My final day in Florence was unstructured. I hung around the Villa Carlotta until checkout time, then left my bag and went out to kill eleven hours until my train left for Paris at 10: 12 pm.
Another sensational Spring day as it turned out, with a light wind. I sat in the sun at a restaurant in Piazza d. Mercato Centrale, as Mario’s is not open on Sunday. I had a nice chat with a young art student at the next table who, as it turned out, had relocated from the US to Australia with her parents on a freighter when she was 9, with English officers and a Filipino crew. When she left her place was taken by an older Canadian couple who were on their way to Venice, then back to Rome where they started, then Malta, where the woman was born. I mentioned that Anthony Burgess had relocated to Malta to avoid England’s taxes and found it oppressive, which is the sum of my knowledge about the place, then regretted it since the woman was clearly troubled that someone might not have loved Malta unconditionally.
The man was born in Holland. He was worried about their reception in Venice and told an unlikely story about a friend who had ordered two beers in a restaurant there using his index and middle fingers, in the “V for Victory” sign. This was misinterpreted as a grave insult and supposedly caused his friend’s ejection and a near beating. His friend should instead have used his thumb and index finger to signify due birre. His other story: Two friends sat for an hour in a Venice restaurant and were utterly ignored, victims of Venetian snobbery. I enjoyed these laughable stories, a lighter version of old adventure tales in which the intrepid hero unintentionally commits a faux pas and winds up in the cannibal tribe’s stewpot.
While we were talking a beggar approached their table. The man was certain it was the same beggar he’d been approached by in Rome the previous day. Surely not; how could that be? He related a long story about the millionaire travelling beggar of Ontario that sounded like the Canadian version of Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen of Chicago” canard.
In Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, the book in which he retraces the route he first took in The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux finds himself bored in Vladivostok:
But just when I thought this icebound city represented nothing more than a glacial point of departure, I was sitting in the hotel bar and the gods of travel delivered to me a horse’s ass. He was a honking Englishman, almost unbelievable in his prejudices and pomposities, fresh off the plane from Moscow for a business meeting, monologuing to his Russian friend, who was either very tired or else, like him, drunk.
While talking to the Dutch Canadian and his Maltese wife I was similarly grateful to the deities and already thinking how I would write about the conversation.
In the late afternoon I went to Palazzo Strozzi for its exhibition, “Angry Young Men: Picasso, Miró, Dalí.” The museum staff clearly labored to find a common theme in the three artists’ early work but other than the fact that the three were Spaniards, and that Miró once delivered a cake to Picasso in Paris baked by Picasso’s mother in Spain, I didn’t get it, particularly the “angry young men” subtitle. The exhibition featured mostly early works of the three but was worthwhile if the contrived museum narration was ignored.
While in Florence I also went to the Uffizi Gallery. If I had my act together, or paid attention to Rick Steves, I would have booked tickets in advance. I don’t so I didn’t, and wound up standing in line from 10 am when it opened until noon. By the time I got in I was tired and it was time for lunch so I did another drive-by viewing of the truly remarkable exhibits there. I’ll do better next time and spend the time the Gallery merits.