Day 49 - Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio, Santa Maria Novella
The night before, I calculated how many more museums and basilicas we had to hit before we recouped the cost of our Firenze card. The answer sends me into a fi-renzy. I set the alarm for 7 am. The next day, it's raining a mild, benevolent kind of rain. But not so benevolent that we can get away without buying an umbrella on the way to the Uffizi. I declare peppily, "Perfect museum day!"
There's no line into the Uffizi. I shake my Firenze card in the air. How can I feel vindicated with my purchase if I don't get to smugly skip a long line?! Inside, the Uffizi only rewards people with big bags, big backpacks, and big umbrellas. There's a sign bearing logos of lots of things you absolutely cannot do; no dogs, no umbrellas (large ones), no cellphones, no busking, no touching, no NOTHING. Later, I even find a large stop sign frescoed onto the ceiling. The wardrobe girls refuse to take our small umbrellas and jackets. We have no bags. A man gets very annoyed with this rule and shouts, "Where will I put my jacket?!". He argues until the girl behind the counter turns on her heel and leaves. "Now he's put her in a bad mood," Rob tut-tuts, shaking his head. He tries to sweet talk his way into getting them to take our stuff. No dice.
By this time, we're sweating. It's stifling with the crowds. We're juggling umbrellas, jackets, scarves, phones and cameras. Everyone is a little damp. I attempt to hook both my umbrellas and my wallet onto my lanyard. We're struggling up huge flights of steps to the second floor. I lose the scrap of paper I'm meant to show people to prove I've paid. Finally, we collapse in front of the Birth of Venus by Botticelli. To our right is Primavera. There's some early Leonardos to our left. I joke about how rubbish Botticelli's sea is; a big sweep of blue shades with clumsy white Vs to denote waves. "Turn it upside down and you get seagulls," Rob points out.
All I can do is sweat, mop my brow, rearrange my things for the fiftieth time, and remember my first encounter with the Uffizi. Funny, it was crowded and annoying then too. Later, via Instagram, my mother reminds me that while my brother and I were hurrying through the Uffizi, she was in line for our tickets to the Accademia. I don't remember that divide-and-conquer move at all. We move on quickly. The Botticellis are very pretty but their colours are dim. Either they need restoring or the lighting in the rooms need an upgrade.
On the way to Michelangelo's Doni Tondo, I make Rob take a picture of the Duomo outside the window. "Classic Italy," I say. "Beautiful old thing with crane and scaffolding in the foreground." The Doni Tondo is as surprisingly massive as the first time I saw it. I used to think it was the size of a dinner plate.
The Uffizi relegates all the "foreign painters" to a weird side wing in the basement. There's a brilliant Goya and lots of Dutch artists. I show Rob his first real-life Rembrandts. He's disappointed. "They're better in reproductions," he pouts. A lady in front of us laughs. I think she thinks we're joking but we're not. In real life, Rembrandt's heavy-handed with his paint brush. The lighting that studio photographers chase isn't a smooth thing; up close, it's a painterly slapdash smush of dots of dark paint.
We're giggling obnoxiously in rooms full of people standing in front of art with that I am so serious about this art thing look on their face. I find art emotional and awe-inspiring and funny and cool and ridiculous. I don't often find it serious. In fact, the art around the Uffizi is actually a bit terrible and funny. The silly little putto which are basically just chubby angel heads with wings. A room full of contrived over-dramatic statutes, writhing and pointing and twisting, as if the sculptor was showing off Look at this fancy thing I can do with this rock!
The gold triptychs with the Archangel, Latin streaming out of his mouth towards a gormless Mary; a medieval comic depicting the Annunciation. There's this stupid eagle that keeps showing up in paintings and sculptures. He's always sticking his nose in where it doesn't belong. Rob calls him, "Third Wheel Eagle". The Medici crest is four red Jaffa balls with a random blue one. Michelangelo, a genius in so many ways, is so completely unfamiliar and uninterested with naked ladies that he basically sculpts and paints them as men with breasts plopped on. It's like they're balancing pomegranates on their chests.
I show Rob a Uccello and can't stop laughing. My high school art history teacher used to giggle about his conveniently placed lances and horses, falling perfectly aligned with the perspective grid. There's plenty of obese, drunk Bacchus (Bacchi?) with fat rolls. Rembrandt's first wife. Pasty royalty with super beaky noses. More chubby little angels, one pissing into the corner of a painting. Two satyrs punching each other. The Massacre of the Innocents with a soldier holding a baby in the air, about to pummel people with it. The Japanese tour guide who looks like Raphael's Japanese doppelganger and is forced by his tour group to stand next to Raphael's self-portrait so they can giggle and take heaps of photos. Me and all the other Asians in the Raphael room losing our minds.
More chubby royal babies clutching birds. The maid in Titian's Venus of Urbino with her head in a clothing chest, hurrying to find her mistress some clothes because she's naked as the day she was born. The little puppy curled up at her feet, giving zero cares. And finally, exiting through four souvenir stores, only to find a stand selling Assassin's Creed novels! The Uffizi's trying hard to stay relevant to the Playstation generation, guys. Classic.
My soulmates are the middle-aged ladies who walk casually through ancient Greek statues of naked men, inexplicably playing sports, and mutter, "Hubba hubba." "Okay, that's just creepy," one of them tries to supress the other. "You think I'm bad? Imagine what mom would be like!" replies the other. I don't really want to.
We retire to Trattoria Alfredo with its 2014 Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence pasted on the door and a 15 euro two-course menu with service and cover charge included. It is super crowded with locals and tourists. I eat tortellini and a soppy bruschetta with too much Chianti. It is also a bad idea to sit me right next to the dessert table. I end up with a huge glob of tiramisu.
By the time we're struggling up the steps of the Palazzo Vecchio, all I can think is I'm kinda drunk. I'm red-faced and hot. I find the tiny cabinet off to the side of the grand hall a little bit too fascinating for no reason. Outside, the rain makes the red tiled roofs misty and grey. It's a smudgy landscape. In the "multimedia and relax room" of the Palazzo, I grab a five minute snooze on a very comfy leather armchair.
By the time we get to the Bargello, it's closed. I throw a fit that goes something like We spent too much time at the stupid Uffizi. That's all tourists want to do. Go to the Uffizi. Go see DAVID. No one ever goes to the other cool stuff. That's why the BARGELLO IS CLOSED SO EARLY. I want to see the DONATELLOS. Oh dear. I'm placated by a Foto Automatica booth right outside.
Rob then hurries me into the Santa Maria Novella which is suitably early Renaissance and hipster enough for me. I'm put in front of Massacio's Holy Trinity like a crochety child in front of an Ipad at breakfast. There's that party-pooper skeleton at eye-level. I was what you are now and I am what you will become. What a downer, Massacio. It's all fire and brimstone up in here.
The cloisters of Santa Maria Novella are silent. Dusk makes the grey stones glow foggily. There's only one other person in here. It's draughty and low-lit. I walk on the graves of long-dead monks and pious parishioners. Noise echoes through the vaulted building.
In the middle of the room, spotlit, a girl in her early twenties is dressed in a lab coat, cross-legged on the floor, her noses inches from a fresco, her brush dabbing away at a button. Dab dab dab at that button. We walk outside. There are metres and metres and metres of damaged frescoes to go; fading away, barely holding on. That girl has a long way to go.