Pienza / La Foce - 4 June

Near Pienza, located in the crete senesi (clay hills) of Val d'Orcia, is the remarkable regenerative residence of La Foce. In 1924, Antonio and Iris Origo sought out a villa and an area that needed their ministrations. Surely they were unaware of the overwhelming effort that would be required, as the land and people of that time were barren and destitute. Slowly they brought back the land through crop rotation, planting windbreaks and olive groves, and creatively restoring the villa, farmbuildings and garden with the help of Cecil Pinsent, an English architect. Today their labors are carried on by the daughters Benedetta and Donata.

La Foce is a place of commanding repose, deep grace and astonishing beauty. The smiles on the faces of Institute members were evidence of its power. It shows how a few individuals, with hard work and commitment, can create a home in the world that resonates beyond its borders and changes everything for the better. But in the first session of the day taking place in the Granaio, Casteleuccio, Benedetta Origo made clear that the work is endless and often thankless. This was seconded by Robert Pell-de-Chame with his continuation of the family's work at Fort Ticonderoga.

The photo above shows the Granaio (now meetinghall) and a farmbuilding that can be rented. It illustrates that urbanism begins when you have two buildings. Even in a rural setting, with nature beyond, this is where civilization begins. Just as one person alone does not make community, one building alone does not make urbanism. It takes two to tangle.

Ex Tempore members passed on the worthy second session to blend color and water up the hill in the Castelluccio ("little castle") that can also be rented and is the site of a chamber music festival in the summer - Incontri in Terra di Siena. Everyone else joined us for a tour and then down the hill to lunch at L'oasi La Foce.

Oh. My. God. What a meal! What did we have? I seem to remember olives, pinci pasta with hare sauce, braised wild boar and pana cotta with fresh wildberries. The exact meal was lost in the warmth of contentment and the fog of too much good wine. But it was delizioso, squizito!

Pienza - 3 June

Morning began with case studies of the Biltmore Estate, Callaway Gardens, Starkey Ranch and work by the Prince's Foundation project in Lincoln. The first three explored family legacies of trying to create special places out of often denuded landscapes. An extremely useful tool presented by Hank Dittmar of the Prince's Foundation is a graph adapted from Steward Brand that shows 'pace layering' - the differing rates of change that cities must accomodate.

This means that some things like fashion happen on a faster cycle and must be accomodated within the body of the city, without losing the longer cyles of culture and nature, which must be sustained and stewarded. The effort is relentless, a Sysiphusian quest to hold the destructive parts of human nature and Mother Nature at bay long enough for civilization to gain some traction.

For lunch, we trouped off to a wonderful example of a relatively new Italian legacy project, Fattorie di Donatella Cinelli Colombini. that was actually in the family in the 1600's, then returned to them in 1919 (the virtue of patience). The properties have often been passed down from mother to daughter, and today Donatella has a winery run by all women. They have two main wines of the area, the Brunello di Montalcino and from the other valley Nobile di Montepulciano. They also make a new wine that is the 'poor stepsister' of these two famous wines - Cenerentola (Cinderella). The lunch was magnificant, with unbelievable soups and fresh pinci - hand rolled local pasta - and a meat fountain (see below).

Afternoon we moved to Castello di S. Giovanni d' Asso - home of Museo del Tartufo (Truffle Museum). We reviewed projects in Woodstock and Sundance that showed the need for a blend of public and private, for-profit and non-profit entites to sustain the villages and the landscape that contains them.

After another stroll with the whole group in San Quirico, we collapsed with only the crusts of panini to sustain us for the evening.

Pienza - 2 June

The 11th century church Pieve di Corsignano has this figure in the window over the entrance that as far as I can figure is Mrs. Butterworth, patron saint of pancake syrup and other viscous liquids (I could be a little off on that). The Romanesque church is located down the hill along the Via del Bacio ('way of the kiss') with its unusual circular tower anchoring it to the landscape. This was the site of our last official Ex Tempore water slinging.

The afternoon began the Seaside Pienza Institute and the program discussing how to manage and sustain legacy properties, both in Italy and the U.S. The opening took place in the Town Hall, overlooking Piazza Pio II. It is number 5 on the plan below - what is interesting is that even though it is much smaller than all the other major buildings, it holds it own in term of public presence and importance in the meetingplace of the Piazza.

Pienza - 1 June

Pienza is known as the ideal Renaissance Italian town - also known as the 'little medieval hilltop village that could'. Silvius Piccolomini (later Pope Pius II) rebuilt the village to represent humanist planning principles (of course, some humans get the better end of the stick...). Rossellino, another great redheaded architect, supervised the work, including the travertine-fronted Duomo (1459 start), the Pallazzo Piccolomini, just a notch down in fancy dress for the Pope, and the PalazzoBorgia, not so fancy at all, for the lowly bishops from Rome.

On the fourth side of this trapezoidal-shaped piazza is the town hall, or Palazzo Pubblico. Since the Pope was born here, this tiny (11 acre) village was upgraded to the status of a city.

Today's Ex Tempore tasks were streetscapes, often difficult in these villages because of wanky vanishing points. This one below was done from the Piazza Pio II looking west along the Corso Rossellino (a street named after a redhead - my people). The only non-public building on the Piazza is a very humble corner store.

Later, we began to include landscape by trying the promenade edge on the south (the Via del Casello) looking towards the Duomo. Some of us competed in how big we could make our towers.

In the evening, we went to another dinky, charming town (I need to ask Victor where) and had more lard, this time on steak.

San Lorenzo Nuovo - Pienza May 31

Driving to Pienza we happened upon a little known planned town of San Lorenzo Nuovo (1774) done by Francesco Navone to replace the old town in the malaria-ridden swamp near Lake Bolsena. Unlike many 'perfect' geometric towns, this one had a nice homey scale, while still being a model of clarity.

The main road goes through the octagonal piazza, and the church to the northeast acts at a backstop to the cross axis, which leads up the hill to the monastery. To the north and south of this road are a series of squares and greens that are more informal than the main piazza. All in all, a charming town, and one that could be easily replicated in many ways in the US.

Arriving in Pienza after lunch, we met up with Victor Dupui and David Brain along with other members of Ex Tempore, to do watercolors in Pienza for 2 days. After spreading water around and generally making a mess, we went to the nearby town of San Quirico d'Orcia, which was an unexpected delight.

Another Eutruscan-rooted town with a great travertine block Medieval church and Renaissance squares and a Baroque Palazzo, San Quirico was spiffed up, but not touristy. The dinner at the Cafe was spectacular, especially the lard.

Civita di Bagnoregio - May 30

Civita de Bagnoregio is known as 'the dying town' but was settled 2500 years ago by the Etruscans. Earthquakes in the 1600's cut off the main road and soil like riccota cheese dropped buildings off the edges for years. In the 1960's a pedestrian bridge was built and remains the only way in (and out, other than the aforementioned edge). Today there are 14 full time residents (down from a peak of five to six hundred), with more in the summer and many tourist in the summer on weekends.

The photo above shows the some of the blend of restoration and decrepitude that is found just inside the main gate. This building is mostly renovated, with new roofs and windows, but you can see in the corner that there is sky instead of window. As you go through the door there is a small terrace where the rest of the building used to be, now at that bottom of the hill. Therre is mainly one piazza with a decent baroque church, and several overlooks, although most of the 'view' is private terraces and gardens. We stayed at the B & B - http://www.civitadibagnoregio.it/ which is probably more charming when Franco is there. It is very quiet at night - no cars, no people - now that's my kind of town....

Gardens - 30 May

Gardens can be playful, intellectual, allegorical, bizarre and sometimes just darn purty. They even smell nice. Leaving Tivoli, we first went north to Caprarola and the gardens of Villa Farnese. The Villa itself is a pentagon, built upon 5 sided fortress foundations from the 1500's. Vignola designed the Villa and gardens as well as Villa Lante, the next stop on our trip.
Villa Farnese is an imposing edifice, looming over the town, but the interiors are surprising domestic in scale. We were forced to go along with a guide (he no english, we no italiano) and we kept pointing towards the garden, but he made us see all the rooms and then reluctantly let us outside, The two major gardens are rather severe and geometric, but a path leading through the woods up a hill beckoned us to something else. Our guard, er guide, chased after us, saying (I guess) that we couldn't go there, but there was a large group coming from that direction, so we pressed on. In the clearing beyond the woods was the magnificent Casino, a summerhouse with elaborate fountains and sculpture. It was worth incurring the wrath of the keeper of regulations.
Villa Lante in Bagnaia, also is embedded at the edge of a town, and the gardens go up a hill, is much gentler in its manner towards the town, and much more inviting as a series of garden spaces defined by pavilions, rather than gardens adjunct to a structure. Part of the surprise of Villa Lante is that there is no Villa, but two casinos on either side of a central axis. The entry garden is all low box hedges, almost like a front lawn, and then a series of terraces, water rills, fountains - much like Villa d'Este. The elevation change leads to constant reviewing of the garden from above and below, making what could seem like boring symmetry in plan become dynamic in the vertical ascent.

Going from the sublime to the bizarre, the final garden du jour was Bosco Sacro (Sacred Grove) , or Bosco dei Mostri (Monster's Grove). Pier Francesco Orsini commisioned the garden in the late 1500's after his wife died, and the purpose of this garden was to astonish. After his death, it was reclaimed by the grove and forgotten until the 1800's and only recently restored. The garden doesn't follow typical Renaissance layouts or imagery - it is more like a pathway through the woods with surprising sculptures and images springing forth around each bend. The overall feeling was like Angkor Wat, with mysterious colossal carved beings in a struggle with nature, doomed to lose in the end.

Tivoli - Villa d' Este 29 May

The breakfast room of the Hotel Serene has a grotto (complete with buffet) carved out of the soft tufa stone, sharing the same stunning view of the gorge and temple, but we were more interested in caffeine. The rain was beginning to look like a constant companion, so we bought cheap ponchos and dove into the water gardens of Villa d'Este.
Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este began the gardens in 1550, designed and constructed by Pirro Ligorio, who also oversaw the reconstructions of Hadrian's Villa. Some of Hadrian's nuttiness wore off on him, as the garden is filled with all sorts of oddities and surprises, such as a two-dimensional owl clock that scares away fake birds, an organ powered by water, and the twisty lady above. But the main act is the water channeled by the force of gravity down a steep site in service of 'giochi d'aqua' or water games, seen in water rills, jets, sprays and other moist nonsense.
Later in the afternoon, our friend Kara Wilbur (from the Miami Urban Program) joined us for another tour of the garden. A good time was had by all. Dinner was in another tufa grotto, overlooking the same gorgeous gorge, and the misadventures of many hours getting lost taking Kara back to Rome and trying to find my way back to Tivoli at 2:30 in the morning.

Rome - Tivoli 28 May

After arriving in Rome in the morning and getting seriously lost on the ring road. we finally made it to Hadrian's Villa around noon. We went from the merely old to the seriously ancient. The image shows the complete reconstruction - because of no wireless internet, I am going to post photos later. We almost escaped the rain, but got caught in a downpour, taking refuge in a roped off area in the Baths (along with a short nap).
After a dash to Adriano restaurant (great tortellini with truffles, chased down by Amarone) by the gate, we found the Hotel Sirene in Tivoli down an impossibly small alley, with a ridiculously tiny parking space for our Smart Car. Fit with millimeters to spare!
The hotel is great - we have a terrace that looks at the Temple of Sybil and down into the gorge with a very noisy waterfall. Zonked out for four hours, then simple dinner of primavera pizza and insalta and yummy panna cotta with caramel. Tivoli is not a touristy town, but has a number of charming streets, squares and appropriately decrepit buildings. Tomorrow, Villa d' Este (if it stops raining)!

Providence 27th May

We are departing our humble 1860 farmhouse in Providence for 2 weeks in truly historic surroundings. We are attending the Pienza Institute in the middle part of our trip, arriving and leaving from Rome. At Christmas, we spent a week in Rome, so this time after arriving we are spending a few days in Tivoli. The flight should be easy - we leave from Providence in the afternoon for a short flight to JFK - then direct to Rome. Once there, we pick up our SmartCar and zoom over to Tivoli. A link to a map of our trip is at http://www.communitywalk.com/rome/italy/italy_2007/map/119997