So, since I haven’t done much since the Venice trip (other than trek out to IKEA and visit the stairs where Michelangelo had his nose broken), I thought maybe I’d take a second to just jot down a few of the colorful things that I’ve come to enjoy (or at least notice) in Florence.
First, there are the streets, whose names appear not in signs but in plaques on buildings on the corners. They’re all very narrow and stony, and the sidewalks are normally about half as wide as those in the U.S., which means that you feel every car that passes almost as though it’s brushing against your clothes. Only the most major roads are paved, and as far as I can tell there’s no real delineation of lanes anywhere. If three cars want to turn left, they can all accomplish it in different ways; they can also each interpret the number of lanes in the road differently. It’s pretty much a free-for-all every day out by the fortress, where the road is a big circular loop and may have either 2 or 4 lanes of traffic in any given direction at any time. Luckily all of the cars are about the size of my right shoe, so they can dart around and into spaces that U.S. cars would call “trunk space” without a problem. Of course, having all of these cars around causes a real smog problem. I’ve never noticed air quality (or lack thereof) in a city like I have in Florence, but… the last two days or so, I’ve started to realize that my headache recedes when I get to the apartment because I’m no longer walking through clouds of car exhaust.
Along the streets are, of course, the stores. Almost everything in the center sells variations on the theme of “tourist.” The same five handbags are evident everywhere, all rip-offs of Louis Vuitton and Prada; on the street, you can deal the price down significantly simply by being willing to walk away. Since Florence is the leather-making capital of Italy (and the world, to hear them tell it), there are also belt stands and leather-bound journals around every cobbled corner. Some places advertise “ingresso libero,” which means “free entrance;” some places look like there’s probably a charge for simply staring at the window displays for too long. Everyday on the way to school we pass the Valentino display with a really gorgeous purple, ruffly dress that may or may not be attached to a pair of glittery blue wings; we also walk by windows with amazing (and frighteningly ugly) shoes, hats, skirts, dresses, suits… everything you can imagine. One of the nicest things about the displays here is that, in the “affordable” stores (below, let’s say, 200 euro per item) there are price lists for all of the items at the bottom of the window. This convention holds true for almost anything displayed in a window, from notebooks to sandwiches. That’s a nice feature, as I almost never have to ask “Quanto costa?” anywhere except at the vendors, and there it’s often better to start with an offer.
Also, there are little details to enjoy. At the vegetarian take-away place that I like, the guy who makes the sandwiches often sings as he does it, loud semi-opera songs in Italian. The radio stations are always playing 80s music for reasons I can’t comprehend, unless it’s that everywhere I hear the radio is a place targeting Americans and this is what they think we want to hear. The newspapers never have a forecast for tomorrow, only a brief description of conditions for today (and sometimes only a yellow circle that means “sunny”). Though the city itself is awash in smog and the black dirt it creates, people seem fastidious about their shop fronts and floors in particular. Every morning when we arrive at school, the woman who guards the stairs is sweeping the front stoop; she is usually also doing this if I return in the afternoons, though sometimes she sits in a small “porch” in the courtyard and plays cards with friends who drop by on a table under a yellow umbrella. Every Italian-language bookstore that I’ve been into, and many of the tabacchi and giornale, have copies of the Pope’s most recent book displayed prominently on their front-most racks. And on and on.
I’m off to cook and then to eat!