Florence was a little overwhelming for the teacher in me, so much so, that I avoided going to the number one place on my list until the week before we were scheduled to leave Tuscany. Why? Because I was having trouble giving myself permission to let go of seeing everything in one day! I was agonizing over which museums to visit and the timing of it all when my son said, “Let’s just go, already!”
I thought about this for a day or so and realized he was right. Slow travel means we do not have to get it all in one pass. We can go back 100 times, or never. It dawned on me that this was an amazing life lesson. So many times, around the holidays, I over-worked the timelines until I had squeezed every last ounce of fun out of certain things on the list. Going to see Santa became about the day with the shortest line. Getting the Christmas picture done became about outfits, weather, and timing the mailings just so. It is not that I didn’t enjoy aspects of these events but I was more concerned with getting it all done, than I was with the moment right under my nose.
On Black Friday, we went to Florence . We just got in the car, left the guidebooks at our apartment in Cortona, and drove to Florence. We discovered each piazza as the day unfolded. In Piazza Duomo, we walked in Dante’s footsteps near his favorite bench (actually a stone) where it is believed that he would sit and contemplate (criticize) the construction of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore! We ate amazing sausages in Piazza Santa Croce at the annual German Christmas Market, Heidelberger Weihnachtsmarkt, where the kids were entranced by the illegal vendors’ ability to pack up their goods in seconds and run at the first sight of the carabinieri (police).
As we entered the Piazza della Signoria, and the kids refused to have their picture taken with the naked replica of the statue of David, we realized that we had made the right choice. The kids are still very young and my attempts at a college level art history tour would have fallen flat. It is not that they don’t appreciate many things, but naked statues are still so funny! Just when I was thinking all hope was lost, the boys turned toward the Loggia dei Lanzi, and yelled with excitement as they recognized Perseus with the head of Medusa, the Medici Lions,Mercurius and Minerva.
There is actually an illness named after the famous 19th-century French author Stendhal, who described his experience over overwhelm during his 1817 visit to Florence. When he visited the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Galileo are buried, he saw Giotto’s frescoes for the first time and was overcome with emotion and had a negative physical reaction. Stendhal syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, and confusion when an individual is exposed to masterpieces, usually when the art is particularly beautiful or a large amount of art is in a single place. There are many accounts of people becoming dizzy and fainting while viewing Florentine art, especially at the Uffizi, dating from the early 19th century. The syndrome was only named in 1979, when it was described by Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini, who documented more than 100 similar cases among tourists. I, on the other had, had the reaction prior to even leaving our apartment!
Thank goodness ease conquered my anxiety to get it all right the first time. Who do I have to thank? My precious children!