and read more about Italy……
When I traveled to Italy two years ago, I read a Penguin book that combined Mary McCarthy’s two books–[amazon_link id=”B005B1M5N8″ target=”_blank” ]The Stones of Florence[/amazon_link] and[amazon_link id=”015693521X” target=”_blank” ]Venice Observed (Art and Places)[/amazon_link]. These are two pieces of must-read travel literature for European travelers.
I will start with a warning–this is not light reading. And this is not an up-to-date guidebook. Originally written in 1959, the Penguin edition I read was first reprinted in 1972. McCarthy warns in a foreword:
The reader, I hope, will overlook a few inaccuracies in the description of present-day Florence. The incessant changes of modern Florence keep it always ahead of the author.
Since that undated warning was written at least forty years ago, the incessant changes continue as the chic fashion shops, cooking schools, and restored Medici villas continue to open. However, I don’t know about you, but I go to a city like Florence to see the past–not quite preserved in aspic–but at least preserved in a way that brash new-world Americans find quite amazing.
The Cathedral and the Oratory are still there. The shops on the bridge over the Arne may sell more modern merchandise, and be wired for electricity, but from the shore, you can see what medieval merchants saw. The cobblestones, the street layout, the public squares-all still there. The art of DaVinci and Fra Angelico and so many others has moved from the private rooms of the wealthy to museums open to the public. (Thank goodness!)
McCarthy says, For the contemporary taste, there is too much Renaissance in Florence: too much ‘David’ (copies of Michelanelo’s gigantic white nude stand on the Piazza della Signoria and the Piazzale Michelangelo; the original is in the Acaemy), too much rusticated stone, too much glazed terracotta, too many Madonnas with Bambinos.
That certainly was not the attitude among the British and Americans in the day of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Once Florence was considered a required stop on the tour of the continent. Apparently that attitude to Florence forty years ago drove people away. I, on the other hand could happily move in to Florence and live there for months and months.
Am I just too quaint in my tastes? Or has something changed in the last decades? Did it start with [amazon_link id=”0679731148″ target=”_blank” ]A Year in Provence[/amazon_link], which drove people to the south of France and then proceed to [amazon_link id=”0767900383″ target=”_blank” ]Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy[/amazon_link] by Francis Mayes? Was it the earthquake that attracted American art students to Florence for restoration projects and drew world wide attention to the treasures in that city?
Italy is on my mind because last night I attended a reception sponsored by the Italian Tourism Board to launch a 2010 promotional campaign. As a travel writer, my impression of the Italian Tourism office is that they don’t try very hard–nor do they have to. Americans flock to Italy. Look at any travel bulletin board–Italy is one of the most popular destinations for Americans, and Florence holds its own as one of the top three destinations–Rome, Venice and Florence.
The Italian tourism reception, launching their new advertising campaign, Italia Much More, confirmed the fact that they are the most popular European destination for American travelers. They also had some good news in terms of people’s travel plans for the coming year. People are beginning to plan trips once again, a fact that was confirmed by the many travel agents there.
We loved Florence best of the three major cities, but our drive through the countryside of Le Marche crowned our vacation. You can read my article about Le Marche at Pen4Hire.com I also planted my tongue in cheek and wrote about why NOT to go to Venice at Your Life Is A Trip.com.
Lazio, the region of Rome, draws the most tourists, and Le Marche is way far down on the list–which is why I wanted to go there. Undiscovered is the most alluring word to me. If you have been there, what is your favorite region? If not, where do you want to go?