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Friday, May 23, 2008


Toscana (or Tuscany) is known largely for its fantastic landscape. It is a region of beauty, mountains that meet their end on the warm shores of Tyrrhenian Sea. All of Tuscany seems to be painted with a dusty, pastel palette; it comes as no surprise that artists have been drawn to the region for centuries. The Tuscan city of Florence (Firenze) was the place that legendary artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli, as well as writers like Macchiavelli and Dante, called home. Their work, and the work of several other renowned Italian painters, can be seen in Florence’s Galleria degli Uffizi, or the Uffizi Gallery. According to, the Uffizi palace was originally built, beginning in 1560, for government offices. Still, the Medici family, a family of great power in Tuscany at the time, reserved areas to store and display their impressive art collection. Today, the Galleria degli Uffizi is one of the most popular art museums in Italy.

Pisa, a city known more for its architecture than its art, is located about 60 miles west of Florence. Though the Torre Pendente (leaning tower) has become Pisa’s signifying symbol, there is so much more to the city to explore. Even in the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles), the piazza where the Torre Pendente is located, are other beautiful and historic pieces of architecture including a Duomo, a Bapitstry, and a graveyard.

June is a very eventful month for Pisa and could provide an extremely interesting travel experience. On June 16th, tens of thousands of candles are lit and placed around the city’s palaces that line the Arno River, all in honor of Pisa’s patron saint, Ranieri, who is celebrated the following day.

Also in June, Pisans compete in the Regatta of Saint Ranieri, a race between four boats representing the four historic districts of Pisa, with rowers costumed in Medieval dress. On the last Sunday in June in Pisa, a historic battle (the battle of the bridge) is recreated into a sort of tug of war contest across a central Pisan bridge.

Aside from these two famous cities, Tuscany is full of wonder and beauty. For more information about Tuscany, visit

Monday, May 19, 2008

Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: Part I

Born in 1463, Count della Mirandola was an Italian philosopher and humanist. Many people who lived during the Renaissance believed that Count della Mirandola was the ideal man. His handsome looks reflected his inner harmony.

In 1484, Count della Mirandola went to Florence. he soon become one of the most active members of Lorenzo d'Medici's Platonic Academy. He was also the most active supporter of Italian Neoplatonism. The Count studied Hebrew and wrote an essay on the reconciliation between Chrisitanity and Platonic philosophy.

In 1487, the Count was forced to withdraw 13 of his propositions. In 1488, he was arrested because of his clash with Pope Innocent VIII.

Israel's Wine Revolution: Part I

Israel, that tiny Middle Eastern nation, is celebrating its 60th birthday as a democratic nation. A little known fact is that Israel produces wines. Let's follow a bit of history to see another entirely different Israel--one that you have never experienced.

History of Israeli Wine Making

It is said that the Middle East and East Mediterranean was the cradle of wine production. The ancient land of Canaan was, indeed, one of the earlies countries to develop viniculture 2,000 years before wine got to Europe!

Recent archaelogical expeditions to the area seem to support this historical theory. Scientists have found ancient wine presses as well as storage vessels that show that a well-developed wine industry existed there. Old coins and jars have been found with wine type designs.

Friday, May 16, 2008


One of Italy's 20 regions, Lombardy (also known as Lombardia) is a fascinating place. Within the region is the infamous city of Milan, the largest city in the north of Italy, known worldwide for its fashion output. Fashion, however, is not Milan's only claim to fame. It is a fast-paced, whirlwind cultural experience that wouldn't be complete without its marvelous museums or monumental pieces of architecture. One such building that is an absolute must-see on a trip to Milan is called the Duomo.

According to, the Duomo is one of the world's largest cathedrals, second only to the cathedral of Seville, Spain. Beginning in the late 1300s, its construction took several hundred years to complete. Over time, design trends change and thus, this cathedral is a brilliant combination of both Gothic and neo-Gothic architecture. For more information about the Duomo, visit the Sacred Destinations website at
98 miles south east of Milan you will find another exceptionally charming Lombardy city: Mantua (Mantova). Though it might seem somewhat uninviting in the winter months due to the immense fog (the city is located on the banks of the Mincio River), the city's art makes it an attractive and popular travel destination. A center of Renaissance art, Mantua's monuments are largely dedicated to a single family, the Gonzagas, a peasant family who took over the city in the early 1300s, controlling it until the 1700s. Their control spanned over some of the most influential years in Italian art and since the Gonzagas were passionate about art, their collections can still be seen all over the city, especially in their former home, Palazzo Ducale.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pietro Aretino, the Bold

Pietro Aretino was born on April 20, 1492 in Arezzo, Republic of Florence Italy. He was a poet, prose writer and dramatist who wrote in a bold inimitable style in 15th century Italy.

Aretino traveled to Perugia as a young man. He painted there for a time and then left for Rome in 1517. One of "The Aretine's" closest friends in Venice was the painter, Titian. Aretino sold many of Titian's paintings to Francis I, King of France. Titian painted a portrait of Aretino (c. 1545 that showed him wearing an elaborate gold chain. The gold chain was a gift to Aretino from Francis I.

Aretino wrote many satirical essays but he is best known for his Italian tragedy, Orazia published in 1546.

The Wonderful Wines of New Zealand

New Zealand is a country surrounded by ocean; but, it is also a country dominated by rural pasture. For the casual diner, much is available: crayfish from the sea, lamb and venison.

Chiefs of the Pacific Rim Basin cook with an international flair. These men and women use the energy of a young country to cook with food. The reputation, therefore, for the finest freshest food goes along with award winning wines.

Vineyards abound in New Zealand. From the elegant boutique vineyard to an estate vineyard, everything embodies what Americans call "class." For example, the Kumeu River vineyard owned by Mick and Kate Brajkovich and their son, Mate. They emigrated from Yugoslavia in 1938. In 1989, Michael, the Brajkovich grandson, became New Zealand's first member of the prestigious Institute of Masters of Wine, London.

For more information about New Zealand and its fascinating viniculture, please see

Friday, May 9, 2008

Beautiful Bifolium

The picture of a commercially produced manuscript entitled "Rosarium" written and illuminated in Bologna Italy toward the end of the 13th century is being displayed on the website of the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. This can be found at on the archive page.

This bifolium is material evidence that commercial manuscript production was a complex Renaissance project that involved many hours of arduous work by scribes, illuminators, decorators, notators and correctors. These craftspeople were supervised by different contractors.

The Sommelier: Jean-Luc Le Du

More complicated than the wine waiter, the sommelier (wine steward) is an educated wine professional who works in a fine restaurant. He or she specializes in all types of wine service.

Jean-Luc Le Du is the former sommelier at the restaurant Daniel. He is now the owner of Le Du's wines in New York City's West Village. Mr. Le Du has performed every aspect of the sommelier: sipped, swirled and spat. He has worked with some of the best wine on Earth!

Forever the total oenophile, Monsieur Le Du shrinks in horror when he sees a bottle being stored in an upright position or a bottle being stored at room temperature. Mr. Le Du believes that his shop is as close to perfect as possible. He's not giving up until it is.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Greco-Roman Contributions to Wine History

The spread of Greek civilization brought wine to Europe around 1600 BC. There are very detailed descriptions of wine culture in Homer's Odyssey and the Iliad. Wine had become an important commodity of Greek commerce. Greek doctors like Hippocrates, were the first to tell their patients to use wine as part of medical practice. The Greeks perfected the use of herbs and spices to keep wine from spoiling.

The very basis for viniculture in Western Europe has been attributed to the Romans. From 1000 BC, the Romans worked in areas life classifying different types of grapes and they identified the myriad colors. They observed the ripening process as well as treating diseases. Romans became experts at pruning and increasing crop yields with advanced irrigation and fertilization methods.

The Baroque Era: The End of the Story

Annibale Carraci and Caravaggio are the two artists who should be credited with the integrity of the Baroque tradition. These important figures of art history brought strength and power to Italian painting which has been classified as "artificial and often complicated in style" in the late 16th century.

In the 17th century, Rome was the artistic capital of Europe. The Baroque style spread to what was then known as Flanders, France and Germany. In some countries, it became extravagant in style and in other countries it was modified to suit more conservative tastes. In France, Louis XIV used the arts to promote his imperial presence. His palace at Versailles represents a grand amalgamation of architecture, sculpture, painting and decoration.