Today I am sitting just inside the door of the place that made me feel that Florence was home. Today, I’m back, sitting in the shadow of the Duomo.
If I focus, I can almost hear Rami at the bar behind me. I can smell the fresh crepes they used to make, and I can hear the American students asking for a cold brew iced coffee. Even the colors in here have stayed almost the same, and the floor they oddly kept – the cheaply-made mosaic of harshly cut chunks of squared white and black marble. We were still living in the old house when Astor closed its doors for the last time. For a while, as we passed the gates, closed and locked with a chain, we heard rumors of McDonald’s coming into the Piazza of the Duomo. Instead, it became Arnold’s Coffee.
Astor wasn’t any place that I would’ve chosen as a hangout – and if I hadn’t had Astor here, I wouldn’t come to Arnold’s now– but this hole in the wall opposite of the door to the Cupola holds my whole heart. Plus, it’s still the laid-back place that isn’t busy enough to be bothered by me huddled in the corner for hours.
Here is where I met my husband. Here is where we spent the night of our wedding – popping bottles of Champagne with the owner who seemed deliriously happy that we were here before going off frolicking around town. It was in the basement below me that I started to run Pub Crawls (now illegal for obvious reasons) and learned that any beer labeled BEER is going to be a bad hangover. I learned to love coffee here. I learned to love Florence. It was at this door that first night of New Years Eve that the bouncer cleared the way so I could at least kiss Rami around midnight as he churned out drink after drink, and it was here that I had Jim, my stepfather, finally feel like a part of my life, like my family was whole again, as he and my mother met Rami for the first time.
It was through these doors every day that I watched the Duomo and learned its moods. I saw scaffolding go up on years of dirt – only to be uncovered months or years later – the green, white, and pink of the marble shining as brilliantly as when the Medici set their eyes on these walls.
I’ve drunk outside of these doors late into the early mornings and carried drunk American girls out of the bathrooms and down the streets, making sure they got home safely because if I didn’t do it, nobody would. Just a few seats down from me was where I was sitting when a girl came in on a Sunday morning in PJs and requested a glass of milk as she pulled out a box of cereal and her laptop from her bag. I was here patiently waiting for Rami to turn the Wifi back on after he’d cut the connection on purpose to ward off those that’d steal the connection as they sat outside on the curb.
It was in this bar that I stood in the kitchen with Frou – a man from Bangladesh that worked in the kitchen. We had a relationship for three years but never spoke with words. On one Thanksgiving as I was peeling potatoes, another owner came in and bad mouthed everyone because “they didn’t know English” – I resolved never to be that way. IT was in this bar that I walked in one night to a wedding party that somehow came from Lawrence, MA – and I spent the rest of the evening sharing drinks and stories about home and Benedetti’s subs, then led them to the club with promises of keeping in touch if I ever made it back to the states together with Rami.
It was in this bar one Christmas, that Rami had to kick out a homeless man, after he had been here for hours, and tried to light a cigarette three times. It was here that the couple staying in the four seasons took me aside and demanded a proper reason why Rami was here instead of working in a high-end bar. They came back the following two days for his martinis. IT was in this bar, I met some of my best friends from this city = most have moved on, but here I am, still here, still writing, still missing them all and missing everything and everyone at the same time and now all I wish was that Rami was behind that bar again.
This place isn’t beautiful – and it never was. It isn’t a must-see in this must-see city, and now it is simply a knock-off Starbucks – a half-hearted attempt at an American coffee place that fills with teenage Italians that Instagram their big coffees and foreigners that feel better walking around with a paper cup instead of learning the delicacies of sipping out of fine porcelain under chandeliers.
And it’s still my little place. It still is my little comfort – even if now I’m just the one that sits by the door with her laptop, instead of walking into a place everyone knows my name – and I’m ok with that.