Act 2, Scene 10

Firenze patch

Ancient Rome, The Italian Renaissance, And Postmodern Love

by Frederick Noble

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Uffizi map

So far the local Information Office has consistently misinformed us but I put my trust in them, hesitantly, one last time and got them to make reservations for us in Firenze (Florence.) I hoped their record didn’t hold true. We'd been warned that Firenze is a dangerous place, but they'd said the same of Roma and we never saw anything more criminal than frequent litterbugs. But the program has scheduled the usual afternoon sprint through the city, leaving no time to actually see anything, so we planned to stay overnight and catch the train back the next day. After some of the other students heard of our plan they decided it was a great idea and several folks made arrangements to stay overnight.
Heather had been complaining the entire trip that we weren’t being social enough. Yet in the same breath she’d complain about what a bunch of useless frat boys and sorority girls made up the student body of the trip. Since most of them assume she and I are an item, they don’t warm up to us as quickly as they would were we singles. Odd that humans work this way, but true.
I’m always amazed at what vacuous morons most humans are, so when I stumble across an exception it’s always a pleasant surprise. Were I not such a devout ass myself, no doubt I’d find more, but the rewards of being constantly friendly are so few and the rewards for keeping idiots at bay so overwhelming that I doubt there’s a chance for complete transformation of my unyielding exterior.
Heather takes a different approach. Where I am gruff and often obnoxious she is quiet and mysterious.
Both of our masks are worn to cover our shyness. Knowing this, we gently push each other into friendly or active modes. It ain’t easy for either of us though. I’ve been making an effort at being at least civil to those I’d rather kill and overtly nice to those who may be worth my time.
Heather actually talks to people.
So I asked Heather who she’d like to befriend. She named one married woman and her singe female friend who’d been hanging out with each other and nobody else on the trip. So we asked them if they’d like to go clubbing with us in Firenze. They accepted, glad to have the attention of fellow outcasts.

The bus pulled into Firenze a bit after 8 AM and we headed straight for the Uffizi Museum. Our guides warned us repeatedly about the pickpockets and gypsies in Firenze.
“The police come around every couple of months and kick them all out of town so maybe we’ll be lucky and arrive after they’ve cleaned out the place,” said George Bent On Making This Trip Miserable.
Naturally the first people we see when we step off the bus is a family of what I can only guess are gypsies. They had come up the steps from the river below just as we walked across the bridge.
Larry ran up to the father figure, the apparent leader of the pack of vicious, bloodthirsty criminals waiting to slay us in broad daylight just for our socks, stood directly beside him and pointed his finger at the man’s head and yelled to the tour group at the top of his lungs “THESE ARE GYPSIES. DON’T GIVE THEM ANYTHING OR TALK TO THEM. JUST IGNORE THEM AND WALK AWAY!”
I was so embarrassed I just ignored Larry and walked away.

Uffizi
A view of the Uffizi from across the river.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's life."
Mark Twain, from The Innocents Abroad

Larry obviously did not share Mr. Twain’s view.
To be fair to Larry, I did see some gypsy pickpockets in action in Firenze on a follow-up trip a few years later. It was at Santa Croce, just another amazing/impressive/important church we'll discuss at length later. On our way out the door a band of gypsy women swarmed us, holding babies, bags, and newspapers. A friend of mine and I pushed through without a hitch, but the third member of our party got momentarily stalled and in that instant a gypsy girl used her paper in one arm to hide the other hand snaking under to unzip his beltpack about two inches. He got out of the swarm before she could get farther, but it was impressive and educational. Telling the tale to random travelers generated scores of pickpocket stories, some too absurd to believe. “I have a girlfriend who’s wallet was up her ass under 18 layers of clothing…”

I was hardly awake yet when we reached the Uffizi before 9 AM, only to find the line a block long. We stood in line for 45 minutes. For the Uffizi that's not bad, I discovered, as some people didn't hurry and ended up waiting two hours. (These days you can make reservations in advance and I recommend it. The line can sometimes require a 4 hour wait.)
At something like $8, the museum is a bargain. Raphael, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and hordes of not-so-big-named others. Either make reservations, or get there early, like 7:30 AM, or late, like 4 PM, there's no use in doing the 4 hour wait in between.
Inside are tons of impressive/important works of art. There’s some really nice stuff there, particularly if you like Boticelli. But personally, I think the Vatican Museum outdoes them. The Uffizi’s works are mostly Italian Renaissance and Baroque, with only a few works from other times or places, whereas The Vatican has things from Ancient Egypt to post-modern, as well as the expected healthy heaping of Italian Renaissance masters.
At the Uffizi you could spend hours and hours in every room studying each painting in detail, but for most humans it’s just too much to absorb. Long before you reach the end of the gallery you reach your saturation point and just can’t be as impressed as you should be by any of the works. So what I’ve learned in my years of museum-hopping is to walk into a room and scan everything quickly from one place – don’t even look at each and every painting up close, just look around. Find something you like, for whatever reason. Go up to that piece and study it, enjoy it, absorb it, understand it and it alone. Then move on to the next room. This way you actually have a small chance of appreciating several works in all their glory, and maybe even remembering some of it, instead of it all rolling by in a blur.

Afterwards we saw several impressive/important churches and works of art all over town. Firenze is a small town compared to the weight the name carries. You could see the whole place in two days and not get tired. You could walk across the whole town in under half an hour. But every building, every piazza, begs for attention. You stop and gawk at every intersection, stare in marvel at rustic stone façades, heart bursting at every view.

David in Florence
A replica of the David now stands where the original once stood.

Uffizi
Here's a view of Firenze from the Uffizi. The building itself was designed by Giorgio Vasari to serve as offices for the Medici. In the alley between the wings are sculptures of famous Italians. In the distance you can see the dome of the Duomo.

Florence
Palazzo Vecchio, "old palace", used to be called Palazzo dei Priori. The design is attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio. The Medici lived here for a bit, next to the Uffizi, overlooking Piazza della Signoria where the bonfire of the vanities was held, as well as the locaion of the David for a few hundred years.

Fountain in Florence
Also in Piazza della Signoria is a statue of Neptune, disliked by local art critics. When the fountain is on some of the marble horses are glorious, but when the water isn't running they turn dull.

We checked into our hotel, mildly surprised that the Cortona Information Office had gotten the reservations right. We’d located Hotel Visconti through Let’s Go:
“You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the towering Grecian nudes.”
Sure enough, there are two white plaster Grecian statues in the lobby. Initially it looked hokey but when he showed us the room he had us. It was marvelous, with antique furniture, ten-foot ceilings and huge windows overlooking the street from the third floor.
Heather had plenty of warm water in the shower, yet somehow I ended up with yet another cold one with no pressure. It was becoming a running joke.
Back in the room, I found Heather pushing open the shutters and leaning out the window. I peeked out to see what she was looking at and giggled when I saw the three businessmen in the cafe below ogling my roommate. I couldn't blame ‘em. She’d only tossed on a dress over her naked, still-moist skin and it clung to her form like the drapery on the statues in the lobby.
I sat on the bed admiring the view, not of Firenze but of Heather’s lovely ass. The light shining through the tall window made the dress semi-transparent. She beamed in the sun above, and the admiring stares from below. On one hand I wanted to lean out there and let them see me just so they’d know what a lucky bastard I was. On the other, I didn’t care if they knew and I didn’t want to spoil Heather’s exhibitionist fun. So instead I snuck over and ducked under her dress from behind.
“Oh my...” she gasped when my tongue slid up the back of her thigh.
Eventually she said “If you keep that up... I’m not going to be able... to keep a straight face.”
“I...
don’t...
care,” I managed to say between dives.
I think we had to shower again after a nap. For some reason those unimportant details have been lost to me in the light of other distractions.

Hotel Visconti, Florence

We tracked down our newfound friends in the program who had skipped the ride home to stay the night, but they looked beat. They hadn't opted for a siesta and instead had walked the lovely streets of Firenze all day in the blazing sun. They were too pooped to party so they were catching the next train home. We got the names of clubs and restaurants they had found in guidebooks and set off in search of the best gelato in Italia, rumored to be at Vivoli Gelateria.
It isn’t easy to find. Head past the Borghello and look for Stinche Street, pronounced “Stinky”, appropriate with all the dumpsters in the area. You’re bound to see a bunch of folks walking around in a daze with bowls of gelato rapidly disappearing into their smiling mouths.
The rumors are true. Double the price but worth every lire. I got the banana so that I could compare and it is like eating love itself, taken material form in a cool sweet gel. Utterly amazing.
"You know, I wondered to myself how ice cream could be any better. But now I know." says Heather.
After one of my many visits to Vivoli I plopped down on the curb outside to stuff my face, got one bite in my mouth and stopped, "Shit, that's good!" I moaned. A passer by giggled knowingly.
After a walkabout, our orgasmic eating experiences continued at some random back-alley restaurant with an incredible antipasti bar - olives, roast eggplant, peppers, and assorted other delights all swimming in olive oil. For the main course I got the grilled salmon, Heather the giant crawfish. Tiramisu for desert and a cappuccino on top of the wine and we had the right chemical mix in our blood for late-night adventuring. We stopped back at the hotel to change into appropriate attire.

Heather was turning heads as we searched for a club recommended by Let's Go – Tobasco, a gay club in some tiny piazza with a name we struggled to pronounce.
We asked locals where the piazza was with no luck. An hour of searching mixed with complete misdirection by the locals produced enough frustration to forgo any embarrassment and we started asking where the nearest gay club was. A group of men tried to convince Heather not to go to a gay club by groping her themselves. Other attempts generated lots of funny looks and shrugs, and another half hour of misdirection and wandering around. We even tried following men we thought looked gay and were headed to a club. Unfortunately the way Italina males dress, it's tricky to pick the straight from the not-so-straight, and just about everyone looks like they're on they're way to a club. Fortunately the people-watching in Firenze is excellent so we were pleasantly distracted most of the time. We asked a cashier and received yet another blank stare when a customer turned and asked where we were headed. It turns out Tommy, the customer, was headed there himself and offered to guide us.
Tommy led us through a piazza we'd already traversed a hundred times to a 3’ wide alley we'd somehow missed. That dead-ended in another ally, around a dumpster to a dark, urine-smelling corner with a tiny metal door. If you looked close you could find the little brass plate in the door engraved "Gay Club - Tobasco."
We giggled, "No fuckin' wonder we couldn't find the place."

sculpture in Florence

Tommy knocked and the door opened to a set of stairs leading down into a dark basement packed with men, flashing lights, clinking glasses and cigarette smoke.
It was a 15,000 lire cover, even with a 5,000 lire-off coupon given to us by Tommy, to get into one of the tiniest clubs I've ever been to. The first drink was free, but weak, and nobody was on the miniscule dance floor when we arrived. We got drinks and settled in to chat with Tommy.
Tommy was a Phillipino who lives in New York as a graphic designer. Very well traveled, he went to Italy "to get laid" but thus far had no luck. The Italians didn't appear to be interested in Asian types.
However, he had been to several penthouse parties 'till dawn, stumbling back to the hotel as the pigeons woke up. Heather was envious of such nights and, had we been in Firenze longer, I would have enjoyed such an all-nighter myself but our single weekend in Firenze demanded other priorities.
Heather got tons of compliments on her fabulous appearance so, with her ego boosted, she decided to break the stasis on the dance floor. Once we got out there the crowd followed, confirming what Let's Go says, "Italians aren't much into dancing."
I think the two of us were the best dancers in the joint and neither of us are that great. The walls surrounding the dance floor was lined in mirrors to make it seem less like an elevator but once a few folks crowded the room the effect was lost and we couldn't help but realize we were in a room no larger than the average U.S. walk-in closet.
Around 2 AM I was covered in sweat and ready to hit the road. I wasn’t tired, but watching Heather move to the beat with an ear-to-ear grin made me want to take her back to the hotel more than I wanted to stick around for one of Tommy’s all night escapades.
I grabbed Heather by the arm, “C’mon.”
“Wha?"
“We’re leaving.”
“Why? Where?”
I dragged her toward the door but she wouldn’t just shut up and play along. I finally pulled her to me and said “We’re going back to the hotel so I can screw your brains out.”
“Oh,” she said in a why-didn’t-you-just-say-so manner, and we headed for the stairs. We saw Tommy on the way out and Heather made excuses, letting me drag her out into the night.

Firenze was still hopping and we ogled a few more flashes of flesh on our way back to the hotel.
I pushed her back into position in the window. I hadn’t had enough of her leaning over that way and by the end of the night we did things we were still talking about months later. And everything we did that night, and countless others, just made me that much more sure that she was The One.
I earned quite a rep as a ladies’ man by pursuing, and being pursued by, just about any single woman close to my age (and a few not so close) (and a few not so single, truth be told.) But in the score or so I’d sampled, none fit as well as Heather.

Dancing, dancing, dancing
She's a dancing machine
Ah babe
Move it baby
Automatic Systematic
Full of color self contained
Tuned and channeled to your vibes
Captivating Stimulating
She's such a sexy lady
Built with space-age design
(She's movin', she's groovin')
(Dancin' until the music stops now), yeah
Rhythmatic, acrobatic
She's a dynamite attraction
At the drop of a coin she comes alive, yeah
She knows what she's doin'
She's super bad now
She's geared to really blow your mind
Dancing, dancing, dancing
She's a dancing machine
Ah babe
Do it baby
Dancing, dancing, dancing
She's a dancing machine
Ah babe
Move it baby
She's a dance, dance, dance, dance, dancing machine
Watch her get down, watch her get down
As she do, do, do her thing
Right on the scene
She's a dance, dance, dance, dance, dancing machine
Watch her get down, watch her get down
As she do, do, do her thing
Right on the scene
Come on baby, come on baby
Ooh babe, ooh baby
Shake it babe, shake it babe
Ooh babe, ooh baby
She's a dance, dance, dance, dance, dancin' machine (dance)
Watch her get down, watch her get down (dance)
And she'll do, do, do, her thing right on the scene (dance)
She's a dance, dance, dance, dance, dancin' machine (I like, I like)
Watch her get down, watch her get down (I like it)
And she'll do, do, do, her thing right on the scene (I like it)
She's a dance, dance, dance, dance, dancing machine
Watch her get down, watch her get down
As she do, do, do her thing
Right on the scene
She's a dance, dance, dance, dance, dancing machine
Watch her get down, watch her get down
As she do, do, do her thing
Right on the scene
Dancing Machine, by Weldon D. Parks, Hal Davis and Don Fletche, performed by The Jackson 5 at the height of disco

Devo’s Girl U Want says it well, in an odd way:
She swings from somewhere that you can't see
She sits in the top of the greenest tree
She sends out an aroma of undefined love
That drips on down in a mist from above
She's just the girl
She's just the girl
The girl you want
She's just the girl
She's just the girl
The girl you want
You here her callin' every where you turn
You know you're headin' for the pleasure burn
But the words get stuck on the tip of your tongue
She's the real thing but you knew it all along
She's just the girl
She's just the girl
The girl you want
She's just the girl
She's just the girl
The girl you want
Look at you with your mouth watering
Look at you with your mind spinning
Why don't we just admit it's all over
She's just the girl you want
She's just the girl
She's just the girl
The girl you want
She's just the girl
She's just the girl
The girl you want
Map of Florence
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