Saturday, September 13, 2014

An Italian Sampler. Part 2.. Napoleon's Italy

Bastia, Corsica.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born in the town of Ajaccio, Corsica in 1769.  The island also claims that Christopher Columbus was also born there, as many other places do.  Some historians claim that Napoleon is the second son of Corsica and that Pascal Paoli is # 1 since he is considered the father of modern Italy and created the Corsican Republic that was an independent state in1755.  In the Place St. Nicolas in Bastia, there is a marble statue of Napoleon depicted as a Roman emperor carved by Francesco Bartolini in 1853.  This park was built in a landfill material that was excavated from the construction of a railroad tunnel in the XIX century.  Corsica is known for the “vendetta “code that mandated revenge to preserve a family honor.
Near the park and closer to the waterfront, you can find the conning tower of the WWII French submarine Casabianca.  This sub escaped the German occupation of France and joined the Allied Forces.   During the war it saw action mostly in intelligence missions and in delivering war supplies to Corsica for the French resistance.  The sub was named after Captain Luc-Julien-Joseph Casabianca who was a French naval officer that fought under Admiral Comte de Grasse in the battle of the Virginia Capes, defeating the British fleet in 1781.  This led to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis in Yorktown and the independence of the United States.  In 1798 Casabianca was the captain of the French flagship Orient who carried Napoleon to Egypt.  The Orient was sunk by the English fleet during the battle of Aboukir Bay killing most of them aboard including Casabianca and his 12 years old son.
Strolling around Bastia, one finds the typical sights of a Mediterranean coastal city offering great photo opportunities.  The first image of a fishing supplies store below I suspect is just set for tourists since it was the only store of this type; very colorful.  Next is one of the fortresses that defended the city during medieval times followed by the beach cove.  Being a port town, one finds a multitude of colorful ferries navigating the waters.

During WWII Corsica was invaded by Italy but after the downfall of Mussolini in 1943, the Italian forces changed sides and joined the Allied forces.  The Free French army landed in the island of which the 4th Moroccan Mountain Division was a component.  They fought in the battle of Teghime and the monument below commemorates that event.  The landscape image is the view of the mountains and coastal area from that point.  Lots of bikers were observed in the mountain roads of the islands which I assume are very challenging.

The Corsican flag (Bandera testa Mora) represents a black moor head and its origin I found obscure.  But it appears it has been used since the middle ages and incorporated into various countries flags, coats of arms and paintings. In some European countries in the XV century it was used to represent saints with African origins. It also known as the Maure symbol and originally the headband was a blindfold that was raised.
                                                        Portoferriao, Elba
This city is the biggest in the Island of Elba and best known as the site of the first exile of Napoleon Bonaparte.  The name means Iron Port because of the iron mills that were once the source of wealth.  It was of strategic importance in the Renaissance and strongly fortified.  The yellow building below was Napoleon’s House is; he escaped from the island and returned to France where he governed for Hundred Days until finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.

The island is About 12 miles from the Italian Coast in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Today its major business is tourism.  The major attractions are the fortifications around the island and the various shops.  It takes a lot of walking to visit the 3 fortifications in the island.  To reach one has to walk around the island requires detours thru some of the neighborhoods.  Most of the houses are painted yellow and/or pink and have potted flowers or climbing vines in the front.

I saw this memorial in one of the parks and though that is was a memorial to a fallen fireman because of the flaming marble corner.  It happened that it was in honor of a Finance Officer that was killed during a terrorist attack in 1973 at the Fiumicino Airport in Rome.  In 1985 I was at this airport coming home. A week later watching the night news saw that it was attacked again.  The video showed a coffee stand inside the airport with all the chairs and tables knocked around…the same place I was drinking my last cup of expresso before boarding the flight home.

The island is a tourist paradise for northern European coming for the sunny holidays.  The port was full large yachts belonging to the glamourous people and the beach umbrellas waiting to be rented.  The flower was growing from the fortress walls and was very common; it is caper; the thing you eat.  And it is time to say “arrivederci” to Elba.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

An Italian Sampler. Part One.

During this summer travels in Italy I visited a previously known place plus several others that I have not been before.  Started in Florence my favorite Italian; I used to say when I die I wanted to be reborn in Tuscany owning a villa in top of a hill and a winery in the valley below.  The city still has the historical sites but the charm of 30 years ago, when I first visited, is gone.  The constant state of repairs around the city and the crowds, just ruin the place; nothing but long waiting lines to enter the famous museums.
Yes, there is a way to avoid the long lines but the spontaneity of just walking and running into a historical site and just entering is gone.  And the street art, graffiti is quite original.

 But mostly, there are lots of interesting people carrying on with their lives as the bag lady; how does she manage to carry 7 bags?  Then the street chalk artists, who rely in the tourist tips, knowing that by the next morning, their work will be gone.  Or the bored tourist thinking “what I am doing in here?  And the local lady buying her breakfast bread while the restaurant cook, takes a break before the arrival of the lunch crowd.  Not to forget about the street bully yelling at a competitor because he was settings his painting to close to his.

Florence is a great still a great place for wearing out shoes in  the streets in the summer; but it is not as it was depicted in the book “Room with a View”…I was born too late.

From Florence took a day trip to Volterra, probably best known as the birthplace of Giovanni daVerrazzano, the first European to enter the Hudson River. Yes, the one after which the bridge that connects Staten Island to Brooklyn in New York City is named.  I happened to be in this village on market, with abundance of tempting delicacies and flea market (junk) items to be admired.  Then walk the twisting narrow streets and finally visited the Roman Theater grounds before departing.

Driving in the countryside the unavoidable visit to a local winery happened…and surprisingly the wine tasting is free!!!  Down the road, near the town of Tavarnuzze, one finds The Florence American WWII cemetery.  It is the burial place of Americans soldiers that lost their lives fighting to liberate Florence.  It is immaculate kept and worth a visit, the war maps in the mausoleums give a clear understanding of the complexity of liberating the Italian Booth.