Italians in general start their days early, take a long break after lunch and then finish their work day late. Dinner is often only after 9pm. We have had to adapt to this schedule, especially in smaller towns where the shops and restaurants close for a good part of the afternoon. Our routine in Florence seems to finally fit with these hours, except that we eat lunch out, then rest for a while and return to walking and sight-seeing late in the day. It is actually quite pleasant and something we could enjoy back at home if our world worked that way. Anyway, we have been cooking our own meals at night but eating late upon our return from late afternoon outings.
Yesterday, we made a change to this. We cooked dinner at 7 pm (early by standards here), then walked to an old church near Dante's former home, called Chiesa Maria di Ricci, where we had heard there were nightly organ recitals at 9:15. Sure enough, after sitting in a little bar across the street waiting for the gates to open while Pierre sipped Grappa, the caretaker arrived, unlocked the metal doors and in we went. This church is about 500 years old, and has the usual religious frescoes on the walls. It was dimly lit by a few candles. We could see the huge pipes in the jubé behind us, but there was only a small light on up there. No one sat at the organ behind the altar. We wondered if the janitor was also the organist. Other people began arriving and suddenly at 9:15 the organ began to play. Was it a recording? Where was the organist? He began with a beautiful Albinoni piece that set the stage. By now the janitor had reappeared so we knew he was not playing, unless he had just pressed the play button on a recorder. But as time went by, the music got louder with each piece. And it sounded like the real thing...I could hear the pedals and sometimes there was the odd small mistake. Besides that, our ears were ringing with the reverberation. Bach's Toccata and Fugue just about blew up out of our seats! As I walked quietly around the church I noticed a small door open upstairs in the jubé, and a faint light between the two sets of pipes. I could not help thinking of The Phantom of the Opera. This organist comes here night after night, and lets it rip on the organ. He must do it for the love of his instrument, the music and this little church that benefits from donations given as people come in off the street to hear his powerful sound. The concert ended, we all left the church after making a donation, and we never saw the mysterious organist.
We have now said good bye to this beautiful city. I think we have seen most of what needs to be seen and can be managed in four days. Reading about the history of Florence, the men and women who played such an important role in its life and in the progression of art, politics, literature and the world in general makes me feel I learned a tiny bit more.
We took the train from Florence to Venice, a two hour ride on a very fast train. It is a sleek, electricity- powered vehicle, as most trains in Europe are. Quite a comfortable ride and another way to see the country. We had been advised to keep our luggage close and to be careful around the automatic ticket machines. Sure enough, despite these warnings, Pierre found himself being given advice by a young girl who appeared very solicitous until the security guards came up and made her move away. We then saw them do the same to a man at the next booth and then again to a woman who had been begging in the large hall and then moved on to "help" at the machines. During our wait for the train we watched these three people interact with each other, help people at the ticket machines, and be repeatedly waved away by the police who were present in large numbers in the station. By careful watching it was quite obvious who was a traveller and who was there to take advantage of the slightest slip on the part of the vulnerable tourist. Interesting.