My first day somewhere other than Italy will be imprinted forever in my memory. While in October Italians were still sunbathing and sipping aperitivi, stepping off the plane at Heathrow Airport a cruel wind whipped at the freshly landed in London. It was the first in many episodes of culture shock, as living away from Florence has led to my feeling less Italian every time I come home.
My “Italian-ness” was glaringly obvious in my first few months studying in Oxford—language- and custom-wise it felt like landing on a different planet. Nobody kissed each other on the cheek, shops did not take afternoon breaks so that workers could digest their lunch, and people were far more reserved. It wasn’t just social differences that stood out. Studying Italian literature from an English perspective was not for me, so I thrust all of my energy into German studies instead.
Coming back home used to be painful. Those around me didn’t understand: “You live in the birthplace of the Renaissance!” they’d cry, “You’re so ungrateful…” But they were unaware of one crucial thing: Florence hasn’t ever felt like home to me. Growing up in Puglia means my friends mostly hail from the south, the handful of Florentine pals having moved away or abroad. After a year working in Germany, which saw me take on a lot of solo travelling, it dawned on me how satisfying your own company can be—and instantly, I craved to relive that feeling in Florence. The city became my home at long last, even though it took a while—akin to reigniting a love affair after having only communicated with letters. Arriving at Santa Maria Novella station was filled with a bubble of anticipation, the excitement of the not-quite-unknown-yet-fully-undiscovered as my train pulled into the station and the familiar tannoy announcement echoed around the 1930s building.
Things that once annoyed me about Florence were bureaucracy, strange timings and deafening klaxons, as well as things you’d never think one could have strong feelings about, like narrow pavements and the invasive stink of lampredotto. Walking down the road home with my suitcase, a feeling of fondness for those very things emerged.
The next day, I took myself to the Uffizi for the first time in years, marvelling at the piazza before me while sat in the Loggia dei Lanzi afterwards, feeling like I’d walked into an art history book: a plethora of emozioni pervaded my mind as I strolled around my unknown hometown, awe and astonishment replacing fondness.
It wasn’t just the city centre that brought on those feelings. Wandering around the alleys in the Sant’Ambrogio area, poems stuck to the walls forced me to stop in my tracks to read them. The smell of cornetti freshly baked at the forni in borgo La Croce beckoned me over to the counter, only to breathe them in and quickly walk away again, somewhat pained from the indulgence. Beautiful views from the most inconspicuous of places enchanted me: a sliver of the Synagogue visible from a nearby road, a glittering stretch of the lungarno winking at me, turning a corner only suddenly to be faced with the almighty Santa Croce facade. Even the familiar clinking of glasses and plates on balconies heard from my garden at home became something I would look forward to every mealtime.
Every peculiar little trait that once got on my nerves has become so familiar and endearing I am surprised I was ever irritated by it in the first place. I have become the keenest of tourists in my own home, trailing the town, eyes wide open, drinking in Florence as if for the first time. If ever there was such a thing as a “double expat”, I am it—and this time I don’t want to leave.