Monday, February 28, 2011

A girl and her bike

Today I took my shiny almost new bike out for a ride with my boyfriend. I haven’t been on a bike since early September so this was a real treat. Lucky for me, the phrase “you never forget, it’s like riding a bike” is mostly true. After one really noisy shift heading up the first good hill and one bobble as I tried to pass an old man walking on a bridge I pretty much remembered how to ride.

For those of you who don’t know my boyfriend, he has been cycling since the age of 13. And not just pedaling around the neighborhood, but racing. So, for me, riding with him this first time was sort of like going to batting practice with Babe Ruth or maybe hitting the driving range with (the old) Tiger Woods. I was afraid I would 1) fall off the bike, 2) run over someone, 3) get run over by someone, or 4) do something even more embarrassing than any of these things like cause a 5 car pile up. The end result of course being that he would never look at me the same again.

Well, none of those things happened. We rode through town, along the Arno River for awhile and then back home. The sun was shining, traffic was light (I think) and pedestrians were happy and alert. It was a great way to start riding here in Florence but I can‘t wait to ride where I can try a little speed. There is nothing like the wind in your face to make you feel alive.

Oh, did I mention the bell? I have wanted one since I started riding again in Minneapolis, but was led to believe that grown ups don’t have bells on their bikes. Which is true there. When a Minnesotan passes a pedestrian we shout out “on the left” or “on the right” and they get out of the way. In Florence you get a bell. Everyone has one. Everyone uses one. It’s part of the sound of traffic in Florence. And my bike had one when I got it! The funny thing is, as excited as I was to have the bell, not once did I remember to use the bell today. Next time I go out, I think I will worry less about shifting and concentrate on using the bell.

Lost and found

I have spent my first days in Florence getting reacquainted with my favorite places and people. It has been so wonderful. I have walked familiar streets and gotten lost a few times. Well, not lost exactly, because no one had to come and find me, but there were times when I wasn’t sure where I was. I stubbornly refused to bring my map with me, so I wandered around till I saw something familiar and then everything was fine.

I could hardly wait to see the Duomo, which is the big church in the center of town. Every single time I walk up a street towards it I am overwhelmed by its’ size and complexity. Every street leading to this piazza is framed in buildings that are three stories or more, sometimes allowing me to see the church and sometimes hiding it from my sight. It seems like something that easily hidden can’t be very large, yet when the church comes into view at the end of the street it appears to rise up out of the ground like a mountain. Standing next to it I feel very small and insignificant (exactly what was intended by the designer and builder, by the way). It takes my breath away every time…I may never get used to it, but it is part of my experience here that makes me feel at home.

I visited markets and piazzas, statues and parks, shops and special streets. I listened to conversations and secretly got very excited when I realized I could often understand what the they were discussing. It still takes me maybe five minutes to form a sentence, but I can understand the words I hear. I can read a billboard and don’t need the pictures to tell me what is being sold. For me this is just one more sign that I am becoming a part of this place, one more sign that I am settling into a way of life here instead of being a visitor.

This has been a far different experience than the first time I came to Florence in October. Remember how I spent the first few weeks here wandering around alone, deathly afraid of getting lost or having to speak to anyone? This time I was still alone, but by choice. I wanted to take the time I needed with each place and street to remember the rhythm of the city and the people. I am by nature a very solitary person, and sharing these first moments with anyone, even someone I love, would have been difficult. This was necessary for me to feel that I am not a stranger, I am simply someone who has been gone too long from home.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Home Again

I am back in Florence! I can’t wait to visit all my favorite places and people. And of course to start shaping what my life will look like here. Pretty exciting stuff, if you’re not afraid of change.

It’s spring here, the season of change. The birds are singing, the trees and flowers are blooming and people are walking around with smaller hats and scarves and sometimes even a button or two undone. I like to think they are smiling a little more too, but of course that could just be me that is smiling so much and hoping to see the same happiness in others.

I am happy…happy and relaxed. Those of you who saw me when I was back in Minnesota probably noticed that I was not really relaxed. Some might even say I was stressed. Once I saw the hills around Florence from the plane I started to feel the tension leave my body. I was so afraid I wouldn’t see those hills, or the red-tiled roofs and soft yellow walls of the city, or the faces of the friends I have made here in Florence.

So, here I am. Some things will stay the same. I live in the same place with the same wonderful man. I will start Italian lessons again soon. I will draw some of the most beautiful places outside of Minnesota (see, I do love you). Some things about my life will definitely change. I will have to find work of some kind, not just for the money but because I am not good at being unemployed. I am looking forward to adding new interests and activities to my life, and new friends to share them with.

And yes, I will be getting on a bike. When I got home there was one sitting in our living room waiting for me. It is red and pretty and even has a bell! (side note: I have always wanted a bell on my bike, but have been told that it just isn’t very grown up. Here everyone has a bell and I am sooo excited to try it) I am anxious to see more of the city and countryside. The bike will give ma a freedom I didn’t have before. Plus, my boyfriend is an avid cyclist and I would like to see if this is something we can do together. If not, at least I have a way to get from one place to another faster than walking and cheaper (and faster) than the bus.

Lastly, I will try so very hard to keep writing this blog for several reasons. One, because everyone wants to know what I am doing and two, because I think that it will help me to have a deeper experience here. What’s the point of moving halfway around the world to have an adventure if I’m not even truly present for it?