Giotto’s Bell Tower requires 436 steps up a dark circling hallway and, if you’re in pear shape, an oxygen tank. The Tower rises above Florence’s main attraction, the Duomo, and looks out over the entire city of palazzos, museums, and crowds of tourists that smile splendidly beneath remarkable body odor. This is my last stop on a 19-mile walking tour of the city.
This morning, I headed out to see Michelangelo’s Dave (collegial name because I’ve now seen him naked), and his contraposto pose before scouring the Uffizi for DaVincis and Botticellis. With a $72 Firenze card in hand, one skips all lines and you can get through all of the city’s sights in about ten hours. Thus, I’ve passed across the Ponte Vecchio and Pitti Palace, walked the Palazzo Vecchio and Medici Chapels, and eaten perfect pasta made by big-haired, large-breasted, black-clad Italian women who make cooking joyful and glare at you if don’t clean your plate.
At this time of year, there are thousands of people here, filling the streets with the sort of unbridled enthusiasm that causes them to slam into each other and trip over selfie-sticks and interrupt photos. I’ve seen children whose faces look like gelato attacked them and old. fedora-wearing men that stare at women’s backsides with the sort of sentimental yearning one gets when remembering youth. I’ve heard words end with vowels that should not end with vowels and seen gestures that look like seizures but are apparently friendly. I’ve stood behind the kitchen counter with an Italian family and walked enough cobblestone to blister my soles. And now, here I am, having walked the 436 steps with cramping quads and mangled feet, having staggered and crawled my final stiarwell to the top of the city, having felt life slipping from my lungs and legs, here I am, standing at the top of Giotto’s Tower.
It is 8:30 p.m. Giotto’s Tower closes at 6:30. I don’t think anyone knows I am here. I have yelled to the streets that I am stuck, but no one has heard my calls. I have this inkling to ring the bells before 9:00 pm arrives just to see if someone will come get me, however, I cannot lift myself to pull the rope. I am just sitting here, tears welling in my eyes, the day’s ache now paralyzing my legs. In ten hours, the sun rises. I’m actually longing for the comfort of last night’s plastic chair at the airport.
The night is becoming blurry. A ghostly echo now permeates the chamber’s tower. It may be my exhaustion but I hear the crescendoing whispers of a conversation.
Giotto, “Every day, up and down these goddam stairs just to ring the bell.”
Da Vinci, “ Giotto, I have this idea to get you up and down easier.”
Giotto, “Yea sure, now. Where were you three hundred years ago when I needed you!?”
Da Vinci: “I was working on a helicopter and a painting of some woman with a questionable smile.”
Giotto: “My knees are killing me, not to mention some guy just tried to hire me as his Sherpa.”
Da Vinci: “You want the elevator or not?”
Giotto: “Listen, Lenny. That elevator breaks, there’ll be hell to pay. Let’s just stick with the stairs for another thousand years until someone figures out how to keep time on a phone or something.”
Da Vinci: I envy your strength.”
The whispers fade. I am alone again. Against the stone wall, my head throbs. The air feels like a dog’s nose. I hate Giotto.