2016.12.31-2017.01.02 Day 1-3 Week 1 It took two full days to arrive in Florence. I traveled from Merida to Miami, spent the evening with old friends in Naples and then flew overnight on January 1 from Miami to Rome to Florence. I arrived in Florence on the evening of January 2.
2017.01.03 Day 4 Week 1 My first day in Florence (day 3 of my journey) was spent walking; learning where the markets and supermarkets are located; getting to know my neighborhood; getting used to my apartment; and making sure I knew where my school is located. The abundance, even in the winter, of spectacularly fresh food was so enticing. Instead of finding a place for lunch, as planned, I cooked myself a fresh omelet with mushrooms, baby spinach and red onion. A simple glass of Rèmole Toscana 2015 and the omelet was the perfect prelude to a nap. After my nap I found the Paperback Exchange bookstore to get copy of The City of Florence, Historical Vistas and Personal Sightings by R. W. B. Lewis (he won the Pulitzer Price for Edith Wharton. He has spent 50 years in the city.) Following time pursuing the bookstore, I meandered to the east side of the city to locate the Angel Academy of Art and the COOP. Once I get my residence card, I can join the COOP and enjoy even better prices. I have discovered that the “local” shops are pricey. Supper was a salad of mixed greens from the market. Today I walked 18,275 steps.
2017.01.04 Day 5 Week 1 My second full day in Florence was pretty routine. I began the day searching for a shop called Coltelleria Galli which is supposedly the best knife shop in Florence. Sadly it looks like it is shuttered. I wanted to buy a really nice razor. Since I was on the right side of the city, I wandered over to the train station to get oriented and to sort out the city bus schedules and lines. Getting around by bus looks very easy and straight forward. I can even use text messaging to get tickets. Following this, I headed to the opposite side of town to visit the Saint Ambrogio market area. On the way I had a pleasant lunch at a small cafe run by a husband and wife called Aquacotta specializing in Tuscan food. The menu was light in veggie options but I did manage to have a nice black cabbage and bean soap and an eggplant parmigiana. A simple 1/4 liter of house red nicely washed it all down. The market was just closing down by the time I got there but I did get a good sense that it will be a great place to visit since it is close to my school. On the way home, I made an appointment to get my formal admission card (pick up tomorrow) for the National Library of Firenze. Looking forward to studying their extensive collection of art books. Dinner was a simple omelet made from asparagus and a raddicio salad. All the veggies came from the main market. Tonight I am working on more reading in the book The City of Florence, Historical Vistas and Personal Sightings by R. W. B. Lewis. I am still shaking jet-lag but feel that I should be in good shape by the weekend. Today I walked 14,000 steps.
2017.01.05 Day 6 Week 1 On my way to my errands this morning I watched a dazzling sun-play on the east facing side of the city along the Arno River. Today was spent getting the paperwork done of for my residential permit from the police. My interview will be Saturday and I will receive the permanent card in March. One nice thing is that I will not have to renew the visa—only the residence permit. That means if I stay another year I will not have to get a replacement visa. After finishing that work, I applied for my permanent card at the National Library of Florence (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Firenze.) The card does not expire. The main Salle Lettura has 120 seats that are arranged in 2 rows of 6 tables with ten seats (5 each side). When I finally finished my paperwork and received my card, there was only a few seats remaining. As best I could tell, most of the seats were occupied by students in business or law—with a few older persons researching literature (maybe writers or historians?) Since I was new to all of this, I perused the shelves nearest me and, as fate was with me, the reference books were all about art and architecture. Of course, my Italian being almost non-existant, I have some work cut out for me for these books to yield their secrets. I did find a nice survey of all Italian modern painters from 1900-1960 (year of publication). I wrote down the names of about two dozen whose work was mostly figural and appealed to me. I will now start researching via the internet to see their other works (the artist description was limited to one page and only one black and white image.) Durning the next two hours I thought primarily about what it means to be “unconnected” to anyone and totally on my own. I don’t have to be anywhere any anytime. I am clock-free (expect for the few necessary bureaucratic appointments).
The age old question: aloneness or solitude. Being a devotee of Rainer Maria Rilke I like the notion of solitude. I don’t feel “alone” in that I have so many wonderful ghosts to keep me occupied mentally. I conjure up Dante as I stroll the city. I talk with Filippo Brunelleschi as I gaze on his handiwork. I address Leon Battista Alberti as I study the geometric patterning on the façade Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. Of course Savonarola’s feistiness is always present in that I too hate the entrenched oligarchies of the world—but I don’t wish upon myself his fate. I remember on a previous visit seeing his tiny marginalia in his bible where he found scriptual justifications for his renouncing of the power structure of the Catholic church. And one can not forget the ever vigilant intellectual Galielo Galilei who was held in house arrest for heresy only 10 minutes to the west of where I am writing now.
What does it mean to be alone but not alone. It takes an awareness of what keeps us from wandering before aloneness can set in. Focus and attention are, for me, more than compensating for being away from my lovely wife. As I sat in the reading hall, I asked myself “Why am I here? Why did I choose to be away for a year?” One of the many reasons relates to restlessness. Being free of “obligations” is something I have dreamt of since I first starting working at the age of 14. For 54 years I have “had” to work and provide for others and myself. It is not something that I resent. I am proud of what I was able to do with my meager talents. But for the first time since I was 14, I am working now for me. I am not obligated to be somewhere at a particular time. I do not have to listen carefully and provide clients with what they want. I am in the light—free of second guessing those that depend on me. I also am aware that my absence is good for Lea as well. She can pursue her art, her friendships, her being. While we try hard not to interfere with each other’s needs when we are together—it is inevitable that togetherness is not always the most productive. It is an odd phenomenon that what seems like a lightening of the load by being together actually creates a burden through expectations.
But equally important to this endeavor: I need to find out if I can find out who I really am. Am I really an artist or a pretender? Do I have what it takes to be world-class? Can I make art that is about my view of the world and not filtered through the world-view of what art is in this moment? I am, luckily, beholden to no one. I do not have to paint “for a living.” That relieves me of one of the inevitable burdens that artists have: having to make a living. I have done that. I have worked for 50 years; saved for 50 years; and now I am going to find out. It will be fun to see how the discipline, starting next week, of structured learning helps name discover who I am and what I am capable of doing. In a few days the story will unfold! I walked 9,200 steps today.
2017.01.06 Day 7 Week 1 This marks the end of my first week in this journey of one year. I have moved from the semi-tropical climate of the Yucatan to the mid-Italian peninsular winter with temperatures ranging from -7ºC to 7ºC—a major contrast with Merida today at 33ºC. By walking fast and dressing in layers I have been able to deal with this. I have also begun to learn how to self-reflect and speak to myself on my own terms. One interesting physical reaction is my eating patterns. In Merida food is never on my mind. Here, it seems to be the opposite. I like sitting down to warm cooked meals. I suppose this could land me in some serious issues with regard to my weight. Luckily I am walking between 5-7 miles a day. This may more than compensate—since in Merida I am lucky if I walk a mile in a day!
The end of my first week, I went to the Cavalcade of the Magi (March of the Three Kings). Friday, January 6, Florence celebrates the Epiphany with the great cavalcade of the Magi. The Three Kings bring their gifts to a baby Jesus in the manger set up in front of the Duomo. This represents the symbolic arrival into Bethlehem and is accompanied with a large parade in historical costume paying tribute, with over 500 participants from all over Tuscany and Italy. There are ladies and lords, knights, country folk, soldiers and other guilds represented. The Sbandieratori or flag-throwing company of the Uffizi was particularly fun to see as they enchanted the public with their skills in throwing and waving their flags along the way.This parade represents guilds and societies from the Middle Ages. Even though I am an atheist, the pageantry and historical continuity was wonderful to witness.
Today I walked 11,110 steps