Last week meant a return to routine for Antonella and the girls: teaching, marking, classroom prep, for mom, attending classes and studying non-stop, for the signorine. They all follow a brutal schedule. But more on that later.
Alone in the midst of this scholastic whirlwind, I tended to organize my days in Florence by working in the morning, then meandering and exploring in the afternoon.
On Tuesday, March 21, I decided to attend an interactive Gustav Klimt exhibition at Santo Stefano al Ponte, a deconsacrated church very near the Uffizi Gallery, just over the Ponte Vecchio. It was billed as “an experience” and it truly lived up to the hype. It included a virtual reality component, which immersed the participant into several of the artist’s individual works. I felt suspended, floating amidst showers of gold, red and green mosaics, all swirling above me, below me, around me. . . I was caught up in an intense Klimtian meteor shower.
After catching my breath from that ride I sat through a stunning multi-media experience in the nave of the empty church. It was a kaleidoscope of sorts: images of late nineteenth century Vienna, pertinent political figures of that period, Klimt’s own paintings, in their entirety, or close-ups of specific details, and photos of the painter himself and of his many muses.
The music accompanying the visual presentation allowed it to soar. Beethoven’s 9th symphony, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, and Strauss waltzes danced with the bigger-than-life images in that cavernous space while we, the onlookers, swayed to the music in the midst of more showers of gold, green, orange. . . most of us sitting on large blocks spread out through the open space, or lying down on the circular ‘Klimt’ carpet in the center. It was extremely moving, breathtaking. I felt suspended in time, and for an hour or so, not of this world — a feeling only art can gift me. A wonderful and unique way to spend a gloomy Florentine afternoon.
Tuesday evening was quite a contrast. I accompanied Antonella and Vincenzo, the guitarist in one of her singing groups, to Sesto Fiorentino, a new town, near the airport, just outside of Florence. It felt as though I was back in North America: wide roads and boulevards, anaemic neighbourhoods, futuristic shopping centres — not at all the cramped, Medieval world I had been exploring of late, or the post-war neighbourhood that Antonella currently lives in. Our destination was a large, modern community centre where we were to see a concert — or more correctly, the last night of a music contest which had been taking place over several months. Antonella and Vincenzo’s friends had made it to the finals and we were here to support them: everyone who bought a 3 euro consumazione (any kind of drink or coffee) was eligible to vote, along with the four judges. The more friends and family you were able to entice to the event, the better your chances of winning. Thankfully, our group performed their half-hour set first, at 9:30. They were very good — a mixture of jazz, pop, and latin rythms, sung in Italian, French and English. Gabi (Gabriella), the lead singer, had a lovely voice and wonderful stage presence; the musicians were excellent. The only glitch, for me, was the performance of Estate, an Italian jazz standard that I love and had just performed at a house concert in November. It is a song of longing and loss; to my mind, slow and full of emotion. Gabi and the group did it at a good clip — a bit too good for my taste. But her innovative jazz vocalizations were impressive!
The next group up was, well. . . hard metal. Loud, very loud — especially the drummer, who seemed intent on murdering his drum set. The lead singer, a woman in her 30’s, had a very good voice, a near-perfect English, and had the demonic ‘horns’ down pat, but the music drove me away after the second song. I knew that my poor, aging ear drums would not be able to handle any more of the assault, were I to stay. Couldn’t handle it well in my youth, what hope had I now?
What bothered me most, however, were the young children, aged 5 – 8, dancing at the very front of the stage, where their tender, young ear drums could get the full benefit of the screeching amps. They had obviously come to watch mamma, or zio (uncle), or nonno perform but keep in mind that their set began at almost 10:30 and this was a school night. And did I mention it was loud? As I’ve said before, children here are fully part of the social scene, but there are some cases — this one comes to mind — in which leaving the little ones at home with nonna might be a prudent decision.
On Thursday I had a lovely — much more peaceful experience — at the Giardino di Boboli, the extensive garden of the Pitti Palace. The day threatened rain, but I took a chance, wanting to see some of the special exhibits.
The weather improved during the course of the afternoon as I wandered through the formal gardens, studded with statuary, most of it old —
although some was much more modern. Any chance to place my hand or my face against marble is a spike in my happiness quotient, and Kan Yasuda’s piece, standing alone and stark in a grassy field, called out to me. I couldn’t resist. . . Sometimes it’s those very small things in life, those seemingly silly gestures, that can provide us with such a sense of connection with the world, or with our roots.
For hours I wandered the alleys and boulevards of the gardens. There were few flowers out at this time of year but in the grand, many-windowed seventeenth-century buildings now being used as greenhouses, I could see huge earthenware pots full of orange trees and flowers. They crowded around open doorways, acclimatizing to the outdoor air, almost jostling to be first out of the gate, as though tired of a winter spent indoors.
I sauntered down a cypress-lined boulevard, studded with statuary, leading to a grand fountain. Beyond, were fields studded with white-pink daisies — and students, lounging on the grass, enjoying some respite in the afternoon sun.
During the course of the afternoon I also re-visited the Museo delle Porcellane (Porcelain Museum) which is housed in a building high on the belvedere, adjacent to the rose garden (sadly bereft of blooms at this time of year).
The exhibit displays fine porcelain from the 17th – 19th century Germany, Austria, France and Italy. Some of the pieces are exquisite.
But I was most looking forward to walking through the Costume Gallery which displays fashion from the 18th century to the present. There are also two rooms dedicated to the remnants of clothing worn by the Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici and Eleonora di Toledo in the 16th century. That anything of the cloth remains after almost 500 years, I find stunning; I am grateful for the many hard-working people who make it their life’s work to preserve the past, even the tatters.
After a long, hot afternoon immersed in flora, marble, porcelain, cloth, and history, I desperately needed to sit and sip and let the day wash over me. And what better to aid in the process than a cold one at a sidewalk cafe’?