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The Stones of Florence and Venice Observed…

The Stones of Florence and Venice Observed (1956)

by Mary McCarthy

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    The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance by Paul Strathern (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: A Florentine dynasty placed in their context.

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A double whammy of mid-20th century US travel writing about two of the big three Italian cities. The ruins of Rome are obviously missing. McCarthy crafts wonderful portraits of the history, art and architecture of Florence and Venice. Similar to Vermeer, she keeps her distance from describing actual human beings which results in a certain bloodlessness. It is tourists, both by their presence and their absence, who increase the author's blood pressure. Crowding in the main attractions, they neglect to visit the hidden gems, leaving poor Mary all alone in deserted churches. She is unusually cranky for an American, most of which is due to her lack of travel skills. If you don't want to interact with the owners, don't use bed & breakfast accommodation. If you don't like crowds in museums, visit early or late in the day. Do as the locals do to escape other tourists and commercial exploitation.

Florence and Venice, the artistic power houses of Italy and polar opposites: Florence, the land-locked city of bankers whose language defines Italian. Venice the seaborne city of traders whose language defies Italian. Florence whose architecture is turned inward; Venice, the splashy city. Florence the city which exiles; Venice, the city of exiles. As far as the two portraits of the cities go, her heart clearly beats for Florence, about which she knows much more and is more intimate with. She is but a tourist to Venice, detesting its venality and superficiality. I wonder how she would react to the fact that the number of inhabitants of Venice has declined from 200,000 in her days to less than 50,000 today. On the plus side, most of the extreme poverty (including child labor exploitation) she describes has vanished from Northern Italy which has become again one of the most prosperous places on earth.

To truly appreciate her art and architecture descriptions, it is helpful to consult one of the inexpensive (printed in China), sumptuously illustrated city portrait books about Florence and Venice that flood the book stores, enabling one to contrast and compare Donatello's and Michelangelo's interpretation of David. Recommended as a quick read. ( )
2 vote jcbrunner | Dec 12, 2010 |
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"To Roberto Papi" (The Stones of Florence)
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Mary McCarthy's personal journey through two celebrated Italian cities, first published as separate titles in 1959 and 1961 respectively.
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