Saturday, 26 November 2011

2) fiorenze

We arrive in Firenze after our long, rich week in Romania [Romania blog to be posted shortly]. It is difficult being a tourist amongst tourists here. It is a dense cosmopolis, bursting with chackering, fashion-conscious people whose eyes slide over you, looking you up and down from head to shoes. We are cautious on the streets, never sure whether drivers will give way or charge through an intersection.

Our concierge is charming and effusive and I think this is her ‘black market’ job, She sneaks away from ‘work’ to meet us and give us the key. She tells us where is good to eat, to watch for the unpredictable traffic, and is of the opinion that the only way out of Italy’s present troubles is war. “We need a war’ she says, beautifully, with a deep scowl, her long plait shaking with the frustration burning in her body. Perhaps this is decades, generations of anger speaking. But always, she remains charming.

None of us knows any Italian [although Tim has some Spanish, and is hoping that will help us through; it doesn't] and on our first day I am just too tired to really try to learn. I feel a muted shame, but also a mulish reluctance to bother, after arriving on the airplane. I note with quite some surprise that neither old age nor wheelchairs shifts the Florentine airport from its intense, dense and chaotic version of inertia. The very old, unwell man and the American in the wheelchair are somehow left at the back of all the queues.

Our rooms are spacious and airy, the beds vast, the walls a wonderful worn patina and we could have slipped back centuries. The guest book entries all complain about the level of invasive noise from the street--from cafes until 4am through to garbage trucks every morning at 6--but over the days we are here I actually like it. I like the endless layers of human exchange throughout the night. In a curious way my heart feels held. Here in Florence, ensconced behind thick patterned curtains shielding the window alcoves, with the buzz of  waiters, diners and drunks, cutlery clashing and hurtling outside in the sleepless cafes, I feel a part of the centuries of human endeavour and achievement  and exchange,  It seems to me as full and rich as what I have heard, on my own, immersed in the Australian bush. I never feel alone in the  bush per se, whereas I realise that in Canberra’s suburbia—neither bush, nor big city-- the loneliness aches like a rheumatic chill.

The Medici Chapel [Architect and designer: Michelangelo] -- A Mannerist icon, the 16th century Medici in strife; its sealed windows indicative of a corroded power, looking in on itself pondering its weakened position in the world. Even more startling in the flesh than i ever imagined. The chapel sits in one wing off the coolly-ordered Note the orange tree in the centre of the courtyard: whilst we were there, a single ladder was propped against its trunk, its height disappearing up into its lush leaves.  Occasionally a branch would fall from its canopy. One woman in tight clothing was yelling instructions from beneath the portico towards the tree. We realised it was being trimmed, the woman playing "artists' eye" guiding the clipping of the tree from a distance. 


Market  stalls circle the square around the church near the Uffizi,  just as they have done for thousands of years. In centuries gone, pedlars arrived from the country on their carts. These days, stalls are pitched with canvas and aluminium poles, fat with machine-tooled leatherwear and ornate plastic tourist carnivale masks. Cobbled streets, hot roads; gelato everywhere.

The portico of the Uffizi is so very strange. A gaggle of stone gods has been pushed beneath this portico, a classical inventory perched on pillars too high to view them well from close range. From a middle distance, one could be looking at a coop of tall marble chickens, tethered within invisible walls. There is a gracelessness in the way they are clustered, half-facing each other, almost as awful as deciding to put a group of disabled people together because they share ‘disability’ in common. 

A copy of David stands in the Uffizi court, just away from the portico. Again, it is very oddly placed.  It is impressive but not quite right. We say to the children, who are already tired of visiting museums, that we have to see the original. The groan comes from deep within their entrails, but as parents often find we have to do, we know we are taking them on a journey that transcends this moment, their tiredness, and all our opinions combined.

The Uffizi was worth the long wait in the queue. Its treasures are many but perhaps standing in front of this particular Vermeer, one’s whole body cries on meeting its perfection. Its sense of order, structure, colour, balance and titillation is so finely judged that it transcends genre and time. It simply is a perfect painting.  One is suspended in the time of the sitter and the painter both. The work is full of pathos yet also exhibits a sense of cool calculation. This took a long time to perfect; it took as long as it takes. Some curators ask their viewers to fall into the painting; this one grabs you by the throat and entrails, leaves you stuttering, that blue, that measurement, that curious patience in the sitter's smile....and again, that blue…

David is housed in the Academy, not here. it is a museum the guidebooks say has ‘David, and the also-rans”. They are right, it is a motley collection; but David is truly worth the visit.  There are his muscles, yes; the pure white marble genitalia, of course, the buttocks so perfect, but the right hand, holding the stone! You wonder at the mind which knows how to leave the veins free, swollen and enlarged, even whilst chiselling through to create the deeper structure of the hand. The opposite of drawing, really, which builds lines over the surface. The exaggeration of perspective too—hand enlarged, My friend Nicky back in Sydney says, the boy’s bravery makes him larger than the giant. One small renaissance Boy against the brutal gods….  

Ruby puts a photo of David in her PowerPoint presentation to her classmates; during her talk she realises she has forgotten to delete it, as planned. True to form, some of the boys start to wolf whistle at his nakedness. Her teacher tries to insist that ‘in that part of the world, you'd have to deal with it. Nudes are everywhere!” I’m not sure this consoles the group but certainly quietens them for a minute. Why dont' we have such nudes "everywhere" here??

There is a room next door to where David holds court, paying homage to the master caster B. It is a fascinating and slightly spooky display of plaster casts--row upon row of busts, figures and figurines, most pock-marked with the metal plugs that help a caster translate proportions from maquette to full- or over-sized public art. Ruby is glued to a video showing the ‘lost cast’ and sectioned cast methods, and the method of copying  plaster maquettes into marble. 

The various miniatures one can buy of David, both in souvenir stalls, but also at the Uffizi’s own shop outlet, also prove the point that masterpieces exhibit finely judged proportions.The fake David in the Uffizi’s own courtyard is a poor rendition of the perspective, and dynamic between parts, exaggerated in the real David.

It  was almost worth sneaking the photo of David [here attached, a veritable contraband!] to be yelled at by a guard, distracting her from her livelihood, which seems to be gossip rather than playing sentry to David or anything else.  No Photo! she shrieked from a distance of 20 yards, without getting her butt off her padded stool, but interrupting her gossip with her other guard friends for a full 20 seconds.  

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