I didn’t believe I was really in Italy until breakfast the next morning. We wandered in the opposite direction of the Square and sat outside a cafe by the Arno. I watched the traffic speed alongside the river as I sipped a cappuccino and munched on a cream-filled croissant. In addition to all the Renaissance era buildings, we could see a Gothic church and a medieval structure from where we sat. People zipped by on their Vespas. We could see mountains on the horizon. It was everything that I’d dreamed Italy would be.
In the shade, the morning was chilly. Jesse had lost his hat just before we left (and proceeded to lose his gloves at some point during the trip), so we stopped to look at hats displayed by roadside vendors. We haggled with a man who wanted 15 euro for a black cotton hat. In the end, we paid 7 euro, which was still too much, but I enjoyed the interaction. He asked us where we were from, and I asked him where he was from. He said, “Afrique,” but I wanted to know which country. Senegal.
In November, Jesse and I were disturbed to read about the racist murders of several Senegalese immigrants in Florence. There were riots in protest of the attacks. Whatever racial tension is simmering in Florence, it seemed that the city’s official response to the murders was sensitive and appropriate, expressing outrage and showing respect for the dead. I don’t know how large the Senegalese community is in Tuscany, but undoubtedly the vendor we talked to was shaken by the murders, and he may have known the victims personally.
Whatever grief he might have been feeling, on the outside the man was a goofy, funny, and determined salesman. Amongst all the Renaissance masterpieces and all the churches, he sticks out in my memories of the trip.
After passing by the ruins of a Roman bath, we ended up back at the Square of Miracles. First, we climbed the 300 steps to the top of the Leaning Tower. I felt dizzy by the time I got to the top, but the view was worth it. We could take in the Square of Miracles and the surrounding countryside.
We bought a combined ticket to see the Sinopie Museum, the Baptistry, the Camposanto, and the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo. Thus began our seven day museum orgy.
The interior of the Cathedral is truly breathtaking. Romanesque in style with arches of two-toned marble, it shows the influence of Byzantine and Arab architecture. (In contrast, the interior of the Duomo in Florence was plain and disappointing.)
Next to the Duomo is the Camposanto, or Monumental Cementary. It is a series of Gothic cloisters, and I loved the lace-like shadows cast by the arches. Some of the over seven hundred year old frescoes remain, and others have been preserved in the Sinopie Museum.
A Sinopie, as I learned, is a preliminary drawing for a fresco using a reddish-brown pigment. The top layers of the frescoes in the museum were completely destroyed by exposure to the elements for so many centuries, and all that remains is the bottom layer.
After several fascinating hours in the Square of Miracles, we had a light lunch and then hopped on a train to Florence.
I have now been to the top of the St. Louis Arch, the Sears Tower, the Seattle Space Needle, and the Leaning of Tower of Pisa. It is thrilling to see such an iconic piece of architecture in person.
But, no, I did not pose for a picture pretending to hold up the Tower. I got a “B” in elementary school gym class because I was incapable of doing a single pull-up. No one would ever believe that I have enough upper body strength to support the Tower!