01 October 2009

Autumn plums & wool slippers

The summer drew to an unofficial close with a weekend-long party in the Oltrarno as the annual FlorenceWineEvent more or less took over the squares and streets. (You buy a card valid for ten wine tastings and then carry the complimentary wineglass from piazza to piazza, choosing which wines you’d like to try.) The temperatures were in the upper 20s, and Piazza Pitti, which hosted the largest number of stands, was packed with people. Their voices generated a constant roar, making me feel as if I were also part of the excitement even as I went about doing weekend things in my apartment.

In this week when September gives way to October, the last of the summer peaches sit next to dusky autumn plums, each setting off the color of the other. The crisp morning air is tinged with nostalgia, bringing back memories of those first days back at school—two decades of my own and now my daughter's. The early morning cold seems to almost burn my skin, while the warm afternoon temperatures recall an ideal summer day. I find this period when summer blurs into autumn to be slightly bittersweet. While fall is the season in which I feel most comfortable . . . for  the return of knitted scarves and feather duvets, pumpkins and apples, for its warm color palette and more serious tone . . . this need to wear slippers for all but three months of the year makes summer seem more precious here than it was in southern California.


Today feels like a classic Florentine autumn morning. I'm wondering if the clouds will continue to hover, or soon burn off. After seeing my daughter to the bus stop, I decide to head toward the river. The sun is just beginning to clear the bank of clouds, and the Arno is beautiful: multi-colored, with impressionistic reflections of the buildings along the southern edge, and crisp, almost photographic renditions of those on the north side. I cross at Ponte Santa Trìnita and, as I walk through Piazza Santa Trìnita, I peek into the church; I like its urban character, how easily you can pop in from the piazza. Since the morning Mass is in progress, I cross Via Tornabuoni to linger before the windows of Pucci for a moment—something I have not had a chance to do lately. I can't imagine wearing Pucci myself, but I love to see the latest bold patterns, to note how the fabric has been cut, twisted and shaped into an item that someone (!) will wear.

The elegant Via Tornabuoni thrills Prada, Pucci and Gucci lovers, but those who still remember the characterful, one-of-a-kind businesses still can't help but express their disappointment at how they've been replaced by the same designer names found in any cosmopolitan city. My pocketbook isn't one of those that permits purchases here, but I admit that I do find amusement in walking along the street, examining the fine Renaissance palazzi and noting the latest trends in the fashion world. The display windows are works of art in and of themselves, and I think that what's happening inside those shops can somehow be translated into whichever "language" we speak (and can afford).

The Thursday plant market is in progress in Piazza della Repubblica today, so I continue in that direction. As I walk through the loggia that runs along the west side of the square, I see a bucket-garden of dahlias: jewel fuchsia, deep red, bright orange, bubblegum pink. Dahlias are another reason I love autumn, so I can't resist picking out a bouquet of the pompom-shaped fuchsia blooms and one of the red ones, which are of the more open, more "expressive" variety—"double petaled" may be the correct term. The two shades are very similar: I love the juxtaposition of their subtle color variations, how it creates a rich play of shade and shadow.

With the velvety dahlias tucked under one arm, I cross Piazza della Repubblica to the sunny corner where Caffè Gilli lies. After a quick cappuccino at the bar—as always, elegantly presented and delicious—I head home, returning via Ponte Vecchio. The sun shimmers orange in the river, and I have never seen the post-war architecture on the south bank capture the morning light so beautifully. For a moment I watch that phenomenon in which the sun seems to be rushing towards me, delivering sparkles...like a giant Fourth-of-July sparkler, or a thick star soup. And, as I approach my apartment to the sound of the eight o'clock bells, I am reminded once again that every outing in Florence has the potential for new discoveries, to give a dose of beauty, of inspiration.

20 February 2009

Arzigogolare: to let one's mind wander

I am still trying to grasp the exact meaning of ‘arzigogolare’, a word I came across when I was first learning Italian. My textbook translated the verb as ‘to let one’s mind wander’, though it’s also linked to other, more negative meanings (to quibble, to build castles in the air). I was fascinated by the word’s zing, by the connotations of daydreaming, and while I have since discovered that not everyone considers ‘letting your mind wander’ to be a worthy pursuit, I do believe it’s essential for a creative life.

So enamored was I of the unusual verb that the opening chapter of the book that would later become The Piazza of Florence was originally entitled ‘Arzigogolare’. The name seemed to reflect the receptive state of mind needed for recording one’s travels, which had been the focus of the first chapter. As the book changed and evolved, however, the word no longer seemed to have a place; it retreated to the back of my mind, waiting for the right time.

Over the years the concept of ‘letting my mind wander’ has remained part of my creative routine, and as such it seemed the right title for my Florence-inspired musings. Much in the way that Florence’s piazzas are places of coming together . . . for events, experiences and memories . . . I am hoping this space will become a similar kind of ‘place’—a place for everyday reflections inspired by the city of Florence.

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