Monday, May 30, 2011

Michael's Day in Florence - "Paying a Visit to the “Grand Dame”

      On Saturday Linda dropped me off in Siena where I could catch the Firenze Rapida, the 12:10 bus to Florence.  I was going to pick up our next group of watercolor painters, but I also had a few hours to reconnect with my “old friend”.
By 1:30 my feet were on the ground in the Renaissance City.  It was sunny but not suffocatingly hot, as Florence can get in the summer.  I zigzagged from the train station down the Via Tornabuoni and across the Ponte di Santa Trinita (with the4  statues of the seasons).  Crossing over I had a clear view of the yellow Ponte Vecchio hanging over the Arno, with 3 graceful skulling boats rippling the water underneath.
Ponte Vecchio by Anne Benvenuto
 I had a quick errand to run in the Altr’arno section, my favorite area of Florence.  Just across from the anthill of tourist spots, it is quieter with many local craftsmen still thriving in their tiny workshops.  At certain times the sounds of sawing wood, pounding silver, and cutting marble reverberate in the tiny alleys.  I can almost feel what life in Florence was like back in the era of the great artists.
My errand done, I ducked into a cafe on the narrow Borgo San Jacopo for some lunch.  Caffe Le Torri had been completely redone since I lived in the neighborhood many years ago.  But there was still the familiar clatter of the ceramic cups on the marble bar top and the tinkle of the little spoons in the saucers.  That’s a sound you will never hear in Starbucks.  I sat, intending to quietly read my book, but my attention kept being diverted towards the hubbub in the bar instead.  There were 3 “gallettos” – young men with black faux-hawks, tight T-shirts and time on their hands – cajoling at the counter.  Two American girls, who I surmised had arrived in Florence recently, entered in cotton running shorts and flip-flops, looking dubious and unsure of what to do.  The boys instinctively glanced over, fluffed their hair and adjusted their crotches (as Italian men are wont to do).  The girls were too disoriented to notice them.  In perfect English they ordered diet Cokes with ice and asked for the bathroom.
A large bus passed by on the tiny street outside blocking the entire window.  It forced 2 Japanese women (who might be the only people who can rival the Italians for fashion) into the doorway.  They looked around and decided to stay.  In stammered Italian they ordered 2 cappuccinos.  They demurely took the table near the door, until 6 mopeds blazed by spewing diesel fumes.  As a unit they rose, covered their noses and click-clacked in Ferragamo sandals to the back of the cafĂ©.  A single traveler who looked like a slim Ernest Hemingway slipped in to claim their table.  He ordered a panino and a glass of wine without ever taking his eyes off his guidebook.
The American girls, huddling back from the bathroom, asked for a “to go cup” for their Diet Cokes –in perfect English – and going out the door squeezed past a threesome of pallid Brits dressed right out of “A Room with a View”.  They staggered to a table, overwhelmed with site-seeing, Bandaids on their toes, straw hats flopping over their eyes.  In insistent English they order bruschetta “without all the cheese”.
The barista is a congenial man who greets everyone who enters or leaves his microcosm.  Italians repay the “Buon Giorno”, foreigners ignore him.  But he keeps at it.  Italians head to the bar, stand up, order and drink their coffee.  Foreigners head to the tables, even though the same coffee costs double there.
Two 15 year old “gallettos-in-training” step in sporting sunglasses, coifs and facial hair, but the backpacks give them away as no competition for the other guys still hanging out reading the soccer news.  Outside the steady procession of tourists marches single file toward the Ponte Vecchio, weighted with cameras and wearing fedoras and sun hats they wouldn’t be caught dead in back home.
A squat Slavic woman in orange hair orders a grappa, a tall man with sandals, socks and a walking stick (German?) peruses the counter then turns and leaves, 3 more American girls clomp in and flop at a table, an Italian man, whistling Puccini sails through, dropping off a packet to the owner, an elderly woman waddles in with grocery bags, rests on a chair by the door, then leaves.  Another bus squeezes by, mopeds in its wake.
Although I wanted to stay, I needed to get back to meet our group.  I never cracked my book but had a good show nonetheless.  I paid my check at the counter and skipped out into the fray.  I took a different route back, past an old leather shop I know across from Dante’s church.  Within a half hour I managed to buy a new wallet and then a leather jacket at the San Lorenzo open market.
Without having seen one piece of art or visited one tourist site, I think I can report that the Old Dame Florence is alive and kicking and still playing hostess to the world.