If you want to know what this blog is about…
Long time no see
Hello there… It’s been a while since I last posted. You see, I am not the sort of guy who would just write for the sake of writing. I need to have something to say that I consider worth reading. Apart from that, I have been, for some months now, riding an emotional roller-coaster of which I still have to get off, so my state of mind might not be the best to write. However, I spent some very special days in Florence last September and I think I can manage a couple of worthy posts. We’ll see…
Another Lone Travel
As some of you might know, I spent nine days in Normandy last year. It was an epiphany of sorts. I had never traveled alone before and I didn’t know at the time if I would enjoy it or not. When I prepared that journey I was so thrilled I was going to Normandy. When I came back I was so thrilled I had gone alone. These were nine intense, tiresome and amazing days that I will never forget, and I decided I would set out on my own at least once yearly from then on.
My idea this year was to spend around 10 days visiting the WWI trenches , the areas of the Somme, Amiens, Verdun, Ypres. Maybe I’d travel a little forward in time from there to the WWII Ardennes and then back to Napoleon’s Waterloo. Once there, why not? At the end of August, when I had most of the itinerary planned out and organized, I realized I was not in the mood to visit so many places of death. My mind frame was just not right, so I changed my course radically: I had planned a journey to war in which I would have driven for hours every day around a wide area covering three countries. Instead, I traveled to the cradle of European rebirth, the heart of the Renaissance, to Florence. The idea was to discard the vehicle and stay put, just wandering around surrounded by beauty and, through it, forgetting about myself.
I was eleven days away from home. It took me four to drive there and two more to return home. The other five days I spent in Florence. An unforgettable stay.
Florence, the Heart of the Renaissance
What can I say about Florence that has not already been said… If you care about beauty at all, you should visit Florence, at least once. The old part of Florence blows your mind right away. Such magnificent piazzas, temples, palaces, sculptures, bridges, so many of them…and there is music almost everywhere. You will come across countless musicians playing the violin, the guitar, the cello… they are all extremely skillful and the music they play offers the perfect soundtrack for the beauty that surrounds you at all times. One can only sympathize with poor old Stendhal. Everything about Florence is simply awe-striking.
The day I arrived I walked along the Arno river from the East until I reached the Ponte alle Grazie, the one before the Ponte Vecchio. I crossed that bridge to the other side, the Oltrarno, and entered old Florence through the Vecchio, one of the most beautiful bridges I will ever cross.
What I did then established my routine for the following days. I let my feet wander and, soon enough, I was aware where they were taking me. I had been to Florence in 1999, and there was a place, a sculpture, that had made a deeper impression on me than I had known. My feet took me to the Loggia dei Lanzi, and once there, to Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women. I had shot a picture of this trio back in ’99 and I had always regretted I had not paid more attention when I was there. When I got to the Loggia, some gifted guitarist was playing the Concert of Aranjuez. The acoustics were just perfect. I sat by the sculpture and let the beauty of the Sabine, of the music and of the place sink in. I was truly moved. I was so far away from home, surrounded only by strangers, and still I felt almost at peace, somehow soothed, unburdened. At long last. I had made the right choice.
From the day I arrived to the day I departed I forgot about time. I would get up in the morning, break fast and take a bus to the old part. First thing I did every day was visit and sit on “my spot” by Giambologna’s Sabine in the Loggia. There I would read for a while, watch the statues, the people, shoot some pictures and, after a while, just wander away.
The Loggia is a very peculiar building. It is an open arched structure, with a terraced flat roof that can be accessed from the Uffizi Gallery, at the Piazza della Signoria, the secular heart of Florence. From there, you can see the Piazza, the Palazzo Vecchio, from where the Medici ruled, the replica of Michelangelo’s David right where the original used to be, the Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune’s Fountain), which Michelangelo himself considered a waste of marble (and I happen to agree)… The Piazza is always crowded, alive, and there is always somebody playing some instrument. A place where the heaviness of the heart tends to lose weight, if only for some fleeting moments. One cannot be there and not marvel.
The Loggia is entered through a wide short open staircase. It is guarded, as no more than 50 people are allowed in at the same time. You cannot eat or drink anything but water inside because it has museum status. And so it should be. Some of the statues in the Loggia, as the Sabine itself, were sculpted to be placed right where they are and have been there over 400 years. I particularly loved three. “My” Sabine (as I ended up calling it), by which I daily sat, the Perseus with Medusa, and Pyrrhus with Polyxena. The three of them happen to be apparently full of violence, but I could not see them that way. On the contrary, I found them soothing in their perfection. The Rape of the Sabine Women was sculpted from a single block of marble. Outstanding…
After staying for a while in the Loggia I would set off and walk the streets with a loose idea of where to go. I ended up visiting all the main landmarks quite a few times, of course, but just eventually. The fact of going somewhere gives you a goal and a determination that can make you leave other things out of focus. I would just walk, look, see, stop, sit. And wait. I would often find a beautiful shot and I would stay and wait until the sun came from behind the clouds, or the crowd got thinner, that split second when the frame is empty of people. I would often leave and come back hours later to get the right light too. I found the whole timeless approach really soothing. And I was not the only one.
There were of course all those long lines for the museums, all those stressed tourists trying to see all they could in the shortest time, while they shot selfies with a stick to prove they had been there. There are so many people who look at everything without actually stopping to see, who see everything through their cell phone screens instead of with their eyes… But there were also lots of people just living the city. People reading, sketching, painting, shooting slow pics like me. People sitting on staircases, having a drink and watching others go by… there is a current of hurrying tourists, but there is also another current who is enjoying a totally different experience, the slow, conscious and ecstatic act of being there.
When I was hungry I would stop by the all’ Antico Vinaio, and have one of their amazing sandwiches. I would go at odd times too because there were moments when the line of customers got 60 feet into the street. I could always take another stroll and come back later.
The day would end with a walk to Piazzale Michelangelo, a high spot in the Oltrarno from where you can enjoy the sun set on the city rooftops beyond the river. I was lucky enough to catch a couple of amazing sunsets two of which you have seen above. After the long walk uphill and back I would return to my tent by bus and cook a late dinner. I would end the day exhausted and sleep a deep dreamless night, which was the whole idea. And it sort of worked on most occasions.
It goes without saying I took the time to visit some museums. I visited the Uffizi, the Bargello, the Medici Chapel… My idea today was not to make a list of what to see, but to write about the way I chose to visit the city. The old Florence is big, but not huge. It is easily walked through and, if you ever go there, make sure you have the time to do so at leisure, without hurries or itineraries. Florence is so much more than a magnificent list of objects and buildings. Florence is a feeling, an echo of the beauty inside every one of us, a celebration of life. But you need to take the time to see and listen or you will miss the whole point.
What can I say about Florence that has not already been said… To me, it was a place to forget about myself in troubled times, a chance to live outwards for a few days, surrounded by all this overwhelming beauty that embraced and quietly rocked me. Florence took care of me and sent me home, not healed, but with hope of healing.
I only spent five days in Florence. Wish I had fifty… Took the time to wander the old streets that transformed and filled the fate of medieval Europe with hope, as they did with me. I sat on stairs, or by the river, took the time to read, to feel the sun on my face, to lament, to reflect… I didn’t see it all, far from that, but what I saw I saw with all my senses, all my mind and all my heart set to it. I did not actually take many pictures, but I believe I shot some of my best ever on these days I spent in Firenze while my soul bled. To me, this old city has become specially dear, and so have the pictures I shot, so I might not be too objective about them. You can judge for yourselves…
One thing I do know. I will return.
About the Pictures
I got a new camera this winter. I now shoot with a Sony ILCE-6000, or Alpha-6000 which is an absolutely delightful machine. All you are seeing here is HDR. The panoramas are huge photo-merged sequences, and most of them can be printed at over 100″. I have produced two versions of each picture, one vintage textured, the other untextured. The big panoramas have duet and triptych split versions too. Hope you like them. All those images and many more of this Lone Travel can be seen in my Gallery of Florence.
My pictures can be printed in photo paper, canvas, metal or acrylic surface up to 108″ in many cases, or in greeting card format. They also make wonderful duvet covers, throw pillows, iPhone cases… And I am all in for customizing pictures. Ask freely.