The Pulse: Florence
Everything Lucia saw was tinted with gold. Her eyes were chestnut brown, but everything she saw was funnelled through their pupils into a pool of neurons flooded with golden light. Deep in the back of her brain, in the mysteries of her visual cortex. She thought to herself, Tommaso said it was "an abberant cluster of neurons, the random firing of ganglia, that's all." He's a third-year resident at Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova, he ought to know.
Yet ever since she'd moved to Florence, she felt something else, like a ribbon of warm light, flowering across her head.
On the surface of things, there was nothing on top of the amber strands that cascaded over her frontal lobe. Nothing but her hard skull, with its wiggling weave across the top: the coronal suture.
coronal. adjective. relating to the crown or corona; in astronomy, relating to the corona of the sun or another star; in anatomy, relating to the crown of the head. Late M.E., from L. coronalis, from corona, crown. coronal. noun. a garland or wreath for the head: her eyes sparkled beneath a coronal of flowers [Apple dictionary]
The connective tissues of the coronal suture were in fact emanating heat, waves that ran upward along the saggital suture. The heat rose in the same way that photons emanated from the middle of the sun, or lava slipped through faults and fissures from the centre of the Earth. The heat went right through the thin space-suit of skin that had expanded over the course of her twenty years.
That's the way Tommaso would have explained it. But if the 13th century artist Fra Sole were to paint this band of invisible light, he would dip his brush deep, seven rings of Heaven deep, into celestial gold.
Fra Sole let the gold seep slowly into the human plaster, deeper than a tattoo on skin, till it fixed its tincture inside the molecules of the bone itself. The gold seeped down through the sutures, through the sutras that bound cells to blood, heartbeat to electrochemical pulse. From the bone and sutures, the gold percolated into the patterns beneath, with their crazy wires and junctions. It threw itself onto the projection chambers of Lucia's occipital lobe. Everything she saw was tinted with celestial gold.
Fra Sole had no idea if this gold was the gold of the model in his mind or the gold of the Anunnaki, the strange beings that visited him in his dreams. From their high chamber beneath the Dome, they suggested he visit a planet with water and earth, decillions of gigaparsecs squared from his home outside their cosmic grain of sand. Fra Sole was asked by the Anunnaki to help them — to take human form, robe himself in the coarse cloth of a town called Assisi, and shape gold and lime-soaked clay into a semblance of divine beauty. He painted this vision with blue-green eyes, like the ocean and sky that floated above the crust of the small planet not far from the Soul Star: Earth. Fra Sole painted his subject as if she had human breath and skin the colour of honey.
Tommaso called her his angel, yet Lucia knew she wasn’t an angel. Instead, she worked behind the counter at Coronas Caffè, several blocks north of her favourite galleries, museums, and churches. At that precise moment she was watching the hot molecules float upward from the steel rim with its tiny perforations. The mist appeared and then disappeared, and the air was clear again. This, she understood, was a signal for her to do a sequence of actions that would end up, in time, with her handing a ceramic cup filled with coffee to a tourist. But when she did this, she felt her heart palpitating, and fell to the floor.
Tommaso knew the paramedics, who allowed him to sit next to Lucia in the ambulance. He went over in his mind all the possible conditions that could have made her drop to the floor. He had his suspicions about what it was, and he feared that it was a condition for which there was no cure.
Stumped, the neurologist allowed Tommaso to look at the blood work and the ECG. It was as he feared.
Later, in their apartment overlooking Via Guelfa, he explained to her what the doctors, who didn't know her, could never have known. She had, perhaps in Parma, but most likely in Florence, contracted Stendhal's Syndrome.
He explained to her, trying to keep his voice steady, that the Syndrome was a rare condition. It resulted from dangerous levels of exposure to Florentine art.
Unfortunately, she had missed the inoculation that Florentine children were given during school visits to the Uffizi, the Academia, the Palazzo Vecchio, and all the others. Tommaso explained further that there were various strains — the Venetian Virus, the Sienese Malady, the Roman Scourge — yet most potent of all was the Florentine Fever. All of these strains belonged to the general epidemiological category, the Trecento Contagion.
The Syndrome was named after the famous French writer, after he grew faint from staring at Giotto's frescoes in the nearby Basilica of Santa Croce in 1817.
Still, Lucia wondered if her condition wasn't a symptom of some deeper cause.
Next: And Carbuncle His Eyes