First, I learned that I should have explained what a sleep test is — not everyone knew. A “polysomnography” or sleep study is primarily intended to determine whether or not the subject has sleep apnea. “Obstructive sleep apnea” occurs when your throat muscles relax when you are sleeping, obstructing your airways, causing your breathing to stop and start while you are asleep. It is usually associated with snoring – those who have heard someone with sleep apnea will recognize the silence in the middle of a snoring session followed by a huge intake of breath in an extended snort.
Sleep apnea can lead to all kinds of cardiovascular problems and other health issues, as well as daytime sleepiness. Researchers have recently identified a link between sleep apnea and an increased risk of dementia. (As I told my son, who pointed this study out to me, nothing is more likely to get seniors to comply with a health recommendation than the threat of dementia.) The major snoring associated with the condition also causes distress to those who have to sleep next to it (or, in really bad cases, anywhere in the same house).
A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine corrects the problem: it involves a face mask and a steady stream of air. A friend of mine has pointed out that APAP (automatic positive air pressure) machines are now available. These adjust to the particular sleeper’s breathing patterns rather than releasing a continuous stream of air. An internet search reveals that there are also BPAP machines (!. They will eventually take over the whole alphabet!) that increase air pressure when you inhale, and reduce it when you exhale.
Since those who have sleep apnea don’t get enough restful sleep, they are often tired the next day. If you have a sleep test and are diagnosed with sleep apnea, you may not be legally allowed to drive unless you are using a CPAP machine, because of the danger that you might fall asleep at the wheel. Therefore, if you have sleep apnea, by using a CPAP machine you may be avoiding a ticket, saving your own life, preserving your brain, and reducing the risk of running your vehicle into other people and objects. Up to nine percent of adults have been diagnosed with sleep apnea but it is likely that many more have it and are undiagnosed. Therefore, having a sleep test when indicated is a Very Good Idea and my whining post should not discourage you. End of Public Service Announcement, but here’s more if you want it: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obstructive-sleep-apnea/symptoms-causes/syc-20352090
Here are other (related) things I have learned in recent days:
In the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, several of my Facebook friends have had “remote” sleep tests where they attach monitors to themselves at home and these are tracked remotely from the sleep lab at the hospital (or wherever it is located). At least those sleep-study subjects get to sleep in their own beds. I don’t know why they don’t do this in Ontario.
People in the United Kingdom don’t seem to be sent for this test as often as people in North America. Several Facebook friends in the U.K. had never heard of a sleep test, while most of those who responded from North America had.
A lot of people I know have had the test, and a lot of people have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and are now using CPAP machines. After they got used to them, most users love them because they sleep so much better with them, and they feel more rested during the day. I’m guessing that many of their sleep partners also love them: in addition to eliminating snoring, CPAP machines are great “white-noise” makers, as I can personally attest.
I wish I had stock in a CPAP company and, now that William Shatner is promoting them, CPAP Machine Sanitizing Systems might be a good investment too. (Not the sanitizing machines themselves: they’re too expensive and likely not covered by insurance. I mean stock in the company that makes them.)
Finally, here is a video of Phyllis Diller — to whom I referred in my previous post — sharing some early-1970s humour and looking sort of the way I did on Monday night hair wise, except that she has no wires.
I’m sure a lot of readers have had sleep tests. I am far more sympathetic to you today than I was yesterday. I don’t know how long it will be before I get the results, but I hope I never need another “polysomnography” again.
I got to the hospital at 8 p.m. last night and checked in to the sleep lab. They attached wires everywhere, including to a fingertip, my neck, my legs, my chest, below my nostrils, and a bunch of places on my head, using both goop and tape. There were also a couple of devices to wear for a study some students were doing (about sleep tests! They are hoping to create a system you can use at home. Good plan.) They gave me three long questionnaires to complete (seriously. About 15 pages total). Then at about 10:45 p.m., the technician, Steven, a gentle and patient man originally from Ghana, said “Do you have to go to the bathroom before sleeping?” So I walked to the bathroom trailing all my wires. I must have looked like an overfull colander of spaghetti walking down the hall. Managing in the bathroom was quite a trick, as I’m sure you can imagine.
Back in my room, I told Steven that the room was freezing, and he kindly brought me three more sheets, but I was still not warm enough. So in addition to the equipment, I had four sheets, socks and a bathrobe plus my sleep wear, and my hair stood up like Phyllis Diller’s. (Look it up, kidlets.) I felt like a car wired for a boost, and I was a sight for sore eyes, I tell you. Should have taken a selfie.
At 11 p.m., Steven hooked the wires up to the monitoring system and turned out the lights. Despite a sleeping pill, I tossed and turned. I tossed. I turned. I tried listening to podcasts but they were too interesting, and I couldn’t get Spotify (where I sometimes listen to the sounds of rain or ocean waves). So I gave up on that. I tried meditating. It didn’t put me to sleep, and I wasn’t feeling too zen so I probably didn’t do a very effective job of it. In fact, I was about ready to rip off all the wires and tell poor Steven to F*** the test: I was going to sleep without them. At about 2 a.m. I had to go to the bathroom again, so Steven came back in and disconnected me and then when I returned he reattached all the wires I’d disconnected with my tossing and turning and bathrooming.
At about 3 (I think) I finally fell asleep and at 6 a.m., Steven came in and said cheerfully, “Time to get up!” He pulled all the wires off, ripping off a thin layer of skin on my face, neck, chest along with the tape (“Sorry, Sorry, Sorry”), and gave me another questionnaire. There was goop all over me because of how they attach the things that hold the wires, but they can’t let people have showers because of COVID so I left the hospital goopy. Arnie (my guardian angel) was waiting outside at the appointed hour (7) and he drove me to McDonalds for breakfast (we ate in the car), then we came home and I went to bed and slept for three hours. It was a night to remember.
The last question on the last questionnaire was “Do you have any comments?” I said, “The room was too cold.” I figured the rest of the problems came with the territory, but I had to complain about something.
I really do mean the “Thanks” part. I’m grateful to everyone who sent me messages of support. I wouldn’t have covered nearly as much ground as I had if you hadn’t been cheering me on. Also thanks to you, if intentions had been actions, I’d have covered a lot more territory.
But with two weeks ahead of me before my foot surgery, and a week of swimming and canoeing but no jogging behind me, I am giving up my running aspirations for the nonce. (Nonce = maybe just for six months, and maybe for longer. Time will tell.)
I’m not stopping because of my age: I know (because I have several friends who are doing it) that being over seventy is no reason not to run, unless there are actual physical restrictions. Which fortunately, I do not have. Essentially, in my case, given my appointment with the foot surgeon, I should have started this program in the spring.
On the positive side, my appreciation for walking has increased. 🤓 When you walk, you can take pictures more easily – like the ones I took (below) last week in Muskoka. So that’s what I’ll be doing for a while. Except when I’m sitting on the couch with my foot up.
Special thanks to Dan, for the words of support, and the running chart. At this point, I’m optimistically filing it for next year.
Just a quick update tonight because we are out of town on a mini-holiday and it’s hard to focus on writing a blog post when you’re sitting on your hotel balcony looking out at a Muskoka Lake. Maybe by tomorrow I’ll have grown used to the change of scenery but after four months (!) of being mostly at home, it is a sweet break.
During Week Two (which ends today), running continued to be a challenge. I promised myself part way through it that if it doesn’t get easier within another week or two, I will switch to (fast) walking. My sister is doing that — five to eight km a day! – and has been since the pandemic began. I am so impressed with her. Mind you, she is a LOT younger than I am (not really. Just 18 months) but obviously she is staying in great shape and keeping her spirits up by striding all over the west coast, while I drag my sorry butt around a few city blocks in Toronto.
It wasn’t all bad. I did notice a bit of improvement: for a couple of minutes on my second and third running days, I did manage to find that elusive “zone” where I find it as easy to run as to walk. But it has been much harder to reach that zone this time around than on any of my previous attempts to re-start my running program. I am hoping that Week Three is the turning point where I finally start looking forward to going out.
In the meantime, for a few days I can swim! I love being in the water, and I have always preferred a lake over a pool. I grew up in London, Ontario and when I was a kid, many summers we came up to Muskoka for camp or to visit friends and relatives who had cottages. After spending decades in Alberta, where they don’t have what I think of as “real” lakes, I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to revisit Muskoka since I moved back to Ontario. It’s just the perfect place for me: evoking long-lost memories as well as making new ones.
As Week 2 began, I was hoping that I would be able to announce how much easier the second week was than the first. The start was promising: it was a lot easier getting up early than it was last Monday. In fact, I set my alarm for eight (since it was a holiday and all) but I woke up at 7, so I got up. In spite of that, it was almost noon before I prodded myself out the door for my run, and it was warmer and muggier out there than I had anticipated.
It’s cooler this week than it was last week, but it’s still warm when the sun is out. Between the heat and the humidity, plus the fact that the running time on my training schedule had increased from 2 minutes run/3 minutes walk (times six) to 3 minutes run/ 2 minutes walk (times six), it was a huge struggle to complete my assignment for the day.
But I did it. (My musical accompaniment was Pink.) And today I went for my walk, dodging raindrops. So I’m still on track.
Tomorrow I’ll go out when I get up. Difficult as it is, it’s really the only way, at least as long as the summer heat is on us.
I found an article in The Guardianlast week that certainly might help get me out the door if my brain were functional enough at 6:30 in the morning to think about scientific evidence of any kind, which normally it is not. It concerns a report from the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention and care in the UK that reviewed a lot of existing literature and added some new studies of its own on the subject of dementia. The Commission determined that by addressing certain lifestyle factors, “up to 40% of dementia cases worldwide could be delayed or prevented.” Physical inactivity is only one of twelve risk factors mentioned in the report, but it’s one of the ones that individuals can do something about — unlike, say, pollution. (Note to younger readers: exercise is particularly beneficial in this regard when practised starting in middle age.) Since the report points out that depression is also associated with dementia, and since exercise definitely helps to lift the spirits, physical activity may thwart dementia on two fronts.
I am very grateful to my friends and followers for the positive feedback I’ve been getting on this undertaking. It helps a lot.
Photos from my walk today include an unidentified flowering tree and a snail – both enjoying the rain.
My goal at the outset of this new regimen is to get out there every other day for a total of three runs a week. I have read that muscles need an opportunity to recover, and for that reason running every day is not recommended. (Those who offer such advice are probably talking to people who run five k in half an hour, which isn’t me. But I figure I might as well keep the wear and tear on my aging joints to a minimum.)
However, running only three days a week creates a problem. I know that if I don’t get up at the same time on the other days as I do on my running days, I will never develop the getting-up-early habit, and rolling out of bed will continue to be a battle. So I’ve decided to try to get up at the same time on the other days as well and instead of going for a run, go out for a walk.
Guess what? Going for a walk turns out to be far less onerous than going for a run. You have more time to check out cloud formations and you can smell the trees. You can even give yourself permission to stop to take pictures of interesting things, which you can’t do when you’re running. Take this chair set in the back of someone’s yard, looking out on Sheppard Ave. It’s the kind of chair I’d love to sit in: it’s far from human activity on three sides, well shaded, and looks out on the traffic going by on a pretty busy street (albeit somewhat less busy during a pandemic than usual).
I also found a path heading off into the woods from that busy street, and I was very tempted to see where it led.
So far this week, I’ve done two runs and two walks. This is a definite improvement over last week, and the week before that, and the one before that, etc. Many steps in the right direction. I am grateful to all those people who I imagine are reading this blog, because you’re the ones who got me out there! Onwards.
Just fyi, my first week’s schedule is 2 minutes of running plus 2 minutes of walking, repeated six times, plus a warmup and cool down at five minutes each. The first day out I was accompanied by Queen, and the second time by Chris Isaak.
This little guy has been the highlight of my outings so far. I paused on the path when I saw him and asked if he’d stay where he was if I moved a bit closer to take a picture. Keeping his eyes on me, he sat still until I’d snapped this photo.
So the alarm went off at 7 o’clock this morning, and I did what I always do: I turned it off and I went back to sleep.
When I woke up for real at 8, my immediate thought – of course – was that I had promised myself and the small corner of the universe that reads my blog that I would get up and go for a run, and I had failed to do that. Guilt set in immediately. My one hope was that no one had read the blog post yet… maybe I could take it down and repost it today and everyone would think tomorrow (Tuesday) was the day I had promised myself to start this new regimen.
No such luck, of course. My WordPress dashboard indicated that quite a few people had clicked on the post during the night (in addition to those who get the post whether they want it or not because they are subscribers). Someone had even commented already.
Although my first instinct was to throw myself off a very high escarpment somewhere, that seemed a bit dramatic even to me. My more realistic choices were: a) to confess in my post today that I had failed to get up and go for a run, and to say I would try again tomorrow (we’re all human, blah blah blah); or b) to go for a run today at some later hour than 7 a.m., and then to confess in today’s post that I might have failed to get up, but at least I had gone for a run.
There was, obviously, only one option available to me, and that was Option B. But the problems associated with Option B were almost enough for me to seriously contemplate settling for Option A. The first problem was that I could not go out until an hour after I’d eaten breakfast (because I don’t like running on a full stomach. I am such a delicate flower) and the temperature was already nearly 30° (that’s 86°F). By the time my oatmeal had settled, it would be several degrees higher. I was going to bake out there. Sunstroke. Ambulances. I visualized them all.
Don’t be a wuss, I told myself.
The next problem arose just after the oatmeal had found its happy place. This one took the form of a Severe Thunderstorm Watch that had now appeared on the Environment Canada website. I could see the clouds moving in. I weighed the heroics of having been killed by lightning because of my determination to get some exercise against the horror of having to admit defeat (see Option A).
Sure enough, we got a huge downpour — and then it was time for lunch.
And so it went all afternoon — heat and stormy weather. But by five p.m., I could delay no longer. It was still more than 30° and the Thunderstorm Watch was still in effect (as it is even as I write this post at 9 p.m.), but by now I knew I could not face this blog tonight if I had not gone for a run.
So off I went. I went down into the ravine by the Don River, where it was marginally cooler than on the paved streets above, and most of the trail was shaded. But it was still the hottest run I can remember doing in about ten years – and that one was in Edmonton, which is in a much drier climate. I was drenched with sweat when I got back. But I did manage to attain my tiny beginner goal for Week 1, Day 1: run (or “wog.” Thanks for that term, Lee. That is in fact what I did) for two minutes, walk for two minutes, six times. With a five minute warmup (hah!) at the beginning and a five-minute cool-down (hah!) at the end.
As I was dragging the weary puddle I’d turned into back up from the ravine, it occurred to me that given the heat and the weather warnings, I would never have gone out today — never never never — if it hadn’t been for this blog, and the people I knew had read it. So the trap I set for myself has worked, at least for today. I just hope that I have enough sense to avoid putting myself into such a hot, humid and embarrassing position again. Tomorrow is a walk day, rather than a run day, and I swear I am going out at 7, when it is still cool.
I do have an extra nudge to get me up and moving tomorrow. The first comment I received on last night’s post was from my son Dan, who does a hit on Radio 1010 about science and technology every morning at 6:50 a.m. He suggested I listen to the hit live (instead of tracking down the recording online once I am awake, as I usually do), and then head out the door. Thanks, Dan. If you can get up in time to do the segment, I can get up in time to hear it.
I think I can.
I hope I can.
P.S. Thanks to Lee and Ruth for their very supportive comments, too. Your feedback helped so much!!
At the start of this pandemic, when it came to looking after myself I did fairly well. I went out walking or running every other day, and I was watching what I ate. I was even meditating fairly regularly.
But the interminability of the crisis and the unpredictability of the future got to me after a month or so and I fell into an extended period of languor, disinterest and general malaise. I know I am not the only one to have had this experience because when I tell other people I have “Quarantine Brain” or “Isolation Brain,” they tell me they have it too.
In addition to Quarantine Brain, I also have Quarantine Body, by which I mean that I’ve gained a few pounds that I really didn’t need. And now I need to get rid of them – which, as we all know, is more easily said than done. (As you may also know, I have been fighting against excess body weight for long enough that I have written a novel about the challenges of dieting, trying to work out why almost any diet will do the trick as long as your head is in the right space, and why nothing will work when it’s not.)
I am not sure that my head is anywhere near the right space, but I do know that I can’t afford to put this off any longer. I am having some surgery on my left foot in early September to remove a bunionette, which will mean no running for six weeks. And we all know what comes after October in Canada: winter. If I don’t get around to addressing my lack of condition and extra pounds until after that — well, I don’t want to think about it. I am no spring chicken and if I let my body go, I might never get it back.
For several weeks, I’ve been absolutely determined to get up in the morning and go for a (slow) run before it gets too hot. The only problem is that I’m totally determined until the instant before the alarm clock goes off. When it does, I find myself quite undetermined to do anything but roll over and go to sleep again. My husband is kind enough not to point out what a lazy-butt I have turned into, so I need to build some external accountability into my life. So here we are.
Since we’re unable to travel, which means I’m unable to regale you with stories about our trip to Spain (which is where we were planning to go when COVID-19 raised its ugly head, or its nasty coronas to be more accurate), I will be giving you a tour of my running program in the days and weeks ahead. Enjoy. I hope you will find some humour and possibly even some inspiration here.
And if you’re engaging in your own Quarantine-Brain-and-Body Battle, share your experiences in the comments section below. As they say about masks and social distancing, we’re all in this together.
A Memorable End to an Unforgettable Trip: Back to Venice, Then Back to Toronto
May 25-27, 2019
On the morning of Saturday, May 25 (one year ago today, as I begin to write this final post), we drove the final leg of our road trip, from Florence back to Venice. It is amazing how even one previous visit, however brief, can affect you when you return to a place: even though we had been in Venice for only two days at the beginning of our adventure, the city felt welcoming and familiar. We knew our way around, knew which vaporettos went where, and knew how to get our bearings when we took the wrong turn (which we continued to do). Maybe part of the reason we felt so much more comfortable was that we had now been in Italy for three weeks, but “La Serenissima” (Venice was a sovereign state for 1100 years, from 697 to 1797, and in Venetian its name was Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta) felt very different this time from the days of our arrival. At the beginning of our trip, I had remarked to Arnie that Venice reminded me a little of West Edmonton Mall. This time I was able to get a feel for Venice as a richly historical and cultured city, rather than as a tourist destination.
The rooftop of the parkade where we dropped the rental car gave us a distinctive view of the city. We particularly noted the proliferation of cruise ships parked along the waterfront near St. Mark’s Square. As I mentioned in the first Italy post, cruise ships are (were? — who knows what will happen to the cruise-ship industry post-pandemic) a serious problem for Venetians: they bring in tourist dollars, but the ships are also destroying the environment. In addition, unlike tourists who come to Venice in other ways, many cruise-ship passengers do not stay in hotels but sleep and eat on board. So the costs can outweigh the benefits.
As we had the first few days of our trip, we stayed on Lido – the long (11k) thin barrier island that forms part of the series of islands in the Venetian lagoon. This time we stayed at the Hotel Villa Pannonia, which was modern and very comfortable. On our second-last evening in Italy, we wandered along Lido’s streets, and shared a pizza next to one of its canals. It was a lovely warm evening, perfect for a stroll through the warm night air and (of course) the consumption of a gelato.
The next morning we had tickets to tour the synagogues in the ancient Jewish quarter of Venice, which has the distinction of being one of the first places in the world where people were segregated and their whereabouts monitored on the basis of their religion. In fact, the word “ghetto” — which is used in a host of different contexts now – originated here, likely because until 1516, this part of the city had been a foundry, which is a “getto” in Italian. In March of that year, the chief magistrate, or doge, turned it into an area where the city’s 900 Jews were required to live. (The population of Venice as a whole at the time was 160,000.) It was not until two hundred years later, when Bonaparte forced the Republic of Venice to dissolved itself and tore down the gates, that Jews were again allowed to move freely throughout the city.
From Wikipedia, we learn that “The ghetto was connected to the rest of the city by two bridges that were only open during the day. Gates were opened in the morning at the ringing of the marangona, the largest bell in St. Mark’s Campanile, and locked in the evening. Permanent, round-the-clock surveillance of the gates occurred at the Jewish residents’ expense.” Charming.
In 2016, the city marked the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish ghetto with five months of commemorative events, including an extensive art and historical exhibition, costume galas and even a performance of Gustav Mahler’s first symphony. The quincentenary program also included the first-ever performance of The Merchant of Venice in the ghetto, which must have been both moving and distressing. I well remember the scenes involving Shylock (played by Al Pacino in one of his better roles) in the 2004 movie version: these were also set in the “Campo di Ghetto Nuovo,” and they were haunting.
There are five synagogues in the small area (one and a quarter acres) to which the Jews were confined, each of them built by a different ethnic group: German; Italian; Spanish and Portuguese; Levantine Sephardic; and Venetian Ashkenazi. One can only imagine the crowds and mix of languages and cultures. An excellent article about the quincentenary that appeared in The New York Times in 2016 quotes the noted travel writer Jan Morris, who wrote that in the 17th century, “the city was a ‘treasure-box’ full of ‘ivory, spices, scents, apes, ebony, indigo, slaves, great galleons, Jews, mosaics, shining domes, rubies, and all the gorgeous commodities of Arabia, China and the Indies’.”
At its peak in the 17th century, 5,000 Jews lived in Venice; today there are about 450. Most do not live in the ghetto area (the few who do are mostly from the ultra-orthodox Lubavitcher sect; the Lubavitcher we saw when we were there were visiting from New York) but the synagogues are still in use, and there is a bookstore, displays and museums commemorating the Ghetto’s past.
We toured two of the synagogues and wandered around the main square in the Ghetto. We also had the opportunity to drop into a lovely photography gallery that is located there — the Ikona Gallery — which is owned by Živa Kraus, the sister of a friend of the friend we visited in Zagreb. We had a really wonderful (if brief) visit with Živa Kraus herself, who has lived in Venice for many years (and despairs for its future).
The entire tour was memorable and enlightening. I was particularly moved by an installation in the Ghetto square, a bas relief by Arbit Blatas called “The Last Train” that commemorates the deportation of the Jews from the Venetian Ghetto by the Nazis. It is a reminder (as if we needed one) that prejudice against the Jews has continued undiminished throughout history.
Casino di Venizia
On our way back to our hotel, we stopped in at the “oldest casino in the world,” the Casino di Venezia (est. 1638). I had been intrigued when I’d read about it before I left for Italy – the elegance of the gaming rooms on the top floor (which weren’t open when we were there: too early in the day) have been compared to those in Monaco. The dealers wear tuxedos, guests arrive at the front door by boat, and the decor includes chandeliers, Italian art works, and vintage mirrors from nearby Murano. It was splendid. Arnie played a game or two of blackjack; I just took in the atmosphere.
I was surprised to discover from a plaque on the wall as we entered (we came on foot, through the back door) that Richard Wagner, the composer of many of my favourite operas (I know. How can I say this in the same blog as I write about the Ghetto? I refer you to Wagner and Me, an excellent exploration of this issue of loving Wagner and deploring ant-semitism by Stephen Fry) had died in the Casino di Venizia. It wasn’t a casino at the time (it has served several other purposes since it was first established), and Wagner apparently spent quite a bit of time in Italy, part of it in exile. “After a funerary gondola bore Wagner’s remains over the Grand Canal, his body was taken to Germany where it was buried in the garden of the Villa Wahnfried in Bayreuth” (Where would I be without Wikipedia?).
We were not allowed to take photos inside the casino, but fortunately there are pictures of it on the Architectural Digest site.
A Dinner to Remember
We had tried without success on our first night back in Venice to get a table at the Andri Fish and Seafood restaurant on Lido, so we’d made a reservation for our last night in Italy. It was a perfect choice. The seafood was outstanding, and Arnie took a great interest in the grappa — they just put a full bottle of the powerful fruit and booze concoction down on each table with the dessert menu and let the guests go at it. Different fruit for different tables. (Ours was full of mandarins.) No charge. I doubt that anyone but the non-drinkers walked out of that place steadily. As well as watching Arnie’s enjoyment of the drink, I was intrigued by what it did to a couple sitting across from us on the patio who seemed to have barely known one another when they arrived.
The Flight Home
I’m just going to leave these photos here. The views of Greenland and northern Canada from the air may not have been worth the price of the flight, but they certainly enhanced it.
And that’s it. Thanks following along as I shared these memories. As soon as there’s a vaccine, we’re off again (right after we hug all the grandkids till they squeal. We had nine when the lockdown started. Now we have ten.) Next? España tal vez. Oder vielleicht Deutschland. 甚至中国。In the meantime, Addio per ora. (And where would I be without Google Translate?)
The Great Synagogue (Tempio Maggiore) of Florence, built between 1874 and 1882, is a magnificent building located not far from the major museums of the city, which is appropriate as it houses an extensive museum on its upper floor. The style of the building is Italian and Moorish Revival but signage at the synagogue indicates that it is also known as “of the Emancipation” as it “was designed as an independent building and is not disguised as something else, as happened in the ghettoes.” The lovely pink and beige colours of the travertine and granite that dapple the building used to be darker – were, in fact, once red and beige.
The domes of the synagogue were familiar to Separdhic Jewry, of which the Florentine community primarily consisted, which had its origins in Berber Moorish Spain. The domes, finished in copper now oxidized to green, stand out against the skyline. (Note: I am grateful to the photographers whose photos are posted for public use on Wikipedia. They make it possible for me to show these two angles on the synagogue that we were not able to capture ourselves. If you click on the images you can see the source photos.)
These are the photos we did take of the exterior:
The interior of the synagogue is wonderfully ornate. (Click on images to see them better.) “During World War II, Nazi soldiers occupied the synagogue and they used that as a storehouse. In August 1944 retreating German troops worked with Italian Fascists to lay explosives to destroy the synagogue. However, Italian resistance fighters managed to defuse most of the explosives and only a limited amount of damage was done. What damage was done was restored after the war. The synagogue was restored yet again after damage from the flood of the River Arno in 1966.” (Wikipedia)
Wikipedia also tells us that “The Jewish community in Florence is composed of about 1,400 people. However, it has a long history which reaches back to the medieval era. In addition, there was a nearby Jewish community in the Oltrarno area, south of the Arno river , that dates to the Roman era. It is thought that the first synagogue was probably built in the 13th century.”
The Jewish Museum of Florence, opened in 1987, is located on the second floor of the synagogue. We were not allowed to take photos, but you can see some of the lovely pieces on the Museums of Florence website. We spent quite a bit of time admiring the “kiddush cups, prayer shawls, silver ornaments and embroidered vestments dating from the 16th to the twentieth century, with illustrative panels of the community’s history, together with a carved model of the old ghetto and along with a pictorial display which is occasionally changed.”
It was as much a reminder of the history of the Jews as it was a sign of the times that the synagogue was guarded by soldiers with rifles, and the process for being admitted to the grounds was very strict and thorough –involving passports, metal gates, and lockers for bags and coats.
We were sorry to have already eaten lunch when we saw this inviting spot, just beyond the grounds of the synagogue. Next time. (Where have I heard that before?)