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Published: December 10th 2009
The morning fare. The sunrise surprise. The daily disappointment. Today, I treated my palate to a scrumptious dish of bread and hot chocolate. Sitting down with the rabble, I reached across the table and served myself a crusty bun. Unfortunately, the crusty bun was crusty on both the outside and on the inside. A petite portion of marmalade was provided to aid in softening up my “le grande crouton”. I felt like a huge mouse scratching on the side of the bun, trying to dislodge enough crumbs with my teeth to satisfy my hunger. Accompanying my ‘bread’ was a cup of hot chocolate. I was certain, undeniably certain, that I asked for a cup of coffee. Hot chocolate? What perplexes me was not the fact that they mixed up my order; rather, I just don’t understand why hot chocolate was there in the first place.
I really can’t understand these Europeans when it comes to breakfast. Where are the sausages? Where are the eggs? Have they no livestock? Where is my glass of O.J.? Homefries? Side of pancakes? Why are there no Fruit Loops or Lucky Charms? I need food when I wake up in the morning, not something that resembles food or something that you eat with food. Bread and water were once the daily sustenance of convicted felons. Now they eat like kings. I want to eat like a king! I want to eat like a criminal!! Lock me up, throw away the key, just give me my damn Lucky Charms when I wake up in the morning!
Back to Florence. I decided to ditch the gang and take on the city myself. I felt no need for another bout of tolerating the ignorant. The first stop was The Duomo…aka Santa Maria del Fiore. Departing the bus, I stepped onto the cobblestone sidewalk and looked up. Forget the Duomo; this place should be called The Super Duomo. What a brilliant monstrosity! I think it took me 15 minutes just to walk around the building. It is that big! The outer façade is constructed of green, pink and white marble panels. While it happens to be the third largest cathedral in the world, unfortunately it is not one of the more beautiful buildings. I’m certain when they built the place back in the 13th century, worshippers would gape in awe at the immensity of the cathedral. Unfortunately, it is now the late twentieth century and I see huge buildings all the time. As the girls say…it is not the size that counts (or maybe that was what I told them). Recalling the other cathedrals that I have visited, I always seemed to leave feeling overwhelmed, awestruck from the incredible beauty and majesty of what I had just experienced. This one didn’t do that to me. The problem is that it is less a place to pray than a place to play…like a game of arena football. I bet that you could fit an entire, full-size basketball court inside and still have room enough to fit stands on either side.
For the visiting worshipper, I am certain they too will find the place underwhelming. There is just no solace in the Duomo. No peace, no serenity. It exists because some undersized, self-conscious Gino felt the need to compensate. I think he should have just bought the biggest horse he could find instead. A church needs intimacy, silence, comfort and security. Unfortunately, the Duomo was greatly lacking in these regards.
The highlight of my visit was the climb up to the top of Giotto’s Bell Tower. The Bell Tower is across the square from the cathedral. It is made up of 414 steps of pure hell…at least my legs thought that way by the time I had completed the climb. My clamber to the top was an intimate encounter with a whole bunch of densely stacked bricks. If I was claustrophobic I would probably still be there…affixed to the walls of the winding staircase, 350 steps up and crying for my mommy. At the top, I was rewarded with a wonderful view of the picturesque Florentine surroundings; a 360 degree view of Florence with a panoramic view of the ancient city. Snap snap.
Leaving the Duomo, I went on a wee walkabout. You ever have those days when absolutely nothing interests you? The ole brain’s in neutral. Someone forgot to charge up the electrons. Today was one of those days. I was mindlessly plodding around a city that dates back over 1000 years and my reaction was….blaaah. Nothing seemed to excite me. I had no leggy blonde backpackers to follow around. Nothing. Everything in Florence was the colour brown. Khaki. Yech. Sure, I enjoyed the fact that they placed sculptures and statues everywhere. From what I recall, some of them were even pretty nice. I just wasn’t in the mood. So, to spark up some excitement, I decided to wander the markets and do a little sight-shopping.
Shopping is mindless. It require nothing more than a pair of shoes for transportation. You don’t even need any money. Shopping is what one does when they have time to kill and an urge to trade pieces of coloured paper or round metal tokens for ‘goods’. ‘Goods’ could be food, clothing, literature, arts or entertainment (ie Hamburg/Amsterdam). I was interested in seeing what I could trade my metal tokens for in Florence.
Following the pseudo-map from my bible, I eventually found some street signs that pointed in the direction of the markets. I followed the maze of arrows and noticed the collection of huts and tables down the block. First impression….it was rather smallish. Underwhelming...just like the Duomo, however in a more literal meaning of the word. The Florentine Markets was not what I expected. Sure, I truly didn’t expect to find the hustle and bustle of a market with swarms of hard-working Italians merchants. This would be improbable as I have yet to meet any hard-working Italian. Who did I find manning the booths? Who was out there slaving in the hot afternoon sun?
Behind the haphazardly placed tables covered with touristy crap, I found boatloads of North Africans. To a man, they were happily selling their trinket junk to trinket happy tourists. No a complaint was heard. They were all extremely cordial to me. They conversed in either English or broken Italian. I was very impressed. I visited Florence, expecting to expose myself to some much needed culture. I didn’t expect to find Moroccan culture, however I found culture nonetheless.
Speaking of the touristy junk….why would someone want to travel all across the globe to the medieval city of Florence and return home with bags full of trash? Here are some of the items I found; a machine gunning toy soldier (I could tell it wasn’t an Italian soldier as his gun was not pointing in both directions), a balloon full of flowers made to resemble a smiling face, a wooden letter of the alphabet on wheels that move back and forth. That was just the start of it. They sold pure unadulterated crap. They market should place trash bins at the exits, so you don’t have to go through the trouble of loading up your bins at home. Just buy it, toss it out. I am confounded by what one would want to do with a Bugs Bunny figurine that dances whenever it hears music. How much enjoyment would you or your kid sister get three minutes after you press play? You hear music, Bugs dances. Ummmmm, yep, That’s all folks.
Returning to the compound, I desperately needed some English conversation. I found my fellow inmates; Alex the Scot, Adam the Aussie and Eric the Half-bee in the cafeteria. Together we sat down to enjoy another Tuscan feast. As I ate pasta for every meal for an entire week, I was intent on eating meat. The carnivore inside me needed some protein. Unless I gave Mr. Gullet something that once swam, flew or walked it was threatening to act out on its own. I was frightened that I would wake from a semi-conscious state and find myself feasting on the still quivering body of a local hostel cat or even worse, somebody at the hostel. (Note: If it was female then I would control myself enough to gum her rather than bite) I ordered the fish sticks.
Fish sticks? Fish don’t come in stick form. I can’t go out toss a line into the local bog and reel in a jumping, wriggling stick. I should have known. It was impossible to identify what part of my meal was made of fish and what was made of stick. What was clear was that the fish part was made from tossing the head, tail and guts of the fish into a blender, squishing it into an ice cube tray and …presto, fish sticks! Thank heavens that several bottles of Italian beer masked the foul taste now polluting my mouth.
Italian beer has its’ other side benefits as well. For example, during my second or fifth pint I found myself chatting up a fancy young female named Meredith. A native of Seattle, Washington, Meredith looked lonely and lost. I felt obliged make her less lonely and definitely not lost. I took her under my wing and offered her my company. Extremely nice girl. Everything was going swimmingly well until the hostel Gestapo, those jack-booted flashlight wielding thugs, goose-stepped us back into our pens at 11:30PM. Once again the curfew was rigorously enforced. I am not certain if it was the beer or my pants talking, however I was quite upset at being torn from a truly enjoyable evening.
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