Thursday, December 24, 2020

A 2020 Florence Covid Christmas


It's the afternoon of Christmas Eve here in Florence--and thanks to the red zone aimed to slow down the number of Coronavirus contagions--it is already as silent as the middle of the night.  In Piazza Duomo, Mary and Joseph, the ox and the ass, wait patiently for Jesus to arrive, bringing hope and love. 

Florence is also waiting for the arrival of the Covid-19 vaccine, slated for December 27.

As usual, the life-size Nativity scene will remain in the Cathedral square until January 6.  The figures are made of terra-cotta, the same material as the dome's tiles created in the Tuscan town of Impruneta in the 15th century, during the height of the Renaissance.  This was a period of humanistic and artistic rebirth after the Dark Ages, and the Black Plague, which caused the death of at least 50 million people. 
The Nativity scene were donated to the city of Florence in homage to the basilica's roofing by their maker, a terracotta craftsman still carrying on a centuries' old tradition in Impruneta.

Someone else is also waiting for hope to arrive, whom Florence has not forgotten.
He is Patrick Zaki, a master's degree student at the University of Bologna (Italy's oldest such institute of high learning).  A native of Egypt, Zaki was arrested on February 7 (a date coinciding with the warnings of an imminent Covid epidemic in Italy) and has been held in prison in Cairo ever since.
The trumped-up charge is "subversive propaganda."  Zaki's research in Bologna on women and gender studies, for which he received a scholarship, 
offended deep-rooted cultural sensibilities in his home country.  

Florence's response to this is its Neighborhood 2 annual Nativity scene created by 
Gruppo Donatello artists in front of Villa Arrivabene is dedicated to Patrick Zaki.

I had an appointment at the vital statistics department of Villa Arrivabene on a brilliantly sunny December day and found the installation at the entrance.  "Freedom for Patrick Zaky (sic)" is written on the T-shirt of the activist, with the depiction inspired by Amnesty International's poster.  Facing Patrick's silhouette is a woman judge seen from the back.  I don't know if this is a reference to 
the subject of Patrick's thesis work in Bologna, but it is known to have irritated Egyptian authorities, 
and probably led to his detention.

The members of Gruppo Donatello are located in and around piazzale Donatello and via degli Artisti, a time-honored location for artist studios in Florence since the late 1800s. The Villa Arrivabene nativity is also populated with portrayals of local residents and protagonists of the Coronavirus health emergency.  A frontline doctor (among those slated to be vaccinated first) can be glimpsed in back of a photojournalist.  The entire scene is so life-like that it's easy to mistake an actual person in the gray down coat to the left as one of the cutouts. 

The installation gave me a feeling of suspended reality, frozen in time.

With 2021 on the horizon, older and wiser with lessons imparted by lockdown (or arrest),
we would like to come to life again. 
The Christmas hope is freedom once more for all of us...and Patrick Zaki.

                                                                          Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                           -- Rosanna