mercoledì 28 maggio 2014

My trip to Siena- a city of fairy tales

Author: Gayane Simonyan

It was a Sunday morning in Siena around 8:30 that I woke up with the sound of drums instead of the annoying stir that ambulance cars are dissolving in Florence.

I run to the window to see where the sound comes from and what’s happening outside.

The first thing that came to my mind was that I’m still sleeping and having an interesting dream about somewhat like in the fairy tale “Snow white” where the seven dwarfs that live in a tiny cottage are going to work in the nearby mines singing and playing some music.

I felt this illusion being a luscious reality when my Australian friend Charlotte, who invited me to Siena for the weekend, waved me from the kitchen window crying “drummers, drummers bum,bum,bum… dragons coming bum,bum,bum…”.

Me, half asleep went to that direction and saw an endless row of people having green and red costumes on walking around drumming and waving flags.

Series of questions arose in my drowsy mind: “Where am I, what’s happening, Why are these people dressed like that and what is all this for?”.

Seeing my wide-open-eyes and the messy expression on my face, Charlotte and her flatmate Emily from UK, simply soothed me by telling me that the old traditions typical only to Siena are still kept, followed and respected by people living there.

The whole secret lies in the following: Originally there were 59 contradas in Siena but the number reduced during the centuries and now 17 contradas are left that race in the Palio of Siena. Contrada is a typical Italian word that means a district or a ward within an Italian city. Each contrada is named after an animal or symbol like Dragon, Eagle, She-Wolf, Unicorn or Wave, Tower, Forest. etc. and each of them has its own song, baptismal font, its own museum, etc.


So this uniform was typical to the Dragon contrada where all the participants were dressed in their traditional suits of green, red and yellow costumes, hats, flags and drums.

Being excited and impressed with the story of contradas, I dressed up quickly, got ready and we all went down to have this probably once-in-a-lifetime experience.

All the streets of Siena were full of these costumers, drummers and tourists like us taking photos, videos and enjoying the parade itself.

Walking with the flooding crowd along the narrow streets of Siena, we found ourselves at the huge public space of the historic center of Siena called Piazza del Campo, one of Europe's greatest medieval squares, the history of which dates back to 1419 when it was built.

The square being overcrowded, our Italian friend invited us to his apartment to follow the parade from his window looking right to the square. The view from his window was astonishing: the whole panorama of the heart of Tuscany-Siena including Piazza del Campo with dancing, singing and playing contradas and with the excitement of flying colors that reminded me of the old and magical times with the traditions about which you could either dream or just watch a movie.

But now it seems to be so real: a fairy tale that suddenly disappeared when my alarm-reminder told me that “it’s high time to pack up your backpack and go back to Florence as the train is not part of your magical reality, it won’t wait for you...”.

Unwillingly running from my magical reality to the solid one, I missed the train but managed to take the next one and get back to my love city- Florence. So, my adventures go on and on...

martedì 27 maggio 2014

Dario Nardella, the new mayor of Florence

Dario Nardella, the new mayor of Florence
Author: Gayane Simonyan

Florentine people voted for the new mayor of Florence and for the European Parliament on Sunday 25 May.

The European Parliamentary Elections 2014 took place from 22 to 25 May, 2014 where 751 deputies should be elected. Voting started on Thursday in the UK and the Netherlands, with Latvia, Slovakia and Malta all casting their votes on Saturday. The final day of polls - 25 May- was closed with Italians voting for their preferred candidate.

Next day on 26 May, the results of the election show that the Democratic Party of Italy is the second largest national group in the European Parliament by number of seats after the German CDU/CSU's coalition.

According to the official results, the Democratic Party won the election, with 40.81% of the votes. The second is the Five Star Movement with 21.15% and Forza Italia third with 16.81%. of the votes.

The Democratic Party (PD) of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is now celebrating the victory in both local elections and European Parliamentary Elections.

The results of the local elections in Florence held on May 25 are evidential now, and the new mayor of Florence who came to replace Matteo Renzi is Dario Nardella (from the same party). The latter received about 60% of the votes in the traditionally left-wing capital of Tuscany.

Dario Nardella was born in Naples in 1975 and has been living in Florence since 1989. He is a French- Italian political analyst who is now a prominent entrepreneur in children's education services. He got his PhD in Constitutional Law and Environmental Law at University of Florence where he is currently Cultural Property Law professor.

In 2004 he was the youngest councilman elected for the Democratic Party, with the highest number of preferences in the Florence City Hall.

His vocation for politics and institutions can be expressed through his favorite quote by Lord Robert Baden Powell: "Try to leave this world a little better than you found it, feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best ".

venerdì 23 maggio 2014

Costume Gallery in Palazzo Pitti

Author: Gayane Simonyan

The Costume Gallery in Palazzo Pitti in Florence displays the exhibitions of the collections of historical accessories and clothes that had previously been stored in the warehouses of the palace.

The collections cover the period from the 18th century to the present-day but there are also rare examples of the 16th century.

Costume Gallery collections include around ninety theatre costumes as well belonging to the cornerstone of the history of Italian show business, Sartoria Tirelli, which were given to the museum together with a huge number of historical clothes by Umberto Tirelli.

The exhibition now starts with Rosa Genoni who was born in 1887 in Tirano, Italy, and by the time she was eighteen, was involved in socialist workers’ clubs. She was the first person in the history of Fashion to support the concept of “Made in Italy”. Taking Italian Renaissance art as her inspiration for both the structure of her creations and textile decorations, she was deeply committed to improving the position of women in the workplace, and collaborated with the Società Umanitaria vocational school for girls as teacher and director, and was the first teacher in the History of Italian Costume. The dresses Rosa presented at the International Exhibition in Milan in 1906, where inspired by Botticelli, Pisanello, Raffaello, Mantegna and Ghirlandaio and fully embodied her ideas.

She also wrote the first book in the history of Fashion. This section features two of her masterpieces, the Court Cape based on a watercolor by Pisanello, and the ball dress inspired by Botticelli’s Primavera.

The next is Patty Pravo born in Venice, Italy in 1948 who was an Italian pop singer whose career spanned for more than four decades.

“Patty Pravo doesn’t actually exist, she is an abstraction, an essence, a wicked and angelic alien flower that blossomed in the wild garden of music” said Gino Castaldo, an Italian journalist and a critic of music.

The list is continued by Anna Piaggi born in Milan in 1931. She was a fashion journalist, author and collector; an icon of eccentric extravagant and provocative style, but also an elegant woman famous for having invented vintage long before it became fashionable.

Maria Cumani Quasimodo- wife, life-companion and muse of the author and poet Salvatore Quasimodo- was born in Milan on 20 May, 1908. The dresses she wore as a dancer and actress, and sometimes mixing the stage with real life, have been ennobled by their unique historical value. These dresses are one of the main decorations of the exhibition.

In the next hall of the gallery, you can find any type of hat from the most extraordinary to the most simple, from the very old to the very modern. An example is a Capello/ hat, 1993 Gianfranco Ferre.

The next hall is decorated by the costumes of Lietta Cavalli who holds a very unique place in the world of fashion and who has always considered fashion as the means of implementing her artistic work since she was interested in everything textile that can cover, decorate and transform the body. Yarns are her medium for producing art and clothing and she is using the “wrong” side of knitted fabrics for clothing.

Flora Wiechmann Savioli born in Florence in 1917 in a large family. From 50th to 1968 Flora devoted her creative talents to making jewellery, setting quartz and semiprecious stones in silver, steel, iron and brass. Her inspiration was always husband and life companion, Leonardo Savioli.

The next is Angela Caputi who is Florentine by adoption and who presented her first collection in 1975. Her creations, untouched by industrial process, are important examples of Made in Italy craftsmanship. Materials she used include but are not limited in lightweight and pliable synthetic resins.

giovedì 22 maggio 2014

Palazzo Pitti is hosting Masaaki Miyasako' s exhibition

Author: Gayane Simonyan

In the halls of the Gallery of Modern Arts in Palazzo Pitti, Florence, from May 20 to June 29, 2014, the Japanese artist Masaaki-Miyasako is showing his works to the public in the form of the exhibition Tourbillon, edited by Junji Ito.

The exhibition displays 30 works, mostly large or composite panels from the greatest museums in Japan and also from private collections and from the last production of the artist.

Born in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture in 1951, Masaaki Miyasako is now widely active as a painter and a professor at graduate school of Tokyo National University of Arts.

Junji Ito, art Critic and curator of the Masaaki-Miyasako International Exhibition, believes that the greatest meaning in planning this exhibition of the works of Masaaki-Miyasako, which has traveled to Budapest, Lisbon and now finally Florence, and introducing this artist to Europe, lies in transmitting major questions remaining for modern Japan in Europe- the springhead for raising such questions- through the work of Masaaki-Miyasako.

By this he means firstly that Masaaki-Miyasako’ s complex and diverse techniques are something that multilaterally spreads understanding of one-dimensional Japanese art that has been viewed only in terms of color and differences in perspective over since the Impressionist School; and secondly that Miyasako’ s scientific mind, which endeavors to structurally understand relationship between image representations and human emotions is evidence of the changes and innovations brought forward in Japanese art by the concept of art that has been imported from the west since the 19th century.

In other words the world of Miyasako’ s works is a place where currently existing values give innovation to two understandings of Japanese artwork in Japan and the West for the first time in over a century since the emergence of Japonism in the West.

Masaaki-Miyasako- an artist who is also a leader in the revival and innovation of traditions, and who is acknowledged by one and all as a worthy heir to the art of Japanese painting- now has an opportunity with this exhibition to introduce his works in Europe, where the cultural pinnacle of exchange between Japan and Europe has been realized and expanded through the aesthetic development of Japonism.

According to Junji Ito, this is not only something that will provide clear answers for the modern day realization of issues raised during the era spanning the late 19th and 20th centuries but also proof that Europeans’ recognition from an international perspective of the potential for Japanese art was in fact correct.

This exhibition is also meant to show that it is possible to arrive at Western art concepts from Japanese cultural methodology while at the same time providing dialectical evidence of this, and so Miyasako’ s world is referred to as “pure impressionism”.

In Masaaki-Miyasako’s words. in Japan, there exists an excellent culture of painting, sculpture and industrial arts that have been backed with traditional skills. Europe has been deeply impressed by aspects of Japanese culture including ukiyoe, manga and anime, yet other aspects of Japanese culture have not reached Europe at all.

A spiritual culture that reaches the heart has been represented by paintings using a classical technique of coloring from the reverse side, known as "urazaisiki," nihonga (Japanese-style painting), forming new space-time and universe elements while retaining traditional aspects, wrapping these around a spiral.

“I hope I can share the joy of this experience with the people of Italy,” said Miyasako.

"urazaisiki" technique

This year he is scheduled to have 2 solo exhibitions in national museums in Europe: a challenge that started from Russia and Asian areas and is now developing throughout Europe.

Miyasako' work, internationally regarded as contemporary art, stately proceeds to global stage of contemporary art scene.

martedì 20 maggio 2014

BLOGS AND CRAFTS: The young Artisans and The Web

Author: Gayane Simonyan

The annual festival of Artisans and their works is held in a different format this year. From 15 to 18 May the exhibition ARTIGIANATO E PALAZZO brought together 10 bloggers and 10 artisans under 35 to compete. Held in the historic Corsini Gardens, this year’s edition includes “Blogs & Crafts” competition.

4-days-exhibition dedicated to 37 new exhibitors, 46 different craftsmanship and 91 artisans, protagonists of handicraft skills, as well as this year’s winners of the contest “Blogs&Crafts”, is produced in collaboration with QN/LA NAZIONE.
Special for this occasion Corsini Gardens allows its visitors to admire and purchase crafts handmade by the capable craftsmen who represent 46 different professions: from glassblowing to woodcutting, from fabric-printing to the creation of exclusive custom-made shoes and clothes, pens made from fragrant exotic wood, from hay-weaving to iron-molding, old-fashioned and modern jewelry, as well as personalized perfumes.

“This exhibition is taking place every year. It started 20 years ago in 1994. This assumes to support younger generations and to celebrate the 20th anniversary with a view to the future,” said Ludovica Piras, the organizer.

The new features of this year include table dishware, lamps and abat-jours; hand-sewn shoes, of the kind used by world-wide cinema costumers; custom haute couture neckties; clothes and accessories in wool and silk produced with a felting technique by Atelier della Lana; cut-paper decorations; fountain pens in natural horn and many other things.

The 10 artisans selected for the contests are mosaicists, goldsmiths, tailors, luthiers, weavers, bookbinders, intarsio- makers, sculptors and papier-maché artists.

“We have 10 different bloggers in general - all around doing live blogging- coming from different parts of Italy and only one of them from England. They are experts on artisanry, tourism and fashion, lifestyle, events, culture, etc. At the end of the exhibition of Artigianato e Palazzo they are going to write articles with photos, videos and interviews about the exhibition, and the best piece will be a awarded by a plaque (targa) from QN LA NAZIONE,” said Ludovica Piras.

mercoledì 14 maggio 2014

Istituto Europeo: Interview with a mysterious Ukrainian singer in Florence

Author: Gayane Simonyan

Walking around in the central part of Florence after 1 pm, you will find Anatoliy and Natalia playing and singing in the streets filling the Florentine air with the sweet sounds of high-class music in different languages.

Natalia and Anatoliy came to Florence from Ukraine. However, their first experience of street singing was in Germany 15 years ago. After staying there for some time, they went back to their country. Seeing that their are not having any success there- street singing is not really welcomed- they decided to try that somewhere else. Not being a fan of huge cities and busy streets, the band decided to move to Florence, which, in their words, is a small, cozy and welcoming city with 370.000 inhabitants- all living as a joint family.

“We got to know each other at the university in Kiev, Ukraine when we were on the last grade. After graduation we started dating and we were both keen on entering the conservatoire but, it was both difficult and expensive and, to be honest, we didn’t have much money,” said Natalia Lopushanska, the singer.

She told that everything started from Anatoliy hearing that people are going abroad, working and earning money there. He decided to give it a try: three months here, three months there. And then he came back and offered Natalia to go with him.

“At first it seemed to be a humiliation to me, I couldn’t imagine myself singing in the streets and living a life like that. He had experience already, but me not. First time in Europe, everything’s new: euro instead of grivno. But then when we started doing that, I could see that people really respect and love you for what you are doing,” said Natalia.

Their main job is singing and playing-they have 2 CDs- but except it they are also working at a restaurant. Natalia is working as a waitress and Anatoliy is, from time to time, playing his accordion there.

“In restaurant you are tied up but we like freedom. I have a mezzo-soprano voice. I can sing Pavarotti - O sole mio, Caruso, Besame mucho, Summertime, etc. Normally I sing in English, Italian, German, French, Ukrainian and Russian. And people are the ones to create our repertoire. Based on their interests and demands and wants, we are searching for songs, copying, learning the music, words and start performing,” said Natalia.

In the beginning it was really hard for her to remember the words especially of Italian songs, but for instance about French songs- she doesn’t speak french, she is just memorizing the words.

“When I sing in English, French people are coming and starting talking to me in English, in French thinking that I speak all of them, but then I have to say sorry but I don’t speak English. The same with the other languages. The thing is that French, Russian, Italian songs I can perform perfectly.” Natalia mentioned.

As for her Italian, it’s conversational- between A2 and B1. When they first came to Italy, they took language courses to be able to communicate and to get to know the accent to sing with.

“People are inviting us to wedding parties: it’s an event normally once in a lifetime and we feel so proud of ourselves when they trust this responsible part to us,” said Natalia.

Natalia and Anatoliy couldn’t forget the story that made them realize that life is not easy in Florence as well, you cannot trust everyone. Before leaving Florence their friends introduced them to a person who then offered them to work for him and give some concerts for New year in Rosetta city in Italy.

“We trusted him because our friends recommended to. So we went there with him, gave 3-4 concerts. But then, in that winter cold he left us somewhere in the street without anything.

We could call police, but we didn’t. His plan worked very well: he earned much money out of the concerts, and just took advantage of the fact that we are without documents, we have nothing here, no one to help us,” said Anatoliy.

Natalia added that it was a good lesson for them. After that she couldn’t sing for a week- she got cold, she had sore-throat.

Anatoliy and Natalia have told that they can’t do that job in every city.

“Of course there are so many Russians in San Marino, we could sing there in Russian but the rules are different there - we can’t play in the street. Here we are a member of a special association where we are all registered, approximately 30 people: musicians, mems. We gather from time to time, talk about our plans, events organized. You can sing without permission but then you might have problems with the police. You need to take permission from comune monthly or annually for 30 euros for each,” summed up Natalia.

giovedì 8 maggio 2014

Top 5 Gelaterias in Florence

Author: Gayane Simonyan

If you plan to visit Florence or you are already here and you are an ice-cream lover, don’t lose your chance to visit the best Gelaterias in Florence. I would recommend to definitely visit these ones.

1. Venchi

Venchi in Florence is working for 2 years already but they have many others throughout Italy. They come from Turin, and the history of their factory dates back to 1878.


Venchi - a culture based on values of tradition, quality and specialization. 130 years of passion and experience, where the selection of the best genuine ingredients is converted into 350 unique recipes.

“We have so many flavours of ice-cream even for the most wayward clients. We have also a great variety of chocolate that is worth trying. Taking an ice cream, chocolate or milkshake, coffee, and in the winter time hot chocolate, you can go upstairs to take a sit and enjoy your stay,” said Viviana, the manager of the gelateria.

She could see the unique point of their ice-cream shop being a very elegant place where you can try chocolate, coffee, snack bar, 28 ice cream flavours and have a sit at a quite graceful atmosphere.

The prices here start from 2.5 euros for a small cup of ice-cream with two flavours of your choice.

2. Perché no

From 1939 Perché no offers homemade ice-cream every morning, hence fresh every day. The whole making takes place in the laboratory using only the best available, natural and carefully chosen ingredients. Their production starts with milk, cream, sugar and eggs. There you can find also a small bunch of books to read and enjoy your ice-cream either inside or outside on a small open-air pavilion.

“Perché no is the oldest Gelateria in Florence. Every day we have a special sort of ice-cream which is “Ice-cream of the day”. Since this is a family business and we are four of us, we change the roles, except for the ice-cream maker who is always here to work,” said Valentina, the owner.

The price for an ice-cream with two flavours starts from 2 euros.

martedì 6 maggio 2014

San Miniato al Monte church in Florence named after Armenian martyr San Minas

Author: Gayane Simonyan

San Miniato or Saint Minas/Minias (Italian: Miniato, Armenian: Մինաս) is worshipped as the first Christian martyr of Florence. According to the legend he was either an Armenian prince or a king who was serving in the Roman Army or else making a penitential pilgrimage to Rome, and who had decided to become an eremit near Florence.

Not far from Piazzale Michelangelo, a famous touristic square from where you can admire the whole magnificent panorama of Florence, you will see San Miniato al Monte church (St Minias on the Hill) - a basilica in Florence, central Italy, standing atop one of the highest points in the city, one of the most authentic Romanesque churches in Tuscany.

This church was named after him as means of showing respect and devotion.

Later, about forty kilometers away from the church, a small town and comune in the province of Pisa, in the region of Tuscany got the name of the same Saint, San Miniato.

By 1347 the town of San Miniato was under Florentine control, but from 1367-1370, instigated by Pisa, it rebelled against Florence, and for another brief period between 1777 and 1779 during the Napoleonic conquest.

The story of Saint Minas and his life was quite tough. He refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods and was put through series of tortures like once he was thrown into a fireplace, another time he was stoned and was thrown to a lion or a leopard at an amphitheater from which he could survive unscathed. Afterall he was decapitated/ beheaded near Piazza della Signoria, but according to the legend he picked up his own head, crossed the Arno and walked up the hill of Mons Florentinus to his hermitage.
However, the the historicity of the saint is uncertain. There is a conjecture that he might have been a soldier who was executed for spreading Christianity in the army.

It was on top of the grave of the Christian martyr Saint Minas where the church of San Miniato al Monte was built. After the Roman emperor Decius issued a decree for the prohibition of Christianity in 250, Minias was beheaded and buried on a hill in East Oltrarno, across the river from the Florence city centre.

The construction of the church started in 1018. Later the conservation of the church was financed by the Calimala guild, wool and cloth tradesman, due to the statue on top of the church's forehead which demonstrates an eagle standing on a bag with wool: the symbol of this wealthy guild. The facade constructed in 1090, has a beautiful pattern of colored marble: the pattern of white and green marble would later be emulated on the baptistery and cathedral of Florence. The mosaic part of the facade was done later in the 13th century and that is the depicture of Christ with Maria and St. Minas.

If you enter the church you can find a similar mosaic, made in 1297, on the ceiling of the apsis. You will also see the marble floor, from 1207, that is decorated with zodiac signs.

The oldest part of the church is the crypt and the high altar that presumably contains the bones of St Minias himself.

lunedì 5 maggio 2014

Gelato Festival in Florence, Rome

Author: Gayane Simonyan

On 1 May, 2014 Florence Gelato Festival opened its doors to ice-cream lovers at Palazzo dei Congressi gardens, opposite the Santa Maria Novella station. Gelato Festival was born 4 years ago in Florence and habitually the festival starts from Florence. It usually takes four days and at the end of the fourth day, the Best Italian gelato Parlour 2014 is elected.

“The festival is quite famous. After Florence we go to around ten cities in Italy like Turin, Rome, Naples, etc. and then we move to five cities in Europe: Paris, Cannes, Barcelona, Munich, and Amsterdam,” said Luca, the project leader.

The idea of the festival was to celebrate the Florentine origins of gelato and introduce it to the world. The creation of Gelato is attributed to Bernardo Buontalenti, after whom the biggest home -made gelato mobile lab ever built in the world is called.

“You can start your tour with buying a Gelato Card with 10, 12 euros, which you can use for tasting the BUONTALENTI, a bunch of different ice-creams and then a cocktail, water and then you can follow the activities held there. These activities include watching the cooking shows and workshops: how to make an ice-cream or what kind of ingredients to use with ice-cream. In other words everything about ice-creams,” he said.
Luca mentioned that some cities are not quite certain yet because every city has its own rule, for example in Munich they don’t allow to stay more than three days, so fare like this can’t be held in just three days; they need one week- 2 days to build up, 4 days to present and then 1 day to pack up.

“There is also a voting option at the festival- a possibility to vote for the ice-cream you liked most of all, and the winner flavour would get an award. So it’s a good opportunity for the ice-cream makers to become famous because we have also Social Media accounts, pages or just Media partners we share information with. That’s why many ice-creamers come here from different cities to prepare their best one or create a special flavour for the fare, to become known,” Luca added.

The project leader showed the glassy booth at the fare where the ice-creams are made and it’s open to public to watch the preparation system, the conditions, the machines, techniques and the like.

“We have a special high school for cooking called “Alberghiero” where you can learn everything about cooking- no matter you want to be a cooker or a waiter - just anyone in that field. So we offer the school to cooperate because the students don’t have an opportunity to have the practical part of their studies. So this is a great opportunity for them as well but we choose only the best students, the ones who are faster, cleaner, more professional,” summed up Luca.

He also told that in other cities they choose students and ice-cream makers from “local players”. The revenue stream mostly comes from the people who buy the card and also from the sponsors like Fabbri, Algida, Nutella Ferrero.