Day 9

Posted by Whit Barringer , Thursday, June 07, 2007 9:40 AM


CT 12:25 A.M. (6-4-07)

IT 7:25 P.M. (6-4-07)

A Hike to Nowhere.

I’ve got to stop hanging out with these people.

I got a phone call at 10:00 A.M.

“Hey… Are you guys comin’?”
“Uh… yeah. I didn’t get a call.”
“Oh… Is Rachel there?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where is she?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you know when she’ll be back?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, we can wait.”
“Okay. I’ll be there.”
“Okay. Bye.”

Turns out, Rachel was still in her bed, not six feet away from me, and I couldn’t see her in the dark. Anyway, I got her up and we got ready. She beat me to the shower, and I desperately needed one, so I had to wait on her, then take a shower, then get dressed. Finally, we were both ready and I called the others and asked their bunch to meet us at the Ponte Vecchio. They called us when we were close and said they were going to meet us where we got gelato two days before, which is across the Ponte Vecchio and closer to where we wanted to be. We found each other and they made fun of us for being lazy. It turns out we were one short because of sickness, but there would be plenty of pictures for her to see when we got back. We started the way we had gone before, but someone suggested we go further up.

Further up really did mean further up. We actually passed where we had been dropped off our very first minute in Florence and began climbing the first of many stairs and hills. We actually made it up to the Piazza Michelangelo, which was nothing too special. It had an ugly bronze copy of David and people were setting up a TRL area. Yes, that is Total Request Live – for the Italians. We went further on and found cheap gelato and lots of flavors. We found out that was a bad idea very quickly, as we ascended the hill to find Basilica Miniato di Monte. It was an extremely Byzantine influenced church. I happened to have someone else’s guidebook with me and found out that it was the place where the very first Christians would have been buried there.

I was excited to see all the tombs (I’m a bit macabre that way). The ones we initially saw weren’t very old at all, some even from the 60s and 70s – even as young as 2006. They were family crypts – very rich, old-money crypts. Centuries-old families had generations interred there. Interestingly enough, there were a few sections only for children, with plots about two feet by two feet, in jumbled messes next to each other, some with or without pictures. Perhaps their ashes were buried there – I can’t be sure. At any rate, it was sad, serene, and mind-blowing. The very scale of the cemetery was absolutely incredible. I don’t know why I didn’t take a picture of it, but there was a grave that contained the bodies of a young man and woman, obviously married. The man died in 1944 and the woman in 1945 – about 25 and 22 years old respectively. On top of their grave were two life-size statues of the deceased, their hands joined as if he was eternally asking her to dance with him. He was in his uniform, she in her dress. The statues were both white and unabashedly tacky (no Romanticizing here – just statues that could have been made from a picture), but it was somewhat chilling to stumble across them. Tombs with Byzantine art, statues of lions, elevated tombs with busts (the one I’m thinking of was an Italian general with a bust with all his medals on display). The power and money on display were amazing. While I was there, I pondered the saying “in death, all are equal.” Are we?

A big burly man, probably a caretaker for the cemetery, whistled at us and told us the cemetery was closing. After we got out of the cemetery, we entered the basilica. It was beautiful – not as ornate as some of the others, but I think this contributed to the serenity in it. It may not have been gilded from floor to ceiling, but it was certainly decorated. Byzantine art, marble geometric shapes – even the crossbeams in the ceiling were decorated with bright-colored paints (I immediately thought “Norse” and “German” when I saw it, which could, in part, be true). There was a crypt underneath the sanctuary part of the church, but everyone was ready to go so I didn’t go down. We got someone to take our pictures with the Florentine skyline behind us, and continued our trek onward.

We began walking in a grove of trees with a path right by the road. We had gone only a little ways down the road when one of the other girls realized she’d forgotten her sweater. So while she went to get that, Rachel said, nonchalantly, “I could climb that tree.” So ensued Halley and Rachel’s assent to the top of a soft dirt hill to climb a tree. I had both of their cameras and took pictures as they went up. Then Caitlin came back and decided she could climb it, and Natalie decided to do the same. So I took all four of their cameras and alternated taking pictures of them as they went up. They all sat in one tree, precariously I might add, and I took pictures with each camera. Then I took pictures of them all coming back down. They were all pleased with my dexterous expertise. Onward we went, as only this group knows how.

We found a bend further up that advertised another church. We actually wanted to get to a castle that we could see from the Duomo last week, but we weren’t sure how to get there. Finally, we were at the foot of the hill that seemed certain to hold captive our prize, so we headed up again (after a lunch of bread, Nutella, and fragola, or strawberry, jam, and carbonated water, to my great disgust). As can be discerned, I’m not much for climbing. Rachel had another bright idea to climb a tree and this time get fruit out of it. Italians are very personal about fences, and almost always have rudimentary devices to keep people from climbing over them. Broken glass bottles, barbed wire (hidden and not so hidden), etc. In this case, it was a pointy steel mini-fence across the top of the concrete wall. Rachel nearly impaled herself and Halley had to help her down before she did so. I seem to recall a story about a man who fell two stories onto a fence and impaled himself, but was held up by friends and neighbors so he didn’t impale himself through and through. I’m sure we wouldn’t have had such luck.

ANYWAY, we continued – onward and upward – toward the grand castle that stood before us. Along the way we passed a sign that said “FIRENZE” with a big red slash through it. Meaning, as we soon found out, we weren’t in Florence anymore. We saw the castle, but couldn’t get very close to it. So we just kept walking, having a conversation about whether farms had just animals or could have more (it can), what a bunch of trees would be if not a vineyard (an orchard), and so on (I was the consultant for these questions). The town we were in was utterly deserted. I kept saying, “Guys, we need to turn around.” “No, we can keep going. Just to this next corner.” This conversation, times about three or four, constituted our journey beyond all civilization.

Only two things of any note happened. Before we passed out of the little town we were in, we saw a man’s bust in a hollow in the wall of a building. We couldn’t read Italian, so we just passed on. The other thing, which happened to be the only funny thing, was that Halley said, “Man, I feel like I’m in Jurassic Park,” referring to a high fence row with lots of vegetation. All of the sudden a big goofy dog with a pink collar jumped up against the fence, like a lovable Cujo. Halley screamed, Rachel flailed, and Natalie laughed so hard she started crying. Caitlin and I had no idea what was going on due to the distance they were ahead of us, but we got in a laugh too. Turns out the dog couldn’t have been any sweeter, and we gave him a pet, took a picture, and told him, “Ciao!” (Dogs speak Italian here. Haha.)

We had entered the rolling Italian country-side, with vineyards, orchards, and gardens everywhere. It truly was beautiful in a strangely Arkansan way, and seemed to stretch forever. But, despite its beauty, we were lost as only we know how to be. We decided to ask the next “local” how to get back to Florence. I say “local” because there was not a thing around for someone to live in besides under a bridge. We recited how to ask (“Do’ve Florence or Firenze?”). Apparently all of our facilities failed when we were approached by our hapless victim. Halley walked up to him and said, “Hello. Florence. That way (points to where we’ve come from)? Or that way (points the other way for the only two ways to go from where were were)?” He said, “Uh, well, you could go either way, but I’d say this way.” Turns out we happened to pick out the only “local” who was from L.A. He told us that behind us was Rome, to the left Chianti, and to the right Florence, though the quicker way was to go left. We asked him how far we’d come and he said, “Oh, I’d say at least five miles” (see the first line of this entire entry). He even volunteered to walk us to where we needed to go and struck up conversation on the way.

The man’s name was Robert and he was born and raised in L.A. He works in movies as a producer for movie trailers for Paramount and Warner Brothers. He said he used to work for another company. The first time he came to Florence, he was about to come back when “a partner in the company said he thought he could run the company better than I could. I said, ‘I think you’re right.’” He spent two years here, and then decided he didn’t want to retire and started working again, but comes out once a year for two or three months at a time. He talked about a coworker he emailed, asking him about his family, and got a reply talking about work. “That guy’s going to die with all of his money, you know?” He told us nothing we didn’t ask, and sometimes not even then. Halley and Rachel asked him if he was famous and he said, “Everyone works hard.” He wouldn’t give us his last name, either.

He showed us his guest house, which we passed. We apologized for taking him out of his way, and he said it was no problem because it was in a circle (meaning it’s good we saw him when we did). We pointed to buildings and he told us what they were. “That’s a school… and that’s a police academy… That’s the beginnings of the Chianti regions…” He even told us about Italian culture and laws: “You can’t build anything new out here. You can only build up, and it has to have the same exterior. If you were plowing a field and found an ancient foundation, you could theoretically excavate and build in that exact same spot with the same dimensions, but otherwise, you can’t do that.” We asked him what town we came through: “That was Elmiro, where Galileo Galilei was placed under house arrest for sorcery.” I said, “Oh yeah,” and he said, “you must be the historian.” (Apparently I’m easily pegged.) When we finally parted ways, he gave us directions and the best way to get into the Boboli Gardens, and told us the best way to get back into town. Then he said, “Let me give you my number in case you need anything.” It was his business card, complete with last name. Rachel and Halley held it like it was the grail and we thanked him profusely.

We finally got back to a main road, but it wasn’t that close to anything we knew, except for a fountain we may or may not have seen two days before. We just had to trust his directions. Finally, we got to the Porta Romana, saw the back entrance to the Boboli Gardens, and the street to get to Halley, Natalie, and Caitlin’s apartment. We made a bee-line for it, and crashed through the front door. We told Kim about our journeys, she told us about her day, and then Rachel and I headed back. I could barely walk, my knees and hips hurting so badly. I grabbed a grande Fanta at the Chinese food store and a coke, drank the coke, and walked – s-l-o-w-l-y – back to Palastri. I made it to check my mail, shortly, reading all my email and checking the forum for a Euro, then heading back up to the room to pass out in sweet exhaustion – after a dinner of tre Wurst (three hot dogs – I was hungry) and a long bath to combat all of my mosquito bites.

That was quite a big longer than I expected. Who knew such a day without art could be so fulfilling. I suppose there was natural art, but at the moment, I’d prefer not to ponder. I ponder enough as it is.

1 Response to "Day 9"

Sarah Says:

Oh. My. Goodness. I cannot convey my excitement or jealousy for your day. I began reading this entry and immediately thought of a story to tell (of course). On my hike through the Italian mountains, my friends and I also found a small church and graveyard, though I think we snuck in. There was also the traipse through yards and up and up.

But all that fled at the last few paragraphs. Who cares if he is famous; he works in movies. He is a producer. He lives in Florence *for fun*. How is that not a huge highlight of the hike? I am excited from here. By the way, did you get his full name? I'd like to IMDB him. Gosh Whit, your trip is shaping up to be a great vicarious adventure for me. ;)

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