Stendhalismo: the wow effect

My two guidebooks on Florence mention Stendhalismo or Stendhalism. The Stendhal syndrome attributes its name to the 19th-century French writer Stendhal who was so overwhelmed by the Basilica of Santa Croce (pictured below) that he could barely walk. I call it the wow effect.

Basilica Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

Basilica Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

Such was my reaction when I first saw the view from our balcony — the Basilica Santa Croce lit up at night. It looked like the final destination. Indeed Michelangelo’s tomb is housed inside.

“Wow!” I exclaimed.

For me, visiting a church is like opening a Christmas present. It never looks the same on the inside. It’s always a surprise. And in Florence, it’s a resounding “wow!”

When I led my mom to the Duomo Square the morning after we arrived in Florence, she could not stop saying “wow!” But when we walked inside, there was just peace. It looked nothing like the outside. It was simple and not flamboyant.

The wow effect isn’t only reserved for churches in Florence, however. The palazzos (grand buildings) are also full of surprises, as inside the Palazzo Medici-Ricardi below. It is a room of gold.

Inside Palazzo Medici Ricardi in Florence, Italy

Inside Palazzo Medici Ricardi in Florence, Italy

What wonderful places they are for concertising! As a concert goer, I am attracted to the venue of a concert. As a musician, I want to hear how it sounds in different locations. I believe in the power of live music to draw crowds and to make a place come alive. Yet most venues are not built for music but for worship or gatherings.

Tonight I was drawn by the prospect of seeing the gorgeous Cinquencento Salon inside the famous Palazzo Vecchio. I had spotted an invitation to an international congress on women’s rights in the fortnightly English paper The Florentine. It said, “Students and community members are invited to join….”

My mother and I stopped dead in our tracks when we entered the grand hall. It was bigger than a football field. After we sat down, I heard more “wows” as other attendees found their seats.

The discussion panel was organised by New York University’s Pietra Policy Dialogues as the final session in a three-day conference on progress and imperatives of the status of women. It was a privilege to hear the panelists speak on human rights, corruption, public policy, and micro-credit’s role in the empowerment of women.

As usual, in Italy, the event started late. It started at 5:20 pm and ended at 7 pm. But I wished that it had ended late too, for there was too much still unsaid. I, for one, had questions for the young mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi heralded by Time Magazine as the Obama of Italy. How about empowering venue owners to invite musicians to give concerts everywhere?

After returning the headsets (for simultaneous translation) I hurried to meet and talk to the young lady from Afghanistan who so courageously started schools for girls. Apparently 75% of school buildings are still out of use (i.e. destroyed). Students study in tents. Classes are cancelled when it rains.

Then there’s the panelist from Kenya who defied tradition to get herself educated to help others in her Massai village.

These women are the real wows.



Filed under travel, venues

5 responses to “Stendhalismo: the wow effect

  1. Florence is really a great destination! need to post some pictures from there too in my blog 🙂

  2. Robert

    Excellent writing, great bit of research!

  3. Pingback: Can There be Too Much Culture in Florence? | Alloting

  4. Pingback: Rehearsals and work-in-progress as previews (trailers) | Concert Blog

  5. Pingback: Utrecht, the city of wow | Anne Ku

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