After my seventh month of lockdown life, the routine of work from home, eat, sleep and repeat was beginning to pall and I found myself craving some fresh inspiration. London in the rain just wasn’t going to deliver.
I wasn’t missing the daily commute to my job at an NGO, but before lockdown I had a busy social life—rehearsing for an am-dram Shakespeare and performing my cabaret act in the evenings—and when everything got cancelled I could feel my work-life balance tipping in the wrong direction.
Some friends were early adopters of the Work From Anywhere trend, spending the summer in Spain; it sounded like a great idea, Covid-willing. I could just be sensible and go to the British seaside, but when all you need is decent wifi, why not think bigger? After years of working in an office, the cage door had swung open.
Working from the kitchen table, with Philippa’s painting of Santo Spirito, credit © Philippa Bogle
I’d studied art in Florence as a 17-year-old, at the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute, and had fond memories of wafting around on wisteria-scented days; annual viewings of A Room with a View had burnished my nostalgia. And I’d heard that, senza turisti, it was a great time to visit the Florentine museums. With Covid seemingly lulled, the city was welcoming visitors back, albeit wearing mascherine.
Then a friend who runs florenceapartments.co.uk offered me a good rate on his rental in borgo Ognissanti and since (like Miss Bartlett in ARWAV) my bathroom was about be renovated anyway, I thought, why not? I booked in for a week’s holiday followed by five weeks WFH and in mid-September I arrived, Marmite jar intact and ready for my adventure.
The apartment is perfectly positioned (one minute to the river and ten to the Duomo) and charmingly traditional, with whitewashed walls, beamed ceilings and antiques, including a copy of Baedeker’s Italy from the ‘80s!
After a week exploring galleries and gardens, and generally doing my best Lucy Honeychurch impression, I had almost fully relaxed when I had to spend a rather stressful Sunday trying to find an ethernet cable in time for work in the morning. Connectivity sorted, I settled into my new work routine. I’m working on a laptop at the kitchen table, just like in London, but with the windows open I can hear the bells of Ognissanti Church, rather than the roadworks of South London. If I’m on a Zoom call and the church bells, or locals, get too loud, I quickly close the windows, one of the only downsides of working from Florence.
An antiqued copy of Baedeker’s Italy, credit © Philippa Bogle
I work all day, but on UK time, so I have more time to myself in the mornings. I’ve discovered the best way to save my sanity while WFH is a long walk before work. At home, that’s just around a rather unlovely park, but now I stroll along the beautiful Arno to the Cascine Park, past a great spot for birdwatching. You can even see kingfishers if you’re keen-eyed.
I also pop out at lunchtime to shop. I’m mostly cooking at home and after exploring I’ve worked out the best places. In London, my local deli charges £3 for a ripe peach (and a scowl), but here good food, and good manners, are standard. My local fishmonger and pastificio are great, but I cross the river for S.forno’s sourdough bread. My favourite foodie experience is the artigianale market on Friday evenings in piazza Tasso: cheap organic veg, natural wine, honey and cheese (plus philosophy) from the goatherd herself. And for ice cream, surely a major food group, it’s either piazza Tasso’s La Sorbettiera or Gelateria della Passera.
After work, I get a little dressed-up for my passeggiata, standing outside with the bellissimi fiorentini. Or I might go to a lecture at the British Institute, a life drawing session at Santa Croce Arte or take a ceramics class at Manifattura Tabacchi, the trendy ex-factory that also offers co-working spaces for when WFH, even in Florence, gets too samey. Some evenings I’ll just paint. Florence has inspired me and I’m currently obsessed with the basilica of Santo Spirito. It’s been restorative to slow down and re-discover hobbies. I haven’t missed Netflix at all and I’ve taken a break from social media, so I can enjoy the moment instead of endlessly scrolling or obsessing over posting the perfect photo. That’s also freed up my brain capacity to re-learn Italian. Long dinners discussing food and culture with my new Italian friends have been like delicious, immersive language lessons. A barista complimented me on my accent recently, so I must be improving!
After months of social isolation, I have really appreciated the everyday politeness of Florentines, handing over your sacchetto with great ceremony and a buongiorno signora—you don’t get that treatment in Tesco! It’s a lot less alienating than big cities like London or New York can be, even in normal times.
At its best, travel is a reminder that there are other often simpler and more beautiful lifestyles available. And just by being herself, Florence has reminded me what really matters: friends, family, good food, beauty and dolce far niente. And a little bella figura, if you can be bothered to change out of your sweatpants. As more companies permanently shift to home-working, that could mean a positive change for many of us. My office is now closed until 2021, so that opens up the possibility of more Work From Anywhere experiences, and maybe even a move out of the city for a real lifestyle change: cheaper rent, more painting or, perhaps, more doing nothing at all.
As I walked back from Settignano on Sunday, down a steep, honey-scented lane flanked by uliveti and looked out over Florence glowing in the autumnal sunshine, my sojourn here suddenly seemed like a very sensible idea indeed.