March 17, 2017
The Victoria I left on Wednesday afternoon, March 15, was still cloaked in winter. Drab gray-brown, and a cold annoying drizzle accompanied me to the airport. On that score, I was happy to be leaving.
What greeted me in Florence was bright sunshine and heat: Spring had arrived just in time!
After a much-needed sleep, I woke up late-morning on Friday, refreshed and ready to step into the Tuscan sunlight. By the time I had rummaged through my suitcase (there is a lot to pack when one is staying for two months, bridging two seasons), and found something suitably sun-worthy to wear, it was after 1:00. Time for lunch! And on a warm, sunny day, what better lunch to have than a gelato: I am fairly certain that it includes most of the primary food groups, so please, no finger wagging. . . As is my routine when I come to Florence, I walked to my favourite caffe’ just a couple of blocks from my cousin Antonella’s house in Galluzzo, a suburb of the city. Usually, my sojourn begins with a cappuccino, but today, I was willing to break with tradition and live on the edge.
So, nocciola (hazlenut) and fondente (dark chocolote) cone in hand, I went to sit on a bench in the piazzetta where the morning market was being dismantled. The only stalls left were the flower vendor and the used book seller, both of whom were loading up their vans: it was time to go home for lunch and a rest.
My day, of course, was just beginning. The sun was hot and I unwound the light scarf wrapped loosely around my neck to let the heat and light restore my aching muscles and harried soul. Travel is becoming such an ordeal, as I age! While in the middle of frustrating delays, endless bovine waits through passport control, and awkward, painful runs to departure gates — the ones that always seem to be at the very end of a terminal, you know the ones I mean — I wonder if the destination is worth it. Surely my time would be better spent hiking through Mt.Doug Park with my dog Sam, or chasing after my grandchildren, or drinking an afternoon espresso with my husband. Surely.
But then, as I am flying over the Alps and heading down Italy’s western coast, I spot the Versilia shoreline for the first time, the beaches where I spent so much of my youth; I marvel at the Apuane, foothills of the Appenines (Are those white veins snaking down to the foot of the mountains, snow or marble?); I catch my first glimpse of cypresses dotting the gentle hills of our approach to Florence. . . With all of this the excitement and emotion builds and I forget the torment of the past twenty-four hours. I’m home.
This feeling is solidified when I see Antonella’s huge smile as I exit the customs area with my bags. She is ten years my junior, but so much like me: a passion for languages, teacher of same, singer, writer, wicked wit. We are both blessed with two biological sisters — and each other, a third. Perhaps one of our storks got confused and took us to the wrong house. No matter. Despite the physical distance which separates us, and the difference in age and life experience, we enjoy a close relationship and look forward to our time together. I will stay with Antonella and her two daughters until I leave for Lucca on March 26, where I have rented an apartment for a month.
On Friday, my first full day in Italy, while Antonella taught French at a private school, I meandered through the neighbourhood. To my delight, I discovered and explored a park along a winding river. I walked several kilometers, trying to straighten and loosen my sore body, all tangled and cemented by long flights and almost as equally long runs through the Charles de Gaul Airport.
The air, the sun, the walk did me a world of good and I was soon ready for an evening on the town with Antonella. After Prosecco and tapas at a bar close to the French Institute, our destination, we attended Florence’s fourth annual Quebecois film festival. The film we saw was Les Demons, by Philippe Lesage, which we enjoyed immensely and highly recommend. Crazy, when I think about it: I have to come to Florence to experience a festival of French-Canadian films, all free, by the way. Perhaps English Canada should take note.
After the film finished, at 10:00 pm., we spent a couple of hours wandering through the heart of Florence. I was happy to discover it a much more pleasant place than the tourist-clogged daytime city. Don’t misunderstand: I love Firenze! But Friday night I became aware of it in ways I never had before. Spaces appeared that I’d never noticed; well-known icons acquired a new singularity. Piazza della Signoria, for example, is actually larger than I believed it to be — there is an entire section of it I’d never noticed before, because it was always overrun with bodies; Santa Maria Maggiore, the Baptistry, and the Campanile di Giotto were almost vulnerable in the darkness, naked; Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella, with their respective piazzas, the same.
It was beautiful, yet eerie. Almost too quiet. Too raw. This is not to say that we were alone. Far from it. Many of the bars and pubs were overrun by youthful revelers celebrating St. Patrick’s Day; young foreigners and Italians sporting tall black and green leprechaun hats, stumbling on the uneven stones of the Florentine streets, everyone Irish for the day, irrespective of locus — the green, white, and red/orange flags of the two countries melding, just for that one crazy night.