Primavera, or Spring in Tuscany
Right now in Tuscany, the rains are subsiding and the sun is shining. The colors are more vivid than at any other time of year. Springtime, or primavera, is here.
Primavera is a beautiful word, especially as pronounced by a native Italian speaker. It rolls right off the tongue and out into the world like a mini song. The word makes me think of freshness and youth. When I think about it in the context of the Italian language, it reminds me of “first truth,” which would actually be prima verità. But it definitely involves the concept of “first,” bringing to mind the first bloom of the season. It is a word that evokes the newness and freshness of this time of year.
The other Primavera that comes to mind is the famous painting by Sandro Botticelli. This masterpiece of the high Renaissance has an aura that must be observed in person. On a recent visit to Florence, I stopped by the Uffizi Gallery to pay my respects to Botticelli’s work. There’s a lot going on in this painting, and its true meaning has been debated over the centuries. On a very surface level, it is clear that it’s about springtime and new growth. It has been said that 190 different species of flowers are visible in the composition. One’s allergies act up just looking at it.
The figures in the painting are various mythological characters, with Venus and Cupid as the most clearly recognizable. Some members of the group seem to be celebrating, some look peaceful or maybe bored, while others appear distressed. Take the female figure being attacked by a blue-faced winged male while a vine crawls out of her mouth. It sounds pretty gory the way I describe it, but the overall feeling of the painting is one of new beginnings and things blooming. In fact, many of the female figures, to me, seem to be in approximately the second trimester of pregnancy, though this is just my unconfirmed theory. Entire books have been written about the painting’s speculated meanings. But I’d rather take it at face value and simply admire its beauty.
Back to primavera, the season. You may be wondering what Italians do to celebrate this time of year that has such a beautiful name. The answer is that they do much the same things we do here in the States. They get outside and enjoy the bright colors and warmer weather. And this is the season of Pasqua, or Easter. Italians know how to celebrate this religious holiday in style. They enjoy parades and shows for days leading up to Easter Sunday, and Florentines bring things to a pinnacle with a fiery explosion in the Piazza del Duomo.
Most of the traditions of Pasqua remain the same each year. But this year a cool new way to take in the blooming outdoors is to check out the reopening of the Parco Mediceo di Pratolino. This vast park located an easy drive just north of Florence was once the grandest of the Medici family estates. The palace, which unfortunately was subsequently destroyed, and the surrounding fairytale-like gardens were built in the mid sixteenth century. The park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and considered by some to be a small Versailles in Florence, has been under restoration for a while and is reopening on Easter this year. It costs nothing to walk around enjoying the fountains, statues and natural landscape, and only a small fee to have a guided tour.
Lastly, you may be wondering what Italians eat during primavera? The answer is apparently not pasta primavera. Although I have never seen it on a menu in Italy, I always assumed that pasta primavera, like most pasta dishes, originated at least on some level in Italy. However this dish, which mixes fresh vegetables, pasta and a creamy sauce is not in the least Italian, according to a list of “top ten Italian foods that aren’t Italian” that I found on the internet. It was listed right there along with Italian soda, Italian dressing, caesar salad and mac ’n cheese. Apparently pasta primavera was created by award-winning New York-based Le Cirque chef Sirio Maccioni in the 1970s. However, I looked him up and guess what— he was born in Montecatini Terme, Italy, which is in Tuscany. So there.