I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the cathedral in Firenze in Italy. You may well have seen pictures though. Any panoramic postcard of Florence will feature this building very prominently.
I myself do not find it a thing of beauty. It’s impressive, yes, imposing even, but not beautiful to my eyes. I think it’s downright ugly, though I’m in a minority here. I have the impression it’s a bit of an Emperor’s new clothes building, foisted on the world by clever marketing. And a bit of research revealed that a certain Marco Zimmerframmeo was involved in presenting the idea of the building to the decision makers. You may recollect that one of his descendants was instrumental in getting funding for the Large Hadron Collider. See http://wp.me/p2C8Zz-dy for a reminder.
The architect, Amolfo de Cambio, really went to town. The exterior is clad in polychromic panels of pink, green, and white marble. The side windows are Moorish arched, not Gothic pointed, of black and white marble. The campanile is different again. The whole shooting match is topped off with huge dome, and roofed with terracotta tiles. I think it looks a bit of an orecchia di porco. It can’t have been an easy sell, and this wasn’t helped by Marco’s rudimentary Italian, and the Italians’ poor grasp of Dudish.
I am indebted to Dan Brown for allowing me access to the minutes for some of the meetings.
‘Hey, Amolfo, my man, how’s it hangin’?’
‘Errrmm. Comment allez vous?’
‘Don’t sweat it, dude. So these are your plans for the church, yeah?’
‘Issa Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, si. Issalso collared Il Duomo.’
‘Kinda beyond me, dude. I’ll call it a cathedral. Listen dude, what’s with all this white and pink and green? Looks like vanilla, strawberry, and pistachio ice cream, man.’
‘Issa polychromic panels. Marble. Issa fromma Carrara.’
‘Sure, if you say so. And the windows. Black and white arches? Come on, man. Are you sure you’re in the pipe here? Five by five?’
‘I know Ben and Jerry’s is moreish, dude. It’s like they put something addictive in it.’
‘No, issa Moorish. Likea Morse. Arabic.’
‘Man! That’s way out there on the edge! Arabic influence on a Catholic cathedral, dude. But hey! That’s your job. My job is to sell this puppy, right? So what I’m gonna need is a big model of this. Humungous.’
‘Really big, capisce?’
‘What’s this baby here, poking up?’
‘What? Err, scusi?’
‘Who’s she? Your old lady?’
‘NO! Issabella tour! Bella! Dingdong!’
‘OK dude, now I geddit. No need to get your thong in a bunch.’
The scene is now the approvals committee room. There are many red-robed men in skullcaps, looking serious. On the table in front of them is a large object covered with a sheet. Marco Zimmerframmeo steps forward.
‘Right, dudes, you are going to love this. Amolfo here has done a great job. Great job. A Big Kahuna of a job.’
Marco whips the sheet off. Amolfo gasps, and whispers to him, ‘Marco! Weir issa …’
‘Chillax, dude. You’ve done your job. Let me do mine.’
‘So dudes, wadda ya think? How about that pink and green and white, hey? Cool or what? See, Molfi here thinks just because a building has to have a like, serious purpose, doesn’t mean it has to be sombre, right? And the Moorish windows? Who else but a genius would have thought of them with Gothic, eh? I really think the camper nearly is awesome, too.’
One of the robed men leans forward.
‘Weir mustapha dom.’
‘Pardon me? Err, scusi?’
‘Weir mustapha dom. Weir ask forra dom. Weir issa dom?’
‘Heh heh! Just me and Molfi here pulling your chains, dude.’ He reaches into a big box that is hidden under the table, and extracts a rounded tulip-shaped object that, when turned upside down, sits neatly on the model of the building.
‘Tada! Biggest in Europe. Dudes, you will have the honour of being able to say yours is bigger than anyone else’s! Cool, huh? And guess what? Molfi and his compadres reckon that in about 400 years, when things need a bit of a nip’n’tuck, take the years off a bit, a pretend Gothic façade at the west door will look truly righteous.’
The robes confer briefly.
‘Weir ticket. Whither dom.’
Yet another success for the irrepressible Marc Zimmerframe. There was also a curious linguistic side effect of his foray to Europe. While in Italy, he heard members of the Motagues and the Capulets referring to each other as uomi, or men. Marco, as he was then, was much taken with this word, which he took back with him to his native California. It was seized on with enthusiasm by the Bloods and the Crips, and corrupted to ‘omies,’ later to ‘homies,’ thus entering the American lexicon.
Footnote. I know that the whole shooting match was a collaborative effort. The basic design was indeed by Amolfo di Cambio, and work started in 1296. By the time things were completed and consecrated in 1436, Brunelleschi had added the dome, and Giotto had designed the campanile. Then in the 19th century, the Gothic Revival west façade was added according to a design by Emilio de Fabris. I’m also aware that the cathedral was finished nearly 60 years before Columbus hit the shores of the New World, and the Montagues and Capulets didn’t come into being for another 200 years.
It’s called artistic licence.