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Monday, May 24, 2010

Florence: Michelangelo, Classic Motorcycles and Michael the Crazy

Saturday, May 22: After realizing the time it was taking to organize ourselves to move, to move between cities, and to see something while in a city, by mutual agreement we cut Venezia from our itinerary and drove to Firenze.  We checked into the Hotel Duca D'Aosta on Via Fiume, just one block from the main bus station.  I took a nap, while Shirl and Alex went in search of an Internet cafe recommended by Nicola, the man at the desk (who had explained at check-in that he had a girl's name).  I caught up with them at 6:30, and we had a coffee in a narrow Florentine street as we awaited 7:00, and the opening of the chosen Trattoria.  Dinner was fine, and all slept well in our triple-room which we found reminiscent of our apartment at P-ta M.V. 1 in Cluj.

Sunday, May 23: Florence (Firenze).  I awoke at 6:30 full of inspiration and energy.  I had been to Florence only once before, on business, and had not had a chance to walk through the city and enjoy it.  So, after having my invitation declined, I left Shirl and Alex sleeping peacefully, ate a light Italian hotel breakfast, and went to the bus station. I caught No. 12 (or 13) to the Piazza Michelangelo.  The ride was twenty or so minutes, and some 6 Km, though its circuitous route took me to a spot only about 2 Km from the hotel, by foot.  I determined that I would walk back there, and see the old city on the way.  The bus crossed the Ponte Belvedere, and went past some villas that have to be the premier real estate in Florence before climbing the hill to the Piazza Michelangelo.

[The useless computer at this Roman hotel has just obliterated my last half-hour's words.  As you can surmise from the title of this post, there will be a bit more to tell, once I get to a reliable Internet site, and a computer that will accept pictures from my camera.  Damn!]

[Monday, May 24:  We are in Rome.  Alex is parting ways with us today to "go walkabout" in Europe, and will meet us in Cluj on June 5th.  That is the truly big event of the trip, so far.]

Tuesday, May 25, 5:19 AM, Avellino, Italy.  Shirl has finally turned in, after staying up to watch the end of the Red Sox game (on-line), which they won 6-1.  I have slept, so am feeling up to finishing the story started in Florence.  I am on Shirl's Macbook, so have high hopes for reliability.

You will recall that "I caught No. 12 (or 13) to the Piazza Michelangelo."

The low-angled sunlight of 8:20 AM made David's rippled body more magnificent even than usually depicted in art books.

He overlooked a nearly empty parking lot this Sunday morning though at his foot were parked three old motorcycles, a Honda CB500 four of about 1970 vintage, an equally old Kawasaki, and a 175cc Moto Perugina, fully restored and gleaming in red and black paint.  It was the first of that make I have ever seen.  Have you heard of it before?  I found its owner nearby, and from him learned that by 9:00 the lot would be filled with classic motorcycles, as the Classic Motorcvcle Club of Florence was meeting there for a day's Tuscan tour.  I took myriad pictures, and groked with a number of Italian soulmates.
Legendary Bike: A Vincent Black Shadow

There are spectacular views of Florence and the famous bridges across River Arno from the piazza, so I decided to bring Klaus and Shirl and Alex up here on our way out of town.  I snapped pictures of the city in the morning light, then began my stroll home to the Hotel Duca D'Aosta.  It was a gorgeous morn.  The city revealed the architectural grace that we had studied in our classes at Amherst, and I hope that my camera's eye will prove to have done it justice. 

I walked from the Arno on a line guided by the dome of Il Duomo, from which I was confident I could locate the hotel.  In the Piazza Duomo, I stopped to consider my street map.  As I studied it, a voice asked in excellent English, "Precisely where are you hoping to go?"  I turned to see on my left a tall man of fifty-or-so.  I said, "Via Fiume, the Hotel Duca D'Aosta."  He took my map, studied it briefly, then pointed to our position.  "You are precisely here, and your hotel is precisely there."  (That was no great feat, as the position of the hotel I had already marked.)  "Where did you learn such fine English?"  I asked him.  "Are you Italian?"  "I am Michael the Crazy," he replied.  "It is an honorable title," I countered, "How did you earn it?"  "I was in the military," he said.  "Which military?"  "Do you have time for a coffee?" he asked.  "I have only a few minutes," I said, "my family is waiting at the hotel."  "Two minutes," said Michael, leading me to a nearby cafe.  Michael the Crazy ordered us coffee, and paid for it.  He stood, but I said, "I have five minutes, shall we sit?"  We went inside and took a small table.

"I am Romanian," said Michael.  I said, "Buna ziua, Mihai."  He said, "You know Romanian?"  "PuČ›in," I said, "You were in the Romanian Army?"

Michael continued: "I was in the Air Force, initially.  At first I trained in jet fighters.  I flew the last of the big Yakovlevs."  He gave the model, but I missed it.  "But after one year I had an accident, a landing gear broke, and I was injured.  So, I was then in the Army."  "When did you leave the military?"  "In 1996."  "I hope you did not have to shoot anyone during the Revolution," I said, wondering if that might be the cause of his anguished self-image.  "No," he said.  "It was strange.  We were in the Special Forces, and on 18 December we were assembled, and told to go home the next day.  Then, on the 21st was the Revolution [and the Ceausescus were deposed and executed]."  "So I take it you are among those who believe that it was more a coup than a revolution?" I asked.  "It was not a revolution," said Michael.

"So, your name is Mihai?" I asked.  "Yes."  "And from where do you come in Romania?" "From the Northeast, the far Northeast."  "Bucovina?"  "Between Bucovina and Moldavia, it is called Iasi."  "I have seen Iasi," I said, "A fashionable city..., with beautiful women."

"Did you learn your English in Iasi?" I asked.  "They expected us to learn everything," he said.  I was not surprised by that.  It is consistent with my view of Romanian elementary and secondary education. 

"But, I shot a little girl..., twice," he said.  "That is why I left the army."  "I am sorry," I said.  "In Bosnia," he continued.  "She had only ten years.  And in her sack she had only six potatoes and two carrots."  Mihai's eyes dampened.  "I do not think you are a bad man," I said.  "Soldiers are good men," he said.

I contemplated introducing Shirl and Alex to Michael the Crazy, but he said he had to go to a village 35 Km from Florence, so the conversation ended there.  I followed the directions of Michael the Crazy, and quickly found the hotel.

At noon, the lot at Piazza Michelangelo was packed with cars and tour buses, the Piazza filled with tourists from around the world and a wedding party shooting pictures.   I was glad to have seen it shortly after dawn.

We programmed Roma into the GPS, which promptly led us down a narrow, steep, walled and mostly unpaved cowpath of a street down the backside of the hill, toward the Autostrada.  Klaus got a little muddy, but as Shirl said, it probably made him feel good to be back to touring, Romania-style.


  1. I love your story of Michael. He's not really crazy. In the States, he'd be classified as suffering from post-traumatic stress. Then again, that's a bit too long for a title.

  2. Somehow I hadn't read this entry before. Thanks for sending the link via facebook. Mihai from Iasi--what a story. Yes, we walked alll over Florence last summer and stayed for five days in a hotel owned by a Romanian couple we know via a brother living in the Bronx. Ain't life wonderful?

    David Hadaller

    1. Sigur. Life is amazing. When might we see you and Mirela in New Hampshire? You have a long-standing, open invitation!


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