Certosa del Galluzzo

Problem: high heat, blazing sun, hibernating, now stir crazy.

Solution: morning trip to a monastery in the hopes the hilltop situation and the stone buildings will make it cooler.

Visiting Certosa del Galluzzo wasn’t quite as cool as I had hoped, but being on a hilltop let us feel a breeze and the tour was interesting.

On arriving, I learned that the position on top of a hill and between the Greve and Ema rivers helped give the monastery the isolation necessary for the lifestyle of the Carthusian Order: “achieving a knowledge of God in the wilderness.” The monastery was built in the fourteenth century at the request of Niccolò Acciaioli, who belonged to a wealthy family of bankers in Florence and who wanted to found a monastery dedicated to St. Lawrence the Martyr. 

The first building we entered was the art gallery of the Acciaioli Palace, to which Niccolò Acciaioli intended to retire. Here I learned of a painter new to me, Pontormo, who fled to the monastery in 1523 to escape the plague. Sadly, the paintings he made for Certosa are badly damaged, but in the gallery along with the originals are copies made by other painters, which give a clearer idea of what his paintings might have looked like originally.

After visiting the church, chapter house, and cloister, we were led to one of the monks’ cells, which was fascinating because the pattern of monasticism was different from what I’ve read about in books. The monks spent most of their time in their cells, leaving only to attend the liturgical celebrations of the day and to eat with the other monks on feast days. Their cells were, therefore, small apartments, rather than just a room for sleeping and praying. Each had a garden and rooms for eating, studying, and resting. Meals were brought to the cell by lay brothers and passed through a ‘turn.’ The guide told us that if the meals remained uneaten for a couple of days, only then would someone enter the cell to check on the monk.

Even the title of the guidebook I purchased was a learning experience! It’s titled The Chartreuse of Florence and I wondered if this was a translation gone awry. Researching online later, I read that the name Carthusian is derived from the Chartreuse Mountains, where the founder of the order, Saint Bruno, built his first hermitage. The word charterhouse, which is the English name for a Carthusian monastery, is derived from the same source. Who knew?!

Stir craziness alleviated, at least temporarily!

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Images © Melissa Corcoran.

Revising my narrative

For years, whenever I’ve driven anywhere, a internal narrative plays: do not deviate from the route you know; you’re not good at making it up as you go along; rats, I’m lost again. It originates in the fact that I am not good at reading a map (it makes so much sense on paper or screen, but I can’t make it match the real world); I find it hard to retrace my steps because a) I’m seeing navigation landmarks from the other side and b) so many times, the streets I took to get someplace were one-way so I can’t go back the same way; and my sense of direction doesn’t function if the sun isn’t shining. Even the advent of Google Maps hasn’t completely resolved the problem; my ability to screw up directions transcends the technology. Mind you, I’ve been getting lost for so long it doesn’t bother me most of the time; in fact, I (and my family and friends) find it a source of amusement. 

It occurred to me recently, though, that this narrative is somewhat inaccurate now. Coming home from a grocery store in a nearby commercial area, I realized that I don’t have to turn on Google Maps anymore, despite the fact that the way there and the way back are quite different due to one-way streets. Admittedly, it took several trips to memorize the route, but I did memorize it and have (usually) been able to cope with an ongoing series of deviations due to construction of a tramway. I’ve even learned how to get to a couple of other stores in the same area for which the route is very different.

I was thinking about this when coincidentally, I came across an article about the two kinds of stories we tell about ourselves. One of the things that struck me about the article was “the idea that we can edit, revise and interpret the stories we tell about our lives even as we are constrained by the facts.”* While my internal narrative about my inability to get from one place to another is fairly harmless in that it doesn’t stop me from going places, there are other stories we tell ourselves that can stand in our way—the stories that keep us from taking a chance, making a change, being at peace with our choices. It made me wonder what personal narratives need taking out, reviewing, and revising.

Now, I know that as the quote above states, we are constrained by facts. In my case, a couple of days after that revelation while driving, I got lost walking to a place I’ve been numerous times. However, the fact remains: the narrative does need to be updated because it’s no longer quite so sweeping and encompassing as I once believed.


* “The Two Kinds of Stories We Tell about Ourselves.” IDEAS.TED.COM, 12 January, 2017, ideas.ted.com/the-two-kinds-of-stories-we-tell-about-ourselves/.

Different eyes

Looking through photos I took during the visit of family members earlier this year, I noticed that for the first few days, I didn’t have many. It’s not because I’m blasé about the beauty with which I’m surrounded, and dismiss various sights as ‘seen it, don’t need photo of it.’ I have hundreds of photos of the Duomo, for example, and a view of the city from my apartment that I take a moment to appreciate every day.

However, I live here and often when I’m going into town, I’m doing errands and intent on getting in and out of the center of the city as fast as possible, especially during tourist season. Some of the sights that tourists gather around—like the street artists recreating famous paintings on the pavement or the sculptural gelato displays—I dismiss as ‘for the tourists.’ Also, in this case, I was very conscious of my role as ‘tour guide’ and intent on getting us to places so they could see as much as possible. Oh, the responsibility!

It took seeing this photo of my sister’s, which is of one of the street artists, to make me slow down on our walks through the city and appreciate anew some of the sights I see frequently and some of the details I had never noticed. More, though, I found my appreciation of the beauty amplified by the reaction of my visitors, especially my sister. Perhaps it’s because we are sisters and both photographers, but noticing what she was photographing and hearing her reaction to what we were seeing almost overwhelmed me.

I find my dedication to capturing images waxes and wanes, but thanks to seeing the city through the eyes of my sister and the lens of her camera, I’m enthused again. 

Gnomon, revisited

Today, I attended a summer solstice event at Santa Maria del Fiore (aka the Duomo)—the observation of the transit of the sun on the meridian plane, a phrase I don’t understand any better than I did when I attended Lo Gnomone a couple of years ago! As with reading certain books, though, I hope that repetition will eventually lead to some degree of understanding.

What stood out for me this year, having seen this before, was the reaction of other people. When the sun’s rays first appeared on the pillar opposite me, the couple next to me was astonished. When the sun’s light morphed into a disc on the floor, people were craning necks and lifting phone cameras to capture the image, especially since it disappeared and reappeared as clouds moved over the sun. When the disc of light eventually covered the marble disc on the floor, the woman next to me said, “You can actually see the sun move.” When I repeated what the professor giving the presentation said, “It is we who are moving,” her eyes widened and she said, “You’re right!” It was a great moment of connection over this interesting phenomenon.