Art is absolutely everywhere in Florence. From street signs, the plethora of outdoor sculpture, the architecture, artists with their colored chalk decorating flat and vertical surfaces, obscure doorways, clothing both worn and displayed, food stalls, even poetry found on an archway. You just have to be willing to look for it and it doesn’t cost a penny – just your consideration. Florentines are very proud of their little city and they should be – they’ve earned the right.
There are numerous guidebooks out there that describe in detail the pleasures of this city. I leave that to them and choose not to regurgitate the obvious. What I want to do is give little vignettes of some experiences and observations that struck me in my wanderings. No particular order or level of significance…
I have a thing for graveyards and visit them wherever I travel – if available. I am fascinated with how various cultures honor their dead. I was unable to gain access to the main graveyard much to my chagrin. Ladies – shove a scarf in your bag and don’t take it out! Churches in Italy insist on a level of modesty even in this day and age and while they don’t insist that we cover our heads with a lace mantilla (a doily would do in a pinch) bare shoulders are a no no in No Uncertain Terms. There are enterprising young ladies selling scarves outside most big churches but I brought 3 with me (conveniently located in a drawer in my apartment) and was not going to buy another. After having hiked up an amazing number of hills and steps to get to this cemetery in the brutal heat – I was kicking myself all the way down. I did get to see a sample though in the main courtyard and there was a lovely smattering of beautiful crypts and carved sarcophagi – you can bet these were the monied folk. Not a lot markers indicating a below ground grave. Perhaps they take “the worms go in, the worms go out….” seriously here. All kidding aside – my thoughts were even hushed – it was so beautiful and dignified.
I witnessed a wedding held in Dante’s House. I just had to adopt the Voyeur and watched for a bit. There was a woman singing an Aria that took my breath away. The bride was exquisite in a layer cake of tulle – fanning herself – but not languidly. I wondered at the choice in venue. Dante? The Divine Comedy. The Inferno. Purgatory. The thought came that perhaps the metronome beat of her fan had something to do with the energy of those magnificent albeit questionable titles in which to forge a lifetime together. Bear with me and see the humor. I wished them both godspeed and every blessing and continued on. The circa 1940s Rolls parked out in front bode well to perhaps disperse arcane superstition…..
Paying for the privilege of using the bathroom. Well, when you gotta go, you gotta go. Considering that my apartment was about a half hour away – I opted to plunk down the .60 euros. That may seem a outrage for something so fundamental, so basic. But consider the alternative and the poor soul who’s duty it is to take your money and your attitude, keep the place spotless and give you your change. This is a perfect opportunity to tip generously. It could be you in another lifetime.
Art in the 14th through 17th century is just simply violent. From the sculptures like The Rape of the Sabine Women, Mercury Slays Medusus and others too numerous to mention all the way to the intricate painting on porcelain – it’s violent. This is not a judgement – simply an observation. I wonder why though. Were the times appreciably more violent back then? Or, were they just more honest?
Trying to speak the local language will open so many more doors. Because I took the time to learn some very basic Italian and was open to being corrected when I stumbled and graciously tried again – I was treated to smiles, good natured joking, special little treats and samples from food vendors, inventory from the back of the store and other delightful gestures that connected me to these strangers in a way that bridged cultural gaps. I have heard my fair share of loud ugly Americans and well, we’ve earned that distinction sad to say. While I promised not to regurgitate the obvious – how would you feel if someone came up to you and started speaking gibberish at you – loudly – while gesticulating wildly? And then proceeded to get angry when you shrugged your shoulders in utter confusion? Ok, climbing off the soapbox now with an encouragement to learn how to apologize for not knowing enough of the language to know enough. You’d be amazed at the resulting detente.
I like to collect strange things. At home, instead of Dresden china – I have rocks and feathers from all over the world. During a trip to New England a long time ago – I collected photos of porches because they were just everywhere and so grand compared to the cheesy stoops and decks at home. While in Florence – while wandering – I am on the lookout and collecting photos of the Medici family crests on buildings. Apparently they adorned their vast holdings with these distinctive crests and many remain. Some are garish and ornate – some very simple. They all have either 5 or 6 balls in a circle with one being different than the others. And they are in the strangest places now that the city has modernized in the last few centuries. If you are here and just can’t take in one more painting or sculpture – look up and try and find them. It’s a great little gift of a different perspective.
Florence is a city that encourages her patrons to keep moving. “Lots to see so no loitering” seems to be echoed in the very small number of benches available. Unlike San Remo that encouraged tourists to sit and take it all in at your leisure with benches just everywhere – unless you can find a curb or a church step to lighten your load – you will be eating your gelato standing up. Florence is just downright stingy with benches. Curbs are great until you have to leap up quickly to avoid the taxi, the bike or the horse-drawn carriage (most streets are pretty much narrow alleys). Church steps provide a great alternative until the “Follow the Flower” tour group comes swooping in, engulfing you in bad clothing, sensible shoes, fanny packs screaming ‘tourist’ and a general dazed unconsciousness. The other day I happened to spy an empty stone bench on one of my long meanderings and! it was partially in the shade! And! Nobody on it! WOW! I couldn’t believe my luck! I dashed right over to claim my prize before anyone else co-opted it and sank down with huge gratitude and appreciation. And, stood right back up just as fast with buns burning. The stone was way too hot to even sit for a minute. After I gasped at the injustice of it all – I threw back my head and laughed out load – Florence truly does encourage her patrons to keep moving.
On that note – I am going to move towards the streets less traveled and look for more art….