by Melinda Gallo

Meeting Luca Giannelli

When I was taking photos at the mercato di Sant'Ambrogio (Sant'Ambrogio market) for an article on my website Florence from the Heart, a few people that I buy food from were curious about the photos I was taking. They usually saw me as a customer and didn't know about my love of the city. I spoke with one ortolano (greengrocer), Fernando, who told me about a friend of his, Luca Giannelli, who publishes books about Florence, its history, and also about the Fiorentina (Florence's soccer team). He told me that he could introduce me to him if I wanted. The first time he mentioned it, I had assumed he was being nice and didn't take his offer seriously.

After that day I was toting around my macchina fotografica (camera), Fernando and I would talk at great length about Florence and the Fiorentina. One day he said that he thought it would be a great idea for me to meet his friend. He said that if I wanted to learn more about Florence, that Luca was the man to meet. I was intrigued, but was afraid that his friend wouldn't want to talk with me. I was just a woman who loves the city and appreciates it.

Last week, Fernando gave me one of Luca's books, which was about Florentine cooking for the holidays, that I had already seen at Edison. Fernando told me that he had written and published other books, and I was suddenly eager to meet him. Fernando pulled out his cellulare (cell phone) and called him. He set up a time for us to meet Luca at his office this last Monday.

I was a bit nervous about meeting him because I knew he was an important person in Florence who had also published many books on Florence. From just the one book that I did see, I could sense his love of the city through the details and way in which he wrote. The book was definitely thought out and done with great care and attention to details.

Alessandro drove Fernando and me to Luca's office outside of the city walls. When I walked in, I was struck by all the books he had published that he had on a large display. I learned that there were already 40 to his name.

Luca was inviting and charming. He pulled chairs out for us and we sat across from him. He spoke to us about his work, his life, and his projects. I was taken by his knowledge of the city and its history. He pulled out photos of the city taken after the Germans bombed it during the second World War. It was amazing to see the Ponte Vecchio left in tact while all around it was complete devastation.

Luca is a true encyclopedia of Florence and I felt so fortunate to be in the same room as him. I learned that he was a self-made man, which is more difficult to do in Italy than it would be in the United States. He didn't have any diplomas or any connections when he began. He just produced book after book to show his appreciation, love, and knowledge of the city. I was already impressed with Luca, and then he told me that he is also a well-known watercolorist. I almost fell off my chair. Here I was in front of a man who is knowledgeable, ambitious, productive, and artistic.

He asked me to tell him a little about myself. I told him that I express my love and appreciation of Florence through my blog and the Florence from the Heart website. He rarely goes on the Internet, but said that he was interested in seeing what I do. He liked that I'm taking pictures of the city because he said that those will be the reminders of the city as it continues to change over the years.

He pulled out a few books of his and explained each one to me. The titles were: "Il Giglio di Firenze," which explains the meaning and history of Florence's coat of arms, "Firenze Ferita," which shows through illustrations and paintings of Florence after the attacks during World War II, "Casentino, incantesimo di una Vallata," which is a novel about an artist who moves to Casentino, "Montaperti," which is about an important battle between Florence and Siena, and "La Battaglia di Scannagallo," which details the battle of Scannagallo when Siena fell under Florence's rule and became a part of Tuscany.

Afterwards, he pushed the pile over to me and said, "Sono tutti per te. They are all for you." I was so astonished by his generosity that I was speechless. I couldn't believe he was giving me all these marvelous books. I couldn't wait to get them home and read each one.

After being with Luca for a couple of hours, we left his office and were just in awe of him. In the car on the way home all we did was talk about Luca and his work.

I am truly grateful that one conversation about taking photos of my beloved city has led me to meet someone whose passion and appreciation for the city flows into all that he does. I never would've imagined that my talking with my ortolano would've allowed me to meet such an interesting man. I thought I was fortunate to have met Fernando because I truly enjoy our discussions about Florence.

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