The Uffizi was all that it claimed to be and did not disappoint. How could it? It also confirmed my love and preference for the painters of the Quattrocento… Masaccio, Bellini, Uccelo and most of all Piero Della Francesca.
The ‘High Renaissance’ with all its immense technical trappings simply became too 3 dimensional and denied the two dimensional surface on which the marks were made. I am certain that this opinion would have got Renaissance scholars quaking in their boots.
The journey south through Italy was, and is, a visual joy, both from the landscape and the splendid architecture.
Initially we headed north east to Ravenna and the wondrous basilica of San Vitale completed in 547. Therein we see the Empress Theodora, a mosaic marvel. She, along with her husband Justinian, were immensely powerful. She was quite a girl, being variously described as beautiful, intelligent and, depending on what one reads, her sex life could hardly be described as pedestrian. What is not beyond doubt is her virtual invention of feminism, an amazing achievement in that day and age.
South then to Brindisi and the car ferry to Greece. Some of the Greek myths and legends percolated back from childhood as we crossed the wine dark sea. How I hated Theseus and, in some versions at least, his treatment of Ariadne. Bastard.
Later on, what was not in doubt, was the savoury delights of the Corinth Canal lamb kebabs.
En route to Athens we stopped at a small village tavern for lunch. It was all agreeable enough, but the passport/ nationality issue re-appeared with a fine symmetry, although not quite as happily as previously. In my response to the usual nationality question my single word response ‘Australian’ got the world spinning again. Why? This was the time of the Vietnam war and the Australians were sending conscripts to this conflict. Further, some of these conscripts could have come from the very large Greek community in Australia. This was not good.
Our village was fiercely communist, but we had to eat and the landlord wanted the business. So we sat at a large table in the company of our hostile fellow diners. This was very stressful, to say the least. We were not welcome.
By chance we sat next to a little girl (5/6?) who was busy with her pens and colouring book . By instinct I started to help her with this task. This took the form of me drawing a load of animals and she supplied the appropriate Baaa, Mooo, or whatever. This game went through several mutations, including birds, machines and the like.
The best bit was giving clues to the identity of the creature by gradually adding bits until she guessed correctly. We entered a good world and became wholly engrossed, oblivious to the previous situation.
More generally, and thankfully , the implacable hostility melted away, as I became aware of adult participation in the guessing game . The lunch was delicious.
And so to Athens and the conclusion of this part of the journey. We took Esmeralda to a local dealer and despite the transmission problems and sad appearance, he gave us a fair price for this splendid piece of engineering.
Off to New Zealand to meet the in- laws. Transport was provided by the now ubiquitous Boeing 707, another splendid piece of engineering and a darn sight quicker than the Ellenis.
But, I did miss the table tennis…after all, it changed my life.
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