I am both glad and sad to be leaving tomorrow. Glad because I am missing my darling girls, and Dave, and other family and friends. Sad because...um, hello? I am leaving Italy, who wouldn't be sad about that?!
This morning I awoke to the bells of Santo Spirito...and the garbage truck...the one sound so melodious in a cachaphonous mad ringing with no particular rhythm kind of way...the other just loud and harsh but somehow very Italian, I don't know why. Maybe simply because I have heard it nearly every morning in Italy for over two weeks.
I had some fruit, a couple breadsticks left over from yesterday and chocolate pastry for breakfast...and stopped for espresso on the way to the Uffizi. I had gotten up early enough to arrive at this wonder-filled museum shortly before 9am. So I have about an hour and a half to stroll around before heading off to St. James. (I had decided that I really did feel like worshipping in a formal way today.) At entrance #2 of the Uffizi, I flash my membership card and passport (they like proof of identity over here) and instantly gain access...feeling sorry for the huge line up of people who are unaware of this magic pass!
I spent little time in the first few rooms, although would have spent more but there were three or four tour groups gathered in front of the Giotto, the Cimabue, the Simone di Martini...so I thought hmm, I think today I will just fast forward a couple rooms and get ahead of the crowd.
This was a very good plan because I think those were the first tour groups of the day, at least I did not encounter any others further along, so got to enjoy the rest of the museum with really just a few other tourists. I was mostly gazing at Annunciations this morning as this is the theme that seems to have captured my fancy this trip. There are SO many variations over here, in museums and churches both. Plus I recently learned that the Annunciation was on March 25, which is my birthday. I mean I literally just found this out on the Sunday before I left for Italy, during a conversation over tea and cookies with K's father, Mark, when he came to pick her up that evening (although how the conversation morphed from heavy metal to the Annunciation is anyone's guess!) But I thought it was a neat thing to learn just before coming here where this image is found everywhere. Anyway, there are of course some masterpiece Annunciations in the Uffizi, which I mentally oo'd and ah'd over! And found more paintings in which the angels have rainbow coloured wings, which is so beautiful. (Sorry Sara, not able to take photos for you, but we saw one of them last summer - Giotto's Ognissanti Madonna, which I can show you in my Uffizi catalogue when I get home.) The rainbow theme over here seems entirely related to "Pace" or Peace, which is a marvellous thing to celebrate, too!!
Paolo Veronese's Annunciation struck me as odd though. So often in Renaissance paintings, the angel is kneeling before Mary, presumably as a sign of respect for the Mother-to-be of the Son of God. However, my impression of Veronese's scene is that the angel is swirling with energy, in full stride, arm upraised in a striking gesture over a cowering Mary. Such a restless angel is unusual in a painting of the Annunciation. I will have to read up on this and see why such an odd portrayal.
Another painting that interested me today was Fra Bartolomeo's "Portia", the only surviving painting by this artist with a "profane" theme (i.e. the sacred and profane...most of his apparently were of sacred themes!) Anyway, that is not what struck me...it was that Portia killed herself by swallowing live coals (OUCH!!) after the suicide of her husband, Marcus Brutus, and so is considered the symbol of marital faithfulness. What? (Yeah sorry Dave, I love you but...if you die first, I am NOT swallowing live coals as a show of support!) Bizarre.
Then there is one of my favourites - Piero di Cosimo's "Perseus liberating Andromeda", which surely must have been Maurice Sendak's inspiration for "Where the Wild Things Are"!! Both are so imaginative. Rosso Fiorentino's "Madonna dello Spedalingo" is also very strange...the baby Jesus looks decidely devilish in this painting, and not in a mischievous way either, his eyebrows resemble devil horns! Tiziano's "Venus of Urbino", the soft porn of the 1500's, has an odd mix of innocence and eroticism, and is very beautiful. Cigoli's Flight into Egypt again caught my eye with its brilliant colours (last time I posted about it, I had not known what the subject was, but have since found the translation.) And - are you getting bored yet?! - another that caught my fancy today was Agnolo Bronzino's portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi (born Lucrezia Pucci). Gosh, what an intense gaze she has, Bronzino really captured the lifeforce behind her eyes, it is remarkable. I couldn't help wondering: "what were you thinking about while posing for this painting, Lucrezia?" I read that apparently her necklace inscription captured the fancy of many a romance novelist: "Amour fure sans fin"...love endures without end, maybe? (I'll have to look up the meaning, but think I am in the ballpark at least.)
Then off to St. James I went. This time a woman greeted me at the door and took me downstairs where coffee was being served. But it was stifling down there so I drank the coffee quickly and went back up to the cooler sanctuary to wait for the service to begin. The service got off to a slow start...the regular Reverend was away attending some conference in Brussels, so there was a visiting Reverend Canon someone or other (I have no idea what a Canon is.) He seemed very personable, and had a good voice, but...I'm thinking he is an administrator at heart, because his sermon entirely lacked a spark of passion. It was based on the passage "render unto Caesar that which is Ceasar's, and render unto God that which is God's" (or however the exact biblical quote goes.) And the tension caused by the first half of that passage. Much of the sermon was about how this tension is present in the Episcopal church structure...he spoke on and on about this church structure and...well I don't really know what else because my attention wandered away in its own direction and I only came back to him near the end...and still no spark. Maybe I am entirely spoiled by Valerie's awesome sermons, but yikes, I did not feel one bit inspired by this man's sermon, not even a teeny nudge of inspiration reached me through his words. But the choir was a whole different story!! The choir offering musical talents today was one called "Spirit of the Living God" and oh now THEY were inspirational! They sang two special musical pieces themselves, plus led the hymns for the congregation. The closing hymn was "Down by the Riverside", which we first droned along to the organ and I thought yeesh, that was the least rousing version of that song ever. Ah but then this choir struck up what seemed to be an impromptu encore, with piano accompaniment and much rhythmic hand clapping. WOW!!! It was incredible. A few people left, because the service was technically over at this point, but most stayed to join in, and the energy that filled the room was amazing. The choir then performed two more gospel songs, parts of which I managed to record before my camera shut off with the "card is full" message! Can't wait to listen when I get home and see if the brief recordings captured their glory. They were awesome...if I lived in Florence, I would so want to join this choir that seems utterly infused with joy (of course I am hardly of their vocal caliber, but they did say all were welcome to join.)
I walked back to the historic centre feeling full of the Spirit, full of song, full of joy on this gorgeous day. I really needed some music today to banish the blues of yesterday...uplifting music, I mean, not the stuff on MTV. And oh did this music lift my spirits!! (Will likely fill you in later on the rest of my day, but wanted to share my joyful musical experience with you now while still fresh in my heart.)