The film “A Room With a View” has long been a cult favorite for those of us who have Florence in our veins. A fiery Beethoven playing teenage Helena Bonham Carter goes to Florence with her spinster aunt who insists that they experience a room with a view of the Arno River. That view is the backdrop of an Austenesque search for a suitable marriage. A few weeks ago, 30 years after the theatrical release of the film, the original cast gathered amidst great fanfare in Piazza Strozzi’s Odeon theater to relish in the timeless appeal of the story.
My favorite part of the film, is when Judy Dench, who plays a spunky novelist seeking stories, gets lost in the medieval alleys of Florence and tells a concerned Maggie Smith, matter-of-factly, that every city has a distinct smell. Upon taking a deep whiff, this rather proper British lady simply gags without saying a word.
Nail, head. More than a 100 years after Foster’s yarn hit the press, Florence still smell like poop. When I smell sulfur or sewage in other places, I miss her dearly.
Florentine sidewalks are barely wide enough for one person and they also serve as a latrine for dogs whose owners often can’t be bothered to clean up. I suppose it isn’t very “la bella figura” like to stoop to clean up poop but, when one considers that the perpetrator will walk that block many times a day, it should just be a matter of self-preservation. Or maybe it is a passive aggressive war, since the entire neighborhood must always look down because a misstep will destroy one’s shoes and one’s day. My first week here 17 years ago, I kept looking up because I was mesmerized by the Renaissance skyline. My shoes died a rapid, untimely death.
I am sure I could wax philosophically about the duality of Florence, but when you live here it is both sights AND smells in your room with a view. In recent years, there seems to be some improvement. I no longer feel like slow clapping and yelling “bravo” when a dog’s human produces a plastic bag.
And then the unthinkable happened. Mayor Nardella thought it would be a good idea to have a soaring modern sculpture called Big Clay #4 placed in front of the stately Palazzo Vecchio that remarkably resembles nothing more than a gigantic pile of poop. It is a soaring monument to Florence’s sewage. I read articles about the supposed message. The artist Urs Fisher points to human transience and the impermanence of art, and rolled my eyes to the point of blindness. Even after two negroni, I could not convince myself otherwise. Inspecting the eyesore with a myriad of friends over the last month, we tried to find a deeper meaning. We even joked that maybe it was a gelato. But no amount of head tilting could change the reality. It remains an undeniable ode to the misbehavior of Florentine dog owners and the smells rising from her mangled ancient sewers. I guess the first step to recovery in Renaissance Disneyland is admitting that you have a problem. And now it’s all over Instagram.
So, to the tourists, take this as a not so subtle reminder to look down at the stones of Florence. Bravo, Signore Nardella. I suppose someone with more clout around here than I have finally had say it. Oh, and the poop will be here until after Christmas for your viewing pleasure. I am personally hoping for a nice dusting of snow.