In the past I have traveled to many cities in a short period of time. On each of these vacations, I have fallen specifically in love with one of these cities. The only problem with loving every piece of a place so much is that I am unable to fully enjoy the city succeeds it.
Six years ago when I went to Italy, the first city I visited was Venice. The charm of the canals, the grandeur of the Palazzo Ducale, the quaintness of Murano and Burano, and the friendly, convivial nature of the Italians all sponsored my adoration of Venice. The next city on the itinerary, Florence, just didn’t compare.
But now, I’m beginning to second guess the validity of that assertion. Although I still have beautiful memories of Venice locked away in the corner of my mind, my current experiences in Florence are causing me to become even more attached to this city than I ever was to Venice. The way Florence manages to be simultaneously religious and civic, historical and hip, and quaint and bustling with activity, is just so tantalizing. It literally seems as though every corner I turn leads me to experience a new, beautiful piece of Italian life. (Or maybe that’s just because there are so many side-streets…)
Anyway, my first week here has been equally spectacular and exhausting. I have made plenty of time to explore the historical center of Florence, the surrounding areas, and the Villa Natalia at the expense of sleep: Between hours of walking around, early morning classes, and late-night studying, I’m not sure sometimes whether jet lag is making me sleepy or if I’m just physically tired. (However, I am sure my best friend’s name at the moment is Espresso.)
Although class starts di buon’ora della mattina, the greatest thing about my Art History lessons, is that classes are held “on-site”– in other words, in the various museums/churches of Florence. My classmates and I meet Silvia, our professor, in the Piazza San Marco at 8:45 am (prima che il tempo diventa piu caldo). She walks us to different areas of the city, and acts as a sort of human audio-guide along the way. It’s exciting to learn about the history of the city. Walking around, not only the contrast between Gothic-aged and Renaissance-aged buildings becomes more apparent but also the significance of the path you walk takes on a greater meaning. For me, it was once easy to look at an intricately constructed, yet massive piece of architecture and think — wow, whoever made this was a genius. But now, when I see these buildings I wonder — How did this building come to be? Did the artist actually get to construct his vision, or rather was his creativity constrained by the desires of his patron?
The religious and civic conflict that once occurred in all cities of Italy, for example, became literally apparent to me after learning the history behind the buildings constructed in different sections of the city. The separation of the Duomo and the building where the Guilds would meet literally displays the struggle and separation between city and state.
This weekend, I went hunting for a supermercato, because I needed conditioner, laundry detergent, and hand soap. After walking into a new section of the city with some friends, we found “Esselunga,” and had a great time looking around the poorly-organized aisles for the items we needed, and translating the Italian display cards. (I personally got stuck in what is comparable to King Kullen’s sweets aisle, trying to decide which biscotti looked the most delectable.)
Yesterday, I explored the side streets of the historic section of the city with some friends, and searched for non-touristy gelato places. (If you ever do end up in Florence, you must go to “Perché no?” because the gelato is so fresh, and not overly creamy. (The name of the gelateria is as great as the gelato itself: In Italian, the response to the question “would you like dessert” is not usually “Sure”, but rather, “Why not?”– Perché no?).
On our hunt for gelato, I also found a little fresh fruit stand.
I spent the greatest 30 cents of my life on the juiciest, sweetest peach.
My afternoon in the city yesterday ended with two more savory flavors: the tastes of home and coffee. Earlier in the week Mena, my Italian professor from Brown, emailed me to say that she would be in Florence; in the late afternoon we met up and drank cappuccinos on a rooftop building overlooking the Piazza delle Signorine. Through our conversation, we realized that we coincidentally are living right down the street from each other! As Mena said to me in English through her Italian accent, “It really does seem like a small world, Emily. First I am teaching you Italian at Brown, then I am seeing you in Italy, and now we are living so close together.”