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!

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