Friday, June 06, 2014

Friends indeed

 “Friend” has enjoyed a special place in our vocabulary over the past few days.

I am not the only Missouri journalism professor in Florence this June. While I am on vacation, Keith Greenwood and Nina Furstenau are working.  Tough duty, but someone has to do it.
Nina Furstenau, me, and Keith Greenwood

Keith teaches our arts journalism class. He is shepherding a group of students who learn not just to look at the cornucopia of art in Florence, but to share the wonder of it all with the public. Keith is a photojournalism professor with a bent for history and design.

In a similar vein, Nina has a class of students learning to write about foods and wine. She is on the faculty of the agriculture journalism department with a joint appointment to the J-School. She is an expert on agro tourism and has authored several food books.

Thursday we all got together for dinner (Nina, of course, picked the trattoria). We met at a quiet little place near the Grand Synagogue across the river from us.  Trattoria Cesarina was a luscious choice – great food, great wine, great conversation.  We dined on the sidewalk beneath great umbrellas. I split a Tuscan T-bone (highly spiced) with Cecile and she split her gnudi (pasta dumplings) with me. I had biscotti to dip in liqueur for dessert while Cecile had Tuscan cheesecake – not sweet, more like ricotta cake.

And we talked. And talked. And talked. It was a memorable evening.

Cecile on the rooftop of the Uffizi
Earlier that day we had made another type of friendship.  We became members of the Friends of Uffizi Museum. Membership has its benefits. While we are always happy to support the arts, we now get free entry into a host of state museums in and around Florence.

The savings in ticket prices wasn’t the biggest draw for us, however. With our membership cards, we can pop in and out of museums at will. This takes much of the urgency out of our trip, as we can enjoy museums and galleries in small bites.

We started by spending a little over an hour at the Uffizi.  This is the most famous of Florentine museums – the home of works by Michelangelo, da Vinci, Titian and any other famous Renaissance painter you can name. Even though our stroll took us through just a few galleries, it was an afternoon of visual overload.

So what do you do in Florence when you are overloaded? Have a cappuccino, of course. In this case, we went to the rooftop café for an overpriced frozen cappuccino and a priceless view of the city. I enjoyed watching the smile on Cecile’s face every bit as much as I enjoyed the masterpieces inside.

Today we strode off toward the Ponte Vecchio, membership cards in hand.  We were heading to the Boboli Gardens, but came to the entrance of the Bardini Gardents first.

The rich of old Florence wrapped themselves not just in gilded mansions, but terraced gardens lush with flowers, fruits and trees of all kind. The apartment in which we are staying is part of an old but unfamous villa. Through the back gate of the complex is a small but elegant garden with stone steps leading up the hill.

The Bardini Garden also has steps. And more steps. The gardens take your breath away with their beauty, but only after the climb up the terraces has already left you panting. It is well worth it, however, as the view from the top is spectacular.

Cecile took this spectacular panorama with her iPhone from the top of the Bardini Gardens
The walk to the top was precise architecture, but the walk down was simple neighborhood charm. We walked down a narrow cobbled street that wound past 13th century buildings – including Galileo’s original observatory (now a house).
The old 'hood

At the bottom, we came out near the Pont Vecchio and a gelatoria. There is always a gelatoria around the corner. I think it may be required by Italian law.

We were close to the Pitti Palace, so went to the head of the line, waved our cards and went in. The Pitti Palace was the domain of the Medici family. It’s huge – more than 200 yards across its front.  For centuries, it was Versailles, the Tate and Lourve wrapped in one. It is still one of the most important art collections in the world and another source of artistic visual overload. When you see painting after painting that previously peered out at you from history books, your mind does flips.

The other overload, however, was on our feet. We slogged home and took a well-deserved nap before dinner. Afterwards, we sat on a park bench along the Arno so Cecile could read her Kindle and I could type this missive.

Not a bad way to spend a day.

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