Dave the motorhome remains comfortably placed under the Tuscan sun at the motorhome sosta in Vinci. Last night the locals gathered for football practice, which they’re at again tonight. The tiny standing-room-only cafe in town was busy all day with locals leaning on the counter with a glass of espresso, or something unidentified but smelling stronger. While small towns like this in Spain and France felt deathly quiet out of season, Vinci is alive, although again blissfully devoid of fellow tourists.
In the birthplace of the great polymath himself, we found a beautiful place to contemplate his genius, in the town laundrette, facing a full contingent of Miele Professional washing machines sploshing our greying stuff about. We’d dusted off our euro stash to repay the community for two fee-free nights with a €7 an adult trip into Leonardo’s museum, and watched our washing (another €23 into the economy) lost in thought.
It didn’t start out that way. The museum failed to kick-start itself with a dull episode of wooden models of construction machines. Actually, they weren’t dull, being used in the construction of the Florence cathedral 500 years ago, but we couldn’t work out why they were in here as they weren’t designed by Leonardo but an earlier engineer, Filippo Brunelleschi?
Our confusion continued, as we tried in vain to match up the English leaflet with the models. A certain irony was at play; the genius of Leonardo was conveyed to the world through the clarity of his writing, which scrolls like Arabic right to left across the page, while his museum couldn’t quite manage the job of putting a number against an exhibit to matching the leaflet?
Despite the obvious draw of being the birth-town of a world renown genius, the museum only came into existence with the donation from IBM of a series of wooden models made to reflect Leonardo’s sketches. The models are wonderful, bringing the place to life, matched by animations on video screens perhaps designed to work alongside the ‘don’t touch’ signs to help people keep their hands in pockets. They failed, as some Italian nippers whistled past us, grabbing every model under the un-watchful eye of their Dad. The ‘no photos’ signs also failed too, this time it was us to take on the Italian mantle of small law breaker.
Leonardo wasn’t actually born in Vinci but a few kilometers away. You can visit his birthplace, which might throw more light on the man himself that the main in-town museum. We were glad we’d invested some time in Wikipedia, reading about his out-of-wedlock birth, brush with the law over his sexuality, his incredible range of interests and skills, and the fact only about 15 of his works survive since he was constantly procrastinating and trying out new techniques. For anyone interested, this short biography is interesting.
Having eyeballed models of his more impressive inventions, things with a passing resemblance to modern tanks, machine guns, push bikes, cars, hand-glider and engineering machinery, it was perhaps the smallest of things which really showed his value, if not his all-out genius. At the time, spinning machines didn’t even have foot pedals to drive them. A bigger problem though was the time spent getting the finished twine to wrap around the bobbin; the operator had to keep stopping to move the twine along a series of hooks along the length of the bobbin or it would bunch up. Leonardo invented a small, simple mechanism which did the job, sliding the bobbin back and forth automatically, speeding up the process by who-knows how much.
Talking of push bikes, an interesting story emerged which neither of us had heard of. The uncomfortable-looking contraption demonstrates all the key features, with the exception of steering, of a bike which only came on the scene 300 years later, but it turns out it might be a hoax. If it’s true, everyone still seems to agree Leonardo didn’t draw the sketch, but nevertheless the model bike stays in the museum?
So, a little enlightened about the nature of the man, a driven genius with the discipline to document his vast gamut of ideas, we quit the museum, checked on Charlie and headed laden like pack horses for the laundry. We’re back in Dave now, in silence again, just the snores of our slowly self-repairing pooch and an occasional passing car giving our ears something to do. Someone popped a leaflet advertising a sosta in Florence under a wiper while we were out, although it does say it’s a 25 minute bus journey from the city, so it’s about as far from the city as we are now! Time for some research on our next parking spot.