Saturday, June 28, 2008

Travel Notes: Florence x 3

I have been traveling in Italy with family and friends, which is one reason I haven't been posting here. The travel, however, itself provides some interesting things to post about.

One is the tripartite nature of the cities we have been visiting. A place like Florence is really three cities in one. There is the historic city—what is left of the Florence of the Renaissance, some of it interesting and impressive. There is the tourist city which feeds off the historic city and consists of a changing population of thousands of visitors, Italian and foreign, plus the locals who make their living selling things to tourists, feeding tourists, guiding tourists.

And then there is the modern city—I am told the population is 400,000 within the city boundaries, a million and a half if you include the surrounding communities. That may be the most interesting of the three, since it represents its own solution to the constraints and opportunities provided by the modern world, similar in some ways to, different in others from, the version I live with at home. It would be still more interesting if I were in India, China, or Iran, observing a modern society built on an ancient culture radically different from my own. That, I suspect, is going to be one of the exciting features of the 21st century, as more of the ancient non-European cultures create their own version of a modern society.

This third Florence is the one tourists see the least of. That is one disadvantage of visiting a foreign country as a tourist looking at history rather than as someone with something ordinary to do there—teach, buy, sell, study.

While on the subject of Florence—tomorrow we leave for Bologna, then Venice and home—a few comments for travelers who share my tastes, which do not include a taste for paintings. The most interesting places so far were:

  1. The museo pietre dura (sp?), a museum of masaic work, filled with exquisite art done in perfectly pieced together bits of polished stone, much of it semi-precious, plus what remains of the workshop and tools where the work was done. To see how that art got used, visit the Medici chapel.

  1. The Palazzo Davanzati, a largely restored medieval house scaled for a large and wealthy family. Unlike palaces, such as the Strozi or the vast Pitti, it feels like a home, not a public building.

  2. The Mercato Centrale, an enormous covered market providing the Italian equivalent of a giant supermarket--not a single store with a single management but a building full of tiny stores. It reminds me of the discussion in Oliver Williamson's Market and Hierarchy of the tradeoffs between hierarchical control and the decentralized alternative. For a more recent version, in the context of computer programming, see The Cathedral and the Bazaar by my friend Eric Raymond.

The favorite sight of one of the friends we are travelling with was the scene in a narrow street filled with street vendors when a police car was seen approaching and all of the vendors instantly rolled up their blankets with their goods inside and vanished out the other end of the street.

Unfortunately I have so far missed that one.

My one complaint about Florence so far is that almost all of the interesting museums ban the use of cameras, the one exception being the museum associated with the Duomo. The motive seems to be to prevent competition with the museum's authorized publications. I would happily have spent more for the right to take pictures than I have spent on all the museum books bought so far, and it wouldn't have cost the museum a cent. As an economist, I wonder if the museums are making the right choice and why none of them seem to allow cameras but charge extra for them.


At 5:52 AM, June 28, 2008, Anonymous Lindsay said...

"As an economist, I wonder if the museums are making the right choice and why none of them seem to allow cameras but charge extra for them."

Last year I took a vacation in Istanbul, where charging an extra YTL 10 to take photos was common. could it be something to do with the relative supply of postcards etc. produced by the museums etc. ? In Turkey, the low profile of museum shops was refreshing.

At 6:18 AM, June 28, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

In 1987 I was living in Italy and had a Vespa 200, so I took off on a tour of northern Italy, visiting Venezia, Bologna, Firenze, and other places besides.

However, I'm frankly not a city boy, and I remember with more affection the varied country landscapes I passed through than the cities. Also, San Gimignano with its curious towers was worth seeing.

Isn't it odd how we persist in attaching names to cities that aren't the names used by their inhabitants? Perhaps understandable if the real city name is unpronounceable to foreigners. But is Firenze so difficult? I'm not blaming you, this phenomenon is traditional and worldwide, but I find it odd. It happens only with the larger cities, of course; for the smaller ones, we make do with the correct name.

At 3:59 AM, June 29, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jonathan comments on the practice of referring to the city as "Florence" instead of "Firenze." It isn't all that odd--I'm writing in English, after all, and the names of things, including places, are often different in different languages.

If I were speaking in Italian I would call it Firenze. If I were in Italy speaking Englsh to an Italian speaker I would probably call it Firenze. In America speaking English to an English speaker I might call it Firenze, but I would be a little concerned that doing so would be seen, and might be, pretentious, a way of showing off my supposed linguistic sophistication.

Writing in English for native speakers it seems much nore natural to use the English name for the city.

I note that Jonathan refers to
"Italy" not "Italia."

At 8:19 AM, June 29, 2008, Blogger Jon Kalb said...

"As an economist, I wonder if the museums are making the right choice and why none of them seem to allow cameras but charge extra for them."

David, perhaps you or one of your readers can explain this to me. When Kathy and I were in Greece recently I took a picture of her standing next to a statue (at the Acropolis Musuem) and the museum guard (un-uniformed, they seemed to have one in room in every musuem) got very upset and lectured us. We didn't see any "no cameras" signs and I so I said "No photos?"

Her English wasn't very good (but a lot better than my Greek ;) but we understood her to say "Not with the statues." This seemed like a strange distinction to make and rather disappoint considering that, well it's the Acropolis Musuem, we didn't come to see paintings, but we confined our photos to the Parthenon frieze and other relics.

Later , at a different museum, we had a similar incident, but this time we understood better the objection. We could take pictures of anything we wanted, but we couldn't take pictures of ourselves with the museum objects.

This puzzles me yet. It seems to me that there are two motivations for banning photos. One is what you have pointed out (attempting to preserve the value of "official" images) and the other is that some artifacts can be damage by extensive exposure to ultra-violet light and thus is vulnerable to camera flashes.

But a policy of Photography is allowed, but don't take pictures of yourself with items doesn't seem to be motivated by either of these concerns. In fact, I can image a (difficult to enforce) policy like Only take personal photos that are not going to have general market value. This would seem to protect the market for official images (because much as I like it, the general public isn't likely to pay me for an image like the one we took when the guard was distracted.)

At 8:34 AM, June 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Preserving the market value of "Official images"? It's about time we got rid of copyright.

At 10:42 AM, June 29, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Preserving the market value of "Official images"? It's about time we got rid of copyright."

You have it backwards. The museum doesn't have a copyright over images of works of art it possesses, since the works were mostly created before copyright law existed and in any case would be long out of copyright.

What I am describing is an attempt to substitute non-copyright protection by controlling access to the work. It would be unnecessary if the museum could use copyright law to prevent unauthorized publications showing works they hold.

At 4:25 PM, June 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Another blogger was detained by the police after being videotaped in front of the Parthenon. After reading through the lenghty discussion (several hundred comments) of this at his site, it would seem that it is related to the disrepectful act that he was engaged in..that of dancing..

The pose of the woman in the photo would also be considered very disrespectful. Even those these are pagan statues they are expected to be treated with near sacred reverence. If you wouldn't pose that way in the Vatican, don't do it with other statues...not saying that I agree with this, but this may be where they are coming from.

"No dancing at the Parthenon"

At 6:28 PM, June 29, 2008, Blogger Jon Kalb said...

An anonymous commentator said:

"The pose of the woman in the photo would also be considered very disrespectful."

I agree that the pose in the particular photo that I posted could be interpreted as disrespectful, but that wasn't what we were told, and indeed in the first incident, the pose was quite respectful. I really don't think that is the issue.

At 11:51 PM, June 29, 2008, Blogger Andrew said...

Flashes and camera beeps from people who don't know how to use their cameras are very annoying at museums, and those people give photographers a bad name.

At 2:03 PM, June 30, 2008, Blogger Scott said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2:07 PM, June 30, 2008, Blogger Scott said...

I find it interesting that someone like David does not have a "taste for paintings", at least not those of the Renaissance era which abound in Florence. This is not a criticism, but it just strikes me as curious.

As per Jonathan's nomenclature issue, I generally agree with David. The point of language is to communicate and doing so as efficiently and accurately as possible involves knowing your readers. If I have reason to believe that most of my readers will be native English speakers I should assume that they will be more likely to know what I am referring to if I write "Albania" as opposed to if I write "Sqiperia" (the Albanian word for Albania, literally meaning "land of the eagles"). In addition, David is right to point out that, at least in the case of certain place names, switching languages runs the risk of coming off as pretentious.

All of the above aside however, I lived in Seville, Spain and have always referred to it in the vernacular "Sevilla" (pronounced "Seh vee dyah"). I must admit that I always feel slightly annoyed inside whenever someone pronounces the anglophonically transliterated "Seville" ("Seh vill").

At 3:24 PM, June 30, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11:09 PM, June 30, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

My comment on place names has been misunderstood as a criticism of people who use English versions of foreign place names.

It is of course natural for people to follow the general conventions of their own language, and I often do it myself (e.g. in referring to Italia as Italy). As Scott said, I most often break from that convention when I've lived in another country and become accustomed to the native version of the place name.

I was trying to suggest that the convention itself is rather odd and anachronistic. If we were all discovering the rest of the world for the first time just now in the 21st century, I think people would accept the foreign names of foreign places. But, centuries in the past, people tended to take the attitude that foreigners were barbarians and no civilized person could be expected to pronounce their barbarous place names. So we find ourselves now with a legacy of multiple names for the same place. It's sanctified by tradition but essentially absurd.

These days, when a new country is formed or an existing one changes its name, I have the impression that people worldwide are more inclined to use the name as it is, rather than inventing their own versions of it.

At 1:30 AM, July 01, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

As far as I know, Sverige/Sweden has just one city with a variant name in English.

When you get used to seeing a place referred to as Göteborg (pronounced Yertebory, approximately), the idea of calling it Gothenburg seems really odd.

No-one seems to have felt the need of English names for Jönköping, Örebro, Västerås, Malmö, etc.

The funny thing about Italia/Italy is that the native names are often as easy to pronounce as the English names. If anything, Torino is slightly easier than Turin.

At 5:55 AM, July 02, 2008, Anonymous jmws said...

What struck me when visiting Florence was that the nearer to the tourists attractions, the worse and expensive the food and lots of Americans who were willing to eat it thus pay for it.

At 10:59 AM, July 03, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 12:05 PM, July 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an economist, I wonder if the museums are making the right choice and why none of them seem to allow cameras but charge extra for them.

Perhaps it is the nature of large organizations to go for one-size-fits-all simplistic solutions? I notice you haven't been outspoken against the degeneration of the free-market into inefficient corporate monopolies. After all, the public doesn't get to charge big corporations extra for their hierarchical domination.

At 12:21 PM, July 15, 2008, Blogger dWj said...

I would think it would be more difficult to enforce "no pictures unless you've paid a fee" than "no pictures". Perhaps a visible indicator as to whether or not the fee has been paid wouldn't be too hard to make work.

My tendency when speaking English is to use English names for places, but I do wish we were more conservative in Anglicizing new place names. Did "Kosovo", as an English name, not exist before 15 years ago, or that just when most of us learned it? The natives seem to call it something more like "Kosova", with the accent on the second syllable and a schwa on the last. Turin, Florence, Moscow and the like are well enough known that it seems overly idealistic to try to change their names at this point. New introductions should be less radical, though.

(Incidentally, are Americans unique in even worrying about this? Do Spaniards or Mexicans fret over the term "Nueva York"?)


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