Thursday, July 7, 2016

Next Stop in Tuscany, Florence

View from our hotel of Florence
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
We made it to the ultra-modern four-star Hilton Hotel on the outskirts of Florence which was no small feat in the slow rush hour traffic.  The roads and ramps are so much narrower in Italy, that I am positive an 18-wheeler would not be able to maneuver the turns and the exits. We were assigned a room on the 8th floor with a gorgeous view of downtown Florence and the Duomo. 

The bed was maddening, the joining of two twin beds on the same frame which worked fine as long as neither one of us fell in the crack in the middle. The fancy marble shower leaked copiously through the glass enclosure. The bathroom had a bizarre feature; I am not talking about the ever-present and annoying bidet but a sliding partial wall that revealed a glassed window from the bedroom into the shower. It was a peeping Tom meets modernity for the sake of adding more glass into the décor and perhaps an illusion of spaciousness.

To make matters worse, that night we got bitten by mosquitoes while sleeping. Who would have thought that mosquitoes could fly that high up? Perhaps we would not have cracked the window to get some fresh air and much-needed coolness as the A/C was tied-to a smart meter tightly controlled from the reception, a balmy 26 degrees Celsius.

Interior of the gorgeous ceilings in Palazzo Vecchio seen through a window
Photo: Ileana 2016
An elegant and smiling reception clerk apologized the next day and brought up delicious chocolate and a plug-in with a chemical repellent. An elegant note suggested that we should keep the windows closed at all times.  Apparently Florence was built on a swamp and mosquitoes have been a problem through the centuries. Some of the Medici members who were reputed to have been poisoned actually died of malaria; scientists found out through DNA analysis of the remains of two of the Medicis entombed in a church.

David Wikipedia
That evening we took the 6:30 p.m. hotel shuttle to downtown with numerous magpies who talked incessantly like children who escaped parental supervision.  They were dressed up to the nines in their tightest clothes possible. They were in town for a conference on May 5-7, the State of the Union, Women in Europe and the World, and were going to dinner together. One lady nearby told me that Prime Minister Rienzi was going to address them the next day at 7 p.m. in Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria.

As I spoke to three young men whom I stopped later in the piazza, I found out that one talk did address the problem of European women raped by the influx of Middle Eastern refugees allowed into the country by their own government who were willing to change the face of Europe and Islamize it. The speech was allegedly posted to the website.

The bus dropped us and picked us up at the train station, a bustling sea of travelers from around Europe who were taking fast trains in various directions. We had to walk a good distance from the train station to the old downtown, past the beautiful marbled and well-lit Duomo. The EU tourists had thickened even though it was early evening.  

Via dei Calzaiuoli  Photo: Wikipedia
I could tell the locals by the way they walked, hurriedly and with a purpose, on the edge of the street, in perfectly matched and artsy designer clothes, carrying a fashionable Italian leather briefcase, and wearing uncomfortable-looking but beautifully crafted shoes meant to be showy, not utilitarian.

A self-respecting Italian would never be caught in a pair of Nike tennis shoes. Clownish-looking shoes resembling our bowling shoes were an aesthetic expression only fashionistas could understand.

The ever-present Italian silk scarf was elegantly tied around their necks even though sometimes it was not cold enough to justify wearing a scarf. If you wanted to look Italian, you could not possibly leave home without a scarf or a shawl, it was an essential accessory, especially around Milan and Venice where the weather could turn on a dime.

My silk scarf shop that looked like a prison on the outside
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Our favorite gelateria on Via dei Calzoiuoli
Photo: Ileana 2016
Piazza della Signoria at dusk
Photo: Ileana 2016
The street to the left of Palazzo Vecchio with the three gentlemen I interviewed
Photo: Ileana 2016
The Piazza with the Duomo at night
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Shops were closed, the streets are rolled up early in Florence too, save for gelaterias and a few restaurants that catered to tourists. The locals eat in out of the way places where tourists seldom venture and the owners charge a cover if they agree magnanimously to serve you. If they don’t, the chef with hairy arms and starched white coat and hat may get upset. Our favorite gelateria, on Via dei Calzaiuoli still served the best gelato in oversized cups.

 Photo: Wikipedia
Via dei Calzaiuoli connects the famous piazza del Duomo with the Piazza della Signoria.

We found the tiny silk scarf shop I discovered twenty years ago called Evangelisti but it was closed. Italians workday is much shorter than our traditional eight-hour day. Italians know rest and take pride in their two-hour siesta, riposare dopo pranzo.

The evening ended at the outdoor restaurant Il David, by the heating lamps casting a glow on the Loggia with its beautiful statues, right across from the replica of the famous statue of David, currently housed in the Galleria dell’ Accademia.  Michelangelo’s original statue of David was placed initially outside the Palazzo Vecchio as a symbol of the Republic’s defiance of the tyrannical Medici family.

Turtle and Rider statue in Piazza della Signoria
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
In the center of Piazza della Signoria, was a gaudy temporary piece of art made of shiny rose metal, a man riding a turtle.  The piece was a strident expression of modern art meets tasteless, in sharp contrast to the beauty surrounding it.

Giambologna’s equestrian statue of Duke Cosimo I (1595), celebrates the man who brought the entire Tuscany under Medici military rule, while Ammannati’s Nettuno (1575) revels in the Medici’s maritime successes.

Loggia dei Lanzi
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Photo: Wikipedia
Loggia della Signoria (Loggia dei Lanzi), with wide arches designed by Benci di Cione and Simone di Francesco Talenti (1376-1382), is an open air art gallery of antique and Renaissance art with beautiful original sculptures and copies. It is told that Michelangelo had proposed the construction of such arches all around Piazza della Signoria. The terrace was used by Medici princes to watch public ceremonies in the square and to watch Gonfaloniers and Priors being sworn into office.

The name Loggia dei Lanzi goes back to the rule of Grand Duke Cosimo I. His landknechts (lanzichenecchi, short lanzi) were German mercenary pikemen who were housed in the Loggia.

Photo: Wikipedia
One of the statues by Cellini which took almost ten years to complete (1554), Perseus, is holding in one hand Medusa’s head dripping blood and a lance in another, an alleged reminder of what could have happened to those who crossed the Medici family and its rule. The intricately carved marble pedestal displays bronze statuettes of Jupiter, Mercury, Minerva, and Danae.  In his autobiography, Cellini described how the melting furnace got overheated while he was casting the bronze, spoiling the process. Cellini fed the furnace with his own household furniture and with 200 pewter dishes, plates, pots, and pans, successfully restarting the bronze flow.  When the bronze cooled, the statue was finished except for three toes on the right foot which were added later.

Neptune Fountain
Photo: Ileana 2016
Palazzo Vecchio façade
Photo: Ileana 2016
The Medici lion
Photo: Ileana 2016
On the right side of David, the Medici family appropriated and placed Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus (1534) to demonstrate their power upon return from exile. A Medici lion and Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines completes the statuary of the Loggia. It was carved from an “imperfect block of white marble, the largest block ever transported to Florence.” The beautiful statue placed in the Loggia since 1583, can be admired from all sides. The marble pedestal is also decorated by bronze bas-reliefs with the same theme.

Michelangelo's David outside Palazzo Vecchio
Photo: Ileana 2016
Giambologna’s marble statue, Hercules beating the Centaur Nessus (1599), was placed in the Loggia in 1841.  Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus, discovered in Rome, stood originally at the southern end of Ponte Vecchio.

Corner of Palazzo Vecchio Photo: Ileana 2016
The back of the Loggia has five marble female statues and the statue of a barbarian prisoner from the Hadrian or Trajan’s era, discovered in Rome in 1541 and housed at the Medici villa in Rome since 1584 until brought to the Loggia in 1789.

Uffizi middle courtyard that separates the two wings
Photo: Ileana 2016
On the left side of the Loggia, crowded very close to the Palazzo Vecchio, leaving just a narrow street in the middle, is the Uffizi palace, harder to see in the low lit surroundings.

Utterly exhausted, we trudged our way back to the train station for the 10:45 p.m. shuttle pick up for Hilton hotel.  I will continue the exploration of Florence after a good night’s rest.



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