by Melinda Gallo

I plan out my weekends in Florence like most people plan out their vacations. I make mental lists of what I want to see, eat, and visit. The past couple of days, Iíve only been able to go out for brief periods of time due to my work obligations. At night, however, Iíve been walking around the piazze and streets to reacquaint myself with my beloved cityís energy.

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I miss Florence. Not in a way that doesnít allow me to be happy elsewhere, but in a way that doesnít allow me to ever forget my beloved city. I donít hold my breath when I am away from Florence, but almost. These six weeks in California and France have been way too long for me. Itís not that I havenít enjoyed my time away, but I still miss Florence and mostly how I feel when I am there. I long to return to my beloved cityís embrace where love flows so easily in and out of me like my breath.

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A month ago while I was in Florence, I received a phone call that you dread when you are an expat. My brother called me to tell me that his wife had passed away. I quickly made plans to return to California as soon as possible so I could arrive a couple of days before my sister-in-lawís service. After living so many years overseas, these calls are the ones that make being an expat difficult. No matter where your loved ones live, you canít always be there so you do what you can. I wish I could spend more time with my loved ones in California, but itís not easy when an ocean separates us (and they donít all live in the same area either).

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When you are an expat, you walk a fine line between two worlds: where you were raised and where you are currently living. Itís not like you can hold one world in one hand and the other in the other hand; you have to hold onto both worlds with both hands without crushing either one of them. I have the added benefit (and added challenge) of embracing three worlds: Italy, France, and the US. I try to embrace fully the world in which I am right now without negating the other two. At times, it can be a bit challenging especially when there is some international sporting event. For me, the challenge comes around every four years for the World Cup.

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Living in Florence :: Florence as friend, teacher, and lover

My trip home to Florence went by so quickly, but I gained so much this time around. Itís interesting that each time I return home and then go back to France, my understanding of both city increases. Not in a way to define each one better, but to open myself up to discover more around me, to appreciate the details, and to understand that the world is beautiful in all of its complexities.

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Living in Florence :: The joys of being in Florence

The time I spend at home in Florence fills me with so much joy. While I enjoy my time in France, I am always so happy to return to my beloved city. The minute I walked into my apartment on Wednesday, my body relaxed and I felt a wave of joy ripple through me as I looked out onto the Arno. The words that inspired me to move to Florence the first time always come back to me when I return, ďYou are home.Ē

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The first five months of this year have gone by like a bolt of lightening. I almost canít believe itís almost June. I have been trying to balance my life between Paris and Florence even though at times I have felt more like a Ping-Pong ball bouncing back and forth. Although I am completely settled in each place, I usually need at least one full day to adjust to the language, culture, and rhythm of the city. The double-expat life can be a little exhausting at times; however, it has taught me about the necessity of keeping my life balanced.

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Living in Florence :: Exploring and enjoying other cities in Italy

I love discovering more about Italy. I find Italy to be one of the most interesting countries I have ever visited. Each region (and even each town in a region) varies from the next one. Each place has its own charm that can be unveiled, enjoyed, and appreciated. In France, at the beginning of May we had two Thursdays in a row that were holidays. By taking Friday off, we did a pont (bridge), which allowed us to have two four-day weekends. My beau joined me a week after I returned to Florence and we traveled around Italy.

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On Sunday, I walked over to Vivoli for colazione (breakfast). It was only 10am when I arrived, but they had already sold out of bomboloni (cream-filled donuts). I reluctantly chose a cornetto (croissant) instead and my friend who works there placed it on the bar for me. I had been thinking about having a bombolone since I woke up because I ate one the other day and loved it. They remind me of when I first arrived in Florence. Every time I walked into the bar around the corner from my apartment, the guy would set it out for me on a plate and make my cappuccino.

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I have undoubtedly let Florence into my heart and soul. My beloved city has touched me so profoundly that I have become a better person because of my living here. But it hasnít been just the city that has affected me, but also the people. I have always been rather friendly and open to meeting new people, but after being in Florence for the last ten years, I have realized that my friendliness was initially superficial and now it has deepened thanks to the Florentines.

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Pasqua (Easter) seems mark the beginning of the tourist season in Florence each year. From my last time home a couple of weeks ago to today, the number of people visiting Florence has definitely increased. While many dislike the large amounts of tourists who ďinvadeĒ the city, I see their arrival more as the beginning of us sharing Florence. Weíve been fortunate to have a few quiet months in Florence since October even if the number of tourists spiked around Christmas. Itís important to appreciate the ebb and flow in Florence because the city has its seasons and rhythm like everything else.

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Itís not that Iím afraid to fly, but I honestly didnít feel safe in the Avro RJ85 that took me between Florence and Paris. It felt a bit like an economy car that was certainly efficient, but just wasnít as sturdy. When we hit turbulence, it felt more like we were in a car racing over a speed bump. I dislike, however, thinking that my last moment on Earth could be while sitting on an airplane with a bunch of people I donít even know. I probably wouldnít think so much about my mortality if everyone would stop saying, ďHave a safe flight.Ē I used to cringe at the words and once said, ďOf course I will; Iím not flying the plane.Ē Even though my friends mean well, that seed of fear lingered in my head for an hour and a half (the length of my flight between Florence and Paris).

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For my run this morning, I headed toward Ponte San NiccolÚ with the sun glaring in front of me. I tried to look out at the Arno, but the cobblestone sidewalk required more of my attention at times. After crossing the ponte (bridge) and heading back toward town, I was able to take in the city monument by monument. First, I saw the Duomo, then the side of Santa Croce, and above to my left was Piazzale Michelangiolo. Then, I let my eyes fall on the torre (tower) of the Palazzo Vecchio and the Ponte Vecchio.

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Living in Florence :: Respite brings about renewed vigor

Initially I had a few ideas of what I wanted to do on my day off. I imagined myself going to the Uffizi to admire the Nascita di Venere by Botticelli. Then, I thought I would eat lunch at one of my favorite restaurants. In the afternoon, I was hoping to enjoy a tea in the bar at the top of the Giardino Bardini while looking out at Florence. In the end, I didnít do any of that and instead felt more inclined to walk one of my running routes along the lungarno to Ponte San NiccolÚ and then onto the viale (large avenue) that winds its way up to Piazzale Michelangiolo.

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When I woke up this morning, I decided to take the day off from work. I had a lot planned to do, but I wasnít feeling very optimistic. Itís odd for me to be in Florence and not feel connected to it. Iíve been here for almost a week and just havenít had a chance to commune with Florence alone. My beau spent the weekend with me and we were able to enjoy the sunny days in Florence over the weekend, but it wasnít enough for me. When I am away from Florence, I feel my connection to weaken just a little bit so when I return I always feel the need to rekindle the flame I have for my beloved city.

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