Friday, March 18, 2011

The Wearing of the Red, White and Green

While all of you in Minnesota were celebrating St Patrick’s Day, we were celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy. Well, we really started the evening before, and the 17th was more of a “sleep in and relax” kind of holiday. And we needed to sleep in a little as the festivities on Wednesday evening lasted well into Thursday morning.

Florence celebrated this event in a grand way. Everywhere you looked there was the Italian flag (nope, I don't have one yet, but believe me, the next holiday will not find me without my flag!) Some stores had so many flags in their windows that you couldn't see the merchandise anymore. That's pride! Three of the most popular piazzas in town were dedicated to the celebration. In the piazza by the Duomo there were tents where local artisans displayed their works. Mosaics, glass, ceramics, wood and metal were demonstrated and people crowded around to see their work.

At the Piazza at Santa Croce there were readings of Dante’s works, hot air balloon rides and a presentation of photos of Florence and Italy from before and after the Unification. Colored lights created an Italian flag on the store fronts and the front of the church.

In the Piazza Signoria you could see dancers and hear several different orchestras while gazing at the many statues that are permanently on exhibit there.

This was also one of those evenings where Florence throws open the doors of its’ museums and galleries and lets the public in for free. We took advantage of this and visited Santa Croce, the oldest Franciscan church in the world. Many famous Florentines like Michelangelo and Galileo are buried there, and many of the frescoes were done by Giotto and his pupils. I expected that we would simply be allowed to enter for free and look around for ourselves, but the city arranged for guided tours that evening. We spent an hour touring the church and listening to a guide who really loved his work. He told us not only about the church, but about the history of Florence and the people who lived here. I don’t know what was more exciting for me, seeing the church again or realizing that the entire tour was conducted in Italian and I understood most of it!

And it isn’t a celebration without fireworks! We made our way through the crowded streets back to the Piazza Signoria to see the fireworks. The piazza was so packed with people it was almost impossible to move. (imagine the MN state fair exhibitors buildings) I think everyone in Florence; residents, tourists and students alike, managed to squeeze into that space. Thousands of people stood together waiting for the big event to start. They weren’t interested in the music, they wanted excitement and noise. Finally, sometime after the promised 12:30 start, the firework display burst into the sky from the top of the city hall. It was a celebration of the Italian flag. Bright lights of green, white and red chased around the top of the building and leapt high into the sky.

After the grand finale, we walked back home. Yes, walked. This was not a time to take a bike into the city. It was almost impossible to walk through some streets. Trying to navigate a bicycle through the crowds would have been impossible. We did make it home without incident and were in bed at a respectable 2 am.

That was our public celebration of the anniversary of the unification of Italy. The next day (the actual holiday I believe) we had our own private celebration that included sparkling wine, good food and lots of kisses. This might sound less exciting than the night before, but in fact, this day was the best celebration for me.

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