My sister has noticed that I begin each Italy entry with a door or entrance of sorts. I hadn't even noticed. I think that says something deep and meaningful about my blogging or writing process, but I cannot summon up any deep meaning behind it at the moment. Beginnings? Openings? The wonderland that Alice found behind a door? Dream interpretation says it means new opportunities. Yes, that seems to fit. I'll agree with that.
This is the unprepossessing entrance to the L'officina Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, flanked by motorcycles and an awning to protect sidewalk diners in the restaurant next door. That's something I did not like about Florence. All of its grandeur was practically obscured by modern life - construction, trash, traffic, street vendors. It was quite a letdown after the preserved beauty of the smaller towns we visited, ones that I will get to later. If you've noticed, I havn't been going in chronological order here, just following the whim of the day as to what I write about. Italy is like that, very laid back. When it happens, it happens, if not, no big deal~ sometimes a hard lesson for impatient Americans.
Back to the perfumery This is a glimpse of the grandeur that greets you on the inside. If only I could find some way for you to experience the smell. No, not smell, fragrance. A fragrance created by centuries of perfume molecules, drifting, then soaking into the walls, the woodwork. I am always frustrated by our sense of smell. One can only catch fleeting moments of sweet smells. You cannot wrap them around you, nor swish them around in your mouth prolonging their taste. You cannot feast your eyes, nor listen to your hearts content. Exposed to a smell too long and you no longer notice it. So sad.
Beyond the arched doorway there is a ceiling as magnificant as any duomo can boast. One of my favorite song comes to mind- A Case of You sung by Caroline Lavelle - and the line "I could drink a case of you darling, and I would still be on my feet." (Actually, I just discovered that the song was written by Joni Mitchell. But it was Caroline's voice I heard.) It was quiet, formal, very, very elegant and refined, yet I felt welcome there, not at all like I feel when I walk through Saks Fifth Avenue, underdressed and obviously lacking the necessary credentials to shop there. "May I take photos?" She nodded yes. Perhaps I was not the first scent-struck tourist with a camera they had seen. It was a museum yes, but also still a working pharmacy. Tourists welcome, shopping suggested.
There were three rooms, all in varying stages of restoration and decay. Peeling walls revealed centuries of ornate wallpapers. Chairs along the wall awaited Florence's royalty, perhaps even Catherine de Medici herself. Product and price lists were printed on large sheets of heavy cardstock, in several languages. Soaps, perfumes, herbal tinctures, oils and bubble-baths fit for a queen. I was enthralled with the cabinets full of antique bottles and jars, creams and lotions. Shopping was secondary to me, but I did manage to leave with a few scented soaps - lemon verbena and a bar of their vellutina creme soap in their signature box. A most sensual and memorable beginning to our afternoon exploration of Florence.