Saturday, July 27, 2013

Krazy for Tuscan Vernacularana

Tuscans have been around for thousands of years, forming and collecting countless generations of vernacular artists. When we think of Florence, Michelangelo and Leonardo pop into our heads, but all Florentines are artists in one way or another.
When I say that the divinity is in the details, this is what I mean.
Castelfiorentino ©Eugene Martinez
San Casciano Val di Pesa ©Eugene Martinez

Florence  ©Eugene Martinez
Florence ©Eugene Martinez

Florence ©Eugene Martinez
Florence ©Eugene Martinez

Florence ©Eugene Martinez

San Donato in Poggio ©Eugene Martinez

Montalcino ©Eugene Martinez

Florence ©Eugene Martinez

Montefiridolfi ©Eugene Martinez
Florence ©Eugene Martinez

Panzano-in-Chianti ©Eugene Martinez

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Firenze Card Ups it Price 50%

The Uffizi Galleries ©Eugene Martinez
Without as much as a peep, Firenze Card, the popular cumulative ticket that gets you into 60 museums, churches and other sights in Florence, upped its price from €50 to €75! The card had already enjoyed its fair amount of controversy - it's only valid for 72 hours, only lets you into each venue once, offers no discounts for kids under 18 unless they're EU citizens. The good thing about the card is that it gives you priority entrance to the venues, you can ride ATAF buses for free during its 72 hours of life, and with 60 sights on the buffet, you can go check things out that you might otherwise have skipped or not even known about. The bad thing about it is that... see above.

Well now we can add another bad thing about it. At €72 per person, with no discounts for families, people are thinking twice about purchasing it. If before the card was attractive for the mere fact that you get to skip lines, now that VIP treatment doesn't seem like such a great deal anymore.

So what's a wise tourist to do?...
• Do the math! Look at the list of venues that the Firenze Card offers, look at the time you have available in Florence, and figure out if it's worth it. Keep in mind that the only museums where priority entrance is really a must are the Accademia and Uffizi.
• Consider the alternative - become a member of Amici degli Uffizi. This is a wonderful group, a private not-for-profit institution whose mission is to use the funds it raises through selling memberships to contribute to the maintenance and restoration of the art works of the Polo Museale Fiorentino and the buildings that they live in. There are great family and youth membership with healthy discounts. The card is worth one whole year, and allows unlimited priority entry into each venue. Don't feel like tackling the entire Uffizi in one shot? Don't! Don't feel like seeing all 5 museums in Palazzo Pitti at once? Not a problem! So not only do you get the advantages of a combined ticket, you're also helping to keep the beautiful art of Florence healthy. Now that's a good deal!
• The really wise tourist will take the various ups and downs of either card, weigh his options and decide to opt for it or not. Then he will contact me because whether you enter the museums, galleries and churches of Florence with a Firenze Card or as a member of the Amici, once inside you'll want to know what it is you're looking at! Even more important than knowing what it is is knowing why it's there! Who made it? For what reason, what purpose? Who paid for it? Why??? What was the world like that these people lived in and what were their motivation for making all this amazing stuff? When you come to Florence you'll notice right away that this is a city that doesn't give up its secrets very easily! So if you want to get what this is all about... let me turn your vacation into an experience that you'll keep with you forever.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

In ArsOpulentaland, the delight is in the detail

When people tour an iconic place like Florence, they're often dazzled by the big sights like the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi. There are so many "important" things to see, their eyes tend to filter out the details, the little extras that give nuance and life to a city like this. As they walk through the narrow streets and alleys of the old city, eagerly hunting down the next photo-op, what they miss are these teeny delights.

A bricked-up "wine door" © Eugene Martinez
On the wall of Palazzo Vecchio by some guy with a hammer and a chisel  © Eugene Martinez
Via Zannetti  © Eugene Martinez
The Oratorio of la Madonna delle Grazie  © Eugene Martinez

Palazzo Medici-Riccard: stones tagged by Michelozzo for use on the facade  © Eugene Martinez   
Church door  © Eugene Martinez

Portion of a Roman inscription on the Baptistry wall  © Eugene Martinez

An amusingly embellished letterbox slot  © Eugene Martinez
Alms collection box  © Eugene Martinez  
Ancient stone walls often have secrets  © Eugene Martinez
Mysterious messages on the church of Sant'Ambrogio © Eugene Martinez

Ancient walls tell ancient stories  © Eugene Martinez
A bronze banister in Palazzo Vecchio  © Eugene Martinez
The Tabernacle of Le Fontanelle  © Eugene Martinez

When I tour with my clients, I make sure that they see the little things as well as the big. Together, they tell the stories of the people who made and make Florence, Firenze and... Ars Opulentaland!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Welcome to ArsOpulentaland!

On this day in 1446 the world lost a man who changed the way we would think, feel and see forever. Filippo Brunelleschi died on April 15, 567 years ago, after having given his vision of classical balance and harmony to Florence. The western world would never look the same. Would he have guessed that six hundred years after him, people would be flocking to his town to bask in the shadow of his opus maximus, the Dome? Could he have known that the place he called home would someday take such a prominent place in the collective imagination of the whole world, including places he couldn't have dreamed existed?
Brunelleschi's dome © Eugene Martinez
Probably! After all, wasn't he the guy that stomped off in a fit of pissed off pique when he lost the competition for those doors? He didn't just go storm off to any old place - he made a bee-line to Rome, his own private ArsOpulentaland, the city of classical fantasies.
Classical © Eugene Martinez
Filippo wasn't the first Florentine to live with one foot in a real modern place and the other in an imaginary land. Since the first Romans planted their camp on this Etruscan swamp, people have lived a little here and a little there. When the Romans fizzled out, the Longobards came along to take their turn living in their own private Florentia.
Multiple dimensions © Eugene Martinez
So what's this blog about? ArsOpulentaland, the land of Ars Opulenta. It's a strange and magical place, this ArsOpulentaland. In it reside two parallel cities: Firenze and Florence - Fi and Flo. Fi is made of stone, brick and mortar. People live there. They get up, go to work, shop for groceries, pay their bills... and occasionally have time to go to the movies, go out for a jog or just sit and watch the tube.
Uffizi Joggers © Eugene Martinez
The other is made of myths, legends and dreams. The people who live there are 500 years old men in tights, all geniuses who spend their time revolutionizing art, writing divine poems, discovering the solar system. When they have extra time they joust, play lutes and go on processions.
Fi Festivities © Eugene Martinez
There's no net division between Fi and Flo, no frontier, no signposts to tell you where one ends and the other begins. Around any corner, you may find Flo  poking its nose into Fi's business. Rarely will the opposite happen.
Fi and Flo © Eugene Martinez
Visitors to Flo are often unaware of the existance of Fi. They come to touch the ground that Michelangelo walked on, climb the narrow steps of the cupola,  drink Dante's wine. What's on sale in Aisle 6 at the supermarket is of little  interest, picking up the dry cleaning isn't a priority.
Fi to the left, Flo to the right © Eugene Martinez
Little do they realize that the cobblestones they tread have been walked on by the people of Fi for centuries! Though the visitors to Flo are obsessed with seeking out that "authentic little place where the locals go", they rarely really get the locals or the lives the locals live. 
Fi Streetlife © Eugene Martinez
But the residents of Fi are really no better at acknowledging the existance of Flo. As lustily the visitors to Flo long for the city of art and history, the residents of Fi close their eyes and turn their heads away from it. Fi and Flo feet pound the same cobblestones day in and day out, but they steadfastly resist the temptation to discover each other.
The paving stones of Fi and Flo © Eugene Martinez
My mission in ArsOpulentaland is to introduce the visitors to Flo that come from afar to the wonders of Fi, in all their sometimes confusing, often funny, regularly maddening and always captivating glory! I hope you'll come with me, skipping and hopping, sometimes stumbling and staggering between Fi and Flo!