Coup de foudre à Firenze

Salut!

Okay, more of my wonderful week in Italy…unfortunately, my last full day in Rome I was sick. Coughing, achy, stuffed up, headache, the works. But it didn’t (I hope) prevent Sofie, Klaudyna, and me from having a full day. We had another wonderful grasse matinée (lazy morning), including a lasagna lunch made for us by Birgitta, Sofie’s mom. She apologized for what she insisted was the worst lasagna she’d ever made because she didn’t have time to heat it at the lower temperature it required…it tasted pretty darn good to me. Our first stop in Rome was the Spanish steps, which were decked out with huge pots of beautiful azaleas. It made me think of the azaleas at home, which are probably in full bloom by now.

Next was the Pantheon. While its interior isn’t as lavishly decorated as St. Peter’s or some of the other churches I’ve seen this semester, the Pantheon is an architectural wonder. How did they build such a perfect dome, and on such a large scale, so long ago? The measurements are incredibly exact. Not only is the bottom rim of the dome a perfect circle with the hole at the top exactly centered, but the dome, if reflected downward into the building itself, would make a perfect sphere. And this sphere would just barely touch the floor at the exact center of the structure. How’s that for precision?

We stopped for some gelato (when in Rome…) and then walked over to the Colosseum and Forum Romana again, to take a better look. It wasn’t great weather, but at least it wasn’t raining. Then, to finish up the day, we walked through the Villa Borghese to a place that Sofie promised had a great view of Rome at sunset. And she was absolutely right, it was incredible to see all the cupolas, spires, and ornate buildings in relief against an orangey pink sky. A perfect finale for a great three days in Rome.

I arrived in Florence by train the next day (Wednesday) and checked into my hostel. Not wanting to risk it with my cold, I rested most of the afternoon and really only ventured out into the city to find a very inexpensive, very good trattoria. By this point having lost my voice almost completely, I croaked out my selection for the prix fixe menu, choosing fettucine with pesto, chicken with a white veggie sauce, and a salad. It was excellent, and the tiramisu wasn’t bad either. The highlight, though, had to be the pesto, since French pesto, pistou, just doesn’t cut it in my opinion. How can you make a good pesto without pine nuts?

Anyway, the next day was full of walking, queueing, and gawking. My first priority was to see Michelangelo’s David, housed in the Galleria dell’Accademia (I hope I spelled that right). The entrances to the Accademia and the Uffizi are surprisingly low key, at least I think so. It took me a good ten minutes wandering around near the Galleria dell’Accademia until I happened to spot the line in a small street off of a square. But it was of course worth the wait. I actually am glad pictures weren’t allowed, because I would’ve been tempted to just take as many pictures as possible instead of taking my time to look at the statue. It was off on its own under skylight, so you could walk all the way around it. Every step I took, the expression on David’s face changed and so did his body language. Also, it never occurred to me before that David’s head is actually not proportional to his body, it’s too big. It doesn’t take away from the sculpture, it’s just funny that one of the most famous pieces of sculpture is not one of the most technically perfect.

Wandering away from the museum, I made my way down to the Duomo. I love the colors, the pale pinks alternating with dark greens, and the painting on the inside of the cupola is one of the most beautiful ones I’ve seen, I think. It’s not the sunniest subject, the progression from Hell to Heaven, but again the colors are striking and it’s beautiful even from 30 feet below, kind of spiraling up away from you. The rest of the inside of the Duomo was simple, but still impressive because of the size.

Before committing to the wait in the line at the Uffizi, I walked over to St. Croce Church, where I had read there was a kind of specialty foods market. The church was similar in style to the Duomo with its pink and green stonework, but I was really there for the market. Having scoped out all the stalls, full of pastries, cheeses, olives, and alcoholic beverages of all kinds, I gave in to my sweet tooth, though as usual it took some convincing, and got a cannoli. Not the most conventional lunch food, I admit, but completely satisfying. Now I was ready to wait for almost two hours to get into the Uffizi.

I’ve said it before, early religious art usually doesn’t interest me. Despite coming from a culture steeped in Judeochristian traditions I’m just not well enough versed in art history, Christian symbology, or the Bible itself to really appreciate that kind of art. There was a lot of ‘that kind of art’ in the Uffizi, but also a lot of Renaissance art, which I can understand better. My favorite piece is an obvious one, Boticelli’s Allegory of Spring, but I liked Judith Slaying Holofernes by the female painter Artemisia Gentileschi as well. The more I travel around Europe the more I understand why Europeans are so hung up on the fact that the United States is a “young country”. As I made my way to the most recent paintings in the Galleria del’Uffizi I made sure to see how many were completed after the founding of the United States. Not such a difficult task, since there were three.

After this busy, busy day I picked out a trattoria that was recommended by my trusty Let’s Go volume and a couple travelers’ forums and headed out, ready to eat. Apparently documentation of Florence’s streets hasn’t been as accurate or as thorough as I would have hoped. Twenty minutes after I had found the approximate location of Trattoria Anita according to Let’s Go, Google Maps, and the person at the front desk of my hostel, I found an annoyingly straightforward little sign that pointed down a tiny street “Trattoria Anita”. Still, another success on the food front. I would actually just prefer to eat the pasta and not even go on to the second course, which is usually a meat dish, maybe with a veggie on the side. It seems like the pasta is the main event, and all of the second courses I had were good but didn’t really compare with the quality of the fresh pasta and their wonderful sauces. Me and my crazy American ideas…

Before leaving Florence the next afternoon, I explored the Ponte Vecchio and the Oltrarno neighborhood on the other side of the river from the main drag. The weather was beautiful and the Oltrarno was much more peaceful than the very tourist-y center. I found a tiny but wonderful sandwich place run by two brothers and frequented by locals. You have to be quick with your order, just say the number of the sandwich you want to one brother, order a drink from the other, and then enjoy your fare squatting on a curb beside the tiny, tiny storefront. It’s kind of odd to see people standing in the street eating sandwiches and drinking from dainty wine glasses. But my prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich was awesome.

I was reluctant to leave Florence, and Bologna didn’t really compare to either Rome or Florence for me, but it was a lazy end to a very full trip. Bologna is called the “Red City” because a lot of its buildings are in red brick and apparently it’s known for its Communist inhabitants. I can’t speak for the number of Communists I saw in Bologna (how does one spot a Communist?), but its buildings are a charming dusty red color. I spent some time in the main piazza and grabbed my last pasta lunch in Italy before taking an overnight bus into Marseille.

So, enfin, I’m back in France, the blog’s updated, and I’m coming home in less than two weeks. I think I’ll update next with some jokes about French people one of my professors gave us. A plus tard!
Maggie B.

Missy, Maman, et Marie-Do

I promised to write a bit about Missy and my mom’s stay in Aix after we came down from Paris. Well, again we had rented an apartment, and it was perfectly situated. I don’t think my mom and Missy really believed me when I told them how small Aix is, but they soon found out since the farthest we walked was ten minutes to the bus station.

Compared to Paris, Aix is a lightweight when it comes to attractions and museums. So mostly I was on restaurant duty, and we found some excellent restaurants. I’m glad Aix didn’t disappoint my guests on the food front. I showed Missy and my mom around town a bit, the markets and the squares and the fountains. Also, my host mom, Marie-Do, invited them over for panisses and wine the first night we got in. Panisses are these little greasy biscuit things made from chick pea flour, and they’re a specialty of Marseille. Well, it was an amusing meeting. I was in translation mode, and I was kind of anxious about Marie-Do’s reaction to our American openness. I was in charge of somehow describing all three women’s dating histories, opinions on men and celebrities, and theories about my own lovelife. But it was a fun little get together.

The apartment in Aix was perfect, very charming and decorated in the Provencal style. Couldn’t have asked for a better trip, really. I did get bitten by bedbugs in the foldout couch, I think, but they’re almost gone now.

Okay, next post about Rome. Ciao,
Maggie B.