Saturday, December 1, 2007

Exit music for a film, with leather and stone

On today's trip through memories of Florence we visit Santa Croce. This piazza has retained a smaller, older feel than her more famous Fiorentine sisters. Last Sunday's marathon finished there, a thought to keep you going during 42 kilometers of hills and gasping questions. Inside the church are buried a cadre of famous Italians, including giants of literature, art, science, and politics: Dante, Machiavelli, Galileo, Michelangelo... The central door is massive but it was not enough to hold out the flood of 1966 – a plaque on the wall marks the water's high line.

Exploring the church, through the carefully lit scriptorium, out past the stained-glass transept, a visitor can wander into the Leather School and watch masters craft leather into bags, purses, wallets. The reflections from angled mirrors and the orderly collections of worn tools could have kept me mesmerized for hours.

Tucked into a dark cellar just off a spacious courtyard we found a small exhibit dedicated to the printwork of native son Pietro Parigi. Anyone who has read the Catholic Worker will recognize his simple, rustic style. I am fascinated by this art form; some favorites include the California artist Tom Killion and the book The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono.

During two visits to the neighborhood around the church, we heard great street musicians – a trio named Grupo Romm Dracula's that is comprised of stand-up bass, djembe (or its cousin), and a hammered dulcimer, a stringed instrument resting on a stand that is played with small mallets. The members are Romani, or gypsy, and perhaps have brought strains of the Middle East, even India with them to Florence. [On a side note, this minority is currently much maligned here in Italy, as so often in the past in so many places – e.g. the word “gyp,” as in “That market vendor gypped me.” Xenophobia: a topic for another day...]

The music was new yet somehow familiar, like a bite of some untried sweet that carries remembered tastes, spices. Novel madeleines. Watching people walk away down a narrow Fiorentina street, with the lyrical skipping music playing behind me, I felt like a camera recording the closing scene of a movie. I was reminded of the ending of The Third Man; I later confirmed, through conversations with my classic-movie-knowing family and a bit of Internet research, that the score of that great film noir featured a zither, a close relative of the dulcimer. Romani music – yet another rabbit hole to wander down some other day.

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