Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Oozing Through the Uffizi

Oh Glorious Day! The Tuscan countryside puts one in such a peaceful frame of mind, and we are glad we chose Fiesole as our resting place. The cool early morning has given way to a warm, clear, bright blue skied day. Our little hotel has all the amenities we desire; a pleasant breakfast with barely acceptable croissants (we've been spoiled in France), a very quiet patio for journal writing, and a nearby church to serenade us with it's bells. There is an old olive tree across the street whose silvery leaves glisten in the sun. Our host tells us he remembers that tree from when he was a child. Unfortunately I can't remember any trees from my childhood. Our culture doesn't encourage that kind of attention.

Tuesday - September 29, 2009 - Florence, Italy

On the way to the square we stopped at our local tabac to buy round trip bus tickets and was rewarded with recognition by the husband and wife proprietors as regulars. It doesn't take long around here. We felt so carefree as our only time constraint this day was the 12:45 Uffizi Gallery ticket pickup. We hopped off the bus at the Duomo around 11:00 so we had plenty of time to stroll through the Bargello (a five minute walk from the Uffizi).

The Bargello (old police station) is a small, easy to navigate museum dedicated to Renaissance sculpture and on this morning was sparsely populated (nice after the crowded streets we navigated to get there). It is a rectangular pietra serena stone building with a sun drenched courtyard that is perfect for some serious contemplation.

We climbed the long stone staircase and entered the Donatello room. The rug runner on the floor led us directly to the object we sought: the David. Don's bronze statue is jarring in contrast to our remembered image of the same subject by Michelangelo. This one looks a little coy and lacks some of the steely determination you see at the Accademia. I don't think I'm being a "girly-man" when I say this statue is beautiful. Davide is wearing a flowered hat and some fancy boots and resting one foot on that big, bad, bruiser Goliath's head. Plus he's got a nice butt.

Directly beneath this room on the bottom floor are the other two works we wanted to see: Michelangelo's Bacchus and Giambologna's Mercury, and that's where we headed.

The Bacchus is a cool work. It appears the young man has not been bashful about sampling the grape while posing, and seems to wear a stupor-induced smile upon his face. There is an eerie resemblance to Donatello's David upstairs. We know from our reading that Donatello's David was installed in the Medici palace while Michelangelo lived there, and that Donatello was a pop icon to Mike. In any event this work makes you smile and brings life to the word Bacchanalia.

We wanted to see the Mercury just to gauge how close it came to the FTD (Florists Telegraph Delivery) logo. The answer is not much, but each has the cool little wings on the ankles and helmet. It is amazing that the statue doesn't fall over as it balances on cupid's breath. There is so much to see in the Bargello, but we have discipline and pass masterpiece after masterpiece on our way back into the Florence sunshine. We are sticking to our strategy that less is more.

With a half hour to kill we walked to the Piazza della Signoria, and grabbed some delicious tomato and mozzarella cheese takeaway sandwiches. We ate them as we strolled past the Loggia and it's statuary, seeking out "the spot." A marble and bronze disk that is engraved in Latin: "Here Girolamo Savonarola and his Dominican brothers were hanged and burned in the year MCCCCXCVIII" (a long way of saying 1498)". This was the X that marked the spot of the Bonfire of the Vanities. Very cool indeed.

Our visit to the Uffizi (ooh-feet-see)is the fulfillment of a life quest and we were getting excited. One time we got there on a Monday - closed; another we arrived too close to the closing time - sorry. The last time, we arrived early, queued in the shorter of the two tickets lines, only to find that we our line had purchased the right to walk through the Pallazzo Vecchio next door - foiled again.

This time we bought on-line before we left Virginia and had an electronic voucher safely in hand. We queued at the ticket pickup door (number 3), presented the paper, received our tickets and smugly headed to the entrance (door number 1). In the time it took to walk there our confidence was fading and we fully expected the door to slam shut due to a strike or some natural disaster. It didn't. We glided through the metal detectors, and entered one of the finest art museums in the world.

We were not alone. Perhaps spoiled by our experiences at the other museums, the Uffizi felt claustrophobic. They meter the number of people who enter by time but on this day it didn't seem to have the desired effect. We were part of the sludge of people that oozed it's way through the various salons and pooled in front of every major piece of work. The slow progress seemed timed to an inaudible dirge playing somewhere.

Like everyone else we wanted to see Botticelli's "Allegory of Spring" and "Birth of Venus."

They are larger than expected and hang within meters of each other in the same warm and dimly lit room. The mob (of which we were a part) slowly slid across the face of the plexiglas shields, straining to discern the details in the paintings. This was difficult because the paintings are under-lit and almost melt into the walls. Where were the light, lively, vibrant scenes we expected? It was a tad disappointing to see them in person, over the shoulder of other people.

The next salon contained DaVinci's "Adoration of the Magi" and "Annunciation", two more big hits. Though better lit and slightly easier to see around the packets of people the pieces themselves left no lasting impressions. I wondered if we were burning out, or that our expectations were so high nothing could meet them. Maybe.

Nah. I still felt the thrill of standing before Michelangelo's only easel painting: The "Doni Tondo", Holy Family. It is bright, dynamic and full of energy and enthusiasm.

And I got a real kick out of the mug-shots of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca. These were breakthrough paintings in the early years of the Renaissance. The first signs of humanism; real people as subjects instead of saints, holy people and holy themes. These were the shoulders upon which future Renaissance painters stood.
To get away from the crowd for a bit, I stood at the window that overlooks the Arno and was rewarded with what has to be one of the best views of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Just below was the "secret" covered walkway that connected the Palazzo Vecchio on this side of the river to the Pitti Palace on the other. The Medicis used this to travel back and forth, high above the common folks. One of my favorite pictures of the trip.

Leaving the Uffizi we made our way back to Santa Croce to pick up our leather boxes, and were glad to see the gold inscriptions were correct. We really wanted to stay outside for a while so we decided to walk a little way up the Arno and just enjoy the sights and being together. We watched a couple of crews on the very placid river. Before we knew it we had walked to the bridge that crosses over to the Piazza Michelangelo - a trip we had planned to take by bus. Time and distance evaporate when you are doing something you like with someone you love. That's been the story of our retirement.

The trek to the Piazza could be challenging - it looks like it's a long way, straight up. Thankfully there is a gracefully inclined tree lined walk with big steps that allow you to make good forward progress before the next vertical assault on your calf muscles. The Piazza, with a bronzed copy of the manly David in the middle, presents a spectacular 180 degree view of Florence across the river. It was remarkably clear and we could just make out the little village of Fiesole (our temporary home) high upon the hillside beyond. Beautiful.

My guess is most people stop their upward trek there (it was fairly crowded) but after enjoying the view, we kept climbing. Up we went to the deserted, peaceful and beautiful church of San Miniato. The doors were open and welcoming. We joined about 30 other people inside, some meditating, some walking around the altar, others peeking into the various chapels. It is a beautiful church, part of a still functioning Benedictine monastery. Right at 5:30 the monks in white cassocks entered and mass began. The beautiful, soothing sound of Gregorian chanting filled the air. We felt privileged to be there.

There was little left to do but grab a bus and head back down into the valley and up the other side. We were so peaceful and grateful for the day. Dinner was in the little Vinandro restaurant on the south side of the square. We ate inside where it was warm and homey. The food was excellent - artichoke ravioli in Parmesan cream sauce for me, gnocchi for Kat, and a few glasses of local wine. With our hotel just a short walk away we reflected on what a glorious day it had in fact been.

The pictures of artwork came from public images on the web as neither the Uffizi nor Bargello allow photography. Ed

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