Dawn Over Florence

Last night I dropped into bed at 9:30 and slept like the dead until 6! Although my room overlooks the street and is literally about 20 yards from the Ponte Vecchio, the balcony door is completely soundproof. When I have the door closed, I feel like I’m back on Bowen! This morning, I’ve opened the door just a touch to feel some lovely cool morning air and hear Florence waking up. From where I sit on the bed I can see a pale yellow sky and the top of the Palazzo Vecchio tower.

Yesterday afternoon my search for the perfect red leather bag led me to a run in with a guy at one of the hundreds of stalls scattered in dense clusters all over Florence. After prowling through the biggest concentration of stalls in the market by the Church of San Lorenzo, I finally found the purse I wanted. The guy of course was my best friend – where you from? Ah, Canada! My family are in Ottawa. For you, price is 45 euros (ticket said 65 euros). He pulled out all the stuffing in the purse and showed it from every angle. I actually did like it and so offered him 40 euros. Ah, I was killing him but sure, you are like my mother – I give to you. By the way, he wasn’t Italian; I believe Iranian since I think he was speaking Farsi to his neighbor.

I should have known better but I asked if he took Visa. Well of course not – cash only Madam! OK – I will go somewhere else. Ah, no, you come with me and I take the Visa. I thought well heck, I really did like the purse and maybe he had access to Visa at another stall. He took me on a bit of a circuitous walk through the maze of stalls and then proceeded to have a rapid conversation in Farsi with another guy who responded with equally rapid Farsi that to me sounded like Forget it! I saw no indication that the guy was going to take Visa and so while they were talking I just walked away. By this point I was remembering Rick Steves’s advice that often the bags sold in the markets really weren’t made in Italy and were cheap knock offs from China. Also, I didn’t want to part with my cash since I haven’t brought all that much.

Unfortunately, a few minutes later I mistakenly walked by the guy’s stall again! He was furiously shoving all the stuffing back into the bag. “Signora!” he called when he saw me. And then he let loose a good long tirade the gist of which ended with “F… you!”

Well! What a way to talk to someone who reminded him of his Mama!

Anyway, it was fine of course. He wasn’t going to do anything to me; he was just pissed off which I guess was understandable from his point of view. I shouldn’t imagine any of the guys at the stalls make that many sales in a day.

About an hour later, I found a much nicer bag in a real shop that took Visa with a clerk that was polite but not effusive. I actually think this bag might really be made in Italy! At least I know where I bought it from.

Good lesson – avoid the stalls unless buying really cheap stuff with cash! And don’t fall for the “You remind me of my Mama” line. Hey – wait a minute – when did I go from getting whistled at to “You are like my Mama?”  Quite a few years ago actually, but it’s funny how in your own mind you still feel like 18 so it’s still a surprise when people see a signora and most definitely not a signorina!

In an earlier post I mentioned how wonderfully clean and gypsy-free Florence has become. Well, it’s comforting to know that I wasn’t totally accurate! After the purse incident, I walked up to the church of San Marco near the Accademia (where David hangs out) to see the Fra Angelico murals. The piazza in front of the church is awash with litter and I saw a few people getting importuned by gypsies, one of which screamed loudly when rejected. Suddenly, Florence felt just a tiny bit threatening! And then when I picked my way through the litter to the door to  San Marco, a guy was just closing it.  Chiusa, Signora. My guidebook said it closed at 13:50 and it was just 13:30 but whatever…!

Oh well – Fra Angelico will have to wait until another trip. It’s OK – he’s 15th century and my focus is 14th century. I walked quickly back past the monumental Duomo to the palazzo Vecchio where I indulged in a Crema/Coco gelato. I got a nice shot of the cone with the Vecchio tower behind it.

Unfortunately, I can’t upload my pictures from the Mac. The little memory stick thingie doesn’t work in the Mac and I didn’t bring the cable.

I spent most of the afternoon doing very little – having a bit of a rest in the hotel, taking a walk in the pouring rain (had to buy a 5 euro umbrella from one of the Senegal guys) and then ending up at a table overlooking the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio around 4 pm for a nice 1/4 liter pichet of red wine. I got quite a lot of writing done – or at least thinking about plot points. Back home I spend a lot of time writing in Starbucks and Blenz and now here I was doing the same thing. The difference is that when I looked up I saw the Ponte Vecchio gleaming in the late afternoon sun breaking through the clouds and bathing all of Florence in gold.

I am managing to accomplish what I had hoped to on this trip which is just giving myself the time and space to focus 100% on the novel with no distractions (apart from shopping and food of course!).

After my wine and another spate of blogging back at the hotel, I ventured out for dinner. I decided to return to the same restaurant I went to the night before. Why mess with perfection? I ended up at the same table with the same server who recognized me and was very nice.

Generally, I’ve found servers and shop clerks a bit shy of friendly in Florence. They all speak English and are polite but I get the feeling most are just plain tired of tourists even as they make their living from them. I can sympathize. Of all the places I’ve been to in Europe, I think Florence must have the highest tourist to local ratio.

Anyway, an American couple from Delaware seated next to me started chatting with me about food and Florence. They live in Italy for three months every year; the guy was a professor of Astrophysics and taught at the University of Florence for a semester each year. He spoke Italian and was a wealth of information. It was nice to actually talk to people! The vast majority of the people at the hotel are European and don’t appear to speak much English. Mostly they are either French or German with a sprinkling of Italian.

For dinner I chose the Tuscan specialty – sliced steak with a red wine sauce. Vegetarians – look away! It was spectacular! I was full after having eaten half of my plate and since I couldn’t bear to leave the food and didn’t want to, ah, cram it in when I was so full I asked my nice server if I could take it home.

“Ah, madame! You do not like? Why you not eat it all now?”

When I explained that yes, I loved it, it was the best steak I’ve every had in my life but that I was completely full and wanted it for lunch, she relented with good humor and brought me a little box. I don’t think doggy bags are that big of a thing in Italy but hey – the steak cost 23 euros and I wasn’t about to waste it.

I have a fridge in my room and so just now I took out the steak and ate it cold for an early breakfast. It was amazing!

OK – time to get up and get some (more!) breakfast. Today I’m going to the Brancucci chapel to see the Massacio’s at 10:15 (I got a reservation yesterday) and then I’ll make my way over to the train station to catch a bus for San Gimignano. The rain from yesterday appears to have cleared up so I’m anticipating grew views of the countryside.

I have three nights in San Gimignano at a villa overlooking the town that I’m hoping will be a prototype for the setting of the 21st Century portion of my novel. I don’t plan on doing anything except soaking up atmosphere and getting some serious writing done (along with eating and shopping of course).

And so another day in Italy begins.

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Categories: Italy, Travel

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