A lot has happened since I’ve last posted something and I again have been too busy to write about most of it. I’m sure everyone, myself included, has had enough of Brexit talk so I won’t go there. We have entered the final month of our stay in Florence. I’m determined to make the most of the time we have left and try to prevent negativity about Brexit, or indeed our own Florexit, permeating all of my thoughts! I would vote to remain here but it seems that leaving will be sadly inevitable. Despite all the clear advantages of staying, we will soon be packing our bags and heading for more unpredictable, chillier climes. If only we could get a last minute reprieve and stay here after all. Or perhaps our decision to leave can be reversed down the line and we can rejoin our Italian friends in the not too distant future. For now the departure flights and train tickets are booked and I can feel a creeping sadness gaining momentum, almost like that pre-departure homesickness I get when I’m still at home. Our next destination, after a visit to Ireland, will most likely be our old haunt, London. For the time being, I will just have to focus on what I have left to do here.
Since returning from Le Cinque Terre and whizzing past the marble quarries of Carrara, I’ve managed to see what a block of that marble looks like when Michelangelo has spent a couple of years secretly working on it. My sister Brenda and her husband Phil were visiting from Ireland, so Ollie and I joined them to take advantage of late night opening hours at Galleria dell’Accademia, where we saw the colossal, original statue of David, arguably the most famous sculpture in the world. This masterpiece is not anatomically correct or even structurally sound: it was carved from a flawed block of marble that two sculptors had previously rejected as unworkable; the right hand, upper body and head are deliberately out of proportion; and the ankles are so finely carved that they threaten the physical integrity of the piece. These incidental and deliberate imperfections actually enhance Michelangelo’s achievement, as his ambition, vision and genius are laid bare in the overriding magnificence of the whole. Initially the statue was intended to decorate the upper exterior of the Duomo along with 11 other sculptural works (hence the deliberate skewing of proportions to allow for a distant, ground-level vantage point), but it was considered too impressive a piece to be hoisted so far up and out of immediate view. It instead took pride of place for the best part of 400 years outside the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria. A marble copy replaced the original in 1873, which was moved to l’Accademia, where it has been painstakingly restored to its former glory after enduring some destruction over the centuries.
When it was first transported in 1504 from Michelangelo’s studio to its Palazzo Vecchio destination, some enraged Florentines (who may or may not have felt threatened by the free movement of marble people) pelted the statue with stones. His left arm was later smashed into three pieces during a riot in 1527, and the surface suffered from a few centuries of exposure to the elements and a botched, 19th-century attempt at cleaning with hydrochloric acid. Supposedly safely housed in Galleria dell’Accademia in 1991, the sculpture suffered the loss of one of his toes due to a disturbed, hammer-wielding artist, who claimed to be under instruction from a 16th century model of Veronese to carry out the damage. Most people can appreciate what an incredible artistic triumph Michelangelo’s David is, but it seems there will always be a few vandals ready to knock lumps out of other people’s hard work. It is always quicker and easier to destroy than to create.
I’m really glad we all saw David together, as well as Michelangelo’s unfinished Slaves, which are also housed in the same gallery (I spent so much time singing the artist’s praises that Mikey Angelo should be top of my sister’s baby name list). One of the nicest aspects of having others come to visit is that it prompted me to do things outside of my daily routine and renewed my appreciation of Florence. Normally I aim to avoid all that is touristy as I make my way to and from college, but my sister’s visit allowed me to create a decent list of ‘things to do in Florence’ and uncover some other gems that don’t necessarily make it into all the guide books. Brenda is a talented, professional photographer and she was in her element capturing the beauty of Florence. It was a joy to walk the streets with her as she saw photo opportunities everywhere that others would fail to even notice or appreciate – reflections in the grid-patterned puddles on the paving stones outside the Uffizi being just one example. And when we accidentally encountered the Calcio Storico parade, which signals the annual start of the famously brutal, historic sporting tournament (a hybrid of football, bare-knuckle boxing and attempted murder), weaving its way through Florence, she captured striking details of the marchers historical costumes that were lost in my wider shots. I’m sure if we had managed to get tickets for the games, she could even have made the on-pitch scenes of head-butting, kicking and choking look captivatingly beautiful!
While we may not have managed most of the items on the jam-packed itinerary I over-zealously created (my sister is pregnant and therefore cannot do long walks and multiple museums in one day!), I enjoyed showing my visitors some of my favourite, less obvious things to be discovered in Florence, such as graffiti by Michelangelo and a hidden-in-plain-sight self portrait by Cellini. We took in panoramic views of the city, and enjoyed some incredible food and hospitality. A particularly kind conscierge at the Hotel Santa Maria Novella did not hesitate to call a taxi for us when we were sweltering outside its entrance, and he even invited us in to sit in the coolness of the foyer as we waited. A friendly waiter at Gusta Panino restaurant in Piazza Santo Spirito, who informed us that he taught himself English while washing dishes in Australia, spontaneously brought a little fruit juice shot to Brenda and shots of limoncello to the rest of us, so that we could toast her bump. I doubt there is much need for pregnant women in Italy to wear the (often ignored) ‘baby on board’ badges sported on the London underground in an attempt to secure a seat.
Another eatery we visited during Brenda and Phil’s visit was down a side street beside Il Bargello sculpture museum. We didn’t manage to make it to the museum due to recurring confusion about its opening hours, but we sat outside Ristorante Il Barroccio, just opposite the 13th century former palace, and ate a lovely, relaxed dinner washed down with a carafe of their moreish house red, all without the tourist prices you might encounter nearby. I returned to the same restaurant this week with my old art-college classmate Teran, who is originally from New Zealand but has dual Irish citizenship, and has been living and working as an English language teacher in Italy for the past eight years. She very generously hosted Ollie and I in Frascati when we first flew into Rome last September, and has been available ever since to impart the knowledge she has gained in her time here. Teran’s lovely, half-Florentine friend Barbara, who had accompanied Teran on the day trip from Rome, encouraged me to practise my smattering of la lingua with her and insisted on treating everyone to lunch. It occurred to me that none of us would have met if we, or our ancestors, had never left our/their home towns and made a life elsewhere.
A little sparrow flew down in the course of our meal and sat on the back of a chair beside us. The owner came out and gave him some bread and explained to us that the bird has been coming to get his lunch there for the past four or five years. Whether or not it’s the same sparrow he can’t say, but the little feathered visitor is a welcome part of his regular clientele. He put a smile on the faces of all of the human al fresco diners present, and made a positive contribution to the restaurant’s already relaxing atmosphere, which clearly outweighed the material value of crumbs he received from his host. The sparrow didn’t appear to have caused swarms of other birds to converge on the restaurant and the owner did not mention any fear of his human diners being overwhelmed by the minority species. Teran, Barbara and I followed our lunch with a visit to Metallo Nobile, where I was due to begin my afternoon lesson. I didn’t let my sister’s visit to Florence end without doing the same. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to study here that I feel compelled to share the school with others and introduce them to my wonderful teachers. As well as the incredibly rich culture and heritage of Italy, the incomparable food and enviable outdoor lifestyle, there is a warmth and kindness to the people here that I will miss. There really is a lot to be said for remaining.
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Anon, Michelangelo’s David. Available at: http://www.accademia.org/explore-museum/artworks/michelangelos-david/
Griggs, M.B. (2014) Michelangelo’s David has weak ankles. Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/michelangelos-david-has-weak-ankles-180951328/?no-ist
Lorenzi, R. (2010) Michelangelo’s David as it was meant to be seen. Available at: http://www.seeker.com/michelangelos-david-as-it-was-meant-to-be-seen-1765138881.html#news.discovery.com