Friday, October 23, 2009

October 23, 2009

We can't believe that in a few days we'll be home. On one hand it seems we've been one for ages, but on the other it has gone so quickly!

After we left Lake Como we had two nights in Milan. There was so much to see that we broke down and took a tour of the city with a visit to the Last Supper. First of all, parts of Milan are beautiful and the downtown area just wonderful. Our visit started with a walk through the Sforza Castle- the Sforza's were a leading family in Milan who developed a special relationship with the Medici family in Florence. It wasn't until the late 19th Century that Italy became a unified country- which is so easy to forget... so their were all of these little kingdoms fighting one another (with the Jews caught inbetween).

We also saw the incredible Galleria, tres chic.. and La Scala- the most prestigious opera house in the world.. but the highight of the trip, without a doubt was seeing the Last Supper.. what an unbelievable piece of artwork.. I can't do it justice.. let's just say that I got faklempt... it is just just beautiful.. so sayeth the Jewish girl from New York.

With this experience under our belts we traveled to Florence for the last major leg of our trip. Visiting Rome and Venice are akin to becoming part of a living museum... having the museum come alive with the treasures around y0u.

Florence is being apart of the history. You can feel the energy of the streets, you understand what it is like to walk the streets of the 14th Century. You feel as if you know the Medici family personally.

I admit that I couldn't remember anything about the Medici family so having come to Italy prepared I began reading about the Medici family history. Few families have ever had the impact on a country's history as this one did. The Medici's were bankers. Not being Jewish (who were already stigmatized because of their religion) they had a stigma, as good Christians eschewed the banking industry. So they decided to increase their power and influence not by bribery, but by dazzlement. They began building Churches and commissioning artists the like of Michelangelo and Leonardo to beautify the city of Florence. They were extremely philanthropic and invested in the area so that all would benefit. Now of course this is the good and bad news as the citizenry both appreciated and distrusted the family simultaneously. Mind you, they were also shrewed and power mongers...

So, of course the Medici family grew in power and influence to the point where they controlled much of what went on in the city. There were coup attempts and so forth. The end result, in addition to their being a few Medici Popes - was the creation of churches and museums that are without equal. Their investment in art and culture gave birth to the Renaissance movement which has had its reverberations throughout the world. Rick and I haven't known where to look first.

The height of our experience here has to be the viewing of Michaelangelo's David. If the Last Supper left us faklempt- David left us speechless. 17' high and created when Michaelangelo was but 29, it is breathtaking. We couldn't move.

Rick was so moved he wanted to draw David's face, which you can see above.

One of the many interesting aspects of the Medici family is the focus on learning. During the Renaissance one didn't just go through a set curriculum of study.. one went through a life time of reading, learning and debating. Lorenzo the Magnificent had tutors and philosopers surrounding him throughout his life. I think the first "Salons" were held here- intellectuals brought together to debate particular issues.

To enrich my experience I also read a number of essays and other books. I read essays by Henry James (whiney) and Charles Dickens (enamored) about their visits. I also broke down and read "The Prince" by Machievelli - a contemporary of the Medici family during their height. I was chilled when I read his chapters on vision vs. opportunism and dumbfounded when I read his chapter on whether or not a leader should provide an opportunity for others to speak the truth. It was clear that George Bush had read and embraced this philosophy!

Needless-to-say, we enhaled as much as we could.

We also visited the synagogue, which is quite something and also the Piazza which used to be the Jewish ghetto.

It was then time to brave the roads and head for Tuscany. We plugged in different areas into the GPS and told it to have us stay off the main roads. The result was three days of adventures and the golden colors of Fall. We started in Sienna, an ancient midieval town and then meandered to San Gimignano (the town with 11 bell towers) and along the Chianti drive (with a stop at a vineyard for a wine tasting of course).. At each place we stopped we visited and read up on Jewish history.

In Sienna, a shop owner ignored all of her customers as she pulled out a huge poster of Sienna to explain exactly where I might find the ancient Synagogue (all of this in Italian). She was so excited that I wanted to find the Synagogue, that I was Jewish and that I was doing this exploration in pidgeon Italian, that she didn't stop until she was sure I knew where I was going.

Perhaps the most magical town was totally off the beaten path....Monte San Salvino. We were tired and decided just to drive to "that town on the hill"... again a midieval town, teenie, where almost no one spoke English. We wandered and enjoyed this little town of maybe 500 people and 10 churches... when we passed a little sign that said, "Sinagoga." Again, so many people helped us find the little synagogue which has been closed for years. The town had a strong Jewish community but, as in many other places, the Jews were held responsible for the Black Plague of the 1300's and were lynched, killed and kicked out. The final Jews were kicked out i the 18th Century, leaving the remains of this teenie synagogue built in the 1600's behind. It is a tribute to the tiny town that it has not been sold and turned into a hotel.
This trip has been surprising in so many ways.. The extraordinary amount of history that is packed into this one litte country is mindbending.. We have experienced so many "aha!" in- "so that's where that reference came from---- so that's what that means".. truly amazing.
For me, perhaps, even more so has been connecting with the fragile Jewish history of this country, from community to community. I've said the Mourner's kaddish more times than I ever imagined -throughout this country. I've felt the loss and sorrow of communities who have been forced into ghettos, welcomed, banished, blamed, welcomed back - and finally devastated by the Holocaust. I've also felt wondrous amazement at a group of young Jews meeting and sharing a meal at a Kosher restaurant. The Jewish spirit never ceases to amaze me and I never for a moment feel anything but pride and joy at being able to count myself among them.
Tomorrow we are off to Pisa (to do our part in helping to hold the Tower up), then we fly to London on Sunday and fly back to SF on Monday.
For those interested, we are staying at the Hotel Francesco in Pisa:
and the Sheraton in London:
Not sure if I'll have a chance to post photos but I'll try. In the meantime..

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