoons we are life drawing. It’s so great to be drawing from the model 3 hours a day, I should be improving quickly at this rate...

I feel like I’ve been here for months, not mere weeks. The weather has turned quite cold so I’m appreciating even more that my little flat has good heating. The Florentines on the whole are not very friendly or the slightest bit interested in knowing anything about me as I flounder in my basic Italian. I’m told Italians are much friendlier in other parts. I can understand that they are tired of tourists here and that many party-hard students (from certain countries) have given foreigners a bad reputation, but the Italians in Florence just generally don’t seem very happy… there’s not a lot of smiling going on and my theory is that they are suffering from Lack of Sun. The buildings have been erected too close together so that even when the sky is clear there’s not a ray of sun to be had walking down the average street. It was so wonderful to finally get to the Boboli Gardens with Dianna (from school) yesterday and sit in the sun for a while, soaking up its weak, but never-the-less warming, rays. The garden paths are steep and at the peak you can look back down on the Pitti Palace with the west part of Florence behind it and beyond that the snow-capped mountains in the far distance. It’s a spectacular vista and made me hungry to explore the country-side beyond the stony shadows of the city centre.

Dianna came to my place for lunch on Sunday for her birthday, before we went to the gardens, after which we went for a cuppa at a small bookshop/café around the corner from my place. I’ve been eyeing it since I got here but reluctant to go in by myself with my meager language skills. Success! It was cosy and relaxed and they stock a great selection of herbal teas. Unfortunately they charge 3 euro a cup (which might just be the tourist price) so it won’t be my ‘local’ but it’s nice to have taken the plunge and I’m full of courage now to try a few other cafes in my area until I find the one I like best.

They are certainly enthusiastic about their art in Florence. I went to an exhibition of works by Bronzino (poet and artist to the Medici, 1500’s) at 10am on Saturday, thinking that no-one would be there at that time of day. WRONG. Everyone was there, aside from those who hadn’t arrived yet to join the growing queue to get in. Unbelievable. Thankfully Heidi gave me a spare ticket so I was able to go straight in. It was slow getting through all the rooms because of the people. Granted, it was the last weekend of the show, but I’m even more determined now to do all my sightseeing during the winter before the masses arrive in earnest.

I’m picking up Italian words every day by having the TV on constantly. Every non-Italian show is dubbed, so we have people like The Fonze speaking Italian in Happy Days, Samantha in Bewitched, Opera is also fluent, etc etc… I saw on the program that there’s even Skippy il Canguro if you’re up early enough for it. My Italian Church is also great for language learning. Andrew (who knows my church leaders at home) speaks fluent Italian and is helping me to understand what’s going on and translating the sermon for me. It’s so great to have him and his family here – I’m really looking forward to getting to know them better. Australia seems like a LONG way away, so it’s nice to meet other people from way down under.
È tutto per oggi!

(You can check out my latest photos here).

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Back to school

I started school today and as the locals have also gone back to school there has been a distinct drop in the number of tourists in town. I’m glad I’m in a quieter area, the crowds are a bit much. I did venture in to town yesterday in search of the department store though, in need of a few more skivvies, and found Coin (pronounced like “go in” with a “c”) which is a wonderful shop with the most stylish clothes (and price tags to match). Labels darling. I wanted to buy everything, from shoes to cardies to wallets ETC, but just came out with a soft thin skivy on sale for 13 euro. I had actually planned a quiet day to rest my back and decided to go and check out the park right near me which looks very inviting on the map. Disappointed! I traversed the entire circumference only to find it completely walled in (said wall being about 4m high) with only locked gates around it. So much for a leisurely stroll through the greenery, hence why I ended up battling the crowds at the department store instead. I can’t wait to walk through the Boboli Gardens at the Pitti Palace but as you have to pay to go in, I want to have plenty of energy to make the most of it.

I bought a bike on Friday and felt ridiculously pleased with the world as I rode it away through the busy streets looking like a local. So local in fact that the next day someone stopped me to ask for directions. Shame I had to say sorry I don’t speak Italian. It really makes getting around easier although I’m finding those romantic cobbled stone streets suddenly a right pain in the yoo haa. Oh for a smooth road! Really not helpful for a painful back, speaking of which I have a chiropractic appointment tomorrow after school and hoping for a miracle as I’m resorting to neurofen now which I don’t normally like to do. The bike I bought was the only used bike I could find at the 3 shops I visited and it is barely used at all. I wanted something old but instead it stands out like a shiny pink jewel everywhere I park it. I bought the heaviest grade lock that the shop sells after the girl told me she’s had 5 bikes stolen in 5 years. Apparently it can only be removed with some sort of blow torch so it’s unlikely the bike will be gone in the morning but I keep imagining that I’ll find parts missing – like the seat or the front wheel. Unfortunately it has to be outside at night, so I like to check out the window every now and then to make sure it’s still in one piece.

We had an easy day to start us off at school today. The vibe is relaxed and very friendly. The returning students were all kisses and hugs for each other and it feels like it will be a really good environment to be in. There are only 4 of us new students this term, all girls, one American, one English, one Russian, and me. Last spring they had 23. So we will be getting plenty of attention although some of our classes will be combined with others. Our teacher couldn’t be nicer. If it weren’t for my back I would be feeling good about everything. Instead I’m worried how I’m going to do the long hours of sitting. Hopeful the chiropractor will be able to set me straight.

I have REALLY REALLY loved getting your emails, thank you so much, I’ll will endeavour to reply to them all in time… I’ve started a photo album because I’m finding it hard to put the labels next to the photos in blogger. Here is the link: my photos

Allora, è tutto per oggi…

Friday, 7 January 2011

48 hours in Florence

I’ve never been anywhere so old before. I keep expecting old people and perhaps old horses to line the streets rather than modern Italians in the latest winter fashions gossiping about the latest concerns (presumably) or zipping past in their tiny new cars. Florence is lively and old worldy and in this momento rather cold. The greatest asset of my little apartment in Borgo della Stella (that’s the name of the street), is the central heating powered by gas. I’m warmer here than I’ve ever been back home in winter and now that I have the right clothes for the climate I’m surprised to find myself quite enjoying the cold. Me!

In one week I’ve been in four countries (Australia, Singapore, UK, Italy) with four different time zones. My 3 nights with Philip, Jane, Livy, Rob, Darci (the dog), Poppy (the bunny), and 4 hibernating tortoises in Milton Keynes (1 hour north of London) was the perfect way to adjust GMT and experience the love of family so far away from home. They helped me stock up on warm clothes and gave me a taste of the beautiful English countryside. We went to Bambury one day (as in “Ride a cock horse to Bambury Cross to see a fine lady upon a white horse”), which happens to have a church that I designed a logo for along with signage, banners, postcards etc. This was because my boss at the time knew the pastor there I think. Anyhow, it was quite something to see my artwork in an English town.

Now at last I’m in Europe where I never expected to be. I love my little apartment in San Frediano which is close to the river and has a nice ambience. The entire trip from Sydney to Singapore to London to Rome was as smooth as can be. It was when I arrived at the Rome Terminal station by train from Rome airport that things went a little pear-shaped. For some reason I got horribly confused and couldn’t find where the platform for my Eurostar to Florence was. I went up and down and in and out lugging 2 heavy bags behind me (no wonder they call it LUGGAGE), sweating with frustration and cursing the Roman signage (the lack there-of), until a nice man in the queue at the information desk, which I finally happened to find 10 minutes before my train was due to depart, saw my face and offered his assistance – which was just as well because otherwise I would have missed the train. He personally escorted me to where I had to be and phew I made it with 5 whole minutes to spare, no worries. I’m not even confident that I’ll know better next time because I have no idea how I ended up in the bowels of the station where only the cleaners go, and then upstairs where there is a medical clinic. I know, stupid tourist. It would be hilarious if it hadn’t been for the lugging of the luggage which has left my back in a mild state of despair. But it’s difficult to just lie around a rest when there’s 20 years worth of Things To See outside my door.

Borgo della Stella is a wee little street. The taxi that dropped me off from the Florence station eased his way along the cobbled stones between wall and parked cars with only a hair-width to spare on either side and miraculously made it to my palazzo door no worse for wear. My landlords live right beside me and they had their daughter Francesca there to greet me in English and explain everything to me. Carla made me some dinner which was heaven sent as I was starving and it was wonderfully hearty and warming and welcoming.

My Italian is extremely basic but I managed to find the nearest supermarket for provisions as well as the TIM shop which sells SIM cards and internet. I got the internet sorted and will buy the SIM when someone else can advise me what to get. Meanwhile skype is taking care of my telephonic needs. Other than that, I briefly checked out the historical centre which is going to take me the whole year to explore and I’ll start that exploration as soon as all the Italian tourists have gone home (schools go back on Monday). A quick glance at the Duomo and The David and the outside of the Pitti Palace is mostly all I’ve managed so far. It’s hard to believe the amount of artistic talent that has been squeezed in to one city. Tonight I went for a short wander around the block of my apartment and found a church just round the corner (in the direction away from the town centre). It looks very plain on the outside, although clearly very old. As people were going in I decided to follow. What is heaven going to be like if little man here on earth can create something so stunning as the Cheisa Santa Maria del Carmine? It was beyond words in splendor and I stood with my mouth fully agape trying to take it in, lit with candles and lights, with people worshiping and the voices of priests in song echoing throughout the most incredibly ornate and beautiful sight my eyes have ever seen. And it barely rates a mention in my guide book! So what are the star attractions of Florence going to be like?? I would love to go back in time to see the church being built and especially watch how they managed to paint the beautiful frescoes up so high on the vast ceiling. Mamma mia!

My next mission is to buy an old bicycle. The older the less likely-hood of it falling victim to thievery, apparently.

Allora, è tutto per oggi…

The photos are as follows: my street, the door to my palazzo, my kitchenette, bedroom, Arno River, the Ponte Sant Trinita, Michelangelo's David (well a copy of it, I'll see the real one later), it's huge!

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