Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How Do I Love Thee?

Let Me Count the Ways

While reminiscing about a long-ago stay in Florence, Italy, iI decided to attempt  to describe, if I ever could, the ways in which I loved the city. 

After we have traveled to a new place, memories of it can last a lifetime. Many years ago, my husband Robert and I went to Florence to live for one year. We left after only a few months discouraged and sad. Our money had ran out; I could not find a job, and Robert's plan to work with another artist fell through. When I look back, however, it is not the failed plan I remember most; it is the Being of Florence--a masterpiece itself--offering rich treasures for the soul. The impressions and memories of that time, I took with me and cherish them to this day.

As young people, just married, our lives ahead of us, it was a great adventure. We found a tiny, lovely apartment with a little fireplace on via di San Giuseppe. It was across from a side entrance to the Basilica of Santa Croce, with its green and white checkered limestone facade rising in busy, sunlit Piazza di Santa Croce. From our widow, we had a view of the figure Dante standing watch in the square.

When we first entered the church, I was in awe of its exquisite architecture and embellishments—the columns, statuary, stenciling, paintings, sculpture and the ornate marble tombs of the three masters of art, astronomy and politics: Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli. Exploration of the art and history in this one Florentine church alone could occupy a person for a lifetime. 

Every day and night was a sensual feast in Florence: the aromas of espresso and roasting meats in wood-fired ovens; the shop windows with dreamy, creamy pastries, and the power and resonant beauty of bells ringing out all over the city. Then there was the music in the language of passers-by and the calls of the vendors at open-air markets. A sculpture by Verrocchio in a niche here, or in a garden there; the vines and blossoms dotting buildings high and low. 

And, oh! just down that street, the apartment where Victorian lovers and poets, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, lived and wrote.

There is a special kind of light in Florence, too—golden light falling on red tile roofs, filtering down to the muted, worn finish on ancient stone and marble, creating such color and mood that a wanderer stopping on a tiny street, or overlooking the city high on one of its hills, might feel herself to be in a Renaissance painting. Then there is the Ponte Trinita (where Dante's eyes first fell on  the immortal Beatrice) crossing the green Arno River meandering through the valley from the hills—the hills, with tall, straight cypress, orchards and vineyards under azure blue skies. 

How do I love thee, Florence? Let me count the ways!

These experiences live on as treasures in my life—even if only a very brief part of it, filling my heart, mind and senses again with the memories of Florence—a city alive with color, light, sound, warmth, movement and meaning—and beauty of a rare kind.

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