by Melinda Gallo

Celebrating four years in Florence today

This entire week I've been wondering what I will write today. I have been living in Florence, and blogging about it, since this day for the past four years. Each day this week, I have been looking out onto the Arno, wondering about what makes me love living here. While I passed by churches and monuments in the streets this week, I asked myself what I appreciate about my beloved city. The beauty and magic of the city are obvious, but what is it that makes me feel that I have found a home here?

I fell in love with Florence only a few days after I arrived here back in 1997. When I first came to Florence, I wasn't impressed with the bustling streets filled with tourists or with the commessi (sales people) and camerieri (waiters) who would speak to me in English the moment I stepped foot into their shop or restaurant. I felt so foreign in a place that I wanted to call home. It took many months of living in Florence before I created a life for myself here. I had a permesso di soggiorno (permit to stay) for freelance work, a handful of good friends, an apartment, and steady, but low, income. I thought I was set to stay here forever. Because of a major turn in my life, I ended up going back to the US in 1999 for a few years; however, all the while I was living in the US, I dreamt about returning to Florence. I'd call my Italian friends and email them regularly to stay in touch with them. And for two years in a row, I travelled back to Florence for a month-long visit.

In 2004, I moved back to Florence and initially thought that I'd stay only a couple of years. I had planned on going back to the US with my then American husband. However, within a short period of time, something inside of me urged me to stay in Florence. I felt that Florence had become my home again, and I couldn't bear to leave it. I felt as if I could finally be myself and that I didn't have to put on a show to fit in.

When I was growing up in the US, I never truly felt as if I fit in. For some reason, I felt as if it wasn't my place even though I feel as American as anyone else who lives in the US. Maybe it was because I am of two different nationalities (Chinese and Italian) and didn't entirely fit in with either group. Or maybe it was just my fate to feel like an outsider.

I find it interesting that my ancestors left their home countries to find better lives in the United States, and here I am living in another country to find a better life for myself. My Italian grandparents were taken away from Italy as children. They came back to Italy to visit only a few times, but didn't consider moving back here. My Chinese great-grandfather, who was an American pioneer in Montana, left China for California at a young age in search of gold. He ended up working on the railroads for many years and then went to Montana where he bought a farm, found a Chinese wife, and raised 13 children. They too never considered going back to China. All of my ancestors found much better lives for themselves and their families in the United States. So, I wonder why I feel that I don't belong in a country that has allowed both sides of my family to prosper and find happiness.

I could probably come up with a million reasons about what I like about living here in Florence, but they all sound trite to me. The true reason why I love living here is because it just feels right to me. It is like being in love with someone. You could certainly list the aspects about the person that you appreciate, but when it comes down to it, it is a feeling deep in your heart that can't be labeled.

I feel a cloak of unconditional love in Florence that I have felt nowhere else. I feel as if I am being embraced just by being present. I don't feel as if I have to do something special for Florence to accept me. I can be myself and that is good enough for my beloved city.

I have recreated my life once again in Florence: I have a loving husband, caring in-laws, good friends, a job, and many hobbies and projects to keep me busy. I feel fortunate to live in a city where I feel that I fit in. I hope to stay as long as Florence keeps me in her warm embrace.

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