Sunday, November 6, 2011

Italy's pernicious charm...

When we arrived in Firenze, I had Expectations.

Expectations of being seduced by a magical Renaissance city. (Instead, I got crazy traffic, near-death pedestrian experiences, and loud drunken arguments keeping us up all night. Also, it was near-impossible to navigate.)

Of taking a day trip or two out into the hills of Tuscany, and wandering through vineyards and olive groves. (Spendy, the weather was somewhat crap, and we had to make reservations for the main galleries, which seriously cut into our available wandering time. And trying to navigate the English transit website required arcane knowledge which we lacked, and possibly a sacrifice to Neptune or something.)

Of spending hours sitting outside a cafe in one Piazza or another, sipping espresso and watching Italy go by. (There are very few benches or public sitting space, and you get charged way more for sitting down in a cafe; we got absolutely fleeced once or twice. And there were too many tourists between us and our view of Italy.)

Of course, by the time we arrived in Florence, we were tired and a little overwhelmed by all the Stuff we'd seen and done in a mere 10 days. (Also, I managed to get us rather lost on the way from the train station to the hotel....oops!) So it's no wonder the city was a bit of a let-down.

At first.

We got to our room, were warmly greeted by our host (who sort of reminded me of an ADHD chipmunk on speed) and had a bit of a rest before heading out to get ourselves oriented.

We kept it pretty mellow the first day, and the next morning we had reservations for the Uffizi gallery...Seeing the Botticelli paintings up close and personal was pretty cool, if a bit high-brow for us non-artists. Mr.Q was more interested in the statuary, and I was more interested in finding a good cup of coffee. Since it was a cold, rainy day, we decided to pop into the Galileo Science Museum around the corner.

That's about when things started to shift. My mind, it was blown. All kinds of old scientific instruments - astrolabes, compasses, maps, globes - terrestrial and celestial, hygrometers, thermometers (some of them 2m high)...all beautifully handcrafted, often engraved or otherwise decorated with delicate, intricate designs. Instruments of beauty as well as functionality. Behind one glass case: two of the telescopes that Galileo built, with his own hands. Under another piece of glass: part of Galileo's right hand. As in, actual bones and a fingernail and fragments of tissue. It would have been morbid, except looking from that back to the telescopes across the room, and considering what impact those bones and tubes had on our felt more like visiting a shrine, with a saint's relic on display. At that point, I quit trying to "understand" Florence, and just started to sponge it up. 

While we were in the museum, the sun came out, and we exited into a very different city.

It was...a jumble. So much to absorb: windy streets, old architecture, art, science, artisanal genius (we walked by a violin-maker's tiny shop, and could see him at work through the window...there was also a cobbler, with wooden forms hanging from string in the window...paper-makers, leather work, print-makers, book-binders, bakers, chocolatiers...)

We spent one very early morning at the Galleria Accademia, which houses the David...Again, mind-blowing to see that in person! So perfect in all the tiny details: sinews, veins, knobbly knees and ugly feet. (I liked that a lot, actually: many of the paintings and sculptures we saw featured Ideal Beauty in the form of perfectly-sculpted forms, clear-skinned goddesses with knowing smiles, etc...but they all had feet that looked like...feet.) 

Better than the David, though, was the gauntlet of unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo, that you had to walk through to get to the featured exhibit. There were maybe 8 or 10 enormous blocks of marble, with rudimentary forms starting to emerge through the rough chisel gouges, as though they were frozen in the act of trying to burst out of the stone. It was one thing to see the perfect, polished, final statue of David. It was something else, literally awe-some, to stand there and think: "That gouge, right there, and that one, and that one...were actually made by Michelangelo's own hand."

After that, any plans beyond the book photo-op  went out the window, and we spent four days wandering wherever the city took us. An afternoon meandering through the artisans' quarter ended up in a picnic lunch on a bench. A morning in Fiesole with a view of the city from one side; the same evening, a lurching bus ride up the hills on the other side of the city, to see the Duomo at sunset. We became regulars at the Fratelli Degl' Innocenti cafe, down the street from our hostel, and at one particular baker's stand at the Central Mercato. A quest for all the record stores in Florence (there are three worth visiting, apparently) led to the discovery of a paper-maker's studio/shop, where I found the marbled paper I'd been looking for; and at much better prices than the Big Name shops on the more touristy streets. Finding Santa Croce (and the tombs of both Michelangelo and Galileo, among others), we also found real, live Rom (Gypsy) street musicians: a jazz trio, featuring a violinist who could make you dance while he broke your heart under the sunny sky.

A jumble of images....

A view of Fiesole from our room (We had a Room With a View! And it was all painted and tiled in blue. Perfect!)
Piazza della Republica, featuring a carousel, street vendors, street musicians, artists...
Street art, in the artisans' quarter:
An odd door:
View from Oltrarno (the "other side" of the Arno)
Ponte Vecchio:
Florence at dusk, from the Piazzele Michelangiolo:
Galileo's tomb, inside Santa Croce (the irony of a church-sanctioned tomb, with figures representing Astronomy, was not lost on me!)
Mr.Q in the Piazza di Santa Croce, listening to the Rom band - he got to play the upright bass during a break, which thrilled him to no end!
Red bicycle in the sun:
Basilica of Santa Croce:
The Duomo at sunset:

Mr.Q waiting for dinner at Guido's Trattoria...amazing food, and they were very kind about our lack of Italian. They took turns to come out and talk to us, I think to practice their English. We played "stupid tourist"and totally over-tipped. 
Cheese plate, before dinner, with pears and honey. I would never have thought of adding honey to the mix, but it turns out that, drizzled over a bit of Gorgonzola and a slice of is divine!
And last, a sideways video; I couldn't figure out how to re-orient it - but the visual's not so important. We sat on a cold bench for rather awhile to capture the 6:00 bells...

A bit more on Fiesole, then Rome...then home!

1 comment:

Arctic Knitter said...

Firenze - Love.It! Glad you had a wonderful experience. Thanks for letting us live vicariously through you & Mr. Q!