Thursday, 25 September 2008

Beware of the History People

Most of us Florentines (adopted or otherwise) like to think we’re above the city’s charms. We don’t swoon over the Duomo or pant in awe of the Ponte Vecchio. We guffaw at the tourists who pay €3 for a bottle of water and we would rather be seen dead than be caught so much as glancing at the leather jackets in San Lorenzo. History just screams down at us from the city’s crumbling stone work but we block our ears and carry on. Our cynical faces bob into hundreds of tourist snapshots a day because we gave up spending our entire journey to work ducking down politely ages ago. We know we’re walking in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s footsteps but we act like it’s no big deal. Yes, we agree smiling, Florence is such a beautiful city isn’t it. But our heads are full of bus strikes, expensive real estate and the bald truth that wherever you live you simply get up, go to work, do the shopping and forget to buy toilet paper .. , in Florence just like anywhere else.

There are, however, exceptions to this rule of blasé behaviour. There are the History People. The History People are usually native Florentines, generally born and bred within sight of the Duomo (you will know this because they will tell you, regularly). Not only do they know that they are walking in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s footsteps but they know what colour his favourite socks were and how he parted his hair. A History Person feels it’s his or her god given gift to share this information whenever possible. If you make the mistake of asking a History Person why your local supermarket is only open on the first Sunday of the month, then brace yourself. He or she will launch into a lengthy explanation that begins five hundred years ago and probably has to do with some ancient rivalry involving a knight who bit his thumb at his neighbour’s most trustiest steed way back in once-upon-a-time. I happen to know a couple of History People personally and let me tell you, the slightest thing can set them off. I know to avoid all large topics like politics and religion which are always sure to unchain hours of 'but you see, in the fifteen hundreds…’ etc. Unfortunately, even the most banal observation can get them going because ultimately, they love history and believe everyone else should too.

To be honest, there’s so much history here that it can feel slightly overwhelming even without the History People’s running commentaries. They discovered Etruscan remains while digging the underground car park at my local super market, for goodness sake. An old house has recently been uncovered beneath the building site for the new tram line right in front of the train station. You see, when the past has had enough of gazing down on us in the form of ancient weathered gargoyles, it starts popping up from under our very feet. It’s everywhere. I suppose that’ll put the completion date for the tram lines back another 5 years or so. I saw a young guy operating a JCB on the building site who was sweating marbles as he manoeuvred the claw of his digger to scrape away soil from the uncovered brick work. Poor guy.

There's just not enough room in my head for all this history and I’m happy to remain relatively culture-free. I go to the odd exhibition and that does me just fine. The Impressionists at Palazzo Strozzi right now is really very interesting, just don’t ask me for details. I’ve already forgotten it all even though I only went a week ago and despite dutifully listening to an audio guide all the way round.

I believe that history is best taken with a spoon full of sugar. Cappuccino and brioche then museum then a huge lunch at Coquinarius, ice cream at Grom and finally a quick trip to Zara to see what new stuff they have. It’s a wholesome but delicious culture sandwich. The History People are purists and wouldn’t approve, but who cares.

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Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Bite me Romeo

I’m in love. I’m in love with a hundred-year-old fictional vampire named Edward. It’s an impossible love affair, doomed from the start because (a) he doesn’t know I exist and (b) he actually doesn’t exist. This small fact doesn’t stop me from dreaming about him at night though and from comparing my unfortunate other half’s actions with Edward’s. I’m too terrified of my own over-active imagination to admit ... who comes out on top. Just in case you forgot by the way, I’m thirty years old, I have a steady job and a mortgage. I like knitting for heaven’s sake. I’m not fourteen years old and even when I was fourteen I never obsessed this much, not even over Simon Harris who nearly made me faint once by just looking at me at the school disco. If you’ve read the Twilight series then you know what I’m talking about. Girls, forget ‘nobody puts Baby in the corner’, forget Romeo (he was just a squeaky voiced wimpy teenager anyway) and even forget Mr Darcy. Yes, you heard me, forget Mr Darcy. A new romantic hero has been born and I’m in a swoon just writing about him. Edward.

Ps: A first draft of the fifth book was recently leaked online and the horrifying result is that the author has decided to abandon working on it, at least for the moment. In a surprise move she has made this draft available on her website. I read all 264 pages last night. It’s like an illness that has me totally incapacitated. You have to see for yourselves:

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Thursday, 4 September 2008


Would you like to start a collection of kitchen utensils featuring the Loony Tunes characters? Or if you’re of a more religious bent, perhaps you’d prefer to collect the saints-on-cards, a different saint featured each week. Jesus must be thrilled, I’m sure that is just what he had in mind in terms of saving humanity. Failing that, what about the prestigious collection of the works of Jules Verne, bound in the highest quality leather and including detailed hand drawn maps, only €1,99 for a different edition each week? Now that would surely compliment anyone’s book shelves. Every year in September there are an incredible number of adverts on TV for these ‘collectibles’ that you can get from your local newsagent. It seems that we need something to lift ourselves out of our collective despair as our tans fade and we all go back to work after the August holidays. Apparently, starting a collection of tiny model pedigree dogs is just the thing...

Olympic fever ran pretty high here in the summer so gym subscriptions, which are usually up in September, must be through the roof too. It’s like the Italian new year is now, not in January and resolutions are made with religious fervour.
'I’m not eating bread any more', declared my other half, 'and I’m going to have fruit and yoghurt for breakfast every day!' Well, I have to take my hat off to him: he’s gone two weeks without touching so much as a bread crumb and I’d guess from the amount of melon rind and apple peel left around the house that he’s munching his way through a fair amount of fruit too. I haven’t even had to hide the bread in the oven yet. Bravo.

In any case, collectibles and healthy living resolutions aside, what really makes going back to work a more bearable is knowing that everyone else in Italy is in the same boat. Everyone, from national news readers to my postman is tanned chestnut brown (except me of course, I’m still pushing to make pale English-Rose a trendy look) and everyone wears their tan with an air of resistance. It’s like they’re saying,
'Look at my golden skin, I went to the sea, I stood on the shore in my speedos randomly splashing water over my rippling torso and muscular thighs… (sorry, got distracted for a moment there, back to the point) 'as long as my tan is here then I can hold up my head and say: yes, I holidayed.' Unfortunately, the memory of the holiday fades proportionately with the tan and conversely, backtoworkitis increases. The next public holiday isn’t till All Saints day on the 1st November and horror of horrors, it falls on a Saturday this year. The 1st November is (literally horror of horrors) the day for remembering the dead when everyone goes to the cemetery, so it’s hardly a jolly day either. Unless you’re a florist of course.

Oh well, I don’t want to worsen my backtoworkitis by dwelling on it too much. I’ve chosen this year to ignore the existence of all my clever-clogs friends who managed to get their holidays in September and to console myself with my collection of Police Badges of the World (first one only €0,99). It’s the Arizona state police badge this week so I’m pretty excited.

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