The Plague in Florence

picture gallery

Monday morning brought relief from the sore throat. Jan negotiated with the concierge to give us two more nights in Florence, to delay our arrival in Venice and to postpone our visit with Brenda. We found some lovely coffee and brioche and panini in the square and stood in line to pay admission to Santa Maria Novella, the cathedral 20 feet from our window.

Those who come to pray can enter a special chapel free of charge, said the sign, and photography is forbidden. The side entrance, only recently reopened after having been closed off for several centuries, led us into an immense, light airy space, illuminated by stained glass and circular clear windows, the walls painted white, ornamented with widely spaced paintings and sculptures.

Opposite the door, a Massaccio fresco seemed to make the space grow deeper with its pronounced perspectival rendering of God presenting the crucified Jesus to his wealthy patrons in front of a hugely receding nave. To the right was a twenty foot crucifixion in bright yellows oranges, reds and blacks, hanging from a rod 25 feet above the floor and 150 from the ceiling. I averted my eyes in order to save the full impact of what I recognized as Giotto’s work, dazzlingly restored, for later, and looked down the nave to the rainbow colors of the floor-to-ceiling frescoes surrounding the central altar. Like the city itself, this church offered more than we could absorb. With help of our Green guide, we focused first on a raised chapel with early frescoes of the Divine Comedy–one wall Inferno, the other Paradiso, gaining orientation by identifying places and people we recognized from our memory of the poem. Then we descended to the Sacristy whose doorway was a combination of classical architectural stability, melted into an organic flower-like entry. Inside were huge wooden cabinets with dozens of large drawers to hold vestments, more paintings and a della Robia relief, all in late Renaissance style.

After two hours we decided to take a break from the church and walk to the central market for lunch, and return in the late afternoon. The mercado is a two story temple of food, just closing as we got there. We bought beautiful muscat grapes, olives, bread and “gorgonzola dolce,” (a soft luscious cheese), and ate on the steps of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, bothered by pigeons who wanted our food and blew ash into when we sushed them off. Instead of going inside we decided to come back for the free concert advertised to start at 9: 00 that night, and took an adjoining doorway into the courtyard of the Laurentian library, whose arcade we circled entranced.

Then we walked back to Santa Maria Novella and spent another two hours feasting on the art. First a chapel decorated by Duccio, which was, Jan noted in the guidebook just for this church that we had bought, the location of the start of Boccaccio’s Decameron where a group of young aristocrats meet to plan their escape from the plague in Florence. What sort of portent?

Then Fillipino Lippi, and Ghirlandaio frescos, a Brunelleschi Crucifix and the Giotto Christ. The wealth of beauty and of history in this randomly adopted church of ours is unbelievable. It in itself merits a trip to Europe.

Back in our room at 5:00, I started feeling bad again and Jan offered me the Z pack antibiotic she had gotten from the doctor in case she got sick. It was clear we wouldn’t attend the nine oclock concert. We went for a quick pizza meal in the square, and I tried to get to sleep.

Tuesday morning, I awoke and realized I was really sick. My cough felt like a rattle in the lungs, and I had sweaty fever. Jan met Brenda and her friend Kiki and went to the Pharmacia and many other places while I slept most of the day.She brought the two visitors back to the room and I made pleasantries for a few minutes, but I was so sick I asked them to leave. I took the second Z pack pill, along with vitamin C and the herbal remedy Jan bought at the Pharmacia, slept all afternoon, and went out with her to the square for dinner and a short walk. I couldnt get to sleep because of the cough so have stayed up till 3:00 A.M. writing this entry.

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