Saturday, January 29, 2011

Diamonds are forever

‘For the love of God’ is the name of the completely diamond encrusted platinum model of a European man’s skull from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century presently on display in the Palazzo Vecchio. 'For the love of God' was supposedly the first part of what the artist’s mother said when she saw it, followed by ‘what will you do next?’ The creator of the diamond skull is Damien Hirst, 45 years old, who is the wealthiest British artist alive. He made his name for having a penchant for formaldehyde, using it to display various animals, such as sharks, sheep and cows, in glass vitrines.  He has a fascination with death, stemming possibly from his time working at a mortuary during his studies at Goldsmiths art school in his youth. The diamond skull was made in 2007 and contains 8,601 ethically-sourced flawless African diamonds, the last being an enormous pink pearl drop diamond placed in the centre of the forehead. It cost 14million pounds to make. It is on display, for only the third time, in the town hall in Florence until  May 1st. It was first shown in 2007 at the White Cube gallery, London, and then in 2008 at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Here in Florence, the skull is on show in a small blackened out room in the town hall next to the Studiolo (Study) of Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici, a room normally viewed by appointment only. That it is open is very exciting, and so the Studiolo will be the subject of the next blog!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Lampredotto stand near the straw market

Clients often say to me when they book a tour that they want to see ‘real Florence’ and they want to experience some Florentine life, and indulging in the famous Italian cuisine is high on their list of priorities. That being the case, the Florentine street food is an absolute must! There are a few little caravans around the centre of the city that sell the much loved lampredotto sandwich and often at lunchtime they are hard to see due to the number of people waiting to order but already by mid-morning the odour of the fourth stomach of the cow wafts through the streets. Florentines have been devouring the fourth stomach since the cows came home, and like most origins of the really typical foods relating to Tuscany, it was part of the poor-man’s diet. The really nice cuts and parts of the animal would be sold to the wealthy and the leftovers would be bought by the peasants or kept by the farmer’s family after selling the rest. The real name is Abomasum but Lampredotto is the Florentine word given to this part of the stomach (the cow has four in total) and it refers the appearance of it when cooked. 

Tripe and lampredotto in the central food market
They thought it looked similar in colour and texture to the lamprey eels that were once common in the Arno river. It is boiled for a long time with onions, parsley, celery and onion and then served in a bread roll with a ‘salsa verde’ (made with parsley) or plain with salt and pepper or with spicy oil. There is one of the caravans at the Straw Market, outside the central food market, near the San Ambrogio food market and near Dante’s house. In very traditional trattoria’s you will see it on the menu, it may appear as ‘lampredotto in zimino’ (with chard or spinach). A great trattoria-tripperia is ‘Magazzino’ open seven days in Piazza della Passera on the Oltrarno specialising in tripe and lampredotto. The family also owns the caravan at the Straw Market. Buon appetito!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Medieval Living - Palazzo Davanzati

One of my favourite places to visit in Florence is the Palazzo Davanzati, which is now a museum, open 8.15am-1.50pm, Tuesday to Saturday (and on alternating Mondays and Sundays).The Davizzi family, wealthy merchants in the late fourteenth century, built their palace in Florence which was then bought by the Davanzati family in the late sixteenth century. Visiting the palazzo is a fantastic step back into the golden merchant age of the city when the Florentine business men held a hegemony of power in the wool manufacturing and banking sectors in Europe. The Florentine palaces should be viewed as a physical display of the family's power, wealth and desire for longevity in an age when the European continent was emerging from centuries of 'darkness' and forming city-states, governments and international trade centres and when the individual was returning to be a central focus of study and importance. Here in the Davanzati palace one can see the beginnings of domestic activity of the modern age  with a dumb waiter system enabling fresh water from their private well to be taken easily to all five floors, elegant reception rooms, dining rooms and even private bathrooms. All is arranged around a central courtyard which lights the palace and the rain water is collected through the holes on the stone floor in a cistern below for domestic use, such as cleaning. The private life of the family starts on the first floor, the walls of the main rooms and the exquisite bedrooms were covered with frescoes and tapestries under which, in winter, would be placed fur for greater insulation. Fireplaces are in nearly every room and the kitchen, on the top floor, has all the necessary tools for some good Tuscan cooking, such as the grain grinder for bread making , the metal apparatus for turning polenta and the iron spit with pully in order to rotate the roast suckling pig! The palace is intact from the 1300's, business took place on the ground floor and the front doors of the palace date to this period. If they were being attacked there are trapdoors on the first floor placed directly over the three entrance doors in order to pour down boiling water and tar to stop the enemy advancing any further. Don't miss the ceramic painted shoes that were used as hand warmers displayed on the second floor and the little room off the main reception room on the first floor dedicated to lace making, fascinating.