JOHN ARCHIBALD takes a light-hearted look at the quirks and sights of one of Europe's most beautiful cities.
First trip to Italy. It’s like comic books and travel brochures come to life. Everyone is so Italian; stylish, tanned, extrovert.
How they keep so slim with the amount of nosh that gets served in restaurants beats me.
You order what you think is a light, health-conscious dinner and you end up with enough pizza to sink the Queen Mary and enough salad to feed a colony of rabbits for a year.
These people have a death wish for a staple diet. Cholesterol? Gimme bucketloads. Fat? Truckloads, baby. Ciao. Arrivederci.
Piazza Santa Core, early evening. An outside table in the hot evening sun at a pavement trattoria. Two glasses of Prosecca, one coke and one OJ. A great place for people-watching as the serried ranks of the local and visiting populace stroll into town for the evening’s high jinks, dressed to kill.
One particularly well-dressed hombre in crisp blue cotton shirt and overly pink trousers sits down behind us.
A few minutes later, a not dissimilarly dressed troubadour arrives, also in crisp blue shirt and pink trousers and sits himself down with the first pair of pink breeks.
Only the pinks don’t match. The blues are complementary, but frankly darling, the pinks should not have been seen in the same country, never mind the same trattoria.
At this point a large black limo with a blue light on top pulls up. An ultra-smooth, silk-suited official type emerges, obviously a policeman, enters the trattoria and sits himself down at the same table as the pink trousers.
Crikey. It’s the fashion police! I knew the Italians take fashion seriously, but this was, like, SERIOUS!
Dome – designed by Laura Ashley?
The Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence is the most stunning and startling piece of architecture in Europe. It is the fourth longest church in Europe behind St Peter’s in Rome, St Paul’s in London and the cathedral in Milan.
It also has a dome so big that nobody knew how to build it at the time it was designed.
It is so detailed and complex on the outside that it would take a battalion of Laura Ashley designers a month to come up with anything so mind-bogglingly busy.
It therefore comes as a surprise when you enter the Duomo to realize that that there are no pews. It is a vast empty cavern with a patterned floor made from cream, pink and green marble, all of it from Tuscany.
Even the walls are bare, deliberately so according to the wishes of Brunelleschi the architect, so that the impact of the frescoes lining the inside of the dome would not be diminished. It is stupendous.
Old Nick, the Grim Reaper and Berlusconi
On four tiers within the dome, mounted by a tier of eight stern-looking prophets, are depicted hell, purgatory, earth and heaven. Christ, shrouded in a golden aura looks down disapprovingly on a pink, horned Old Nick who bears a disconcerting resemblance to Barbara Cartland.
They are all there. The Grim Reaper, the Lamb of God, Satan, Beelzebub, Bill Clinton, Cherubim, Seraphim, Madonna, even a dead ringer for the then Prime Minister Berlusconi.
The sense of history and artistic and architectural endeavour that pervades every stone of this glorious place demand that I return, with pink trousers.