Sunday, December 7, 2008

Silk, Perfume, Music and Food- another side of Florence

Florence is visual overload! I needed an antidote, and found it on the streets of Oltrano, on the ‘other side’ of the Arno river.
The huge brick workrooms of the Antico Setificio Fiorentino, the ancient Florentine silk factory are just along from the best lunch we ate. Trattoria Sabatini , via Pisana 2/r ,is a family run restaurant where the Buccioni family served us with pollo arrosto, patates arrosto, cavolo crude roast chicken, potatoes and coleslaw) and creamy stracchino cheese , and the usual glass of red wine, very cheaply . For once we were the only tourists in amongst local business people and artisans.
Back to the silk. Behind a wrought iron 18th century gate is a fabric lover‘s paradise- walls and walls of silk , damasks, brocades, linens and taffetas, in every shade, with braids, tassles and trims for every possible design scheme. Only an hour before, in the perfect Cappella Brancaccio we had seen two Florentine gentlemen in a 15th century painting wearing flowing garments of heavy velvet and silk, woven in this very factory.
Ten master weavers produce exquisite fabrics on six wooden looms from 18th and 19th century , and on six 19th century mechanical looms, for private houses, theatres, palaces, and state buildings in Italy and around the world. We saw photos of the Grand Palais of the Kremlin completely refurbished in Florentine silk. There is a Catholic connection here ,even with silk ,as it was Catholic missionaries who brought silk , and silk worms, back from China in the 12th century. However silk weaving has been in private hands ever since. I love the story of a new colour being invented for the birth of each baby in these families, and that colour being available only to that child’s family till its death. How is that for ‘exclusive’? Even now all fabrics are hand dyed, with no chemicals at all,
The saleswoman explained that Florentine silk is very different from Thai silk, and in her opinion much superior. I touched the soft filaments of silk , and
I lusted after a ’travellers pack’, consisting of a pillow and silk to match, but at E90 it was a bit much for a souvenir.
Antico Setificio Fiorentino, via L. Bartolini 2/4, Florence. Showroom has free entrance, and guided tours of the workshop are offered, by appointment only. Tel 055 213 861.
To the sensuous touch of silk, we added the smell of roses. Near the railway station is an imposing doorway leading past frescoes and antiques, into a 16th century version of the Body Shop- Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. Nowadays a temple for the wealthy to pamper their bodies, the Pharmacy is one of the oldest n the world. Founded in 1221 by Dominican brothers selling their herbs and medicinal remedies, it is in a former chapel, and retains an air of quiet reverence. There are glass fronted wooden display cupboards housing such delights as eaux de colognes, essential oils, baby products, nourishing oils, powders, soaps and gels.The perfumes sounds like a florist shop- lavender, iris, gardenia, jasmine, violet, verbena, and the most popular, rose.
The inside of the body can be nourished with teas, tisane,s, honey products, herbs and infusions. There is even chocolate, licorice and extra virgin olive oil. All in exquisite packaging, at exquisite prices.
It is a beautiful, aromatic peaceful place to visit, and to marvel that the shop has been in that exact place since 1612
Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. Via della Scala, 16, admission free.
Music in Florence comes in many forms. Plainsong at S.Miniato al Monte, chant each midday at Badia, sung by the Brothers and Sisters of Jerusalem
A chamber concert in an Anglican church, across the Ponte Vecchio, in Oltarno. Franz Moser, an Austrian, studied the piano for years, then completed his law degree. He now lives in Sienna and organises concerts in Florence. In a beautiful Romanesque church, softly lit, with icons, frescoes and renaissance art on the walls, Franz played a fine grand piano to accompany Eva Mabellini, a well known Italian opera singer, in a recital of classical arias by the likes of Mozart, Rossini and Bizet. Franz played Chopin, Schubert, and Debussy, and we wished there had been more.
All profits from this Associazone Musicale support a charity project , AMALA,in south India.
All of these places we found in a wonderful book .
To Florence con Amore : 77 ways to love the city. by Jane Fortune
The Florentine Press 2007

1 comment:

  1. Great to get your postcard and learn of your blog. Now we can follow your travels. Sounds like you are having a wonderful time. We miss you dearly. Love from the Hams