During our work session yesterday, my sister suggested I create a ‘gratitude’ post, perhaps with photos. A few minutes later, I came across the word ‘shutters’ in my list of possible galleries. In the heat of a Tuscan heat wave, I am grateful for the shutters on my apartment windows—they block the sun during the day and help keep the apartment a little cooler.

I’m grateful for these shutters because they are interesting and photogenic!

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Images © Melissa Corcoran.

My day in Bologna

As a child, one of my favorite poems was “Jill Came from the Fair” by Eleanor Farjeon, which was in my copy of The Big Golden Book of Poetry: 85 Childhood Favorites. I loved the rhythm of the poem and the two-page-spread illustration that accompanied it.

Walking into Bologna center via Porta delle Lame.

My day-trip excursions sometimes remind me of that poem; although I don’t usually fit in quite as much as Jill does, I fit it in as much as I can, as I did on a recent day trip to Bologna.

My first moments in Bologna reinforced my sympathy for the tourists who complain about the lack of public bathrooms in Florence. One advantage to arriving anywhere by train is the availability of bathrooms in the station, but the same-day train ticket price was prohibitive, so I drove. There was no bathroom in the tourist information center, which I thought odd, but a staff member suggested getting a coffee in the bar next door (a technique often used to access a bathroom) or paying to use the bathroom in the library nearby. I don’t mind paying—it’s worth 50 cents or a euro for a clean bathroom—but it wasn’t clear that only one bathroom in the building was accessible to non-library-card holders. However, after finally finding the bathroom, I was more in the frame of mind to appreciate the main hall of the library.

Biblioteca Salaborsa.

My primary objective for visiting Bologna was to see the meridian line in the Basilica di San Petronio and witness the sun crossing the line around noon (due to summer time, it’s actually a few minutes after 1:00 p.m.) or, to put it more accurately, the earth turning so that the sun falls on the meridian line. The line was constructed by Gian Domenico Cassini in 1655 and is 67 meters long. In combination with the hole through which the sun’s light passes, it’s a very large sundial! It was fascinating to see another example of church as solar observatory (Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence is another).

The disk of the sun on the meridian line.

After exploring the rest of the church, it was time for lunch. I chose a restaurant at random and had a specialty of Bologna, tagliatelle al ragù. It was served in a ‘bowl’ of parmesan cheese and was delicious. I followed that with one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever eaten, and followed that with a vow to make an overnight visit so I could fit in more meals. In a country know for its wonderful food, it says something that numerous articles state that Bologna is known for its cuisine.

I still had some time before the designated time on my ticket to climb the Torre degli Asinelli, so I decided to look for a nearby geocache; it was especially appealing because I could have gotten a FTF (first to find). I didn’t find the cache, but I did find an interesting story. The cache was at Le Tombe dei Glossatori: the mausoleums of the glossators. In the Middle Ages, glossators wrote commentaries on Roman law to aid in understanding it. According to the cache owner, they were named after glosses—side or margin notes in law books. (Thanks to cache owners like these, one learns a lot as a geocacher!)

After my unsuccessful search, I headed to the tower, prepared to climb 498 steps. The young woman ahead of me bounded up the steps but my pace was a little slower. I tell myself that I am carrying my camera and two lenses, so that accounts for my pace! The views at the top were worth the climb.

As I waited to start my climb down, a man was coming up the final flight of stairs. The treads were so narrow and the pitch so steep, that I went down backwards, as if I was on a ladder. He, on the other hand, was wearing flip-flops, which have got to be one of the most impractical types of footwear for walking cobblestone streets and climbing towers like this one.

Back on the ground, I took pictures of the tower I had just climbed and the Torre Garisenda; together, they marked an entry point to the city in the 12thcentury. My sister and I have a running conversation about how neither of us can shoot a straight horizontal or vertical line, but in this case, the Tower Garisenda (on the left in the photo) really is leaning!

Le due torri: Garisenda e degli Asinelli.

I finished my day by visiting a great yarn store and buying yarn for my next crochet project. And so I came back from Bologna.

Images © Melissa Corcoran.

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. 

Lisbon bits and pieces

Bits and pieces from Lisbon:

This scene was a nice start to my visit. Left my table at the restaurant where I was having dinner to capture this combination of color and light, blue and white.

Whoever designed this pavement was devilishly clever! It’s flat, but can you imagine walking on it in a state of altered consciousness?!

And speaking of pavement, I liked these:

To paraphrase Indiana Jones, why does it always have to be hills? The one on the right was steep and I walked it at least twice. (There’s a tram, but I didn’t want to wait either time.)

Think there’s enough gold?! I liked how unabashedly splendid it was.

Chapel in Igreja de São Roque.

Loved the colorful buildings. Click (or double-click, depending on your device) on any image to launch the slideshow.

A great view with which to end my visit.

Images © Melissa Corcoran.

The Museu Nacional do Azulejo

What an absolutely fabulous visit to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo in Lisbon – truly one of the best times I’ve spent in a museum!

I looked forward to visiting this museum, also known as the National Tile Museum, because I knew that Portugal was famed for its tiles, but it was even better than I expected, thanks to its well-captioned exhibits, the displays designed to be touched, and the excellent app that included both audio and text descriptions.

Azulejo is the Portuguese word for tile and the audio guide explained that the word came from the Arabic ‘al-zulaich,’ which means ‘polished stone.’ I learned about the various ways of making azulejo: the alicatado technique, in which painted and fired clay sheets were scored in a pattern and individual pieces broken off; the corda seca (dry cord) technique in which the pattern was pressed into the soft clay, forming grooves that acted as barriers between the different colors during the firing; the aresta (ridge) technique in which the motif was stamped onto the soft clay, with the lines of the design forming ridges that provided the same separation of colors as in the dry cord technique; and the imprint technique, in which the motif stood out from the surface of the tile, rather than the outline standing out as in the ridge technique.

Wall azulejo.

In the section on tile making in the first part of the 16th century, I learned that Muslims on the Iberian peninsula used wall and floor azulejos that imitated large tapestries. The audio guide pointed out that tile’s ability to reflect light had a great impact in the days when buildings were illuminated by candlelight.

An example of the faience technique.

Another exhibit connected to Italy – it discussed the faience technique from the Italian city Faenza. This technique, developed in mid-16th century, allowed for a greater range of color tones and potters were able to produce tiles that resembled paintings. A magnificent example of this technique is the Our Lady of Life panel. It consists of 1,498 faience tiles and imitates a retable (another word I learned on this trip; it means a decorative structure placed on or above and behind an altar). The audio guide told me that this is considered one of Portugal’s azulejo masterpieces because of the complexity of its design and color scheme and I can see why.

I had to go looking for it because it had been moved into a special exhibit area, but a favorite panel was the registo panel of Our Lady of Carmo. Registos are azulejo panels that were placed on building facades after the 1755 earthquake as protection from further catastrophes. They depicted the Virgin Mary or saints, particularly St. Marçal, who offered protection against fires. This panel was made in Coimbra and the colors are different from azulejo made in Lisbon: the blues are more grey in tone and the yellows more orange.

The museum is housed in a former convent, the Convento de Madre de Deus, which was a convent for the cloistered Order of Saint Clare. One of the interesting factoids I learned when visiting the church was that the amount of gold used for the gilded carved frames of the paintings that cover the ceiling and part of the walls was that of six gold coins. With all the glitter, one would not expect that, but the layer of gold is very thin.

By the time I left the museum, I had told a guard, the man in the gift shop, and the two people at the front desk how much I enjoyed my visit and how great the audio guide was. If you’re ever in Lisbon, go to this museum!

More azulejo:

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