FLORENCE, Italy (MindaNews/15 July) — Beige and browns, stone and bronze, marble in ash and bone, and ancient bells that constantly peal the passing time. Florence is easy on the eye. It is a tourist city that comes alive when the sun is out and goes back to rest as the sun goes down. A year living here won’t nearly be enough for one to take in all the rich cultural heritage this city had preserved for the rest of mankind. That thought crossed my mind as the custodian apologetically chased me out of the Leonardo da Vinci Museum at closing time.
Our workshops at the University of Florence along Via Capponi end at 6:30pm, and while darkness wouldn’t descend on Florence until around 10pm, tourist haunts would start to close up around 6pm. No matter. There was no end to the historical sites that one could chance upon just aimlessly ambling down these streets.
In the past few days, I would be pleasantly surprised to find a stately church up ahead or bump into a finely detailed statue at the corner or flush in the middle of a square. I would wander into the world’s oldest botanical garden or the world-famous Academy of Fine Arts. Sipping coffee on a piazza bench wherever, I trace with the eye the neat, orderly, and balanced lines of a Firenze building. It’s like the architects agreed to harmonize, forming one smooth composition that soothes the senses.
Every church here – and there is one seemingly at every block – overwhelms with its treasure trove of art pieces. I imagine Pam Castrillo would go into paroxysms of ecstasy at this visual feast: Bas relief and mosaics, paintings and murals, stained glass windows and ornate bronze doors, sculptures and thoughtfully carved pedestals, portals, and chandeliers.
The churches are usually open in the morning before workshops start and so far, I’ve been doing my version of visita iglesia. Fr. Gaby Gonzalez might find me doing that outside of Lent funny. Back home, he’s currently overseeing the completion of the university chapel. He kids me that when he’s done, that might actually get me back to church – if only to check up on how good a job he did.
I wouldn’t really worry on that score. One only has to see how good a job he did at restoring the Culion church to know that he knows what he’s doing.
Two – three hours in any Florentine church, and I’d still be far from feeling suffocated. They’re hushed and gloomy and often times empty, and yet that seems like the best way to bask in the beauty of the paintings on their walls and ceilings. In the first few days here, I’d gone to five churches. I still have four to go.
First stop had been the Cathedral of Sta. Maria del Fiore, better known as Il Duomo for its famous brick dome. Across the piazza, a statue of the dome architect Flippo Brunelleschi fondly gazes up to his handiwork. I really had no intention of going to see Il Duomo that day. I had instead wanted to get into the Accademia to see Michaelangelo’s sculptures, but the line of tourists was so long. It was a Sunday after all – the 15th Domenica Tempo Ordinario.
So I went to church at high noon, and it was beautiful. Seven priests on the altar and the service featured Gregorian chant with choir (in Latino e canto gregoriano con organo!). They were missals in glossy colored print at every seat. I could follow along the readings and the responses. Come communion time, the lecter repeated an admonition in four languages: “Let each man examine himself (1 Cor: 11, 28). Therefore, only those who are members of the Catholic Church, and know themselves to be free of grave sin, may take communion.”
I must confess I couldn’t take communion. Not when in the lull as the priests positioned themselves and the faithful lined up, my thoughts strayed to wondering where exactly Cosimo Medici bled away on these floors.
Some days later, I would come back and lay my wandering boot at the massive bronze doors at the main entrance of Il Duomo before straying over to the Baptistry where Ghiberti’s golden Gates of Paradise lay behind bars. I still haven’t made it in time to be admitted to climb up the Il Duomo cupola. Maybe I should miss an afternoon so I could check that off my list and complete the rest of my Ninja Turtles tour. I have yet to see Raphael and Donatello.
But I’ve seen the Santa Maria Novella church. That’s kind of hard to miss as the bus stops there and the souvenir stalls litter its walls. I came past the Medici Chapel the other day as I cut through a side street from the Mercato Centrale. It is the grandest chapel I have ever seen. It could probably house the entire population of Bangkal, Davao City.
Turning into Via Cavour, I saw a plaque on the corner that said Loggia di Medici. Oh, that was the Medici Palace. It was just there. Nothing else to say this was where decisions and alliances were made that forever changed the course of world history. In homage, I took off my Butterfly Twist and laid it at the door.
Everyday, on the way to the University of Florence, I pass by the Convent of San Marco and the Annunziata Church. The first is open in the mornings and the other remains open till early evening even as workmen are hammering out reconstruction work at its front cloister.
And as I come back to my room in a fifth-floor walkup along Via XXVII, I delight in the sight of the Florence cityscape outside my window. Sometimes, at a balcony across, right in my line of sight, a half-naked man comes out to putter around and fiddle with his terrace furniture or read a book. He, too, like the rest of Florence, is easy on the eye. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches at the Department of Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University. She is head of the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services. You may send comments to [email protected]. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says)