City sidewalks, busy sidewalks. / Dressed in holiday style / In the air / There’s a feeling / of Christmas / Children laughing / People passing / Meeting smile after …This is our little neighborhood street, Via di Servi, leading from the Duomo back behind the camera to Santissima Annunciata, and our apartment. Interestingly, the cupola of the Duomo was designed by Brunelleschi. Turn 180 degrees the other way and Ospidale delgi Innocente (Foundling Home), facing onto Piazza Annunciata was also his design, not to mention Chiesa San Lorenzo and Santa Spirito, where the young Michelangelo was allowed to learn anatomy from the very recently departed.As Cynthia and I came into the Piazza Duomo, we were surprised to see so many carabinieri, Italy’s federal police force. They came fully equipped with a fleet of squad cars, a mobile command post and a dark blue bus, and, as it turned out, a full-dress marching band. They struck up a stirring march tune and lead the crowds through the middle of town and off to the Ponte Vecchio. Nothing like Sousa and Psalms to get you in the Christmas Spirit.
That is the Battisterio San Giovanni behind them. It far antedates the Duomo and Giotto’s tower beyond. Dante Alighieri was baptized there in about 1265,as was virtually every Florentine up to the mid 1800’s. The building had been there so long that eventually it was generally considered to have been originally built by the Romans. Actually, it was begun in 1059, a time of great anxiety and anticipation because the end-times seemed due or even past-due. Many additions were added inside and out over the centuries.And what wood you like for Christmas, little boy? There are countless little shops all over this town, each with its own little specialties. Their lit up windows contrasting with the rough-hewn dark stones make the whole place look like a Disney creation. How they all make a living is a real wonder, but in this season of wonder, and this season of shopping tourists, perhaps economic miracles really can happen.
Now really, would Dante have approved of such carryings-on? Certainly those two lions, those Florentine symbols of strength, sobriety, and commercial enterprise seem to have a rather stern appraisal of this scene. In “Paradiso”, Dante portrayed the various levels of eternal discomforts for those who strayed from the straight and narrow. Perhaps though, as he stands firm-faced upon this pedestal, Dante may look down on these happy American coeds, remember the fleeting joy of his beloved Beatrice, the fleeting joy of youth…and smile.