This Venerable, Beautiful City: Firenze

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Since I have an hour break here at school, I figured that I should probably write about my time in Florence before I take off for Verona this weekend. I have never been more thankful for a break before. I like coming to school, but by the end of Wednesday, I was exhausted. I had six hours of the same lesson. Fifteen of the same lessons all week. These kids are also (how do I put this nicely?) very full of energy and love to talk. I don’t know how middle school teachers do it. There are times though when I just want to hug each and every single kid in the class for being so good. I guess one learns how to handle kids as they go along. I might need to start yelling. HA.

So Florence. Firenze. That beautiful, historic city. I have never seen buildings so old, yet so classy and beautiful. This city is literally centuries upon centuries old, but looks better than any American city that I have ever seen. I remember my Dad asking why I would want to go to Italy, let alone Europe. My pictures and memories serve me better than any flowery answer I can come up with. The buildings, the streets, the churches. The history. I just haven’t seen this much beauty, care, and detail put into any building in the States. You just don’t see it. Maybe we haven’t had enough time. Maybe this is largely because of the United States’ comparatively young and Protestant history.

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I was raised Protestant; I am Protestant. But there was this inexplicable sentiment that I felt deep within me when I saw those grandiose churches tower above all other buildings, when I saw the exquisite detail put into every square inch of the church, even in places no human eye could possibly see. I have heard every critique of Catholicism, how it is said to be legalistic and works-oriented while being ultra-ceremonial and even cold. While I don’t agree with some of the beliefs of Catholicism, I have been looking at it a bit differently. Some things about it seem natural to me—the attention to detail in the house of God, I mean. I understand their expressing their respect and love of God through art. And the size! The sizes of these churches were all titanic, making me as a person feel so tiny and seeming to emphasize the greatness of God in the world of little man. I just—I get it. I really do. I attended Mass in a Catholic church, something I only do when I visit my Grandfather, and while it did seem cold to me (maybe it was just the drafty old church), I appreciated the reverence and respect that I felt inside the beautiful building. Sometimes I think that we view God too much as a friend and not so much as an all-powerful Being that deserves more respect than we can humanly give him. A rant—I know. But this city had me thinking about a lot more than this.

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The museums! The art! The sculptures! There were times when I just couldn’t believe where I was standing—I was standing right in front of a sculpture that has been in existence before the United States was even a thought in anyone’s mind. If you don’t see something powerful in that, well, I don’t know what to tell you. The Uffizi had more art than I knew how to process. We arrived early, just before 9 a.m., to beat the crowds, but by 10 a.m., it was more than crowded enough for me, and we hadn’t even completed the first floor yet. After another hour, my head was spinning. This sounds so bad, but here I was in a massive building full of ancient and priceless art, feeling like I could not could not see another painting of Madonna and the child, a beheaded John the Baptist, or Peter denying Christ. Those seemed to be the topic of the day. But even though I had lost my ability to comprehend, I began to do some more thinking. Religion was essential; it was inextricably connected to life and that was manifested in their work. How delightful! Now, to me, art has developed into something too subjective and unintelligible.

I also went to another museum and saw Michelangelo’s David in person. It really is larger than life—and perfect.

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One more rant and I’ll be through. One of the most powerful feelings I had during this trip was when I stood in the Basilica di Santa Croce. This old, old church houses the remains of Machiavelli, Galileo, Dante, and Michelangelo. Which is completely unfathomable to me. How does that building not explode from the combination of all that greatness under one roof? It was definitely an awesome (and I am not using that word lightly here) experience, one that I have tried and failed to grasp the words to describe. I have a feeling that I will have many of those experiences here. I had read briefly about these men throughout my school years. With not very much being said about them, we were told to believe that they had changed the world. Only with age did I realize just how much their genius did change the world and still continues to do so centuries after they breathed their last breaths.

I, an English major, stood by Dante’s tomb (I guess I could call it a tomb). Dante Alighieri, that brilliant poet that penned the great Divine Comedy, that penned Inferno, a book used in American English classes for decades. I stood in front of the extravagant and colorful tomb of the artist Michelangelo who painted and sculpted priceless works of art. I stood in front of the tomb of that genius Galileo, a man whom the church persecuted, but a man who ended up being buried in one of the greatest churches in all of Italy. The silence, the respect. I felt so blessed and honored to be there. This whole trip is unfathomably great. And while there is so much more that happened (I have some good stories), you might just have to ask me about it when I see you next.

Until then, my friends.

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