A decent convent breakfast after half a night’s sleep in a single bed out of five in our Spartan room above the noisy piazza! I felt strangely refreshed and headed out with two of the group for some Florentine sightseeing. Crossed the Arno, took photographs of the historic Ponte Vecchio, poked our noses into fashionable leather shops along the Arno and wound our way down medieval cobblestoned streets full of Italian life. There were shopkeepers lingering in oversize doorways, scooters missing throngs of pedestrians by a breeze, no sidewalks, and lots of smokers. The stones of Florence amaze- the houses have stood for centuries having been well crafted by skilled stone masons hundreds of years before my eyes had seen them. The stoic buildings tower over the winding streets guarding the heritage of life which has passed before in very similar fashion to this day. Florence: the capital city of Tuscany, a city founded by the Romans (sister to Rome) and the birthplace of the Renaissance, a city which built wealth, a city where artisans and trades people have sold their wares in family-run shops directly facing the streets since Roman times. We headed for the Basilica di Santa Croce to see the tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Galileo and frescoes, stained glass and altar pieces by Donatello, Giotto, Canova, Cimabue. The cloister of the Basilica also holds a monument to Florence Nightingale. Many of the crypts inside the Basilica are adorned with fantastic but macabre artistry of death: skull and cross bones, skeletons-all in surrealistic design on the marble floors. In contrast, the very feminine marble La Liberta della Poesia created by Pio Fedi stands majestically at the far end of the Basilica; as Federic Auguste Bartholdi (son of an Italian immigrant to America) was living in Florence at the time Pio Fedi first cast The Liberty of Poetry in plaster, this statue was the inspiration for Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty. She holds a lyre and crown of laurel in her left hand and a broken chain in her right. The title of this statue made a fitting title for our journey and her image, a metaphor for my personal quest. Like Dante’s Vita Nuova, was I searching for my own poetic voice in my travels?
The market was our next destination. Again, an abundance of life! The stalls displayed dry pastas of all varieties, olive oil choices not seen in Canada, truffles, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, and always in Italy, the great variety of cured meats and cheeses. I bought a Tuscan melon sold to me by an overly zealous vendor, sampled the thinnest slice of truffle,and stopped for my daily cappuccino and croissant. After the market, I found myself alone in the historic center near the Duomo as others in my entourage had already been to Florence and were not interested in some of the major sights, so I marvelled at the magnificence of the structure and design on my own. The Duomo is breathtaking; standing beneath it, it is difficult to know what to look at and for how long to get the full power of its architectural genius. With a small map of the city, alone, feeling a little lost and overwhelmed, I headed for a bridge across the Arno to find the convent for another night’s restless dreams above the small Florentine courtyard.