Tuesday, March 2, 2010

inspiration, courtesy of san miniato al monte.

So today, my writing class convened at San Miniato al Monte, a church located WAY above Florence, up above even the Piazzale Michaelangelo. I fully underestimated how much time it would take to get there, so I came huffing and puffing up the steps of the church about 10 minutes late...fortunately, class hadn't started yet.

It really blows my mind that I have CLASS in insane places with views this, though:

I decided that today, in spirit of blog diversification, I would share what I wrote during class! The prompt was fairly free ("write a response to this place") so...yeah. Enjoy my creativity!

When I finally reached my destination after enduring a long and arduous climb to the top of Florence, I was rewarded with a breathtaking view of the city, sprawling like a lazy giant as far as the mountains and river would allow. My eyes danced over red-brown roofs and past the sights that I had become accustomed to over the past five weeks. Thought beautiful, the city seems remote and untouchable, as though it could not possibly be the same city that I have now called home for over a month. Standing in front of the gleaming fa├žade of San Miniato al Monte and looking onto Florence, a city I know as intimate, cozy, and cramped at times, I am overwhelmed by the realization of how much I don’t know her and by how many secrets she is obviously still keeping.

I do not know the name or origin of one particularly impressive bell tower, rising arrogantly, close to the banks of the murky Arno River. Normally, the Duomo is my favorite Florentine monument; however, in this moment he Duomo’s enormity, its insistent and pervasive presence in the cityscape only serves as a reminder that I have yet to climb the 400 steps to its top. And my eye searches the banks of the Arno for Cascine Park, and when I see it, I am in full awareness of the fact that I have barely penetrated its outermost reaches.

The cobblestone streets I know well enough to gripe about are invisible. The heckling, harassing salesmen of the San Lorenzo market are silent, unable to annoy me from my current height. The wind that perpetually whistles through the too-narrow streets falls still up here as I bathe in the warm sunlight reflecting off the church. Everything that I thought I knew has vanished. Florence is a mysterious woman, seducing you with her obvious beauty, knowing that her true wonder is only seen from a distance. In this moment, I feel that I will always be at a distance; I feel that I have barely begun to tap the tree of this city’s wonders. Up here, Florence laughs at me, daring me to call her my own.

I am more than happy to escape this crisis of self as I walk behind the church at my teacher’s instruction. What other secrets does San Miniato hold for me? I am told that there is a cemetery here, but as I round the corner, I see anything but. The tombstones and crosses rise up like rigid flowers in the strangest of all gardens. In other spots, they are more reminiscent of stoic, emotionless soldiers, guarding the remains that they watch. This juxtaposition of beauty and utility is only the beginning, as I walk further into the sacred plot.

This cemetery can only be described as beautiful, not at all like those at home, completely darkened by the rotting shade of the old oak trees. Here, with the bright sun and chirping birds, I must look closer to understand the melancholy feeling that, in spite of the beautiful weather and lyrical music, permeates the air, completely tangible. Beyond the uniform whiteness of the tombstones and the family tombs that resemble exotic churches in miniature, the raves tell a story that chills me, even as I am swathed in sunlight.

Names of what I can only guess are husbands and wives are eternally separated by their birth and death dates, which are now all that defines them, along with the occasional sentence of poetry or prayer. Sadder still are the lonely names of children, who don’t even merit inscription, as though their lives were too short or too sad to inspire it. I wonder who these people are, and as I notice the fresh flowers that adorn many of them, who the people that still love them are today.

I may never know anything more about these people beyond what their burial sites reveal. I can, however, get to know the city that they lived in, the city they called home. I can try to unearth its many treasures, though judging from the view off San Miniato’s hill, that would take much longer than the 3 months that I have left. Despite this, I resolve to try my best, taking inspiration from the souls of the dead around me. Though my time in Florence may be short, I do not envy these souls resting atop this hill, forever taunted by the changing panorama and all that they had allowed to remain unseen in their own city.


  1. I love your ability to convey with the written word. Even if I could not see your pics I feel that I could see what you saw. Awe-inspiring. love you mom

  2. I like it, molto. You should write more blog entries like this :)

  3. Ok, Gotta ask -What's wrong with Italian men? I am not one, just curious what they have done to piss you off. (Gillian's Dad)

  4. Haha, I have yet to have a good experiene with an Italian man. I have been verbally and physically harassed, and I can't walk down a street without being catcalled. It's beyond irritating more than anything, but at night when you're out, it can get scary, too.

  5. Your descriptions are elegiac. I agree with your mom--beautiful words. Keep going!

    Gillian's mom