Florence: the ecstasy of art and agony of crowds


The view from (leaning out) our hotel window of the Duomo, etc.

(For more sketches from Florence see a previous blog post).

From my journal:

Sept 18, 2015

Two things hit you as you come out of the train station and walk toward the Duomo – the wall of humanity, all tourists like yourself, and your entry into a new world of the Renaissance which is so different from the Roman and Gothic Assisi. Now the buildings are decorated even on the outside, top to bottom with colored stone and marble, with “living” statuary. You’ve walked into the Renaissance fair without your costume, and its the real deal.

We find our cut-rate hotel, chosen for its location in the middle of everything.  Ring the bell outside and are buzzed through the iron gate.  There is no sign of this hotel in the dark stone courtyard which feels like a WWII spy movie.  Ascend the stone steps past the ancient lift. We’re afraid to get into it, and wouldn’t fit anyway.  Up several flights puffing and sweat drenched and doubtful, to the door of the hotel.

First impressions of the room – no air conditioning, two cot sized beds, and the most romantic, fairytale window with wooden shutters opening inward, long gold drapes and lace curtains blowing in the breeze, and opening onto, yes, the street by the Duomo. The magical view of it, right there, bigger than life.  So my bed sags in the middle. So what.  There’s a fan and the shared bathroom down the hall is not shared with another room after all.  We’ve arrived. The din of crowds below is thunderous.  At night there is carrousing in the bars below and helicopters, and by 6am the street sweepers have begun their deafening procession.  But (I have to use that word again) magic abounds in this city.


Luckily we had no problem finding the coffee to get us going the next day.When you talk to people (who travel in Europe) about Florence, they’ve all been there at least once. It was my first time and it was still “peak tourist season”.   Here’s what I wrote about what happened next:

We launch out to the streets, four of us with different rhythms and personalities, and not a clue of how to navigate this most confusing of cultural wonders.  It is hot and humid, very.  The question is: how to get past the lines, the tour groups with their guide holding a colored spear aloft, the photographers (this is everyone) blocking the way with cell phone poised so that you must stop or walk in front and ruin the picture. But the experience is so visually overwhelming, that you must immediately and repeatedly surrender to taking a photo yourself, because no one will ever believe it actually looks like that.  Like the most elaborately decorated cake. The horse and buggy rides stand idle, since they couldn’t make it through the crowds anyway.  The street musicians, the black Africans selling the Selfie extenders for your phone.  I just wanted to sit down in the shade and have a cold drink.


We navigate our way into the Uffizzi museum, containing an art collection so vast and profound . . .so many originals of works that live in art books. . .and compassionately there are benches to rest at every turn.  On one of my rest stops I watch the service personnel, dangling from cables on the side of the Palazzo Vecchio in their colorful vests and helmits.


LIke everyone else we are trying to pack in as much as possible into our short stay, so we brave 50 minutes in line in the blistering sun to get into the Academie, where Michelangelo’s David reigns supreme. I am not including any of my photographs of the art I saw, because they don’t begin to do justice, especially to the experience of the towering, magnificence of the original David statue. On a smaller scale was his nevertheless large series of marble carvings of “The Prisoners”. I would like some day to spend a week in Florence sketching the sculptures.


On the last of our three days I was left “stranded” for an hour, when I decided not to follow my friend on the climb inside the Duomo. This young performer was playing the most romantic music, in particular Andre Boccelli’s famous Con Te Partiro. For a good half hour the crowds disappeared (for me) along with all traces of discomfort while I sketched. The experience was so richly recorded in all my senses that for the rest of the month that music would fill my mind whenever I started to draw or paint!



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