Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Italia’

Bologna: La Rossa – Red hue of a left-leaning towered city

Of the three epithets for which it is known: La Rossa (the red), La Dotta (the learned) and La Grassa (the fat), it was the first of the three which became immediately obvious upon our early evening arrival in Bologna, capital of the Emilia Romagna (after a stuffy long train journey along the Tuscan coast with a change in Firenze): Not only did the city exhibit a searing red-hot temperature of near 40 degrees centigrade, even at 7pm, but its buildings were tinged with hues of reds, terracottas, and russets for as far as the eye could see. And what a rich, red spectacle our eyes had in store as we unloaded our luggage at the hotel (by this time full to near-combustion with olive oils, pastries and wine from Toscana) and headed straight out into the town.

Red as far as the eye can see…

Bologna is stunning. It’s a living, breathing, pulsating city. It is not like Florence – a beautiful town whose heritage and architectural splendour cannot be doubted, but which is so full of tourists that the whole place feels a bit like a theme park. By contrast Bologna, often overlooked by Florence, just 30 minutes south by train, is a city equally rich in architectural heritage for which exhaustible superlatives are simply not sufficient, but which at the same time is alive with its university students, with a diverse population of engaging chic Italians rather than tourist throngs, with high-end restaurants and boutique shops, with cultural spectacle and a vibrant cafe culture.

For Bologna does not just celebrate its architectural wealth, but with an infamous liberal attitude, celebrates all aspects of life too. Here, none of the Catholic constraints traditionally centralised in the Vatican and strictly executed to control the moral values of nearby cities can be seen. In fact, the epithet La Rossa, traditionally used to describe Bologna’s multitude of red-shaded buildings, has, in more modern times, been used to describe the Communist-dominated local government which has been in power in the city ever since WW2. The city has never looked back, and having now morphed into a left-wing coalition, the Bologna administration has imposed an individualistic, modern vision on the city. In fact, so successful has this vision been that Sociologists from around the world have studied the so-called “Bologna model” of political and social governance, and Bologna now regularly tops the polls for where to enjoy the best quality of life in Italy. Moreover, with its liberal leanings, Bologna is the centre of civil rights and communal culture, a bastion of social democracy and the centre of Italy’s gay-rights movement. How terribly refreshing! No wonder then that as recently as the papacy of Pope John Paul II, the Vatican condemned the Bolognese as degenerates, and the city’s own archbishop lambasted his flock for loose morals and godlessness.

The film festival, for which Hitchcock films played a major part

If this is degeneration, I’m all in. The atmosphere of convivial city living could be seen by the bucket load as we entered the grand Piazza Maggiore on our first evening: There, under the stars, was set up a huge cinema projection screen, almost as big as the cathedral facade it neighboured, and before it, hundreds of seats, already filled with a bustling Bolognese crowd, a sense of excitement tangible in the air. As the square began to fill and people started sitting all over the warm pavements, the chairs already being full, we decided to join in with the crowd, and looked up at the huge screen in anticipation. Suddenly the screen came to life, and projected on this huge screen, for the whole square to see, as well as some surrounding Bologna streets, was the old crackling Hitchcock masterpiece: North by Northwest. We were entranced, and it was in fact only some hour and a half into the film, just before the characters relocate to Mount Rushmore, that we realised that our backsides and legs were becoming progressively paralysed from sitting on the hard stone of the pavement for so long.

Crowds gather for the start of the film

Opting to enjoy the rest of the film on foot, we witnessed a spectacle like I have never seen before. Practically the whole city must have been out in that square, faces tilted towards the screen, utterly engaged, the light of the projection reflected in their faces, and the rest of this city so dark around them that the stars sparkled in the sky as brightly as electric lighting. All around, the crowd had swelled. In cafes, people crammed around tables to watch the film, waiters had paused in the midst of their work and stood, entranced, yet still holding their tray full of empties, and at the back of the crowd, a load of Bolognese cyclists had rested to catch some of the film, still upon their bicycles. I’m not sure why, but there was something about this feeling of unification and togetherness, watching a film under the stars, that made me feel so emotional. It was so beautiful so see so many people from the town having come together on this warm summers evening, to watch Hitchcock under the night sky. And there was something about those old polished 1960s voices reverberating around the old facades of Renaissance and medieval architecture that sent a shiver down my spine. Incredible. And what was more, this showing was part of the Sotto le stelle del Cinema festival (‘cinema under the stars’) which runs from 2-30 July. We, therefore, were able to enjoy the spectacle every night of our stay. Bonus!

The Piazza Maggiore and the edge of the huge cinema screen

I could go on forever about this vivacious city, but it’s best not to overindulge all in one post. I shall leave you instead to gaze at the photos on this post, emblematic as they are of what makes this city truly La Rossa – endless rows of elegant colonnades and porticos, lining almost every street, providing shade and ease of walking for pedestrians across the city. Stunning old buildings, decadent in their decay, embellished with elaborate architectural details, with sculptures and with fine arcades, all demonstrating the wealth of previous occupants, who, through their architecture sought to compete with their nearest neighbour. And finally, who can forget the famous towers, which numbered some 200 in medieval Bologna – towers which got higher and higher as that same competitive spirit encouraged more splendid construction than the previous model. Only 60 are left now, with the two most famous, Asinelli and Garisenda leaning precariously at Bologna’s centre, emblematic perhaps of Bologna’s character, its non-conformist political leanings, and moreover its spirited refusal never to fall into line, but to stand out as a individualistic and creative city, running from the norm and chasing adventure. No wonder the population are so happy here – I’m ready to pack my bags and move to La Rossa myself.

The famous Bologna towers

More tomorrow. Ciao for now!

All photos are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2012 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 

The Daily Sketch ITALIA – Norms in Sicily

It’s been a long and varied trip which has seen the Norms traverse the boot of Italy and cross the Med to the funny shaped ball the boot appears to be kicking – Sicily. Sicily is famous for various things. It has its juicy large lemons, its very hot climate, its ever omnipotent grumbling volcano, Mount Etna, and the very sinister undercurrent of Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia. Consulting their guidebooks, our tourist norms sensibly opted for the obvious sightseeing choice of Sicily – the stunning ruins of a Greek theatre in the little picturesque town of Taormina. There they were treated to an incredibly preserved ancient architectural artefact, as well as the beautiful view of the coast below, and an ever smoking, snow-capped Mount Etna lording over the landscape beyond. What they did NOT expect to stumble across was this sinister scene – two members of the Sicilian Mafia teaching one poor Norm the tragic lesson of what happens when you cross Cosa Nostra. Having stumbled across this ghastly operation, the Norms have made up their mind – it’s time to pack up their bags and head home for Blighty… if they get out alive, that is.

(Gosh I do like a good cliff hanger)

Norms in Sicily (2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Daily Sketch ITALIA – Norms at the Vatican

Just a hop across Rome’s River Tiber, along the Ponte Sant’ Angelo, is a entirely different city. An entirely different country in fact – Vatican City, home of the Pope, head of the Catholic Church. The Vatican is undoubtedly stunning. The immense Basilica of St Peter, and Bernini’s elaborately colonnaded St. Peter’s Square awes with all of the intended spectacle which is only appropriate for the centre of one of the world’s most prominent religions. The Vatican is home to some of the greatest art collections ever known to man – the Belvedere Torso, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, and Raphael’s vast School of Athens, as well as the peculiar site of the Vatican’s own troop of security, the puffy-costumed, beret-wearing Swiss Guards. But something our tourist Norms could never have hoped to witness, on their brief visit, was a parade of Pope Norm and the full school of eminent Cardinal Norms themselves. Spectacle never got bigger than this.

Norms at the Vatican (2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Daily Sketch ITALIA – Norms in Rome

Travelling southwards, down the Mediterranean coast of Tuscany and taking a sharp inland turn from Civitavecchia, the Norms have finally found themselves in the renowned capital city of Italy, the one and only Roma. And what a city it is. Crammed full of antiquity, artistic and cultural heritage from centuries of history played out within its seven famous hills. From the great Roman Empire which once ruled the western world, and the remnants of which still litter the city unapologetically, to the great Religious heritage flowing from the foundation of the Catholic Church in the nearby Vatican City, and the catholic fervour and religious architectural splendour which has no doubt resulted. With its chic café culture near the Spanish Steps, the romantic brilliance of the Trevi Fountain, and the grandeur of the “wedding cake” Altare della Patria building, Rome is a city offering everything.

For the Norms, the centre of their visit (being that Gladiator is by far their favourite film) has to be Rome’s most famous symbol, the Coliseum, the spectacular amphitheatre straight out of Ancient Rome. Not so directly linked to Rome, but inspired, nonetheless by that great age, are the tourist-touting “centurion” dressed Norms who collect outside the great arena, posing for photos for a few extra coins in their purse. This less than soldierly activity has nonetheless attracted the attention of these tourist Norms who have their photo taken with one said Centurion with the great Coliseum providing the perfect Roman backdrop, alongside a sculpture of the founders of the great city, Romulus and Remus (Norms) suckling upon their mother wolf as tradition demands. You’ve gotta love it.

Norms in Rome (2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

ITALIA Season – Rome: My Photographs

Rome: City of passion, where waves of heat flow ruggedly through bustling streets, where raised Italian voices and sustained hooting from haphazardly driven cars are the harmony and the melody, where painted church ceilings bring heaven to its closest interaction with the earth, and the Roman ruins all around remind the current thriving generation that on this same soil, a grand imperial history is sewn deep into the rich tapestry of Rome’s foundations. In Rome you can take a coffee in the shade of the Borghese gardens, or a people-watching cocktail by the Spanish steps. You can join the throng of tourists strolling around the Piazza Navona and the Coliseum, and you can tread the steps of Emperors as you gaze upwards to an almost fully intact Pantheon temple. Rome is living history – a city struggling to move forward while treading on the cherished egg shells of its past, but one which prioritises the Joie de Vivre, the good times, the passion of life. Rome: city of art, of colour, of culture, of style, of religious fervour, of architectural heritage, or pure Italian gastronomic brilliance. Rome – a city so unique that words alone will not suffice, and only photos, now, will do.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Daily Sketch ITALIA – Norms in Pisa

You don’t have to travel far from Firenze to hit the city’s Mediterranean neighbour: Pisa. These days everyone travels to Pisa for one reason – a certain leaning tower, built as the campanile to an equally stunning cathedral and baptistry all situated in the Piazza del Duomo of this otherwise basically nondescript city. The tower, which was built with only 3 metres of foundations on weak sub-soil, tilts some 5.5 degrees and is without a doubt probably the most famous symbol of Italy next to Rome’s Coliseum.

No wonder then that the Norms decided to give the tower a visit on their tour through Italy, but they did not anticipate quite how much the tower leans. In fact, when they stood in the tower’s shadow, they could have sworn that the tower was actually starting to lean closer and closer towards them. As other tourist Norms look by in shock and bemusement, some taking photos, others staring at the unique angle of the building, we are left to wonder, will the tower topple and squash those poor norms under the weight of its colonnaded majesty? Like all good stories, we are left on a cliff-edge at the point of this sketched snap-shot, with the leaning tower still intact to inspire the admiration and incredulity of us all.

Norms in Pisa (2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

ITALIA Season – Florence and San Gimignano: My photographs

I have no qualms in declaring that Italy was the making of me. When I embarked upon a Gap Year trip studying art history across the main focus points of artistic Italy in 2001, it opened my eyes to a realm of creativity that I had never before imagined could exist in such abundance. Growing up in Sussex, the limits of my art education had been trips to see recreated plastic Victorian seaside scenes in the local Worthing museum, and a Monet exhibition at the Royal Academy which, having been hyped up on TV, I dragged my parents up to London to see.

Italy changed all of that, and the city which really began my love affair with Italia was the city of Firenze. It is a city so richly overflowing with beautiful cobbled streets, consistently charming buildings, stunning architectural gems such as the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, and a wealth of artistic treasures, that it is hard not to become utterly seduced, not to mention that it sits at the centre of a vast plain of equally lovely Tuscan countryside.

When I returned to Florence some years later, my visit was brief, but the city had lost none of its charm. Staying only a few days, old sights were revisited as I tried to recreate those carefree days of 2001, trying to stumble upon those once-loved haunts while following my mental recollected map of the city (which did not always prove to be correct!). But my time in Florence was short, as the nearby city of San Gimignano beckoned, a city which is so complete in its preserved medieval heritage that UNESCO has ring-fenced the whole town and marked it with its rubber stamp of protective approval. No wonder the place was so overloaded with tourists.

In the mood of Italia Season here on The Daily Norm, I enclose some of my favourite shots from that trip. They’re not your typical photos of the cities, but small, detail shots of little items of life that amused or interested me. Enjoy!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Daily Sketch ITALIA – Norms in Florence

Next on the Italian tourist trail, the Norms have headed for Florence, for shopping in Milan was deemed inappropriate in the current economic climate. Taking inspiration from the significant artistic and architectural heritage of a city which was at the centre of the thriving artistic Renaissance, producing masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s David, the Giotto frescoes of Santa Croce, Botticelli’s Venus and the vast collections of the Medici tribe, this Norm has turned all artist, setting up his easel on the banks of the River Arno. From there he can enjoy a perfect view of the famous Ponte Vecchio, a street of merchants suspended across the river, and atop of which a secret corridor links the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti – genius! Patiently, Artist Norm is recreating this magnificent view across the surface of his canvas, while a fellow tourist prefers the medium of photography to capture his impression of Florence, a city which is so beautiful, that it needed to be captured twice, reflected in double form in the waters which run peacefully through its centre.

Norms in Florence (2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.