Travel

Pazzi Chapel Restoration

Thursday, November 20th, 2014
Commissioned by the Pazzi family, the Chapel

Ornate sculpted rosettes, terracotta cherubim roundels and the colourful tin-glaze terracotta by Luca della Robbia decorate the interior of the Pazzi Chapel loggia. It is built in pietra serena, a grey sandstone that, by its very nature, tends to crumble over time.

By Walter Sanders

Many fortunate lovers of Renaissance art journey to Florence, but few get to the splendid Pazzi Chapel—one of architect Filippo Brunelleschi’s 15th Century masterworks–part of the complex of the Basilica of Santa Croce. If you have been to the Pazzi recently, you may have noticed the façade is in need of some repair. After 650 years, who wouldn’t need a little touch up?

The video in the Kickstarter campaign launched by the nonprofit Opera di Santa Croce paints a loving portrait of a jewel. The Opera is seeking donations to match the 50 percent of the funding it has already raised.

I’ll focus on what the Pazzi Chapel means to me. I first experienced it as an art history master’s student. Viewing it from the courtyard, I was underwhelmed. The façade looked severe, and a little top heavy, with the illusion of the tall porch and cupola being supported by impossibly spindly columns.

But there’s something transformative about entering the Chapel. I felt serenity, order, cool spatial integrity. I was amazed how hushed the interior was, muffling clamor from nearby Piazza Santa Croce. And, over time, I learned to love the façade.

I worked inside Santa Croce, at the Scuola del Cuoio (The Leather School), and lived just off the square. Santa Croce and the Pazzi Chapel became integral aspects of my daily life. In some respects, the Pazzi Chapel became a personal escape, a calm island. I needed only to look at it to feel the peace.

Sharon and I met in Santa Croce, and four years later married there. No, not in the Pazzi Chapel but in the Medici Chapel in the adjacent sanctuary of the Basilica.

The Pazzi means a great deal to us, and we are helping to support the renovation (#crazyforpazzi).

Do you have a Pazzi story? Share it here and please consider a contribution to help restore this Renaissance treasure.

Tuscany Tours 2015

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Is 2015 the year for your Tuscan dream to come true?

Escape with SimpleItaly to the private Villa Pipistrelli!

Few experiences are as memorable as sharing time and a spectacular destination with an intimate group of friends, colleagues, or grown-up family.

This intimate curated adventure is all about cultural immersion, relaxation, and good times. You’ll feel as if Villa Pipistrelli is your home because you’ll unpack once and “move in” for a week of wonders . . .

Pecorino cheese-making demonstration and tasting.

Olive oil comparison blind tasting.

• Watercolor painting class.

Pasta making session and tasting.

Wine estate tour with tasting.

• Magnificent medieval Siena—home of the Palio—and a private tour of the Brucco contrada with author Dario Castagno.

• Outing to the stunning hill town of Montepulciano.

• Presentation on the restoration of Villa Pipistrelli conducted by antiques expert Susan Pennington.

• Lavish buffet breakfasts and gourmet evening meals prepared by a private chef at Villa Pipistrelli.

• Free time to explore Montestigliano, the 2,500-acre Tuscan estate on which Villa Pipistrelli is tucked away.

• Social time with author Jennifer Criswell and other English-speaking experts on the culture, cuisine, and lifestyle.

Click here for the full itinerary to make 2015 the year for your Tuscan dream to come true!

Four week-long itineraries are reserved for you to choose from:
April 11–18, 2015
April 18–25, 2015
October 3–10, 2015
October 10–17, 2015

Pasta the Italian Way

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
Published by W.W. Norton with illustrations by Luciana Marini and photographs by Gentl & Hyers

Published by W.W. Norton with illustrations by Luciana Marini and photographs by Gentl & Hyers

Unlike pasta which is often best served right after cooking, this post has simmered on the back burner for a few months.

I wanted time to peruse the 400 pages of Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way by Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant, which was released last fall to rave reviews. De Vita is an authority on the history and variety of the country’s regional cooking. Fant is a writer and native New Yorker who has made Rome her home for more than 30 years.

Reading the book has been like a conversation with trusted culinary colleagues. In some sections my head bobbles up and down in affirmation. At other times, I cock my head as a fresh idea leads me to consider something in a new way.

read more about Sauces & Shapes

Little Shop in Florence

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
Just off the luxury goods trail in Florence, Sandra's little shop beckons with hidden "treasures."

Just off the luxury goods trail in Florence, Sandra’s little shop beckons with hidden “treasures.”

Ferragamo didn’t need to open its Salvatore Ferragamo Museo just for me. I approach all the luxury goods temples—Prada, Roberto Cavalli, Bulgari–on Florence’s stylish Via Tornabuoni with a gaze-in-awe-but-don’t-touch reverence. Owning these baubles is not for me but I can admire the artistry as I would the masterworks in a museum.

So, imagine my surprise on a blindingly sunny morning in April when I wandered a few footsteps east of the Salvatore Ferragamo Museo on peaceful Via B. SS. Apostoli to discover a shop called Sandra.

Gorgeous globe artichokes fresh from Sandra's garden.

Gorgeous globe artichokes fresh from Sandra’s garden.

At 41r, tucked into a street level space no wider than a train car, Sandra was honoring her store motto: “di tutto un pò un pò di più” (a little of everything and a little more). Surrounding the entrance were crates of fruits, vegetables, braids of garlic, copper pots, painted wooden plaques, bunches of dried flowers. Sandra said she had plucked the artichokes from her garden that morning.

Stepping over the threshold was like entering a time machine back to Florence of 30, 40, or 50 years ago. On the shelves and from the ceiling were household items, oils, vinegars, herbs, jewelry, collectibles, petite chandeliers. Every centimeter offered a new treasure.

Sandra occupied the space behind the glass refrigerated display case at the back. It was stocked with salume and formaggi, no doubt to fortify serious Sandra shoppers who might want to inspect everything on the premises.

Wild fragolini and their hybrid cousins.

Wild fragolini and their hybrid cousins.

I wondered to myself how Sandra could afford the rent in this alta moda area given the price points of the merchandise. As I paid for my lovely little olive wood mortar and pestle and fragolini (tiny sweet wild strawberries—the only strawberries that would have been in a Florence market 30, 40, or 50 years ago), I said a silent “grazie” to Sandra for having di tutto up pò.

Sandra, Via B. SS. Apostoli, 41r, Firenze, (055) 28.34.10

 

A Break with Nespresso

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
Nespresso's pop-up caffe at Manhattan's Grand Central Station is the ticket to a genuine Italian coffee experience.

Nespresso’s pop-up caffe at Manhattan’s Grand Central Station is the ticket to a genuine Italian coffee experience.

By Tess Sanders

Today I was transported within the walls of legendary Grand Central Station. No, I was not catching a train for a beach getaway. I traveled briefly to Italy with Nespresso.

Until June 6, Nespresso is offering complimentary cups of their pod-brewed beverages to celebrate their new home brewing machine, the VertuoLine.

Amidst the bustle of New Yorkers and tourists alike, I met with Nespresso demonstrator Fabio Ferrari (yes, his real name) who told me the company’s cross-cultural origin story, a Swiss entrepenuer who became enamored of Italy. Watch the video story here.

And that signature Italian crema? Ferrari tells me that after countless Nespresso customers asked for it, the company delivered with the new VertuoLine: a pod system that brews an American size cup of coffee with the delicate flavor of crema, the creamy foam that crowns genuine Italian espresso.

As Ferrari—a Modena native—sees it, coffee preferences reveal cups-full about cultural proclivities.

“Italians socialize around food… The espresso signals that food is over and it’s time to get back to work.” Compare that to Americans who “invented fast food” and use coffee, instead of meals, to socialize.

The VertuoLine allows users to taste it all, brewing both espresso and coffee. In the time it took me to enjoy a cappuccino and begin a coffee, I’d learned Ferrari’s story (a “caffeine-crazy boyfriend” introduced him to Nespresso and he left his life “in a golden cage” as a 9 to 5er to begin demonstrating for the coffee company).

My only complaint about the cappuccino: it was prepared with 1% milk instead of the full-fat stuff. The coffee was the most flavorful pod-brewed I’d ever sipped. The head is lush, rivaling a Guinness!

My tastings were prepared after three staff members consulted about my preferences (the more bitter, the better if you’re wondering—though only in matters of chocolate and coffee), and the three-on-one consultation was a delight. You can revel in Nespresso’s escapism all week at Grand Central.

If you’re lucky you’ll meet Ferrari, who, in his own words, will lure you into the world of bold flavors and won’t contaminate the experience with a sales pitch.