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Florence, Day 9: Art History and Its Reflections on Humanity

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On the edge of my seat, hanging on every word rolling off the tongue of my art history  professor, which sounded like a song then and still is music in my ears. That was me, back in college. Who knew this world of art and history was so rich with humanism. To think it is only about the art is to close your eyes to truth. Art history is simply the most beautiful representation of people and how they responded to a time.

We Americans, as an Italian friend of mine recently reminded me, are so wonderfully optimistic. We believe anything is possible and that we as humans are capable of anything. But we are young, our history short, and we do not walk in the footsteps of our history to remind us, to steer us and guide us. It is both our greatest strength and our greatest detriment, for history is a great, great teacher.

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The Renaissance was a response to to many years in darkness. In Medieval times, man meant nothing and achieved little; it is also called the Dark Ages. Only serving God as the church dictated mattered.

The Renaissance was man saying, “Yes, but if God created us in his image, then we do matter. He has blessed us with gifts and talents and we must use them. We have to be the best we can be.”

Let man shine on. The art of this time reflected this attitude and encouraged it. The art honored Gods creation: man. The art influenced the common people to shine. It was a sort of permission slip.

History has a natural pendulum swing. Art reflects how a given people respond to that. And if I may say so, art is such a beautiful way to be taught.

Today started at the Brancacci chapel, where some say Masaccio created the first real Renaissance painting, making the change from Medieval art, where the work was flat, without perspective, and it’s only purpose to glorify God and teach the illiterate masses Bible stories. These paintings honor god’s creation: man and Earth.

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The Renaissance is about humanism, and these humans have expressions on their faces, there is perspective and form, and the lines show more than a outline but a real life scene. Bring on living life out loud and in full color.

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The day went on, and I explored with my teacher Santa Croce, my favorite church in Florence with Giotto (the man who started thinking Renaissance thoughts 100 years ahead of time), the tombs of Dante and Michelangelo and 274 others. The frescos are late Medieval and show the hints of what is to come in the Renaissance. The cloisters are delightful. I could hang out here all day, but my stomach is telling me it’s time for edible art.

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The rest of the day I wandered, reflecting on what we learn from those who go before us. Me, my sketchbook and the city where the front page of the newspaper usually features something about art. Sigh — I have found kindred spirits.

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Live for your passions, allow for beauty and look back only to learn as you move forward, believing you can, in fact, do anything!

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Switzerland, Part 1: Where Italy meets Switzerland: A magic place you never knew existed

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Ticino is the region of Switzerland that is Italian-speaking and -influenced. It’s where the Alps spill into Lake Maggiore, which is shared with Italy. The valleys hold the magic, and traveling up them will leave you breathless and completely enchanted!

swissafter3It’s a place that time forgot, and in this ever-changing world, there is comfort in those places, if only as a reminder to connect with the Earth and your surroundings.

Arriving off the beaten path always involves some effort, and for me, the key is being in the moment, shedding the “hurry up and get there” mentality.

By the time we arrived in Locarno, our home for the next week, we had done planes, trains and automobiles.We flew into Lugano, an hour away from Locarno.  While “hiking” to the train station from the airport with luggage in tow, I could only see the lake the mountains and the charming villages. Then the automobile picked us up at the train station to whisk us to our hotel. There, the beauty of the surroundings dissolved my exhaustion. With a balcony view of the lake, I didn’t feel so tired anymore — just transported.

swissafter5On our first full day, we headed up, up, up. The Madonna del Sasso church and convent is perched above the town, as if it’s floating in air over the lake, and it was a good indication of just how often our breath would be taken away while we were in this magical place. The church is as gorgeous inside as it is outside. Somehow, it’s such a treat when you don’t know what to expect and you turn the corner and BAM! Such beauty, artistry and architecture.

swissafter1Above the Madonna del Sasso, it turned out, was still a whole lot of up, and we kept going until we were above the clouds and shrouded in the fog that danced around the mountain peaks. Here, we spent a lazy hour watching the fog and the paragliders jumping into what could not be seen. We trusted that they had done this before, and watched their colorful parachutes drift off until they disappeared — only to re-emerge in the sunshine that glowed below us and over the lake.

Lunch, I was very happy to discover, was Italian. It is my personal belief that while the Italians have had to endure hundreds of years of corruption, they will not endure any bad food, wine, music or art, and their influence in this region was greatly appreciated by me. Little English is spoken in this area, but I can read “gnocchi” and “risotto,” and I love the lyrical sound of the the locals asking me what I might want in that gorgeous language. With a view of the lake below, I might have stayed there forever, but no: Siesta was calling, and that’s another idea I could sink my teeth into.

swissafter2Is it time to eat again already? Why yes, yes, it is. My husband found a darling grotto (trattoria) for dinner, and we discovered the local wine. Ninety percent of the vines that dot these hills and valleys are Merlot, and the Ticino region is famous for both their white and red Merlot wines. I was already a fan at first sip. I think wine, like food, is never better than when consumed in the place from which it hails. It always gives me a sense of place, and I think of the people who have farmed this land and the people before them as I savor.

Night falls early on the jet lagged, and with two contented souls, we drifted off dreaming of the mountains where they meet the lake in this place between two countries.

To be continued…