FLORENCE, ITALY — In the four hundred years since Forte de Belvedere was constructed, just outside the city walls of Florence, it has never been attacked. Tonight it was placed under siege by Beliebers.
The scene at Porta San Giorgio, near the only publicly accessibly entrance to Belvedere.
There were dozens of them, covered in pen and marker scribbles ("justin I love you"), arranged on either side of a driveway leading through to the fort. They had arrived because it was rumored that Justin Bieber would be attending the wedding of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, which was being held on the grounds of Belvedere, and they massed outside the tall stone walls near Porta San Giorgio, up a steep winding road on the southern side of the Arno, prepared to seize Belvedere if necessary, in the hopes of seeing that in which they believed.
Forte de Belvedere was constructed as much to safeguard the Medici family against popular revolt from within the city as it was to protect it against invaders from without. True to form, the Belieber army had the excitable, directionless sensibility of young rebels under the sway of a charismatic, populist priest. Their Savonarola was cuter, yes, but he was also—they believed—inside a car somewhere, headed for the interior of a fort, where he was unlikely to create a new Republic of Florence. (Though he no doubt could have.) Every tinted-window car or van that passed through the gates was greeted with chants ("Never Say Never") and yells and often slaps on the glass; even the car carrying bottled water received an appreciative set of screams. There was no confirmation that Bieber had been invited, much less was in attendance, but it didn't seem to matter; he is a powerful being, and his possible presence demands mobilization just as his actual presence does.
One Belieber's arm.
Though most of the chants, and the phrases written in pen and marker on their arms, were in English, none of the Beliebers seemed to speak the language. I asked one pair of girls how long they had been waiting and they shook their heads at me. "Quale... hora," I said, hoping that meant something. One responded in Italian, saying, according to my notes "something Italian." The girls moved on before I could ask them if he was actually even coming. There was more chanting to do.
Another group of Beliebers had occupied a smaller gate to the east of Porta San Giorgio, from which they eyed me suspiciously as I ascended the hill toward their spot.
No one was chanting or looking for Kanye, or Kim, or even Jay Z or Beyoncé. At some distance from the Beliebers a scattered ring of TV reporters and camera operators leaned against mopeds and the broad stone wall of the fort, chatting mostly in Italian. (Leaning on things and bullshitting is a skill shared by Italians and cameramen, and one that reaches its pinnacle in Italian cameramen.) A handful of confused locals and tourists walked by, necks craned. A smiling woman holding a microphone tried to explain to three American tourists why they couldn't reach Belvedere for the sunset, and tried to point out on a map a place with a good view where no one would be getting married. A man in a top hat and silver sneakers milled about, looking very much like a man desperate for a reporter to ask him why he was dressed like that. I decided to walk down the hill to get a drink instead.
In the wake of the siege.
When I came back, the crowd was smaller and less committed (easy pickings for the Medicis). A group of American men in their early 20s had set up on one side, watching the cars come in. "This is retardedly funny," one said to his friends.
A Vice Italy reporter was interviewing the remaining members of the crowd. "I was at the Florence Airport a few hours ago," he told me, reminding me that technically the focus of this event was Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's wedding. "I saw Mos..."—he paused and checked with his photographer, who said "Def"—"...Def, Jaden Smith, Scottie Pippen." He flipped open his notebook. "You are from New York?"
Across the driveway an older woman had collapsed, and the ambulance that had been waiting on standby near the gate drove the 20 yards over so its paramedics could attend to her. The Beliebers watched it move, staring forlornly. Maybe Justin would be inside?
He wasn't. The sun was setting. The vows has been exchanged. No one had seen Justin. The siege had been broken. I walked back to my apartment.