Merry-go-round, monkey bars, teeter-totter, geodome, tether balls, swings. Of all the places I could play at the pulbic playground, my favorite was always the slide. Ours was metal, super slick from decades of descent and most likely not up to any 21st century building code. We fought to stand at the top and lord over all the playground serfs, and we never waited for the kid in front to get safely out of the way. Our slide iced over in the winter so we banked snow at the base to test out the human snow plow technique. In the summer, the metal shoot was scalding hot from hours baking in the sun, and every method to avoid skin contact was attempted, only to find that lifting up your hands and legs caused three glorious seconds of maximum velocity. Scary? Stupid? Dangerous? Yeah, plus panic and pure adrenaline rush.
Playgrounds don’t have seem that enticing thrill of danger any more. Structures are well made, perfectly portioned and the ground covering is reinforced plastic flooring so that no one falls and breaks an arm. Maybe that’s a good thing, but when I stand atop today’s slides, I miss the fear that something bad could, but probably wouldn’t, happen. And I think Carsten Höller does too.
Höller makes thrills. His beautifully designed slides, carousels and more are all about perception and experience, and are exaggeratedly reminiscent of playgrounds past. And this time he’s experimenting with more than just nostalgia, he’s playing on emotions in a Renaissance palazzo in Florence. The Florence Experiment, a double cork screw careening down the internal courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi, is wit plus a bit of biology. Teaming up with Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso, Höller sends sliders on an emotional rush strapped with a seedling. A ten-second rush of maximum velocity in a metal shoot, you feel like a kid again.
Here’s where it gets brainy. Once you’ve finished, you’re invited to bring your bean seedling to Palazzo Strozzi’s underground laboratory where Mancuso’s team analyzes the effects of your emotional experience on the growth of the plant. And if you want, you can stick around and watch film clips based on your slide reaction- terror (clips like The Shining) or joy (Some Like It Hot) – in a glass-enclosed viewing room where the effects of your emotions are funneled out to plants fastened to Palazzo Strozzi’s external facade. Sounds hokey? It could be, but it’s fun and if you take a step back, it’s pretty damn clever. Every knows that emotions have the ability to bring down the house.
And guess what? It’s about time art made us laugh, and better yet, scream. For Höller, “the madness of a slide, that “voluptuous panic,” is a kind of joy. It is an experience with value far beyond the confines of a museum, or a playground. It might be time, for all our sakes, to begin to explore exactly how far that might be.” I agree. Let’s do it.
Room to Rest
Room 516 at the Hotel Savoy. 516 is a deluxe room with the coveted view of Brunelleschi’s dome, and you can bet we were hanging out the windows every hour on the hour just to listen to the bells. We chose Hotel Savoy for its unbeatable Piazza della Repubblica location, one minute walk to Palazzo Strozzi, and an easy walk to everything else – Piazza della Signoria and Stazione Santa Maria Novella, the Giardini Boboli and San Frediano.
In 2018, the Savoy went through an aggressive renovations which refreshed the rooms to a more airy, organic vibe and increased space. Best hotel perk? Velorbis bicycles with Brooks saddles. I am hoping that the next I stay, Savoy and Velorbis will have added a back seat.
Table to Book
Antica Ristoro Cambi, a yesteryear osteria in Florence’s San Frediano niche neighborhood in the Oltrarno. Cozy, casual, and absolutely no pretensions with an open kitchen counter, every time I enter Cambi, I feel like I’ve walked into someone’s home. For my group, the focus is always singular: a proper bistecca alla fiorentina, 800 grams of Chianina beef grilled on extremely high temperatures and garnished with salt. Along with the perfect bistecca, Cambi serves traditional Tuscan dishes- homemade tagliatelle with a wild boar sauce, tripe and even local favorite lampredotto. Personally, I don’t go there.