Piazza della Signoria, Florence, the bronze statue of Perseus is on the left

What are the guardians of order thinking as they peruse the open spaces before them and the people gathering or passing by? There they are outside Buckingham Palace in their red jackets and bearskin headgear endlessly perused by the public day in, day out. I admire their patience, even if it is paid for and just part of the job.

Imagine standing there while people stare at you, take photos of you, or stand beside you and ask others to photograph them and you, and so your image travels through the insistent channels of the worldwide web unasked for and unedited, beyond your reach forever while there you stand still outside the palace even when the queen is not in residence.

On a bright sunlit spring daylight now it could be a pleasure. But what would it be like in sleet and snow? Upright guardians of the peace when there is none to guard and not even squabbling sparrows to scare off. It might be a relief when something untoward happens.

Demeanour and sound vary from place to place and times past to times present. Christopher Robin used to beg Alice for a treat that neatly rhymed with her name, the Palace. Something untoward might just happen…

Rarely do I have time to spare and only occasionally do I arrive early for an appointment. One such occasion was in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. The meeting place was to be in sight of Benvenuto Cellini’s bronze statue of Perseus. With time to spare I stood near a policeman on duty in front of the Loggia dei Lanzi overlooking the square. Presumably, the Loggia was built by his Florentine forebears, to shelter the Lancers there in the Middle Ages, like him, there to keep the peace.

While standing beside the policeman, I imagined what those earlier guardians of the peace might have surveyed. Scuffles among knots of youngsters in doublet and hose, doing what teenagers always do. A procession assembling in the inner courtyard of the civic building, the Palazzo della Signoria to march or amble across the square and down the short straight road to the Duomo and the religious centre, past the guild building with patron saints looking down at the throng to remind the hoi polloi of the power and prestige of the trade unions of that time.

While I was still waiting, the policeman beside me mentioned something about people always lingering around the flat stone and inscription marking the place where, in 1498, Savonarola was burned at the stake. He thought it rather morbid. I wondered about the state of mind of Florentine society at that time, and of visitors now.

… come and go

Speaking of Michelangelo…’  T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland

One day, the policeman continued, a hurried tourist held out a map and jabbed a finger on it. My friend admitted that he was long-sighted – fine to survey the whole piazza but not to look at the map. He had left his reading glasses at home. He peered at it and saw there was a lot of blue. He shook his head saying, ‘No. Not here.’ The tourist insisted and, ever more frustrated, tucked the map into his pocket and started impatiently poking one forefinger at the other. ‘Where? Dove?’ Indeed. Not here. The policeman smiled and directed the traveller towards the entrance of the Uffizi Gallery, just around the corner where the visitor would find much to delight, but not those fingers and the Sistine Chapel.

Seabound Venice, land-locked Florence and Rome straddling the seven hills merged in the confused mind of the rushed world traveller, to the amusement of the policeman. And it wasn’t the first time this had happened!

Bronze statue of Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini


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