Saturday, September 14, 2013

Yes, another church, but with a difference

After Pat and I finished our excellent meal at Ristorante Boccadama, Pat decided to check out some of the shops around the Piazza di Santa Croce.  I, as usual, needed to find a bathroom.  And, no, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to use the restroom in the restaurant.  I think it was actually a matter of standing there at the little leather goods kiosk next to the restaurant while Pat decided on a billfold to buy her son, and then our standing there trying to decide what to do next, and it suddenly hitting me that I needed to go.  Since I wasn’t interested in shopping at all (I never am), we agreed to meet at the large statue on the steps of the church, as we had been instructed by Gianni.  I then made a beeline for the church – whose fa├žade looks like the Duomo on a small scale, and is almost as beautiful – figuring I could surely use the toilets there.  But alas, unlike at the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua, at Santa Croce you had to pay to get into the church, to get at the restrooms.  So I forked up six Euros, to go to the bathroom.

However, when I took a look at the little booklet I’d picked up at a table by the ticket
Michelangelo's Tomb
booth, I was glad I’d paid my six Euros.  Because one of the claims to fame of this church is that it contains the tombs of a number of celebrated personages, including Michelangelo, and Galileo.  I mean, oh, wow.  To be looking at the tombs of one of the greatest artists in the world, and one of the greatest scientists.  Many people are not impressed by tombs, but I am.  Because this is the closest you can get to someone who is dead.  It’s why I have trouble with the concept of being cremated, and having your ashes dumped out into the wind on a mountain top, or at sea.  Where do people go later to feel close to you, and in some way, commune with you?  With a tomb – whether it’s an elegant sarcophagus, surrounded by elaborate sculpture, as in these cases, or a simple stone in the grass – you have a concrete place to focus on.

Galileo's Tomb
The church itself is less stark and bare than the Duomo, with a handsome dark wood ceiling, and narrow, sort of brownish-green columns holding up the graceful arches along the nave.  But it’s the apse, at the far end of the church, that is flat-out gorgeous.  I could tell this, despite all the scaffolding covering it up (it helped to later see a picture of it in my Florence guide book).  The usual rich colors, covering every inch of wall, a gorgeous gold alter, and windows full of deeply colored stained glass (at last, beautiful stained glass!)  They were obviously doing some restoration work on all those frescos of saints climbing both the outside and the inside of the huge arch that led to the apse.  I found it rather fascinating, watching the men and women up there in their white coats, looking like miniature people, dwarfed by the elaborate scaffolding, and the architecture surrounding them.  I thought, what a fascinating, if tedious, job, restoring all that beautiful artwork.

So I got my quick view of Santa Croce – would have wandered a bit more, but nature was screaming – went out to the cloister, where les toilettes always seem to be located – found I couldn’t figure out how to keep the door to the stall locked, so the lady at the front of the line kindly held it closed for me, and finally made my way out to the statue where we were all supposed to meet.

Only to discover that when Gianni kept referring to the “Pantheon” earlier, telling us we would be visiting it after lunch, he was talking about this church. Due to all the famous people buried there.  So the place I had just paid 6 Euros to visit on the run, the rest of the group was to get into for free.

Ah, well.  Since Gianni had also said our next stop would be some museum, and I was pretty museumed out, I took this opportunity to return to see the interior of the Duomo (See Note of August 6, 2013) .  When I exited there I boldly asked the guard at the door “Dove’ un taxi?”  I didn’t understand his answer, but I understood the pointing well enough.  I made my way out beyond the pedestrians-only streets to where the traffic plowed by (often interrupted by pedestrians) and was lucky enough to spot an empty cab stopped for a red light.  I went up and tapped on the window, the driver looked over at me and nodded.  When I got in I told him exactly what Gianni had told me to say: ”Hotel Villa Maid’-ee-chee, per favore’.”  And then watched as the driver made his way with great panache through the crowded, narrow streets, full of scooters and bicycles that zipped in and out amongst the other traffic.  And finally I ventured to ask “Parla englesee?  He glanced back at me and said “un po,” which is what they all say.  So I said, “I think you must be very brave to drive a taxi in Florence.”  He laughed, gave a very Italian shrug and said “It is nor-mal”.  A ride in a taxi with a real Italian driver, how cool is that?

And when she got home, after a very long day, Patricia collapsed onto her bed and declared, “The stupid museum was the Gucci Museum.  With a gift shop, of course.  A total waste of time.”