Apparently Florence hospitals treat about a dozen people a year for sensory overload – too much art is what the guidebook said. But I feel it is Florence as a whole: the art, the traffic, the food, the heat and the markets that overwhelm the visitor.
I was feeling intimidated by Florence even before we got here. You see, I don’t really like art, shameful though that is to admit. But my daughter insisted that we must see this city and it’s treasures. So here we are.
We are staying in an eclectic neighborhood of African, Indian and Middle-eastern immigrants.
Small markets filled with dried and canned foods that I’ve never seen before dot the block. They might have two different brands of canned jackfruit but no other canned fruit.
The store underneath our flat has a large selection of wines, spirits, and hair care products, with sacks of onions and wigs in the front window.
We are only two blocks from the Mercado Centrale, a huge indoor food market surrounded by a ring of outdoor stalls. The color, smells, variety, and sounds of the food market stagger the senses.
We bought fruit, nuts, fresh pasta, bread, prosciutto and smoked cheese in the shape of a hinder, all from different vendors. We bought meatballs in sauce from a funny guy who made us laugh about our attempt at Italian. We were set for dinner.
Then we wandered through the outdoor stalls, which provide a glimpse into the past when Florence was renowned for dyed woolens (wool from the north and dyes from the orient) and leather goods. I felt sorry for the woman selling her beautiful wool capes and scarves – the heat was killing her sales.
The intoxicating smell of leather infused the street as we walked through multiple stalls of leather purses, jackets and belts, even supple leather capes.
But be careful when you reach the intersection with cross-streets where cars are allowed. Typically they are speeding too fast for conditions on narrow streets, often without sidewalks, crowded with pedestrians and bicycles, even going the wrong way on one-way streets. While traffic is not allowed in the city center, that seems to make the traffic just outside the center all the worse.
Then there’s the famous architecture. For the most part, Florence is not as pretty as Venice. But it has some beauties like the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (or the Duomo) – white, green, gray and pink marble in a grand awe-inspiring structure. By contrast it’s interior is plain with the exception of the painted dome.
To complete our sensory journey, we rounded out the day with a visit to the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. One of the oldest pharmacies/perfumeries in the world, Dominican monks who started it cultivated medicinal herbs in their gardens to make balms, ointments and medicines.
They opened the pharmacy and their products to the public in 1612. The Italian government confiscated the church’s assets in 1866, but sold the pharmacy to the nephew of the last monastic director. The business is still in the family.
As someone who spent part of her professional career working with fragrances, I found this place fascinating. The many rooms smelled faintly of rose, and were the original production facilities for their many products between 1612 and 1848.
By this time I was ready to purchase their rest and relaxation products, having seen, smelled, felt, heard and tasted too much for one day.
Wish me luck. Tomorrow we tackle the art with a tour of the Uffizi. I already got a taste today with a glimpse of the fake David outside.
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Other essays on the Trip to Italy:
Rules for buying veggies in Venice
Clinging to the best of the past – the Cinque Terre
Falling Asleep with Galileo – Pisa
What is art anyway? Musing from Florence
The passionate Italian lives in Siena
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Amazingly rich experiences for the mind and the senses. Wonderful. Thank you.
Joe, I appreciate your comment. While the essay may sound as if I am complaining, I am absolutely loving this trip. The heat could back off, but really, that just makes us nap in the afternoon.
You don’t like art ???? I didn’t know that about you …
I don’t much like wandering around art museums; sculpture is fine but I get bored with paintings pretty fast.
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