Sunday, March 11, 2012

Florence - Sightseeing, Shopping and a Cat

We spent our time in Florence seeing the major sites, wandering small back streets and shopping and browsing at the stalls and shops along the way as well as those in the central outdoor market. We strolled across the Ponte Vechiccio, it's ancient shop windows filled with silver and gold of every variety. It was the only one of Florence's bridges to survive the 2nd World War intact. As they retreated the Axis forces blew up the others. They blocked this one by blowing up the medieval buildings on each side of it.

We visited the Church of St Croce, with it's beautiful painted wood beams. Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo or all interned there in tombs set along it's walls. It's floor is a crazy quilt of crypts housing the remains of others less famous. Some are worn almost completely smooth by the thousands of feet crossing them over the ages. A small room in the back of the church contains relics, including the cowl and rope girdle of St. Francis of Assisi.

It is here, in an arbor connecting the church with another building, that my partner befriends a beautiful orange and white cat which roams the church grounds and is obviously familiar with those that work there. She allows him to pet her and eventually allows him to pick her up and then cuddles against him. It takes some effort to disengage them and convince him that we well not be taking her home with us.

A stone set in a wall of the courtyard in the church shows the water level of the great flood which occurred in the 1960's. It is at least 20 feet above the ground. There is a distinct water line on the buildings which surround the plaza outside the church. It runs just above the 2nd floor windows. On the elaborately painted front of one building the lower portion is  dull and muted while the colors above the water line remain brilliant and crisp. We have lunch in the plaza. A photo taken by our waiter adorns our Christmas card that year.

After lunch we wander through the shops ringing the plaza buying gifts for our friends and family and mementos for ourselves. From a street vendor we purchase a small watercolor of a cat, which resembled the one we had at the time, sitting on a wall with the city in the background. It hangs in our living room providing us with a constant reminder of that afternoon.

It is also in this plaza we first witness the racial tensions in existence in the city at that time. African immigrants, entering the country illegally, set up blankets along the streets selling counterfeit designer goods, mostly handbags. They did not have street vending permits. The money they made was sent out of the country back to their homelands. From the Italian's point of view this weaken the countries economy and took sales away from legitimate  Italian vendors. As we were having lunch we heard a commotion on the far side of the square. Several African men were running off in different directions each carrying a portion of their set up. This tactic forces the police, in their Armani designed uniforms and facial hair in the form of a jazz patch worn by so many of them it seems to be almost mandatory, to decide which to pursue. The African men were laughing as they ran away, the Italians were not. An Italian I worked with also blamed the Africans for the graffiti that scars many of the buildings in Italian cities. I have never been able to independently corroborate that however.

After eating and shopping we rushed up a steep hillside to reach the Boboli Gardens. We arrived one hour before they closed. Situated on a hillside overlooking the city they provide a stunning view of the winding streets lined with low red tile roofed buildings, punctuated by the spires of the city's churches and dominated by the muscular yet graceful dome of the Doumo and it's bell tower.

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