Saturday, July 16, 2011

Il Bucato

Laundry, il bucato.  Our appartamento comes with a washing machine, una lavatrice, but doing laundry here requires some different techniques and uses more time than we’ve been accustomed to.  In the first place, ours is the smallest capacity washing machine I’ve ever come across.  It looks okay from the front, but the drum is only about 6 inches deep.  A moderate load of clothing is okay, but one queen-size sheet is really too much for the poor thing.  Furthermore, the shortest effective wash cycle takes about an hour and thirty-five minutes.  So I make a weekly pilgrimage to a commercial self-service laundromat to wash the towels and bed-sheets.  More about that later.
Fits anywhere...

...and this is why.
We have la lavatrice, but we don’t have un’asciugatrice, a dryer.  Instead we have this folding rack (uno stendibiancheria), which pretty well blockades the dining room when we use it, and we have a fun set of mechanized rods hanging above the bathtub.
Il stendino

There are six bars on this gadget, each suspended by a cord-and-pulley system.  Hook a ring, lower the rod attached to it, hang wet clothes, pull the rod up to the ceiling and hook the ring on the retainer hook, repeat for other rods, allow laundry to air dry, etc.  I think it’s kinda fun, but then, I’m easily amused.  You do have to plan ahead however, since drying may take all day.
Drying rods above the tub

The controls.  

Luckily there is a laundromat (una lavanderia) about eight minutes walk away.  If it weren’t so expensive—anywhere from €5.60 to €8 to wash and dry a load ($8 to $11.50)— I’d consider doing all the laundry there.  But I’m willing to pay the price for fluffy towels and clean sheets done in an hour in one load.  The lavanderia is not without its educational and entertainment values.  Even with multilingual signs, the operations necessary to process your bucato are not immediately clear.  Some washers use €1 coins, but others, and the dryers, use gettoni. These are brass tokens you have to buy from a dispenser on the wall at the rate of €1.30 per gettone.   The exercise of reading all the instructional signs and deducing the required actions can be daunting, even to Italians.  As an old hand now, several times I’ve had to explain how things work—in my halting and semi-grammatical Italian.
Our local lavanderia

Window painting of a classic lavandaia.

As for entertainment, read the English version of this sign. (click on it to enlarge) 

I have to go ignite the writing.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Last Friday we took a day trip to the city of Ferrara, which is about 50 km (31 mi.) NNE of Bologna, on a southern branch of the Po River.  Controlled by the art-loving Este family before and during the Renaissance, Ferrara has an abundance of beautifully constructed and decorated palazzi, an imposing castello in the center of town surrounded by a water-filled moat, and a large cathedral that retains Romanesque and Gothic attributes despite Baroque remodeling in the 17th century and later.

We took the train, a 55-minute trip for us on the inexpensive local (20 min. on the pricey express headed to Venice).  Bologna is a major rail hub which I always find interesting, with lots of people and lots of action on the rails as trains head all over Italy. As with airports, I’m fascinated by the infrastructure, from the pedestrian tunnels leading out to the boarding platforms, to the maze of suspended catenary power cables over the tracks and the raveling ribbons of steel rail joining, crossing and ultimately curving into the countryside in pairs.  There are remnants of an even more complex train yard left from the recent past—stone switchyard control towers, a set of radiating tracks missing their turntable that once dealt engines to the mainline, former rolling stock maintenance buildings now isolated by weedy gaps in the tracks leading to them. 
View of the terminal building from the platform
of binario sette (track 7).

Our train a few minutes before departure.

Bologna railyard complexities.   (picture borrowed from Wikimedia)

The countryside between Bologna and Ferrara is largely rural, with fields of pomodorini (cherry tomatoes), lots of corn (mais in Italian), and fruit orchards—apricot (albicocca), pear (pera), and peach (pesca—but you knew that).  We also saw industrial installations large and small, including a Lamborghini factory—their main offices are a few km west in Sant’Agata Bolognese.
One of the first things we noticed about Ferrara was the abundance of bicycles.  Cyndy read that there are more bici per capita here than anywhere in Italy.  Here are a few outside the stazione.  Many roads in town have separate lanes for the bikes, and we saw people of all ages riding around.

Ferrara is a city of bike riders.  These are at the train station.

After the requisite stop for caffè and a pastry, we toured the imposing Castello Estense,  which dates from the late 1300s with extensive additions in the 1550s.  All along the tour route are descriptives panels detailing the history of Ferrara and the Este family.  But the building itself and its decorations are the real attraction.  In the lower reaches are several dungeon prison cells with iron doors and many layers of iron grillwork securing the small windows to the outside.  One cell had hazy lettering on the ceiling said to be written with candle smoke.
Castello Estense

Passageway just above the prison cells

Dungeon cell entrance

Six sets of iron grillwork block the way

On an upper floor is il giardino di aranci, a grove of orange trees in terracotta pots arrayed on the loggia terrace.  The implications of privilege are manifest, with the private garden hidden from public view and housing exotic plants that would have to be moved into the shelter of the adjacent loggia greenhouse during winter.  In past centuries there were also hanging gardens and flower beds planted in earth carried upstairs sack by sack from outside.  We climbed the lion tower,  torre di leone, to get good views over the city and look down on the garden terrace.

This garden is said to have inspired the orangerie at Versailles.  

The second level terrace garden above the moat.
Red tile roofs and city streets from the castle tower.

Elaborately decorated ceilings are everywhere in Italy, certainly including Castello Estense.  Here are a few examples including the chapel, a salon with allegories of the sun’s travels, a ceiling of  games and sports, and some geometric figures and historical motifs.  Paintings date from the 1500s into the 20th century (one ceiling—not one shown here—represents Italy surrounded by symbols of conquest from the era of fascism) .
Ducal chapel ceiling

In the Chamber of Dawn
Mirrors help survey the game-players on this ceiling

Four scenes from local history surrounded by a complication of geometry and decorative motifs.

From the ceiling above, boat races in the moat to entertain a visiting pope.
The moat was once larger and connected to the river.

Because of my interest in medieval architecture, the cathedral down the street from the palazzo caught my eye.  Consecrated in 1135, it was begun in Romanesque style, added to and expanded in Gothic style in the mid-13th century, then, following a fire in the 18th c., was completely refurbished inside in Baroque fashion.  Along the way, a pink and white marble campanile (bell tower) was added in the 1450s.  The patron saint of Ferrara is Saint George, and the cathedral is dedicated to him.  I especially like the pink marble lions and griffons and the variety of Venetian Gothic arches and columns in the high south wall  loggia.  If you want more pictures of the church exterior, you can find some on this Italian site.  (Be sure to click ‘prosecuzione dalla vista’ at the bottom to open the second page.)
The West Front, Romanesque below, Gothic above.

Large animal sculptures are remnants from the
demolition of a south-wall porch and entry.

The South cathedral wall, with the campanile at the southeast corner.
  The rough remains of the former south porch are quite visible about mid-way along. 

The upper loggia columns are a stone mason's fantasyland.

We wandered some of the medieval lanes between the cathedral and the Po, visited the library and the cathedral museum (15th c. manuscripts, tapestries and salvaged statuary from the cathedral renovations), and, because it was hot, ate some excellent gelato at the Rivareno shop.  
Did I mention that everyone rides bikes here?

What might explain that curvy brick fascia?

A medieval-era street known as the 'vaults.'
We knew that there would be too much in Ferrara to see in one day, especially a hot day, so we’ll try to return to see more of the Este legacy—palazzi, art and architecture.  And we’ll check out the Renaissance-era city wall, to see if it really does rival the one around Lucca.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

San Luca

“What do you do for exercise, Roberto, since your Rollerblades are packed away in the States?” 
Well, we walk pretty much  everywhere—to the caffè, to school, to the markets, to concerts, to ristoranti, and, um, to get gelato—and in addition, at the end of every excursion there are 27 steps to climb to our appartamento.  For a more directed workout I sometimes walk up to San Luca, or more formally, Il Santuario della Madonna di San Luca.  This church is atop Monte della Guardia, just southwest of the city and about 770 feet above it, and is remarkable for being approached via a continuous arcaded portico that is 3.8 km long (2.35 miles).  There are 666 vaulted arcades in all (depending on who is counting).

The Portico di San Luca starts at the medieval city gate called Porta Saragozza and runs more or less level and mostly straight for about a mile, sheltering shops, small offices and dwelling entrances.
Porta Saragozza

Arcades to infinity

On a Sunday morning most shops are anonymous behind rather unlovely steel barriers, but a few bar-caffès are open, and the occasional well-kept portone looks nice.

At arcade number 305, the walkway turns left, crossing the road on an elaborate bridge, and starts to climb the hill.  There is an intersecting porticoed walkway at this point, and in the second photo below, taken before 1914 (when Pietro Poppi, the photographer, died), it joins the main path we've been following (not visible) and then arcs up to the santuario in the top right background.

The walkway crosses Via Saragozza in Baroque splendor

Early 20th c. photo of porticoes up to San Luca

Last Sunday when I went walking, there was a rally for classic motorcycles which used the road that follows the arcades up the hill as a time-trial leg.  There were motorcycles from WWII and maybe earlier, many from the ‘50s and ‘60s and some later.  I saw lots of Moto Guzzi bikes, but also Norton, Triumph, Vespa and others less well-known.  I’m sure there were Ducatis (they’re made in Bologna), but I was too late to see them.  Here’s a shot of the starter at the bottom of the hill with the Baroque footbridge in the background.  The bikes went under the bridge and up the hill to the left, and quite a few spectators used the Portico as a viewing stand.
Racer on vintage Moto Guzzi police special

It was a tough climb for some of the smaller cycles

Once the Portico starts up the hill it turns into a popular venue for runners and walkers, both locals and tourists.  It’s pretty good exercise if you keep up the pace.  The walkway gets noticeably steep in a few parts, even turning into stairs here and there, and the vaulted roof keeps off rain, snow and hot summer sun.  Certainly it’s much more entertaining than a treadmill or Stairmaster considering all the different people you see, the views off over the city, and the variations in decor of the Portico itself.   The covered arcade was built over  a period of about 120 years starting in 1674.  There were originally many shrines built into or painted onto the walls along the ascent, and a few remain, though many give only hints of former glory.  Here and there people live behind the walls, too, some apparently more simply than others.

One of the remaining shrines under the Portico

Remnant of once-extensive wall decorations

Maybe this is the servants' entrance

Both are #18.

The centuries have also taken their toll on the structure, with water being the eternal enemy of masonry.  Some areas clearly need work.  Others have been restored within the last 50 years and are doing okay.  Nothing seems to be actually falling down at the moment, but I’m glad it’s not my job to keep it that way.
Not sure how to say 'rising damp' in Italian, but that's what it looks like.

Moisture, the enemy of paint and plaster

At the top of the hill are wonderful views south toward the Apennines, though most people have as their goal the Baroque church, built in 1723 on a site that is said to have had a Christian church for a thousand years.  

The Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of Saint Luke at the top of the hill.

Looking southeast to the Apennines

The Baroque interior of the church

The church is truly a sanctuary for one particular icon, a painting of the Madonna and Child attributed to the evangelist Luke, thus San Luca.  Here’s a picture.  I make no judgments on Christian timelines and miracles, but it looks Byzantine to me.
The miraculous painted icon within its protective enclosure.
The Portico di San Luca was built to protect the miraculous icon during its yearly processions to and from the cathedral in the center of the city, where it resides during Ascension week and has done since 1433.  The rest of the time it protects a host of religious and otherwise as they make their own little pilgrimages to the top of the hill.