by Melinda Gallo

Delighting in Florence at a slower pace

When I stroll along the Arno, walk through the city streets, traverse the bridges, watch a sunset, or peruse the gardens, I make a concerted effort to slow down. When I hear the church bells ring, I pause. The sound reminds me to breathe and enjoy this magical moment. I revel in singular moments through my senses to engage more fully in the beauty around me.

Living in Florence :: Delighting in Florence at a slower pace

While we cannot control the length of our life, we can control the depth of our life. For me, basking in beauty is an act of appreciation. Not just of one’s life, but of all of life. 

What I learned this week is that creativity and passion are at the heart of beauty. Not just in Florence, but also everywhere in the world and in every person. Our beauty is the light we emanate from our hearts.

Cairn from San Miniato al Monte — June 9, 2020
On Sunday after I listened to San Miniato al Monte’s bells ringing, I felt drawn to create a cairn (stone stack). I gathered four stones below my feet and placed them on the low brick wall. It was my way of holding space for us all to have more peace, love, and light.
      
Beauty—wherever and however we encounter it—has the power to uplift us. I hope the beauty I share uplifts you so you too may uplift others.
      
Our acknowledgment and appreciation of beauty is a way for us to receive love in order for us to share our love with others.

Lungarno delle Grazie — June 10, 2020
Early in the morning, the sun inched up the pale blue sky streaked with wispy clouds. When I arrived at the Ponte alle Grazie, a blanket of clouds hung overhead. The bicycle locked up to the street sign inspired me to enjoy the view across the Arno. I stood along the low brick wall next to a pigeon that glanced at me, hoping I had something to feed it. 

 Living in Florence, Italy :: Lungarno delle Grazie

For years, I have leaned against this wall between the lampposts to bask in the day as it began. I enjoy seeing how things have evolved. The Palazzo Serristori is now a richer orange and the riverbank across the Arno is now lush with bushes, trees, and wildflowers. Birds have claimed it now as their habitat.
 
The stillness captivated me, pulling me in to stay where I was. The sound of traffic came in waves as a few scooters and cars whizzed by along Lungarno delle Grazie. After the silence returned, one man walked toward me and distanced himself as much as he could, grazing the bumper of a parked car.
 
I fumbled in my pocket to grab my phone when the Santa Croce’s bells rang. Taking a few steps away from the wall, I captured this magical moment, thus diving deeper into it and appreciating it more fully. 
 
The bells ring throughout the city, reminding us to be present in this moment, to drop into our hearts, to revel in what surrounds us, and to appreciate our lives as they are right now. Every moment is precious. We often see this moment as only a step to the next one. However, this moment is the most important one because it is where we experience life.
 
The smell of the cool air rising from the Arno embraced me while the swifts and sparrows circled above. Tranquility blossomed inside of me and expanded throughout my body, relaxing my face and slowing down my breath. I cycled through my senses, allowing myself to bask in this moment.
 
When we are at peace, we can appreciate beauty even more. Our hearts embrace everything and everyone. Love bubbles up inside of us and extends outward. In these moments, we understand that love resides within, just waiting for us to reach inside and gather it. In this way, we can experience love more fully and share it with others. 

Cellini — June 12, 2020
As the shops were closing and the restaurants were preparing for dinner this evening, I stood along the sloping stone wall on Lungarno Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici. A rower was washing his boat while three men sat at a table having drinks on the rowing club’s lawn. The sun was moving swiftly down the sky, but still shining brightly above the Ponte Vecchio.

Living in Florence, Italy :: Cellini

I breathed in the warm scent of the air as it revolved around me. It was a mix of algae from the river, grass, warm cement, and leaves from the ivy growing up to the wall where I was standing. I leaned over to admire the Ponte Vecchio. Couples and families spread out into the street where cars and scooters normally whizzed by.  

It was quieter than it has been along the Arno in the evening. When I watched the sunset from Ponte Santa Trinita yesterday, more people were out meandering the streets. Instead of heading home, I wandered under the Corridoio Vasariano, peeking at the Arno a few times, toward the Ponte Vecchio. I expected the musician to be there entertaining the crowds like he was yesterday, but he wasn’t. Two policemen were patrolling the bridge, walking up and down multiple times.

A few groups congregated in the inlets on both sides of Ponte Vecchio, so I hovered around Cellini. Some people sat on the stone wall of the bridge while others went from one side of the bridge to the other to take selfies. I looked out at the Arno and admired Ponte Santa Trinita where I usually watch the sunset and untied my scarf to bask in the warm air gently drifting by. I wasn’t planning on staying out long, but the people ambling over Ponte Vecchio intrigued me.

My ears perked up when a mix of languages swirled around me. It was the first time I heard so many people speaking a language other than Italian or English. A German family with two toddlers walked past me toward the Duomo, and a French couple stood next to me contemplating where to go next. It felt like Florence again with this eclectic mix of people navigating Florence, indulging in her beauty with every step.

Ponte Vecchio — June 13, 2020
A half hour ago, the sky grew dark, and the rain began to fall. The scent of the wet pavement wafting up to my apartment enticed me to look outside. A group of people huddled under an awning to keep dry. After enjoying the sunny afternoon today, I reminisced about my jaunt to the Ponte Vecchio yesterday.

Living in Florence, Italy :: Ponte Vecchio

A few moments before arriving next to Cellini, I stood along Lungarno Anna Maria Luisa Dei Medici. I had just walked through the Piazzale degli Uffizi, moving to one side, allowing a military vehicle to exit the large rectangular piazza. As I walked up the steps, one street artist was sitting with his artwork on display while another one was packing up his sketches.

Instead of crossing the street right away to lean against the stone wall, I planted myself next to a bicycle chained to the metal railing. The tall shadows stretched along the stone pavement toward me. Two young women walked past me, their sweet rose perfume trailed behind them. Once they disappeared through the archway, I positioned myself to capture the sun peeking around the corner of the Corridoio Vasariano.

When I heard a motorino (scooter) approaching, I stepped up onto the sidewalk. A couple on the terrace to my left hugged while facing the Ponte Vecchio. A tiny sparrow popped up onto the wall, but flew away when I approached it.

Now, the rain has slowed down and left a chill in the air. As I closed my windows, I noticed that the group of people surprised by the rain had left. I was grateful to have recalled more of my evening yesterday as it allowed me to appreciate it even more today.

Lungarno Cellini — June 14, 2020
This evening, I headed out for a walk down Lungarno delle Grazie. As I drifted along the uneven stone walkway, I peered over the brick wall to the Arno. The light wind left a continuous ripple on the surface of the water. Small groups of people were scattered around the riverbank’s grassy area and two girls were sitting on the weir.

Living in Florence, Italy :: Giardino Bardini

I listened to the water flowing steadily over the weir while admiring the Torre di San Niccolò across the Arno. The sun was disappearing behind the buildings across the street behind me, coloring the sky a warm yellow.

When I reached the Ponte San Niccolò, a small group of girls and three couples were snapping photos of the sunset. I took a photo of the sun piercing through Santa Croce’s bell tower, but felt an impulse to go to Lungarno Cellini.

The sweet scent of the linden trees whose branches reached across the sidewalk greeted me. The green area bordering the river was so lush that ivy had grown to base of the lamppost. Initially, I leaned on the brick wall to take in the view, but then backed up to the other side of the sidewalk, almost touching a parked car, to snap a few photos. One bicyclist startled me as he whizzed by, lifting my scarf up in the air.

After taking a few photos, I stood next to the lamppost to admire how the clouds glided slowly across the sky while the colors became bolder. A small group of people walked from the bridge toward where I was. Their voices became louder and then surrounded me. When I looked back, a man was taking a picture over my left shoulder and two women were on my right holding their phones up to take a photo. Startled, I slipped out and darted across the sidewalk.

For at least a half hour, I watched the sunset sitting on the wall for a few moments and then standing at the edge of the sidewalk. I only left after listening to the 9 o’clock church bells ringing.

Whenever I am outside, I enjoy Florence’s nudges to go in certain directions. I never know where I will end up or what I will see, but I know it will be beautiful.

Giardino Bardini — June 16, 2020
As I crossed Ponte alle Grazie this afternoon, I admired the buildings in San Niccolò to the east and the Ponte Vecchio to the west. Billowy white and gray clouds surrounded Florence on both sides, leaving a circle of blue skies above the city center. 

Living in Florence, Italy :: Ponte Santa Trinita

I made my way to Giardino Bardini, where I’ve been a few times since it reopened at the beginning of June. The heat from the sun permeated my skin as I walked up the stone steps. I watched two gardeners planting flowers in the areas alongside the staircase. The rich fragrance of spring filled the air. I slowly marched up the pathway lined with rosebushes on my right and manicured shrubs on my left. Butterflies flopped around the fruit tree orchard, navigating the pink, yellow, and white wildflowers scattered along the hillside. 

I hiked through the wisteria pergola where the bright green leaves embraced me. When I reached the plateau, I turned left to reach the vegetable garden. I let out a sigh when I sat down on the wooden bench under a Judas tree. I listened to the birds chirping from the tall cypress trees or the rows of olive trees in the olive grove. My shoulders relaxed as I inhaled the sweet scent of grass, still humid from the rain we had the other day.

I initially visited this garden for its roses, wisteria pergola, and panoramic views. Now, I come to Giardino Bardini to bask in nature, fill up on all of its beauty, and soak up Florence’s vibrant energy, which is palpable in every tree, blade of grass, flower, bird, butterfly, and bee.

When the sunlight suddenly dimmed, I packed up my things. I remembered that the weather forecast predicted rain. A cool breeze from the north escorted me out of the gardens. 

As I crossed Ponte alle Grazie again, I spotted rain blurring the gloomy clouds above the Ponte Vecchio. As soon as I entered my apartment, I heard the rumble of thunder in the distance. When I looked out my windows, it began to sprinkle. Only a few minutes later, I gasped. A flash of light streaked the sky, followed by the clamor of thunder, and the clouds poured out vertical streaks of rain.  

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