3 min read
The Birth of Venus. Michelangelo’s David. Yes, we’re talking about Florence. Or Firenze if you want to pretend you know Italian.
It had been a crazy year and I had found myself in Florence five or six times. A few of those were with the family. We ran around like the tourists we were – buying Florence t-shirts and toys for the kids, laughing and eating gelato on the terrace of the Uffizi Gallery.
We even enjoyed an elegant family meal at a charming, little restaurant near the Ponte Vecchio.
Just think about that for a moment: an elegant family meal. Only in Italy.
Now, I was back with the guys - my video crew. We were bouncing from city to city with our client, a tour company. We started out in Milano, where we had the best burrata available outside heaven.
We had gone to Lake Como and sailed by George Clooney’s home and then onto Bellagio, Verona and Venice.
We had eaten like the spoiled, little princes we were.
Once again in Florence, I was gathering up the usual Renaissance landmarks for our shoot. I was also getting a little too smug. In the city center I didn’t even need a map anymore. Here I was, pointing out shops, churches and restaurants to my crew like a bogus Anthony Steves or Rick Bourdain.
At night we went out drinking but it should be noted that we also went window shopping for bags and purses for our wives and girlfriends. You cannot go to Italy for several weeks and not come back with some fine Italian gifts. We bought them many fine Italian gifts.
Our Own Chef Boyardee
It was also here in Florence that our client told us he wanted to do a shoot with a popular chef at his restaurant - a cute, homey trattoria.
This sounded like a fun evening. We had shot at lots of chef’s kitchens and chef’s tables. You always got an inside look at how the sausage was made and it was usually a really nice sausage. And then you got to eat it.
We would be joined by a couple of travel and food writers who would be doing a report on this special meal. Altogether, there would be about ten of us, eating, shooting and writing.
The chef and his staff were charming, friendly and helpful in every way to my crew. Some people find it an imposition when a film crew wants to run their cables, hang lights and generally get in everyone’s way.
Who can blame them? It’s as if a construction crew just moved in. But, those who are media savvy welcome the inconvenience- for they know there will be a positive video stream coming out the other end.
Speaking of which, as the evening began I wasn’t feeling quite myself. Strange rumblings and a vague sense of unease was starting to percolate from somewhere inside. This isn’t supposed to happen in Italy.
This sort of thing is supposed to happen in India. But I had been to India and had dredged my way through rivers of lamb vindaloo and chicken tikka masala. And nothing happened. I had been as solid as a bar of titanium.
Now here in first world Italy, I was getting wobbly. But I had a shoot to do. So I stood tall and clenched. I would feel better. I would shoot. I would eat.
The Grande Bouffe
The Chef turned out to be even smarter, funnier and more gregarious than I had anticipated. Standing in his kitchen, over hot ovens and steaming plates, he made jokes about the roast, in his delicious accent. I think the accent was his prime ingredient.
Hence, the parade of dishes began – appetizers, soups, breads. Our camera followed this procession from kitchen to the large table laid out for the group. Everyone fawned and clamored to get up close to the plates. We shot, the writers wrote and ten hungry faces gobbled in.
Except for me.
The sounds of lip-smacking goodness and happy chatter, splattered through the air.
Like in the movie “Big Night”, the train of steady platters refused to stop. With each addition, our joyful Chef would sing out the details of these newest arrivals. Everyone applauded.
My crew was in heaven - great food, great company and a great chef on camera.
I just felt sick.
The group kept on laughing and gorging themselves. I couldn’t touch a thing. I was having trouble standing.
Then, when the happy Chef called me back into the kitchen to show off yet another unbelievable, festive course, I thought I would swoon. I could barely hear him as he rhapsodized over the roast duck he now practically suckled in his arms.
I had to get out of this hellhole.
I stumbled over to my client and explained the situation. I put my hand over my stomach for further emphasis and also as a visual aid. We were about three-quarters done with the shoot. Only the duck remained.
Between large, succulent bites, he nodded, OK. His mouth was too full to speak. I stumbled over to my cameraman, telling him to take over. He turned from the camera, smiled, and gravy dribbled down his chin.
I fled into the night.
The cool Florence air brought little relief. In fact, I felt worse as I walked through the ancient streets. My legs went numb and I collapsed down upon the medieval curb.
Through teary eyes I watched all the happy tourists – laughing, talking, shopping. I looked up to see all the bright lights shining upon the Florentine basilicas – with their pinnacles and buttresses…. It was all too grand. The piazzas… the palazzos… I was choking on the richness.
“I hate this fu**in’ town!”, I moaned to the street.
The exclamation brought instant relief… as if some internal cork had just popped.
I drew a relieved breath but then a cloud quickly descended upon me. “What did I just say?”, I questioned my astonished self.
I had just referred to Florence… as a town?
Wha… wha? A town? Like it was some stop on a sales route? Like it was Philly or K. C. or god forbid, Reno?
This is Florence… Firenze! This is the birthplace of the Renaissance – home to the Medicis, Machiavelli, Da Vinci, Botticelli and more ethereal art than you could shake a stick at.
What in God’s name is wrong with me? And dropping an F-bomb on Florence to boot?
“You’re gonna be sorry you said that.”, a whiny little voice inside piped up, like some snitch in the back of my mind’s classroom.
More voices turned against me: “Awww… What happened? Wittle baby got a tummy ache so he cusses out the cradle of western civilization?”
An internal slug fest ensued: “Putz! Don’t you see what you’ve done! Look around. God and the angels and all the finer souls have been watching from the church towers and those flying buttress things and they won’t forget you blasphemed this day!”
“And there will be a price. You will pay for your lack of reverence… you ungrateful… foreigner!”
This truth was like a slap. It was a test. This had been my own personal trial - a measure of my grit. Could I remain steady, carry out my job and ignore the discomfort?
History records those who have been tortured, burned alive and yet somehow kept their faith. Me? I cracked under a bad case of acid reflux....
Sadly, I nodded. There was nothing left to do but lie down in my room. I tightened up my core and slowly rose. The pain had returned. I stumbled toward my hotel, numbly calculating the consequences of my stupidity.
The city was so beautiful all around me. I could see it once again but I also knew there would be a reckoning. We left Florence the next day.
It has now been 10 long years since I hurled my wrath on the sacred streets of Florence….
I have not been back since. I have wanted to go many times but circumstances, life and maybe even God, have not allowed it to be.
This then is the reckoning. I am doing my time.