Sometimes I am very grateful to be a solitary traveler. This morning I didn’t have to put into words the beauty before me as I walked along the Arno on my way to my first cappuccino of the day.
What is the purpose of life? How do I make meaning? Questions asked by human beings throughout history. For those of us consciously following a spiritual path the answer always leads toward some form of the Golden Rule. Do unto others as they would do unto you. Regardless of one’s faith tradition, the idea of God appears, because without some mysterious power beyond ourselves, we only work for ourselves, and thus fail to create beauty and good, which have to be part of a sustainable purpose.
That’s what I’ve been considering as I, a solitary traveler, walk the streets of Florence. I have no way of knowing the part God consciously plays in the lives of the people I pass, but I believe that they are trying to make meaning of their lives, and that there is a God plan for everyone.
This city attracts the artist, in particular the painter and sculptor, and less obviously, the architect. The painter can carry her supplies around until she finds a spot to practice her art. He can take a painting class. Some sell their work along the tourist trails.
Along the street we are less apt to observe the sculptor working his craft. Her supplies are cumbersome and complicated, so she works behind closed doors until the final product is recognized and displayed in public—perhaps in a temporary exhibit by Koenig in the Boboli Gardens, or permanently along the Arno.
The process of the architect is more mysterious and less visible until we see the final product arise before out eyes. Can you imagine being a citizen of Florence while Brunelleschi was dome grew before your eyes?
Whether conscious of God or not, I believe these artists are creating for something beyond themselves, for some beauty or truth that transcends their personal, intiment desires.
At 8:30 this morning I started the 463 step climb to the top of the Duomo. I wonder how many times I’ve done this? 20? I’d like to say that I’ve climbed every time I’ve come to Florence, but that’s not true. There was a time when I only gazed at my most favorite building in the entire world from the street because I was afraid of heights.
It was in the late 1980s and I was traveling with my mom. She was about the age I am now but she never considered climbing with me, so off I went by myself, up the interior stone steps, and clinging to the side as I walked the arcade of drum under Vasari’s frescoes. When I got to the top I continued to hug the inside of the lantern as I made one quick navigation around before starting my descent, getting out of there as fast as I dared.
During my next visit to Florence, again with my mom, I didn’t even consider such a climbing venture.
But then, a few years later, this time traveling alone, I arrived in Florence determined to conquer this acrophobia. I had done a little work on past lives and had the sense that when Brunelleschi was directing the building of the dome, I, a young messenger boy, had fallen off a scaffold and been killed. The part of being killed is up for question because the records show that only one person died while working on the construction, and that was a grown man. I’m not advocating for or against past life theory, but this exercise helped me overcome my fear of heights and sent me climbing to the top to lean against the outside railing and locate the many spots in Florence that I love so much. I’ve been doing it again and again.
In the afternoon I walked to the Bardini Gardens overlooking Florence to view from afar the pinnacle of my morning climb.
I love to travel alone, and so I do. My husband of 54 years loves to stay home and garden, and so he does. But he knows I love to go off by myself for extended periods of time. For five years (2009-2014) I rented a cottage by the sea, an hour and a half from our home, and spent the weekdays there alone. For the past twenty years I’ve been traveling by myself, primarily to Scotland (Iona, the Highlands, and Edinburgh) and Italy. When I say Italy I really mean Florence, with occasional short stops and excursions around Tuscany and Umbria and to Rome.