Friday, April 27, 2012

Italy: Spring 2012: Friday, April 27: Day 3 Livorno

Day 3 Livorno

Another beautiful morning and another superior breakfast at the Grand Palazzo Hotel.

We have an appointment to tour Jewish sites in Livorno this morning. Livorno has been an important center of Jewish life in Italy since the 16th century when Jews (along with many other non-Italian, non-Catholic groups) were invited to come and settle in Livorno and help develop the commercial ventures of the Medici. The Jews mostly came from Spain and Portugal, fleeing the inquisition. The community numbered over 1,000 even into the 19th century when, with the decline of the port, business dried up. Still there is a rich tradition of Jewish life in Livorno which was centered on the large and imposing Tempio Israelitico begun in the late 17th century.

Livorno was heavily bombed during World War II and the synagogue was destroyed. The present building dates from 1962...built on the same site but in a very modern style.

Our guide is late and we spend twenty uncomfortable minutes waiting for her with two people who turn out to be our “minders” as we visit the synagogue, museum and cemetery. 

When the guide does arrive, she apologizes for her English which in fact is not very good but, with the help of one of our “minders”, we learn something about the building and the community. The interior of the synagogue is more pleasing than the somewhat odd, massive concrete exterior.....very high ceilings with lots of natural light. The ark and the bima are old—some from the old Livorno synagogue, others from synagogues around Italy. The women's gallery is upstairs- this is an orthodox Sephardit synagogue.

We are told that the Jewish community in Livorno still numbers 600, down from 2,000 at the beginning of the 20th century.  They do have services on Friday night and Saturday morning as well as on Monday and Thursday. Perhaps we'll go tonight. We learn that there is a kosher butcher shop in the market and a kosher bakery in town.

A striking feature are the two rectangular bands of red cut glass windows set high up in the front wall which sends shafts of red light around the sanctuary as the sun passes overhead. The red color is supposed  to represent the Jewish blood that flowed during the Holocaust.

We also visit the smaller sanctuary in the basement where services are held during the winter....they still use some of the religious furniture that was rescued from the ruins of the old synagogue.

Next stop is the small Jewish museum housed in an old building that used to be the local Yeshiva. There is one room with a couple of glass cases and a large gilded wooden ark. The cases have various prayer implements, Torah covers and other memorabilia—some quite impressive. There is also a scale model and some pictures of the old synagogue which was really quite impressive.

We then drive across town to one of the old Jewish cemeteries which was used during the 19th and most of the 20th century. It is quite overgrown and “our minders” and the guide are quite apologetic but I thought it gave the cemetery quite a melancholy feeling. Some of the gravestones are quite simple and plain and others are more elaborate, with carvings and sculptures. The wooden doors to the ruined building in the center of the grounds are half burnt and charred......but we don't know whether it is a result of vandalism or just accidental.

Our last stop on the tour is the childhood home of the 20th century painter, Amadeo Modigliani who grew up in Livorno and whose family was active in the Jewish community. There are rooms filled with biographical information, photographs, reproductions of Modigliani paintings, pictures of his early sculptures (he had to give it up because the dust aggravated his tuberculosis) and homages to him by Italian artists who were influenced by him.

We found the visit to Casa Modigliani very interesting...the guide was better prepared to describe his life and career. Modigliani felt that he had to leave Italy because his style of painting was too radical for the very conservative Italian art establishment. So he went to Paris, leading a bohemian life as part of the early 20th century art world that was revolutionizing modern painting.

He died an early death at age 35 (tuberculosis and meningitis) and, according to the guide, his fame world wide is much greater than his fame in Livorno and Italy. 
He was an extremely handsome, attractive man and here is one photograph taken of him in 1908 that is very reminiscent of the young Marcello Mastroianni; the photo could  easily have appeared in a fashion magazine in the 1970's.

We decide we want to have lunch outside since the day is so nice and we end up at one of the bar/restaurants that line the Viale Italia, the waterfront boulevard where our hotel is located. We pick one at random, take a table in the sun and have a very relaxing, pleasant and mostly delicious lunch. We do break one of our “rules” (and it is only the second full day of our trip) and have a bottle of white wine with lunch. We both have a tasty “land” antipasto—salume and cheese; Diana then has a large salad and I have the fritto misto. The waiter is very charming and we thoroughly enjoy ourselves.

After lunch, we drive back downtown to check out the right way to the ferry for our early morning departure tomorrow. We are glad that we did since the approach is quite convoluted....but I save the location on the GPS and we know the way. We make a quick stop at the TIM store to buy some credit for our “internet” key  and then go back to the hotel for a rest.

After struggling to get my internet key to work, I decide to walk back to town and see if the wireless phone store people can help.  I really enjoy the walk and it takes much less time than I expected; I was at the TIM store in the heart of the city in about 25 minutes.  I end up buying a new key and the friendly staff sets it up for me.  I walk back a different route and get to see yet another part of the city.
Diana has been on the roof quilting and enjoying the sun...we have a farewell we have lots of company enjoying the fine weather.

We decide to pass on services and since we don't have much appetite for dinner, we walk over the pizzeria where we ate on our first night. Unfortunately, the waitress who took care of us isn't working tonight so we can't get the advantage of being "returning" regulars.  But when it is time to order, the waitress from the fist night appears.  She was eating at the pizzeria with her family and was pressed into service--ostensibly because there were no other English speaking staff on duty.  She is very friendly--it turns out she is Rumanian married to an Italian--and introduces us to her 2 year old son.  

Unfortunately the pizza doesn't measure up to the fantastic bread-like white pizza that arrives on every table....but luckily we aren't too hungry.

We say goodbye to our Rumanian friend and her son...she says "Hope to see you again soon" as she did on our first visit.

At the hotel, I do a little work and we start to pack...we have a 5:30 am wake-up call.  We need to be at the ferry terminal by 7 am.

Tomorrow will be my first "sea voyage"....and we begin our 16 days on Sardinia.
Jim and Diana

 PS Unfortunately my problems uploading the pictures continue....but  am ever hopeful of a resolution.