Saturday, 18 June 2011

Florence - A first impression


Florence. How do I put this without hurting your feelings? You just don’t make a good impression. When I got home last night, I had all these amazing comparisons and metaphors in my head to describe what I thought of Florence, it was quite a rant stored up. My impression has softened as the memory of Venice fades and I got to spend some quality time with some pretty naked statues. But still…Florence is wrong, Florence clashes, Florence is a street whore to Venice’s refined and elegant courtesan. To be more specific, Florence is jarring and odd after the serenity and charm of Venice. Where Venice embraces and is wrapped up in its history, living it and breathing, Florence denies it and clashes with it and drives big streets and cars through it. This isn’t to say that Florence does not care for its  past or has fewer historical buildings, or in fact that every building doesn’t scream the antiquity of the city at you when you walk past…but the magic is somehow ruined by the car roaring everywhere and the motorcycles. And the people. Above all else, Florence is a city. It has nightlife and troupes of girls and guys wandering through the streets in inadequate amounts of clothing. This isn’t to say that I’m against the whole idea of nightlifes and cities, I really love the city….but it was unexpected. And after the serenity of Venice it was disconcerted. In Venice I occasionally felt to daring, as the people dress so conservatively, but in Florence I felt country and childish in my dress compared to the tiny dresses and short shorts of the other people. I felt uncomfortable and out of place. That feeling has passed more or less, possibly something to do with a good nights sleep, but the feeling of the wrongness of Florence still remains. The history is everywhere, but the modernity is also everywhere and not in the beautiful integrated manner I had loved about Venice. I may be comparing the city unfairly to Venice; they are very different places in very different circumstances. Venice could not build roads or bring in cars, as the very nature of the city itself demands its antique feeling. I think when I get to see Rome finally, I will have come to appreciate Florence and be equally disturbed by Rome.

Florence has many redeeming qualities, the first of which that I became aware of is the River Arno. Everytime so far I have crossed over it to the central area of Florence I get a different view. The river hardly moves and the reflections of lights and the sky in the water are breathtaking. On my way back to the hostel today, I realised how stagnant and polluted the water really is, but the views are more than adequate to allow me to ignore it. It also has a church not far from the hostel that puts on intimate versions of famous operas, practically a different one every night. Tomorrow I am going to see La Traviata (the whole opera done with 4 people, with only minor alterations to fit the setting), and  hope to get a ticket to a selection of operatic arias being sung tonight next door to my hostel.

Day One.

I woke up early and had a kerfuffle having to change rooms in the hostel, which was irritating. I then had the most stressful hour or so, trying to get into the Uffizi. I had a reservation number, but then I got totally and utterly lost trying to find the right door to get the ticket. I was the level of lost and disorientated that I realised later that I had walked right past the street with the Uffizi on it and not even realised. When I did find the right office, turned out they had no record of my reservation. So I hunted out and internet café and turns out my reservation was for the next day. Oops. So, with the scrapped I went to Palazze Vecchio which has Michaelangelo’s David outside it (a copy apparently, the real one had to placed in a museum after a riot damaged it and people kept pawing it. Figures). This was the personal house of the Medici family, and parts of it are offices for the Mayor of Florence now. There were beautiful frescoes all over the ceilings and walls, and this lovely parallel between two floors of the palace. The top floor was dedicated to the Elements and Pagan Gods, and this mirrored the rooms below, each one dedicated to a different member of the Medici family. Aw, paralleling terrestrial and heavenly gods, so cute.

Next up came lunch, which for a decent price was surprisingly hard to find around that area. Gelato is also more expensive in Florence, which does little to endear the city to me, Sheira needs her gelato. I did discover  a group of cheap little food hideaways, all I have to do is remember where they are in the morning, which is harder than it looks, as even with a map, Florence has a way of disorientating you very quickly. I was making my way to the Duomo when I got sidetracked into the Bargello Museum. It started out as a building for the merchants which I was a little unclear on, but they hired nobles from outside of Florence to represent them. Then it was a building for notaries and judges, and then it was a prison as well. At Italian Unification it became the first national art museum. I took in some Donatello, and pre and post Michaelangelo sculpture, as well as a few by the big man himself. I have to admit, that while I enjoy Renaissance sculpture, I think I need to take a paper on it, because I feel I am missing so much. Maybe because I learnt about classical sculpture, but my mind is all confused. I prefer frescoes, mosaics and paintings I think, I can understand those. Either way, the sculptures were quite amazing, as were some of the other bits and bobs in the museum. A cool collection of curios, like a Renaissance chessboard, with Backgammon on the back! And a spork. And some very funky looking keys. They also had a large collection of bronzes, which was a little repetitive I felt. There was a flayed man anatomical study which showed a disturbingly accurate knowledge of the muscular system. I think to appreciate bronzes, one really needs a very good knowledge of the Renaissance sculpture scene. Also some very nice ivory pieces which were extremely intricate.

Then came my first view of the Duomo – wow. Very very big. Not as pretty in my opinion as the Basilica San Marco (much heavier looking, and less ostentatious, although a lot bigger). Before I went in, I took a look in the Baptistry of San Giovanni opposite. This had a nice dome in it, with mosaics on the inside on an all gold background, was quite impressive. The doors had biblical scenes on them done in shiny bronze relief. The scenes in the dome were very identifiable – Adam and Eve, Joseph, Noah, hell, some Christian stuff…. Then came the Basilica and my first view of the inside of the Duomo. Wow. The  basilica itself was very simple, not at all ostentatious. The most impressive part of it was simply its size. There were some fresoces and statues, but not many. It was pretty awesome to see Sir John Hawkwood by Uccello which we studied in high school, and the whole perspective issue was much more obvious when it towers above you. The Dome itself was large and beautifully painted. Somehow I though it would be larger, but I think the painting actually shortens it and deceives the mind in many respects. Its hard to describe, but you know its huge and it looks huge…but when you go out and look at the dome from the outside, it doesn’t seem big enough. Strange tricks that the mind plays on you.

That’s about it for today, hopefully this aria selection will still have tickets, and tomorrow will contain the Uffizi and going up to Duomo and Belltower (hopefully) and maybe another museum or two. I will have to come back to Florence, there are so many museums still to see that I know I will never have time to see. Plus more opera.

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