I grew up with houses built of wood beams and plasterboard. The sawdust was a warm fresh scent. I remember when my friend had just moved into the end of a new culdesac that her father, the developer had built, so we’d run up the gangplank wooden board that spanned the gap between the open doors and the earth piled up around the new cement foundation, and we’d stomp through the half-built neighborhood – a breeze blowing through the houses not yet full of windows.
Here, construction is stone and plaster, terracotta and tile – all meticulously done in buildings that have stood for thousands of years, we just keep sanding down the surface and praying that it’ll hold just a bit longer.
The first time I felt the grime of Florence was when Rami and I were involved in Gecko – a bar we helped run in the San Niccolo neighborhood before the owners ran it into the ground. The first time I stepped through the front archway covered in plywood, the place was an empty brick cavern – beautiful, but rough. They had just blasted off the white plaster and revealed the original walls of the building – an uneven pattern of brick and stone, first placed 800 years ago. A fine film of white powder already covered every surface. For the next few months, we dove inside and painted and scrubbed. Rami and his Dad built a bar and brought back the smell of wood for a while, but it only created more dust to add to the toxic amount that we had already created. It’s just so fine, so thick, that it dives deep into your clothes and into your lungs. It grabs hold of any exposed skin – the fine dust of thousands of years of history settles into your pores. At night I would come home and wash my hair in the shower, feeling the grit run through my fingers, and even though it may come off your face and hands, it sticks in your hair like a curse no matter how many times you wash it.
Today, I battled it again.
The apartment that faces out into our garden has been gutted and rebuilt – just as Gecko had been. For months each morning, they were grinding down the walls – the open doorways exhaling that same dust into our garden in clouds. The work is slow and detailed, with so much care and effort – it makes the wooden houses in New England look like dollhouses. The scraps of rock and plaster from the house comes out in paint buckets, filled to the brim, then carried up and out and placed on the back of a truck (not what you’re thinking, most of you – it’s much smaller like a mini truck/tractor). The work is painstaking and heavy, but it lasts. Though the dust lasts longer.
Each day, more work was done, and so just like at Gecko, I learned to deal with it. Our gym equipment became chalky – so did our bay leaves, and the terracotta walkway (that looks beautiful only after I wash it and wax it because it collects every atom of dirt possible otherwise). Today, I decided to start my battle against the Tuscan Dust – seeing that the guys put doors onto the apartment and painted the patio walls. I think it’s finally safe to start the detoxification process.
So this afternoon I spent my workout moving around the equipment and blasting everything with the hose, then a cleaner, then the hose again, and after that, I had the first layer of the grime off.
I am only exaggerating slightly.