Today I walked to what has become my favorite park in Florence called Parco di Villa Ventaglio. Isn’t that a beautiful name? Well, I find it much more romantic sounding than, say, Munsinger Gardens or Barden Park. I’m sure if I were Italian I would find the name Parco di Villa Ventaglio pretty boring, whereas Munsinger Gardens would maybe sound like some kind of paradise.
I like this park for several reasons. It is fairly close to my home here in Florence so getting there takes little time. On the way (there or back) I can take a slight detour and hit the outdoor market at Piazza della Cure where there are fruits, veggies, meats, fish, cheeses and flowers plus clothing, shoes, fabric, jewelry and things for the kitchen. The walk is easy, and I can window shop to my heart’s content.
Another reason I like this park is that it is a little refuge of quiet in a busy city. Just one short climb up a little side street and you enter the park through a beautiful concrete and wrought iron gate, wave to the people sitting in the little guardhouse next to the entrance and suddenly it seems as if you have stepped into the country. The wide gravel path winds its way up the hill. Broad expanses of green grass interrupted by stone benches are situated within the first loop. There is a small pond (safely enclosed by a split rail fence and chicken wire) that ducks visit regularly. Each loop in the path takes you higher up the hill and into less groomed parts of the park.
There is little traffic noise here. There are very few people here. Time slows down, no one is in a hurry. It is truly a neighborhood park. Grandmothers bring their toddler grandchildren to play in the grass and watch the ducks. Depending on their age lovers either sit in a tangle of limbs on benches or stroll arm in arm along the path. Old men walk together talking politics. It is fascinating to watch these people enjoy their morning sunlight.
One couple is especially interesting to me, as I have seen them every time I go to the park in the morning. They are a study in contrasts. A very tall and fit younger man escorts a very short and thin elderly woman slowly up the hill towards the top. As they walk he reads the paper to her, slowly and with great expression. I have never heard her comment or question him, all I ever hear is his patient reading of the news for today. I have no idea what their relationship is or why they do this, but it’s kind of comforting to see them every day.
The best part of this park for me is the fact that here I am accepted as part of the neighborhood. If that seems like a strange statement I guess you have to understand that Florence is a tourist town. They are used to people from all over the world coming here, but someone who looks like me and continues to show up on the street and in the shops far away from the tourist attractions kind of confuses them. They don’t know what to do with me. So when I walk into that park and some little old white haired lady says hello to me, when a couple of old men stop their heated discussion to say good morning, well, I just want to sit down and cry. For them, if I am in this park then obviously I belong here.