Tori Immel is an American student studying in Florence and wrote this piece about appreciating Florence in the midst of midterms. As this semester comes to a close, we wanted to share it with all of the students who will soon be headed home for the summer. Remember to soak up every last moment in your beautiful city and don’t stress about finals!
When I was in a pub bathroom a few weeks ago I noticed that the logo on the sink said, “Ideal Standard” rather than Kohler or another bath/plumbing products company. I was washing my hands and it just struck me as the most ironic name for a company who makes sinks and toilets. Ideal Standard. As if to say, ‘This is a standard part of your everyday life, so why not make it ideal? Buy our toilet.’ I get it. But at first, it sounded more hollow to me. Almost like it could mean that we collectively celebrate the standard and are always striving to reach status quo, while also quietly telling ourselves it’s ideal. Basically, entirely too much thought was put into this unassuming bathroom logo (totally and completely out of character for me to overanalyze a simple detail like this…), but in the end I realized its a convenient parable for Florence.
Behold: the Ideal Standard life I find myself living in Florence. The lucky Italians native to this town may or may not know how good they have it, but I try to consciously appreciate their beautiful city every day. Personal definition of Ideal Standard: the sheer abundance of historical, architectural, artistic, culinary, and natural attractions in Florence is unparalleled, and yet, this is merely the standard living condition. To me, this Standard can be described as nothing but Ideal. I’m literally living in a UNESCO World Heritage site! It’s insanity. The Standard here is the Ideal that people dream about seeing in person, study the history of, and spend thousands of dollars to visit from around the world. If a place this amazing were desensitized to the norm, that seems like the ultimate waste to me. And so I refuse to take it for granted.
During midterms, I set out to not scorn the beautiful 70 degree weather by spending the entire day inside the library. After my only morning exam that Wednesday, I was walking back to my apartment near Piazza Santa Maria Novella when I heard this music. I banked right to find people sprawled out across the marble benches, reading newspapers, watching their kids run in circles, and all loosely surrounding a single man simultaneously playing a harmonica and a guitar hooked up to an amp. He was just doing his thing, I don’t even think he was doing real covers but it was so relaxing and folk-y and just reminded me of California. There were a few teenage girls laying down, soaking up the sun and the tunes. It was only 10:30am and all I had on my agenda was to study for the rest of the day (0% appeal there) so it was an easy choice to take a few minutes and join in. After sitting there for about ten minutes I felt absolutely rejuvenated. It was so early in the day and already so authentically Florence-filled. An African woman approached me and started trying to sell me the jewelry hanging around her neck and arms. Normally it’s a knee jerk reaction to shoo vendors away with a terse, “No grazie”, but today I was just so open to anything and everything that the world wanted to put in front of me. None of the jewelry was my style so instead I asked this woman her name and where she was from. Turns out, Eva came here from Kenya about six years ago and has been getting by doing exactly what she was doing this particular morning. Amazing. She was so kind and understood that I didn’t want to purchase her wares, but she held out a traditional Kenyan keychain and gave it to me. I loved it instantly. I happily handed her 2 euros and was stoked to have her tell me that the red lanyard symbolizes good luck. Little did I know she gave me a lot of luck, because I laid down and accidentally bumped this little old man sitting next to me as I stretched out. I apologized and he laughed and motioned to the sun like he understood exactly where my head was at and smiled. And out of nowhere we started talking. He didn’t speak a word of English, and I’m probably the equivalent of a third grader in Italian, so it was a struggle and a half trying to converse. But somehow, throughout our half hour conversation filled with broken Italian and a lot of hand motions, I learned a lot about Angelo. He was retired, and had two kids, and that day he told me he was going to finish reading his newspaper in the piazza and head home for lunch before he took a walk along the river. He asked me why I was in Italy, where I had traveled, gave me some great gelato and restaurant tips, told me I was “bellissima” and then we shook hands and parted ways. I couldn’t believe I had such genuine, kind interactions with two total strangers so completely by chance within a single hour. Oddly enough, in some ways that was most alive I’ve felt here–I was just so amped on the possibilities for the rest of this day and the rest of this semester and the rest of this crazy life thing.
To keep the momentum for the day, I headed to Santa Spirito for a Gusta Panini to go. As I walked to Pitti Palace, I actually had to take off my jacket because it was so hot out. Much happy. Very weather.
My museum card granted me free entrance to the Boboli Gardens. God I love that place. I was here last May and totally fell for the rambling grounds and happy go lucky aura that suffuses the place. I swear, even the birds chirp more. It’s funny how happy people become when they’re surrounded by nature and beautiful weather. That Wednesday was no exception, and I laid out my towel and hunkered down with my Art History study guide in the ultimate people watching spot. A cute older couple holding hands and looking up at the sky were perched farther down on the hill, while a family with a four year old boy picnicked next to me. Prime.
About four hours later, I looked up and realized that if I hurried, I could probably make it to Piazza Michelangelo for a solo sunset sesh and hopefully make it in time up to San Miniato church to see a monastery ritual my cousin told me I had to check out. I hoofed it over in about half an hour and realized I was an hour early for the ceremony. Fine with me; I just checked out the awesome view, shopped around the quaint gift shop a bit, and explored the adjacent cemetery and grounds. An hour later, I entered the frigid church and followed the signs downstairs. At 6:30pm on the dot, the monks procession entered the lower area, and they began to chant together in the most beautiful, harmonic symphony of voices I’ve ever heard. The acoustics reverberated off of the small room they were seated in and poured out into the entire church. There were only ten other people in the church absorbing this awesome spectacle with me. So beautiful, I will absolutely never forget it.
& I exited to a fire in the sky. Dayum Florence.
On my way home, I walked past Clet Abraham’s studio. If you’ve ever been to Florence, it’d be impossible to not see any of his work. He’s a well known street artist, and his signature is removable stickers that he uses to liven up the traffic signs across town. I walked in and bought one of my favorite stickers, and what do you know Clet was standing out front! I said ciao, he said ciao, I got all starstruck and took a selfie with him, he doesn’t know, I’m super embarrassing, but it’s fine.
So essentially, an all around stellar day. Moral of the story: don’t let midterms ruin your life. Cheers to an open heart and open eyes and an open mind, and always being grateful for the small moments that make us open up a little more. I think I would’ve missed you even if we never met, Florence.
Originally posted on Timmel Abroad.
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