Pressed for time, I nervously fluttered around the small stationary store. Amid the delicate, carefully decorated sheets, thick thank-you cards, and heavy, leather-bound journals, I found myself more lost in the sensuous Italian words that wafted into the air than in the infinite beauty that lay in front of me.
Choosing was an impossible feat. Back and forth I paced. These sheets for my mother, these for my aunt. What better gift than one that facilitates communication? That thread that ties us all together when the odds of time and distance are stacked against us. Over time, the pace of the North American lifestyle strains family ties. And even though the cell phone is constantly in our possession, somehow we still manage to disconnect—to come undone. But there is something about a special piece of paper—the touch, the smell, what it represents, taking nonexistent time to stain it with sincere emotion—that keeps us in contact. Connected. My difficult gift selections were made.
And then the ultimate goal: my journal. A vast array lay before my eyes, inviting me to imagine myself scribbling ferociously in them. Thoughts flashed as my eyes quickly scanned: Enough pages in this one? Does this one have the giglio? Using an object to trap the feeling of being in a place that means the world to you puts a strain on your heart and flirts with your dreams. Back home, the object and its violent love affair with your memory are the only connections to that place.
I reached for each journal, picking them up so delicately one would think they were made of crystal. Over my shoulder, I heard, ‘E’ arrivata la nuova collezione? Lì ci sono quelli dell’anno scorso.’ I turned around to see a friendly face smile as the clerk explained.
Our eyes met and I asked, ‘Scusi, ma questi sono quelli dell’anno scorso?’ as I pointed to the journals in front of me.
‘Sì. E gli altri sono agenda.’ She smiled.
‘Ah, no, io scrivo poesie,’ I revealed.
Her face lit up. ‘Anch’io voglio gli altri; sono designer!’ Face to face with my past—my ancient dream of being a fashion designer, put on a shelf, like the journals—so long ago that it surely had more dust on it than all the journals combined. A flood of conversation ensued. She was Katerina, a Greek, only two years older than me, and had emigrated to Florence with fiery passion for the city and fashion. Florence was now her home. As we fought against time, my coworkers waiting outside, I opened the journal of my dreams, pouring out its contents to Katerina: a first generation Italian-Canadian on a trip with students, dying to live in Florence and wondering how to make it happen.
‘Do it!’ she advised in English, a flavour of Greek revealed in intonation. ‘I don’t regret it. You’ll love it. If you feel the desire, you have to follow it’
I looked back at the journals, thinking how amazing it was that such a brief, chance encounter could be so powerful. ‘Thank you,’ I said after several minutes. ‘It was great meeting you.’ We wished each other luck.
I turned back to the new collection, selected a leather-bound journal with the Florentine pattern—the largest one—not because I’d never return, but because it might be a while and I had too much to write. I needed that symbol to keep my dream alive, to keep my connection to Florence and Katerina alive. Maybe I should have asked for her e-mail address, I wondered. Maybe the memory was enough.
I left, pausing to look at the store’s sign: Signum. Florence and I took our relationship further that day, through Katerina, through paper. I turned and ran towards my coworkers, towards the concrete. The blurry sight of each ceramic shop and leather store suddenly put my ephemeral dream into focus; the lens of possibility positioned itself over my eyes. Suddenly, my dream had legs, a little momentum and a lot of hope. Duty might call, but dreams beckon, little by little, seductively, addictively.
I ran towards piazza Santa Croce, Florence’s ink stain forever on my heart. I was running towards my future; all it needed was a little permanence to take root, a little ink to remain connected. Indeed, Signum.