Maybe no one noticed that Florence—as well as many other cities—had lost its way. The lockdown woke us all up to give us a chance to rethink her future. For years, Florence was playing catch-up. She pleased others for short-term gain and in the process lost her soul. Every year, more visitors came, and the city made more adjustments to accommodate them. Apartments became hotels while artisans, bakeries, butchers, fishmongers, and green grocers disappeared. They installed ATMs in many restaurants, bars, and bottle shops. Pre-made sandwiches with wilted lettuce and tomato slices dangling out sat in glass cases for people to pick up as they walked by. Fast food was more popular than slow food. Visiting Florence seemed to be more of a race than a pleasurable jaunt.
Those who came to Florence for a few hours or a few days didn’t have a chance to acquaint themselves with Florence for the city that she is. They might have learned details about her, but didn’t really know her. They didn’t know that Florence’s energy is alive and well, not buried in the past. Even those who were fortunate to come multiple times craved more of a connection with her. Often people asked us, “Where do the locals go?” Many locals either shared the few rare nuggets that exist in Florence or ventured out of Florence.
For years, Florentines have been moving out of the city center and into the surrounding areas. Most complained about the inconveniences of living here: no shops to buy groceries and too many people marching through the streets at all hours of the day. Almost everyone—locals and tourists—complained about how the city was overrun by tourists. Groups marched along the river, around the city, and stopped only to see a specific site, visit a museum, or eat whatever they brought with them.
The reality of life in Florence for many was bleak. I did my best to keep my connection to Florence alive by visiting her gardens where I found solace and tapped into her energy. I also strolled around the city at sunrise or sunset, avoiding the peak times. Not everyone had the time or possibility to do as I did and therefore lost their desire to connect with Florence.
The lockdown was a fruitful time for me. It allowed me to take stock of my life, reassess my values, focus on what's important to me, connect more with my loved ones, and appreciate each day. I found pleasure in listening to the birds chirping all day long and the crows cawing from the rooftop across the street at 5:30 a.m. When I opened my windows in the morning, I took the time to admire the constant flow of the Arno and to note the changes occurring in nature. A wisteria bush at a neighboring building blossomed last month and many trees in the gardens I walked by sprouted bright green leaves. I relished in the gentle morning breeze as it swept past me, tousling my hair, to fill up my apartment with the sweet scent of spring. During this time, Florence was able to rest and regenerate.
Over the past two weeks, more people arrived from beyond the city walls and walked through our previously empty streets and piazzas. Even though initially it was overwhelming, we quickly became accustomed to the small crowds. It was lovely to see children playing in the piazzas, more people running along the Arno or hiking up to Piazzale Michelangiolo, and bicyclists meandering through the city. People reveled in Florence, admiring her beauty, reacquainting themselves with a city they’ve probably never seen like this before, and enjoying the city at a slower, more reverent, pace.
Maybe by being restricted, we have developed a greater appreciation of our surroundings. Hopefully, we can all now appreciate the beauty that we might have previously overlooked or took for granted.
As our lockdown comes to an end, we now have this incredible opportunity to pave the way to a more fulfilling experience for us all. I hope that we—locals and tourists alike—take the time to absorb Florence’s beauty through all of their senses. Florence is too precious to be merely checked off of a list. I hope that while we all had to distance ourselves from Florence, we can now re-establish the dolce vita that many know Italy for. May we experience Florence at a slower pace to discover more about her, admire her in more detail, savor her, and appreciate her.
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