Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Remember Montaperti!" (Part 2)

A couple of days later the three of us got on a bus and trundled through the Tuscan countryside to San Gimignano, a smaller version of Siena - another mediaevel fortress city perched on a hill. San Gim is famous for half a dozen or so square towers that poke out of various of its buildings without any rational explanation. It's like the builders just said 'Hey, Tony, we've got nothing on today, let's build a fuckin' tower on top of, er, that joint over there.' Whatever the case, they're pretty impressive, as is the entire city.

We walked through its ancient gates, and a wide, straight boulevarde climbed up and up the hill, lined with shops and markets, all adorned with flags and inexplicable figurines and knick-knacks. It was glorious and vibrant, and hundreds of people were walking along, everyone (including me) with the most delicious gelato in the world stuffed in their mouths.

I jumped into an internet cafe and hooked up with a few friends around the world, just in the interests of gloating, of course, while the girls haunted frock shops and the like. We re-assembled in the main square an hour or so later, where it seemed the annual festival of the pig was going on. Whole hoggies were roasting on several spits, and for the princely sum of two Euros I was handed an enormous, crusty bread-roll filled with the most succulent meat I've ever tasted. It was heaven on a stick, and without any guilt at all I went back for seconds. 

San Gim is a really pretty spot, and as we walked along the twisting, steep slopes of the Via Santo Stefano, I had the uncanny feeling of walking in the footsteps of romance personified. It was romantic; it was a place in which to love, and fall in love. It spoke of the history, and the ghosts, of lovers, this place, and I was calmly content. I like it when a new place brings old, close, and comfortable feelings to the surface. It's happened a few times before, but this felt special, and I was content. Ok, you can stop laughing now, but I was in love with the whole thing.

Fortunately, the T.P. brought me back to earth, complaining that I had once again got us horribly lost, and we had to get back on the bus by 3.45, so could I please get my head out of the clouds and concentrate on finding civilization again? We made it back to the bus depot in time, and I dozed away the return to Siena thinking happy thoughts. 

Finally, it was time to leave Siena. We had a day in Florence booked, and I was keen to get there, because all of my life I have wanted to see Michelangelo's David in the flesh, and Florence is where he lives.

Florence is a city without parallel - it is unfathomably eclectic, with a prepossessing mixture of all of the elements that make a city alluring. Picture this: Florence's vast, opulent and somewhat spooky Duomo sits comfortably amid a bustling, modern raft of tack. Shitty tourist restaurants and gift shops crowd it on all sides, forcing the traveller to think of this, the second-greatest Catholic cathedral in the world, as nothing but an attractor of filthy lucre. Which, when you think about the ultimate raison d'etre of Catholicism, strikes not one note of discord.

The Duomo itself simply reeks of exploitation and repression. I don't know why, but all of the great cathedrals of Europe I visited had exactly the same effect on me. Of course, I am awed by their majesty, their opulence, their mystery and their intricacy. There is no doubt that they display craftsmanship that is the pinnacle of architectural art. But, within their walls, is an ugliness which is inescapable. In Siena, for instance, exquisite sculptures by the world's greatest, Bernini, are overlooked by a parade of busts of one hundred and thirty popes, sternly overseeing the gullibility of worshipping peasants. The entire atmosphere in these houses of blood is the atmosphere of a psychological repression that left me in no doubt as to the origins of Fascism. We got out quickly - David was waiting.

We sauntered down from the Duomo to the Galleria dell'Academia, where David had been enthralling people for centuries. And, for fuck's sake-  it was closed! 'Pissed off' is not the term to describe my mood at that moment. I'd travelled half-way around the world, only to find that the Florentine Pogens had decided, for some inexplicable (but probably Catholic) reason, to close the gallery on Mondays. As I howled in rage and disbelief, banging my fists on the doors, the T.P. tried to comfort me, saying 'Stop whingeing, you idiot. You're attracting odd looks from the passers-by.' She's so understanding, my wife.

We made our way, me shrieking at the stupidity of all things Italian, to the Piazza della Signoria, where David's replica stood, amongst other gems of Renaissance sculpture. Somewhat calmed, my spirits began to rise. Here were sculptures by Ammannati, Donatello, Bandinelli, and the exquisite Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna. The whole place, overlooked by the fabulous Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's famous city hall, was wondrous. This was Italy, this was culture, for real.

It was time to go to Germany. 


Anonymous said...

Was there a tiny little subscript at the bottom of the door notice that said, 'Read 'em and weep.'?

-- Gregg

ecelliam said...