Saturday, June 09, 2007

Gawping Muffintops

For UK readers, relief from Big Brother withdrawal symptoms may best be achieved by reading this in a Geordie accent. "Deay Too an Nayshonwiade isn Flornce". American readers should note that we are in Florenceiddaly. Italian readers, well, I'm sorry.

Prego. Pronto. Bonjiurno. Dolce & Gabbana.

Firenze, of all Italy°s treasures, is the most beatific. School parties point and giggle at the little winkies on Europe°s greatest marble staues, elegant fifteenth century architecture, a trip to Florence is to visit The Renaissance. The Uffizi. Il Duomo. Michaelangelo, pappa pomodoro and tripe, bold Chiantis and ...aaah, but aren°t we the lucky ones to be here? It is a truly remarkable city, unruffled and unhurried, with the Pontevecchio still straddling the Arno, and David, Michaelangelo's very own BigFoot, still looking down on us protectively.

Sadly, the European Grand Tour, where people such as myself were borne aloft in Sedan chairs on the shoulders of oiks, stopping every now and again to partake of a lark°s tongue or to commission a little Canaletto in Venice, is a thing of the past. So where are we to find the modern equivalent? Well pardon me just a second - turn your backs - while I quickly change into my grumpy trousers. It ain°t frikkin Ryanair.

The Irish behemoth which now dominates "no frills" air travel is a terrible way to pollute the atmosphere on your way somewhere. It°s bad enough trying to negotiate Stansted Airport, an architectural marvel when it°s empty, but full to bursting (ie 18 hours a day) with the great unwashed it°s a hellhole. And why have the British Airports Authority not been sued yet for calling it LONDON Stansted? It's nowehere near friggin London, trying to get there is a trial in itself. And once you°ve made your way through security and handed over all your valuables and liquids (a word to the wise, mascara is a liquid) you have to encounter Ryanair. I have history here. I have been standing in the check-in queue (you queue for everything with Ryanair) when they have closed the flight. I kid you not. I have been stranded three times because of them and I don°t like them.

This time, we smiled and smiled and smiled. Once we had fought our way through the endless shopping mall that Stansted has become, and found the gate, I was scowled at by surly staff member no 1 (remember "hello and welcome, have a nice flight"? Forgeddaboutit) and told to "stand back from the queue" until I had opened my passport at the photograph page; I was sitting on a seat which (and this is a first) had graffiti on it, apparently Rachel and Killer had sat there before us, bless; and for two hours fought off a headache brought on by a yellow livery that is truly the colour of bile, made worse by the clever idea of plastering on top of the yellow liveried (liverish?) overhead compartments adverts for themselves in an even more bilious yellow.

Of course Michael O°Leary, the owner of Ryanair would say (and forgive the literal translation) "You ungrateful bastard. Flying to Italy for twenty quid means you cannot fucking complain. About anything". And he°s right. I am not some superior intellectual being shoehorned against my will into row 27. I°m a Ryanair passenger drinking expensive undrinkable wine from a plastic cup, poured from a miniature plastic bottle. So feck off.

Now it°s a little warm in Florence so if you don°t mind I°ll continue this blog in a tee shirt. Not the "I know Somebody who went to Florence and all I got was this lousy Tee Shirt" Tee Shirt but the other which says "WHAT THE F°CK ARE YOU LOOKING AT?" since that°s the way this is going.

I don°t mind tourists. I°m one. But when there are quite as many as there are in Florence, it°s a little hard not to mind. Millions turn up every year to gawp and stare, to shop and bare all to the harsh Italian midday sun. In order to get from il Duomo to Pontevecchio you have to negotiate shoals of them, like a demented salmon making it°s determined way home, battling against the current, leaping upstream. Phalanxes of them, platoons, battalions, led by The One With The Flag, The Umbrella, The Hankie, the bloody head on a spike. Or nowadays the number where all the followers have their numbers too, stuck on their football shirts, their branded tees and cashmere cardies. Don°t ask me, I have no idea why. Do they get lost that often?

And then you suddenly find yourself going WITH the flow, joining the massed ranks of Japanese, Korean, Mid Westerners, Swedes, Brummies and walking more slowly, beginning to waddle a little, starting to stare blankly at Renaissance era architecture, when you catch sight of yourself in the window of Ferregamo or Zara and you look like one of them. Dear Gawd for a few short moments you become one of them. Luckily, by stepping aside and leaving the parade, you return to normalcy: your svelte, sophisticated self, to be viewed happily in the windows of Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

Squeezing through the masses outside il Duomo, the Cathedral, a man from Essex was shouting at his mate, wearing a Millwall shirt, "YOU SHOULD FUCKING SEE IT INSIDE: IT°S FUCKING HUGE" as if the exterior somehow belied the scale of things. What did he think this was, the Tardis? An LA Dodger was meanwhile shouting that they'd had enough, they were going to COVER THE PONTEVECCHIO. I wish they°s all cover the bloody thing. And jump off. Our little apartment is just plain fabulous, and overlooks the Cathedral which is just as well because right now, about 2pm on June Friday, there°s, oh, two thousand gawpers gawping at this marble wonder of the world and we can°t get fecking near it.

So now I am putting on my baseball cap, the one which says in tiny type "if you can read this you°re too fucking close" in case I feel like nutting someone. Because we°re in the bar beneath our lovely little apartment and during the day it°s a nice little bar which serves morning proseccos, panini, and yummy coffees. But at night, well, it changes a little. It's expat posh student territory and the Prince Harry lookalike slumped over the table next to me has just been sick and his pal, who doesn°t look like Prince William but also strangely Harrysome, is shouting to the chums outside (think head to toe Abercrombie and Fitch, but swaying and leery) that "Josh has just puked" which of course is terribly, terribly funny, witty, amusing and one for the chums back home. And ALL the girls still have wobbly bare midriffs, which they shouldn°t really, because while I'm no fan of size zero, muffintops should keep it hidden when smoking, shouting, puking, getting legless, screaming, crying and whatever else one does in Florence. But then I°m here, in the bar with the playmates. And we°re very merry, making a noise and guffawing too.

Florence is beautiful, but mass tourism is hell. And this is Tourist Central.
Now where did I put those grumpy shoes?



Konnie Huxtable Global said...

I was doing the Interrail thing. Florence was obvioulsy a must. I got off the train, wandered to the Duomo to get my bearings and saw all the guitar-strumming potheads sprawled all over its steps.

Got straight back on the train and headed for Pisa (which is where Mr O'L dropped you off? Only an hour on the train!). Plenty of tourists there too, but they seemed to "fit in" better.

It was kind of like the difference between attending the opening of a new Brit Art gallery in Hoxton and spending a wet Thursday morning in the National Portait Gallery.

Anyway, being a tourist slagging off tourists always puts me in mind of John Julius Norwich's campaign to keep the track-suited hordes out of his beloved Venice. Totally hypocritically wrong. But utterly necessary.

KHG said...

...and "tourist slagging off tourists" was a ref. to me not thee! Careless.

Fuck, I'm always doing that. If in doubt, everything I write is a ref to me. Yes, I am that fucking solipsistic. Soz.

Nationwide said...

Yes but according to my supersophisticated interweb ISP covert CIA-style tracking surveillance device attached to this ere blog you are from Kirk o' Shotts (or Kirk OF Shotts as it says) which means that you live under a TV mast praying for the day that ten squillion tourists, or even just ten, will clog up your front garden. Then again this same device says I'm from Newbury in Berkshire. And I'm not.
Anymahow, we did go to Pisa, it was quite nice, touristy in a Leaning Tower kind of way, and I've clearly never escaped the what-I-did-on-my-holidays-essay-syndrome so excellently indoctrinated at school. Next week: my pets.

Shots o'Shotts said...

And what, pray, does Florence have that you cannot find here?