“Where do you go to find the best ice-cream in the world?” I asked our dear friend Naomi De Maio. “Italy, of course!!!” she said, without a hint of prejudice….
So, off I went to the weekend Ice-cream Festival in Florence. And a bit of culture on the side. I can‘t cover everything but here are some snapshots….
Head towards the River Arno, go over the Ponte Vecchio and have a wander to your right. Discover the Church of Santa Mariadel Carmine. Once inside there is only one place to look: the frescoed walls of Cappella Brancacci, the work of three painters. They take you through the scriptures beginning with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to the crucifixion and later the release of Saint Peter. You really can see the difference in styles from the decorative work of Masolini to the emotionally challenging pieces by Masaccio and Lippi. The visual impact is staggering.
Now move north towards the university district and the Convent of San Marco. You are close to the original Michelangelo statue of David in the Academia – not the outdoor copy in the centre of the city. But if you haven’t booked online in advance, do you really have three hours to wait to buy a ticket? Back to the Convent, a convent inhabited by Dominican monks – now there’s a story! There is so much to see but we are going to the 43 cells used by the monks and it is worth going into each one. Each has a single devotional fresco all on the theme of the life of Christ painted by Fra Angelico over 550 years ago. Some monks were luckier than others in what confronted them when they woke up each morning. If I had been a Dominican I would have preferred to pay a little extra for bed & breakfast because I’d rather wake up each morning to the Resurrection than the blood of Christ pooling amongst skulls at the foot of the cross. As you scan the artwork at San Marco it is amazing where you find the Dominicans: at the Nativity, at the foot of the Cross and even at the Last Supper – eat your heart out Dan Brown!
A day’s rest from Florence took me to Sienna. We are passing the Piazza del Campo where the horses race, past the Duoma to the cathedral’s crypt. Here there is a stunning piece. A portrait of a beautiful young man: Caravaggios’ Saint John the Baptist. It is strikingly beautiful. “If that is John the Baptist, then I’m Popeye!” said the American tourist standing next to me. Popeye, Caravaggio’s boy lover or Saint John; it is still very, very beautiful; sensual and religious at the same time.
…and of course, wherever you find yourself there is much, much more…
…and the best ice-cream in the world? Of course Naomi was right: a small gelateria on the Via Dei Biffi, a tiny street three minutes from Piazza del Duomo in the centre of Florence.
Now then, some advice if you want to enjoy the art in Florence whilst you wait for your ice-cream:
– If you went to Sunday School just remind yourself by reading one of the gospels. If you didn’t go to Sunday School then read all of them. Even then you will be surprised when you come across references to the Gospel of Nicodemus!
– You also need to revisit the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.
In other words do your homework before you go!