They call it Stendhal Syndrome or Florence Syndrome: a psychosomatic illness featuring dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations as a result of overexposure to art. Add Tuscan sunshine and the heady joy of being newly married, and there was no way I could be trusted to meet Michelangelo’s David without falling into a swoon.
Two hours south of Florence, on the slopes of Monte Amiata, my husband and I found the perfect antidote. Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri is an open-air sculpture park, empty of crowds and full of magic, where we trampled for hours over the parched straw fields, finding quirky-looking iron monsters, a greenhouse sheltering lightbulb flowers, and, in the woods, the handprints of a make-believe pilot who had crawled out from a crashed tin biplane.
We peered inside a small brick hut and met the leers of straggly haired skulls in a witchcraft cabinet; climbed up to a mock zoo enclosure on a hillcrest where life-size model elephants lay in varying states of decay. In a seemingly neglected farm building, Steve flicked a switch and a hideous automaton roared into life, its two heads whirring towards us with garish grins.
“Turn it off – I don’t like it!”
But I loved the fact that every sculpture was affecting us. In the stuffy confines of the Uffizi gallery, Botticelli, Lippi and Raphael had stirred quiet awe within me; now we were wandering through pine-scented gardens, alive and free. Rock lizards darted over bronze busts, while the cypress shrubs chirruped with cicadas. Steve lagged behind and silently picked up a fallen wisp of a branch, making me shriek in fear when he used it to tickle my bare ankles. He knew I would react: visitor signs everywhere warned of poisonous snakes in the long grass. I’m one of those people who screams at worms.
Later, after walking along the stone walls of a labyrinth, trying not to tread on the crickets that hopped across our path, we grew weary and thirsty. Our thoughts turned to pizza from a wood-fired oven, to cold beers on the terrace of our hired casetta where we could watch the fading sun pour honeyed light over the mountains.
“Shall we go back now?” said Steve, pulling my clammy little hand into his bigger, clammier one. “And are you better now, my funny wife?”
I beamed at him. The Stendhal Syndrome had gone. This was our honeymoon, we were in Italy and life felt magnifico.