Florence At Our Feet
After us, le deluge!
Shelley and I leave New York, and the next week, Sandy hits.
Then we visit Venice…
And two weeks later…
It seems like no one should ever let us leave this town again. There’s no telling what might happen.
But on the other hand, there’s Florence.
As is often the case, we arrive and quickly live many days worth of experience within our first. This is a different kind of town, seemingly busier than Venice, due to all the cars and buses that were so blessedly missing there. Watch it! Motorbikes and autovetture careen through these streets fast enough to make this jaded New Yorker jumpy.
And soon, I discover I’m not the only one with a reaction to all the motor traffic.
Our first night, visiting the Piazza Della Repubblica, it’s around dusk, and we are taking it all in and wondering where to go next, when suddenly there’s a commotion coming from…somewhere over there. A police whistle – oh yes, we’ve been warned about pickpockets preying on tourists. But then many more police whistles, and growing louder. Before we know it, two hundred people burst into the piazza on bicycles festooned with balloons! They are mostly young and with all the noise they’re making, are clearly in a festive mood. We speak to one of them and learn it’s a flash mob, there to, um, pedal their ideas for more bike lanes in Florence.
This is how we discover the best way to see Florence, a feast that slowly unfurls itself at our feet as we walk it.
It’s not only all the history living right there beneath our shoes and right over our heads as we stroll her narrow vias and peer up everywhere at buildings several centuries old. And it’s not only the urban planning, also centuries old, that has sculpted these streets like streams that feed into great lakes of gathered humanity called Piazzas. And it’s not only the museums and churches, like the remarkable Duomo…
…and the endless small hidden surprises waiting patiently to be discovered down most any street.
It’s that populating these streets and shops are the Florentines themselves.
And I thought NYC women and men were good looking! One thing Italy seems to be teaching me is about beauty as well as my relationship to it. As I age, I appreciate youthful good looks, both male and female, more than I used to, and at Florence’s wonderful Uffizi Gallery, I learn something about what that may be all about.
There, on glorious display on canvass and in clay, is man’s — yes, mostly men’s — love of the female form, and how it’s inspired the highest artistic achievements for millennia. And I learn how it’s not merely a skin–deep appreciation, but that the art of the Renaissance borrowed from the Romans (who borrowed from the Greeks) the idea that beauty, and especially human beauty, can inspire what’s highest in us all. I begin to see that perhaps what I’ve been attributing and reducing to little more than my own lust or psychology may in essence be a spiritual aspiration. Perhaps like these artists, when I see true youthful beauty, something beautiful stirs within me.
Maybe something inside of me is seeking transcendence via the sublime…
Back on the street after the Uffizi, we’re hungry, and ahh – all these restaurants! It seems to us so far that it would be difficult to stumble upon a mediocre one.
On our last night here we wander down a side street and stumble into what must be the coolest café I have ever been in: The Florian, with gorgeous tables, great jazz on the PA, and amazing treats and amazinger décor, (and on this rainy night we have the place all to ourselves!) is alone worth the trip back to this city.
And the hot chocolate! I thought I knew what a hot chocolate was, then I ordered one in Florence. It’s about twice the size and three times the thick richness of what passes for it here. Like a not-quite-fully-melted dark chocolate bar, it imbues me with a delicious, luxurious feeling.
So full of little surprises, I could never be bored here, that’s all I can say. And I’m not sure I can say the same about Venice. In any case, we both agree Italy is worth returning to. And so far, one of the best things about Italy is the Italians. (Also, one thing that slowly dawns on us as we tour Italy and then France: Where are all the fat people? Surely they must be hiding somewhere, but we see so few!)
The Italians are friendly and helpful. And Florence is such a cosmopolitan town (and also so human-scale), it whets my appetite and makes me wonder – what could Rome be like?