Ok, time to knuckle down and post the other half of the Florence trip. Or maybe the second third. We’ll see how far I get.
I am currently in southern Ireland, near the town of Kinsale, staying here with “American Liz” (an Irish-born woman raised in New Jersey), as of almost 3 weeks ago, and that followed what was supposed to be 8 days in Edinburgh. I say “supposed to be” because, of course, the first day was traveling there, the last day was leaving, and 2.5 days were waiting for FedEx to deliver the updated credit card that my sister very kindly forwarded to me. At the end of the second day, when the FedEx guys still had no idea why the delivery wasn’t happening, they volunteered to send a 3rd party courier to deliver it to me; that happened mid-morning on the 3rd day. So, I ended up with, effectively, just 3-1/2 days in Edinburgh and it, frankly, just wasn’t enough. I love that town. And I was super edgy and uncomfortable and sad about leaving, until it occurred to me that I didn’t *have* to go on from Ireland to mainland Europe, I could just go back to Edinburgh. Then I brightened right up.
So, I’m going back. Amsterdam and Berlin will have to wait for next year. When I leave here in late August, I’m going to spend a few days in Dublin, then go to Glasgow for a month, and then back to Edinburgh for the rest of the fall — probably around 6 weeks. (I was contemplating a package tour of the Highlands, but it’s like $1200 minimum and there are luggage restrictions, so I decided to pass.) Then I’ll return to the U.S. for the holidays. (It may be just LA and New York this go around, in the interest of saving rather a lot of money.) Then, 2017 will start in Spain, head up to Amsterdam and Berlin for the spring, Norway for the early summer, and then maybe back to the UK for late summer and fall. I may end up repeating myself a bit on that UK part, but (like America’s founders) my ancestors are mostly British/Scottish/Welsh/Irish, and I’m finding it an awfully easy fit in this part of the world.
A quick side-note: booking the Airbnb places for my post-Kinsale time has been surprisingly tough, with attempts at places I liked falling through rather a lot, mostly because hosts haven’t listed their availability correctly on the Airbnb site. But it’s not helped by Airbnb’s deliberate vagueness of site locations. Great example:
Florence, Part The Second
Gosh, what was Part The First? Wait, let me reread what I wrote…. Oh, right. I’d included this map of my A Room With A View location walk:
Where (1) was my Airbnb place, (2) was the Ponte Vecchio (the bridge across the Arno with shops on it), (3) was the “Pensione Bertolini” of the movie, (7) was the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata (a plaza that Charlotte and Eleanor Lavish walk across), and (6) was Santa Croce (where Lucy sees frescos, avoids a persistent tour guide, and finds the Emersons). Moving on….
Piazza della Signoria (Pin 4)
After leaving Santa Croce, where she saw the Emersons, Lucy purchases some photographs (all the rage amongst British tourists of the day, as they lacked portable cameras and were selfie-impaired), and wanders into this place, which I’m going to translate as the Ladyplaza with no fear of inaccuracy.
It’s here she witnesses an argument between 2 Italians, which leads to a knifing and (probable) death. She faints, George Emerson catches her (despite nearly fainting himself, or so he claims), and carries her to the Loggia dei Lanzi to recover, and before, during, and after this sequence we see various landmarks around the square including:
You’ll notice, perhaps, the African gentlemen standing on the left, holding little poles and other oddments. These guys — or guys very much like them — were all over Florence and Rome (I had intended to mention them in my Roman posts, but I’m not sure I got a Roman picture of them), selling primarily “selfie sticks”. For those unfamiliar with the term — and there may be a couple of you who are — that’s an extendible pole that you attach to a camera or cell phone so that you can hold it away from yourself and take your own picture, or a picture of you with your friends without having to sacrifice one of your party to be the picture taker. (Or ask a stranger to take it.) There are varying levels of response to the phenomenon of selfie sticks, ranging from “Clever!” to “Meh, whatever” to “OMG I hate you shallow self-absorbed assholes with the heat of 1,000 suns!” I fall somewhere between the first two of those, moderated by this:
But I will note that, at the risk of it sounding comedically racist, that Africans seem to fill the same socioeconomic niche in southern Europe that Mexicans serve in the southern U.S. Which in functional terms is not terribly surprising: a large source of readily available cheap labor from an economically weaker neighbor to the south. But it was strange to see the same situation that I’m used to seeing in the U.S. translated through a prism and reproduced in another culture with different but parallel players.
It was also striking how *very* dark actual Africans are, as opposed to most of the African-Americans in the U.S. who have been blending with Europeans and Indigenous Americans for (in many cases) generations. The classic example was always the Cosby show, where skin tone range amongst the kids was improbably wide, from the very dark son (Malcolm Jamal Warner?) to the very white Lisa Bonet. And I remember reading a story on the genetic testing website 23&me, from a guy who had grown up in an African American family, did the ancestry testing, and discovered that they were only about 3% African ancestry — about the same amount that I am Neanderthal, btw. The guy went on to describe how upsetting the news had been to his family, especially his mother, who had just had a massive part of their sense of identity destabilized by the news. Then there are the Indigenous American tribes, for whom a criteria of acceptance into the tribe often involves negligible genetic inheritance (a recent RadioLab story involved a child in a tribal custody dispute who had something like 1.5% “tribal blood”). I’m 1.1% Asian (including 0.1% Japanese) — thanks, I suspect, to the Mongol horde invasion of eastern Europe, from which some of my father’s ancestry comes — and I greatly resent not having a Buddhist temple to adopt me as their own. All of which goes to say that unless you live in a *very* isolated population pocket, we are all far more mixed in America than most of us credit, or normally pay any attention to. And so it becomes very striking when you see people that are perfect examples of their inherited phenotype — rather stunningly black Africans, Irish girls with translucently white skin and flaming red hair, tiny old Japanese guys with 3 hairs on their unshaven chin like every anime you’ve ever watched. You forget that these aren’t the exceptions, they’re the rules — only within their own domains.
That digression aside, I’m kind of surprised that there was such a robust market for selfie sticks. I mean, I can see them being popular, but if you’re the sort of person who uses them, why wouldn’t you have one already? Are there that many people really buying them on the spur of the moment? I guess there must be.
Rarely noted, in Greco-Roman statues, is the really absurd amounts of nudity. I mean, nudity’s all well and good, don’t get me wrong. (Apart from nudist beaches, which seem to be frequented by people you’d rather not see naked.) But warriors in battle are *not* running around nude. (Aside from a handful of crazy Teutons.) “See this super-pointy sword I’m holding! Ha ha! If only you’d thought to wear a bit of brass over your soft squishy bits, you might have some defense. Instead, I shall kill you with stabbings, and in 1,000 years an artist will portray your extreme defenselessness and tourists will stare at your nakedosity! Have at thee!” In truth, the actual reason for it is the same reason that superheroes wear spandex: artists like drawing the human form more than they like drawing folds of cloth, and humans like looking at same. Everybody wins. (Except for the guys with the squishy bits. They lose. And get stabbings.)
While George is getting the photographs, Lucy tries to sneak away to the left, and George catches her at it and insists that she’s not well enough to be on her own. She, quite understandably, objects — but he wins by saying, “Besides, that way, you’d have to fly over the wall.” I always wondered about this, because it didn’t *look* like there was a wall in that direction. Turns out: there’s not. The left side of this loggia is about 5 feet above the street level though, so it would be a bit of a drop for a woman in an Edwardian corset and bustle. Not that Lucy couldn’t have scurried down the front steps and around, if she was motivated. But she’s clearly spending much of her teen years being frustrated and scowling and peevish from playing too much Beethoven, and actually solving her own problems instead of resenting the impediments of others would distract her from those recreations considerably.
The neighboring Uffizi Gallery is a bit of courtyard/street leading east from the plaza to the Arno, and it features a number of statues of famous Florentines (many of the same Florentines whose tombs were in the Santa Croce cathedral). That dramatic sequence of stills, that included the beheading of the Medusa, also included a bunch of shots of those statues, which all appeared to be looking down threateningly or at least unapprovingly. In fairness, that’s just how they look.
One more thing, before we leave the area:
Lucy and George end up staring out over the Arno, and George describes how transformed his view of the Universe has been by the day’s experience. Lucy thanks him, which I always thought was misunderstanding him and thanking him for the compliment of saying how transformative her presence had been — but more recently I’ve come to think that maybe it was for more general assistance. I like the first interpretation better.
Under A Loggia, by Eleanor Lavish
The Movie Tourist website stops tracking the movie locations after this; they say the movie goes back to England, and maybe they’ll be able to explore that later. But they leave unexplored one of the major Florentine parts of the movie: when everyone rides into the country for a picnic, driven in carriages by Italians, and Lucy encounters George in a Field of Barley and he Kisses her — and she begins to Kiss him Back, before Charlotte Interrupts and Ruins Everything.
I could find no online reference to the exact location at which this happens. The group dives out over windy country roads, past a small rural home, and — I swear to gods — when I first thought of trying to track this down I thought: “There’s no way. That was 100 years ago, it will all be built up and gone by now.”
No joke. Sigh.
Once I realized my mistake, I started looking more closely. Most of this sequence is shot in a sort of valley between a few hills and out of direct line of site of anything recognizable — understandably, given the need to keep modern buildings and traffic out of view. But there is one interstitial scene, just after the Kiss, that shows Florence in the distance — and for this, I must actually grab a screenshot from the movie:
If we accept this as representing the actual location — and who can really know — that puts the setting as being in the hills north east of the city, towards the town of Fiesole:
With that in mind, a Google search of ” ‘A Room With A View’ Fiesole” turned up a bunch of links identifying the town as the location — not the least of which is E.M.Forster, who describes it in the book as their destination. I think this can reasonably be considered as definitive.
Some hunting around turned up links to a bus line that ran up that way, but Google Maps said it was a 94 minute walk and I thought, what the hell? I’ll get to see more of the city and the countryside, and after all George Emerson walked back to the Pensione afterwards and I can do the same. Of course, George only walked one way, and it was downhill. But, on the other hand, it was also raining on him. And I have better shoes. And I’m not an effete British accoster of damsels in barley fields, I’m an American gods damn it. I’ll walk.
This was Saturday, February 20th. (Wow, 4 months ago. I have fallen behind, haven’t I!) Two days before I was meant to leave Florence for Split. So, at about 8:15 in the morning, I started walking. It was a bit nippy — around 43° — but I left my jacket at home, which was a good choice. I set a brisk pace across the city, it was a bright sunny day, and I was perfectly comfortable. And I got to see some pretty majestic sights along the way.
Walking up this road, I did get slightly sidetracked and walked about 20 minutes uphill the wrong way. This worked out, though, as I got what was probably my best movie-location equivalent shot:
I backtracked to get to the correct road up, and continued on to Fiesole.
Eventually, I made it to Fiesole, a little medieval town on top of the hill.
I confess, my original plan in Fiesole had involved seeing some ruins and a museum. As you can see from the Fiesole Wikitravel entry, these things exist (and not much else, it’s a small town). But, after the cafe, when I wandered over to where the ruins were, I found that they were gated and that there was a substantial gate fee. That fee would also admit me into the museum, but I realized that I was really kind of done looking at crumbling stonework if they were going to charge for it — even with the bonus of viewing more religious iconography. Not that stiff, 2-dimensional saints, reluctant Annunciations, and bored Madonnas aren’t enjoyable — but I’d seen a lot of them already and I was very unconvinced that Fiesole was likely to add anything likely to transform my experience of such things. Perhaps I was wrong — well, we’ll never know. So, instead, I wandered around the outside of the gated area and took shots from the fence:
Look, I don’t want to get too sarcastic about this. (Just sarcastic enough to do the job.) I confess that even at the time I knew I was being unnecessarily cross and grumbly about this. I don’t clearly recall why, though I suspect it was because they were attempting to charge me in the range of €6-€9, as much as a full museum in Florence, for what was basically a bit of park. And, of course, I’d walked 94 minutes to get there, not solely for the purpose of seeing these things, but expecting to, only to find them unacceptably priced. It’s pretty bit of park, to be sure. But no prettier than the large park near my Airbnb that I could walk through for free. So, no. Even when I was still drawing a salary… no. I can milk a museum for easily twice or thrice the time the guide books suggest you’re likely to spend in it, and enjoy every minute. But this? 20 minutes to look at some bits of wall, and then I’m going to be having a nice sit in the sunshine and listening to the birds, and I can do that anywhere. I can do it at the cafe in the town square, and have something to snack on while I do it, and for half the price!
So, yeah. Not impressed.
That said, it is a pretty area. Here’s the view from the other side of the ruin, facing north away from Fiesole:
After wandering about for a bit, I had a light pasta lunch at a cafe with a view out towards Florence — not this view, from the very top of Fiesole, but one rather like it.
And, after lunch I started the walk home. I was honestly more worried about this part. My knees have a been a bit problematic since I was about 20; it doesn’t generally stop me, but I’m never keen on long downhill treks. Still it worked out Ok, with one exception. While I was sitting up there having lunch, my eyes started to get itchy and I got a bit sniffly, and it was the first warning of the hellish Spring to come. I kept them under control until after I got to Split, and then had a remote session with Roger and was better afterwards. But, as foreshadowings go, this went.
The trek home was about as enjoyable as the trek up, and rather less strenuous. I kept to the same route, pretty much, until I got into the city, but there were still sights.
If memory serves, I found some gelato after this, and had a quiet evening at home. It was a *long* walk.
And that brings to a close my A Room With A View pilgrimage, all Florentine locations accounted for! I did have some other things that I did in Florence, that were not strictly A Room With A View related, but I’m at about 4K words so far in this post, so I’m going to leave the other 1/3 of my visit for the next one. Which will be soon, as there’s nothing much going on in my little farmhouse in Southern Ireland, and I’ve got 2 more months here, and a great deal of time on my hands.