We finished La Vita Nuova last night after dinner – I skipped Thursday’s reading because I noticed I was getting a little melancholy after the nightly Dante. The unrequited love, the death of Beatrice – something about it was too much for me. I kept wanting to ask useless questions, and I had the most irrational urge to want to know if Dante met Beatrice in Heaven. Damn it, I want my Hollywood ending!!
This week has flown by, but it seems like it was a year ago that I arrived in Tuscany. I am in a rhythm here, though we are in a different city every day. I see the same people on the bus in the mornings, and the little old men in the piazza recognize me and have taken to smiling and saying ‘giorno or ‘sera to me as I pass. I have a favourite cafe that I get espresso from every morning, and I no longer have to order, they make it as they see me walk inside. I have eaten more gelato than a three-hundred pound Florentine and I will probably eat more, because I haven’t tried all the really weird flavours yet, like tomato.
We get the news from home in bits and pieces -students share emails from friends in New Orleans, or we pass by a newsstand that happens to sell papers in English. It is too easy to let all of the horror of the hurricane and its aftermath stay faraway, like a terrible fairy tale, but we are thinking of everyone in the States, and I am passionately hopeful that from these events will come some good, some accountability from the current government of the US for its complete failings in terms of domestic responsibility.
Wednesday we travelled to Pisa to visit the cathedral and its campanile – otherwise known as the Leaning Tower. It rises like a haphazard wedding cake from the horizon, each layer stuck on at opposing angles to the layer below, to compensate for the lean. It is a grand masterpiece of architecture, and I am lucky to see it after the restoration and stabilization have been completed, untouched by the chains that used to anchor it to the earth.
The cathedral and its tower are marvels, built in the 11th century and bricked with remnants from the ancient Roman Empire – two thousand year old marble reliefs of ships, flowers, and bits of carving reading “IMP CAESARI” stacked randomly within the walls of the cathedral. Inside, it is the most splending interior of a cathedral I have visited yet (and that is saying something, as it feels like I have seen the interiors of every church in Tuscany, large or small).
Nearby is the Campo Santo, or Holy Field. It is a long gallery style building with wide arcades in which important people were buried. In the center is a courtyard and the soil in that courtyard was brought from Jerusalem nine hundred years ago. This building was destroyed by bombs during WWII – in fact, it is considered a miracle that the nearby campanile did not fall during the bombing. I was halfway through the tour when I realized that the bombs were American. The teachers had been kind enough not to say it aloud, assuming we would come to the realization on our own. I am not a stupid girl by nature, but I can be a little blind to the obvious sometimes.
Within the Campo Santo are several frescoes dating from the middle of the 14th century that display the horrors of hell and the torments that will be inflicted on sinners. This is a direct reaction to the plague that was going on at that time. And yes, the paintings show some truly horrific things – the Leviathan tearing at the limbs of the tormented, body parts and innards flying through space, the faces of the damned being burned. I found it fascinating, but had nightmares for days afterward.
Yesterday, I went to the Uffizi and cried in front of a Botticelli. Don’t laugh – when YOU go to the Uffizi and a full-sized original Botticelli pops up in front of you with no warning, you’d cry with joy too. Especially if you are in Italy to study painting in the first place. I was so affected I had to run immediately to a swanky cafe for a hot chocolate (incredible) and brandy (to die for). That almost worked, but I wasn’t fully restored until I shopped for some clothes on my way back to the station. A day with friends, shopping, chocolate, Botticelli and Titian – I am certainly a tourist, but I am also entirely in love with Italy.