Friday, 9 September 2016

Postcard from Florence 5: Guardians

Pirate limb-replacement has advanced
since the days of Long John Silver

Oh, look, here's one more, final postcard, the one that always arrives late, long after the sender's return, like a message from another dimension. Whenever was I in Florence? Oh, yes... It seems like a long time ago now.

As in most places with pretensions to grandiosity, there seemed to be a lot of lions around. The so-called "Medici Lions" are quite famous, I believe, and widely copied, but look to me suspiciously like the logo of a football club, though, curiously, not one used by ACF Fiorentina. Maybe the reference is to a particularly butch Florentine ball-game known as calcio fiorentino which is still played each year on June 24, pitting the four quarters of the city against each other. Apparently the match proper only begins after a wild brawl between the equivalent of the rugby forwards, intended to incapacitate as many of the opposition as possible, in which punches, head-butts, and choking are allowed. This may go some way towards explaining some of the inexplicable outbreaks of aggressive behaviour in supermarkets I observed, although the oppressive heat and a certain impatience with visitors from the Far East are probably also factors. But as a decorative and apotropaic motif signifying overweening pride, aggression, and determination to be at the top of any food chain, literal or metaphorical, lions can't be beaten, I suppose.

Now, I'm not saying Italian men are vain, but let's just say there are probably a few more mirrors in their police stations and barracks than would be considered appropriate in Britain. This Russell Brand look-alike paratrooper is guarding the Baptistery, a prime tourist site immediately in front of the Duomo. I was hoping to get the Duomo reflected in his wraparound shades, but he kept turning his head the wrong way, no doubt so that I would get his good side.

The Duomo and Baptistery are an impressively strange sight, close up, especially at night. Entirely clad in creamy-white marble outlined geometrically with green marble, they look like enormous but temporary stage-sets made out of sheets of painted plywood; the complete opposite of the intended effect. In the case of the Baptistery, being octagonal doesn't help: you are inevitably reminded of an Elizabethan playhouse. The overall impression is rather as if someone had decided to "improve" them with two different sorts of marble-effect sticky-backed plastic. Which, in the case of the cathedral, is more or less what did happen.

"Two households, both alike in dignity..."

Guardians come in all sorts of guises, of course. Girolamo Savonarola was a self-appointed guardian of public morality in Renaissance Florence, rather à la Taliban, and got himself burned at the stake for his trouble. It seems people just don't appreciate having their morality guarded.

Savonarola by Fra Bartolomeo
in the Museo di San Marco

Of course, we all know who really looks after stuff, anywhere in the world, all the time. It's a tough, dirty job, with not much scope for moral scruple, dandified posturing, or leonine pride. Enough said.


Paul Mc Cann said...

Not just the men are vain. Have you seen an Italian 'Ban Garda' strut her stuff ?

Hmm see you recently being mentioned in the same breath as Ms. Leibovitz in a recent rival blog ? My My.

Mike C. said...


I suppose what we dowdy islanders regard as "vain" in Italy is merely seen as "an appropriate regard for personal appearance"! Don't you hate it, though, when they know you're a Brit even before you open you mouth... "Suppose you'll be wanting the cheapest menu? Everything cooked to destruction? And just water? Certo..."

Yes, I did see that, but can't decide whether I'm going up or down in the world...


Gavin said...

Working for an Italian Company and I'm well aware of the Italian ability to strut and pose. The company changing rooms which are big enough to accommodate 5 people at the most and there are two enormous floor to ceiling mirrors on opposite walls so you can check your "look" before you stride out.

Though when they're not on parade they can be as bad as the rest of us.


Mike C. said...


Neither of us had been in Italy for several decades, and what was most striking was the complete absence of street-corner leering at and harassment of women that was so prevalent back in the 60s and 70s. All young female tourists used to come back with really quite scary tales -- it seems to have been quite a transformation.