Sunday, March 08, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Twenty-Two

Tuesday, 27 December, 1988
Löhenthal* to Firenze [Florence]

10:36 train from Olten. Frau Renzberger* packed me a nice lunch and Lukas* took me to the station. He was gracious enough to wait with me till the train came but it seemed a real strain for both of us. I’ve been trying to figure out what I could’ve done to make him act like this and can come up with zip. But something’s happened to make him act like a вопреки and it’s really too bad. I need to make some good friends at Coverdale* this next term and I’d thought he’d be one. But apparently not. I’d thought we’d get to know one another better on this visit, but now he seems like a permanent stranger.

This was so frustrating and depressing I could’ve cried right there in the compartment. But instead I wrote a long letter to Janie*. Had cause in the course of it to think about Nigel* and that made me feel a lot better.

The Alps were quite lovely. Sun came out and showed them up beautifully. And I enjoyed looking at the little Tuscan churches in the Italian part of Switzerland.

Funny thing at the border crossing. Italian customs man came in and asked the guy opposite me a question in Italian. He answered, and then the official addressed me. Out of habit I said, "Pardon?" in French. At which the customs man rolled his eyes, lifted his hands towards heaven, and departed, without asking for passports or anything.

Train change in Milan. Found a first class compartment this time. Second is supposed to be so much more atmospheric and authentic; I just found it tiring. Seats are too shallow.

Hit the closest Frommer selection for places to stay in
Florence. Unfortunately the city was pretty thick with students on holiday, like me, and I ended up renting a double room for around $24 a night. Couldn’t deal with schlepping bags any farther. So the Locanda Marcella it was.

In the Frommer book I’d read of a nightly lecture on Renaissance art given by a American art historian in Florence. It’s being on for this evening was confirmed by a poster in the railroad station, so as soon as I’d dropped my bags in the room on the Via Faenza, I headed over to the Borgo San Lorenzo.

Paid my respects to the
Duomo first-- what I could see of it in the fog.

Streets of Florence are frequently narrow, darkish (yet people are on them anyway), and have very narrow sidewalks. The pavement is blocks of stone, cut rectangular maybe 12" x 15", and laid diagonally. Sidewalks usually have cars parked halfway on them, making it quite a game to walk along, what with the cars coming, and especially with the motorscooters whizzing by.

Quite a few people around the cathedral (at 8:00 PM) but still I didn’t feel comfortable going around back of the chevet. Too dark.

The Borgo San Lorenzo was lined with black men, apparently North African, selling belts, jewelry, and other souvenirs off mats and blankets spread out on the pavement. I wondered that they don’t worry about the motorcyclists coming along and destroying their goods.

There were also a lot of different languages to be heard there, including American English. Seemed quite odd, after France.

Waited for 8:30 and time for the lecture. It’s at the top of the house at No. 20 and given by a Kirk von Durer, who also runs a gallery at that address.

It was worthwhile going, more from a social than from an art historical standpoint. There was Chianti on the deck (view of Duomo) beforehand and I talked with a couple from Toronto, also students on Christmas break, about travels in France (she’s a student in Grenoble) and other things . . .

They mentioned it and I’ve become conscious of it, too, that my accent (English) has changed and become less "American." I honestly think that has intensified since last weekend with Lukas’s family. I knew they'd learned British English so I felt I should modify my speech with them so I could be understood (Lukas told me that at Coverdale he could understand me almost all the time and ditto Sam* [another compatriot in our year abroad program], despite his broad Oklahoma accent, because he speaks so slowly. It’s Darla* he could never make out. This surprised me as she seemed the most cosmopolitan of any of us. And now I can’t listen to her and discover what he means, because she’s returned to America).

In style the lecture, which was on the late Gothic/early Renaissance Florentine and Siennese painters, such as
Massaccio and Giotto, was kin to Ed Eglinski’s Art History for Non-Art Majors at KU, but with even more of the stand-up comedy. I felt von Durer could have done with rather more content but I’m coming from an art historian’s viewpoint.

Not that I didn’t appreciate the humor; I did. When showing Giotto’s painting of the
Stigmatization of St. Francis, he quipped, "For living such a holy life, St. Francis received the same wound marks that Christ had on the cross. Wouldn’t you rather have a Ferrari!?" "Well," think I, "only if Tom Selleck is driving it!"

The greatest thing I got out of it substantially was a realization first of how Italy was ripe for the Renaissance style, its Gothic being largely held-over Byzantine, and then of where many of the trademarks of the
"Pre-Raphaelite" movement style came from. For here were the original preRaphaelites whose work inspired it.

The lecture got out at about 10:45 and I thought, I’ve heard this town is not too big on nightlife and no telling what the streets are like this time of night. So let us get back to the hotel presto.

So I set off walking very fast in what I thought was the right direction. But after awhile I realized that I’d walked for much longer than I had coming over and was nowhere that I recognised. I was using the map torn out of the Frommer book and couldn’t find the street I was on listed. And up ahead was a group of young guys who may’ve been perfectly innocent but I wasn’t taking any chances.

So I cut over to the right (after backtracking at a run) and came to a street called after St. Catherine d’Alessandria. Started heading up it, trying to get to the Via Nazionale, but decided maybe I should ask the desk clerk in a nearby hotel for his advice.

I ducked into the lobby and inquired where I was in my limited Italian: "Dove io sono?" He said something obviously contemptuous about the map I had and pulled out a better one. Turns out I hadn’t taken the radial layout of Florentine streets into consideration and was an appreciable distance away from where I wanted to be. He gave me to know I could keep the map-- grazie-- and I hoofed it back to the hotel, allowing the effect of two glasses of wine on no dinner to deceive me into thinking I could do that much running. Made it back safely but the experience was a little
surreal.

2 comments:

whiskers said...

Firstly: I missed you!! Welcome back to cyberspace my dear!

Secondly...ooooh. Being lost must have been pretty scary. I plan to map out all the places I'm going to go without my group before I go to Paris or London, (and yes, I'm actually going, I just realized I never confirmed that for you!), but I'm sure that I'll get lost at least once...

Of course, we now have google maps...

Hugs,
whiskers

St. Blogwen said...

The weird thing is, it was all so dreamlike I wasn't allowing myself to get scared. But I felt that if I stopped running, I might become very frightened indeed and I mustn't let that happen.

What I can't figure out now, is why I didn't take the half hour or more that I had before the lecture to find something to eat. Chianti on an empty stomach isn't conducive to finding one's way around strange dark cities at 11:00 PM!