There are a few people in my neighborhood that cannot see the city. One woman walks down from somewhere up on Via Bolognese – her guide dog, the yellow Lab (makes me miss my Sadie), knows the way, and they turn into the trattoria next to us, for lunch every day. I normally see another man waiting at the crosswalk at the end of our street. The long light makes for an awkward meeting place in the sun on the top of the Ponte Rosso. He waits patiently with the rest, another regular, and at the sound of the crosswalk signal turning green, he taps his stick on the pavement to the other side, most of us giving him a wider arc of distance than normal in a city known for no personal space.
At first thought, I wonder how this city could possibly be as beautiful for people that can’t see. The frescoes fade into the walls, the statues at a distance are as distant as the surface of the moon. But then, the sounds and smells of Florence are just as wonderful.
The ambient noise of stepping into a coffee bar in the morning while being met with that heavy, decadent scent of espresso: ceramic saucers sharply taping marble countertops, tiny spoons stirring espresso, the roar of the milk frother and shouts of orders from one side of the bar to the other. Shaking sugar packets and conversation as the rotation of coffee-goers flies through as fast as the merry-go-round outside in Repubblica – it’s music makes it know to those that can’t see.
The quiet moments like my night with the violin under the porticoes of the Uffizi – these buildings are made for sound, echo, for beauty to the eye, but also to the ear. Just last night as I walked Luna down a quiet road to my bike parked next to Santissima Annunziata. As we turned the corner to the bike rack, out the side windows of the church, I heard them – a choir practice echoed out onto the street and the voices soared into the Piazza. Just another evening here, a Firenze.
In the afternoons and evenings, the neighborhood breeze brings aromas of the neighbors’ dinners stewing on their stovetops. Stepping into Sara’s bakery is as warm and inviting as stepping into a loaf of bread right out of the oven. Soon, the Jasmine flowers will bloom, and I think even I use the perfume to guide me home – changing my path to find the next cascade of the little white flowers, flowing over from another secret garden hidden in the center of the city.
The feel of the stone of the city, warm, almost hot in the heavy summer sun. The contrast of the cool marble floors inside the churches – shaded from the light, all cool to the touch. The echoes whisper in most as tourists pass through with their cameras – feet shuffling on carefully-placed carpet runners. It isn’t what we need to see, it’s what we need to feel.
There was one day years ago around the same time – early spring. I was roaming the city, having hours to kill (or maybe I was procrastinating on something, who knows) so I got a ticket and climbed Giotto’s tower. The stairs are narrow and the rough walls lean into each other overhead. At angles, there are small windows leading out through the stone – but not enough to let you see. Up the stairs again, until there are open platforms where there is space to stretch out your arms, air to breathe. A large bell sits on one of the levels – the thick metal thuds dully if you kick it, but it shows just how large an instrument makes the noise, that began to shake the tower. Deafening, the bells begin to ring in the tower. Bells bigger than a man, thunder and clang and vibrate the stone and your chest. You become the sound. It is so much more feeling than seeing.
At the top of the stairs that day, I walked out onto the roof and grabbed onto the metal safety cage, and for the first time that spring, I felt the sun on my face and a warm breeze that was floating high above the city – the sun radiating on the sea of terracotta rooftops, while the Florentines exist in the shadows. In the center, the spring sun is a magnet. We find slivers of it in the narrow alleys that stand at just the right angle in the early months of the year – and the piazzas and parks are like beacons for the sunshine. But up on top of that tower, with the vibrations of the bells still flowing through my bones, and the sun on my face after such a long winter, and the sounds of the city stretching out far below me, I closed my eyes and felt it all sink deep into my skin, and I didn’t need to see anything at all to feel this city and its beautiful soul.