There are 463 steps to the top of the Duomo in Florence. These steps are made of stone. They go round and round – you know, spiral steps. The big rock walls are dark and dirty from years of people climbing and holding on. And also from probably throwing up along the way. When you first start up the steps you think it won’t be that far. Just a short 400 or so steps. Then along about step 20 when the burning in your thighs sets your pants on fire you rethink the whole situation.
And then you keep climbing.
Mostly because there is a line of about a gazillion people behind you and if you stop and try to go down .. well, let’s just say you can learn a lot of Italian in a short amount of time. And not the kind they teach in school. At least not any school I went to.
I studied the Duomo in college art appreciation class. Back then the thought of actually going to Florence and climbing those steps to the top was as unformed and foggy in my head as the thought of actually reading ahead in my text books prior to the lectures. I knew it was possible – knew that people did it – thought that one day, I might do it to but then again wasn’t I just in the middle of something else more important right now? Like ordering a pizza?
But when we got to Florence and I laid eyes on the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore it was a done deal. I was climbing to the top.
There’s not much room on those 468 steps but at one point I was moving fast enough to pass an 80-something year old man. I worried a bit about him. I sure hoped he’d make it to the top. I paused briefly, smiled and said, Everything okay? as I went by. He said it was and I continued up and up, feeling quite good about myself for passing someone, even if he was an octogenarian.
Not too long after that, I felt a presence behind me. The octogenarian passed me. Turns out he was just tying his shoe.
About halfway up – about the 200 and some-th step you are treated to a spectacular view of the inside of the dome. A small balcony circles the inside of the cupola and from here you get a up close view of interior paintings. I once knew so much about this. Knew the painter(s) and the subject. Knew when and how long. I knew themes and backstory and such.
Unfortunately all that left my head – probably and 10 minutes after I was tested on it so I was left with just tiny bits of knowledge. A swiss cheese of information. It didn’t matter though as the art is breathtaking. Well, it would have been breathtaking if I’d actually had any breath left. When you walk from the stairs out onto the balcony there is a cruel sign that reads “SILENCE PLEASE”. Seriously? Silence? I am nearly having a coronary. I may be able to keep my wheezing to a low groan but silence just isn’t going to happen.
After my heartbeat returned to the triple digits, we continued up. And up. And then up some more. The stairs got narrower and steeper and truly I only kept climbing because I had no other option. It was dark and dank and tight and as I’m getting squeezed tighter and tighter I’m just hoping at some point I’ll shoot out the top and feel a sense of release. Sort of the way a pimple feels I guess.
Every now and then I would gather enough breath to ask Carrie behind me if she thought the view was going to be worth it. She never answered me. This could be because I wasn’t actually speaking out loud or it could be because she’d passed out somewhere along the way. Regardless, I didn’t stop to find out. If I was hallucinating and not actually speaking out loud I wanted to at least get to a point where I could be airlifted off the top to the nearest infirmary and if she was passed out well, there wasn’t a lot I could do for her anyway. Let the passed out care for the passed out … I’m on a mission.
When we reached the top it took a moment for it all to sink in. I stood for a while with my back against the dome and just relaxed, let my legs stop shaking and tried to regulate my breathing. I took my moment. I took it all in. It was somewhat crowded up there – believe it or not – and I overheard many many people say in many many languages “ooooh” and “aaaaahhh”. And I saw them snap picture after picture. And I heard over and over again “worth it! it was so worth it!” and “this view!” and “I’m so glad we did this!” and such. And I guess I agree, the view was amazing. Yes. It was. It was amazing.
it wasn’t THAT amazing. I mean, it was nice. But it wasn’t like the most amazing view ever. And in saying that, I sort of feel like the one mom who says having a kid isn’t worth the pain of childbirth. In that moment I kind of felt like everyone was just saying it was worth it because otherwise they felt pretty D-U-M-Bizzle for building up a suitcase full of lactic acid in their legs. And I wasn’t going to argue with them but in my book, the view wasn’t really worth the climb.
I’ve always found it intriguing that when asked, George Mallory commented that he climbed Mount Everest because it was there. He didn’t say, I climbed it for the view. I personally have never been to the top of Mount Everest, maybe the view isn’t all that spectacular. But I’d think it probably is. Regardless, that’s not why he climbed it. Mallory aside, it does seem like most of us do things … achieve things … set out to accomplish for the reward, for the “thing at the end” for the view. I even worked for a company once that had a motto: The view is worth the climb. And that’s not a bad motto, not a bad philosophy. I just don’t agree. I don’t think that’s the reason to climb.
It’s not the view that keeps me climbing. It’s just the climb itself.
Maybe this is just an “it’s the journey, not the destination” post. Maybe I’m dangerously close to “stop and smell the roses”, I don’t know. I just know that in my life, I’m not really climbing for the view. The view is incidental.
I guess what I’m saying is, The climb was worth the climb.
And I’d do it again.