You can, as it turns out, feel too much.
According to the Urban Dictionary, overwhelment (which some would dispute as being an actual word ) means, to feel bombarded with more than enough; in excess; to the nth power.
In Florence, both the word and the malady, like the art and the sculpture, are part of the everyday. No wonder I feel at home here; I am no stranger overwhelment in my life.
The Disease of Overwhelment was named after the famous 19th-century French author Stendhal (pseudonym of Henri-Marie Beyle) who described his own experience of physical and emotional breakdown in Florence in 1817 in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio.
Thus, Stendhal syndrome, Stendhal’s syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florence Syndrome is the psychosomatic illness that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when you are exposed to particularly beautiful art in large amounts in a single place.
In other words, Florence.
The Disease of Overwhelment can also be caused when you’re confronted with immense beauty in the natural world.
In other words, Florence.
Abraham-Hicks, who describes how to create abundance in your own life by asking and focusing, explains overwhelment from a spiritual viewpoint: Overwhelment is about you not being up to speed with what you told the Universe that you want. The Universe is yielding to you. You’re just not ready to receive it right now.
Ask and you will receive….in abundance. Especially here in Florence, my friend.
There are many descriptions of people becoming dizzy and fainting while taking in Florentine art, especially at the Uffizi, dating from the early 19th century. The phenomenon was only named in 1979, by Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini, who observed and described more than 100 similar cases among tourists and visitors in Florence.
Make that 101.
Each morning, the view from my balcony engulfs me. The sky is orange as the sun rises and dances on the terracotta rooftops. When it rains, sharp grey cloud formations shroud a persistent and brilliant white sun that pokes pinholes of light onto the landscape below. In the evening, if I am arrive home before sunset, I see just how far the Master Painter’s pink and purple brushstrokes extend across the city.
And that’s not counting the art.
There is no way to stay protected from this Disease of Overwhelment here in Florence, but who wants to? It is like being in love; it seduces and you succumb, willingly. Protest all you like; your heart is going to be pried open.
You are eaten alive – a true happy meal.
You see, you think you are walking down a commercial street filled with iPhone shops and leather merchants; but in fact, you are nowhere. Time doesn’t compute here. The most commonplace of office buildings are adorned with frescoes and sculptures worthy of Paradise. The community churches were workshops of giants and geniuses, and they bear the markings of many, many, many inspired hands. The hospitals, pharmacies, hotels each have a history that is way beyond astounding.
How can anyone get anything done here? How can you do anything but pray, everywhere?
Well, I am not giving in. I am not going to the museums today. I need a break.
But then it happens.
I take a walk (for 8 hours because time stands still here) and around every corner, I am ambushed, confronted, comforted, surprised and finally, happily, lost.
I walk, looking for nothing in particular, and find everything I could ever want, in all the centuries that exist at once, in the now that was and is and always will be.
Every time the sun drops even a little, the faded frescoes on the buildings vibrate with emotion. I look up to read a street name and instead, I glimpse down the far end of a narrow street as the sun is setting over distant hills and pointed trees. No matter how far I wander, I am back kneeling before Her Majesty, the Duomo. And tonight, the decorations of Christmas add new sparkle to this beautifully burnished antique city.
I am exhausted. I am still not hungry because I am overstuffed.
It rained all day today. I had my waterproof boots, my compact Donald Duck umbrella, my down coat like a warm blanket around me.
I didn’t plan this, it just worked out. I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed by the art I was already familiar with; it just happened. I didn’t see my life taking a new turn down an unfamiliar street whose end I can’t see, that’s just the journey now. But somehow in Florence, everything just works. Allora, va bene.
I could get used to this.