Florence is incomparable. No doubt about that.
Taking nothing away from the greatest art treasury in the world, there are also great pleasures to be had in two small cities that are very nearby. My favorite thing about Bologna and Arezzo is that unlike the international tourist mecca that is Florence, these two seem one hundred percent Italian. Not that they are lacking in artistic wonders, to be sure, but their vibe is local, focused.
Bologna is red. From the brick and paint on its stately buildings, to the liberality of its democratic politics, to the mouthwatering tomato-y richness of its Tagliatelle alla Bolognese. Only half an hour by fast train from Florence one finds delights for the eye, the taste buds, the soul. In the heart of the city are two adjoining piazzas often thronged with students at its famous university—along with Paris, one of the two oldest in Europe. In the center of Piazza del Nettuno, is a fountain graced with a wonderful muscular Neptune by Giambologna.
www.seleart.com/fondantico. Don’t miss the painting I wanted to take home (if only!), Donato Creti’s splendid Minerva. When you get to the website click on “Galleria” to see the show.
Arezzo is a totally different sort of town: as peaceful as Bologna is bustling, as Tuscan restrained as Bologna is voluptuous. In the church of San Francesco is one of the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance: Piero della Francesca’s “Legend of the True Cross.” Here is a self-portrait he placed in one of the panels of the fresco. Read the legend in Piero’s pictures at http://www.casasantapia.com/art/pierodellafrancesca2.htm.
Arezzo has a long and glorious artistic and literary history that includes Guido of Arezzo who invented the system of musical notation, Petrarch (who was born there in 1304), and the painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari. The modern-day genius Roberto Benigni the writer/director of “Life is Beautiful” is also an Aretine and you may recognize his native city’s Piazza Grande from the scenes of the movie shot there.
On the train back to Florence from Arezzo, I got to thinking about going home to New York this coming Saturday. As we sped through the Tuscan countryside of acres of vineyards and olive groves, villas surrounded by midnight green cypresses, and hills topped by castles and monasteries, I wondered how I could leave all this beauty. Nor can I stay here and do without my dear ones in New York any longer. I have long said that when I am in Italy, the people here consider me American. When I am in the States, people think of me as Italian. Whether I am here or there, a part of me is far away from home.