Saturday, 8 October 2016

From Firenze to Florence

Whenever talking about Firenze, B.A. and I called it Florence, which is something I would never, ever have done on my first or second trip to the city. I had, after all, studied Italian for three years at high school, taken it up again after undergrad and was the "Italian-speaking" person in my office. It wasn't FLORENCE, it was FIRENZE.

I have calmed down a bit since then. Besides, my allegiances have switched to Kraków, which is always, always Kraków and never drug-dealing cow.  

By the way, I have found my lost youth. When I spent a week in Flor---irenze, I slept at the splendid Hotel Alessandra. Mine was the single room with use of the bathroom down the hall. This bathroom had a real bath, and I remember bathing in it, terrified lest (somehow) the lock fall off and someone come in. 

This discovery is thanks to a Fodor's Guide of the time, which I have before me. From a red ink notation I see that the church I attended every day just to be seen and recognized by someone was Santa Trinitá. Oh how sad: on page 104 blue ink beside the information for "Piazza della Republica" says, "Whenever I see it, I know I'm lost again     possibly because I mean S. Maria Novella." 

Travelling as a very shy Single was certainly a challenge. I'm glad I had such a nice room. 

Skipping ahead several years, the ports of call for Day 1 of  B.A.'s and my Florentine trip were the modest B&B called "Il Maggio", in which we had no view, the excellent trattoria known as "Il Mostrino", il Duomo and a not-so-good restaurant I won't bother to name. Florentine cooking was once famously bad for Italy (except for the steaks), and so ordering the traditional bread-and-tomato soup (pappa col pomidoro) was taking a gamble. The trouble was, the food at Il Mostrino was so good, I was seduced into thinking Florentine cooking had improved overall, everywhere.

Day 2 began with an early morning walk along the river and then meeting up with friends at St Mark's Church to pray and admire the art. There was a lovely Fra Angelico "Annunciation" there that I didn't remember ever seeing before. But of course the real treat was the Museo di San Marco, which was once the Dominican monastery home of Fra Angelico. He painted all over it, and Benedict Ambrose was delighted with the meditative frescoes in the monks' cells. Then we all got into taxis and went to lunch at Il Mostrino again. 

After lunch, B.A. and I said good-bye to our companions and walked to the Piazzale Michelangelo to look at the whole city from above. Then we climbed higher to the thousand-year-old  church San Minato di Monte. B.A. was very pleased with it and disappeared into some dark corner. I couldn't find him so I sat out in the blazing sun staring at the Zeffirelli family tomb and feeling miffed. When B.A. emerged, beatific, from the church, we climbed back down and found S. Croce. It was locked up tight, however, so instead of seeing inside, we sat in the "Finisterra" café on the piazza and had gelato and coffee. Ex-pat friends tell us never to order food anywhere within sight of something beautiful and/or old, but despite being served beside S. Croce, our refreshments cost only 6 euros. 

Trigger warning: discussion of rape of tourists.

A copy of  La Repubblica was on our table, so I read B.A. the news most pertinent to us, which was that there have been "photocopy" rapes of female tourists in Rome. The most recent victim was an Australian 40-something, who was attacked by a Romanian, and before her there had been a Brazilian 40-something, who was attacked by an Algerian and a Tunisian.  The "photocopy" quality is that the women go to bars or dance clubs on their own, meet their attacker(s)-to-be and go with him/them for a walk. They are then beaten up and raped. Yikes. How horrible. 

Although Warsaw is not Rome, that news basically answered my "Should I go to a dance club abroad by myself?" question. Mrs McLean will not be gracing the bars and clubs of big cities on her own. After quiet outings to, for example, the National Theatre, she will go straight back to her monastery/convent/hotel and lock herself in. 

End of trigger warning.

Let's see. Next we went to the Institute of Christ the King's church on the Via Tuornabuoni and went in expecting Mass in the Extraordinary Form. We were edified to see how many Florentines had turned out for it until we realized that they were actually midwestern Americans on pilgrimage and that Mass would be Novus Ordo in American. ( The chaplain-bishop worships a deity called "Gad".) We stayed until the end of the homily--which was about their itinerary--and then split. It wasn't Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation, so don't be shocked. The first thing we did every time we entered a church was pray, so we certainly prayed a lot.  

As we were walking back to our hotel, via the Duomo--which which B.A. was in love--we found a friend sitting on the terrace of the St. Regis Hotel, so we joined her and drank champagne cocktails until it was very dark and I was hella tipsy--at which point we all moved across the piazza to the Westin Hotel, where we drank more cocktails and ate chocolate cake.

Day 3 began with our visit to the Uffizi Palace. The tickets have to be ordered in advance and then picked up exactly when you are told to pick them up. In our case this was 8:45 AM. The organization is like clockwork, and shortly after getting our tickets, we were allowed into the Renaissance Art holy of holies that is the Uffizi. We started on the top level, as you do, and I raced on ahead looking at all the paintings at once while B.A. dawdled behind appreciating everything properly. 

When I ran out of things to look at,  I sat in the hall and looked at the other tourists and their outfits. People interest me more than paintings, and that is a fact. The best dressed tourists were usually young Japanese women although I was also very impressed by  a knock-out German redhead in a black lace mini-dress. The exciting thing about the Japanese tourists was that I had never seen their clothes before. It may be that Japan has totally different shops in their High Streets. 

Naturally most of the tourists were wearing jeans and trainers (running shoes) although a lot of the women were wearing skin-tight black leggings and trainers, zzzzz. (I wonder what I was wearing? Probably the Indestructible Denim Skirt of Female Traddery, a green long-sleeved T and  a gigantic green straw hat.)  

After two hours or more, we went downstairs to admire the foreign painters, et alia. Benedict Ambrose was dismissive of Titian, and I admit his best paintings aren't in the Uffizi. There are lots of Caravaggios, if you like that sort of thing, and two paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi, possibly the only woman artist represented in the entire joint. B.A. liked the Rubenses, and I admired the lovely shoes on the well-dressed tourist minority. 

Two hours later, we were done. The sun blared down, and exhausted and hungry we marched right back to Il Mostrino. The actual mostrino himself (the chef, a waiter had told us) looked out the kitchen door to see his fans, and suddenly I saw that his was the face in the logo on the door. We had a marvellous lunch, and then went back to the B&B for our stuff before heading for the railway station. 

I have neglected to write about the glorious handbags, the stupendous shoes and the noble clothes. Let us just say that if you suddenly come into money, you should go straight to Florence/Firenze to do your wardrobe makeover. Really, really fantastic. I looked through the windows of  Chanel, which is across from the giant man-on-turtle statue currently in the Piazza della Republica. There was a young lady shopping there. She was beautiful and looked as if her whole vocation was to be beautiful. B.A. observed that it probably was.  

Tomorrow I will write about Rome and how I discouraged an African trinket-seller in Trastevere from poking my arm. I was later told that African trinket-sellers are completely harmless, but I still object to them poking me. 

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