Once upon a time, my memories of Florence fell to hunting for treasures in and around the top 10 tourist attractions with a four-year-old. And, of course, gelato. My favorite flavors were the citrus sorbets, like lemon, lime, and blood orange.
Then, exactly two years ago in April 2014, both my gelato preferences and my association with Florence changed. Radically. That's when Mary Hoffman and I, as co-faculty of Julie Hedlund’s Writer’s Renaissance, first brainstormed over una coppetta di gelato tre gusti – this time cioccolato, pistachio, and nocciola – how we might bring my time traveler tour concept to life in Florence.
Julie had charged us with peeling back the centuries to reveal Michelangelo and the Medici to workshop participants. I became so familiar with the city's history then that I could see the stories in the place as we gazed over it from the terrace of the historic Antica Torre Hotel, Writers Renaissance headquarters.
Fast-forward one year to April 2015 and Mary and I, with Julie's support and the help of Team TTT&T, were revving the Kickstarter campaign engine that would ultimately give us the validation – and the budget – to produce our Florence Story App Tour: In the Footsteps of Giants.
Last week found Mary and me back in Florence again to put the finishing touches on the project that was born that spring day in 2014. We spent five magical days, marked by hard work, lots of walking, multiple serendipities, and some well-planned fun. With the help of Luke and Jo Chilone, our Kickstarter backers turned friends, we transformed Mary's yarn – narrated by Michelangelo – into an interactive tour sure to #TurnHistoryOn.
Ours was a four-part mission:
To treasure hunt for treasure hunts to enliven and enrich the story app tour
To search for the activities that would further bring to life the hunted treasures
To secure the support of the museums included on our tour route, and
To sample more tasty gelato
We achieved all that and more!
The treasure hunting began early on Thursday 31 March. That afternoon we were at the Casa Buonarroti, home to Michelangelo’s earliest works. Mary and I were busy viewing his Battle of the Centaurs with such intensity, evidently, that the security staff became afraid we would set off the alarm bells.
When Mary explained what we were up to, they got very excited and invited us to a lecture by the museum director scheduled for early that evening. We went, of course, and when I pitched Direttore Cecchi our idea to bring history to life, he replied, “I am happy to support any effort dedicated to turning teens and tweens on to history.”
Turns out we nailed a pain point common to museums worldwide.
The next day found us at the Cappelle Medicee for an early morning meeting with Direttore Bietti organized by our Florence-based collaborator, Paola Angelini, of Guided Florence Tours. We intended to interview Ms. Bietti about Michelangelo’s hiding place to enhance our understanding and descriptions of his time spent there. The room is off-limits to the general public. Few mortals have been allowed down there due to the fragile state of the 500-year-old drawings. Well! We must have made just the right impression because before we knew it we were in the stanza segreta di Michelangelo with Direttore Bietti, getting a personal explanation of each and every one of his sketches.
It was an unforgettable experience. I'm still pinching myself to make certain it wasn’t just a dream. Fortunately, I have 100 or so images to prove that it wasn’t – video to come!
And the best part? We now also have the buy-in of the Cappelle Medicee for our project too.
If that weren’t greatness enough, when we met Jo and Luke later that morning we were off and running.
The four of us took turns reading the story at each tour location. We conducted extensive hunts for treasures and challenges at the Bargello Museum. Luke and Jo were not only instrumental in helping us tweak the text into submission, but also it turns out they are both tech gurus! They helped us to further refine the user experience design of the future app, and helped us to envision additional technical possibilities we might include.
We couldn’t have hoped for better collaborators!
Saturday brought more hunting, more creating, more refining, and more gelato. And on Sunday, Mary and I packed up and moved to Bologna for the 53rd annual Children’s Book Fair, but the gelato and serendipity did not stop there.
On Monday I had an hour presentation to introduce Time Traveler Tours & Tales and our launch title. In attendance was Steve Mooser, co-founder of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, an international organization now 24K+ members strong. In another example of sheer, unplanned serendipity, Steve showed up to the Fair with his Oculus Rift in search of possible ways to apply that technology to the Children’s Book Publishing sector. He found it in Time Traveler Tours & Tales, and gave me and Oliver G. Latsch, TTT&T’s agent and biz partner, a virtual visit to the era of the dinosaurs besides.
We've now added yet another future format to our multi-discipline publishing plans.
Then came Oliver and my meeting with Tim Cook of Lonely Planet Kids. But that's all I'm allowed to say about that for now. Suffice it to say that we are cooking with gas here at TTT&T. Or, as Dan Blank prefers to say, “We’re cooking with jet fuel!”