Category Archives: Italy

Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire

My husband discussing chestnut roasting at a Christmas luncheon

Yesterday during some carol singing at a Christmas luncheon my husband Dave was part of a discussion with a woman at our table about the opening lyrics of The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole. You’re probably familiar with them too.

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”

Some other people at our table wondered if anyone had ever actually seen chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Turns out my husband Dave and I had.

I photographed this chestnut seller in Hong Kong

We lived in Hong Kong for six years and the short winter season there was ushered in by chestnut vendors who appeared on street corners and roasted chestnuts in big tilted woks in a mixture of glossy black sand and sugar. The vendors were constantly stirring the chestnuts so they didn’t burn. The chestnuts came from China’s Hebei or Shandong province. I loved the smell of them roasting.

The trick to roasting chestnuts is to cut an x into their top before you roast them and then their shells literally ‘pop’ open as they roast and make them easy to peel and eat.

I photographed this chestnut seller in Siena Italy

We also saw chestnuts being roasted on the streets of Siena when we visited one January. Roasting chestnuts is a centuries old tradition in Italy where street vendors roast chestnuts over hot coals in a pan with a perforated bottom. They have a lovely smokey taste. The roasted chestnuts are placed in a large wooden barrel padded with a thick blanket to keep them warm for as long as possible. 

Whenever I hear those lyrics at Christmas about chestnuts roasting on an open fire I think of Hong Kong and Italy and the chestnut roasters I saw there.

Other posts………..

What’s A Chorreador?

A Chocolate Evening with Beatriz

Roasting Bannock- Voyageur Style


Filed under Food, Hong Kong, Italy

This Woman May Change My Dusting Habits

I hate dusting! If you visit my home you probably won’t have to look too closely to find evidence of that. The other day some guests stopped on their way out our door to admire an art piece in our front hallway.

It is a beautiful painting of my husband’s grandmother done by his cousin Ruth. As I explained why it was in our home to our visitors I noticed the frame and glass was covered in a thin film of dust.

After our guests had left I cleaned it and then started wondering when was the last time I’d dusted any of the artwork in our home? Could it have been years?

Perhaps that incident was why my attention was drawn to an article in The New York Times about the woman whose job it is to dust Michelangelo’s David in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence. Now there’s a dusting job I wouldn’t mind doing!

I’ve heard it can get very busy at the Accademia in high tourist season and you have to sometimes wait in line for hours for just a passing glimpse of Michelangelo’s masterpiece. We were extremely lucky because when we visited on a cold rainy day one January we could walk right in and spend as long as we liked examining David, a Biblical character with whom my husband shares a name.

My Dave was particularly impressed with King David’s big hands! He thought the Biblical giant slayer would have made a great basketball player with those impressive long large fingers. I admired the details in David’s face and how Michelangelo had captured his determination.

Eleonora Pucci is the woman in charge of cleaning David. Photo by Chiara Negrello for The New York Times

According to The New York Times article the woman who climbs a scaffold to regularly dust David’s hands and face is Eleonora Pucci. She uses a small brush with synthetic bristles and works on cleaning up David on Mondays when the gallery is closed. She says she considers her job an honour, because she plays a small but important role in keeping Michelangelo’s work at its best for others to view.

Maybe if I adopted a little of Eleonora’s attitude I’d change my own attitude about dusting our artwork too. Much of the artwork in our home is by people we know or is a reminder of a place we have visited somewhere in the world. I should honour those people and experiences by getting out my dust rag just a little more often.

Here I am with an outdoor version of the famous statue in Florence

Other posts……….

The Hands of A Basketball Player


My Husband’s Christmas Present


Filed under Art, Italy

The Hands of A Basketball Player- Michelangelo’s David

michelangelos-david-wiki-art-public-domain“He’d a make a great basketball player. Look at those big hands.” That was my husband’s first comment as we walked up to the statue of Michelangelo’s David in the Academia Gallery in Florence, Italy. The white marble statue is 17 feet high and shows David ready to fight Goliath, the Philistine giant.

David’s hands do look big, but Michelangelo made them that way because initially David was created to stand outside a palace, rather than in an art gallery.  From up close you can see the veins in his hands. 

I’m standing by the sculpture of David in the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence

Michelangelo thought people would be viewing David from far away. He wanted them to be able to see all the details of his statue, including David’s hands. Although some people think the 29-year-old Michelangelo made a mistake when he carved David’s large hands, experts agree their size was deliberate.

I took this photo of Michelangelo’s statue just outside the Uffizi Gallery

At age 24 Michelangelo began visiting morgues. He would cut up unclaimed corpses and study their anatomy. He was as well-trained as any physician in the body’s structure. He wouldn’t have made a mistake with David’s hands. He wanted them to be larger than life and powerful. From up close you can see the very veins in his hands. 

Two other artists had rejected the piece of marble Michelangelo used for David because they claimed it lacked perfection. Michelangelo was able to create something beautiful despite the flawed material he had been given.

We visited the statue of David on a February day along with a few other hardy souls who were braving Florence at the coldest time of the year. The absence of the crowds that usually mill around David made it possible for us to spend about 40 minutes examining not only his hands but all his features from every side. 

David has a determined, focused look in his eye. His cheeks are smooth and his upper lip is just a little bigger than the lower one. His nostrils are slightly flared, his brow mildly furrowed and his hair classically curly.

You can see the clear outline of his rib cage. His elbows appear calloused and rough and his feet are crusty and cracked. 

My husband Dave is right. Michelangelo’s David does have big hands. He also has a big heart, one filled with enough courage, confidence and youthful enthusiasm to try the impossible and succeed.

Just the way his creator Michelangelo succeeded when he took an imperfect piece of marble and turned it into something that has become one of the most universally recognized pieces of art in the world.

If you liked this post you might also like…….

Galileo’s Grocery List

A Bizzare Museum in Florence 


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Filed under Art, Culture, Italy, Travel

Sketching The Baker and Her Husband

On my latest sketching outing with my friend Esther I decided to try to do my own version of a work of art called Portrait of Terentius Neo or The Baker and His Wife.  It is from a fresco found in Pompeii in the home of Terentius Neo who we know was a baker because his home had been modified to include a bakery.

canadian tourists in pompeii

Visiting Pompeii with my husband Dave

1700 years after Mount Vesuvius erupted the city of Pompeii was discovered, a kind of frozen time capsule that tells us much about life in the first century AD. The Baker and his Wife was an important find by the archeologists exploring Pompeii. 

baker and his wifeThe famous fresco which now resides in an archeology museum in Naples shows a pair of middle-class Pompeii residents probably a husband and wife. The man and woman have large almond-shaped eyes.  They look like prosperous and confident merchants. The man has a wispy beard, and is wearing a toga, the mark of a Roman citizen. He holds a scroll of sorts with a wax seal.  The woman has fashionable ringlets in her hair and wears pearl earrings. She has just a hint of smile on her face.  She holds a stylus or writing implement to her chin and has a wax tablet to write on  indicating that she is educated and literate.

Paul Roberts from the British Museum who curated an exhibit which included The Baker and His Wife claims the most important thing about the fresco is that the couple in it appear to be equal business partners.  The woman who clearly keeps track of the finances for the business is not subservient at all and in fact is standing slightly forward from her husband. 

sketch the baker and his wifeMakes me wonder if the famous fresco shouldn’t have been called The Baker and Her Husband. 

Other posts………….

Visiting Pompei

The Catacombs- Myth and Reality

Channeling Norval Morrisseau

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Filed under Art, History, Italy

A Book Takes Me Back To Rome

I was reminded of this photo as I read From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon. Harmon tells the story of the Nazi occupation of Italy. One of the events described in the book happened on my birthday October 16, just ten years before I was born. Two thousand of the Jews living in Rome were rounded up and taken to Auschwitz. Only a hundred of them would survive the war. We did a Jewish history tour of Rome when we visited in 2010 and Dave took my picture at a sign just outside the Jewish ghetto commemorating the deportation of the Jews to Auschwitz.   The positive side of this story was that some four thousand Jews were not taken that October day in 1943 because they were hidden in various Catholic institutions in Rome. That is exactly what happens to Eva the main character in From Sand and Ash who is sheltered in a convent. Many other places we toured were featured in the novel. It was interesting to revisit our ten days in Rome as I read the book. 

Other recent posts about books…….

A Novel So Long It Took Us Through Eight States

Her Worship

No Lesson Required

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Filed under Books, Italy

Dionysus The God of Wine

 The Greek god Dionysus, also known as Bacchus by the Romans, once put in an appearance on The Smurfs. He also hit the big screen in Walt Disney’s Fantasia. 

Some myths say Dionysus was the son of Zeus and a human woman Semele.  When Zeus’ wife Hera found out Semele was pregnant with Zeus’ child  she was angry and went to Semele and then called on Zeus to appear. He did in all his glory and his fire burned up Semele. Zeus pulled Dionysus out of Semele’s womb and planted him in his thigh till he was ready to be born out of Zeus’ foot.  Other stories say Dionysus was the son of Persephone, Demeter’s daughter.  

There are lots of versions of how Dionysus was raised.  Some say he was raised by his mother’s sister who dressed him as a girl to protect him from Hera.  Others say he was raised by a group of nymphs who lived on Mount Nysa and later Dionysus rewarded them by restoring their youth and  placing them as stars in a constellation called Hyades. 

Dionysus traveled the world teaching people how to grow grapes,  On his way back to Greece pirates seized him because they thought he looked rich and figured his parents might pay a big ransom to have him returned safely. They tried to tie him to the mast of the ship but no rope could hold him. Anywhere a rope touched him it just fell apart. The helmsman realized Dionysus was a god and asked Dionysus to forgive them for what they’d done. He tried to convince the rest of the crew to let him go. But the captain said the helmsman was crazy and should keep sailing. The ship came to a dead stop and the crew saw it had quickly become overgrown with vines and was stuck. Dionysus changed into a lion and chased all the crew, save for the helmsman and they  leapt overboard and as they did they turned into dolphins. Dionysus left the boat on the island of Naxos where he discovered the beautiful Adriadne, fell in love and married her. Apparently they lived happily ever after. 

The festival for Dionysus was in spring when the grape vines began to grow. Greek plays were first written to be performed at this festival so Dionysus became known as a patron of the theatre.

The Roman god who is Dionysus counterpart is Bacchus. 

This is the second in a series of posts to help me learn about Greek and Roman mythology for the upcoming Olympus exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

 Other posts……

Looking at cereal differently

Don’t Be A Wine Snob


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Florence Inspiration

view of florence

Open my heart and you will see, Grave inside it “Italy.” – Robert Browning

peacock in sienna

Genius and virtue are  more often found clothed in gray rather than in peacock bright. – Van Wyck Brooksman selling chestnuts in florence

Honor lies in honest toil.- Grover Cleveland 

santa maria del flore florence

I dream of a church that is a mother and a shepherdess.- Pope Francispeace message florencePeace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.    -Albert Einstein

police officer florence

The safety of the people shall be the highest law. -Marcus Tullius Cicerostreet artist florenceEvery portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.  – Oscar Wildedoor florence italy

A very little key will open a very heavy door.- Charles Dickensda vinci florence

Learning never exhausts the mind.-  Leonardo Da Vinci

bridges in florence

A bridge has no allegiance to either side. – Les Coleman

These photos were all taken on a trip to Florence, Italy in 2009

Other posts about cities……….

In New York We……

Winter in Winnipeg

Biking in Toronto



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Filed under Inspiration, Italy, Reflections

Ten Abandonded Places

My friend Michelle, who lives in Hong Kong often posts photos of abandoned places she comes upon in the city. Another Facebook friend Jim from Pennyslvania, takes photos of abandoned buildings. Jim and Michelle inspired me to look back through my photos searching for abandoned places  I have photographed.

I was visiting Herschel Saskatachewan doing research for a novel when I photographed this abandoned barn

I was visiting Herschel Saskatachewan doing research for a novel in the fall of 2012 when I photographed this abandoned barn

This is only one of hundreds of unfinished and abandoned homes we saw in Jamaica

This is only one of many unfinished and abandoned homes I photographed in Jamaica in January of 2014

We were on a trip to Savannah Georgia when I photographed this abandoned house

On a trip to Savannah Georgia in 2006 I photographed this abandoned house

I chaperoned a student trip to Cambodia in 2011 and photographed this abandoned temple in Angkor Wat

I chaperoned a student trip to Cambodia in 2011 and photographed this abandoned temple in Angkor Wat

Of course the buildings in Pompei Italy were abandoned for good reason as I discovered on a 2010 trip to Italy

Of course the buildings in Pompei Italy were abandoned for good reason as I discovered on a 2010 trip to Italy

While biking in Yangshou China in 2005 I photographed this abandoned house

While biking in Yangshou China in 2005 I photographed this abandoned house

We drove by this abandoned windmill in 2011 in Ukraine. It was built by Mennonites.

We drove by this abandoned windmill in 2011 in Ukraine. It was built by Mennonites.

In 2013 we visited the abandoned cliff dwellings of the Salado people built in the 1300s in the Tonto Forest in Arizona

In 2013 we visited the abandoned cliff dwellings of the Salado people built in the 1300s in the Tonto Forest area of Arizona

In November of 2010 when we visited Bangkok I photographed this abandoned graveyard overgrown with weeds

In November of 2010 we visited Bangkok and I photographed this abandoned graveyard overgrown with weeds


Other 10 Posts

Ten Things I’ll Remember About the Ballet Going Home Star

Ten Favorite Things About Arizona So Far

Ten Remembrance Day Images

Ten Things About Tulum

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Filed under Arizona, Herschel, Italy, Mexico, Nature, Reflections, Thailand, Ukraine

No Christians Fed to Lions and Other Things You Might Not Know About the Colosseum

dave inside the colosseum

Christians never battled lions in the Colosseum.

It is thanks to the notorious Italian villain Mussolini that the Colosseum became one of the most visible landmarks in the world.

Paul McCartney has given a concert in the Colosseum.

We took a tour of the Colosseum in Rome and I learned those three interesting things along with lots of other fascinating information from our guide Elizabeth, a knowledgeable young woman with a PhD in archaeology.

Elizabeth cleared up some misconceptions I had about the Colosseum. One of these was that Christians battled lions there.

The Colosseum, which was built largely with the labour of thousands of Jewish slaves brought to Rome by the emperor Titus after he destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, was certainly an arena for death. 

marylou inside the colosseum

The wildlife of northern Africa was significantly depleted by the three hundred years of savage sport staged in the Colosseum, featuring animals and gladiators fighting to satisfy the blood lust of up to 80,000 fans in the audience.

However, our guide Elizabeth made it clear there is no historical proof for the exciting tales of early Christians being thrown to the lions in the Colosseum. Historians now believe those stories were invented to glamorize the suffering of early Christians at the hands of the Romans.

Despite the fact there are no written records of Christians being martyred in the Colosseum it remains a holy site for the Catholic church and every Good Friday the Pope leads the stations of the cross procession at the Colosseum, commemorating the fourteen stages of Christ’s passion.

marylou outside the colosseum 

Elizabeth also told us the fascist dictator Mussolini despite his villainous reputation was responsible for the restoration and protection of many of Rome’s archaeological sites including the Colosseum. 

Mussolini wanted to return Italy to its former greatness at the height of the Roman Empire so he designated substantial government funds for the excavation and preservation of the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon and other important ancient landmarks. 

dave outside the collosseum

He staged quite a number of rallies in the Colosseum to stir up nationalistic pride and Italian patriotism among his people.  Mussolini was eventually murdered by Italian partisans and hung upside down for public viewing since he was considered such a disgrace to his own nation. 

He’s not a celebrated hero in Italian history but if he had not led the country from 1922-1943 I might not have toured the Colosseum.

the colosseum

 Thousands of people visit the Colosseum every year but care must be taken to balance the need for income from tourists with the need to preserve and maintain what is left of the structure.

Consequently, the Colosseum is no longer the site of huge public events but occasionally special concerts are still held there.

interior colosseum

Our guide Elizabeth said a few years ago four hundred people paid close to $2000 each to attend a charity concert Paul McCartney gave inside the Colosseum.   Later he staged a free show just outside the Colosseum for 300,000 fans.

The money generated from ticket sales and television rights was donated to various charities including one for landmines removal in Iraq and another to rescue artefacts ransacked from museums there.

the colloseum in rome

I learned the Colosseum has been the site of many historic spectacles in the last 2000 years including rock concerts, papal processions, fascist rallies and gory battles. It’s intriguing to think about what else archaeologists might discover happened there and what future events might take place in this famous building.

Other posts about Rome…….

The Catacombs- Myth and Reality

Questions at the Vatican

Visiting Pompeii


Filed under History, Italy, Travel

Biking in Florence

The highlight of our trip to Florence Italy was the guided bicycle tour we took with Leonardo, a middle-aged athlete and history buff with a generous beard and black frame glasses. He was a veritable walking encyclopedia about the city of his birth. My husband Dave was keen on gathering information for the advanced placement course in high school history he was teaching at the time. He could ask Leonardo about anything that happened in Florence from the time it was founded by Julius Caesar in 59 BC to the present and Leonardo knew the answer.

We met Leonardo to begin our tour near one of the more than 40 large historic churches in Florence. Leonardo said people rarely attend them. “Most of Florence’s churches are visited only by tourists.” He told us church attendance by the 400,000 residents of the city is normally reserved for weddings, funerals and baptisms. Leonardo pointed out the huge rings on the sides of most churches in Florence. They were used for tying up horses many years ago when people still came to church in carriages. My husband Dave tested the strength of these rings and verified they were firmly implanted in the walls. Leonardo took us to a square near one church called Piazza del Limbo, or the Limbo Plaza. It was once a cemetery for babies that had died before they had a chance to be baptized and thus were ‘in limbo’ and unable to enter heaven.

Leonardo led us expertly through the city on our bikes, giving us a running commentary about what we were seeing on his microphone. His interesting narration was fed into the earpieces we wore while we cycled. He took us to the square where the Medici family, Florence’s leading citizens from 1350-1750, used to host jousting matches, chariot races and the first soccer games played in Italy. He showed us the tall towers built by rival feuding families as safe fortresses during medieval times. He took us to the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s oldest bridge, built in 1345. It is the only bridge the Nazis did not blow up before retreating from the city. He pointed out the art students everywhere sketching and touring with teachers. He told us every year 60,000 American students from forty different United States universities participate in study abroad programs in Florence to learn the Italian language and study history, art and literature. Leonardo showed us the apartment where poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning lived for 14 years. He told us the famous nurse Florence Nightingale had been named after the city of her birth.

There was only one other woman on our bike tour and she was Japanese.  I thought she was a tourist but she told us although she had grown up in Japan she now lived in Florence and worked as a wedding planner for Japanese couples who wanted to get married in Italy. We passed a young Japanese woman in a wedding gown and a Japanese man in a tuxedo shivering in the freezing January air as they had their pictures taken on the steps of the Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral in the heart of Florence. Leonardo our guide told us Florence is hugely popular as a destination -wedding site for Japanese couples.

If it hadn’t been for the chilly temperatures I could have spent days on end touring Florence on my bicycle with the knowledgeable and interesting Leonardo. However, after several hours our fingers were frozen and we were chilled to the bone. It was time to say good-bye to Leonardo and head for a coffee shop where we could warm up with some thick, rich and very sweet Italian hot chocolate and talk over all the new, intriguing things we’d learned about Florence.

Other posts about biking…….

Biking in Bali

Toronto Bike Ride

Biking in Yangshou

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Filed under History, Italy, Travel