Awoke to what sounded like heavy chains being dragged up an endless flight of stone stairs - maybe the Duomo? It turned out to be some of those food and souvenir carts rattling their way across the stone-paved passageway in front of our building.
Don approached me a touch sheepishly (for Don) and said he realized that now we had to climb up the Campanile (Bell tower) so he could get some good shots of the Duomo from a higher level. So that's how we started out our day. It's not as high as the Duomo.
I find myself being very selective in Florence. It's just not like it was in the 'sixties when there were very few tourists, when almost none of the Italians spoke English, when you looked around the beautiful streets and piazzas and almost everyone was Italian, and stylishly turned out. When the signs and marquees were tasteful and discreet, designed only to instruct Italians. As our friend Inez describes: The men come there like beautiful peacocks with their coats over their shoulders...such prima gorgeous donnas! She may (I don't know) have been describing a more recent Florence, but it conjures up Florence of the 'sixties to me. However, also in the 'sixties, you rarely saw young women on the streets, and then only holding the hand of their mother or an aunt who had joined the nunnery. The men were so starved for female companionship that they would follow us down the streets in a small horde, which actually became very annoying after the initial flattery wore off in about 10 minutes, maybe 5. Actually, Florence was not as bad as Rome that way. Now there are so many young Americans doing their study abroad and tourists that English is heard as often as Italian. It is a wonderful experience for these young people, though. I think it is great and life changing; I just wish there weren't quite so many of them.
Of course, I'm one of them (one of the tourists, not one of the young people), and I'm happy to be here. But I do view Florence through a selective filter; I do my best to screen out those tourists, to recapture the past, which I think is rather a dangerous activity. It's probably one of the first steps to growing old, so I don't do it in general; only in Florence because I loved it so much, when I was 17. In fact, I avoided returning here for many years because I didn't think I could bear to see the changes. But it's not so bad; it's still beautiful, it's still worth visiting. However, it is a little like seeing your once very stylish and glamorous aunt, become a little tawdry, even though she still tries to follow the fashions. She appears at a function with her garishly colored lipstick and black eyeliner applied crookedly, a few soup spots on her clothing. You still love her, of course, but you feel a little sad. (Of course, this is probably how people have been feeling about Florence and other great cities for centuries.)
Speaking of visiting Florence, we were amazed at how many of our friends and family have actually lived here. People have been writing in with all sorts of suggestions, many of which we were not able to follow, although they sounded amazing. So we thought we would compile them here for those who are lucky enough to come to Florence in the future.
ou have to cross the Arno to get to some of the recommendations (Osteria del Cinghale Bianco and La Specola).
So pretty much in order of receipt, dinner suggestions from Brian Caraway (long-time Magnolia employee who spent a semester here). He even includes web sites.
right on the piazza del marcato centrale (plaza of san loranzo market)
inside the market, there is a duck ragu that is simply to die for. once you enter the market go to the back left corner on the bottom floor. along that aisle, on the right hand side, just before you would have to turn right, at the back. try that and a plate of the pepe al pomodoro. possibly the best lunch (and least expensive) you'll have while you are there (oh yeah, only open for lunch).
on via santo spirito: il Cantinone enoteca and restaurant
and borgo san jacopo: Osteria del Cingale Bianco
hope this finds you well.
can't wait to hear some more stories.
bacci e abbracci
We did go to Osteria del Cinghale Bianco. Very, very good. We are not big meat eaters, but we did split a Tuscan steak there with porcini mushroom risotto, grilled vegetables, and the Florentine crostini (chicken liver pate on toast) - all related to you in reverse order. The proprietors are very warm and welcoming.
Trattoria Za Za is outside the central covered market (plaza of san loranzo market), which we did not have time to try, but the people eating there looked very happy.
We did go into the central market and tried the duck ragu, or some sort of ragu they were serving. Brian's right; it was fabulous. The pepe al pomodoro I thought was less fabulous, but still good and much lighter, so it was great to split these. The stall and seating area is a mad house. Very popular and chaotic.
Both Inez Storer and Squeak Carnwath recommended the museum La Specola, which is a fascinating place, but not for the weak of stomach. A huge number of stuffed animals and then the most amazing wax figures of dissected human bodies (mostly young and lovely women). I read that Goethe went to see these when he traveled to Italy and that they were a favorite of the Marquis de Sade (not surprising).
Sorry, we did not get any photos of the dissected women. We were edging towards nausea and there was a lot of reflection on the glass cases. I did get a snap of the veins of a leg, which was pretty interesting, but I will spare you. Also the lymphatic system was quite fascinating. Have no idea if it is accurate.
This artist, whose name I unfortunately do not recall, lived through one of the horrible Florentine plagues. There were several of these pieces, wax miniatures, which give you a sense of what it must have been like to live during the plagues, minus the smells and the terror, of course. We spent a morning at La Specola, and fortunately were still able to enjoy our lunch at Osteria del Cinghale Bianco.
Inez also recommended we go to an old apothecary near Santa Maria Novella. In fact, it was the official pharmacy of the Santa Maria Novella church and convent back in the days:
Hi You Two: Duomo looks splendid and did you notice that the tall wing or appendage or very narrow building on left is leaning to the left? You MUST fix it and report it to the CHURCH! Just for sheer indulgence if you can, wander over to the Santa Maria Novella (by railway station) and go to the grand old pharmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella on Via della Scala, 16. You will see the most beautiful light and old apothecaries in the room to the right. Be sure and get the astringent lotion...it takes years off your lives. You can send it or get a plastic bottle and decant it. And the box of soap is the most beautiful of boxes.
After arriving, I realized that I had been there, probably 40 years ago. It is a truly gorgeous place. We inquired about the astringent lotion, as we were fairly sure Inez meant that it took years off our appearance, and not off our lives. We had to chuckle when they explained to us that they no longer carry it and this was a lotion for adolescents, to prevent pimples.
The apothecary near Santa Maria Novella.
Is this Morocco, or perhaps Turkey? No, it's part of Santa Maria Novella. Someone returning from the Crusades must have had a hand in this.
From David Linger, a former intern at Magnolia, who was helping us with a ceramic project:
Since you are nearby, go to Robiglio, my favorite, old pastry shop on Via dei Servi - which is near Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, where Ospedale degli Innocenti is. The piazza has significant, early Renaissance buildings faced with gorgeous 15th Century plaques by della Robbia - who was my first hero in ceramics.
I was going to tell you to see the science museum, but you found it on your own. It's one of my favorites, and never has anybody in it.
We did go to Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, a handsome plaza, and we got biscotti at Robiglio.
From Anthony Holdsworth, who has lived in Florence, and fearlessly returns with groups of plein air painters and his wife and fellow painter Beryl, every year or so:
I'm enjoying your blogs. Thanks!
While you're in Florence you might want to check out my video of my recent trip there: www.anthonyholdworth.com And for something really different take the bus to I Gigli where the Florentines do all their serious shopping. It'll blow your mind and you will discover much better prices. It's a twenty minute ride into the periferia west of the city. There's a special bus that you pick up on Via Nazionale (to your right as you face the Santa Maria train station) just before via Fiume. You buy tickets in the office on the corner. The correct bus will be posted 'I Gigli'
Also Anthony and Roxane Schlumberger recommended Piazza Santo Spirito (across the Arno), which we somehow always forget to visit. It sounds great, but unfortunately the email came too late for us to fit it in. (We're not actually still in Florence, left 2 days ago)
Even if you don't visit I Gigli, do visit Piazza Santo Spirito some evening and have a glass of wine at the Pop Caffe this is where young Florentines hang out. For the price of a class of wine or beer you get all the food you can eat (though you'll need many tiny platefuls). Lunchtime this cafe offers delicious light lunches. Its a great antidote to the tourist saturated culture.
Era and Aldo