If I have an enduring love for anything other than family, it is not for a person, but for a place. Several, in fact, and all of them in Italy. Some of my happiest student days were spent Inter-railing across Europe, and in Italy I ignited a passion for history and wine that has never left me. Every time I return, I revisit old loves, and find new pleasures, and (which worries HN 🙂 ) I never tire of them. Back in Florence this week after several years, I found myself trying to explain that love to HN. Idiot. Me, not him. Great writers have failed to distill the essence of the city. Hardly surprising, then, that I found myself uncharacteristically tongue-tied and obtuse.
Eventually, I decided that, like all intensely pleasurable experiences, it is in fractions of time and fleeting sensations that we capture significance. So here, after much thought, is my take on those moments in Florence…this time around. 🙂
Always, for me it is sculpture first. At the Accademia, the perfect beauty of David, in a new and wonderful setting; and in the long gallery, Michelangelo’s half-awakened figures, trapped for eternity in blocks of unfinished marble. Another room: rows of plaster portrait busts like the crowd at a first night party, and below them, the tragic forms of young mothers, their passing immortalised for ever in folds and weeping. Finding myself paused at the kneeling figure of a sorrowing child, willing the drapes on his mother’s chest to rise again.
Modern sculpture and faded glory in the Boboli Gardens,
where a fat Bacchus can be found squatting under his canopy of flowers.
Taste, in churches, like fashions, moves on – standing under the austerity of Giotto’s enormous Crucifix, suspended above the heads of the faithful in Santa Maria Novella; remembering again the crazy marble face of Santa Maria del Fiore, and lighting a candle in the cool grey harmony of San Lorenzo’s Renaissance interior.
Revisiting favourites under the painted ceilings of the Uffizi – Bronzino’s rendering of the exquisite fabric on the dress of Eleonora Toledo, with its puffs of silk and tiny embroidery; the affectionate portraits of the young Medici children, Titian’s sexually charged Venus of Urbino, and Botticelli’s astonishing Venus, emerging like a 21st century film star from the waves.
The city herself: the light on the river, and the hundreds of swallows wheeling over the bridges in the sunset. Everywhere the sound of music – Tadeusz Machalski playing his guitar on the steps of the Mercato Nuevo, a crazy jazz trio swinging in a sunlit square; a young soprano weeping over her dead lover as the restaurants filled around her. The shadow of Dante’s poetry behind the buskers singing Lennon and Macartney songs on the Ponte Vecchio. Following in the footsteps of Hemingway at Caffe Donnini, and later, eating fresh pasta at the tiny Trattoria al Trebbio, then sipping the ice cold limoncello pressed upon us by the owner.
And finally..not all my loves are old ones.I’m just wondering: perhaps I should also mention…….shoes?