by Melinda Gallo

As the sun was setting on Piazza di Santa Croce

Instead of my usual brisk walk through the piazza to get to where I want to go, I decided to sit on one of the cement benches on the sunny side of the piazza. Instead of looking at the church and the surrounding buildings, I watched the people.

Large groups of tourists, being led by a person holding a flag or umbrella, parade by. Chinese women with brightly colored scarves hanging over their forearms and big black bags slung on their shoulder, mill around the piazza.

There are also Chinese men that write people's names in colorful calligraphy who sit down in front of cardboard boxes made into desks with examples taped on the front. Artists facing the front of the church show off their artwork and continue to paint while they're waiting for customers. Men from Africa who sell fake Gucci and Prada bags displayed on sheets that they later use to lug everything around.

All the shops around the piazza are for tourists: leather shops, jewelry stores that specialize in gold, religious handcrafted wood artisans, and a few stands to buy guide books, postcards, and t-shirts.

Today, I even saw people hitting a tennis ball back and forth in the piazza along with a small group playing volleyball. A few people were throwing a frisbee around while others were walking their dogs through the piazza. An elderly woman was being escorted around the piazza so that she could stay seated in the sun.

At this time in the late afternoon around 4:30PM, children are being let out of the school. I never noticed the school before because normally I am not outside at this time in the afternoon. Parents wait outside in a large crowd to pick up their children.

As I sit on the bench in the piazza, I listen to some of the children talking to their mothers about their day at school as they walk past me. I watch other children whiz by on the back of a bicycle.

There is something very comforting about experiencing this facet of Florence for me. Florence is not only a beautiful city to take pictures of and to enjoy, it is also home to many others who have probably been here for generations.

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