It’s been a year since I last visited Italy–the one place I never cared to visit that eventually became a great love of mine and also the reason I’m a real cheese bitch.
“Cheddar? Are you kidding me? As if!”
According to today’s Facebook memories reminder, it’s been four years since I first stepped off a plane into Rome, slept the two hours it took to get to my apartment in Tuscany, slid out of the cab and shouted, “Ugh, what is that smell?!” In typical Italian fashion both jet lag and the early stages of a fever had a firm grip on me and I’d just been let out on the curb adjacent to an overflowing dumpster… in the rain. Yeah, even Tuscany’s shit stanks.
My entire first month in Italy followed this pattern. It was April and the rain unavoidable. I slept most of every day and streamed episodes of Full House throughout every night. The town picked up the trash only when so much had overflowed onto the sidewalk that they could no longer drive their Vespas on it when street traffic was moving too damn slow. (This is a place where couples take their honeymoons and I feel this is a perfect time to remind you of that.) What am I getting at? Italy, much like an overflowing trash dumpster, may be stinky and off-putting at first, but after a while the sun comes out and all you can smell are the orange blossoms.
Having spent more time in Italy than any other country outside the US, it has now become a sort of second home to me, complete with the stress of driving on public streets that I am privy to in Boston and stern grandmas who tell me I don’t eat enough. Nothing makes me feel more loved than an old lady telling me, “You don’t eat enough to keep a bird alive!” So obviously being away for long periods of time makes me homesick in a very real first-world-problem kinda way. I’ve always got my next trip to Italy simmering on the back burner but until then I’m left to suffer
in silence in blog posts viewable to millions of people all over the world and do my best to fill the gnocchi-shaped hole in my life.
OK, so why am I talking about Italy when this article is clearly about Florida? First of all, as my mother in Tennessee would say, “quit yer bitchin’.” Secondly, this post is about The Ringling, a complex of attractions in Sarasota, Florida brought to us by the Ringling family (of circus fame) whose minds and hearts were also very much jutting out into the Mediterranean in the shape of a boot.
The Ringlings had a slight (not at all slight) obsession with all things Italy as you’ll see. With a Venetian style mansion, an art museum with sculpture garden, and a group of old ladies who have no clue what’s going on in the ticket line this makes a day in Sarasota much like spending time in any one of many Italian cities.
THE RINGLING SCULPTURE GARDEN & ART MUSEUM
Big Itty bitty shout out to Florence! Though the family’s Venetian style mansion is the thing most associated with The Ringling, inspiration from all over Italy can be found here. Sometimes with the help of a microscope.
First moments in Florence, Italy – June 2012: Arriving in Florence for the very first time, my husband, two visiting friends from the US, and I sought a place to park our oversized SUV in a town designed for feet and maybe a horse sometimes. We found a garage that would accept us solely on valet terms and my two female friends, fresh off a string of overnight international flights, needed to change their clothes like yesterday. And this is how my friends came to be stripping down on a Florentine sidewalk while the valets politely acted as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. My friends had been in Italy no more than ten minutes and were already on their way to being naked in the street. Viva Italia! Land of so much nudity no one even blinks!
After the completion of the mansion, John Ringling’s next project was his art museum modeled after the Uffizi in Florence. In case you have never been to Florence I can assure you this looks nothing like the Uffizi. The only similarities being the U-shape of the building and the fact that there is art inside of it. One big difference being I didn’t set off several alarms this time. These porticos are clearly Bolognian (?) and the statues on top are straight outta Vatican City. It’s like an Italy bomb exploded in here. Dry spaghetti noodles for shrapnel and the whole place went up in a puff of cigarette smoke through the lips of people sexier than you.
I totally feel the need to copyright this badass image I just made but my knowledge of the Fair Use Act is still a bit fuzzy. I’d really like to see that movie though. And kudos to NWA for using stock fonts. #bloggerwin
There was no one there! Much like a lot of my time in Italy I spent the day wandering around all alone looking at art that made absolutely no sense to me.
The Capitoline Wolf, surely the stuff of nightmares. And thus, the eternal city of Rome was founded.
Oh, you’re going to need more information than that?
So… those two naked babies are Romulus and Remus and their grandfather was set to rule over some ancient land. Their grandfather’s brother was like, “I don’t think so, Tim.” and overthrew their grandfather. Then, to ensure there wouldn’t be any heirs, he threw the babies into the Tiber where they were somehow, magically, rescued by a she-wolf who nursed them like her own babies? What is this stuff? A shepherd found and raised them until they were grown. They found out about their great uncle’s treachery, killed him, restored their grandfather to his thrown, and set off to start their own city. Romulus killed his brother at some point and that’s why you won’t be visiting “Reme” any time soon.
The Capitoline Wolf is a very old sculpture currently housed in a museum on Rome’s Capitoline Hill but the haunting image of naked twin babies suckling at a wolf’s teat can be found all over the city and on a T-shirt my husband just had to have.[See also: my ROME archives]
First moments in Rome, Italy – May 2012: My first experience in Rome is a familiar one to many visitors to Italy. I had just taken a two-hour train to Rome and I had to PEEEEEE. My very patient husband and I jumped out of the train and sprinted through Rome’s Termini train station. Termini is Europe’s 5th biggest train station serving 150 million annual passengers with ONE BATHROOM.
I ran from one no-shits-giving police officer to another to the (lack of) information desk to the directory and back again trying to locate the bathroom. Finally, with seconds to spare I found it. Couldn’t get in. THE SINGULAR BASEMENT LEVEL PUBLIC TRAIN STATION BATHROOM COST 1€ TO USE and all I had on me was a strained facial expression and a month’s worth of sweat. I ran back to where my husband waited and demanded some money (sorry feminism). Stone-cold daytime petty robbery taking place and again, no one so much as blinks. I made it back to the restroom just before the issuance of a Code Yellow pee-pee emergency. I wish I could say I learned a lesson from this experience but noooope.
So while exploring Europe scouting for circus talent (i.e. bearded women and really short men), the Ringlings fell in love with Italy and began collecting fancy art, as one does, which is sometimes in the form of a cotton T-shirt your wife can’t stand to look at. Their art museum opened to the public in 1931 as a way of promoting art education and appreciation. I came to learn about and appreciate art the old fashioned way… by going to Italy with the intention of finding all of the Ninja Turtles.
I feel another plug for Ugly Renaissance Babies is in order… It’s just never not funny!
GARDENS, BOTH SECRET & ROSE
Mable Ringling was kind of a nut about roses, as most wives of millionaires are if Sex and the City has taught me anything, and had her very own 27,225 square foot Italian-inspired rose garden. I don’t understand what makes it categorically “Italian” though. Do they think sticking the word Italian in front of things automatically makes them better? These people have obviously never taken Italian public transit or waited in an Italian line before.
The rose garden has 1,200 rose bushes of all kinds, including the inexplicably named Dick Clark rose. Rich ladies have weird hobbies…
Outside of the family’s mansion is the “secret garden” that is anything but. Could this be more out in the open? It’s the Elton John of gardens, for crying out loud.
John Ringling, his wife Mable, and his sister Ida are buried in this not-so-secret garden.
Ah Venice. Another tale of “I used to really hate you, bitch.” turned “OK, you’re not half bad.”
First moments in Venice, Italy – June 2012: Venice, the land of beautiful canals, colorful architecture, and souvenir salesmen calling you a “stupid tourist” to your face because you didn’t buy his piece of shit toy. The land where an elderly gelato salesman will chase you, screaming, out of his shop and down the street because you didn’t want any of his gelato. A land of meth-head prostitutes roaming the streets in circles. BUT they have wine juice boxes, the cure for just about everything.
“Ca’ d’Zan” is the Ringling family mansion and stands for House of John in the Venetian dialect. I told you these people were crazy. First of all, your house has a name; YOU HAVE TOO MUCH MONEY. As with all Venetian mansions this house is right on the water. I’ll just breeze past the fact that Ms. Mable had her own gondola that she had people row her around in. (The more I learn about this family the less I like them.) Touring the first floor is free but the second and third floors will cost you.
RINGLING BROTHERS CIRCUS MUSEUM
Not having anything to do with Italy but still a significant part of The Ringling is the Ringling Brothers Circus Museum. I won’t go into this as I covered it far-too-extensively is my last article, How Creepy is the Ringling Brothers Circus Museum? Spoiler Alert! (quite)
The Ringling also has a gift shop (just like they do in Italy!), a café probably nowhere near the decadence of Italy’s Autogrills, a playground for the non-existent children, and a “dwarf garden” that I’m really sorry I missed somehow.
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