Thursday, June 30, 2016

What I've Learned

What I've learned, in no particular order, from my month living in Florence, Italy.

Pitti Palace Collection
Many of the same problems that beset us today have been around for hundreds of years. Here's a mother combing her son's hair looking for lice. Her son is an angel, of course.

The British Institute of Florence is the best program Americans have never heard of. They offer a day's lecture, week-long bespoke programs, and month-long art history classes in addition to language and painting programs. The instructors are first-rate and the classes and museum visits are chock full of information. The price for any of their classes is one of the most reasonable in Europe.
Apollo and Giacinto - Pitti Palace Modern Art Gallery
Homosexuality has been around since the beginning of time. It's part of Greek and Roman mythology as you can see from this statue of Apollo and Giacinto. Two genuises of the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, were gay. Yet, today there are still states in the US and countries in the world where homosexuals are beaten or killed for being gay.

Titian is pronounced TISH-un as in gone FISH-un.

Leonardo da Vinci was the first Renaissance man. It would be difficult to find something he could not do. This genius was a designer, architect, painter, inventor, sculptor, and mathematician. But Italy hasn't quite forgiven him for giving the Mona Lisa painting to France.
Italians will go out of their way to help you. They'll walk with you down the street to indicate where you should turn, consult their cell phones to find an address they're unfamiliar with, or call a taxi for you if all else fails. They'll even share a table with you in a crowded pizza restaurant and possibly pay the bill!
Be careful where you walk in Florence. The streets are sturdy old stones, but no one seems to replace the missing ones.

Michelangelo was not a people person. Some hint he fell somewhere along the autism spectrum. He was so difficult to get along with that another painter, Pietro Torrigiano, once flattened the seventeen-year-old's nose to get him to shut up. That flattened nose was evident in every painting and sculpture of Michelangelo for the rest of his life.

Detail of St. Peter's crucifixion from a fresco at Brancacci Chapel.

Hanging around with Jesus may have guaranteed your immortality, but it certainly was hazardous to your health here on earth. John the Baptist was Jesus' best friend and relative, but he ended up with his head on a plate; the disciple Peter was crucified upside down because he said he wasn't worthy of being killed as Jesus had been; the rest of the disciples didn't fare much better as most of them were also murdered.

The contrapposto pose used for most Renaissance sculptures, including the David, is extremely uncomfortable. Try it and see.

The Virgin Mary is portrayed in countless sculptures and paintings as looking about nineteen years old. Even when she would have been in her mid-fifties, she appears a teenager. Vasari, a well-respected observer and writer in the 1500s in Italy, said her youthful appearance was a "reflection of her chaste life." Hello, wasn't she married to Joseph for about thirty-some years after Jesus was born? What sort of "chaste" marriage did they have? And why?
Furthermore, does an unchaste life imply you'll look like an old hag?  That doesn't auger well for most of the women in the world.
David - Uffizi Museum
What I learned about the David statue is that he was a political statement. The people (David) did not want to be under the rule of another wealthy family (like the Medicis represented as Goliath), so Michelangelo's masterpiece was a way of saying the little people would win out. The statue was placed in the Piazza Vecchio in front of the palace where the legislature met so no one would forget the message. Of course, it was only a matter of time before the Medicis again came to power. Incidentally, when the Brexit vote was announced on some station in England, a photo (photo shopped I am sure) of the statue was shown wearing the Union Jack. Clearly, David is still a modern day symbol.

The best gelato is usually sold in unpretentious shops. Look for covered bins of that cold concoction, and ask the owners if it's made fresh daily (It should be). Skip the shops where the displays of cream are swirled and topped with decorations of fruit because articificial ingredients are probably used.

One of the most delicious, and certainly the cheapest, dinner you will find in Florence is the "buffet." For €8-10, you get a fancy cocktail or glass of wine and unlimited trips to the buffet of appetizers ranging from pasta to roast beef with everything you can imagine in between.

Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, spent three months of her gap year studying art at the British Institute of Florence.
Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi in the Uffizi Museum
In the Uffizi Museum, considered one of the greatest repositories of art in the world, there is only one work displayed by a female artist. That painting depicts the Biblical story of the woman Judith cutting off a man's head.
Just one of several sculptures in the loggia in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.
Florence may be the only city in the world where priceless works of art are displayed in public loggias for everyone to see and enjoy.

Since women were not allowed to pose for artists in the 15th and 16th centuries, some artists had little familiarity with the female form. Consequently, their sculptures and paintings look slightly peculiar as though some body parts were stuck on as an afterthought and not truly part of the whole.

I did not buy a hand-crafted pair of shoes for €600 nor a pair of boots with a low heel for €1,000 even though either pair would have been guaranteed to last five years. I walked 118 miles and climbed 280 sets of stairs in my Teva sandals during my month in Florence.
Rena, Keith and Jenny
 The friends I made during this visit are as memorable as the art! And I will remember them. Every one.


  1. Dru, sounds like a great time all around. We'll have to get together to hear your stories.

    1. I'll be looking forward to that visit, Danny!

  2. Dru, very interesting about Contrapposto. Oddly enough, I frequently stand in this position with no discomfort at all while thinking I might have one leg slightly shorter than the other. Could be, however, that it's something inherent with the Italian skeleton. I know for sure inseam measurements are also comfortable. Where I had problems with fit in the US, I have no fit problems here.

  3. Wonderful ! You sure make me want to revisit Florence. Maybe next year ! Thank you for this wonderful blog . . . nice read for a lazy Sunday morning !

    1. Thanks, Tomas, glad you enjoyed it. I certainly loved sharing the experience with you!

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