"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Florence Week #9: In Which I Stroll Through Magic Hour, Get Silly in the Boboli, and Eat the Best Sandwich Ever

**Before I jump into last week, I feel I should mention that I am writing this from a cafe called Le Murate. It took forever to find because it is in an enclosed piazza, but I enjoyed an early morning walk across town. I'm now savoring a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant in the mostly empty cafe, and the only other people here are Italians. Score! I've officially found a local hang-out spot. But more on Le Murate in my next post. **

As my time in Florence draws to a close (how it pains me to write that!), I've been thinking a lot about what I want to do that I still haven't done. It's funny how time can make your priorities very clear. Luckily, this week I was able to check off a lot of things I've wanted to do since the beginning.

On Monday morning I stopped by Paperback Exchange, the English language bookstore near the Duomo. I'd been there once before, but as we all know, I can't stay away from bookstores for very long. There's a feeling of coming home whenever I walk into a bookstore, and it's nice to know that no matter how far I roam I can find that sense of belonging somewhere. I bought a used copy of The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt. It's set in Edwardian England, around the formation of the Victoria and Albert Museum. I'll be taking a class on museum studies in London, and one of my passions is British children's literature, so really, could there be a more perfect book for me to read while I'm there? I'm really hoping it's good!

That night my friend Rachel and I went out for gelato (because who doesn't love a late night gelato run?) only to discover that our local gelataria was closed. In a moment of weakness (or perhaps stubbornness) we decided to take a bus the altroarno (other side of the river) to get gelato at one of my favorite places, Santa Trinita. I had my usual favorite, Nocciola (hazelnut) and I tried a sesame flavor, which tasted a lot like peanut butter. We then proceeded to get lost on the way back, and the wrong bus, a tram, and a fifteen minute walk later, we were home.

On Tuesday I got coffee with one of my favorite professors from Coe, who is on sabbatical in Florence. We had one of those meandering, wide ranging conversations that lasted long after we had finished our cappuccinos. One of the things I love about her is her unyielding enthusiasm. Every time I talk to her it's like some sort of well has been filled, and I'm suddenly bursting with curiosity about everything. (Which, in a perfect world, is how all teachers should make you feel).

I left the coffee shop around 6pm, which I've decided, is my favorite time of day in Florence. The sky was a delicate, translucent blue, tinged with gold. As I walked towards Santa Maria Novella I heard a cacophony of sound. When I finally made it to the piazza I discovered the source. In the courtyard of the church were hundreds, probably thousands of birds. They filled the trees until there were more feathers and than leaves, and they wheeled through the sky in undulating black clouds. I probably stood there for at least ten minutes, just marveling. If you ever come to Florence, take a walk at magic hour. You will find a city transformed.

I don't go out much at night, mainly because after two hours of drawing and eating a two course meal for dinner I'm pretty much exhausted. (Unless, of course, there's gelato involved ;)) Wednesday, though, I decided to go out with friends. We chose a touristy bar in the center of town, with craft beer and live jazz on Wedenesdays. The musicians had set up in the basement, and the crowd (of maybe 20 people at most) was half band members and friends and of the band. The musicians rotated throughout the night, and innocent looking people from the audience would suddenly join in, pulling a trumpet or a guitar out of a case at their feet. It was fascinating to watch them improvise up close, with the trumpet player signaling just slightly when to switch solos or when to go into the final stretch of the song. It all flowed together seamlessly. Amazing.

Friday was the first day in a while that it's been relatively sunny and warm. I didn't even need to wear my heavy coat. We decided to take advantage of the nice weather and head to the Boboli Gardens, a place I've been wanting to visit since arriving in Florence. In my own excited words (ones my friends won't let me forget), it was "like all of my Secret Garden dreams on crack!" Which is true, it was. There's something beautifully melancholic about a garden, especially one that isn't quite in bloom yet. You wander through a maze of hedges and trees, stumble across statuary half hidden by vines, and walk around perfectly still reflecting pools. Walking into a large garden is like entering another world. One where the drum of traffic fades into the background, and tiny, cramped sidewalks transform into a wide dirt paths.

One of the things I love about my friends is that we can go from contemplative and philosophical to perfectly silly in about five seconds flat. I think that it's possible to marvel at the beauty of a statue AND take a selfie with it. And my goodness, we took a lot of selfies. I'll just leave some of these here:

Over all, my Boboli Garden experience was equal parts tranquil and exciting, and we could not have picked a more perfect day to go. I've been told I MUST also visit the Bardini Gardens, so hopefully I will make it there sometime this week.

The rest of my weekend was spent in various coffee shops, working on the final paper for one of my classes. There is one incident worth mentioning, though. I finally made it to another destination I've been meaning to go to all semester, the hallowed sandwich shop, All'Antico Vinaio. For five euros you can get the best sandwich of your life, and it's gigantic, too! The place is so popular that the owners opened two locations right across the street from each other, and you'll spot the lines out the door long before you get close enough to read the sign, but oh my goodness is it worth the wait! I had one with fresh ham, mozzarella, a slab of eggplant, and delicious truffle sauce. I wish I had gotten a picture, but I guess that means I'll just have to go back.

Until next time, ciao!

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