BILL AND CINDI, EPISODE II: Florence, Italy

July 28-29, 2001

Cobblestone streets, tourists, incredible ice cream, tourists, awe-inspiring art and architecture, tourists, excellent food, street bazaars, jewelry shops, and tourists.

Did I mention the tourists?

Actually, several of these attractions were not particularly noticeable when we first arrived in Florence. At 8:30 on a Saturday morning, most of the ice cream shops are still closed, and vacationers are for the most part still abed if they haven't spent all night on a train from Switzerland. (It's OK, though; we had sleeper compartments!) So, after dropping our luggage off at our strategically located hotel, we walked the three blocks to the old city in relative peace.

I. The Duomo

I had the advantage of never having seen a photograph of the Duomo. I was prepared for a large church crowned by a majestic dome and flanked by a regal bell tower. After four months in Europe, I've come to expect that sort of thing from famous churches, and even my meager Italian is enough to let me guess the meaning of the word "Duomo". What I did not expect was to find these structures covered with an elaborate facade of white marble with red and green detailing. Although the colors inevitably bring Christmas candy to mind, the effect is strangely becoming, emphasizing the intricate pattern of windows and archways in the sun. (As we discovered later, though, the landmark is even more spectacular at night. The actual colors are less evident, but the detailing stands out all the more for that, and is further enhanced by the sharp shadows cast by the floodlights.)

As our first adventure, we decided to go to the top of the bell tower. (I was going to say "climb" the bell tower, but I suspect that would bring a less accurate, if more entertaining, picture to mind.) Many, many, many stone steps later, we arrived at the top room with its surrounding observation deck - or birdcage; it was hard to say which, given the bars that curved from the outer balustrade to the inner wall. Presumably the idea is to protect the tourists from their own suicidal urges. Strangely, though, the Duomo's own observation deck (which, I was indignant to observe, was even higher than the tower's) did not appear to be barred. Apparently domes don't exert the same fatal fascination.

View: red roof tile. Lots of it. And then some.

II. The Galleria de l'Accademia

I've known what Michelangelo's David looked like for as long as I can remember, but somehow I still wasn't prepared for it. For one thing, it is much larger than I had ever realized. For another, it is displayed alone in a domed foyer at the end of a long gallery, emphasizing both its size and its alabaster perfection of detail. The text beside the statue says that it represents David immediately after the slaying of Goliath, but Cindi expressed some doubt of this, citing the view from the corner of the room to the figure's front left. After looking again from the indicated spot, I would have to agree. In profile, the statue's expression appears gentle and meditative, but face-on it is stern and threatening. There's no triumph there either, but rather the grim determination of a boy going into a battle that he can't win but must.

In the same gallery are several unfinished works, also by Michelangelo. Rough as they are, they have a strange vitality; they almost seem to be trying to pull themselves free of the rock. In particular, there is one of Saint Matthew....

[SELF-IMPORTANT ART STUDENT MODE ON]

The statue's taut and swollen neck muscles and the arm straining forcefully to the rear as if to check the forward movement of the figure's bent leg are immediately evident in the statue and express the contrast between matter and idea, between finite and infinite in Michelangelo and the incarnation of the interior torment that envelops the human soul.

[SELF-IMPORTANT ART STUDENT MODE OFF]

No, it's okay - that wasn't me. It was taken verbatim from the museum display text. (Sigh.)

III. Dinner

Incredible. If you go to Florence, try the risotto at Cinghiale Bianco (the White Boar). Just a thought.

Copyright 2001 Lyn Pierce