Travels in Tuscany and Umbria - 1

 

February 2016

My Stories

Granner

Putting on the Ritz

Granada and Sevilla

Amsterdam

Tuscany and Umbria - 1

Tuscany and Umbria - 2

Driving in England

Dwelling in England

A Dozens Reasons

In the Hamam

Istanbul Greece Diary

Pearl Harbor Team

Old Girl

Paris

Provence

Grandpa's Cabin

Pay-It-Forward Latte

England and France

N. Italy - 1

N. Italy - 2

N. Italy - 3

N. Italy - 4

Lessons from 4 Corners

Mexico

Going to the Dogs

Don't Embarrass Me!

Letter from Siena

Arrivederci Roma

Joining the Matriarchs

Living History

Newlywed Game

Chaos Theory

Zach on the Road

Huckleberry Season

Stanley & the Sunbeam

I Dare Say

Middle School Relay

Grad Party

Yellowstone

Moving On

Newlywed Couches

Visitors

Old Faithful Inn

Snowbound

Sweet Potato

Mother Bear

Two Blondes in Iberia

Revisiting Spain

Curly's Truck

Old Buildings

Chelsea's

Split Seams

All Nighter

Talent Show

Stories pulled from my journals during our three-week trip to Italy in February 2016  

FLORENCE APARTMENT:  

We rent an apartment in the Santa Croce neighborhood, the very streets where Michelangelo lived and worshipped.  We arrive a few minutes early so Jim suggests I phone Giovanni, our amiable young apartment manager, who chats while driving his Vespa in the pouring rain.

Giovanni offers a lesson in keys.  First you use the large round one to open the big wooden door to the street.  Once inside, grab the angled key to unlatch the metal gate.  Climb two long flights of stairs, or access the elevator to ride one flight; use the small round key for the elevator.  Walk down a step and through the double wooden doors.  Use your dark-edged key to unlock the triple bolt on the apartment door itself. 

After Giovanni leaves, we tackle the scariest task right off the bat:  operating the elf-sized elevator.  We lift heavenward, but upon reaching our floor, I can’t unclasp the door.  I tug repeatedly, our single set of apartment keys dangling perilously over the narrow gap of the elevator shaft.  We carry no cell phone.  Jim seizes the keys and pushes the elevator button to another floor where he eventually resolves the latch.  For the next eight days, we stick with stairs. 

Italian apartment living comes with other twists of common house-hold tasks, like taking out the trash.  Giovanni requests we dispose of our garbage at the bins down and around the block.  Florence has slick containers for mixed garbage, compost, paper, etc.  Everything reads in Italian, but they have picture labels, too, for us illiterate folk.  Just open the appropriate bin with a foot pedal, toss in your bag, and shut the door; everything disappears into Middle-Earth.

CHIVALRY:

I adore Italian men.  They gesture ”go ahead,” urging me to enter first. They call me Madame. They open my doors.  One restaurant owner calls me “Blondie” while singing operatic notes and crying “I love you!”

The Italians are kind and patient with us.  They’re unfazed at our inability to speak their language beyond simple niceties.  They’re just chill, happy to reside in this Italy, a magical kingdom brimming with beauty and good food.

Occasionally we hear what sounds like a quarrel--something we might bolt from back home out of fear of escalating violence.  Here it’s just enthusiastic gesturing or the raising of voices at an appreciation of a great story.  Laughter quickly follows.

MONKS: 

Jim has launched a personal study of monastic orders.  So far here’s his interpretation:

Franciscan-- named after St. Francis.  All about humility, love and service to the poor.  Plus a penchant for brown burlap cloaks and communing with birds.   

Dominican-- more austere and tough.  Sympathetic and complicit with the Inquisition.

Benedictine-- the keepers of the Christian faith during the Dark Ages due to their proliferation of orders.  Like the Franciscans, they emphasize serving the needy.

HITLER:

The Vasari Corridor is an above-ground private passageway built by Florence’s ruling family in the 16th century.  The Medicis used this route to travel between their government building (Palazzo Vecchio) on the north side of the Arno River and their Pitti Palace home on the south.  

Our guide admits us to the Vasari Corridor through an unmarked door on the top floor of the Uffizi Gallery.  We descend roughly three flights and around a few bends before reaching the bridge section of the passageway.

Paintings pack the Vasari Corridor, including lesser-known works of masters such as Van Dyke, Rembrandt and Delacroix.  Our guide does a nice job with the art, but we get greater thrill from peering through the tiny windows of this fabled corridor.  The Medici installed these porthole windows to afford greater privacy and security while crossing the bridge.

In anticipation of Hitler’s visit in 1938, Mussolini mutilated the Vasari Corridor by punching out several large windows over the river.  Florentians decided not to restore the windows after the war because they consider the changes part of the corridor’s history.  Plus they like the improved light and view.

Here’s a look at Adolf Hitler’s infamous visit to Florence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXz8ombIvtU  Hitler got a hog-wild reception here in Italy, something most Italians don’t care to remember.

Watch Hitler greet adoring throngs from a balcony of the Palazzo Vecchio.  Jim and I hunt for that balcony inside the building.  I consider asking a security guard, “Where is the Hitler balcony?” but figure he wouldn’t appreciate the question.

  CLIMBING TOWERS:

Tonight we climb another tower, this time the enormous dome of Florence’s Duomo cathedral.  We deliberately wait until about ten minutes before last-call, making us the final climbers of the day. 

Up we scale, periodically stopping to catch our breath.  I’d forgotten about the tight cupola space at top.  Mother Nature screams here and we open our umbrellas.  I worry that my umbrella will fly from my hand, missile-like, onto vulnerable pedestrians below. 

On our trek down, we re-round the interior dome.  Signs in multiple languages admonish visitors to “keep moving.”  A visitor hesitating even a moment in this narrow space would gum up the entire traffic flow.  Happily, we have the entire passage to ourselves.

Throughout our downward journey, we hear staff shutting and locking doors in our wake.  Duomo employees waste no time putting their basilica to bed. 

LANGUAGE:  

Jim regularly speaks of an Italian Renaissance master named “Brunocello.”  I have no idea who he means.  Eventually it dawns on me that Jim has combined the architect Brunilleschi with the artist Donatello.  Some restaurants offer food fusion; Jim says he produces proper-name fusion.  He also says that Italian masters’ names are too long and suggests we abbreviate them to two syllables. 

I catch myself saying s’il vous plait.  Jim defaults to oui.  No doubt we confuse folks wherever we go. 

SANTA CROCE RUGBY:

Barricades of hay bales line the edges of our Santa Croce Piazza.  A thin layer of sand covers the ground and small circus-like tents stand at each end.  We ask the ticket-taker what’s happening. 

He laughs and explains it’s a bunch of old guys playing some version of soccer and rugby, and that they’ll likely hurt themselves falling on the hard cement.  We have to see this.

At game-time, medieval music blasts from loud speakers, welcoming middle-aged athletes following their multicolored parade through the city.  Teams enter the church for the priest’s blessing, with the public invited to follow. 

Before long, the teams stream out, apparently fully blessed and ready to roll.  The announcer lists names of different players and the neighborhood churches they represent, including our own Santa Croce home-team. 

Team captains bear bright banners and wear elaborate Renaissance jackets. The players, many with pasta-indulged guts, sport flared, striped pantaloons. 

After tackling and pinning each other in the wet sand, opponents walk away together, arms encircled.  We’re mystified.  Our fellow audience members seem equally puzzled over the entire psychedelic spectacle.

ITALIAN MTV: 

I’m trying to warm up by watching Italian MTV and making serious Italian coffee.  Artist James has run off to take photos to inspire future paintings.  I begin to recognize Italian pop tunes, such as this catchy jingle we first heard in our airport taxi:

“Parole in Circulo” by Marco Mengoni.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTUykrwkqbk  We call it our Italian theme song.  But why the dial phones?  Is the female smoker pregnant?  And what’s up with the sneering waiters? 

I wish I could take a hot bath, but we only have a shower-- a good one, but just a shower.  And of course a bidet.  You never score both a shower and bath in Europe.  But a bidet?  Always. 

MID-DAY MEALTIME: 

For today’s lunch we visit a small family-run restaurant around the corner from our apartment.  We score the spacious back room nearly to ourselves while a couple of waiters lounge in the front room, nursing espressos.  I’m about to comment to Jim about the peaceful environment when 25 Bostonian high schoolers and teachers swarm the place, enveloping us.  The teens order beer and carafes of red and white wine.  Minors can order minor alcohol at age 16 but must wait until 18 to order harder stuff.  We’re in Italy.

DAVID

To wrap up our week in Florence, we re-visit David.  As with tower climbing, we like popping into sites right before closing when the crowds are smallest.  We note a lack of tour groups at these later hours.  Groups are long gone--back at their hotels or on a bus transporting them to their next city.

David charms even more in less noise.  We stand and stare up at him from different angles.  I’d never before noticed the space between his fingers, or gazed up into the man’s nostrils.  David looks less confident from his right side.  We examine tendons in his hands and the muscle definition on the back of his left leg.  Jim and I comment on the genius of Michelangelo, just 26 years old when he carved this stone masterpiece.  David never grows old.