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Here’s a little story about my story, River Gods:
Everyone who goes to Florence visits the Piazza della Signoria, the heart of social and political life in the Renaissance. In the piazza are many statues—Michelangelo’s David used to stand there until it was moved inside to preserve it. According to Mary McCarthy’s “The Stones of Florence,” the people believed spirits inhabited their city’s statuary and that their river, the Arno, had a god. The sculptor, Ammannati, created the statue of Neptune that stands in the piazza today. In a fantastic juxtaposition of ideas, the story goes that this statue of Neptune was inhabited by the Arno river god who had been turned into a statue because “like Michelangelo” he spurned the love of women. Michelangelo, by the by, hated the statue of Neptune and thought the sculptor had ruined the marble. Beltramino, the sculptor in my story, identifies with the lonely statue condemned to walk the streets in search of his lover when the light of the full moon touches him.
I’ve traveled to Florence twice, and once to Siena for a week, my absolute favorite town in Italy. Actually it’s hard to choose; they are two completely different children of the heart, with different talents and temperament. And ancient enemies, to boot.
When we travel, we don’t join a tour. We arm ourselves with guidebooks and maps—the SO is one of the most organized people I’ve ever met, born with a GPS in his head. If we ever do manage to get lost, we end up seeing something we’d never have seen otherwise, and call it Kismet.
In high school, some friends and I went on a school trip to Italy. I call it the “Andiamo!” tour, the hurry-up-and-go tour. We visited Rome, Pompeii, Naples, Florence, Pisa, and Venice, all in ten days. These days travel means picking a city and exploring it at our leisure, and though we never see everything we need to see, we manage to see quite a bit.
The problem with being a tourist is the tourists, and I am too self-conscious of my status as a traveler. I once lived in a 3-season tourist dependent area, and at times, it’s an unholy alliance. Florence seems especially clogged with tourists and giant tour buses.
I can still see it and feel it, what one of the popes called Florence “the Fifth Element,” a rarefied state of mind, the clash and conflict of the long centuries, where lonely statues inhabited by spirits walk and talk to each other.