A Free Bench

We spend our life trying to bring together in the same instant a ray of sunshine and a free bench.
Beckett, Texts for Nothing

The days drift by. The Florentine mood is peaceful. Being here is almost hypnotic, slightly soporific. At noon each day I take my bag lunch and sit out on a bench, more accurately a ledge attached to some of the classic Renaissance buildings.

The Palazzo Ruccelai, shown above, was designed by the architect Leon Battista Alberti and built between 1446 and 1451. On either side of the two main doorways are long stone benches that run the length of the building. They served then, and still do, as resting places for the weary and occasional picnicker.

I stare at the people passing by and wonder about their life, where they are from, what they do during the day, and how they like it. The variation between them is enormous-the wealthy out shopping with their overflowing bags, the over-dressed, the simply dressed, the undressed. I think she could lose some weight, she is wearing too much makeup, how wonderfully thin she is, why doesn’t she look over this way, what does she see in him.

At breakfast several years ago I drank too much of the strong coffee they make around here and experienced what is known as a vasovagal reaction, a mild form of fainting. I desperately wanted to lie down and sleep for a bit. Frankly, I thought it might be the end.

Luckily I happened to be passing by the Palazzo Strozzi, a center of cultural events in Florence. The Palazzo is furnished on three of its sides with a large stone benches originally intended as a shady resting place for servants and the motley assortment of characters the palace attracted long ago. The bench now gives everybody a welcome opportunity to rest for a moment and let their latest vasovagal reaction fade away.

One day I penned a little poem about the bench I try to visit when I’m in Portland.

Across the street from my home and down about half a block
a bench has been thoughtfully placed beside the building.
I go there around teatime when the rains have passed
to sip my diet Snapple and linger in the sun.

I watch the cars go by and stare a little too long at the pretty girls
from the art school around the corner. It is my bench or so I like to think.
Sometimes another neighbor or passing stranger will come to sit beside me
and we may strike up a conversation which I do not mind at all.

But I do mind when the clouds are overhead and the rain is pouring down
upon the bench across the street from my home and down about half a block.
For then my bench and I must take our drinks indoors which is, I regret to say
most of the time around here.