My day begins at dawn with a run along the River Arno. My language teacher and dear friend Monica requested I listen to Italian music whenever possible so I have reluctantly added an iPod to my morning run. I must admit I’m an iPod snob and have looked at ‘those people’ with little white buds stuffed in their ears with judgment. “Why not embrace your natural surroundings?” Today I concede that the allure of singer Eros Ramazzotti, filling my head with his romantic melodies, has dissolved my longstanding iPod boycott. Magnifying this Utopian state is the mystique of Brunelleschi’s Duomo, greeting me affectionately from across the glassy waters of the Arno.
The river Arno is shouldered by a rock wall that seems to urge individuals to lean against, sit upon, or embrace a loved one along its idyllic and sturdy borders. The obliging, and occationally temperamental river, was in Medieval times, the main mode of transportation for the cloth merchants who colonized Florence. In recent history, the Arno silently spilled her banks in the early hours of November 1966, disrupting the harmonious lives of the inhabitants of this Renaissance city. The flood destroyed countless paintings, collapsed massive statues, damaged historical documents, and left irreplaceable artifacts virtually unrecognizable.
Today, the Arno dances as if expressly for me in the citrus light of sunrise in Florence. It welcomes natives, visitors, and temporary transplants, like myself, who have fallen in love with the rhythm and shape of this passionate city. The Arno’s allure is enticing as she ambles past historical buildings, private homes, and legendary bridges lovingly built by skilled tradesmen.
She seems affectionate and unflustered today, chaperoning my eyes to the glistening reflection of the sun caught in the tiny ripples of her hushed exterior. A sleek boat pass silently, less than 10’ from the wall, carrying four chiseled athletes. The teams identical oars, skim Arnos serene facade for a single weightless second, scarcely enough time to discern the silky stream of water gracefully relinquishing its hold on the painted blades; the droplets linger expectantly between oar and river for one glorious moment, then disappear into Arnos nurturing embrace. Ribbons of ripples dissolve into the shimmering waters as the Scullers vanish between the bridge supports.
The sun caresses the nape of my neck, urging me forward to one of my favorite destinations… ‘Pointe Vecchio’ (Old Bridge). Its familiar stone arches, topped with miniature buildings, are reflected in the river’s calm facade. Playful hints of yellow, cream and burnt orange drench the buildings that line this graceful River. I feel intoxicated with appreciation and admiration for this moment of my life.
I approach the almost deserted Pointe Vecchio, the oldest and most famous of bridges in Florence. Charming jewelry shops adorn the bridge with individually carved wooden shutters that have lined this famous crossing since the 13th century.
On any given day, this lively ‘must see’ attraction brims with retailers lingering in storefronts bursting with jewelry both new and vintage. Skilled Jewelers work within the confines of these microscopic boutiques, wedged together like Lego on this legendary bridge. In addition, a multitude of artisans offer their etched drawings, musicians entertain enthusiastically, and the classic wheeled carts of Florence are laden with souvenirs. Most days, you’ll find the local beggar woman, dressed in quirky layered clothing, her unmistakable voice that has the quality of sandpaper on rusted metal, her petite frame moving with the crowd, shaking her worn paper cup into the faces of unsuspecting tourists. I must admit, on more than one occasion this little dynamo has frightened the bejesus out of me.
Adding to the curious spectacle of locals, you’ll find countless exhausted tourist, overburdened with parcels, cumbersome guidebooks, oversized cameras dangling from strained necks, as they stand fascinated, (in the middle of traffic) by the spectacle playing out before them.
Gratefully, at this early hour, only sporadic local Florentines inhabit the bridge. My preferred encounters are with the boisterous street cleaners, as they eagerly sweep this historical crossing with brooms that look as ancient as the bridge itself. These handmade working tools are constructed of thick straw, tied at the base with twine. The handles themselves seem magical and romantic, with their well-worn contours used for sweeping and or leaning against. The untroubled workers sweep and chat amongst themselves, occasionally pausing with a smile and heartfelt ‘buongiorno’, greeting locals strolling to work, or runners like myself, on the seemingly endless quest for improved physical fitness. These men have no need for such rituals; they stay in shape by actually working throughout the day. What a novel idea!
As I cross Pointe Vecchio, the tip of Duomo peeks over the buildings ahead, and I marvel once again at its beauty and architectural wonder. As I run beneath the 17 graceful arches of the Covered Walkway, built by Vasari, my pace naturally quickens. To my left stands the Uffizi Gallery, poised for the tourists who will soon queue beside her doors: her visitors anxious to linger in the halls, pass through rooms filled with world-renowned collections of paintings and sculptures that are proudly displayed behind this artful edifice referred to as Uffizi. On my right the River Arno, and directly ahead, the elegant hills that surround Florence. A sigh escapes my lips, I know my time in Florence is limited, my heart lives along this river, on her bridges, and within the dignified walls of the majestic city I call home.
As I climb the stairs to my apartment, I realize my morning run has not exhausted me; quite the contrary, my step is light and filled with the enthusiasm of a teenager. The reflection that greets me in the mirror in my apartment reveals the maturity of a woman, yet somewhere behind the lines that trace my face, a youthful girl resides. I’m refreshed by the morning air, my run, these spectacular surroundings, and the freedom that comes with following ones bliss.
Remarkably, each day that greets me in this city gives me the sensation that life has just begun.
Perhaps it has……