Six scents of Florence

Musk to markets

Amelia Éclectique
September 10, 2019 - 15:28

Confession time, for context: my senses aren’t exactly the sharpest. Coming from a moderately myopic family, some visual impairment is probably inevitable, but my stubbornness to embrace neither specs nor contacts sets me apart. Nine times out of ten, my (frequently misplaced) glasses are relegated to bottom-of-bag territory, gathering dust alongside ageing receipts and forgotten coins: I convince myself that distant landscapes look more romantic in a soft blur. Similarly, my aural abilities are questionable at best—tactful whispering has never been my strong suit, while conversations at clubs or concerts are personally outlawed. My almost-nonagenarian nonna beats me at both senses, having spent her formative years mercifully free of headphones and laptop screens. My sole saving grace is my nose. I’ve subconsciously chronicled a life’s worth of memories through scent. Wild garlic whooshes me back to childhood walks in the Irish countryside, while certain disinfectants recall nervous first-day treks through school corridors. My subsequent move to Florence was categorised no differently with a panoply of new smells—most perfumed, some pungent—suddenly at my disposal. While each season brings a fresh lot of findings, some scents are perennial: the following aromas, listed in no order of preference, are pervading Florence right now.

 

 

 

1. Leather in San Lorenzo

 

 

Leather items at the San Lorenzo market

 

 

My first Florentine apartment was perched several paces from piazza San Lorenzo, so my initial saunters around the city, akin to most tourists/adoptive residents, centred around its neighbouring streets. The outdoor market was suffused with the scent of genuine leather—imitation leather boasts no such smell—on a scale that I’d not previously experienced. Although I’m slightly less enchanted by leather whiffs these days (I prefer my pelle eco), it remains an evocative fragrance and, even when I smell it elsewhere, strongly Florentine.

 

 

 

2. Fish at the Mercato Centrale

 

 

Fresh fish at Florence's central market

 

 

There’s a serious downside to having a keen snout: I can sniff fishmongers a mile away and usually struggle to power through their pungency. For the Mercato Centrale, however, I make an exception since the multifarious scents are part of its charm. Pescheria Dolfi Fulvio has been selling fresh fish since the early 1900s so heritage-steeped is its business. Somehow the knowledge that this market fixture has overseen a century’s worth of Florence, standing tall amidst its peaks and troughs, makes the malodour more bearable, even enjoyable.

 

 

 

3. Wild boar sauces + stews

 

 

 

 

September in Florence is typically mild, the city finally unshackled from sweat-slicked humidity. Autumn is still in its infancy, but it finally feels justified to re-embrace the city’s heartiest dishes: their mouth-watering contents are a masterclass in slow cooking. My abiding favourites are peppery peposo stew, its scented steam as luscious as the silken gravy, and rich wild boar sauce. I first sampled both at Trattoria Buzzino, a stone’s throw from piazza della Signoria, and later savoured them at Oltrarno classic Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, before falling further in love with Ristorante Paoli’s rendition. Doubtless, everyone has their favourite spot.

 

 

 

4. Sewage miasma

 

 

Palazzo Medici Riccardi

 

 

Any half-baked guidebook to Florence states that the Medici family built the Vasari Corridor with two main purposes in mind: to pass between Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti unscathed, and to travel unfettered by the stench of open sewers below. Skip ahead several centuries and these sulphuric odours still tinge the historic centre, most potently, from personal experience, outside Palazzo Medici Riccardi. It’s difficult to drink in these storied buildings when you’re focused on keeping your nostrils clenched.

 

 

 

5. Heavenly musk

 

 

Medici Chapels / ph. @arttrav

 

 

In the case of Renaissance chapels and churches, stepping inside proves an instant reliever from the stench outside. Regardless of one’s religion, or lack thereof, the scents that percolate these structures are visceral; their musty dust-laced air enlivened by the burning of incense. At the risk of sounding clichéd, these magnificent buildings are scented by history, experience and emotion. There’s a tangible heaviness to the fragrance. The same reasoning applies to Florence’s palaces and galleries, given their long-standing roots; I’ve felt a semblance of this in the stairwells of Palazzo Pitti. Nevertheless, there’s an added headiness to a chapel’s perfume—cynics, of course, might chalk this up to the lack of air con.

 

 

 

6. Whiffs of white truffle

 

 

White truffle pasta

 

 

Much to my regret, I’ve never been truffle hunting, but a number of freshly unearthed tubers have tickled my nostrils in the back rooms of trattorie and the kitchens of more fortunate friends. I went into my first sniff test with pre-conceived notions, having heard their fragrance compared to all manner of unpleasant whiffs (read: unwashed feet). The full-bodied, earthy pong of these misshapen treasures almost floored me, but not quite for the reasons I expected: it was seriously pungent, yes, yet equally alluring. The fragrance ascends to fresh heights when scattered, in delicate slivers, across buttery tagliatelle, the feathery wafers melting headfirst into molten Parmesan. Those eager to track down truffles, pre- or post-hunt, could try the Savini Tartufi stall in the Mercato Centrale Firenze.

 

 

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