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Amber Paulen

Weekend in Florence

Before this weekend I’ve perhaps spent a total of eight hours in Florence on two separate occasions. The first was as a stop on a whirl-wind Europe tour: Florence being merely a point of contact. The strangest thing about that trip was the number of parking lots I slept in, whose variety I remember more than a single Tuscan city. It was summer; there were crowds. The second time was a cool rainy evening two years ago. I was with four Brazilians, unsure if it was Portuguese I was hearing or Italian. We ate pizza by the Duomo, we went home.

Now Florence has become a city in my mind and those two memories have become its inhabitants. The Duomo looks as if Brunelleschi took psychedelics, as if he flipped the frescos from the inside, out. The Florentines speak with large vowels. A cold wind blew, revoking what little spring had started.

I wanted to go to Florence to feed my recent obsession with visual arts. If Rome can boast of grandeur than Florence can boast of an elegant saturation, in particular, the David and Uffizi. David! Only standing below that immense statue one can begin to understand its reputation. From each painstaking detail comes the expression of the whole, as if that fine-veined marble were flesh, at any moment to propel the decisive shot. One imagines his muscles rippling, his fluidity; stone no longer solid, the carved figure with life.

Then there’s the Uffizi, the “offices” of the Medici who collected and commissioned paintings and statues, who played a large part in the Renaissance, the re-birth. I have set some of a story I’m working on in the Uffizi so I have reason to again walk through the rooms and hall. But imagination and digital reproductions fail here where the brush met the canvas, driven by the hand fueled by knowledge and instinct.

There are certain elements of beauty that I am convinced we have lost since the time of these Masters. Our eye for subtlety is rarely practiced. Whatever beauty is, whatever its techniques may be, one can never fully define the moment when one is moved by it.

As the sun set somewhere beyond the Arno and the golden light came streaming through the windows of the upstairs hall, stroking the Greeks and Romans who stand there, I found it easy to consider the possibility that human life can break beyond the limits we have set for it. This is the responsibility of beauty, if there is one, to provoke a profound appreciation and empathy.

But really, one leaves the Uffizi with a profound saturation and exhaustion, ready for a glass wine: so many paintings, so many statues, so many gilded ceilings. One trip is not enough, but at least I’ve finally seen more than eight hours.


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