Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Semana Santa In Puerto, Florence, and Venice

Romans and Jesus in El Puerto de Santa Maria
This year, instead of celebrating the entire Semana Santa in Puerto, we decided to see what Semana Santa in Italy would be like.  Todd had never been to Florence or Venice, April is a great month to visit those cities (summer is too hot and crowded), and we’d moved, giving up our front-row balcony seats of our old house for the Puerto processions.   Sara and Dave Durkovich had also moved to Puerto with their two boys, Olsen and Aden, who get along great with Tia and Sasha.  It was a perfect combination.

Still, we managed to squeeze in a couple of processions before leaving. These rituals are so charming to me, I was sad not to be here, and I insisted on running down the street to catch the beginning from nearby Parroquia San Joaquin.  The way that the whole town comes together, the young guys preparing to carry the floats on their backs, the families crowding the sidewalks, the tolling of bells and scent of incense, all stir me with their ancient routine. 

La Santa Maria Leaving San Joaquin Parish

Even now, these white gowns and capirotas still startle me

And then off to Florence we went.  We landed first, the Durkovichs two days behind us as our Spring Breaks didn’t overlap.   And we dove head-first into the land of gelato, pizza, and pasta, all so ubiquitous and delicious.  We grazed our way through the streets, crossing the Ponte Vecchio with its designer shops, the Uffizi with its miles of Medici plunder, and strolling the banks of the Arno.  In a tiny plaza we met a Guatamalan priest; this was his first assignment, he told us, not bad!  The tiny Chiesa de Santi Apostoli even had its own processions in the equally tiny Piazza de Limbo, but that was the week before.

Petting the Lucky Pig in Florence.  If a coin you put in his mouth drops down the drain, you will return!

On the banks of the river Arno

Chocolate bunnies for Easter were a hit!

As we chatted, the father’s English nearly perfect from his training in Denver, he remarked that he’d also trained in California.  Where? I asked.  Oh, in a town called Cupertino, in a seminary on San Juan Road….which turns out to be the very street where I grew up, and I’ve visited that seminary!  Serendipity at work again.  The church itself is lovely and subtle, in keeping with its 11th-century origins, and one of the only churches left that retain its Middle Ages character. 

The Guatamalan Padre from Cupertino!
A beautiful little church, a great first assignment!

A new tactic we developed this trip was to watch documentaries of the places we were visiting.  A fascinating one that both families watched together was the building of the famous Florence Duomo.   The city began construction in 1296 on the Duomo with the goal of outdoing the great cathedrals of Pisa and Sienna, but their ambition outstripped the technology available at the time.  For over a hundred years the cathedral sat without a dome, open to the heavens and a big black eye to the city fathers.  

Ouch, that hurts.  How to fix it?
Desperately they sought a solution to how to construct a dome of that size.  The problem was that the dome was so huge and so high that is was impossible to erect wooden scaffolding to hold the bricks in place until the keystones were placed.  Somehow it had to be constructed so that the bricks wouldn’t fall off as the slope of the dome increased towards the peak.  

The Duomo truly does tower over the city

Brunelleschi finally solved the problem, although he was extremely secretive, sharing the details with no one and burning all computations, so it’s still somewhat of a mystery how he accomplished this amazing feat.  It’s a great story; the Duomo remains the largest brick-construction dome in the world.
(Watch the documentary here)  

Secret brickwork design by Brunelleschi
How DID Brunelleschi figure out how to build that dome??

Friends with a view

Still not too old to ride a carousel

Four days were too short to see Florence, especially since we spent one day in Pisa climbing the Leaning Tower.  Closed for over ten years to the public, we happily climbed up  the leaning staircase and out over the charming city of Pisa.  One more for my bucket list!

Whoah, that looks dangerous!

The Duomo was meant to beat out this beauty of a cathedral

Beautiful and Bella (ha, ha)

Helping out

We saw as much as the kids could stomach of the Uffizi, gawking at the Greek and Roman art the Medicis had accumulated; the kids knew lots about Greek and Roman mythology from the Rick Riordan book series.   Then a quick trip to the Galileo museum to pay homage to the great scientist, and off we went to Venice.

Italy: Beautiful women...

...and handsome men!
Venice was packed this Easter weekend, and with just two days there, we saw the Piazza San Marcos, went glass shopping in Muriano, and of course ate well.  But the highlight again was the documentary explaining just how Venice had been constructed on the soft, swampy ground that the early Venetians fled to in order to escape the maurading Gothic and Hun hordes.  

The Venetians constructing their hideaway
To create a platform strong enough to bear the massive weight of something like the Cathedral San Marcos, they took long, narrow poles from the nearby forests and sharpened the tips, then drove them down into the muck.  Do this many thousands of times over, and voila!  You have a foundation steady enough to build on, including the immense churches that dot these islands. 

Skirting the rising tide in Piazza San Marco

Unfortunately the tides and sea level seem to be rising, as well as some sinking going on; Venice’s long-term future is uncertain.  We noted the standing water in Piazza San Marcos which rose and fell with the tides, and the kids were not persuaded by the explanation of waste from houses being flushed by the tidal flow.  But then, they loved the gelato!

One of the best things about Italy

Once back in Puerto, we started gearing up for the feria season, even though I already knew that the wedding we would attend in May meant missing the whole Puerto feria.  Oh well, there’s always next year!

Viva la feria!

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