Uffizi and Medici

My dear readers may be surprised to learn that my first visit to Italy was as an au pair.

Yes, me responsible for children and ‘light household duties’.

It was the year of my world trip. I’d chucked my job and I was waiting for my travel companion to get the results of her journalism exam, so this was a mini-adventure of sorts beforehand to fill in a couple of months.

The family was based near Torino. They were odd.

He was a dentist, she no longer worked (a physio) and was French, or part French. The father was vegan, the younger daughter was an aspiring vegan. The mother ate mostly meat (veal and prosciutto) as did the older daughter; they both smoked. The mother was rumoured to be an alcoholic and the cleaner discretely removed the bottles every morning. Either the mother, or the older daughter, or maybe both, were described as nymphomaniacs, somewhat without basis from what I saw.

This charms of this odd family wore thin rather quickly, as did the delights of ironing Madame’s frilly, skimpy, lacy silk knickers.

We decided to part ways. But not before I’d received a phone call from my would-be travel pal saying she had failed her journalism exam, thereby putting back our travel plans as she waited to take her resit. She agreed once taken however, that we would go regardless and she wouldn’t wait for the resit results. Phew. Resit pass rates are not high. We could have been sitting around for years.

So, in November, after I’d spent the previous few months as a rather more successful part-time secretary in the health service, we set off. The Italian part of our trip was designed around my degree and planned to cram in as much as possible of what I’d seen only in books and on slide shows for three years. Said pal was happy to leave all planning and destinations up to me—luckily. I had to be in charge of planning.

Mention Florence and people usually think of one or two words. The Medicis, the Uffizi, and maybe the Duomo and the wide river Arno.

We had little time in Florence. It was our last city in Italy before we set off on the long train ride through Yugoslavia to Greece and Athens.

But I did want to see the Uffizi. Top tip, don’t try and see the Uffizi on a Sunday morning with limited time and the deadline of a train departure looming.

Florence’s gems are not my main memory, hence I have only two photos.

From my diary:

Train to Firenze was late so we had whistle stop tour of Medici Cappelle and Uffizi. Chapel not up to much but Uffizi quite good tho! Lots of super Botticelli and Fra Filippo Lippi and Da Vinci. Lots of stairs too. Still haven’t found any food yet. Catch train to Bologna …

What made Florence memorable for me on that damp dark Sunday November morning was the phone call home my friend made. No major family tragedy, just … she’d failed her exam again. And my first selfish thought was, would she want to bail out on the trip to go back home for another resit?

Luckily she was made of sterner stuff, or was enjoying my extremely well-planned tour. We continued onwards, eastwards, and southwards.

Footnote: I met her years later by chance; she never did pass the exams and gave up in the end. My world trip might never have been completed!

imageThe Artisan’s Star, by Gabriella Contestabile, is set mainly in Florence and took me round the streets and showed me the daily life in the city that I never had time to glimpse.

It’s the story of a perfumier, Elio, his life, his loves, his expectations, his disappointments and his acceptance of the past and the changing world around him. It’s the story of Florence, and the artisans who work in the city in various differing trades. And it’s the story of perfume too, how it is made, the skill of a perfumier in developing and selling it, and the impact perfume has on each one of us through our sensory perception.

Villoresi's studio
Villoresi’s studio

Written mostly in intimate third person, through Elio’s thoughts, the story unfolds through a mix of the present, and his past. Gabriella’s gentle style manages this in a smooth fashion so there are no jarring backwards and forwards moments for the reader as it is all progressively woven into her composition.

Nor do we stay in Florence, we visit Verona, and further afield, Grasse (for perfume), Nice, and Paris. In fact when they were in Paris, I wanted to know which bridge over the Seine they were standing on after reading Michael’s Bridges of Paris so recently.

This is a book of introspection, of evaluation, so inevitably the pace is slow, thoughtful, and often langorous and sensual. Yet there are events, moments of sharpness, of reflection and realisation that keep us hooked to find out the outcome, not just for Elio, but for the other characters in this book.

It’s the sort of book that becomes more rewarding as we become more deeply involved and invested in all the main characters, Elio, and the women in his life.

I really enjoyed not just the examination and evaluation of relationships, love and life choices, but the fine detail about the creation of perfumes and the other references to artisan crafts.

A couple of quotations that I liked:

When he was a small boy, his parents told him that all Florentine life led to and emerged from the Duomo. … That meant that there was always a central point drawing your heart.

The Duomo at Dusk
The Duomo at Dusk

And this one may resonate with other readers as well as me:

Buy better, buy less, whether it be a pair of shoes, a new piece of furniture, a kilo of peaches. Wherever possible buy from and support local artisans and local businesses. That’s how you do your part to keep them alive.

This is a book for readers who are interested in those values, artisanal skills, and self-reflection about life. It’s also a book for people wanting to read glimpses of Florentine, and, some French life.

As such, I highly recommend it as a good and thoughtful read. There are a few errors, but not sufficient to spoil the enjoyment.

Thanks to Gabriella and Italy Book Tours for a print copy of the book and the additional photos.

imageGabriella Contestabile emigrated, with her parents, from Italy to New York City in 1959. In her pre-writer life, she worked as a foreign language teacher, management development specialist, and fragrance/cosmetics executive. Gabriella is a strong advocate of the arts, of multiculturalism, and of social justice—a passion inspired by reading Dickens and Dante at a young age.

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90 comments on “Uffizi and Medici

  1. Buy better, buy less . . . a forgotten way of life. Plus, buying local is not really an option anymore (some produce aside).

    We liked Florence. Might go back one day.

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  2. Sadly most of the local artisans in Alabama are off the beaten path, known only by locals if you can get them chatting about who sells what. Even then, most of the people around here have some kind of informal skill they could make money at if there weren’t a Wal-Mart and Starbucks everywhere. It’s kind of sad, because I remember going to little shops along the wide streets in German villages when I was young. Things were better crafted in Europe, I think.

    At any rate, I’m happy to see you posting again! And imagine you as an au pair! I bet the daughters had a great benefit from the experience!

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    • I think Europe has a better small trader mentality. Even here is Gib we have at least three cobblers that I know of. And there are dressmakers, furniture recoverers, a coffee roaster, and luckily, no Starbucks. There is a McDonalds and a Burgerking though :( And pizza hut.

      Thank you :) I’m sure they didn’t benefit at all, to be totally honest!

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  3. I suspect I would have scorched the frilly skimpies in short order….

    Glad the book took you back to your time in Italy, though, even if your visit was rushed and against the clock.
    My father took me to Trieste and Venice a couple of times…always in November….and we had a school trip to Turin Milan and Bergamo….. but I’d like to have seen the churches in the Norman south.
    As to buy better, buy less…it depends. I’m not supporting the well heeled yahoos of the English farmers’ markets, but I do like rooting round the stalls at fairs or fetes – avoiding the exploitative hippies – and buying produce from the street sellers whose produce I like. But I still use the supermarkets.

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    • I was most perplexed. I was expected to iron them when they were dry. My mother always ironed things slightly damp rather than using steam. And frilly skimpies are not easy to iron I tell you. Although many years later I found myself ironing my own frilly skimpy lacy silk knickers. One pair got lost in a house move. I saved the other pair for best so consequently never wore them.

      It was only Florence that was rushed. We did spend time in other places, Verona, Padua, Venice, Rome, Arezzo for example. Oh, pompeii/herculaneum of course. Naples … and Ravenna, the highlight for me for the mosaics. Mmmmmm

      We dont visit farmers’ markets. Went to one in La Axarquía. Had some nice veg, but why drive miles when the stuff locally is ok? Impractical and expensive. We use supers for non-veg. I think the general message was one of less consumerism, and buy something that will last, eg decent solid furniture rather than mdf. Depends on your punta da vista I suppose.

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      • What constitutes ‘for best’ when it comes to knickers, I wonder?
        Our local feria is pretty dire, so it’s worth making to trek to the big ones in San Jose occasionally for the more unusual stuff like proper spinach instead of the beastly tetragon. As long as we get there before the Chinese restaurateurs, that is.

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        • Best is always relative. Think I still have a pair of Janet Reger ones I bought. Knickers were nice. Better bras from La Senza although not silk. Dior did good bras too. Five cotton ones for four euros are also good. As I say, relative.

          Spinach? I use the acelga out of the garden. Young shoots for salads. Larger leaves with garbanzos, potatoes, hierbas, and chillies. Unless I’m making fancy, and use them to line a mould.

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  4. You’re still full of little surprises. The trip with your friend sounds wonderful,’ for it be full of culture’ which I’m sure is the best direction to take when visiting Italy.
    I trust you’re still nicely on the mend and not backsliding.
    xxx Massive Hugs Kate xxx

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    • Only little ones? I am sooooo disappointed. My travelling has always been organised around history/art/architecture/archaeology. Two weeks by a pool is so not me.

      Thank you, I’ve been doing a little hobbling in Spain, post to follow next week.

      xxx

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  5. What I remember from the Uffizi is endless Annunciations: I got to see different ideas in how high the Angel was, and how high the Virgin; how discomposed she looked; how miraculous he looked, etc.

    In the Baptistery, God seemed quite rigid: Saved on the Right, Damned on the left, a clear distinction; but in the Cathedral they rose from the dead, and some seemed to wander uphill, some downhill, not entirely clear where either would end up- which fits real life more, I think.

    Ponte Vecchio- Old Bridge. Another Italian word I think of.

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    • At least you remember something of the Uffizi. Much of the art on my trip is locked in the archives of my memory, with the key lost. Thanks for the Ponte Vecchio. Something else forgotten. When you take photos and don’t caption them, you never realise 30 years later you’ll forget the detail. Plus, I never liked writing in photo albums.

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  6. Love Italy, especially the North East- Bolzano prov. Of course, Napoli is also a place to retire to or Messina or anywhere in Italy. I read a book called ‘Perfume’ years ago, but have forgotten the name of the author. Helvi just reminded me; Patrick Susskind.

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    • I didn’t have a favourite part although I did like the north (east). Some places are a bit touristy, eg Pisa, Florence, Venice, but they are still beautiful.

      Never heard of it or him. Was it good? Worth looking for in the library?

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  7. I get the impression that a journalism qualification is not required to be a journalist any more than a banking qualification is to be CEO of a bank – judging by some of the bilious crap I’ve come across lately.

    As for ironing, when I come to power I shall issue a fatwa banning it entirely.

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    • True. It isn’t. Although it was required more when I was young. And breaking your indentures was seriously frowned upon.

      I’ve actually not ironed for ages. My useful hanger-outerer of washing manages to do it in a remarkably clever way so that it comes in without creases. Amazing. Men truly are a superior species. Or maybe he’s just had more practice.

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      • Thank you for your impressive blog and your memories of Italy, a country I would like to visit more often.

        Buy better, buy less and don’t iron at all! This has been my philosophy for many years. Like your partner I have improved my hanging out technics over the years ;-)

        Names are so important to us and I am always curious about the meaning of them or why we choose them. Why have you chosen roughseasinthemed?

        All the best

        Adrián

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        • Thank you Adrián. I have a lot more memories of Italy but I wanted to juxtapose the relevant ones with this book based on Firenze.

          Actually, don’t buy at all unless necessary. We’ve seen the Spanish economy swing so much that it is almost unbelievable.

          Roughseas. Long story. The short version is, wanted a nomdeplume. Looked out of the window at the Med. Calm, serene. But it isn’t always, and people falsely think it isn’t a dangerous sea. And, while the Med is nice and idyllic and normally so am I, I wanted to convey that not everything I write would be gentle and placid, that I would criticise governments, individuals, be outspoken. Not for the mostbpart,mbut that undercurrent is there. Does that help?

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    • Something I’ve always done. I never liked British chocolate (apart from Thorntons hazelnut slice) so if I couldn’t buy Lindt (or Suchard) I never bought Cadbury. Silly example, but easier to do without than buy something I didn’t really want/like.

      Thank you. I like mixing the old in, including the old piccies of mine. While reading books—and writing them—may be a written skill, there’s no harm in a little visual allure.

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  8. I’m now interested in reading this book you’ve described and have enjoyed your own personal travel story. So, to combine the two themes, you’ve reminded me of a British TV series, broadcast first in the 90s, I believe, of a film director’s travels through France in his barge. One episode about Paris covered many of the artisanal shops and services that had been operating for a century or more, and one offered custom ironing using various sizes of irons heated in a wood-fired stove. As all the ironing was seen to be done by two sisters who looked to be in their 60s at the time, this shop is likely long gone. The women were shown ironing frilly baptismal and wedding gowns, but no knickers that I could see.

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    • There’s a giveaway here:
      http://www.italybooktours.com/blog—current-tours/book-tour-the-artisans-star-by-gabriella-contestabile
      I only like the international ones and this is US Canada only. Still if you want to, follow the link. Just read the review on the book tour before mine which was not so glowing! That’s why I like this book tour company, we can write honest reviews. I think a requirement to write a positive review is totally unethical. Ooops. /soapbox.

      But anyway, just checked the genre, and it’s general fiction, so prob might well suit you. I didn’t want to retell the story or include spoilers but it is more than just a perfume story. One to enjoy in print rather than online.

      I don’t remember the programme, but I didn’t have much time for TV back then. Didn’t always have one. Don’t now.

      Clearly, ironing knickers is somewhat of a rarity. Luckily.

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      • Thank you! What interested me most about this novel were the descriptions of artisans and their businesses.

        And that series is available to watch on YouTube, as is everything old these days, it seems. (Never thought I’d refer to something from the 90s as “old”.)

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        • I’ve just read all the reviews on the book tour and there is a real variety. People like me who really enjoyed it, and others who found it meandering and confusing. You’ve been warned! If you do read it, I’d be interested in your opinion. I think the cover could be better though. Too bitty. But you know me and covers ;)

          I’m not very video focused. Visual yes, but videos/films leave me impatient unless they are absolutely gripping. I’d rather read or write. There was a saying years ago (even pre 90s!) about how there were more words on the front page of The Times than in an episode of the (BBC) nine o’clock news. Or words to that effect. It doesn’t take me 40 minutes to read the front page of The Times.

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          • Absolutely agree about the cover design. It didn’t grab me at all. As for this video, I’ll see if I can find that episode for you. Worth watching just for all those crafty people offering services for more than a hundred years that are likely all gone by now.

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          • The star relates to one in the doorway of the shop. And the photos are clearly snapshots of episodes. Graphic design hat on, I think less photos, better used (the points of the star) over more of the cover could have worked better. But, that’s just one option. Thanks for your time with the vid hunt :)

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  9. The cast of characters in your short-lived au pair career are intriguing. Great potential for a Law and Order episode: lifeless body of wife found, husband under great suspicion, au pair in background holding iron with innocent look on her face….
    I’ve always dreaded the idea of traveling with others as I would have to compromise on the planning and itinerary. That’s what makes BH an ideal companion as he allows me to run the show only occasionally putting his foot down. We did a planned hiking tour through Scotland once and it was great to be with others, but I had relinquished the planning to the tour leaders obviously.
    Kate, I think you have presented me with a very good choice for next year’s book club suggestion. We pick our books for the year’s reading in November. Something tells me this might be just their cup of tea.
    And finally, I know, I know, blathering on this morning, my mother always told me “we are too poor to buy cheap.” She would save forever to be able to buy the best possible quality of anything and that lesson has stuck. It’s actually the subject of a future blog post. OK. That’s it. Over and out.

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    • Cast of characters, don’t forget the cook, her sister the occasional cleaner, and the occasional gardener too. Looking good?
      Maybe we need to organise that planned cocktail/g&t so we are both happy with the arrangements? :D I’m fine with sharing (so long as I get my way) with someone else who has clear expectations etc. I’m sure we could get to your swanky hotel without falling out.
      It would be a good book for a club. Lots to discuss. If you want to read other reviews, look up italy book tours. There are an interesting variety. Otherwise, for my part, I would say yes, recommend it.
      Guess we grew up with the same values. Save up, do without, and then buy good. Which explains why I have the sofa I slept on as a kid (my mother’s), her original married furniture, plus all my own. Perhaps, buy once, buy right. Take your time to save and decide what to buy. Should be a good post.

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  10. Unfortunately, finding local artisans is becoming increasingly difficult in many regions of the US. Tough to compete with the big boys. Of course, most folks would rather save a little now, even if they have to replace the item sooner down the road. We’re not known for being very far-sighted.

    However, at least in the Deep South, you can still find folks on rural back roads selling home-grown vegetables and fruit out of the back of pickups and at road-side stands. Fresh and at decent prices. Nothing beats watermelons or tomatoes from a local farmer.

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    • Yeah, that seems to be a common view even just reading US commenters on here. I think your pile it high and sell it cheap culture has def had a pernicious influence on the rest of the world too. The concept of paying for quality has flown out of the window. My philosophy tends to be buy once and once only. And, when we couldn’t afford furniture, carpeting, curtains etc, we did without. A roof over our head and food on the table mattered. Everything else could wait.

      There’s quite a few roadside stalls in our part of Spain, plus because we’re in an agricultural area, we get gifts from neighbours, and most of the local veg tends to be sourced within Andalucía, if not the Axarquía itself

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        • We used to have a load of decent rubbish thrown out around us, garden chairs, plants/plantpots, and delicious bikes. Much of that has stopped now. Def no bikes or useable chairs. But talking to our neighbours, they told us Spaniards would never dream of accepting cast-off furniture. Reminds me of a feng shui book I read where the pricniple was to buy new to avoid any bad spirits from the previous owner/s. Doesn’t do much for the antique market …

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  11. A remarkable break before ‘taking things seriously’. I always regret that for me it was a case of school one week, work as a miserable junior clerk the next.
    *innocently* When in the Uffizi needing food, why didn’t you take some of the bottled cherries?
    Not too often does the central character of a novel practise the direction of art relating to the sense of smell – that alone would provide interest. The exploration of a different lifestyle and having engaging characters comes as a bonus.

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    • There were year outs after school before university, and some after graduating, although most of my circle(s) were hungry for work. Including me. But with a little money behind me, a qualification and experience, I figured it was a good time to go. The confidence of youth …
      I can’t remember what the food issue was, merely that brief reference in my diary.
      Yes, I think the emphasis on smell and scent, rather than primarily visual/aural was an interesting idea. It’s always nice to read something different.

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  12. The Artisan’s Star sounds very readable and the “Buy better, buy less” is a real selling point for me. I just reserved a couple of European foodie memoirs at the library as I wanted a reading change of pace, and enjoy the genre but a story of perfumes and artisans and particularly this “a book of introspection, of evaluation, so inevitably the pace is slow, thoughtful, and often langorous and sensual” appeals. I see it’s available via Amazon with some good reviews there too.
    But I’m afraid your intro story about your au pair experience in Italy stole the show!

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    • I did think about you when I quoted that part :) I’ve not looked at the Am reviews, I don’t like reading reviews until I’ve read a book and written my own review. I did read all the others on the book tour which were interesting. People like me who enjoyed it, and others who found it meandering, didn’t like the main character, pace too slow – it’s hardly billed as a thriller, what did they expect? But reading a range of reviews often gives for a better feel for the book anyway.

      It was a mere snippet of my au pair antics … but thank you.

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  13. This is only the second book review of yours that I have read, but I have to admit I love your style. Mixing personal stories in tandem with the review. Enjoyed both, as well as the photos — and think I would enjoy the book, even as I rather loathe perfume. Find it hard to breathe around some, and too many people I know get violently ill. Aside from that, I have lots of questions (that do not require answers, unless you feel compelled):
    Are the people you mention from your au pair adventures still alive? Might they recognize themselves if they read your blog?
    Did your world tour really take you around the world?
    Is the “let” in the quote really correct, or should it be “led”?
    Also, so many things resonated with me, but I’ll spare you those. But thanks for triggering some forgotten memories.

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    • Thank you Diana. It really depends on the book as to how I write the review. Both this and Bridges of Paris lent themselves to this particular style which as you point out, personalises it much more. I think book reviews can easily be boring, or fall into the trap of retelling the story. And, I like to provide photos, whether mine, the author’s, or in this case both, makes it much more interesting.
      I’m not a perfume fan either. Ages since I wore it. The last one I liked stopped being made :( There are too many sickly cloying ones around that can make you feel faint/dizzy/nauseous. That’s partly why this was interesting, it talks about the smell of jasmine in the evening, of the different floral bases to a perfume, and the amount of chemical synthetics that are used. Not in a techy way, just enough to be relevant and interesting.
      No idea, never saw them again :D Barring accidents/illness, I would have thought so. They might do. But I’ve not been specific, nor is what I wrote defamatory. There could be loads of families meeting that description!
      It was meant to, and my pal actually did complete it that way, flying from Aus to the US. However, getting married in Aus put my side of the trip on hold and we came back the same way, ie through Asia (Singapore) and Europe (Denmark) with just those two stopovers. I guess life intervened in my trip!
      I think it should be led, but I don’t have the book with me, I’ve changed it anyway, thanks for that :)
      Glad you enjoyed the read.

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  14. I loved Florence, but I’m sure that the Florence you saw when you were young was far more authentic than the one we visited four years ago. I was looking for your photo of the Ponte Vecchio, but there wasn’t one. Being an au pair doesn’t sound very glamorous at all, but at least it got you to Italy. I can imagine your relief when your friend didn’t bail out on the trip. It sounds wonderful. Nice book review. The story does sound very fascinating.

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    • The Florence I saw was brief and hurried even though it was nice. I would have liked longer but it was onwards and eastwards. An au pair was not remotely glamorous but Italy was good. Having said that, there was little to do, some interesting diversions, and as ever, it was an experience. It’s a good tale. Not one to rush but to savour.

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  15. Someone is trying to talk me into a bike tour of (parts) Italy. It looks a bit hilly and mountainous…and they all have fancy bike clothes on in the brochures. I’m afraid I’d dawdle and want to take pictures and actually stop to look at stuff, so probably suggesting someone younger. I had a friend when I was a grad student who managed to get a grant/scholarship to study art about 2-3 blocks from the Uffizi. So envious. Think he spent a good deal of time wandering amid the architecture/town and the art works with rushing to paint what he had to to meet requirements. The place was the real instructor.
    The book sounds good. While not a perfume person, crafts and artisans’ stories are intriguing.
    How can you iron a dry frilly? Burn city for sure.
    Lovely pictures. Great info. Nice book. Always enjoy visiting here

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    • Bike tour? Isn’t that the sort of thing to do in 20s and 30s, although one blog pal has just started a vuelta from Malaga to Santander and he’s 61. So, Italy, go for it … 🚵

      Sounds rather nice. Hope he enjoyed it. I’d probably have behaved the same way.

      I’m not perfumey either, it was more rather a clever medium to tell the story, see Gabriella’s comment below.

      Wrinkled frilly for sure more like.

      Thanks. I’m a bit low profile atm. Sleepy greetings and naughty ones from the boys.

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      • That’s the age group – and that’s what worries me….after a few hours, I’d be lagging behind. At my own wandering speed, it might be possible, but with an energetic crowd (all in sleek pretty biker gear!) and preset hotel destinations – I’d be looking to hire a convertible after a few hours. (Hey, what blog was that?)
        More storms today – and Molly’s due a check-up. We had over 11 inches in about 3 hours a couple of days ago (then the storm continued all night), but being near the lake, it drains quickly. They are releasing water from dams up north. The news makes the flooding look bad, but natives just shrug ’cause it’s flat and when it rains, the same areas flood. We feel sorry for the new people who don’t know what roads flood and which areas you don’t want to buy/rent a house in (A real clue would be when the sales price is unbelievably low and the insurance companies say no way will they write policies for that area.)
        Off for a quick dog trot – she’s really bored and missing her romps and crashes with friends. We think she’s back up to speed now.

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        • Read and forgot to reply. But hectic and stressy here right now. Single Malt whisky is Al’s blog about his vuelta. Nice blog.

          Another Texan friend (further north) has been regaling me with stories of storms, floods etc.

          Build on the old river plain area … The wise man builds his house upon the rock for example. Or in my former part of the world, the rich lived up the hill leaving the poor in the valley bottom with the stagnant water, pollution and industrial fall-out.

          We’ll try and trot over soon, although looks like every pup and partner are snoozing.

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          • It’s just frenzy of activity every where right now – maybe sun spots (snort). It’s a La Nina weather pattern year. We’ve had 18 days of rain out of the last 24. The lakes across TX are returning to normal levels after several years. One north of us with earthen dam/berms is about the crash – ordered evacuations yesterday . It drains into Lake Houston so they are spilling water, too. It happens with big rains and locals know – I feel sorry for the newcomers who weren’t told and may have bought houses not built up. Early yesterday morning a tornado touched down in the city of Houston across a big apt. complex. Over 1,000 units/10 buildings now unfit/no roofs. Cars damaged. Some spent the night in shelters, but many were afraid all their remaining stuff would get stolen. Police are guarding, but still. Where are these poor people going to go? It was a economy/low rent complex. North TX and Central TX are getting pounded. One river is at least 51 feet over flood level – the gage broke. So did the 1929 record. River bottom land is valuable only for pastures. No one with any sense builds there. It’s not like there’s no other open land. (but cooler along water in summer and trees grow there where the high plains is pretty tree-less – so that must be it?) We wouldn’t even camp in low areas in summer. Flash floods happen.
            We always house hunted during years like this to make sure the places we were looking at don’t flood. Tall vehicle and wader boots.
            Can’t believe fool was out kayaking on one normally floatable river. Got caught in that backwash at the base of a small dam. Lucky tree trunks didn’t smash him. People are sitting in trees waiting for rescue and this idiot goes out to show off how (un)skilled he is.
            Thanks for the blog title – will wander over. Really behind with just about everything right now…when the rain breaks, we rush Molly outside for a walk. She’d be glad to have friends over Snowy! (and I’ve located possible lead for rescue dog training group) Paw waves!!!!

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    • An Italy bike trip would be a lot of fun but I might opt for flatter terrain. At my age it’s the downhills that terrify me. A friend did her first bike trip in Tuscany. Lots of winding trails going up and up. I don’t know about the downhills. Didn’t ask. This year she’s biking in Puglia, which is mostly flat, and has the sea. That sounds like a keeper!

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  16. Hey, how’d I almost miss this! You a nannie… that’s a new one. Wasn’t surprised that it didn’t last to say the least with what you have shared on your take with children. Weird family indeed!

    Love the pics of Florence. Very nice. I love seeing different architecture. That tall building (Duomo?) is fab. I probably would be standing staring at it for ages, oblivious to the world around me… well, nothing new there I suppose. :D

    At least your friend finally made it. How do you fail an exam, twice? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve failed a few exams, but never twice… that simply eludes me.

    I can see why you would relate so well to the book. Love those quotes, especially the first one about having centrality.

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    • I don’t know. Au pair, not a nanny. Nannies should have a qual and get paid more and don’t have to iron knickers. Actually the two daughters were quite nice. The young one was too shy to chat though and the older one had a smoke-filled bedroom which didn’t too much for me gelling with her and her pals. Actually it’s a more difficult job than you’d think to get the balance right. Which, clearly I didn’t. The duomo is a mix, the tower is the campanile as I recall. The dome is famous because it was Brunelleschi.

      Mostly she always kept failing the same part. It was part 4, practical journalism. I thought it was one of the easier parts, just a few questions about how you would approach a selection of different stories. Eg, 100th anniversary of the working men’s club, or visit by royalty, or famous obit or whatever.

      It was a good fluid read. Depends what people like. An enjoyable change.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Same difference, but what do I know? ;)
        How do you iron lacey bits of nothing… wouldn’t they melt at the sight of an iron?

        Thanks for the enlightenment… I had no way of ever knowing that. It’s quite interesting. Is that from different eras then?

        What comes easy for one is nemesis to another. I hate tests, don’t generally do well on them, even when I know the material, but give me a research project, term paper, or a great read to analyse that I know absolutely nothing about… ace it every time. That’s why if I ever have the money, I’ll do my doctorate… for the fun of it and my own edification.

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  17. Thank you for such an insightful review Kate and for opening with your brilliant ‘au pair’ story, which transported me back to all my crazy travel experiences of decades past. I marvel at how deftly you culled all the underlying themes of ‘The Artisan’s Star’ without re-telling the story. And I am very much enjoying your blog, and the photos of a more authentic Florence.

    The bridge over the Seine is the Pont Neuf near the Place Dauphine. I have a penchant for cities divided in half by a river and a row of loping bridges – Florence, Venice, Paris. So ‘Bridges of Paris’ is at the top of my to-read list. I also recommend Patrick Suskind’s ‘Perfume’- a diabolical and delicious read that got me thinking about perfume, or the structure of perfume as a metaphor for life. So it all started there.

    I’m in the same ‘buy less, buy better, or don’t buy at all’ camp. Makes life so much simpler and richer. Frees up time to live life more fully. And those few artisanal objects one does own do tell their own stories.

    BTW I have been to Gibraltar. I was nine and we sailed to Italy on the Giulio Cesare (I am dating myself here). We stopped at the rock of Gibraltar. That, and La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona are among my most vivid memories of that voyage.

    Grazie Mille!

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    • Thank you for your visit and comment Gabriella. Feedback, over and above, ‘thank you for the review’ is always much appreciated. I wanted to convey the essence (appropriate?) of the story without doing a précis or providing spoilers. I was fascinated with the health/illness that appeared, totally unexpected and so interesting to me as I worked in that specialty for some years, but to include that sort of detail, or about relationships isn’t the purpose of a review. Writing a review of a book you have enjoyed isn’t always easy, but both yours and Michael’s seemed to write themselves for me. Thank you. More authentic? Merely 30 years ago!

      I shall now of course be flicking through ‘Bridges’ to look at the Pont Neuf and add that to my visual imagery of your story. Michael’s book is well worth buying. I do recommend it. I’ve recommend it to non-blog friends too from university and also your book too, as they love Italy. Did you see mid-way through the comments, if you read them, that Gerard also recommended Perfume? I see I will have to check it out.

      I wonder if the mentality is due to old age, or a European influence? Whatever, I am surrounded by old furniture that I grew up with as a child. Perhaps that’s how I learned it.

      That would have been an interesting trip, you stopped at Gib as you entered the Med and then continued around the Spanish, French, Italian coastline. Difficult to forget La Sagrada Familia. I do like Gaudi, but we didn’t spend long in Barcelona.

      And thank you again too for being willing to send print books internationally and your time spent reading my review and commenting. Arrivederci?

      Like

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