a firenze

I know everyone has told you that Florence is beautiful. If you haven’t been there, you’ve seen the photos and the film footage in A Room with a View and things like that, and you’ve said to yourself, “yeah, beautiful. I know beautiful. I’ve been to Paris. I know beautiful.” Well, if you’ve been to Florence, first of all you wouldn’t be so blase about it. And if you haven’t then, actually, you don’t know a thing about beautiful.

I’ll pause here to add my own editorial comments on the beauty of this city. HOLY SHIT! I am being purposely vulgar because, well, actually, I don’t think I could describe the beauty of this place in any terms that wouldn’t be vulgar in comparison. So let’s just not pretend and accept the vulgarity of language in this instance. Seriously. I was walking along today (well before I crossed the Arno and got myself hopelessly lost for several hours) and came upon the Duomo. And my first thought was “Jesus Christ!” which is, I guess, appropriate. The second thought was, “Holy Shit that’s gorgeous” and that’s sort of typified my reaction to this city ever since.

Needless to say, I like Florence more than Rome. Rome was nice, and had some really cool parks and ruins and stuff (and Lord I knows I like stuff), but as a city, wel, it didn’t necessarily work for me. Or at least, I couldn’t see myself living there. Florence, on the other hand, well, I just keep thinking how unjust it is that people get to live here amongst all this gorgeousness and the rest of us get excited about the Space Needle.

I went to the Palazza Vecchio today, which is beautiful enough to qualify as sort of obscene, and then took this tour of the secret stairways in the private quarters of the palace, which satisfied my growing need to climb every set of stairs I see and explore every nook I come upon. And I learned some interesting tidbits about art, alchemy, and architecture. Uh-huh. Actually, it was way cool, and getting to go up into the rafters above the ceiling in the Sala Cinquecento and see the amazing engineering behind holding up that huge and heavy ceiling was so cool, in a geeky architecture-appreciating way.

And then I walked across the Ponte Vecchio, which is lined with jewelry shops, and chatted with the American woman who was on the tour with me and said she wanted to bring back something nice for her daughter, and she liked the cameos but didn’t think they were appropriate for a 30 year old, which is funny, since I love cameos and wear mine quite often. But oh well. On the other side of the Arno (which said old bridge crosses) there is plenty of shopping, and I was for a time concerned that might bank accout might wind up in a duel to the death with my handbag and shoe fetish. Not to worry. So far, I’ve only spent obscene amounts of money on clothes here, which wasn’t even on my radar for Florence, but the tops I got today were just so original and cool. Oh my. The handbags and shoes are still calling my name, though, and I think it goes without saying that I’ll be shipping some stuff home.

Oh, and I learned something last night. You can get bad pizza in Rome. Really, truly, godawful pizza. Like Pizza Time bad pizza (for those of you in Seattle). I knew it wouldn’t be great. I went into it with very low expectations, but it was cold and pouring last night and there just wasn’t much near my pensione that was open on a Sunday night and I didn’t feel like being picky. So I go in, and pull the usual drill. Ask for a table for one, sit down and pull out my book, adn order. I went to the Quattre Stagione, which is a good staple–mushrooms, ham, artichokes, and anchovies. But this was just bad. And the small think of house wine I ordered was a bottle of really bad paint thinner wine, as it turns out.

But so, I’m sitting there, reading my book, and the person at the next table and across from me is staring at me like I’m a freak. I want to give a little context here. The tubercular, platinum blond obviously South American transvestite (probably prostitute sitting with her probably pimp) on the phone while eating a steak is looking at me and my book like there’s something out of the ordinary about us. Welcome to the world of bad Roman pizza.

And then home. My room at the Hotel Ferrarase was on the 5th floor, but the office is on the second. On my way up the stairs, the innkeeper waves me in to tell me that if I plan to check out before 9 am, I should pay that night. I assure him that is not my plan, and then he offers me something to drink, we sit, we chat, and he tells me that he reads palms. He reads mine, and among other things, tells me that when I was a teenager I lost someone–a grandfather or an uncle–who loved me most. I can only assume (if such things carry any merit) that he is referring to my maternal grandfather, who died when I was 15 and who was, and is, one of the people I admire most in the world. And I was his first grandchild. The one who he flew all the way to Germany to be with as I came into this world, and then flew all the way back to Brooklyn to get a suitcase full of good Italian pastries for my Christening. My grandfather lives in my memory as the epitome of everything I could ever want to be–smart, funny, good-looking, charming, generous, honest, a good dancer, and a hard worker. I loved him with all of my heart, and that he died so long ago is one of the few things that still make me cry years later. So, you know, when Antonio (my inkeeper) said this, and said that this person was watching me carefully and would let me know it soon, it struck a chord.

And so tonight, I’m in Florence. And I decide to try this restaurant that Jay had recommended which is a bit of hike not only from where my pensione here is, but also from where I got lost on the other side of the Arno today, and it’s cold. Really cold. And I’m basically a Paulettesical by the time I get there, though it’s warm inside and the people who work there are really friendly, and it’s a fixed menu with only a coupld of choices to be had (I went for the minestrone to start) and the main course comes out and it’s veal hootchie cootchie. Ok, that’s not how it was described. It was described as veal with potatoes. Which isn’t making me think of the stew that I think of as the singly most warming and comforting meal I’ve ever had-the veal hootchie cootchie my grandfather made, served after a cold, long day fishing off the peir in Belmar in the middle of winter, served with his great sparkle of a smile at his name for it (no one was ever more pleased with my granddad’s sense of humor than he was). And I can’t help but take that as my sign. Of all the dishes I could have been served, to get a great bowl of granddad’s perfect comfort food…

Tomorrow the Uffizi and stuff like that. Probably some shopping.

3 thoughts on “a firenze”

  1. Paulette,

    You are right. I am one of the lucky people to have visited Florence. It is still my favorite city. Every corner that I turned provided a feast for my eyes and inspiration for my soul. I can’t think of a more perfect place to wander and discover.

    Thanks for the posts. I hadn’t realized how much I miss Italy.

  2. Paulette, after you become a cook, will you also please become a writer? I mean a book-writer. Or maybe a restaurant-reviewer. Or maybe just the M. F. K. Fisher of our time.

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