I wrote this last evening and didn’t post it, but it’s the truth of how I feel at the moment and so why not?
In the spring, I will return to Florence for three weeks and I will be strolling along the Arno (above), which makes me one of the luckiest people in the world, of course. One day I will move there, I hope, but for now I am happy to continue with my career and appreciate the fact that I am able to travel there with great frequency.
Maybe it’s because we’re experiencing an extended winter, or maybe because I have had an unusually heavy workload for months and months, that never seems as though it will abate, but I’ve suddenly found myself reaching for the springtime.
I’ve explained the conundrum about moving to Florence before, which basically amounts to poor returns to skill in wage rates there and a minimal market for anything I would want to do. (I’d love to be a painter, but I would obviously need a way to make a living to support this endeavour.) My highly qualified Italian friends and acquaintances have mainly left the country to find gainful work, which is tragic. I also like my life here, and am grateful for it. It’s a challenging problem!
All that said, if you are independently wealthy and decide that you want to move to Florence, there is one good motivation for doing so: the art. This is obvious. Florence is amazing. Florence is incredible not only for the exhibitions and famous galleries, or the thousands of tiny beauties in the form of tabernacles or door knockers or vestiges of years past in the form wine delivery portals, but the semi-random phenomenal things that just pop up out of nowhere.
I wish I could tell you who carved this capital or why it was sitting on a pedestal outside of San Lorenzo last year, but I can’t remember. It was probably carved by the workshop of an important artist, because I recall that there was something interesting about it and the marble was believed to have belonged to Michelangelo (I think), but I can’t tell you. I have completely forgotten. I can only tell you that it was one of those amazing casual finds that appears nonchalantly in Italy with a historical placard beside it, which itself is subsequently immediately defaced with graffiti by random Italian youth passing by. The marble was only there on temporary “exhibition” last spring, because I didn’t see it at Christmas. That said, maybe it is adorning a university student dorm room at the moment. Kidding!
I saw the Oscar-winner La Grande Bellezza last week and perhaps that’s why I’m yearning for the Italian beauty that presents itself with a shrug of the shoulders. You go to France and the French have it all worked out. The Louvre is open to optimize revenues, as is the Mus. D’Orsay and every other venerable institution. You go to Italy and the Uffizi is closed on one of the busiest tourism days of the year in the city (New Year’s), among other civic holidays. G. was fuming last year when he read that the Louvre takes in more money every year than all Italian museums put together, in spite of half of the world’s art treasures being located in Italy and half of those in Florence. He was convinced that the Louvre was open on New Year’s Day, although we didn’t verify that and France itself has an unbelievable number of public holidays (if there’s a saint or a quasi-saint for a particular day, there’s a holiday). (Something else to fume about: the gallery at the Louvre that contains two enormous, exquisite frescoes by Botticelli, that Napoleon took to France, not to mention the Mona Lisa, but I hear there’s conversation about bringing her back to Italy.)
I think that one of my greatest frustrations with Italy, but that also hints at the accessibility of its incredible artistic wealth, is the fact that small museums and churches and chiostri will say that they are open from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, say, but inevitably when I go to one of these places the priest or the guardian is shooing me out at 12:45 p.m. because “today we are closing early.” Of course church property is very different from a state museum or a chiostro manned by volunteers, but it’s clear that the system isn’t organized to reap the best rewards from the wealth therein. We were at the photography museum at Christmas and we were convinced that they had turned the heat off entirely to save money. It was damp and uncomfortable. We’d each paid at least 10 Euro to enter and I doubt I would be able to convince G. to go back.
Florence tip: If you go often (or frankly even once!), buy yourself an “Amici degli Uffizi” card for 60 Euro. It gives you entrance to a solid set of museums for the entire year, with the great advantage being that you can skip the enormous line-ups. Of course they don’t 1) advertise this card very widely and 2) many of the museums included on the list for the card are free anyway, and among them are not the museums managed by other levels of government; you take what you can get. I like to think that buying the card helps the museums in some way in any case, although that’s somewhat unlikely. I would pay substantially more for the card if I felt the money was going to its best use, which I think is the general conundrum of taxpayers in Italy. G. is upset that they don’t have one museums card that you can buy that includes access to all museums, even for residents, and I take his point.
Italy, you are still my favourite non-Canada place in the whole world, but you have some work to do (which you know full well). I believe in the potential of Italy and continue to hope that the tide will turn.
To the great beauties, and the small ones.