During the month of May, Florence celebrates with the Maggio Musicale festival of the arts. We didn't make it to any of the performing arts events although we did see some of the special exhibitions -- "Cezanne in Florence," an exhibit of Cezanne works collected by two Florentine artlovers (one an artist), and the influence of Cezanne on Florentine painters of the time -- as well as a fascinating exhibit of costumes from opera and dance performances from previous years of the festival. These were displayed in historic room exhibits at the Pitti Palace -- quite enchanting and creative, inspiration for any artist who creates wearable art.
Florence streets were theater enough. If I learned anything about myself in this incredibly rich cultural environment, it was that being was enough without too much doing. I saw fewer museums, fewer churches, fewer of the frescos I meant to see. I literally couldn't get past the street.
First, the architecture and the rhythm of spaces: from narrow Medieval outstretched-arms width corridors into open, empty (but for the people) grand piazzas, from arcades of arches to bridges choked with people, bikes, cars, walkers, runners, strollers, from the formal gardens of the Pitti Palace to the clock towers that studded the skyline, popping up in unexpected courtyards.
Then: there was the theater of people. I know I read somewhere how many thousands of tourists flood into the historic center of Florence daily during the high season of summer - cityloads full- and we were at its starting gate. Between 11 and 2 the streets could be overwhelmingly crowded, but then everyone sat down for lunch sooner or later, then to a siesta. By evening, most of the daytrippers -- people on bus tours or short trips into the city -- were gone, and those of us left in the center attended the evening performances, both formal and informal, with a bit more breathing room. Nightly between the Duomo and the Medici palace and Uffizzi, street performers held forth: clowns, musicians, orchestras in cafes, bands and instrumentalists, too. Pure magic against the stageset of these old stone walls and cobbled streets.
All in all, this reminds me to take time to watch people whereever I am. We often blind ourselves to the interesting dramas of our own streets, given their familiarity and our own task-directed days. I vow a little more people watching, a few more admission tickets to the street theater going on around me this summer here in San Antonio.