Day 36 – Florence

Today we took the train into Florence from Pistoia to visit the Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio, an organization that aims to keep alive traditional weaving of silk velvet and brocade. Our guide Eva Basile showed us the Jacquard looms that still function as they did in the 1800s.

This weaver is creating cut velvet by inserting metal rods across the textile with the weft, then using a sharp razor-like instrument to cut the threads.

This weaver is creating a brocade by manually weaving in the gold thread as the pattern dictates.

Hundreds of bobbins, each tied to a lead weight, are needed to create the patterns. When a thread breaks, the weaver must find and repair it.

Eva showed us the paper Jacquard cards that are used to create the designs. The Fondazione has thousands of cards representing traditional patterns but also creates new designs and so must punch new cards. Eva is wondering where she can find material to make new cards as the special durable cardboard she has been using to made cards is no longer available.

The Fondazione creates textiles for restorations, museums, and high-end designers such as Ferragamo.

We had lunch at a place called Natalino where I had a plate of testaroli al pesto. This dish is traditional to an area bordering both Tuscany and Liguria. The testaroli are made of flour and water, grilled on a large flat pan then cut up, boiled and served with a pesto sauce. It was quite tasty.

Next we visited Paolo Carandini, an artist who creates whimsical boxes from parchment. He showed us the varieties of parchment he uses.

He burnishes the surface with this device.

He showed us a box he made containing each of the poisons mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.

Another contains letters, articles, and ephemera related to the U.S. Civil War.

Next we visited the Scuola del Cuoio, a leather school located in a former Franciscan Monastery of the Santa Croce Church. The Medici family donated this dormitory to the Franciscans and had it adorned with images of the family along with religious frescos. It has a fascinating history involving the Gori family,

We were lucky to have Beatrice, granddaughter of founder Marcello Gori, as our guide. The Scuola del Cuoio was founded in 1950 by the artisan Marcello Gori and his brother-in- law and best friend Silvano Casini. Beatrice showed us the various types of leather and how each is best used.

This man gilds the leather with gold leaf.

Each piece of a bag is made by hand. Some students at the school continue to work there after graduation. Others are easily able to find jobs with the skills they have learned.

Beatrice’s brother also works in the enterprise. Here he stands next to a jacket he has just finished.

Back in Pistoia, my main dinner course was a risotto of peas, shrimp and roe, with streaks of buffola. I so much prefer meals prepared alla casalinga, like nonna used to make.

On the way back to the Locanda San Marco, we stopped in at the nearby Church of San Bartolomeo, a 8th century church whose walls still show remnants of frescos that once covered the surface.

A beautiful, but tiring day in Florence. Tomorrow we are off to a winery in the countryside of Pistoia.

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