On every trip, we reach a point where your reporter reaches cultural overload; where I just run out of adjectives. I think we may have reached that point today, so bear with me, dear reader.
First, a correction: last night’s restaurant was actually Osteria del Porcellino (writing these blog entries after having enjoyed the excellent red wine leaves some opportunities for errors to creep in).
So, today I went to the Uffizi Gallery, the world’s greatest collection of Italian painting, and it was a mind-blower. The collection traces the rise of realism and humanism and the optimistic spirit of The Renaissaince. I found this passage that may explain it all:
"My eyes love things that are fair,
And my soul for salvation cries.
But neither will to heaven rise,
Unless the sight of Beauty lifts them there."
In other words, religion was not enough to ensure salvation, one had to appreciate art as one of God’s gifts to man in order to reach true nirvana. Finally, a liturgy I can get onboard with – groovey, baby!
The nice Uffizi ticket reservation system, which I took advantage of months ago, saved me hours in line this morning. I picked up my reserved ticket, went to the special separate entry door and, before I knew it, I was strolling among the works Bottecelli, Da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Michelangelo, and others. The Medici family, which ruled and influenced all things Florentine for generations, were fabulous art patrons and they commissioned or supported many of the works on display.
My favorite painting in this collection was Botticelli’s Birth of Venus
. Anyone familiar with Adobe PhotoShop has seen this work (on the software startup screen), also known as "Venus on the Half Shell", and it was great to see it in person. The colors, the textures, the scale, and subject are all amazing. I spent quite a bit of time getting a real good dose of this one. The Uffizi itself is quite a work of architecture and the ceiling treatments, frescoes, and decorative elements are a wonder all by themselves, even without the hundreds of paintings and dozens of sculptures. I spent about 3 hours there and was captivated every moment. Sometimes you just feel blessed to have been in such a place, basking in the genuis of men from so long ago.
If that was not enough, there was almost an entire floor dedicated to a special exhibit entitled "The Mind of Leonardo" which does a superb job of explaining the products of Da Vinci’s genius. Based on his codexes, or work notebooks, concepts such as the essential ratios of the body (the heighth of the body is 7 times the length of the foot), elements of flight, the math of forced perspective, hydrology, and many others. I’m beginning to give credence to the theory that the man was a stranded extraterrestrial.
I cleared my brain with a post-Uffizi stroll across the Ponte Vecchio
– another one of these bridges lined with shops (in this case mostly jewelry stores) and lunch at a tavola calda (literally, a "hot plate"), a kind of buffet setup where you can direct the creation of your meal (in my case, a great salad).
After lunch I went to the Church of San Croce (no relation to Jim Croce) which features the burial site of Galileo. If you read the great book Galileo’s Daughter
you know that in old age he got into hot water with The Church for embracing the idea that the Earth circled the Sun. His fame and accomplishments saved him from death but when he died he was not allowed to be buried in a consecrated place. The greatest part of the story is that, after Galielo’s death, his faithful manservant swore to see him properly buried and caused every following generation to take an oath to it. Finally, four generations later, the manservant’s descendant got Galileo’s remains moved into the same crypt as Galileo’s daughter, a nun, in this church, San Croce. It’s a wonderful story and Galileo is in good company now: the church also holds the remains of Michelangelo (it was his "neighborhood church" growing up), Michiavelli, Dante (he was banished, so no actual remains), and Rossini (composer of many great operas and The William Tell Overture).
For dinner, I sought out some "comfort food"; less expensive fare than last night’s dining blowout and found myself at The Old Stove, an Irish bar, for a couple of pints and a sandwhich. Though no one there at all was actually Irish, the food and drink were excellent and cheap.
Here’s a comment on hotel elevators, with special emphasis for my two beautiful daughters, Sarah and Lindsay: each hotel I’ve stayed in on this trip has featured successively smaller elevators (smaller, girls, than the one in our hotel in Paris). I estimate the size of the one in Hotel Pendini here in Florence to be 5′ x 2.5′. Still beats hauling the suitcase up 5 floors, however.
Tomorrow: the Accademia (with Michelangelo’s David) and the Duomo (with its amazing dome).