Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Little by little

At last, the temperature visited below freezing point and it is starting to feel like mid-December. On Sunday, we finally dropped by to have a look at the artisan stalls at the Christmas Market on the other side of the river only a couple of blocks from here. It was the last day of the market that had been open in the recently renovated old storehouses on the Luostarin Välikatu, the cobblestone street that used to lead from a Dominican monastery to the town centre and the Cathedral (above), and at the Old Great Square (below) every weekend since late November. The artisan stalls at the present Market Square will be open until the 22nd.

Later that afternoon, we drove to the Kakskerta island to sing (that’s me) and listen to (that’s hubby) some of the greatest Christmas carols together with a churchful of people of all ages. I’ve been arranging the final kitchen cabinets plus uncovering the decorations. In a few days, our new home will be dressed for Yuletide. Now that we are living in a downtown apartment I don’t think even snowless conditions will cast a shadow on the season if only we would be spared from rain.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Man behind The Shoe

There is a great exhibition ongoing at the Museum Milavida in Tampere showcasing the career of the Italian maestro Salvatore Ferragamo, the most celebrated shoe designer of the 20th century. A few dozen of his iconic creations will be on display there until January 10. Many of them are from the 1930s and 1940s but strikingly innovative and up-to-date. Here are my favourites, the ones I would love to wear if I could endure high heels.

Prototype in kidskin, 1935.

Note the fish scale effects also on the heel, 1938-1939.

Upper and heel in fish skin, 1930-1935.

Striped upper and wedge heel in sea leopard skin, 1941.
Salvatore Ferragamo was born in 1898, started as an apprentice at a shoemaker in Naples at 11, opened his first shop at his home village at 13 and emigrated to the USA at 16 to work at a boot factory in Boston with his brother. He was not happy with the quality of factory-made shoes and moved to Santa Barbara at 21 founding a shoemaker’s shop there. His talents were soon noticed and he started to design footwear for the film industry, which took him and his business to Hollywood after a couple of years.

Innovative materials from the 1930s.

Upper and heel in woven grass from the Philippines, 1936-1938.

Upper in raffia, 1938.

Upper in cotton patchwork, 1930-1932.
After 13 years in the USA at the age 0f 29, Ferragamo returned to Italy opening a shoemakers shop in Florence. In 1938, he bought the Palazzo Spini Feroni which still serves as the headquarters of the company and houses their flagship store. He married a girl less than half his age, had six children, and continued inventing and innovating in Florence until his death in 1960.

Ferragamo's workshop at Palazzo Spini Feroni in 1937.

Upper in Florentine needle-point lace, 1935.

As above.

Upper in crocheted cellophane, 1941.

As above.
After Ferragamo’s death, his widow Wanda who had never worked in the company took over and gradually learned to run the whole show. Together with their children she has made her husband’s final dream come true developing the business into an international fashion brand. The group currently employs some 4000 people and has some 640 stores around the world. Today at the age of 94, she is still going strong heading the Fondazione Ferragamo that was recently established to promote handcraftsmanship.

Design for Sophia Loren on the left, and for Marilyn Monroe in crocodile skin and suede on the right.

The Kimo, a sandal with a fitted 'sock', 1951.
What made Salvatore Ferragamo unique – in addition to his incredible creativity evidenced by some 370 patents he obtained over the years – was his passion for the comfortable shoe. Very early on, he devoted time to studying the anatomy of the foot, which led him to inventing the shank, a metal support for the arch of the foot that was light but provided rigid strengthening. Each Ferragamo shoe still contains the shank to make it more comfortable to wear.

The Invisible Shoe with the upper in transparent nylon thread won the Neiman Marcus Award, the Oscar of fashion, 1947.

On the right, the Rainbow platform sandal designed for Judy Garland, 1938.

Upper in patchwork suede, 1947.
There is one more thing to show: the most expensive shoe Mr Ferragamo ever made. The below is the Golden Shoe with an 18-carat gold upper and heel. It was designed in 1956 for the wife of an Australian oil tycoon and made in collaboration with the goldsmiths of Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Whatever you think about using astronomical sums of money for a pair of shoes, you have to admire the exquisite design and craftsmanship.

 (More about the Milavida on a later post here.)

Also today, Ferragamo makes footwear for movies, such as Australia (left) and The Tourist (right).

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Tuning to the season

Now that we live in Turku, the Christmas capital of the country, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to witness the light-up of the nation’s premier Christmas tree. Quite a number of people, many with young children, were defying the fiercely cold weather attending the family-oriented event in front of the Cathedral on Saturday afternoon. Afterwards, many families also queued to have a look at the crib inside the Cathedral. We are saving that to a later occasion.

By the time the crowd was dispersing it was not only blowing heavily but also drizzling. Under these conditions, we are really in need of some prominent decorations to start tuning to the season. The majestic spruce tree is 22 metres high and weighs some 4000 kilos. It might just have made it for us.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Orange your world

Remember the pedestrian Library Bridge that served as the venue for an event I posted about a couple of months ago (here)? A few times a year for a special occasion, it is lit in colour. Yesterday, it shined in orange for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I had to rush to take a few photos (sadly without a tripod).

In fact, the United Nations has named the period from November 25 to the Human Rights Day on December 10, 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence inviting anyone to join the UNiTE campaign by oranging the world.

Most of us probably have a table lamp of some sort on a windowsill or some other visible place. So chop-chop, go dig out that orange scarf, tablecloth or piece of fabric and wrap it around the lampshade to orange your world and raise awareness of this long overdue cause. There’s still plenty of time to join, more than a fortnight actually. I certainly will, thanks to my mother’s rather extensive fabric stock she earmarked to me. That is most appropriate as she was passionate about gender equality decades before it became even remotely mainstream.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Castle and park

Back to October and Milan (my first post here), this is the Sforza Castle or Castello Sforzesco built by the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza, in the 15th century on the remains of a 14th-century fortification. The castle has been extensively rebuilt over the centuries and its walls currently not only surround several great courtyards but also house many museums.

We didn’t see any of the latter I must confess. I’m afraid we are rather easy-going travellers meaning that we very seldom make any definite plans beforehand about what we absolutely have to see. We generally determine which sights to visit only on the spot depending on a number of factors such as the weather, the location, the hour, our mood, etc. This derives from the time when we spent most of our days at an office and were always very tired when travelling.

So no queueing to the Duomos for us. We tend to make believe we can always do that another time in the not too distant future. This attitude – although probably not the wisest for a 60-year-old – has saved me a lot of irritation over our occasional meagre performance in sight-seeing. This time we chose a couple of the less popular churches and the castle as we knew it would swallow a lot of people without any difficulty.

There happened to be a Water Festival going on in the great courtyard of the castle presenting different aspects of water from the construction of the historic canals of Milan and the watering systems in the rice fields on the plains to present-day water purification. In addition, a few well-known designers had been invited to create a water-related installation in the two smaller courtyards.

The above is ‘Clear Sweet Fresh Water’ by Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel. In this work water is nebulised behind a planting of grasses and roses over a pool with a portico at the back. It beautifully conveyed a feeling of relaxation and serenity.

The other of the smaller courtyards was dedicated to the theme of water in everyday life. The central area constituted a work entitled ‘Water Garden’ created by Green Italia Network. It demonstrated how domestic waste water could be utilised for and purified by a garden. The orange pipes indicated the flow of waste water to the garden and the blue ones represented the return flow of purified water suitable to be reused for any other purpose than drinking. The running showers are a detail of the ‘Waterway’ by Piero Lissoni.

The day was very nice and sunny, ideal for us non-performers in holiday-making to take a stroll in the (at least by Milanese standards) rather large Sempione Park spreading to the north of the castle. In the 14th century during the Visconti era, a vast area behind the castle was used as hunting grounds. The last of the Visconti rulers, Filippo Maria, built the first garden in the early 15th century but it was later neglected. Napoleon, of course, had a great vision for the area. History intervened destroying his plans and the present layout of the park was created only in the late 19th century.

There are many sculptures in the park of English landscape style. One in particular made me curious: two times three high walls in black and white mounted on an elevated concrete platform standing between the pond and the Arco della Pace at the far end of the park built by Napoleon. It is ‘Teatro Continuo’, the ‘Continuous Theatre’ designed by Alberto Burri. The public stage was originally erected in the park in 1973 but demolished in 1989. It was reconstructed this spring to celebrate the centenary of the artist, who is also being recognised with a major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, I noticed.

When visiting Milan do not miss the Sforza Castle and the lovely Sempione Park. A most painless way to collect some sight-seeing points, too, if you happen to be into those.