How to ruin a Renaissance square

I’m going to begin this post with a warning. If you are a vegan and you are visiting Florence, do not, under any circumstances, eat at Perseus. If, however, you are not adverse to eating half a cow for dinner then, seriously, it is the place to go.

Perseus was but one of the amazing places we visited today. However, the Museo degli Innocenti was also an amazing place.

Originally built for the many orphans and unwanted babies of Florence, it now houses a museum to their memory. It is also still an orphanage. It reminded me very much of the Foundling Museum in London which I visited back in 2017. Mind you, the Florentine one is a good deal older.

It seems that during the 13th and 14th centuries there was a major upsurge in unwanted babies. A lot of hospitals would take in babies as a result but, in 1410 a charitable chap called Francesco Datini set aside a big pile of cash in his will in order to purpose build an orphanage.

The genius architect who was Filippo Brunelleschi (who’ll be making our lunch on Christmas Day) drew up plans and building started, the first baby being dropped off in 1445. It was a girl and she was named Agata Smeralda.

Brunelleschi loggia

Agata was the first of many. Hundreds of thousands of little babies, wrapped in swaddling and suckled by wet nurses, entered through a revolving door and were cared for. A lot were eventually adopted or just sent out to work but, at least they all survived. Well, except for the sick ones I guess.

Talking about sick ones, I’d love to know what bright spark thought this was a good idea. I know it’s Christmas and all but how is this in any way decorative?

WTF?

I realise it’s supposed to represent a Christmas Tree but, seriously, it looks like shit. If the plastic red bits weren’t bad enough, the metal barriers complete the ugliness perfectly. Grand Duke Ferdinand I de Medici is lucky his horse’s arse is facing it.

Before we left home we watched A Room with a View and this statue (and piazza) is visited by Eleanor Lavish and Charlotte Bartlett in the film. Eleanor Lavish (Judy Dench) explains that the statue was made with the metal melted down from the cannons taken from the Turks by the Knights of Santo Stefano. This may or may not be true. She does not mention the ghastly plastic obscenity beyond it.

Ferdinand was number one on our A Room with a View itinerary ticked off.

Originally we’d planned to visit the Museo San Marco except it has some weird opening and closing days. One of these is the fourth Monday each month. Which was today. We decided to visit the Innocenti place instead. Well, after Mirinda had calmed down.

Incidentally, the name is derived from the Herod hunting for Jesus and killing all the babies myth so often called the Slaughter of the Innocents. Not that they were slaughtered in the hospital. Far from it, boys were taught useless things like philosophy and the girls learned important things like cooking and running the house. If only the boys were taught something useful like contraception, how different the world would be.

Before we entered the orphanage that was, we stopped at a wonderfully cool and funky cafe called Un Cafe just across the piazza. It was small but perfectly formed and the coffee was excellent. That goes without saying I guess because we were in Italy where the coffee is nearly always perfect.

Un Cafe

But, back at the orphanage…we wandered the floors and viewed numerous paintings of Christ, his mum and notables. At the end of the lower ground floor there was a series of large touch tables. These had various stories about some of the later orphans.

I watched a few of the more current ones (born in the 1990’s) and they were awfully sad. I guess things could have been worse had these children not been taken in but, even so, some birth parents are not very nice. Without a doubt, the parents who adopt would appear to be a lot more loving and deserving of children.

On the top of the building, built into a terrace, is a restaurant. Caffee del Verone. We decided it was time for lunch. The moment you walk out of the door from the stairs the view is breathtaking.

The terrace restaurant is on the left

Okay, that doesn’t look particularly spectacular but from where we were sitting the dome of the duomo was in full view and looked fantastic. It was rather difficult taking a photo because of the sun streaming down on us.

Have I mentioned how beautiful the day was? A lovely 14°, blue sky and no wind. This is the complete opposite of the last time we visited at Christmas when it was cold and mostly raining.

After a delicious lunch we headed down for the art gallery tour. Among masses of paintings of the Madonna and child (not to be confused with Madonna and her six children) there was a St Sebastian. (In Italy they spell it with an ‘a’.)

Oddly he is holding an arrow. This is one of numerous copies of the original which was made for the Fraternity of St Sebastian. Because of the painting it was nicknamed the Fraternity of the Big Arrow.

St Sebastian by an anonymous Florentine painter, second half of the 16th century

The original was the last painting by Andrea del Sarto. He died shortly after finishing it. He died of plague which is ironic given one of St Sebastian’s things is to protect people from the plague. I was listening to the audio guide and must admit I chuckled at this.

Everything was beautiful until we went downstairs into what used to be the Room of the Wet Nurses. Dotted around the room was a series of three dimensional representations of various Biblical scenes.

I understood the ones of saints and the crucifixion (though I don’t remember any mention of transvestites being there). Even the bones of some saint beautifully arranged in a visually pleasing way was odd but understandable. The one I had a problem with depicted St Nicholas with zombie babies emerging from a barrel.

“Brains! Brains! Erghhhh!”

And with that, we left for the bookshop to buy the guide so I could write almost everything I wrote above given I couldn’t remember even a small fraction of what the audio guide told me. Then we left for the walk back to the apartment in order to rest up before dinner.

We really do prefer doing one tourist thing a day. Rushing is abhorrent to us.

And I must admit that I did some research on WWI survivors at this point while Mirinda did some sort of mindfulness stuff involving a Youtube American with an annoying voice.

Then, a lot later, we headed right (rather than left) out of the apartment and headed for Perseus. Now, I’ve read the Perseus myth quite thoroughly and I can’t work out what it has to do with cows. What I do know is that Martina, our host, recommends the place for authentic Florentine steak, a delicacy around here.

The restaurant is on the other side of a very busy road made awkward for pedestrians by the placement of traffic lights. Still, eventually we found the place and entered a world of meat.

Move away all vegans

It’s like walking into a butcher’s shop. Meat greets you as you slide in passed the chaps in blood stained aprons and big, meaty grins. Then, like some minor deity, a waitress leads you to a small table about three paddocks back from the entrance.

I should say right here that when we arrived (just before 8pm) the restaurant was almost empty. A few minutes after we sat, the room we were in was suddenly full of (predominantly) men. There were five women. Clearly this was a restaurant where steak was god where the men who loved it worshipped.

Actually Perseus was the god but apart from cutting off the head of the Gorgon it’s hard to work out what he had to do with any of it. Maybe he invented Florentine steak.

Perseus the restaurant is not a place where English is spoken. In fact I don’t think there was any English anywhere. All of the patrons were Italian, all the staff were certainly Italian. In fact, we were the only non-Italians in the place. Which was fine and proved the old thing about picking the Chinese restaurant that is full of Chinese diners in order to have the best Chinese food.

So we ordered steak for two (it comes in a weight range of 1200 – 1300 grams for two) with salad (because insalata was the only Italian I recognised from the list our happy waitress recited) and a bottle of house chianti.

Fortunately, the couple at the table next to us ordered the same thing so we could see what happened before we had to go through it. The waitress brought a big hunk of cow, black on the outside, red in the middle, to the table and proceeded to expertly separate the meat from the bone with a big, sharp knife. A regular smiling Samurai she was.

And she was very good at it.

The meat was then placed on a plate and handed to the couple next to us.

Then it was our turn.

The steak appears to be massive however, this is because the bone is so big. The actual meat is enough for two. And it just melts in your mouth. Perfect beef. Perfect meal. Mind you, there was no room for dessert.

I need to mention the decorations at Perseus.

Most of the walls are covered in little bits of of butchery tools. There’s big knives, sharpeners, castrating pincers and saws. There are also signs (in Italian) which seem to be glorifying beef in all forms. There are many cow figurines, some with dotted lines indicating where best to cut. On the walls are little 3D boxes of butcher and grocery shops.

The whole place is full of stuff. It is an amazing feast for the eyes as well as the tummy. It kind of reminded me of a church full of Jesus except it was a steak place full of cows.

And the restaurant is very popular. From being empty when we arrived, as we left, full of cow, the place was completely full and bursting at the meat filled seams. It was quite the job squeezing between the tables to exit safely.

We then walked back to the apartment, satiated but not stuffed.

I have to say that Perseus is one of the best local restaurants I have ever been to. The food, the atmosphere, everything. Highly recommended for meat eaters everywhere.

Don’t let the table decorations fool you

Finally, a short video taken in the boys courtyard of the Innocenti and featuring my mad doctor wife.

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