by Melinda Gallo

My heart is everywhere

Every experience inspires you to fully embrace who you are. For the last five years, I have been bouncing back and forth between Florence and Paris. Initially, I was overjoyed to go back to Paris where my expat life first began, but slowly it became less joyful for me. When I moved to Florence the first time, I blocked Paris out of my mind so that I could fully experience Florence. I didnít want to keep looking over my shoulder wondering what my life would be like in Paris, so I closed that chapter of my life and began a new one in Florence.

Living in Florence :: My heart is everywhere

The opportunity to go to Paris for work at the beginning of 2011 wasnít something that I had desired, but I accepted it because it felt right. I was grounded in my life in Florence and I knew that I wasnít leaving Florence, just adding Paris back into my life. I was looking forward to experiencing Paris again as well as regaining my fluency in French. As a writer, it was also inspiring for me to live in another city where I could discover it again as if for the first time.

When I left Paris in 1995 to go to England, I was certain that I would return there to live one day. Paris had been my first love and it was where I still held onto fabulous memories. My idea to come to Florence wasnít planned either in 1997 and I thought that I would eventually return to Paris. So when I began living in Paris a few years ago, I felt as if I was beign showed what my life could be like there. I dipped my toe back into Paris and suddenly found myself immersed even deeper into a life there over time.

What initially was exciting for me eventually became a chore. Itís hard to imagine what itís like to uproot yourself every two weeks and plant yourself back in another country where you have to change languages, customs, cultures, and lifestyles. I felt as if my life was split down the middle and I couldnít have it all in one place. Maybe some people are better equipped for that kind of lifestyle, but I need to settle in completely the moment I arrive somewhere. Iím the type who unpacks my suitcase even if Iím only staying for one night. I like the feeling of being entirely present where I am, not floating around unable to enjoy the moment.

The biggest (and probably most challenging) difference in each location was my day-to-day life. In France, I was supposed to go to the office every day during normal business hours. After being a freelancer for the last twenty years, losing some of my freedom took a toll on me. When I was in Italy working at my same job, I was able to set my own hours and sometimes even worked on weekends to make up for any lost time during the week.

Everything came crashing down last May. I couldnít shake the feeling that something was amiss in my life. I couldnít pinpoint it because I thought that I should be happy with my life. In everyone elseís eyes, I had it all: I was living in two of the most beautiful cities in the world, traveling back and forth, and working at a well-paid job. I almost gave it all up at that point and instead took a break to go to the US for a month. During that time, I knew I had to make huge shifts in my life even though I wasnít sure that I was ready to make them.

After returning to Florence last September, I felt such a strong pull to stay put that I decided not to continue my work schedule. In November, I went back to Paris for a week to see if I was making the right decision and upon returning to Florence, I knew I had. It wasnít really Paris that gave me problems, but rather my work that wasnít as satisfying to me as it once was.

As of the end of January, I am no longer working in Paris and am once again a freelancer. Florence has reminded me yet again that I have to listen to and follow my heart. I know that I am a spirito libero (free spirit) and that I need to feel free and only do what feels right for me. I canít follow any one elseís schedule or satisfy any one elseís desires. I have to follow my own heartís yearnings.

I know that if I want to be truly happy, I just have to be me. When I do what I love, love emanates from me. For me, taking photos is a manifestation of my love: I receive the love when I take a photo of something that inspires me and then I give that love by sharing the photo with others. Writing is exactly the same although I had to stop sharing because I felt empty these last few weeks.

Since Iíve returned to Florence, she has emphasized to me that life is all about love. My heart is not just in two places, but it is everywhere. It is however in two states: receiving and giving (and in that order). I have learned that true generosity is when I give what I have received just like Florence. My beloved city is so rich with love that it now offers all of that to each one of us every day.

I have not forsaken Paris; I keep her tucked away in my heart where she continues to live. I look forward to visiting Paris again as soon as I get a strong enough impulse to do so. As a spirito libero, I know that when the time to go to Paris is right, my heart will push me in that direction. In the meantime, I am enjoying my time in Florence and listening intently to my heart.

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