What if the Renaissance master Michelangelo and the Marchesa di Pescara Vittoria Colonna suddenly found themselves revived and in modern day Florence? Though scholars are resolute that their relationship was platonic, that hasn’t stopped plenty of voyeurs from engaging in the art of innuendo that paints them as friends with benefits over the years. I thought I’d give them the fictive chance today, enjoying the idea that I’ve given a few ghosts a chance at intimacy they likely never had on date night in one of the city’s hotspots.
Michelangelo Out on the Town
It was their sonnets to each other, which I will share in a post next week, that sent me on this tangent, a literary design adventure that has them dining at La Ménagère. More than just a restaurant, the intertwined coffee bar, florist, boutique, eatery and bar is nestled into a centuries-old building that held a housewares store of the same name since 1896 until recently.
The transformed mise-en-scène was envisioned by Luca and Marco Baldini, the former the architect and the latter the designer—the brothers principals of the q-bic architectural and design studio. Instead of slathering the walls in this gathering spot with layers of slick materials that would hide a mountain of medieval wear and tear, the brothers made the surprising move of taking it all off—of the walls, that is—removing tile to let the plaster and stone beneath provide the interiors with a textural authenticity.
A long live-edged wood table runs the length of a narrow arched passageway in one section of the restaurant, its raw concrete floors a counterpoint to one of the most whimsical light fixtures produced by Italian lighting manufacturer Karman floating above. The company is known for its magical point of view, and the Déjà-Vu Nu (below) is no exception. This is but one of a varied number of the company’s fixtures in the complex, each designed by lighting luminaries that include Matteo Ugolini, Luca De Bona and Dario De Meo, Bizzarri Design, and Edmondo Testaguzza.
Besides the restaurant that serves contemporary dishes from a menu overseen by Florence’s Istituto Alberghiero Saffi culinary institute, the multi-activity venue holds a coffee bar with Ditta Artigianale blends, the breakfast, lunch and dinner action overseen by barista Francesco Sanapo. The bar is hopping during the cocktail hour, the mix of traditional and cutting-edge mixology creations making it a popular hangout.
The complex also includes a boutique holding high-end Italian kitchen- and tableware items, as well as the Artemisia florist with its sumptuous arrangements and luxuriant plants sourced by floral visionary Ilaria. I’ve called out the varied Karman fixtures below in the captions of the vignettes, which were photographed so beautifully by Sofie Delauw.
Why did I think it’s the perfect time to blow the dust off Michelangelo, lift him out of the tomb a few miles away from this hotspot and give him a night on the town? Sunday is his 541st birthday—the year he auspiciously appeared on March 6th being 1475. After reserving them a spot at the best table in the house, I’ll let him and his main squeeze for the evening do the talking.
Date Night in Florence Italy
He sees her before she sees him and he is happy for the moment to study her features as she enters through the tall, blocky doorway. As he rises from his seat at the bar, she spots him and walks quickly over to the seat he has been holding for her.
“Sorry I’m late,” she says; “traffic was horrid and I’m so not used to it!”
“I know; I’m only just here myself. I ordered us Ever Greens cocktails to start.”
“Excellent!” she remarks, putting her hand on his shoulder. “How was your day?”
“Let’s not spoil the evening by talking about that,” he responds, a kiss to her cheek softening the rebuke. “I want this night to be as perfect as possible because it’s been ages since we’ve been able to meet.”
The waiter approaches and informs them that their table is ready and she can’t help but notice as they approach that he has chosen the best in the house. After she is seated, he places his briefcase under his chair and removes his suit coat, the freedom from the stricture bringing a sign from his lips as he takes his seat.
She is already engrossed in the menu when the sommelier stops by and asks if he needs any advice with the wine list.
“I don’t think so,” he tells the smiling man; then asks his dinner companion, “Should we have red or white with dinner?”
“I have my eye on the honey-glazed salmon as an entrée and the seafood salad as an appetizer,” she answered. “What are you thinking?”
“Either the beef with blackberries or the suckling pig in orange sauce,” he answers. “Let’s just order by the glass.”
“Sounds perfect,” she says as she places the menu on the table and leans contentedly in his direction.
He orders for both of them and smiles at her as the wine is delivered, the cocktail taking the edge off his mood. They toast to the fact that they have finally found an evening to themselves, which has been a long time coming given the disparate worlds they inhabit.
“How has your week been?” he asks. “Did you finish the lecture for Geneva?”
“No. It seems I have a block toward finalizing the subject,” she said, her face showing the strain of it. “I just keep writing and writing and writing. I’m not sure why I can’t stop.”
“Is it just the excitement of having found the manuscript, and being the only one to know about it?”
“That could be part of it but I think it’s more that the story will be righted since I can prove her importance in the poetic game during her time.”
“Ah, that makes complete sense,” he said, taking one of her hands in his; “of course you are feeling the pressure to do her justice.”
“Exactly! But I have to finish,” she answers, reaching nervously for her wine. “The lecture is next week!”
The food is delivered and they eat in silence for a while.
“It’s not fair of you to hear about my disaster while refusing to tell me how your project is going,” she says after half her meal is gone.
“You’re right,” he says, leaning back and running one hand through his hair. “The restoration is challenging me at every turn and I believe it’s because I am so nervous of damaging such a masterpiece, even when I know I am capable.”
“That’s such an uneasy feeling to have; I’m so sorry you’re having to go through it.”
“Me, too; I really thought I was going to sail through this one given the trials and tribulations I conquered on the last project.”
“Is anyone breathing down your neck about it?”
“Oddly enough, no; everyone has complete faith in me, as I should myself!”
The restaurant is beginning to fill up around them, bare tables turning into festive meeting spots for colleagues, friends and lovers as each seat is filled.
Celebrating Michelangelo’s Birthday #541
Their main courses finished and another glass of wine ordered for each, he reaches for the attaché under his seat at the same time she swings her purse around from the back of the chair and delves into it. Almost simultaneously, they say, “I brought you something,” laughing at the timing of their revelations.
Each hands off to the other a wrapped package.
You go first,” he says, his heart pounding at the thought of her reaction.
“Okay,” she says, the ribbon coming off easily as she digs her manicured fingernail into the paper. When she sees the plastic-wrapped image, she looks at him in disbelief—her eyes wide and her mouth open. “How? Where? Wow!”
He laughs, understanding how happy she is to have such a meaningful gift as the Pietà that Michelangelo created for Vittoria Colonna in 1540.
“I’m not even going to ask how you managed this!” she says, holding the treasure to her chest. “Open yours.”
He rips the paper with trembling hands, feeling that it is a slim volume even before he sees that it’s Colonna’s original manuscript of Canzoniere Spirituale, which the Marchesa presented to Michelangelo in 1540.
“You can’t give this to me; it’s too important to you,” he said, incredulous.
“And this isn’t to you?” she asked holding up the valuable sketch.
“As usual, you do have a very valid point!”
“Listen,” he says, leaning forward and looking into her eyes; “I have an idea.”
“What’s that?” she asks.
“Let’s just ditch all of this stress and go away.”
“I so want to, but…” her words trailed off as she looked around at the edgy surroundings. Could he possibly know how much this meant to her? she wondered.
“I’ll be right back,” he said.
She thanked her lucky stars as she watched him walk away. How is it that this wonderful man who believes as deeply as I do that the past is important to the present cares for me as much as I care for him? she wondered.
The waiter delivering the dessert menu interrupts her train of thought and a giddy thrill runs through her body when she realizes they could finally be more than just very close friends. Just then he rounds the corner, ambling toward the table with a beautiful bouquet from Artemisia. He hands them to her as he sits down, saying, “So you can remember this wonderful evening for eternity.”
“What’s for dessert?” he asks, realizing he must have upset her because she suddenly has tears welling in her eyes. “I’m sorry…”
“This is not negative emotion, so no apology is needed,” she responds, interrupting him. “I’ll have the Tuttifrutti if you’ll have the white chocolate mousse with Sichuan pepper strawberry sorbet so I can try it.”
“Sounds like the perfect combination,” he responds, calling the waiter over.
“I just love the patina of this place,” she remarks when the sweets are ordered.
“I do, too,” he says. “I think it’s a remarkable testament to the resilience of history, and I’m so glad that Luca and Marco left the envelope raw.”
“Me, too—I feel so at home here given where I spend my time!”
He takes both of her hands in his and they sit quietly, enjoying the chance to simply breathe. They linger over espresso and dessert long into the night, not daring to think of walking out the door as they know the spell they are enjoying will be broken. Their laughter echoes into the arched colonnades and the waiters trouble them as little as possible seeing the touching quality of their affection for each other. They finally gathered the nerve to leave as the last of the other guests are exiting. Holding hands, Michelangelo and Vittoria Colonna walk away without the stricture of social mores that would never have allowed them a night on the town during their time, the boisterous group of twenty-somethings leaving after a night of partying oblivious to their fading apparitions as they stroll down via dei Ginori and disappear.
The Diary of an Improvateur and this entry, Date Night in Florence Italy, © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Global Lighting is an adroyt client but the association in no way swayed the opinions contained within this post. Saxon is an author, poet and journalist whose books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns. She is also a contributor to Architizer.by