...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Sunday, May 28, 2006

We saw all four Ninja Turtles in one day. Sweet!

It's too bad Michaelangelo was the stoner Turtle because he's probably my favorite of the artists. (Jessica trivia: which Ninja Turtle did I have a crush on when I was seven? Answer at the end!) Anyways, today Sarah and I went to the Uffizi in Florence, the finest art gallery in Italy. We tried to get ticket reservations a few days ago to avoid the lines, but they were all booked up until June 2, so we got up at 6 (a.m., yo) to go stand in line. And it was worth it: the museum was fairly small and simple in layout (except for the lower rooms, which were a freaking maze), but jammed with breathtaking Renaissance paintings: 'The Birth of Venus' and 'Primavera' by Botticelli, 'The Venus of Urbino' by Tiziano, 'The Holy Family with the Infant St. John the Baptist' by Michaelangelo, etc, etc. I ended up spending about four hours in there, but I think I could have stared at 'The Birth of Venus' all day. Tuesday, we're going to see Michaelangelo's 'David'!

Yesterday was probably the highlight of the trip so far. Sarah and I left Pisa around 9 to return to Florence by train, where we split up for the day: she did Florence stuff, while I took another train out to the Umbrian countryside village of Assisi. As in, 'St. Francis of.' The train ride there was ecstatically scenic, all poppies and vinyards and silvery-green olive trees, with crumbling villas and red-tiled roofs crowning the hills. Not wanting to miss any of the views, I didn't even know which side of the train to look out of; I practically got whiplash from turning my head from side to side so many times. Assisi is tucked away among the hills about two and half hours from Florence, a beautifully preserved little medieval village that for centures has been one of the principal Christian pilgramage sites.

The Basilicas of St. Francis (there are two, an upper and a lower one) were both daunting and intimate at the same time. Frescoes depicting the lives of Jesus and St. Francis--as the audioguide put it, 'the Passion of Christ and the compassion of St. Francis--lined the walls, guilded as in the Byzantine style. The ceiling of the Upper Basilica was painted a deep, vibrant blue, with gold stars; something in the paint had begun to oxidize, creating gorgeous Statue of Liberty-green streaks. I guess the best way to describe it is to just say that it felt like a holy place.

I spent about two and a half hours in the Basilicas and the Tomb of St. Francis, then walked across the tiny village to the church of St. Clare, who was also from Assisi. It seemed like every cobblestoned street led to a stunning viewpoint over the Umbrian countryside. Domed basilicas and marble fortresses rose out of the hills, which stretched out into infinity. Although the town was crowded with tourists and St. Francis kitsch (any kind of tacky souvenir you can imagine, they probably had it, plastered with his visage), it had a certain air of quiet and peace to it. As I wandered the streets away from the plaza and the two main churches, I was often alone. It was a lovely experience. When I come back to Italy, I think I will spend more time in Umbria and at least another day or two in Assisi.

Sarah's and my itinerary has changed slightly: we added in Verona, Pisa, Siena, Naples, Pompei, and added another day each in Paris and Venice. Due to a scheduling snafu we are actually only going to have three days in Athens. But, we will be in Paris for a week! We also deleted our crazy plan to squeeze in Barcelona or London (!) at the end. That was true craziness, but oh so tempting! Right now we're in Florence, as you know, and next we head to Rome. Love to all, and the postcard offer still stands!

(Answer: I had a crush on Raphael, the red Ninja Turtle. I don't know why, exactly, since people tell me that he was the jerkiest of the four, but I think I just liked the color red. I thought it was romantic!)