Florentine Walkways

In Florence, where I have been in the past week, the pavements are quite slender on many of the older streets. Two people can maybe, barely, walk abreast if they know each other really well. I found this to be quite a wind up. Not that I want the Florence Planning Department (or whatever they have there) to make the footpaths wider.That would be silly. Rather that it presents yet another opportunity to witness the selfish, myopic manners of the Human Race in all its dubious glory.

As one of several leftovers from the Pandemic, I have become conditioned to behave myself pretty well when I’m out for a walk. As learned during Covid, I will fall in behind the person I am walking with, allowing lots of space for the two people coming the other way to pass without any contact being made. I think it’s something I might have even done before 2020 but I’m not sure about that. Either way, I give some respect and I hope for a little in return. As you probably know, I hope in vain.

My experience is that people are worse now than they were pre-Covid. Loving couples, conspiring grannies, teens, tweens, and everybody else all seem to need to claim the highway as their own. My getting out of their way is a given. They obeyed during the crisis and now they will obey no longer. They storm through my throwback gesture as if it is their God-given right that they maintain their formation at all costs.

This effect is magnified on the slender pavements of Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, where tourists amble shoulder to shoulder and step aside for no man, especially me.

Those who know me a little will probably know that this can, and does, piss me off mightily. I will give way to you all day long, I will allow you all the space you need, no problem. But don’t presume – never presume – that you are somehow superior to me because I do it. You are not and I won’t bloody have it. If you can’t give a little too, just a little, then I will become quietly belligerent. I will firm up my shoulder and give up the percentage of the footpath that I am righteously required to give up and if you, the oncoming pedestrian, can’t do the same for me, then you will find me and my shoulder a rather immovable force.

This, then, is the context for how I tended to behave on the beautiful streets of Florence. Giving way, not being given way to, side stepping, colliding, swearing under my breath, swearing over my breath and generally being a considerable pain-in-the-arse.

“You’re going to have to get over it,” Patricia quietly suggests, as she echoes the final line of Chinatown by gently reminding me, “it’s Florence." She’s right, of course, and over the span of the days I spent there, I eased into things a little. Once even easing so far out on the edge of the footpath that I got clipped on the hand by the wingmirror of a high-speed resident car as it passed. This provoked another seventies movie reference as I unthinkingly did my best Dustin Hoffman, “Hey, I’m walking here!” or words to that effect.

Pavements aside, Florence was wonderful. I loved it.

I’m a sucker for artist names. When studying Art History in secondary school, we did a lot of Renaissance stuff. As a result, if two marvelous artworks are positioned side by side in a gallery and one of them is by a name I recognise, then I will be all over that one as the masterwork, even though I have no real visual information or knowledge to confirm that for myself. I have only the name and, for me, the name is enough.

One highlight was happening upon familiar (and famous) names on out-of-the-way walls in out-of-the way churches. A Giotto crucifix sitting nonchalantly in the corner at the side of an altar, a Botticelli painting tucked inconspicuously behind a bank of glittering candles. These things brought joy and excitement and a drive to turn to the family next to you and say, “do you know what that is?” A refreshing change from muttering, “get out of the fucking way.”

Santa Croce, for me, was the best visit. The scale of the work on view, the beauty and peace of the cloisters, the simple grandeur of the Brunelleschi chapel. If you’re going to a few places in Florence, I would make that one of them. The Duomo, I found a bit disappointing. The force of the exterior in the context of the city is undeniable but the inside of the church is rather bare and unwelcoming. Unlike Santa Croce, the seats are not available to sit on, the art cannot be paused over and considered. It is an edifice and they’re not my favourite things, I guess.

We saw and did lots of great things. I could tell you about them, but a guidebook can do that. I wanted to just write about the pavements and the little battles I had there because, when I open this up in future years, and I remember that part, I will hopefully remember all the other parts too.

And, just in case I don’t, it was a great time, Ken.

Really great.

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

As always when I read your posts I look for something in my life that helps me relate to what you've written, a sort of call and response thing. Anyway, I don't go out much since the pandemic and when I do it's like at weird hours when I know there'll be few (or no) people about. If I go the Asda, for example, it's at six in the morning. That way I can faff around on the self-service till without feeling I'm holding up the world.

But, occasionally, I will go out later on. Last week I wanted to buy a box set from The Works and did a wee tour of the pound stores and discounters but never once did I feel I was in anyone's way, anyone who was likely to mow me down if I decided to play chicken. I think, as you say, it's part of the post-COVID thing; I actively keep my distance from people. I mean, I have encountered that sort in the past but there'll always be that sort, the entitled.

Anyway, that wee trip inspired a poem where I liken dealing with a checkout girl to a dance and my last night-time meander also resulted in a meandery poem about taking my withinness into the withoutness; an odd one for me but what the hell.