Sunday, June 26, 2005

Starring Firenze Henderson as Mrs. Brady

Here we are now in Florence, an impossibly beautiful Renaissance town filled with fabulous art and architecture, tourists and partying college students. When I go on vacation, I take pictures of buildings. I may need a few more 1-gig flash cards just for this city alone. The Ponte Vecchio and the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore alone are worth about 1000 pictures each.

It's hot here, just as it was hot in Rome and hot in Paris. We're taking at least two showers every day, and are starting to believe in the value of the midday siesta -- or at least I am. Mrs. Generik eschews the daytime dreamtime, as she says it makes her groggy for the rest of the day. I find it refreshing, especially around 11 or so that evening when we are trying to walk off yet another delicious meal by strolling around the piazza with six thousand of our closest friends.

Speaking of piazzas (not pizzas, and not Mike), they have become a central element in our trip thus far. Piazzas and squares; castles and cathedrals and chapels; museums and cafes seem to make up the daily routine. Yesterday we toured the Uffizi, perhaps the premier museum here in Florence. After that, the Louvre, the Vatican Museum and the British Museum (where we saw the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles and lots more), we're wondering, though, if we aren't reaching our saturation point for Roman statuary and Jesus paintings. In China we got to a point where we felt like we didn't need to see one more palace or temple for a few days. We might be getting close to that point here. It's an embarrassment of riches.

Last Thursday we started out at the Vatican, and got lucky with the line into St. Peter's Basilica. The sheer enormity of it, the scale so gargantuan, was at once awe-inspiring and rather obscene. Seeing boxes stationed all around the basilica asking for donations (and one sign saying that a chapel with a dead Pope in a crypt was "sponsored by the National Lotto") really enforced the feeling of obscenity for me, and reminded me of why I think religion -- all religion, not just Christianity or Catholicism -- is so much hooey. Take from the poor and add it to the coffers, thank you very much, now please confess your sins in the box on the right, you guilty sinner you.

But I still went, and admit to being impressed by all that artwork and grandeur. After we got out of the basilica, we noticed a huge crowd had gathered in the square, and there were helicopters and police and barricades and the Swiss Guard was out in marching formation (they look like clowns with conquistador helmets), and we realized that could only mean one thing: Pope Cliff was coming home! Sure enough, Pope Cliff came driving by in his Pope Cliffmobile, waving to the Catholic masses who squealed and swooned and pinched themselves at their luck for being there to see him. Wheeeee!

In the cafes and restaurants, we have had great luck in meeting people while dining and enjoying good conversations with them. A trio of young college girls who are living in Paris for the summer and had just arrived in Rome that morning sat next to us at a cafe near the Vatican and thought we were "so cute" (we sure fooled 'em) and wondered how we had made our marriage work for 20 years (we lied, and gave them some standard Hallmark treacle). In Rome we met a very nice British couple from Kent (she was quite chatty, especially after a few glasses of wine), which was even more enjoyable thanks to the ugliest of Americans sitting at the table on the other side of us. ("Close this window, how can you advertise air conditioning with a window open?" "Can I smoke a cigar in here? No? Why not?" "Give us the bill and stick around, 'cause we're in a rush.") Here in Florence, Allison from Hollywood and Rebecca from Oxford regaled us with tales of their days at a nearby spa, Rebecca admitting that she looked to Patsy and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous as role models for the two of them, and flirted madly with the wait staff (who themselves were flirting madly with pretty much every woman who walked by). "We want our pictures taken with Ricky Martin there, and the chef, and all the other waiters here!" They were Livin' La Dolce Vita.

The last four cities we've been in -- London, Paris, Rome and Florence -- have all been situated on major rivers. The Thames, the Seine, the Tiber and the Arno. I suppose that only makes sense for cities that are thousands of years old; rivers were the highways of the ancient world. Next is Venice, built on the Grand Canal, and of course Prague, which also sits astride a major waterway whose name escapes me at the moment. We miss the bay and the ocean of San Francisco, but at least we have some kind of water nearby wherever we go.

Yesterday, after the Uffizi, we took a bus up into the hills surrounding the city and visited the small town of Fiesole. I don't know why I bring it up, except that it was gorgeous and the view was outstanding. It seems like almost everywhere we go, we're struck by how pretty it is and how much we're enjoying our good fortune at being able to make a trip like this. Serendipity rules this trip; some of our best days have been when we just picked a general direction and headed off to find whatever we could find.

My time is coming to a close, and I have another subject to write about, so I'm going to end this post and purchase more time for a second post. It's 7:30 Monday morning here, and Mrs. Generik is still sleeping back in the room, so I've got time to kill. Ciao for the moment.
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