Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Florence: the children's home Ospedale degli Innocenti

Florence, Italy

Ospedale degli Innocenti: the hospital of the innocents

Walking through the Piazza Santissima Annunziata as an exchange student many years ago, the imposing building on the east side of the piazza was never open, but it has proudly kept its long history of service to children.  

For the past year+ scaffolding and plastic sheathing has promised a renovation that will educate visitors on the buildings’ history.
The building style was unique for the 1400 and well documented in Wikipedia.

Now open to the public the ospedale innocente tells the story of the children left at the infants table (a circular platform that rotated to send the infant to the interior of the building) or older children brought to the ospedale when parents could no longer care for them.  Parents entrusted children to the ospedale until the family might be able to continue to care for them.
Other children were housed, fed and trained for skilled jobs when they reached maturity.   Girls might become nuns or marry since the organization supplied dowries for girls.   

Three floors are open to view for a small admission fee.   On the top floor is a large glassed wall café with outside seating to enjoy the rooftop views.   Off the cloister on the prima piano is a large meeting room and many other doors that were not open to visitors.   

This is an interactive museum with audio, videos and text available in English as well as Italian.   A headset is an additional fee.  You can spend as much time as you wish at each exhibit. 
The bank of wooden drawers was captivating.

Each drawer was labeled with a child’s name and a date.  Inside is the original item a mother might have left with her child so that identification might be easier when a parent returned to claim their offspring.     Opening a drawer from more than 200 or 300 years ago, you find a ribbon or half of a medal (the parent would keep the other half) and other mementos that came to the ospedale with a child. 
I inspected dozens of boxes, some from the late 1800’s thinking of the mothers who left their children to be cared at the institute.

There is a note station nearby where you are asked to leave a message. Videos of several of former siblings of children adopted from the ospedale can also be played in English and explained how a family might bring a child from the ospedale home to join their other children.


                      Black and white photo show some of the children and workers, always formal photos. 

You could easily spend most of the day reading all the display entries, enjoying lunch in the café and viewing the extensive art exhibit also housed in the buildings.     I saw Italian tour guides with small groups in the museum but no mention of any scheduled tours.

The top floor art gallery houses pieces from very well-known artists.  The room is striking from an architectural view point.

Large gift shop is located on the first floor, free lockers at the entrances allow you to store handbags and back packs (free when I visited) and restrooms.  
There is a small Church within the ospedale but it is only open on Sundays for mass.  Perhaps on my next visit more of the interior is renovated that exhibits from the daily lives of the children and the caretakers will be on display: furniture, clothing, housewares and written accounts from the years the ospedale was open.  

Let your mind wander back hundreds of years and you are in Renaissance Florence.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Look Up! or you will miss the most unusual things

If you look around you and always look UP, 

there are amazing things to see

Street artist that caught my attention
I often wonder who they are without makeup?
Every day at lunch the line snakes down the street for hot sandwiches.

Two years ago this midget (only 2 patrons at a time) shop opened just a few blocks for the Duomo in Florence.
Select your bread from several oversized loafs, select your filling and the owner will 'toast it' or what you will recognize as a pannini machine.  I tried cheese but it never became a grilled cheese.   Filling and well priced.

Finding Photo Treasures

Too often I return from a trip with photos that have not been sorted or edited.

Preparing for a camera class today, I found a memory card with some of my favorite places.

Feb 2017:  adding a few more from an afternoon in Padova

                                 arriving during lunch leaves the streets half empty on  a Saturday

You may even stumble on a wedding

Brave sole will clime to the cupola and stand outside with only a small railing between you and the stone pavement.
I recently found a black and white photo of my trip to the top several decades ago,.   

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

See Italy: advice from locals

An inside look into travel in Italy but    
NOT a travel book 


My Secret Italy A Girl’s Guide to Intimate Italy, by Isabella Campagnol, Beatrice Campagnol and Elizabeth Rainer
Photographs by Lorenzo Di Renzo 

This collaboration by native Italians offers a fresh approach to experiencing Italian culture, a cities and people.   The authors share the secret places and locals you can find in Italy if you know where to look, includes wonderful history lessons, folklore, superstition and biographies.       

Italy is special.   The more you visit the more you long to return.   If you have a love for the Italian way of life or enjoy exploring a town or city beyond the list of ‘important sites’, the approach the writers of this ‘experience guide’ take, will show you how to enjoy Italy on a different level.  Tourists transform into travelers when they enjoy meeting locals, discovering unknown places and experiences not featured in travel books.  My Secret Italy opens doors to the places and people that may not be included in well promoted travel books.     

This is NOT a tour book but a great on the ground resource for seeing Italy as a traveler.  You may find yourself reading every page of My Secret Italy, as I did and highlighting many ‘stops’ for your next trip Home to Italy.  The introduction explains “the inspiration for My Secret Italy from the destinations for the 19th century traditional Grand Tour”.   Today’s list includes far more: “all of these experiences, and more, become a select itinerary for the sensitive traveler”.   What a great inspiration!

Each chapter in this delightful book takes you to a different region in Italy, many that are not on the usual tourist’s list.   You visit large and small cities and even a few small towns.     You will learn more than what are the most important buildings, churches or art found in each location but also discover such treasures as ‘Emilian rolled-out pastry in Bologna, a house with 12 sisters in Milan, a museum to Mary in Abruzzo, silks for a King in Caserta, the statue that stopped the lava in Naples or wine doors and windows in Firenze’.  Stunning photographs and illustrations punctuate each description.  

With more than 70 entries you are sure to find some surprises.  Have you visited the Museo dell’Occhiale (eye ware museum) in a small town in the Dolomites?  Did you know that Nove in the province of Vicenza is known for ceramics?   The legend of “An Honest Woman and a Greedy One” (page 45) will have me searching for the marble face in the wall, in Venice.     If I visited a fraction of the fascinating shops and artisans listed, I would be traveling for many weeks.    Just a small sample of many unique entries.  

You will find a few recipes included and contact information for shops and museums is also available.    Directions should be available on the individually listed web sites.   The color-coded sections, dividing entries into North, South, East or West, allows the reader to target parts of Italy. 

A thoroughly enjoyable read even for an armchair traveler. 

“My Secret Italy” A Girl’s Guide to Intimate Italy by Isabella Campagnol, Beatrice Campagnol and Elisabeth Rainer.   Photographs by Lorenzo Di Renzo 
ISBN number 9788873017738 

You may also enjoy the in depth tour of Venice where you will meet artisans and visit shops  while learning about Venice from locals.
“My Pretty Venice” a Girls’ guide to True Venice by Isabella Campagnol, Elisabeth Rainer, Illustrations by Beatrice Campagnol
ISBN 9788873017745

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Naples: the last 'glove' family

I may have visited the 'last' family run glove manufacturer in Naples

previously posted on Home to Italy

Every glove is hand made

On an adventure with Discover Napoli Destinations (DND) I asked to see parts of Naples I would not find on my own and perhaps meet some of the locals.  Tina with Discover Napoli Destinations spent a day sharing the secrets of Napoli with me.   

Even after several solo trips to Naples while I lived in Sorrento on a sabbatical, I had a travelers' fear of Naples.  My day with Tina was the beginning of a new love affair with Napoli!   

On this day, Tina introduced me to Mauro Squillace,  the director of Omega Gloves founded in 1923.    At the time I did not know how 'famous' Sig Squillace was.     He has had many posts written about him as well as professional videos.  As an  Italian American I understand the hard work a family faces to create a business, a life, a legacy.  

Our meeting was a learning experience for me.  I left sharing the pride of an  Italian family that supports each other, has pride in ever stitch of each glove and glad I had met Mauro Squillace.

I spent the afternoon learning how gloves are hand made in Naples.  It was fascinating.    There is a 25 steps from cutting the leather to the finished glove and each gloves passes through the factory 20 times in this process.
The tanned leather is cut by hand one layer at a time.  No cutting machines.    Before patterns are laid out for cutting, the leather is stretched by a multi step process and color matched via natural light.     There are 12 people working in the main office and 70 working from home. 

Each 'part' of the glove is sewed separately and passed on for the next assembly.  Each worker specializes in one thing.   A machine stitched glove can be sewed by machine in 3 1/2 hours.


Cutting and finishing are done at the main office 'factory'.   Omega is the only company  cutting the leather  by hand.  "Other companies use machines to cut the leather."   The majority of the sewing is done at home by women who are part of this extended 'family structure' and work at home.   An amazing network of local women who stitch a single part of the glove and pass it on to the next woman .  This is similar to an 'at home' assembly line.

In this video you will see how a glove is cut from the leather piece.   Amazing.  Just excuse my poor attempt to converse in Italian.............but the result is worth it.

Photos of Italians are the only souvenirs I take home

Two women working in the office stitch gloves with manual sewing machines (circa 1900's is my guess)  that would interest any antique dealer.  Over the years repair parts have been salvaged from other machines.   

Just one line of stitching per pass on the machine and then on to the next item.

  * I asked if these skills were being taught to younger Italians?  "As business owners teach to their sons, also the home sewers teach to their sons.  In 2013 there are no problems with labor, 1st because we are the last ones (glove companies) and many work only for us now, 2nd with this economic crisis (in Italy) people are back to do manual work."

Every glove is created one piece at a time.  Each part of the glove such as the gusset that is at the base of the thumb, is done by the same person and the item is passed on to the next sewer..

Each glove is inspected, a detailed process that insures high
quality.    Sig. Squillace explained that different areas around Naples specialized in a particular glove expertise:  The piquet stitch, in Naples proper, hand sewed gloves from the province of Caserta
and the small towns of Fringhelllo and San Marcellino have matrons' who collect the gloves and divide the work among
the women sewers.  

Even more interesting, "working form home is very important
for us in Naples.  Without medical assistance if you have an ill person at home (an elderly relative or even a child) working
from home is very important to a family.

"A local version of village within the city the camorra is
based on family"  Apparently the BBC did a story on the

After this great visit I have other experiences scheduled  with DND.   

Next:  the tour of the subway, the curse in the gold market and shopping at the local street markets.
I will be returning  a 3rd time for a new adventure with Tina

Tina was my guide and translator for this experience that tourists would rarely ask about.   Working with a local allowed me to go beyond the usual museums, monuments and churches and have a unique experience.

If was an instant connection with Tina and soon I felt as I was traveling with a best friend.  Her endless knowledge about the history of Naples was extensive.  Several times she stopped on the wild ride through the crowded streets of Naples, to share a story with intrigue, history or just a fun background. 

Read more from the original transcript of this meeting to find some fascinating things about Naples and how il familia is so important
and how the influence of the mafia is changed.

I was the guest of Discover Naples Destinations but the opinions are my own.