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Monday, March 31, 2008

Matt's Visit

When someone asked what I was doing for Spring Break, and I didn’t include another country’s name besides Italy in my plans, people looked taken aback. Greece, France, Africa—all these places topped my friends’ lists, but not mine.
Weeks ago, I invited my friend Matt out to visit. I never thought he’d actually be able to come out, but I’m so glad that he did. Usually, spring breaks don’t line up the ways ours did. That and he could afford it. It all fell together.
Matt spent a brief six days here, but we certainly got a lot accomplished. I say it like we had a business meeting or something, but we literally did cover quite a lot in such a short time. He arrived on a Thursday during my midterms week. I had one test to go that evening, but I was too antsy to study for it, so I sat impatiently at the table and waited. My roommate, Ember, breezed out of the room, headed to some appointments, and I barely noticed. A few minutes later, about the time I was expecting a knock at the door from Matt, Ember called me, telling me she’d run into Matt and given Matt directions to our apartment. Long story short, Ember is not the most directionally gifted person, and Matt got lost. I still have no idea how she knew it was Matt—she’d never seen him before, not even a picture. But after a confusing and stressful 20 minutes, Matt was in my apartment.
It’s always weird when two worlds collide. It was the same way when I went to college in Colorado and I thought I kept seeing people I went to high school with; it was unnatural. And it certainly felt strange to have my Washington/home life pressed front to front with my Florence life. But it was certainly nice to have someone here for me. No one else but me. Selfish—yes. But still true.
I finished my midterm in record time and then Matt and I headed out to dinner with some of my friends at a local trattoria. When I’m with Amanda and Sara (both from Colorado), I get incredibly giggly and goofy. Poor Matt—I don’t think he knew quite what to do. But we had a delicious meal, followed by equally delicious one Euro gelato.
Friday we didn’t do much, I don’t think. Matt and I both threw on the pottery wheel in the ceramics studio while it rained outside and we chatted or sang along to Sara’s iPod. There’s nothing like playing with clay and talking and intermittently singing along to Flogging Molly. We went with Amanda and her boyfriend, Andrew, who was in town for 10 days, to Fiesole where we heard we could get cheap soccer tickets. Three hours later and ticketless, we came back home, after going up to and down from Fiesole, to the stadium, only to find out that only Tuscan residents can purchase tickets (what?!).
Saturday, Matt, Sara and I went to the Stibbert Museum, where this guy, Stibbert, collected an amazing assortment of armor. I didn’t know what most of the stuff was, but Matt knows almost everything about everything in that museum. I don’t know how he does it. The museum was a good three miles away from the apartment, and it was a beautiful walk to and from the museum. The sun was setting on the way back, and we passed a gorgeous park with a fountain. Sometimes, life in Florence is so beautiful it hurts.
Aaah, the infamous Easter Sunday. I woke up to the dizzy and sporadic sounds of an Easter parade passing on a street parallel to our apartment. We leaned out the balcony and saw men (only men) dressed in period costumes with instruments. It was quite a hoot, as my mom would say. We had heard that there were going to be some firewords at the duomo, which we can see from our balcony. The tradition in Florence is to open the giant doors of the duomo (it only happens on Easter), something about a dove, and then fireworks exploding from a cart in the middle of the piazza. We had planned on going to Elba, where Napoleon was held after the fall of Paris 1841, but we wanted to stick around for the fireworks. After a half hour of waiting, we took off and hitched a train to Piombino. It was a long train ride and, at one point, the train stopped and then went in the other direction. Matt and I were stunned. Turned out the train was only switching tracks to take us to the port town. My guide book said that the ferry ride from Pimobino to Elba was only 20 minutes, but it actually took an hour. By the time we got to Portoferraio, the port town on Elba, it was five. FIVE. We had done nothing all day. We looked (or thought we looked) at the schedule for returning ferries, and determined that we had an hour and a half to explore the fortress where Napoleon hung out.
The fortress is terraced, and there were quite a few switchbacks to get to the top. It was raining, but the sun was also setting, and slits in the cloud showed the sun just sitting on top of these hills across the way. It looked like a peach on fire. For some reason, it made me think of Peru and Ecuador, neither of which I’ve been to. It was another one of those painfully pretty moments.
After climbing to top and lingering to take pictures, we headed back down to catch our boat. After finding the only open ticket booth and purchasing our tickets, we realized the boat didn’t leave until 8:30 that night, over two hours away. No problem, we just ate at a pizzeria and talked for a while.
Once back in Piombino, we saw a blue bus pull away from the station. When we got to the completely deserted station, we looked at the monitor and discovered that the last train to Florence had left an hour before and that the last bus to Florence was the one that had just pulled away. After a few freezing hours in the ferry terminal and getting kicked out at closing, Matt insisted we get a hotel. I opted for walking around till the next bus at 6, but he basically told me that was stupid. He was right—that night, there was a thunder/lightning/rain storm.
We didn’t actually leave Piombino until 9:30 the next morning. The bus we wanted to take at 6 was a EuroStar bus, and there was no EuroStar kiosk at which to buy tickets, and the train station ticket office wasn’t open yet. What an amazing system.
We finally got home in Florence at 12:30, but we didn’t stop there. We hit the Boboli Gardens. We hiked up to the top and then stepped into the porcelain museum. Meh—same old thing, like the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. Hold on—am I becoming jaded? A little, I think. How lucky am I to be able to flippantly toss out a comment like that? Woah. Anyway, there were a few contemporary pieces there that both Matt and I loved. Huge abalone and conch shells adorned with silver…a silver face! It’s kind of impossible to describe, but nonetheless, it was the coolest thing I’d seen in a porcelain museum in a while.
While we were out roaming the canopied paths, it started to rain. The rain quickly turned to hail and we ran for it into the costume museum. The neatest thing in there (besides being dry) was Cosimo I’s burial clothing. I’m unsure as to why he was exhumed, but nonetheless, it was cool to see what he had been wearing. It was partially decomposed, but still there. There was also a chronological order to the garments, starting in the 1600s, and ending in the 1980s. Ugh. The 80s. The embroidery of the 1700s was incredibly impressive, though. It looked like it had been painted on.
To conclude one of the coldest 24 hours of my life, we went up to Piazza di Michelangelo that night. Pretty sunset as always and a beautiful hike up. And finally, a shower when we got home. Amazing.
Matt’s last day, Tuesday, was spent museuming. Lucky Matt, it turned out to be Art Week in Florence, so all the public museums were free for him (I have my Uffizi Card). We hit the Academia at 8 and got in quickly. Yes, the David is that cool. But so were many of the large paintings and plaster moulds held in a back room. Next, we did the Bargello. This was a weird one—it used to be a prison until 1837, I think, and then art donations started pouring in. The Bargello’s collection is diverse and eclectic, to be vague and broad. Renaissance sculptures and ivory carvings occupy the same spaces. But I hear that the Bargello is one of the most underrated museums in Italy, and sure enough, it wasn’t that crowded.
After the Bargello, we ate potato pizza in Piazza di Santa Croce, by my school. We ran into an American (?) Christian (?) chorus. They sang Bridge Over Troubled Water and maybe even won Matt over. J We trekked back over to the Boboli Gardens—it was another beautiful day. We roamed through Pitti Palace and the various museums inside, and moseyed through the gardens. We found a hedge of oranges—they were gated, but seriously, a hedge of oranges. I love Italy.
We finished up Matt’s visit with another gorgeous visit to Piazza di Michelangelo. Sunset up there is never disappointing, and even if you miss it, Florence is still alive and stunning at night. Some cities have all the luck.
I remember the beginning of the semester when everyone was talking about all the people coming to visit them. Parents, sisters, best friends…I felt left out. Granted, I wasn’t in the best of spirits when I got here, but as more and more people (namely, my roommates) had people come to visit, my heart ached a little more. I wanted to share this place with someone. I wanted to show someone my favorite places, meet the people I have grown to love, and see what I do here.
So, thanks, Matt.

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