Monday, March 26, 2012

Florence Three Hour Walking Tour

I talked my husband into a three hour walking tour of Florence.  I was in tears of gratefulness as the guide talked endlessly of medieval history.  She was British and studied Italian Literature in college.  When she came to Florence fourteen years ago she fell in love with the city and a handsome Italian.  Her insight to the every day life of the 15th century was fascinating.  It was very stylish to pluck your eyelashes and bleach your hair blonde as a sign of beauty.  Children were treated as young adults.    Children never played in the street as we know today. They dressed in adult like clothes and it was expected for them to be quiet.   Young girls married at the ages between twelve and sixteen. Women were very restricted and did not have the freedom to just leave the house if they wanted.  High heels were invented as protection from yucky things on the street due to horses and the like.  The tradition of walking before a lady was because sometimes garbage was thrown out of the windows.  It made me feel blessed we have garbage men to come and pick up our trash once a week.

The Ponte Vecchio Bridge was a place for merchants to sell meats and and hides.  The urnine from a horse was used to tan the hides and make them soft.  In 1580 a law was passed forbidding the selling of meat but replacing it with only silver and gold items.  It made the bridge a lot more pleasant to pass.  We saw beautiful fresco's on the tour.  We learned powder pigments of color were applied to wet plaster and the dark blue oxidized.  We saw statues of Saints.

  You can tell who they are by what they are holding in their hand.  The Saint was Mark an evangelist because he was holding a book in this hand.

My husbands feet might have been tired but he admitted he was fascinated with her interesting details.  She talked for three hours straight just to stop to take a breathe and a ten minute coffee break.  We hit gold when we discovered the tour.  

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Venice The Birthplace of Global Trade by Sandra Kent

Venice, The Birthplace of Global Trade

Venice was built on a patchwork of hundred islands in the middle of a swampy lagoon and grew into an economic powerhouse because of global trade thanks to Marco Polo.  The foundation of Venice started in 421 when a trading post was set up and recorded in the church at Saint James.  The early city began as a collection of lagoon communities which banded together for protection against the Huns.  They thought the swampy land was a good place to hide.

Doges Leadership

 Urus was the first elected leader or Doges. The leader was elected for life by established members of Venetian families.  As in any successful community the leader must take council from others.  The Doges did not made decisions on his own, he asked for advice from six men who traveled with him.  Later it grew to the Council of Ten.  It was much like a cabinet of trusted leaders.  In 810 Doge Angello Partecipazio built a fortress for him to live in with a moat filled with water for protection.   After a fire another palace was built in 1340 by Ducal Doge which is similar to the one we see today.  It was the center for political life with a place for the leaders of Venice to come and make laws and decide on global trade.

Marco Polo Bridge Between East and West

Marco Polo was born in 1254 to a wealthy merchant family.  When he was only seventeen he left with his father on a journey to the far east and became a friend to the leader of China in the Khan's Court.  He returned twenty four years later and the towns people didn't recognize him.  He told his adventures in a book but some of the stories seem too unbelievable  to be true.  History has proven he was telling the truth by record keeping such as journals in China.  When Marco came back to Venice he brought with him a fortune in jewels and a relationship to establish trade with the east.  Marco is responsible for the birth of global trade with the east and west.  Spices from the east became very precious to trade.

Rialto Bridge Connecting Trade

Marco was raised near the center of trade, close to the Rialto Bridge. It was a symbol of a link between two sides of trade because it was the only connection of the canal for hundreds of years.  It was built in the area where the waterside was the highest for safety from flooding.  In the Middle Ages the bridge was built by boats and later was replaced by wood.  Just as in the Three Pigs story you can not build your house of sticks or it will fall.  In 1444 it did just that because the weight of the people caused it to collapse.  The bridge was rebuilt again with shops on either side.  Finally in 1557 the bridge was built out of stone so we can appreciate its beauty today.

Strong Ties With The Byzantine Empire

Venice had strong ties with the Byzantine Empire which is the eastern half of the Roman Empire.  The Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian around 330 and ended persecution of the faith.  He decided to move the capital of Rome to Constantinople, modern Istanbul. The Byzantine's escaped the dark ages with the fall of Rome.  In the sixth century the Byzantine Emperor Justinian invaded northern Italy and for a short time reunited East and West.  In 800 Venice needed help from the invader of the Franks, lead by Charlemagne's army so they asked for Constantinople's protection.  This trust developed a relationship which allowed for Venetian merchants trading rights to Byzantine ports in the Adriatic Sea and as far as Eastern Mediterranean.  They traded salt, wood, and wool from western Europe in exchange for luxury items such as silk and jewels.

Relationship Changed with the Byzantine's

When Muslim Turks threatened the Christian Byzantine Empire the Venetians joined the Crusades.  Venice lent ships to the Crusaders in exchange for money.   During the fourth Crusade, 1202-1204, they took over  Christian Constantinople which weakened the city. The Crusaders carried  home the stolen bronze horses and marble and brought it to Saint Marks, the church of Venice.   The Ottoman  Turks took over Christian Constantinople in 1453 and later became modern Instanbul.  Today we see the influence of the Byzantine Empire in the building of Saint Marks.  Beautiful mosaics of rich tile adorn the church.

Tourists and Legends

Tourists have been coming to Venice to enjoy its beauty for centuries.  Famous writers have come to visit for inspiration of ideas and enjoy the rich history.  Lord Byron's poems may have birthed on the canals of Venice.  Mark Twain enjoyed the water ways because it reminded him of the great Mississippi River.  Venice is the birthplace of global trade and the infusion of majestic waterways to carry goods.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Ducks Are Back

    Signs of spring are everywhere; green buds sprout, our Plum Delight has purple blossoms and the ducks are back.  I heard splashing in the pool and ran outside to see.  Momma and Daddy Duck were sitting side by side, just relaxing by the crystal blue water.  Mallard Ducks stay together for life and we have witnessed their love story.

    My neighbor Jos says they've been coming for over twenty years and enjoy her pool.   Momma Duck knows the sound of Jos's voice and seem to listen to her words.  Sometimes Momma goes up to her window to say hello.  I believe they are too old to have ducklings but its fun to see their close connection to each other.  Daddy Duck must fight off other male ducks so sometimes there are feathers in Jos's pool.

   They chose our backyard to make their nest for over ten years so I wonder if it brings back duckling memories to soak in the sun and see our spa ledge.  Momma Duck chose her location wisely because the little fuzzy ducklings hopped onto the spa ledge for safety.  Many ducklings drown because they can't get out.

    Seeing the ducks reminded me of when my two sons first saw the carefully prepared nest with twelve ivory eggs.  For twenty eight days she stayed on the nest to keep them warm.  As I gaze out my window I remember feeling so excited to see twelve ducklings swimming in our pool.  They've been returning year after year so its such a blessing to share the ducks with our wonderful neighbors, Jos and Lou.