Mornings are my favorite smell in Florence. Whiffs of espresso trail me through twisting streets and wake me before I can even taste it. I like to follow sweet aromas into bakeries and entertain small talk with its shopkeepers who smile endearingly as my tongue fumbles over a language still foreign to me. They ask where I’m from. They ask if my hair is natural. Then they send me on my way with a “buona giornata.” These are my favorite exchanges of the day.
Mornings are also sweltering walks to work, trying hard not to sweat in my nice clothes or ruin my shoes on the cobblestones. The hair the shopkeepers like to compliment does not respond well to heat. I learned quickly to duck under buildings’ shadows and find shady routes that don’t take too much time. I am an expert at dodging clunky clumps of tourists and weaving around cars. It’s not my favorite routine.
But mornings remind me that I am lucky. I walk out of my apartment and into my favorite view in the world. I realized early on that my complaints are small in comparison.
I take breaks during the day and wander through alleyways. They twist and turn in awkward ways and sometimes smell like excrement, but I love the way the worn stones peek out from newer facades and I revel in the crude paintings that stand vibrant against gray walls. There’s something about the old and the new colliding that makes me want to peel back all the layers of the city and examine them one by one. I could spend years trying to understand them.
Maybe I take too many pictures, but I want to remember what it looks like because I know I won’t be able to find these sights on blogs or travel websites. They are the secrets of the city, tucked away for locals and those willing to forget familiar streets and get lost along the way.
My favorite way to spend the evening is sitting on the balcony, book in hand. Sometimes I read. Sometimes the book is a prop, just something to hold as I soak in the moment.
I never realized quiet moments could be so lovely until I took the time to examine them. But I watch the neighbor hang her laundry from the clothesline and can’t help but wonder who she is and how she got there. When she shakes the towels, they make a sharp, crisp sound that reminds me of laundry day with my mother. I wonder if this woman has children of her own, if they ever help her fold the laundry while listening to jazz music like I once had.
Sometimes sitting on the balcony is unbearable. The smells of dinner waft toward me and I can only imagine the wonderful things families in surrounding apartments are heaping onto their plates. I wish I could taste it, but I’m only allowed samples by smell. I listen to silverware clink, listen to murmurs of conversation as everyone sits down and recounts their days. I think that’s my favorite sound in all of Italy. There’s something about listening to people talk over dinner that makes me so strangely happy. I almost feel like I’m sitting down with them.
I sit outside until the sun goes down and it is too dark to read my book anymore.
Santo Spirito is my favorite place in the city. I love the fountain in the center of the piazza. I love how people gather around it at all times of the day. I love the church, magnificent and yet somehow so simple, a paradox that perplexes me when I stare for a little too long.
My bar of choice is there. It has three euro glasses of prosecco and a bartender who knows my order by heart. I always sit on the curb across the street to stretch my legs and sip my drink. I like listening to conversations around me — they are loud and languid and seem to fill all the space in the evening air. People here savor company like one might savor their favorite glass of wine. I like the taste of their words.
Everything comes alive at night. The steps of the church teem with so many locals it’s almost overwhelming. Some nights musicians gather in the center of the piazza and play traditional music, beckoning others to join them in the middle to dance. I always watch from afar, wondering what it’s like to move inside the mass of people but never finding the courage to join. I guess Italy has made me accustomed to being an outsider looking in.
I like to walk along the Arno at night, when all my friends go home to sleep and the city starts to feel abandoned. Sometimes it feels nice to be by myself and soak in every minute detail, the feeling of the breeze tickling my hair across the back of my neck and the sound of the water rushing over the dam. I like the way the lights reflect off the surface of the river like it’s a midnight mirror, finally letting Florence catching a glimpse of itself. I wonder if it sees all the things I fell in love with or if it’s like me when I look at my own reflection, seeing all the flaws and none of the beauty.
These moments make me sad and I don’t know why. Maybe the empty streets make me feel lonely. Or maybe I’m just reminded that I stand at the cusp of one day and the next. When I cross the river again, it will be a new morning. Nights here are just reminders that I only have so many left.