There is something about Florence. Visiting this legendary city always makes me feel as if I am returning to an old and valued friend.
We have been to Florence many times before, so we were excused from the necessity of being tourists. We were free to simply wander, to browse, to enjoy the beautiful weather and the wonderful, old city. Florence is truly beautiful. Its buildings are made of stone that seems to hold the gold of century-old suns. It has churches, it is full of art and museums and gardens, and through it glides the River Arno. Florence offers fine leather and elegant paper amongst other things, and we stop to window shop a little. But this is not what we came here for today. We are here to visit old friends.
Michaelangelo’s David has to be one of the most amazing of his many wonderful work. He stands tall and alone in all the triumph of youthful health and vigor, and he commands all eyes to look at him. He dwarfs us all—literally as well as through the force of his presence. He will remain perfect when all of us are dust.
So we have journeyed some distance to admire David, to stand before him in awe, to be amazed once again at the skill of the sculptor and the purity of his work. For a very long time we do just that. Then we turn back the way we came to visit other friends.
These friends are not like David. They are not beautiful or elegant or even sculpturally acceptable. These are “the prisoners,” blocks of unfinished marble that Michaelangelo began but never finished. Life-sized male figures, they have the look of beings trapped inside marble prisons with no hope of ever winning their freedom. Some have emerged so far as to be given limbs. Some have faces that have begun to form. One prigone has a hand to his unformed face as if to tear away the imprisoning stone.
And looking at them, I feel as though in these imprisoned beings Michaelangelo conveys the condition of all humanity.
Barcelona has not changed since we visited her several months ago. She is still the city courted by mountains and sea, a place where Gaudi’s art can be seen on rooftops and the balconies of apartments. Today we plan to revisit his Parc Guell.
Since our ship docks several miles outside the city, we rumble along on a super-heated transit bus and are disgorged in front of the on-and-off bus stop where we validate our tickets. Then, during the hour-long trip to Parc Guell, we watch the city unfold… busy Las Rambles, fountains and open-air markets and buildings which bear Gaudi’s incomparable signature. We pass by his iconic Sagrada Familia and finally arrive at the foot of a steep slope. Ten minutes’ walk brings us to the park which is mobbed with what has to be a quarter of Barcelona’s population. It being Saturday, everyone has gathered here to eat, drink, climb, and enjoy art.
Art welcomes us as old friends. We walk around reminiscing and once again, Gaudi’s vision astonishes us. Here was a man born centuries before his time. No wonder he walked around in rags, was arrogant and often surly! No wonder he cared nothing for the opinion of the world. He knew what he needed to create, and it must have infuriated him when lesser beings could not follow his ideas. The path of true genius must be lonely, indeed.
Later, we ride the bus back to Las Rambles and search for some place offering WIFI. Las Rambles supplies everything from trinkets and cappuccino to internet access, so soon we are descending into a subterranean room where, for one Euro per half hour, we are allowed to send messages. Then, relieved that the home folk have been contacted, we leisurely stroll shipward, content with our day and luxuriating in the warm, vibrant pulse of this lovely city by the sea.
Not only the sun
But the smiles of its people