Sunday, June 19, 2011

First Impressions of Venice and Florence. Diary Entry: Venice, Nov. 4th

Venice: view across a canal
The narrator now makes mention of having been disappointed during their first visit to Venice.  Deteriorating palazzi, odors coming from canals, and dark calle are described, although with admitted feelings of shame towards this first impression.  Like it is said in the opening scene of the classic movie Summertime, people either find Venice too quiet or too noisy, or find it very beautiful.  Just as Jane, played by Katharine Hepburn, insists on her way there, I myself will stick to being among the later.  When I first visited Italy during a summer study abroad program, we landed in Milan and the first city we moved on to stay in was Venice.  I was absolutely breath taken, even overwhelmed with all the beauty around me.  There is a sense of romance that comes from being in a place that has existed for hundreds of years.  But here was something unique that I did not find in the other Italian cities I had then visited; a feeling almost as if you are not inside the city, but rather that the city contains you in its mazelike arms making you lose your direction often indeed, yet that never being a misfortune.  Every turn and bend and rise and descent is and leads to something that is welcoming, invites you, and makes you feel you have arrived somewhere. 

I can, however, somewhat associate with the narrators first impressions of Venice, with my first impressions of Florence, which we visited afterwards.  Florence is a beautiful city.  However, that impression revealed itself to me only after my initial feelings of ambivalence with it had slowly faded.  I would not say that Florence is a mysterious place, the way I would of Venice.  Here everything is out in the open, so to speak.  The architecture of the cathedral, churches, piazzas, and palaces are all very strong and bold reflections of the social and political history of the city at the time that they were built.  It is acceptable here to have statues depicting Perseus beheading Medusa and of the rape of a Sabine woman in one of its most public spaces, the Piazza della Signoria; a space where public executions were even held.  

It is not only the monumental structures and piazzas that have this strong sense to them.  The facade of the church of San Lorenzo has  remained unfinished since it was built, and one can still see the bare, rough structural stonework which was meant to support a decorative facade. Walking down an ordinary street, one can see that the rusticated stones that made up much of the buildings facing the streets are still very much visible even through modern interventions.  I believe there is even a local ordinance that requires that some of the historic stones be visible if the structure is being faced with a new material, as can be seen in the pictures below.  These reminders of the past add a sense of solidarity and permanence to the city, and to find yourself in the backdrop of all this can be quite captivating.  

The cathedral of Florence conveys a sense of dramatic and powerful growth, with the dome above the cathedral culminating from a series of forms below it and the shape of the piazza surrounding the cathedral taking its shape from the floor plan of the cathedral, as if a result of the force of its thrust onto the cityscape.  This can be overwhelming at first, but also dramatic, magnificent, and, when seen from a distance, awe-inspiring.

Santa Maria del Fiore: the cathedral of Florence
The cathedral of Florence and surrounding buildings
The cathedral of Florence seen from a distance
When I had first visited Italy, Florence may not have given me the same romantic first impressions as Venice did, but as I had learned, beauty can reveal itself in places perhaps hidden until sought after with an open eye and mind.