Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 19: Uffizi Eye-ffizi We-ffizi

May 19

This morning I woke up at 8:30, felt reasonably well situated in time, and toddled off downstairs to make myself coffee in the strange coffee maker. This coffee maker is something I’ve not seen before: you put the coffee grounds and the water down in the bottom of the pot, then a metal filter, then you screw on the top part of the pot. Then you put the whole tiny thing on the gas stove and it boils up into the top part somehow through a valve or pipe or something. With coffee in me, I toddled out the door, around the back of the house, down some highly irregular stone stairs, and to the laundry room. From the terrace down there, you can see where the stream comes under the house. The laundry I’d put in last night was done, and I strung it out on the drying frame and left it on the terrace, put another load in.

By this time Dan was back from his ride, and we rolled the children out of bed (about an hour earlier than yesterday – baby steps to victory on the jet lag here), pushed some food down them, and headed off to Florence. I was determined to see at least one important art item while in Florence, but I also wanted to walk around and look at the fountains, the streets, the piazzas, etc. and pretend to be an E.M. Forster character. Of course no turn of the century doe-eyed ingénue had to contend with getting a van down streets meant for horses, complete with motor scooters zooming in every direction and pedestrians wandering around in herds and one way streets the GPS claimed did not exist. Fortunately I didn’t have to do that either, since Dan was driving, so I just kept pinching Dan on the leg and saying “FLORENCE! FLORENCE! IT’S FLORENCE!” and he kept trying not to cuss people out.

We (Dan) determined that it would be better to park on the south side of the river since that seemed marginally less congested. We ended up finding ROCK STAR parking right in front of the Pitti Palace – it was actually so rock star that we couldn’t believe it wasn’t metered or illegal or only for bicycles or something. But you can only try so hard to interpret Italian abbreviations on parking signs, so we just left it there and hoped to Neptune it would be there when we got back.

Speaking of Neptune, our first stop (after marching happily over Ponte Vecchio with me shrieking “FLORENCE!) was the Piazza della Signorio, where there’s a big fountain of Neptune and attending sea horses, mermen, etc. At the time I didn’t realize there was marker right next to the fountain, probably right where I was standing, in a spot where a rogue monk was immolated. Kind of glad I didn’t know: soul resin and all that. We looked over the giant Neptune, looked over the giant copy of Michelangelo’s David (the real one is safely inside, but this one is almost just as nice), and then got in line for the Uffizi Gallery. The wait time was reportedly 2 hours but we got in much faster than that. The Uffizi Gallery is not my favorite art museum that I have ever been in. It was hot, close, kind of scroungy, and lit with all the subtlety of a high school gymnasium. We saw The Birth of Venus though, so I am now able to say that I saw it, although in person it looked a bit dingy.

I do now understand why the painting was such a big fat screaming deal, however, because what preceded it in Italian art is about fifty thousand dopey-looking Madonna-and-Childs. I mean there was no limit to how many times Mary and Jesus could be sculpted, painted, drawn, and painted. And painted again. Mary looks sort of mild and modest, baby Jesus looks strangely wise and educated, and they’re soooo similar. Everyone is draped in a lot of fabric, and attended by angels, haggard monks, anachronistic bishops, and pious. I mean the piety will knock your eye out. So when Botticelli came along and painted this sexy broad with no clothes on, and you didn’t have to worship or revere her or believe in her or repress any desires for her, and she really was beautiful, the face, the body, everything, I’m not surprised that the world embraced it. If you take the Uffizi Gallery seriously, then Italian art is a centuries-long march of Madonnas, interrupted in one glorious moment by a buck naked blonde on a clam shell.

Benny and Sadie went through the museum like prisoners under torture, Benny getting more and more oppressed and Sadie getting more and more impishly devoted to oppressing him with every passing salon. In their defense, it was really hot and I’d made them wear long sleeves, and we had left the water in the car, and we were overdue for lunch, and and and. The best thing I can say about the whole experience was that I don’t ever have to do it again.

After we were released from the agony of timeless art, we immediately found a restaurant on the piazza, and sat down to tortellini, spaghetti, linguini, and pizza. And chianti and cappuccino. Then we felt better! We set out to stroll through Florence and meandered out way to Il Duomo, which I was greatly looking forward to entering. Unfortunately today only they closed at four, and the Netzers arrived at 4:11. Not to be discouraged, we climbed the campanile. I don’t like those miserable tiny staircases, I’m not going to lie. But the view from the top of this one made me glad I didn’t skip it.

After descending the tower and drinking about a liter of water each, we stopped for postcards at a little store, and since the proprietress spoke English we asked about a music store, someplace to buy violin strings. We followed her directions down a narrow passageway where we were stopped in our tracks by the sound of glorious, booming organ music. There was a door off the alley, and inside was a beautiful little chapel, where an organ concert was going on. We made our donation to their restoration efforts in a box in the aisle, and then sat and listened to first Handel and then Bach – what an unexpected awesomeness. It was too loud for Sadie, but Benny was in heaven and came back out into the street nattering on about “when I play the organ” and blah blah blah. Thanks, unidentified tiny chapel full of music in Florence.

By now we were sure that the violin store would be closed, and hurried to follow the directions. We were surprised to find the music store was actually three levels of music store, including video games and CDs and violins and all kinds of stuff. Not only did we buy Benny a set of Dominant strings (which I told him had super powers because they came from an Italian store), but we also got Sadie a new DSi to replace the one that Brussels Airlines ate. We were walking away down the street, swinging our bag, mightily pleased with all our problem solving, I said, “The only thing that would make this more perfect is if we found an internet café and you found us a hotel room for Saturday night.” Dan lifted his hand, the matrix trembled, and then right in front of us was a chalkboard that said WIFI in front of a café.

At the café, Dan booked us into a hotel for Saturday night over on the Adriatic Sea, so that he can do his other gran fondo on Sunday morning. We got a hotel with a swimming pool that’s right on the beach, so it will be interesting to see how that all pans out. There’s a lot of fuss about checking out of here, checking in there, checking out of there, etc. I checked in with my email while we had WIFI and found one from my agent letting me know that my book announcement came out in Publisher’s Lunch on Tuesday. Here it is:

Lydia Netzer's SHINE, SHINE, SHINE, in which a young mother's "perfect" suburban existence unravels in unexpected ways as her astronaut husband's endangered mission to colonize the moon brings to light her dark childhood secrets, their strange and wondrous relationship and forces her to question the nature of motherhood, dying and what it means to be human, to Hilary Rubin Teeman at St. Martin's, in a very good deal, in a pre-empt, by Caryn Karmatz Rudy at DeFiore and Company (World).

Reading it made me so happy, I did a dance around the café. Probably they thought I was nuts, but I don’t care. No one took my book deal away, so I danced insensibly around the place. I know I will remember that café forever, on the corner of this little street and that little alley, and how it sprinkled a little rain on us, driving us inside. It was a great thing for me to see this announcement written down, undeniable, and real. We bounced back over the bridge and to the car, got inside, and drove home, where I fed them tortellini, fresh strawberries, and hazelnut chocolate gelato. Now I’m going to read, read, read someone else’s book, and charge up this Netbook. And tomorrow I’m going to start writing, writing, writing mine.

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