Mellowing in Italy - Florence, Wednesday 2007 May 23


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May 23rd 2007
Published: September 16th 2018
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Il Duomo, Santa Maria del FioreIl Duomo, Santa Maria del FioreIl Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore

Another nostalgic look
Today we started with a most interesting walking tour through some of the less-famous history of Florence. The first site was the oldest tower house in Florence (XI century), a short distance from our hotel, also a very old tower house. Our local guide explained that each house was a fortress for the extended family, including the servants. Any connections to next door were made with bridges at the “first” (second) floor. The ground floor door was a fortified entrance. Life was conducted inside the tower to the extent possible – the women of the family might never leave the tower house. Holes visible in the stone walls were for beams that supported a balcony on each floor. The balconies could be dismantled in case of insurrection or war. Windows were high up and designed for pouring stones or boiling oil on soldiers or raiders. Territory outside the city walls was dangerous, and anyone with enough nerve and luck could make their fortune by venturing out and bringing back cloth or spices. Gradually traders brought more calm and civility to society, because killing the customers made no business sense.

We moved on to a merchant’s house which was being restored
Strozzi PalaceStrozzi PalaceStrozzi Palace

Solid and beautiful display of power
(XII – XIII century). The ground floor had arched stable doors and a courtyard for animals and goods. The first (second) floor featured a large salon for entertaining and business, plus bedrooms. The windows were large, with the purpose of lighting the rooms. Rain water was collected into a cistern system, and there was even a primitive toilet. Tapestries would have covered the walls as décor became more important.

Finally we looked at the Strozzi Palace – the arch-rivals of the Medici. This was a grand, square building several storeys high with a broad, square central courtyard and graceful arches. This was a Renaissance building displaying wealth and power through symmetry and spaciousness. The Palace was a museum, currently showing “Cezanne in Florence”, which I thought of seeing later but didn’t.

We crossed the Arno River to a less touristy part of town. We came to San Spirito, a large, plain, elegant Dominican church and monastery. This was the place where Michelangelo used to dissect cadavers with the tacit approval of the priest, who admired his work. Sadly, the church was closed to the public because of vandalism.

In the square it was market day, so we looked around.
Basilica of San Spirito, 13 centuryBasilica of San Spirito, 13 centuryBasilica of San Spirito, 13 century

Odd to think of Michelangelo dissecting bodies to understand musculature
Markets in Italy are full of clothes, both new and second-hand. I saw one nice top, but it was linen - not good for travel.

Our final tour was in a chapel where access was strictly controlled, only 15 minutes per visit. Our guide, Simone, showed us in detail this first transition to paintings with perspective; two painters did the pictures – one was a Renaissance innovator. The theme was Jesus teaching that taxes had to be paid – a message to the Medicis and others who made donations to churches with the purpose of expressing their wealth and keeping it from governments. Later the Medecis exacted revenge by having the painter’s face removed from the frescoes.

Some of us had lunch at one of the open-air restaurants on the San Spirito piazza. We were both starving for salad, which seems not to be part of meals in Italy. This restaurant had lots of salads on their menu for very reasonable prices. I couldn’t understand the names or a lot of the ingredients – until we turned the page and saw them all in English. We both had “Lust”. Lettuce, black olives, chicken, half an egg, and tomato,
Piazza della SignoriaPiazza della SignoriaPiazza della Signoria

Centre of artistic Florence
plus beer. The waitress helped me stumble through ordering in Italian, which I appreciated.

One of our tour members invited me to sit in on a class she was auditing sponsored by the University of Georgia. She will be in Florence for three weeks, with our tour in the middle week. The students were undergrads and two grad students studying Dante and Machiavelli. The “classroom” was the breakfast room of their hotel near the train station.

As we entered a little late, the professor was working through Canto XV of Dante’s Inferno. I learned so much from this, as he introduced it and then invited discussion about each tercet. Without such tuition, it would be virtually impossible to understand the references. He helped us understand that this poetry was as political as the frescoes in the monasteries and churches. What a wonderful experience to explicitly link this literature with what we have learned over the last week about Florentine power and development! The second professor, after a brief break, lead a seminar discussion which focused on the place of Canto XV (Sodomy) in the Inferno, plus how the church interprets several sins, and the wider meaning of sodomy
Some of the many bells of FlorenceSome of the many bells of FlorenceSome of the many bells of Florence

A soundscape of every day
in the poem. The core of the interpretation of sins is recognizing the degree of deviation of the act from “nature”, according to religious doctrine. This was an important lesson for understanding church history, which was so influential for many centuries.This lecture refreshed me more than a night’s sleep – could it be using different brain cells?

On our own for supper, most of the “singles” met at 7:15 to walk to a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves. Sue had made a reservation for us as we walked back to the hotel. (I had detoured to check my plane reservation with Alitalia.) As requested we had a table outside. In all the Italian cities I visited, in the evening, “sidewalk” meant either a place for restaurant tables or sometimes “parking space”. At this restaurant even the street was taken over by tables, to the extent that a motor bike probably could not make it through. Two couples from our tour coincidently came to the same restaurant, so we took pictures of our group. To me the food was fairly good, but my standards are perhaps too high now. My mixed Tuscan antipasto, which I have come to enjoy, was good,
Dinner togetherDinner togetherDinner together

Bad photo, good fun
although the liver paste was more liquid than from our cooking class. Then I had spaghetti with rabbit, and this time the tomato sauce was definitely too thin. Still we all had a delightfully raucous time and even sang a bit on the way back to the hotel - very clichéd – “Show me the way to go home”.

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16th September 2018
Il Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore

Beauty of Florence
An iconic photo but still one of my all time favorites.
23rd September 2018
Il Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore

Beauty of Florence
Thanks! One of my favourites, too.

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