Monday, 23 May 2011

Overheard in Lucca

As I was leaving a restaurant, two Bavarian couples walked by and one of the men approached and asked the Albanian waitress: ”wo ist hier das PUCCINI Denkmal?” The hopelessly sad looking waitress pointed at something on the map and the well-fed Bavarian who was not sure that the Albanian understood must have thought that shouting in German might help: “DENKMAL, DENKMAL, JA!”

Drink with a friend of a friend

One of my friends suggested I meet with a Florentine friend of his. I did.

For the price of a glass of wine, I was told that “Florence is polluted by tourists and that “we really do not like it”. I am not even sure that she liked the wine. She never said. She later sent me an email with a photo that shows her talking with Sarkozy. I imagine that the wine at the Élysée is better. Sorry.

The Brancacci Chapel

There were two groups at the Brancacci chapel whilst I was there: A group of Germans and a group of Italian 12-year-olds from Ferrara. The kids were neither listening nor looking at the frescoes. Most were busy playing with their mobile phones. I asked their teacher why he had brought his class to the chapel and he told me that kids had actually learned about the chapel and the frescoes at school.

The Germans were very serious and asked questions. Their poor guide, after the third question that she was unable to answer, explained that she had mislaid her papers:“Ich bin ziemlich irritiert da ich meine unterlagen verloren habe. Da verlieren wir halt alle.”


They are all looking for David. Occasionally, I get stopped in the street by tourists who ask me where to find David. The more attractive ones, I tell that they need look no further – that they have found David. However, spoiled by pictorial depictions of Michelangelo’s David they are rarely willing to compromise. Occasionally, to make clear to me what they are looking for, they show me a photo in their guidebooks. “Where is this?’ they want to know.

The lines in front of the Accademia, which houses the original David, are almost always very long but tourists come in droves and prefer the original over the life size copy in the Piazza della Signoria or the bronze copy at Piazalle Michelangelo.

One of those who asked me was Jack, an ex-marine from Indianapolis who was in Florence for just one day. He had to be in Milan for work, had never been to Europe before and decided to “tour” Rome for two days and Florence for one day before going back to the US. Jack asked me what else he should see in Florence. I mentioned the Uffizi but he explained “no, I’ve already done art and stuff at the Vatican." He did, however, want to see the original David and not a copy and was willing to stand in line for that. Before saying goodbye, I had to find out who this Midwest ex-marine ha voted for. "I don't trust Obama", he said and explained "...we have to stop spending so much money." I did not ask but I hardly think that it was the defense budget he wanted the President to cut.

Public Aesthetics

Fat and ugly men and women walk about in shapeless shorts that make most of them seem even fatter and uglier whereas the young women walk around in slip-shaped tight mini trousers that just about manage to hug their nether region. This mass of unsightliness is especially insulting inside museums – supposedly temples of beauty.

Open Letter to the Directors of the Uffizi, Pitti, Accademia and other Museums

In the good old days, museums were depositories of art that were open to the general public and to scholars and most visitors were people who were interested in the exhibited works. This is no longer the case. At some point someone came up with the ridiculous idea of herding masses to museums. They have become part of the tour itineraries of mass tourism, just like souvenir shops. Museums are full of groups each following its own coloured rag waiving guide. The guides talk, the people don't listen: Only a small fraction of the tour participants actually listen to their guides: Some chat to each other, others are on their mobile phones or send text messages. The rest just dream away.

This really cannot go on. Dear museum director:

1. Sort out the acoustics. The extremely high noise level, which is due to the acoustics of the museum buildings, to the tendency of Italians to talk loudly, to your allowing so many groups to come into the museums and to a total mismanaged museum-guards workforce, prevents anyone from concentrating on the exhibited works of art.

2. Totally forbid any group of more than five to have guidance without using wireless speaker and earpiece systems.

3. Limit the number of groups you allow at any time.

4. Tighten up your guards: they should wear uniforms and look smart. Take away their mobile phones and their sudoku magazines. At work – they should actually work. Currently, your guards’ only interaction with visitors is to shout “no photo” when they notice a camera flash. Instead, they should be available for information requests and ensure that the rooms be quiet to enable visitors to concentrate on the art.

5. Get professional lighting experts. Many of your lighting systems are just bad! As a result, objects can often not be appreciated.

6. Glass panels – replace the reflective glass panels in front of many of the paintings with non-reflective glass. Currently, one sees oneself and others reflected in the painting one is looking at.

Above all, forget this notion that museums should be judged by the numbers of visitors.


There was an attractive 30-ish gypsy woman “working” on the train I took from Firenze to Lucca. I was on the phone when she insistently demanded my attention.When I asked her in my broken Italian why she was begging instead of working she responded with words that did not quite sound like a blessing. Nor was it Italian.

Florence is full with working foreigners: Senegalese sell sunglasses, umbrellas and handbags. North Africans sell “art” in the streets, Palestinians are said to be working in the Pizzerie. Thousands of Chinese run an entire economy that is apparently invisible to the Italian authorities. And then there are Gypsies, lots of them everywhere. Their line is begging. Some say that they also steal. According to my Italian teacher, they get free accommodation from the city.

The regular one sitting next to my supermarket sometimes leaves her begging bowl and sits across the street to chat with her co-workers. Every now and then she goes into the supermarket to change the coins that she has collected into € notes.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Why Florence

I have repeatedly been asked by friends why I have chosen to go to Florence. As if one needed a reason for going to Florence. Some suspect an ulterior motive but you do not need to worry: There will not be a Florence book. The truth is that I fled.

Like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown I had not been invited to the royal wedding in London. Rome was out too because unlike Robert Mugabe, I had not been invited to the beatification ceremony of Pope John Paul II. So I couldn't go to Rome either. Funny people those chefs of protocol.

On the other hand, Buckingham Palace was right not to invite me: I have –after all – not made a secret of my views about Camilla. What bad taste for Camilla to be placed in the first row at this wedding! I wonder what the protocol arrangements would have been had Diana still been alive? Would the divorced mother not have been placed next to her ex-husband? Where the hell is the sensibility of William and Harry? They even made Camilla’s granddaughter a bridesmaid. Their mother would not have been dead had Camilla (and their father) not connived to deliberately corrupt, drain and quash that marriage.

That explains my exclusion. But why exclude Blair and Brown?

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

My Cleaner and Brunelleschi

A couple of days ago, on hearing that I was in a hurry for a history of art lesson, the 60 plus year old Italian Signora who cleans “my” apartment wanted to know where my lesson would take place. San Lorenzo, I said and the cleaner immediately instructed me to make sure not to miss the pietra dura and not to forget to also visit the crypt. She continued with more details and promised me that I would enjoy this beautiful church.

She was right. Angela, my art history teacher, was not surprised.

Florence and the stranieri’s Garbage

Either the Florence municipality is extremely visitor friendly or the foreign visitors are extremely undisciplined with their trash: What other explanation can there be for English language garbage collection instructions on street containers in some parts of Florence?

Italy and EU Flags

Italy must have done some kind of a deal with the bureaucrats in Brussels by which they get paid for every EU flag they hang. There are too many of them as it is but this week, there are even more of them everywhere in Florence. Some kind of a “Europe in Florence Week”, I was told.

Money well spent no doubt.