Museum as muse (of chaos)

July 7, 2017 at 4:21 pm (Uncategorized)

I should have known that when I first didn’t receive the promised email confirmation notice from the Uffizi’s online ticket-purchasing site, I should have double-checked we indeed had reserved slots. Home to rooms filled with works by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Titian, and Michelangelo, and wide corridors lined with marble statuary on the floor and portraits near the ceiling, the Uffizi is considered a can’t-miss Florence destination. The Uffizi, on the bank of the Arno River, is listed as one of the top 10 museums on the planet.

I was there once before, in 1993 when a college student; I was very happy to return during this trip with an adult’s perspective. But I was disappointed with the visit. If you’re considering touring the Uffizi during tourist season, skip it. “Hot madhouse” doesn’t describe accurately enough the entirety of our visit.

First, one must follow unclear signage outside the museum to the line for folks with reserved tickets. We eventually found it, but then had to wait in that Tower-of-Babel queue for about 30 minutes, trying to decipher at least 50 other languages, before arriving at the window where we’d receive hard-copy entrance tickets. Uber-organized, I confidently handed the woman behind Plexiglas my printed-out confirmation information. She quickly informed me no such number or family name existed in her database.

I appreciated that she was fluent in English and very patient. But there were many things I didn’t appreciate. Such as that her mic didn’t work, so I literally had to press an ear to the barrier between us to eke out the majority of what she was saying. She kept fixing me with a rather uninterested stare, while repeating that there was nothing she could do for us, our confirmation number wasn’t in the system.

Poking at my phone, I called up an email from the ticketing website noting our confirmed status. I reluctantly handed her my cell through the Plexiglas portal. She scrolled up and down, up and down. Then turned to a colleague who took my phone. He scrolled up and down, up and down. Expressionless, he handed back the phone to the lady, who then returned it to me. I’m sorry that I can’t help you, she continued to intone, looking past me at the next stupid foreigner trying to see tons of uncircumcised penises carved from stone and more portraits of Mary and Baby Jesus than anyone can believe is housed in one building.

Finally, with Randy’s sage (and I’ve-had-enough-of-this) counsel, I requested (re)buying tickets on the spot so we could, at last, tour the museum. Sure you can! the lady responded. (Read: Anything to get you away from me.)

And so she printed tickets and then directed us to the next line in which to wait. Lest you think our first line – which snaked around one outer wall of the building – or this new line were organized affairs, you’d be wrong. All of humanity milled about, looking lost, confused, stupefied, and bent on seeing marble renditions of uncircumcised penises, come hell or high water. (“Hell” = bad choice of words given the religious nature of much of the Uffizi’s art. Scuzi.)

Eventually, we got to enter the Uffizi, go through a metal detector, decide whether or not to select the audio tour (we did. My advice: don’t.), and begin our non-linear, elbow-bumping, staid-air self-guided museum tour.

On the one hand, it was an amazing visit because one gets the privilege of seeing so many influential and historic works in one place, works that otherwise only exist on the pages of art history books. And on the other hand, it’s a frustrating experience, similar to being in the jostling Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. And on the third hand, it can be an enjoyably humorous experience. At a certain point, I simply stood back and observed the other museum-goers.

They wrestled with their recalcitrant audio-tour equipment, which resembled some of the first cell phones (and, if like mine, worked nearly as well). They squinted at placards in Italian and English, dejectedly realizing their native Russian, Portuguese, Arabic, Malaysian, Mandarin, etc., didn’t help in their comprehension of what they were looking at. They sat along walls, looking bored as hell, diddling their cell phones. They snapped pictures of The Binding of Isaac, for example, while catching, too, other tourists’ arms, cameras, hats, and butts in the same frame.

Why make this effort? Because seeing 100 versions of The Annunciation in real life can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (As was viewing Michelangelo’s “David” at the nearby Galleria dell’Accademia, which we did two days later.) There is something absolutely irreplaceable about looking directly at some of the world’s most spectacular, original art.

Back in our rental, I thumbed through the owner’s French version of the Uffizi museum book. The room was quiet and had low light. I lounged on a very comfortable couch. Everything we saw at the museum was captioned and explained in straightforward text. I got to the end of the book, closed it, and sighed. Now that was a great Uffizi experience.

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