Day 12

Posted by Whit Barringer , Friday, June 08, 2007 11:17 AM


CT 4:24
IT 11:24

The Pity Palace and the Boboli Bastards

No, I’m not bitter. Let me explain – from the top.

We had to meet at the school at 10:00 today. I got up and took a bath to get some relief from the some 30 or 40 mosquito bites over my body. Seriously, I’m a pitiful sight. I itch constantly and no anti-itch medicine can stay my fury. So I exploited the only line of defense I had. As usual, I left before Rachel and headed toward the school.

I strolled oh-so-nonchalantly (I leave early every morning because if I walk really fast, my right shin feels like it’s going to split). I had my iPod blaring my soundtrack to life, which is kind of sad since it was The Fray.* At any rate I got to the school early and found no one was there (not a surprise), and waited until Dr. Bane and Paulette came around the corner. We chatted, paying special attention to his U2 Dublin concert shirt that he’d told us about the day before, and waited for more people to show up. Of course, they were mostly late. Do I sound disgruntled? Probably at least a bit, but I’m the idiot who shows up early all the time.

We headed over the Palazzo Pitti, which was the palace of the Medici. It’s connected by a hidden passageway to the Palazzo Vecchio, which is amazing if you ever see the two on a map (hinthint). The Palazzo Pitti is now a huge museum connected to the Boboli Gardens, which were created along with the palace. Dr. Bane went and bought our tickets after everyone who was going to meet us there actually showed up, and we headed in. Our tickets were to everything but the actual rooms of the Medici, so we were supposed to be able to see all sorts of neat things.

This is where my account gets sketchy and confusing. I have no idea what part of the museum I was in. I think it was the Museo degli Argenti, but I really don’t know. It frustrates me that they have a big thing against taking pictures. I understand the importance – flash deteriorates the paintings – but most people who go to Florence will only go once. Why can’t we take pictures? It’s not like there are copyrights. Or maybe that’s it, and they just don’t say that. I really have no idea, but it aggravates me.

It was still interesting. Intricate ivory carvings, cameos and seals, jeweled accessories, and, my favorite part, world collections. How do you prove how powerful you are? By collecting artifacts from all over the world. Chinese and Japanese curtains, plates, and models, African people models made completely from shell, and, brace yourself – a New World mask. It was very simplistic, but made from a beautiful green jade (at least it looked like it). I wanted a picture of it, but I was being stared at so I didn’t get to.

Otherwise, that part of the museum was hit or miss with me. The ceiling was neat, as it was painted with 3D effects that literally made it vibrant and alive, but it wasn’t nearly as impressive as the Palazzo Vecchio. We then went looking for the Galleria del Costume. We finally found it on the “second floor” (meaning the third). Natalie went off to the side and found an Egyptian mummy, but we had already gotten into the museum and didn’t go back.

The costume museum and the modern art museum were very disappointing for those of us not into art design/clothing/shiny things. They had a few of the 17th century costumes, but it mainly showed the evolution of women’s dresses. Could we get any further out of my area? But then we happened upon the All Hail Garibaldi exhibit (not it’s actual title). Since everything was in Italian, we had no idea who the guy was until I saw a “Sicilian War of Independence” poster, some dates, and the name “Viktor Emmanuel.” I think Garibaldi was the other guy who conquered Italy in the 1800s (you can double check me). It would make sense, because he was obviously a general and I can’t think of any other huge war the Italians were involved in during the 1800s (because I’m an Italian history expert and all). It was kind of neat, but it wasn’t nearly as engaging as something like the Civil War has proven to be to foreigners. It’s not like it was aimed at us. It was in Italian.

Next we headed out to the Boboli Gardens. The damn thing is huge. It was bigger than the Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Pitti, and probably the Gli Uffizi combined. I wouldn’t say you could get lost in it, because it would be pretty easy to find the main roads – but at the same time it had roads. I was only interested in following signs and not in getting lost, so I went ahead and headed toward the Il Giardino Antico Babilonia a Roma (“The Antique Gardens of Babylon and Rome”), which is only open from March or May 8 to October 28 of this year. Without mentioning names, some of the people I was with decided to follow someone else (who really didn’t want them to tag along anyway), so I went ahead by myself. I think I ended up being the only person from our group that went.

It was extremely interesting to me, a certified history geek. It had tablets from Mesopotamian culture, including Babylon, on the contents of their gardens (possibly even the legendary Hanging Gardens). It also had ancient Greek and Roman pottery depicting plants and horticulture. There was a very short Egyptian part of the exhibit, but at least it was still there. They had quite a few statues of what would have been Greek and Roman fountains in the gardens. They also had quite a few working models of how some of the irrigation systems would have worked. I found it interesting. I didn’t take any pictures though, which has been the oddest thing I’ve done on the trip. Something inside me deemed it unnecessary. It was nothing that we all haven’t seen before – just put in one place with a theme.

After that I went to see how many hidden statues I could find, but stumbled across another exhibit. A lot of the pieces in the previous exhibit were from Pompeii and Herculaneum (including a huge mosaic seen for the first time outside of Pompeii), both destroyed by Vesuvius. In this other exhibit, two Pompeian households had been recreated. I did take pictures of these (who could pass up recreated Pompeian villas) and gloated at the fact that if everyone had gone with me, they would have gotten to see them – especially since they’re all supposedly going to Pompeii once we get to Rome. But hey, that’s that much more they’ll get to experience there, I guess.

Otherwise, Boboli was a kind of nightmarish maze. It wasn’t too bad, except I had already gone downhill and had to go back uphill. I waited around at the bottom, I guess waiting for divine intervention, spotted a yellow and black bird that couldn’t fly (evident from its attempts to skitter away from me taking a picture of it and not flying), and started up the hill. The most exciting part of this journey was my rescue of a little green dinosaur.

A father and a mother with a penchant for punishment were pushing their stroller around with their child. They had just come down the huge hill I was heading up, and we passed without as much as a look at each other. By the time I started up the actual hill part, they were already to the fountain at the very bottom. I happened to see something extremely green – brighter than anything else – laying in the middle of the gravel road. I ran over, saw it was a little lime green dinosaur with a yellow belly, and looked at the family. The man kept dropping his water bottle over and over again and seemed more preoccupied with keeping it in his hands than anything the baby had dropped. Going out on a limb, I went back down, running (funny sight), and held it up to the parents. The woman gasped, “Ah!” and the man sighed and nodded, “Grazie mille!” I nodded, pointed up the hill, and said, “It was way up there!” before I realized that they didn’t speak English. I nodded, and went back on my way. Then an angel of the Lord spread her radiant light down upon me, sanctifying me on the spot for the many miracles and good I have done on the earth. And lo, I was sore afraid.

Of course, those last lines didn’t happen, and I was forced, without divine intervention, to scale the mini-Everest that was the Boboli Gardens. I made it to the top, weaving between the shaded corridor and the open gravel road, and finally made it to the top. There was a huge broken statue face, just sitting there. I was like, “Did they find the Colossus of Rhodes?” Turns out it was a modern piece, which is okay, I guess. I then sadly realized that no one was there to take pictures of me with it, so I had to figure out something. This is what happened:

1.) Figure out the camera angle. As is obvious by the look on my face, I wasn’t expecting to keep the picture. But earlier this morning on my way to the school, I had a look similar to this on my face (at least, I think so). A man riding a bicycle that was laughing and talking on his cell phone in his Armani suit passed. We happened to meet eyes and the smile, the laughing smile I might add, melted off. This isn’t the first time this has happened in my life, thus it is my second superpower - the first being my uncanny ability to tell someone’s shoe size and be right within a half size range. Note my fake Armani sunglasses.

2.) Fitting other objects in. I’ve never been photogenic, so trying to make myself look good and get something else in focus is a tricky duck indeed (or perhaps a picky duck! Sorry. Inside joke.). So, first try, this is what came out. I took the picture through a wrought iron fence, so that’s the circle (halo anyone? Anyone?) around my head. I kind of like it, it being one of the few pictures I have ever taken that I look serious and don’t simultaneously look like a bouncer.

3.) Fitting the statue in. Three things could have been better about this picture. Number one, the statue is too far away. I would have liked the statue to be comparable to my own head, but I think that was too much to ask from my rudimentary self-portrait, extended arm, foreground and background focusing skills (but I did manage to catch two people in the background, thus giving the viewer an idea of how big it is). Number two, it’s not in focus. Number three is obvious: I look ma-yud. I look like I really did just climb a huge hill. Therefore I retook the picture and….

4.) Trying to look happy. I did just climb a hill, and it’s true I can’t focus the camera or even get close enough without people seeing me and thinking I’m an idiot, but by God, I’m going to be happy about the damn statue. So I am. Sort of. I was actually laughing at the last picture because I looked so scary, so that’s why the smile actually looks sort of normal. But there. That will probably be the last of the pictures of myself I attach. I thought it was an interesting “evolution” of my l33t skillz. What it is, yo.

After this episode, I went back down the hill – in a different part, mind – and found myself at the place where I entered the gardens from the costume gallery. I turned right to find the porcelain museum, the other part of what our ticket would let us in to, but I couldn’t find it. Of course, it began to rain. People huddled under trees, umbrellas, and the gift shop “porch” trying to get out of it. Honestly, I don’t know what they were thinking. Every time it has rained here in the last two weeks, it ends up pouring for an hour or two at a time at least. So I kept walking. I took a picture of an Egyptian obelisk with no translation (I’m pretty sure it was real), mini-maze gardens, and the huge hill I was about to climb. I got up to the top of the hill in the pouring rain, took pictures of a naked Neptune on the backs of mermen or Minos-types (half-men half-fish, right?), I’m not sure which, and went up the next hill to find a huge statue that looked somewhat recent. I found Caitlin and Kim, chatted with them, went back down the hill, hit up the gift shop (actually got some things for myself that were not for the purposes of recounting the trip to someone else, including explanations of some paintings and the mythology behind the subjects), and headed out. It was after two at the time, so I grabbed lunch (ham and cheese calzone and a big strawberry freezi type drink), and headed to Kent State University to rest and read.

I saw Paulette, who asked me how I was feeling. I was exhausted and said so, and she said she understood. She said she was going to go home and rest. She left and I kept reading. Five minutes later, she comes back up and asks me how I really am because I look so down. I said I was tired again, and she said, “Well, I was wondering if it was roommate trouble.” I told her it wasn’t, but decided to tell her the latest developments for the sake of gossip and someone to talk to. She laughed and rolled her eyes in the appropriate places. Paulette is just one of those people who can make anyone feel better. I thanked her for her ear, and she said, of course, “Anytime!” I then read a bit for class, did a journal entry, and went down to the classroom.

Hint to all of you who travel in Europe: yes, water is cheaper. Yes, it is good for you. But you will cave for what I so creatively call the “Coke Trap.” If you’re reading this, you’re more than likely American. You thrive on sugar and preservatives in your food. You come to Europe and say, “No way am I spending the equivalent of $4.50 on a Coke/Sprite/Pepsi.” You do well for a bit… and then it hits you. You haven’t had caffeine in ages (you might be able to stave this feeling off if you drink Italian coffee, which is apparently some of the best in the world – say the Argentinean lady who serves at a gelato bar near Santo Spirito). You haven’t really had sugar, unless you’ve been eating gelato every day or a desert every where you go. You definitely haven’t had preservatives, because the food here is mostly without it. So what do you do? You’ve got to have the worst thing you can put into your body without crossing into drug paraphernalia. You have to drink a Coca-Cola. So yes, I’ve had one or two every day for the last four days because I get pangs for them, and this is coming from someone who drank Sprite Zero in the states. I shop around for mine, and usually get them for around 1.50 or 2.00 Euro (between 2.20 and 3.00 USD) for the equivalent of a 12 oz can or a 500 ml. It’s outrageous, but there are few things that are exactly like home here, and that’s as close as it gets. All of this is to say that I bought a .50 water out of a vending machine as well as a 1 Euro coke out of another machine and drank both during class.

We covered Dante’s Divine Comedy, the “Inferno” Cantos I-IV or so in class today. That’s woefully behind schedule, but we have some really interesting conversations. Somehow we got on televangelists, and that proved to be extremely interesting (considering the discussions I’ve had about Falwell, Robertson, and the ever thaumaturgic Benny Hinn). We got out of class at six and decided to go across town to get dinner at an Egyptian restaurant. I’d never eaten falafel or hummus, so at the behest of Nathan, I decided to get a falafel and hummus pita, which also had spice, milk, lettuce, tomatoes – all fresh. It was scrum-diddly, and if I wasn’t a born and bred meat-eater, I would totally eat falafel and hummus for the rest of my life. I actually took a picture of the menu and the inside of the restaurant. Everyone else had shauerma, which had some really really good veal. We all had a desert, mostly baklava but also basbussa and mahallabia. It was all very very good and very cheap (Euro wise it was about 4.50 for the meal and dessert).

After we left from there, definitely deciding to come back, we crossed the bridge next to the Ponte Vecchio. Apparently it was a good time for a photo op, and everyone jumped over the side of the bridge onto a little ledge. Of course I’m the safe one, so I’m listing off all of the horrible things that could happen to them. They took a group picture and some individual pictures of them skirting with doom, and then climbed back over onto the bridge. We headed on over to the apartment across the Arno and started reading after we got over our giggle fits. I laid down and passed out. I woke up to Halley and Rachel cackling. Rachel told me she was ready to go, so we headed out and walked all the way back just so she could wash her clothes and I could journal. And here I am, with “Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann to finish. I’m on page 10.

For such a relatively uneventful day, I can always find something to chat it up about.

5 Response to "Day 12"

Adamanthenes Says:

Sorry about the formatting, all. It was hard as hell to get it the way it is now.


Dylan Says:

It's okay. The big font on Day 9, I think it is, was an interesting change. Thanks for answering the question, by the way. Backpack makes sense to me.

Justin Ray Says:

Sounds like a fun adventure. The European panzies will never be able to understand the American gut's need for acidic, corrosive juices. They just don't have the fortitude. Heck, the evolutionary boundary that allowed European society to be so prosperous was the mutation that allowed them to drink milk. They may have stopped there, but at the rate we're going, we'll be able to digest gasoline before too long. Arrrgh.

Ash Says:

I caught that reference to my duck, you know.

Sarah Says:

Smile smile smile. I don't have a long post this time (gasp!), but I enjoyed your day. Good Samaritan points for the dinosaur! I love how cheap water is in Europe. Two liters anyone? And last time you said you hated carbonated water. But by the end of my trip, I didn't find it so bad. It doesn't really have much of a taste.

I miss Europe. Dreadfully so.

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