Thursday, June 30, 2011

Arrivaderci, Italia

So this Thursday morning, June 30th, we'll cruise through the Mont Blanc tunnel, departing Courmayeur to spend a few days in Chamonix before heading further west, then north. Except for April, we have been in Italy since February and have loved it. The geographic and scenic and cultural diversities of the country surpass any other place I know. Italy has more World Heritage Sites than any other country--far more--and justifiably so. We have found it all endlessly interesting, diverse, exciting, moving. And that's just the historical and cultural sites and institutions. They are on the whole exceedingly well managed. The people have been friendly and good to us. The camping arrangements have been manageable, even off-season, but often excellent. The roads and driving are fine, once you get used to the local customs. The weather could have been a bit warmer in the south and a bit cooler in the north, but that's what you get traveling in February/March and then May/June. And the food and wine and the coffee...just superb. We have been here long enough to see the seasonal nature of the cuisine as well as its many regional diversities. (It would be nice if you could buy something other than Italian at the supermercato; but, then, Italian is the international comfort food, and it can be of very high quality too). Let's just say Italy has moved to the top of my most-favored nation list, for all those reasons and more.

Arrivaderci! No fotos!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

And On To Courmayeur

We finished Milan and drove on late in the afternoon, stopping at a little town called Cavaglia, over-nighting in its large mercato parking lot. Alas, we noted upon leaving there was a sign on the outskirts of town that said no camping. Oh well.
Cavaglia is remarkable, totally remarkable, for having a
stone circle next to its civic center; this has got to be recent
and artificial; but no less impressive

Up the road a bit, at Pont St. Martin perhaps, a beautiful old
Roman bridge

And thus we are back at Courmayeur, a favorite Italian town,
at the very foot of Monte Bianco, at our favorite restaurant
there, Le Vieux Pommier, enjoying our favorite totally
decadent Alpine meal, the crepes Mt. Blanc (prosciutto
rolled into crepes, drowning in a soup/sauce of fontina cheese)

Followed by veal topped by prosciutto topped by melted
fontina (frites for Vicki, cheesy polenta for me); the vino
rosso really helps to cut through though all the white stuff;
all followed by a  sort of berry-ish creme brulee thing that I
always forget to shoot

So, this time in Courmayeur, we found the mercato parking
lot, a few hundred meters from the centro, and stayed there
four nights, reading, planning, researching, lazing; I did a
couple of hikes, more or less repeating hikes I have done
before in this area; first, up the Val Veny, toward France,
stopping at the Lac du Miage and its 10k moraine; above,
one of the remnants of the lake, a pot-hole at the lateral of
the giant moraine; I sat there for a while, watching the
continuing trickle of scree into the bottomless pot-hole: a
reminder that this giant thing is alive and moving; I didn't
venture further 

Above now, on the balcony overlooking, some of the Miage
Glacier moraine, Mt. Blanc proper on the right

And, a bit higher on the balcony, working my way back
toward Courmayeur, more of the moraine and the Innominata
Face of Mt. Blanc; don't be deceived: it looks like rock, but
it's all ice underneath, digging out a huge canyon of the future

The Grandes Jorasses, further on the massif; Le Geant on the

In the distance, from a refuge on the hike, one of Italy's many
great mountains, Gran Paradiso

Another day, another hike, another balcony, up the Val Ferret,
toward Switzerland: looking across at the Grandes Jorasses

And, from my favorite Refugio Walter Bonatti,
another look at Monte Bianco

More Milan and La Scala

Our day in Milan ended with a few more sights and La Scala, arguably the greatest of all opera houses. Arguably.
13th century city hall, in the merchants' piazza

Milan street scene

In the Galleria, adjoinging the Piazza della
Duomo; nice 19th century stuff; high-end

Still in the Galleria; Naples has something
very similar, but Naples is a depressed area
and there are practically no shops; not even a

Statue of Leonardo

La Scala

In  the La Scala Museum, a recent bust of
Arturo Toscanini, the great conductor and
interpreter (a foremost interpreter of Wagner
too); practically synonymous with La Scala

Verdi; synonymous with La Scala

My hero gets a bust here too, and his works
are regularly performed; but not as regularly
as those of Verdi, Pucini, Rossini, et al.

Tours of the theatre are not permitted when a rehearsal or
performance is underway; they were rehearsing that Friday
afternoon, but I did sneak into a box and steal this one shot;
in the summer time they do opera school performances, not
the big dogs; of course, La Scala opera school would trump
just about anything else

What I would have seen on the tour; it's an 18th century
theatre, actually smaller than what one might imagine; very
bourgeois; Wagner would not have approved...

The Museum is very well done, with all the
usual posters, scores, libretti, costumes,
musical instruments, relics, etc. Not to be
missed by the operatically-inclined

Milan's Pinacoteca Ambrosiana

Next we visited Milan's oldest museum, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, noted for its Titians, Veronese, Carravaggio, for us especially its Breughels, the cartoon of Rafael's School of Athens, and, lastly, the largest collection of Leonardo's notebooks, the Codex Atlanticus.
First the silly bits: in this Adoration of the Magi, by Rene Sance,1527, note the 
ultra-realism, namely, the dog pissing on the post

All through European painting, the convention is always to represent John the 
Baptist, even as a new-born, in his skins; here he is as a toddler in skins

An Adoration with a band in the background; Rene Sance, 1527

Serious now: a Botticelli

Very serious: the cartoon of Rafael's School of Athens; the School of Athens is 
in the Rafael Rooms of the Vatican, which we saw in March and of which I took 
about 50 fotos; before doing a big fresco, the master would do a full-size charcoal
drawing of the piece, called a cartoon

Up closer

Cardinal Borromeo, the founder of the Pinacoteca, was an admirer of Breughel 
and acquired a number of the latter's works; here are a few...

Winter scene (probably with an Adoration or Ascension tucked in somewhere)

Lion's Den

One of B's allegorical works

Another of Caravaggio's Fruit

Much else in the museum, but these gold copies of Hadrian's 
Column and Anthony's (Marcus) Column impressed us

As is well known, Leonardo's Last Supper began deteriorating as the paint dried 
(L used an experimental technique, not real fresco) and two copies were made, 
by his assistants, within a few years of the original; this is one, snapped quickly 
while the guard was talking on the phone; why didn't we go see the real Last 
Supper? You ask; fact is, we didn't plan two months ahead to get reservations....

Finally, in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, among the thousands of incunibles and 
other stuff, an impressive exhibition from the Codex Atlanticus, the largest 
collection of Leonardo's notebooks; it's impossible not to be supremely impressed...

Milan Cathedral

I wanted to go to Milan, since we had never been there before. It is Italy's second largest city, its financial and communications center, home to the great cathedral, galleria, La Scala, and the Pinoteca Ambrosiana, all of which we wanted to see. Happily, all these are located a few steps from each other, and we were able to do everything we wanted, even some shopping, and then move on. We camped the night before on a quiet street in a suburban business park, then the next day parked at the water-park adjacent to the one Milan campground (which we judged too expensive to justify an overnight) and took a combination of bus and metro into the city center.
Milan's great cathedral, begun in 1386, more or less finished in the 1800s; said 
to be the largest Gothic cathedral; 4th largest in Christendom; super-duper 
flamboyant Gothic; unlike so many others, this puppy is all marble; intended to
accommodate all of Milan's 15th century population, 40,000; seen across Piazza 
del Duomo

3500 sculptures are said to adorn its exterior

Nice gargoyles

Nice martydom sculptures

Inside the feeling is one of great expanse and volume; the piers are enormous; 
the feeling of expanse is hindered, however, by all the paintings hanging around 
like so much wash

The windows range in age from 1405 to the 20th century 
and are in very good condition; this is the oldest one

Vicki reading a window

Flight to Egypt


Sculpture of the flayed St. Bartholomew; I hope the model 
was well-paid

One of the three huge apse windows; 19th century copies 
of the originals

Some of the original inlaid marble floor, differentially worn 
by centuries of thousands of feet of the devout and tour buses


Altar and apse; Baroque; note the little red light at the top 
near the ceiling

X marks the spot; under the red light is where they keep 
The Relic, a True Nail of the True Cross, brought back from 
the Holy Land by  Constantine's mom, St. Helen, who must 
have needed a small fleet to haul back all the religious loot 
attributed to her; remember, it was her boy's Edict of Milan 
that legalized Christianity