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.