Stairs, stairs everywhere

Trip Start Aug 01, 2006
Trip End Dec 29, 2006

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Flag of Italy  ,
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

We paraded around the Academy like bees in a hive. There were lots of Americans around and it looked like a bingo hall in Idaho had emptied and plumped them down in front of the David. I did not hear the actual phrase "Will you look at that George" but I felt like I did. Please do not pull your socks up to your knees.

We overslept so we did not have a chance to feed Collette before reaching the Academy for our 9am reservation. This translates to her acting more like a frightened squirrel than a human being. Trying to maximize our time before meltdown we hurried past the achievements of Western civilization much too quickly. The rooms were full of large colorful oil paintings. The order usually went, angels helping Mary, angels buzzing Christ, bloody Jesus, Fat Angels throwing flowers, really bloody Jesus, serious guy and so on. Collette commented about the religious gore by saying," He has lots of owies, on his hands and on his feet". After reading a third of each information card in front of the paintings we turned the corner to behold David towering above the hall. Collette, upon seeing one of the foundations of the Renaissance and symbol of the achievement of the human mind commented, "Dada he is peeing". I said, "You mean like you should have done in the toilet this morning?" She squinted at David," I don't have one of those." That pretty much ended the conversation and we went back to admiring the work, each in our own way.

I feel bad that I am relatively ignorant of the art that is constantly being displayed in front of us. Part of the fault lies in my own laziness and part is due to the constraints that traveling with a three year old puts us under. For an extended stay in Europe we have been relatively museum free which is good and bad. No matter my level of appreciating the arts I still feel it's superior to the two teenage American girls who stood in front of David and then pronounced," now let's go around and look at his ass."

We walked into the splendor of the Duormo and looked up at the immense colorfully painted dome. Collette was again running around liked a half tamed animal. Luckily the church was barren with no furniture or anything else she could break but she could still run into tourists and lay on the ground in front of the entrance or exit. This last behavior she had picked up and perfected in Venice. Again, we cut our visit short and went outside and had to keep her away from the street vendors and pigeons. Outside we decided to give the dome a shot. The tour book had warned that the dome had 463 steep stone steps and once started, there was no chance of turning back. I figured that most of the people in Florence were such heavy smokers that it would be relatively free of crowds. The same could not have been said about the courtyard around the church that was teeming with tourists, African vendors, horse carriages, scooters, but no pigeons. Collette had taken care of them with one spastic pass. We handed the stroller to a dome guard who seemed surprised and had no system of dealing with it. I should have seen this as a warning signal that few people had lugged their baby or toddler to the top.

I firmly cradled her in my arms and began climbing. The first set of stairs was a spiral stair case. Not too bad. Then the stairs open up some but were steeper and were broken up with small landings. Some of the landings had small displays in them such as the mechanism of a bell. At one such landing I stopped huffing in front of a few statues with my sweaty shirt clinging to my back. A young American couple came up behind us. I could hear him taking in deep breaths. He looked at me and said, "You are my hero, I told my girlfriend that there was somebody up ahead of us carrying somebody else." I mumbled something noncommittal in response but secretly liked his comment very much and it rejuvenated me to tackle the rest of the stairs. Finally we came out onto a small balcony that followed along the bottom of the inside of the dome about 70 feet above the church floor. Here the actual size of the paintings could be seen and the figures were about twice the size of a man. The anguish on the faces of the damned could be seen in their eyes as they were prodded and poked with spears by demons. We were still too far away from heaven at the top of the dome to get a clear view but Hell was pretty close. This balcony went about half way around the dome and then went back inside for more stairs. These stairs started following the contour of the dome with the bulge of the dome on my right and the curved roof just above my head to the left. The width diminished as the air began to become still and humid. Again we came out onto another inside balcony and could see a whole new set of paintings, these closer to heaven. The faces were somber but not tormented. Again we entered some more stairs. These were getting smaller and more like sections of ladders than stairs. Finally it was so narrow that I had to push Collette ahead of me out into the sunshine. Every muscle that I used to carry Collette felt hot and stiff and completely useless. Once in the sunshine I turned to Christy and said, "You don't see any cruise ship people up here." A college-aged American emerged from the hole to proclaim clearly and sternly ," You sure don't." Immediately we bonded and both knew the exclusion of "cruise ship people" by physical exertion was a noble and worthy goal. His girlfriend noted Collette, who had saved her energy and was now trying to run away from us, innocently commented, "This one did it." I turned on her with what I hoped was not venom and retorted, "I carried her up here!, For me it is not 463 stairs. I have to multiply it by a toddler constant of perhaps .75." She and her boyfriend were impressed so I immediately liked them. Of course the views of Florence were spectacular, red tiled roofs and other churches that we could compare our height to. The important point was that it wasn't too crowded especially compared to the masses below that resembled a disturbed ant hill.

After ward I commented to Christy that it was a very American thing to climb to the top of the dome. Americans relish challenges and link the quality of the person to the accomplishment of tasks, especially physical ones. They need to prove their worthiness and if the stair went nowhere except to a sign that read "Congratulations, you have just climbed 463 stairs." Most Americans would consider that a healthy pursuit. In my mind I didn't want to be that shallow but was honest enough with myself to know that I was. I was proud I lugged Collette to the top and it added to the sweetness of the view and anybody who can't climb 463 stairs, barring a handicap, is a loser. 1

The overall feel of Florence was not one to put us at ease. A bloody history had dictated that the city was built like a fortress. The three to four story buildings had no space between them, thus allowing an enemy no point of entry. The net effect was less sunshine and a lack of feeling of being outdoors. Along the sidewalks I had to drive the stroller like a third world bus because they were so narrow and crowded. We did find a park but it was some distance away from the center of town, and because I had a cold I did what any homeless person would do and fell asleep on the park bench. For a pedestrian city it was uncomfortable to walk around. Also, there were few places to sit and even less places to pee. Between 10am and 5pm in the afternoon was definitely a pee free zone.

However, every morning we went to an enjoyable café that had both excellent pastries and coffee. The "Mama" who owned our room had seen Collette several times. She, as is the case with many Italian woman and some men, liked to let her hand wander through Collette's hair and say, "Ciao Bella" and rub her head like a huge good luck charm. Collette used to cringe like a soldier in combat looking for a source of cover but now she is a little better and every so often, after some prompting, squeeks out a "Ciao". Our room is often a complete mess and since we stay in "unique" places nobody usually cleans them. We left in the morning to see the sites and upon our return we saw that "Mama" had not only cleaned up Collette's toys but had tucked monkey, horse and kitty snugly into bed. We had our own fairy godmother-- somebody was watching out for us. Gratzie Mama.

Traveling is like reading a good book. The language is difficult, the vocabulary challenging and it takes great effort and will to finish. One seldom laughs out loud or seems amused during the process but in the end, life is richer and one could never image a time in their lives without that experience or book. Florence reminded me most of this. It did not put us at ease or relax us but nonetheless the sites could not have been missed and our lives would be poorer without the vast experiences and exotic memories Florence gave us.

1. That's you Javier.
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