I’ll set the scene: we’re a group of five in our carriage on the fast regional train leaving at 9:04am, and each of my travel companions seems eager to start a very long conversation about the weather or the cleanliness of our surroundings. I hold up the long essay I’ve been reading since sunrise and feign indifference. Many artists hail from San Giovanni Valdarno, including Giovanni di Ser Giovanni (known as Scheggia), Giovanni di San Giovanni but especially Masolino da Panicale and Masaccio. There’s a multitude of related buildings and nature itineraries, from parish churches and little woodsy areas worthy of a classical music soundtrack. But, as often happens in familiar spaces, the historical facts mix with personal stories, and, as I’m getting off the train, without speaking to any of the other passengers, I manage to separate and distinguish these different threads. A Caribbean-like sunshine beams down on my head and I want to analyze the matter with someone else.
In San Giovanni Valdarno, I have an affinity for the super-central piazza Masaccio, with the Palazzo di Arnolfo sobering up all those who pass by it. Cited in Vasari’s work, the structure has an elegant portal and, on its façade, more than 250 different coats of arms – if you look at them from a distance, they seem like a proud general waving his medals as he tells and retells his stories of war time.
However, looking closely at the town’s great views through tinted glasses, with a net of superficial gestures, I can’t not reflect on the fact that it was right there that I realized I’m quite a mediocre penalty kicker, a decent cross kicker – enough to terrify those passing by – and on those very bricks I glimpsed Andreotti walking with vigor: fun fact, despite what all the little anecdotes say, he was a rather tall guy. Enchanted, I suddenly got a second taste of my passion for the local 18th century architecture (I’ve always said that the palazzi dating back to that period can only be lived in by folks of a certain moral fibre), not to mention the well-cared for waterfront toward the stadium. Inside the basilica’s museum, Beato Angelico’s splendid Annunciation catches my attention, and I have to remember to mention it in the piece, perhaps at the expense of the 33 goals of Ciccio Baiana with the Sangiovannese, from 2002 to 2008: I think I can do it.
The town’s founding – based on a project by Arnolfo di Cambio – dates back to the end of the 1200s as a Florentine military defense. If observed from on high, the center has an almost musical-like geometry to it, as blanaced as it is, with an equilibrium of shapes. Not to mention it’s like a desk for someone who writes memories of great grandfathers and aged atmospheres; cinema and arts of the decades of ages past, half-lit ceilings and passions to return to and cultivate (still, in the home garden, i see traces of one of my paternal uncles who was a dedicated red fish breeder). Nighttime strolls and stories that brush against the mythological remind me that I need to repeat to myself: like everyone else, I should return more often to San Giovanni. The evening train clatters on through and none of the passengers deigns to glance toward these notes overflowing with recognition.