Monday, November 9, 2015

Italy Day 7 (part 2) Art, Art, ART!

As you remember in our last thrilling episode, we had just finished a delicious lunch and had a few hours to explore before our tour through the Uffizzi Museum.

We began with a more leisurely stroll through the historic parts of Florence. I had a list of things I wanted to see in the city and in the museums. My family groaned quietly (by which I mean loudly and constantly) but they followed along; primarily because I had the map that showed the way back to the hotel.

We passed this restaurant where a film crew followed a trio of heavily made-up ladies to a table where they got service faster than any person has EVER gotten service in Italy. We assumed that they must be movie stars.

Took this picture of one of them to show our tour guide. Never showed her. If you have any guesses about who she is, please email me. The suspense is killing me!

We went back to the Duomo for a visit to the inside of the church. We'd been told that it was, in fact, rather plain and boring on the inside.

It's still big. And even more spectacular than the mystery movie star.

I love the spiraled marble in the windows.
Oh, yeah. Totally plain and boring inside. Yawn.
The dome is really two domes, one inside the other. When the church was built, the designers had no idea how to actually build this thing they had designed. The rest of the church was built, but the dome was completed sever hundred years after the rest of the church.

People climbing to the top of the dome actually climb up a huge spiral stairway between the two domes.

The church was certainly not as hugely elaborate as many of the others we saw, but only in comparison to those could it be considered plain or boring. It was spectacular and amazing.

We continued along our merry way to the Church of Orsanmichele. It's a fascinating little church that also used to function as a grain warehouse. Worshipers could attend church services downstairs and have their grain delivered as they prayed.
The outside of the church is decorated with 13 amazing marble statues, carved by master like Bernini and Donatello. Each of them was sponsored by a local guild. They were a sort of early advertising. Really, really classy billboards.

Below each sculpture is a small relief depicting the guild that sponsored it. I have no idea what guild this might be, primarily because of the guy with the pick-ax looming over the nude child who's strapped to a board.

A worn relief of St. George killing a dragon. The dragon slaying guild?

Inside the church, the columns are hollow and still have openings in them where grain was dropped down from the upstairs. I tried placing an order, but it was not filled.

The altar is a brilliant masterpiece and another amazing opportunity to see art in situ, in the location is was actually created for - not in a museum.

After pondering the mystery of the man with the pick-ax, we decided it may be for the best to be on our way. We had an appointment for a guided tour of The Uffizzi Museum at 4:15 and there was no way I was going to miss this.

The Courtyard of the horseshoe-shaped Uffizzi is awash in tourists, scammers, pick-pockets, and a staggering number of vendors, all selling their wares illegally. While it made for some enjoyable entertainment to watch, it was really a shame that such an amazing location is so dingy and sketchy.

A long line of vendors selling fake handbags, cheap electronics, bad digital prints of bad art, and selfie-sticks. Oh, so many people selling selfie-sticks.

Where do all these selfie-sticks even come from?
They lay their prints out on the ground. See them all there in the lower right-hand corner? Don't walk over them like a carpet. It upsets the sellers. Don't ask me how I know that.
A clown, applying his make-up for a show. I hope. I mean, I really, really hope that's what's happening here.

 As we sat and rested our feet for a few moments, we were accosted by a guy with a tiger face painted on his own face. He wore a white jump-suit and had a squeaky thing in his mouth so he didn't talk, but squeaked. You know, like a tiger usually squeaks - high pitched and irritating.

He wandered up to us, squeaked and held out a cup to indicate that we should pay him for having been squeaked at by a tiger faced guy in a white jump suit.

"Is that it?" I asked.
"Is that your entire schtick? You squeak at us and we should pay you?"
"What else have you got, man? Because that's weak."
"Squeak! Squeak!"
He waggled his bottom.
I yawned.
He leaned in close to Tori, my 14 year old daughter, as if to kiss her.
I leaned in close to him, as if to indicate that if he should get one millimeter closer to my daughter, I would tear his head off at the roots and use it as a glass for wine.
I indicated that he should find someplace else to be.
He found someplace else.

We were also able to witness the delicate ballet performed by the illegal street vendors and the Carabiniere. The vendors would set up their wares in a line, about 50 yards on either side of the police cruiser parked in the courtyard. Every so often, two Carabiniere would saunter down the line of vendors who would scramble to pick up all their belongings and wander off calmly, as if they were just another tourist wandering around Florence with a huge cardboard portfolio full of posters or a giant dufflel bag full of cheap electronics.

Here we come... walkin' down the street...

Vendors scramble, but not until the police are about 20 feet away from them. They grab everything and stroll away.

This attractive cardboard box table is completely inconspicuous when carried through a busy thoroughfare.

One the police are about 20 feet past them, they set right back up again. Total time out of business - no more than 45 seconds.

It was fun to watch and we got the distinct impression that the police were just enjoying watching the guys scramble every few minutes. They weren't interested in arresting them; just annoying them.

As fascinating as the show was, we took a few minutes to go check out the Ponte Veccio. The Old Bridge. It is the last original bridge crossing the river, having been spared by a Nazi officer in WWII when every other bridge in Florence was blown up.

The Ponte Veccio has been a home to gold and jewelry sellers for hundreds and hundreds of years. It used to be where butchers and tanners had their businesses, but the waste dropped into the river caused a stink that would gag a maggot.

The Medicis disapproved of the stink and ordered the butchers and tanners away and ordered in the gold and jewelry, which was more to their liking.

And why would the Medicis care about such a thing?

This is the Ponte Veccio. See the evenly spaced windows running along the top of the bridge? That is a walkway that the Medicis had built for themselves. It ran (and still runs) from their new palace on the left side of the river, to their offices (The Uffizzi) on the right side of the river. They had the passageway built so they could walk from their palace to their offices without running the very real risk of coming in contact with a commoner. When the passageway came to a building that was in the way? They went right through. Because they were the Medicis.

The passageway now sits atop very high-end jewelry shops. the Medicis would be proud.

We made our way, once again, through the thronging masses of vendors and began our guided tour of The Uffizzi, home of some of the greatest Renaissance paintings in the world.

Uffizzi is Italian for "Office" and the museum used to be the offices of the Medici family. When they fell out of power, most of their paintings remained here and it was opened to the public as a museum. It is one of the most amazing buildings I've ever been in.

As with just about every place else we went, it was crowded. the museum is shaped like a horseshoe and they would like visitors to come in and get out as quickly and as efficiently as possible. I suspect that the owners would prefer it if visitors would simply pay the admission fee and then go away.

I had a list of paintings that I simply had to see. Armed with that and with our little earpiece radios, we plunged into the fray and were whisked through the museum at a break-neck pace.

The museum is huge and our guide had planned a route that would highlight all the most famous pieces in the collection in a mere 75 minutes. Jet-packs might have made it a bit easier, but I suspect that they are frowned upon in the museum. There is a long and comprehensive list of things that are not allowed in the museum.

A small pictograph indicating a few of the myriad things that you cannot bring into the museum. No guitars. No wine. No poodles. No file cabinets. I had to assume that jet-packs would be on the list, as well.

Once inside, I floated along along on a cloud of bliss, absorbing as much of the splendor as I could as I whizzed by at 45 miles per hour. The guide rattled on and on in my ear, but it was so crowded and she spoke so quickly, I just shut off my earpiece and enjoyed the art and the building on its own terms.

It began with a small display of marble busts.

I don't know who he is, but he looks like a Disney Villian to me.

And he looks like a poodle.

Disney fairy godmother.

Very non-Disney nipples and awesome chest face.

I loved the thin marble of her headcovering.

We turned a corner and were hit full force with the splendor of how these people lived.

The ornate hallway stretches almost out of view.

Along the top of the wall were hundreds of portraits of the Medicis and their friend and benefactors. This is the who's who of cool kids for the time period.

Every section of ceiling is elaborately and ornately painted.

I wonder how the Medicis would feel about all these commoners in their hallways?

Each of these dots is a shell.

Salacious art.

A view of the Ponte Veccio and the Medicis walkway.

Alex was totally awe-struck.

We snaked our way through the museum and caught a glimpse of the masterpieces through the crowds.

Some of the few paintings that Michelangelo did outside of the Sistine Chapel.

A gorgeous sculpture. Look at that flowing fabric carved from marble.

The Holy Family by Michelangelo. Check out the heads protruding from the frame. It's the only painting by Michelangelo in Florence and the only painting by him at all that is not painted directly on a wall or ceiling.

Botticelli's Birth of Venus. A stunning masterpiece.

Another Botticelli.

This little guy was mounted front to back with another painting.


DiVinci's Annunciation.

A roped off room that houses the scandalous Medici Venus, a sculpture so provocative, it was removed from the art school so it would not corrupt young, impressionable artists.

We raced past painting after painting, though room after room, and then our tour was over.
I was not done.
I still had my list and I had missed several painting that were on it.
"The museum is still open for 45 minutes," the guide explained. "You are free to explore."
My family's collective groan was more than I could bear.
We split up. They went outside and I raced headlong into the swarming crowds to find the paintings I had missed.
I pushed past crowds of gaping tourists stepping gingerly from one picture to the next, snapping photos with their cell phones and not stopping to admire a thing.
I was here. See? I have a photo to prove it.

I raced on.

I found some easily.

Titian's Venus of Urbino which Mark Twain described as, “the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses”. Seems about right.
Fiorentino's Madonna enthroned with the saints was rejected as an altarpiece when it was still just a sketch. It is, without doubt, one of the most alarmingly hideous pieces of art I've ever seen. Baby Jesus looks like he just fell out of a Twisted Sister video and the saints all look like zombies.

The announcement blared over the loudspeaker in Italian and then in English, "The museum will be closing in 30 minutes."

I found several on my list:

Carravagio's Bacchus
Raphael's Madonna of the Goldfinch

"The museum will be closing in 25 minutes."

Panic gripped me. I really, really wanted to find a painting by Piero Della Francesca called The Duke and Duchess of Urbino.
I ran to a guard and pointed to the name of the painting on my list.
"Dove il?" I asked. ("Where is the?" - poorly done, but effective.)
"Room 22," she answered sleepily, barely looking up from her smart phone.

I raced onward through the crowds, now leaving the museum in giant, selfie-taking waves. Room 22 was upstairs, entirely on the other side of the museum.

"The museum will be closing in 20 minutes."

I plowed onward, stopping to view some of the pieces that had been in crowded rooms earlier.

I spent a few minutes admiring the dirty Venus.

I was floored by the light in this piece by Delle Notti.

The museum even houses a couple Rembrandt self-portraits.

And an amazing head of Medusa by Pittore Fiammingo.

"The museum will be closing in 15 minutes."

Room 25.
Room 24
Room 23.
Room 21.

I gaped. No room 22?

I lurched around aimlessly for a minute.
I stumbled upon a gang of guards, all clustered in a circle, gabbing and laughing. They dutifully ignored me until I tapped one on the shoulder.
I help up my paper and jabbed at the name of the painting. 'Dove?" I begged.

The guard, an older lady who spoke very broken and very heavily accented English, took out her reading glasses and studied my paper, now damp with sweat.

She smiled. "Room 96."
My heart sank. I had just abandoned my family in Room 96.
She clutched my arm and began to give me detailed directions to a room that I knew did not contain the painting I was searching for.

"The museum will be closing in 10 minutes."  

"Thank you," I said, peeling her hand from my arm. "Thank you."

She re-clutched me with a grip like a professional wrestler's and continued her detailed directions which, I realized, would also take me to the exit so she could go home.

"The museum will be closing in 5 minutes."

I pried her claw from my arm and raced headlong down a hallway hoping for the best.

Room 22.

I staggered in and was able to behold The Duke and Duchess of Urbino.

Ugly thing, isn't it?

 Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Once I had admired it to my satisfaction, I made my way to the exit through the now almost empty museum.

It actually took me some doing to find the exit (it was just through the gift shop, as it always is) and I was even able to find my family after that. I got a bit turned around when I exited the museum, but I heard the familiar strains of "Hotel California" being played on a guitar. We had seen a steet musician playing that song as we entered the museum. I guess he was playing a really, really extended version of the song. I followed the sound and found my family.

Thanks street musician guy! Without you, I'd still be wandering among the selfie-stick sellers, searching for my family.

It began to rain as we searched for a restaurant. I wanted a traditional Tuscan meal. Tuscans lean heavily toward meat and Tori is a vegetarian. It took some  doing, but we eventually found a beautiful little place that had been in business since the early 1850's.

I won't bore you with the details, but Tuscan bread and tomato soup, wild boar over homemade pasta, local red wine and tiramasu.

I was happy, full, and tired as we walked back to the hotel to get some sleep before tomorrow's long trip down south to see Pompeii and Sorrento.

No comments: