July 1st, 2009

Shadow

Florence has got balls

The Medici coat of arms — some number of red balls, usually six, on a field of gold, with the chief ball blue and covered in fleurs-de-lis once they got permission from King Louis XI to French it up — is everywhere in Florence. On statues, on street corners, on buildings, on cathedral ceilings. As one Medici contemporary put it, "He has emblazoned even the monks' privies with his balls." But the Medici were the folks who jump-started the Renaissance, discovering Michelangelo and sponsoring da Vinci, so I can't be too hard on them. Michelangelo designed the Medici Chapel, whose dome fills the window beside me, and all over the city shops and souvenir carts sell pictures of David's penis (sometimes with sunglasses).

Interesting things about Florence: each street has two sets of numbers, one red (or brown) for businesses and one blue (or black) for residences. Between 19 and 21 blue, for instance, you can find 62 red. You can see the system in action in the street numbers on Google Maps. Also, they sell tiny Shawn the Sheep (of Wallace & Gromit) figurines from vending machines of the sort that sell bouncy balls and Mega Sours in the US.

Annoying things about Florence: everything has an admission fee, sometimes multiple fees for different bits (like San Lorenzo and the Medici Chapel), and so far nothing with an admission fee permits photos. Grr. Contrast with Rome, which is full of stunning churches that you can wander into (provided your shoulders aren't bare) to discover a random Caravaggio hanging on a transept wall. Fortunately, they can't stop us from taking pictures outside; I took about fifty pictures of the Duomo at sunset tonight, in all its mammoth superdetailed multicolor-marbled glory. It's like a tsunami of stone, an eruption, a striped and decorated Death Star, cyclopean in both senses of the word. I think I've fallen in love. Tomorrow, we get to climb it.