Florence, Italy There are black and there are white views of the Medici, depending on your opinion about the proper role of government, and/or your passion for the arts that generations of Medici supported. But there is no doubt they were a boon to the real estate development world.
We started our day at the portico next to the Palazzo Vecchio, admiring the real or reproduced versions of Medici statuary, which they generously shared with the public.
We went around the corner to return to the Uffizi Gallery. Sharp-eyed readers will recall that we did already visit the Uffizi on Sunday — along with most of Italy. This weekday tour was incredibly less stressful. No lines, no crowds to speak of and no competition for the views. It was quite the enjoyable visit. (P.S. If you’ve always been curious about what happened to Leda after her date with the swan, there is a clue below.)
After a refreshing break in the outdoor café, we walked across the crowded Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace. Yes, we were also there the other day to see the attached Boboli Gardens, but the actual Palace was closed.
On the way, we saw the Medici Church, which is connected to the palace, so that the Medici didn’t have to risk public exposure as they went to pray. Somewhat simple, considering.
The Pitti Palace was started by the Pitti family, but finished and greatly expanded by the Medici, once it was felt the residence in the Palazzo Vecchio was not sufficiently grand. (How sad for them that we still call it the Pitti Palace.) While it is not particularly charming on the outside, its scale did allow for some over-the-top salons to show off their wealth and art. An amazing collection. (Napoleon was in residence briefly and had his own bathroom installed.)
After a lovely lunch, we next visited the church of Santa Croce, the world’s largest Franciscan church. It doesn’t look especially huge from the exterior, but it is a massive complex. It’s a bit like Westminster Abbey, with all the luminaries of several centuries entombed or memorialized here, such as Michelangelo and Galileo.
It seems the only sensible way to build a Renaissance church was to provide ample nooks and crannies for the wealthy to competitively have their own chapels designed and built. And they flocked to Santa Croce. Magnificent frescoed alcoves abound, including one from the Medici. One of the great tragedies of Santa Croce was the flood of 1966, which rose fifteen feet above the church plaza. So much damage was done that only now are some works of art being reinstalled. One of the worst casualties was the crucifixion by Cimabue, which cannot be further restored. It was one of the treasures of the church, and it — like many other pieces — is now hung very high, or is on pulleys.
Don’s Food Corner
Today’s main meal, a late lunch, was in a restaurant far less rustic than the one we tried yesterday. The quality showed and although it was twice the price, Jo declared the meal GREAT.
We shared two contrasting first courses. A. A melon and prosciutto platter, with luscious, perfectly ripe cantaloupe and very high quality prosciutto. B. Spaghetti with a heavy meat sauce that was billed as “Bolognese” but did not have the delicacy of the sauce you would actually encounter in Bologna — even though it’s just a few miles away. Here, like many of the meat sauces we’ve had in Florence, it’s the meat that is forward and not the complexity of a preparation.
Keeping with the Florentine obsession with meat, we moved on to some real meat choices. Jo had a magnificent roast chicken with an even more magnificent serving of roast potatoes. I’m not sure how they were able to get the interior of the potatoes so tender with a roasted exterior so crispy, yet light. The chicken juices certainly added even more favor to the potatoes.
I had a grilled veal chop. It wasn’t as rare as I expected, but it was tender and juicy. It appeared to have been grilled over a open wood fire. But I didn’t see the actual grilling. Wood-burning ovens and grill set-ups are common in Florence. I don’t smell any wood smoke as I pass any of these restaurants, so I’m not sure how they control that. (In Portugal you can smell the open wood-burning grills.) By the way, although there is no salt in the bread, there is plenty of salt in all the Florentine cooking to make up for it.
I wonder if all this meat focus in Florence — and the rest of Tuscany — has something to do with the leather industry. Is the meat considered the by-product of the leather? Or is the leather a by-product of the meat? A chicken and an egg question, I guess.