Accessible Italy

July 19, 2010

Ciao amici!

Auguri from Italy! A bella giornata here today. Warm, but lovely breezes, blue sky, and the Tuscan hills in view….and the scent of baking bread and coffee brewing in the air.

As some of you know, we are getting to know Italy in a new way this summer. Shortly before we left the US for here, I ruptured my Achilles tendon while playing tennis. I had no idea “Achilles tendon” was such an accurate metaphor: it really does feel as if someone just shot you in the ankle.

So this summer has been Italy by wheelchair, crutches, and whatever is necessary. I would not choose to do it this way, but it has been surprisingly easy and everyone is so accommodating. Most places have had easy wheelchair access and most street corners have ramps – though sometimes blocked by vespas. Of course, it helps to have a patient “driver” and Frank has certainly done his yeomen’s duty with that.

Our apartment is on Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, directly opposite the church and being in the middle of things does help. The Calcio Storico in Costumi (Historic Soccer in 15thC costume) an event celebrating Feast of San Giovanni, has been held in Santa Croce square for over 500 years and it is a wonderful spectacle (see photos). . Before the game begins, there is a huge procession of hundreds of characters from the 16th Century Florentine society in costume, into the square, trumpets, drum corp, flag standard throwing and finally the players enter setting off a roar from the crowd, supporters billowing blue smoke for the Santa Croce team, white for the Baptistry and throwing flowers to the squad. (Our Italian friends find this part boring but we are not so jaded. The gentlemen who was here to fix our wireless while the game was going on, left and came back with gelato for everyone from Vivoli. Someone muttered something about how “Facist” it all was, but continued to watch.)

Finally, a cannon fires and the game begins. 27 players on each team, in costume, playing a game with few rules. Part rugby, wrestling (players pin each other to the ground) and little soccer, the seeming brawl lasts for 50 minutes – Santa Croce won 11-3. After the game, there’s another procession and the winning team is awarded a white calf. Fortunately it is no longer butchered on the spot, but the victors’ banquet is still held. (See photos)

Much more serene was the visit to a wonderful exhibit at the Accademia and at the Horne Museum Virtu’ d’Amore – paintings from wedding chests from the 1400’s. Botticelli, Lippi, etc – beautiful and fascinating scenes of wedding traditions of the time as well as many depictions of classical tales which were to remind the couple of the virtues of strength, courage, honor and nobility as much as the more traditional virtu’ degli sposati.

It’s been a very different experience for us here this year. Slower, lower – I literally see things from a new perspective which has been enlightening – and enjoying “being” as much as “going.” Yet instead of things being less accessible they have been more so in many ways, often ironically. The man at the pasta counter in San Ambrogio market hands me the number ticket I can’t reach and takes time to tell me “the best way” to cook whatever we’re buying, including the pear and cheese ravioli.

The afternoon we visited the Horne Museum, just up the street from us, we were told with great apology that the elevator was not working. Two long flights of medieval stairs. Really long. After struggling with crutches and feeling really insecure, desire trumped dignity (and there weren’t many people around), I ended up traveling backwards alla mia sedia. Afterwards, back on the street and safely in my wheel chair, while Frank was inside checking on the hours for the Bardini, I sat studying the beautiful palaces on this street, Palazzo Alberti (which for me is second only to his design Rucellai palace), the 13th C Torre degli Alberti, Palazzo Malenchini and thinking about the rich history of these few blocks on this street alone which even further back was adjacent to Roman Amphitheater. Suddenly, as if reading my mind, a very distinguished gentleman came up to me bowed and presented me with a beautiful scholarly monograph on the history of the street and this quarter. “Per Lei, Signora.” “Per me? Perche?” No answer just a gallant bow and he disappeared through the door of the palazzo.

And that is what I love most about “accessible Italy.”

3 Responses to “Accessible Italy”

  1. Chris Reibl says:

    So happy to hear you are coping so well and able to enjoy your wonderful surroundings.

    Enjoy the rest of your holiday and keep us up to date on it all.

    Love Chris

  2. Kathryn Dahan says:

    I think you could (and should) write a terrific guide book called “Italy for the Physically Challenged”. Loved the account of your visit this summer that made me feel like was there too.
    Our best to Frank.

  3. I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

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