by Melinda Gallo

In Paris, I enjoy going to a local café to have breakfast. I sit alone at a table, sipping on a café crême and eating either a croissant or a baguette with butter and jam. After I settle in, the first thing I do is pull out a notebook and pen. I enjoy writing in public places because I don’t get distracted, yet still take short breaks to watch people walk by. My biggest distraction is my computer. Besides work I can do, projects I can tend to, there’s also the Internet where I can surf for hours.

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When I am in Paris, Florence feels so far away. My last images of Florence in my head were from when the plane took off. The city was on my left out the window appearing in a hazy fog where I could only make out the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, and a few other buildings as well as the Arno snaking through the city. Then, the plane veered north and the city disappeared. For some reason, it is that memory of my beloved city that I take with me to Paris. Not the millions of other images I’ve seen in the last two weeks I was in Florence.

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With temperatures hovering around 0°C, this morning I headed out for a run along the Arno. Last night it snowed in Florence. Tiny snowflakes aimlessly darted around the sky, lightly touched the ground, and disappeared. At times, the city looked like it was in a snow globe. I tried to take a few pictures, but the snow looked more like rain falling.

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For the second time this week, I walked to Ponte alle Grazie where I looked at the Ponte Vecchio before taking off on my morning run. After crossing the bridge, I headed away from the city toward Ponte San Niccolò. I first went past Piazza Demidoff where the large monument is hiding behind scaffolding. I kept close to the low wall on the left to give the speeding bikes more room to pass me.

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Living in Florence :: Evening strolls

I missed my first sunset on Saturday, so Sunday evening when I saw the sky darken I ran outside with my macchina fotografica (camera). I headed toward the sun that was quickly disappearing. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to stop to take some photos, but snapped a few along the way. I’m sure I’ve taken multiple photos of the same sights, but each time they seem different to me. At different times of the day and in different lighting, the city is transformed.

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This morning when I woke up, I was happy to look out the window to see bright blue skies, the jade-colored Arno, the yellow, white, and orange buildings across the river, the leafy trees, and the patches of green grass on the hillside. I returned from Paris last night where I’d been for two weeks. In the winter, Paris can be a little bleak. The contrast of colors between the two cities is great.

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Living in Florence :: Power of the Arno

Florence is not only one of my great loves, but it is also a good friend. Early this evening, I went to Ponte Santa Trinita with the four statues on each corner and stared into the Arno facing the Ponte Vecchio. I saw a piece of wood floating on the surface slowly making its way toward me. I imagined putting all my concerns, worries, and incessant thoughts on top of it. I watched it steadily pass under the bridge and down the river to the West. I crossed the bridge and watched that piece of wood some more. Letting go is always difficult, and sometimes I enjoy watching it slowly get smaller instead of just disappearing.

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In Italy today, we celebrate Epifania (Epiphany). It’s the last holiday in a string of major holidays (Christmas and New Year’s) until Easter. After a cool day yesterday with rain most of the afternoon, this morning is cloudy, but sunny. For the second morning in a row, the sun has lit up the sky with oranges, pinks, and yellows that I normally only see at sunset. The city is quiet with a few people bundled up strolling around town. Almost all the shops are closed this morning even though the big after-Christmas saldi (sales) started yesterday.

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Living in Florence :: First day of the year

The festivities in town started early last night with petardi (firecrackers) going off before the sun even went down. Many of the shops had closed early even though many people were strolling the streets. We left Florence at 10pm to go to dinner and stayed out of the city last night. However, this morning when I woke up, I couldn’t wait to return so that I could rush around my beloved city and take some photos. I first headed West down the lungarno where I saw them putting up the sign that said, “Buon 2012” on the Ponte Vecchio. When I first arrived, they were just hanging the “Buon” sign. The street along the Arno, which was littered with broken glass, bottles, and plastic cups, but was virtually empty with only a handful of people out. The morning sun cast long shadows onto the street, but didn’t do much to warm up the air.

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For my last run of the year, I decided that I would run up to Piazzale Michelangiolo. I haven’t been up there in many weeks and was looking forward to seeing my beloved city from above. Many times in the last two weeks, I have looked up at the Christmas tree in the corner closest to the city, which is lit up every night. I was excited when I woke up this morning because I knew that I would finally realize my running goal for the last day of the year.

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On the second to the last day of the year, I sprung from bed at 6:30am and headed straight to the window of our apartment. Nothing startled me awake, but I felt a strong desire to watch the sun rise. To the West, the sky was a dark blue almost black and to the East, just above the rooftops of the neighboring buildings, the sky was a lighter blue. A few dark clouds hung in the sky outlined in a lighter grey. The Arno was a glossy black with white cones of light reflected from the street lamps. As I gazed at the sky from East to West, I noticed how it was slowly becoming an even split between light and dark.

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After my morning run along the Arno on Tuesday, I stood in the opened area across from the Cellini statue to stretch out. I looked out toward San Niccolò and let the sun soak through my clothes to warm me up. I shut my eyes because the light reflecting from the Arno was so strong. While I stood on the Ponte Vecchio again today after my run, the city seemed completely different. The sun was shining behind wispy, grey clouds and the air was crisp.

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Christmas morning in Florence is a dream. The sun had been up at least an hour before me and the city was already glowing against the light blue sky. The streets were was quiet with not a single car or motorino passing by. I could hear church bells ringing in the distance and birds chirping as they flew overhead. I only saw a couple of people strolling down the lungarno when I looked out of our windows.

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I just returned from Paris last night where I worked for two weeks. I won’t be returning until January so that I can spend the holidays at home in Florence. This last trip was a time for me to reflect on this last year. It’s remarkable that how the year started and how it ended were so different and unexpected. Back in January, I wrote of learning to go with the flow. At the time, I was talking about the flow of Florence and how the city is always changing. Little did I know that only a few weeks later, I would be embarking on a change that now has me straddling my life between two cities.

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I’ve been wanting to walk around my beloved city, take in her beauty, and admire the changes she’s going through every day this week. I was only able to do a little of that when I went for my morning runs, but it wasn’t enough. With the sun coming up around 7am and setting around 5pm, the days were short and dense. I was only able to walk around at night and admire the addobbi natalizi (Christmas decorations). I was eager to see the lights hanging across the streets, strung between buildings. I even strolled through Piazza Santa Croce to check out the annual mercato tedesco (German market), but was a little disappointed to find out that the giostra (merry-go-round) didn’t make it here too.

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