Certainly a sight better than the unappetizing thought of Tea with Mussolini.
Which is how we ended up one early morning wandering around the beautifully frescoed courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio in wait. Rather than labour through endless hikes through the bewildering maze of a medieval fortress-palace, I thought it would be easier to avail ourselves of the modern facilities at hand. And who else better to show us around than the famous architect Giorgio Vasari instead?
Or rather a terribly well-versed impersonator.
Though it would be quite impossible to convince him otherwise since Vasari was obviously a dedicated method actor. Marvelling over the newfangled contraptions around our necks and our palms - what we now call cameras and cellphones, he welcomed us magnanimously into the forbidding fortress-palace of his gracious benefactors, the Medicis.
Undoubtedly one of the leading families of the Renaissance, the Medici family was a wealthy banking family that consolidated and wielded great political and social influence from the 15th to 18th centuries, initially beginning Florence and then expanding to rule Tuscany in time. One of the greatest legacies of the illustrious family is their patronage of arts, education, and architecture which gave us such legends as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
Vasari was quick to lend praise to his masters for having such great foresight to support these artists. Even quicker to apologize for his inadequate skills in refurbishing the Palazzo Vecchio from a medieval fortress to an enchanting palazzo suitable for his newly ennobled masters, the Medicis. The hours went by quickly as we were introduced to the various Italian art treasures in the palazzo, and later the Uffizi gallery, from the magnificent sculptures to the awe-inspiring paintings.
Wow, that guy's kinda hot.
Though of course I've always been more enamoured with marble statues. Perhaps it's the swarthy, virile Italian men that the artists all drew inspiration from but somehow the male statues generally had the most shockingly enviable glutes. Perfectly spherical, thickly muscled, amazingly smooth and as tantalizingly mouthwatering as any that walked the cobbled streets of Florence. Certainly lends credence to the idea that Florence had been a beguiling hotbed of homosexuality during the Renaissance.
But that wasn't all that drew my gaze as I kept looking up to the ceilings where the decorative painters of the Renaissance had conspired to produce something quite uniquely Italian.
That had come to be known, surprisingly enough, as grotesques.
Something we were later tempted to try for ourselves though our poor attempts at making our own decorative frescoes would have been scoffed at by the scrupulous Vasari himself! Turns out it isn't that easy painting hastily with a brush as the lime plaster concoction sets!
Perhaps we skip the harrowing journey that I endured as we made our way through several hundreds of kilometres to our destination.
Never a great traveller as I have reiterated before but I've yet to medicate myself in fear of appearing before the approaching immigrations officer as inebriated, incoherent or worse, insensible. Add that to a dizzying train journey from the sadly blighted environs of Bologna to our final destination of Florence - and you can imagine me desperately stumbling out from the Santa Maria Novella Station seeking salvation on the steady, thankfully unmoving ground.
Despite emerging from the dullness of the station into a dismal, unprepossessing section of the city, the late afternoon sun was already painting the staid brownstones of Florence in vivid reds and yellows. Balm enough to force my throbbing headache into a retreat - and more than enough for me to seek out the surprisingly friendly tourist information office.
Directions were given and soon we had our bags, our maps and our taxi driver. Unquestionably an unforgettable taxi ride from the station as we - seemingly purposefully - were driven past the many sights and attractions of the city from the dazzling Duomo to the sombre Palazzo Vecchio on our way to the hotel on the other side of town. Interesting vignettes of life on the streets gave us a tantalizing preview of what was to come with backpackers huddled together in the endless queues up the Campanile to several teenagers slurping their gelato in the brisk autumn breeze.
Presumably not everyone's quite as impressed with the view but I certainly was!
Whatever aches and pains that ailed me during the interminable flight were forgotten when I caught sight of the unmistakable beauty of David perched on the Piazzale Michaelangelo high above the city.
Certainly would be hard to beat all the amazing displays we'd seen but our room managed to amaze us with one more view. Raising our heads to the ceiling, we found an amusingly aged fresco of flora and fauna right above the beds.
It was enough to make me drop my bags and insist on rushing out to take in the sights again.
I would readily admit that it has been a while since I was in school. So much so that when I drive past a secondary school and see the odd surprisingly virile, hot-looking kadult in their whites and greens, I have to forcibly remind myself that they are generally young enough to be my biological offspring. Relative infants really! That's really how long it has been.
Easy enough to separate the men from the boys back when I was in school. Ordinarily the lower secondary juveniles wore olive green shorts while the older boys had longer slacks. Almost a point of pride for us all when we mark the simple transition from boyhood to manhood with the simple sartorial switch.
At least in my all boys' school.
We're no longer kids, man!
Well, that's how I remember it to a certain extent. These days however, with the corrupting conservatism creeping across the country, even the younger kids are shamefully starting to cover up. Not only are the junior schoolboys starting to wear slacks in primary school, apparently their previously short shirt sleeves are growing progressively longer as well.
Talk about highly impractical in our sweltering tropical weather.
Vague signs of the incipient religious extremism in our country rankles of course so I initially ranted about it to my friend Shameless Shalom before she decided to point out something.
Shalom : I hear you. Paul : Yes? And you agree? Shalom : Yes, I do. There's a creeping conservatism for sure - but I've never seen you in shorts! Paul : Of course I do! I wore them back in lower secondary. Shalom : I find this hard to believe. Paul : I do wear them! Shalom : I don't even think you have ankles. Paul : Like what?! Shalom : Well I've never seen them!
Really. Apparently in my modest bid to raise the bar for sartorial flair here, that has led to my friends assuming I don't have knees and ankles under my perfectly creased slacks.
Well at least that's the eerie feeling I get sometimes when it comes to the byzantine Borgias. Just when you complacently think you've got them all figured out, these perplexing provincials abruptly snatch the Oriental rug from beneath you... just because they can.
Although cordial invitations to their family events have been regularly delivered to Netherfield for my perusal, it didn't actually occur to me that I was part of a select coterie of acquaintances. Foolish move on my part of course. Even Charming Calvin would have thought so. So when I replied in the affirmative for a weekend dinner with his family, I naturally assumed that the convivial occasion would be open to all.
Madame : Pray tell who is this paltry creature that you have brought before us.
Since Diffident David happened to be in our esteemed company, we naturally included him in the invitation since I couldn't see how I could get out of the event without bringing him along. After all, David had been dragged along to one of the previous Borgia family soirees so he wasn't a complete unknown to her. Surely I wasn't expected to peremptorily eject the hapless fellow from the moving carriage.
Though I could clearly see Madame Borgia did. Rather than have him spoil the sanctity of her soiree, perhaps better to have him viciously crushed under the very wheels of my carriage. However once milady came to the appalling realization that a relative stranger had been added to the party, she immediately rescinded the proffered invite! Quelle horreur!
Calvin : Now she would prefer it if we had dinner separately. Paul : Separate the two of us? Calvin : No, I'm to join your party. They will have their own dinner without us. Paul : What a sacrifice! Calvin : Seems like it is. Paul : So it was alright for me to join your family dinner but bring a guest and all's undone? Calvin : Yes.
Goodness what has happened to social etiquette! Apparently the Borgias have seen fit to overturn such antiquarian notions of polite society protocol rather than sully their weekly family dinner with an undesirable alien.
David : Perhaps they weren't feeling terribly social this week. Paul : That's where you're wrong. Obviously they were unfeeling this week.
Though I was quietly horrified by their shockingly boorish behaviour, still I was somewhat mollified by the fact that at the very least Madame Borgia still counts me as family. Sort of anyway, perhaps that revolting far-flung relative you simply can't get rid of. Paul : I'm quite flattered that she thought of inviting me. Calvin : She probably thinks you're gonna barge in anyhow so she might as well just invite you. Paul : That's also quite true.
Apparently she knows me well, at least up to a certain point. Such a wanton display of egregious behaviour in my severely judgmental presence would be the equivalent of waving a red flag in front of a mad, raging bull. Madame Borgia immediately realized that her abrupt revocation of the invite would have me flinging my hands up in outrage - which is how she later made a sadly fumbling attempt to mollify us with a paltry overture.
Madame Borgia : Well, the friend may come for dinner but he shall have to sit with the servants outside. There's just no place at our select table. Paul : ...
Sometimes it's better to remain silent lest words we can't rescind fall heedlessly from our lips.
The past week has certainly been quite the ordeal for Charming Calvin - having his unfamiliar niece and nephew thrust upon him for the brief duration followed by his own redoubtable mother then falling prey to the passing scourge of serpentine affliction. Burdened by all these troubles, Calvin has had to man up to deal with them all by himself.
With some little help from the taciturn Benedicta of course.
While Benedicta plays reluctant nurse in the sick room, the children are permitted to roam the family compound under the care of their watchful uncle. As you would have already guessed, Charming Calvin's the sweet, lovable uncle allowing free rein for the kids to do as they well please, spending literal hours glued to their tablets and Wii while slacking the rest of the day off while it's charging.
All the while he's vegetating several feet away gazing with an indulgent eye.
Far different from my more... astringent methods of pre-adolescent childcare.
Paul : You call that a shot? You couldn't hit the side of a barn. Niece : I- I am t-trying. Paul : Try harder! How are you going to guard the portal to hell! Niece : What portal? Paul : Don't pretend. Now pick up your bow.
Staring mindlessly at the telly watching reruns? Wasting their precious time on silly inconsequential games? Lying on the grass for hours doing nothing but inhaling the durian trees?
Certainly not on my watch.
Paul : Bring them out now. Calvin : They are sleeping. Paul : It's just after lunch. Calvin : A nap after lunch. Paul : Good god. Get them scrubbed and out now!
Taking my cue from the Tiger Mother, it didn't take very long before I set things right for the two kid loafers with hard-hitting gritty personal questions interspersed with mathematical puzzles and language quizzes. Just running short of having workbooks and exercises thrown at them - which I would have if I had any spare.
An overworked plebeian from Malaysia who imbibes caffeine ( though slowing down some ), drives dangerously ( same as prev. ) and writes bedtime stories about guys into other guys to indulge in wicked unfulfilled