Of Venice and Color

Of Venice and Color

Explorers and Warriors at the Fortezza Santa Barbara

Explorers and Warriors at the Fortezza Santa Barbara

I would probably never have known about Pistoia’s renowned public preschools if I didn’t have a daughter who attended them. Over these past five years of her education I’ve been able to meet some of the delegations and educators from schools around the world who come to Pistoia to learn about its schools and educational approaches. Talking to them has always been interesting for me to hear about the differences between public preschool education where they live and here in Italy. The Italian International School, La Scuola, in San Francisco, California, my home state, is one example of a prestigious American school who from the beginning drew much of its inspiration from Pistoia and Reggio Emilia public schools as Italian role models. It is a private school, however, and I remember how one educator from a California delegation in Sausalito once told me that there they have to fight for quality public preschools. There is a recent article here (in Italian) by the Il Tirreno newspaper about educators from the US, Spain and Denmark visiting Pistoia last spring, and an interesting academic article here (in English) about a Pistoia preschool visit published by the University of Nebraska.

With my five year old daughter in her last year of Scuola Materna this is her fifth year of attending preschools here, with one year prior to that where I was able to take her to the city sponsored parent-child play space, the “Spazio Piccolissimi,” for children from birth to one year old three times a week and for three hours each time. For me this experience was a saving grace for that first year as a new mother, and will be the focus of separate post because it was much more than a parent-child play space and an example of how a city government can support new parenthood with its resources.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Italian Early Childhood/Pre-Elementary education system, the actual preschools in Italy mean two years of Asilo Nido (the nest) which is typically from 6 months old, and in some cases from one year as was the case with my daughter’s school. All of the students stay with the same teachers and classmates for the two years of the Nido while they then continue on with three more years at the Scuola Materna where they have a new set of teachers and new classmates with whom they create strong bonds before being ready to begin the Scuola Elementare, elementary school and entrance right into First Grade.

A current project that my daughter’s class from the Scuola Materna “Il Castello” (The Castle) is working on is about the medieval fortress as well as castles as its main themes. They are setting out on their yellow school bus and heading out weekly on field trips to different art spaces and areas around Pistoia to become little “explorers” and “warriors” (the esploratori and guerrieri).



Keri Smith, Rule #2 in How To Be An Explorer of The World



Keri Smith’s late night insomia scribbling before writing her book, “How To Be An Explorer Of The World.”



It was a special occasion for me as a mother of one of these child explorers to be able to come along and take photos for the morning and document the beginning of their adventure on their first field trip for the project. Another one of the class parents, art historian Martina Meloni, who works in the Pre-School Education department of Pistoia, developed the itinerary and led the excursion that day with the help of the class teachers. For me, being a guide who often works with children and families who are travelling – and who I typically only see for a few hours – this experience observing my daughter’s class project out on the fortress fascinated me as I listened to the children’s reactions and responses to various questions Martina or their teachers asked them. I was able to see up close what particular details about this immense medieval fortress captured their imaginations.

As soon as we arrived the children were given the heavy fortress key by the gate keeper to pass it around and hold it. He treated them to a surprise climb through a secret little door before we left after they had done a series of educational activities including a walking game of measurements, learning about the old horse stables and prison spaces, as well as an historical lesson in the fortress’s old chapel.

What is stunning about Pistoia’s Fortezza Santa Barbara is the spectacular mountain view just beyond the city. You could see the snow covered mountains waiting for the skiers and snow explorers on that recent chilly but sunny February day.

As the next months proceed the class will continue with their fortress project. At the end of the school year the class will host an exhibition displaying the student’s artwork as well as their observations and thoughts about fortress and castle life at one time.

For more of the historical background of the Fortezza Santa Barbara by Martina Meloni, as well as some beautiful photos of the grounds, see this article in Naturart.




This is number 12 on the list above by Keri Smith and certainly one rule to live by for all of us!



Coffee and Flowers

Coffee and Flowers


IN THE MOOD for coffee and flowers for this late February weekend.


“Live on coffee and flowers. Try not to worry what the weather will be.”

-Matt Berninger


The above is a lyric from Conversation 16 by The National that I was listening to this morning while having tea for breakfast, but while thinking about coffee. The coffee did eventually come later through the old Bialetti Moka that is so withered by time by now that it has lost its shine as any good espresso maker does with age. The results are still always the same: steaming hot, black coffee in a demitasse cup. Classic Italian caffè. This coffee in the photo was in the coffee shop, La Casetta, that I wandered into while on a walk with a friend recently during a trip to Rome. We took a sudden detour and walked inside inspired by a curiously placed rose that I wrote about here.

The flowers in the photo are in our neighborhood in Pistoia. I noticed them during a walk with my daughter after I picked her up from preschool one afternoon last week on our way to a friend’s house. Sitting calmly next to the flowers and leaves was a fluffy tabby cat with a wounded leg who was busy scouting out the street scene as we passed by and pretending to be half asleep as only cats know how.

Thinking of flowers, coffee and walks outdoors, here is a song to end the week and begin the weekend by Lenny Kravitz about his daughter, Zoe. I listened to it often when expecting my own Zoe, now just over five years ago.



Flowers for Zoe
Love for Zoe
Angels and rainbows
All kinds of things you can call your own

Gardens for Zoe
And oceans for Zoe
Jungle gym playgrounds
All kinds of things for you to explore

-Lenny Kravitz


A Rusty Blue Train

A Rusty Blue Train

This old train in Pistoia is one that I pass by every time I head towards my commuter train to Florence. It sits inside a graveyard of rusty trains that have been laid to rest. On most days I rush past them on my bike in a hurry and don’t often stop to contemplate these locomotives of another era.

What is there not to love about trains?

Here is a passage from the beginning of Italo Calvino‘s postmodern literary masterpiece, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, (1979) translated by the great American translator of Italian Literature, William Weaver.


“The novel begins in a railway station, a locomotive huffs, steam from a piston covers the opening of the chapter, a cloud of smoke hides part of the first paragraph. In the odor of the station there is a passing whiff of station café odor. There is someone looking through the befogged glass, he opens the glass door of the bar, everything is misty, inside, too, as if seen by nearsighted eyes, or eyes irritated by coal dust. The pages of the book are clouded like the windows of an old train, the cloud of smoke rests on the sentences. It is a rainy evening; the man enters the bar; he unbuttons his damp overcoat; a cloud of steam enfolds him; a whistle dies away along tracks that are glistening with rain, as far as the eye can see.”




For the love of trains and the poetic and nostalgic music of Italian musician, Paolo Conte, here are two of my favorite songs of his with some lyrics about trains.

Azzurro & Il Treno Va can accompany the readings of some of those “Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified” as mentioned in Calvino’s novel.



A Rose in Rome

A Rose in Rome

For this IN THE MOOD post here’s a rose that caught my eye.  I can’t think of a better way to recharge at the tail end of a winter season in February than a fast two day escape to Rome and a short hour and a half train ride from Florence. Being able to walk all around with no serious agenda or commitments and just visit with a friend, Linda, who lives in Orvieto and commutes back and forth between Rome and Orvieto for her eco ho[s]tel, The Beehive, made for a perfect impromptu getaway.

With Valentine’s Day was approaching, I noticed this lone flower as we wandered down into the low key village feel of the Monti neighborhood. It made me immediately think of the Missed Connections site by one of my favorite graphic artists and children’s book illustrator, Australian born and New York based, Sophie Blackall, who reads the missed connections notices from Craig’s List in New York City and draws whimsical sketches, weaving imaginative stories around just a few sentences. In her words, she essentially draws inspiration from “the online listings posted by lovelorn strangers hoping to reconnect.”

Because this fragile rose had been placed slightly dangling over a pipe, while I was taking photos of it from different angles the owner of the lovely La Casetta deli/caffè/wine bar noticed and walked outside. He was worried that his wall might have been tagged with graffiti once again. This friendly and engaging man walked us around to the front window and showed me the handwritten message on the glass shopfront addressed to the visitatori notturni, the “nighttime visitors,” the graffiti vandals, that is.  In the message he begs them politely not to vandalise the property again for the fourth time and suggests they come for a coffee in the morning instead, promising they won’t be denied one. I admired this act of active citizenship by one local small business owner standing up to this public degradation by marking up his own storefront with a response, but I was also touched by the simple gesture of generosity contained in the message.

After talking, we decided it was time for yet another coffee for us (Rome’s coffee is particularly famous, so when in Rome…) so we stepped inside, chatted with him more and lingered just a little while longer over our coffees before continuing on.

So with this rose, Happy Valentine’s Day and Buon San Valentino, imagining all those mysterious stories and missed connections, but above all appreciating the kindness and generosity in people and the impromptu moments in life we share with friends, loved ones and new faces.