Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens, hotel

I've walked by the Pitti Palace many times, but until today I'd never toured it.  I've also loved the sloping front and the way people relax on it.

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

The de' Medicis acquired the Pitti from a rival family, partly so they'd have more places to hang out and partly, I'm sure, so the other family wouldn't have such a big, beautiful palace.  Today, the Pitti showcases their quarters, a great deal of their art (that is, the art that isn't in the Uffizi or in storage), and some modern art they acquired later.

The collection is simply lovely.  If you visited here before you went anywhere else in Florence, you'd think it was the most amazing set of Italian Renaissance paintings you'd ever seen.  Scattered among the works of the more traditional Florentine artists are a handful of Botticellis, half a dozen Rubens, several Van Dycks, and so many great paintings I couldn't list them all.

The Pitti does not allow photography, but I broke the rules and took this one shot of a painting by no one I recognized, simply because I thought it was so lovely and tranquil.

Behind the Pitti are the absolutely beautiful Boboli Gardens.

First, though, a view of Florence off to the left of the Pitti.

Just because.

For the best view of the Boboli, you must, as Sarah counseled, take every opportunity to go higher.  Here's a shot straight up the center, from the bottom to one peak.

Yeah, that was tiring and took a few minutes.

The view, though, was worth it.  From the base of the statue (not the very best view, but I wanted to take a shot from there), it looks like this.

Lovely, absolutely lovely.

Did I mention that the new hotel includes a Romanesque column?

By the way, I am eating less and obviously walking far more than normal, so that is good.  I am sinning by enjoying gelato daily--and twice today, though both times the smallest amounts on offer.  It was that kind of hiking day. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Thoughts on again seeing Michelangelo's David

I have no pictures for you today, because the Accademia forbids them, so you'll have to bear with text only.  Given the bandwidth here--new hotel due to booking availability--that's probably for the best for me; I might have had to stay past the end of my sabbatical to upload many photos.

I've seen the David on every trip I've made to Florence.  I believe it to be one of the few perfect pieces of art, Michelangelo at the top of his very considerable game.  Studying it again today only confirmed that belief. 

The statue became, as those who commissioned it hoped it would be, a wonderful symbol for the Florence of that day (1504 completion):  a small hero facing huge opposition and emerging triumphant.  They wanted Michelangelo to give them that symbol, and he did.

What struck me most today, though, were the choices he made in creating David.  This man is not in the traditional pose, his foot on his enemy.  No, he is thoughtful, contemplative, clearly ready, his muscles tensed, his gaze clear--but inactive, waiting.  He is a hero willing not to fight if he can avoid the fighting, but ready to fight at a moment's notice.  He is seemingly without guile, yet the hand holding the stone is slightly hidden, his body is turned to minimize how prepared he is.  He is the Florence of the intrigue of the de' Medicis and Macchiavelli, the small place that managed as much through manipulation as anything else to become, for a time, the centerpiece of Italy. 

He is the David, deservedly Michelangelo's most famous creation, and he is magnificent.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Brain-bombed by art: the Uffizi
Plus, random

An Italian construction worker in the early afternoon, as his co-workers debated where he should dig next.

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

A wise man who knows how to manage his time.

The collection at the Uffizi is staggering, big enough that even though the non-Roman-statue collection on display now covers only about two hundred years, my brain felt like a bombed-out wreck after walking through it.  Before I realized that the Uffizi does not allow photography, I took a few pictures of some statues, notably this one of Leopold de' Medici.

He should have stuck to portraits, where they could paint him largely head-on.

Working through the Uffizi chambers, it became clear that sometimes an artist would emerge and be dramatically and obviously better than his contemporaries.  Botticelli was the most striking example.  What beautiful work.

I wish I could show you more, but I wasn't willing to break the no-photography rule once I was aware of it, so I'll have to recommend the Uffizi to you in books and, if you have the chance, in person.  Like so much of Florence, it's a must-see.

The sky over Santa Croce today looked very different indeed.

On the personal front, I'm still stress-dreaming heavily every night and having trouble sleeping, but I believe I'm making progress.  I certainly hope so.  Time will tell.  I look forward to finding out how I feel without all this accumulated stress.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The search for Grom

Grom is a gelato shop, one of a small chain with members in several cities, that Sarah declared to be the best in Florence.  Coming from a woman who knows her gelato as well as my daughter does, this was high praise indeed, so I clearly had to try it.  Monday night, in a mild rain and after visiting the Palazzo Vecchio and walking around a bit, I set out to find it.  I knew from Sarah that it was on a small side street very near the Duomo, and I'd seen its icon on Google Maps--in the room, where I have bandwidth.  I knew the name of its street, Via della Oche.  On the street, with no data plan, my phone is a voice-and-text-only device, so I would have no navigation aid.  Still, with all this information, how hard could it be to find?

Ah, if only I could get paid for all the misadventures I've begun with that sort of reasoning. 

The first mistake I made was to try a new route toward the Duomo.  Quite a walk later, I realized that I recognized absolutely nothing.  The streets were wider than I expected, which meant I had strayed rather far from the city's center.  No landmark tower was visible. 

Quite another walk later, I caught sight of a Duomo tower and wound a path toward it.  After a while, a street dumped into the back of the Duomo.  Success!

Or not.

You see, at this point, I misremembered what Sarah said and became convinced that Grom was directly in front of the Duomo.  I could have checked her words on my phone, where I'd stored the document, but at this point I was sure I had this one detail right.  Silly me. 

One rainy, long, slow circumnavigation of the Duomo later, I could not spot Grom. 

Frustrated and dejected, I set off to the hotel along the most familiar, safe path I know; at that point, I no longer trusted my navigation skills.

Almost immediately, I saw a sign for Via della Oche!  I turned left onto it, walked a bit, and encountered this scene. 

Click on the image to see a larger version.

The construction had made the place almost impossible to get to, and yet it was full. 

Sarah was right:  the gelato was fantastic and worth the walk.  It's been worth the walk--a more direct walk, to be sure--each day since then.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Olive tree, Baptistry, Dante, Santa Croce sky

Near the Uffizi, down a road I've not taken before, stands this little memorial. 

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

In 1993, a group, probably the Cosa Nostra, set off a car bomb here.  The explosion killed six people and injured 26 more, according to this New York Times piece. In 2004, a local association planted this tree as a memorial to the dead and injured and also as a repudiation of the goals of the attackers. (More here.)  It's a small but oddly touching presence, one that few people even walk by.  I'm glad today brought me to it. 

A bit of a stroll later, I toured the Baptistry, the smaller building in front of the Duomo.  Have I mentioned that the Italians like a good ceiling?

Another detail from the ceiling.

The Baptistry was once a Roman church and so is much plainer than the sibling that towers over it, but it is still a very cool place and worth the five euro ticket cost.  

I said "plainer," not "plain," though the altar itself is actually fairly simple. 

I love that in Florence a random turn around a very normal looking corner can land you here, near where Dante worked, on a street that now bears his name.

On the way back to the hotel, in the very late afternoon, as the day was preparing for its exit but the sky was still bright, the view of Santa Croce looked exactly like this.

Hard to complain about that.  Hard, in fact, not to love it.  I sure did.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Cosimo de' Medici and the art of home-court advantage

For reasons I cannot explain, on no prior trip to Florence did I tour the Palazzo Vecchio, the palace that was for quite some time the center of government.  Today, I did.


From the outside, the building is a large square fortress with a single tower, impressive but not remarkable.  When Cosimo de' Medici came to town, though, he decided to change all that.  He told his builders to keep the outside the same, because after all, the common folk needed to see continuity of government and stability and all that.

The inside, though, was practically a tear-down.

Given his reputation, we can guess that his actual instructions were rather more moderate and circumspect than these, but this is the gist of what he demanded.  Move any walls you need to.  Raise the ceilings.  Build me a welcome hall that will make a king's nuts shrivel when he enters.  Give me work quarters of unrivaled art and luxury, and on the floor above me, build a parallel set--I'll use those, too--where the art likens me to all the cool gods.  (Maybe some of that godly stuff will flow down on me, not that I need it, of course.) And, oh, yeah, give Dad a room, but not too nice a one. 

Did I mention unrivaled art? Don't waste any wall or ceiling space; I want the good stuff everywhere I look.  Oh, yeah:  be sure to put my Capricorn and turtle-with-a-sail symbols and our family crest everywhere.

And they did.

Here's a view from the back of the welcome hall.

As always, click on any image to see a larger version.

To get a sense of scale, that statue in the center of the faraway front starts about six and a half feet off the ground. 

Did I mention ceilings?  Here's a small bit of this room's ceiling.

I'd love to put up more of the roughly ninety pictures I took in the building, but it's late, I slept badly last night (sinus attack, seems to be better now), and so I'm going to stop with the art luxury happy snaps.  Suffice to say that I'm really glad I finally took the time to tour the Palazzo Vecchio, and I strongly recommend it to anyone visiting Florence.

I can't resist two last photos.  When Machiavelli was the Secretary of Florence and the de' Medici were out of power, this rather large room was where he worked.  (I shot this in the evening; the light would have been fantastic in the daytime.) 

Makes a point, doesn't it?

Here's the crafty guy himself, a statue in that same room.

Okay, one more shot:  As you walk along through the rooms for the Priors (one of the governing bodies), you stroll by this little display.  Most people passed it without a second glance.

In case you have trouble reading it when you magnify the image, that's Dante's death mask.  That my shadow is in its upper left is pure happy luck. 

And that, in a way, is how Florence is for me.  We have a deal, Florence and I, an unspoken, unplanned agreement that governs our love affair.  I love her unconditionally and completely--not exclusively, for she has no problem with me loving many other cities as long as my love for her is true and strong, as it is.  In return, she blesses me with magic every single day I'm here.  Sometimes, it's a big thing, like the Palazzo Vecchio.  Other times, it's a tiny thing, like the shadow in this photo.  It's always magic, though, and so our affair endures. 

Ah, Firenze, ti amo!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Healing, a reunion with an old friend

I took it pretty easy today after the longest stretch of uninterrupted sleep--over eight hours--that I've enjoyed in months.  (I logged rather significantly more rack time, but with interruptions.)  My stomach is not back to normal, but the fever is largely gone (I say "largely" only because I soaked the sheets in the night) and I am feeling better.  I am also eating quite carefully and lightly, which is good in any case. 

One of the hardest goals for me of this trip is to live, not to tourist.  So, if I want to spend only a few hours walking because I need to rest, that is okay, not a failure.  I'm working to accept that. 

When Sarah and I were here six years ago, we were walking through the streets when rain began to fall.  We ducked into a nearby church and discovered some amazing art.  That church proved to be Santa Trinita, which is indeed a wonderful place.  I visited it again today, this time intentionally, and spent a pleasant bit of time admiring the artwork it contains.  Though not on the list most people mention when they discuss Florence, I quite recommend it; the wonderful pieces by Domenico Ghirlandaio are reason enough for the trip. 

Tomorrow, April begins, and I haven't the slightest clue when I will wake up or what I will do for the day.  I very much like that. 


Blog Archive