Today’s classroom: Santa Croce(which I had been mistakingly calling Santa Maria del Croce, a mixture of the name of the Duomo and that of Santa Croce). Anyway, before even entering the church Rocky gave us a brief, but awesomely detailed history of St. Francis and the Franciscans. Why? Because Santa Croce is a Franciscan basilica, a term designated for important churches, and happens to be the biggest Franciscan church in the world. The significance of this? St. Francis, a man who renounced his wealth for a life of poverty, specifically asked 3 things if his followers were to build churches, something he did not even exactly want: 1) no artwork; 2) no statues; 3) no stained glass windows. Santa Croce was constructed in 1294, only 68 years after the death of St. Francis, but his follows would ignore all of his requests.
Santa Croce happens to be one of the most beautified and richly decorated churches in all of the world. It certainly is one of the most beautiful that I’ve seen. Not only that, but Santa Croce was constructed in the wealthiest neighborhood of Florence under the shadow of the then two wealthiest families in Europe. It became a fashionable church where one really had status if he could buy burial space inside. Among the numerous wealthy merchants buried there, Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli chose to be entombed in the church. Another historically and artistically impressive piece of Florence.
Instead of heading back to the hotel for Italian class with the rest of my group after a lunch of an amazingly cheap and delicious panini, I walked across the Arno towards the gardens for a cool repose under the trees. I walked in and began to talk to the museum desk, who seemed genuinely surprised that I spoke Italian. At least he returned the favor and respected me enough to speak to me in Italian! I guess very few americans actually attempt the language. How sad, and perhaps one reason the world hates us. If you go to a country at least look to speak the language regardless of how Americanized the place has become.
The gardens were cool and nice with great views of the city. My plan had been to walk around, find a place under a tree and write. Instead I got sucked into following some path downward which inevitably led to an early exit from the gardens. It’s ok. I have time to go back. Plus I needed to make the long walk home, get some water and write my editorial, which I did finish! Look for it in Early Risers!
But now for the long awaited discussion of how Italian culture and American culture differ…
Well, it’s a bit hard to say, unfortunately, because of the intense Americanization that has befallen Florence. It’s hard for me to grasp a true sense of Italian culture when I’m living in a hotel, eating dinner at 7(when most Italians eat at around 8:30 or 9), start to go out at 10(when most Italians are still eating dinner) and everyone we meet is American because there are so many study-abroad students around. In fact the few Italians we have encountered have usually been working at a bar or trying to charm one of the girls in the group! I hear just as much English as I do Italian wherever we go!
Florence is not even that relaxed of a city. People, the Italians, seem to rush around trying to avoid the tourists who clog the city. Even when I had dinner with Catterina we didn’t have that authentic of an Italian experience(outside of actually having dinner with her and the before dinner drink experience) because the place at which we ate was Americanized! She ordered a hot antipasto of fish and the size of it was unreal, enough for 4! It was definitely an American portion.
The main difference upon which I can touch is food. Italians do not mess with bad ingredients. Their produce and food products are highly monitored for quality insurance by the government and instead of megafarms, Italy is dotted with small family farms. From what I can see these farmers grow all sorts of different vegetables and raise varied animals in a natural way. As such they can provide affordable, well balanced food to the populace. The rich are not the only ones who can afford high quality meat and vegetables; everyone can. America’s system could learn a thing or two from this (check my editorial on Early Risers).