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heaven is a santa maria novella pharmacy

Day 50 - Bargello, Duomo, Crypts of Santa Reparta, Accademia, Baptistery, Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy


We're finally inside the Bargello. In the courtyard, the rain is made extra dramatic, courtesy of pipes that line the roof and dump waterfalls of rain onto the paving below. It's serene inside the halls and hard to imagine the prisoners and executions that used to happen here during the time of the Medicis.



I love the Bargello and it's jaunty, restrained little David by Donatello. Why is he wearing a hat? I still don't know.


There is one Michelangelo and it isn't his best but it sure is amusing. His Bacchus looks like an American frat boy raising his beer bottle, shouting Cheers drukely. His little buddy hides behind his leg, chomping greedily on grapes. Nom nom nom. 


We find out more about our little buddy, the Third Wheel Eagle. It's Ganymede and the Eagle is that naughty shapeshifter Zeus. Apparently, Zeus needed a cup bearer (who doesn't?!) and Ganymede was a good looking guy from Earth who looked like he could do the job. Once installed in Mount Olympus, Zeus gives Ganymede immortality and eternal youth. After all, who wants a dirty old man holding your cup?


Florence in the rain is captivating. There's some outrageous umbrellas out; puppies and kittens frolicking, fields of poppies and Tuscan sunflowers, the Duomo. I love how they look bobbing in the air. Others choose the plastic ponchos instead. Bad life decisions.


The streets reflect the gloomy light and the sky is concrete coloured. The souvenir sellers and roaming touts become suddenly half-hearted about their job. Rob, for no apparent reason, starts singing the Flintstones song as he walks along the rain dampened streets. "A yabba do time..." he burbles. I tease him about it for the rest of the day.


To escape the weather, we mountain-goat it up 463 stairs to the top of the Duomo. Some of the steps are steep, narrow swirls. Going up and back down requires unspoken cooperation between everyone since the corridors and stairs are too small to let two rows of people pass.


There's signs placed periodically Do not write on the walls. Not even a pretty please. As we get higher and higher, the writing on the walls gets thicker and more fervent. It's a staircase of feverish handwriting. Rob accuses the thousands of wall-writers, "HEY! I thought you weren't supposed to write on the walls!"


We're spewed out suddenly into the ceiling of the Duomo. We're almost eye level with the frescoes and the people are weaving and wobbling dots below. I think this is it and get cocky. "That wasn't so bad!" I say to Rob. I swagger out the other side and my heart plummets. There's more stairs; this time, narrower, steeper and more uneven than before.


I'm sweating in my raincoat as I finally huff up and out the very top of the Duomo. The effect of suddenly being ejected out into the big, bright world 400+ steps high is liberating. The Campanile is to my right and lower than me. Florence spreads its wares out before all of us, a carpet of red, white, umber, and dark green. The only signs of the 21st century are the vehicles below, one low-slung glass and steel building, and solar panels on roofs. Other than that, it's a regular day inside Assassin's Creed.


After taking it in, I rip open my Conad chocolate. Rob turns down the euro I offer him so that he can look through the telescope. "No thanks. That's how you get conjunctivitis," Dr Rob says primly. Going back down, we stop to look at the ancient scaffolding and tools used to build the Duomo. Rob looks around at the people who choose to stop and those who choose to walk straight past. He hisses behind his hand, "See? Us Asians are interested in the engineering." I'm laughing and laughing and laughing.


Having gone up the Duomo, it makes perfect sense to climb down into its bowels, the Santa Reparta crypts. The remains of at least four churches and tombs from four different time periods form a complicated jigsaw puzzle of foundation walls, mosaic floors, tombs, and stones. Behind locked gates, ossuaries are placed on top of altars with crosses on the wall. All these layers of time and life and death piled on top of each other. 


For lunch, we intend to go back to Trattoria Alfred but get only a third of the way there. The Yellow Bar with its aggressive handwritten menu on huge pieces of yellow paper, sellotaped onto their windows, funnily enough, manages to draw us inside. "Two?" the lady at the door says, as if even she's surprised we're walking in. She shows us the counter where they make fresh pasta. I think we're special but then realise she shows it to everyone.


I have a stracceti which turns out to be yellow and green pasta shaped like large squares of ravioli in a tomato, zucchini, eggplant and mint sauce. Rob has the tagliolini with ham and cream and his is unspeakably delicious in that special artery hardening way that only pastas swirled lovingly in cream can be. I console myself with my Moschino designed Diet Coke in a pink can with silver hearts.


Up the road is the Accademia. I am overjoyed to see people standing in line. Moreover, they're standing in a long line. In the rain. Finally! Our Firenze card is coming through. We coast straight in. There's really only one reason to go to the Accademia. People might pretend to feign interest in the musical instrument room (yawn!) or the medieval triptychs room upstairs (boo!) but really, some guy called David is the drawcard. Even Michelangelo's half-finished Dying Slaves and Prisoners and one of his amazing, rough later Pietas that line the walk towards the big guy are ignored. 


David dwarfs everything around it and even when you turn your back to him, you turn back eventually, like a magnet. He's impressive. He's handsome. He's naked. He has good hair. He goes to the gym but doesn't overdo it. He looks like he could take a guy out in a fist fight but then cook his girlfriend a really nice dinner and french braid her hair. Rob has to sit down for a while and have a gawk. "He's bigger than I thought" or "He's so big" are the two things I hear him mutter. 


The gift shop has postcards with pictures of David from every angle. There are loving black and white pictures dedicated to one body part each, including his goodies. I consider buying my mother a postcard but then remember, she's got her own photo of this guy. Nearly a decade ago, my mother almost had her camera taken away from her here. You weren't allowed to take photos back then. She snuck one like a rebel. Except the flash went off and totally gave her away. Now, it's open season for photos. The only rules are no flash and no selfie-sticks. I see very many people breaking the rules and getting away with it. The attendants aren't really interested.


It's still raining. Surprise surprise. We drink coffee at the bookshop and cafe across the road, My Accademia. I browse English and art books and compel the urge to buy some and take them home. There's Women in Clothes. The Guardian recently declared it "banal and stunningly self-important." Ouch. I'd like to make up my own mind but it's too heavy to carry around. Even bigger and heaver is a Mark Ryden's Pinxit. I even start considering Dan Brown's Inferno. There's just no hope for the book-loving traveller on a four month trip.


On the way home, we go inside the Baptistery with its replica Doors of Paradise by Ghiberti. The structure itself is covered in scaffolding but the inside is gorgeous. It's dim and small but the dome rising above you, covered in glittery golden mosaics makes it feel spacious. I had to look up what the Baptistery was for and found it was for...baptisms. Makes sense.


And with the baptistery, we lay our Firenze card to rest. There was a mad dash to the Museo Novocento to try to bring ourselves back into the 21st century. But as is the way in Florence, it was randomly closed at 2 pm. Never mind, I never really wanted to go there. What I was actually after was the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy, one of the oldest pharmacies in the world with products still produced using the monk's old techniques and recipes. Inside, I am in heaven. I declare to Rob that this is where angels are born. Honestly. No jokes. It smells like an expensive and benevolent Italian princess. It's heaven.


The first thing I pick up is Breast Cream. Now, I'm pretty sure this is a later addition and not something the monks were mucking about with way back when. When you want to buy something, you point to it and you get given this card. The attendants load whatever you want on it. Then, you pay in a separate room. It's so posh they don't let you exchange money in the same room as the stock. A prim separation of commerce and elitist artisanal products.


There's a tea shop, chocolates, tisanes, homeopathic remedies, liquers, face and body creams, candles, soaps, pot pourri. Basically, everything I like. I lunge towards the soaps, pristinely arranged on top of crystal cake stands. "It says don't touch!" Rob intervenes in a panic. Dang it. The place even has, very casually, a side chapel with restored Gothic frescoes. Guys, I'm ruined for all other pharmacies.


I restrain myself but can't help getting a candle called "Angels of Florence" and a pomegranate soap. My dog, Chester, narrowly escapes getting bathed in 20 euro Santa Maria Novella dog shampoo.  

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