Florence is “earthly” heaven to me because I experience it, and long for it, more fully than I do any other place. David Leavitt
After a lapse of several years I have come to Florence once again. This time I have returned for a break and to recharge the muse if she will still have me. Of course, I have come back for the sun and for the warmth and quite simply just to be here, here in this place that never is without a surprise—an undiscovered piazza, a chanced upon gallery, a trattoria that I never knew was just around the block
It an article in the Times several years ago Susan Jacoby wrote of the same feeling I have each time I return.
But Florence feels like home, or rather, like what might have been home had I chosen a very different life when I was young. I know Florence well enough to know where to buy paper towels and cheap flowers, well enough to face a dental emergency with equanimity, well enough to be greeted with recognition (or feigned recognition, which amounts to the same thing) by certain shopkeepers and restaurant proprietors. I have never spent an uninteresting day in this city, never experienced small vicissitudes or deeper sorrows that could not be ameliorated by contact with the noble civilization of these stony streets.
I went to my favorite market yesterday to gather a few supplies. The lady who normally greeted me wasn’t there. I wondered if it was here day off or if she had moved on. And the newsstand where I went each morning to get the Herald Tribune had vanished. Things change I guess, even in Florence, where change always seems to be running in slow motion.
However, most everything else seemed to be as it always is. In his book The City of Florence, C. Lewis wrote, We became familiar soon enough with the best-known sites and monuments--….To these returned time and time again, as to old friends always there to be looked up and, as it were, chatted with after a period of absence.
In the Prologue to this volume Lewis expresses many of my own feelings about being here:
All we knew was that we helplessly loved the place, and did not pause to ask why….
Florence was where we were most contentedly living, and where I was working—on something entirely unrelated to Tuscany.
The life and look of Florence were composed of strikingly different elements— differing shapes and styles from historical periods over many centuries—that nonetheless fitted together, lived together, spoke to each other.
It is the city itself—the city understood as a self; as a whole, a miraculously developed design. It is the city as what Italians call an insieme, an all-of-it-together.
I’ve been walking everywhere, out and about in the sun. Previously I had written: Where did we go wrong? Where did we go wrong in America? I think it is the scale of things. You see that so clearly here in Florence, where everything is so much smaller than in the US. The buildings are only a few stories high, at most. The stores are often nothing more than living room size. They sell only a few products and are ubiquitous throughout the commune.
It is interesting that Florence has always been known as the commune, the community. It is really a community of small neighborhoods. The streets are very narrow. There are no broad highways crisscrossing Florence. I think that has made an enormous difference. The ancient cities were not designed for anything like the automobile. At times there is simply not enough room on the street for both car and pedestrian. Indeed, there is often a little fight for survival when the two meet. In a word, this city was designed to be lived in by human beings. I don't know who the cities in our country were designed for.
David Leavitt in In Maremma, co-authored with Mark Mitchell, wrote, After living in the Italian countryside, Florence seems more “the city” than any other metropolitan place in the world: more than New York, more than Rome, more than Hong Kong. Paradoxically, it seems this way because it is made to the measure of man—one can walk there.