I'd been complaining for a long, long time to anyone who would listen that I needed some serious time off from the stresses of the Chancellory, and when I got back from my most recent Young Adult Pilgrimage (see yesterday's post) I had a specific location in mind where I would spend. From then on, whenever asked, "Where would you go?", I had a ready answer: "Florence." Well, it would have probably stopped there, with my simply having a more specific complaint then in the past, had it not been for a few close friends (who were clearly, and justifiably, losing their patience with me) prodding me to think of practical ways to make my daydream reality. I'm particularly indebted to a friend who searched the web and academic postings to help me find just the right place. Were it not for her, I'd still be in New York, bemoaning my fate.
So where am I, exactly? In a 1st floor apartment on 19, via delle Terme, that I'm subletting from a professor at New York University and her husband. The street is about 200 meters long and runs from west to east. My building's on the south side, with windows that look out to the west and south. It's a converted 16th century palazzo with (I'm told) original wood beam ceilings. The apartment's been recently redone and is ideal for my needs. Well, not exactly ideal: it has no internet access, so I have to schlep a whole two blocks to this cafe whenever i want to communicate with friends and family! Oh, and it doesn't get much sun; the living room windows look out on a blank wall maybe ten feet to the west. Aside from those minor shortcomings, though, I'm perfectly content. It's decorated in yellows and browns with occasional muted green highlights, antique wood furniture and modern leather couches, marble counters and terra cotta tile: very Florentine palette and materials. By "1st floor," I mean I have to ascend 35 stone steps, turning to my left five different times, before reaching my door. There's an elevator, one of those cage affairs, but it doesn't stop on my floor. So far, I've heard others but seen no one. the one I hear most regularly is a talented oboist. I was reminded at first of a scene in Woody Allen's "Manhattan," when he can't sleep in an apartment he's sharing with his partner Margot Hemingway ("I can't sleep! There's a guy next door who's playing a trombone... or sawing something... it sounds like he's sawing a trombone!"). Thankfully, my neighbor is a pleasure to listen to, at any time of the day or night.
Via delle Terme is Latin for "the way to the baths." It's obviously one of the more ancient streets in the city, dating back to Roman times, when it was just a few yards south of the first of city's southernmost walls. (As Florence grew, walls were built further and further out. As of the last century, however, all the walls have been torn down.) My building is equidistant from either end of the street. If I turn right when leaving my front door and walk a hundred meters, I pass two nice little restaurants and a quaint grocery store/fruit stand before coming to the road's end at Via Por Santa Maria. If I turn right from there, in two blocks I'm at the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), about which I'll have more to say in a later post. If instead I go straight, in two blocks I'm at the Uffizi (Offices), one of the world's greatest art galleries. If I go a little to the left then right, in a block I'm at the Piazza della Signoria, the Governors' Square, the center of the historic city (where, among other things, Savonarola was hanged and burned). Another four blocks north and I'm at the Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, with its famous campanile (bell tower) designed by Giotto and amazing dome by Brunelleschi. I'll have more to say about all these places in future posts.
Back to my street for a minute. It's paved with flagstones, unevenly, and must collect some pretty good puddles when it rains. It takes a serious effort to look sober walking down the street.
My living room windows look out on a narrow street that runs north (that is, from my building) to south, towards the river Arno, which runs through the two uneven sides of the city. (The larger and more important part is north of the river.) I took a walk down that, I guess you'd call it a lane, this morning, and noticed that someone had gone to the trouble of fixing a handwritten sign to the bottom of its official name. I say "took the trouble" because the sign is about 12 feet up. I don't remember the real name chiselled into the stone plaque but the paper sign reads "Via della Merda" (Sh*t Street). From street level, I could see the point - or rather, smell it. The odor adds to the medieval atmosphere of the street as a whole.
One last thing: on the wall opposite my living room window, someone has written, in English, "Santa is REAL." I hope it wasn't meant for me....