June 14, 2003:
Today we drove from Siena to Florence, with a stop in San Gimighiano.
I liked the hotel in Siena very much. Our room was cool — finally! — and we enjoyed a fine breakfast in a garden area behind the hotel, with a lovely view of the surrounding countryside. What a change to be sitting in cool shade in a beautiful garden, rather than in a sweaty breakfast room, as in Rome! It made for a much more enjoyable breakfast.
After squeezing our Opel out of its parking spot — where we had been pinned in by other cars — we drove to San Gimighiano. It is an interesting little town, apparently little changed from the Middle Ages, where it was a stop on the pilgrimage route to Rome. All of that ended with the Great Plague of 1348, and the town became frozen in time.
San Gimighiano was noteworthy from our standpoint for the Medieval Torture Museum, which was fascinating but very disturbing. The endless creativity that the people of the Middle Ages expended in inflicting pain and humiliation in order to extract “confessions” boggles the mind. I think the parade of the rack, the Iron Maiden, the gibbet, flaying the wheel, the stocks, the dunking chair, all made an impression on the boys. Is capital punishment in America really so different?
We left San Gimighiano and drove to Florence, which was a bit hairy. Driving into a large city with a different language and no real idea about where you are going is an adventure. However, Kish did a great job and we found our hotel without too much trouble.
We then headed out into Florence. Our first stop was the Duomo, which is another incredibly large, impressive cathedral. It took more than 100 years to build, and features dozens of busts, statues, frescoes, paintings, etc. What motivated these towns to spend their time and treasure on raising these ornate places of worship? Why churches, and not universities, or hospitals, or public baths?
We then walked to the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. What an awesome sight that is! After seeing a room of the traditional, Byzantine-influenced Madonna and Child paintings, we suddenly come into a long room with the gigantic David at one end. The room is lined with unfinished Michelangelo sculptures, and then capped at one end by David itself — head somewhat outsized, broken arm and toes, doused with wax, but still glorious and extraordinary. Michelangelo and da Vinci are, of course, the icons of the Renaissance, but sometimes we take them for granted. What caused the explosion of creativity that took art from the rigid Madonna and Child to the realism of David, the Mona Lisa, and the Sistine Chapel? What would da Vinci or Michelangelo have accomplished if they were born into the modern world, well educated, and given the kind of opportunity that Americans now take for granted?
After seeing David the boys and I walked around before returning to our hotel. It is a fine hotel, near the Duomo, in a university section. We had a good dinner at a nearby restaurant, and after dinner walked to the Ponte Vecchio on the Arno. As we approached our hotel, a live band began playing, and I forced us to stop and listen to a song. What a thrill to hear live music in a Firenze square!
As we get ready to turn in for the night, our attention is focused on getting ready to do laundry tomorrow morning. From the ecstasy of the Duomo and David to the dull reality of laundry — such are the highs and lows of travel.