Thursday, September 08, 2005



Dedicated audience:

Only my sense of responsibility to a vast readership has drug me away from the sensuous pleasure of the Florentine ambience. One pleasure: flailing away at jet lag with the weapon of sleep. Another pleasure: gelati. Another pleasure: walking up one street and down another looking in shop windows.

Weather report: very mild, overcast, a bit of drizzle. I made it dry to class yesterday, but minutes after me, a couple of students came in soaked. I offered them the shirt off my back, but everyone else screamed in horror: "Ack!!! Put it on, put it on!!" Sensitive to the sensitivities of others, and hearing the lyrical sirens of the Polizei and Carabinieri, I took discretionary action and reinvested myself. Class went on per normale after that.

The city of Florence is truly glorious. Last night, on the way across the bridge back to our picollississimo apartamento, we saw thousands of Draculae (Latin--"bats" in the vernaculae). They chirpped away, pinging radaristically through the twilight looking for insects. I kidded around with them and chirpped too, and I was beset by bats, worse than the birds in a Hitchcock film. Can you believe it? They mistook me for an insect! Blodthirsty. And I was carrying a camera, even. At least, they could have figured out that I was a tourist. I fumbled for my cross, but lacking that (one of the very few times I can remember not having it conveniently on my person somewhere or other), I beat at them with my Quick Guide to Florence. (It occurs to me that since this is Italy, I should put everything in Italics. Which rules am I following here--when in Florence, do as the Florentines do--but what do they do? This is not covered in the handbooks. Argh. I suppose, at the risk of offending my widespread Italian readership, I should nonetheless return to non-Italics, and apologize for any faux pas. But is faux pas acceptable--it is a French phrase--is there a French version of Italics--Gaulics, certo--and where, prey tell, are they on the keyboard; have I offended any pianisti by referring to this as a keyboard? Maybe being in a foreign country is not for me . . . )

But, back to the bats of Florence. They come out, chirping, at night, keeping down the mosquito population, flitting across the lights of the Arno, the romantic atmosphere of the restaurants near the Ponte Vecchio, shattering the darkness with their infernal cheer as they consume their fill, blithering this way and that in their jagged flight patterns. Ping! Ping! Then there are the outcasts who alternate with them and go Pong! Pong! So, overall, you probably can hear it already in your mind's eye, they go Ping! Pong! Ping! Pong! And in Italian--but it's not translatable, so I have given the nearest English equivalent.

Travel writing is something of a new genre for me, and you are too kind to comment on the little glitches here and there that may betray my innocence.

I would think the objective is to render clearly the essence of the locale the writer is travelling in and to offer useful information to the future expeditionary.

So, ahem:

As we read in the best guidebooks (and the worst as well, so it might as well be mentioned here), Florence is the city of Dante. He has a statue somewhere nearby. There are probably several strewn about. Florence is also the city of David. I am not quite clear whether David fought Goliath in Florence, or whether that might have been elsewhere, but, most importantly, David's genitalia were covered, first by God (before the famous battle--that being a pre-technological era with no jockstraps) later by the Pope, whose appreciation for anatomy was either limited or excessive. The battle was fought, perhaps, in the square where the statue now stands. This would have been when Florence was a Philistine city, before all the art, which Philistines, apparently, could not fathom, living several years before the Renaissance, as they did, according to the best archeologists, and perhaps in another part of the world, maybe pre-Mayan. (I love to write about travel, but geography sometimes confuses me, especially if it's the geography of where I am at the time. History occasionally confuses me as well. As does science. But fortunately, I do not aspire to write about either history or science.)

My crypto-narrative beckons.

The Philistines did not like David either, since he decapitated their hero. One of the other statues in that square may be Goliath, who was, apparently, a handsome, bearded fellow, with a lot of muscles, but only one eye--or perhaps I confuse him with some other character in some other book. He might have been half goat, but then David would have taken unfair advantage, since David had all his human appurtenances intact and jocularly protected. The statue of David's formidable adversary is difficult for me to describe accurately, travel writer though I am and committed to a faithful record of both history and contemporary society in their many facets, diversions, and dimensions, because I forgot my glasses at home, and the statue is tall. I can't tell if it has one eye, or two, muscles or a tunic, a hat or some futuristic flying apparatus atop what is most likely (from my cumulative experience of the locations of various anatomical features) its head.

Be all that as it may, Florence is, indeed, the city of Dante, and we return to our consideration of that most famous of Beatrice's rejected suitors.

Dante's Inferno, which I have to teach next week, was written, I believe, just after David's genitalia were obliterated. But the Paradiso followed soon after, when, in the local shops, boxer shorts began to appear reinstating the genitalia to their proper place.

That's enough culture. And just in the nick of time, too.

If you really want to hear about mosquito control (and who doesn't?), there are the green fish in the green water of the Arno, snapping away at the mosquitos dropped by the bats from their heights.

The essence of the Arno, though, I can essentialize in a phrase, even in a word: green. I can add to that: mossy. The lights on the water at night are pretty, coming from the restaurants. Looking one way or the other--north or south, east or west, up or down, inward, outward, retrospectively or prospectively--the sight charms and soothes, instigating a tranquil and serene constipation of the emotions that brings tears to the little ducts at either side of the bridge of the nose. Sniffle.

Scooters and the people on them I can also essentialize in a phrase: guardate! Pedestrians rarely wait for the permission of the little green walking people in the stoplight. They go at will--rather like New York, or Bakersfield, or Cumquat, Missouri, where the automotive population is 4, counting the tractor and the motorized unicycle at the rental shop.

We became true Italians last night, though. As a Ralph's or Von's card makes the True American; so, the Standa card makes the True Italian. At least in Florence. Imagine our chagrin when we bought not souvenirs from and of the many shops of immaculately skilled Florentine artisans and craftspeople, but toilet paper. It was 3 Euro; then we found it at Standa for 2.98 Euro. I wanted to return the first purchase, but we learned a heavy lesson that night.

Note to Molloy: Toilet paper costs the same as gelato; I am checking in my many guidebooks for the connection, but I should probably be checking a textbook on internal medicine and the pictures of the alimentary canal.

I can assure you, this is not the least informative source for your next trip to Europe. You could be reading the Pasadena phone book. But Molloy may come in a close second. There are conflicting parameters, obligations, and decorums in operation here. See, in the index, blogosophy, blogology, blopgophilia, blogorrhea, blogectomy, blog 'o my heart (the purple flower with the thorns, related to the nettle).

As a final noteworthy record of our peregrinations (a bon mot I filched from Dr. Johnson), we walked by a church and heard decorous.

Ciao for naow.

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