My last full day in Florence. My challenge is to stay in the moment, participate fully. As I write, this thought just came to me: when we live in the moment, we experience inner silence, solitude and simplicity. Or, is it the other way around; when we experience silence, solitude and simplicity, we live in the moment. Regardless, something new, call it peace, is created from the two, forming a trinity.
This is my favorite city. I have to shout that out again and again, but you all know that!
Yesterday friends who spend two months in Rome every fall came up by train for the day. We walked, talked, and visited San Marco. Then we walked, talked, ate and visited Santa Croce. Next we walked, talked and ate some more until they took the train back to their home away from home.
Rome is their city; Florence is mine. Rome is huge and spread out, with many centers of interest. Florence is small and compact, with the Duomo the center from which all spirals forth.
When asked what I do in Florence, I have a litany of responses—write, visit museums and churches, and eat. Lately I’ve added a new one; I walk around with God. At first I figured some people would get it, and some wouldn’t; how arrogant of me. Of course they get it; they’re human. We all long for the ineffable, named by all faith traditions, searched for by agnostics, and acknowledged by atheists. It’s a feeling, a natural knowing, beyond words.
For years I stayed away from God talk, even from saying the word. During my years as a Unitarian God was not mentioned in the church I attended. When I joined my present church (United Church of Christ), I told people that I wanted a ‘God church.’ I kept my faith quest to myself, limiting conversation, except to mention what wonderful church I went to, which is code for some kind of surrender to God.
This morning I was out of my apartment by seven to walk around with God on a visit to the many churches in Florence. That’s what I thought I was going to write about when I opened my computer here at the la Fellrinelli Café. To my surprise, out came this confession.
Perhaps the catalyst is the elderly gentleman who has been a daily fixture during for the four years I have been coming here to write. He always wears a suit, and this September a large white bandage covers one side of his bald head. Sometimes he sits with friends and holds court. Today for the past hour he has been wandering about. Whether he knows it or not, I believe he is walking around with God.
The inviting, spacious park of the Art Institute of Florence is my favorite outdoor place to write: cross the Ponte Vecchio, walk by the Pitti Palace and along Via Roma to Porta Roma, and I am there. I’ve blogged about this park before, and posted pictures of people enjoying themselves. Here it all is again: people picnicking, lounging, reading, playing games, biking, walking dogs, napping, chatting, discussing…—the young and old and everyone in between.
I come to this same city again and again; I visit the same parks, museums and churches again and again; and I eat at the same food at the same restaurants again and again. Yes, I use the word same, but each time, each visit it is different. Sometimes things look different—a building is restored, the menu has changed, the weather varies. And of course, I am different (at least, older). And yet, three longings and satisfactions remain the same: traveling alone; walking around with God; writing.
Throughout the centuries the buildings in Florence have been constructed for eternity. Stone has that lasting quality about it, a sturdiness in the fact that except for churches and public structures, the buildings rise no higher than five floors.
The shops I pass on the ground floor of these old buildings are filled with items that, with luck, might last seven years, not seven centuries. As I sit writing at Caffe Ricchi in Piazza Spirito, I watch vendors setting up kiosks to present home grown provisions, such as bread, cheese, pasta, fruit and vegetables, honey and jams to sell.No waste here. Woodworkers, weavers, potters, and other craft people are sell their heart-felt expressions.
“Buy what you need,” I tell myself, which is easy for me because I don’t want any more stuff. The buying phase of my life is complete. I have more than I need, which is where discontentment sets in. I have begun to get rid of/recycle/donate my extra stuff—books I’ve read, dishes I don’t use, clothing I’ll never wear, ‘sitters’ I don’t appreciate or look at. Contemplation and action.
As I wander around Florence my eyes gaze up at all that stone, rarely in shop windows.
Here’s an update on my 2017 Reading Challenge. To date I’ve read 82 books. Traveling, however, has slowed down my pace. I just don’t have the time. My reading is pretty much relegate to Kindle reading in restaurants. Kindle tells me I have read 11% of The Medici: The Rise of Parvenu Dynasty 1360-1517, by Danny Chaplin, and have 14 hr. 28.mins left in the book (I’m skimming some). I’m also reading The Beautiful Necessity: Seven Essays on Theosophy and Architecture, by Claude Bragdon. Its 111 pages are filled with architectural drawing, but I can only digest a few pages at a time before I go out into the street and observe the real thing.
I confess that I spend some reading time wandering around the Feltrinelli bookstores at the train station and Piazza Republica--as well as enjoying their cafes. And today, for inspiration, I visited the Laurentian Library, designed by Michelangelo. And besides, back in May I reached my goal of 52 books.
One of my first visits upon my arrival in Florence is to the Convent of San Marco. I truly believe that with my longing for simplicity, I could be content living in one of the cells Fra Angelico decorated with frescos depicting the life of Jesus. I’d pick the first cell to the left, the one with Jesus and Mary Magdalene, ‘Noli mi tangere.’ They’d have to close the entire place to the public because I sure wouldn’t want tourists peeping in and snapping photos. Other than that, I’m a go.
During the fifteen century the convent was home to two notables. I’d be delighted to meet Cosimo de’Medici (1389-1464) in the corridor when he was on retreat from the bustle of his busy life as a leader in Florence. On the other hand, I doubt I’d have much in common with Savonarola (1452-1498) when he was in Florence, from 1482 until he was burned at the stake in the Piazza della Signoria in 1498. Besides, it would take over a half a century for me to overlap with them both.
Truth be told, this first morning walk wasn’t all that early. After a seven hour overnight flight from Boston to Rome, an hour and a half fast train ride to Florence, and a yummy dinner of crostini misti, followed by chicken and roasted potatoes at one of my go-to restaurants, I slept in until my alarm woke me at 7:30. Tomorrow it’s up at 6:30 and out by 7.
I wrapped up that article, settling on “How about a Writing Vacation in Florence?” for the title, posting it on the Solitary Travel section of this blog, and adding the link to Face Book. Much to my surprise, friends replied that this was the first time they really knew what I did on my trips to Florence, and what the impact of going alone was for me. Hmm, it seems that the informal and personal style of blog writing offers transparency not afforded through more formal writing, or even face-to conversations.
I want to say a little more about the timing of publishing a piece writing. There is a rhythm to each piece, which includes a beginning, middle and end; you get an idea and know it is time to begin; you also know when the piece is finished. It is never perfect; there could always be more to add or change, but you know deep down when you have done all you can, when it is finished for you . So wrap it up, and send it out, make it public, whatever that means to you.
I’m starting to think about my time in Florence this September. Although I’ll be following my usual routine, as always, each visit feels unique and amazing. There’s comfort in the familiar—that is the ‘good’ familiar. People return to their same summer place year after year, order the same dish from the menu of their favorite restaurant, walk that special section of the beach, and on it goes.
I’ll be following my usual routine—early morning walk, cappuccino, meditation, writing, more walking, more cappuccino, museum and church visits, and eating, eating, eating.
For the past few years I’ve been working on an article about my experiences writing in Florence, with two working titles: Seven Days Writing in Florence and How about a Writing Vacation in Florence? I’m tired of revisiting it; I need to settle on the focus. Before I fly on September 10th, I am committed to wrapping it up and posting on "A Solitary Traveler" on this blog. After all, new writing topics are brewing.
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4/30/15 Finishing up VG.