Vespas! We've got Vespas! We've got lots and lots of Vespas!

Noise, smog, and the Boticelli room at the Uffizi are all prime sensory experiences in Firenze, which no longer allows cars in the historic center of town, a blessing and a curse in the form of the ubiquitous motorbike. Ancient and urbane, Florence is bound to turn anyone with the merest sniff of historic and artistic sensibility into emotional blubber. This is indeed the city that best defines Stendahl's Syndrome, that curious phenomenon observed in the late 19th century of numb, depressed travelers wandering the streets of the city, stumbling across the Ponte Vecchio, eyes glazed and spirits dazed from an overload of Renaissance splendor.

The Uffizi, many rooms still closed from the terrorist bomb blast a few years ago (no long-necked Parmigianino, no Venus of Urbino who caused Samuel Clemens a.k.a. Mark Twain such grief--he thought her a tad obscene), is indeed splendid if you are able to ignore the hordes that cluster before each painting of note. "And here we have Raphael's famous 'Madonna of the Goldfinch', next move quickly to Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus' and the Primavera, stopping briefly to enjoy the Doni Tondo on our way to some lovely Caravaggio's." But the high point (even though our U-FEETSIES were killing us) was the morning ramble in the fog over the Ponte Santa Trinita to Santa Maria del Carmine where, in a smallish side room (the Brancacci Chapel), we discovered the frescoes of Masaccio and Masolino, stalwart survivors of remodeling over the centuries, not to mention World War II.

Some of us at CurrentRutledge really like this stuff and could go on and on about the Donatello Magdalen, the Michelangelo Pieta with the master's own face sculpted as Nicodemus and the broken arm that he (Mike) smashed in a rage when the sculpting wasn't going well and which an assistant later repaired, the tragic Slaves in the Accademia, the oh so dramatic Dawn and Dusk in the Cappelle Medici, not to mention the glorious Gozzoli fresco at the Palazzo Medici-Ricardi, and the very spot in the Piazza della Signoria where that boorish Savonarola (the Jesse Helms of his time?) was burnt to a crisp.

The number 7 bus from the Stazione Santa Maria Novella took us where we wanted to be all along but didn't know: the hills above Florence near Fiesole--a modest Italian villa cluttered gloriously with books and paintings and sitting rooms, quiet, with a delectable Tuscan dinner, good wine, a huge breakfast, and possibly the very room with a view mentioned so frequently in literary works and the recent cinema. Next trip, it will be Florence for art and culture by day, Fiesole for conversation, good food, and peaceful retirement in the evening. Keep those doges from barking. -AMR

Listen to our audio montage of the lively cacophony of the city, complete with political demonstration. (MP3)

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