Letters from Venice – Part IV

Sept. 7, 1982

I am on a train from Edinburgh to London, the beginning of our sojourn to Florence! I really got the travel itch this morning at the train station. Finished off Edinburgh with a bang. After spending all of Sunday in  bed, watching Casablanca, reading Thomas Mann, and eating McVitties digestive biscuits, Monday, my last full day in Edinburgh, I spent at the British Watercolor Exhibition, which was exquisite, and last night went to see La Piccola Scala from Milan perform “La Pietra Del Paragone.” Terrible opera production, but I am perhaps spoiled by the Met’s spectacular shows!
We left the Turkey at the Rat Café, on the door handle – no note. I would love to see their faces when they find it! Great people at the Rat.

(The turkey was a paper mache prop turkey that Bob and I had painstakingly created on the kitchen table back at Princeton, in Edwards Hall, to solve Sam Shepard’s problem of serving a turkey on stage each performance. We filled the cavity of the turkey with sliced turkey breast, on the upstage side and came to love the turkey.)

The countryside is overwhelmingly beautiful. images-5 Such sharp contrasts of wheat and cabbage, evergreens and sheep, old farmhouses and old walls and the insidious new industries, which necessarily bilge blackness into the already overcast sky.

[torture….]

Why is it that writing kills the impulse to write? Observe and learn.

Sept. 9, 1982

Paris! After a very long night au bord du bateau, Channelcrossingwe have finally reached Paris! London was fine – we saw all the sights, Big Ben,images-Big Benjpg

Westminster Abbey,images-Westmin

which was totally impressive, but I feel all a-tingle just being here. We reached St. Lazareimages-Gare St. Lazareimages-GareSt.Lazareextthis morning at 7:00AM, called Hubert, Bob’s French Ami, and are at his apartment now. I am about to take a most welcome shower. Things are going our way also, the exchange rate is at a record high 7.04 F/$. So we are wealthy. Good news. Excuse me. To the shower!

AAAhhh!

There is something more of a challenge being here that stimulates my sporting impulse much more than English speaking Scotland did. An air of the exotic, even the pharmacists devient plus exotiques!  I can understand most of what Hubert says but am a little reticent to speak. That I am losing fast, however. Off to see the city.

Sept. 11, 1982

Three of the best days since leaving Princeton. Hubert has been a prince, giving us the run of his apartment, and of Paris. The first night we went out to a very nice gay restaurant with Ludovic, one of Hubert’s friends. It was very pleasant. Last night we had dinner at home – Hubert is quite a chef in his own right. Bob and I spent the day going to the Tour Eiffel, the American Church, CiDJ, to find information about jobs and housing for when I/we come back after traveling with Dad and Joan.images-undereiffel

Sitting on the banks of the Seine,images-Seine it is easy to think why Paris has seen so many fantastic artists in her history. At the Beauborg images-Beauborgthis morning (right next to Hubert’s apartment) – saw an exhibition of both Braque’s and Yves Tanguey’s works. They were both very different. Tanguey most closely resembles Dali, with his very heady symbols. I find him not to be terribly accessible, in spite of what he and his comrades chose to call automatic drawings. They seem after a time to have become automatically like their counterparts.

Also saw David Hockney’s photos in an exhibit. He does really cool things with composite images.

Sept. 13, 1982  FIRENZEimages-DuomoFirenze

We arrived yesterday at 1:00PM and ran like beheaded chickens trying to find Lee, Bob’s brother. Losing that battle, we went to the Piazza by the Palazzo Uffizi and Loggia, where we met this great old Florentine gentleman who assured us that Florence was bella, and antica. It was his favorite phrase, and every city that came up in conversation could not rival Florence and Rome. Arriving in Italy actually transpired on the train, where our compartment was peopled by two old people from Napoli and a younger man (40’s) who spoke a little English. Not enough. Because he told us we were 2-3 hours from Pisa. This meant we had time to go to the bar car, which was entirely at the end of thee train. Settling down there to eat our biscotti e bibeti, we pulled into a station which we were horrified to learn was Pisa. We jumped off the train, ran outside alongside and back on to get our packs, while our “guide” said “Pisa, Pisa!”  Thanks, buddy.

The other amusing incident on the train occurred when the Napolites started to breakfast after they awoke. From their huge bag emerged two meatball sandwiches and hot coffee from a thermos. (Bob and I, transfixed, continued to pop pruneaux and almonds into our mouths) and two very going sounding pastries, which they managed to make into the loudest breakfast, I have ever heard. It was all I could do to keep from laughing which would not have been the thing to do.

Last night we decided to splurge and go to a nice Italian restaurant. Lee very kindly sprang with his Visa card, and we found a table-clothed ristorante, and had an incredible spread, beginning with an antipasto of crab, mussels, calamari, etc. and prima pasta of Taglierani con panne e salmone, which was exquisite.

Next boiled salmon and an insalata verde. With wine and acqua minerale. It was great. At the table next to us, while we were wallowing in our shared dishes (probably about normal for two people), a table of five, very tanned and colorfully dressed Italians proceeded to put away the most amazing amount of food I’ve ever seen.

Contrary to this journal entry, there are other things to do in Florence than to eat and watch others do so.

This afternoon, we went to the Boboli Gardens at the Pitti Palace, which were every bit as grand as I had hoped –long avenues of trees lined up to guide you or your eyes to an oasis of a pond, with clay potted orange trees and incredible statuary all over the place. The pergolas make beautiful naturally leaded ceilings over the pathways and it would have been a lovely place to write in.

Later, Bob and I went to Il Duomo, and climbed to the top, sandwiched between the two domes, and the German tourists. It is 460 steps to the top, worth every one on seeing the incredible view from the top. I took two pictures from the top – quite a splurge for my very discerning shutter finger*.images-fromtopofduomo

*Bob and I have designed a first class “camera-first” tour of Europe. Pose in front of every monument you see and take a close-up shot to include only 1 sq. meter of the monument’s wall behind. Ex: Perched atop of Il Duomo, don’t take the obvious photo with the city of Florence at your back, turn around and pin your subject to the Duomo itself. This way you can avoid those difficult landscape shots and record instead only the moment of bliss or horror registered on your subject’s face. And why trudge from monument to moment – you can take all those photos in your pensione room – just choose the most rustic wall, ie. the one having lost the most plaster, and shoot away.

–Your resident tourist and cynic in Florence.

We are staying in a great pensione off the Piazza della Indepencia. It is a huge room and the floors out in the hall are Mosaic tiles. Everything is really beautifully done.

Sept. 17, 1982

It was very hard to leave Bob and Lee in the station in Florence, but also is very exciting to go on alone. It is an extremely different experience to be sure – people are more likely to speak with you when you are alone and that makes traveling very much more pleasant.

It will be very relaxing to get into the mountains for a few days. I can tell already as we had into the mountains that they will be fantastic.

On our last day in Florence, we went to S. Gimignano, a Fourteenth century city atop the hills north of Florence. Though about as full of fellow tourists as Florence, it was still very different. When we arrived, the piazza was full of the market, but by the middle of the afternoon, it had cleared out sufficiently to be able to see the extant town.

We bought our lunch “stuffs” and climbed up into the Parco Publico by La Rocca to eat in the olive orchards overlooking the countryside. All was fine until poor Lee became plagued by his traveling friend, Montezuma (wrong country, right idea), so Bob and I spent the afternoon somewhat languorously amidst the dappled shade and sun of another secluded orchard while Lee visited with his friend. We were secluded all but for the young German hikers who were reading rather loudly from their tour book in Italian.

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