After the serenity of the Italian Lake District and the leafy loveliness of Lucca, Florence was a bit of a shock to me.  First of all, we walked in on a feast day with parades, games, and fireworks celebrating the patron saint of Florence, Saint Giovanni Battista. Second, it was garbage day. Refuse under the hot Tuscan sun smells like refuse everywhere.  I’m not complaining, mind you, just describing.


When I think of my first impressions of Florence, I hear the babble of half a dozen languages, smell garbage, and see color; yellow, grey, gold, white, and brown. In the old section of the city we explored, red geraniums spilled out of window boxes every two feet, but there were very few trees.  Just wall to wall people.


That’s why I was looking forward to the Uffizi.  I imagined the famous art museum would be as cool and quiet as the Memorial Art Gallery.  Wow, was I wrong!


The Uffizi (“oo-FEET-zee”) spreads in a U-shape off the corner off the main civic center in Florence, Piazza della Signoria.  Here live some of the most famous paintings in the world from the 13th to 17th centuries, including the Bottecellis that inspired composer Ottorino Respighi. Our excellent local guide led us from room to room, tracing the development of realism from the relatively static Madonnas of Giotto to a vital, sleeveless portrait of Mary by Michelangelo that scandalized the patron who commissioned it.


Imagine yourself at a huge, noisy party. Every time you turn around, you see an old friend you haven’t talked to in years.  This was me at the Uffizi coming face to face with paintings I studied long ago in survey courses, only the paintings were bigger, brighter, and more real that I imagined.

My heart thrilled to run into Simone Martini’s 1333 Annunciation, the angel Gabriel beaming his weird, laser gaze message at Mary.


And here were these guys! Who were they?  I couldn’t remember except for the fact that the man in red had lost an eye in a tournament so he has a hooked nose.

Pressing through the crowds into the Botticelli room, we approached Venus.  You are staring at an image on a computer screen. In real life, she is overpoweringly beautiful, even as she looks like she’s about to tip over.




Our guide told us that this painting was commissioned by a man for his ten year-old bride. He wanted her to - eventually - grow comfortable with love and sex, so the artist created a languid beauty.  The idea was to encourage her to enjoy the delights of love within a framework, with fidelity curled up at her feet.

I’m writing to you from a quiet villa overlooking Florence, but tonight we are descending back down for a concert.