Tavernsproject: research workshop

The final event of the Tavernsproject, a wide-ranging workshop that was held just before the summer break in Bristol, is now posted on this site. It’s an edited version of the proceedings, including brief talks by the project researchers, and the roundtable discussion that followed, with a panel comprising several policy experts as well as Bristol licensing managers and police.

The idea was to see how historical case studies could inform current debates about pubs and drinking, and vice versa.  For my money, it was fascinating to engage with people who are at the front line today of regulating venues, and policing and shaping city centres. What we ended up with was a discussion that touched on – and this hardly covers it – the nature of property, the politics and economics of public, private and civic space, and the social cultures of drinking.

David Rosenthal

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Mission impossible: Florence history tourism app 3

Thursday, May 9
Emailing and texting my colleagues from the moment I left the house to arrival in hotel in Florence. It felt a bit like that old TV programme – Challenge Anneka. Travel across Europe, find a wifi hotspot good enough for downloading a new full app, and then go on a treasure hunt.

Well that’s exactly what I did. I set off from home near Oxford, email coming in from Jo warning that the app might be too big to download, with David noticing some audio files had been muddled up, with Nicky getting worried she’d sent the wrong stuff over to Jo – that sort of thing. Meanwhile I’m texting and emailing the people in Florence to check there will be some people to trial with and that meeting are set up.

Radio silence as I fly across to Pisa and of course, land, turn on the phone and pick up another load of comments and progress reports. By this point Jo has left the office for other work and Tom has stepped in on app operation control. He’s confident changes are more or less made – but yes, the app containing both walks will be a big baby. 100MB: we’re so proud!

Phoning in ...

Phoning in …

Check in. Dump bag. Look at emails. No sign yet. Set off to phone shop to get a fast SIM card for the iPad to set up a hotspot to download the app. Get that, come out of the shop. Email arrives – ready to go. But I need to rejuice the phone … oh my God, I am such a novice at technology.

So I go to Palazzo Strozzi – there’s a cafe there and I remember being told good wifi. So coffee for me (essential), plug for the phone and wifi. The app is delivered. Its a beauty. Ready to go – and I even installed it on my mini iPad for better visibility.

So, having bought sundry SIM cards to set up personal hotspots for my trial group tomorrow , I made a last minute change of plan and email the trial volunteers to meet at Palazzo Strozzi where the wifi is phenomenal.

Well this is getting tedious to read. But you can see perhaps I found it all quite involving …

Set off out to try the new “route” starting from Ponte Vecchio. The app opens into the Bonsignori map – and then as I get near to our first location, it all fires off. In the crowd of tourists – I almost whooped. Here I am, walking in 2013 Florence, on what looks like the standard Google map shuffle (you know – head down looking at the screen, plugs in ears). Instead I’m an immersive historical experience – I can see the real streets and bridge, but also how it looked in the Renaissance on the map. And then Giovanni starts to tell me to look at the view from 1490 – the barges of goods coming up the river, the procession going by me, the bustle of hat and glove sellers,  and occasional butcher. And so on to the hanging man at the Bargello, the bread riots on Piazza della Signoria, and the street sellers at Mercato Vecchio.

Enough about that.

Friday, May 10
Morning tried out a few bits of the walk again. Palazzo Strozzi (originally missed off – an oversight) was fixed in a late-night marathon by Tom. He’s also moved a few locations and fixed a few gremlins I’d reported back. Thanks Tom.

Then into a meeting with Dr James Bradburne – Director of the Palazzo Strozzi museum. Really very useful; some excellent suggestions. But above all he liked it!

Then a quick “culture break” and I went round the “Springtime of the Renaissance” show in the Palazzo Strozzi – very much worth a visit. Many old friends, including St Matthew (of bankers’ guild fame – listen to the app!).

Then off to the outskirts near the airport for a meeting with the head of the Comune di Firenze tourism office. Again, another very useful meeting. They will help us with publicity. Fantastic.

Back to the centre – Palazzo Strozzi is beginning to think I’ve moved in. Meet my trial group – the heavens open. I’m sure that’s why we end up being quite a small group. Pochi ma buoni (few, but excellent). And patient. After we’ve set up the phones (no android, sigh!), we set off in what has settled in to be a steady rain to try it all out. I ask them to just do a couple, then we’ll go for a drink. They love it and we do almost the whole thing. They love the new navigation features (the map toggle, the instructions) and the content … well, they’d just like to have more!

After all that a few of us go for a drink and something to eat – and I try not to bore for England about the app.

Saturday, May 11
A new challenge. Today I go to a studio, meet Roberto Andrioli – the voice of the Italian Giovanni (Colin Guthrie does the English version) – and we go to a recording studio to record his scripts. Nicky is in England on Skype telling us how to do things, and the very professional Massimo also has ideas. Not good for me to be in the middle as the main interpreter. Anyway, we get things sorted, it takes a bit longer than planned, but we record all 19 pieces in about three hours. It then takes almost as long to get them sent over the internet some how. This is an 800MB “raw” baby … I guess it’ll have to shrink before it joins the final app.

I call all that a pretty busy few days. And I cut it down! Certainly kept some variety there in my diet – you don’t get further from a day in the library. I confess I don’t get there as much as I’d like at the moment. Maybe when this is all over.

Fabrizio Nevola

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Tales of the city: Florence history tourism app 2

Getting into character

He gets into a brawl in a notorious downtown tavern. He flirts with a fruit seller in the Old Market. He stands in front of the Cathedral workshop and wonders if a young sculptor called Michelangelo might do something with a block of marble that’s been languishing there for years (a decade later that block became the statue of David). “Giovanni” has definitely come a long way in the last two months. As “Hidden Florence” developed, so did he, and by the end of it all he’d taken on a life of his own – as any fictional character worth the candle should.

Comparing notes: David Rosenthal, Fabrizio Nevola in Piazza S Piero Maggiore

David Rosenthal, Fabrizio Nevola in Piazza S Piero Maggiore

I say the end of it all, but the app’s not there quite yet. There is still the accompanying website to complete. There are also a few technical glitches to iron out, but all the major gremlins have now been sorted as a result of the April trial in Florence. Jo Reid, the app developer, talks about that side of things below. And Nicola Barranger, the audio producer, gives her take on recording Fabrizio Nevola and me on the streets as the rain beat down (I still owe her for half an umbrella), before we all watched on anxiously as about 20 people plugged in and switched on.  They liked it.  Some of them loved it. Result.

Since then, we’ve been in overdrive. We now have the entire “Neighbourhood” (eight sites) and “Centre” (nine sites) clusters, with each scripted Giovanni recording – by English and Italian voice actors – matched to an interview-style “Hear More” piece by the historians. A few days ago Fabrizio gave the almost finished article a second birl in Florence, and he’ll be blogging on that any moment now…

In the meantime, a taste of Giovanni. What I realised as things evolved was just how much could be conveyed in under two minutes by tightly linking place to character and story.

Piazza della Repubblica, with column of the Dovizia

Piazza della Repubblica, with column of the Dovizia

Take the Mercato Vecchio, the Old Market. It’s completely changed. The Mercato, and the Ghetto beside it, were demolished in the 19th century and the entire space was transformed into the neoclassical expanse of Piazza della Repubblica that you see today. So … you are guided into the zone by GPS, and you find yourself walking into the Piazza while simultaneously seeing your progress on a fantastically detailed 1584 map of the city (you can toggle back to a modern map if you get disorientated). Navigating with the 1584 map is part of the fun, though. It makes it feel as if the past is under your feet and all around you. And you can zoom in and out! Believe me, it’s pretty cool. You are then asked – using pictures and brief instructions – to find the column of  the Dovizia, the copy of Donatello’s lost original. Once you’ve found it, you trigger the audio and Giovanni begins:

“Yesterday I met Francesca right here, underneath the statue of the Dovizia, the Goddess of Abundance …”

App map: The Mercato Vecchio in 1584

App map: The Mercato Vecchio in 1584

Giovanni starts by pretending he was just passing the market, since it’s near his work at the wool bottega  (he’s a labourer in the vast Florentine textile industry). But then he admits he came looking for Francesca, one of the treccole or female street sellers that weave their way around the heaving market stalls carrying baskets full of produce. Francesca turns out to be the daughter of a certain Cesare, and Giovanni reminds you that he’s talked about this Cesare, a very unlucky dice player, when he was leading you around his neighbourhood (which you may not have done yet, it doesn’t matter). He tells you what you can buy in the market. He tells you that the market is also full of ruffians and pimps, that the public brothel is next door, that there was a knife fight the week before in front of an image of the Madonna. He tells you the treccole are sometimes taken to be prostitutes, which is why – so he says – he likes to keep an eye on Francesca. When he finds her, they have a brief, coy exchange, and he buys some eggs from her, which he later takes round to Cesare’s place. “You know … as a gift to the family”.

It’s a very simple narrative. But without much ado you find out what Renaissance Italians ate, about food coming into city from the contado, the countryside around Florence (Francesca gets her produce from Cesare’s relatives who work a bit of land outside the city). You get a sense of the journeys a man like Giovanni makes from neighbourhood to centre in his everyday life, about his social connections. You also get a sense of women in the streets. This is what the “Hear More” for this location deals with, the presence of women in “masculine” public space, the prescriptions of moralists (don’t leave home except to go to church) and how the realities are different, especially for Florence’s lower classes.

As you go around the other sites, you build up a picture of Giovanni – the way he thinks about honour, family, friendship, community. He’s wry, he’s proud, he’s a bit of a gambler and a tavern-goer – “I’m no saint but I do believe in the power of God”. He lives with his mother and sister. You get his full-throated opinions on politics, crime, public artworks, sacred relics. He understands only too well how Medici money and patronage grease the wheels of the city’s notionally Republican politics. He calls himself a “friend” of Lorenzo de’ Medici, and he’s a recipient of Medici patronage, but he’s also keenly aware that non-citizens like him are shut out of civic institutions, that the “game is rigged”.

I’m talking about him as if he is a real character, not a fictional composite that draws upon, and interprets, a body of scholarship. Maybe I’m in too deep. But then that’s the idea, to allow people to engage imaginatively with the “experience” of being in Florence, moving through its streets, as an artisan in 1490, an experience that did indeed link stories and characters to places. Oh, and did I mention you can zoom in and out … ?

David Rosenthal (historian)


Designing the experience

Jo Reid, with Nick Terpstra (left) and Niall Atkinson

Jo Reid, with Nick Terpstra (left) and Niall Atkinson

Within the “experience design” framework that we invented for developing apps such as Hidden Florence, we emphasise the importance of user testing on location and assuming design iteration based on those tests. This trip further confirmed the value in that approach. Whilst Fabrizio and David know Florence, the hooks for engaging users with that knowledge through present day street furniture relies on effectively relating what you hear with where you are and giving users a tangible and obvious anchor to ground their attention. It is in the minutiae of detail such as a phrase that gets you noticing something that you hadn’t seen before that help create the magic moments within an experience. The trip allowed us to hone the way our stories connect you with the streets and understand the best way to use Giovanni to help us transition back in time.

The user testing feedback was also invaluable for confirming the need to allow multiple ways of interfacing with the app :

  • a guided tour for those who prefer to be led
  • The ability to see a modern day map in addition to the 1584 Bonsignori map to help with way finding for those who might be concerned at getting lost
  • And finally the challenge of working out where you are by relating buildings that are on the Bonsignori map to those that are still there.

For me this “game” of piecing together the buildings you could see on Bonsignori with those around you was amazing and a real highlight of the trip. The other highlight was the pleasure of collaborating with such knowledgeable people and being able to eat with the locals.

Some things are always the same. GPS and Android phones are always problematic! But working out creative solutions to mitigate problems is all part of a developer’s lot in life …

Jo Reid (app developer)


Sound bites

“Could we try that again? Just one more time?” It’s something I normally find myself saying to a contributor in a nice warm BBC studio somewhere in the middle of London.

However here it’s pouring with rain, we’re outside sheltering under an umbrella and I’m holding a microphone trying to record an interview with David Rosenthal about life in the taverns in the 15th Century. Typical London weather you would think or Birmingham perhaps on cold mid-winter’s afternoon?

No. Certainly not Florence in April when it should be temperate, a light wind at most and above all – sunny. Sadly for us it was gloomy, heavy cloud and most of all … wet!

However here we were trying to imagine the student or tourist, hungry for more information about how people lived in the period. They’d be walking the streets of Sant’Ambrogio probably in sandals, and if they had any protection at all it would be from the sun.

Back in January at a meeting in Bristol with Jo Reid and Richard Hull from Calvium (the wonderful app people who have designed and built the thing) we discussed how to best take the general tourist and history student around unknown Florence without it sounding like a lecture.

“How about creating someone from the period to take us around?” We could invent a character from the 15th century, I suggested, taking the visitor around his home stamping ground. Suddenly we had given birth to a thirtysomething renaissance wool worker – Giovanni. David Rosenthal and Fabrizio Nevola would create this character and write his script and I would edit it for audio and then record an actor. Fabrizio also had an idea he’d first heard on BBC Radio 4 in the hugely successful series A History of the World in 100 Objects. However where my BBC colleague Paul Kobrak had interviewed a series of experts, here there were to be just two – Fabrizio and David. This does make the exercise far more difficult of course since by now we had got to know each other far too well, and it’s an old journalistic wisdom “Never interview your friends”. None the less, the situation in my opinion does have a couple of advantages; gentle persuading/bullying/nagging would be more acceptable, and we could do it do it again.

We were in Florence to hear what had been already recorded in situ and to test the idea of interviewing the experts on the streets. For me, it did mean a couple of very late nights, editing the audio in my hotel room hacking back an average six minute interview to about two, but frankly what a small price to pay for working in Florence. Jo would then upload the audio onto the app overnight. On the last morning of the trip, a team of students and academics working in Florence gathered in the Café letterario at the Murate on via Ghibellina to try it out for the first time. We collectively held our breath. Would they like it? Would they manage to download the app successfully? What would they think of David and Fabrizio’s interviews?

Again please: Nicola Barranger, Fabrizio Nevola

Again please: Nicola Barranger, Fabrizio Nevola

It was a delight to follow them around the streets of Sant’Ambrogio (now in sunshine but be-puddled the day before) with earphones and looking up at the spots David and Fabrizio had chosen. And then best of all, the smiles afterwards confirmed that yes, we had got it right. A few niggles of course, but then, this was our first audience, and there were still a few gremlins to sort out. They loved our Giovanni and finished the tour wanting more, which is always a good sign. However the real test will come when our historical baby grows up and we really have to let our 15th-century imaginary Giovanni go out into the real 21st-century Florence.

Nicola Barranger (audio producer)

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Giovanni who?: Florence history tourism app 1

In January this year Fabrizio Nevola and I began a project to create a history tourism app for Florence. The basic idea – the USP, if you like – was that instead of going to monumental sites such as the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio, we would show people aspects of the Renaissance city that mass tourism doesn’t usually bother with. Now, a month later, we have a bare-bones prototype, a list of places we want to visit, a pot of ideas about what we want to get across, and a way of presenting it through a character we’re calling Giovanni (more on him shortly). Smartphone technology offers urban historians all kinds of fascinating possibilities, and plenty of challenges. This blog is intended to document the development of this free, AHRC-funded history tourism app and the discussion informing it, as well as give some sense of what is shaping up to be a white-knuckle ride as we bring the project from drawing board to download by the middle of May.

Why make an app at all? In fact the project didn’t begin life that way. It started within the confines of the Tavernsproject (and is still closely linked to it – which is why this blog has a home here). The original plan was to create an online GIS (Geographic Information Systems). The point of entry was a little-known document from 1593, where a certain Bastiano de’ Rossi describes a “dream” in which he walks around Florence in a desperate and fruitless search for an open pub (The barfly’s dream). The idea was to recreate this imaginary pub crawl on the detailed “Buonsignori” map of 1584, feeding in data from a census of 1561 and attaching an analysis of the key place of taverns in the social geography of the city.

This idea was quickly dumped. There is a big project currently underway at the University of Toronto that is using the same Florentine map and census to GIS the whole city. It was pointless to replicate a small part of that. Instead, we thought, why not take Bastiano de’ Rossi’s virtual itinerary of drink and turn it into an actual walking ‘tour’? After all, the underlying historical concerns were the same, essentially the relationship between space, movement and identity. Indeed, there is something immensely attractive about asking a person to imagine past places and past journeys as they walk the same streets in the present day, especially since a significant strand of recent work in urban history (channelling theorists from Walter Benjamin to Michel de Certeau, and in a more general sense the psychogeography movement as a whole) is so closely linked to the idea of walking in the first place. The only stumbling block was that to the best of my knowledge not a single architectural trace remains of any Florentine tavern of the 16th century. You couldn’t have somebody plugged into their smartphone in front of a shop, apartment or streetcorner (and many taverns were at streecorners) without anything to look at.

However, this wasn’t a major problem. It simply meant expanding the focus. The project as it now stands, elegantly titled “Street Life Renaissance Florence: a Digitally Triggered Location-based Tour in an Augmented Reality Environment”, still takes a close interest in Bastiano de’ Rossi’s taverns, but isn’t centred around them. It’s also still using the Buonsignori map and census data, but now it is an attempt to capture the texture of a city that was criss-crossed every day by thousands of journeys: daily rhythms along habitual routes, to the tavern, streetcorner, piazza, workplace, church, apothecary shop, food market; unplanned diversions that often started or ended up in these same places; and the more choreographed movement of the procession – local, civic, sacred, secular.

Our first meeting in January, at the Bristol offices of app developer Calvium, produced “Giovanni”. Radio producer Nicola Barranger, who is doing the audio, suggested we needed a character to bring the app to life. We instinctively liked this idea. Being led around by a “period” character will hopefully make the sense of the past, and of place, more resonant. Apart from that, breaking the rules, inventing an individual, is an illicit pleasure that’s hard for historians to pass up. Who would this character be? That was more or less instinctive, too. If the app is about exploring others sides of the physical city, it’s also about the city as experienced in the everyday life of an ordinary Florentine. So we quickly decided that our composite Giovanni would be a wool beater, a “typical” worker in Florence’s huge textile industry and a member of the Renaissance Republic’s disenfranchised majority. The point is not to ignore the Florentine elites who built the imposing palaces, commissioned the now-iconic artworks and ran the government. The lives, spaces and cultures of rich and poor were far too intermeshed for that. But the app will take a ground level view of urban existence.

Giovanni's home turf: Piazza Sant' Ambrogio. Florence. Picture: ugo galasso http://www.flickr.com/photos/g_u/

Giovanni’s home turf: Piazza Sant’ Ambrogio, Florence. Picture: ugo galasso http://www.flickr.com/photos/g_u/

Both Giovanni and the way the app will work are starting to come together. There will be two clusters of sites, the “neighbourhood” and the “centre”. Giovanni lives in an outlying neighbourhood of the historic city, and he works in the centre, in a wool merchant’s bottega. More specifically he lives in the parish of Sant’ Ambrogio. In the prototype test two weeks ago (with Bristol masquerading as Florence) you’re guided by GPS into Piazza Sant’ Ambrogio and then asked to find a couple of marker stones wrapped around the corner of the church. Once you’re there, you trigger the audio and Giovanni starts talking – either in English or Italian. He tells you this is his home turf, that he’s a brother in the local confraternity that meets just behind you, that he rents a house off the piazza. He tells you that the signage in front of you has been put up by the artisans of his festive “kingdom” who gather there at Carnival or May Day. This is all done by a voice actor.

Do you hear a buzzing noise? App testing in Bristol, with Jo Reid, Fabrizio Nevola, Nicola Barranger, Richard Hull

Do you hear a buzzing noise? App testing in Bristol, with Jo Reid, Fabrizio Nevola, Nicola Barranger, Richard Hull

You can then choose to hear more. What you get are a few brief grabs by us sketching out the main themes: the social geography of the city; what these confraternities are all about; parish cults (Sant’ Ambrogio had a nice one that turned around a chalice miraculously filled with Christ’s blood); the ritual play of lower-class festive kingdoms.

It’s all work in progress. There will be about 15 sites that will put you – in any order you like – in front of a street tabernacle; inside the city’s old grain market; where a couple of notorious boozing and gambling dens once stood in the city centre; in the oratory of a charity that dispensed alms to the working poor; the central food market in what is now the Piazza della Repubblica. And so on. The app is designed to function at two levels, one for interested tourists, the other for students doing one of the many study abroad courses run in Florence. Apple’s app store has a 50M limit per cluster, which means less than two minutes of audio per site. So you can choose to “learn more”, which pings you to a website that expands on everything you’ve heard on the streets.

The creative challenges of producing the app are the province of Calvium (thank you Jo Reid and Richard Hull). For the historians, and the audio specialist, it’s the content. We want to cover a period from about 1400 to 1600, and we’re placing Giovanni around 1490, at the height of the power of Lorenzo de’ Medici. How change is dealt with is tricky – for example, the Piazza della Repubblica was also the site of the Jewish ghetto, constructed in 1571, long after Giovanni’s “time”. We’re going there, but we may leave it to the historians’ voice pieces. As for Giovanni himself, he’s in his thirties, but we’re still not sure if he’s married. He’s no puritan, but is he a guilty or a carefree sinner? Probably a little of both if you’re a typical renaissance Italian man. And of course he is a man, which makes sense for an app that’s primarily about public space (though artisan women were not as constricted as their patrician counterparts) but also presents the challenge of bringing the social history of women into the picture. Also, we’re still working on the tone of Giovanni – a touch wry, certainly, but does he always stay “in character” or do we allow him a little ironic leeway?

Early April in Florence is the first on-site trial. We’ll get outside the bubble and find out what real users make of all this. Will our Giovanni engage or irritate? Will anybody find the damn objects they’re looking for? For an unexpurgated account, see the next blog …

David Rosenthal

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Florence: Caught in the tavern

This third blog on tavern culture in 16th-century Florence looks at regulation. Previously I suggested that towards the end of the century the tavern became a battleground in the struggle to reshape urban identities. What was required – and the pressure came both from the government and from the mainly clerical agents of Catholic Reform – were sober, sexually continent, doctrinally correct, economically productive Christians. Taverns, on the other hand, apparently produced nothing but lustful, blasphemous, lazy drunks. It’s by no means a new idea that early modern Italy (and indeed Europe) saw plenty of initiatives to reform social behaviour. Nor is there much doubt that taverns played an important role in that drama. Yet I think there’s still something to tease out about the social dynamics of “discipline”. Particularly how it was gendered, how what took place was a bid to reform male culture, to produce good men, good masculinities.

Florence’s most significant ‘anti-taverns’ moment came in 1588. That spring the word in the city was that the new grand duke, Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici, wanted his subjects to stop going to the tavern, and that this was why, after a poor harvest,  he had opened up the city’s grain warehouses to the poor at well below the market rate. So in May, in the wake of a preaching campaign over Easter, the big textile-industry confraternities – at least a couple of thousand men – voted almost unanimously to strip their members of “all the offices and honours they love” (their words) if they were caught in the tavern, with expulsion for repeat offences. The confraternity of the cloth dyers, seeking ducal ratification for their new anti-taverns statute, wrote that “they were moved to do this for their own universal benefit, and in order to do something pleasing to Your Most Serene Highness and to honour God and [their patron saint] San Onofrio”. A few days later the confraternities staged pious processions to the Marian shrine at the church of the Santissima Annunziata in order to seal this pact of abstinence – with each other, with God, and with the Grand Duke.

This was the public face of the new anti-taverns contract, and it was incorporated into the government’s general reform of Wool Guild regulations the following year. But could the ban be made to stick? In order to enforce it, the confraternities set up a regime of surveillance whereby police officials or anyone else of “good reputation” could claim a small reward for shopping “transgressors”. In one of the first, and few, surviving denunciations, from September 1588, seven brothers of the city’s main confraternity of silk-weavers claimed to have caught another four, including a serving confraternal captain, drinking in the Trave Torta, a watering hole at the southern foot of the Ponte alla Carraia bridge. However the denunciation system soon began to crumble. Not only was it open to opportunistic abuse, more fundamentally it was unsustainable for elective and participatory bodies whose sacred bedrock was unity and peace. In 1591, the silk-weavers faced that reality and flip-flopped, now prohibiting brothers from testifying against each other. In effect this was an admission that the taverns ban was too divisive, unenforceable, and that support for it had never been as universal as the original votes suggested.

Failure or not, the attempt to outlaw taverns in 1588 tells us a lot about the regulatory currents rippling through urban culture in the late 16th century. For religious reformers, the essential impulse was to harden the boundary between the world of the sacred and the world of the profane. For them, the tavern was in space what Carnival festivity was in time – a prime opportunity for sin. Following the Council of Trent,  Florentine synodal law, backed up by parish visitations, looked to purify confraternal piety by banning meals and “drinking parties” in the oratories of these devotional and charitable societies. At the same time, confraternal statutes, ecclesiastically approved, became more shrill in their prohibitions on tavern-going (even the Tavernkeepers confraternity officially frowned on lock-ins). And in these documents taverns were typically linked to a smorgasbord of wrongdoing that could cost brothers their membership, in particular illicit sex and gambling.

The anxieties of moralists had some basis in reality. Prostitution and sodomy had long been associated with taverns, especially those of the city centre. Indeed in the rich Florentine lexicon of erotic double-entendre, osteria signified the backside, while barfly (taverniere) was another way of saying sodomite. In the hypersexualised Carnival song literature, where double-entendre was everything, two well-known city-centre taverns appear together several times: the Fico (cunt) and the Buco (arse). In one, Alfonso de’ Pazzi’s Song of the Barflies, penned in the late 1540s, the barflies address “the ladies” – the standard format of the genre – to tell them that while they preferred sodomy to straight sex they’d go to the tavern of the Fico since the Buco was closed for non-payment of taxes. As an earlier blog pointed out, the Buco was indeed a well-known venue for sodomy. Gambling, meanwhile, was also intimately associated with taverns. In fact when it came to regulating tavern culture, the government didn’t have a lot to say about drinking, but it repeatedly banned “all kinds of games in any tavern of the city of Florence, either on the little walls outside or on the tables of those taverns”. Punishments for gambling became progressively harsher. In the 1560s you might have to endure the common torture of one or two drops on the rope (strappado) and a modest fine, but by 1585 this was coupled to a three strikes and you’re out policy. Literally out, sent off to the galleys at the grand duke’s pleasure.

Which brings the subject to gender, or rather the combination of class and gender. New imperatives to clean up public morals largely meant cleaning up the morals of the lower classes – with artisans coerced, exhorted and persuaded to become agents of their own redemption. The 1588 anti-taverns pact is a prime example. Almost all the men in the textile industry confraternities were non-citizens or “plebeians”. In the case of the cloth dyers, where the shop owners were sometimes men who belonged to “noble” families and who sat in the brotherhood as “masters”, tavern-going was only prohibited for “labourers”. When these same labourers formed their own sub-confraternity a few years later, in 1595, the dyers’ top official remarked that this “revealed a righteous zeal, in showing that they wanted to do a beneficial thing for their souls and remove themselves from gambling and the tavern”. Ducal legislation against gambling also reveals how the problem was often seen in terms of class. When the well-off (persone da bene) complained about gambling meets in public places, the government reacted by progressively adding to the list of gambling no-go areas. Apart from outlawing gambling in the tavern (considered a kind of quasi-public space where, as anti-gaming laws suggest, the boundary with the street outside was highly permeable), a law of 1566 banned it in any street or piazza, except along the city walls or where there were no houses. In 1579, the government said lower class men had perverted with dishonest and deceitful games the few places where gambling was still tolerated, so it extended the ban to loggias, gardens and shops. By 1585 gambling along the walls was out too, and also along the banks of the Arno.

At the same time, the 1588 campaign points up how the taverns problem was also framed explicitly as a problem of men, of lower-class male sociability. The cloth dyers wrote of how they wanted to promote “the universal peace and quiet of each person, so that they should have more chance of living in a Christian fashion, enjoying the fruits of their labour with their families”. The silk weavers said tavern-going was “damaging the souls of Christians, and destroying their houses, children and families”. If a brother was caught in the tavern and lost his benefits, or was expelled, this punishment specifically excluded the confraternal alms paid to his wife and the dowries for his daughters. A couple of years before the ban, the silk weavers found that officials charged with delivering alms to the “poor of the house” were going off with the recipients and drinking the money in the tavern. The cash was diverted to increase the payment made to members’ wives after childbirth. Again, legislation against gambling talked in similar terms. Artisan and poor men were causing “grave damage” to their wives and families; they should be out earning money, not wasting their time and limited resources with games of chance. In fact I think it’s fair to say that the entire economy of moral reform turned around replacing the sinful expenditure of men for “charity” that protected women and children, substituting male sin for female honour. The cash saved from banning confraternal feasts was overwhelmingly redirected to dowries, to an ideal of female and familial integrity – and indeed there was an explosion of confraternal dowry funds between the 1570s and early 1600s.

So … good Christians, good workers, good men. A rising urban population and the difficult economy of the late 16th century played a role in all of this. Pauperisation and unemployment created fertile terrain for the ideals of the religious reform movement and roughly aligned its agendas with those of the state. And it seems that a decent number of artisan men appropriated as their own the idea that the tavern represented nothing but a social evil, the venue for undesirable aspects of male culture. The bid to put a stop to tavern-going in Florence may have ended in failure, but 1588 was not a good year to head out for a drink after work.

David Rosenthal

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Florence: Downtown #1

It’s hard to get away from certain taverns in early modern Florence – particularly the drinking dens in the crowded city centre. Take Galileo for example. In the comic broadside he wrote in the 1590s against the wearing of the “toga” or academic gown, Galileo picks out just a few taverns to help him nail his main point, that clothes don’t make the man. He argues the exact opposite. He says men are made like flasks. “When you go to the tavern in summer / to the Bertuccie, Porco, Sant’ Andrea / to the Chiassolino or Malvagia”, he writes, you’ll see that the flasks aren’t very fancy but instead reveal the excellent red wine within. What Galileo does, obviously enough, is put a place to an idea – and he namechecks the places that he assumes almost any Florentine would know.

At around the same time, Bastiano de’ Rossi, in a oration he called ‘In Praise of Wine’, takes his readers on an imaginary pub crawl of the entire city – but he ends up in the centre, at the Coroncina, Bertuccie, Panico, and finally the Porco and Fico, two taverns that were more or less across the street from each other on the via Calzaiuoli (see the map below, and my previous blog, The Barfly’s Dream). In a city in which Bastiano finds all the bars are closed, these ones seem to be the very last to shut up shop; and they were, he implies, the places where you tended to end up. Among tavernkeepers themselves, the Porco was considered one of the principal inns of the city. This was where the men elected to visit the sick of the tavernkeepers’ confraternity went every week to consult a list of the brothers who needed to confess and take communion (the surviving statutes are from 1681 but the confraternity was founded in 1542).

So the taverns of the centre – dense with shops and markets, alive with the rhythms of work and commerce, criss-crossed by hundreds of individual journeys every day – had a social, spatial and imaginary character all of their own. They would have been extremely familiar to men from across the city who came in to work or to do business, but also to a wider, overlapping public, for whom they were meeting points for drinking, gambling and socialising. You catch a glimpse of this from documents such as the one produced by a court case in 1433 (admittedly a little early for this project) in which a bunch of men were prosecuted for gambling in the Piazza Sant’ Andrea,  including a cloth merchant from Pisa, a wool cloth manufacturer, an employee of the Forced Loans office and a belt-maker. It turned out that “the cook at the neighbouring tavern” had lent them the dice (Brucker, The Society of Renaissance Florence, 183-4). Mixed in with the drinking and gambling, city-centre taverns were also strongly linked to prostitution and sexual encounters of all kinds. The streets beside the Mercato Vecchio were known for their brothels and, as Guido Ruggiero has pointed out, the taverns in the zone had pretty suggestive names : Bertuccie (Pussy), Chiassolino (Little Whorehouse), Fico (Cunt), Malvagia (Wicked Woman), Porco (Pig/Depraved). In the 15th century, downtown taverns, especially the Buco and Sant’ Andrea, were also regular venues for sodomy. We don’t yet know enough about the sexual landscape of central Florence after the demise of the Republic in 1530, but despite more restrictive zoning for prostitutes (and the effect of creating the ghetto in 1571 on the site of a major civic brothel beside the Mercato Vecchio) and harsher laws against sodomites, it would be very wrong to assume that this sexual culture was wiped out.

With all this in mind, it’s intrinsically interesting to locate the taverns that were such fixtures in the urban mental and social landscape. Just a few examples from the snapshot offered by the 1561 ducal census of shops, a taste from what is work in progress and may evolve into a set of wider spatial reconstructions over the next few months. The Porco (A) – run for 12 years by a certain Giovanni di Chimenti, who paid his rent to three owners (a Medici and two Baldesi) – was on via Calzaiuoli opposite the Loggia of the Nighittosa (in the part of Calzaiuoli then called Corso Adimari). On either side of the tavern were the shops of a crockery maker and a leatherworker. Walk across the street, to the Loggia itself, and you’d hit the Fico (B), or rather you had to go just off the street into an alley called the Chiasso del Fico. The Fico, owned by a widow called Simonetta, was run by a certain Simone di Antonio who had been there for six months. As you headed into the alley, on the corner you would see a leatherworker’s shop, and as you passed the tavern and arrived in the tiny piazza at the end of the Chiasso del Fico you’d find another. Less than a minute away was the Bertuccie (C), also in an alleyway of the same name (now Vicolo del Bazar) off the via del Corso. The neighbours here, on the corners as you entered this narrow street, were the shops of a leatherworker and a barber. I’ve tried to pin these taverns to the famous map produced by Stefano Bonsignori in1584, which is highly detailed though still too impressionistic to be certain about most buildings. If anybody thinks I’m way out, please comment!

There is a lot more to say about the psychology of mapping, then and now. But the key point is this: in these urban spaces individual and collective memory was externalised; they were where one’s sense of identity was in part rooted, and constantly remade in the revisiting. There’s a fascinating story in Le Cene (The Suppers), the mid 16th-century collection by Antonfrancesco Grazzini, which turns around the Bertuccie tavern (C). The story is about a physician called Dr Manente, the victim of a cruel beffa or practical joke orchestrated by Lorenzo de’ Medici. Manente gets so hammered one night at the Bertuccie, his regular haunt, that the oste has him carried out and left in the street. Lorenzo has him kidnapped and has a rumour spread around that he’s died of plague. When Manente is released and returns to Florence a while later, none of his drinking chums recognise him because they are so convinced he’s dead. When he approaches his wife she thinks he’s a ghost and causes a public stir. He runs, he takes refuge in the Bertuccie, where at first not even his “close friend” the tavernkeeper is sure it’s him. Eventually he engineers a gathering of his friends around a table at the tavern. They notice that he drinks two glasses of wine before touching his salad, just as Manente used to do. He won’t eat sweet food, which was also disdained by Manente. Then one of his friends sees that he has a birthmark in the shape of a wild boar –  and suddenly they know him, his re-identification is complete. Many of Grazzini’s stories deal with such extremes of exclusion. It bears thinking about that he chose this well-known Florentine pub (and the minutiae of social drinking and eating that took place within it) as the place in which Manente, who in effect was lost, is finally found, where his social being is rehabilitated.

David Rosenthal

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Florence: The barfly’s dream

My part in this project, the early modern part, started with an imaginary pub crawl. It’s grand-ducal Florence, 1593, and Bastiano de’ Rossi delivers a speech in “praise of wine” to his literary pals at the Accademia dell Crusca, which had been set up a decade earlier with the aim of standardising Italian. It’s a festive moment, the six-monthly investiture of new officials, and Bastiano, the academy’s secretary, paints himself as a man in desperate need of a drink. He tells his audience how he’d gone to bed one night with an overpowering thirst, then dreamt of finding a tavern in Florence in which he could quench it. (Bastiano de’ Rossi, ‘Cicalata in lode del vino’, in Prose fiorentine, Florence, 1716-45, Part 3a, vol. 2, 1-24)

In his ‘dream’, Bastiano materialises outside the city – but he’s only forty feet from the walls so he knows he’ll find a watering hole nearby. In front of him is the Porta alla Croce, the city’s eastern gate. “I went inside,” he says, “in order to go to Michele del Bello, who has the tavern at the side of the gate. But I found nobody there except a girl who told me that neither master nor servant was around.” So he heads down Borgo la Croce, turns left into via Pentolini (now via dei Macci), then doubles back and heads up into via dei Pilastri to the tavern of the Giardino. But there’s nobody to be found at that osteria either. On Bastiano goes. And he keeps going, until he has taken himself around the entire city and some 30-odd taverns in what turns out to be a fruitless attempt to find a pub that is open and an oste who can serve him. In effect, Bastiano traces out an itinerary of taverns, a drinking tour of the city. It’s the Florence of the barfly flaneur – as opposed, say, to the Florence of the nascent art pilgrim, whom Francesco Bocchi spoke to in his famous guidebook published two years earlier, in 1591.

Bastiano’s dream is interesting because you don’t find many documents that join the dots up so explicitly. What you tend to get, or get quite easily, are administrative sources that give you a static city. I’m using one such source, a detailed census of 1561, to map the roughly 40 taverns in sixteenth-century Florence, which will act as a resource for this project and – when it’s hopefully online/app’d – a useful tool for others. (R Burr Litchfield’s rough guide is in Links). What Bastiano presents us with is an idea of how bodies, mainly male bodies, might move through urban space, how taverns had gravity, pulling people towards them at certain times and along certain routes. He presents us with the idea that Florentines carried with them at least a partial mental map of taverns and their tavernkeepers; and he implies that if taverns were in a sense agents of both an imagined and a practised community within a specific neighbourhood, they could also be places in which men from different parts of the city found themselves gathering, socialising, networking – no doubt especially true for city-centre taverns, such as Sant’Andrea near the Mercato Vecchio or the Fico off the via Calzaiuoli, represented in this image from 1501 (of which more below).

Bastiano’s oration to the Crusca also suggests that taverns, and their tavernkeepers, were as familiar to a social and cultural elite as they were to artisan Florence. We already know that taverns were hubs for artisan men in the same period. A good number of the city’s roughly 40 potenze (powers) – bands of workers who marked out ‘kingdoms’ and ‘ruled’ the city at certain festival moments – were based at taverns. At times the men of a potenza would choose their local tavernkeeper as ‘king’. Furthermore, these men were on familiar terms with tavernkeepers not only within their territories but, like Bastiano, all across the city. Indeed tavernkeepers appear to have been trusted and cultivated characters. A couple of examples. In 1577, one illiterate king in the north of the city (San Barnaba) needed someone to pen a receipt for a cash gift he received from Grand Duke Francesco de’ Medici during festivities for the birth of the duke’s son and heir – so he brought along the tavernkeeper of Sant’ Andrea, in the city centre, to write for him at the ducal treasury. In 1610, the king of the Spalla also brought along a tavernkeeper to write for him, possibly his local publican since the Spalla met at the Trave Torta at the southern foot of the Ponte alla Carraia. The same tavernkeeper, a certain Chimenti Maroni, was also a member of another brigade based at the Porta San Gallo gate, all the way up at the northern tip of the city. In fact Maroni was one of only a handful of men in 1610 (nine out of 259) who show up in a leadership and/or writing role in more than one potenza; another was also a tavernkeeper, an official for two ‘kingdoms’ that shared a common border.

Bastiano de’ Rossi was clearly familiar with his city’s ‘plebeian’ kingdoms, and keenly aware of the carnivalesque comedy of status inversion within which they paraded themselves on the city stage. In his dream he finally fetches up at the Fico, and there he discovers the reason he can’t get a drink in Florence that day: everyone has closed up and gone off for a special meeting of the tavernkeepers’ guild. Why? In order to hear about a catalogue of crimes perpetrated against the trade by none other than the Accademia della Crusca. So Bastiano tags along. He sees the tavernkeepers show up in a sumptuous procession. There’s a king. There’s a hierarchy of senators, the most important of whom, representing the city’s most important taverns, sit closest to the monarch. It’s a micro-state of publicans, a burlesque mirror of ducal government (or the government of the Crusca for that matter). The denunciations begin. The tavernkeeper of the Porco, off via Calzaiuoli, says he was tripped up by a member of the Crusca while delivering food to the table. One bartender says he was given a smack for not serving fast enough. Another was lampooned in song; another was told his boiled eggs were inedible. Bastiano himself is accused of not paying his bar tab. Even the dead, the ghost of a bar boy who once worked the Buco near the Palazzo Vecchio, make an appearance to condemn the members of the Crusca. At the end of it all the king passes a terrible sentence: from now on the Cruscanti will only be served wine from Cinque Terre, or even less palatable plonk if that’s available. Bastiano is so traumatised by this turn of events that he wakes up. Worse, when he runs off to the Fico to tell his friend about his dream, he discovers it’s all true. His oration ends with an appeal to the Counsels of the Crusca to sort it out, to make amends. Otherwise the Cruscanti may be forced into exile in order to get a decent glass of wine.

Bastiano’s portrayal of a ludicrous, vendetta-hungry ‘nobility’ of drink, it’s sacred honour impugned by a series of mundane slights, would no doubt have gone down a hoot among his learned brothers in the academy. Yet at the same time the entire conceit rests on – in fact, it extols – an idea of the social significance of taverns and of the men who ran them. It’s predicated on a quite intimate knowledge of people and places (names and nicknames of both tavernkeepers and Cruscanti are scattered liberally); on the experience of daily transactions, conversations, time spent, that would indeed have included an element of respect and trust – not least to pay up. The general implication of all of this is that, to some extent, the social classes of the 16th-century city shared a vocabulary of tavern-going, that they mixed in the tavern, perhaps played dice or other gambling games there. We don’t know a lot about the dynamics of this, but it does heighten the sense that the tavern could act as a liminal space at a time that saw social stratification become increasingly entrenched (something attested to by the very existence of worker ‘kingdoms’).

These issues – the productiveness of taverns, the kinds of networks, communities and ‘public’ spaces into which they are inserted and which they help to shape – are common to all the participants in this pilot project, from 16th-century Florence to 18th-century London and to Bristol today. One other common theme is the regulation of drinking, and more broadly the conflicts that turned around taverns. I’ll get back to this in a future blog, but want to briefly flag it up in the context of Bastiano de’ Rossi’s oration to the Crusca. For Bastiano, drinking wine was a virtue, not a vice. He’d be mute, he says, if he couldn’t get his hands on a flask of wine, that “precious liquor”, the colour of which gladdens the heart, the taste of which revitalises the body. His celebration of the tavern and of drinking took place at a moment in which the tavern had become a fiercely contested site, a battleground for Catholic reformers. To be sure, the tavern, playground of gamblers and sodomites, had always exercised moralists. The picture above of the Fico, from 1501, is the first in a series of paintings that preached the cautionary tale of a man called Rinaldeschi, who threw horse shit at an image of the Virgin after losing at dice in the tavern, a crime for which he was hanged from windows of the Bargello. As others have pointed out, it was no accident that so much was made of the Rinaldeschi case – this was, after all, a city still in the grip of Savonarola’s millenarian prophecies. But the last decades of the 16th century, post-Council of Trent, witnessed a more concerted bid to draw strict boundaries between the world of the sacred church and that of the profane tavern – “where God does not live” – and to ‘Christianise’ the sinners and wastrels who haunted the latter. Five years before Bastiano’s oration, in 1588, almost every artisan confraternity in Florence had processed against taverns, a state-endorsed collective pact of abstinence that utterly failed to stamp out tavern-going but speaks volumes about the rhetorical and regulatory atmosphere in which Bastiano was writing. Can we see his document as belonging to a wider cultural struggle, as a defence of the tavern at some level, of it’s quasi-mocked regal status, and with that certain kinds of mainly male sociability and behaviour?

David Rosenthal

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