Before I left for Florence, I asked my Italian professor, "When I go to Florence, which churches must I absolutely visit?" He responded in his whispery (i.e., most gravely serious) Italian, "Ah, you MUST visit San Miniato al Monte. It is a steep climb up the hillside, but the view will remain with you for all of your days on earth." (He really talked to us like that. And he started his most important sentences with "Ah!")
O Professore! Ha ragione. You're so right.
Piazzale Michelangelo is Florence's answer to Piazzale Garibaldi in Rome. It's one of the highest points in the city with the best views. We walked there almost every day at different times of day. When Professore said "climb up the hillside," he meant the climb up to the Piazzale and then some to get to San Miniato.
San Miniato turned out to be one of the best parts of the whole trip.
We saw maybe three or four other people while we were there. It truly felt haunted, but not in a scary kind of way. Maybe it's from all the unfinished work left behind? I don't know if excavators uncovered these unfinished frescoes or if they were just left unfinished out in the open all those centuries ago.
Seeing such complicated work left unfinished will make you get really existential really fast. According to my albums, it was extremely dark inside San Miniato. After my trip I wrote, "I cannot believe that I managed to capture these frescoes on film. The interior of this church was very dark despite the bright sun outside. If not for a wide, steady ledge and an 8 second shutter, the negatives would have returned nothing but a fuzzy blackness."
|8 second shutter!|
Even better than the church was the cemetery outside. I love cemeteries, and this one to this day is my most favorite. It's so, so quiet, and yet the busy city is right at your feet. It's beautifully cared for, and the headstones are works of art.
|Graziella's so pretty! Love her coat.|
|Dante has three photos.|
Porcelain photos decorate each grave so you can see who's there. I remember thinking, "How do you choose a picture for a grave? How do you pick one photo to summarize an entire life? Do you pick a photo from one's prime? Or one that shows someone when they're older, but not so old that they look sad or sickly? Which decade do you go with?" Most of the photos show people between 30-45 years old, so it's like a vintage photo fashion show. When I told my prof how much I loved the porcelain photos, I remember he said something like, "Well, of course. Most heathen Americans wouldn't know a decent headstone if they saw one. Glad you appreciated how things ought to be done." I think he rolled his eyes too. (He grew up in Naples, so clearly he is not a heathen American.)
I remember we hung out here until it started to get dark and very chilly. We had had the whole place to ourselves (sort of ...). Back down the hill we went.
During that week, we took a day trip to Perugia rather than Assisi. Sadly, Perugia has become famous for the Amanda Knox trial. Perugia, however, has always been famous for its university and for attracting international students who are studying Italian. Like Assisi, its medieval roots are stamped on every brick of every building in town.
|Center of town--still in the middle of Christmas season.|
We walked all over the place and followed the ancient aqueduct for a ways up to a much quieter part of town. Obviously, no one literally relies on the aqueduct anymore, but it's used as a sidewalk. Some residences put their front door on the second floor so it connects right to the ancient structure.
|See the aqueduct cutting across on the diagonal? Gotta hand it to the Romans.|
The walk was mostly uphill--we passed this car on the way up and laughed because it was covered in cat prints. On the way back down, we found the culprit!
|She was a lot nicer than she looks.|
This guy watched from a window nearby:
|Look at the stuff strategically hidden behind the shutters.|
|I want my next house to have a shrine built into it. And a balcony.|
I don't remember at all how we found this church, but I do remember how profoundly quiet it was in there. This is il Tempio di San Michele Arcangelo. After awhile, we were the only people remaining and it became even more quiet. It was like everyone else had disappeared. You could've heard a pin drop on the pavement outside. The sun was setting and it created the most unearthly glow inside the church (which, I believe, was not electrified at all).
|The temple was built in the FIFTH CENTURY. So it was already a thousand years old during the Renaissance.|
In my photo albums from this trip, I wrote two things about this church:
|"The most simple church we saw all week immediately became my favorite."|
|"If you stood still long enough, you could hear the sun gliding across the nearly 1,000 year old bricks." So true. There really is a sound to the movement of the sunlight. This is the only place where I've really heard it.|
It made me sad to leave this little place because I knew that I would most likely never get back. There is just something about being in a building that is so old that makes you feel ... even older? eternal? very small? I don't know what the right word is. Even if I return to Italy, odds are that I won't be returning to Perugia so I was sad to leave.
On a different day back in Florence, we crossed over the Arno again to visit the Brancacci Chapel. I remember being pleased that we went but also being pissed off by the admission price. We stopped by Santo Spirito afterward, and a big flea market was set up in front. I remember finding out the hard way that the church was closed for renovations. At least there was the flea market. I found my mom's souvenir there: A set of three big, heavy skeleton keys. Who knows where the matching locks are today. I remember not liking that I had to haggle with the people here, but I think I'd be a lot better at it today.
Finally, on one of the last days, we climbed to the top of Giotto's campanile next to the big terracotta topped Duomo in the middle of town. The cupola of the Duomo was closed, but the bell tower was the next best thing. You climb the most narrow set of stairs you've ever seen, find out halfway up that they're two-way stairs (unlike the cupola at St. Peter's: one way up and one way down), and come out right underneath the enormous bells on top.
The bells even rung while we were up there. Literally, your skeleton vibrated and your brain shook in your head while they rung. We just laughed (although we couldn't hear each other)--it was the coolest thing ever. Church bells are a constant in Italy--they just ring all the time. That combined with the sound of Vespas is the most beautiful noise ever.
One of the major things I learned on this trip? I should never be away from home longer than seven days and six nights. On day 8 of this trip, I WAS DONE. Capital D DONE. We, however, we weren't scheduled to fly home until day 10. Ron and I had one of our classic fights that go something like this:
Me: "I AM VERY UNHAPPY RIGHT NOW. I'M PRETTY SURE THAT I SHOULD BLAME WHATEVER IS WRONG ON YOU. I'M GOING TO START CRYING IN 5. 4. 3. 2. 1 ..."
Ron: "I CAN'T FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO ABOUT THIS. THIS IS NOT MY FAULT BECAUSE YOU PICKED THE DATES FOR OUR TRIP. OUR PLANE TICKETS AREN'T VALID FOR 48 MORE HOURS. IF YOU CRY, YOU WILL FIND OUT THAT IT FIXES NOTHING."
Me: "ARE YOU REALLY SURE THAT THIS ISN'T YOUR FAULT?"
Ron: [to himself] "This is a trick question, isn't it?"
On day 9, we took the train back to Rome and had one last day before heading to the airport. While I may have been more than ready to go home at that point, I needed to get my insurance policy in order:
|Throw that coin and maybe a few more because this mama is GOING BACK.|
Everyone knows that if you want to go back to Italy, you have to throw a coin in the Trevi. So far, this strategy has worked pretty well for me ...