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My plane leaves at an uncivilized and impossible hour tomorrow morning; packing, as it does, took up more time than one would like, and I am sure I have forgotten half of what I will want (you try putting everything you think you need for the next two years in one carry-on and one checked bag, without accruing overage fees, and luck to you). There was a scorpion in the bathroom earlier and the cats threw up on our sheets. Ninety percent of everyone I know had a terrible weekend. When I went into the media room to get the graphic novel I was intending to read, as my emergency backup I-am-too-tired-for-all-this book, the couch had on it several tiny skittering lizards (of all things) (for some reason), at which point I went to Thrud, who was piecing a coat, and flailed incoherently for a while.

And Thrud dropped this book in my lap.

Well, I expect to be in Florence in November. Why not.

There is something intensely calming and soothing about a book which begins by explaining all of the things about Italy that one should of course expect, and in fact by this time remembers fondly: that shops will be closed at random intervals, for no obvious reason; that the church holidays are the municipal holidays, and expecting bus service is futile on holidays, so learn the ecclesiastical calendar; that Italian clothing sizes bear no relation to U.S. ones and why should they; that the most terrifying words in the Italian language are chiuso per sciopero, which can be translated literally as 'closed for the duration of the strike' and figuratively as 'I hope you had a backup plan for what to do with today and possibly the rest of the week/month/trip'. It warms the heart. This book even explains, in plain and simple language, the thing about Florence which most guidebooks do not manage to communicate. Which is to say, you are not going to be able to navigate by house number, because there are two separate and unrelated house numbering systems, which do not have anything to do with one another and have no codified geographical system. It is the fault of the Medici (what isn't), who decided that 'red numbers' ought to be for commercial establishments and 'black numbers' for residential. The 'red numbers' are traditionally carved somewhere into the base of the building, in any color other than red, usually black. The 'black numbers' are hung as blue-and-white china doorplates, unless the building is quite old, in which case they are carved somewhere in the base of it, usually not in black.

It is necessary to approach Florence with the proper attitude. You could be in Ferrara instead, after all, and then what? (All right, they have a nice castle.) This book has the proper attitude. I know that it is a good guidebook because of that, and also because it has the correct gelateria, the correct dolceria, and the Mad Surrealist Shoemaker's Shop listed, which means that the author has been around enough to find the places one finds by word of mouth. I can't remember the names of the gelateria or dolceria, because one finds them by landmarks and smell, but several people have asked me over the years what the name of the Mad Surrealist Shoemaker's Shop is, because they need a pair of boots in which one pair is shaped like the moon and one like the sun, or both are shaped like sharks, or need space-certified astronaut boots, or just good footwear: so I can now tell you that the shop is Mondo Albion, it is on Via Nazionale, and he turns out to as I suspected have been affiliated with the Futurists.

Also the guidebook explains that you should go to the back of the indoor market and eat lunch at the cafe there, which you should, and gives the place where you can buy masks that make you look like Dante. Among things I have not encountered it lists an apothecary's shop that has been there since the thirteenth century, where apparently they decant all their herbal essences into test tubes when you buy them; it also told me where to find the film-related-books bookstore and-- and this is going to be a serious budget problem for me-- the locally-produced-only yarn store.

Of course any shopping guide is not going to explain to you exactly how annoying things can be when they are at their most annoying, because shopping guides want to sell you things, but I do appreciate that this one starts by explaining that you really need to calm down and continues by, every few pages, mentioning that if you are failing to cope at this point there is a wine bar just down the alley. It gives me that special happiness you get when someone appreciates the things you love about a city you love; in short it is a book that understands. Pretty pictures, too. So I recommend it, although I don't know how much you care if you aren't going to be, in fairly short order, in Florence.


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