Monday, 28 February 2011

Senza Parole

Winter is holding on with all it has knowing full well it will soon have to give way to Spring. Today is cold and wet and there is little incentive for me to wander the streets like a vagabond set on knowing this ancient city which I’m growing to feel rather affectionate towards. I have just finished reading a book called The City of Florence by RWB Lewis. He writes that Henry James, in reflecting on Florence, said he was struck by “a sense of history that took his breath away”. And: “Time has devoured the doers and their doings, but there still hangs about some effect of their passage”. He has really found the right words I thought to myself as I put the book down and reflected on my visit to the Palazzo Pitti last week. In Italian one might say it left me senza parole (literally ‘without words’, but in effect ‘speechless’). I’m still not sure quite how to describe this excessive palace or indeed the effect it had upon my person. Enormous, for a start, perhaps ridiculously so – I mean who needs a pad that’s that spaciously endless, or endlessly spacious? Clearly the Medici had a point to make about the superabundance of their wealth when they felt the need to make three times bigger the already huge palace built by the Pitti. One only needs to reflect on the man hours and sweat that have been poured into the creation of room after room of ornately molded and frescoed ceilings, marble statues, vast carpets, bathrooms bigger than my entire apartment, never-ending walls lined with silk and/or precious renaissance paintings with chunky gold frames... My overall impression was that it was too big for comfort and for the current sake of preservation (presumably) too dark. Admittedly, for me, the highlight was the westerly view (glimpsed through curtains adrift) from the top floor overlooking the red roofs of Oltrarno (the area to the south of the Arno River, where I live, which basically means ‘other side of the Arno’). What I wouldn’t do for such an outlook! I like to imagine that the Pittis and Medicis, and Lorraines after them, flung wide the curtains and spent many a reflective moment enjoying the sunset of an afternoon over a glass of chianti whilst discussing the next artistic commission of genius. The top floor of the palace is now a gallery of ‘modern’ art (the most modern being early 1900s), which is so unending I didn’t make it half way around. That shall require another visit or so. There is only so much I can appreciate at a time.

On the subject of breaths being taken away, yesterday Dianna, Roxanna and I decided it was time to ‘do’ the Duomo. After zipping past the cathedral countless times by now, I wasn’t really sure what to expect of its innards although I did a quick read up online so I might have things to look out for. There are a lot of facts and figures but the basics are that it took around 120 years to build, with some delays here and there… the collective design of one Arnolfo di Cambio (started in 1296), and Fillipo Brunelleschi who was the brilliance behind the dome (1420). The said dome (duomo) is 91m high, spans 41m and is the treasury of a fresco of The Last Judgment that is said to cover a surface of 6000m square. The peak of the dome is reached by nearly 500 steps which, as it turns out, is rather a lot and not for the weak-of-knee. Our perfectly timed visit saw us plodding up the ancient narrow staircases on a crisp, perfectly clear day with relatively few tourists to contend with. (It really pays to arrive early). The first note of curiosity as we set out was a sign which read ‘Please don’t write on the walls’. What a strange thing to feel the need to say, I thought to myself, until I passed a single line of graffiti (Fabio + Maria forever, or something like that) and imagined this one transgression was the impetus for the signage. But unfortunately and quite horrifyingly this was not the case and indeed as the walls became thick with ugly scrawls I felt an indignant outrage rising up in my ‘world-heritage-listed’ culturally and aesthetically protective self. What possesses so many people to think of packing a permanent marker along with camera, water and guidebook as they set out for a morning of sightseeing is what I’m really wondering. Why people, why!?? So, that off my chest… I tried to imagine the ancients carrying their fiery torches up the steep, dark, twisting and graffiti-less passages, going about their duties or perhaps a morning jaunty to admire the view? The view… again… senza parole. Unfortunately the photos will do it no justice and neither will any words. You will simply have to come and see if for yourself. Three hundred and sixty degrees of Florentine splendor to expand the mind, the heart, the emotions and the vision of what is possible for creative beings to achieve, with the magnificence of God’s creation enveloping it all.

More on daily life in Florence next time…

For photos click here.

È tutto per oggi!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Fine views and pizza

Hints of spring are arriving in small gusts of warm air and rays of sun with real warmth in them. Yesterday Dianna and I caught the number 7 bus from Piazza San Marco up to Fiesole, an outer suburb of Florence up in the surrounding hills. The general architecture transformed along with the landscape as the bus gallantly wove its way up the twisty road to crisp clear air, open space and a vast azure sky. Heaven! After wandering around aimlessly for some time, enjoying the narrow streets and spectacular views of Florence, we stumbled across the info centre and hence a handy map to point us in the direction of the Etruscan remnants of Theatre and Wall as well as the park where lovers (or just friends) can while away the sunny hours high above the serious bustle of the city. There was an ugly smear of brown lurking above Florence and as we made our decent back I pushed that unfortunate discovery out of my mind. It’s a comfort to know that so much greenery and open sky exists just 20 minutes up the road!

Ok, food. I had my first real pizza in Fiesole with Dianna. It was something I had to do even though I don’t normally eat much wheat. How can one come to Italy and not have pizza? And while one’s at it why not go the whole way? “Una pizza gorgonzola per favore!” Each of our pizzas came out on an enormous plate, overhanging the edge and oozing with ‘eat me now’ aromas. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could eat a whole one (even the tourists passing by pointed and went ‘wow look at those’), but actually it turned out to be an easy task with the economy of topping and wafer thin crust… Totally wonderful. From beginning to end buonissimo!!

The Italians really know how to make cheese. I’m working my way through the entire range… parmigiano, gorgonzola, ricotta bufala (buffalo), mozzarella and other ones that I’m not sure what they are called except for yum. And hello, you haven’t tasted olive oil until you’ve come to the source… thick, green and slightly bitter and as I lavish it on everything I keep thinking, yes this is just as it should be. I’ve also found lovely pomodori (toms), slightly bigger than cherry tomatoes, that make an excellent pasta sauce. So many taste sensations to discover, I think I’ve barely started.

As I see more of Florence I like my area more and more. It’s just off the beaten tourist track, so quieter in terms of pedestrian traffic, there’s a great daily market at the Piazza Santo Spirito which is small but has different stalls each day. (And on the 3rd Sunday of the month a big organic market with all sorts of produce and handicrafts). There’s a man who sits outside his second-hand bookshop every morning, right on the street, who I say ‘buongiorno signore’ to for the pleasure of hearing him say ‘buongiorno signora’ to me as if I’m a local. There’s an asian mini mart around the corner that sells coconut milk for 1 euro a can which is a much better deal than the one in the specialty shop in the centre of town for 5 euros – yes, A CAN. I have a health food shop with a good selection of products just up the road and a number of great looking cafes and restaurants that are awaiting my discovery.

I’m coming to terms with the lack of light in my flat by making it a little brighter with accessories. I took a trip out to ikea last weekend and bought a stack of pink things to brighten up the pastel green of the rest of my décor. The fake flowers have really helped as well. I’m enjoying school and learning a lot from the lectures and daily lessons. It’s great to be here even though I have moments of craving the smell of salty sea air and lying on the green grass or cuddling my cat! Florence is growing on me now. There is so much to discover. It is rich with history and culture. But possibly a difficult place for a foreigner to truly feel at home in terms of fitting in with Italian friends. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I’m soaking it all up and learning all I can.

There’s a few new photos here.

È tutto per oggi!
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