Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)

Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)
"A curious and wonderful work of great human value by a Danish master." Sebastian Barry, Man Booker finalist (Click on the picture to go to the book's Amazon page)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Is Florence the Most Overrated City in The World? (Go to Lucca, Perugia or Assisi Instead, Please)


This is the question I ask myself every time I'm in Firenze (Florence). Why do people love this city? Is it because they're snobs? Or is it simply because they don't know any better?

I mean, if you've really been to Italy, this city won't make your Top Ten list. Even in Tuscany, you have at least five cities that are more attractive. Of course, Firenze is full of great Art. You probably can't visit a place with better museums. But is the city worth visiting? Sure. For two hours, maybe even for three if you want to get a gelato. (Okay, okay, Ponte Vecchio is great. And Piazza della Signora ain't too bad, even though it doesn't hold a candle to the Campo in Siena). But that's not the point. The point is that Firenze is so tired.

Firenze is a city that wants you to get the hell out. Just ask its palazzi. Just talk to its streets and listen to the statues. They are worn out; they have been raped, they have been beaten to a bloody pulp by French invaders, American cannibals, and Scandinavian loud mouths. So show a little compassion. Go to Lucca, it's ten times prettier. Or visit crowded Siena. The Florence you want to see died four hundred years ago. May it rest in peace!

So much for Florence bashing, but somebody has to do the job ...

Luckily, my pale girlfriend and I spend most of our time in Perugia and Assisi. I lived in this region in 1997 and 1999. I even survived the earth quake that shook the basilica and killed thirteen people. But everything in Assisi has been rebuild. It's still a must for pilgrims who want to visit the grave of the holy Francis - my all time favorite Saint, the Saint to end all Saints.

Francesco d'Assisi was born in the 12th century. He was the son of a rich merchant, but he soon got tired of his lifestyle. Just like Buddha before him, he broke with his family and went out into the world to find his own truth. He became a beggar and slowly got a following. Francesco was kind to animals. He choose to be poor when he could have been rich. He choose to be kind when he could have been cruel. He choose to talk to Muslims when he could have cut their heads off. Francesco was the real deal. Just go and sit next to his grave. It's got to be the holiest place in Europe. You can sense that this man was divine. It's not his fault that he has become industrialized, that you can buy his image on key rings, coffee cups, and toilet bowls. In this world of psychopathic "saints" who slaughtered people of other faiths, we need a man who lived and breathed peace. Francesco, ti amo.


Perugia is another great love of mine. And I don't even care about chocolate - something this city is known for all over Italy. But God, Perugia is such a gem. Its streets have a medieval feel, Corso Vanucci is stylish without being ridiculous. The old town is full of surprising archways, murderous cliffs, and fantastic views of the hills and the countryside - it's a wonderful place without too many tourists. So luckily, God has blessed this city without a single must that art lovers have to see.

On our last night in Umbria, we had a drink in Corso Vanucci. It was hot, 84 degrees, the air was like silk against our skin. An ambulance drove up to a theater. A man was carried out on a stretcher. When the ambulance was gone, we discovered what film he had been watching. It was Michael Moore's Sicko.