I haven’t taken many photos of Florence as the city streets are grey and unremarkable save for a huge green striped cathedral and some statues outside the Palace.
This came as a surprise, as I expected the city to be beautiful.
Florence of course was the centre of the Italian Renaissance, and is the home of the famous Botticelli painting of Venus – where she is rising from the seafoam standing in the scallop shell. It is also the home of various Michelangelo sculptures, including David, and of many medieval frescos. Michelangelo is buried here and so is Galileo. It was a home of the Medicis. Why does the city look so dull?
Of course it was Venus who brought me here. But I also was curious about the frescos. They come from a time when painting was done differently. Firstly, the frescos were painted directly onto the wall, onto the wet plaster, and as the plaster dried the image became part of the wall. This meant that the artists had to work very quickly because after the plaster dried there was no chance to go back and correct any errors or make changes.
So I have been curious to see the artwork of these brilliant craftsmen. I read about how the paint was made. They had to grind down the pigment, often a type of stone, or make a dye from vegetable or other ingredients, and then mix it with egg. That was the paint, and it is amazing it has survived so well. I remember seeing medieval frescos in a Portuguese church in South India, made like this, which survive today even despite a humid climate.
Anyway, all in excitement, I’ve looked up on the internet to find the locations for the best frescos in Florence and set off with my little map. Only to find everything closed. Bolted shut here and bolted shut there. Signs pointing to ticket offices that don’t exist. The only place that looked vaguely like a tourist information shop was also shut, and it had a piece of paper sticky-taped to the window saying “no maps sold here, no tickets sold here” and in invisible writing it says ‘go away’. Eventually I got sore legs and felt demoralized and gave up. Tomorrow I am booked to go and see Venus and David. Friday I leave. So unless I bump into some frescos tomorrow I will have to put it down to a lost cause. I did see some nice photos of them on the internet though.
I went up to the hills to a village called Feisola, only 10 minutes away, where there are breathtaking panoramic views of the valley and Florence. It looks better from up there! The bus driver gave us all a free ride back down the hill, for reasons which were explained in Italian, and then I stopped at a restaurant that makes its own pasta and had a big dish of traditional Florentine beef and pepper pasta and wondered about two ancient stringed instruments hanging up on display. They could be priceless antiques but none of the staff knew anything about them. On the way back to my hotel there was a gypsy band playing near the stripey church, with an old man playing, not concert level violin, but true virtuoso violin; with an effortless smile beaming across his face. He never missed a note and managed to make it look so easy. It was beautiful, lyrical, and wild music, and such an unexpected treat. So full gratitude for the mercies of the day. Who needs to see frescos anyway. I’ve seen the Portuguese ones in India after all.
Why come to Florence then?
What they forgot to mention in mythology is that after she arrived in Florence on her scallop shell the first thing Venus did was go shopping.
Sitting in a cafe earlier today, I was reflecting on how it has not been even a week, and I have already spent alot, what with the incident involving the antique jewellery shop in Venice, and the discovery that here in Italy they make clothing specially designed for plump little senoritas who JUST LOVE Italian food. Being Italy, the clothing must of course feel nice, so I keep finding clothes made from fine woven linen, that melts around your body, and is so comfy and cool to wear. They choose beautiful colours and design them so they are very forgiving. I was sitting (having lunch) in one of my new linen dresses, thinking about all of this, and about what to do – I still had the afternoon free and had not seen all the shops yet, but then I thought perhaps I should just go and wander around a museum so as not to spend any more money. Then, without a word of a lie, a lady walked past wearing a Tshirt that said “stop thinking and go shopping”
It was a sign!
So I did.
and all I will say is that if ever there was a city where you find yourself needing to purchase an additional suitcase – then make it Florence, because the suitcases are beautiful.
(just showing off)
25 July 2013, Florence, Italy