Florence contains numerous museums and art galleries where some of the world’s most important works of art are held. The city is one of the best preserved Renaissance centers of art and architecture in the world and has a high concentration of art, architecture and culture. Florence is believed to have the greatest concentration of art (in proportion to its size) in the world. Thus, cultural tourism is particularly strong, with world-renowned museums such as the Uffizi selling over 1.6 million tickets. Due to Florence’s artistic and architectural heritage, it has been ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I agree with this assessment, and remember it fondly still for some of the beautiful artworks I saw and purchased there.
Florence is famous for its history: a center of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of the time, it is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, and has been called “the Athens of the Middle Ages”. The Historic Centre of Florence attracts millions of tourists each year, and I was one of those in the summer of 1976 as I ate my way across Europe on one of those culturally satirized and based on reality two week guided group bus tours. I remember Athens as extremely dirty and smoggy that summer, which we were told was exacerbating and speeding the crumbling process of all of its precious marble statues and buildings. Too bad, so sad, no idea what they state of the air or works in that city are today.
My journey included a stop in Austria, unscheduled because the bus broke down, near one of those iconic Alpine meadows, green with fresh grass and blooming with colorful native flowers. This was where I had my “Sound of Music” experience that quickly ended when I stepped in a lesser known feature of iconic Alpine meadows, the cowpie. This post led me to dig out the photo album of that trip. I had been dreading looking at those pictures since, by the time that trip ended, I was a roly poly 180 pounds at least, on my 5’4” (to be generous) average-sized frame.
I didn’t even have to flip the pages to see in my mind’s eye the photo I took at that unscheduled Austrian stop. It’s a picture of a colorful box of cookies leaning against the back of my seat, posed on a colorful beach towel which covered that hot seat in the bright sunshine.
As I ate my way through Italy in particular, including other stops in Venice, Pisa and Rome, slurping and wolfing down the wonderful fresh gelato that was available from carts all over the place, I remember having the following thoughts in each of these other cities. In Venice, where our tour naturally included a gondola ride and a visit to St. Mark’s Square, I remember thinking (1) Wouldn’t this be romantic if I was here by myself with some studly guy who could overlook my acne and obesity? And (2) How will I protect my gelato, of which I don’t want to miss a single drop, from the pigeon droppings? One of those bombs may have landed in my hair, which could be washed out later, but I couldn’t remove it and still finish my gelato, right?
In Pisa I got to the top of its famously leaning tower. Don’t ask me how I got my body up there; I think there must have been an elevator. There was a great city view from that point but my main thought was fear that my added weight might cause it to lean more!
In Rome, I threw one coin (as opposed to the traditional and hopelessly romantic three) in the famous Trevi Fountain. Note that the photo of me in front of the fountains barely shows the top portion of my body. That’s because by now I was wearing that damned light cotton sleeveless tent more often than anything else, since by then it was one of the few garments that I owned that wasn’t too tight!
This was the theme of 1954’s Three Coins in the Fountain and the Academy Award-winning song by that name which introduced the picture. The plot went that, on their way into town, the three main characters, all single gals, stop at the fountain where they share the popular tale that, according to legend, if each throws a coin in the fountain and makes a wish to return to Rome, she will. Coins are purportedly meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder. Also note the no longer politically correct lyrics as you enjoy this rendition of the movie’s Academy Award nominated theme song.
We visited the Uffizi in Florence. It is one of the most famous and important art galleries in the world, and it has a very large collection of international and Florentine art. The gallery is articulated in many halls, cataloged by schools and chronological order. I don’t recall that any of them made a big impression on my then young, just barely 21, eyes at the time, though I did comprehend that an appreciation of great and famous art would be a quality that the first female Secretary of State, as I aspired to be then, having just completed by BA in International Relations, would be expected to have. I also liked the way that name just rolls of the tongue, making even an Ugly American sound vaguely Italian.
The Galleria dell’ Accademia houses a Michelangelo collection, including the David, which made a big impression on my psyche for many reasons. First, it plainly shows probably the largest penis any living, breathing, red-blooded American girl could actually see on an Italian man, even if he is only a stone one. Really, it gave me an opportunity to inspect an anatomically correct model of this organ in vivid detail. I had not seen one up close in the flesh yet, so I wanted to learn a little about its construction to prepare myself for that event.
We were also told that the eyes were carved in such a way that the viewer felt that they were following you as crossed in front of the statue. Wikipedia describes them less vividly as “The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were turned towards Rome” when the statue was initially installed in front of the Palazzo della Signoria in 1504.
Of the many bridges in Florence, one in particular stands out for many tourists— the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), whose most striking feature is the multitude of shops built upon its edges, held up by stilts. This area was, of course, a great spot to indulge in some “retail therapy,” an activity I engage in when I’m feeling lonely, have some time to kill and/or need to just get out and walk around a bit, even if I don’t (or don’t have to or want to or can’t afford to) purchase anything. Of course, I wanted to get some artistic souvenirs in the places I visited, and I was so enamored of and enchanted by Florence that I purchased two especially significant items there.
One was a box of stationary with a stunningly beautiful, fantastic and brightly colored Florentine tapestry pattern. It was so beautiful I even held on to the box for a long time after I’d gone through the paper and similarly decorated envelopes. The other was a mosaic pendant in the shape of the Star of David mounted to a neck chain by two opposing points on a short and now extremely tarnished chain. I still have it, though it fits more like a choker now so it’s almost uncomfortable to wear even if or when I might have an occasion to.