Saturday, December 29, 2007

Augustin's and Andrew's car shopping day

It was impossible to find parking in the city so we ended up having to park in a parking deck where some of the more affluent residents of Rome park. This was manifested in part by the cars we saw driving around. Augustin and Andrew decided to take a look and see what they'd choose should they ever have a spare 300,000 Euros laying around.

First model....yellow Lamborghini.

Second model... red Ferrari. We saw 4 Ferraris total.

Next model... grey Maserati.

Last one, dark blue Lotus.

Nativity Scenes in Rome

Yesterday we spent most of the day visiting some of the hundreds of Nativity Scenes in Rome. First stop of the day was the larger-than-life-size one in St. Peter's square. The complexity of it was amazing. I'd seen them setting up scaffolding several weeks before, and it was quite interesting to see the end result. Here's a view from the front.

A view of one of the sides.

Another side view. Look at the landscaping, done with real plants!

This one was on top of the Spanish steps.

Next we visited an exhibit in Piazza del Popolo of 100 Nativity Scenes from around the world. It was a little difficult to take pictures because of the no-photo police but I got shots of the best ones. This was one of my favorites, a terra cotta one from Peru.

One from Alaska.

Two carved wooden scenes from Bolivia and Chile respectively.

This one was by far the largest and most complex. It was from Naples, and had a complete village. Lots of running water in the fountains and automated figurines made this one quite fun to watch. As you can see, the picture only captures part of it.

This one was carved into tufa, a type of soft rock.

A free-standing, and very nice one.

Another interesting one, showing a little town square.

A miniature one set in some kind of rock.

An entire Nativity scene carved in relief in a large section of mother of pearl.

This one was in the church of Aracoeli and shows the miraculous statue of the Bambino Gesu`.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Medieval Manhattan

I like to refer to the town of San Gimignano in Tuscany as "Medieval Manhattan". San Gimignano is famous for its medieval towers of varying heights, an attempt by their creators to outdo oneanother in magnificence. It produces a famous white wine, the Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Here's a picture of part of the city walls. We visited the town with our friends Marco, Zio Albino, and Consuelo.

The town piazza with the original well from which the city was provided with water in the event of a seige.

Mom, dad and Marco did a wine tasting inside an enoteca...sampling several varieties of wine.

While we were busy fooling around outside. Gus posing as a little Italian gangster.

Here are some of the town's towers. I was struck by how similar these two seemed to the World Trade Center Twin Towers.

Last stop of the day was the church of St. Jacopo which was unfortunately closed. It happens to have been the Knights Templar church.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

With friends in Florence

Since we were in the area we spent a day up in Florence seeing some friends and enjoying the Christmas atmosphere in the city.

The lily of Florence planted in flowers in Piazza della Signoria.

We got a tour of Palazzo Vecchio from our friend Consuelo who works there, but unfortunately we couldn't take pictures. I got this shot from the roof though.

And Consuelo took this pic of the family.

We spent a lot of time's mom and Consuelo looking at charms.

We all laughed at this picture of Luciano Pavarotti spraypainted on the wall, asking that he be made a saint right away.

At the end of the day it got below freezing. Thank goodness for warm clothes! Dad and I playing around "smoking".

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Just a taste of Pisa...

After leaving Carrara we went to Pisa. Pisa's got a fascinating history and we didn't get to spend nearly an adequate amount of time there. We shall definitely return. I must say however that the way they drive is maddening. The Romans really have got pedestrian and vehicular interaction figured out. These Pisans are much too calm and organized and systematic. In Rome if you see a truck approaching oh maybe 20 meters away you merely step out into the street and cross. The truck will see you, hit the brakes and pass on by after you've crossed. You don't even really have to look. The Romans may come careening around corners with one hand on the wheel but you know their foot's covering the brake and you can just go, and leave the "Porca miseria how am I not going to have a collision?" question to the motorist. After all YOU'RE the one busy taking pictures, looking at shop windows, and obviously have no time to pay attention to traffic. Those of you who have visited us in Rome know what I'm talking about and don't try to hide in the corner, because I've seen the grey appear on your head after dragging you across some intersections here. But I digress. As I mentioned earlier these Pisans are much too organized. They expect you to line up at the crosswalk, press the button and wait for the light to turn green. Should you dare cross before it does so, you will get scandalized gasps from the college students behind you on their bicycles, letting you know they're scarred for life. And that's what I've got to say about Pisan traffic. I'm not saying I like complete chaos...I've been to Naples and that's absolutely whacked. Those people drive worse than Romans and don't particularly have an aversion to hitting a pedestrian. You take your life in your hands walking the streets of Naples. Rome is the perfect medium between Naples and Pisa, the cordial, mutual respect exhibited by driver and pedestrian, the understanding by the motorist that a nasty accident in the middle of the street will only make them late for work and that they're better off mashing the brake pedal and letting you go on your way.

By the time we got to Pisa the sun was already setting and it was completely down by the time we walked to the "Campo dei Miracoli" where the famous leaning tower is. Thus, these pictures were taken in the dark. This is a shot of the actual Cathedral of Pisa, and the Baptistry, two lovely edifices that often get left unmentioned because of their sister tower.

Here's the same shot with a bunch of tourists in front of it......dang tourists....

Ah. The tower. The leaning tower leans because of weak subsoil and a poor foundation. It's got a tilt of nearly 4 degrees, which means that the top of the tower is more than 12 feet from where it should be if aligned correctly.

No...can't see the whole tower just yet. Another look back at the Cathedral.

And a shot of the Cathedral from the front. Construction was begun in 1064. Unfortunately we weren't able to go in because it was closed...which necessitates another trip to Pisa.

Here it is...the leaning tower. It was amazing how tilted it was. There are 7 levels, each with a bell tuned to each note of the musical scale.

After leaving the area of the tower, we traveled down the river Arno where I got this shot of the main bridge and its reflection in the water below.

And some more tourists....

Last stop before we headed home was the outdoor Christmas market. We enjoyed browsing the stalls then traveled back to Sarteano.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Carrara - land of marble, and marble

Leaving behind some of the chilly weather we traveled north to Carrara, famous for its white statuary marble. Carrara is actually very near the sea which faciliated the transport of its marble. As we approached the town here's the view we got.....mountains of white marble in the distance. As you can see, there are blocks that are being cut out of the side.

Soon we came across marble cutting plants, statue-carving studios and all other manner of marble-related industries. Here's one of the transporting docks with trucks being loaded up with big blocks of marble.

Check out the size of that chunk.

Here are more blocks, all labeled, awaiting shipment. Look at the size of the two men for reference.

Carrara was quarried by the ancient Romans, and has remained in use until today, making it the oldest industrial site in the world in use today. This is an ancient Roman bridge that spans a gap between two mountains, which is still travelled on today. We drove over this bridge.......

...and into this tunnel, carved out of the solid rock in the mountain. Carrara's mountains are composed of solid marble. The marble doesn't exist in veins like coal does, the entire mountain is pretty much a big chunk of marble.

We visited a small outdoor museum on the other side, which displayed these Roman hammers which were found.

After the marble blocks are blasted loose they are stacked along side the road, waiting for transport down the mountain.

After we had visisted the quarries we went down into the town where we visisted this famous sculpture company called Nicoli. They have done some of the famous monuments and reproductions around the world including the reproduction of Michelangelo's David that is in Florence. This is a block of granite (also quarried near Carrara) and shows some of the sculpture methods used to shape the rock.
Augustin standing in front of a vast assortment of plaster models and marble statues.
Here, a fellow is explaining a sculpture technique to us, using pins placed in a model to calculate the size of a larger replica.
These are the reference pins placed in the model. The sculptor takes measurements from three pins, with respect to another one, to know the distance each pin on the replica should be from one another.
After saying thanks to the sculptors we headed out of Carrara to Pisa, catching this view of the mountain in our rear-view mirror. As you can see, half of the mountain has been stripped of trees, exposing the white marble below.