Saturday, November 29, 2008

Firenze, Forever

Following up on yesterday's discussion of Rome, there was an article in today's online edition of The New York Times by Adam Begley called "Florence, Then and Now." He opens with a discussion of what everyone complains about when the visit Firenze today: tourists. But then he takes us back to the early part of the 20th century with a wonderful little book called A Room with a View by E.M. Forster, and recounts how all the sites of Firenze, and tourists, are much the same as it was a century ago when Forster wrote the book. Forster is one of my favorite authors. I've read this book a couple of times, and I once taught it to a class. There were two movie adaptations which people may know. The first was the 1985 Merchant-Ivory film with Helena Bonham-Carter, Maggie Smith, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, and Rupert Graves. The second was a new version with an alternate ending that was shown on PBS earlier this year. Both films show the sites and views of Firenze, and Forster's novel conveys a sense of how Italy can alter a person. But neither truly captures the essence of the city, for Firenze is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and can only best be understood by doing all of the museums and churches first, and then taking the time to simply sit back and watch it unfold all around you. Before I was a blogger, I used to send travelogues to family and friends. I wanted to reproduce my entry for Firenze here, but it went on for pages. Instead, I give you one of my photos from June 2005 of the Arno River in the afternoon sun, and try to imagine my sense of bliss on that beautiful day.

Firenze is the heart of Western art, with all of the major Renaissance artists from Botticelli to Michelangelo coming from this small city. The Uffizi Gallery has some of the most magnificent European paintings, and the Galleria dell'Accademia showcases Michelangelo's David tall and proud. The church of Santa Croce has the tombs of major Florentines, and the church of San Lorenzo has the most exquisite series of paintings by Ghirlandaio. The art alone would be more than enough for anyone, but in fact my most memorable moments of Firenze are when I would sit back with a glass of Chianti outside the Palazzo Vecchio and just look at everything around me, or when I would wander through the streets in the hills and gaze back down at the city nestled in the valley with the sun setting over the terracotta dome of the cathedral. Firenze holds a special place in my heart. I signed my book contract in Firenze and spent a couple of months there in Summer 2005 working on the final draft of Pierce. The first time I was there, though, I stared down at the city from the Piazzale Michelangelo in awe, then meandered through the stone streets and 15th-century palazzi, and I simply began to cry. My father was with me and asked me what was wrong. I told him how happy I was. I felt like I was home. I always make a point to return to Firenze, even if it's just for a few days, and if all goes well, I'll be back there again next year.

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