FIRENZE..............and a 10 Kms. ride for a Butter Naan
Firenze or Florance is not a just a beautiful city ; its a live being that warmly engulfs you in an overpowering embrace of magical charm. One gets tossed between artistic riches , turbulent history, modern municipal efficiency, haute chic and the expansive demonstrations of public affability exhibited by its natives. It takes just a few hours for the place to get you totally besotted. If you like history, like I do, you will willingly place yourself in its thrall for ever .
This heartland of Tuscany is actually an open air musem. Go get a gelato from a jazzy neonlit cafe and you have an exquisite 15th Century statue peering down at you from a niche by the entrace. A mundane agriculture office will turn out to be a Renaissance Palace. There are Banks established in Medieval times, and still very much housed in the same original fortresses.
The nerve centre of the city is Piazza Della Signoria, a L shaped city square, close to the most famous landmark, The Duomo (The Santa Maria Del Fiore cathedral) The magnificent 600 year old dome of the Cathedral, built by Bruneschelli, is still the largest brick& mortar dome in the world. The companile ( bell tower) built by Giotto and the awe inspiring Baptistry complete the complex which is thronged by thousands of tourists year round. The great bronze doors of the shrine are an example of the devotion , expertise , passion and hardwork the classical artists were capable of. An adjoining museum , housed in the cloisters, contains many treasures. A particular frieze ,of a group of singing Putti, took my breath away.
A leisurely walk around the Piazza feels like floating through the pages of a 3-D art book.
Father used to buy richly illustrated books about places and Historic Ages from the Time-Life publishing company regularly. As a child, i have gawked , hungrily and endlessly, at the pictures of artworks in it, admiring the luxurious folds of the robes, the rippling muscles of the curly haired gods, the creamy smoothness of the nymph's arms, all so wonderfully executed in stone and metal by the masters of yore. And now, getting off a pavement and bumping a toe against a pedastal, i look up..... and there it is ! A vision from the past ; the printed images from those wonderful books springing to life - A Bandinelli, a Cellini , an Etruscan horse..........and Michaelangelo's David !( a faithful copy of the masterpiece stands in the square outside ; the original is preserved inside the museum )But " The Fount of Neptune" (by Bartelomeo Ammanati) is original, so too Cosimo 1 ( by Giambologna).....and more.
The Square , which was paved in the 14th. century has seen a fair share of riotous history. The flamboyant Medicis had proclaimed their arrogance from these very stone steps. The Renaissance had germinated and bloomed here. The fiery Savanarola had supervised the Bonfire of Vanities in this square. I felt a clammy knot in the pit of the stomach, while posing for a photo in front of The Fount, for i was standing at the very spot where that fundamentalist monk was himself made a bonfire of by the long suffering public.....To walk on the cobblestones is to get mopped up by history and to feel,in one's own blood, the everyday excitements and terrors of those long gone people .
The old Etruscan bridge( Ponte Vecchio) across the River Arno is a curious, exciting bazaar, lined as it is by quaint little shops selling a great variety of goods. As in the east,vigourous bargaining is encouraged here. Pickpockets thrive too. Its fun to watch the vendors- they put their whole life into sealing a sale. The elaborate hand gestures, the frequent exclamations, the melodramatic entreaties !
Two whole days of Museums, Tombs, Cathedrals and Palaces later, the family head wanted adventure of a different kind Seeking Indian Food in Firenze. Guidebooks were rifled through. Conciergeries interrogated. Aquaintances in Rome called up. Finally located a "TajMahal Restaurant" in Fiesole district. Fiesole turned out to be an ancient Etruscan township on a hill, 5km. from City Centre ( which made it 10 km. from our hotel) In historic times, it was famed as the site where the Germanic Vandals were vanquished. In Literary lore, it is famed as the location of The Decameron stories. In our holiday memories it is linked solely with Butter Naan and the great efforts that went into laying hands on it.
There was only one bus to the place, from the Rail Station, and return had to be by the same. No other mode of transport . We had to set out at 5pm., the timing of the bus.When we arrived, the hotel was not open for dinner yet , so sat at the empty tables, waiting , admiring the Hindi Cinema posters plastered to the rustic mud walls and the bullockcart parts scattered around as interior decor. The proprietor helpfully switched on some tinny Latha Mangeshkar and Hemanth Kumar melodies. His idea of India indicated that he had migrated from the mustard fields of Punjab some 30 years ago and mentally, his Bharath hadn't moved forward at all.
The immigrant chef and helper boys trickled in at 6, started cooking at 7 and set the table at 8......and we barely had enough time to savour the dinner. Stuffing ourselves hurriedly with the butter naan, rajma, aloo-gobi and basmati rice we had to run to the bus stop, terrified that the bus would leave without us and we'd have to sit on the cold stone ledges under the evergreens of the strangely silent town the whole night through .........But the Bus Driver, a cheerful avuncular chap, had thoughtfully waited for us, having decided earlier on that we were a bunch of clueless innocents abroad and that he, as a good citizen of the host country, was in charge of our safe return to Firenze !
Hail Santa Maria ! That was the most exciting Butter Naan we've ever had !
( Picture 1 : The standard post card picture of The Duomo. Picture 2 : A view of Fiesole )