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Finally, with great satisfaction… a tour of Florence for the visually impaired! I’ve visited many museums in Italy and abroad in my lifetime, and I’ve always left dissatisfied. Although the people who went with me did all they could to describe the works on exhibit, the images I was able to build in my mind always seemed incomplete, and in time they began to fade. If I was ever able to get close enough to touch a work of art, an alarm would go off or the guard would warn me not to touch anything. So what part of those visits has stayed with me? Next to nothing.

A few days ago I was finally able to fully enjoy some art works exhibited in various Florentine museums thanks to Flumen Viaggi. This travel agency organizes multi-sensorial tours for people who need to touch things in order to realize how they’re made. It was an enthusiastic and satisfying experience. I have to congratulate this agency for the exceptional guides who showed us they really know the visually impaired and their needs by making them feel like normal people. They never conveyed a sense of astonishment or pity. They told me they’d been trained by the Unione Ciechi of Florence, the Italian Association for the visually impaired; so I also want to commend those who take part in creating these tactile itineraries.

Ms. Paola, our tour leader, came to pick us up at the station and stayed with us the whole time. She was kind, discreet, and such pleasant company. Paola is a travel consultant who develops proposals and itineraries in Tuscany, respecting the principles of responsible and accessible tourism. Our guide Francesca was excellent at describing the church facades, buildings and palaces, and paintings of places like the Uffizi. I unfortunately don’t remember the name of our guide at Palazzo Pitti, but she wanted to stay with us through the entire visit even though she had another commitment. You could tell she liked being with us. Finally, Monica, the Spanish girl who’s in Italy studying art, guided us through The Opera del Duomo Museum.

What did we see in these museums ?

 

In Palazzo Pitti we were able to explore ten 19th century statues in the Modern Art Gallery. It was an emotional experience to touch these figures from head to toe, each with a different pose and numerous details. I liked lingering on their faces; I wanted to see if I could feel their expressions. I think once I felt a frowning face with a wrinkly forehead, then another with a surprised expression with its mouth slightly open just enough to touch his upper row of teeth. I can clearly remember all ten of the sculptures and I think that they’ll stay indelibly in my mind.

 

At the Uffizi Francesca from Fantastic Florence showed us how the position of the rooms forms a U: two long, parallel sides and one short, perpendicular one. Then, she skilfully described Botticelli’s Primavera to us. I was enraptured, hanging on her every word. We got to touch a tactile reproduction of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus: here again it was so nice to touch those perfect shapes, you could sense every detail. We then saw many other things but I’ll stop here before I get too long-winded. We also saw a lot of things at the Opera del Duomo Museum; I’ll only tell you about that tactile reproduction of one of the many tiles that adorn the doors of the Baptistery with the creation of man and his ousting from Heaven. This work also left me speechless, but I had to make room for the others. I asked Monica if any blind people had come to experience this and she told me no. A while back a blind man had gone but he didn’t understand what he was touching; she said we were very good. I asked her how old the blind man was and she told me he was thirty. When I heard that I got a horribly bitter suspicion: maybe the new generations of the visually impaired don’t know how to touch or imagine? Maybe they hadn’t been trained enough in the importance of the touch when they were little? My group was made up of another generation used to dedication and fatigue.

Flumen Viaggi isn’t always able to put together a large enough group for this tour either. They send the itinerary to the UICI (The Italian Union of the Blind), but not all of them send the information on to their members, saying they wouldn’t be interested. How is it possible not to be interested in knowledge? What do blind people do today? Do they swipe and tap on their I Phones all day?

This experience was written by Mirella (Udine)