After 400 Years, Galileo's Telescopes Still Call Attention to Florence

By Scott Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 5, 2009

I think I was just thrown out of a restaurant in Florence.

I'm in there an hour or so, having a swell time at this place near the Duomo, taking my notes, drinking the chianti, laughing about that corny straw basket the bottle comes in. You know, fun.

The Italians call it a fiasco -- the basket, I mean -- and soon I'm making the obvious joke that if I drink any more of this chianti, I'll become a fiasco myself, which suddenly seems screamingly funny to me in the way things can seem funny during a night of chianti and then tragic the next day. I chuckle to myself, or maybe just a little out loud, doing that snort thing I've been trying to get out of my laugh repertoire for years. Lost in reverie, I do not see the large man approaching my table.

"Sir, would you like the bill?"

"Is there" -- snort -- "something wrong?"

The man looks down at the table. I look at the table. On it are an empty wine bottle, an almost-empty wineglass and a reporter's notebook.

"I'm a journalist," I say. "Writing, drinking -- that's what we do."

Actually, I didn't say that last part. That's the line I just thought of out here while freezing in the shadow of the Duomo at midnight. In the restaurant, I limply offered something about this evening becoming a fiasco and pointed to the straw basket, which is when the large man went to get my bill and also my coat. And so now I'm outside, trying to hide my shame so the Duomo won't see it.

It's quite beautiful, if you want to know. The Duomo, I mean. Brunelleschi and all. But I was talking about fiascos, as in this trip is becoming a fiasco. Why, you say? Walk with me east a bit, past the tourists snapping bad flash pictures of the Duomo's famed baptistery doors at midnight -- they're copies, Grandma! -- and then a few blocks south of the place with the best artisanal sandwiches in the world and the slowest-moving line for them, a little hole in the wall called Antico Noe. (Get anything with porcini mushrooms.) Soon we arrive at the Piazza della Signoria, truly one of the world's great urban spaces, with just the right mix of Renaissance sculpture and clip joints hawking overpriced camera batteries. For full effect, you have to come here now, when it's very late, when the square is almost deserted and Cosimo de' Medici's horse glows promisingly in the Florentine moonlight.

Do you know where the statue of Galileo is? we ask Cellini's Perseus, whom we've interrupted in the middle of decapitating Medusa.

"Non lo so," he curtly replies.

What about you, replica of Michelangelo's "David," sheathed in scaffolding like a mummy, even as the real thing continues to pack 'em in over at the Galleria dell'Accademia?

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