Author: Deirdre Pirro

Deirdre Pirro, author of "Italian Sketches: The Faces of Modern Italy", published by The Florentine Press, is an international lawyer who lives and works in Florence. Her writing focuses on modern Italy, its people, its history and its customs. Follow her on Twitter @dp_in_florence or contact her at [email protected]
October 27, 2020

Barsene “Baldissera” Conti

On May 15, 1896, a small, slender woman with a baby in her arms lay down across the tram track in Brozzi, a town on the outskirts of Florence. Her name was Barsene Conti, soon to be better known as “Baldissera” after General Antonio Baldissera, governor of Eritrea. For the month between May and June, […]
October 6, 2020

Historic quarantine in Livorno

When William Magee Seton left New York on board the  sailing ship “Sheperdess” on October 2, 1803, he could not have imagined he would never return to his homeland. Born into a wealthy and socially prominent family, he and his wife Elizabeth Baley, known as Eliza, whom he had married in 1794  seemed to have […]
July 6, 2020

Balena Baths in Viareggio

Locals have called it “la Passeggiata”, or the promenade, since 1902 when it was inaugurated in Viareggio, the seaside town called the “pearl of Versilia” in the province of Lucca. This three-kilometre-long esplanade offers visitors a unique architectural display of decorative Art Nouveau as well as more symmetrical Art Deco villas, historic cafes, bathing establishments, […]
June 17, 2020

The Tuscan tre lire stamp

Looking for ways to pass the time before the gradual ending of the lockdown, I pulled down from the shelf one of the volumes of my old stamp collection, which I had begun as a child. Suddenly, I was watching history unfold before me on the pages: kings and queens who had died, countries that […]
May 20, 2020

Prince Paul of Yugoslavia

From April 21 to 24, 1969, Sotheby’s of London held its first auction in Italy. At the request of Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, it sold important Italian and French furniture, works of art, silver and other objects that belonged to the royal from one of his homes, the Villa Demidoff at Pratolino. Of all the […]
March 2, 2020

Gioachino Rossini, a gourmet and connoisseur

In 1829, at the peak of his superstar fame as the composer of more than 40 operas including L’Italiana in Algeri, La Cenerentola, La gazza ladra, La donna del lago, Il barbiere di Siviglia, his masterpiece, and his last opera, Guillaume Tell, the genial and exuberant Gioachino Rossini suddenly stopped writing music for the theatre. […]
February 25, 2020

Edgar Degas and his Italian family

One of the earliest masterpieces by the 19th-century French impressionist artist and collector Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, who later adopted the simplified version of his name, Edgar Degas (1834–1917), hangs in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Titled The Bellelli Family, it depicts Degas’ relatives in the sitting room of their rented apartment in Florence’s piazza Barbano […]
January 22, 2020

Consonno: Italy’s long-lost Las Vegas

The road to arrive there is now only open at specific times, mainly to allow mourners to visit their dead at the local cemetery, while the remnants of the settlement are considered by some to be an environmental hazard. Consonno is a ghost town nestled in the northern part of Italy known as the Brianza, […]
December 18, 2019

The Yule log

In the days running up to Christmas, many patisseries and bakeries around Florence display a Yule log or, as the French call it, bûche de Noël, in their windows. This delicious cake is usually a sponge baked in a large, shallow Swiss roll tin and, when cooked, rolled into a cylinder shape with a layer […]
November 12, 2019

Sant’Ambrogio Market

After ten troubled years, the magnificent—although at the time controversial—cast iron and glass construction of the Vittorio Emanuele II gallery, which linked the city’s cathedral to the Scala theatre in Milan, was finally finished on the penultimate day of December 1877. It was to be inaugurated the next day, but the man who designed it, […]