Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Something in the Stars

Mike started the day in Florence by waving to the guys setting up the leather stalls.

 “In America, Walt Disney opened an amusement park.  And in Florence, someone was savaging the remnants of a Tuscan nobleman’s family.”  ― Chris Bohjalian

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Let me be honest. Of course, I am always honest with you, so let me just get to it and tell you that I am not a big fan of Florence. To tell the truth, I took both groups there for a day earlier this trip, and I could not wait to get out of there. It was hot. It was humid. It was crowded. It was dirty. It was a zoo.

"Disney needs to come in here and show them hot to run things the right way," Ed said to me after he and the other four of Group 2 returned from time at the Accademia.  "These people have no idea how to handle crowds."

The leather stalls

Unfortunately, that's true. Sixteen million (16,000,000) people traipse through the city every year, and while they bring some money into the local economy, it's not as much as you would think it is.  Prince Ottaviano de’Medici di Toscana (Yes, he is one of *those* de Medicis) has started a campaign—Save Florence—to clean up the city and protect it from tourists who deface the historic buildings and art, urinate in the street (Yes, it does happen), sleep in public squares, and generally act like a bunch of bulls in china shops.

I don't want to go into it in this blog, but if you're interested,  you can read about the Prince's initiative here.  I applaud his efforts and hope they work because, as Steve from Group 1 said, most of the tourists are more interested in shopping than experiencing the culture.

At any rate, after the hot, miserable day we had two weeks ago, I told Group 2 that I was not going back to Florence again this year.  "I'm telling Mike it's off the list," I said.  "It's second only to Modena." HA.  What I forgot was that I had purchased train tickets for Florence before I left the States, and we weren't going to let them go to waste. So, we hopped on the train and headed out at 8 this morning.

World Map, ca. 1452
We waited to have coffee until we got to Florence, and we sat outside a cafe and watched vendors set up their stalls for the day.  Mike, of course, waved to people who walked by, but they mostly ignored him.

"I think word got out that the crazy American guy is back," I told him.  He just waved at someone else.

At any rate, we had decided last night that we weren't going to spend a lot of time in the markets or on the Ponte Vecchio.  Of course, we did have to walk by them as Mike hadn't been in Florence for five years, and I wanted to show him a few new
things.  We went into the Duomo for Mass, but we just missed it, so we sat and prayed for a bit before we headed out to the one big thing on our list, the Galileo Museum.

Michelangelo's compass, ca. 16th century
Charlene and Deb from Group 1 went into it last month and enjoyed it a lot, so I told Mike that maybe we should check it out.  Galileo (1564-1648) was, as you might remember, an astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher, and mathematician. In addition, he worked on improving the telescope, invented an improved compass, and worked in science and technology.  He is widely known as the father of modern physics, modern astronomy, and modern science.

 So, I don't want to go into a big history lesson because, quite frankly, who cares?  (I'm being honest here, folks.)  Mike and I were stunned at what those men accomplished in the 15 and 16 centuries.  While we were looking at astronomical charts, I overheard one guy say, "How did they do this, do  you suppose?"  He was looking at an map of the stars from the 16th century.

"One man probably had to stand in the same spot every single night of the year until he had the map done," said his colleague.  He was probably not so far off.

Odometer, ca. 1750
Science never interested me enough to make me want to study physics or medicine (as my father tried to force me to do), but I find this stuff pretty interesting because I wonder how the hell those guys did what they did 400+ years ago with the little knowledge that they had then.  They guy who mentioned making the astronomy map had a point.  Did some guy stand in the same spot for one year and mark things down?  How did he know he had this star or that one?  Think about it.

How did they make that world map in 1452?  How could they determine land shape, form, and mass simply by sailing around it?  They couldn't fly above it to see if they were right.  It boggles my mind.
Meteorological map, ca 16th Century
Mike found the most interesting things in the museum, though.

"Would you look at these?" he said to me as I walked by one case that held what looked like moldy hot dogs in two glass containers.

"What are those?" I asked him.
"Galileo's fingers."

Galileo's index finger

After he picked me up from the floor and revived me, I got out of that room as fast as I could.

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