At certain times of the year, my thoughts turn to Florence. Firenze, one of Italy’s most interesting cities.
In early June, the Florentine sunlight is clear gold, intoxicatingly warm on the skin.
One wants to stay outdoors forever.
The first time I visited Florence in early June, I was shocked by the crowds on the streets, in the piazzas, in the galleries.
I’d repeatedly worked in Florence, but always in winter or autumn. Without the crowds of tourists, I got to know the city in a more intimate way.
Days off in Florence were special, every errand an adventure. Picking up supplies, posting letters, buying gifts for family at the open-air market, sitting in a cafe, having a cappucino, or — depending on the hour — a Caprese salad at a favorite trattoria. All seemed to involve a conversation.
I loved visiting Florence’s galleries. The Academmia, where I’d stop and say hello to Michelangelo’s David again, and trying — again — to not stare at his …. hand.
I’d go to see Fra Angelico’s exquisite paintings. Every time I visited Florence, I spent time with the paintings of this Renaissance artist-friar (once described as “a rare and perfect talent”) and visited the San Marco priory where he’d lived.
I loved sitting quietly in the Uffizi gallery.
Getting lost in La Primavera. And marveling at Boticelli’s talent and skill.
And always, I’d stroll over to my favorite dress shop, a short walk from Florence’s famous Il Duomo cathedral.
Going into that shop was a bit like coming home. The proprietor would recognize me immediately with warm kisses on both cheeks and loud cries of welcome.
“Come stai?“ she’d ask.
“Bene, grazie.” I’d reply, smiling. “Come stai?”
A smile, a “bene, bene”. Then an elegant shrug, and remarks about doing business in Italy these days, what with the state of the government.
And then came the really important stuff: swapping news about our families.
“And – you remember my niece?” I’d nod yes, though I’d only heard about this beloved niece, never met her.
“Did I tell you what happened to her? No? Well….” As if we had seen each other just yesterday, instead of months earlier.
Between my trying on different outfits, her serving other customers, my looking at myself in the mirror and frowning, her saying: “No, no, that’s too big! Try this one instead!”
Or: “There, there... Bella! Molto bella….”
Around and between all that, the latest chapter of her family saga would unfold.
An hour later, I’d leave with my purchases and — always — a head full of family gossip.
And sometimes, the thought:
“Home” is also where they know you, where they’re glad to see you.
Dedicated to my favorite shopkeeper in Florence, with thanks for making me feel at home in a city not my own. Years later, I wonder if you’re still there, and I wonder how you and your family are doing.