14 February 2007

Toscana

Back from Tuscany. After lunch yesterday, I nipped in to the Tourist Information office near my hotel in Florence. I was just looking for a free map having mislaid mine in the Gents at the Uffizi. "Where you from?" says one of the girls. One thing leads to another and instead of the Museum of Modert Art in the Pitti Palace, I am instead on the train to Empoli.
I had asked her - "Why is there so little recognition of Leonardo in Florence?" She agreed and told me I should go to Vinci, pulling out a regional map and a pleasantly designed brochure for the little town of Vinci - about twenty five miles west of Florence and eight miles north of Empoli. Of course - Vinci - Leonardo da Vinci - the place where he was from. It was three o'clock when I arrived in Empoli and then had to figure out where to catch a local bus to Vinci. By four I was there.
It was late afternoon - far away, across the Tuscan plain, hillocks rose in a heavenly heat haze where dark poplars like protective fingers surrounded ancient farmsteads. Distant mountains were dusted with snow and the sky was crispy blue in the honey-coloured late winter sunshine. Because of time I had a choice. Either The Museo Leonardiano or a long walk along a green road to the hamlet of Anchiano just north of Vinci. I chose the latter and became the only tourist in sight.

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The Tuscany of dreams. View from the Anchiano road.

This was a route that Leonardo and his family must have walked a thousand times in the mid fifteenth century. It took me through olive groves carpetted with sweet green winter grasses, allowing tantalising snatched glimpses of that western sun-blessed panorama and those eastern hills with their vineyards and terracotta farms and settlements.
Hot and breathless, I arrived on the edge of Anchiano. The air was still and warm. A flock of starlings headed for the woods. And there it was - Casa Natale di Leonardo - a rather humble building yet strong with small windows. The stone was like the sunshine - honey-coloured, reminding me of little farms that nestle in the English Cotswolds.

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Da Vinci? Leonardo da Anchiano's birthplace.

The trustees have retained the absolute simplicity of the place. Although there was an attendant on duty, who jumped from his afternoon slumber when I appeared, there was nothing for sale and little to see inside - a stone sink where the great man perhaps washed and a fireplace where he perhaps warmed his bones in the briefly wintry Montalbano Hills. There were shelves containing battered visitors' books going back to the sixties and I scrawled my own name in the current visitors' book with these discordant words "Leonardo was NOT a Mutant Teenage Ninja Turtle!"
***
On Sunday, I scaled the Leaning Tower of Pisa and manged to crack my head on the stone lintel above the entrance to the staircase at the very top. My bonce has been sore ever since. There were no crash helmets and no "Mind Your Head" signs.
In Florence there was lot of cigarette smoking going on, a lot of gabbling on mobile phones, a lot of motor scooters in rows and a lot of Japanese taking photos of each other in the most unlikely places: Here I am Yashimoto outside the Bank of Tuscany and here I am outside the Gucci shop and here I am in front of an old woman begging in the gutter and here we are near the public conveniences under the Central Market Hall.
I had mixed feelings about Florence. I scaled the incredible Duomo, visited the Uffizi and walked all over the central area. Sadly, the facade of the famous Santa Novella church was shrouded in scaffolding. On the Ponte Vecchio - one of the world's ten most famous bridges - I noticed something rather sweet but almost as environmentally questionable as my cheap flight - padlocks with lovers' names on them, locked for ever - at least till the authorities remove them. Rather a nice thought this Valentine's Day.

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Love locked in Florence but for how long?

4 comments:

  1. Ok first let me say that since google took over the blogger.. it sucks.

    I wish I could have seen your picture, bue unfortunately.. see above sentence.

    I would love to see Leo's birthplace.
    I wold love to go to Italy period if I were a different person.

    But alas, I am not.

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  2. Lovely photos, YP. You sound as if you had an enjoyable break.

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  3. I enjoyed Italy very much when I went there. Venice did not treat me well, though. I sunk the gondola each time I tried to get to St. Mark's.

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  4. we do something similar YP, but we uses a ball and chain rather than a padlock

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.