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florence: vivi appassionatamente!

June 21, 2009

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March 19, 2009

morning .

I leave the hostel as the sun rises over Florence.  I’ve grown fond of the silent morning saunters.  In Montreal, should you hop on a bus or subway at dawn, you will likely encounter men and women coming off the night shift, many of whom are immigrants, working long dark hours to support their families and start a new life in a new country.  There may be one or two suits in the cabin, but mostly you see people with stained pants and drawn faces and worn hands and dirty fingernails.  It is another world in those few clock ticks between night and day.

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Here in Florence, the dawn of another day is very much the same, but it feels like a different kind of silence, one that isn’t so heavy.  In a couple hours, pretty boys with gelled hair will strut their stuff and gorgeous Italian women wearing the latest fashion will walk the cobbled streets in 2-inch heels with the greatest of ease and grace.  But right now, I see old men in overalls delivering boxes of plump tomatoes and eggplants in their tiny 3-wheeled trucks, nonnas in house dresses and ankle-high nylon socks sweeping their little patch of sidewalk, a big old lady with purple hair biking down the street.  The clouds are lazy and the pigeons are on a mission, staking out and fighting for the best breadcrumb locations. The morning hours are the keepers of secret gems, they are maskless, they are true, they are pure… and best enjoyed with a cup of coffee.

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At Caffé La Creola, I order a bowl of fruit, a croissant intégral and an americano and write in my red journal, which is almost filled to capacity with tales and adventures.  I hear ciao and prego with each new patron that walks through the door.   All sorts roll in, the moped driver, the man in the business suit with long hair pulled back tight into a pony tail, the girl with the DG sunglasses, the middle aged man that talks loudly and says capisce for everyone to hear.  They all stand at the bar for a quick espresso and chat then dash out the door, ciao ciao, to their next destination.

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noon .

After walking around aimlessly for 2 hours to find myself God knows where, I eventually ask a woman with scarlet lipstick on her teeth and curly red hair: “Scusami, dove la Piazza della Repubblica?“.  I am surprised to somewhat understand the directions and realize just how similar Italian is to French.

I pick up a focaccia sandwich with arugula and pancetta (or some such meat – this vegetarian on home turf may not be an expert in the meat department but she knows salty, yummy goodness when she tastes it.)  I sit on a bench overlooking a colorful carousel at the Piazza.  I unwrap the sandwich from its brown paper and pull the bottle of wine out of my backpack (Are you surprised?  Really?  By now, you should know and can always assume that there is a bottle of wine in my backpack waiting to be enjoyed.  Just call me Mary Poppins, patron saint of winos.)

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The sky is gray and I know the weather report calls for rain but I’m not convinced nor will I be until I feel the first drop.  I sit, I eat, I drink, I observe, I watch the carousel go round and round.  I try my best to be fully present.  My mind wanders with a gust of a cold wind.  I bring it back to here, to now, where the three girls next to me chat in the most beautiful language on earth.

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after noon .

After lunch comes gelato.  It’s a natural and essential transition.  A man from Brazil approaches me.  He and his crew are soliciting funds to build schools for children in some remote part of the world.  At first, I’m all “dude, can’t you see my gelato alla vaniglia is dripping down my cone and I’m wasting precious licking time?” but once I ascertain that it isn’t a scam, I listen to what he has to say (all the while continuing to enjoy my gelato, because I am a skilled multi-tasker that way).  So yaddi yaddi yadda (the broken Italian kind)… he eventually offers a silicone wristband in exchange for a small donation.  The bracelet reads vivi appassionatamente and is a reminder to live life passionately.  This reminds me of a random tarot card reading I recently had, which claimed that my mantra for this year is to follow my passion.  I look up at the Italian sky and smile and say.  Si!  I got it, I got it already.  I will live this day, this trip, this year with passion.

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two tickets to the gun show

After the piazza, I make my way to Pitti Palace’s Boboli Gardens where I roam for hours.  It feels good to step out of the beige of buildings and into the green of gardens. I have come to this place in search of the Fontana del Bacchino.  You might be wondering why anyone would want to find a sculpture of a fat court jester, Dwarf Morgante, depicted nude and seated on the back of a tortoise?  I personally wonder why anyone would want to sculpt such a thing but the reason I am interested in seeing it is because my mother has a photo of my great grandfather Felts grinning mischievously next to said statue in the 1950’s.  Of course, I don’t ask where one might find such a sculpture because I think “how hard is it to find a frickin’ statue in a garden“, right?  And also, I am banking on some kind of divine guidance.

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Little do I know that the gardens are HUGE and they are FILLEd with statues.  I walk for hours as the sky slowly gathers dark clouds like a bride scooping up the crinoline of her dress.  The heavens are ominous to the east but the sun shines bright in the west.  They appear to be challenging each other to a duel.  As I near the exit, thunder echoes off the tiles of the inner courtyard, I feel the first raindrop and I begin to  lose all hope of finding Morgante.  And then suddenly, there he is.  This naked fat fellow sitting on a turtle looking as if he is taking the piss out of me.  I have a feeling great gramps is grinning ever so devilishly in that place in the sky.  I knew he would lead me here, I just didn’t think he would take his sweet time and conjure up a hella storm.

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There happens to be an English couple by the statue.   I ask them to take a picture.  There is time for a click, then the heavens open up.  And it hails for a good 20 minutes.  And all the while, the sun is shining.  The dichotomy is beautiful.

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evening .

At Trattoria Zaza, a short distance from the hostel, I dip a big chunk of bread in balsamic oil and vinegar.  Airy & chewy ciabatta meets crunchy pain campagnard.  A glass of chianti sits on the table.  It is cheerful and ruby in color with an impressive capacity for mischievous adventure.  I order Spaghettini alla Boccalona — olive oil, tomato, garlic, basil and fresh parmesan.  I close my eyes, smell the food, take my first bite and nearly cry.  I have never tasted pasta this delicious.

night .

After dinner, I do my laundry with Anne from Germany.  I sit in the laundry mat, late at night somewhere in Florence, drinking beer out of a can, watching my clothes sud, rinse, spin and tumble, talking about boys with a 23-year old girl from Germany.  When you look at it that way, somehow doing the laundry becomes an adventure, a part of my mantra to live life with passion, whether I am creating or doing house chores.  Trying to see the extra in the ordinary.  Listening with passion.  Talking with passion.  Living with passion.  Doing laundry with passion.  Far fetched, yes!  But isn’t that what passion is all about?

Vivi Appassionatamente!

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2009 8:35 am

    Hello,
    I am new to your blog (I’ve got the link from GreyStreetGirl) and I must say Venice is really beautiful (perhaps complimented by your photographic skill too).
    I just came back from Italy few weeks ago… and just can’t have enough of it! Thank you for sharing a dosage of your beautiful pictures!

    Jessica

  2. June 22, 2009 8:58 am

    What a beautiful post and a beautiful message! Florence has always appealed to me, I think I shall make it a life goal to visit it someday (just have to get over my nasty discomfort in airplanes – or find good drugs to get me through it).

    That first photo is stunning, and I’m so happy that you found Dwarf Morgante!

    Thank you for continuing to share your stories with us.

  3. June 22, 2009 9:08 am

    Such wonderful inspiration. I found your blog through greystreetgirl and am sure I’ll be back. We love to travel, and have this absolutly gorgeous spot on our list. Thank you for the lovely photographs and fascinating travelogue.

  4. Lisa permalink
    June 22, 2009 9:32 am

    I have never written you, but have been enjoying your travels (found you through Sus) and this day in Florence is too marvelous not to comment upon. I have spent many a magical day in Italy and you capture the essence of it all beautifully. I find myself checking my savings account, wondering “hmm … how long could I make this last if I stick with picnic lunches and gelato dinners?” And I have my own Morgante photo from 26 years ago when I spent a semester studying in Florence. Thanks for the memories. I think I need to grab a cappuccino, close my eyes and pretend ….

  5. June 22, 2009 11:49 am

    oh.my.god. that first shot? stunning and timeless. are you selling that one?

    love your travels and your photography. all of the shots are yummy but that one I cannot take eyes away from it.

  6. June 22, 2009 7:36 pm

    That first shot is like a vintage oil painting! So gorgeous! I want it on my wall!

  7. June 23, 2009 1:15 am

    Ah! I so love Italy. It is magical and you have captured it so beautifully. Keep following your passion.

  8. Alison permalink
    June 23, 2009 11:21 am

    That first photo is amazingly magnificent. And the 8th one is a beauty. And you and great Grand-pa. You know I love those. Thanks for posting them.
    And who are those people in picture 5? Interesting.

  9. June 25, 2009 10:09 am

    Your writing really transports me. I love it. Secretly, I have followed these travels and thought that today I needed to let you know how much I have enjoyed them.

  10. June 25, 2009 10:32 am

    That top photo…a masterpiece. Such a wonderful trip.

  11. June 29, 2009 10:52 am

    the top photo is enchanting, as are the rest, but especially the top. sounds like a wonderful, adventurous, magic time 🙂

  12. Kim permalink
    June 29, 2009 4:39 pm

    I have to admit I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while now. Your writing is a prefect compliment to the amazing photographs you take. I started a blog recently and your space here is one of the “flowers” I refer to on day one. Thanks for sharing your adventures. Once I get my act together I’ll definitely be adding you to my blogroll.

  13. sophie permalink
    July 7, 2009 2:40 am

    Revisiting here is like enjoying re-heated pâté chinois. With sharp cheddar cheese browned on top…. it gets better and better.

    Still, I’m getting ready for the next course…. 🙂

  14. July 15, 2009 2:42 am

    This first shot is absolutely stunning!

  15. Rodrigo! permalink
    October 18, 2010 1:56 pm

    I have thata bracelet too. I would really like to know anything else about you. This is important!!!

  16. Alison permalink
    May 5, 2016 11:42 am

    I’m rereading your Italian posts to help ready me for the experience. I can’t believe that I will be able to tread in my Grand-fathers’ footsteps. To stand where he stood by Morgante more than half a century ago. To let Italy seep into my cold bones and warm them with it’s beauty. To actually see that light. To breathe that warm air. To BE there. A dream come true.

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