On baring ALL in Lush Tuscany, being chased by tourists in Florence, Channeling Film Noir, and a meeting with the Man Himself…
Florence. Capital of Tuscany. Jewel of the Arno.
A City. A Legacy. A People.
For me, it was a new Way of Life… A new way to feel, to love.
“…as a wheel turns smoothly, free from jars, my will and my desire were turned by love, The love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
– Dante Alighieri, Paradiso.
Florence is a city like no other. It truly is one of the world’s great cities. I arrived in the grips of Autumn with little over a hundred euros in my pocket, a single case at my side… I ended-up staying for nine months. NINE MONTHS. Nine blissful months, too. Such memories… Such beautiful memories shall surely endure a lifetime??
If Venice is a City of Water, than Florence is truly una citta dell’amore –
A City of Love.
It was in May of the year following my arrival when Rose came to visit.
Rose, that dear muse of yours everyone wants to put into the movies…
And with her she brought a whole new world of Romance.
Could anyone be more fitting for such a city than an English Rose??
Of course, I gave her the grand tour. First my apartment on the edge of the city centre, where she met my lovely housemates – then through the narrow, cobbled streets that weave across the city as intricately as the lines on the palm of an open hand, up to the majestic heights of San Miniato, through divine churches and cemeteries, all my favourite coffee shops, “pizzerie”, gardens and squares – and then south of the river to Santo Spirito for a bit of boozing by night.
I know the city like the back of my hand by now; what a pleasure to invite somebody else into this grand playground that I now called my home. I introduced Rose to a few of my Florentine friends, Davide at the pastry shop, little Nadine, Jenny from the clown school. But there was hardly enough time… There never IS enough time in cities like Florence.
But we rather do our own thing, anyway.
And, sometimes, in cities like Florence, all you need to do us look – as the beauty of Italian life dances by…
Top of my list of Florentine recommendations is a walk up to San Miniato al Monte – a beautiful old Romanesque basilica – one of the finest and most ancient I’ve seen in all of Italy, in all of anywhere – which sits atop a great hill overlooking the magnificent city below.
You can queue for hours and pay some extortionate amount for a ticket to climb the Duomo (something I didn’t do once in the nine month I was there), or you can make your way through the city at your own pace and climb to the top of this hill for free, and get this…
A rich and profound history, the delicate and atmospheric church interior, unrivalled for its stunning marbles, its energy, its sights – una vista piu bella in tutto il mondo… I think it is the greatest view I have seen in all my life… by day, by sunset, by night.
Rose was literally breathe-taken…
The church inside is so beautiful, so delicate – crumbling walls, great fading murals, a huge mosaic zodiac across the floor, beams of sunlight piercing the great dark, and a contingency of monks walking about their daily lives… A walk, too, around the adjoining cemetery, is a divine experience worthy of any soul – of which I shall detail more in a later post…
There was much gaiety. We danced on the steps of churches, under the arches of long colonnades, to busking gypsy bands.
I took Rose to the little chapel where Dante Alighieri is said to have first seen his life-long beloved – Beatrice. People watched as we moved through the city – through busy squares, arm-in-arm, then dashing down quiet alleyways to escape the crowds. There was so much to see; so much I wanted to show Rose. When the weather is warm, Florence is a place to walk… and dream.
One of the things that I was most excited to show Rose, however, was the Photoautomatica machines scattered throughout the city. Proper old black & white photo booths – cheap – taking four different snaps at a time…
Day or night – it was hard to keep us away from the things.
Honestly, we were like a couple of school kids. Perfect poppets pulling faces – serious and satirical – having such a laugh.
Simple pleasures. Always the greatest.
A jaunt in a photoautomatica is definitely a recommendation. Channel your inner Film Noir.
And be sure to go with a one so loved.
By night I would recommend (minus one or two little bars) to ALWAYS go south of the river, to Santo Spirito. The piazza itself has a few nice joints – apperitivo is a MUST (especially if you’re a poor wandering artiste, like me). But, as always, it pays to wander off the beaten track and find your own little places. Rose and I used a couple of old bicycles I managed to procure to get around during our time – cycling round Florence is bliss – again, day and night. Grab a couple of beers and find a quiet corner, a little square, a bridge – watch the stars. Make a memory you’ll never forget.
A highlight was going to a house party at my good pal Australian Jenny’s house. Jenny had the most incredible little house, just down the river. Tiny, weeny little place complete with wooden staircases, odd enamel pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, and even a little veg patch in the courtyard garden. To top it all off the place was full that night with all her ‘clown’ friends from the school – you can imagine, with me and Rose perusing round (“the models” they kept calling us) and all these colourful characters, people from all over the world – it was quite a moment.
And like with all the cities I’ve either lived-in or been to, my greatest memories have been made simply wandering round, without map or guidebook, or even agenda. Just stopping, and taking-in a new world of Romance, of hidden and subtle beauty. The simple beauty of life.
Expecting nothing, receiving everything. Florence is the perfect place to get lost…
This section contains nudity – yes, that means bums and boobs.
(I’m sorry, but since when has nudity been unnatural?)
Yes, I’ve found Eden…
One cannot go to Florence and miss the opportunity to witness the lushness of Tuscany that surrounds on all sides.
It was one of the things that most fascinated me about Florence when I first arrived – one minute you’re in the medieval clutches of the dense city, you pass under an old gatehouse and the next you’re seemingly in the middle of the wilderness… in this other Eden.
City scenes quickly fade, to be replaced by the pastoral – conical trees, low-lying green mountains, the sounds of running water, bird song – an abundance of flora.
I don’t think I’ve ever been closer to heaven than in days spent wandering Tuscan valley and dell.
“Nature is the art of God” – Dante.
And there was plenty of Nature to be seen when Rose came to stay…
At my suggestion, we took the bikes one fine day and cycled for about an hour up the river Arno, along the banks – the wind in our hair, the hot sun beaming down – you get the idea. We found the perfect spot – an old broken bridge of sorts that jutted out into the water – so we put the bikes aside, took off our clothes, Rose unpinned her hair, and we ran down into the cool waters.
No embarrassment here. Only God’s true human nature.
I took the opportunity to get some shots with Rose on film, using my old analogue Canon AE-1.
There’s nothing quite like shooting on film… that click…
When crossing the Arno River beware all ye – for there be Sirens…
After our dip in the river, Rose and I, reinvigorated, cycled back up the Arno, got our glad rags on back at my apartment, and made our way into the city centre – to the British Institute, where they were screening the great master, Humphrey Bogart and the divine Lauren Bacall’s ‘The Big Sleep’…
However – we couldn’t find the bloody place!!
We were walking back and forth, from door to door, adamant that we were in the right area, or at least very close, but… alas, no cigar.
Then suddenly I could hear footsteps – someone running, panting – getting louder. Around the corner came a little Korean girl, desperate to get a picture of Rose and I! I couldn’t believe it – she was running after us, frantically taking a load of photos, as if we were passing royalty, or a herd of sheep, or something clearly not to be missed! She certainly didn’t hold back, and she certainly didn’t know anything about personal space.
Although she did bring a smile, and a laugh to our evening.
After that little drama, we suddenly found ourselves standing right outside the door to the Institute… of course.
And so we strolled on in…
Honestly – the British Institute in Florence – it really is yet another form of heaven.
After walking up the grand staircase we found ourselves in the Harold Acton library – yes, Harold Acton – the original Aesthete – whose memoirs inspired the name of this very blog. We were given an honorary membership for the day, a couple of glasses of wine, and then ushered into another room,
into the dark…
The film had already started. The place was packed full, although we couldn’t really see – all our interested was aimed at the big screen – at all that black-and-white filmic beauty – film noir – and there were Bogart and Bacall, so cool, so quick, enacting their second ever film together.
You could instantly see the genuine chemistry between them. That love, that true love that stayed with Bacall all her life, long after Bogie’s untimely death. It was such a moment.
Such a thrill. A step back in time.
Rose and I kept glancing at each other throughout, smiling, so happy to be in such a place, watching such a film…
After the film finished, whilst all the other viewers (who were mostly old and English) sat around talking a load of posh nonsense about the Big Sleep, Rose and I sneaked out and walked around the rest of the Institute, which was frankly a lot more exciting. Rose even climbed up one of the ladders in the library – which I found very amusing because she was so close to being caught numerous times by the stuffy old members in the next room!
A night worthy of any Aesthete.
So what does Florence mean?
Love? Romance? Passion?
A “Firenze Frenzy”
By James Dee Clayton.