by Melinda Gallo

Choosing Florence, choosing love

For me, living in Florence is a choice. I could easily pack up my things and move somewhere else because I have no ties that require me to stay in Florence. I donít stay in Florence because I'm used to living here or because Iíve lived here longer than any other place of my choosing. I choose to remain in Florence because I feel great joy bubbling inside of me every day I wake up in her embrace.

Living in Florence :: Choosing Florence, choosing love

Being in love with Florence is also a choice. To love a person, place, or thing requires focus, commitment, and passion. Just because I live in Florence doesnít mean that I love her. Accepting and appreciating Florence are signs that I love her. For me to love Florence, I must feel, experience, and share my love for her every day. I love Florence as she is. I am not in love with the dream of Florence; I am in love with the reality of Florence.

A few weeks ago when I celebrated my 12th anniversary of living in Florence. When I arrived the first time in Florence, I didnít fall in love with her. I visited Florence for a couple of hours in mid-July and didn't have a great experience. I returned to Florence a few months later to learn Italian. I didnít choose Florence because I liked it that much, but rather because it was suggested to me. When I arrived at the beginning of September, I went for a walk around the city center. I stumbled into Orsanmichele and sat down for a moment. I felt an overwhelming sense of being at home in Florence. It was something I had never felt before.

When I walked out of the church, I kept saying to myself, ďI am home.Ē The entire city looked and felt different to me. It was as if I had just fallen in love. A great sense of delight and awe rippled through me with every step. I originally thought Paris was my home, but the sense of home I immediately felt in Florence was profound and genuine. I had lived in Paris for five years and didnít imagine Iíd ever leave it, but to feel an even greater connection to a city I barely knew persuaded me to stay.

In a matter of a few weeks, I moved all my things to Florence and began to create a new life for myself. I had a difficult time explaining to anyone who asked me why I chose to move to Florence. It certainly wasnít a logical decision: I didnít yet speak the language, I had no job, I didnít know anyone, and I wasnít at all familiar with the city, its people, or its culture. I just had a strong feeling to stay in Florence. A couple of years later, I returned to California for family reasons. That powerful sense of being at home in Florence was so strong that eventually I returned to Florence in 2004. Since then, I have been choosing Florence every day.

Initially, Florence inspired me to live in the moment and go with the flow. Now, Florence nudges me to fully embrace every moment and dive deeper into it. My beloved city has taught me to not only keep my heart open, but also to open it even wider. For me, living in Florence is about choosing love over and over again. It doesnít matter if I receive love in return or not. I have learned that to feel love is the gift, not receiving it from outside of myself.

Florence cracked open my heart the moment I arrived that first time. It felt almost like she tore off the door to my heart and just left it ajar. Nowadays, Florence encourages me to keep my heart open so that love flows in and out of me like my breath without attachments, fears, worries, or doubts. I feel great appreciation toward my beloved city because every day I choose Florence and every day I choose love.

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