This is the image that hits me as soon I walk through into the Tribune of the Galleria dell’Accademia—Michelangelo’s David, 17 feet of pure marble standing bare and glorious…so much so that the abrupt shock and amazement literally forces me to take a step back. This biblical hero was sculpted thousands of years ago, yet he looks pristine and untouched, as if he were conceived just yesterday. The protruding veins on his massive hands, his cleanly carved muscles, his timeless gaze into the distance…truly awe-inspiring.
Of course, Florence’s museums have much, much more distinguished art than just the David; I get the privilege of witnessing the elegance of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, da Vinci’s mind-boggling Annunciation, and a plethora of other breathtaking paintings that, by the end, I am utterly confused as to how one incredible piece of art can be more famous than the next…it’s completely subjective!
The resounding effect that David has on me is the central theme of last Saturday’s trip to Florence—very much in-your-face. As I walk out of the Galleria, I’m just beginning to recover from the impact of Michelangelo’s masterpiece when I’m again slapped by the towering Duomo and the overwhelming number of bodies moving about it. The city is drowning in ancient art and history, much like Rome, but packed in a smaller space, so the crowds are bigger and the lines longer; in this regard, the gaudiness of the enormous cathedral is almost muted by the sheer chaos of tourism and vendors. Coming from a country where all of the institutions and monuments are relatively young, seeing that this ancient architecture seems overlooked by the locals is a rude awakening to how we really do take things for granted; yes, maybe they pass by these buildings everyday, but just knowing the history behind them and the effort and ingenuity that it took to establish these magnificent colossals…the only word that is mildly appropriate to describe my thoughts is unbelievable.
Navigating through the clumps of people is a little stressful, but once we escape the crowd it’s a straight path to…yet another throng of vendors…
The Leather Market.
This is essentially a flea market whose products are mostly—you guessed it—made of leather (or what looks like it). Of course, bargaining is the name of the game here, and for me it’s easy to play the “broke college student” card. I can get the vendor to reduce to almost half his original price, but go one step too low and his demeanor abruptly becomes rude, almost caustic. In one instance, a vendor led me to his store and fitted me with the most beautiful cognac leather jacket I’d ever seen, and it could’ve been mine…for €378. “But just for you,” he says as he takes a lighter to the jacket to prove the authenticity of the leather, “only €100.” How could I refuse such an offer?! I stare at myself in the mirror for what seems to be forever…and then decide to grab lunch, think about it, then come back if I still like the jacket. Instantly, the vendor’s face becomes stone cold, and he doesn’t say a single word as I leave the little store. I’m familiar with similar markets in some urban areas back home, but this kind of behavior is foreign to me. I guess, in Florence, if time and money are of essence, politeness becomes extinct.
The impact of Michelangelo’s sculpture still resonates in my memory, as do the well-preserved and meticulous pieces of art in the Uffizi Gallery and the biting interactions with the market vendors. Each new observance and experience in this land reinforces the notion that the people in this land are bold. They know no boundaries. they cherish candor. They have no fear of doubt.
In short, they are Italians.