Leaving gassy, noisy, rumoroso Pompei behind, we arrive – 500km and Campania, Lazio, Umbria, and Toscana later – in Firenze.
Of course, Florence is, naturally, so harmonious, that it has rightly become mauvais ton not just to say how beautiful and great it is, but even to mention how it has become mauvais ton to say how beautiful and great it is. A sophomore Art History major, visiting on a day trip from the American Academy in Rome, was recently disemboweled in an alley off Piazza Palazzo Pitti by a gang of UNO (United Nihilist Ord) blackshirts after having the gall to pontificate aloud on the Floral City’s manifold aesthetic advantages. Playing it safe, I am writing this on a Frecciargento train bound for Verona. It has just left Bologna, where Umberto Eco’s ghost nods approval to the strict punishment meted out to the clueless American student of beauty.
With me I take small marks left as a result of an uneven battle with florentine mosquitos, who, in the best traditions of the Medicis, work with stiletti, not broadswords, leaving behind sharp, tiny mounds of agony instead of the expansive, inelegant welts that are the telltale signs of their North American colleagues at work.
Yet what will stay with me the longest is a kind of aural blessing received while going down the interminable steps of Giotto’s Campanile. I am still in the top fifth of the tower as the bells come alive, sound waves reverberating off of two-foot-thick stone walls, criss-crossing, pressuring and deforming each other, my head moving through this melange, absorbing it. I continue to the bell chamber below, where the ringing is almost unbearable, and then, immediately, lower – to the fourth fifth of the tower, directly below the bells, where the din dries up some. The ringing lasts no more than a minute, but takes place precisely as I pass through three bands of the Campanile: above, at, and below the bells.
* * *
I fix the look of Florence in my mind as she lies straddling the Arno: like a Renaissance maja, supremely confident in her power to seduce, and therefore still – small of gesture, vast of effect.
The sum and essence of her own statuary, all Florence the majestic courtesan has to do is stand there, lie there, knowing full well that the spell has been cast, and that whoever has visited once, will be back again, and again, and again.