Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Florence was my favourite big city in Italy…so far. It may have been helped by the fact that we parked our car in a lot overlooking the city and walked down into it. I don’t know what it is about having a view into the city but each of the places where we’ve had a walk down into the city has left memorable impressions. Bath, Prague and Florence all stand out as favourite experiences. We visited Florence three times and each time was just as wonderful. We ate lunch at the same delicious lunch place, had gelato at the same delicious gelato place and wandered many of the same atmospheric streets.

Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance. I think I would have enjoyed the Renaissance. I certainly enjoy it today. The period of time they call the Renaissance was a “rebirth” of a love for humanism. The Middle Ages were all about doom and gloom. People toiled their whole lives to get into heaven. There were rules about what to wear, what to eat, what to say, where to live, who to marry and so on. Severe punishments were handed out for transgressions such as “gossip” and “drunkenness”. All art was to the glory of God which may not seem such a bad thing but there were rules about what THAT could look like as well. Art from the Middle Ages all looks the same: nary a countryside scene or bowl of fruit to be had. It’s all pictures of that "Lady and her Baby" as Tom has taken to saying. The church had an iron grip on the land and instead of using it to help the people flourish, the leaders became corrupt in their power and used the money to surround themselves with lavish wealth in the name of God. God’s name was used to murder and torture citizens, conquer new lands and peoples and generally keep the population terrified.

Renaissance was an awakening from the “darkness”. In fact, the term, “Dark Ages” was coined by the thinkers of the Renaissance. I think it is quite fascinating that the Renaissance took hold right in the heart of Italy, close to the epicenter of the Catholic church. The Renaissance men (women hadn’t yet gained a voice) were accomplished in a variety of areas. Leaders were charismatic people who were good looking, athletic, learned and religious. They were also rich and used their wealth to support genius. For the first time in centuries, genius flourished. This was the era of Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Gallileo, Botticelli, Shakespeare and Raphael. It was finally “cool” to sit around and philosophize again. Debate was embraced and the words of Aristotle, Socrates and Plato were bandied about once more. Imagine what a joyful and promising time it must have been, filled with a sense of hope and possibility. Okay, so they were also killing each other off at a surprising rate as they all fought to be top dog, but still.

Florence was ruled by the Medici family, a family of doctors who made good. That's their house to the left. They were not nobility but managed to be perhaps the first middle class family to use the “American Dream” to claw and scrape their way into the upper class. Once there, they gloried in it. They have palazzo’s, gardens and numerous structures to prove it. They even had a covered walkway built from work to home as you can see in the picture of the covered bridge above. The walkway starts in the building in the foreground. Now that's rich. Yet, they supported genius. Without the Medici family we probably wouldn’t have Michelangelo, who was raised as an adopted son by the Medici’s. Anyone who has ever seen the Sistine Chapel knows what a tragedy missing Michelangelo would have been.

We visited the art galleries over several days. The galleries are not huge and exhausting. They actually have reasonable quantities of art spread out in understandable sequences. I loved seeing “David”. Did you know he is 14 feet tall? I didn’t realize he was so big! Imagine the size of the giant! The picture you see is not the original, of course. We weren't allowed to take pictures in the museum. This is a much smaller substitute idling in the same spot the original used to stand. Michelangelo “freed” him from the stone as a decoration for the top of the Duomo but everyone loved him so much he never made it to the top. Instead, he stood in a piazza where people could get up close and personal with him. He resides indoors at the Accademia now in order to protect him from the elements. We’ve seen what can happen to art left outdoors for 2000 years and it’s not pretty. I have to say, though, that while David was awesome in a “there he is!” kind of way, I liked Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne better. However, I like the message David conveys. Florence used David as their symbol of power. David is the boy who conquered a giant. His is the story that says, “believe in yourself, aim high and there is no obstacle too large to overcome”.

Speaking of large obstacles, a surprising number of vehicles drive the narrow streets with all the pedestrians. We took the picture above to show you that it is often hard to see the cars because they are mostly smaller than the people swarming around them. These are not golf carts. They are city cars. You can see the power cord coming out the back of the black one. They plug in like cell phones.