Sunday, May 25, 2014

riding the rails with benito

Mussolini lives. 

Well, at least, his trains, that he famously made run on time, are still synchronized with the clock.  And, as in most countries with compact travel corridors, they are quite efficient.  If a bit Spartan.

I jumped on board the Il Duce express in Livorno to make a quick assault on Florence.  It is a three hour round trip.  But we were in Livorno for just over 11 hours.  That would give me at least 8 hours to wander through my favorite city in the world.

I have visited Florence enough times to know there is no reason to slump into culture vulture mode.  I know the sights.  And there was only one item I wanted to see on this trip -- perhaps my favorite piece of art.  Donatello’s Mary Magdalene

If you try the search function in the upper left corner, you will find previous posts where I have discussed my attraction to the piece.  It is a direct Renaissance link between Gothic stylization and modern Expressionism. 

I understand the museum curators have recently staged the statue at the feet of a modern crucifixion scene.  That is too bad.  The piece is not about grief.  At least, not other-directed grief. 

It is about the first beatitude.  The realization that on our own, we are spiritually impoverished.  And there is nothing that we can do, through our own efforts, to work ourselves out of our predicament.

Anyone who has been in a 12-step program should feel an immediate emotional link with Donatello’s creation.  And it is a perfect example that there is no distinction between emotion and thought.  Emotions are just a type of thought.

I was prepared to wax eloquent about my most recent encounter with The Magdalene, but it was not to be.  Apparently, the Duomo Museum is undergoing a major reconstruction.

So, not only did I miss my statute.  I also missed the other pieces I have come to admire.  Well, there is always another time to keep my date with my favorite lady.

Instead, I did a tourist swing through town.  The Medici tombs, where the grandiose Baroque chapel with its dark marble is put to shame with Michelangelo's simple sacristy.  That is partly due to the fact that the focus of the room is on the two tombs Michelangelo managed to finish before he high-tailed it to Rome.

I would love to share some photographs, but this is another museum that has fallen to the “no photographs” rule.  Besides, I am still stuck with the ship’s slow upload speed.

Giving a pass on Florence’s cathedral, the Duomo, was easy.  The lines for tickets to the cathedral, the dome, and the bell tower were all Disney-length.  All three are great experiences, but they are not worth the wait required to share close quarters with thousands of strangers.

The Basilica of Santa Croce had almost no wait for tickets.  And I always find it a far more satisfying experience.  One of Florence’s largest churches, it is filled with everything a viewer could want in a Renaissance church -- and more.  Mexican churches have their religious art.  But it really pales in comparison with the Florentines.  The art in Florence is museum art.

The “and more” in Santa Croce are the tombs.  It is the Westminster Abbey of Florence.  A stroll through the tombs is a quick history of Tuscany achievements.  Marconi.  Fermi.  Several Medici.  Rossetti.  Dante.  Michelangelo.  Even the father of political science -- Machiavelli.

(Seeing Old Nick’s tomb reminded me of a tale from the mid-90s.  I was walking through the church with my then-girlfriend.  When she saw Machiavelli’s tomb, she was startled.  “What is he doing here?  Didn’t he betray Christ -- or something like that?")

I even tortured myself by walking past my favorite restaurant in the world -- Enoteca Pinchorri.  And, no, it didn’t make me feel any better that I could not stay for dinner.  Maybe, when I come back to see the Donatello.

The great thing about Florence is that the entire city is a museum.  The city’s legacy of architecture has been carefully preserved.  At one point, I just grabbed a soft drink and sat down to watch the light play across my city’s buildings.

So far, Florence is the only city I have been sorry to leave on this trip.  But I am certain that Mussolini's legacy trains will take me home again. 

One of these days.

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