Archives for September 2010

Let’s Hear it for Renaissance Man – and Woman!

The division between being an artist or a scientist has always struck me as totally artificial. How can you classify someone as 'an artist' or 'a scientist' as if they are mutually exclusive?

At school when it came to choosing my A level subjects, all my teachers were pushing me towards the arts as I had done so well in English and history. However, I was completley fascinated by mathematics. So I decided I wanted to do English, history and pure maths. Well, you would have thought I'd asked to study advanced pornography. 'You CAN'T' the teachers told me. 'Maths is a SCIENCE subject. English and history are ARTS.' It was at that moment that this ridiculous division really hit home. Out of awkwardness and annoyance at how stupid this was I pushed and pushed and eventually they changed the timetable so I could study all three subjects. I'd love to tell you that I went on to get an A in maths but sadly my enthusiasm wasn't matched by aptitude and I didn't pass. But I had been a little bit of a pioneer for breaking down the barriers, in my school at least.

When did this artificial division begin? I decided to do a little research and discovered that the split was prompted by Copernicus and really took hold in the 18th century, the era of the Romantic poets. Visionary poet William Blake detested Isaac Newton apparently! You can read more about it here, in a review of a fascinating lecture and book by Richard Holmes in The Guardian.

I continue to be eclectic in my interests, as fascinated by quantum physics as literature. To me, these areas are parts of a bigger picture than I will probably ever understand, but it's fun trying. The Theory of Everything does not belong to scientists but to all of us! It isn't Artists v. Scientists but Renaissance People all working together that helps us move forward.

Making a Pass

I've recently discovered just how close we live to Florence. It's actually only about 35 miles, which is half an hour if you are an athletic crow with an interest in the Renaissance.

As we live in a closed valley in Tuscany with a row of mountains between us and the Tuscan jewel, I normally there by train, which involves going down to Arezzo and then up to Florence, a trip of about two hours if you include waiting around. This explains why I had always laboured under the misapprehension that Florence by car was like a tantalus  – there but impossible to reach. Because by car involves going over the Consuma Pass, you see, and even the name conjured up images of a single file of mountaineers roped together and teetering over a crevasse.

I blame Alan. As a motorcyclist he regaled me with tales of the Consuma Pass – with more bends than a Slinky – its slowness, its altitude. 'There's a bus to Florence,' I ventured one day. Sharp intake of breath. 'It'll be very, very slow. It could take you two hours, it goes OverThe Consuma Pass...' Yes, yes, I could see it in my mind's eye, the bus painstakingly making its way around a sheer drop, perilously angled, the passengers clinging on, eyes closed in silent prayer as they gripped their rosaries. Maybe I would stick to the train.

Imagine my surprise then when on one of our new weekly days out, (well, mornings out with lunch) Alan suggested we go to the top of the Consuma Pass. My eyes widened. Would I need crampons? A flask? I nodded in agreement, wondering if we had a tent in the car.

And then we went on this lovely smooth, slightly curvy road with views over flower-filled fields. 'When does it start?' I asked, admiring a sparkling white herd of Chianina cows lying in a circle on lush green grass. He pulled the car over by a wooden hut with a big sign. This was a bar. 'We're here,' he said. 'This is the top of the pass.'

'What? This is IT? But you said it was perilous, slow – BENDY!'

'I didn't.'

'You did!'

And so it went on, this good-natured banter between Alan and me, his geographically challenged and confused wife. So Florence is as near as this is it? And I never knew.  Hey, I could go there all the time!

So all we have to do now is go down the other side of the Consuma Pass. But wait. Maybe that's the scary bit. Maybe that's the reason we stopped at the top and turned round…




The Power of the Right Words

I thougt you would like to see this very short film. I was sent a link to it the other day and have just watched it. It's only 5 minutes long but will bring a tear to your eye. Why am I posting it on here? Because this site is about, amongst other things, getting your message across. This encapsulates that concept perfectly.

Click here: The Story of a Sign


All It Takes is the Right Equipment!

We're lucky where we live here in Tuscany to have a cartoleria just a mile away. This is a shop which specialises in a sumptous array of paper-related goods, from scrapbooks decorated with real autumn leaves to writing paper lovingly crafted in Florence. They also have stationery – pens, pencils, glitter – as well as seasonal items like hallowe'en masks and carnevale face paint. There is personal service and the owners will wrap things, weigh things, count things and cut things for their loyal clients.

It was in a cartoleria that I first spotted a shelf groaning with gorgeous aged brown leather notebooks stuffed with pale cream sheets of thick hand-made paper. Each glorious object made you want to grab a quill and create epic verse immediately.

I feel sure that anything written on such exquisite material would have significance, be valuable and valued. The book that has stalled on the computer screen would dance into life if it was written on this paper, as if the very act of creating the words on the page could transform dull prose into something magical. Imagine – Merlin might have had a notebook like this. Or Shakespeare.

Wouldn't it be amazing to have enchanted paper and pens that pulled great writing out of you and spun it onto the page? Of course there wouldn't be a spell check or editor or cut and paste. But anything written on the magic paper wouldn't need those, would it?

I didn't buy the notebook in the end. I had such high expectations of it and was afraid to be let down. But every time I see one in a cartoleria I stop and pick it up, imagining the wonderful words hovering around it in the ether, just waiting…