The Florence Journals: On Leave Taking and Gratitude

This morning I sit at my window as a gentle mist wets the street below. The soprano in a nearby apartment is running her scales as the construction workers across the way toil to renovate the gutted 6 story building which I am told will house tourist apartments. This morning I’ve been sorting and organizing, preparing to pack. On one hand, it’s hard to believe that my 3 month sojourn is coming to an end, on the other, I miss my children and my friends. It will be nice to come home.

Sorting and organizing has led to reflection and recognition of so many things for which I am grateful. I am grateful to have a job that acknowledges and values the need to take some time to reflect, to plan, to learn, to write, tasks we often do in a rushed fashion as we negotiate the day to day, year to year realities of serving as university professors. I am grateful for the small gifts I brought with me, reminders of my friends back home, the lovely necklace and earrings my new friend Julie gifted me for my birthday the Sunday before I left, the cashmere scarf my friend Craig gifted me years ago from his trip to Peru that travels with me everywhere I go just in case, the gorgeous journals and fountain pen my friend Andrew gave me along with the mandala to help with meditation and reflection.

I am grateful for those carrying on the important “things” I left behind so that I could let them go. To Michelle and Brenda for carrying the hunger awareness torch and taking our hunger initiative to a whole new level. To Matt for his vision and constant support. I’m grateful to Stefan for taking care of my turtle, to Apple for inventing FaceTime which has allowed me to hang with Alyssa and Andrew. I’m grateful to T-Mobile for giving me a mostly reasonable phone plan so that I can hear Stefan’s voice when I’m missing him or just need to check in.

I am grateful to the family who rented me my dream apartment. It is more than what I hoped it would be. The brick floor and stone wall, the arched windows, the proximity to the Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery are exactly what I wanted. The hike up the steep cobble-stone street, an added bonus that my lungs and thighs have greatly appreciated. This apartment is not perfect. If I sit on the bed wrong, it collapses. There are few lights, so the apartment is very dim at night. The air conditioners leak water on the floor. The construction workers across the street are incredibly loud from roughly 7:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. The intruder alarm on the construction site goes off when it rains at night. The shrill voiced foreman yells constantly and there is much more drilling and pounding on metal than one might expect. Even with all this, I love this place.

I love that someone nearby plays classical piano every so often. I love the sound of the soprano running scales and singing arias. I love that a merchant tunes her radio to play 70s, 80s, and 90s pop music seemingly on cue whenever I feel a bit homesick. I love that in the window across the way, a blue globe graces a table.

I love that in 3 months, local shopkeepers recognize me and wave and smile as I walk by, the man at the pizza shop, the man at the wine shop, everyone who works in the coffee shop, the staff at the cafes I frequent. They have all made me feel very welcome.

I love the simplicity of my life here. I love cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients purchased that day or the day before from merchants at street kiosks or the Mercato Centrale. I love that if I don’t feel like walking, I can shop at the Conad grocery store just down the hill from my apartment. I love that I have the time to troll the streets, to write, to draw, to read, to be.

I love that I have walked this city for 3 months and not put a dent in all there is to see here. I have not yet taken pictures of the icons that adorn alcoves in many buildings. I have not begun to find all the shops, churches, museums, and gardens, or explored all the windows, doors, and gates that grace this city. I love the color in the kiosks in Il Porcellino square and outside the Mercato Centrale where shopkeepers sell souvenirs, leather goods, and gorgeous scarves. I love the aroma of the chestnut roaster. I love the beautiful marzipan fruit and pastries that beckon from the windows of patisseries. I love the beautiful fresh flowers available throughout the city at daily street markets. I love the smell of coffee roasting.  I love the carousel in the Piazza della Repubblica, the piazzas in front of the Duomo and Santa Croce and the Romanian gypsy string quartet that plays there sometimes. I love that when entering a piazza I might find a street festival going on. I love strolling the Ponte Vecchio in the evenings, listening to street musicians and observing the masterpieces of the chalk artists that will be washed away by midnight, only to be replaced by new works of art, generally copies of the masters, the next day.

I love cappuccino, fresh pasta, panna cotta, and the creamy sweetness of gelato. I love the bridges over the Arno River and how each has its own personality, its own unique vantage point on the city. I love the Piazza Michelangelo, the hike to which is one of the most grueling and rewarding walks I’ve taken, because the vistas at the top are breathtaking as the beauty of the city of Florence lies at your feet. I love the lushness of Boboli Gardens in the center of the city.

I love Emma and Iris who have welcomed this vagabond traveler, I am grateful to Marco, Jennifer, Katerina, Alex, Luca, and Marzia who have offered me a second home here and treated me like family.

There is so much that I am thankful for. I am thankful for you, dear readers who have read my blog posts, commented on or liked them, or my pictures and posts on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You have made me feel connected to community even when I am 5272.5 miles from home. I will end this homage to gratitude now as a cappuccino at Iris’s coffee shop with Emma awaits. This has been such an amazing adventure. A presto!

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