Friday, August 28
Florence is beautiful and appears to be flat! This excites my feet. It also smells like leather, which is not a bad smell. There are knock off purses, fancy footwear and pretty leather gloves waving hello at every turn. Like Rome, Florence is a web of tiny streets and piazzas stuffed like stockings bursting with curiosities.
I have walked in and out of shops all day. I rarely buy anything, but a cool little cigarette smoking frog charmed me. I believe she is my spirit animal. I have set her on the table to join me for a glass of orange whatever in the Forum, the oldest square in Florence. I don't know what the drink is called, but I have jealously watched Italians enjoying it, so I have ordered one. It looks delicious and tastes like grown up koolaid. To our delight, it comes with free slim little fries and chips! I love surprises that involve food. We nosh and ponder.
The towering building around us are dusty chartreuse and turtle dove grey. My frog queen is impressed with that description and suggests I get a job as a colour namer for Benjamin Moore. I like this gal.
The sun is relentlessly lovely and painful today. We agree it feels good. A moment later an angelic mist sprays us from heaven (or from the little squirters in the awning we are under). A ghost plays accordion music from somewhere in the shadows. Horse hooves clatter in rhythm across the cobblestone. We bounce from past to present at the similar sound of wobbly luggage being dragged on tormented wheels. Giggles from children rise and fall as the Merry-go-round twirls them in and out of sight. The place seems staged and surreal. Church bells ring in the distance as if to agree.
I imagine the bygone era when this was created and consider how many masters sat here and the great conversations had. In our silence, we hear so much. "DaVinci is at it again." "A genius!" "Stupido! We no fly!" "Michelangelo, I tell you a thousand times, we hava no work for you here!" The frog and I laugh at our cleverness.
She looks at me with sexy Betty Davis eyes and takes a never ending drag from her gold tipped cigarette holder. We have an unspoken conversation about the surprising number of single women out today. I am not the novelty I assumed. Of course I am not alone, so I feel a bit sorry for them and the frog suggests I tell them to all move to one big table and get drunk. She smiles at her smug little self. I imagine her voice raspy and spent from a pack of Marlboro Reds a day.
The Italian language sounds like music to me. Sometimes it's soft and seductive, and then rises to a crescendo of passionate scolding. Everything ends in a high note implying a question I never know how to answer.
Refreshed and revived, we head off to find the wonder which is the Hop on Hop Off Bus.
There are six bridges in Florence which gracefully span the Arno river. The most famous of which is the Ponte Vecchio, the only one spared by German bombs. It used to be full of butcher shops, but because of the smell of rotting meat, King Ferdinand 1 made it law that only goldsmiths and jewellers could set up shop. Maybe it's not leather I smell rather cow ghosts.
The stairs at the first two bridges lead down to the water's edge where rows of white tents full of goods and bads entice tourists. We saw the Hop go across the next bridge, so we delay our mission and tent wander for a few hours. As we ascend from the depths, we just miss the Hopper and decide to cut it off at the next bridge.
On bridge 3 we see it double back to bridge 1. This confuses us, so we opt to move toward bridge 4 as there must be more than one. The sun is trying to evaporate me, and as I mount 4, the wiley Hopper stops and sits idle on the bridge we just left. Neither of us are amused and we know it will leave as soon as we get to it, so we move on to 5.
These bridges seem to get further and further apart and we somehow end up in a military compound full of soldiers with guns who look at us like we are not allowed here. We are not. What I interpret as a friendly wave is actually the international sign for get the hell out of here lady. The frog and I wonder why the guard in the tower didn't stop us, but then we remember we are middle aged and invisible, so it makes perfect sense.
We turn back and choose a different route to 5. A gun toting soldier stops us and empathetically scolds us in Italian and while we nod through his rant, over his shoulder we see two Hoppers like the ilusive Pokeroo cross bridge 5. We move to 6.
The trek to 6 is exhausting, but offers a stunning view of the river and the ridiculous distance back to 1. There are no Hoppers here. There are no tourists. The sun is starting to fade and so are we.
We are in a little village of normal stores and where there are stores, there is air conditioning and water. We pop in and out of shops, turn all manner of corners until the bridges are long gone and we are soundly exhausted and lost. As my intention was to Hop today, I have brought no map, so you guessed it, we find a restaurant and decide this time, for sure, we will get a cab home.
The restaurant is old and tiny, with red and white checked table cloths, Chianti bottles with candles, plastic grapes and vines that dance around beams overhead. Everything I expect in a cliche Italian restaurant including those tiny ladder back wicker seatchairs with the two posts that jab into the underbelly of my thighs. I am sick of these. From now on, I will choose restaurants based on chair choice alone.
I am beyond tired and surprisingly sad about missing the Hopper and being lost. I order a glass of wine and lasagna. The waitress does the usual clearing of the other place setting, my menu and the 20 glasses she assumes I won't use. My table landscape is stripped to a sad salt and pepper, a napkin I assume is hiding silverware and a paper touristy placemat.
She returns with a generous pour of red wine and plants it in front of me. It makes me feel better. When I reach for it, I realize my placemat is actually a place map! It speaks to me like only a red arrow can "YOU ARE HERE."
I tip my glass to it. Yes I am. I am in Italy. All by myself. I am here and I have nowhere else to be. Here is fabulous and here I am. Thank you.
My lasagna is perfect and I can smell the calories. Gloriously cheesy, filly and warm. One of the best things about eating alone, is you get the whole basket of bread. I love bread baskets, especially when a napkin hides it's contents. It's like a surprise. Is it white, brown? Buns, sticks? You just dunno. This is the basket you want. Big fat slices of warm Italian bread. I ask for butter, because I love butter. In Canada, some Italian restaurants give you a puddle of oil to dunk your bread in. I do not want to eat oil. Even worse Canadian Italian restaurants claim they don't HAVE butter. Bullshit. I HATE this response and it ruins my whole experience. They say, "We try to offer an authentic Italian experience" This pisses me off more than you can know.
But here, in actual ITALY, if I don't get butter, I ask "Burro per favore?" and without fail, they smile and return with butter. They come back to ask if I have ENOUGH butter! In one restaurant, they set out a quarter pound slab of the stuff, sliced like Mozarella! So screw you Canadian Italian restaurants. You are just cheap, dumb and neither authentic in culinary prowess or customer service. This might be my favourite meal so far. I can't wait to get back to Canada just to visit every Italian restaurant I hate to show them a slide show of slabs, blobs, bricks and bales of butter slathered all over my authentic italian bread.
The walk back to the hotel is tolerable regardless of the countess Hoppers still zigzagging over whichever bridge I am not on. Bells are still ringing somewhere and I wonder if it becomes annoying for locals.
As I approach my hotel I feel happy fattened, flush and vindicated. I realize I treat my days like childbirth. They all begin with optimistic enthusiasm, followed by spurts of pain, horror, fear and disgust. Finally, as the sunsets, I always seem to feel happy to have made it through and all the negatives get erased by the darkness.
I hear the bells again and they do not annoy half as much as the Hopper parked directly across from my Hotel. Too little too late bub, I've seen it all so I'm going to pretend you are not here.
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