Friday, July 16, 2010

A Day in Oltrarno

I've been saving a number of short excursions to do all at once today, all in Oltrarno, which translates to something like "on the other side of the Arno". It's a neighborhood that's a little different from the rest of Florence, and apparently a lot of locals still live there. My goals for today were to see Pontormo's Deposition at Santa Felicita (pictured at right - not my photo), Brunelleschi's architecture at Santo Spirito, and Masaccio's frescoes for the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, in addition to taking a few more shots from the Piazzale Michelangelo, since the light was so strange the last time I was up there.
My day began somewhat inauspiciously - I woke up at 5:30 so itchy from the 55 mosquito bites that I've received in the last two days that it was impossible for me to get back to sleep. I am seriously in agony, and I don't look so great either. I'm taking Benadryl to try to block the itching, but it's making me tired. Mercifully, I asked the guy at the front desk this morning what Italians do to prevent mosquito bites, since there are no window screens or air conditioning, and he gave me some sort of doohickey to plug into my outlet that will produce some sort of mist to repel mosquitoes. I'm going to try it tonight, and if it works I will buy one to use for the rest of my trip.

So, tired as I was, I set out around 8:30 for the long walk over the Arno to the Piazzale Michelangelo. I got up there, and the view was just as beautiful, although I decided not to spend too much time lingering in the blistering sunlight. I took a few pictures, and then found some shade under trees and took about a half hour to rest and read a bit of Vanity Fair, which I started last night. Becky Sharp makes a good travel companion. Anywhere, here's one of the results of my photo excursion.

My next stop was Santa Felicita, which was a lovely little church just off the Ponte Vecchio. I didn't have to pay to get in, but I did have to put a Euro in a machine to get the light to turn on over Pontormo's painting. I definitely got my Euro's worth of staring at this weirdly beautiful Mannerist work. The rest of the church was also an interesting space (photo at right), and I took my time, resting for a few minutes before I left. I think this was one of the most pleasant parts of my day.

From Santa Felicita, I wove my way through the streets and vendor stalls of Oltrarno to Santo Spirito, which has an interior designed by Brunelleschi. I wasn't allowed to take any pictures here either, but I'm getting used to that. It was a truly grand and impressive space, and once again, I was glad that I went. Outside the church, there was a small square shaded by trees, some of the only trees I've seen in the city center in Florence, and I stopped to read and relax for a bit before continuing my walk. I really miss trees and grass - I'm hoping that Rome will be a little more accommodating in both areas.

After leaving Santo Spirito, I stopped for some pizza, which is quickly becoming a staple of my Italian diet. The pizza here is interesting - the crust is a pretty similar thickness to the New York pizza I love so well, so it is familiar, but all of the ingredients have a freshness that is difficult to describe until you've tried it for yourself. The mozzarella here is definitely much more flavorful than anything you can get in America, and the tomatoes.... mmmm. I'm looking forward to trying pizza in Rome and Naples to see if it is any different, because I still think that Florence is pretty Americanized for an Italian city, so I'm wondering if I'm getting the real deal when it comes to Italian pizza. Good thing I'll have lots more opportunities to continue my gastronomic exploration!

The disappointing part of my day was Santa Maria del Carmine. I had really looked forward to this, because Masaccio's Tribute Money and Adam and Eve have both been such staples of my education in early Renaissance art. When I first walked into the church, I was pleasantly surprised, because my guidebook had led me to believe that the rest of the church's decoration didn't amount to much, but the ceiling was covered with wonderfully illusionistic painting. Making a note to come back and examine the ceiling, I went over to the Brancacci Chapel, only to find out that it was roped off in such a way that it was almost impossible to see the frescoes at all, let alone comfortably. I did my best, however, and drunk in all I could from where I was standing. Suddenly, a lady came over to me, and I was hoping she was going to let me move closer to the frescoes, but instead she told me the church was closed - pretty random because it was the middle of the day! So, in sum, I walked a long way to get to the church, got only a poor view of the frescoes, and was kicked out of the church before I could see anything else.

But such is life. I think that is the end of my excursions into downtown Florence, because I am considering going to Siena tomorrow (popular opinion seems to point that way!). I've enjoyed my time here, but I think I'm ready to move on to Rome.

Also, since it's been a few days since I last posted a picture of myself, here I am in front of Santa Croce during my walk back to the hostel:


  1. Good luck with your mosquito doohickey, I hope it works! I have to also add I am loving your blog!

  2. Sarah...I have to agree, I am really enjoying reading your blog everyday.
    Have a wonderful time. It sounds like you are making the most of your experience and the pizza sounds fabulous : ) Love, Janie

  3. I would love to have seen the Pontormo but paying for the light is new to me. Truly disappointing for you about the Masaccio's. When I saw you in front of Santa Croce I wanted to go in there with you. Sounds like you might be glad ti see "tree city" again. Have a great day in Siena.

  4. I'm not surprised that the Italian mozzarella tastes much better.