463 Steps, 0 Pictures

September 25, 2012

Today I did something I’ve been wanting to do for 12 years.

I climbed to the top of the Cupola, the dome of the Duomo in Florence, Italy. 463 steps up.

For once in my life, I have no photos. I somehow forgot my camera at the Academy in Assisi, so the Radiohead concert, this week in Florence, and the Duomo climb are undocumented. Most of you know that I loooove to take photos, but it’s been a refreshing change to just be totally present for life instead of looking at everything through a 3″ screen. The world is more holistic.

I arrived at the Duomo at 8:15am in order to avoid the crowds. I took the bus from my couchsurfing host Dario’s house, using a trick he showed me – I bought a bus ticket with my cell phone. With my cell phone!!! What you do is send a text with the letters “ataf” to 4880105. It texts you a ticket and charges 1.20 Euros to your phone. The virtual bus ticket is good for 90 minutes.

I love technology.

There is no technology at the Cupola. No new technology anyways. Ie, no elevators.

The entrance to climb the Cupola is on the left side of the cathedral when you’re facing the front, and it costs 8 Euros. There was a group of about 20 dewy-faced German girls in front of me, and a Taiwanese woman wearing heels. She exclaimed over my Vibram Fivefinger barefoot shoes, as did a few other people I met during the climb. They all agreed that my footwear was the most suitable for the occasion.

We all huffed and puffed and worked up a sweat – I consider myself to be in fairly good shape but this was a workout. Not recommended for claustrophobics. It was fascinating being inside the sides of the dome itself – you could see the walls curving overhead within arm’s reach overhead – and there are walkways that ring in interior of the dome so you can check out the details of the frescos of naked people getting their skin flayed open and being strangled by pitchfork-wielding devils and demons. There are also depictions of heaven and cherubs and god and all that, but the hell scenes are much more fun.

Construction on the dome was started in 1420 and completed in 1434, making the Cupola 578 years old. FIVE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY EIGHT YEARS OLD!!! The Duomo (the whole cathedral) is even older, started in 1296. From the pavement to the top of the dome is almost 300 feet, about a 30 story building (no wonder we were huffing and puffing).

It wasn’t as windy as I expected at the top. The sun was still low in the east and there were few clouds in the sky. The giant shadow of the Cupola stretched west across Firenze, and I felt a bit bad for the people who lived in its shadow and probably don’t get any direct light until almost midday.

Chaotic harmony is what Firenze looks like from above. The colors are uniform – warm golds and yellows, umber and sienna and terra cotta. But the architecture is chaos. Hundreds – thousands? – of years of building on top of buildings, chopping down neighboring towers, adding on rooms and passageways. Done with skill and a strong aesthetic, but still chaotic.

I spent a long time up there, longer than the German girls or the Taiwanese woman in heels. I wasn’t taking photos, obviously, as I was without camera. I just absorbed it. I tuned into the presence of the city. I identified all the buildings I knew, and picked out the general area of the apartments I’d lived in on Via San Zanobi in 2000 and 2001. I stared at the towers on the hillsides I remember staring at and sketching in art class so many years ago. I watched the early sunlight reflecting like shining liquid silver off the Arno river. At one point my eyes filled with tears at a wave of joy and gratitude that surged within – the joy of being in Italy, the joy of this wonderful life. High up above in the center of it all, I felt love. I’ve loved Florence since I set foot in it in 1997, at age 18, and its consistent reliability, its beautiful lack of change, is reassuring, intimately familiar, calming.

And then the bells began to ring, all around me, from Santa Croce Basilica, from San Lorenzo. 9am. They rang as they have for hundreds – thousands – of years, as they will for hundreds – thousands – of years more.

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One Response to “463 Steps, 0 Pictures”

  1. katyneylon said

    It’s good to not always have a camera. Be present in the moment 🙂

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