Three weeks into this trip and I know I planned it right (notwithstanding the weather, which I was prepared for). I've gotten to know the gelato and snack places I like best, I don't get lost in the angled streets anymore, and I've met some great companions at the class I took. I don't have to get up early, and get to eat when and what I want, like a bowl of oatmeal in my own kitchen. In fact, most of my eating is at the apartment ... truffle spread on crostini, goat cheese and pesto with pasta, new greens in my salads, and a cup of espresso every morning. I search for new flavors of gelato and now, semifreddo is on my radar. Patisseries still are my favorite shops to peek into.
If I have any criticism of Florence it's that there isn't enough greenery around. There are huge, beautiful gardens, to be sure, but they're mostly private (as in museums) or outside of the centro storico. I love the magnificent piazzas, but how much more beautiful they could be with grass or shrubs around them. During the movement of The David statue, a grass field was moved in front of the Duomo to mimic what it looked like in 1510. I was told the grass turf came from the city's soccer field, so it had to be returned ... and it was. But what a different feel there was, walking on grass instead of stone for a few days.
I love not getting lost as often as I did when I arrived, but am still finding new alleys to explore and surprise me. Yesterday, returning from a destination, I went up one street which looked like it was built for only pedestrians, and found the entrance to a public library in a crevise. Across from it (about 6 feet) was a civil office and ahead the stone path narrowed to yet another office and a stairway. All stone, all probably 600 years old or more.
The sense of the very old is around the corner from a colorful and gleaming shop full of modern shoes or colorful gloves. These sensory surprises are one of the joys of traveling.
My eyes have been saturated with amazing paintings, sculpture and architecture--I feel awash in color, form, structure, religious iconography--and my brain has been taught a new way to comprehend it. The classes at the British Institute have been great. We've had 3 different lecturers ... two are American (both working on their dissertations, one with a Fulbright grant) and one an Englishwoman who's lived in Italy for 30 years, teaching and administering at university. They've covered the big three--Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael--in words, pictures and on tours (we're only about 12 students in the class so it's been really easy to get around), also discussing history, influences from others (artistic, religious and political) and the structural, philosophical and aesthetic developments of Renaissance art.
In a nutshell, it seems that with the rise artists' of power (because there was financial success in Florence, there was a demand for art) distinct and strong personalities (beginning with Leonardo da Vinci and Brunelleschi) started writing and thinking about art. Scientific (i.e., observational) skills helped art and architecture make monumental discoveries. The integration of math and science led the self-taught Leonardo into using perspective and then new structure (the triangle form) which led to the depiction of natural, active and engaged subjects. It also led Brunelleschi to engineer the fantastic domes of Rome and Florence. Leonardo's philosophy that the artist had power to create whatever he had the ability to imagine, and Michelangelo's idea that the form existed within the piece of stone and the artist had power to take away the dross to reveal the perfect, divine essence. For me, this enhanced the spirituality, even if it took away power from the church.