Mostly whimsical reflections on life
Florence has given the world a lot of things. Great artists. The Renaissance. Gelato. And classy, classic street music.
Go to most major cities and you will hear guys twanging guitars, boys beating paint cans and men in tight pants playing accordions with undulating eyebrows. Occasionally someone plays a kazoo.
In Florence, street music can range from the opera to the philharmonic. The opera singer in Piazza della Repubblica has what seems like a full orchestra accompaniment, though it just a guy with a synethesizer. An orchestral group migrates around the Duomo, playing classic favorites. A young violinist plays Bach on a street corner. A young woman strums classic guitar.
This is real entertainment, not street corner amusement.
People slathering down their third gelato of the day and locals carrying satchels stop to listen. It is music good enough to pay for, but is free, except for the Euro or two you may toss into a cup.
One of the most recognizable melodies that musicians play is “Por Una Cabeza,” the tango song made famous in “Scent of a Woman.” Alfredo Le Pera wrote the lyrics. He was born in Argentina, raised in Brazil, but his parents were Italian immigrants.
Florence is a centuries old art encampment, so you expect more than run-of-the-mill music in its squares and quaint corners.
Street music sounds good in Florence because of the acoustics. There are statues, historic arches and grand old buildings everywhere. It is very pleasing to hear violin music soar from the area around the Duomo like a concert into surrounding apartments.
In this city that is a piece of art itself, there is more than street music in the streets. There are slews of artists turning out original water color paintings, pencil drawings and charcoal sketches. Caricaturists can contort your face to look like Johnny Depp or Donald Trump.
The shop windows are art showpieces, too, gleaming with rich Italian leather coats and handbags made in Florence and designer clothing and luggage from Milan. The Ponte Vecchio is a jewelry supermarket, with a range of styles, stones and price points.
The gelateria are as abundant as Starbucks, including one that features a wall of chocolate visible from the street. Many whip up their daily flavors into tempting mounds that turn your face into a magnet pressed against the gelato case. The best, of course, is a mixture of pistachio and nicciola (hazelnut).
Only in Florence could a museum devoted to the works of Galileo, another native son of the region, be relegated to secondary status.
The Duomo is being cleaned, shucking off gray stains and returning to its white luster. People line up for hours to get into the Uffizi and Accademia dell’Arte, where the original “David” still presides. Michelangelo, of course, was one of the original founders of the place.
Michelangelo wasn’t the only Florentine to conceive a David. Donatello shaped David in marble with a youthful appearance draped with a robe and in bronze with a cheekier countenance, a roguish hat and no clothes. In both, Goliath’s severed head sits under David’s foot.
Verrocchio sculpted David with wiry hair, a cocky disposition and an outfit that a drag queen would love. His work, which also features a vanquished Goliath with a look of wonderment on he lost a fight to this guy, is on display at the Bargello Museum.
But Florence is more than just full of art; it is also artful. Residents, shop owners and visitors haul their garbage and used beverage containers daily to tidy-looking municipal centers, with convenient foot pedals to avoid touching the trash bins. Trucks haul away the trash with no messy, stinky sidewalks or door stoops.
And for clean freaks, nothing sounds better than a street cleaner brushing away all that gutter clutter. Unlike American street cleaners, which seemingly are used only sparingly and sound like dinosaurs , the Florence street sweepers resemble modified Zambonis as they less obtrusively brush away cigarette butts and street litter.
Florence even has an electric street vacuum that noiselessly sweeps up gum wrappers dropped by gaping tourists without them ever knowing.
It makes you feel comfortable sitting on a curb listening to a street music concert in what may be the most wonderful city in the world.