Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Cat in Florence

Chapter 5
[Go to beginning]
As soon as we arrived at the Santa Maria Novella Stazione in Florence I made my way towards the ticket window. It was just a few minutes after seven in the morning and there was no one behind the counter. “Damn!” I said. “Where the hell is everyone?”
“What are you doing?” Jenny said, peeking her head from under the jacket I had draped over my arm.
“I’m going to get us return tickets for the next train back to Vienna,” I said.
“Oh, no you aren’t!” Jenny said, with a hiss. “We came to see Florence and we are going to see it; including the works by my relative, Ghirlandaio.”
“Honey,” I said, “be reasonable. We can’t go traipsing through art museums with a...” I didn’t know quite how to put it.
“Listen, David, we can and will go through the art museums. People take their pets everywhere these days. You’ll just have to find a way to manage it.”
When Jenny got in one of her hissy fits it didn’t pay to argue, so I shut up and turned back towards the taxi stand.
“You’d better put my luggage in a locker for now,” Jenny said. “Doesn’t look like I’ll be needing it.”
“Good idea,” I said.
Italians are not good drivers, although they think they are. They like to draw attention to their superior driving by using their car horn constantly. Our drive to the hotel felt like the car chase in the movie, ‘The French Connection.’ During one close encounter of the terrifying kind I squeezed Jenny so hard she yowled. “Sorry,” I said. I saw the driver looking at me in his rearview mirror.
When we got to the hotel Byron, on Via Della Scala, I opened my gym bag and put Jenny in it. She complained bitterly. I told her it was just temporary. “Please be very quiet,” I pleaded. Jenny gave me a dirty look.
As I checked in I noticed the sign behind the counter. ‘ANIMALI DOMESTICI NON PERMESSI’ “No pets allowed, ‘eh?” I said to the desk clerk, loud enough so Jenny could hear and realize that she needed to lay low.
“Oh no, senore, strictly very not allow,” the man said, shaking his head vigorously to illustrate his point. He stood on tip toe to look over the counter.
“No pets,” I said, holding my hands out as if to show I wasn’t holding a dog under my arm. No, I was hiding my girlfriend, the cat, in my gym bag.
The desk clerk handed me my room key -- I almost asked for two -- and rang the bell on the counter to call a bellhop. I grabbed my gym bag and let the bellhop handle my suitcase and laptop carry case.
In the room I handed the bellhop another Lira bill with the image of Alessandro Volta on it and asked him if he knew where I could buy a small animal carrying case. He had no idea what I was talking about; “Mi dispiaci, Senore. Non parlano Inglese.” I didn’t pursue the matter, fearing that he would say something to the hotel manager, who would be checking out the room looking for telltale signs of an ‘animali, domestici.’
“Let’s get out and get some breakfast,” Jenny said.
“Breakfast?” I said, realizing that I was starving, but also puzzling over how I was going to feed Jenny.
“I want a cappuccino,” Jenny said, “with heavy foam. Then we can see the sights,” she said, holding her paw up towards me.
I put Jenny in the gym bag again, but when we were clear of the hotel, I zipped it open so she could stick her head up and look around. We walked towards the center of Florence along Via Della Scala. It was chilly. The city was still waking up, traffic relatively light. Men were sweeping the streets using long-handled brooms that looked very inefficient, but seemed to work well on the rough, stone sidewalks.
I stopped at a small park and looked down at Jenny. “Do you need to... You know, use the...?”
“I used the bidet in the room,” she said. “I won’t be doing my toilet in parks, David,” she said, looking as though she wanted to scratch me.

We branched off Via Della Scala and through the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, and past the Basilica.
“That’s the church where the frescoes by Lippi, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, and Giotto, are,” said Jenny. “The Ghirlandaio fresco is also there. Let’s get some breakfast, and we’ll come back here later.”
We turned on to Via Del Sol and after winding in and out of several narrow streets, ended up on the Via Del Calzaioli, where we stopped in a cute little cafe for breakfast.  I had a caffelatte and got Jenny her cappuccino. I also had a delicious custard-filled bomboloni, which Jenny insisted on sharing, getting a dab of custard on her pink nose.
Instead of going right back to the Basilica Santa Maria Novella after breakfast, we decided to go to the Galleria Dell’Accademia.

“I want to see your statue,” Jenny said, meaning Michelangelo's David.
We thought we’d get to the museum before the crowds, and it hadn’t quite opened, but we still weren’t the first in line. I say “we,” but it was just me and my gym bag. A man dressed very nicely in suit and tie tapped me on the shoulder and said something to me in Italian. I said “non capisco,” and he said in very good, only slightly accented English, “They won’t let you carry your bag into the museum.”
My look of panic must have surprised him, because he hurriedly told me that there were lockers at check-in where I could leave my bag. I thanked him and got out of line.
“I’m not staying in a locker,” Jenny hissed.
“I know, I know,” I said. “I’ll put you under my coat, but you’ll have to be very still.”
I was wearing one of those REI hooded all-weather jackets that seemed designed to serve as an emergency camping tent, if need be, and I slipped Jenny in the front and immediately looked like most overweight American tourists.
Once inside the museum, I walked around and around the statue of David waiting for the crowds to disperse so that I could unzip my jacket and give Jenny a peek at the statue. Finally there was a break in the crowd and I gave Jenny her look at the towering David. “My, what I lovely view,” Jenny said. “Looks just like you.”
I looked up and saw immediately that I’d made a mistake by getting so close to the statue, especially considering Jenny’s vantage point. “Oh, that’s embarrassing,” I said.
“Probably just performance anxiety,” she said, purring.

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