Joshua and I were sitting on the steps of the San Lorenzo. The street goes straight up from the harbour front to the ducal palace at the piazza Ferrari. Victoria and Rosie had gone shopping. Joshua and I had wondered the narrow streets of downtown, smelling the smells and listening to the talk and catching the glimpses of people moving about, looking up at the canyon facades where people lived, apparently, and hung out their washing on cleverly adjustable washinglines. People can live anywhere, even in urban fabric which, because of its sheer density, has created a new underground. Because of the heat and the sewerworks and the running water, I suppose that it might even be reasonably pleasant in that weird sponge or coral that wraps itself around the harbour. The steps of the church were made of black and white marble, worn smooth by many patient and forgiving bottoms, obedient feet and playing children. Now, during the late afternoon lots of people were sitting there, quietly chatting, laughing, messing about with their phones and watching the old men of the square on the lowest rung of the steps doing what they were doing when they were young men, discussing the football, the women, the cars, someone’s laziness, politics, the economy and whose fault it all was. At a certain moment a youngish man with a ginger beard and wild gingerblond hair appeared on the square. On his tall intelligent forehead he had mounted the reflecting side of a CD and he carried with him a complicated constellation of mirrors mounted on an aluminium lampshade which served as stand. Every now and then he would search out the right coordinates, kneel, and reflect the gods and spirits around him with his mirrors. Then he would turn the contraption around and shine the aluminium lampshade as if illuminating the world around him. After completing the ritual he would carry on a pace or two and repeat the whole liturgy again.
We climbed up past the ducal palace, the façade of which is closely modelled on Versailles, and walked over Piazza Ferrari up past the theatre looking for the beginning of la Strada Nuova. What a delight, a truly remarkable street with cathedral like proportions, a lofty exterior that works like a room. In its generous rhythms of masses and windows, in its material splendour, its colours, in the way the palaces would give way here and there to the sky and create mysterious openings and plateaus with verandahs, loggia’s and courtyards. Each palace on the west side is flanked by narrow streets plunging into the depths of the labyrinth below. It was a truly wonderful experience, too short-lived. I am going to have to go back.
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