Tuesday, June 26, 2007

If it's Thursday, this must be Florence...

On May 24th we caught an early train from Rome to Florence. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy the Italian train system? We rode in a four seat area with a delightful couple and their very active little boy (about two years old, I would guess). They were most apologetic for his energy, as much as we indicated how much we enjoyed watching him. The trip was about 90 minutes and went by quickly. Meredith slept most of the way while I knitted.

When we arrived in Florence we went to the hotel, another guesthouse as it turned out. It was further than we estimated and VERY hot so we were pretty wilted when we arrived. The manager of the guesthouse, a nice young man named Marco, met us and told us that the previous night's guests in our room had let the shower overflow and left the room uninhabitable until a plumber could be brought in to fix the situation. He made a point of telling us that the guests had been French...and with no small amount of disdain in his voice. I had a momentary panic attack as I envisioned us going door-to-door with all of our luggage appealing for a roof over our heads. My daydream of this doomsday scenario was thankfully interrupted when Marco explained that he had made arrangements with another guesthouse in the same building to take us for the same two days at the same price. I wanted to kiss him! (He was also very cute!) He took us upstairs and introduced us to another young man named Lorenzo who was the manager of a suite of rooms two stories above the one we had booked. Lorenzo was very nice and explained that he just needed to clean the room and that it would be ready for us in about an hour. We dropped off our luggage and left to find something to eat. Phew! Crisis averted!!!

After we ate we headed off to the Accademia di Belle Arti, the art gallery which houses Michelangelo's David, as well as a number of other Renaissance era sculptures, paintings and drawings. Once again, we were glad to have pre-booked our admission tickets, since there was a long line outside the small museum and we were able to bypass that wait and walk in at the time we had selected. We were even allowed to go in a little early, which was nice since the inside of the museum was much cooler than the hot street.

As soon as we went inside, got our tickets and headed down the hall I saw him. He was MAGNIFICENT!

...all 17 feet of him! He occupies a rounded atrium in the center of the building and commands an amazing presence. Technically, there are no photographs allowed and there are guards watching for violators but Meredith was able to squeeze off a couple of shots before she got the "evil eye" by a particularly menacing looking woman who shouted "NO PHOTOGRAPHS." As with the Sistine Chapel, I fully understand the logic of banning flash photography but the ban on non-flash photos is purely an attempt to bring more euros into the giftshop coffers. I bought my grossly overpriced souvenirs, as well as two admission tickets so I feel no guilt about the private photos.

The detail on David is amazing. He was originally commissioned to be placed on one of the buttresses of the Florence Cathedral, as part of a twelve statue Old Testament series, similar to the statues on the Milan Duomo. The original artist, a student of Donatello, began the work in 1464 and abandoned it for reasons unknown. The block of marble remained in the cathedral work yard for 25 years until Michelangelo convinced the authorities that he wanted to take on the project in 1501. He was only 26 years old and untested as an artist. He worked on the project for three years. Upon its completion, it was placed in an outdoor gallery called the Loggia Dei Lanzi. It was deemed too valuable and too beautiful to be relegated to a spire above the cathedral (and only two other statues had been completed in the set). It remained on the plaza, exposed to the elements until 1873 when it was moved indoors to the Accademia and a replica put in its place.

At its unveiling, the statue was wildly popular with the Florence people because of its theme of the little guy defeating the more powerful enemy. It came to symbolise the Florentine Republic, an independent city state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states. This interpretation was also encouraged by the original setting of the sculpture outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence.

Having sprained my ankle severely in February, I was particularly impressed with how lifelike David's ankles were.

Throughout the sculpture every muscle, tendon, vein and bone is perfect. I now understand why marble was the medium of choice for statues. Its texture fools the eye into thinking you are looking at human skin, complete with the shadow of blood vessels that appear to flow just below its surface.

And then there is that wonderful tush!...

When we were kids, my brother, sisters and I used to point out people who had "pinchable fannies" (ok, we were a little twisted, but that's another post...) David would soar right to the top of that list.

He has been criticized for being a little "lacking" in the private parts. Hey, give the guy a break...he is about to do battle with a giant! It is understandable if he is a little "shriveled" in the face of mortal danger. The locals seem to be particularly sensitive to this issue, as if he is an affront to the manhood of every red-blooded italian. Get over it, people! He's still gorgeous!

The Accademia houses a number of other important artworks in addition to the David, although the big boy tends to overshadow everything else. There are some unfinished Michelangelo sculptures and a Pieta which has been attributed to him but may in fact be the work of one of his students. There are also some Renaissance paintings by other Italian artists, including Botticelli, the original plaster for the sculpture "Rape of the Sabine Women" by Giambologna and a collection of Russian icons from collections by Italian Grand Dukes. It is a small museum, easily covered in less than an hour but with a very large gift shop containing some beautiful items. Meredith and I lingered there for quite a while and stocked up on some gifts and souvenirs for ourselves.

We left and walked towards the center of the city where the Cathedral (Duomo) is located, a common setup for most of the old Italian cities. Florence's Cathedral is the third largest Cathedral in the world.

What isn't common about Florence is the design of the cathedral. The outside is covered with pink, green and white marble, making it very distinct.

The front of the Duomo

It also has a very high belltower (more about that in a later post...yes, I DID climb all 414 steps to the top!) and an unusual dome designed by Bruneschelli and an engineering marvel of its time. It was the largest dome in the world at its completion and remained so until Michelangelo designed St. Peter's Dome in Rome.

Our next stop was the Uffizi Gallery. This much larger gallery is housed in the Palazzo degli Uffizi, built in 1560 as offices for the Florentine Magistrates. (The word Ufizzi means office) The adjacent Palazzo Vecchio, historically the Palace of the Medicis, has been incorporated into the museum, making the Uffizi one of the largest and most important art museums in the world.

The Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, recently made famous by the movie "Hannibal" when Hannibal Lecter recreates a medieval murder in the tower. A large portion of the movie was filmed in Florence. If it hadn't given me such nightmares the first time I saw it, I might consider renting it to watch it again and see the Florence scenes.

The Uffizi Gallery was very crowded the day we were there, filled with large tour groups filing in and out of the small rooms and making it difficult to see much of the exhibits. We quickly began to suffer from a condition called "artis classicus overloadus." Its chief symptoms were eyes glazing over, an urge to throttle the next person who stepped between us and the artwork we were admiring, and responses like, "Oh, that's just some vase by some italian guy." I did manage a few moments of silent admiration of Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus"

and "Primavera"

as well as some beautiful paintings by El Greco, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Photos were out of the question because of the very low light to preserve the paintings and the massive numbers of people who kept getting in the way. They also had plainclothes security people mingling in the crowd spotting cameras and giving stern warnings.

By about three in the afternoon we had hit the wall. We were ready to go back to the guesthouse and take a nap. The heat was becoming oppressive and we knew the ceiling fan and the cool breeze through the fourth story window would feel REALLY good.

The inside stairwell of our guesthouse building

Meredith unlocking the door to the suite where our room was located.

Our room... simple but very comfortable with a cute little bathroom.

The view across the room from the doorway.

The building across the street

The street below to the right from our window. The dome that is visible over the rooftops is part of the Cappelle Medici, a museum devoted to the Medici reign in Florence.

This row of scooters parked outside our building will be an important element in a drama (or comedy, depending on your point of view)that unfolds later that first night.

After our refreshing nap, we were hungry so we went for a walk to find a relaxing place for dinner. We found a cafe with tables on a pretty plaza and an interesting menu. It was still very warm but it was turning into a delightful evening. As we waited for our dinner, a older German couple was seated right next to us. The man lit a cigarette and proceeded to blow smoke in our direction. It was unbearable. Since it was an outdoor restaurant he was not prohibited from smoking. The waitress clearly saw that we were uncomfortable but did nothing. This couple was ordering quite a bit of alcohol and more expensive meals than we were so she obviously chose to accommodate them rather than us. Moving our table was not an option since there were no empty ones available at that point. We ate our dinner quickly and left, more than a little annoyed at man's rudeness. Since tipping is not a common practice or an expectation in Italian restaurants we had no way of expressing our displeasure other than confrontation, something I chose not to do. Unfortunately, it would not be the last time that we experienced a meal spoiled by inconsiderate smokers.

We were getting up early to take the train to Pisa the next morning so we went to bed early. Around 11:30 we heard a very loud crash outside our window, followed by a lot of shouting. We opened the shutters to investigate and saw that a Florence Police Car had run over the row of scooters parked below our window and then crashed into the side of the building. It was a crazy scene. The policeman who had been driving was holding his head, running around the car and yelling. A second policeman, the front seat passenger, had the rear doors open and was reaching inside. A young woman was lying on the sidewalk, probably a pedestrian who had been hit by one of the struck scooters and a large crowd was gathering. Soon we saw the second policeman pull a handcuffed prisoner out of the back seat. He was handcuffed in the front, instead of behind his back as most prisoners are, and, apparently, he had been able to use something to slash the driver, causing him to lose control of the car. He also had a very sizable gash in his head which was bleeding profusely. He was very combative so the policeman forced him down on the ground and left him there. The driver then got back in the car and moved it away from the building, running over some of the scooters a second time. About this time we heard sirens and three more police cars and an ambulance arrived. The situation seemed to be pure chaos. They all began searching in, under and around the police car for something, perhaps the weapon the prisoner had used. The ambulance attendants began working on the girl who had a large gash in her leg. The decided to put her on a backboard to transport her into the ambulance and nearly dropped her in the process. The crowd was getting larger and more vocal and we noticed quite a few other people leaning out of windows as we were. The police started yelling at everyone to just go home but most of the crowd just moved a few feet down the street and then inched their way back up to the area of main activity. The whole thing looked like a Keystone Kops movie... so much running around, yelling and wild energy. Finally, after about 45 minutes, they took the girl away in the first ambulance, a second ambulance arrived for the prisoner who, by now, had left quite a pool of blood on the sidewalk and everyone left. What remained was quite a mess... scooters and parts of scooters scattered all over the sidewalk and a pool of blood. No one seemed to be left to clean up the mess. However, when we came downstairs the next morning at around 7, there was no sign of any of the previous night's events... no scooters, no blood, a pristine scene. We never did find out what happened but it was quite a lot of excitement on a quiet Florence sidestreet.

Next post: Pisa and an evening by the Arno River in Florence.



Dear Mary Ann - I have always wanted to see a closeup of David's butt!! Thankyou for fulfilling my hearts desire to see it so close up HEEHEE Love Sue

Busymom51 said...

Just one more reason I love you, Sue! You're so much like me!!!! It was an a-MAY-zing butt, just like the rest of him!!

Lyndsay said...

I love Florence....my favorite place. Thanks for bringing back some great memories.

Busymom51 said...

My pleasure, Lyndsay... I only wish you could have been there to share the experience with us! (And maybe we wouldn't have gotten lost in Pisa)