Friday, July 29, 2016

From the Communist Patch to the Cabbage Patch

I still have a large doll with brunette human hair, moveable blue eyes, and thick eye lashes; she talks when picked up and says “mama.” Placed in a seated position in a guest bedroom, she has not been touched by children’s hands in over two decades. She is a forgotten gift from Dad to my daughters, several years before he passed away in 1989.

My children were always frightened of her, its large size, the human-like appearance, the strange sounds coming from the inside, and the moving eyes that closed when the doll was tilted. She is dressed in an elegant party frock, socks, black shoes, and beautiful natural curly tresses somehow tediously transplanted into a rubber head. Dad must have worked many days overtime to afford such an expensive gift that my children did not appreciate.

I was not surprised that my daughters refused to play with her. She sat forgotten and dusty in some corner on the floor, an expensive dust catcher. Even the cat gave her a wide berth as if she was possessed.

I think Daddy was trying to make up for lost time. When I was a little girl, he could only afford to buy me a small stuffed cloth doll with a cardboard-covered-with-porcelain head which I accidentally cracked on the first drop on the floor. A gaping hole opened on her head but I proudly held her in a photo as the most precious toy I had. She came with a wooden bed and a tiny wool comforter.

My one and only doll
There were not many toys available during the socialist/communist era and certainly the low wages across the board prevented parents from spoiling their children with toys – not that the stores were awash in beautiful, creative, and abundant toys. I was lucky to have a wooden cube puzzle with various pictures on all sides. When assembled properly, each side revealed the colored photograph of a famous landscape. Books from the library became my toys at an early age.

I had begged Daddy for one of these fancy dolls with real hair, plastic heads, and posable arms and legs but he could not afford any. His 800-lei per month salary had to provide food, clothes, rent, water, electricity, heat, and public transportation for our family of three. A toy was an unnecessary luxury.

I was 16 years old when I got my first brown teddy bear from a generous friend who bought it for my birthday. Since I left Romania when I was almost twenty years old, I don’t remember what happened to my three toys I left behind and to all my paperbacks. I could only bring one suitcase of clothes and mom chose to pack it with hand-made sheets that could not possibly fit the larger American beds.

Once I saw the variety of toys children had in this country, I was elated that my kids would have plenty of educational and fun toys. Aside from plastic farms, the first electronic hear and say board, Pictionary, board games, miniature trains on tracks, Barbie dolls, trolls, unicorns, blue Smurfs, Rainbow Brite dolls, and the first Nintendo game, one of my daughters fancied a Cabbage Patch Kids doll, a very expensive toy for a student with small children, living on a very limited income. The choice was whether we paid rent and bought food, or we purchased the beloved Cabbage Patch Kids doll.

I could not understand the frantic American parents during the 1983 Christmas season searching for the coveted Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. Long waiting lists and first-come, first-serve sales policy gave rise to vicious fights between prospective buyers. By the end of the year, three million dolls had been “adopted.” This frenzy I could never understand, repeated almost every Christmas season over some new and coveted toy that a spoiled American child had to have.

The 16-inch Cabbage Patch Kids doll, with a plastic bald head or yarn hair, and fabric body, was desired by American children because she was huggable, had a birth date, and could be “adopted.” Different clothes, hair color, skin color, hair style, and clothes made her that much more cherished. The official price was $30 but black market prices ranged from $100 to high triple digits.

One day, as I was perusing the children’s department to buy a specific shirt for my grandson, I spotted a solitaire Cabbage Patch Kids doll on a shelf on a distant wall. I was not aware that they still made them today and, I was surprised to find it in this high-end department store. The tag said that this doll was created on August 9, 2015.

I picked it up, and, to my astonishment, the doll was originally priced at $50, but a sale price of $37.50 was crossed over. I took the doll to the cash register and asked to scan the real price. Another big surprise, the doll was one penny. One penny? Yes, the doll had been retired from stock but someone forgot to remove it from the sales floor. I knew I had to buy it for my daughter who is now a mom herself. Her birthday was fast approaching and nostalgia set in. I handed the cashier a dime and told her to keep the change.

I mailed the doll with trepidation, hoping that my daughter still remembered how disappointed I was when I could not afford to buy her the doll. Now she was going to receive one for one penny, an interesting lesson in history, wants, needs, and economics. I wrote her a note – I was hoping someday she may have a daughter or granddaughter who could play with it. Until then, it will remain a collector’s item in the original box.

Time has an interesting way of weaving events. When Eileen suggested that I buy such a doll as a gift and even the title of the story, I was incredulous that it was a good idea. But this doll somehow closed the circle for me, from the communist barren patch with my cloth doll with a broken face to the capitalist one-penny Cabbage Patch Kids cloth doll with a plastic face.























Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Globalism through U.N.'s Agenda 21, Agenda 2030, and Vision 2050

Vision 2050 Photo: Bing
Four years ago, a man was convicted of collecting rainwater and snow runoff on his property and served a 30-day jail sentence in Medford, Oregon, while the developing world is trashing their environment at alarming rates, suffocating waterways, rivers, and lakes with trash and refuse.

A meeting in Vienna aimed to amend the 1987 Montreal Protocol to phase out hydrofluorocarbons from air conditioners, refrigerators, and inhalers. John Kerry said that “air conditioners and refrigerators are as big of a threat to life as the threat of terrorism posed by groups like the Islamic State.” He believes that “It’s hard for some people to grasp it, but what we, you, are doing here right now is of equal importance because it has the ability to literally save life on the planet itself.”

The climate change industry claimed that HFC, a coolant, is thousands of times more potent than CO2, the gas of plant life.  Kerry added that “the increase in HFCs has led to the trend of global climate change.”

There used to be a saying when I was growing up in Romania that elites were going to tax the population so much that they would eventually tax rain water. Apparently H.G. 1591/2002 requires that rain water which drains in the sewer system must be calculated by multiplying the annual quantity of rain water with the total surface of buildings finished and unfinished as declared by each customer and then taxed accordingly.

As the bills seem to be arbitrary, confused customers were asking by which method various areas were taxed, by lottery, and who is actually measuring the rain fall, and how much pluvial water evaporates before it reaches the drains.

According to Nathan Mehrens, the “EPA has entered into a series of ‘memoranda of understanding’ (MOU) with the United Nations and various foreign governments” with the idea of protecting the environment “while promoting economic growth and social development, promoting the role of the private sector in development, and encouraging social inclusion, women’s advancement, and environmental justice.

All these seemingly isolated moves have common denominators the insane manufactured anthropogenic global warming claim and global climate change claim by the United Nation. The tin pot dictators at the U.N. are only interested in redistribution of wealth, population control, the buildup of megacities, and global governance under the U.N. aegis.

Vincent Callebaut
2050 Parisian Vision
How would they build these mega regions, mega cities? The plans are already underway in the form of destroying the American suburbs, the family, the way we purchase and own homes and apartments, and by depopulating rural areas.

U.N. Agenda 21 has morphed into Agenda 2030 and now into Vision 2050, a plan to force 9 billion people to live by the globalists prescription of “living well and within the planet’s resources.”

Vision 2050 report is “a consensus piece that was compiled by 29 leading global companies from 14 industries and is the result of 18-month long combined efforts between CEOs and experts, and dialogues with more than 200 companies and external stakeholders in some 20 countries.” In simple translation, global companies and CEOs are going to dictate to all of us how we are supposed to live by 2050, no free choices there.

These experts and CEOs have decided for you what constitutes “global sustainability” without consulting you, and have determined their vision for the planet. The “must haves” include, as stated on their website:

  • Incorporating the costs of externalities, starting with carbon, ecosystem services and water, into the structure of the marketplace;
  • Doubling agricultural output without increasing the amount of land or water used;
  • Halting deforestation and increasing yields from planted forests;
  • Halving carbon emissions worldwide (based on 2005 levels) by 2050 through a shift to low-carbon energy systems;
  • Improved demand-side energy efficiency, and providing universal access to low-carbon mobility.

What is exactly “low-carbon mobility?” A quick search yields no exact definition but many projects with the word “transform” and “sustainable development” attempt to describe what low-carbon mobility would entail.

Progressives love to travel and visit other cities but would like to do it by banning cars and promoting walking, cycling and public transportation as a healthier and safer alternative, protecting pedestrians and cyclists from cars. No mention is made of who would protect pedestrians from nuisance cyclists.

According to progressives, who seem to prefer their Beamers to go to work, cities that were designed before the introduction of cars are more compact and attractive to walk and cycle in. In other words, cramming as many people in a city is desirable over spreading them in suburbia. “Older cities are more human than the suburbs and cities built after World War II.” We need the “human scale experience,” walking and biking for your health and to reduce the “carbon footprint.”

So, this is how your city will be transformed into a “low-carbon mobility city.” You may be stuck in your neighborhood your entire life like a rat in a maze and your world may encompass a very small radius of travel, but, you will be saving the planet from a non-existent climate change Armageddon, a lame threat greatly benefitting the globalist elites who jet in style around the world in their personal gas guzzlers, impervious to air pollution.

“With 9 billion people on the planet competing for a limited supply of natural resources, the definition of “living well” will also have to shift.  Instead of a utopian dream, living well in 2050 means that all people have access to and the ability to afford education, healthcare, mobility, the basics of food, water, energy and shelter, and consumer goods. It also means living within the limits of the planet itself.”

If it’s not the wetlands, job-destroying EPA regulations, water use controls, electricity use control, rain water, raw milk, farmers prevented from growing their own food, ordinary Americans growing their own gardens, people living off the grid, humans forced to live in tiny homes whose furniture must be assembled and disassembled every day to make room to move around, choices of transportation,  Bureau of Land Management assault on farmers, rules and regulations that choke entire industries and particularly the coal industry, protecting a tiny species of delta smelt at the expense of growing food for millions, the globalist agenda will create new regulations to destroy the source of food and livelihood of millions and thus control the population.

According to Frederick Kempe, President and CEO of Atlantic Council, the “unprecedented change” will drive “60 percent of the world’s population to mega-cities by 2030, and competition for food, water, and energy resources could increase the possibilities of violent conflict.” Experts say, “The United States must urgently address its domestic economic and political dysfunctions.”

The Atlantic Council, a think-tank, wrote a 57-page report, “Envisioning 2030: U.S. Leadership in a Post-Western World,” to “help prepare the Obama Administration and its global partners for unprecedented change.” (

The report predicts a future of “vast economic and political volatility, environmental catastrophe, and conflicting, inward-looking nationalisms that would be unlike any period that the United States has seen before.”  “President Obama will be setting the tone and direction for U.S. policy in a post-Western world.” (Atlantic Council, Executive Summary, p. 5)

As the powers that be are actively and speedily working to affect this outcome, the global order champions “predict” that wealth will shift from the west to the east.

Presidential candidate and highly successful businessman Donald Trump said it best; we should be concentrating on Americanism, not globalism.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Education Enabling Cultural Decline

Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Trying to have a rational discussion based on facts with a College of Education graduate who uses Common Core teaching methods, how children learn, and the dumbing down of America's education, is like trying to reason with a petulant child who happens to be a member of the Communist Party USA.

They take everything very personal and in a fascistic way, it's their way or the highway. If we don't do it this way, children will be doomed forever. Since 1979 when Jimmy Carter established the College of Education (which alone gobbles up close to $75 billion a year), our children's education has gone down significantly as evidenced by test scores and a shameless lack of general knowledge.

Just because you are able to use technology expertly and know how to look up information does not make you smart, you just know how to use a search engine. What you are able to do with that information is another story. I've had technological savvy students who actually knew very little, were awkward, lacked common sense, and social skills.

On the other hand, I’ve had students who did not care that much for technology, were talented and creative, but were not exactly top scorers on the standardized ACT or SAT tests. Yet these students became quite successful in life.

According to Howard Gardner (Harvard Graduate School of Education), there are eight intelligence types and we all have some percentage of musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic abilities, weaker in some, stronger in others. It is because of this nature of the human being that we should not box student into testing molds, one size fits all, particularly when public education has a strong component of indoctrination by those who write the textbooks, the curricula, the teaching materials, and the standardized tests.

Teaching to a standard determined by progressive academia is a disservice to the wonderful talent in our schools. Teaching is an art and the fly-by-night teaching methodologies that have come and gone since 1979 prove that they were invented by control freaks that had one goal in mind, a pliant society of busy bees under the guidance of academia in service of the ruling elites who fund their secular ideas and methods.

I’ve heard progressives for decades vociferously demanding the separation of church and state, even though our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and God and prayer always had a place in the classroom and in government. But now, the same progressive academics are teaching in every grade, through Common Core Standards, indoctrination into Islam, forcing Christianity and prayer out of schools and out of extra-curricular activities. What happened to their cries of separation of church and state?

Patrick Deneen wrote about the loss of our cultural identity in his essay, ”How a generation lost its common culture.”

“My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture.”

As a retired teacher of thirty years, I am certain that the concerted effort to mindlessly indoctrinate students into the progressive PC construct, a political correctness that has constrained everybody’s freedom of speech, turning students into whiny ninnies who need a safe space from their inner real or imagined fears of divergent opinions, and to distort and rewrite history in the vein of Howard Zinn’s very popular textbook that is widely used around the country, has contributed to the decline and loss of cultural identity to such a degree that students are ashamed of their own history, of their nation’s exceptionalism and accomplishments, of their common citizenship, and of their own culture.  

Sadly, these students are busy destroying and replacing their own culture with the culture of other primitive societies they were told in schools to admire and venerate, simple cultures that are invading western civilization with the blessing of the United Nations and regressive western governments. It is baffling to think that these are generations of children and grandchildren of great Americans who conquered space and made flight possible.

The chickens of intolerance and communist social justice have come home to roost on the American campus. Decades of Marxist indoctrination by the vaunted communist academia are finally paying off -- our cultural heritage is replaced by cultural Marxism and by primitive cultures that are deemed superior to ours and worshipped.

Our mis-educated youth, who can barely read or write a complete and coherent paragraph, but their fingers fly on Twitter in hashtags and 140 characters, staring constantly like robotic drones into illuminated smart devices, are now chasing Pokémon-Go.

Young people don’t seem to care if their culture survives or not. If they are given everything free, tiny housing units, Internet, smart devices, food, education, Netflix, pot, and public transportation passes, they will remain on the globalist environmental social justice train forever as anonymous global citizens.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Social Engineering of the Globe with Sustainable Development

“No matter if the science of global warming is all phony… climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world.” 

        - Christine Stewart, former Canadian Minister of the Environment

Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
One of the first changes made by the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, was to close the Department of Energy and Climate Change and to transfer it to a new office, the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, a transfer heavily criticized by environmental groups and its cheering main stream media who saw it as a disaster to end the lucrative climate change industry.

The new agency will be headed by Greg Clark who is believed to oppose wind power. Off shore companies are worried, in light of Brexit, that financing for their wind-generated energy projects, which depend heavily on subsidies to compete, will be affected.

U.K.’s Conservative Party has cut green subsidies to protect consumers and the industry from potential brownouts caused by insufficient energy on windless or cloudy days when they must depend on fossil fuel-generated electricity. Energy prices are so much higher that “38 percent of British households have cut back essential purchases, like food, to pay their energy bills.”

In this country, however, the climate change industry has nothing to fear, the Sustainable Development march, the lynchpin of Agenda 2030, continues unabated. Not only do they have nothing to fear, on the contrary, according to Michael Bastasch, the Democrat Party platform calls for prosecuting global warming skeptics.

“A provision is calling for the Department of Justice to investigate companies who disagree with Democrats on global warming science.”  Following New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneidermann’s investigation into Exxon, “based on reporting from eco-left wing reporters at InsideClimate News and Columbia University,” Republicans countered that, “if minimization is fraud, exaggeration is fraud” too.

But global warming/climate change industry is just the tip of the iceberg of the 17-item Agenda 2030 proposed and pushed by the United Nations which has repackaged its original U.N. Agenda 21 of 1992 into a steroidal Agenda 2030 that will control the planet under the same excuse of Sustainable Development, Green Growth/Smart Growth everything. It is nothing but a redistribution of wealth from the haves to the have nots.

Because they have failed so far to control climate change and wipe out poverty, no matter how many trillions the western world has distributed to the third world, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon enlisted this time the help of six largest ad agencies, WPP, Omnicom Group Inc., Publicis Groupe SA, Interpublic Group, Dentsu, and Havas to promote U.N.’s Sustainable Development program. Funding is a problem as the developing nations depend largely on donated funds.

The United Nations hopes that these ad companies will convince their customers around the world to buy into supporting U.N.’s global objectives even though the citizens of this country have not been asked to vote on nor approve such economy-destroying goals.

On the tail of Brexit, a nine-page report has been published by the leaders of Germany, France, and Italy in Berlin to morph EU from the original free trade between countries mission into a super state.  “Our countries share a common destiny and a common set of values that give rise to an even closer union between our citizens. We will therefore strive for a political union in Europe and invite the next Europeans to participate in this venture.”

As the population demographics and the face of Europe are changing fast, it is uncertain that future Europeans will share a common set of values in a mammoth super state.

Succeeding in this post-Brexit EU as “super state” compact, will make it much easier to impose United Nation’s Agenda 2030 onto the globe and thus control everything its population does.

What does the U.N. really want to do? According to Tom DeWeese, President of American Policy Center, who is spearheading an effort to get us out of U.N., believes that “UN is driving to enforce global policies that would:

-          Tax us without representation and set up a global IRS.

-          Create an international police force that would threaten the independence and security of our nation.

-          Create its own court system with no right to trial by jury of our peers, with a special focus on prosecuting “right wing extremists” (that means you and me!).

-          Interfere with our Constitutional form of government through a series of international treaties.

-          Ram thousands of ‘refugees” from the hate-America Islamist Third World into our cities and towns, overriding the objections of American citizens.”

-          It is not the climate or global warming that the global elitist cabal is interested in, since nature does not need saving.  As Paul Hellyer, former Canadian Defense Minister, said in a video, “The end game is a new world order” and you and I are not invited at the table or in the house of trillions for that matter.

Tom DeWeese explained that, “In a recent interview with a publication called Business Green, the U.N.’s Climate Change Czar, Christiana Figueres said, ‘I think it is very important to understand that we will only pursue climate goals through the national pursuit of SDG.”’

SDG refers to Sustainable Development Goals, the 17 goals outlined in United Nation’s Agenda 2030. She admits that Agenda 2030 is “U.N.’s ‘ONLY’ policy vehicle to enforce massive rules and regulations over our nation, our states, our cities, and towns,” all hidden under the guise of “environmental protection.”

Anyone who studied the subject understands that increased solar flares, decreased solar flares, oceanic currents, and volcanic eruptions have tremendous effect on weather and climate, not human activity.

Our Secretary of State, John Kerry, said in a candid moment, “If all the industrial nations went down to zero [carbon dioxide] emissions, it wouldn’t be enough. Not when more than 65 percent of the world’s ‘carbon pollution’ comes from the developing world.”

Geoengineering, i.e., “stratospheric aerosol injection,” (SAI), is seeding the stratosphere with “particles that reflect the sun’s heat in much the same way volcanic eruptions do.” SAI spraying of the stratosphere has already been underway. At the same time, chemtrails have been dubbed conspiracy theories despite visual and physical evidence. SAI is done “to give the global economy more time to transition from fossil fuels,” said Brennan.  “A fully deployed SAI would cost $10 billion yearly.” Of course, greenhouse gas emission reductions would still have to accompany SAIs because, he added, “SAI alone would not remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.”

“The technology has the potential to alter the weather patterns of some regions of the world at the expense of other regions of the world; this could trigger sharp opposition by some nations.” How much aluminum and other toxic particles are falling from the chemtrail-seeding in the sky onto our roads, crops, land, homes, and how adversely are they affecting our health?

John Brennan, CIA Director, disclosed in June 2016 at the meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations that the technology is here, and seeding the stratosphere for weather modification to combat global warming is taking place around the globe.

This massive social engineering of the entire planet will forever alter our way of life, what chemicals fall from the sky, the viability of our crops, water usage, electricity usage, where we live, how much space we occupy, whether we walk or bike to work/school, whether we go anywhere outside of a very small radius, our entire government, and entire societies will be transformed with U.N.’s Agenda 2030.

David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth, said, “The goal now is a socialist, redistributionist society, which is nature’s proper steward and society’s only hope.” Having experienced this redistributionist socialist/communist society for myself, I can vehemently disagree with such a statement. Socialism/communism represents no hope; it is sheer misery and deprivation of everything that makes life worth living.





Monday, July 18, 2016

Day Trip to San Gimignano

San Gimignano in the distance
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
We left Florence early in the morning, bound for San Gimignano in the heart of Tuscany. There were no tunnels this time, just large rolling hills covered in lush green orchards, olive groves, vineyards, and agritourist sites where room and board were available, and wine and olive oil for sale.

We were glad we did not have any breakfast; the hair pin curves were non-stop.  The bluish-green vistas with spectacular trees were dotted with terra cotta villas and wild flowers, especially red poppies. My husband is a first class driver and managed all curves like a pro. 

We drove by what appeared to be a prison compound, an unusual site in the midst of so much beauty. Tall chicken wire fences topped with barbed wire were encircling a foreboding building with heavy wrought iron bars on the small windows. Two heavily armed policemen were guarding the access road while their car was parked nearby.  It was most unusual to see police on such a picturesque country road especially since we never saw one cop ticketing any drivers.

More Tuscan landscape on lower elevations
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Eventually the road opened up to reveal a foggy bluish fortress in the distance with fourteen medieval towers, located at an elevation of 1,063 ft., the unmistakable and famous silhouette of San Gimignano, a walled medieval hill town of 7,768 people in the province of Siena, Tuscany. Known as the Town of Fine Towers, the well-preserved buildings reveal Romanesque and Gothic architecture.

The gate we entered
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
The city can be entered on foot through eight gates; the main gates are Porta San Giovanni (south ridge), Porta San Matteo (north-west), and Porta S. Jacopo (north east).

Tuscan landscape
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Torture museum Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
After a minor turnaround, we found a parking spot by the town’s supermarket on the outside of the city walls. We took off on foot on the steep pedestrian cobblestone walkway to the fortress.  We passed by the museum of torture and by several tiny shops of local artisans selling their  crafts and food produced in full view and sold in specialty stores the size of a hole in the wall.

Piazza della Cisterna
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
In the main piazza, Piazza della Cisterna, we found a very busy gelato store that was voted the best gelateria in Italy at the 2015 competition. Of course it broke our hearts to sample small cones.

Gelateria in San Gimignano
Photo: Ileana Johnson
San Gimignano produces saffron, a very expensive spice used as medicinal and cooking ingredient, extracted from a purplish flower called saffron crocus, golden ham, and a white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, from an ancient variety of Vernaccia grape which is grown on the sandstone hills surrounding the town, a wine desired by popes and poets.

The city is crossed north south by Via San Matteo and Via San Giovanni. There are four squares in the center of town: the Piazza Duomo, the Piazza della Cisterna, the Piazza Pecori, and the Piazza delle Erbe.

San Gimignano 1300 museum exhibits models of the city as it was 700 years ago. Everything is handcrafted to showcase 800 structures, 72 towers, lovely street scenes, and figurines all with the attention to artistic detail that Italians are famous for.

Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
During the third century B.C., there was a small Etruscan village on the site of San Gimignano. Two patrician brothers, Muzio and Silvio, fled Rome during the Catiline conspiracy against the Roman Republic in the first century, and settled in Valdelsa where they built two castles.

The name of Silvio was changed to San Gimignano in 450 A.D. after the Saint of Modena, Bishop Geminianus, intervened and saved the castle from the destruction by Atilla the Hun’s followers.  The church was thus dedicated to the saint and a walled village was built around it in the sixth and seventh centuries.  The area, surrounded by then thick woods, was called the “Castle of San Gimignano,” and was ruled by the bishops of Volterra.

In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance era, Catholic pilgrims going to Rome and to the Vatican, would stop in San Gimignano to rest before continuing on their pilgrimage. Although it became independent from Volterra in 1199, the conflict between the Guelphs, who supported the Pope and Ghibellines, who supported the Holy Roman Emperor, disturbed the town’s peace for two centuries. The cancerous rivalry between the two clans resulted in the building of towers, taller and taller, 72 by the end of the Medieval period, with a height of 70 meters. A city ordinance, which restricted the height of the towers to that of the one near the Palazzo Comunale, controlled the rivalry.

There is a house which still stands in San Gimignano; it is the home of Santa Fina or Serafina, who was born here in 1238. The Chapel of Santa Fina in the Collegiate Church displays her shrine and frescoes by Ghirlandaio. She is celebrated on March 12, the day she died at the age of 15, paralyzed and attached to a wooden pallet, in unimaginable pain but very positive and encouraging to the world. Because of her invincible spirit in the face of excruciating pain and adversity, she is the patron saint of physically challenged people.

Dante Alighieri is said to have visited San Gimignano on May 8, 1300, as ambassador of the Guelph League in Tuscany. Almost five decades later the city was struck by the Black Death and half of its population died.

Ruled by Florence, San Gimignano built some Gothic palaces in Florentine style while towers were cut down to the height of houses but development stopped and this sleepy little town remained preserved in its medieval form until the 19th century.

It is remarkable that even though other cities such as Florence lost their towers due to wars, conflict, and urban development, San Gimignano preserved fourteen towers of various heights from its original seventy-two.

Movie producers used San Gimignano as movie location such as the 1999 drama, Tea with Mussolini.  A group of women, English and American expatriates in Italy, save frescoes from being destroyed during Germany’s withdrawal at the end of World War II. These frescoes were inside the Duomo, San Gimignano’s main church.

San Gimignano from outside the walls
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
After taking more photographs than I can ever store of the breathtaking views, the yellow flowers, the bluish green landscape in the distance, the baby blue sky, the dark green trees silhouetting in the distance like soldiers standing at attention, the vineyards, the red poppies, the yellow and purple saffron flowers, sunflowers, and the watchtowers from medieval times, we left for Volterra.






Saturday, July 16, 2016

Florence Sparkled Under the Bright Sun of Tuscany, Part II

Not far from Ponte Vecchio, on the south side of the river Arno, is a stark, Renaissance building, Palazzo Pitti, a huge complex of 32,000 square meters, divided into many galleries with paintings, plates, statues, jewelry, furniture, and other luxurious possessions of the Medici family.

Sitting on a hill overlooking Florence, Pitti Palace is administered by Polo Museale Florentino, an institution responsible for twenty museums, including the Uffizi Gallery, and 250,000 works of art.

The original part of the building was started in 1458 by a Florentine banker named Luca Pitti. The Medicis bought it a century later as the residence for the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Napoleon used the palace as a power base in the late 18th century, and, in 1919, King Victor Emannuel III donated it with its entire contents to the Italian people and thus it became a museum.

The main gallery of the palace is the Palatine Gallery with over 500 Renaissance paintings by Raphael, Titian, Perugino, Peter Paul Rubens, Correggio, and Pietro da Cortona. This gallery follows into the opulent 14-room royal apartments, and is thus displayed as the private collection would have appeared then, not in chronological order or by a particular style or school.

Eleonora of Toledo
Portrait by Bronzino
Photo: Wikipedia
The last descendant of Luca Pitti, Buonaccorso Pitti, sold the palace in 1549 to Eleonora of Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I. At that time, Cosimo hired Giorgio Vasari to enlarge the palace to more than double the space and to build the famous Vasari Corridor, an above-ground walkway from Palazzo Vecchio, his old palace and the seat of government, through Uffizi, above Ponte Vecchio, and finally to Palazzo Pitti. It was an easy escape route for the Grand Duke.

Boboli Gardens façade
Photo: Wikipedia
Behind the Pitti Palace the sprawling Boboli Gardens overlooks Florence with a breathtaking view. An array of 16th through 18th century statues and Roman antiquities on wide graveled-avenues, fountains, grottos, nympheums, and garden temples, cover the vast gardens.

The name Boboli is a corruption of “Bogoli,” the name of the family from whom the land was purchased for these gardens. The garden is lavish by any standards and it was built solely for the enjoyment of the immediate Medici family members. According to the guide, no parties or entertainment were took place in the expansive gardens.

Eleonora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo I laid out the Boboli Garden. Construction of first stage began under Niccolo Tribolo, who died in 1550, leaving the work to Bartolomeo Ammanati, with contributions by Giogio Vasari (laid out the grottos), and Bernardo Buontalenti (sculptures).

Knowing how difficult is to maintain and water even a small garden, it was even more amazing to find out that everything in this garden of 111 acres is watered by a conduit that brings water from the river Arno and is fed into an elaborate irrigation system.

The Large Grotto underwent restoration in 2015; the statues on display are examples of mannerist sculpture and architecture.  Stalactites, luxuriant vegetation, and waterworks decorate the grotto.

Giotto's Bell in Piazza del Duomo
Photo: Wikipedia
The focal point in Florence is Piazza del Duomo, one of the most visited places in Europe and in the world, the location of the Florence Cathedral, with Brunelleschi famous Cupola, Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower), and the Baptistery. Walking from the train station, it is impossible to have an open space view of all the works as buildings crowd around the small plaza. All of a sudden, this massive construction comes into view once you reach the end of the street.

Baptistery with the Gates of Paradise
Photo: Wikipedia
Built on the ruins of a Roman wall and guard tower, the Florence Baptistery (Baptistery of Saint John) is the oldest known building in Florence, erected between 1059 and 1128, with a status of a minor basilica, a place where, until the end of the nineteenth century, all Catholic Florentines were baptized, including famous Italians like the poet Dante and famous Renaissance men and women, including Medici family members.

The baptistery stands both in Piazza del Duomo and Piazza San Giovanni, across from Florence Cathedral and the Campanile di Giotto. The sandstone, colored marble, and white Carrara marble building, shaped like an octagon, has three sets of bronze doors decorated with relief sculptures and Biblical scenes.

Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise
Photo: Wikipedia
The south doors were made by Andrea Pisano, and the north and east doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti.  These east doors made of gilded bronze were named by Michelangelo the Gates of Paradise. Lorenzo Ghiberti, who worked on them for 21 years, carved his own face on the right side, a self-portrait signature piece for eternity. Twenty panels depict the life of Christ from the New Testament. Eight lower panels depict four evangelists and the Church Fathers, Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome, Saint Gregory, and Saint Augustine. The door frame has gilded busts of prophets and sibyls.

Ghiberti's self-portrait on the Gates of Paradise
Photo: Wikipedia
Giotto’s campanile (bell tower) stands adjacent to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Baptistery of Saint John.  The free-standing tower was built in Florentine Gothic architecture, with “polychrome marble encrustations” and rich sculpted decorations. Giotto’s Bell Tower has 414 very narrow and slippery marble steps which I climbed years ago, giving the daring climber a breathtaking view of Florence.

Duomo at night
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
When Giotto died in 1337, he had only built the lower floor, richly decorated with geometric patterns, hexagonal panels of white marble from Carrara, green marble from Prato, and reddish marble from Siena and bas-reliefs. A century later, Lucca della Robbia built five more panels.  Seven panels were chosen because the number seven has a Biblical meaning of human perfectibility. Giotto was succeeded by Andrea Pisano, who added two more levels, then by Francesco Talenti who built the top three levels and thus completed the tower in 1359. Talenti did not build the original spire designed by Giotto, thus lowering the original design height  from the 400 ft. to 277.9 ft. Nobody knows exactly which is the decorative work of Giotto and which belongs to Pisano. The work came to a halt during the vicious Black Death.

Duomo complex
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
The largest medieval building in Europe is Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral (St. Mary of the Flowers) at almost 502 ft. in length and 381 ft. in height.  Began in 1296, Il Duomo di Firenze, as the Italians call it, was completed structurally in 1436 with a dome planned by Filippo Brunelleschi. The façade of the basilica, with an elaborate 19th century Gothic Revival style by Emilio De Fabris, is adorned by multi-colored marble panels in shades of green and pink, and white.  The cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence.

Brunelleschi’s dome is the largest masonry dome in the world. And  he topped it with a lantern which he did not have time to finish before his death but his friend, Michelozzo did in 1461. In 1469 Verrocchio crowned the conical roof with a gilt copper ball and cross, containing holy relics. Brunelleschi’s dome and lantern is thus 375 ft. tall. The copper ball was struck by lightning on July 17, 1600 and the copper ball fell to the ground. Two years later it was replaced by an even larger ball.

The copper ball was cast in the workshop of sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio. One his young apprentices was none other than Leonardo da Vinci who was allegedly fascinated by Verrocchio’s machines that were used to hoist the ball to the top and young Leonardo made sketches of them.

As ornate as the exterior is, the Gothic interior of the church is disappointingly vast and empty. Perhaps it is so bare to make the point that a religious life must be austere and simple. Decorations were lost over time and some were moved to museums. On the other hand, the vast interior can accommodate lots of worshippers at one time. 

The interior art honors locals who contributed funds to its construction and repairs. There are 44 stained glass windows, quite a large number for that time period.  The first bishop of Florence, Saint Zenobius, is honored with a silver shrine that contains an urn with his relics. Saint Zenobius performed the miracle of reviving a dead child. The dome is covered with frescoes completed by different painters who used different methods and techniques. Brunelleschi had wanted gold mosaics that would have reflected more light through the lantern but he died and his idea died with him.

The crypt contains vaults where bishops were buried over the centuries. Among the archeological are the ruins of Roman houses, of early Christian pavement, and remains of the former cathedral,  Santa Reparata, with the tomb of Conrad II (c. 990-June 4, 1039), Holy Roman Emperor, and his wife.  There is a part of the crypt that is open to the public in which Brunelleschi’s simple and humble tomb is located, an expression of the esteem in which Florentines held the architect who helped build their place of worship. The cathedral is really his masterpiece and the crowning of his life.

Santa Croce Wikipedia
I found the Basilica di Santa Croce a most interesting church, smaller but very intriguing. A comfortable walk from the back of the Palazzo Vecchio, it is located in Piazza di Santa Croce, 800 meters south-east from the Duomo. The leather district of Florence with its shops ends in the corner of the piazza.

The minor Basilica of the Holy Cross is the largest Franciscan church in the world with sixteen chapels decorated with frescoes by Giotto and his students. It is said that St. Francis himself funded its construction. It is quite possible; St. Francis was a very rich man who gave up all his riches when he decided to follow God and the road to a simple and austere life.

Tomb in Santa Croce
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
When the site was chosen for the church, it was a marshland outside the city walls. Over time, some of the most famous Italians were buried inside the church, Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile, and Rossini. For this reason, Italians call it the Temple of the Italian Glories.

Santa Croce Interior Courtyard
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2005
The current church was erected to replace the old building and construction began in May 1294, paid for by Florence’s wealthiest residents. Pope Eugene IV consecrated it in 1442. The construction plan represents the Symbol of St. Francis, the Egyptian or Tau cross. There is a convent to the south of the church. Both Brunelleschi and Vasari were involved in the construction and design of the interior.

Santa Croce Façade
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
The neo-Gothic marble façade was designed by Niccolo Matas from Ancona and is dated from 1857-1863. I was surprised to see a large Star of David on the 19th century façade which was the work of the Jewish architect Matas. Matas asked to be buried with his peers but, because he was Jewish, he was buried instead under the porch and not within the wall of the church.

Santa Croce Tomb
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2005
A public property since 1866, the entire complex is not just a place of worship but a burial for so many famous Italians and lesser known but moneyed residents. Florence Nightingale, who was born in Florence and named after her birthplace, has a monument dedicated to her memory in the cloister built by Brunelleschi and completed in 1453.

There is a Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce and is housed in the refectory. The former dormitory of the Franciscan monks houses today the Leather School (Scuola del Cuoio) where tourists can watch artisans make purses, wallets, and other leather goods sold adjacent to the shop.

Santa Croce suffered immensely during the Arno River flood of 1966 which affected the entire town of Florence. Mud, detritus, heating oil, and other pollutants entered the church and caused such heavy damage that it took decades to repair. On several visits, I witnessed the repairs to the main floor and to the tombs covering the entire surface. We had to walk on cardboard while the tombs were hidden from sight. I even wondered why rich Florentines would want to be buried in the floor and get trampled on by visitors and worshippers alike. The most famous were actually buried in the walls.

The renovations were finished on this visit and the tombs in the floor were restored to their original glory. It must have been quite smelly in the church when all the dead people had been buried constantly in the floors and the walls.

We left the church after lighting more candles and walked to Leonardo’s leather shop. My students had been fascinated on previous visits by the beautifully embellished book covers and leather goods. On this trip, as a memento, I bought Dave a leather tray embossed with his initials. An apprentice pressed the thin foil of gold onto the rich burgundy leather with an old-looking embossing press.

In the narrow street outside, a group of four Chinese tourists were busy watching their doctor painstakingly free a pigeon that had entangled his legs and claws into numerous thin strands of silk and could no longer fly.  Using tweezers, a nail clipper, and an antibiotic spray, he released the bird after giving him water and a couple of seeds. The bird was a bit confused, walked like a drunk for a bit and then flew away to everyone’s applause who had witnessed the rescue.

From this point we stopped at the Gold Corner, not far from Santa Croce and bought an exquisite Christmas gift. We walked to the famous Gilli café, in operation since 1793. It was a real disappointment! The service was bad, it was noisy, hot, and the sweets were way too sweet but the coffee was divine. Scuderi, on the other hand, a café from the turn of the 20th century, had delicious cookies which we brought back to our hotel. After a Caesar salad with chicken and delicious cookies to boot, we were ready for a restful sleep after covering so much historical hallowed ground in Florence.