picture gallery

After another night of coughing, insomnia and work at the computer, I woke Jan at 6:30 and insisted on leaving the hotel room where I was feeling imprisoned. She agreed and we walked slowly hand in hand down down to the Arno through quiet streets freshly washed by street sweepers, the only noise that of garbage trucks. The city is active and loud until 3 AM but then remains quiet till 7:30. We went to the middle of the Ponte Vecchio, usually a furious hubbub, with only the company of a man with a broom and a walkie talkie, and watched the light come up over the river. Seeing streets by now familiar, we appreciated more of the architectural details evident at every turn and took delicious cappucino and apple pastries at the brightly lit “New York Café,” served by a tall elegant man in a black vest, white shirt and yellow silk tie.

Back in the room around 8, we rested and showered and then set out again in pursuit of the neoplatonic beauty which the city offers to its lovers. But this time I wanted to see it pagan form, feeling a bit satiated with crucifixions and madonnas. We walked to the Uffizi to see if there was a chance of getting in, but the line was endless at 9:30 a.m. so we went around a couple of corners to the Bargello, which the green guide and Ricksteves said was underrated. The turreted palace, police station and jail was another civic museum, and provided just what I wanted: tits, asses, penises attached to beautiful bodies in three dimensions. There were marbles and bronzes and ceramics, many of them images of the God Bacchus, including Michaelangelo’s famous early work, and there were splendid sculptures of birds of many feathers produced by an artist I never heard of named Giovanni di Bologna. The building was uncrowded for the first hour we were there, and in most galleries one could take pictures, though not with flash and not in the ones containing the Donatellos and Michaelangelo.

We had a kind of quiche in a café and decided to head for more Michaelangelo in the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo, passing along the back of the Duomo on the way and appreciating its immense size through the web of scaffolding that covers most of it. Passing building after building branded with the ubiquitous Medici coat of arms, we paid a hefty fee to enter the Chapel of the Princes, which was also largely covered by scaffolding inside and out. Entering the tomb felt like entering a pyramid of the Pharaohs”overwhelming in grandeur but more in arrogance and morbidity. The chamber is not wide but hundreds of feet tall, lined in black marble inlaid with multicolored stone panels and illuminated only from the dome on top. Eight huge sarcophagi upon which stand 30 foot figures of their inhabitants are set into the octagonal walls. The whole things smacks of Darth Vader or the Lord of Mordor, and I found it more disturbing than tacky”an expression of dynastic wealth not humbled by but appropriating the power of Death. Ironic to have this all in a church where you worship a God of humility and compassion whose central mission was to cleanse the church in his time of materialism. Now I sound like the Florentine Savonarola, who left no monuments.

The adjoining New Sacristy is the three star attraction designed by Michaelangelo and containing several of his sculptures. After the hugeness of the Chapel of the Princes”all this remember inside a church”its more modest scale and muted gray and white colors were less impressive, and for me disappointing. I had studied this room in art history and been told how great were the sculptures by many authorities, but by this time I was less than sympathetic to the Medici family, and it looked to me that Giulio’s neck was too long, the figure of Dusk’s head was placed at the wrong place on his shoulders, Night’s feminine body looked like a male with breasts, and Day was unfinished. Compared with the many other Renaissance interiors I ‘d been admiring in Florence, the architecture of this chamber was overcluttered with familiar ornamental devices.

We had a nice lunch of pasta and a sliced beef urugula salad and then returned to the Fiorentino room for another rest. But despite the lack of sleep the night before and my continuing occasional cough, I was restless and Jan decided we should go to the Brancacci chapel on the other side of the river. We arrived at 4:30 and allowed to remain 15 minutes by a beautiful young woman with a Maria Callas look. I hadnt been eager to go”I seemed to remember seeing it when we had visited Florence in 1969”but the restoration and new lighting made the small chapel radiant with color and lively portraiture. The most famous image of Adam and Eve’s despairing departure from Paradise is a small unobtrusive panel, and the bright pink of the punishing angel’s cloak brightens up even this tragic episode with what seems to have been the young artist’s favorite color.

Since it was nearby, neither of us were flagging, and they were open later than any museums, we decided to head over to the Boboli gardens to get a view of the city and spend some time in a more natural setting. Fortified by gelato we passed through the gargantuan fortress of the Pitti Palace and climbed the terraced mountainside as the light got richer and more angled. The gardens are not as well maintained as they would have been under their owners, with unmowed lawns and untrimmed trees in many areas. The Neptune fountain with splashing water, artificial grotto and genuine mallards and carp, caught the changing late afternoon light and as we climbed higher grand prospects of the city of Florence came into view. Just as we were about to head back down, I noticed a terrace at the end of the path, and at the top of the stairs a splendid new prospect opened before us”the hills to the south of the city, including the Church of San Mineato, a crenellated tower on the horizon and a green expanse of olive groves and conical cypresses that looked like the typical Tuscan landscape we look forward to entering after returning from Venice.

We walked back through narrow streets filled with small opulent storefronts displaying original renaissance and ancient treasures for sale, and watched the sunset on the Ponte, where Jan arranged for us to exchange picture taking with a romantic young Asian couple. By the time we got back to the room there was just time to shower before Brenda showed up for our evening dinner engagement. I was tired and ravishingly hungry. It took quite a while to figure out dinner plans and Brenda wanted to show us a café that’s a famous poet’s hangout, but by the time we reached there at 8:15, I almost passed out, so she got me some leftover bits of bruschetta, and then we hiked on to our rendezvous point with her partner Don in ZaZa café in the Mercado square. Over a meal with mixed reviews, we enjoyed conversation covering 35 years of our pasts.

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