Saturday, March 14, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Twenty-three

Wednesday, 28 December, 1988
Firenze [Florence]

Tired, so I slept till nearly 10:00. Got up, hit a pastry shop/snack bar for some breakfast (Italian pastries aren’t as good as French ones) then a bank for some Italian currency for some traveller’s cheques.

Then, since my main personal reason for coming to Firenze (apart from the external feeling that I "ought" to see it) was to do a bit of shopping, I hit the open market.

After about three hours of wandering up and down the Via dell’Ariento I came away with a brown leather belt for 15,000 lire (the man put a different buckle on for me), some four-button-length silk-lined black leather gloves for around 22,000 lire (to replace the pair I lost the left hand to in Lyon), a dark wine red leather dress purse for 35,000 lire, and a large (120 cm square) wool navy, gray, and red scarf for 27,000 lire.†

The young man who sold me that might be going to Philadelphia in the next year-- to study at Wharton. Ye gods. That’s where Mort Levi* [one of our best architecture clients back in the States] went. He’s not sure he wants to leave his friends and family, though, since he feels that if he goes to America he goes for good.

This city is funny for the language. I’ll be struggling along in Italian and the Florentine will inform me he or she speaks English-- and so they do, often better than I.

Bought some dates and some black olives in the adjacent covered market. Interesting thing about that place. I’ve seen nudie posters in machine shops and car repair garages, but I’d never thought to see a picture of an all but naked woman hung up as an inducement to buy vegetables. Maybe I’m silly but I gave such stands no consideration.

My shopping accomplished, I went over to the Duomo and went inside. Very much a tourist church, though some people were managing to pray in a side chapel or two.

Paid the fee to go up Brunelleschi’s dome. The inside of it was covered with the omnipresent scaffolding so I have no idea how it’s supposed to look from the floor of the cathedral. But you can go up to a gallery around the springing point and then on up over the dome itself (someone had chalked on the upper surface of the inner dome, in English, "BRUNELLESCHI IS GOD") then up and outside onto a deck around the cupola.

Damned shame it was so blasted foggy today. The view must be magnificent when it’s clear.

I’d gone through most of my Italian currency at the markets and I still had to pay the hotel for tonight. So I went back, paid the lady, dropped off my purchases, and got more traveller’s cheques out of the money belt. Changed those at a different bank than before. Better exchange rate at the second. Oh well! Bought a very good hot proscuitto ham and mushroom sandwich at a snack bar and ate it on the way there.

Went by Santa Maria Novello to look at the fa├žade but didn’t go in. Headed down to the Arno to look at the river from the Ponte S. Trinita. Ponte Vecchio to the east there, all lined with shops. Went and half-crossed it as well. This place is unbelievable like Toulouse and Paris. Jewelry and fashion and other high priced shops all crammed in one after another. Who buys all this stuff?

The Piazza Signoria next. And the woman at the lecture last night was right (not the Canadian I spoke to, but another Toronto native who either works for or lives with or is married to-- or all three!-- Mr. von Durer)-- the place is dripping with scaffolding. You can just see Cellini’s Perseus standing above it in the southern arcade. Nevertheless, this was the artistic reason I’d come to Firenze. Berlioz stood here, about where I was standing, and saw that statue. He was inspired by it and by the memoirs of its sculptor to compose his opera Benevenuto Cellini. He saw all this, that I was seeing (sans scaffolding), and he gazed on these very buildings and sculptures-- oh God!

OK, then, time to go home!

No, at least one museum had to be done and I chose the Uffizi. Saw everything there (that wasn’t being cleaned). I love the way they can afford to let all these Roman copies of Greek sculptures just sit out unlabelled in a dimly-lit corridor. Hell, they’ve got more where those came from.

When I was still in the early period galleries a girl came up and asked me if I spoke English. I said yes and she said, "Are you Blogwen*-- I forget your last name." I looked and it was Melissa* from the program in Oxford. Well.

We stood and talked for awhile. She’s travelling with Lucy*, another of the OOSC people, and is heading for Greece tonight. She, too, was in Paris the 18th and saw Darrell* and Harriet* [two more of our Oxford American contingent and fellow-lodgers at Coverdale College*] at the Louvre. They were looking for the Impressionist paintings . . . †† And if I think I’ve been having problems with French, they were really in difficulties. Melissa told me they knew none at all.

It was nice to see a familiar face like that. Very encouraging.

She'd been at the Uffizi for awhile already and was getting ready to leave. Me, I still had a lot to see. And so, dutifully, I did. I know it’s blasphemy to say it but, on this trip at least, I find myself unmoved by great paintings per se. Oh, it was nice seeing all the famous art history slide subjects in person, such as the Giottos from last night and the Botticellis and then the Raphaels and the Titians. But after awhile my eyes just glaze over. I got a pounding headache from staring at things and playing the intellectual. I ought to be more heart-stirred by these but . . . I don’t know. I did enjoy them, yes, but after awhile it’s like ticking off a checklist.

There was a Visitation scene that impressed me, by Mario-- damn, now I can’t recall his name; begins with an "A," I think‡-- anyway, I liked it for the originality of the facial expressions of the two women, neither hyper-humanistic nor "unco gude." Mary looks as if she’s wordlessly saying, "Oh, cousin, it’s all too wonderful for me, I don’t know how I can express it or even bear up under it!" And Elizabeth’s expression replies, "That’s all right, little one, you don’t have to try to tell me, I know!" This Mary looks as if she has an appreciation of the long centuries of Jewish prophecy leading up to this moment that now find their fulfillment through her. She has a happy lack of that sense of being herself the pivot of history so obnoxiously present in so many pictures of the Virgin Mary. I’ll admit the effect was more 19th Century Romantic than 16th Century classical Renaissance, but that’s the Renaissance’s problem.

I still can't get over how badly-lit the art is in that place. What with that, sensory overload, and maybe my feat of Alpinism earlier at the Duomo, by the time I left the Uffizi I had a raging headache. I’d thought I’d find a restaurant and sit down for a meal, but no way. I bought some cheese at a shop and ate it for supper with the olives and dates and more of a chocolate bar I bought in Dijon.
†As far as I can figure it, the exchange rate was around 1,230 lire to the dollar.
‡Mariotto Albertinelli.
††Oh, dear. Those had all been moved to the Quai d'Orsay.


whiskers said...

All the advice of my teachers so far has been to pack light, and I know they only want us to take one bag, but what would you recommend I pack for going to the theatre in Paris? I simply couldn't wear slacks...

I do have a lovely little black dress which might be appropriate.


St. Blogwen said...

A Little Black Dress will take you anywhere. And if it's sleeveless and you're going somewhere that might not be appropriate, you can always wear a light sweater or pashmina over it.

You're better off than I was, since you're going in the spring. "Packing light" in winter time is an oxymoron!