Note on Florence

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Having travelled back through Pisa I wonder whether my strange mood was more to do with Florence than a imbalance of deities.

Back in autumnal England I feel happy and rooted. Italy felt alien – not alien, but not home. I am suspicious (hermeneutic) about Italian mythemes.

Florence’s beautiful architecture, for example. I though the Duomo was rather hideous – like a marble Battenberg cake and the Palazzo Pitti is positively ugly.

Italians dress well. Most of the Florentines were dressed in drab greys and cheap jeans and those silly little trainers. Most looked very dreary.

Italian food is the greatest. It is delicious. But that’s the only thing you can get. Only Italian, no other flavour, no alternatives.

Greatest of all is the myth of Florence’s creativity. Five hundred years ago there was a clot of brilliance around Medici money – but when that ran out all the great Tuscan names went to Rome, to Milan, to France.

Five hundred years ago – a miracle. And then nothing more, nothing at all. Not one artist of note for five hundred years.

There is something stifling about the notion of Florence. This intense conservation – like living in jam, in a jar, pickled in sugar – but in this case pickled in the warm sunny dust of the Uffizi.

It’s no coincidence that the city is full of tortoises. (Supporting obelisks, under Apollo’s feet, bearing a Medici dwarf.) Tortoises: long-lived, hard-shelled, withdrawing into a carapace, moving very slowly.

Where are the bees? Where is the honey?

How much more bearable, Pisa. Free from that choking museum-atmosphere. Lots of lovely 1920-1930s architecture, Italians at the counters (instead of tourists), a breathable urbanity. A living grace not a antiquated grimace.


  1. rainbows

    November 2, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    and what is wrong with grey? Why do you always dislike
    it so much? Is it because it reminds you of depressing
    british rain or is it because grey is a colour of ash
    and destruction?
    I think grey is beautiful. It can be very soothing and
    calming. Especially light milky grey, the colour of mist
    or melting snow or comfy pijamas… It is like innocence
    of white but with a hint of mischief from black…
    Yes, grey is maybe not for everyone.
    But it looks excellent with blonde hair! x

  2. Athene

    November 4, 2009 at 2:00 am

    Hahaa. Rainbows! I love that a wo/man of many colours can appreciate the kindness
    of grey. Its a great backdrop is it not for colours such as y/ours to transcend and be
    noticed? And soothing it is, as its the doorway from one experience to another.
    Something I think the Artist and Writer you are commenting on is in full in awareness
    of. I’m glad of your playful nature because the person that we all love is in great
    need of being teased of the grey, it is Persephone’s fruit but that can only lead to summer.

  3. Bob Farnes

    November 4, 2009 at 2:03 am

    I lost track of your website and blog for a long while, but thankfully have re-discovered you. I had forgotten how inspirational you are and how much I admire your photography and writing skills. You are truly a beautiful and gifted man. I wish you much love and happiness in your life. Thank you.

  4. island_of_rainbows

    November 4, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    thank you for your comment, athene.
    what is your favourite colour, by the way?
    and your favourite fruit?
    my favourite colour is grey and my favourite fruit
    is obviously – apple. 🙂

    best wishes. x

  5. Athene

    November 5, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    I have many favourite colours. lilac with a hint of fiery
    pink, forest green for my third eye, Orange for my breakfast,
    and the yellow of a banana just to remind me to be silly.

    A raspberry is my favourite taste…

    And yes, the Apple is a truly great fruit xxxx

  6. turquoise sun

    November 5, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    Hi Athene,

    So you like raspberries… Actually, my real name
    means ‘raspberry’ in one of the eastern european
    languages. 😉

    Is Athene your real name? It is so unusual and

    PS. Alistair, what happened to a donkey
    in your notebook (note 04 from 11/09)?
    I feel very sorry for the animal…

  7. Amelia

    November 6, 2009 at 5:26 am

    My favourite colour is green and my fave fruit is a toss up between an apple and a banana, can’t quite decide….

    I really like grey too, especially light grey teamed with either aqua, turquoise, or watermelon, I find those really nice and uplifting combinations…and even just grey and white is nice too, because its clean and simple. But I can understand why some peeps don’t like grey. Where I live (in New Zealand) there is a paint colour called ‘Tea’ which is popular, and it’s a very faint grey sort of beigey, it’s quite stunning, I know it sounds boring to paint your walls greyish beige but it really is a nice colour (I think so anyway, don’t think “battleship” heh).

    Not that anyone was asking me, just thought I’d randomly join party, hope you don’t mind. 🙂

  8. Athene

    November 7, 2009 at 3:30 am

    Amelia, its lovely to have a random party ‘joiner’ we are all randomly joining the party
    and everyone is welcome as far as I’m concerned! Myself included. how great to have a reference
    point such as the Big Apple to make contact with people. Me in London, you in New Zealand and
    Eve..The Island Of Rainbows..who knows where, but somewhere nice (and Grey) I like the watermelon
    reference. Its green on the outside, with flecks of ‘tea’ and soft pink red in the flesh, with Black brown pips.
    Sounds like another Rainbow.

    Have a wonderful weekend all. Much love to you and all who dance in colours.XXX

  9. Ewan

    November 7, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    I agree with Alistair. Even though I am glad I visited Florence (and I happened to walk past Alistair when I was there), I did not fall in love with the place! I felt totally blocked in! Too many tourists, and felt I was trapped.

  10. Robert

    November 8, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    I think a large part of your feelings of oppression and sadness have more to do with traveling than being in Florence. I often get a case of the glooms when I travel alone(which isn’t often thankfully). You find yourself at loose ends and trying to do thing just to do them.I find that I feel more like a stranger when I’m alone in a foreign country and terribly homesick . It makes coming home all the more special. So cheer up my friend, and next time wait until someone is available when the travel bug bites!

  11. Valerie W.

    November 10, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Wait Wait, didn’t you post the movie about the woman
    from Colorado who took a vacation to France and felt
    very much the outsider until she embraced France as
    another place to just be yourself and interact.
    I don’t think I could spend endless hours in the
    galleries ( I have seen them, they are beautiful)
    Did you take this trip to Florence because you felt
    you had negleted the cultural end of your being and
    needed to ante up or just because you thought walking
    for hours among paintings they would reach out to you.
    You could have just imagined what those people were
    actually saying or doing at the time of the portrait.
    Just like your being is frozen in time on whatever
    television show you’ve done, someone in the future
    could look and say, I wonder what they were doing
    when the camera was off or they were on break etc.
    Just fanciful thinking on my part today.
    Your only alone if you see yourself that way.

  12. Valerie W.

    November 10, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Wow I was just able to read Brians post on the previous
    pictures. God Bless him for his wisdom and words.
    Is homesickness just a longing for whats familiar?
    That’s why people travel with favorite pillows or

  13. Jeff

    November 11, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    I agree completely. And even better than Pisa is Lucca!

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