I am freaked out by the idea of getting lost in the streets of Florence in the dark, alone…so today, I decide to venture to the furthest point in town, just as the sun is setting.
I love wandering along the edge.
I am walking. The practice of Segment Intending, from Abraham-Hicks, is to set my intention before I take any action. I chose the first idea that comes once I pose the question, what do I want now?
“Today, I want new clarity in a dark part of my life.”
The weather is unseasonably warm and sunny: November 30th, 65 degrees. I barely button my wool coat. One full circle around the Duomo (still haven’t been inside), and down Via Roma, the Madison Avenue of Florence. I make a mental note of all the street signs for places I want to visit – Palazzo Pitti, Accademia, Il Bargello, the Medici Tombs – and I just keep walking.
Piazzale Michelangelo is the the highest piazza in Florence with a view above the rooftops of Florence and into the hills of Fiesole; that’s my destination and my destiny for today.
The sun is already setting along the Arno.
Maybe I should stop; maybe I should turn back. I came this far and I can remember my place and come back again tomorrow when there’s more daylight ahead of me. My mind argues even as my feet are moving forward.
Thank goodness for very comfortable boots.
I walk with a steady confidence thanks to Kristen, a hearty, worldwide woman traveler who gave me a gem of traveling advice: “Examine your fear; If something isn’t actually standing there threatening you, no, no, no, that’s not fear – that’s excitement!”
I walk towards Piazzale Michelangelo with much excitement.
The sun is halfway down. Nighttime is so much deeper than daylight, so I know I will have the full depth of the darkness to find what I came here for.
Miles of glittering jewelry along the Ponte Vecchio are my lights now. Endless windows of glittering gold, huge gemstone rings and pins, delicately carved cameos, Florentine argento, and that special pink Venetian gold worn by women in Renaissance paintings. I am attracted as if all that metal was one large magnet. I press against the windows to find my favorite pieces; alas, the competition is too stiff! So I sidle up to the leather shops – red leather gloves! – and butter yellow handbags (can I ever have enough pocketbooks? Not in this lifetime) And the shoes! And the boots!
And I didn’t want to buy anything.
This is highly unusual for me. But somehow, this day, this trip, doesn’t seem to be about acquiring stuff….not that there is anything wrong with shopping. I am not a Shopping Celibate; I find no joy in denying myself ownership of many, many beautiful things. I just don’t feel that I want to partake. At least, not yet.
Today is about letting go.
Piazzale Michelangelo is a 20 or so minute walk and then a steep climb. Thank God for years of Utkatasana pose in hot yoga practice – strong thighs, calves and feet are very handy.
At the top – Nirvana. Looking out over the darkened Florentine city, the strategically placed, invisible lights that make the Duomo and the Uffizi look lit from within, and a million little dots of light along the Arno (was the jewelry glowing?) the city seems both ancient and vibrant. It is as proud of its crumbling walls and waterways and palazzos, as its modern combustion of people and business.
I love this Florentine pride.
Things that crumble can be beautiful. Decay makes way for transformation, and if you have the patience, you can watch as something takes on a new form. Decay comes before you can glimpse what can come next. Embracing the time of crumbling, finding beauty in the deterioration and resisting the temptation to shore it up, or tear it down and build something over it right now – that is the practice. It’s not just about patience, which is about waiting for what you want to appear; it’s about fully appreciating the beauty of the thing gone bad.
Night comes in more deeply now and suddenly the touristas are gone from the Piazzale, headed for the ristorantes. Only the Australian youth group is headed the opposite way, towards another steep climb to San Miniato which looms in the distance (“What the hell? Not dinner?” whines the only American teenage girl). I am almost alone here on Piazzale Michelangelo. I got lost in my little pencil drawing and night took the opportunity to come in faster when I wasn’t watching.
It occurs to me that I have to find my way back home now.
No lights on the million steps and concrete ramps back down to street level. No worries – I have my Medical Insurance card in my not-Italian leather borsalino. I take all the streets that look familiar…except when I don’t. The edge is always calling me. But I’m heading towards the Duomo and I know that home is somewhere thereabout.
I’m not lost.
I wander down a dark narrow quiet street that is residential by Florentine standards – not McMansions in the New Jersey, not urban brownstones in Brooklyn, but 12th Century buildings with huge wooden double doorways that lead to interior mini-piazzas with mosaic floors surrounded by iron gates and finally, staircases leading to apartments with Internet connections. Who lives here in these 12th century buildings?
I do…for the next 15 days.
Art galleries are intertwined between the homes and tonight the artists are holding open house; gaslights at the doorways mean you can wander in and see the art in progress.
One artist, appreciative for a visitor, begins speaking to me animatedly in Italian. I tell her I understand her but I am not able to speak back in Italian, yet. She is not disappointed and now I am grateful so I speak more; I ask her if there is a yoga studio closeby and she says yes – right beside her husband’s gelaterria. Yoga and gelato! She gives me directions in shotgun Italian…and on the way home I find the studio, filled with Italian Downward Dog Doers. I will be one of them on Friday.
Ancient yoga. Modern day yogis. A newly-opened yoga studio in a crumbling facade of a building.
Ponte Vecchio…Duomo…Piazza Della Signoria…Via Dei Servi…”street closed” barriers which I walk past….and 14 Via Gino Capponi. I am home, with one bag of groceries from the local market.
I am always headed in the right direction. Wherever I venture, there I am. If I am too busy looking at the street maps, I don’t notice the signs along the way. But they are there for me. They are clear, and understandable in any language.
I have decided to take Italian lessons.