Saturday, December 13, 2014

Florence - Written and Photographed by Helen Martin

First published in the November issue of FD Magazine -

Florence -

     It's raining, a slow, steady, refreshing kind of rain that wakes up my sleepy self as I hurry to one of my favorite cafes' in the heart of Florence.

     I love the sounds of the city: the glorious church bells that ring out from dozens of church towers, reminding me to smile as I pass a gentleman playing a plaintive 'O Sole Mio'  on his accordion.

     The cool and sleek interior of Cavalli's coffee shop just beside the signature store became a regular hangout for my morning espresso or cappuccino, and with my morning coffee, I was treated to another unmistakable sound of the city: the clatter of cups and saucers being continually re-cycled as they are washed, dried and stacked.  The baristas stack the white smooth china with such  flurry and style, design and balance all the while creating symmetrical art displays.

     The whole of this Etruscan city is a museum.  The grand palazzos, the expansive piazzas, framed with soaring arches; public buildings designed to endure centuries, architectural elements that dazzle: fountains and sculptures abound; around every corner, another feast for the eyes as one marvels at the changing light playing on the ancient stone. Florence is alive every hour, offering Americans the perfect European street life we crave.

     For years I dreamed of leasing an apartment in Florence.  My beautifully furnished one bedroom was on the 3rd floor of the Palazzo Rimbotti, which dates back to the 14th century, each apartment lovingly decorated by the current elegant Countess of the same name. I traversed Via Tornabuoni, which houses Georgio Armani, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli and Hermes which occupies the first floor of the Palazzo Rimbotti.

     Leaving my street and walking toward the Ponte alle Gracie, I pass Salvatore Ferragamo's headquarters, housed in a splendid, ancient, dark brownstone palazzo along the River Arno.  I'm on my way to visit the Uffizi Gallery and view one more time Botticelli's "La Primavera".  I pass a performer of street art in front of the Prada store--a lone, beautiful girl encased in white--I saw her several times during my walks around the city.

     The sight of El Duomo with its huge dome provided a landmark to navigate the dozens of winding streets.  The Gothic, marble facade is breathtaking, Another landmark to guide me: Ponte Vecchio. The ochre  tones
of the shops glow.  The Pharmacia Antico just off S. Maria Novella on Via della Scalla enchants me.  Opened in 1612, the ornate 17th cintury building boasts a tall carved arched entryway, marble floors and fine art lining every wing, each one devoted to a single department such as perfumes, handmade soaps and skin care.  A stroll to Via Spiriti offered another memorable uniquely Florentine moment; watching the fireworks display over the Arno, in honor of Saint John, the Patron Saint of the city.

     I visited, jewelry designer, Angela Caputi, knowing full well I probably could not afford any of her amazingly colored pieces.  She was in attendance and helped me select earrings for myself as well as a bracelet for my sister, each piece between 35 and 45 Euros.  Her couture collection, showcased in the Pitti Palace Costume Collection ranges into the many thousands, but this stunning Florentine artist designs for 'us' as well.  I treasure the photo I had taken with her.

     When one talks about Florence, for me, anyway, it comes down to the food, sensuous and sumptuous; one falls in love with its unforgettable flavors.  I had a pasta dish everyday - all excellent!  If I had to choose an absolute favorite, it would be from a wonderful trattoria along the river; plain large shells, make in house, with fresh, slightly cooked, pressed tomatoes, flavored with picorino romano cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and fresh basil. (I did not add cheese. (I did not add grated cheese. The chef and my waiter approved.) I also visited the restaurant, Boca Lapi, just around the corner from my apartment for the world famous Florentine grilled steak: a T-bone, cooked 'undone'.

     I took a day trip north with my friend, Giuseppe, to walk along the Carrara Mountains, and as I marveled at the hugh marble mountains exposing their treasures, I wondered, did Michelangelo imagine David when he chose a piece of gleaming stone?  Most say no. Legend has it, the master discovered his brave David as he chipped and cut the white marble; it goes on to say, the Lord himself touched his hand.

     In Florence, I gazed at "David" and when I could gaze no more, with eyes lowered, I paid homage to his maker.

     Soon afterwards, I said goodbye to the stately city on the Arno.

Ciao, Firenze -    


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