Friday Oct. 12: Lucca ⇒ Firenze
Food & lodging notes
Lucca is only about 45 miles from our next day’s destination, Firenze, so we had the better part of the day to explore it. We started out desperate and starving: no cash money (remember last evening’s dinner?). We had to find an open bank and make cambio (exchange) before we could show our faces in polite cafe society. We headed on foot for the main shopping street, as identified in Bantam, ordered two cappucinos with the last of our cash, and asked for directions to a bank. All was well. Fortified with the miniscule breakfast that Italians consider sufficient, we walked half the streets of Lucca before visiting the Guinigi museum near its afternoon closing.
Lucca is an intimate and encompassable city. Everything within the walls is to human scale. Cars are not forbidden there, but are mercifully infrequent once off the main thoroughfares. Streets are narrow; buildings are 4 stories or so, none higher but the churches and a few torres. (On one of the towers trees grow; it’s a favorite postcard subject.) Residences and shops are cheek-by-jowl. The streets are like hallways, at the ends of which are rooms — piazzas. One magical place we visited is an oval of apartments / shops built on the walls of a Roman amphitheater, some stones of which are visibly incorporated into the later structures. The whole interior is a cobbled plaza; it’s probably the largest open space in the city.
The Guinigi museum is not major, not on the scale of those in Firenze, but pleasant withal. We were the only visitors. A guard followed behind us turning on lights in each gallery that we entered, and turning them off again as we moved on. She apparently had no languages but Italian. We were spending far too much time looking at the art for her liking. As closing time approached and still we dawdled in the galleries, the guard fetched a colleague to talk French to us. (Did we look French to him? Is that the only other language he had? Why didn’t the lady guard try Italian? Etc…) After relying on Alice for almost all basic communication needs for several days, I was delighted that my French flooded back and I conversed with the guard with as much facility as if we had been in Paris. We scooted as requested.
After a quiet lunch at a small panini place, we resumed our quartering of the city. We aimed for the periphery intending to walk back atop the walls to the Porta Elisa. This we did, but had gotten slightly lost and ascended the walls nearly halfway around from our Porta. The walls are broad enough for a wide road and two even wider tree-lined promenades. The viewpoint is singular: broad vistas looking outward, and looking inward glimpses into peoples’ backyards, patios, and lives. Onward to Firenze…
We walked, rambled really, through Florence. Our ostensible destination was the Pitti Palace (now a museum) and the adjacent Boboli Gardens, but the real agenda as always was to absorb the place, get the lay of it. We reached the Boboli Gardens (the Pitti had already closed for the day) and sat for awhile amid the mobs of German, Italian, French, American… tourists until a loudspeaker broke the evening calm with an announcement in all of these languages and more that the garden was closing. We left and wandered the narrow streets of the Oltrarno and found the Santo Spirito church and plaza.
A candle-lit evening mass was in progress. Not wanting to intrude on this 15th-century scene, we ventured out into the plaza and had a snack in the outdoor seating area of Cafe Ricchi. As we settled the check inside, we noticed a darkened room off to the side labelled Archivio, archive. We went in and turned on the light and beheld one of the most magical places in Florence. Let Barbara Grizutti Harrison describe it. The walls are covered by
In 1792 Florence wisely thwarted a plan to gussy up Brunelleschi’s facade. In 1980 artist Mario Mariotti felicitously conceived of having a competition for “decorating” the austere facade of Santo Spirito without defacing it…
For two months the piazza became a living theater… Onto the facade were projected images of the facade as conceived by various artists. These superimposed images are preserved for us in photographs, which were then displayed in Ricchi…
The church becomes an overstuffed armchair on which sits a fat, surprised tabby cat. Brunelleschi’s simple, recessed round window becomes a doorbell (with a brass nameplate — Brunelleschi’s — under it); a ghostly finger pushes the bell. The church becomes: a stuffed owl; a harlequin’s mask; a crocheted doily; a map of Florence; a baby swimming in amniotic fluid; a bar; a gas station; a Hindu deity; a peacock spreading its tail; a frog; a still life of fruits and vegetables; a circus; a hanging garden. Three words are projected onto the facade: Qui sono felice — “Here I am happy.” …
[Note added 2008-05-08:] On a Web travel forum I got wind of a book that had been published of Mariotti’s art project. One of the forum posters, who was then resident in Firenze, said she could pick up a copy at Cafe Ricchi (!) and mail it to me upon her return to the U.S. This was arranged and I have the book in hand.