I sat in the sculpture garden, just off of the Piazza della Signornia.
This is in Florence.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Florence several times. And each trip, I make it a point to sit on the concrete steps and scribble in my journals.
While my dream of publishing has been something I’ve worked toward most of my life, I was taken aback this past week as I’ve been editing my new release, The Italian Holiday. I included some of the more, fanciful, journaling entries. And I’ll tell you, it was a very surreal moment, editing the final version that has traveled a bit of space and time.
I wanted to share the chapter with you:
There is something weirdly liberating in being set adrift without funds and language. It was as if I’d found myself in an unexpected episode of Survivor.
The weather was cool, no more rain but the humidity and lingering gray cloud cover reinforced my decision to borrow the white jacket Marie had accidentally bought a size too big; as my jacket was having an adventure on a runway in Scotland.
I wandered the streets of Florence.
In the truest sense of the word, I wandered, letting my feet and mood move me though the city. Eyeing each tiny detail of life in Florence’s city center as if I could gather them to my chest and hold them forever.
I was captivated by the terracotta roofs and the intricate details carved in stone on sleepy buildings. The ratty green canopy-covered outdoor market with vendors setting out their rainbows of fruits and vegetables. Vibrant oranges: arance; dark green artichokes: carciofi; glossy red bell peppers: peperoni.
My feet stumbled several times on worn cobblestones, unaccustomed to walking on such ancient surfaces. Hell, I was even intrigued by the buildup of dirt on the peachy yellow façades of the buildings.
It was foreignness in the simplest of forms that got to me. The way most people took public transportation, or walked to their local fruit vendors, bread stores and small grocery stores. Shopping was done in small quantities several times a week because the majority of the population lived without the convenience of a car to carry all their goods home. Many Italians pulled a collapsible wheeled basket loaded with their purchases behind them.
Visiting was done at lunch time, not over coffee. Coffee was for quick bouts of gossip; lunch was for luxuriating.
All of the city’s details oozed Renaissance. It was the Renaissance that beat at the heart of this city, that birthed the structures that still stood as monuments to its glory. The Renaissance renewed philosophy and science, it redefined art. And those building blocks had become a tourist destination.
I’d read an article that stated Florence was now just a relic; where once there were artisans creating and producing, now there were only tourist traps selling worn out baubles.
I disagree. There is still life and inspiration radiating through the city. I felt it beneath my feet, vibrating from the stones. I was moved by the specks of dirt that had become grout between the well-worn cobblestones. And even though Da Vinci and Michelangelo were long gone; the city still held the breath of the lives they’d lived. It swirled around the squares, the piazza, and filled the streets, the viale.
That breath of inspiration haunted the museums and churches. The Uffizi, the Accademia, Santa Croce and the Duomo.
Oh, the Duomo.
I made my way to the footsteps of the Duomo and brushed away an unexpected tear.
Three years ago, I stood here with my family. Before Marie found the study abroad program that would bring her to this city. Before I met my ex.
Three years ago, I stood in front of this structure and explained its history: the sacrifices, the massive amounts of time and effort and manpower it took to build her.
The Italians started building the cathedral before they even had the engineering know-how to build the dome. They simply trusted that one day, someone would come along and figure it out. I loved the Duomo, it held my favorite life lesson: Sometimes you just need to take a chance.
I took my time allowing my gaze to wander upwards, taking in the green, white and gray edifice. When I was here last, my family and I were stuck in the throbbing current of summer tourists and our own tired whining. But now, off-season, with nothing but time on my hands, this historic cathedral was begging to be written about, to be immortalized, even if only in a journal.
I went through the entrance into the cold darkness of the Duomo’s womb. Hushed echoes from the handful of tourists that collected in different areas of the church swirled around me. I gave way to the fanciful idea that among the echoes, if I listened carefully, I might be able to hear something of the past. It was foolishness, but I was given to foolishness today.
I sat on a bench along one of the walls that had a bit of light and scribbled ideas and descriptive words in my notebook.
Before I left, I walked over to one of the many wrought iron trees that held up branches of burning tealight candles. A tangible display of the prayers and hopes of visitors. I wanted to add my own light, so I lit a candle for the writers and artists and philosophers…past and present. For all of us roaming the streets with our ideas.
I pulled out the two euro coins Marie had given me, ‘just in case’, and put one in the offertory box. It couldn’t hurt.
Out of the church, I floated down the street in a dreamlike trance. Ignoring the women begging for money, and the vendors trying to convince me in broken English that the scarf, purse, and leather jacket they were holding aloft was just for me: ‘Perfect for the pretty lady.’
I walked past a woman holding a small book at eye level and I didn’t think much of it, until I glanced over her shoulder. I was struck by the sketch she was doing of the Piazza della Repubblica. Just pencil on a white page of a small sketchbook. She had done the archway and the outline of the statue that stands in the middle of the piazza. I thought about striking up a conversation, or just quietly watch her create. But this moment she was caught in, this was her moment of inspiration. I’d leave her to it, but I would write about it.
I’ve watched plenty of people sketching and painting in this city, but watching someone who was struck by a moment and who just had to capture it, well that’s the epitome of what this city stood for.