This week, the weather is finally getting cooler. The sunset is earlier every evening and glows a deep orange from down the river as I ride my bike home from the library where I write almost every day. On any given night, you can find my husband and me at the park across the street—sitting with our French bulldog, looking out onto the city that I’ve chosen to call home. Turrets of towers spear the skyline and Tuscan hills glow in the yellow sunset. The Duomo rises above it all—looming up out of the conglomeration of terracotta roofs and yellow stuccoed walls, like a whale breaching across the skyline—too much mass, and yet, it floats.
Florence, Italy, is everything that the world dreams it is: winding cobblestone streets, fruit markets spilling their produce onto the sidewalks, laundry strung outside of open windows, still warm enough to dry the billowing sheets and flapping lines of shirts, pants, and clean underwear—for all the world to see. This Renaissance city is still all of this, but with the uptick in tourism, the city center is threatening to become a “Las Vegas” full of tourist traps.
That’s why my experience living here has pushed me to find the roots of “old” Florence. On the outskirts of the city, and sometimes even tucked into corners of the center, you can find glimmers of authenticity that still exist.
My Italy can be found in the neighborhood just outside the old walls of Florence. Right past Piazza Liberta, you can find me at La Grotta Parri on any given Saturday afternoon. A simple restaurant with wood-paneled walls and dusty wine bottles, La Grotta has first course dishes for only $5 a plate. The menu is handwritten each day and everything is delicious. For $28, my husband and I have a first course and a second of meat or fish—complete with wine and water. The owner, Riccardo, and his wife live on our street. He’s the nephew of the founder that opened the trattoria in 1948.
I left the U.S. because travel taught me that there was more to the world than the American dream. I first came to Italy for an internship with a student travel company. Then, I fell in love in a café in the shadow of the Duomo and never looked back. It’s because I love my husband and his family and their home, of course, but it’s also because the public library I write in was opened in 1752, and the inspiration that comes out of those vaulted ceilings filled with ancient texts is like magic.
In this city, I have found freelance writing to be my career and through my writing and research behind my stories, I uncover a new side of Florence, and of Tuscany, almost every week. Through it all, it’s the people behind this beautiful city I’ve come to love more than anything. The emotions behind life here—the true realness of how life can be lived here—the focus is on family, on food, on taking time to enjoy everything. Here, all are human first, and that is where life differs from the States.
In Florence, emotions are laid on the table, on sleeves, left in bus seats, and screamed down sidewalks. People treat others as human beings before anything else. The politicians are spoken to as if they were old neighbors. Police are treated the same as the local bartender. There is no facade. There are no walls of “professionalism” that have to be primped and primed into perfection—that’s only for the buildings here.
This culture helps my freelancing breathe—I can feel just at home using the local café as my office—the waiters never asking me to leave as long as I’m courteous to order something every so often. If I stop by a local spot long enough, I’ll be welcomed like a long lost friend every time I walk through the door. There’s a local support system under the Tuscan sun, and I thrive off of it.
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