Saturday, September 23, 2006

Stopping to Write in the Piazza

The sun is at just the position to filter through the red brick and stucco buildings on the east side of the piazza.  in the afternoon light, the white facade of the opposite building (a church) shines against the cloudless blue sky.  A light breeze is blowing, and at least there is the shade.  It seems a little cooler than it has been.


I am sitting on the steps of the Istituto degli Innocenti in the Piazza S.S. Annunziata, listening to the water splash in the small fountain just out into the piazza.  The stone is stained with rust on the sides where the water has bounced off for so long.  An identical fountain is situated on the opposite side. 

Th focal point, however, of the piazza is a large statue of a man on horseback. A sign posted at the base reads:

"Equestrian monument to Ferdinand I, Bronze Giambologna--1608. The sculptor was eighty years old when he created this statue that was cast by his pupil, Pietro Tacca, using bronze from the cannons captured from the Barbareschi during the North Africa expedition led by the Knights of the Order of St. Stephen in 1607.  


To commemorate this event, the following words, dictated by Giovanni Villafranchi, were engraved in the girth of the saddle: De metalli rapiti al fiero Trace [from the metals taken from the proud Thracian].  The device of the sixty bees swarming around their queen on the bronze plaque (added to the base in 1640) on the side facing the church, was suggested to Ferdinando by Scipione Borghese (who found it in Book XI of Naturalis Historia by Pliny) to extol the generosity of the grand ducal government." 

Anna told me another story about the statue: instead of looking forward down the center street, which has a magnificent view of the Duomo two blocks away, the statue's head is turned so that he gazes searchingly into the corner.  Supposedly, there was a woman he fell in love with, but couldn't have as she had already married.  He never forgot her, and when his statue was erected he requested that it look towards the corner--where her window opened onto the piazza.  In this way, he would always be near her. 

I like this piazza because it is open, uncrowded, and quiet except for the buses that drive across the west end, by the church.  I especially like the view framed by an archway over the road when I look to the right from the Ospedale degli Innocenti: through the gateway, there is a succession of golden-stuccoed, red-roofed buildings so typical of the city, and beyond them, a hill dotted with villas.

I suppose I should have begun this journal on the plane or in the airport, the mark the beginning of this fresh part of my life; however, I am glad to start it now, and spare myself the recounting of the jet lag, caffeine headaches, and the adjustments and frustrations of the first few days.  I have been here for three and a half weeks, and I know I have plenty of adjustments and frustrations to go, but I am beginning to feel comfortable.  I bought this little book yesterday at the San Lorenzo market.  I know it's touristy, but after only three weeks the touristy things and places have not yet lost their appeal.  Besides, I love the smell of leather; that is something you certainly can't find in one of the chain bookstores.

[Note while typing this up, years later: I have never before nor since been bothered by jet lag much at all; I just stay up one night and get myself right on schedule without too many problems.  However, that time I had terrible headaches and fatigue; probably was a combo of the jet lag and the sudden and complete deprivation of Mello Yello, which I had drunk massive amounts of for years up until the day I flew to Italy.]

Today was my last day at the Istituto d'Italiano in Via Martelli.  Since the first I have planned--well, with the recommendation and request of the other workers-- to attend a semester of the 'corsi per stranieri' at the Universitá di Firenze.  However, the course does not begin until the second of October, so I did three weeks of language school at the Istituto.  I certainly did not want to sit around at the bible school being of little use to anyone for over a month. 

After three weeks, I am making progress in Italian, although it seems frustratingly slow right now.  I did well enough on the entrance exam to be placed in the second-level class--which was a good placement during the two-hour grammar half of the lesson.  However, the conversation class in the second two hours was over my head.  There are some disadvantages to studying alone. 

The sun has now lowered enough to be shining into my eyes from the direction of the duomo, and the steps are no longer shady.  I think I will go through the arched road and look at the gardens that should be a block in that direction, and then catch the 6 bus for Scandicci.

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Instead of going the way I planned, I turned to the right when I reached the corner of the piazza, through a long tunnel of sorts.  I wandered along past the Archaeological Museum, and over onto Via Laura.  Luckily, I am following the route of the 6 bus, so I will be able to wander further since I don't have to walk all the way back or find some other bus route.  I kept walking until I came to a large park, which after looking at the map, I think to be the Piazza M. D'Azeglio...In a city, I am always happy to find large trees and the smell of grass.  There are two large fenced sections: one, with a playground for young children, the other full of teenagers playing soccer.  There is a green-and-turquoise carousel on the far side, but it isn't running today.  Looking at the map, I should be very close to the Jewish temple with its sea-green dome.  I'll tell the story of our rainy Saturday spent at the temple some other time.  I feel like I'm beginning to get a feel for directions in the city.  The trick is to always know what direction the Duomo is.  Time to wander on...I wish I knew what time it is; my cell phone batteries are dead.  


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