BootsnAll Travel Network

The DaVinci Mode

Written at 7:07 PM in Florence, Italy

It was an almost perfect day. Great weather, beautiful city, time well spent. Now you’re wondering why the “almost.” Well, hold your horses and I’ll tell you.

My evening last night finished quietly. I went to an Internet cafe, posted my blogs, replied to some emails, and booked my hostel for the next couple nights. A group coming the next day to my present hostel was forcing me out, which was fine with me. While the hostel I was staying at was clean—I had a four-bed dorm room to myself—it was silent as a mouse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quieter hostel. And to be honest, that was just fine with me. I like a hostel with a good social life, but I can take a quiet night once in a while. The hostel I’d booked for the following two nights promised to be a little livelier—as opposed to staying in the hostel equivalent of a convent.

I did some planning for my next couple days in Florence, organized my pack, and then went to bed. I planned on getting up early to beat the line at the Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence’s main gallery), but then I noticed that the hostel’s reception didn’t open until after it did. Since I had to check out and store away my bag, this left me no choice but to sleep in. Oh darn.

I ended up sleeping in until about 9:30. I woke at 8:45 so I could catch the reception just as it opened, but then I decided that I was already going to have to wait in line, another half hour of sleep won’t make a difference. I don’t know whether it did or not. What I do know is that after I left the hostel and arrived at the Uffizi, I was looking at an hour+ wait in line. I was prepared, though! My travel guide had warned me of the atrocious line, so I was equipped and ready to rock (no pun intended) with a fully charged ipod. Let the waiting begin.

It took about an hour to get to the front of the line. The only thing that really bothered me was that I was about to go into a museum and my feet already hurt. I was excited to see the art, though, for the Uffizi was supposed to be one of the best art galleries in Europe. By the time I got to the front of the line, the estimated wait that was displayed on a screen was 2 to 3 hours. At least I didn’t sleep in any later!

The gallery was amazing. The most notable pieces were those of Boticelli (The Birth of Venus) and DaVinci (Annunciation) though the museum had works from Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Rubens and other masters, as well. And there were so many sculptures! It was amazing to consider the time that was put into creating all the paintings and sculptures. The Uffizi itself was also beautiful. Large tiles marble floors with beautiful frescoes on the ceiling. It could have stood alone as an exhibit. I spent over three hours walking around, listening to some sections of my audio guide multiple times just so I could enjoy a room or a painting longer. The best part, by far, was the special exhibition: The Mind of DaVinci.

I couldn’t believe my luck! A whole exhibition, half of one of the Uffizi’s two gallery floors devoted solely to DaVinci. It wasn’t devoted solely to his art, however, but as the titled implies, the exhibition was devoted to his mind. Now I can appreciate art pretty well, but when all is said and done, I have trouble remembering who painted what when. DaVinci’s work, though, was something I could cling too. And this exhibition offered more knowledge about DaVinci than one could ever hope for.

I’d already seen two paintings on the second story by DaVinci by the time I arrived in the exhibit. I also saw one in another museum (though now I don’t remember where). At the beginning of the exhibit was the famous (and disputed) self-portrait. You’ve all probably seen it. After that, came examples of his notebooks and writing, some fac similes, some not. With each bit of writing or note came a whole separate exhibit on how DaVinci applied his thoughts and in what ways his ideas are still relevant today. There were videos—one in particular, describing his geometry of the human body—was particularly fascinating. Around every corner lay a model or replica of something he had developed, and with each item was a thorough explanation. The Uffizi’s art was beautiful and inspiring, but it was this exhibition who really did it for me. The other artwork was all very similar—religiously themed and titled various combinations of Adoration of the Magi, Adoration of the Madonna, The Christ on/at such and such, etc. But once you see how DaVinci put a spin on everything anyone knew about art, his work, really comes alive. It was inspiring.

At the same time, it made me a bit sad—sad because, by and large, we don’t see people like DaVinci anymore. The DaVinci’s of our world are stock brokers and CEOs, whose genius is put into the machine of capitalism, rather than toward an expansive exploration of human expression. I was saddened because of how impossible it seems that such a person could even exist anymore. With the massive profusion of knowledge and advancement of technology and thought, a modern “Renaissance Man” would need several lifetimes in order to have the kind of broad, sweeping understanding that marked DaVinci and some of his humanist contemporaries. Technology and science has made amazing achievements and is moving at remarkable speeds, but it requires such a degree of specialization that one can do little more than try to keep up, let alone trying to explore other areas like art, architecture, anatomy, philosophy—and most importantly, humanity. I once heard, in a movie or some such thing regarding technology: “We were so concerned if it could be done that we never stopped to ask whether or not it should be done.” DaVinci represented the perfect and unusual combination of humanity and science, and seeing his work and examples of his life really made me wonder what happens when science becomes completely disconnected from humanity—when humanity is totally disregarded for the pursuit of truth and “what’s possible.” Do we have scientists creating black holes in laboratories? Or explosives more devastating than nuclear bombs? How far is too far?

I finished my tour of the Uffizi gallery in mid-afternoon and quickly headed for the next stop on my itinerary. I’d hoped to see four places in all for the day, but it seemed I would have to settle for two. I went to the Chiesa San Croce, a Franciscan church and monastery. I mostly wanted to go here because a number of important historical figures are buried here, but I was unprepared for the sheer grandeur of the church. High arches spanned upward, forming an amazing and enormous chamber for mass. The late afternoon sun cast a warm glow through the church’s stained glass windows, and one could almost hear the monks resonating chants humming through the courtyard and great hall. The chamber was surrounded by paintings and tombs of various famous Italians. Most notable were Galileo Galilee, to whom I paid special tribute, Dante Alighieri, Michelangelo, and Nicholas Machiavelli. Quite a lot of famous Italians for just one church.

The church also hosted a carving—there’s some special name for it—by Donatello. This, as well as the other paintings and frescos gave the church a true grandeur depicting the typical Catholic passion for iconography. It’s been very interesting viewing the mass of religious works throughout Italy after reading Bloodline of the Holy Grail. The primary concern of the book is the genealogy of Christ and the church strategies for changing the various depictions of figures like Mary Magdalene, Joseph, John, and the Virgin Mary. I’m actually very glad that I read it while traveling, for it’s made me consider more carefully the layout and meaning of the various figures within each painting. (DaVinci’s are of particular interest in this respect because he break convention and plays with perspective).

I finished in the church and returned to my hostel, dodging cars and people as the streets filled with the evening traffic. I was tired from spending an entire day on my feet, but I still had to hike back across town toward the train station in order to get to the hostel where I was to stay. The trek was, to say the least, unpleasant. I distracted myself with music, but it was difficult to distract from a sixty to seventy pound mass hanging from your back. Still, I was in a good mood from a productive and inspiring day of sightseeing.

This mood was soon threatened, though. When I arrived at the hostel, they couldn’t find my reservation. Well, I had it saved on my computer so I just took out my computer and showed them…that I had reservations for the next two days—not tonight. Here I was, looking forward to settling in for an evening of writing and relaxation, and now I had to find other accommodation. I tried to keep in good spirits. All the other hostels were back on the other side of town, and I was not hiking back another mile or two with my pack, so I simply resigned to find a hotel—one, two, three stars would do—it didn’t matter. Easier said than done. The hostel’s street was lined with hotels of various degrees of stars (because this was near to the train station), but every single one was either full or busy. Well damn, I thought, okay, I’ll just walk further.

But it didn’t end. “No vacancy” and “No room” became my mantra as I checked with nearly a dozen hotels. Finally, however, after walking several blocks from the hostel, I found a good place. The woman working at the counter was very nice and quite helpful, and while the cost made me wince, I was ready to accept anything reasonable. Besides, I figured a night in a hotel room would do me some good, and this place was three stars (versus the like _ star or 1 star hostels). I had to pay a painful 65 euros for it, but I had my own bathroom and it included breakfast and free coffee, so I wasn’t about to complain. By this time I was drenched in sweat from hauling around my backpack and anything looked good. I suppose I’ll just have to stay a few extra days in Prague and a few less days in Rome to make up for the expense.

So that’s where I am. They’ve got a beautiful and surprisingly large courtyard (considering how crowded Florence is), but I’m not out there right now because when I tried to sit and type, a cloud of mosquitoes descended upon me. I can’t remember what it was the Jacob said about them, but it was something to the effect of “Why can’t they just drink—I don’t know, like milk or something.” Agreed. Anyway, at least I can look forward to eating breakfast out there in the morning. Tomorrow I will get up early. I’m going to head for the Duomo, which houses the statue of David, among other things. And I did confirm with the hostel that I do have reservations for tomorrow, so that’s good. It’s still early tonight, but as most of the people staying in the hotel are about twenty years older than me and generally dressed in suits, I don’t see myself socializing much here. I suppose I’ll just sip on coffee and write until eventually exhaustion outweighs the caffeine.


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