Rami and I used to live righttt in the center of Florence. Our building was over 800 years old and if you looked left out of our windows, the street led straight to the Duomo. It was beautiful living in the center of one of the most famous cities in the world. When you picture living in Italy, you picture a life full of sunsets at street-side wine bars and loading your bike basket with fresh groceries from the fruit and vegetable stand, and yes, there was that.
There were days strolling into the center to sip on a perfectly foamed macchiato under a shimmering chandelier. There were the summer nights walking in Piazza Signoria listening to the music echoing around the statues under the loggia from a lone violinist while eating the perfect combination of gelato flavors. There were mornings looking out the window from our bed and watching marathons, cycling championships, protests, political parades, and antique fiat 500 parades (they all had that horn that sings a song which is NOT fun if you work the night shift). There were those nights mid-winter when the city was asleep but the Christmas lights give a glow that can only be described as magic – and if you sneak out, bundled in blankets, you feel as if you have Florence to yourself.
There were those moments, and they were incredible – but in between those, no one mentions the other side of living in the glow of fame and fortune. No one tells you about the crazy lady that opens a men’s underwear…hallway…next door called the Banana Hammock and proceeds to live in there behind a wall of clothespinned-underwear and play castanets throughout the early morning hours. I wish I was kidding.
I do love the church bells waking me in the morning, but not the sound of people drunkenly vomiting at 5 am outside my window that is certainly not sound-proof (probably because they were installed in the 1800s). I’m sure at one point in history, the street was beautiful to live on – with little cafes and useful shops – like the cobbler and the two antique shops that seemingly have dug in their heels for years to maintain their business on a what is now more of a runway for taxis, buses, and tour groups with extremely loud wheelie-luggage that are always somehow the exact same width as Italian sidewalks.
We realized the beautiful moments were being surpassed by the noisy, fake, imperfect ones. We were living in a studio on the ground floor, and we also got Stitch – and every time we would take him out, at least two people would want to pet him as he was pooping.
We were done.
We escaped to the other side of the old walls of Florence. We can still walk to the center within ten to twenty minutes, but there’s a sort of invisible barrier that barricades the tourism in and keeps our new neighborhood much more genuine, much more comfortable for everyday life. Yesterday, I walked out of my apartment, around the corner to three different shops, and then took a stroll through a park. When this is possible, you get to know your neighbors. How can you not?
You’re waiting at the crosswalk with them at least a few times a week. You hear them snoring at night. Their dogs try to eat my dog. Many people still need to pet Stich. I see their good days, their bad days, when they get caught in the rain, I know their shopping schedules, I see them when they are freaking out over the newest baby on the block or that the Fiorentina soccer team won. Conversations keep going from day to day, everyone checking in on each other. Being so separate from the world like I was in the US – when you sit in your car to go anywhere. The drive allows you to memorize the lyrics to the top ten songs on the radio, (or downright awful commercials – 1877KARSFORKIDS) but you miss out on the little human interactions that have become part of my day to day and show me that the world is a little saner (most of the time), a little less scary, and just plain beautiful.
Today I woke up and sat in the sun in my inner-courtyard garden. The neighborhood was already awake around me. The hostel above us had new guests arriving, the older couple on the floor above the hostel were already arguing about who was going to do what in the kitchen. Their cat, Hercules glared down at me from their terrace. On the other side of our house, the college kid has come home and I can hear his music. Just yesterday, we got to listen to the entire album of ACDC. The restaurant next door had already started cooking their sauces for lunch – the smell of a fresh tomato sauce is in the air, and for the first time since moving here, someone was practicing opera – a high soprano floating from a window across the way.
On Sunday mornings if we’re outside, the dark green shutters on the windows up above us will fly open and the owner of the restaurant will shout her good mornings. It’s their only day off during the week. If anyone needs a good recommendation for a pure Tuscan lunch, shoot me an email! You’ll want to come to this place – even if it is a bit outside the center. Above her windows, another balcony a house further down is home to the ferocious dachshund that is owned by our pharmacist that works in the pharmacy across the street. More people know my dog’s name than I care to admit and he gets treats personally brought out of stores and inserted directly into his spoiled little mouth on the sidewalk. People care because we’re all in this together in a sense, and you can’t hide your sob fests in the quiet of your car, and on the nights where you sing and dance around your kitchen at two in the morning, you better hope your neighbors are heavy sleepers – or at least have newer, soundproof windows.
There are no underwear ladies except for my neighbors hanging out their windows to put their laundry on the line. I can sit outside my house without the fear of a train of incoming rolly bags. My neighbors respect each other because we have to – we’re all living here longer than a two-week vacation or a semester.
There’s fresh air even in the dreadful heat (which thankfully hasn’t arrived yet), and at night, it’s perfectly quiet.