The Vicarious Traveller
Posted: Dec 2, 2003 6:25:40 AM
It's nice to be able to remember what it was like (and also what you were like) when you first started your trip. I had that opportunity over the last few days only because I have been wandering around Florence with Siobhan.
I have of course wandered around many different cities with many other people, who have all been wonderful hosts, but this time is a little different because it was Siobhan's first time in Europe. She was not a local, and so was experiencing this place just as I was: as a stranger in a strange land. It is nice to have that fresh perspective. For a number of reasons.
Firstly, her enthusiasm. Despite eating very little and shivering throughout the city (about which more later), Siobhan was enthusiastic about everything that has almost become blasé to me through overexposure. I have seen many cathedrals, but the number of photos she snapped of the Duomo (two whole rolls; one in the main hall and the crypt, one in the dome and from the top of the dome) reminded me of just how cool the soaring arches and medieval tombstones could be. I have seen many palaces, but somehow the sumptuous Palazzo Pitti and the 'thuggery' (Siobhan's most apt description of the location where the Medicis plotted and schemed) of the Palazzo Vecchio seemed different when being viewed with her.
Secondly, she knows more about the Renaissance than I do. I have wandered through many galleries with so many religious scenes that the experience had begun to lose its patina of astonishment (as in, oh great, there's another Caravaggio, and another Rubens, and another Giotto, and another Michelangelo...). Thanks to Siobhan, now I know how to spot St. John the Baptist (he's always wearing fur), Mary (she's wearing blue and red and has her hair chastely covered), and Mary Magdalene (uncovered long blonde hair, which I am told is very common in first century AD Mesopotamian women). The Christ child is always easy to spot, as he's usually the fattest one with the most disgruntled expression on his face. Our walks through the Uffizi and the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo were greatly enhanced by this knowledge, and I wouldn't have even gone to the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella to see the painting that basically kicked off Renaissance style without her urging.
Thirdly, her amusing comments. One of the big disadvantages of travelling alone (as I have said before) is that there is no-one that you can lean towards, and - in a hushed tone, as this is an austere and venerable place - comment that this Mary Magdalene looks like she's doing a pole-dance on the cross, or that this Saint Sebastian has nowhere near as many arrows in him as other depictions of his martyrdom, or that this fragment of the One True Cross is a different type of wood to the last three you saw. You can imagine what it was like to see Michelangelo's David in the Galleria dell'Accademia. Well, he has been standing in the cold for a very long time.
Fourthly, her presence. There are some things that it is vaguely embarrassing to do alone, like go to a restaurant or a movie theatre. When you have another traveller available, you can go out to eat pasta (incredibly, the first time I've had pasta in Italy) without being dropped into the spare seat at someone else's table. Yes, that has happened to me. It's not quite so awkward watching the film 'Love Actually' dubbed in Italian when you can show off by guessing exactly what is going on (incidentally, can anyone who has seen that movie in its original language fill us in on exactly what was going on?).
Fifthly (and this is my favourite), she has been able to experience all the unpleasant aspects of travel for me. I have been travelling for more than three months now, and she travelled for five days, but for some reason everything that could go wrong for her did somewhere. She didn't sleep on the plane over from California, and was horribly sick once she arrived (I was sick at the start of my trip also, but at least I wasn't throwing up). She complained quite a bit, and although that didn't bother me at all she also complained about how much she was complaining, which was amusing. It drizzled down basically the entire time we were in the city, and one at least one occasion (our first foray to find a cinema) Siobhan was completely soaked. Best (worst) of all, once she just wanted to get home at the end of it, her plane to Frankfurt was cancelled and we had to queue to get a redirect sorted out. For. Three. Whole. Hours. The circuitous route that the hard-working airport staff came up with involved her flying from Florence to Munich, Munich to Frankfurt, staying the night in Frankfurt (hopefully at the expense of Lufthansa), and then flying on to San Francisco the next day. All this allowed me to appreciate just how bad things can get, without it actually happening to me.
Despite this last point Siobhan assures me that she had a great time on her first foray into Europe, which brings me to my sixth and final point: once she gets back home, rests and recovers, and returns online, she can offer you her (undoubtedly completely different) perspective on this portion of my journey.
Once I saw her off I was eager to get going again, but instead of telling you where I went I will show you and let you guess. A bus, a train, another train, and another bus took me here, and then a bus, a train, and another train took me back to Florence. But where is here?
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