Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Venice - Florence (Pt. XII)

Note to readers: This is the twelfth part of a recounting of my Grand European Tour, taken in the fall of 1999. You can read Part XI here.

Bella Venezia!
It was a rough trip from Innsbruck to Venice. I boarded the train at oh-dark-thirty in the morning carrying a pack full of wet laundry because the dryers at the Innsbruck hostel didn't work. The sleep I had on the train ride down was fitful, restless. I was vaguely aware of another passenger in the compartment with me, vaguely aware of a latent, silent hostility. I must have been snoring something awful.

The beauty of the city, a city with canals instead of streets overwhelmed. I took the water taxi from the train station to the city proper and immediately set out to find accommodations and a place to dry clothes.

Bella Venezia!

The laundromat was easy.  The proprietor let me stow my guitar there as well. But there was nary a room to be had anywhere. Wandering around the maze of sidewalks it became apparent that most of the people were tourists from America and Europe. Not so many Venetians. The beauty was awesome, but it began to take on a Disneyland-like surrealism. This is not a city so much as a tourist's amusement park.

After several attempts to find a room, disillusionment growing, I arrived at a decision:  spend a few hours enjoying the sights, snapping some photos, then catch the late afternoon train for Florence. Venice is beautiful, yes. But tourist trappings endow a falsity that is mildly offensive.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, they say. If so, green-veined Venice is a woman.

Shot before disaster
A statue of an equestrian Italian warrior might make a good photo. So, I angled for position. Aim . . . no, not quite right. Back up a little further. Stand right here on the steps, at the very brink of the canal. Aim, shoot. Uh-oh, stairs are slippery.

Whoa! Splash! Into the canal. Ugh!

Very well, pull yourself out, Dade. Maintain your dignity. Resist the temptation to beat the sh*t out of smirking on-lookers. Drag your sorry, sopping ass to Piazza San Marco. Sit in the sun at an open-air café. Ignore the dirty looks from the waiter. Take off socks and hang them to dry on the chair next.

Flying rats in feeding frenzy
Piazza San Marco is famous for its pigeons that to me were neither charming nor endearing. I found them threatening and predatory. Greedily, they perched nearby, eying my every move as I munched a salami sandwich. Other tourists threw crumbs, instigating feeding frenzies that horrified.

Arrivederci, Venezia!
Enough, Venice! Enough! Mi arrendo! Perhaps another time. I donned my socks and shoes, shouldered my pack and returned to the train station.


The train ride to Florence was beautiful. Gentle, fertile countryside, for some reason, evoked memories of the Sacramento Valley in far-away California. The clime was warm, sunny. But I was exhausted. The clack-clack of train wheels lulled me to sleep.

Florence train station bustled like an anthill. There were lots of people running back and forth, lots of trains pulling in and pulling out. I booked a room in a fancy hotel, mostly because it was the first room available. It was certainly the most luxurious accommodation to date: a queen-sized bed and a real bathroom. Luxury! But Florence beckoned. I dropped off the pack and the guitar and headed out.

Sidewalks were very crowded. I weaved and bobbed past tourists proceeding at a more leisurely, less purpose-driven pace. Two-cycle scooter engines rattled the narrow streets. Haughty Italians zipped along, heedless of anything beyond their forward momentum.

Entrance to El Duomo
At the center of it all, the Duomo shone, with its dazzling colors. A crowd of people stood in line, waiting to enter. But I would admire only the exterior on my way to the art museums; after all, I came to Florence to see the works of Renaissance men in the birthplace of the Renaissance.

The Renaissance: that Catholic movement that endeavored to offer some dim vision of what surely must be the Glory of God. And, well, God's Glory must surely be great indeed. Because these earthly imitations on display in the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze, and Galleria degli Uffizi cannot fail to awe even the darkest cynic.

One of Michelangelo's more obscure works: "The David"
Here are the works of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, the painter, sculptor, architect and engineer who worked feverishly at the behest of the Church. Michelangelo's works surely served to depict that Reward that the Holy Father promised to the Faithful.

In 1504, Michelangelo completed the David, before he had yet reached his 30th birthday. A life such as his . . . immortality is not for the children of God. But the longevity of one's works is surely a measure of one's service to Him. Well done, Michelangelo.

Rape of the Sabine, near Uffizi
 Or the other Renaissance man... Michelangelo's rival, Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci.  Leonardo got his start here in Florence, working as an understudy for Verrocchio in 1466. Some say Leonardo was the most versatile of geniuses that humanity has yet produced.

The Renaissance may prove to be the era in which humanity attained the pinnacle of its artistic vision. I felt it; felt that I was standing at the source of the prime fount of human creation. The works of these men and their contemporaries, and the great works of the Muslims in their rival empires . . . these approached His Glory.

It surely must be so.

Gloria, Firenze!
Florence was a dream as much as an experience. I was dazed by beauty. After two days, it was time to go on to the Tuscan countryside . . . to Siena.

To be continued...

No comments: