My Beloved Firenze
"I was offered a free villa in Hollywood but I said no thank you, I prefer to live in Italy."
- Ennio Morricone
I fell in love with Florence on my first trip here in 2013. I felt like I had come home to a place I had lived before. The feeling of coming home was so strong it was as though Italy was already deeply embedded in my DNA even though I had never been here before. This experience happened to me when I visited Nova Scotia this summer, also. It got me thinking about what home is and I now believe that there are certain places on earth, different for each individual, where our very soul feels at home. I think the places we are attracted to go and visit, even feel pulled toward often turn out to be our home. If you are very fortunate, you live your life in a place that feels this way for you. Italy is one of those homes for me. I have missed it since I left in 2013 and felt like a part of me stayed behind when I left. I wish I could see all of Italy and experience all the different cities and countryside but I would probably need a few years for that, maybe even a lifetime. In observing how some places feel like home while others don't, I look forward to traveling to many different places on the planet to discover where I would be happy living. So far, in my life and travels, I have only two other places that feel like home...Bainbridge Island and Nova Scotia.
My beloved Florence is a city of creativity, inspiration, and the past preserved. I'm not sure how the Italians who live here feel but I can share with you what I love about Florence. To my surprise, I love both the good things and the things that many would consider inconvenient or maybe even annoying. I speak from the perspective of staying in an apartment, not a hotel. Whenever possible, I try to rent an apartment in a neighborhood, within walking distance of the city center but not directly in it, so that I am in a building with people who live there full time. I have stayed in hotels and it is a very different experience when traveling. There is nothing wrong with it and if I am only in a town for a couple of days, I opt for the luxury of everything being easy and stay in a hotel. In a hotel, however, it is not possible to experience some of the quirks and differences of what it is really like to live in a place. In Florence, I love it all.
I love the beauty, as anyone would, but it's more than just 'pretty' to me. I love it. I love the trees, the light, I even love the pigeons. The Italian pigeons are like the Italian people, they know how to relax and enjoy the day, they are never in a hurry. Yesterday, I was standing in line at the neighborhood grocery store and I had quite a few things in my basket. I was chatting a bit with the person in front of me (who spoke pretty good English, yay!) and he motioned for me to put my basket up on the counter. I looked at the person behind me, who had only one item, and I said I want to let him go first so he won't have to wait for my large quantity of items. The man in front of us laughed and said, "He's not in a hurry! This is Italy!" The never-in-a-hurry attitude is so refreshing and different from the U.S. They don't even seem to care that the wifi here sucks. Since they are never in a hurry, what feels to me like the old dial-up speed of yesteryear is fine with them. As a matter of fact, the only people I've ever seen on computers here are in offices I've walked by. They seem to be living their lives and not glued to their screens. Not once have I seen someone sitting in a coffee shop with their laptop (though, personally, I enjoy doing that once in a while).
My favorite things in Florence are the things preserved through the centuries. One of them is the art, oh my...the art. Art that seems beyond what human hands could make. Yet, there it is before you. I love that they preserve everything! There is always restoration work going on somewhere in the city.
I love the cathedrals. There are so many cathedrals and each one very different, yet all are designed and filled with intricate detail and care and they hold the most breathtaking art and sculptures you will ever see. Should you come across a cathedral that seems plain on the exterior, just walk inside and you will discover there is nothing plain about it. I love being surrounded by cathedrals that were built over the course of hundreds of years and buildings that are centuries old.
I love the feeling of walking the same streets that were walked on by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo da Vinci, Filippo Brunelleschi, Durante Alighieri (Dante), Botticelli, Donatello, the Medici family, Galileo Galilei, and many more.
I love the surrounding hills of Tuscany, the wineries, the tiny little neighborhood shops that are everywhere, barely bigger than a closet, where you can pick up some food and necessities, the outdoor markets, and the larger stores when needed, though there are only a few of those.
I love the pace of life and how most everything is closed on Sunday (and some on Monday). During the week, everything closes from about 12-3pm, even the retail shops whose livelihood depends on selling things. They take a nice long break for lunch and trust you will come back later to buy. I love how the people who live here are never in a hurry. You never see them rush down the street eating their food on the way to their next meeting. They are sitting down with friends, whether for drinks or dinner, enjoying the companionship of one another.
I also love all the things others might find annoying. I love the creaky shutters, not having a dryer and putting my clothes out on a clothesline, the huge double wooden doors that are very heavy and difficult to push open when you enter your apartment building. Just inside those large wooden doors, I love the huge entryways. I love the thick stone walls even though they are the main cause of spotty (or nonexistent) wifi. I even love the weird utilities where you cannot run more than one appliance at a time or you will trip the breakers. I love the giant, thick door into my apartment with the five-bolt lock, still here from eons ago, even though crime is pretty much nonexistent here. I love the strange way that the windows in these old buildings open, either from the side or the top, depending on how you turn the latch. I love the neighborhood sounds when I open my window...I hear music, conversation, laughter, babies, cathedral bells in my neighborhood bell tower, the wholeness of life. One night, we got to hear an entire opera on the hill above us. Magnificent. I love how animated the Italians are with one another...the vocal expressions, the gestures, and how they all talk at once but somehow understand each other.
But nothing in life is perfect, right? The one thing I don't love is the heat and humidity. I decided to come in September this time to avoid the heat. Where I live, September brings the temperature down to perfection typically and the light is the most beautiful of the whole year. If I am lucky enough to come to Florence again, I will either come in October or maybe April. The summers are brutal, 90 degrees (or more) and high humidity. Personally, I don't like it if I go for a walk on a cloudy day and I am drenched in sweat within three minutes of being outside. So there, like anything else, Florence isn't perfect. But Italy is. ;-)
Ennio Morricone, quoted above, is an Italian composer extraordinaire. If you do not know who this man is, please...go here. You will find that you know his work!