A Visit to Venice, Florence and Rome
When I went on a mother-daughter trip to Venice, Florence and Rome two weeks ago, I was expecting to see a lot of art and hear some music here and there, but I don’t think I was prepared for exactly how much art and music I would encounter. Not just in the museums, but in churches and cathedrals, city plazas, street corners and even in hotel lobbies, the arts are alive and well in Italy.
My mother, who is now 71, had been to Florence and Rome about 45 years ago and Venice about 10 years ago. She’s always been an adventurous person and felt I would really enjoy Italy. So with my 35th birthday around the bend, and with a great deal on a three-city excursion that couldn’t be passed up, we were off to experience Italy together.
I’ve been working at The Long Island Violin Shop for about a year and a half, and when my boss Charles Rufino heard that I was headed to Italy, he put me in touch a with a luthier friend of his, who had relocated to Venice about 6 years ago.
One of the first stops we made in Venice was to visit Master Violin Maker Gregg Alf, an American who has relocated to Venice. He was busy preparing for a fundraiser with The Royal Academy of Music, London, but he sat with us for about an hour nonetheless.
When I asked Mr. Alf what made him move to Venice, he explained that he wanted his children to grow up in an environment where they could live the life on an artist and go to school where they could learn various subjects in multiple languages. He said that to live the life of an artist you have to feed your eyes and your ears with art and music. Mr Alf’s workshop was in boxes because his family was just settling into a new building, but I convinced him to bring out one of gorgeous creations and pose for a picture with it.
There is a long history of violin making in Venice and the violin is still an important icon in the city. Around every corner there was some kind of artistic rendition of a violin, whether made out of glass or in the style of a Venetian mask.
During our last night in Venice we attended a concert of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by the music ensemble The concert was held at la Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pieta, which is a church adjacent to Ospedale della Pietta, where Vivaldi was a music teacher.
Next we traveled to Florence where there was a continued abundance of art and music. I have always been a fan of Boticelli since I was in my early teens. I have a copy of the Birth of Venus over my bed, and it was amazing to finally see it in person, but what surprised me was how taken I was with La Primavera, which is believed to be Boticelli’s sequel to The Birth of Venus. Even though there was a huge crowd in front of it at its home in the Uffizi gallery, I stood in front of the painting for a solid 15 minutes, taking in all of the subtle details. I came away with a whole new appreciation for the painting that I had somewhat overlooked until now.
What was surprising in Florence was how many violin players we encountered in the various squares and piazzas of the city. I found the same to be true in Rome. One night I was overcome with emotion when we came across a vibrant young woman playing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in one of the Piazzas of Florence. She appeared to be in her mid twenties and was wearing a blue ballroom gown. Everything about her glowed, from her blue gown to her luminescent expression. In the days following we encountered several more violinists in the piazzas of Florence.
As a violinist myself, one of the most impressive things we saw in Florence was a collection of antique instruments at the Accademia Gallery, the same museum that houses Michelangelo’s statue of David. The collection includes a violin by Antonio Stradivari, a cello by Nicolo Amati and many other priceless instruments including an original upright piano, and a pair of antique hurdy gurdys. It was quite an experience to see this collection of instruments and then turn the corner to see the famous statue of David. I wasn’t expecting to be as emotionally moved by it as I was. I guess I was expecting it to be smaller? As my friend Emily said, and I couldn’t have said it better myself, “How could anyone make something so beautiful out of stone?”
Even after seeing Venice and Florence, I think Rome was the most amazing for me because of its ruins. Aside from being a musician I am also an archaeology student. Seven years ago after graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in Physical Anthropology, I went to the small island of Menorca, not to be confused with it’s larger and more popular sister Mallorca. On Menorca I participated in archaeology field school where our task was to take part in the excavation of the necropolis of a Roman settlement. We were literally unearthing the remains of Roman soldiers, bones that had survived for 2,000 years. To come to Rome and to walk into the great Colosseum and to stand in the layers upon layers of ruins in the Roman forum was overwhelming to me. I think that’s when it all really sank in.
On our last day in Rome we entered into the Piazza Navona, a place my mother hadn’t seen in over 45 years. There were probably about 1,000 more people there than there had been when she had seen it, but the two great marble fountains in the middle of it were the same, almost unchanged. As we sat at a restaurant to have a homemade pizza a young man settled next to one of the fountains with his violin and began to play Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. We had come full circle in more ways than one.
All in all I don’t think I couldn’t have asked for more on our trip to three of the most famous cities in Italy. I know I’m lucky for having gone and I’m lucky to have been able to experience it with my mother, the person who has taught me the most about what I value in life.