Monday, September 8, 2014

The last of the Florentine experience.

After saying bye to Bruno Gambone, we headed off to the Accademia as the hotel had managed to book our entrance tickets for the afternoon. Even with the tickets, we waited for over 20 minutes to be let in (and that's because the guard who was letting people in suddenly vanished).

I am not complaining because I was standing here (ahem! ahem!...) notice anything special?

If the street name is this...

then the rest has to be artful, right?

And we had David keeping us company- you don't believe me? Here's evidence...

David (artist unknown) on the outside wall of the galleria Accademia...

 And David (Michelangelo's) inside the Accademia...

The most impressive fact about the above is that I managed to get this shot without any people or their heads as the whole world was gathered around him and I am only 5 feet and 1 and a  half inch tall.

The facts about how he came to be are impressive, too. You can find out more about David here:

There was a lot of other art by artists I had heard of and some by artists I hadn't. For me though, the gallery itself was a much more enjoyable experience- the high domes and the spacious galleries. I think after a while I started people watching because there is only so much art one can take in one go.

Time to rest...

The Jain tummies had started rumbling. So we headed out and this time the trio (teenagers and the father) forbade me to even mention 'trip advisor' before we decided where to eat. So they lead, and I followed (muttering -mostly to myself- that there is a 'recommeded' place not far away). But, as we had had such a lovely day so far, I didn't object too much to their choice of a pizzeria.

A gelato each and we were ready to explore again.

The art on the streets of Florence...

Mona Lisa seems happier here (out in the open) than she does in the confines of the Louvre. And her creator looks equally pleased.

The artful streets of Florence:-

 just because I like this street so much:)

 This sign caught my eye...

 And I was invited in by the most cheerful cheese seller I've ever seen. I asked if I could click and he obliged. We even managed a short English/Italian conversation peppered with Italian hand gestures and Indian head nodding (cliche it may be- but when language fails- we go back to our roots). I didn't buy anything as we had just had lunch, but left his shop happy and content.

Our next stop was Galleria degli Uffizi or the Uffizi Gallery. This was just by chance. We had seen serpentine queues to get into the gallery in the morning and had decided to give it a miss. But at 4.30 pm, we happened to be in the area and there weren't many people waiting, so we went in.

The pictures that follow have no labels. Here's why- when I was a primary school teacher in London, I had accompanied a class of boisterous boys to the National Portrait Gallery on a school trip. The Gallery guide started our tour by showing the children how adults behave in galleries- stare at art, look at the labels, make notes-trying to remember the artist, the year and  all those details that clutter the experience of actually enjoying the art. They never sit down and enjoy being with great art. He urged my class to be a child (not an adult) when viewing art and gave them some tips.

I recognised myself in that caricature and promised myself that I would (from that day on) visit galleries like a child and use his tips- stare at pieces that caught my eye- find a place to sit and watch it for as long as I felt like it- without the nagging agenda of the 'must-see' list and without knowing who had painted it, unless I felt like finding out. I wasn't studying for an Art History exam, was I?

The next room is an octagonal room called the Uffizi Tribuna.
"The structure, decoration and objects were meant to allude to the four basic elements of the universe: air, water, earth and fire. This room amazes visitors with its coverings in precious materials: from the approximately six thousand shells embedded in the cupola, to walls covered in crimson velvet with abundant decorations of plants and waterfowl along the lower parts." source: 

Notice the crowd?

You can not step inside but all is visible from the doors. The trick is to be patient enough to move up to the front and manage a clear view- then please be kind enough to move along, as others would like to do the same. It's when couples (young ones, usually) hog the space to pose in various angles that gets my goat. And the worst kind are the ones who take turns, fist the lady, then the man!

Can you detect the frustration or irritation in my tone? I could, too. So before I succumbed to Stendhal Syndrome also known as Florence Syndrome or simply put ' being arted out', I followed my family who were all on their phones by now out of the Uffizi and into the fresh air outside.

More about the Florence Syndrome can be found here:

For those of you who would like to visit the  Uffizi Gllaery, here's a lovely guide

I had a great time soaking it all in without getting distracted by labels.

That's all folks. Next time it will be a walk down the streets of Tuscany- a beautiful adventure. Hope to see you soon. xx

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Bruno Gambone, the artist we met in Florence on Day Two.

The clouds of discontent were dark and ominous when on day two I suggested that we would be taking the train to Florence.




'But, we saw everything there is to see yesterday!' were the utterances from the teenagers as we parked at Signa Station and validated our tickets to Florence.

I had done some research in Doha to locate local artists and craftspeople so that we could go to their workshops and if possible, buy something 'authentic' instead of the made in China stuff available all over the world.

As luck would have it, I found out that one of the ceramists I had on my list was based in Florence.

The staff at Borgo Villa Castelletti called him when we finished breakfast that morning. He was planning to be at his workshop till 12.30pm that day, so I decided that we should head out to see him as soon as we got off the train in Florence.

The children ( and their father) didn't see the point.

We knocked on the door and were immediately welcomed in by sunshine. His name is Bruno Gambone. Here's where you can read about how great an artist he is // but let me tell you how amazing he is as a human being. So when I say  that we were let into his workshop by sunshine (aka him), I am not exaggerating.

He welcomed us all and took us to his showroom through his studio. By now the children had stopped simmering and started enjoying the visit.

'Do you collect art?' he asked me after I had spent some time gaping at the amazing pieces around me.

I couldn't bring myself to say 'yes', for it sounded pompous to me (even in my head).

'I love art', I deflected, 'and buy whatever I can afford- usually prints from museums.'

He smiled.

'How much is this?' I pointed out to a sculpture that had caught my eye.

'Oh! this one I made over thirty years ago.' Bruno Gambone ran his fingers over the piece as if he was tousling the hair on his son's head- with love and tenderness. He stated the price. I took my time to disentangle myself from the sculpture slowly enough so that it looked 'casual' and not expose the  'I-can't-afford-this-skip- a -heartbeat' feeling one gets when one likes something but can't afford it!

I soon realised that I wouldn't be able to buy any of his art in his showroom as I couldn't justify the expense. I think he sensed it, too. But, this kind man just carried on talking to us and made us feel so at home as if this was the best way for him to spend his time. I don't know how many world renowned artists are this accessible- the art world I've peeped into via my friends who do 'collect' art seems to be anything thrives on exclusivity.

And that's what I found out about him- he spoke of each piece like we talk about our children- proud and emotional and full of stories of when he had created them- maybe we don't all share stories of when we created our children!

The children had meanwhile gone off to explore the workshop with the camera. Here are some of the pictures my daughter took (yes, I've put my watermark with her permission).

'Do your children speak your language?' he asked as we moved around his workshop on a guided tour of his creations.

'Oh! they understand, but...' and I went on to explain (with some guilt) why they were lacking in this field- it's all my fault. Had I insisted on all of us speaking in Hindi at home (like some of my friends do), I would 've said 'yes' proudly.

'My wife teaches my son Japanese, you know. He can speak fluently.' he told us of his son from his third wife, who is Japanese. 'He is learning how to read and write now.' he said with pride.

'Language is very important. It's who you are. It's a shame if you lose your language.' his eyes were sparkling with life and instead of feeling chided, I felt like I was being reminded of my role as a mother and as a speaker of my mother tongue.

A tiny but momentous remark by him made me think about the future of Hindi in my family.

We hung on for a long time. He recommended places we should visit when we travel south to Sienna. He listed his favourite spa towns. He spoke about his childhood, his language, his favourite parts of the world and where the clay he uses comes from. He pointed out the piece he was currently working on for an upcoming exhibition in Paris.

I was conscious of the time we had spent there, but he seemed just fine.

We decided to make our way out and that's when I spotted a few smaller pieces stacked on shelves in his workshop.

'How much?'

He shot me his charming grin again- quoted a price which was well within my means.

I shot a 'I- am- getting- this- piece' look at the husband, who took out his wallet (gladly, I choose to believe).

Bruno wrapped up our purchase in bubble wrap.

'I am not a rich man, you know', remarked Gambone.

But you in warmth and creativity and love for what you do. I would wish such 'riches' on everyone, including me, to live a life abundant with creativity and messing around with clay every day!

When we finally said goodbye to Bruno Gambone, it felt like we had all been to a group therapy session. We all stepped out (and he came to the door to wave us goodbye) with huge grins on our faces.

The sun had finally come out and decimated the dark clouds of discontent.

The teenagers couldn't stop talking about him and his studio.

This was the absolute highlight of Florence for me. He made art accessible and human- the way it should be- not just for the rich. Not elitist. Not exclusive. Not a possession which comes with bragging rights. It should be about the soul, about being human. At least, that's what I think.

Thank you Bruno Gambone.


We headed back to Signa, bought some cheese, fruit , bread and wine at the local co-op, picked our travel blanket from the room and enjoyed a picnic in the beautiful grounds of Borgo Villa Castelletti just as the sun was going down imprinting these beautiful images on my soul.

There was a wedding celebration at Villa Castelletti up the hill. First the music and then the guests trickled towards the lake to take pictures with the setting sun- it was magical.

Well, I will be putting a post together for the rest of  Art we saw in Florence- but I'm glad to report that the tide had turned and the rest of the trip was without any 'lectures'-
lesson learnt as a mother on Day Two- Let the kids be.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Florence + Two days + Two Teenagers = Parenting Skills' Test (Day One)

It has been a while since I've put a post together. It has been a busy summer- lots of travelling and millions of reasons to thank the universe. Hopefully, I can share some of the magic I experienced with you, too.

Let's start with Florence.

I guess the title of this post hints at the mutiny I faced in the land of Art. By the end of Day Two, the teenagers had managed to rope in their father aka my husband! But, I'm jumping the gun here.

It started out just like any other holiday- well researched and broadly based on the 'advice' of others who've gone there before us.

We landed in Milan and embarked upon our Italian road trip.

We were very lucky to find a great place to stay in Signa (near Florence) called the Borgo Villa Castelletti ( The owner, Alessandro, came out to greet us like we were old friends-  with arms outstretched and a booming 'welcome' breaking the silence of the surroundings. I actually turned around to check if he was headed towards someone behind me- but he wasn't. All the staff here were warm and always ready to help. The breakfast was sensational- fresh local produce - we enjoyed cherries and apricots, yogurts and bread and the ubiquitous espresso, served with a smile in the beautiful Tuscan outdoors. There was a bowl of flax seeds as well- I was impressed.

This was the view from our window...

And the corner that sealed the deal for me. How cute is this kettle?

After breakfast, we drove to and  parked at Signa train station and took the train to Florence. Fifteen minutes later, we were paying to get into the Basillica di Santa Maria Novella.

Two things struck me as unusual here. First, that we had just paid over 20 Euros to get inside a church! And second, the incredible light inside. Light streaming through stained glass, dancing as candle light, bouncing off surfaces like wrought iron, brass, marble and lace. It was spell binding.

The incredible ceiling...

The light, lace and the candles.

The gift shop.

The Sky Gods were getting ready to take a shower ( my son's theory of why it rains when he was about three years old- we were living in London then and it rained pretty much every day there; so I did not challenge his theory.)

My immediate concern was to find cover and still make good use of our 'tourist' time in the city. When one is in Florence for two days, one needs to make the most of it. Right?


Armed with my knowledge of the weather and smug with my plan to go into the one FREE building in this part of Florence, I shepherded my brood towards The Duomo. 

We made it just in time. The Sky Gods had started their water fight. The sky roared and thundered and it poured.

The Duomo offers free guided tours in various European languages. As the English guide was not available, a French speaking guide did an excellent job of relating the history and art of Duomo to us.

I hinted at going through this door to climb the 400 plus steps but the first murmurings of revolt could be heard under my teenagers' breath. I chose to ignore it. BIG MISTAKE!

When we stepped out...

photo credit: the husband
Thanks to the many Italian gelatarias here, the Jain clan was sweetened up to start the walk from the Duomo to Ponte Vecchio (the oldest of Florence's six bridges across the River Arno). The walk, however, turned into a battle of wits as the teenagers (who weren't used to walking for four hours at a stretch in hot Doha), started playing the 'do we have to?' and the more challenging 'why do we have to?' tune. 

I saw red and the rest as they say is histrionic history- a scene of a mother lecturing (with lots of emotional blackmail thrown in) her children on a footpath  about how wonderful this experience should be and how this should open up their perspective of the world and how if all they wanted to do was sit, we should've stayed at home. Even I would hate Florence if I was being given that lecture. But, hind sight is a great thing.

So the next set of pictures was taken while my brood brooded ten feet behind or in front of me and I tried to calm my rattling nerves while taking pictures.

Ponte Vecchio:

photo by husband

"Legend has it that if you and your loved one attach a padlock to any surface of the famous bridge and then throw away the key into the Arno River below, your love will last forever. Millions of couples have come to the Ponte Vecchio for expressly this reason, to lock in their love and throw away the key for eternity."   
Information coutesy:

Had I known this fact, I would've carried a lock, but I only found out after I came back home and googled this phenomenon- lucky for us (the husband and me ) as the number of good looking Italian men found on these streets would tempt me to carry a whole bunch of padlocks...just in case:) 

Let's cool it and focus, aha...the beauty of nature calls...

The river and its inhabitants:

The rain played hide and seek with us as we made our way to Piazza Pitti to feed the hungry children. Food always makes everything fine. The silence of the Jains was broken by diving into delicious sandwiches. We sat indoors and watched the birds play in the drizzle.

The rain was pitter- pattering down and all four of us were ready to walk the streets of Florence. The next set of pictures is anything that caught my eye while we made our way back to the train station.

For my English teacher friends:- an ambiguous statement...

Wall Art...

The street opposite the Dolce and Gabbana kids store- I think they were doing a promotion of some sort. It all looked very inviting.

The day ended on a high with the best pizza I have had in my life. This was at a family run restaurant called Ristorante de Foffo (recommended by Alessandro) in Signa. I can honestly say that their mushroom pizza was awesome. Obviously, we had to finish the meal with gelato and this place was gelato heaven...

The hotel looked even more beautiful in the evening light. The family was all too glad to rest their tired feet.

LESSON LEARNT on DAY ONE:-  Food comes before Art or Culture. 

Don't worry, I have another day of Florence which I'll share in my next post and some more lessons I learnt as a mother of teenagers on a trip to Florence.