Monday, January 1, 1996

Italy January 1996 -- with Mona, Seymour and Helen

Sometime in the early part of December 1995, a commitment was made to take this long talked about trip to Italy. Travel agents were contacted and tickets bought. Then from about Dec 15-31, intensive planning took place both with Seymour in New York and with me in Philadelphia [while conducting Nutcracker with Pennsylvania Ballet]. The Public Library being near my hotel, I read every travel and art book they had. We decided to pre-book all hotels as we thought it better to spend our time looking at art than for a hotel.

January 1, I picked up Seymour at his house and we continued to JFK early so as to beat the rush and it was the right move for check-in was a breeze. We strolled over to the domestic terminal to await the arrival of Mom and Helen Kennedy. Their plane was a bit late but we still had plenty of time to get to our gate first stopping at Duty Free where Mom and I got Scotch and Seymour cognac. The trip over was luckily uneventful; the others read, and I took a pill and went to sleep.

Upon arrival in Rome one of Mom's bags and Helen's only bag were missing. But the modern world found them thanks to computers, one at JFK the other in Frankfurt via Salt Lake City!?, and both were promised by the next day and sure enough were delivered. Excitement grew as we entered Rome taxiing past very familiar buildings like the Coliseum and the Baths. Our hotel, the Portoghesi (Via Portoghesi 1) was comfortable but a bit tight. Seymour decided to nap while we three went out to see what was close.

We headed for the Ara Pacis Augustae that was just down the street. It is bounded by the Tiber and a huge pile of earth and rubble which is the tomb of Augustus. The friezes around the Ara Pacis were stunning, serene and simple in their elegance. All of the filigree work was also lovely as was the setting for the tomb. The weather was very mild [mid©50s] so we could stroll easily through town having only to dodge vespas. We walked straight back to the hotel and found Seymour in his bright red jacket wielding his mighty cane. He thought lunch was in order, so we set off to find a good place. We learned that lunch begins at 1 and ends at 2:30--everywhere! and it being only 11:45am we had some time to sightsee, so off to the Coliseum we went by hard found cab. The magnificent arches and three orders of the exterior greeted us as they have so many millions of travelers. A small crowd inside was exploring and we did the same. The lower level afforded good views of the under-workings while the second level (for L 8,000) gave vistas outward to the fori and surrounding areas. We left the arena and asked several Carabinieri (Italian State police) for a restaurant recommendation and true to form they sent us to the "I Gladiatori". There was much toasting, and a general feeling of triumph and self-satisfaction pervaded the lunch. We had made it.

After lunch Seymour headed back to the hotel for a lie-down, and we three set off to conquer the fori only to find them closed. Still we climbed the back of the Palatine Hill and had a good view of all. We next headed to the Basilica di San Clemente, a church over a church over a temple. Masolino had painted a chapel of the life of St. Catherine, a lovely Annunciation and St. Christopher and there was a Byzantine mosaic in the apse, but in the sub-cellar there were the remains of a Mithraic Temple. There were altar stones and other familiar ritual pieces depicting Perseus with averted glance slicing the neck of Taurus, Canis lapping his blood, Scorpio biting his genitals, Corvus and Craterus in the corners. The crypt-like rooms were dank but fascinating. We passed by a shallow pit perhaps for ritual sacrifice of a bull whose blood would drip from above through slats over the pit onto the initiate below. After buying a few postcards we proceeded back past the Coliseum again and up the hill to San Pietro in Vincoli to join our first of many groups of Japanese tourists viewing a great work of art. Here it was the Michelangelo Moses. We took our turn and jockeyed for position for a while, then gave up and went into the bookstore. When we came out they were gone, and we had an excellent view.

Out the front door of the church and down steps to the right we passed through some rather out of the way streets until we finally asked a cop to get us to the Campidolio. He showed us a neat shortcut which went directly through the forum of Trajan--a bonus for us. We navigated some very busy street crossings and ascended to the Campidolio, explored the piazza a bit then went into the Conservatorio to see some Caravaggio then on special exhibit. After we had our fill we taxied to the hotel and rested all too briefly then met in Mom’s and Helen's room for the first of our daily cocktail parties. Our Scotch came in very handy. We set off for dinner at a place just up from the hotel realizing that we were bushed and would like to turn in early. The dinner was festive and we were all in good spirits. We discussed the next day's plan and decided to go to the Vatican.

Day 2 started at 8am for breakfast, then a cab to the vast and amazing Vatican. We were intent on seeing the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael rooms, and with Seymour poised in his chair and me supplying the power, we four set off down the long corridors. The School of Athens was shrouded but the Disputa was in full view and thrilling. With some difficulty with the wheelchair we got to the Sistine Chapel which was already swamped with all sorts of tourists. With the wheelchair as our cattle-catcher we made our way to the benches on both sides and slowly and carefully went through every panel and each of us contributed what we could to the advantage of our general edification. It was a delight. Perhaps 90minutes later we decided to move on and eventually find a lunch place. The Vatican cafeteria was bustling and not bad. We had to hurry through the Pinacoteca however because it closed early. It seemed incongruous that we were shooed by these magnificent paintings by lunch-hungry guards but... After another bookstore and more cards, we cabbed to St. Peter's. After admiring the Bernini colonnade Helen and I went into a mobile post office to buy stamps for our post cards. The attendant was incredulous when I asked for 100 stamps--but I thought I'd might as well buy enough for all. Mom and Helen explored the Manger scene set up on the Square and Seymour and I went ahead to scout the best way to enter St. Peter's.

Two not to be photographed Swiss guards pointed out the way, and soon we were in the Rotunda by the Baldachino. After much excited exploring and discovery we decided to climb to the top of St. Peter's but the line was oppressive. However there was a makeshift bookstore, so we went in and made our usual book and card purchases. I walked away from the nun-saleslady not quite sure about the lire transaction (I thought she had undercharged me) and Mom thought it best to return and pay up "after all this is the very heart of the Christian world", but the hubbub that ensued (the nun thought we were claiming she had overcharged us) called to mind; "never look a gift horse in the mouth"!

We assembled in the square and decided to try Brettschnieder's Book Store which unfortunately was closed the first week of January. So it was off to the Pantheon for a quick peek just before it closed for a wedding. Close by was the Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi which holds three Caravaggios on the Life of St. Matthew. Afterwards we took our coffee outdoors at a cafe on the Piazza Navona and excitedly talked of what we had seen. We went back to the hotel for a quick rest before another cocktail party and dinner. This night, after everyone had gone to bed I went out for a walk which was to become habitual. I walked again through the Piazza Navona then to the Tiber, across to Hadrian's Tomb and back again. On the way back I stopped at a little bar and got into a discussion (in various languages) about jazz particularly Louis Prima. Got home about 3am and the next morning decided that I was no longer young.

Day 3 After breakfast we cabbed to the Borghese Gallery. This morning was brisk but sunny, and as we had arrived before opening (at least for that particular day) we sat in the sun in the park surrounding the Gallery. The building was undergoing some renovation so all of the 2nd floor paintings were now on the first floor stuffed in where they could fit. The Bernini sculptures were wondrous. After the Borghese we ducked into Santa Maria della Vittoria to gaze upon Santa Theresa in Ecstasy along with her permanent fans. Truly remarkable, it deserves all the ink that has been penned on it. After a brief financial transaction where travelers checks were exchanged, we sought refuge in the Palazzo Barberini. On the way we stopped at the Quattro Fontana corner was interesting for its view of the 3 obelisks but exceptionally dangerous because of the ribbon-sized sidewalks and overzealous motorists.

The Palazzo Barberini is a beautiful gallery especially the Caravaggio Judith & Holofernes (accent disputed!) that unfortunately Seymour could not enjoy because the elevator was broken! The first floor was nonetheless filled with little gems and a magnificent ceiling fresco by Cortona. Seymour had a place in mind for lunch just off the Spanish Steps so be cabbed over and enjoyed a splendid repast. Overheard by other restaurant goers, Seymour's Italian accent was taken for Tuscan which pleased him and impressed us. Then to the Piazza del Popolo with a short diversion to an eyeglass store to adjust Mom's glasses (a free and successful operation!). In the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Popolo we saw Pintoricchio frescoes, some Raphael and Caravaggio. Then straight to the Gesu for a full thrust of the Baroque. Ornate doesn't begin to describe it. The Gualli ceiling frescos were unfortunately under renovation. Then it was back home for a rest and dinner.

Our last day in Rome started in Trastevere. We were at the Villa Farnesina to see the Raphael Galatea at 9am. It was a lovely structure with an incredible staircase and magnificent rooms opening onto the Tiber into which the original occupants (the Chigi), after finishing a meal, threw their gold plates to the astonishment of their guests! Apparently there was a great net carefully placed in the river to catch them. We found a very accommodating cab driver to take us to Santa Maria in Trastevere to see the Cavallini12th century mosaic and to the Chiesa di San Pietro in Montorio where we stepped in to see Bramante's "Il Tempietto" (1499), a perfect little round temple-like structure surrounded by columns, then back to the Campo de' Fiori for a bit of shopping and looking at shoppers. The Farnese Palace (now the French Embassy) was threatened by protesters denouncing the French Nuclear testing in the South Pacific. Their numbers were few however. The Cancelleria (Bramante 1513), one of Seymour's favorite buildings was truly majestic though hard to take in on an empty stomach, so we stopped for lunch and refueled. Then we went on to Santa Maria in Cosmedin where Seymour wowed the Japanese tourists by first yelling "ABUNAI!" at an unsuspecting Japanese girl about to put her hand into the Bocca de la Verita. Then he went on to mime demanuation when he put in his own hand. Flash bulbs were going off as if it were the Oscars! After a quick peek at the Circus Maximus and the Temple of Fortuna Virile (the Temple of Vesta was completely canvassed), we enjoyed the final night in Rome with another delicious dinner.

Before dinner Seymour and I had picked up our rental car at Hertz. My philosophy of reserving the cheapest car and then when they don't have any left they give you a better car for the same price backfired, as they had no cars (save one) that weren't compact! So after negotiation we managed to get the bigger car, a Vectra four-door, which accommodated us and our belongings but with no room to spare! Getting back to the hotel from the rental office was a bit of a trick as there are no autos allowed in our area but we managed. The trunk of the car was brilliantly packed by the Portoghesi porter and we were off to Orvieto.

It was Saturday morning and there was no traffic so the trip was easy. We climbed the hill to Orvieto and feeling empowered with wheelchair in trunk I proceeded up a one way the wrong way straight to the Duomo and without hesitation parked. The day was overcast and the San Brizio Chapel with the Last Judgment frescoes of Signorelli was under total renovation--couldn't see a thing--but the cathedral was glorious. We bought some cards, had a quick snack, and departed via an unexpected tortuous city tour headed for Assisi. After a stop for another snack (much appreciated) we arrived in Assisi. Following my nose took us around the entire city on almost impassable streets finally to arrive at our hotel, the San Francesco, which was precariously perched just above the Basilica di San Francesco. The room god smiled favorably upon us and we were granted the finest rooms in Assisi. Our corner rooms looked out on to San Francesco and the Umbrian plain. A mysterious spirituality pervaded the streets of Assisi. Perhaps it was the absence of cars and all contemporary life or perhaps the Japanese muzac playing Disney-like from the bushes around the Nativity scene in front of San Francesco, whatever it was, the change from Rome was dramatic. After lunch we headed straight for the Upper Basilica and the Giottos. They were breathtaking. I was shocked at their grand size. I guess I had expected something much simpler. The Cimabue frescoes in the transepts were in very bad condition. The lower basilica held some of my favorite works of art frescoed upon the walls and ceilings of the transepts; works of Giotto and Pietro Lorenzetti. We dined at a restaurant adjacent to the hotel which was excellent, so we decided to take all our meals there. After the troops were in bed, I took a long walk around the town. There was grace and spirit everywhere.

The next day, Sunday morning, we went to high mass. There were some interesting characters there especially the ones conducting the service which was in Italian, so I played peasant and took my religious inspiration gawking at the frescoes. While Seymour and I were in the aisle looking at the Lorenzetti Resurrection, we were almost run down by Psalter and Censer (still smoking) headed toward the Sacristy. As mass was the only time that all the lights were on, it was the best time to view the frescoes! After lunch we started up the hill on foot. Unfortunately the incline was too much for the wheelchair attendant
so I got the car and we drove to the Basilica di Santa Chiara to see the crucifix which spoke to St. Francis(it was mute to us uninitiated). The Church's buttresses were a perfect spot for photos. In the center of town all but Seymour went to the Pinacoteca for our fill of decrepit frescoes then took a peek behind the2nd century AD Roman temple facade into the horribly garish Baroque interior. I nearly had a heart attack and left immediately. While Helen and Seymour rested, Mom and I went back to San Francesco to have "one more look" and to buy some things at the bookstore. Another fine dinner was followed with a cigar. (I asked for and received the permission of the remaining guests having to bribe one Swiss gentleman with a Cohiba.)

Packing the car the next morning was somewhat facilitated by close study of the Roman bellhop's work. However, it was a bit awkward. and since I had to walk past San Francesco to get the car I stopped in yet once more and overheard a fifty year old priest-tour-guide commanding his young American tourists to "Check out this fresco!" The car packed, we headed to Arezzo.
We had planned (at Seymour's insistence and our ready concurrence) to make a stop in Sansepolcro to see the Pieros before going on to Arezzo. The day started off misty, but by the time we got to Borgo it was relatively clear. We found the Museo Civico and a parking place directly across the street and headed inside. As we were buying tickets Seymour disappeared and all we heard was the boom, clop, boom, clop of his cane down through the empty galleries headed toward the Resurrection. We caught up with him in the Piero gallery; a magnificent room with only the Resurrection and the Madonna della Misericordia. We were the only ones in the Museo this Monday morning so we stayed in the room for more than an hour discussing, adoring, and stunned. The room which now housed the Pieros was originally the main entry way and instead of closing off the front door when they renovated the Museo, they installed a piece of plate glass over it so passers by could see the paintings from the street; very Italian, making art just part of everyday life. After a quick pass through the rest of the Museo we piled back into the car and were back on the highway to Arezzo. The Madonna del Parto had been moved from the cemetery in Monterchi to a local school, but being Monday, it was not available to be seen. However, the countryside on the way was beautiful. We got into our hotel by 1:30 and headed to the Buca di San Francesco directly across from the Chiesa di San Francesco which housed the Piero True Cross Cycle. The lunch was delicious though we were somewhat worried by the restoration billboard on San Francesco. Sure enough one half of the altar was scaffolded and canvassed giving only an oblique view of the other half. The priest was never in the rectory for us to buy cards, so Seymour caused a small ruckus to gain his attention. We got our cards. Then it was off to the Pieve di Santa Maria, a colonnaded Romanesque church, which has one art treasure a Madonna and Child of Pietro Lorenzetti. It was locked, so we continued on to the Duomo where there is a Mary Magdalen of Piero frescoed on the entrance wall to the rectory. I adored her pose, facial expression (or rather non-expression) and the colors. With some indecision we managed to walk down the hill back to the hotel passing through some shopping areas. Seymour and the ladies decided to rest and/or shop and I went back to the Pieve to see if I could see the Lorenzetti Madonna for she was the first to be clad not in blue but in white brocaded fabric! The church was now unlocked and I found myself conspicuously alone inside the massive nave leading to a split-level altar; crypt below and high altar above. The Lorenzetti was behind the high altar. The 500 lire piece made a tremendous crash when I put it in the light box, and the lights went on with a whoosh as if in Dodger Stadium. But there she was in all her glory. All alone for about a half hour, I contemplated her beauty--not a tourist in sight! I went on to the Pinacoteca for a quick walk through before going back to the hotel for a shower and cocktails. After a dinner interrupted by portable phones on all sides we went back to the hotel and found the night clerk speaking with a Brooklyn accent! He had spent some of his youth just outside of New York City!

The following morning we bought a Herald Tribune before leaving Arezzo and on the front page was a photo of Times Square desolate and covered with 26 inches of snow. We missed that storm! Our next stop was Siena--talk about tortuous routes! Just getting into the city was nightmarish, and driving through the tiny pedestrian streets nearly got the best of me. But with the help of some police we got to the Duomo Hotel, unpacked, got the car parked and set off to the Palazzo Publico all before 11am! We enjoyed the Allegory of Good and Bad Government by Pietro's brother Ambrogio Lorenzetti and the Simone Martini Maesta and Guidoricchio. The slant-eyed Sienese were everywhere evident in these works. The tower was closed, so we made our way up hill to the Museo del Duomo where the Duccio Maesta is located. We three pushed Seymour up the hill just off the Campo with great effort and to great acclaim by all bystanders! The Duccio was fantastic and also there was another Pietro, Birth of the Virgin with a plaid blanket! It was back to the Campo for an expensive lunch of wild boar stew and other Sienese delicacies. Then back to the Duomo (by cab) (we weren't that stupid!) where gawked at the Piccolomini Library and the frescoes of Pinturiccio. Their color was rainbow like. The Pisano pulpit was also amazing, but the lighting wasn't too good. The bookstore was inexplicably closed so we dropped Seymour off at the Hotel and went on to immerse ourselves in early Renaissance art at the Pinacoteca. They have an amazing collection--especially if you are a connoisseur which we weren't so we were soon cloyed. But to the delight of all, we found even more plaid in those paintings. All rather tired, we dined at a Pizzeria just down the street that turned out to be very good.

Before leaving the next morning we stopped by the Duomo bookstore, and I hastily bought several handfuls of cards for we were off to see San Gimignano's 15 towers and her art. The drive there was quite lovely--passing through the Tuscan countryside. San Gimignano stuck out from afar because of the height of the city--it's on a hill--and the towers. With the wheelchair in the trunk we passed right through the barriers that say "no autos past this point", drove right to the center of the city and promptly parked in front of a hotel which was closed. The restaurant, "La Cisterna", where Seymour had wanted us to dine was in the hotel and it was also closed. We admired the two piazze then went into the Collegiata Church to see the Cappella di Santa Fina of Ghirlandaio. The ladies working in the church kindly opened the gate into the Chapel and turned on the lights to illuminate the wonderful frescoes. Santa Fina, about to expire, was lying on a plank with little mice scurrying about the corners! Barna di Siena had painted New Testament frescoes in the nave of the church but the lighting was not so good. Just outside of the Collegiata was a niche enclosing a Ghirlandaio Annunciation, completely exposed to the elements and still
in amazing condition. The bookstore was just across the piazzetta so we stocked up. Seymour decided to take a coffee break while we three went up into the Palazzo del Popolo and its Museo. The Museo houses one of my favorite crucifixes--Coppo di Marcovaldo's. The highly made up eyes and the broken flat of the nose make it very distinctive. Also in the Museo was the Lippo Memmi Maesta—awninged as Simone's with a bizarre John the Baptist--and works by Filippino Lippi and Gozzoli. When we again joined up with Seymour he had befriended some Aussies and was expounding the beauties of Italy to them. We walked to the opposite end of the city to find a restaurant for lunch but it was well worth it. Some Brits and a women from Philadelphia whom we had seen in Siena were eating lunch at the next table. After lunch we tried to get into San Agostino but it was still closed, so we shopped a bit, then went back to the car. Lo and behold there was a parking ticket attached to the windshield. My first reaction was just to pay it, because San Gimignano had been good to us, but when we converted the lire to dollarsand found the bill -$180US, I was outraged. We accosted the Carabinieri who just happened to be about, and they said it was none of their affair and that we had to speak with the lowly town police. The police station was near by so I pushed Seymour there, and of course it was closed. We went back to the car and started to pack up resigning ourselves to forking over the $180 ($45 apiece!) when the little police vehicle came around the corner. I ran out into the piazza waving the wheelchair above my head and shouting—it got their attention and they came over. We had a short but involved discussion about certain stickers which we didn't have etc., and the inadequacy of the hand-drawn wheelchair on a piece of scratch paper I had stuck in the windshield. The officer, questioning our justification, asked to see "Il Vecchio" walk. Seymour obliged with a rather hobbling shuffle, and then stuck out his lower lip and asked the lovely policewoman if she could forgive the ticket this time. With some hesitation she relented, and we beat it out of there as quickly as possible with a short detour to see the Gozzoli Life of St Augustine in San Agostino having first cautiously posted a guard by the car. The Rector in San Agostino was also from Philadelphia. We continued on toward Florence amid many sighs from Seymour recollecting the year she had spent in this territory and stopped at the Piazzale for a tearful first look at Florence, then on to the Hotel Arno which Liz Marangoni had reserved for us. It was slightly down river from il centro—close enough to walk but far enough so we could park the car without paying! After some room snafu we settled and went to Mamma Gina for dinner. Mom showed her often cloaked droll sense of humor remarking that a low cut "Snoopy" T-shirt worn by a buxom woman invited snooping into!

We began the next morning in Santa Trinita and the Sassetta Chapel with the Life of St. Francis frescoes and the magnificent Adoration of the Magi of Ghirlandaio. Seymour wandered off momentarily in search of one of his old haunts but we caught up with him and wheeled over to Orsanmichele for a peek at the sculptures outside and the Daddi Madonna and Child within the Orcagna tabernacle inside, which barely fit into the former 12th century grain bin. The Uffizi was next and long awaited. The wheelchair got us right in without waiting in the always long line. The first room with the three huge altarpieces was even more stunning than I remembered. We slowly made our way through the first 12 or so rooms constantly overcome by swarms of Japanese. After having our fill of the Renaissance, we headed to a restaurant that was a favorite of Seymour's which grew all their own food on their own farm etc... The peaches were delicious and the linen in the lavatory foretold the size of the bill! The Philadelphia woman was also there! After lunch Seymour went back to the hotel to rest while we went inside the Baptistery and the Duomo, then on to the Badia Fiorentina to see the Filippino Lippi Apparition of the Madonna to St. Bernardo. It was still closed so we went on to Santa Croce to see the Giotto frescoes which were in deteriorating condition, the Pazzi Chapel of Brunelleschi (which was magnificent), and the leather shop and school. The ladies were tired and cabbed back to the hotel. I went back to the Badia successfully seeing the Lippi this time. This night Liz had us up for dinner where we met her family and had an excellent time.

Day 2 of Florence started with our seeing the Basilica di San Lorenzo which was unfortunately completely scaffolded inside, but the Michelangelo Library and Medici Tombs were open and glorious. Then to the Palazzo Medici to see the Procession of the Magi of Gozzoli and quite by accident, a Madonna and Child of Fra Filippo Lippi. The Cappella was smashing and we were there for about 20 minutes completely alone. There was another Lippi Madonna at the focal point of the Procession. Seymour didn't care to see San Marco so he had lunch with friends, and we toured the cells of the Convent each decorated with a simple fresco of Fra Angelico. The Ghirlandaio Last Supper in the rectory was very striking especially the peacock perched on the window sill, and the Museo of the Convent was filled with more magnificent Fra Angelicos. We walked over to the Spedale degli Innocenti of Brunelleschi and through their little collection before having lunch in a self-wait pasta place frequented by working class Florentines. Then to the Accademia to see David and several other things of interest but it was bleak in comparison to the Uffizi. We met Seymour at 4:30 at the Ponte Vecchio and did a little shopping, and I dragged everyone in to see Pontormo's Deposition in Santa Felicita just over the bridge. I find the colors striking, but Seymour turned his nose up at it. After remarking on the outrageous expense of the leather products we cabbed back to the hotel for a rest before dinner at another of Seymour's former haunts, Camillo, in the borgo San Jacopo. This place was packed, but with his connections he got us a table. Unfortunately the food had gone down hill.

Day 3 started at Santa Maria Novella with the incredible Trinity fresco of Masaccio, the Ghirlandaio's and Lippi's in the chapels and the water marked Uccello's in the cloister. We rolled over a bridge to the Brancacci Chapel in the Carmine to see the famous Masaccio's and Filippino Lippi's. It was marvelous, but we were disappointed not to get into San Spirito. So we headed straight to the Bargello where Seymour showed off his still present prowess by climbing all of the stairs to see Donatello's St. George. We ducked into a pizza joint for a quick bite before breaking up into smaller groups. Seymour went to Liz', Mom and Helen to the Pitti, and I tried unsuccessfully to find a certain leather store and ended up going through the Palazzo Vecchio and then just by chance met Mom and Helen exiting the Pitti. We had a coffee and they walked (!) back to the hotel while I went back to San Spirito and loved it; so perfect in its construction with grey and white (pietra serena). The wooden altar and confessionals junked up the place however. I quickly went through the Pitti quite overcome with the Caracci ceilings and the sheer weight of the portraits hung so compactly. This night our Florence social director had lined us up
a dinner with the Todorows which was very enjoyable. They enjoy a beautiful view of Santa Croce from their terrace of their 15th century family Palazzo, but the weather was a little chilly to stay outside. We waited quite awhile for a cab but finally managed to get home.

Sunday morning, Mom, Seymour and I went back to the Uffizi for "one more look". Any entrance at anytime is valuable (in fact I went in on some evening past--can't remember which one). Then we piled into the Vectra and went off to Seymour's farm with a stop to take in Liz' view. Heading south toward Siena we exited the highway at Sambuca and headed (after a few wrong turns) to Badia di Passignano. The day was a perfect 58 degrees with bright sunshine. The Badia had large tracts of land surrounding it where farming and vintage were done. And just around a few hills was Seymour's farm house up on top of a hill with a spectacular view to the south and west. A German family had purchased the farm, and their nephew was staying there and gave us a very grand and interesting tour with Seymour in the lead both tearful and delighted. The house was huge--six or so bedrooms and plenty of living space, a would be ballroom and of course the wine pressing and vintning room. We stayed for over 2 hours enjoying the ambience until we realized it was past time to meet Seymour's friend, Giovanni, in town for lunch. We ended up back across from the Badia for lunch--and what a lunch--the best antipasto I've ever had followed by pasta, salad, meat, coffee and dessert all prepared by Giovanni's daughter, Rosella, in her restaurant. We were stuffed and had to be shoved back into our Vectra for the sleepy ride home to Florence. For the evening Seymour had lined up another engagement for us at the home of Caroline Michaheles. The view from her Bellosguardo terrace was breathtaking and some of the conversation interesting.

Monday morning the 15th of January, we left via the mountain pass for Ravenna. After 20 minutes of getting lost we headed back to the Autostrada and zipped to Bologna then down to Ravenna. The Hotel Diana was probably the best hotel we stayed in on the whole trip. Unfortunately when we inquired if we could extend our stay they informed us that a convention was coming in the next day. After unpacking we went to San Vitale for a taste of the 6th century. The architecture and the mosaics were spectacular.
Gallia Placidia's tomb was remarkable. A delicious lunch was followed by a quick trip to the Battistero Neoniano then we dashed to St Apollinare Nouovo which was just being closed, but Seymour managed to sweet talk us in for a brief visit. The Procession of the Magi and Saints on one side and Virgins on the other was striking especially the costumes of the Magi. Back to the hotel for a rest and then to Gli Quattro Gatti for dinner where Seymour once again made a big hit with the waitress and flirted the night away.

The next morning the car was covered with the thickest frost I'd ever seen. After much scraping and defrosting we drove down to Sant' Apollonaire in Classe. We arrived as the sun was just above the horizon and the parallel rays brilliantly illumined the windows of the church as well as the intricate mosaics of the apse. After making our usual purchases we piled back into the car for Padova. With some difficulty we got to the hotel directly across from the Scrovegni Chapel. My excitement was high and I rushed us into our rooms and back out to get to the Chapel asap. When we got there we saw the Chiuso sign and inquired. Apparently for that day and the following the Chapel was closed for inspection. In early blew a gasket. This was to have been the culmination of my trip. The Giottos in this Chapel were the paradigm of transitional works from the Byzantine to the Renaissance. The ladies and Seymour had an unpleasant lunch while I went to the park, vented and ranted for a while then met them for coffee. We hit the Ermitani for the partially destroyed Mantegna frescoes then walked about to see the city. Dinner was most uneventful, and we decided that Padova didn't like us and we didn't like Padova!

It was again foggy driving to Mantova, still the drivers in the left lane were still going 160kms. It was the Camera degli Sposi in the Palazzo Ducale we were headed for. We parked again right in front and a guide led us (car and all) within the gates to a spiral rampway used by the Duke's horses, unloaded and wheeled Seymour up into the Camera. With some effort we reached the floor of the Mantegnas and reveled in the room for about 40 minutes (with only the guide present). Its complete secularity was refreshing after the heavy sacred stuff we were used to looking at. The Oculus with putti's heads stuck in the trellis made us all laugh. Unfortunately, we skipped the rest of the Palace and headed over to "Shopping with Mantegna", the store just across the way. A policeman wanted to give us a parking ticket but when I pointed to "Il Vecchio" he shrugged and slunk off. Before hitting the road I alone poked into San Sebastiano--an Alberti (1460) Cathedral with barrel vaulted ceiling and transepts (preparing up the final Piero we were about to see in Milan). Back in the car we made good time to Milan, however getting into Milan was a bit hair-raising our almost being crushed between two trollies etc.. The roads were all closed to auto traffic so we had to fight with another policeman to let us in to our hotel to unpack. But the hotel let us park right outside their front door for the next two nights gratis. We walked over to the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, a former palazzo destroyed during the second world war and redone as a museum housing Piero's Nicholo da Tolentino, a gorgeous Pollaiuolo portrait and a Giovanni Bellini Pieta of striking beauty. We cabbed back to the Hotel London and after a little cocktail we walked to the Galleria (Biffi) for dinner where our photo was taken by an accomodating waiter.

The next morning I got up early and went over the Santa Maria della Grazie to see Leonardo's Last Supper. I was the first there and enjoyed the magnificent fresco for 15 minutes before a bus-load of Japanese arrived. They were disappointed in the deterioration and left abruptly which gave me another15 minutes before the restorers came to work and engaged the hydraulic lift. I met up with the others at the Hotel and we strolled over to the Brera which holds many great works of art. We had our usual trouble getting in for the entrance was 4 flights up and the elevator was hidden away. But within the Brera were Bellini's Madonna and Child, Mantegna's shocking and disturbing Dead Christ, and Piero's Enthroned Madonna which along with Masaccio's Holy Family in Santa Trinita in Florence a most structurally imposing work. The barrel vaulted coffered ceiling is brightly illumined from several unknown light sources; the facial expressions, mantles, and the Duke di Montefeltro fully armed kneeling with gauntlets before him are unforgettable. We took several spins around the galleries before setting off for lunch and shopping. An extensive search finally located our restaurant and we enjoyed yet another meal. I reconfirmed our reservations and was glad I did for there had been fog problems in Milan and snow problems in NYC. We shopped away the afternoon but found nothing we desired save espresso makers. Our final night was spent at a little restaurant just down from the hotel--a quirky place, but the food was delicious and when Seymour and Helen decided to turn in early, Mom and I got a chance to chat about "things".

The final pack was difficult but we made it into the car and straight out to Malpensa. Duty-Free was fun for me because Helen in her generosity gave me her extra lire and I bought a box of Cohiba Siglo I which I am still enjoying. When we arrived at JFK, Mom and Helen went to their connecting flight, and Seymour and I went home. After dropping Seymour off I couldn't get through Central Park because all of the snow had melted and the transverses were flooded and had an expensive ride around the park! Unfortunately there was a snafu with the ladies' flight and they ended up getting home about 12 midnight (7am Milan time!). John, who had not heard from Helen, was blistering and most likely melted all of the snow in his path to the airport from the heat under his collar!

All in all it was an incredible trip and not one easily forgotten. However this short journal hopefully will help jog the fading memory in later years.