Firenze Frenzy

Fayes T Kantawala goes to a destination wedding

With two working carousels manned by two disinterested Italian attendants, the Florence Airport looked more like a sleepy bus stop. Still, it was painless enough that within forty minutes I was getting out of a taxi to my home for the next week, an apartment right off the Piazza Signoria. I lucked out on AirBnB. It was large, gracious, and had frescoes on the ceiling (life goal). That area of Florence is perhaps more touristy than the others but it is my favorite part of the city. The first time I came to Florence many years ago, I recognised it from the the Merchant Ivory production of A Room With a View which remains the movie I associate most with the romance of the city. It’s also where the statues of the David and Neptune stand sentinel (along with about a dozen others) outside what used to be the Medici palaces but are now the rooms of the Uffizi museum.

Almost the first thing you notice in Tuscany is the light. Before ever coming to Italy I had assumed that the glowing pink orange clouds against the brilliant blue skies we’d all seen in Renaissance paintings were the fanciful imaginations of artists trying to make things look pretty; they couldn’t possibly be real, could they? It is not until you are here yourself that you realise they were just painting what they saw; the skies really are that pretty, the light actually is that beautiful. It’s infuriating. I was staying in Florence long enough that I wanted to do a day trip somewhere, and after spending the first day knee deep in some chocolate gelato, I embarked on a 45-minute bus ride to Siena. The earth in the hills around Siena is a rich, deep brown that looks like it’s painted, which makes perfect sense since that soil is the source of the color Burnt Sienna. I’d been to the city once before for a horse race called the Palio which is Siena’s biggest event of the year. The race is in the town’s main square, a large stony space which stands in contrast to the otherwise narrow medieval alleyways that make up the old town. On race day Sienese flags are hoisted above medieval emblems and revelers wander around in medieval and Renaissance costumes while onlookers are people are packed like sardines into the narrow streets. I missed the race by a few days, so this late in the season I found the city fairly empty (it’s amazing the space you get once the Japanese tour groups are not in your way). I went to a few medieval exhibitions but spent most of my time touring the Basilica, which is decorated so densely it’s like a church on crack. Honestly: the best thing to do in Siena – as in most medieval cities – is to get lost for a while. I did get lost, which I recommend, but I missed my bus back, which I don’t recommend.

Once back in Florence I decided to focus on one thing every day, but even then you are unlikely to check everything off your list. The Medici palaces are now the Pitti and Uffizi museums, both of which have famous paintings (The Birth of Venus) and hordes of tourists (Chinese). The Pitti palace has some beautiful gardens behind it which go on for acres and acres.

The main reason I was in Florence and indeed in Europe to begin with was to attend a friend’s wedding. The actual event was three days long (I OD’d on cheese) but the main ceremony was held in a villa in the countryside. I’m a huge fan of day weddings, particularly ones that culminate in Italian sunsets. There is something about desi evening wear that makes it look especially beautiful as it twinkles in the sunlight. The ceremony was a fusion of eastern and western since the groom’s side was Dutch. Everything went off perfectly, except at one point the imam conducting the nikkah part went off on a tangent about Jihad as selfless love. When he was talking at length about the perception of Islam today and the actual meaning of the word Jihad in front of the po-faced guests, you could almost see the ripples of discomfort going through the desis there as they sank into their seats muttering “Please don’t declare a holy war in Tuscany, please...” Eventually he said the word so many times I couldn’t help but wonder what a local passing by the villa would think as they heard broken verses of Arabic peppered with “Jihad” again and again. The white people smiled happily through the whole thing, accepting it as an exotic addition to the ceremony.

A villa in Tuscany's countryside - la Dolce Vita

I'm a huge fan of day weddings, particularly ones that culminate in Italian sunsets

The wedding was perfect, which meant the next morning was a hard one. I spent the rest of my week in Florence walking around and buying shoes, which you’d agree was an excellent use of my time. Despite trying to be blase about it initially (“uff, so common”), I did force myself to go and see the actual statute of David in the Academy, hoping in vain that it wouldn’t give me body dysmorphia. Walking into the hall that was built for it reminds you why the statue is so very famous: it is literally perfect. I mean from every angle. I don’t believe the same is true of similar art stars like Botticelli’s Venus, which has always been an underwhelming painting.

Anyway, I’m writing this from a train that is taking me to Venice, my favorite city in the whole wide world. I’ll update you from the canals next week.

Needless to say: Ciao!

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